Famous Quotes Vol. 11: September 2020

Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column

Famous Quotes Vol. 11 (Art: Ron Hart)

It’s the eleventh edition of Famous Quotes: A little quiz where the basic question is: Who said this?

It’s a deep dive into my published and non-published archives, quotes culled from 40+ years of yakking with rock ‘n’ rollers of all stripes – on the phone, in a bar, backstage. 


1. I’ve covered more than a few actors-turned-rockers in my day, some good, some not so much: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, Bruce Willis, Harry Dean Stanton, the Blues Brothers … Here’s one woman – she’s played many a bad girl on film, most notably one with Willis and another with Brad Pitt. She and her punk rock band played rock clubs and the Vans Warped tour and I talked to her in 2004. 


VIDEO: 25 Years of Warped Tour

“Sometimes before a show,” she says, “I feel like I’m gonna faint, ’cause I know what I want to deliver to people. I wanna create a little tornado, I want people to be able to channel their energies through me. It’s a really spiritual process. Yes, it’s intimidating. Sometimes, I’m at the mercy of my expertise, but I wanna wake everybody up in the room. My big mission is [that] it serves as an antidote to apathy and fear.” She looks at her dual life in music and film this way: “I’m a dramatist, an emotionalist. I work in movies, it’s my livelihood. I love it. But it can be a very frustrating art. It’s more insular. I’m not connected with an audience, and I’m telling other people’s stories. . .. Music, I wake up with it, I go to bed with it, I breathe it. I can express emotions on a visceral level that I can’t through film.” 


2. John Lennon wrote it for his second solo album and Billy Idol and Generation X did a slam-bam punked-up cover on their American debut in 1978. Pearl Jam did it and, recently, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong kicked it up. It’s “Gimme Some Truth” and it’s a song for the ages. The music is terse, brooding. The singer spits out the lyrics: “I’m sick and tired of hearing things from uptight, short-sighted narrow-minded hypocritics/All I want is the truth/Just gimme some truth/I’ve had enough of reading things by neurotic, psychotic pig-headed politicians . . .No short-haired yellow-bellied son of Tricky Dicky’s gonna mother-Hubbard soft-soap me with just a pocketful of soap/Money for dope!/Money for rope!”

OK, so these hard rock or punk bands have done the song. How about a former Christian pop singer who describes herself as “too much of a softie.”  Yep, her, too. 

“I just love the song,” she told me in 1994, saying she’d initially hoped to put it on her previous pop. She waited. “Then, not too soon after the record came out, the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings happened; then, of course, the election, and I kept thinking I wish I’d put this on. So, I thought I better put it on this record, ’cause there’s going to be something it can speak to. It’s a really tough song.”

How did her Christian background factor in?  “I really have worked to disassociate myself from the fundamentalist movement,” she says. “It’s destroying the country. I don’t think it’s bringing it together.”


VIDEO: John Lennon “Gimme Some Truth”

3. He is one of our most renowned guitarists – acoustic or electric, folk or rock – and has built a substantial audience over the decades. And he’s an A-level singer-songwriter to boot – a triple threat. One of the popular misconceptions about him — the same thing that’s hovered around folks like Lou Reed and Trent Reznor — has been that he lives the life of the tortured artist. But, he says, he’s no musical diarist and then jokes about some bloody songs on a 1994 album. “Completely true! Yeah, all those murders . . .”

More seriously, he adds, “I’m trying to write fiction. I’m trying to write stories. I’m trying to use my imagination, which shouldn’t seem all that unusual.”

However, as songwriters often don’t seem to be given the same artistic license as filmmakers and novelists, he realizes that art and reality might get mixed up in listeners’ minds. “If you write a novel,” he says, “then you, as the author, stand at the back and pull strings. But {in my case} in many ways, if you like, the `myth of reality’ is reinforced by the fact that a) I’m the songwriter and b) I’m the performer. As a songwriter, I have to make the story convincing and as a performer I have to reinforce that with a convincing performance. Otherwise, there’s no point in doing any of it.”

He laughs. “So, in a sense, that is what I want people to believe, but I hope that people are intelligent enough to realize that it is a kind of theatrical thing. The emotion might be true, but the facts are changed. That’s what fiction is and, in some cases, it can make reality more interesting or more entertaining.”


4. He’s one of the world’s most famous synthists and composers of instrumental electronic music. He’s put on gigantic multi-media shows including concerts in China. When we talked in 1997, he was raving about how the old-school analog synthesizers sound and called them “the Stradivarius of the future.” Twenty years later, we talked and he amplified that contention: “A young musician today in 2017, his dream is to play one day on an instrument designed three centuries ago. It’s the same thing with an analog instrument. Today even with all the high technology we have, we are not able to do better. It’s the same thing [with guitars]. You have a specificity on the Les Paul Gibson ‘58 and on the Strat ‘62 [the Fender Stratocaster, 1962] and on the modular Moog [synthesizer] from the ‘60s.”

His latest music has a more pounding, rock-and-beta oriented style and fans who came to him through his early work may find the shift from that spacier style, well, a bit jarring.

“It’s all part of the same family,” he maintains of the various genres. “I always used in my earlier albums, [jazz bassist] Marcus Miller and [the late jazz and funk drummer] Yogi Horton. I’ve had people coming from the rock scene or the jazz scene. For me it’s the same thing. On [recent albums] I worked with Julia Holter, or Massive Attack or Pete Townshend, I wanted to go close to their style, the reason also this concert is very dynamic.” 

Also, on his latest discs a slew of others from various realms of the electronic and rock worlds. They include Erasure’s Vince Clarke, Laurie Anderson, Tangerine Dream’s late Edgar Froese, Moby, M83, Little Boots, the Pet Shop Boys, the Orb, Peaches, Primal Scream and Cyndi Lauper.

Of that A-list of collaborators, he says, “It’s quite extraordinary. All these people have been an inspiration to me. I had two principles for this project. One was to meet them personally and work together in the same environment, sharing the process, the musical DNA. The other thing was also to come and see them with a preconceived demo, [the music] being my choice and having been blown away and touched by the fact that everyone said ‘Yes.’ I went directly to the artists and we [then] let the managers take care of the business.”

Mini Moog advert from 1979

5. I’ve seen this British band numerous times in concert and played their records a lot, too. I have to say they are a much different creature live than they are on record, so I put that to their main songwriter/synthist in 1998. “Sometimes, I feel that our performances are at odds with the records,” he agrees, “but I think everyone who comes to the show knows the records, and the show becomes more a celebration of what the records are about. I don’t think we could really capture the moodiness of the records live. It becomes a totally different ballgame, with people whistling along or whatever. But, at the same time, I’ve always loved our live performances. Eighteen and a half years down the line, we must be doing something right.” 

As high-tech and electronic as the band has always been, their approach to writing is an old-fashioned one: Make sure the melody works on a bare-bones level first. “When I’m songwriting,” he says, “I often just start with an acoustic guitar or piano, just to work out the basic chords and words, because I always think it’s important to make sure the basis of the song is strong before you can move onto electronics. You can often fool yourself that you’ve got a great song, when really, you just got a few good sounds happening.” 


1.) Juliette Lewis (of Juliette and the Licks), 2) Sam Phillips, 3) Richard Thompson, 4) Jean-Michel Jarre, 5) Martin Gore (of Depeche Mode)


VIDEO: Depeche Mode 101

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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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