Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the 12th 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. Once upon a time, golf used to be verboten in the rock ‘n’ roll, or at least its dirty little secret. I once played a round with a member of a very famous band – one that had been very public about its members’ drug addiction and ongoing recovery – and he requested that I not write about playing. I said I wouldn’t and didn’t. Cocaine stories? Ok, roll ‘em out. Golf? How bourgeois! How would it look to fans? But other rockers have been public about golf and addiction and how they relate.
“Ask anybody who’s ever been addicted to anything,” this hard rocker told me, on golf’s saving grace. “When they get into golf it’s the same addiction. It’s like you hit a great shot and you will hit ten bad shots to hit one more good shot. It’s almost like that with any drug addiction. It’s very, very similar. But it’s not going to kill you.”
2. A tale of misspent youth and parental abuse before rock ‘n’ roll stardom – of sorts. “My grandma nurtured me, showed me love,” this punk rock guitarist told me three years ago on the phone. “And then all of a sudden that just got taken away.” When he was six, a step-father entered his world and he moved to what he called “a little shithole basement. This horrible place with my mum and this horrible fella that she lived with.”
In his memoir, he writes that the step-father sexually abused him as a young boy. As a teenager, he stole anything not nailed down — guitars, cars, whatever. Drinking and drugging came early and often. He fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll, the Faces and Roxy Music, in particular. He had dyslexia and ADHD, albeit undiagnosed, and could barely read and write. It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he was properly taught by a woman in Los Angeles, his home base since 1982.
Of the debauched tales told in his book — from being a Peeping Tom to popping pills to shagging numerous “birds”, he says. “It’s fun to a lot of people [to read], but it’s not something I’m proud of.”
Another myth that he doesn’t mind upending: The idea that the punks were idealistic and not hedonistic, that they weren’t propelled by the same desire for sex, drugs and money as did the big (and thus reviled) stars of the day, like Led Zeppelin, Queen and Rod Stewart. “Yeah, I don’t know who came up with that nonsense,” he says. “Probably someone on the outside came up with that crap, it always is. I just wanted to get laid.”
VIDEO: Cocksucker Blues (1972)
3. The singer has been an integral part of two very good bands – making mostly quiet, contemplative, melancholic music, but with an edge. She wants her music potential to transport the listener. “I think music is like little films,” she says on the phone three years ago, “and it’s nice to listen to music and really escape.”
Speaking of … Many bands have horror stories from the road, but none quite like this one else. Three years ago, the opening date of their tour in Sonoma, California. They finished the gig, but leaving in the bus they got caught up in a raging wildfire. Her partner in the band says, “it was quite terrifying. It was like a hurricane, all these strong winds going crazy. I guess the winds whipped it up. We had no choice but to reverse out of it. The tour bus and the trailer was wobbling and you could see the fire chasing us back out of there. It was pretty terrifying. We were getting ready to just dump the bus and run for our lives.”
At the next gig, two nights later in Portland, Oregon, the singer was so shaken she left the stage after six songs. She and the band returned after nearly an hour to finish the set.
But in Boston, the gig goes well. It’s a calming, but stimulating, environment. Part of that is engendered by the nature of the music and part of it by the singer’s stoic, near immobile and almost entirely-in-the-dark stage presence. To say she’s reserved would be an understatement. On stage, she’s shy, most comfortable with the spot light not on her. “Yeah, I don’t feel that comfortable on stage,” she says. “It’s a really strange thing to be doing, to go on stage and all of a sudden have bright lights and spotlights. That would be really bizarre.”
So, when we met up backstage … She was animated and effusive. We drank wine and spent a chunk of time talking about our mutual love of cats.
4. “I can’t remember ever enjoying writing a novel more than [this one],” wrote the very famous English novelist at the end of this book, published four years ago. She has sold more than 400 million books, but this one she wrote under a pseudonym and it was a genre switch from her popular series. A killer on the loose and the killer was inspired by … songs of a famous American band, particularly hot in the ‘70s.
The detective in the book is sent a package accompanied by a note quoting from one of their songs. That happened to be a tattoo that the detective’s late mother – a super-groupie back in the day – had inked above her crotch. Says he: “It was her favorite song, [They] were her favorite band. Well ‘favorite’ is an understatement. Obsession, really. … She wanted the lead singer, but never got him. One of the very few who got away. … I was nearly christened his name.”
So, I rang up the real singer, who was then 71, and asked how it felt to be a fictional character.
“Well, I’m not really a fictional character,” he says, being that he still co-leads the band with co-founding guitarist-singer. “The book is referencing the real me. Obviously, some character in the book wanted to shtup me but did not succeed.” As to how this all came about, he says, “I don’t know the thoughts in [the author’s] head about why she picked me. If I ever meet her, I will ask. I don’t know if she’s even a fan, but obviously there must be something that she’s referencing. I think she’s 50, so people who are 50ish, 30 or 35 years ago they were teens and that goes back to our heyday, shall we say. So maybe she had had a painted jacket or saw us at the Hammersmith Odeon or the Manchester Apollo. Maybe she came to shows as a young lady and saw us play or bought records. She got it from some place. She could have picked any band. We’re happy someone of [her] stature is referencing us at all.”
The author sent autographed copies to all members of the band, past and present. The BBC was planning to adapt the ongoing series – this was the third book – for a TV series and the band’s singer says HBO would also be broadcasting it.
So, I asked, might he have a cameo, albeit in a flashback scene with the groupie mother?
“No,” he said with a laugh. “It would have to be a 30-year-old [me]. They’ll have to get some 30-year-old curly-haired Jew.”
1. Alice Cooper, 2. Steve Jones (of the Sex Pistols), 3. Hope Sandoval (of Mazzy Star and Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, 4. Eric Bloom (of Blue Öyster Cult on J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith)
VIDEO: Mazzy Star at the Bridge School Benefit Concert 1994