Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the 23rd edition of Famous Quotes, a little quiz where the basic question remains: 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, at a restaurant, backstage.
1. This English singer was a hero to the hippies and, later, the punks. He was also a worker, so much so that when his main band broke up or went on hiatus (which was often), he’d get out there on his own, singing the songs, sometimes with a young band plus orchestra.
“I need to sing,” he told me in 1998. “And as [the band’s main songwriter] is writing his memoirs at the moment … If he starts writing good material, something might happen in the future. But if I give [singing] up for any length of time, it will go. That’s one reason.”
Another reason to tour: “These young people I’m taking out on the road, these music students and this housing-project choir, have the opportunity to see America, when some of the kids from the projects haven’t even been on an airplane. The musicians, they come up to me and say, `We’re playing an instrument we love and we’re playing the music we like, at last.’ What could be better? Who knows where it will end up?
A third reason; “Plus, I’m getting well paid. Everyone needs to earn a living.”
2. He was a forty-something British bassist who was born in France, but was currently living outside Boston. It was 2015 and we were having dinner. Four years prior, he’d taken the place of the original bassist in a famous Mancunian band. The original bassist, a key songwriter-contributor, had exited in a cloud of acrimony long ago. Initially, the replacement bassist was planning on doing just two shows with the band before all went their separate ways.
“There was no attempt to get the ex-bass player back,” the new bass player told me. “He wasn’t asked to join the group in 2011 because he left the band in 2007. I must honestly say that there was no alternative plan to carry on as [this famous band]. We were going to do two shows and see what happens, but there wasn’t a master plan. And luckily those shows went down a storm. I think our manager started getting offers round the world to play and that was the start of this three-year world tour that we did. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
He was stepping into some big shoes. Any trepidation? “I am confident with my abilities as a bass player so I knew it wasn’t going to be a problem to play the part. However, there was a bit of nerve-wracking, the first night in Belgium, our first gig. I didn’t know what was going to happen, what the reaction from the fans was going to be, but it went down really well and the band sounded great. So that geared me up to say, “I can do this, let’s do it.” It took me a while to realize I was playing in [this famous band].”
VIDEO: WSBK-TV Boston 1985 Commercial Break
3. It is not often that you see a rock ‘n’ roll singer punch out a fan during a concert. But this happened in the early ‘80s when the Cramps played a Boston club called the Channel, during the hardcore punk era, the heyday of slam dancing, stage crashing and diving.
The Cramps, fronted by rangy, shirtless singer Lux Interior and his sexy, diffident wife, guitarist Poison Ivy, helmed a highly charged stage show, one of barely controlled chaos. More than a few fans scrambled past security, jumped up on the stage, danced maniacally for a bit and leapt off. Interior was not happy about fans invading his stage space. He made it clear: Don’t come up here. One kid made it up twice, dancing for a moment and then scampering off like a cockroach exposed to light. Interior had warned him. The third time the kid was not so quick and Interior nailed him with a left-right combo and the kid went down.
“I punched the guy and then I thought, `Wait, don’t do this,’” Interior told me after the gig. “But that doesn’t happen too much anymore. Hopefully, that [stage-diving] will go away someday.”
For years, rumors circulated, first in fanzines and then on-line, that the punchee was a teenager from suburban Boston who later became a famous singer fronting a bi-racial band. I rang up the singer to find out the reality.
“I was singled out as the problem,” he told me, admitting he was up on that stage, but the kid Interior punched out was not him. “There were a couple of stupid things I did and that was stupid, but here’s the thing. It was the hardcore Boston scene. I was a guy that was there and witnessed it.”
He tells me about how he and his punk pals behaved at gigs in general: “It was not thrashing, it was not moshing, it was slam dancing, a brand-new thing and it involved guys our age that wanted to bang each other around. All of us traveled together and that is what we wanted to do. … There was some crossover [from hardcore] and we loved the Cramps. This is what we did, when the music got going. All we wanted to do was dive and dive and what happened on the floor wasn’t all that interesting to us. Everything was different and the aggressive way we went at it, with our engineer boots on and spikes. We had all of it going on. We got on that stage and then we’d do some epic dive. But with the Cramps, you’re diving on people who really don’t want to be dived on and they’re like ‘What the fuck is this? I wanna see “Goo Goo Muck,” I don’t want someone jumping on my pompadour.’ And Lux and Ivy weren’t into it.”
He was not punched, but it was only fate that saved him from injury. He hit the stage, and “Lux grabbed at me. I pulled away from him and Ivy takes a swing at me with her huge hollow body guitar, which misses me. I had to get the fuck off the stage. Lux never got a hand on me and Ivy missed me – she was swinging to take me down – but in the words of the great Misfits song ‘All fucking hell broke loose’ at that point.”
Now, he admits, “I was an asshole at that show. With perspective, if I met that young little bastard I would’ve rooted for Ivy.”
4. His American band – which had five Top 10 radio hits in the mid-to-late ‘60s – was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the ‘90s. But the band, for all intents, was done after the lead singer left in 1970, and there were fallow times after hits stopped coming and FM radio changed the landscape. In 2016, I asked this man, the keyboardist-songwriter-sometime singer, how he coped with the ups and downs of the rock ‘n’ rollercoaster.
“We were on a whirlwind path in those days,” he said. “Two albums a year at that time, so that entailed writing, recording, promoting and touring. What I did in those years was I met a teacher, a guru, and I asked him ‘What the heck do I do?’ And this was [in 1967] when we had a No. 2 record at the time. He looked at me and said, ‘You’re very lucky because you realize at a very young age that almost every profession has the same side of instability. Yours is more volatile than others, but you’re there already.’
“Basically, he was saying you have to find your peace and stability elsewhere. It made a difference in my life because you realize, it’s not just your money in the bank, it’s also your health and the type of history you’re leaving behind as a parent and as a human. I realized I had to change my direction to become more pure, become good, become healthy, and the hell with all the rest. Let it be. It is gonna be what it is.”
1.) Roger Daltrey of The Who, 2) Tom Chapman of New Order, 3) Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, 4) Felix Cavaliere of the (Young) Rascals.
VIDEO: Mighty Mighty Bosstones Live in Detroit 1991