Famous Quotes Vol. 27: January 2022
Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the 27th 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. With best of all intentions … “These days there’s lots of bands that are getting called `geniuses,’ ” this prominent American punk rock singer told me in 1995, “and if you interview some of these big indy-alternative-rock luminaries they’ll tell you what records they grew up on and a lot of them are probably going to be in this catalog, utterly brilliant and unsung heroes.”
This singer and an A-level producer had teamed up to create a custom record label, the idea to buy the rights to the albums they once loved but are now out of print. “I don’t care whether an album came out in 1979 or 1994,” he told me. “Good music is good music. The goal of this label is basically to seduce a bunch of people who have thirsty ears — to [get them to] listen to good things besides the good stuff they’re listening to now.”
He didn’t want to adopt an elitist kids-these-days posture by suggesting that this older music has a validity that current rock lacked. “That’s what I try to be careful of. I hate this old-man attitude where people go `Fuck Green Day! You should have been around for the Buzzcocks!’ You can’t say that to an 18-year-old! I can see why a kid would be into Green Day: They’re young, they’re aggressive, they’re alive and you can go see them play.”
Among the first batch, re-releases from Gang of Four, Tom Verlaine and Devo. “If Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth get to be in the stores, as I think they should be.”
Alas, the label went down three years later.
2. No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani said this group was “the band that gave us the inspiration to be a band.” Their fans have included Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell, the Roots’ Questlove, Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Metallica’s Rob Trujillo. Primus’ bassist Les Claypool cited them as a major influence and said, “They should have been the band that went way beyond any of us.”
It was 2014 and I was talking to that L.A. band’s bassist and co-leader. I loved these guys from the get-go in 1985, with their crazy-quilt of funk and rock, but they’d never broken through to anywhere near to where the aforementioned groups had. I asked about the challenged that faced them back then – in the 80s and 90s -and still in the second decade of the 21st century.
“This far into the game I can understand how [our band] to this day can be challenging to people’s concepts of how things should be,” he said. “In my head we were never that, but I get how people perceive us. In my head, [in our sound] there was the Clash, there was Frank Zappa, there was Parliament-Funkadelic, there was Sly and the Family Stone, all of those things. I don’t feel what we do is that much different than those people, but the way people perceive us is that we’re doing something completely new and I can kind of see it now. It might musically be challenging and visually – the guys that are doing it, we’re black guys. That may still challenge some people’s notions of what should be. And that’s people black and white, from all walks of life. We got some people that wasn’t ready for us.”
I asked about perseverance and whether they still felt the passion after all the highs and particularly the lows.
“That part,” he said, “honestly, deep down, it has not changed. I’m honored to have nothing but appreciation that I have the privilege to have a career that has lasted this long. As long as it makes sense and we’re having some kind of fun, we have every reason to continue. Things are never so bad; I have thought we might need to end this. But when it comes down to it, I rethink and say it’s worth pushing forward. And each time I do that, I’m so glad I did.”
VIDEO: 1977 Solid Gold Collection commercial
3. Humor has long been a part of rock ‘n’ roll, but, of course, it’s suspect among some serious po-faced types. This band, which started well before the MTV era, but became sorta stars during its early years, suffered those slings and arrows sometimes. Not that they particularly gave a shit. Squares laughed at them because they wore what looked like silly costumes; they didn’t get the inside jokes. In 2008, I talked to the co-founding bassist as they were launching a comeback tour about humor, rock and misconceptions.
“We were serious about our joke,” he said. “When it came to the music itself, we never treated the music as a joke. Maybe the lyrics had satire in them and raised contradictions – the world’s a contradictory place. We know that even messages of hope are often cynical; there are hucksters selling false hope to people all the time.
“We were the most misunderstood band of the ’80s. They called us Nazis and clowns. We were thinking, ‘Wow, Nazis and clowns, this is great, maybe we should be Nazi clowns.’ I think the problem is in this culture: irony was something that got pierced, and then after 9/11 all sense of humor was lost, so it really put [our band] in a bad position. Now I think people have realized, ‘We get it.’ Life got bad enough that we make sense; we’re like the house band on the Titanic.”
4. I first got to know this English guitarist in 1980, when he was taking a break from his main band. He’d released his solo debut and we met in a Cambridge, Mass. hotel room to chat it up. We’ve talked a lot over the years, but this bit comes from 2017, as speculation (again) swirled about that his main band reforming. The guitarist and lead singer had a history of love and hate, brotherhood and contentiousness. Could a reunion happen?
“It’s tough,” he said, “because the expectation level is so high. I can’t speak for him, but it makes you think, what can we do? (Laughs.) What is there to do? If we contrive something, it’s going to contain crap. Sometimes you have to let nature take its course. Maybe there will never be another [band] album; then again, we might feel that need to actually do something. Who knows? If you force something, it never works.
I note that more than a few bands of his generation have reunited, whatever the creative spark because it’s a big cash cow and boomer pleaser.
“It’s financial!” he said. “The thing is, because you can’t sell records like you used to. With all these free downloads and other things, writers and artists aren’t going to be able to produce anything because they’ll have to do different kinds of work. Like every other job. Despite people having weird and wonderful and glamours ideas about being in rock music, it’s still work. You still have to make your bed and go to the bathroom and buy food. It’s no different from any other job in that respect. You’re working with ideas and your imagination while sitting on the toilet and at the end of the day you’ve got to put food on the table as best you can. It’s a very different kind of demand being made on musicians. There’s not the money or investments around like there used to be.”
1) Henry Rollins who, with Rick Rubin, formed Infinite Zero, 2) John Norwood Fisher of Fishbone, 3) Gerald V. Casale of Devo, 4) Dave Davies of The Kinks
VIDEO: Broken Record with Rick Rubin and Henry Rollins
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