Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the 30th 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. There’s a lot to be said for being in on the first wave of a band’s success and that’s where I was when this English group first came to America, playing Boston’s Paradise club in 1983. (They later became arena favorites.) I shared a cab with the two-leaders, a female singer and male guitarist, where one of the first things the woman told me was: “We are not your average rock ‘n’ roll band,”
That they were not. After the gig, our talk continued. Applying that “not average” to her stage presence – particularly her look – I posited that her extreme eye shadow perhaps maybe looked like she was a beaten singer. She laughed slightly and then jumped on it: “I don’t put the makeup on to beautify myself. But no, it’s not really meant to look like a black eye. The way I see the makeup, it sort of starts the transformation from normal life to stage projection. I liken it to a very ancient ritual, a theatrical ritual, where you almost transcend what is happening. There’s some sophistication in the makeup, but there’s also something very primitive in it.
“I see pictures of New Guinea tribesmen who decorate themselves; yet they might have picked up an American T-shirt or a pair of sunglasses from some white trader. That really fascinates me. It’s a real statement about the state of the world. You have a very primitive man, very close to caveman, who has just touched on Western society, who doesn’t even know how much it’s touched him. I think that’s a very relevant statement about the world we live in today. There’s a culture clash. I evoke it, just the way I present myself. I rather want to evoke something tribal, because I think what we’re doing is tribal. But the audience is not aware of it.”
2. In 2015, I was talking to this veteran British rocker. He was a key member of one of the seminal mid-60s bands, a band that had broken up and re-formed several times over the years and was together again and touring. I brought up a line I admit I’ve used more than a few times when talking about age and rock. I said, “There’s a great Mott the Hoople line in ‘All the Way from Memphis’ where Ian Hunter sings ‘You’ve got to stay a young man/You can never grow old’ about being a rocker. But now all of us are much older – me, him, you. How can you grow old and how do you do it in a way that looks good and feels right? What does an older musician rocker have to offer an audience that a younger one doesn’t?”
He said: “The thing is when John Lennon said I can’t envision myself doing this when I’m 30, rock ‘n’ roll was a very young thing. Yet, I always remember thinking at the time, we were still idolizing people like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker who seemed ancient to us at the time and they were in their 40s or 50s. We had no problem with that at all. We were looking at an art form that was a source of rock ‘n’ roll and what rock ‘n’ roll had led from, the various beginnings, including those.
“I thought if rock ‘n’ roll grows up, we may feel different about it and that’s entirely how I feel now. Really young people are coming to us and loving what we do and that’s fantastic. From a personal point of view, there are no guarantees when you get to our age. But as long as you feel okay and take some sort of measures to look after yourself. [My singing-songwriting partner] and I are both 70 now. You’ve got to look after yourself when you’re on the road and beyond that it’s in the lap of the gods. It feels exactly the same when we’re on stage, the energy we get back from the crowd, as it did when we were 18 and that’s such a privilege. As long as we feel well enough, we’re going to do it.”
VIDEO: Gilbert Gottfried Glad Commercial (2003)
3. His was one of the original English punk bands, among the first to commit music to vinyl. Songs were short, attention spans were short, and dreams or long-lasting appeal were … non-existent. “I would’ve said we’d have lasted six weeks maximum,” this guitarist-singer-songwriter told me in 2009. (The band still exists now, though they’ve gone through numerous incarnations.)
“We had to lie and cheat our way to get gigs. We’d go to venues, look to see who was on the schedule, and we’d say, ‘Look we can support this band, we’re a dub-reggae act’ or ‘We’re a heavy rock act’ or ‘We’re a folk act.’ You couldn’t use the p-word; if you said you were a punk band, you’d get no gigs whatsoever. And then when we got on the stage, quite often the curtain would be pulled or the plugs would be pulled. We’d end up playing three songs and that was it. We’d be kicked out on our ear holes.”
4. Cultural appropriation or cultural immersion? People complain about the former and generally understand the reasoning for the latter – and of course it can be a fine line, or just a different sensibility or perspective, that makes the difference. I was talking to this world-famous cellist a decade back. He’d come to fame in the classical realm but was crossing over into for lack of a better term, pop. I asked: Do you feel you have to immerse yourself in the cultural background of a music to play it right?
“It’s a really good question,” he said. “I think whatever adds to your understanding is always good. It’s easy in society that people talk about we’re living in a world full of information, but what we need to do is constantly turn that giant bit of information into knowledge and I would venture to say that after that you want to turn it into love. Knowledge in politics could be just power acquisition – I know stuff you don’t know. But what we try to do in any form of culture, once you go on the inside is to share it with love. It’s not a supremacy kind of thing, it’s more like ‘Wow, pointing to bits of wonder.’”
I think cultural tourism is someone looking through the window at something. I think for me entering into anything is incredibly simple and basic. It just means you have to have someone invite you in and walk through the door. You’re not a tourist, you’re a guest. What we try to do in any form of culture, once you go on the inside is to share it with love.”
Answers: 1) Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, 2) Rod Argent of The Zombies, 3) Capt. Sensible of The Damned, 4) Yo-Yo Ma (then playing with Goat Rodeo Sessions with bassist Edgar Meyer, mandolin/banjo player Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers) and fiddler Stuart Duncan
VIDEO: The Eurythmics “I Need A Man”