Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the 37th 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, scenarios from the penthouse to the pavement as the old Heaven 17 song has it.
I give you the situation and the quotes; you guess who spoke those words back when.
1. I haven’t discussed the afterlife with too many musicians, but with this fella it pretty much always surfaced. I did a series of interviews with him, all after club concerts in the Boston/Southern New Hampshire area (well once at the Bottom Line in New York), between 1982 and 1987. Heaven or hell, where was he headed? He’d certainly done enough damage to go South (if you believe in that sort of thing) but, his God was a forgiving sort. And now, he’s dead.
“I’ve never misused God,” he told me. “I’ve never claimed to be a real Christian — I claim to be a Christian-minded person. I don’t claim to be perfect by any means. I believe everybody’s got to die and face God someday. And I believe that I’ll go to heaven when I die.
“I believe sometimes we punish ourselves, but I want to live as old as I can, go as long as I can. And God knows this. I think this is our main purpose in life: to live as long as we can and do as much as we can to help people, to give as much of our talent as we can in the best way we know how to give it.
“Sure, we foul up sometimes down through life. And we make our mistakes, but God’s always there to forgive us. I don’t mean that I’ve tamed myself down or anything like that. I just mean I respect God.”
Had he always felt that way?
“Yes sir, I have. I believe everybody’s got to die and face God someday, and I believe that I’ll go to heaven when I die. We don’t know what God’s gonna do. We know there’s a Supreme Being. We’ve never met the Supreme Being, but we believe there is a God. He holds the key. I believe sometimes we punish ourselves. But I believe God lets us live with reason. I believe there’s something more to be lived for, I would imagine. I want to live as old as I can, go as long as I can.”
2. He’s the leader of America’s top Celtic/punk band. Formed in 1996, they’re a rousing band known for at least three things: 1) drinking songs, 2) fighting songs and 3) songs that become local baseball and hockey anthems.
You could add a fourth: Songs of social and/or political import.
But right now – technically five years ago, on his cell phone from parts unknown – he was talking about the first two elements.
“We have to offset our cultural, literate side with our violent, comic side,” he said, with a laugh.
The singer himself has been sober over a quarter-century and he says other band members have toned it down or stopped drinking, some having struggled with it over the years. While he can celebrate the drinking culture, he can also upend it. He’s talking about one of the first songs the band ever wrote.
“It was our most popular song in the early days,” he said. “That was written about so many of my friends. I had turned my life around, but so many of my friends didn’t. They were all-that-and-a-bag-of- chips when they were 21, 22, 23 and then when everyone else was growing up and getting older, their only popularity, their only claim to fame, was the barroom they were popular in and soon they lost that.”
And yet, when his band played the song in concert, he said, “that song was sung and taken by our audience in a totally reverse way. But you know what? With music I feel like it’s to be interpreted by the listener. Who am I to say you’re not supposed to take that song like this?”
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3. He’s known first and foremost as an actor, but he also wears the hats of novelist and musician, a singer-songwriter-guitarist. And he wears them well. (Not all actors-cum-musicians do.) He has four novels and a novella under his belt, has made three albums (the latest last year) and he goes out on tour with a band. He specializes in story-songs. As rock critic Jim Farber put it: The man has a voice “that’s “sullen, inward, and broken, with a character redeemed by a dark charm.”
He started playing guitar on the set of a long running premium cable TV show in which he starred. “It was all really just in fun,” he said, when we spoke five years ago. “I never picked up the guitar with any idea that I was going to be writing songs that were going to be on the radio or even record or even perform it in front of one person, let alone a concert. I guess you could say it was pure in that way, just for me, and as it evolved, somehow I found myself collaborating with musicians that could help me, make me better and write with me in terms of the second album.”
He understands initial skepticism from a rock crowd, but said, “There’s no law that says creativity is confined to one area or that beginners can’t come up with decent stuff. I would just ask that people take it case by case and they either like it or they won’t. I’m not fool enough to think that I can fill up a thousand seats at a concert just because of the music. I know people are coming because they know me as an actor, but I embrace that. If they want to whistle [my popular TV show] theme, of course, it’s somewhat annoying, but I get it. I’m not going to play the theme at the show, but my hope would be you leave going, ‘That’s a legitimate musical artist, those are legitimate songs.’ “
4. You ever wonder what famous singers think of acts that pay tribute to them? Cool? Cheesy? Here’s one story about a guy who’s had more than a few tribute acts doing him over the years. The man himself wasn’t there, but I spoke to the man’s drummer. He was, in fact, himself drumming with one of those tribute acts when we spoke in 2009.
The drummer said the star loved the tribute acts. Sometimes – say when he was staying in a hotel that had a tribute show in the lounge – he would sneak in the back with his watch. What a hoot it would have been, I said, if he’d joined in. The star was known to be a bit of a prankster. The drummer agreed, but it never happened.
“The [manager] wouldn’t let him,” he said. And the star obeyed the manager’s wishes.
Who is the drummer? Who was the singer?
Answers: 1) Jerry Lee Lewis, 2) Ken Casey of Dropkick Murphys, 3) David Duchovny, 4) DJ Fontana speaking about Elvis Presley
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