Famous Quotes Vol. 38: December 2022

Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column

Famous Quotes Vol. 38 (Image: Etsy)

It’s the 38th 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. “Believe me,” this veteran British heavy metal singer says, “we did a good job of trying to kill ourselves on a daily basis. Somebody said to me, `Do you consider yourself a lucky guy?’ I said `I’m a hell of a lucky guy.’ If my life was to end right now, it’s been one hell of a journey.”

He was 48 when he said that; he’s 74 now. He was talking about, among other things, the mounds of coke done back in the day. A song about that sort of thing showed up on their fourth album.

When we spoke, he said he was working to beat what he called his last addiction, tobacco. He’s been on the patch. “Toughest thing I’ve ever had to do kick in my life,” he growls. “Worse than smack, cocaine, crack, anything. I’m not all clear yet. It’s too easy for me to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes.”


2. He was one of New Wave rock’s most sexually charged performers. Some may still feel that way, though I have to think that feeling as diminished with age and physical changes. Not to mention, well, politics that seemed to have taken a sharp turn from left to right. 

But we did talk about his sex appeal when we met in a Boston hotel room in 1991.

“People say that,” he says, “but it’s beyond me. I don’t feel sexual release at all.”

He had admitted some time ago that he’s essentially celibate — though he hates the word. “Celibacy is an unfortunate tag,” he said, “and I wear no tag at all. I don’t have any sexual life of any description and for the most part never have. That’s simply been my life. We all have our crosses to bear. I know absolutely that I am {missing something}, but it’s something very deep-rooted that I can’t solve. Certainly, I have friends and some are very close, but sexuality does not enter my life at all. Ever. And never really has.”

There is, however, a clear erotic — and often homoerotic — strain that has run through both his former band’s and his own solo work.

“Certainly,” he said. “Surely I feel that we’ve gone beyond . . . this is not 1972 where we all must be standing in separate rooms doing separate things. I like men; I like women. And for that, I suppose, I’m very peculiar. I just think in terms of people. There’s nothing cunning and there’s nothing scurrilous in anything I do. I’m not suddenly trying to burst forth with a new, fifth-sex movement or such. I’m very accepting of most people.”


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3. Eleven years ago, I was talking to one of this English new wave band’s co-leaders. The band was on the comeback trail in the US, playing large clubs. The trail was one that turned out to be very successful, catapulting the band back up again to arena level. Somehow, the subject of the Queen came up; I might have mentioned the Sex Pistols song or the 2007 Concert for Diana his band played.

“Um, I like the monarchy,” he said. “I’ve had an extraordinary life. I’m not looking to make huge changes in the system. What they represent – monarchy or republic – either way, somebody else is making the big decisions. I just want to write songs.’

All right then, let’s move onto drugs. Why not?! I noted the guys in the band have been fairly public about how cocaine contributed to the downfall.

“I think drugs and alcohol helped me become the person that thought I needed to be,” he told me. “I was a very shy, sensitive guy and suddenly I’m on the cover of all these teen magazines, getting chased around everywhere and it was not what I had in mind at all. I don’t think any of us did and it put a lot of pressure on us. I would never want to go through the drama of those years again. Drugs and alcohol are such a big part of the music scene and I certainly did not appreciate the power of what I was dealing with. But I’m very fortunate that I got a second chance and could begin again. You’ve got to be eternally grateful when that happens. My phone book is filled with names of guys that aren’t with us anymore.”


4. The music of Nick Drake has touched most everyone I know at some point. It’s often a college discovery for many that lasts a lifetime. Part of Drake’s appeal – inevitably – is because his oft melancholic gorgeous music suggested a very troubled, despairing singer-songwriter. Some people knew and played with him and I asked one of them what his take was on Nick’s music and whether his death by overdose was suicidal or accidental. 

“I always thought he was special,” this English singer-guitarist told me. “Everyone else has now arrived at the point where they agree. It took 45 years or something for them to catch up, but eventually, slowly, cream rises to the surface/ It’s sad that Nick in spite of all this, despite all his problems, he really would have liked to be successful and had his music appreciated as it really was not. He really sold in his lifetime, probably 5000 records total.

“I thought he was extraordinary and I think as time goes on, I think he’s even more extraordinary – a great singer and guitar player and a really great songwriter. It was a real joy to work with him. There’s a lot that’s been written about Nick, about how tortured he was in many ways. He really was unique. He didn’t sound like anybody else except possibly his mother. His mother in turns out was a closet singer who wrote these songs on her home tape recorder, but she had no ambition to be a performer, but that probably was Nick’s biggest influence.”

I asked: “I don’t know if you’d know any more than anyone else about his death but do you think it was suicide or accidental?”

“I’d say accidental, an accidental overdose or something or an accidental mixture of whatever he’s taking,” he said. “I think his third album [“Pink Moon”], to me, is very, very painful; there’s a lot of pain in that record. Yet, I think mentally he had kind of turned the corner. I think he maybe did some harm to himself at some other time, [but] I really don’t know.”


ANSWERS: 1) Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne, 2) Morrissey, 3) John Taylor of Duran Duran, 4) Richard Thompson


VIDEO: Black Sabbath “Paranoid” 





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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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