Famous Quotes Vol. 40: January 2023

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

Famous Quotes Vol. 40 (Image: Discogs)

It’s the 40th 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. It was 1996 and this band – which would later boast a very famous solo singer as a solo act – was on the way up. They had a hit single – it made it to No. 23 on Billboard’s chart the previous year – and they had landed the opening spot on an arena tour with Bush. On a night off from that, they were headlining a packed (long gone) club in Boston called Mama Kin. (Yes, it was owned by Aerosmith.) 

“It’s fun to be called an underground band forever and to have a hit single,” she told me after their set. The song was this arch, ironic and infectious, pro-feminist pop song. “And to play in places we’ve never been to before and have people go off. It’s really kind of neat.”

Her older brother had been the band’s keyboardist, but he’d left to pursue a career in animation. “In the early days, my brother wrote most of the music and I was on the one on the couch watching The Brady Bunch,” she said, “and he’s telling me to ‘Sing, sing!’ In the last three or four years, I started writing my own lyrics and songs and it made this album special because it’s real. I was singing his songs about getting his wisdom teeth pulled or something and I haven’t had my wisdom teeth pulled.”

You listen to that hit song and wonder if may the singer would have preferred being born the opposite gender. No! “I’m a real girly girl and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” she said. “I love to put on makeup and do all those things associated with being a girl. The song was snapshot of some of the burdens of being a girl that a lot of guys don’t think about – like having to be escorted to the bathroom or not being able  to walk by yourself somewhere at night.  …  Now girls come [to see us] and totally go off and relate.” The scene she and her band came from was dominated by male bands and she thought, “I always thought we could never be cool enough or tough enough or hard enough, with me being a girl. I love to do different kinds of stuff, ballads and punk songs. Our show is so physical. The music is raw, broken down to the bare bones.”


2. The field is power pop and Ken Sharp, author of three volumes of the book Play On! Power Pop Heroes, defines the style as “the seamless ability to merge sweet and dirty without any artifice.” That makes complete sense.

Seven years ago, I’m asking one of the veterans of that genre about Sharp’s tag. He’s the songwriter-guitarist of the long-running – but not always active – band. “That’s a good way of describing us,” says this band’s songwriter-guitarist. “I would say the same thing about why Phil Spector was so good. It was beauty and power. Like ‘Be My Baby’ – this real pretty thing and ‘boom boom boom!,’ this over- the-top heaviness. To me power pop is probably the most important kind of music in terms of being an art form that is very original, a genre of music that’s wide open to brand new ideas.” 

Back then, Scott Kempner, former Dictators and Del Lords guitarist, told me, “They were always a band out of time. Not in the sense that they were too late or even too early. More like the planet from which the [band] is from did not recognize the movement of time. [This guitarist], their guiding light, wrote songs for the ages. Songs that sounded dragged through the eras and picked up some hard-earned soul and melancholy on the way.”


VIDEO: January 23, 1983 commercials

3. The singer, half of an avant-garde New York duo, tells me the name of the band “means a lot of things and it represents a kind of freedom of choice. It’s like this French existentialist idea, Camus. It’s really about life.” 

His band got a boost in the 1980s when a popular new wave band, whom they influenced, brought them on arena tours as the opening act. Of the band’s leader, the singer said, “He’s a saint, brilliant, a genius.” Bono says, “I like [them] – they’re a real influence on U2.” Bruce Springsteen loved one particular song: “One of the most amazing records I think I ever heard.” (He went on to cover another of their songs.) 

Not that everyone agrees with Bono and the Boss. Members of that new wave band’s audiences, for instance, used to take particular pleasure hurling debris at them. 

“I loved it, man!” exclaims the singer. “Eighteen-thousand people screaming at you. You know what it sounds like? It sounds like an ocean, waves – and it’s waves of boos, man! And bottles! The best thing that happened was one time after the show they went out there to take whatever we had on stage off and they found a switchblade stuck in the [the headliner’s] drum riser. It must have come right over my head or something.”

So, how did he avoid death and dismemberment? “I see them coming. You gotta be like a kamikaze pilot or something – hey, 4 o’clock, watch out!” His tone, by the way, is gleeful.


4. She had a top 10 pop hit in 1967 when she was just 16, and another in 1975, an even bigger – and more definitive – song. She was among the very first musical acts to perform on Saturday Night Live. Her sexuality wasn’t exactly hidden but in those were different times. In 2014, I talked with her and asked her about the process of coming out. When was it?

“It depends on how you look at it,” she told me. “I was always out to the industry and I was always out to the press, but everybody was polite about it. I was outed by the Village Voice in 1976. Then, I fell in love with a man and got married to him in, oh gosh, ‘78 or ‘79. That lasted five years, six years. That turned out very badly. But he’s dead so that’s the end of that, she said cavalierly. It’s unfortunate when people choose the dark side. And for my ex-husband, it was a choice. I think some people mistake anger for power and he was a pretty classic example. But my wife and I are actually celebrating our 25th anniversary this fall. Pretty cool.”

OK, I said but asked “You’ve long self -identified as gay, but you got married to this guy. Why?”

“Oh, I was in love!” she said. “I didn’t marry him so I could hide or anything like that. I’ve always felt like people swing one way or the other and I have swung – it sounds so tacky – both ways in my time. Realistically, I tilt toward women and I know that, but I fell in love with him as deeply and passionately as I’ve ever loved.”

Even if the Voice outed you back when, that wasn’t widely read, I said, adding I think you “officially” came out in 1993. I asked what she thought her stature was in the lesbian community? Are you a role model, queen, a grand-mother figure?

“That’s really scary,” she answered. “I don’t know. For many years, I was not particularly liked by the lesbian community. I don’t know why. I did a lot of AIDS work in the ‘80s. I did the first pediatric AIDS benefit. It may have seemed to some gay women I was more identified with the boys. And then I wrote an article in the Advocate that called “Lesbian Chic: A Contradiction in Terms” that probably didn’t win me any friends. But my job was to be funny. It’s really turned around in the last 15 years. I’m very glad I get an extremely mixed crowd – gay guys and women, a lot of straight people.” 


Answers: 1) Gwen Stefani of No Doubt, the song “Just a Girl,” 2) Cyril Jordan of the Flamin’ Groovies, 3) the late Alan Vega of Suicide [the new wave band, The Cars, the song Springsteen liked, “Frankie Teardrop”], 4) Janis Ian.


VIDEO: No Doubt “Just A Girl”

Latest posts by Jim Sullivan (see all)

 You May Also Like

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *