Famous Quotes Vol. 41: February 2023
Veteran rock critic Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the 41st 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’s not like we haven’t had our audience grow up with us,” says the British lead singer-guitarist, in his Providence RI dressing room. He and his band have just put on a 130-minute arena show in 1992. “There is still a strange amount [of fans] that have stuck with us, far more than I would have ever thought. It isn’t all the teen-age angst you read about in newspapers. The songs are really good. We think very carefully about how we do things; we don’t do dumb things; we don’t sell people short. But [some people] blank when they get older, stop worrying about things. But you start worrying about things when you’re very young . . . “
” . . . and certain things can affect you at any age,” picks up the bassist.
“Most people just close down, they don’t want to know,” concludes the singer. “When you’re 17 or 18, you walk home and the whole night’s really big and long! Most people [our age] …” The singer pauses and sighs.
“There are older people that retain the feeling . . .” says the bassist.
Singer again: “But not as many as there are young. That’s why our audience is younger. I’m not saying you can’t keep [the edge], but you have to fight to. It’s much easier as you get older to just say `Fuck it, it’s not gonna get much better.’ You give up unless you’ve got the mentality you’ve always had. We get accused of not growing up, but we’ve lived lives outside the group that I think are far more colorful and difficult. That we keep things `young’ is bollocks, a glib criticism.”
2. It was 2012 and I was doing an interview with this band for radio station WBUR-FM in Boston. The band is no longer with us, but off and on, they’ve been part of the city’s post-punk DNA since the early 80s. I posited this: From the get-go and it remains so now, your music, when played to a new listener, it’s not an easy ride. You’re not the easiest band to latch on to.
The singer-bassist-songwriter: “We’ve been told over the years – and it’s obvious to us – we’re not the easiest band to latch onto. It goes real fast, it’s sort of loud and clattery and we indulge in noisiness. And to us, we try to get to some sort of exhilarating place. I think to some first-time listeners, exhilarating wouldn’t be the word they’d use. It’s more like a visit to some prison, some torture chamber or something. It’s not that bad …
The drummer: “Oh yeah, it is!”
Bassist: “I’ll say this: I think one reason our music has held up over the decades, and this occurred to me, that we’ve recorded in five different decades, 70s, 80s, 90s, aughts and tens, whatever they call it. That’s kind of a mind blow”
Drummer: “Oh my god.”
Bassist: “One reason it’s held up is our music is composed, it’s more than surface flavor of the month, let’s turn up the reverb and get reviewed on Pitchfork. Our music is composed. These songs are very sturdy constructs that have an interior logic. You may not be able to discern it the first time through, or the fifth, but they stand up over time, because they are these sturdy constructions that move you in a way and direct you in a place and release you in certain places. Not that it’s terribly sophisticated, but give us ten or 20 changes and you too can enjoy our music.
Guitarist-singer-songwriter: “As someone said after seeing [a show] some years back, ‘When our show’s over they feel totally bruised and battered – and they’ve never felt better.’ I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a band thing.
Drummer: “It’s funny because it’s definitely a mind/body thing. He mentioned Hendrix and Pink Floyd were formative things for us all. It’s got to be pummeling to exist; it’s got to have a battering quality to it. But there’s an awful lot of mind meld mixed with that. It’s the best way I can look at it. I don’t think we wanted to go too far in either direction.”
Guitarist: “Our music is extremely physical but the concepts, like [the bassist] was saying, the concepts and the constructs are fairly well thought-out, not your regular boy-meets-girl lyrics, although there are boy-meets-girl songs but they’re usually a little more complex. So you have this complex almost mental kind of stuff, abstract, but it’s anchored in the super-physical.
VIDEO: Secret Love Music Commercial (1988)
3. He’s a Canadian singer and songwriter – equal emphasis – and he’s been crafting soft-rock and folk songs for decades. (He plays acoustic guitar, too.) He is meticulous about how he metes some of these songs out in concert. When he tours, he told me in 2016, he has three shows that he rotates. He’s got certain core songs, another 20+ numbers that will vary and re-jiggered song orders.
Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012, he says “the hat trick is the song, the arrangement and the vocal – three things. the three musts.” His songs have been done by the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Barbra Streisand, Jane’s Addiction and Toby Keith. Robbie Robertson called him “a national treasure.” Bob Dylan: “I can’t think of any song [of his] I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.”
He’s in his 80s now, doesn’t write as much as he once did. Songwriting, he told me, “is such an isolating thing. You’ve got to shut yourself off. There are songs I’ve written in, like, two hours and some songs I’ve worked on for months to finally get to the point where I felt I got them right. … I’m always working on something that sort of got left unsung. You’re always thinking maybe I should try to write eight or nine more and make another album or should I put it out on the internet on iTunes as a single.”
4. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, you probably heard a lot of the big hit this British singer-keyboardist-guitarist wrote for the band he once fronted. An effervescent pop song from 1977, he gave it to the Red Cross to help drum up relief dollars. And when Sandy devastated New Jersey, parts of New York City, and a swath of the Eastern Seaboard in late 2012, he was on tour and I was on the phone with him.
“I’ve actually just sent a message to Red Cross, to see if they want to use it in fundraising efforts because I know a lot of people are hurting,” says Hodgson. “We’re doing these shows and donating some proceeds and offered the song, as I have in the past. [Sandy gave us] a huge mess and I have a lot of compassion for what people are going through.”
He’d been in the main group 14 years, sharing the co-writing responsibilities with another member. But left in 1985 – “family reasons.” He made some solo records but didn’t tour for years. But he emerged and in fact was a one-time member of Ring Starr’s All-Starr Band. “It’s very different for me,” he said. “I obviously did learn a lot about myself, because now on stage I’m a whole different person to the shy introverted person I was in back with [his former band]. You can’t stop me now. I’m talking, joking, having great time on stage.
As to his time with that band, “It was a great adventure, but I was young and didn’t have the self-confidence to talk to the audience so I basically hid behind my songwriting and the band. In a way I was a songwriter within a band. Back then I needed it and now I don’t.”
Answers: 1) The Cure, singer-guitarist Robert Smith and bassist Simon Gallup, 2) Mission of Burma: bassist Clint Conley, drummer Peter Prescott, guitarist Roger Miller, 3) Gordon Lightfoot, 4) Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson, song “Give a Little Bit.”
VIDEO: Supertramp “Give A Little Bit”
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