Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the 44th 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 have a real problem being a man in the early ‘90s,” the singer for this British alt-rock band tells me. “Any man with any sensitivity or conscience toward the opposite sex would have a problem.” His quintet was touring behind their debut album, a surprise hit featuring a self-denigrating song. The album, produced by two Bostonians, got mixed reviews. Reviews of subsequent albums mostly got raves and the band ascended to arena status.
“To actually assert yourself in a masculine way without looking like you’re in a hard-rock band is a very difficult thing to do… It comes back to the music we write, which is not effeminate, but it’s not brutal in its arrogance. It is one of the things I’m always trying: to assert a sexual persona and on the other hand trying desperately to negate it.”
His band shifted into art-rock territory and he, and the others, worked on many offshoot projects in the 21st century. One of the guitarists became an in-demand soundtrack artist; the singer – along with that guitarist and the drummer – records and tours under a happy moniker these days, rarely playing songs from their on-the-shelf incarnation band, which, we’re told is still alive.
2. The singer, then in his early 30s, had been in a well-respected Boston power pop band that had a major label deal but never made it. After its breakup, with him launching a solo career, he told me, “I started to question what was going on. I’ve never changed too much. I’ve always been true to my roots or whatever. I started to wonder whether what I’m into isn’t happening. But there wasn’t anything else I could do. When new wave came out people were cutting their hair and spiking it and all that … “
But after 13 years riding rough in the rock ‘n’ roll world, he had a hit and was playing big venues. It’s August 18, 1981 and he has a top ten single from his second solo album. A few Led Zeppelin comparisons have been tossed around.
“There was never any doubt in my mind,” he says, of success. “I’m not saying there wasn’t doubt that I would do it, but there wasn’t any doubt that I could. The day I started I said: ‘I could do this.’ It’s what I always wanted.”
How has this newfound stardom changed him? “I’m basically as cocky and arrogant as I ever was. That’ll probably never change.”
VIDEO: MTV Commercials June 15, 1995
3. “There’s no big egos; we’re all big motors,” the bassist-songwriter told me in 1996. “We all know how to move a train along, but we all wanted to be front-men.”
They were a short-lived punk-inspired band – just one album made – formed by very famous rockers of the day. They wrote original songs and played covers from the likes of the Stooges, the Damned, the Sex Pistols, the Monkees, Duran Duran and Roxy Music.
It’s not like the band was a traveling rock ‘n’ roll/AA show, but drink and drugs played a large part in the band members lives at one point, but did no longer. “The idea that you have to be stoned to have it happening is a romantic misconception,” the bassist tells me. “We wouldn’t be together now if we weren’t sober. We wanted to rock but we didn’t want to put ourselves in a slippery situation. A lot of the songs on this record are about the joys of recovery.”
“I had to do what I had to do or else I would be dead,” one of the two guitarists/lead singer adds. The band’s working years were 1995-1997, but they reunited in 1999 for three shows at L.A.’s Viper Room, where they first started jamming,
4. He’d been a popular favorite, a big hit-maker, and his 1977 debut album, a concept album at that, sold more than 40 million copies. But in some quarters, he was a critical punching bag. He was so over … the … top. Some thought he was a Bruce Springsteen/Born to Run-era parody with his melodramatic wide-screen rock and tall tales.
We were talking in 1994 and he’d had more misses than hits since those early days. But he’d put out a sequel to that first album and it was bringing him back. So, I wondered did he have any vengeful feelings about critics, especially those who kicked him when he was down?
“I don’t need to have that feeling,” he said. “That’s not something I need to do. It’s not my nature. Most of these people write to hear themselves write and I can’t believe they’re happy anyway. I’m happier than them.”
I said that whether it was used in a positive or negative context rarely was a review written of his show that did not use the terms “bombastic” and “over the top.”
“I think if my show wasn’t over the top, it wouldn’t be as good as it is,” he said. “And when it’s on and when it’s happening, people walk away saying it’s the best show they ever saw.”
The previous year, I’d spent some time with him and was invited backstage pre-show to hang with him and the band, to observe and scribble. And as such, I observed their pre-show ritual, the band all huddled together in a semi-circle.
All this said in VERY LOUD voices.
Singer: “What are we gonna do?!”
Band (as one): “Kill!”
Singer: “What do we always do?”
Singer: “What do big dogs do?”
Answers: 1) Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, speaking about The Smile with Jonny Greenwood and Tom Skinner, 2) Neurotic Outsiders, bassist John Taylor (Duran Duran) and guitarist Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses), 3) Billy Squier, 4) Meat Loaf.
VIDEO: Meat Loaf feat. Cher “Dead Ringer for Love”