Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the latest installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the ninth edition of Famous Quotes: A little quiz where the basic question is: 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, backstage.
We all know music that can transport the listener.
The lead singer-guitarist-songwriter of this long-running psychedelic English outfit has made some of the most transporting music of his, or any, time. The best music, he told me in 1997, “puts you in a completely different state. I think it’s primal. That’s why rock ‘n’ roll got in with the sex and drugs. It’s all primal. I love the idea of music being physical and I think music is spinal. If it really floors you, you feel it in your spine and you feel it on the hairs in the back of your neck.”
So, then, it creates a better reality?
“A better unreality,” he says.
There is an inescapable dark side, as well. How close is he to those emotions or characters? “Well, I’m in there,” he says, “but I’m trying to draw [songs] about relationships, like Tammy Wynette, who sings these glorious songs of heartbreak. It’s writing about the highest highs and the lowest lows, rather than the mediocrity of life. I write about a broken heart with a smile on my face.”
I’m backstage in Boston after the band’s kick-ass gig at a large club.
It’s the spring of 2007. I’m sitting on a banquette, the lead singer to my left and his manager to my right. I’ve known both for years. The manager is quite animated telling me about how he and singer both went to rehab together, how they kicked heroin and how happy he was for doing so.
The singer hadn’t said much. There was a pause in the conversation. I turned to him and said, “So, what [your manager] says, that worked for you, too, then?” He looked at me, paused for a beat and said, “If you had some heroin with you now, I’d do it.”
I’m in Sarasota, Florida, on vacation, in the late ‘80s.
I’ve never seen this band, which created some of the best pop nuggets of the mid-late ‘60s and briefly into the ‘70s – my AM radio years. But here they were, playing a local club – kind of a schmaltzy sit-down adult club – and I was raring to go. I did my journo thing, got on the guest list and got a backstage pass, figuring I’d want to write about ‘em later, which I did. The set was fabulous: Resplendent hit after hit, just as I remembered them.
Backstage, post-show, I’m talking to the singer who has apparently just acquired a new girlfriend – not that night, but she was traveling with him. They were a couple. He was talking about past glories and projecting a bright future, a future that would include her and, I guess, more hits (improbable as that seemed). And she would benefit from all this success to come. The line I recall best, about the riches he would bestow upon her: “Honey, I’m gonna have you fartin’ through silk.”
It doesn’t happen often – or successfully – but sometimes athletes step out of uniform, strap on a guitar and play rock ‘n’ roll in public.
I talked to this baseball player in 1995 about his band which was coming to a Boston club. I asked how he balanced baseball and rock?
“It’s strange,” he said. “This whole public figure-baseball thing is almost a separate person. One of the reasons I reached out for music is I felt so pigeonholed in my life. The whole music thing was such an intense release. Looking back, the one reason a lot of people in sports aren’t viewed as having artistic abilities is there are very defined parameters.
“The funny thing I come across [from people] is ‘Why are you doing this? You’re a baseball player, this is stupid.’ Well, just because I play baseball, it doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t do music. In the truest punk sense – how punk is this? how cool is this? – punk rock started because you didn’t have to know how to play your instrument. You just do it. Why can’t I? I feel as passionate.”
And what do his ballplaying peers think? He figured that few had a clue. “There are not too many people in baseball who have similar taste as me. They’re mostly country listeners.”
As we all know, North America is the international proving ground when it comes to England’s successful bands.
This band did well in America when their first album came out, but didn’t break the bank. Now, it was 1995 and they were touring behind their second album. The buzz was building again. Would they conquer America this time?
“We never said it ourselves,” the singer told me, of those over-sized expectations. “It had nothing to do with us, really. The whole media circus sprung up around us because we were writing really good songs and we were playing really exciting gigs. The British press decided they were going to pin their hopes for a British band on us and made up this thing about ‘How will they break America?’ . . . We didn’t go out there like we were some fucking army wanting to conquer a country.”
The previous year there had been a tear in the fabric. During the recording of the second album, the singer and his co-writer/lead guitarist had a falling out and the guitarist exited after the album was completed. “In the initial phase, we felt massive relief,” the singer says. “The guy left because he was obviously unhappy and we were obviously unhappy with him.”
But, with his main songwriting partner gone, will the band suffer, as did Morrissey when he lost his partner, Johnny Marr, in the Smiths’ breakup?
“I think it’s very different,” he says. “People have always drawn comparisons between the Smiths and us, but we have a very different way of working. I’ve always been much more involved in the musical side of it than Morrissey ever was. I think Morrissey was primarily a lyricist and a musician secondarily. And he really did need Johnny Marr’s great music to bounce his lyrics off. The way I write doesn’t revolve around the lyrics. I do write a very definite melody line and I have quite a musical sense. I’m probably not as good an actual musician as [the guitarist] but I know what a good tune is and can still come up with a tune.”
1) Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, 2) Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, 3) the late Rob Grill of The Grass Roots, 4) “Black” Jack McDowell of Stick Figure (and the Chicago White Sox) 5, Brett Anderson of The London Suede (just Suede in England), talking about Bernard Butler.
AUDIO: Stick Figure “Care”