Famous Quotes Vol. VI: April 2020

Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the sixth installment of his inquisitive column

Guess Who (Art: Ron Hart)

It’s the sixth edition of Famous Quotes: A little quiz where the basic question is: Who said this?

It’s a deep dive into my archives of 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. 

 

1. Cult bands tend to suffer the slings and arrows of the non-believers, and this band, once perhaps England’s quintessential cult band, knew it better than most. They’d been playing at the rock game in one form or another, with a myriad of lineup shifts, for two-plus decades. Not only were they oft slagged by England’s rock press, they’d more often been flat-out ignored. Or so said its leader when we spoke 30 years ago.

“You see,” he told me, “the funny thing is we can actually play festivals over here where we play to maybe 50,000 people at the top of the bill, and there is never a review in the paper. And I’d think, ‘Why have they got this campaign against us?’ There have been times in all those years when you’re fed up with it, but then you carry on and see what turns up next. It’s never been regarded as a career or job.”

But the singer-guitarist-synthist noted, with some bemusement, the tide was starting to turn. “We’re regarded recently as having assumed a legendary state. It’s nice to be a legend, I suppose.”

Asked if there’s a central theme in the band’s music, he says, “I think there are lots of little men battling the system. I think you have to do that unless you become very corrupt.”

 

2. Onstage and off, contradiction came naturally to this singer- songwriter-pianist. Within his music, forays into dissonance and contemplative mellifluousness had long been integral, often intertwined, components. In that contrast, lay the enticement. Before this 1981 show in Boston, he called the key qualities to performance “reaction time and spontaneity.” About playing with his latest young band he said: “They never know what’s going to happen next and neither do I sometimes.”    

He’s now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but then, considering that band, he dissed it by saying, “What we set out to do, we didn’t deliver on – to have improvised music. We thought that maybe we could give Dylan a run for his money and indicate a different, more vitriolic, approach to that intellectual mentality.”

Then, discussing rock ‘n’ roll’s importance, he called it “car music. That’s the only value . . . really. Turn on a rock ‘n’ roll station and go out on the freeway.”

As regarding his recent band – young and relatively unknown musicians – knowing about his past? “I don’t care if they know,” he says, pausing to think and then amending that to “I don’t particularly want them to know. It’s more important to get that reaction time from them.” He said he encouraged his band to react in a “diametrically opposite” fashion from the way convention would dictate.

 

3. This female singer and songwriter had sung alt-country and lush pop. By the late ‘80s, she’d achieved quite a measure of fame and decided to bare it all in an indy movie that came out in 1991. “Naked is naked,” she told me, of the experience. “I don’t think anyone is completely comfortable {doing that}, but I manage to soothe myself in thinking it’s a refreshing thing to see someone zaftig naked on film. I finally had myself at this point of understanding that it was probably very, very good for my body image to do it. To step through that boundary and just go, `This is my body, the body I’ve had for 30 years.’ “

 

4. These days, you’ll find him in prison. But between 1972 and 1975 he sold 18 million records in the UK. In the US, he had one inescapable monster hit that resonated many years after its chart life expired. He did have a formula, a repetitive, knowingly dumb sort of percussive-heavy style of pop music where he brought the realm of bad taste into the arena of good, cheesy fun. But most critics hated him. In 1972, writers of the British magazine Let It Rock voted him the worst recording artist of the year. When I spoke with him after a Boston gig in 1984, he said, “What a compliment! You can only be the best or the worst.” 

Then, what he did to land him in prison, was the worst. 

 

5. This is semi-embarrassing – and it’s the shortest “quote” of this series – but what the hell. I’m at this show at a Boston club in the ‘80s and this likable, B-level power-pop band is on stage. Not bad, but, really, a bit bland and same-y, as power pop can get. Suddenly, this line popped into my head – something a Creem writer said he shouted at some lame band years ago. So, during a quiet pause between songs, and possibly after a couple of drinks, this came out of my mouth at fairly high volume: “Boogie, you slime-shitters!” The lead singer-guitarist of the band quizzically looks out into the crowd in my direction, scrunched up his face, and asks, incredulously, “Boogie?” I don’t know if he was offended, and if so, I apologize, but I think we was more amused and played it for laughs. What might this “boogie” thing be anyway? And, let’s face it, the ‘80s was not a boogieing time.

 

Answers: 1) Dave Brock of Hawkwind, 2) John Cale, formerly of the Velvet Underground, 3) k.d. lang, 4) Gary Glitter, the song “Rock and Roll (Part 2),  5) Mitch Easter of Let’s Active.

 

VIDEO: Hawkwind Solstice at Stonehenge 

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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