Famous Quotes Vol. XX: June 2021

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

Famous Quotes Vol. XX (Art: Ron Hart)

It’s a milestone! The twentieth 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, backstage. 

 

1. It’s 1980 and I’m talking to this New York rocker who’s made a name for himself – solo and with the band he used to front – for probing the dark underbelly of life. The thing that is most misunderstood about him, he told me, is his sense of humor:  “I don’t think people realize the sense of humor that’s running through these things [songs]. To say my sense of humor is dry is in itself a dry joke. I think I’m very funny. I find most things very funny.”

We discuss a recent story in US News and World Report called “How Ready to Fight?”(he terms it “their annual end of the world issue”) and he likens present anxieties to the Bay of Pigs incident: “Those of us who were in school’ – he was at university studying film and drama – were all ready to hop in cars and drive to the mountains and hide. Wasn’t everything going to end then?

“If you sat down and seriously thought about things, you’d drive yourself nuts. You’ve got to remember this is New York where a few weeks ago a guy got shot with a bow and arrow and there’s a guy running around with a meat clever down on the subway. What can you say about that?”

I’m not sure. But he pauses for my non-reaction and says, “I think it at least shows some innovation on physical assaults on the citizenry – going back to more primitive weapons. Now, I would find it perhaps scary if they found out that somebody were laser-beaming people to death in the subway. A guy like that would be hard to catch.”

He laughs. “Just little ashes, little bags through the subway, like 14 people in a little pooper scooper. Think about it. People say, you ought to put that on tape’ and I say ‘I do. I make records.’”

 

2. It was 1992 and we were at Turner Fisheries restaurant in Boston – me, a journo, and she, the English ex-wife of a very famous rock star. I nursed two drinks. She ate half a seafood dinner, sent the remaining portion up to her room for later, called the waitress (and everyone else she encountered) “love,” sent back her chardonnay (too woody) and held court in a manner one could never construe as being reserved.

It wasn’t a random hookup. She was there as she said “pushing the product,” even though she would rather have talked about, oh, the effect her father’s military career and his organizational mind have had on her, or the books, movies and albums she intends to create down the road.

The ‘product” was a tell-all about her life with the rock star. She wants you to know she had a life before that fame. She says that before she married the famous rock star in 1970 (and helped manage him) her acting-art-music career was on track. “My credentials up until that time were perfect, and then I went off and did this rock ‘n’ roll thing,” she says, “and then I became {in people’s minds} this wife. This wife thing. No, no, no, no, no, no. This is the manager thing, the creative thing . . . It was like `Grrrrrr.’ If you’re a woman, there’s a label of being a wife, which means you did nothing for five, six, seven years. It’s a weird one.”

Now, doing this chat tour, “I’m promoting [my ex-husband] and [another very famous rock star she trysted with] and everyone else I have the occasion and pleasure to talk about. I’m a very logical human being.” She’s admitted to being part of all sorts of threesomes, foursomes and fivesomes. It was a dizzy, dazzling, highly sexed life. Yet, here she’s reticent to get real down ‘n’ dirty.

As to her husband of 10 years, he was a guy who was not too keen on personal hygiene, wasn’t much of a lover, had a high degree of self-loathing, was an oft-ruthless human being, had a monstrous cocaine addiction and dabbled in Satanism. Near the end of the book, she calls him “a friend-abusing, sense-mangling, money-bleeding, full-fledged Vampire of Velocity. Like coke addicts long before and after him, he’d learned to travel far and fast, to keep his mind spinning in tight little circles even when standing perfectly still, to arrange an existence almost entirely devoid of daylight, to assume a worldview of utter paranoia (in his case, no great stretch), and to start slowly sucking the life out of everybody close to him.”

Who’s this (Art: Ron Hart)

3. “The important thing in poetry or songwriting is to ignore the facts and tell the truth,” the singer-songwriter-guitarist tells me, on the phone from her New Orleans home. “It’s not a board meeting; it’s not a pie chart; it’s a poem or a song, and the truth is bigger than the facts of any situation. So that’s what I try to do, talk about essential truths. The ‘me’ [in the song] might be me or it might be somebody else or it might be a composite. It’s the truth of what I walked through in this world.”

She rode a big alt-rock/folk/feminist wave near the beginning of her career.  It’s 2016 and she, like most artists of any duration, has experienced ups and downs in popularity. “I just continue to be me,” she says, “and let the universe decide whether it’s going to show up or not. I don’t know what I would do if I examined its changing demographic or tried in some way to be strategic about it, so I don’t. The longer that I’m out here doing this the better it feels in terms of my relationship with my audience. 

“There’s a big contingent who have been here for the whole ride, which is a very sweet relationship at this point. There’s a lot of history, a lot of trust, a lot of connection. These are people that have been listening and putting up with all of my directions, my ideas, good moments and bad moments, for so long. I don’t have any ‘hit’ songs so nobody’s coming and waiting for the single. They’re just there for me as an artist and a person and that’s a great feeling when you’re standing on stage.”

 

4. His was the first punk rock band I ever saw live – at the Rat in Boston, November 1976. Their debut album had yet to come out; all these songs were new to me and they were angry, raw, nasty, guitar-stoked and they kicked in immediately. I was happily gobsmacked.

“People weren’t used to that sort of thing,” that band’s guitarist-songwriter told me four years ago, looking back at those days. “In a way, it was a lonely existence. We had kind of a rough time because of it. People thought you were weird every place you went. We kind of carried it with us.

“I’m surprised we got away with some of it, but we were just being funny. I mean we never wanted to see anybody get beat up or hurt or anything like that. Unless they pissed us off. The whole thing had a sense of humor. I think we could have been a little bit more political; we don’t have much of that in there. We didn’t have to be so sophomoric, I guess.”

I posited that – aside from the lack of success in their respective native lands – they were America’s Sex Pistols. “I don’t think we were America’s anything, really,” he responded. “If you’re looking for an angle on a story, well, that’s one, but in my eye, we weren’t the Sex Pistols at all. We played a lot better than the Sex Pistols. We had better songs. I don’t think we were America’s anything except” – and here’s where he does posit an accurate comparison – “we got kind of screwed in the music business. I don’t think anybody handled us well at all or that anybody understood us at all.”

 

1) Lou Reed, 2) Angela Bowie on David Bowie (of course) and Mick Jagger, 3) Ani DiFranco, 4) The Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome 

 

VIDEO: David Bowie x Mick Jagger “Dancing In The Streets”

 

 

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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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