Famous Quotes Vol. XXI: July 2021

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

Famous Quotes 21 (Art: Ron Hart)

It’s the 21st 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 was eight years ago and the leader of this Irish/English band was prepping for a US tour, which would include material from an album that had, perhaps, an unusual and rather high-brow source point. You see, this singer-guitarist-songwriter had surrendered the lyric part of the songs to a famous dead poet.

“I love the way [this poet’s] poems lend themselves to music,” he told me. “But I also like him as a guy — a dandified, opinionated, larger-than-life character. I feel a kinship to him. My purpose isn’t to treat [him] as a museum piece, but to connect with the soul of the poems — as they appear to me — then go wherever the music in my head suggests, and that means some surprising places. 

 “When people read about this project, it’s natural for them to have preconceptions. They tend to think that, because it’s based on poetry, it’s going to be difficult, stiff or wordy. But when they hear the record or come and see the show, they realize it’s really just more music from [our band]. I should stress these are songs — rock ’n’ roll, pop, psychedelic and roots songs — not recitations. They’ve got to stand up as contemporary songs, not like poems squashed into musical forms. In fact, the best thing is when people don’t realize they were written a hundred years ago, but just hear them and think, ‘That’s a song,’ and don’t question it.”


2. It was somewhere in the mid- ‘80s. I’d spent a lot of time with this band, in front of the stage, digging their rock ‘n’ roll mayhem, their primal sexuality and feeling that anything might just happen threat. There were those naysayers, however, who thought they were – well, I’ll let the female lead guitarist tell it. ” We’ve been called a parody or a cartoon band that makes fun of this and that, but we don’t make fun of anything. People have said we don’t change, but all I see is we don’t jump on shallow trends. The reason this band exists is because of a love for the kind of music that influences us. . .. [To change would be] like falling out of love with the person you really love. Why would you? Now, you like people with short, blond hair?”

Added the male lead singer: “If people that think we’re funny — I kinda feel sorry for them because it means that they think it’s a joke. We’ve spent our lives searching out incredibly wonderful things that most folks just don’t know about yet.”   

Wait, there’s more!  “We have been accused of being sexist,” sighed the guitarist who co-wrote the songs with the singer. “They don’t comment on our music at all, or the fact that maybe what I play is unique and I’m not mimicking some male guitarist — that this is original. I co-write the very sexual ones. All I see is our songs have to do with, from the male point of view, being intrigued by the power and mystery of females. I think it’s a great tradition in blues songs and I think we’re in a good tradition there, too. He {the protagonist} is loving being overpowered by women and turned on. And a lot of people just confuse being turned on with being sexist — like it’s not OK to be flat-out horny over someone else. That’s really pitiful, but that happens to be the way things are right now. It’s a fear of sex in general, sex and power.”


3. I talked with this mainstream rock star seven years ago about music, yes, but also golf and dicks. He’s the front-man and singer for a group that was absolutely huge in the early-mid ‘80s. He’s a golfer, I’m golfer, so my question about his game was answered thus: 

“I haven’t playing all that much to be honest with you. Actually, we’ve been working pretty hard and at this ripe old age, 63 … You know we used to play golf on the same day as the show, but it’s a bit much now. I’ve been a little more conservative, so my golf game is pretty good. I have wedge issues. A half-wedge, an 87-yard shot or a 63-yard shot. I have putting problems. But these are problems you gotta play a lot of golf to have. I was the worst putter in the world for three years ‘til I went to the claw [grip], and now I’m unbelievable. I’m not that great a putter, but I think I’m gonna make everything so it’s great for my putting game and I have the same thing going on with my wedge. A little fear creeping in. Fear of golf. But I don’t shank. My iron play is pretty good, I’m driving the ball pretty good. I’m a 9 [handicap]. This year, I’ve only played five times. But I will play a lot in my life. We [the band he fronts] just working hard this year.”

Betty Boop Wants To Know (Image: Google)

He also was griping about politicians and celebrities sexting pics of their members. “There’s no responsibility to it,” he said “Nobody gives a shit. I’m not a prude or anything, but it’s just crazy. and other bad behavior. The Weiner thing, who gives a shit? It’s enough already. All of these people. I’m in show business for Chrissakes and show business people have way more integrity, it’s weird. But as a group it’s really true.” 

I said, “Yeah, but didn’t you wave your dick around somewhere?” “Yeah,” he answered, “but no pictures. It was pre-pictures era. Just Little Rock Connie who was trying to pay me a huge compliment. I knew that was gonna come back and bite me in the ass. It’s kind of a funny story. I’ll tell it in my book someday.”


4. She’s known for her no-nonsense, good-time rock ‘n’ roll, much of rooted in the British glam rock of the early ‘70s. “I’ve always basically written songs about relationships: good, bad or indifferent,” she told me. But, in 1994, she and her band released the most sociopolitical work she’s ever done. 

The most telling song of this type is the first single, co-written with Kathleen Hanna of the Riot Grrrl band Bikini Kill. It’s a snarling, bluesy, catchy pop-rocker about confronting a stalker with a stark black-and-white video. It’s dedicated to a young female rocker who had been raped and killed.  

“The song is about being attacked and fighting,” the singer-guitarist told me. She heard about [the dead woman’s] fate from Hanna. The two co-wrote the song. She also formed a collective which teaches self-defense to women.

“They teach you boundary-setting,” she continued. “You say, `Get the fuck away from here!’ If that doesn’t stop the person, you learn how to get away, whether that means walking around with pepper spray or a really loud siren or stepping down on their instep or gouging their eyes, or hitting their chin with your palm and kneeing them in the” groin. “Just to give yourself time to get away, so you can get home alive.”


5. I’ve never had a dull moment talking with or listening to the music of this English singer-songwriter-guitarist. In 1990, we were chatting up an upcoming gig so I started off with something admittedly weak – but I secretly knew it would open a door, despite the vagueness: “What’s on your mind?” 

“I’m interested in Arnold Schwarzenegger, mainly,” he said immediately. “I’ve got a feeling I could fit completely into one of his limbs and my girlfriend could fit into the other, and we wonder which of us would be which limb. I’m also interested in why he seems vulnerable, whether it’s because he doesn’t seem very intelligent or because he seems so powerful it’s surprising there’s still a human head on top of it.”

We’re on the phone, but at his elbow, he tells me however, is an invisible dog. “Ow, bloody hell!” he yells, interrupting a train of skewed thought. “Down! Bad dog! You’re not going for the tuna fish!”

When we finally got back to music, he told me when he wrapped up the tour, he essentially had no plans. A need for money and an inability to keep silent may force him back to work, but he insisted he and his regular backing band, have nothing concrete in the offing.

Who, then, is the real him?

“There isn’t a real me,” he said. “I’m a series of facades. If you remove them all, you’re back with the one you started with. Like shuffling a deck, but you can never see the end of it.”


1) The Waterboys’ Mike Scott on William Butler Yeats, 2) The Cramps’ Poison Ivy and Lux Interior, 3) Huey Lewis, 4) Joan Jett, 5) Robyn Hitchcock


VIDEO: The Cramps Live at Napa State Mental Hospital 1977




Jim Sullivan
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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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