Jim Sullivan looks back on a career of epic interviews in the fifth installment of his inquisitive column
It’s the 5th 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 quotes, culled from 40+ years of yakking with rock ‘n’ rollers of all stripes – on the phone, in a bar, backstage.
1. Rock ‘n’ roll and drugs have been steady partners for decades. Sometimes, the dating works out. Often, it does not. It’s 1995 and I’m talking with a female singer who’s been down that road – good times and bad, to hell and back. The way she looks at it now: A lot of rock ‘n’ roll self-indulgence, she says, “is a pose, one of those things artists do. We want everything we do to be like an ambush and a surprise. So, just as people write you off and say, `Well, that’s that,’ then you come up with something astounding and it makes it more amusing to you. I certainly don’t do it now and I have not for a long time. And it’s a pretty childish way to do things. But I do remember thinking like that and I also know it’s one of the things people are astounded by when they meet me, because I obviously am not completely physically destroyed.”
She’s not running away from her history. She dealt with it in a memoir. But if that’s where the gutter press wants to dig, she says, “I don’t like those things. The salacious, dirty stories, the sex and drugs. I have to learn to deal with it, but I think with the book and everything I’m not quite so touchy.”
Still, she adds, “It’s not good for me to be demeaned and diminished by that because I’ve got a lot to do and I need my confidence and I need my hope high. That sort of chipping away isn’t good. No, we don’t let that happen.”
2. It’s 1979 and I’m talking with this very effusive singer-guitarist bandleader. He and his backing duo have just released their second album. “We are the Rolling Stones success story,” he told me. His group was blasting off as American root-rock and on a small indy record label. “They said in 1964 their goal in life was to make their idols everybody’s idols. I’d never heard of Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. I saw Howlin’ Wolf on Shindig and that’s how I got introduced to him, through the Rolling Stones. I mean I really enjoyed him, not liked him because Mick Jagger did.
“I can come to you sit down and play ‘Kind Hearted Woman’ and you can say it’s great. Then I can say ‘Here’s who I learned it from, Robert Johnson. So, you can listen to the Robert Johnson record and say “Well, it’s nice but I like yours better’ or you might say ‘Wow!’ and then completely forget about us which wouldn’t bother me ‘cause Robert Johnson’s a whole lot better than I am.”
3. This harsh and unrelenting English band – still going strong in 2020 – has come and gone a lot since its early ‘80s arrival. When I spoke with its leader, the lead singer and a multi-instrumentalist, it was just after George W. Bush launched the US into the ill-conceived war with Iraq in 2003. How did this pertain to his band?
“I don’t know why,” he said, “but the war years work well for us. We’ve got no complaints about it.” (The way of renewed popularity, he means, not the war.) Our music, he added, is often about “the war that goes on inside, inner turmoil. What is it about human beings where we have to destroy and create havoc? It beats me, but there you have it …We’re coming to bring comfort to people. It’s a like a sanctuary to people from the outside world. It feels like 50,000 volts going through my body.” –
4. Not a “who said this?” but a “who did this?” A little more than eight years ago, I’m reviewing this hard rock/prog rock band at Agganis Arena in Boston. They’ve got lots of fans, but have mostly taken a critical drubbing. I’m leaning toward the latter end of it. I’m in the loge, stage left, midway back. The charismatic lead singer has got pretty much the entire hall standing up but me. I’m not a fan, but a damn critic with a notebook and probably a furrowed brow. I’m sitting, scribbling, no doubt. Somehow, through the din and dark and whatever the singer spots me (did he know that’s where they planted critics?) points at me, barks at me, singling me out for not standing and being a true part of the band’s party.
I wasn’t sure he really was doing this for about 15 seconds. I mean, I saw him point directly at me, but hey you can misconstrue a lot in an arena. How could he see me in the dark? But he did – I have to think he did – and I, owing to peer/rock star pressure, rose up (notebook in hand still, writing all this down) and he got his way.
Somewhat later in the set, he’s out in the crowd and does his walk through the backs-of-seats balancing act thing and makes it all the way to our section, balances on my seat (and others) walking down our row, makes eye contact. Holy shit, I’m thinking. Is there going to be an altercation? Naw, he smiles and high fives me. An all-is-forgiven gesture.
5. The scene: November, 1993, post-gig, backstage at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. The band in question was one of the first and best punk bands and they’d just played a ferocious life-and-punk-rock affirming set to a full house. This was just after Nirvana – the grunge band that became the hottest band in the land – had played Springfield Civic Center arena in Hartford, and tall and lanky bassist Krist Novoselic, clearly a fan of this band, had joined the backstage throng, attracting considerable attention.
Finally, it seemed, in America some variant of hard-edged punk rock had broken through to the mainstream. I’m talking with the lead singer-guitarist of the band which just played. He looked over at the crowd flocking around Novoselic, shot me a glance, raised an eyebrow, and said, with a slight smile, “So, is this what we fought the punk wars for, Jim?” That is, seeing a ‘90s grunge band benefit hugely from the ground-breaking work of the mid-late ‘70s punks. My answer would be: Yes. No. Kind of.
1.) Marianne Faithfull, 2.) George Thorogood, 3.) Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, 4.) Jared Leto of 30 Seconds to Mars, 5.) Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks.
VIDEO: George Thorogood and The Destroyers “Bad To The Bone”