Famous Quotes Vol. 33 (1/3): July 2022

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

Famous Quotes Vol. 33 (Image: Discogs)

It’s the 33rd 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, at a restaurant, backstage. I give you the situation and the quotes; you guess who spoke those words back when.


1. He sang and wrote for one of the leading bands of early ‘80s post-punk Brit psych-rock. By 1986, he was on his own, by choice, and spoke about his old group this: “With [that band] we could be absolutely, shockingly bad. Or really amazing. I really liked that. But you can only exist for so long on that level. There were a lot of people trying to get in on what we were doing, including members of the group who were trying to write songs that were like the way I wrote them.” 

Another issue in the breakup: “Chemical dependency” and the feeling of “enormous relief.”

He took considerable time off before re-emerging solo. “It was really coming out of chaos really,” he told me, on the phone. “The games you had to play and that sort of thing. I was completely paranoid about going out. I was used to going out and getting recognized and just going out and not being recognized was too much of a shock for me. That was a very confusing time for me so I just decided to stay in. I decided to stay away for a long time until I had something to say

In [our band] we were confused. I’m not any less confused. I’m just more comfortable with it. I’m definitely not the man with the answers.”


2. She came to underground punk/folk female-centered fame in the early ‘90s and by mid-decade she was a cover girl on both Spin and Ms.

 When we spoke on the phone in 2016, she first talked about songwriting and then perseverance in the pop music world. “The important thing in poetry or songwriting is to ignore the facts and tell the truth. 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.”

Of the vagaries of the pop world, the ups and down: “I just continue to be me 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 [of fans] 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.”  


VIDEO: 1982 K-Tel Radio Active Music Comp ad


3. He’s one of the most famous singer-songwriters in the world, but when he caught up with him in Boston – still in the club days, 1979, backstage at the Paradise following a soldout show – he was a burgeoning actor as well. He had some damn good character actor parts, too. But he told me, “In the initial stage of [our band], we couldn’t feed ourselves. It was very hard to get gigs and we had to earn money so I went out and sold my body – more or less. I went out and got an agent in London and she used to send me regularly for TV ads. And with uncanny regularity, I would get these ads and they’d pay amazing money. I was a model, basically. I was paid for the session and then they pay you repeats every time it’s shown. So, I paid the rent that way.”


4. When we spoke in 2017, this Welsh lead singer-songwriter was on tour, once again fronting the uplifting punk-folk-pop band that made him and them famous in the mid-80s. And he was battling cancer for the third time. In 1995, he had had a bout with non-Hodgkins lymphoma that went into remission. Ten years after that, he was diagnosed with leukemia. That, too, went into remission, but it came back in the summer of 2015. 

But he maintained, there was no cause for alarm. “I’m living with the disease and I’m playing shows,” he told me on the phone. “I’m the beneficiary of the new developments that they have to ward off the cancer. I take my chemotherapy with me in a bottle and I have it morning and night. I’m living with this disease and working as a normal human being, functioning as a normal human being. I can still go out there and rock with all the young bands.”

“I’ve likened cancer to being a surfer on a bad wave and I just managed to stay on top of the curl all the way through and I’ve never fallen off. I’ve been very, very lucky because a lot of people I was treated with or sat in hospital with doing chemotherapy alongside me are gone. I’m very very fortunate that the drugs that were given to me they kept working whereas for other people they stopped working.”

In 2022, he had pneumonia. But he’s battled back and is putting on a big three-night event in North Wales early next year followed by a two-night stand in New York City.


5. They were childhood friends, sisters almost, growing up in a coastal New England town. They learned Beatles songs on guitar together and then – somewhat shockingly to the outside world at least – one of them started to write original, somewhat elliptical art-rock songs. They put a band together and hit the post-punk underworld while in their mid-teens. Somehow, they got signed to a prestigious UK label.  The women lasted about a decade together in this band though there were later collaborations and reformations.

The one who left formed her own group and that band a had a spurt of big alterna-rock success in the mid-90s. Looking back on that first band and her sisterly bandmate in 2018, she told me, “Writing with [my friend-bandmate], she was my musical midwife and that’s where my sensibilities were really honed. And my taste, not just playing but listening. Her music is not complicated for me, because I learned how to weave in and out with her and I think learning how to play guitar and write with her. It taught me how to respect someone else’s space in music and in a band. It gave me respect for lyrical importance and how to play accordingly.”


1) Julian Cope of Teardrop Explodes, the solo album Saint Julian, 2) Ani Di Franco, 3) Sting of the Police, 4) Mike Peters of the Alarm, 5) Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses and Belly, speaking about Kristin Hersh



VIDEO: The Alarm “Strength”

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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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