Thursday, January 8, 2015

Part 31 of Our Pete Townshend Interview

Over the course of my career as a music journalist, I interviewed lots of hotsy-totsy rock stars, most of them quite badly. Around those I admired, I’d be hopelessly tongue-tied, and usually got hopelessly bored within a couple of minutes of sitting down with those in whom I’d no interest.

Early in my career, I spent an awkward half-hour making small talk with Jethro Tull’s not-very-distinguished guitarist Martin Barre in his underwear (that is, he was wearing his BVDs, and I my own frilly nylon panties, the idea for which I’d gotten from The Kinks) waiting for Ian Anderson, the true object of my affection, to materialize. When he did, he turned out to be pretty irascible. I complimented him on his multicolored leather patchwork jacket, and lamented that garments of such stylishness were unavailable in the USA. He’d bought it in Minneapolis.

I interviewed Mick Jagger at his rented home in Bel-Air about an album I hadn’t heard, and would later wish I'd continued not to have heard. He was charming and patient. Realizing, after a while, that I was too in aw of him to pose an interesting question, he switched on the TV and we passed an enjoyable hour watching a terrible Western interrupted every 45 seconds by the colorful local automobile huckster Cal Worthington, whose dog Spot was a tiger.

In the 80s, while writing for the fervently irreverent Creem, I took to provoking my conversational partners. My first question to Pat Benatar was what she liked most about being abnormally short. Her publicist crawled back out of her rectum long enough to give me a very dirty look. I asked Queen’s drummer if he wasn’t embarrassed by Freddie Mercury’s harlequin leotards, or by Queen’s sounding vocally like a men's glee club. After a while, he realized I wasn’t going to ask him anything not intended to antagonize him, but remained a good sport until I told him I needed to take some photographs. As I was about to click the shutter, he stuck his tongue out, and then suggested I vacate the premises. I was pleased to oblige, as there are few groups I’ve ever detested as fervently as Queen.

The Beach Boys launched one of their regular, ultra-cynical Brian-is-back-and-better-than-ever! campaigns. I found it sickening, which I made clear when I interviewed them. Talking to Carl Wilson was as interesting as talking to a soggy phonebook, but I unleashed my main obnoxiousness on Mike Love. He may be one of the great villains in American popular music history (and may not), but I had to admit that decades of meditation (or something) had made him imperturbable. It was Jerry Schilling (if I’m remembering his name correctly), a one-time Elvis acolyte, who snarled malevolently.

Nicest person I ever interviewed: Steve Howe of Yes. He was so charming that I forgave his membership in Yes. Most miserable: Ray Davies, who spent the whole of our last conversation looking about to burst into tears. Shyest? Bryan Ferry, who stared at a spot on the carpet midway between us for the entirety of our interview, and had a handshake like a plateful of overcooked linguine. Most generous? Ike Turner, who gave me an enormous bag of very potent cannabis at the end of our conversation, during most of which he had two Ikettes on his lap, one on each leg. Most paranoid: Ray Davies, who tape-recorded our conversation, presumably so I wouldn’t put words in his mouth. (And here I’d hoped that he regarded me as a friend!) Most verbose: Well, you’d think Pete Townshend (most common headline on rock magazine covers in the 1970s: Part 2 (or 3, or 4, or 5!) of Our Pete Townshend Interview), but actually Peter Noone, once the Herman of Herman’s Hermits. I came into his house, marveled at his tininess, and turned on my tape recorder. Around 55 minutes later, I switched it off without having had to ask a single question. 

Most boring: the LA billboard sexpot Angelyne, who had a grab-bag of purportedly cute standard responses, but desperately needed new writers, or the lead singer in A Flock of Seagulls, or Adam Ant. The Flock guy was so self-inflated and tiresome that in my article I berated the reader for having nothing better to do than read it.

1 comment:

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