WITH ALAN CLAYTON OF THE DIRTY STRANGERS: “I WRITE BETTER WITH MY BACK AGAINST THE WALL”

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Original article (in Spanish) published in Revista Madhouse on August 13, 2017

And on the eight day God created The Dirty Strangers. Or something. Because the story of one of the most particular London cult bands of the last three-odd decades actually had to do with earthlier facts. No eighth day of creation, then. God has never taken up the work again, he just had to settle for seven days to do what he could do. Instead came Alan Clayton, singer, guitarist and, most of it all, main man behind the songs of the Shepherd´s Bush band, one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the British capital city.

1..

The Dirty Strangers in the ’80s: Ray King, Dirty Alan Clayton, Mark Harrison, Scotty Mulvey, Paul Fox

Like in a theater programme, to get to know about the days and the times of the Dirtys suggests a brief description of the cast. The first name on the list is irrevocably (again) Clayton, the band´s heart and soul, or as clearly described in the group´s website: “The band were on a mission: carrying a torch for rootsy rock’n’roll as invented by Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry but laced with a little bit of Otis Redding soul and a side order of punk attitude” Oh yes. The original cast that spawned the early days of the Dirty Strangers’ biography continues with Jim Callaghan, most remembered as the Rolling Stones’ touring security chief  for at least 30 years, currently retired, who Clayton used to work for when he still hadn´t picked up the music path. Next is former boxer Joe Seabrook, Alan´s close friend, who also did Security for Callaghan before becoming Keith Richards’ (yes, that Keith Richards) personal bodyguard, till he passed away in 2000. There´s also Stash Klossowski De Rola (better known as Prince Stash), an aristocratic dandy all the way from the London ‘60s bohemian scene, one of Brian Jones’ closest mates, whom he was busted with on a historic drug raid in 1967. Last but not least is the very Keith Richards himself (yes, that Keith once again) as prime eventual catalyst, who thanks to all the aforementioned characters ended up being not only the band´s unofficial godfather, but also a very close friend of, of course, Alan Clayton’s. One thing lead to another and, 30 years and four albums later (“The Dirty Strangers”, “West 12 To Wittering (Another West Side Story)”, “Crime And A Woman”, and “Diamonds”, a compilation), the nowadays four-member group (Clayton on vocals and guitar, Scott Mulvey on piano, Cliff Wright on bass and drummer Danny Fury) prepare to record a new album early next year. As they’ve been doing since their early days, in the meantime they´ll keep doing the odd club circuit in England, with 3 gigs in Spain by late September (in Barcelona, Zaragoza and Reus) recently added.

2..

A promo poster of the Dirtys’ self-titled first album, with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood as guests

NO SLEEP TILL HAMMERSMITH
REVISTA MADHOUSE visited Clayton´s place last November to interview him and go over the band´s history. In order to get to Dirty Alan´s headquarters (which backyard includes an intimate and tiny personal recording studio) one needs to reach the Hammersmith and Fulham Borough, in West London, not far from the legendary Wormwood Scrubs prison, which involved a truly funny question after asking a local lady about the right directions in order to get there by mentioning the traditional jail (“Oh, your friend lives there?”) Along with Alan was bandmate Danny Fury (once drummer of the Lords of the New Church, among other great bands he was in), whom we´ll soon feature an exclusive interview with too. So here´s a smooth (and sometimes also wild) ride about the lives and times of the Dirty Strangers in the very own words of its creator, a rock’n’roll task that took him longer than, rather more than, seven days.

3..

Clayton, Wright and Mulvey, on a recent show

The Dirtys were born in the mid-80’s but what before that, I mean, personally, as a musician?Alan: The band formed in ’78. I mean, I started playing guitar I suppose in ’76, something about that I used to write songs and poetry. Because most of the people think that when I met Keith, that’s where the band started. And the reason why I met Keith is because we were very successful. The Lords of the New Church were a big band, and the Dirtys had their own scene playing the Marquee. Your career moves very fast when you´re young.  And about three years before I met Keith, I met him in ’81, we had already headlined the Marquee.

So what´s the story behind you getting to meet Keith? How did that really happen?
Alan: I was the Jack of all trades, and one of my jobs was, like, Security. Joe Seabrook was one of my best mates, I knew Joe before he met Keith. My first day with Keith was in Big Joe´s pub.

4..

The Verulam Arms, Joe Seabrook´s former pub in Warford

Joe had a pub?
Alan: Yeah, in Watford, called The Verulam Arms.

Watford? That’s Elton John’s hometown, isn’t it? That’s close to where I’m staying now, in Hemel Hempstead.
Alan: Right, very close. In fact Joe had a place in Hemel Hempstead as well.

So Joe was doing Security at the time.
Alan: Yeah, he had a pub, and he was doing Security, and we became good friends. He was the Stranglers’ bodyguard, Big Country’s bodyguard…

Then how did you meet Jim Callaghan?
Alan: Jim and Paddy was the one I worked for, it was a firm called Call A Hand.  So I worked for Paddy and Jim, and Joe came to work for Paddy and Jim as well. Because of Joe’s immense stature and presence, he became a bodyguard as well.

5..

Keith Richards and Alan in the early ’80s: friendship and guitars

He was a boxer, wasn’t he?Alan: Yeah, he was.

So you were doing Security on your own.
Alan: Yeah, working for Jimmy, for Jimmy Callaghan.

And then I guess you met Keith through Joe…
Alan: Yeah. And because I had this musical connection with Joe, when Joe started working for Keith, he wanted Keith to hear our music, ’cause he knew Keith would like it. Carlton Towers in Knightsbridge. He took me out to meet Keith. And it was funny because he brought me into his bedroom. I arrived at the hotel 11 in the evening, so I was working during the day.  And I said “when are we going to see him?”, and Joe said, “he doesn’t get up until 2 in the morning”. Fuck it! I’d been at work all day!

How did you feel about that at the time? Were you somehow excited? I guess you’ve always liked Keith as a guitar player…
Alan: Of course I was excited! I had other people I preferred but I liked the stuff he likes, Otis Redding, Motown…The Stones were always a band I liked, but I liked The Who more, as they were always more of a London band for me. So that’s how I met him. I remember I went into his bedroom in the Carlton Towers, and Joe said “this is Alan, he plays in a band that sounds like the Stones used to sound” And Keith said “look forward to that, it’s been a while” And two days later he’d say to me “I’m off to Paris now”, and I said “oh I’d never been to Paris”, so he sent his chauffeur around asked me to take a guitar and swordstick and said “come and stay with me in Paris”. And I’d only known him for 2 days, you know.

Just like that.
Alan: His chauffeur turned up in Keith’s Bentley. Picked me up and drove to Paris. His dad Bert was still living in Dartford, where Keith came from, so on our way to Dover, he picks up Bert. So that’s me and Bert in the Bentley, we went to Paris.

6..

Keith and Alan in recent times: friendship and sofas

The three of you.
Alan: Well, Keith was flying there. Just me, Bert and the chauffeur.

That must have been a great ride!
Alan: Oh it was good!

Great story, and great way to start as well!
Alan: But I’d already been in the studio with Ronnie (Wood). We’d done “Baby” and “Here She Comes”, and “Easy To Please”.

And that’s on your first album.
Alan: Yeah, right. And then “Thrill Of A Thrill” So I’d already been recording with Ronnie, and Keith helped set up shows in Paris. We still never had a record deal, and it was only a couple of years later when Mick (Jagger) was doing his solo album, and all sort of fell into place.

And all because of Joe, right?
Alan: Yeah yeah. Joe was a major part of my career, because the first live shows we’ve ever done was in his pub. But before that I was working for Jimmy Callaghan doing Security. I worked at the Stones’ concerts Earl’s Court in ’76. I had lots of strange jobs from Jimmy. I used to clear out brothels. That’s a house with prostitutes.

Where was that?
Alan: In Soho. And then I used to work for Jimmy, and clear out those brothels.

Yes, Jim used to be very nice with me in the USA in ’94 while I followed the tour, very helpful.
Alan: He’s a lovely man. It was through Joe that I met Keith, but Jimmy was my first friend.

7..

The Ruts. Paul Fox is holding a beer can.

STRANGERS IN AMERICA
Alan, I want to ask you about Paul Fox, who was formerly with the Ruts, but he was an early member of the Dirty Strangers, in the first line-up, wasn´t he?
Alan: Not in the first line-up of the band, but in the first one who went to America. And he also played on the first album, but it was Alistair Simmons, who also played in the Lords of the New Church. He wrote “Baby”, “Running Slow”…There are still songs I’m doing that I wrote with him. And when Alistair left the Dirty Strangers, he joined the Lords of the New Church. Lovely and fantastic bloke, but couldn’t keep it together all the time, you know. As for Paul Fox, it was funny, because when Malcolm Owen, the singer…You know about The Ruts, don’t you?

A little bit…
Alan: The Ruts were gonna tour with The Who, but Malcolm was a junkie, and he fuckin’ had to cancel a tour with The Who. It was a real unfortunate ending for him. When I used to work doing Security, I’d seen The Ruts and I thought “I could be a singer in this band” They came from West London as well, so there was a bit of a connection there. And 3 or 4 years later I’m in the back of this cinema in Kensal Rise in London, trying to get a gig in this old cinema, it’s not there anymore. And Paul Fox was there and he said “you really remind me of my old singer” And I said “you know what, when your singer died, I was gonna fuckin’ apply for the job” And then he said “I wish you had”, ‘cause after Malcolm died, The Ruts went in a complete different direction. And I got to know him. He had got on stage with us for a couple of gigs. He was a new friend I had found I really liked. And two weeks before we were gonna tour America Alistair fucked up. We had just got a manager and this tour would cost him a lot of money. And Alistair was always on that edge of being brilliant or fuckin’ terrible. The last gig for the Hells Angels, you know.  He was so out of it he couldn’t play his guitar. And my manager said “I’m not paying the money to take him to America” All the temptations he would be offered over there…

Huty21393 021

Oh yeah: More Dirtys, early days

So he wasn’t part of it.
Alan: No. it was a big decision. He was my best friend. We sacked him two weeks before they toured America. It was one of our goals. So I rang Paul Fox up and asked him to do the tour. And then he joined the band.

How was that American tour?
Alan: We only toured the East Coast. It wasn’t actually a tour, it lasted for seven days or something.

All small venues?
Alan: Well, we played the Cat Club in New York, which is a big one. And places around New York, you know. Boston, etc.

So that was the first time the Dirtys played there.
Alan: Yeah. We didn’t have a record deal then either.

And that was before you met Ronnie.
Alan: No, I’d met Ronnie! A couple of years before.

Ok you had already recorded the songs, but you didn’t have a record deal yet.
Alan: Yeah. We recorded with Ronnie, and then we recorded with Keith. Mick had bought his solo album out. That’s how Keith had the time.

9..

And then one day the Dirtys met Ronnie Wood…

The album was produced by Prince Stash, but how did he get into the scene?
Alan: You know, Stash got busted with Brian Jones. When Keith came to the studio to record with us, Stash was with him. If you see that photograph…There´s a photo with all of us in the studio with Keith and Stash. And afterwards Stash said “who is bringing the record out?” So he formed Thrill Records after “Thrill of a Thrill”, the first song on the album. So he formed the label and dedicated a year of his life. I mean, it got released worldwide, and it done well. It all seemed so easy at the time, but now you say “fuck I would love to have that now”, you know. And he put money into it, he was great. I have some great stories about him. Do you remember Pinnacle, the distribution company for independent record companies. When you went down there you had 20 minutes to state your case, 45 minutes later Stash is still telling them what a fantastic album it was…

So everything just clicked.
Alan: It did, but when we were in America it all started to go wrong. What happened was that in Britain we sold a lot of albums, and when Stash took it to America they used Keith’s name as an advertisement. Keith played with us before he did his first solo album. And when he started his first solo album, which was a big deal at the time, it was in his contract that he wasn’t on any other albums, and Jane Rose (Keith´s manager) always said “when Keith records with friends, it’s best to let the people find out about Keith playing on it otherwise it could go wrong”. So in America Stash added a sticker on the cover of the album saying “The Dirty Strangers featuring Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood” And Keith was just about to release his solo album exclusive, and so our album got banned in America. And I understand why it wasn’t smart how they advertised it in America. So everyone just fucking used his name as if it was an advertising tool.

10..Was it Stash the one who came up with the idea of putting on the sticker on the album?
Alan: Oh yeah, that must have been Stash, yeah. Keith played on that as a friend.

Changing the subject now…A few years ago you worked with John Sinclair, who used to manage the MC5, and also an activist.
Alan: Not just the manager, he was the inspiration, he was a lot more to it.

That´s right, in fact he was one of the founders of the White Panther Party. But hen again, you worked with him in his “Beatnik Youth album in 2012. I saw that video on YouTube that…
Alan:
Oh but that’s different to “Beatnik Youth” Well, you know, John Sinclair and the MC5. I didn’t come across him, really. My knowledge of MC5 came from Brian James. And I got a phone call from George Butler, the drummer before Danny in the band, and he went “I got a friend of mine, Tim, from Brighton, who would like to do recording with John Sinclair. Can we do some recording in the studio” And I said “yeah, of course” So John Sinclair came over. I found out about him, I was intrigued about him…And he came over and, like when I met Keith, it was almost the same, I instantly bonded with John. I thought “another kindred spirit!”

11..

John Sinclair, a legend in b&w

Yeah, he came a long way.
Alan: Yeah, he’s been around. And at the time of “West 12 to Wittering”, Youth produced some of it. You know “She’s a Real Boticelli”, the single…

Oh I love that song! That’s one of my favourites.
Alan: If you asked me how I wrote that…Youth produced the single, A Youth mix. You know Youth, he produced The Verve. He was the bass player in Killing Joke. He’s fine when producing. He’d done The Verve, he’s got a band with Paul McCartney. He’s a really great bloke. Told him that I had met John Sinclair, and he produced “Lock and Key”, and he said “why don’t we do an album?” So we wrote an album.
Danny: That’s cool.
Alan: Yeah. It’s waiting to come out as well. Fuck it, it’s a fantastic album! The sort of music I’ve never really been involved into, ‘cause Youth comes from different areas. We’ve known each other for a long time. And John Sinclair, that was it. ‘Cause John was going around Europe playing, he lives in Amsterdam now, and he’d be picking up these generic bar bands that would be in a bar, and they would just played blues, and he’d do his bit of poetry over it. What me and Youth wanted to do was taking it to song level, so he had an album with actual songs, not just generic blues with beat of poetry. So we used his beat poetry as the verses, and we got choruses. So he turned them into songs.

Would you say you were part of the London punk scene, or was it general rock’n’roll?
Alan:
No, I came after with the Dirty Strangers. When Punk was going, I loved Punk, it was fuckin’ great, ‘cause it took me from being a bloke that only got to play in his bedroom to someone that believed that could form a band. And I really did. And I could always write songs. I could always write poetry and stuff like that, so I loved the punk scene. At the time in 1976, I was 22, and all the punks were pretending to be 16, 17…All the punks like Mick Jones, Tony James, they were my age. 22 or 23. So even when I wasn’t in a band, I knew Mick Jones before he was in The Clash, because I used to work in Shepherd’s Bush’s Hammersmith College of Art’s building, and he was an art student there. His first gig supporting The Kursaal Flyers at the Roundhouse. So I felt connected to the Punk scene because I knew Mick. It was a heavily West London-influenced scene, so I was right in the middle of it anyway. And they were all my age. And about that time I was doing Security at all the concerts, so I’d see all the bands. And I’d say it definitely inspired me to form a rock’n’roll band. All the punk bands I liked were really rock’n’roll bands with a new energy.

You always seemed to me to be deep into ‘50s and ‘60s stuff.
Alan:
Oh I just love rock’n’roll, you know.  What I love more than anything? Seeing women dance when we’re playing…

12..WITTERING HEIGHTS
I’d like to talk a bit about the “West 12 to Wittering” album. Once again, we know that Keith played piano there, and he actually plays in a several songs. So does Ronnie Wood. Plus it’s not only my favourite Dirtys’ album, but one of the few albums that I’m always playing at home ever since I got it. That’s how much I love it.
Alan:
Thank you, thank you very much.

And just a few days ago I was walking down the streets here in London playing it on my iPod, and it’s an album that gives you that perfect London atmosphere…
Alan:
Of course, it’s about London, definitely.

I mean, you don’t play Madonna when you’re walking down in London.
Alan: Hahaha! Yeah, the Dirty Strangers is a good choice. And the story about it is, I’d just done the ‘A Bigger Bang’ tour with the Stones, and the Dirty Strangers hadn’t been going for about 8 years.  I’ve done the ‘A Bigger Bang’ tour for about 2 and a half years, and while I was away I wrote a lot of songs, and when I came back I decided I wanted to get the band back together, but at the time it was only me, John Proctor, and George Butler, just a 3-piece, and we were called Monkey Seed.

You changed the name of the band?
Alan: No. What happened was, the Dirty Strangers were sort of dissolved, we never split up. We’d hadn’t played for too long, not earning any money and, you know people get demotivated. So when I decided to get the band back together, I wanted it to be a fresh start. So I wanted a new name. I wasn’t gonna do any Dirty Strangers songs, only new songs. But I wrote all the Dirty Strangers’ songs anyway. So I went to Ian Grant, which just got Track Records, and I said to him, “I’ve got this album of songs. Do you fancy signing me to Track Records?” He said ye. He likes the stuff I’m doing.  And he said “why are you changing the name?” I said “well, because I want a fresh start” And he said “Alan you’re 50-odd” (laughs) “You’re not twenty anymore!” And he was right! He said “listen, you’ve got all this reputation as the Dirty Strangers, basically you are  the Dirty Strangers. Why would you change the name? It never gone wrong for the Dirty Strangers” So he said, “I advise you to call the band the Dirty Strangers”. And I went “all right” Sometimes you’re happy for people to tell you this stuff, ‘cause you don’t realize it sometimes. You think, “yeah I have a new band, I’m gonna call it this, I’m not gonna do The Dirty Strangers” So we got that together, I told Keith, and he said “do you want me to play guitar on it?”, and I went “no, I’m playing guitar on this one” And I said “can you play piano on it?” And he went “yeah, fuckin’ of course!”, you know. And that’s why it’s called “West 12 to Wittering”, because he lives in Wittering, and I took my recording gear from here (W12), and we set up camp.

13..

Alan Clayton, ex-bass player John Proctor and drummer Danny Fury

Where did you record it?
Alan: In Redlands. His stuff, the piano, was recorded in Redlands.

So you stayed with him at the time there?
Alan: Oh, I stayed with him lots of different times.

It’s beautiful in there, isn’t it?
Alan: Yeah, lovely. So much so, if I moved from London, that’s a part of the world I’m gonna move to.

Small world, two days ago I saw Ian Hunter in Shepherd’s Bush and, as I left, I met this couple who live there.
Alan: Ian Hunter? Did he play Shepherd’s Bush?

Oh yeah. Just 3 days ago. He never played in South America, and he’s not likely to play soon, so I couldn’t miss it. With Graham Parker as support act.
Alan: Oh I love Graham Parker!
Danny: Do they advertise it these days?
Alan: It’s like if it’s sold out, there’s no advertising.

I’m sorry, now I’m starting to feel guilty!
Alan: I didn’t know that he was playing some time.
Danny: If you go to the websites, usually they’re there.
Alan: Usually there would be an ad in the Evening Standard, or in Time-Out.
Danny: In the past it used to be Melody maker, you found all the gigs in there.
Alan: Time-Out for me. Growing up in a band, was the place where they put all the gigs in, and now it’s selected gigs.

DIRTY, STRANGE AND CONCEPTUAL
What about “Crime and a Woman”, the new album? I know it’s a concept album.
Alan:  It’s a story that goes from start to the end, if you want it to be a story. If you want it to be a collection of rock’n’roll songs, it’s a collection of rock’n’roll songs. But there is a story within it probably for my own benefit, more than anybody else’s. It’s a story that goes for it.14..

Yes, you told me it’s an album you wanted to do in a more personal way, after I asked you why Keith isn’t in the album, and you said you wanted it to be “your” album.
Alan: Yeah yeah. Because the thing is, it is great having Keith as one of your best mates, but the downside is once you play your own stuff, whenever anyone comes to see you some are disappointed I’m always getting this continuous question, “Would Keith be playing with you?” or “Would he be turning up?” I understand why more people say that, but it’s not his band. It’s my band that he happens to play in now and then, it is  the Dirty Strangers. And this one, I wanted it to be representative of us live, what we’ve recorded.

Well, I still love the album a lot.
Alan: I love it as well, because it sounds great. “Keith, can you come and play on this?” And he’s great, but he’s not playing live with us.

You’re always writing on your own, you’re the only one that writes the songs for the Dirtys, isn´t it?
Alan: And now I’ve been playing with Danny for a little while. Danny writes songs, and sure he’ll contribute down the line.

But basically all the songs on the new album are yours.
Alan: Yeah, but there’s a couple like “Running Slow” and “Are You Satisfied”, which was co-written with Alistair… He’s been dead for 10 years. He was a good mate of mine. And “One Good Reason” was co-written by Tam Nightingale. And Scotty co-wrote “Short and Sweet” But really, it was my album.

What inspires you to writes songs? Is it everyday life?
Alan: Definitely, everyday life. If I have a lull in my life, like a lot of people I write better with my back against the wall. When I’m comfortable, when everything’s alright, I find it very hard to write songs, ‘cause my life is at peace. Don’t you find that Danny, if there is turmoil in your life, then  you write better songs?
Danny: Yeah!

Then there wouldn’t be any blues players.
Alan: Yeah, exactly.  It’s the hard time that make you dig in and dig deep.

And I believe it’s the same with writers.
Alan: Yeah. Well how many tortured writers and comedians we know? People that are manic depressive, they put this beautiful work out.
Danny: They focus on their inner turmoil.

Somehow you’re exorcising your problems, you know what I mean. It’s therapy.
Alan: That’s definitely right. If I have something strong my mind, I’ll definitely write a song about it.

15..

The Dirty Strangers today. From L-R: Danny Fury, Alan Clayton, Cliff Wright and Scott Mulvey

Out of the lyrics, you don’t find bands like the Dirty Strangers around these days. I mean, all that bluesy lowdown rock’n’roll with a punky edge….And now Danny’s welcome, so that means some fresh new blood.
Alan: Yeah, right!

MAYBE IT´S BECAUSE I´M A LONDONER
What’s your take on the current London music scene?
Alan: You know, can I be honest to you? I don’t give a fuck about the music scene, I only care about the Dirty Strangers. When you’re in a rock and roll band, you can’t care about anybody else. Really, because you fuckin’ love rock’n’roll. Don’t you think that’s right, Danny?
Danny: Yeah, you´re sort of caught up in your own thing, you know. But if I can maybe answer that thing, I’ve got a little different impression anyway, as I’m still a little bit interested in what’s going on. You put new stuff in the context of old so, in a way, if you want to release it to the world, you work. That’s what my interest comes from. It’s actually, like Alan said, it’s a limited customer, you know. But I think there’s a lack of personalities, a lack of true expression, everybody seems to copy something that’s already been done before.

Well, that’s because they’re only after the money.
Alan: Yeah yeah.
Danny: Either it’s music you just make for money, but there’s not much that really reaches and touches, you know what I mean, a genuine expression of a personality.
Alan: Also, I’m still discovering music from the ‘50s, you know how I mean, there is such a body of music out there.
Danny: So much music out there…
Alan: I’d like to know if there’s still music going on, with youngsters. It’s not for me to comment what 15 year olds like, ‘cause I’m not 15 years old, right? But at my own age I know what I do, I play rock’n’roll.  I see many bands compromise, but we never compromise, we just play what we play. During my career I have been really trendy, then forgotten, then trendy again. You just do what you do.

Yes, it’s just like you said, it’s always about going back to the past, there’s so much in there.
Alan:  I listen to the radio a lot, so I don’t shut myself from the outside world. But there’s still people writing great songs. With rock and roll I am very protective, you’ve got bands who toy with rock and roll.
16..As it was just a word…
Alan: Yeah, and I live my life for it. I know I’ve done it for a long time.

So, if I may ask, what do you do for a living out of the Dirty Strangers?
Alan: I’m Danny’s butler! (laughs heavily)

You know, I was just curious…
Alan: He’s from Switzerland. He has loads of money.

You know, people from Switzerland, they’re the rich ones…
Alan:
Of course they are! (laughs) They’re employing us all.
Danny: I have to change his name to James or something… (laughs)

18.. BOB & MARLEY & ALAN & JOHNNY
Alan, there’s a funny story involving you and Bob Marley I’d really like you to tell me about.
Alan:  Of course I’ll do! When I was working for Jimmy Callaghan, in the late ‘70s, and we were working at Crystal Palace’s Bowl, which was an outdoor concert in South London. And at the time the backstage area didn’t have dressing rooms, it was big tents. And it was my job to look after Bob Marley’s tent. Big Joe was there. And what happened, back then, security wasn’t like it is now. The backstage area had low fences all the way round, not a lot of security, so every Jamaican seemed to think it was their right to meet Bob Marley.  So they were jumping over the fence, trying to get in his tent, and I was the only one stopping them.

He was the big thing.
Alan: Of course he was, the big thing for Jamaicans. It was the spiritual man for them, and everything. And the people that were trying getting into his tent didn’t like the fact I might be in the way to stop them, as that was my job, and what happened was there was always commotion going on. And someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “come in”, pulled me into Bob Marley’s tent. Bob Marley’s sitting on an amp playing guitar, and he rolled this big spliff. And all the time Bob Marley was just playing guitar they got me stoned to calm me down. I was 20 or 25 minutes in there. And then they sent me outside, ‘cause I had calmed down.

Come on, 20 minutes with Bob Marley, that’s a great story!
Alan: Yeah!

Were you into Jamaican music at the time?
Alan: You know, when I was young, my first music was ska. Johnny, my dad, was a teddy boy, so he loved rock and roll. He’s a singer, you know, I’ve done an album with him.

Yeah, I’ve read about that.
Alan:
And Keith’s playing on it, and Bobby Keys. That’s my dad’s album, Johnny Clayton.

Was it released? Or is a personal recording?
Alan:
No it’s not, but it’s gonna be released. Brian James, Keith Richards, Bobby Keys, Jim Jones (of the Jim Jones Revue) and Tyla, all playing with my dad.

19..All studio sessions?
Alan:
Yeah.  But this record, “Crime and a Woman”, we finished recording it at a place called The Convent who ran out of money but had already pressed the CD. Cargo distributed them, which we sell from the Facebook site, from the shop site. That’s the next release, my Dad’s album. The John Sinclair one was already out on another label, and the Dirty Strangers are about to record another album. But before that we’re gonna re-release the first one with all new stuff, outtakes… I think that my dad’s album is gonna be released at the same time of that. There’s only great people on that.


Yeah, great line-up! Can’t wait for that. So are there any new songs, or is it all cover versions?
Alan:
  No, all Dean Martin songs, and Frank Sinatra. So the band is Mallet on drums, Dave Tregunna, he’s bass player on it, Scott Mulvey of the Dirtys is playing piano, and I’m playing acoustic on it, and then we’ve got guest guitarists and a guest saxophone player as well.

Are the Dirtys going to play in other countries, or you’re more London-based?
Alan:
Oh listen, we wanna play everywhere! We have played in Europe. We’re at a new stage with Danny now. We really needed someone to be a bit more at ground level managing us, and Paul my son is doing all that.

He’s very enthusiastic.
Alan: Yes he is, he is his father’s son. So yeah, we want to play everywhere.

As a musician, is there anybody in special you would have liked to play or record with?
Danny:
He really wanted to play with me.
Alan: My dreams are true now, my dreams have come true! I tell you, if it wasn’t Danny (laughs) it would be someone like Otis Redding, he’s my favourite singer of all time. Yes, my favourite singer, end of story.

Oh you’re a soul man.
Alan: Yeah, but my daddy was a teddy boy, so I’d come out this weird mixture.

It’s all the same, it’s all great music, whether it’s soul, rock’n’roll, rhythm and blues. And then all those black guys!
Alan: They can’t speak like me, but I can speak like them! Hahaha!
Danny: They feel it from the heart, I mean, they’ve got that feel. And Alan’s got such a great voice on top of that.
Alan: Thank you! We should stop on a high now… (laughs)

20..y

The article´s author along  Clayton and Fury: The Dirty Three

Just like you said, it’s mostly about going back to the past, that’s when the greatest music was done. Just yesterday I was playing my all-time favourite live album, ‘Jerry Lee Lewis at the Star Club’ in 1964, which is like the wildest album ever. Now that’s real heavy metal. Someone even referred to it saying “it’s not an album, it’s a crime scene”
Alan:  Yeah! I’ll tell you a funny story that Ronnie told me, when he was on tour with Jerry Lee, he’d done a tour with him.  They were both walking through the hotel lobby, and this woman came up and she threw her arms around Jerry Lee, and she went “Jerry Lee, you smell lovely, what you got on?” And he said “I’ve got a hard-on, honey. I didn’t know you could smell it from there!”
Danny:
That’s awesome!
Alan: That’s a great one, isn’t it?

I love those stories! Any other stories you want to tell me?
Alan:
Do you want to know how “She’s a Real Boticelli” got written?

21..I’d love to. So when somebody’s a real Boticelli?
Alan: Well, I’ll tell you what it was, right? I was down at Redlands, and me and Keith were in the kitchen, cooking. I was peeling potatoes and Keith is preparing the meat. In England when you grow up there’s a set of books called “Just William” And the character is a boy about 13, lives in the country, he’s got parents and he’s got a sister, and he’s always having adventures. And everybody who’s English would know about these books. I’m sure every country’s got its own books, but it’s a boy, and he’s in a gang called The Outlaws who have a rival gang. There are all these strange characters who pass through his village. Musicians, tramps, fairground people…And they’re written by a woman. And all my life I was growing up thinking it was a bloke, and it’s a woman, Richmal Compton. So this woman has written all these fantastic boy’s adventures from the perspective of a boy. So we found out that me and Keith liked them, we found out a mutual love when we were growing up. And when the Stones’ office found out our love for the books they sent the books in CD form, so we used to listen to them while we were cooking. And one of them starts “she’s a real Boticelli!”, and actually someone says she’s got a real bottle of cherry, and we misunderstood that, right? I looked to Keith and he said “that’s a fuckin’ Chuck Berry title, isn’t it?” So it’s all from when we were cooking, from his CD, from his book. So we just nicked the first line out, and wrote the whole song “She’s a Real Boticelli”

Great story, and also coming from Redlands, just like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and the gardener story. Oh you know that…
Alan:
Right!

All right, you know we could be talking for hours, but I think it´s time to leave, you’ve got to do a show, so let´s go there! Thanks so much!
Danny: Let´s go!
Alan: Oh thanks so much to you! And don´t forget your bag!

www.dirtystrangers.com
https://www.facebook.com/thedirtystrangers

 

CONCIERTOS: HONEST JOHN PLAIN SE MOSTRÓ HONESTAMENTE ROCKERO EN EL SALÓN PUEYRREDÓN

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HONEST JOHN PLAIN AND THE PIBES – SALÓN PUEYRREDÓN, 13/ 5/ 2017

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Y sí, HJ cada tanto tiene los blues. Y los oranges y los purples y los yellows también (Foto: ©Anitta Ramone)

“Qué lindo es el rock’n’roll”. Parece el título de una canción de uno de esos gruposde kermesse, o de un festival de baile o de un club barrial de los ’70 pero, así y todo, con el rigor del peso de la simplicidad que amerita, la frase soltada por uno de los asistentes que colmó el Salón Pueyrredón para ver aHonest John Plain el sábado pasado acaba siendo la mejor declaración de principios para un show que cumplió a rajatabla con lo que se esperaba. No importó el horario. Plain había largado su concierto promediando las 2 AM palermitanas del día siguiente (antes habían pasado por el escenario los teloneros She-Ra, Angel Voodoo, Los Mareados yStarpunks, quienes calentaron el terreno apropiadamente) y el clima que se respiraba desde el vamos presagiaba una velada que prometía resultar encantadora.

NEW OLD BOY. “The Boy Is Back”, anunciaba el póster del evento en el cual una de las figuras más prominentes de la escena del rock inglesa de mediados de los 70 y que las vueltas de la vida llevaron a titular como “punk”, algo que el mismo Plain no dudó en cuestionar en la entrevista que MADHOUSE le realizara días antes del show, y que pueden ver aquí. Con las primeras notas de “Never Listen to Rumours” (la única canción que hasta ahora vio la luz del álbum que HJP grabó junto a un seleccionado de estrellas hace unos años, y que sigue inédito), la banda dejó en claro de antemano que las 18 canciones que restaban iban a estar perfectamente a la altura de las circunstancias. La primera sorpresa del set llegó de la mano de “All The Way To Hell And Back” (que abría “Rock On Sessions”, el segundo álbum de los Crybabys), y que se mantuvo muy fiel a la versión original de estudio.

TEMA VA, TEMA VIENE, LOS MUCHACHOS SE ENTRETIENEN. Lo que siguió fue un repaso detallado por la extensa carrera de Plain, basada principalmente en el catálogo de The Boys, con “Monotony” y “Scrubber” del álbum “Boys Only”, 1980, a los que se les agregaron “U.S.I.”, el recordado hit “Brickfield Nights” y “T.C.P.” (las tres grabadas en “Alternative Chartbusters”, segundo disco de la banda), “Kamikaze” y “Terminal Love” de “To Hell With The Boys” (1979), y aún tres más del álbum debut de la banda de 1977 comandadas por “I Don’t Care” (primer single del grupo), “Sick On You” (que inauguraba el LP) y “First Time”, que fue parte de los bises, cerrando el concierto.

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HJ rockeándola en el Salón junto a lo’ Pibe’ (©Gux Ramone)

Campera de cuero y lentes oscuros permanentes (que Plain sólo amagó sacarse cada vez que le dirigía unas palabras al público), el repertorio también incluyó el cover de M.O.T.O “I Hate My Fucking Job”, “Where Have All The Good Girls Gone” (canción/título del álbum inicial de los Crybabys), “New Guitar In Town” que grabara en su paso por The Lurkers,“That’s Not Love” de “Honest John Plain & Friends” (1996) y “Punk Rock Girl” de “Punk Rock Menopause”, el disco reunión de The Boys editado hace 3 años, a lo que se sumaría el inesperado anuncio de “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back)”, la canción de la pluma Jagger/Richard -a la que anunció como “y ahora una canción de los fuckin’ Rolling Stones”-originalmente incluida en el primer álbum stoniano, y que Plain registrara en estudios junto a The Mattless Boys, uno de los incontables proyectos en los que participó. Brian Jones estaría más que agradecido.

3VAMOS LOS PIBES. Y si una auténtica obra de arte no está solamente determinada por el lienzo, sino también por el marco, seguramente la performance general del show no hubiera resultado tan buena sin la presencia del trío que lo secundó en escena, que para la ocasión recibió el título de “The Pibes” y que formó conJuan Papponetti (ex-Katarro Vandaliko, ahora en Traje Desastre) en guitarra y coros,Arnold Rock (ex-Tukera, hoy enDoble Fuerza) en bajo y coros, y Alejo Porcellana (ex-Shaila, hoy en día en Mamushkas) a la batería, los mismos que lo acompañaron a lo largo de las dos jornadas previas a la presentación en el Salón Pueyrredón, que tuvieron lugar en Tandil y Mar Del Plata. Tres shows seguidos en tres ciudades distintas a lo largo de tres días no está nada mal, y con apenas alguna que otra señal de cansancio para el hombre que hace 2 años casi pierde la vida por un desliz del destino. Por el resto, fue una noche inolvidable con un recinto colmado y con el deseo en común de ver a una leyenda viviente del rock frente a sus narices. En estado de pura efervescencia, a la hora correcta, con el clima indicado, y con la promesa que indica que en noviembre retornará una vez más al país con -ahora sí, los más mayorcitos- The Boys. O con los pibes originales… Al menos para la ocasión, las noches de Brickfield cambiaron de nombre para convertirse en argentinas y más precisamente aún en la del pasado sábado en Buenos Aires. Que se repita todas las veces que sea posible, rock mediante.

AN INTERVIEW WITH HONEST JOHN PLAIN BEFORE HIS SHOW IN BUENOS AIRES: “MY BEST TIMES WERE WITH THE BOYS”

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Original article in Spanish published in Revista Madhouse on May 12 2017

Who’s the quirky guy in Texan shirt, a matching bandana and shades sitting at a table in the cafeteria of that hotel in downtown Buenos Aires at 3 pm?, the personnel of the place ask themselves, as they’re about to finish their days’ work. “Is he famous?”, one of them demand to know. “Let’s say he’s quite popular”, I try to explain, “but from a very particular elite”, all this while the man at the table, who’s now sporting a wide smile and a good disposition, is dividing his time between waiting for the next one to interview him, and wondering where is it that he left his room keys, who humbly confesses to have lost a few minutes before (“sorry, I’ll be right back”)

Lunch isn’t served anymore, while there are no drinks available either. Only water and coffee. Which is no problem at all to Honest John Plain, since the booze played hard on him a few years ago, leading him to leave it behind forever and ever after an accident that put his life at risk. Which may not be an easy task for a true Londoner always up for a drink at the pub, but yet Plain looks thankful and happier than ever. After all these years on the road he’s still is the restless rocker who plays all over the world and often keeps recording. And who’s now back in he country (his third visit in about 15 years) to do three shows, and also to remind us that he’ll always be the one he never stopped being.

Do you want to order a drink or something? Or a cup of coffee, maybe?
No, thank you. I haven’t had a beer or spirits for over 2 years now, because of my accident.

An accipunk-683x1024dent? What kind of accident was it?
I was in Norway playing with Casino (Casino Steel, ex-Hollywood Brats and also member of The Boys with Plain) We were in a mansion. I was on the fifth floor and there were marble stairs all the way down. I just got to go to the toilet, because I was drunk, and I fell down the whole of the stairs and smashed my head to pieces.

You fell down marble stairs?
Yeah. I got past the first two, and then fell again. And they found me in the morning. I was unconscious.

But you where there all alone? Nobody there to help you out?
Well, everybody was asleep, because it was during the night. I was with Casino but, when I went to bed, I needed to go to the toilet, and fell.

How come Casino didn’t notice it?
He found me in the morning, eight hours later, and there was blood all over the floor. And they put me in the hospital, and I only had 3% of brain left. And I nearly went, you know.

Did you injure only your head?
Yeah, I smashed it to pieces! (laughs)

Well, good to have you here, good to have you anywhere!
And I went on tour again after coming out of hospital. And then in Germany I went to hospital again for about 2 weeks, got out of that, started a tour again, finished off the tour and then I had another accident. You know, I kept on getting fits, so now they give me medication for it. And so far… (shows he’s still here)

Well, you survived. It could have been much worse.
Yeah I survived! But it was self-inflictive, I felt really bad when I was in hospital, with all these people that were really ill. And they did nothing. I felt bad ‘cause it was self-inflictive, because of being a drunk.

And who took care of you while you were there?
People in the hospital. My ex wife and my son came to see me when I was in London.

Another hospital in London?
I’ve been to hospital in Germany, in Norway…

It was a “hospital tour”, I mean, basically you’ve been touring hospitals…
(laughs) Yes,they had to give me medication while I was touring. So that’s why I stopped the beer and the spirits. I’m a pretty good guy now.

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The original line-up of The Boys, from L. to R.: Andrew Matheson, Matt Dangerfield, Casino Steel and Wayne Manor, and Honest John Plain
below. Drummer Geir Waade not in the picture.

Are you living in London now?
Yes, in Belsize Park, Hampstead.

This is not your first time in Buenos Aires, you played here before…

Yeah, I played here with The Boys, but we’re coming back again in November.

That’s great to know! And after what you’ve gone through concerning the accident, it’s all like a miracle.
I love it!

You did four albums with The Boys between 1977 and 1980. And then, 34 years after that, in 2014, you put out a fourth album, “Punk Rock Menopause”. Why is it that the band waited 34 years to do a new album? And, by the way, your last solo album is called “Acoustic Menopause” So is there a menopause in rock’n’roll? I always believed it was made to keep you young…
Well, I didn’t come up with that title. My friend Jean Cataldo thought of it. I have no idea if there’s a menopause in rock’n’roll, I’m sorry. But I think it’s a great name.

Ok, and then why you waited 34 years for the fourth album by The Boys?
Probably Matt Dangerfield, the other guitarist in The Boys, who didn’t want to do it. He wrote most of the songs with Cas, you know. He probably was busy doing other stuff and didn’t want to do it, and I was with the Crybabys. It’s just happened because people asked us to do it, and it was great to do it again. I’m sure we’re gonna do a last one before it’s time to get in the coffin (laughs)

Why not two or three more?boys-punk-rock
Yeah, one more and we stay in.

You did a solo acoustic tour to promote your last album, and you did it all by yourself, as a one man band. Why you chose to do it like that?
Nobody wanted to be with me! (laughs) It was because the guy who was putting the shows on decided it was a good idea to do it that way, and it was fantastic because every show was full. You know, mostly Boys fans. But I did it to be on my own as well.

You always had a good base of fans.
Yeah, all over the place. Europe, the US, Argentina, Italy, China, Japan…

hjplain-menopThe Boys were labeled “the Beatles of Punk”. I know you’ve got a thing for the Beatles, don’t you?
Yeah, of course!

So since you toured solo, which Beatle would you have been? John, Paul…?
Any one of them. I think I’d rather be Ringo ‘cause he’s a funny guy, and I can play drums, you know. But I wouldn’t mind being John. I wouldn’t mind being Paul either, especially for his money, you know.

Are the Beatles your favourite band?
Yeah, I think the Beatles are my favourite band.

Everything you always did was about the ‘60s. So you’re here basically to take us back to that era!
Exactly! I was at the right age to appreciate that music.

So how old are you now, 62?
I’m 65. Yeah I’m and old guy, I’m on a pension now, punk rock pension! (laughs)

That’s a great name for a future album!
That’s what I’m gonna do! It’s my punk rock pension!

You were born in Leeds…
Yeah, and I still support Leeds as well, but they’re not doing very well.

Which reminds me of The Who’s classic “Live at Leeds” album.
Yeah, I was there!

At the very show of the album?
Yeah, I was in art school at the time. That’s how I met Matt Dangerfield of The Boys, I met him at the gig. I’ve known him for a long time.

You did lots of things as a musician. But my favourite one, and this is a personal thing, is what you did with The Crybabys, the EP and the three albums. So are you ever planning to get back together again?
It’s very strange you asked that because not long ago me and Darrell (N.: Bath, also member of The Crybabys) did a show together for the first time. That was in Brighton, ‘cause he lives there now. We just did an acoustic show, and so many people showed up.

Just the two of you, both on acoustic?
Darrell was on electric and I was on acoustic. Now we’re talking about doing another one, ‘cause it went down so well. When we are together, we really are good together. So it’s definitely gonna happen.

crybabys

The Crybabys, long ago and far away

What songs did you do at the show?
We played mostly of what you already know, and also some covers we like, you know. But the day before the show I was with Darrell at his place in Brighton, and we started writing again.

I’d really love another Crybabys album!
We’re gonna do one, that’s for sure. It’s time we did another one.

Plus Darrell doesn’t seem to have a steady band at the moment.
His best time is with the “Babys”, that’s for sure. I think he knows that as well. As far as I know, he’s one of the best guitarists all over the world, you know. And we fit together good.

It always appealed to me that you represented the Beatles bit in the band, while Darrell was always more Stones or Faces-styled. Would you agree with that? And if so, how did it happen?
I would agree with that, completely. I don’t know how that happened, I can’t even remember how I’d met him. I was probably very drunk at the time. But when we started playing together, we realized we had to do it. He’s a good lad.

He’s a very good friend.
Yes, absolutely. Not just the guy who plays guitar, you know, he’s family.

And looks like everybody loves him.
Yes he’s funny. We’re all funny! That’s how we carry on, you know.

I believe you recorded with The Dirty Strangers for their first self-titled album in 1988, but then you weren’t in the album.
Yes, I was in the album but I wasn’t credited, because The Boys started again. And they didn’t like that. So I got the sack, and then somebody replaced me. The album doesn’t say I’m playing on it, but I am. That’s when I met Ronnie Wood (N.: Wood was also in the album)

What’s the story behind that?
I think, that’s why Alan (N.: Clayton, guitar/vocals in The Dirty Strangers) worked for the Stones. I’ve got fond memories of Alan. Good singer, a great band, and he was fun. It’s just the end of it, which was a bit rough. I don’t even know if the band exists.

Oh yes they do! And they have a new album out last year called “Crime and a Woman”
That’s sounds like him! (laughs)

OK so what about meeting Ronnie Wood?
We were in the studio, I forgot what studio it was, a big studio in London, and I couldn’t believe it when Ronnie and his minder showed up, I wasn’t expecting that. And then Alan said to Ronnie “would you like to play in this song?” And Ronnie says “oh let me have a listen”…

Did you meet Keith Richards as well? He was also in the album.
Yes, but that’s when I went to pick up my guitar after I was given the sack, and he was there.

In 1995 you guested in Ian Hunter’s album “Dirty Laundry”, along with Darrell, Casino Steel, Glen Matlock, etc. Any memories of the recording of the album? Wasn’t it done at Abbey Road studios?
Oh, I like Ian! I watched football with him, and he was in his underpants, and without his shades on!

Ian Hunter without the shades? No way!
Yes, you shouldn’t look at that (laughs) No shades, and no trousers! God bless him, don’t get me wrong. That shows how much we got on, ‘cause he would never take his shades off for anybody. That was in Norway. No one believed me, but that was true!

What about the recording of “Dirty Laundry”?
It was fantastic going to Abbey Road, for a start. And you know Von, who plays drums in Die Toten Hosen, he was on the album as well. I had a bicycle with a basket, and me and Von would go show at Abbey Road on it! (laughs) Everybody else was arriving in limousines.

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True Honest-y (pic by Marcelo Sonaglioni)

Not even two bikes, but the two of you in one bike, plus it’s a girl’s bike! Now that’s real rock’n’roll!
Yeah! (laughs) I think so.

What about your nickname? Other than you, the only other “Honest” I knew was, once again, Ronnie Wood, who they’d refer to as “Honest Ron Wood” in the ‘70s.
Because the Boys were gonna go on tour, and for some strange reason, I went to NEMS Records to pick up the cash for the tour, you know, to pay for everything, but I put the money on a horse!

Oh you were gambling. You bet on a horse!
Yeah yeah, a lot of money, for the whole tour. And the horse came second! I lost everything, so the manager at the time sent me back to get some more cash, and that’s why they call me “Honest”, ‘cause I’m not! (laughs)

What do you remember from the London punk scene in the ‘70s? Were there any rivalries between bands?
No, no rivalries, as far as I’m concerned. They might have had some but I didn’t. I remember the first day of Punk. The Boys were the first punk band to sign. And Mick Jones of The Clash used to rehearse at Matt Dangerfield’s place in Maida Vale, and I just remember the first day I opened the door there and Mick Jones had very long hair at the time, and then suddenly it went to a crooked cut, with strange clothes on. And I went “fuck it, what’s happening, mate?” And he goes “it’s Punk, innit?”

So that was the way you were introduced to Punk.
That’s how I was introduced to, ‘cause I’d never considered The Boys punk anyway. You know, we got that reputation but that’s how I found out what Punk was about.

Then why they’d consider you a punk band anyway? I mean, you were just a band who was very much into the ‘60s pop and rock music, and that’s it.
Yeah, I have no idea. But that’s how wee got to support the Ramones, because we were supposed to be punk. I’m not saying we were supposed to be punk, we played what we played.

And it was the same in New York at the time. It didn’t have a name. They called it “New York Rock” or whatever, and all of a sudden they started calling it “Punk Rock” and everybody was a punk.
Yeah, and that’s why I didn’t get involved with it.

In fact, I think that Punk never existed, you know what I mean.
Of course. You know, Johnny Rotten owns five fuckin’ hotels in New York. What’s punk about that?

You used to play drums in Generation X at the very beginning of the band.
Yes, they were rehearsing where I lived with Matt Dangerfield, and they didn’t have a drummer at the time. And Billy Idol was playing drums, but when I started to play, he started to sing. And I said “you know, Billy, you should be the fuckin’ vocalist”, ‘cause they were looking for a vocalist. I said “you sing great, so why don’t you sing?” And he went “let me think of that” And next thing I knew, he was up there.

You helped everybody!
It’s all down to me mate! (laughs) Why punk is so famous, it’s down to me!

london-ss

London SS, with Mick Jones (third from L.) with long hair and dark glasses

You’ve been in many bands throughout your career, staring with The Boys and the Crybabys, but also London SS, The Lurkers, the Mannish Boys, or Pete Stride. Which one gave you the best times, and which one gave you the worst ones, if any?
None of them gave me a worst time, that’s a fact, but the best time was with The Boys. Because when we are on the road, we have a laugh. I love Casino, I love Matt, I love Jack, and I love Duncan. We were a family, you know.

Why they disbanded in 1982?
I have no idea, I really can’t tell you. It wasn’t anything to do with me, you know. Today, I still don’t know why it disbanded. I know that Matt and Duncan fell out, but I still don’t know why.

5 years ago you recorded another of the “And Friends” albums with guests like Darrell, Die Toten Hosen, Glen Matlock, Martin Chambers and Sami Yaffa and Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks. How did you assemble the project and what happened to it, as I believe only the ‘Never Listen To Rumours’ video saw the light.
The album is finished now but for some reason the guy who was paid all this money to put it out  is not putting it out.  That would be my latest solo album.

It’s a bit confusing sometimes because there’s the ‘Honest John Plain and Friends’ album, the ‘Honest John Plain y Amigos’ one, then another one called ‘Honest John Plain and The Amigos’, and then the one you just mentioned, which wasn’t released yet.
Yes, and I don’t understand why the new one hasn’t been put out, as it’s fantastic, you know.

Rumoursbts.jpgoriginal

On the “Never Listen to Rumours” video

So how did you assemble the project?
I didn’t!

Oh you never do anything!
No, I never do anything. The guy that has put the money for it got in touch with everybody, and they all wanted to do it. If you see the ‘Never Listen To Rumours’ video, everybody there is on the album.

So once again, after you did the ‘Honest John Plain y Amigos’ album in Argentina in 2003, you released another one by Honest John Plain and The Amigos named “One More and We’re Staying” So you have a lot of “amigos” all over the world.
Yeah, I owe money to so many people, you know (laughs)

And you still have them around, because they’re going after the money…
Oh yeah, of course!

You were here in Buenos Aires 2003 to produce Katarro Vandalico’s album “Llegando al Límite”, and then came back again The Boys. Could you ever imagine in the ‘70s or ‘80s going to South America to play or to produce an album?
Of course not! It’s always been a shock how much I travelled, but it’s always because of The Boys.

hjplain-feat-2 (1)So what are your future plans now? Are you going back to London?
I’ve got to go back to London, but them I’m going to Norway again, as it’s the first Boys gig in a long time, a big festival in Oslo this month.

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Honest John meets his interviewer (pic by Marcelo Sonaglioni)

Very much looking forward to The Boys’ comeback and, needless to say, it’s been great talking to you John.
Oh my pleasure too! And thanks for the questions, you’re definitely qualified!

 

CON HONEST JOHN PLAIN ANTES DE SU SHOW EN BUENOS AIRES: “MIS MEJORES MOMENTOS FUERON CON THE BOYS”

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¿Quién es ese señor de aspecto estrafalario, camisa tejana, bandana al tono y lentes negros que está sentado a una de las mesas de la cafetería de ese hotel céntrico de Buenos Aires a las 3 de la tarde?, se preguntan los miembros del personal del lugar, mientras terminan de hacer la limpieza del turno que acaba de finalizar. “¿Es famoso?”, insisten. “Digamos que es bastante conocido”, intento explicarles, “pero dentro de una elite muy particular”, termino apuntándoles, mientras el personaje en cuestión, de ancha sonrisa y benemérita disposición, divide su tiempo entre esperar al próximo periodista que lo va a entrevistar y preguntarse dónde dejó las llaves de la habitación en su versión tarjeta magnética, que humildemente confiesa haber perdido hace instantes (“disculpame, ya regreso”.

A esa hora de la tarde ya no sirven almuerzo, ni tampoco hay tragos disponibles. Sólo agua y café. Lo cual a Honest John Plain no le resulta inconveniente alguno desde que hace apenas unos años el alcohol le jugó una mala pasada, obligándolo a dejarlo para siempre tras originarle un accidente que lo tuvo más del lado de allá, que del de aquí. La situación no debe ser nada fácil para un auténtico londinense que pasó buena parte de su vida ahogándose en los pubs, pero Plain destila el ácido sentido del humor tan propio de su país de origen: está agradecido, a pesar de todo, y se lo ve más feliz que nunca. Después de todos estos años en la ruta sigue siendo aquel músico incansable que toca por todas partes del mundo y continúa grabando nuevos discos de forma inoxidable. Y que, claro, ahora está de vuelta en el país -su tercera visita en algo más de 15 años- para realizar tres shows y recordarnos que siempre, pero siempre, será el que nunca dejó de ser.

punk-683x1024¿Te gustaría beber algo? ¿O preferís un café?
No, gracias. No tomo ni cerveza ni ningún tipo de aperitivo desde hace más de dos años Eso es por el accidente que tuve.

¿Accidente? ¿Qué tipo de accidente?
Estaba en Noruega tocando con Casino (N.: Casino Steel, el ex Hollywood Brats y legendario camarada de Plain en The Boys). Estábamos en una mansión. Yo estaba en un quinto piso, y las escaleras eran de mármol. Tuve que ir al baño, porque estaba borracho, y caí por las escaleras y me rompí la cabeza en pedazos.

¡¿Te caíste rodando varios pisos por la escalera?!
Sí. Caí dos pisos y después seguí cayendo. Y me encontraron a la mañana. Estaba inconsciente.

¿Pero cómo? ¿Estabas solo? ¿No había nadie que pudiera ayudarte?
Bueno, todo el mundo estaba durmiendo, porque ocurrió de noche… Yo estaba con Casino, pero a la hora de ir a la cama, yo estaba con una chica y necesité ir al baño, y me caí.

¿Cómo puede ser que Casino no se diera cuenta?
Me encontró a la mañana, ocho horas después, y había sangre por todas partes. Y me llevaron al hospital, me quedaba el 3% de cerebro. Y casi que me voy, viste…

Te hiciste pedazos la cabeza.
Sí, ¡me la destrocé! (Risas)

En fin, ¡qué bueno que estés aquí después de todo eso! Quiero decir, ¡qué bueno que estés, donde fuera!
Una vez que salí del hospital, volví a salir de gira. Y después en Alemania me llevaron otra vez al hospital, por dos semanas. Salí, comencé otro tour, lo terminé, y después tuve otro accidente. Me siguen tratando, sabés, y me dan medicación por todo lo que ocurrió. Y por ahora… (hace el gesto de que aún está vivo)

Bueno, sobreviviste. Podría haber resultado mucho peor.
Sí, ¡sobreviví! Pero fue autoinfligido. Me sentí realmente mal mientras estuve en el hospital, con toda esa gente que estaba tan enferma. Y no hacían nada. Me sentí mal porque fue autoinfligido, por haber estado borracho.

¿Y quién te cuidó durante la internación?
La gente del hospital. Mi ex esposa y mi hijo venían a visitarme, cuando estaba en Londres.

¿Otro hospital en Londres?
Sí. Estuve en uno en Noruega, otro en Alemania…

Entonces básicamente hiciste una gira por los hospitales.
(Risas) Sí, y me tuvieron que medicar mientras hacía mi propio tour. Es por eso que paré con la cerveza y las bebidas alcohólicas. Ahora soy un chico bueno.

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The Boys allá por 1975, con su formación original: de izq. a der., Andrew Matheson, Matt Dangerfield, Casino Steel y Wayne Manor. Honest John Plain es el que está sentado. Falta el batero Geir Waade.

MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE HE’S A LONDONER
¿Seguís viviendo en Londres?
Sí, en Belsize Park, en el área de Hampstead.

Esta no es tu primera vez en Buenos Aires, ya tocaste aquí.
Así es, ya vine con The Boys. Y vamos a volver en noviembre.

¡Gran noticia!
Después de lo del accidente, debés considerarlo un milagro…
¡Me encanta!

Entre 1977 y 1980 hiciste cuatro álbumes con The Boys y luego editaron otro disco, “Punk Rock Menopause” (“La Menopausia del Punk Rock”), apenas 34 años más tarde… ¿Cómo es que una banda espera tanto para lanzar un nuevo disco? Y, ya que estamos, tu ultimo álbum solista se titula “Acoustic Menopause” (“Menopausia Acústica”) ¿Creés que el rock’n’roll puede sufrir de menopausia? Siempre pensé que fue inventado para mantenerse joven.
Bueno, el título no se me ocurrió a mí. Mi amigo Jean Cataldo fue quien lo pensó. Perdón, no tengo idea si existe la menopausia en el rock’n’roll. Pero creo que es un gran nombre.
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OK, ¿pero entonces cómo es que tuvieron que esperar 34 años para hacer un nuevo álbum?
Probablemente fue por Matt Dangerfield, el otro guitarrista de The Boys, que no quería hacerlo. Él escribió la mayor parte de las canciones con Cas. Tal vez sea que estaba dedicándose a otras cosas y no quería hacerlo. Y yo, mientras tanto, estaba con los Crybabys. Se dio porque la gente nos pidió hacerlo y fue genial poder hacerlo de vuelta. Estoy seguro de que vamos a hacer un último disco antes que llegue el momento de meternos en el ataúd (Risas)

¿Por qué uno, y no dos o tres más?
Sí, uno más y ya está.
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Hiciste una gira solista en formato acústico para promocionar “Acoustic Menopause”, pero la realizaste completamente solo, como si fuera una banda de un único miembro. ¿Por qué elegiste hacerlo así?
¡Nadie quería estar conmigo! (Risas) Fue porque el tipo que estaba organizando los shows decidió que hacerlo de esa manera iba a resultar una buena idea, y fue fantástico, porque en cada uno de los shows estuvo lleno de gente. Ya sabés, mayormente fans de The Boys. Pero también lo hice de esa forma para poder hacerlo por mi cuenta.

Siempre tuviste una base de fans.
Sí, por todas partes. Europa, Estados Unidos, Argentina, Italia, China, Japón…

JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE, RINGO Y OTRA VEZ JOHN
Los Boys fueron etiquetados en su momento como “los Beatles del Punk”. Sé que siempre tuviste algo fuerte con los Beatles, ¿no?
¡Sí, por supuesto!

Y entonces, en ese tour en solitario, ¿cuál de los cuatro hubieras sido? John, Paul…
Cualquiera de ellos. Creo que preferiría ser Ringo, porque es un tipo divertido, y también porque puedo tocar la batería, sabés. Pero no me molestaría ser John. Ni tampoco Paul, especialmente por el dinero que tiene.

¿Los considerarías tu banda favorita?
Sí, pienso que los Beatles son mi grupo preferido.

Casi todo lo que siempre hiciste a lo largo de tu carrera tiene que ver con los 60s. Así que estás aquí para llevarnos de vuelta a esos años.
¡Exactamente! Tenía la edad precisa para apreciar toda esa música.

¿Ahora cuántos años tenés?
Tengo 65. Sí, soy un tipo grande. Y ahora estoy pensionado, ¡una pensión del punk rock! (Risas)

Ese sería un gran título para un futuro álbum…
¡Es lo que voy a hacer! ¡Mi pensión de punk rock!

Naciste en Leeds, ciudad que dio uno de los más clásicos álbumes de rock en vivo, como fue “Live At Leeds” de los Who.
Sí, y además todavía sigo al equipo de fútbol de Leeds, aunque no les está yendo bien. Y respecto al disco, sí, ¡estuve ahí!

¿En el show del día que se grabó el disco?
Sí. En aquel momento estaba en la escuela de arte. Y así fue como conocí a Matt Dangerfield de The Boys. Lo conocí en el show. Hace mucho tiempo que nos conocemos.

DE LOS BOYS A LOS BABYS
Hiciste muchísimas cosas como músico, pero mi parte favorita  -y esto es algo totalmente personal- son tus discos con los Crybabys. El EP, y después los tres álbumes, “Rock On Sessions”, “Daily Misery” y “What Kind Of Rock’n’Roll”. ¿Piensan volver a juntarse alguna vez?
Es muy curioso que me preguntes eso porque no hace tanto Darrell (N.: Bath, guitarrista de los Crybabys) y yo hicimos un show juntos por primera vez. Eso fue en Brighton, porque él ahora vive ahí. Hicimos un show acústico, y vino mucha gente.

Solamente ustedes dos, ambos en guitarra acústica…
No, Darrell en eléctrica, y yo en acústica. Ahora estamos pensando en hacer otro show, porque salió perfecto. Cuando nos juntamos, realmente somos muy buenos. Así que va a suceder, definitivamente.

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The Crybabys, allá lejos y hace tiempo

¿Hicieron sólo canciones del grupo?
Tocamos mayormente lo que te imaginarás, y también algunos covers que nos gustan. Pero el día antes del show estuve con Darrell en su casa de Brighton, y nos pusimos a componer nuevamente.

Realmente me encantaría que salga otro disco de los Crybabys…
Vamos a hacer uno, sin duda. ¡Es hora de que hagamos otro!

Y además ahora Darrell no está en ningún grupo fijo.
Su mejor momento es con los “Babys”, indudablemente. Y creo que él también lo sabe. Hasta donde yo sé, es uno de los mejores guitarristas del mundo. Y encajamos muy bien el uno con el otro.

Siempre tuve la impresión que vos aportabas la parte “Beatle” al sonido de la banda, y que Darrell hacía lo mismo con los Stones, o con los Faces. ¿Estás de acuerdo? Y de ser así, ¿cómo es qué eso sucedió?
Estaría de acuerdo, completamente. No sé cómo sucedió, no puedo siquiera recordar cómo lo conocí… Probablemente estaba muy borracho aquel día. Pero una vez que nos pusimos a tocar juntos, nos dimos cuenta de que teníamos que seguir haciéndolo. Es un buen tipo.

Y un muy buen amigo.
Sí, absolutamente. No es simplemente “el tipo que toca la guitarra”. Es más bien como si fuera de la familia.

Y por lo que sé, todo el mundo lo ama.
Sí, es muy divertido. ¡Todos nosotros lo somos! Y así es como seguimos adelante, sabés.

JOHN ERA UN ROLLING STONE
Tengo entendido que grabaste con los Dirty Strangers en su álbum debut de 1987, pero al final no apareciste en el disco.
Sí, estuve en el álbum, pero no aparecí en los créditos, porque The Boys se habían juntado de vuelta. Y eso no les gustó a los Dirty Strangers. Así que me echaron, y alguien me reemplazó. En los créditos del álbum no aparece que yo haya tocado, pero lo hice. Así fue como conocí a Ronnie Wood (N.: actualmente guitarrista de los Rolling Stones, que está como invitado en el disco)

THE_DIRTY_STRANGERS_THEDIRTYSTRANGERS-89066¿Como se dio esa oportunidad?
Creo que eso fue porque Alan Clayton(N.: voz y guitarrista de los Dirty Strangers) trabajaba para los Stones. Tengo gratos recuerdos de Alan. Buen cantante, y una gran banda. Aparte fue muy divertido. Sólo que el final fue un poco áspero. Ni siquiera sé si la banda existe hoy en día.

¡Sí que existen! De hecho tienen un nuevo disco que se editó el año pasado, “Crime And A Woman”
¡Eso suena como algo de Alan! (Risas)

OK, ¿y entonces que pasó con Ronnie Wood?
Estábamos en el estudio haciendo el álbum. No recuerdo qué estudio era, pero era uno muy grande, en Londres. Y no pude creer cuando Ronnie y su guardaespaldas aparecieron. ¡No me lo esperaba! Y entonces Alan le dijo a Ronnie, “¿te gustaría tocar en esta canción?

¿Y lo conociste a Keith Richards? Porque también participó del disco.
Sí, pero eso fue cuando fui a buscar mi guitarra después que me echaron, y Keith estaba ahí.

En 1995 apareciste como invitado del disco “Dirty Laundry” de Ian Hunter junto a Darrell, Casino Steel, Glen Matlock, y otros. ¿Algún recuerdo de esas sesiones? ¿Fue grabado en Abbey Road, verdad?
Oh, me encanta Ian. Me ponía a ver fútbol en la tele con él, y Ian estaba en calzoncillos, ¡y sin los lentes negros!

¿Ian Hunter sin los lentes negros? ¡Imposible!
Sí, no deberías ver eso… (Risas) ¡Sin lentes, y sin pantalones! Dios lo bendiga, no te confundas. Eso demuestra lo bien que nos llevábamos, porque nunca se saca los lentes ante nadie. Eso fue en Noruega. Nadie me cree, ¡pero es verdad!

Aún no me contestaste sobre las sesiones de grabación de “Dirty Laundry”…
Por empezar, fue fantástico ir a Abbey Road. Y sabés qué, Vom, el baterista de Die Toten Hosen (N.: recientementeentrevistado por MADHOUSE) también estuvo en el disco. Por aquel entonces yo tenía una de esas bicicletas con canasta, ¡y entonces íbamos juntos a Abbey Road en la bici! (risas) Todos los demás llegaban en limusinas.

O sea que ni siquiera iban en dos bicicletas, ¡sino que los dos iban en la misma! Y encima era una bicicleta para chicas. ¡A eso lo llamo rock’n’roll!
¡Sí! (Risas) Creo que es así.

UN PUNK DE LO MÁS HONESTO
¿Cuál es la historia de tu apodo? Fuera de vos, el otro “Honest” que conozco, al menos en el mundo de la música es, de vuelta, Ronnie Wood, a quien solían decirle “Honest Ron Wood” en los 70.
Eso fue porque The Boys estaba por salir de gira, y por alguna extraña razón fui a NEMS Records (N.: el sello para el cual grababa la banda por entonces) a buscar el dinero para el tour, para poder pagar todo lo que había que pagar, ¡pero lo aposté a un caballo!

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Honest-idad pura: si no puso todas las cartas sobre la mesa, John puso al menos las manos (Foto: M. Sonaglioni)

¡Todo a un caballo!
Sí, sí, un montón de dinero, era para toda la gira. ¡Y el caballo salió segundo! Perdí todo, y el que era nuestro manager de aquel entonces me envió de vuelta a buscar más dinero… Y es por eso que me llaman “Honest”, ¡porque no lo soy! (Risas)

¿Qué recordás de la escena londinense del punk de los 70? ¿Realmente existía algún tipo de rivalidad entre las bandas?
No, ninguna rivalidad, hasta donde yo sé. Tal vez la tenían entre ellos, pero no en mi caso. Me acuerdo del primer día del punk. The Boys fue la primera banda punk en firmar contrato. Mick Jones, de The Clash, solía ensayar en la casa de Matt Dangerfield, en el barrio de Maida Vale, y recuerdo la primera vez que abrí la puerta y Mick, que por entonces tenía el pelo muy largo, de repente apareció con el cabello todo recortado y con ropa extraña. Y yo le dije “Carajo, ¿qué está pasando, amigo?” Y él me contestó “¡El punk! ¿O no?’”

Y así fue como te presentaron al punk.
Así fue la presentación, porque de hecho nunca había considerado a The Boys una banda punk. Sabés, nos hicieron esa reputación. Pero así fue como me enteré de qué se trataba eso del “Punk”.

¿Entonces cómo es que los consideraban punks? Quiero decir, al fin y al cabo eran una banda que hacía música rock y pop de los 60…
Sí. No tengo la menor idea. Pero de esa manera fuimos soportes de los Ramones, porque se suponía que éramos un grupo punk. No estoy diciendo que se supusiera que fuéramos punks. Tocábamos lo que tocábamos.

En New York sucedía exactamente lo mismo. No tenía un nombre. Lo llamaban “rock de New York”, o como fuera, y de repente le empezaron a decir “punk rock”, ¡y todo el mundo era punk!
Sí, y fue por ese motivo que no me involucré en todo eso.

De hecho, pienso que el punk realmente nunca existió. No sé si logro explicarme…
¡Por supuesto! Quiero decir, Johnny Rotten tiene cinco hoteles en New York. ¿Qué tiene eso de “punk”?

Incluso tocaste batería duante los primeros tiempos de Generation X.
Así es, ensayaban en el lugar en el que vivía con Matt Dangerfield, y en aquel entonces no tenían baterista fijo. Billy Idol la tocaba, a veces. Pero cuando me puse a tocarla yo, él comenzó a cantar. Y yo le dije “sabés, Billy, deberías ser el fuckin’cantante”. Porque estaban buscando un cantante para el grupo. Le dije, “Cantás muy bien, ¿por qué no te pones a cantar?” Y me contestó “Dejá que lo piense”… Y de repente, estaba ahí cantando.

¡Ayudaste a todo el mundo!
¡Yo fui el responsable, mate! El porqué de que el punk sea tan famoso, ¡es todo responsabilidad mía! (Risas)

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London SS: créase o no, Mick Jones es ese de pelo largo y anteojos negros

JOHN, EL AMIGO DE LOS AMIGOS
Pasaste por muchas bandas a lo largo de tu carrera, principalmente por The Boys y los Crybabys, pero también estuviste en London SS junto a Mick Jones de The Clash y Brian James de The Damned, The Lurkers, The Mannish Boys, o junto a Pete Stride. Y después están todos esos proyectos solistas… ¿Cuál de todas esas bandas te trae los mejores recuerdos, y cuál los peores, de existir alguno?
Ninguna me hizo pasar un mal momento, es un hecho, pero los mejores momentos fueron con The Boys. Porque cuando salimos a la ruta, nos divertimos como nadie. Adoro a Casino, adoro a Matt, adoro a Jack, y adoro a Duncan. Éramos como una familia.

¿Por qué motivo se separaron en 1982?
No tengo la menor idea, realmente no puedo decírtelo. No fue algo que tuviera que ver conmigo, sabés. Aún hoy en día no sé el porqué de la separación. Sé que Matt y Duncan se pelearon, pero todavía lo desconozco.

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Sam Yaffa, Honest John, Michael Monroe: un verdadero tridente ofensivo rockero

Cinco años atrás grabaste otro de tus tantos discos junto a músicos amigos en el que, entre tantos, estuvieron Darrell, Die Toten Hosen, Glen Matlock, Martin Chambers de los Pretenders, y Sami Yaffa y Michael Monroe de Hanoi Rocks. ¿Cómo fue que armaste el proyecto y por qué es que todavía no vio la luz? Lo único que se conoce es el video de la canción “Never Listen To Rumours”…
Sí, el álbum está terminado, pero por alguna razón el tipo que puso todo ese dinero para hacerlo, no lo editó. Ese vendría a ser mi más reciente trabajo solista.

A veces puede resultar un poco confuso, porque está el álbum “Honest John Plain And Friends”, el de “Honest John Plain Y Amigos”, que hiciste en Argentina, otro de “Honest John Plain And The Amigos”, y después el que acabás de mencionar, que sigue inédito.
Sí, y no entiendo cómo es que el nuevo no fue lanzado, porque es fantástico, sabés.

OK, ¿y cómo ensamblaste el proyecto?
¡No fui yo!

¡Vos nunca hacés nada!
No, nunca hago nada (Risas). El tipo que puso la plata para el disco contactó a todos los músicos, y todos quisieron hacerlo. Si ves el video de “Never Listen To Rumours”, todos los que aparecen ahí están en el álbum.

Después que grabasteHonest John Plain Y Amigos” en Argentina en 2003, editaste otro como Honest John Plain And The Amigos titulado “One More And We’re Staying”. ¿Tenés muchos amigos dispersos por el mundo?
Sí, le debo dinero a tanta gente, sabés… (Risas)

Eso explica por qué todavía siguen siéndolo; supongo aún esperan que les pagues algún día.
Oh sí, ¡por supuesto! (Más risas)

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MI BUENOS AIRES QUERIDO
Estuviste aquí en Buenos Aires en 2003 para producir el álbum “Llegando Al Límite”, de Katarro Vandáliko. ¿Te hubieras imaginado alguna vez en los 70 o en los 80 que vendrías a Sudamérica a tocar, o a trabajar con otra banda?
¡Claro que no! Me resulta llamativo todo lo que he viajado, pero es siempre más que nada por The Boys.

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El autor de esta nota junto a Honest John Plain: todo es buena onda, amistad, vitrales y anteojos negros (Foto: M. Sonaglioni

¿Y ahora cuáles son tus próximos pasos tras los shows en Argentina? ¿Regresar a Londres?
Tengo que volver a Londres, sí, pero después regreso a Noruega ya que vamos a hacer un show con The Boys en Oslo el 20 de mayo y luego el 30 de junio vamos a tocar en un gran festival en la ciudad de Austvatn, el primero después de un largo tiempo.

Esperaremos entonces con ansias tu regreso al país con el grupo y, una vez más, me resultó maravilloso haberte conocido y poder charlar.
¡Oh, fue un placer para mí también! Y gracias por las preguntas, me gustó que hayas estado calificado para hacerlas.

A TALK WITH GARY LACHMAN IN LONDON: BLONDIE, LITERATURE, ESOTERISM, PUNK ROCK AND BLONDIE AGAIN

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Original article (Spanish version) published on Revista Madhouse on April 27 2017

Before deciding to leave behind his career as a rock musician, Gary Lachman held a privileged place as a witness to the New York rock scene that began to take shape in the mid-1970s when, as Blondie’s bass player (under the stage name of Gary Valentine) they recorded their first album, an epic record that was part of a genre that still lacked a proper name (New Wave, Rock of New York) and that reminisced of the pop sound of the previous two decades.

As a member of one of the essential bands that followed the same path, Lachman didn’t hesitate when contributing song titles such as “X Offender” or “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear”, which would later become part of some of Blondie’s most classic hits. Not satisfied with the band’s internal affairs, Lachman left Debbie Harry and Co. 2 years later. After trying several projects projects, he also left his country of origin and moved to England to finally achieve his original dream, that of becoming a writer specialized in the occult and esoterism, an interest that had already caught him in his rock’n’roll days, which took him to write over 20 books. MADHOUSE spoke with Lachman about all of that – from the golden years of the early stages of New York Punk, his days with Blondie, and his unusual career – in this exclusive interview, the first ever for a South American magazine, which took place in a cold noon last November at Lachman’s home in West Hampstead, in northwest London.

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An Angel And The Snake poster, or maybe flyer, one of the bands that spawned Blondie. announcing a show at thew CBGB in August 1974.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Blondie’s first album. What are your thoughts and memories of its recording?
I think we actually were probably in the studio around this time, if not earlier, in late ’76. I can’t remember it exactly. I think that the album came out just at the very end of ’76 but, all right, ’77 is when we’ve seen them, when we distributed it, and all that. It didn’t have any kind of impact outside of all the cult people following the band, you know, the New York rocker, New Wave, or whatever you wanna call it. Punk. We weren’t punk, we didn’t call it punk but whatever it was, it took a while. What can I say? It was a fantastic thing.

You were all very much in the ‘60s, the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las and all that.
Yeah. That’s one of the things that happened when Clem and I started playing, because Chris and Debbie (Stein and Harry) had been around for a while, in different sources of forms. They had different kinds of bands, you know, the Stilettos, the Banzai Babies, Angel and the Snake, not really getting anywhere with it. And then Clem Burke, who I knew from High School, you know, we were in the same High School, and who I’d known since we were teenagers, he started playing with them, and then I started hanging out in New York. Because before the New York scene, or Punk, if you wanna call it that, there was what we call Glitter, or Glam Rock. It was all Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed…that kind of thing. So there was a scene in New York about that. The New York Dolls, they were the local night band.

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The backing vocals section of The Stilettos: Amanda Jones, Elda Gentile and a very young Debbie Harry.

It was mostly about bands only from New York.
When I first became aware in ’73, the talent of this Glitter scene was bands like the New York Dolls. The place where they played, the Mercer Arts Center, literally collapsed, so the bands dispersed. You know “where to go?”, “where to play?”, and there was a place on the East Side called Club 82, which traditionally was a transvestite bar. It still was, but they let some of the bands play a few nights a week. And in fact that was the first place I saw Chris and Debbie. They were called the Stilettos at the time.

So the Stilettos they were playing there and you went down to Club 82 just to see them…
Well, maybe to see them, because I was hanging there on that scene. And in a place like Club 82, people like Bowie and Lou Reed, they were going there, it was in the magazines, so we used to go there and hang out to see if we could see them. This is before I was playing. I told all these stories in my book “New York Rocker”

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“New York Rocker”, a very accurate biography of Gary and an even better portrait of New York’s punk and proto-punk scene in the ’70s.

I guess that’s because you saw all those pictures in magazines like Rock Scene.
Yeah, mainly Rock Scene, all that stuff, so maybe you said “let’s go over there!” and hang out. So basically what’s happened is that Blondie’s bass player, Fred Smith, he quit to join Television. Tom Verlaine had kicked Richard Hell, and Hell started his own band with Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls, the Heartbreakers. So Blondie needed a bass player and I was hanging out already. I looked the part. I mean, I wore dark glasses all the time, sort of living on the edge of all that kind of thing. I could just about sort of play it, and that’s what you needed. You didn’t need to be a fantastic musician. It was all about attitude. I auditioned for them and it worked out, so I started playing with them. That was in early 1975, March or April. From then on, you know, Jimmy Destri joined, and then we started writing all the songs. When I first started playing Chris and Debbie were doing a lot of cover songs. They had some originals but it was mostly about covering tunes. And there was still this kind of campy, you know, gay glitter kind of thing. Myself, Jimmy and Clem, we were younger. I grew up during the ‘60s, so the music that was on the radio was always great pop music. You know, the Beatles, the Stones, Motown, the Byrds, and so and so on. Lots of good songs in music, so we started writing songs.

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In the ’70s, Harry, Stein, y Valentine lived in a loft in a three-floor building on 266 Bowery Lane, over a liquor store and a restaurant supply store named Globe Slicers.

I always believed that it must have been one of the best times in rock’n’roll history to be in. I mean, New York in the early ‘70s, although it was a tough city, lots of great things were happening.
It was very though, and everything was happening in one area too, being it the Lower East Side, or the East Village. So you had CBGB’s on the Bowery. We had the Blondie loft, a loft space.

 

And so did Arturo Vega.
Yes, he had one as well, around the corner…

Sorry to interrumpt!
Oh no, it’s fine. You know, before we got our loft, we used to rehearse in Arturo Vega’s loft as well, so we were there, and the Ramones were there. But CBGB’s was just around the corner from there, so that was a certain area of town where everybody was. That’s where the club was, or where you rehearsed, or just walking around, so you’d see all these people on the street. It was a real kind of a scene in the sense that it all took place in this part of the town. So we started writing these songs and they all had that kind of 60’s sort of feel to them. That look with the skinny ties and the suits, and all that.

How was the relationship with other bands? I know you were very close to the Ramones or the Dolls.
You know, in the beginning, everybody would go see everybody else play. So when we first played in CBGB’s, there were 3 or 4 members of the bands in the audience, and a handful of just people. We all did shows together, the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Heartbreakers. And there was another kind of crowd, the Patti Smith, Television one. They had their own thing.

More intellectual.
Well, they had more seriousness, or whatever you wanna call it, that it wasn’t the same as the others. The other bands were more, you know, rocking. We used to go to each other’s lofts and parties, and we’d see each other in the coffee shops in the area, when we went up for breakfast, or whatever. There were also other bands that weren’t known outside of the scene, that were very good, like the Miamis, who had been around for a very  long time, which did satirical or topical songs, like, things that were going on at the time. There was a lot of music going on.

But when you got together with those bands, in the coffee shop or wherever, you all had the idea of recording an album, or you just did it for fun?
You know, I guess everybody did. I certainly did, that we were gonna make a record and I was gonna write a hit song, I had that confidence. I meam, you do it because you love it but, yes, there was a sense that it started happening, and, was it Patti Smith who got the deal first?

Yes.
Yes, she got one and then the Ramones, Television and the Talking Heads, and we did too, so suddenly the record business people who were always downtown started hanging out at this creepy nasty area of town.

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One of the first Blondie shots with a very young and long-haired (L. to R.) Destri, Stein, Harry, Burke and Valentine.

What did you do at the time in order to make a living, as eventually you couldn’t live off the music yet?
Anything we could. Initially there was hardly any money at all. You were lucky if you got 10 dollars or something at the end of the night. Before I started playing I worked as a messenger, running around delivering things.

You were all pretty young and I thought some of you were still living with your parents at the time.
Well, Jimmy lived back home, and I had left home when I was 18, so I was already living in New York. I mean, I couldn’t be home and play at the same time, so at first they took me in. I was living with them in a little flat they had in Little Italy. From there we move down to this loft place, which was in the Bowery, which was a short walk, a block away from the CBGB. So the CBGB, the Ramones loft, the Blondie loft, it was all very near. Williams Burroughs lived over there too.

Everything was so close.
Everything was close and you’d see everybody in the neighborhood, basically. Clem came here, came to London, at the end of ’75, and when he came back, he brought back a lot of music, and we were listening to that, so then we decided writing a lot of new songs, and we practiced a lot, we played a lot. We didn’t do shows at the time.

Well we al depended on people travelling abroad to get the albums…
Yeah, and one of the albums he got was Dr. Feelgood’s, which was this kind of punk pub rock, with Wilko Jphnson and all that and, you know, they were really good.

I always believed the 70s in America, mostly New York, equals the ‘60s in England.
Well I guess what happened in New York in the ‘70s was like “a last kind of flower”, because it was about getting back to the roots of rock’n’roll too. I mean, that’s when you started to get rock’n’roll nostalgia, so there were bands like Sha-Na-na, or when Chuck Berry came back, they were doing all this ‘50s doo-wop kind of stuff, and that was only 15 years later, so what was happening in New York was very much related to that because basically it was going back to the simplest kind of fundamental rock music. Three or four chords, short and fast. Short tunes. So you didn’t have the idea you needed to be a great musician. By the end of the ‘60s or early ‘70s you had Emerson Lake and Palmer or Yes, you know, this huge Wagnerian thing, kind of opera sort of music, which was very far away from rock’n’roll.

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More early Blondie, without Destri, but still long-haired.

Well, then you probably saved us from all that.
I mean, I found it unlistenable! I don’t listen to much pop or rock anymore, but if I do, it’s all ‘60s or ‘70s stuff. Sometimes I watch videos on YouTube and it’s like “oh show me what a great guitarist you are!” One of the things that’s been lost is this notion of a song, kind of 3-minute song- Everything has to be this long…

I understand that you played piano when you were very young. What bout your early days in music, pre-Blondie? Were you just the kind of guy who stayed home and played records all the time?
I listened to music, but I wasn’t a musician really. I knew lots of musicians in my hometown. I knew Clem because he played in bands, and I used to go see his band playing at dances when I was still in my teens in New Jersey, where we grew up. I got to know musicians. But when it came to play in New York, I was actually better equipped in the sense that I only knew a few things, I didn’t have a whole history of learning how to play the guitar. I had played in jam bands, what you call garage bands, you know, just jamming and playing away, not really being a musician. But I listened to music a lot. All the British invasion bands, Motown, the San Francisco sound, and all that. By the early ‘70s, that’s when I became more conscious of something I was really into, you know, David Bowie, New York Dolls, Mott the Hoople…

Oh I just saw Ian Hunter in Shepherd’s Bush about 10 days ago! You know he’s never been to South America, and he won’t probably do ever.
Oh, that’s fantastic. I guess I saw him in ’74. I saw Mott the Hoople when Queen opened up for them, so Queen was the support act! (laughs) But yeah, I was into that, Lou Reed and all that kind of thing. That was strange, because most of the people where I was from, in New Jersey, they were into the Grateful Dead, Santana, the Allman Brothers… Clem used to be in a band that played Allman Brothers and that kind of stuff, but once I became aware of Bowie and this weird world of putting on makeup, and dressing up, and this strange sexual ambiguity, it was different. It was too weird for everybody else, so I became a kind of outsider to the usual scene by being interested in that.

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The New York Dolls at the Academy of Music: sex, drugs and rock and roll. And more drugs.

Were you also into Alice Cooper at the time?
Yeah but, you know, not somebody I was really into, you know, just like Kiss. It was too much. I remember when the New York Dolls played in Valentine’s Day, in 1974. The place used to be called the Academy of Music on 14th street, big place to play. And when I got there, I didn’t know what to expect. Everybody was using makeup and completely stoned. What was great about the Dolls was that they didn’t have to play a fantastic kind of music, they just did really good rock, simple music. And what happened in New York was a reaction to all that. And about Television, when they played they were just wearing whatever clothes they got at the charity shop. They didn’t have a look. Until Richard Hell started ripping his T-shirt, you know. It went from everything being flamboyant and very colourful to being drab and very simple. That’s what was exciting, it was like “you can do this”. I didn’t have to study guitar for years. I just had to pick it up and play with a lot of attitude.

And you could still do great songs. It was about guys getting together and playing the kind of music they liked.
Yeah. I mean, when I first played with Blondie, Clem was certainly the best musician. Chris could play guitar but he always had an eccentric approach to it. And Debbie could sing, of course. We weren’t professional, but that’s what made it real because, you know, when Mick Jagger sang “Angie” saying “with no money in our coats”… When was the last time that Mick didn’t have any money? We really didn’t have any money!

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An article on Rock Scene magazine covering the “X Offender” recording sessions, a hit penned by Gary. Also in the picture is Richard Hell, who had dropped by the studio to add some bass lines.

And I guess you got a lot of support from the magazines, which helped a lot.

Of course, mostly from magazines like Rock Scene, and also the Soho Weekly News. It took a while for The Village Voice to do it.

Do you remember the real very first time you got to meet Chris and Debbie personally?
Well, first time I saw them was in Club 82, but the first time I met them, I was going to one of the shows when Clem started playing with them, and they played in a bar in Wall Street, the financial district in New York. I can’t remember the name of the place now. But it wasn’t any fancy, there was no stage in there. You just sat up in the floor.

I’d still go to places like that nowadays.

Oh yeah, it was fine. Debbie singing, Chris on guitar, they had Fred Smith, and Clem was drumming. I remember just hanging out with them, so that’s when I first met them. I was Clem’s friend, so I used to hang out with him when I went to New York.

You were a sort of friend with privileges.
Well, I guess a groupie, initially, and then what happened is that Fred Smith quit to join Television, and Clem said to me “why don’t you come down for an audition?” I could play a bit of bass. Where I was living at the time on East End Street, it was basically what you call “a store front” It was a store, but someone had blacked out the windows. It was a kind of crash pad, and I was living there with this other guy who was a strange individual. And in this place there was a piano, and old piano, practically every other key was broken, but I manage to bang out a few chords…

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Blondie live at Mother’s, in the mid-’70s. According to Gary’s book, it was “a gay bar on 23rd Street facing the Chelsea Hotel”. The exact address was 267 W. 23rd Street, between 7th and 8th.

So you were playing piano at the time.
Not really to play piano, I could only play a few chords. In fact what I first wanted to do was write poetry, and be a poet. I spent a lot of time writing some poetry, and that got transformed in sort of writing the songs. So Clem took me uptown to Blondie’s rehearsal place near Port Authority, one of these office buildings. A lot of those places had become rehearsals places so, they had one and I went there. We just started playing, and we played the Stones’ song “Live with Me” from, is it ‘Beggars Banquet’?

No, that’s the ‘Let It Bleed’ album.
Oh yes. It was just a song Chris knew and we kind of played it, forever… And he liked me. And then Clem said “play any of your songs” There was a piano, so I went and played something, and they said “ok fine!” But then not long after I had to be home, because my parents didn’t want me to be playing in a rock band. So I had to choose and said “bye”. I didn’t have anywhere to live. I slept around different people’s places for a while, but eventually Debbie and Chris said “you can come and live with us” It was this tiny little flat but, you know, but still bigger than this room! They lived in Little Italy. That’s early 1975, in Spring. And not  long after that, we got this loft place on Bowery.

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Blondie’s show at the CBGB’ with Gary in the band, which took place from July 16th to the 27th, 1975, featuring unsigned artists. Some of them are quite familiar…

And you started playing in Blondie!
And I started playing! I first played the CBGB in July 1975, which was called the “Unsigned Rock Band Weekend”, or something. It wasn’t called Punk Rock or anything. Or maybe it was “Underground Unsigned Rock Band Festival” And this is where you got Blondie, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, the Ramones…

What’s the story behind choosing “Gary Valentine” as your stage name?
It’s because at the time I sort of wanted a new identity. That was the whole idea, reinventing yourself. And the people around at the time, you had Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell, Alan Suicide…It was all kind of dark and violent, and I wanted to be more upbeat, more optimistic. My favorite writer at the time was Henry Miller, and his middle name was Valentine. Henry Valentine Miller. I identified with him quite a bit at thetime. Because he was writing about living in New York and starving and working as a messenger. And I was doing the same thing, so I just sort of took his name.

Was it only you who decided to come up with that name? Or was it the other members of Blondie that suggested it as well?
It was me. As I said before, I wanted to reinvent myself. I was the last person anyone could have thought one would become a musician, even less write and song and record it. I was somebody just hanging out with other musicians, so it was very unlikely. I just wanted to do something. Anything. Poet, artist, writer, something along those lines, and once you wrote the songs and then the people were saying “yeah!”, I knew I could do it. And that transforms you, you know.

It wasn’t called “punk” at the time.
No, we didn’t call it “punk”. Suddenly one day we saw all these posters around saying “Punk is coming!” I remember people were thinking “this must be a band from New Jersey” ‘Cause nobody in New York called themselves “punk” at the time.

 

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It had to be labeled somehow.
But what was there was the ‘Punk’ magazine.

The Legs McNeil magazine?
Yes, Legs and John Holmstrom. But they emphasized one aspect, it was more about the Ramones, Richard Hell and all that. But there was a good magazine called New York Rocker. That’s what I got the title of my book from. Alan Betrock, who actually early on was a Blondie producer. He took us into this studio to do the first recordings. “Platinum Blonde” and some other songs we were doing, that EP with the 1975 demos. I don’t think any of those songs survived. Well, one did, the one we called “The Disco Song”, that later became “Heart of Glass”. You know, a big hit.

Oh tell me about it! Where you a fan of the other bands in he scene at the time, or you had a favourite one among them?
I used to go to see all of them all the time. The Heartbreakers, the Ramones, Talking Heads, Suicide, and then these other bands like The Marbles and The Miamis, that nobody knows about, but they were around at the time too. I used to see all of them but, in the long run, I was thinking that the first Television album, “Marquee Moon” was probably the best thing. It’s a great piece of music.

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1974 flyer announcing three Blondie shows. The one at Mother’s marked Jimmy Destri’s first in the band.

Which by the way was so different to what everybody else was doing.
True, it was very different. But I loved all of the them at the time, I used to go to every show. You know the Ramones had like, eight songs. And the Heartbreakers had six or seven. But it was all right! I guess Richard Hell, in terms of attitude, was really the spirit behind a lot of what was happening.

So in the beginning the punk scene was a bit arty after all. It even included poetry. So when do you think all that changed?
I guess when the UK punk idea came in. Before that, it was a really interesting blend of poetry, rock, art and film. We used to go to people’s loft spaces in Soho and there would be some weird film…It wasn’t called anything. “New York Rock” or “Underground Rock”. As soon as it got this simple label, “punk”, then everybody out in New Jersey, or in Connecticut or Long Island, it was very easy for them to put a safety pin in and go to New York and say “hey we’re punk!” To fit into that kind of scene because, originally, the New York thing was very much like an old Fellini movie. Everybody was dressed in black with their glasses on, smoking, and nobody was reacting to anything. You had to do a lot to make somebody really react.

Would you blame Malcolm McLaren for that?
Well he was the New York Dolls manager, and there was a famous show where Television opened up for the Dolls, when Richard Hell was still in the band, and McLaren saw him rip his shirt. I think he even invited Hell to come back to the UK, but Hell decided to stay and do his own thing. You know, McLaren tried to turn the New York Dolls into a Communist rock band. I mean, come on! (laughs)

Too bad it didn’t work! Think about it…
I guess they looked pretty cool in the red lettering but it was very different. I have to say I never really got into any of the UK kind of stuff.

Before he passed, Malcolm McLaren was interviewed in Buenos Aires, and he said that punk’s most important legacy was the “do it yourself” thing. Would you agree with him, or else what would you say it’s the best thing that came from punk? I mean, if there’s one after all. Maybe you agree with McLaren’s opinion…
No, I’d hate to do that! (laughs) I guess certainly what happened was post punk, which marked the difference between the “hip” people and the rest of the people. Everyone wears black today all the time, and it used to be something very exceptional, even in the ‘70s. I think that was in the sense of a separation between the stars and regular people. That “do it yourself” attitude was nice, and I guess today, with the whole digital world, you can do it yourself in a much bigger way. Back then, you had to make all the recordings, copy everything, the flyers…

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Bel Air Hotel photo session, Los Angeles, 1977, California. Gary’s departure was just about to happen…

All those fanzines…
Yeah, that was really “do it yourself” And now everybody has this hi-tech stuff and they can do their albums. We were very lucky if we had a cassette recorder.

Back to Blondie, do you think your contribution to the band, which was quite important at the time, was fairly or properly acknowledged? Or maybe, if it didn’t, that was the very reason why you left the band?
I actually left mostly because I wanted to have my own band at a certain point. It’s understandable now that they weren’t happy with this idea because I was writing lots of songs. And because I played guitar. I mean, the first record, “X Offender”, I played guitar there, I’m not playing bass. But I wanted to do some more of that. There were a couple of different things. I also felt that it was becoming Debbie and a back-up band, and that wasn’t what we were. We all worked together, worked really hard. It was a whole, it wasn’t just a singer and a band.

But that happens with so many bands…
It’s the same old story, isn’t it? I mean, at the time I was 20 years old, and later on I realized how it was. Sometimes you get brushed out of the story, other times you’re not. It all depends on who’s writing that kind of thing, But at this stage, 40 years on, you know, it’s fine. I’m fairly established. A couple of songs that I wrote were very important in the early days.

gary-BLONDIEXOFFENDER1I believe that “X Offender” is one of your most important contributions to the band, and I guess it involves a personal story. What was your inspiration? Is it true you were actually and X offender?
I didn’t write the song with that in mind. The music and the melody and all that came to me, and I wrote that. The chorus, I wrote the lyrics of that. But the actual lyrics to the verses, that was Debbie’s. Debbie came up with this idea of a cop who falls in love with a hooker. It’s loosely based on uh…At the time I was going through a difficult period because basically I had got arrested for statutory rape. Just after I turned 18, you know, to have relations with a younger girl…I tell the story in “New York Rocker”. It’s a sad story. At the time, when I was early on playing, I still had to go back to this kind of probation, and actually I was sort of “breaking” probation because I was not supposed to live out of state. I was living in New York, and not in New Jersey, all this kind of stuff. So it was sort of loosely based on my own kind of personal problem, you know. Originally the title was “Sex Offender”, and we had to change it to “X Offender”, because the producer Richard Gottehrer said that “Sex Offender” was never gonna get on the air.

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It seems using the “sex” word meant a lot of trouble at the time.

What about “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear”? Is it true that there was some kind of supernatural story involved in the song, concerning Lisa Persky, your girlfriend at the time? And by the way, it must be the only song in music history that features the words “kismet” and “theosophies”. Why?
I think that’s true! (laughs hardly) Well, it’s connected to what I’m doing now as a writer. When I was living with Chris and Debbie in the loft, in 1975, I started getting interested in the occult. They had a kind of kitschy kind of fun interest in the days of the voodoo dolls stuff, all that kind of thing, so I started reading about it.

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Gary and then-girlfriend Lisa Jane Persky, 40 years ago. No idea about the second girl in the picture, though.

The I-Ching and all that.
Yeah, all that kind of stuff.

I wonder what made you curious about that. We know people like David Bowie or Jimmy Page did. But why a pop or a punk band from New York would do that?
I never really was interested in that per se. But what happened was that, I was always an avid reader. I was reading a lot all the time. Poetry, Nietszche, Sartre and the existentialists, and all this kind of stuff. At that time in New York, in 1975, there was still a lot of stuff left over from the previous scene, the previous generation, all that ‘60s scene. So in bookshops you saw Timothy Leary, Castañeda, or the I-Ching, books on Zen, all that kind of stuff. There was a book by a British writer, his name is Colin Wilson. In fact the latest book I did is a biography of him. He wrote a book that was called “The Occult”. It was something more than just a collection of ghost stories, or stuff like that. It was more philosophical, more historical and scientific. Very inspirational. And I just became really interested in it because it was very well written, and the way he was approaching it made it seem much more understandable. At the same time I’d also started reading about Aleister Crowley. There was somebody in the loft where we lived who was into Crowley a lot. He was this wild artist painter, he used to do these big kind of paintings. He’d sort of give in impromptu terror readings. And I just became interested in it. It was all new to me. So I started reading about all that stuff, and then I was also reading about parapsychology, psychics, ESP…My girlfriend at the time, Lisa, she became interested in it too. You know, I was 19 at the time. And then when Blondie first went on tour, we just started realizing that we were having the same kinds of dreams, and everybody would talk to each other. You know, this connection. There’s lots of evidence that this happens to people that are emotionally related, and so that was sort of the basis for that song, a song about how I was always in touch in some way with her. And yeah, kismet, theosophy, I think it’s the only Top Ten hit about telepathy, I don’t think there’s any other. Pretty much all during the time I was in Blondie I was reading about this and then when I left in August of 1977, I went to California, ‘cause my girlfriend Lisa was an actress, and she went to Hollywood to pursue film and TV, and I went to join her. And while I was there I also read all this kind of stuff. There were all different sorts of things that I became aware. One of the wonderful things about this book by Colin Wilson is that he talks about all these writers, people like Madame Blavatsky, or Gurdjieff, or Yeats, you know, all these other people who talked about this kind of things. So I followed those things too.

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The Know, a band that deserved better luck: Gary Valentine, Joel Turrisi and Richard Dandrea at the Whisky A Go-Go, Los Angeles, in 1978.

So you were an avid reader, but what took you to become a writer?
I always wanted to write. As I said, I started out writing poetry.

Did you have that in mind by the time you moved to London? You didn’t write any books before you left the US.
What happened was, you know, I had my own band for a while, called The Know. I got the name because I was interested in this esoteric school cult called the Gnosticism. C. G. Jung and other people have written about it, it was a sort of early Christian group, so I got the name from that sort of idea. I had The Know for a couple of years and we played a lot, in L.A., in New York, we did a couple of recordings, but we didn’t get a major deal on all that, so I disbanded it, and then I played with Iggy Pop for a while. And then, in 1982, that’s when I stopped, and after that I went back to university. I started writing in the early ‘90s when I was still living in California, and I was writing some articles, book reviews, and things like that. So it took a long time.

Did you do that in order to make a living?
I was working at this famous bookshop called The Bodhi Tree in Los Angeles, a metaphysical spiritual bookshop. It was very famous and successful in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It doesn’t exist anymore, it closed down, but I worked there for quite a few years. I went back to university, I was back and forth to university, where I first got a degree in Philosophy. I thought I was going to teach Philosophy, it was my career decision through the ‘80s. But then I didn’t follow that up. I stayed in California. I ended up starting a Ph.D. program in English literature at the University of Southern California, but I disliked the academic atmosphere at the time.

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Cover of The Know’s first single featuring “The First One” and “Tomorrow Belongs To You”. Blondie used to play the first song before Gary left.

Which was completely different to what you were coming from.
I was just trying to know what to do with myself, that’s what happened. I wanted to write, but in between, stopping playing music in ’82 to coming here in ’86, it was a 14-year period where I was trying to find what to do musically. I also worked as a science writer, because I’d written some book reviews and articles about popular science. At the time I’d dropped out of this Ph.D. program, as I said, because I hated the environment. I didn’t know what to do of myself and my wife said “you have to find a job, why don’t you apply for this science writer job?” She saw the advertisement in the paper. And I thought “ok I’ll do that, I’ll never get the job, but I’ll make her happy” I had no background in science, only academic background in Philosophy. But in any case they got  back and said “when do you want to start?” So I got the job. I should never have gotten it, but I got it. So I was working as a writer. I wasn’t writing about anything I really wanted to write, but I was writing for the university. That was definitely not what I wanted to do! I really went though a kind of crisis at the time. My marriage fell apart… I went through this thing, you know, “my God!” It was a classic midlife crisis. I was approaching 40.

Yes, I’ve been there…
Basically everything fell apart. And that’s what led me coming here. My life fell apart in Los Angeles. I had been in the Czech Republic in late ’95. The magazine I worked for, called Gnosis Magazine, they sponsored a conference there about the Rosicrucians. Don’t ask me about the Rosicrucians! (laughs) At that conference I met lots of people from here, and they said to me “if you wanna change the scenery, if you want to get away from L.A., you can hang out with us” Initially I wasn’t planning to move here. I was gonna hang out for a while and see what happened, because I didn’t know what to do of myself. The bookstore basically asked me to leave, but they paid me the rest of the money I would have had, they gave me a chunk of money. I had a little bit of freedom.

gary-turn-offThat was enough for the airplane…
Yeah, enough for that and enough to get by for a while. I mean, you’re 40 years old, you try to do now what you always wanted to do, which was to write, to live as a writer. And once I made that decision, it  just started happening in many ways. I got a lot of work. I wrote for a lot of magazines. I wrote for Mojo, The Guardian, The Independent and all that, and then I was commissioned to do the first book, “Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius” in 1999. It came out in 2001, I think.

Out of all the people you wrote about, which would be your favourite one? Let me take a guess. Ouspensky? I guess that was much appealing to you.
Yes, P. D. Ouspensky. He was one of the people I read about early on, when I first became interested in this. He’s the most honest follower of Gurdjieff. He was this very enigmatic Greek-Armenian esoteric teacher. Ouspensky was also a very important thinker, and a sort of philosopher in his own right. And he wrote this book, “A New Model of the Universe”, that came out in the 1930’s. He just explored lots of different ideas. About time, about all the dimensions, about the pyramids. It was kind of full of lots of different stuff, and at the time it was so exciting. So I did a book on him.

What about you most recent book about “Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson”?
That’s an important book for me because his work got me interested in all this in the first place, and I developed a friendship with him. He’s most known for his first book, “The Outsider” that came out in 1956 here in England.

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Does he live here in London?
Well, he died a few years ago, in 2013. And that’s the reason why I wrote a book about him. It’s a biography but also a study of all his ideas. He wrote many books, about a hundred. He was very much involved in existentialism and in consciousness and this kind of, what you call “peak experiences”, moments of creativity, moments of affirmation where you can feel this incredible sense of power. He studies that in different ways in his work. When you do a book about somebody, the more you get into the process of writing, it becomes very real in some way. I remember when I was doing my book on Madame Blavatsky (“Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality”), this very eccentric Russian woman in the 19th century…

All these interesting characters.
Very interesting! They’re all very interesting characters because they have very interesting lives, they travelled a lot. They were “on the outside”, someone can say they were the rock’n’rollers of their time.

There’s definitely a link there.
She spent many years in Tibet. This was during a time when Tibet wasn’t open to foreigners, and certainly not to women. And when I was writing about this, I’d go outside, and I’d feel this weird kind of dissidence, as it felt as I’d just spent several hours in the Himalayas. She’s somebody I didn’t know much about, or I hadn’t read as much about before, so writing that book was a  learning experience to me. And I came to like her quite a bit. She’s a remarkable character. To do all those incredible things that she did as a woman in the late 19th century, now that was really something.

Are all your books currently available in bookstores here in London?
Not so much in the main chains, but in specialized bookshops. There’s a famous book shop in the West End that’s been there forever, people like Aleister Crowley used to go and buy books there in the early 20th century.

gary-crwleySo, by the way, you did a book on him called “Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World” Why do you think Crowley is much liked and followed by rock musicians and fans? Do you think he represents a kind of first step to the world of the occult?
I guess probably for most people he’s the one who introduced them to it, specially the ones in the rock world. But Crowley wasn’t one of these very eccentric unconventional characters, and he was rediscovered in the 1960’s. He’s like a proto hippie, in the sense that, you know, he experimented with lots of drugs, free love, polymorphous perversity… Sex was the main thing for him, and all that. He was very unconventional, he rebelled against his time. There’s a book by Richard Cavendish called “The Black Arts” that came out I guess in 1966…

I have a book by him in Spanish at home, but I cannot remember the name now.
Probably “The Black Arts”, a book that  became very popular. People like Mick Jagger, etc., they were reading this book. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote my book about Crowley. In the ‘60s there was a connection between the occult and pop culture. My first book “Turn Off Your Mind” is about that. But what happened with the ‘70s is that it kind of dropped away, it became specialized. But Crowley stayed as a kind of icon for the rock world. Black Sabbath knew that.

Not to mention Jimmy Page…
Yeah, but if you look at the cover of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s”, Crowley is there, Jung is there, Aldous Huxley…So Crowley became popular in the ‘60s an then was rediscovered. He died in 1947, and a biography about him came out in the early ‘50s, but he didn’t become this huge icon until the Beatles put him on the “Sgt. Pepper’s” cover. And people like Kenneth Anger became aware of him. There was a well-known underground newspaper here at the time called The International Times, and they did a big article about Crowley, as I said, like a proto hippie. Rediscovering him and also looking back, and everybody saw that. This was in 1966 or something. Then in the ‘70s people like Jimmy page or David Bowie were into it, but even today people are rediscovering him all the time. You see his face nowadays almost as much as you see Marilyn’s, or Che Guevara’s.

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Crowley on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s” (see yellow arrow)

Which, by the way, makes me realize they never did a movie about him.
Not a good one, no.

Oh, was there a bad one then?
Well there’s one that was called “Chemical Wedding” or something, which was out a few years ago. It didn’t get wide distribution, as it wasn’t very good. But there’s characters based on him in some films, horror films and all that. But it would be an interesting thing to do.

Are you more comfortable with being a biographer or would you rather write about their works, like you did with Jung, Swedenborg or Steiner?
The thing with biographies is that, there’s a beginning and there’s an end. You’d be writing about when they’re born, and when they die. I like a kind of story. But what I like about these people are their ideas, or as much part of their life as anything else, so I can explore their ideas through their life. But I’ve also done books about histories. “Turn Off Their Minds” is about the whole 1960’s. Another one I did called “The Secret Teachers of the Western World” is about basically the history of the West seen through an esoteric interpretation philosophy.

So you’ve always been a curious kind of person. Which is fine, if you’re not curious, what can you do about it?
Yes! I’m interested in most of the things I like to think and reflect about. I’m also interested in seeing patterns between things, you know.

How do you work when you write a biography? Do you go to the very places things happened? Like Crowley in Italy?
Sometimes. It depends. First I read as much as I possibly can about them. Their own work, biographies of them, interviews with them, that kind of thing. This most recent book about Colin Wilson, I know his family, so I’ve spoken with them. Mostly is about gathering information. I go to the British Library a lot, and I do interviews with people.

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Has it ever influenced you? You researched a lot about esotericism. Have you ever gone through paranormal experiences, or out of this world? Maybe it’s a silly question…
I wouldn’t say anything fantastic. As I said, when we talked about that song “Presence, Dear”, I had experiences of that kind. I’ve written about precognitive dreams, but it was nothing very dramatic. I think most of us have little experiences of these kinds of things, like telepathy. But we don’t pay attention to them very much. But because I’m interested in all that stuff, as I write about consciousness, I may be much more aware of paying attention to these things when they happen. In general, my philosophy in life is that, I’ll put it this way, in a negative way, I don’t believe in the standard scientific materialist explanations. I’m very much interested in trying to put together a picture of what other stuff means. Esoteric ideas, spiritual or supernatural experiences. What I found interesting about all the people I write about is that I like to find similarities between them. What happens with a lot of these different groups is that people that are into Steiner, or into Jung, or into Gurdjieff, they don’t talk to each other. If you know enough about them, there are different ideas. They’re talking about the same, but they use different languages.

Are you working on a new book? Have you already chose who will be the next character you’ll write about?
Yes, there’s a book I’m working on that will be due at the end of the year. The title is “The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination” Basically it’s exploring this other mode of knowing. We know the scientific analytical way to understand things, you know, we break things down and then tear them to pieces. This is more about intuition, it’s more about how imagination is not only something that creates unreal things, it’s actually something that allows us to understand something in its kind of inner aspect. I’m looking at different people, different poets, different kind of philosophers and writers who talk about this sort of thing. It’s a theme that’s in most of my books. There’s a historian of the occult called James Webb, and he called it “rejected knowledge”

Was he the inspiration for your new book?
Well, he’s someone I read about quite some time ago. Something starts out and you get interested in it, and gradually you became more and more focused on it, and then you start to see how different things feed into this idea. In many ways I wind up writing about the same kind of thing, but from a different perspective, it all turns out to be about the same.

This will be your book number…
This is the 20th. I try to make a living out of writing, so I have to come up with other ideas.

My last questions are gonna be again about music, so let’s go back to it.
Oh, sure.

Do you still play or go to shows?
No, I don’t. I have to say “no”. I haven’t listened to any kind of pop music or anything like that for a very long time, I mean, I did have a band again…

Not The Know, right? Because you never got a recording contract, although they got to be quite popular in the USA at the time.
Yes, L.A. and New York, we went back and forth a lot. What happened was, when I moved here in the beginning of ’96, out of the blue Chris Stein got in touch with me. And he asked me to come back to New York and play again. That was the last thing I thought, you know, whatever happened. I figured it out, “well, I’m 40, I’ll never have this chance again, so why not?” So I went to New York and started playing with Blondie again. We did some shows in ’97 We did some big festivals in the States, and we even recorded a song of mine.

“Amor Fati”
Yeah, right. It’s a song I used to do with my band The Know, and we recorded it. Long story short, it all turned out not to work. I may be the only person to get kicked out of the same band twice.

Yeah.
With 20 years in between. But what happened is that when I went back to play with them, I started writing songs again.

Frank Infante wasn’t there anyway…
No, he wasn’t there. They hadn’t played together for a long time, so they tried to put the band back together. You know, Chris, Debbie, Clem, the guy who played bass (I forgot his name). and Jimmy. I was playing second guitar. But, you know, “no, thanks”. But then I had written all these songs, all new songs, so when I came back here from this Blondie fiasco with lots of new songs, my girlfriend at the time played violin, and so I decided to, you know, “what are we gonna do with all these songs? They were supposed to be on Blondie’s album, and I’m not gonna be there” So we just decided to put a band together for a while. We played around London and we did quite a few gigs. So that’s the last thing we did, we stopped doing it in 2000. That was the last time I played.

You didn’t record?
Yes we did, that stuff is online, I think. But it wasn’t released.

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Oakville, Canada, Aug. 1981: Iggy and his band (Gary on the right) warming up for the Detroit show when they opened for the Stones. If only they had known what was to happen…

Back to Blondie, after you were kicked out of the band, you played with Iggy in 1981. It was an all-star band that included Clem Burke, Carlos Alomar, Rob Duprey and Mike Page. Last year we did an article on the magazine about the night the band opened for the Stones that year.
Hahahaha! (laughs)

That’s the show where the people threw all kinds of stuff to the band onstage. What do you remember about that night?
Yes, we opened for the Stones in Detroit, at the Silverdome, and Santana was also on the bill.  You know, it’s a huge arena, 80,000 people or something like that, and we played before Santana. We only had this tiny little spot onstage, you couldn’t use the whole set. Nobody was there to see Iggy Pop, they were there to see the Stones. So during our show, out of this darkness (it was like looking at the Grand Canyon), you saw all this stuff coming at you! You know, shoes and everything, they threw everything they could possibly get their hands on. And at the end of the show, Bill Graham, the promoter, after somebody collected everything, he went out with Iggy, ‘cause Iggy was so pissed off… He said, you know “five sneakers, ten big lighters…” It was like he was saving anything that was thrown at us!

So how come Santana didn’t get more stuff than you? They should have been the ones!
Hahahaha! (laughs) I think that was also because it was Detroit, and he was the homeboy.

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Gary at home in London, today. You’ve come a long way, boy…

While in London you were part of a music project along Lora Logic from X-Ray Spex, and then you formed Fire Escape with violin player Ruth Jones.

I forgot I got into that! Yes, we recorded something, and she put it out on some CD, I don’t know where it is anymore.

Last question now, and I hope you enjoyed the interview. It’s a long story!
Oh yes, absolutamente! (in perfect Spanish)

Ok, having lived in New York and L.A., I imagined you knew some Spanish.
Hola qué tal? Cómo están ustedes? (laughs)

Were you surprised after being contacted by a magazine from Argentina. And what do you know about our country?
Yes, I’ve been flattered, thank you. Other than having read of Borges quite a bit…

Oh you read him?
Oh, I did, and I like his short stories very much but, to tell you the truth, I don’t know much at all. I have to say I’m wealthily ignorant, I’ll have to learn more about that.

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Gary and journalist take a selfie. London. November 2016 (Photo: M. Sonaglioni)

Have you ever been in South America at all?
No, never visited South America. It’s a funny thing, because all that time I lived in Los Angeles, and I regret it now, I didn’t even go to Mexico. All I thought about was Europe. I’d always had this feeling for Europe. But a couple of my books were published in Brazil, and there are also a couple of books in Spanish, they were published by Atalanta Press and they may be available in Argentina.

 

 

UNA CHARLA CON GARY LACHMAN EN LONDRES: BLONDIE, LITERATURA, ESOTERISMO, PUNK ROCK Y OTRA VEZ BLONDIE

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Publicado en Revista Madhouse el 27 de abril de 2017

Antes de decidirse a dejar atrás su carrera de músico de rock, Gary Lachman tuvo un lugar privilegiado como testigo de la escena del rock neoyorquino que comenzaba a gestarse a mediados de los 70. Fue cuando bajo el nombre artístico de Gary Valentine, y en su rol de bajista, integró las filas de Blondie, con quienes registró el primer disco de la banda, un álbum insigne de un género que ni siquiera aún tenía nombre propio (proto punk, new wave, rock de New York) y que remitía al pop más puro remiscente del sonido de las dos décadas anteriores.

Eran tiempos de canciones cortas y efectivas fieles al estilo, y en su paso por uno de los grupos fundamentales del género, Lachman no titubeó a la hora de aportar de puño y letra títulos como “X Offender” o “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear”, que pasarían a integrar el catálogo de los grandes clásicos del combo de Debbie Harry y Cía. No conforme con las políticas internas de la banda, Lachman abandonó Blondie un par de años más tarde. Fue cuando, tras probar suerte en otras aguas, decidió dejar atrás su país de origen y se mudó a Inglaterra para finalmente plasmar su sueño inicial, el de escritor especializado en ocultismo y esoterismo, un interés que ya lo había cautivado en sus días de rock’n’roll, y con el cual ya lleva más de 20 libros editados. MADHOUSE habló con Lachman de de los años dorados de los inicios del punk neoyorquino, de sus días junto a Blondie y de su inusual carrera en esta entrevista exclusiva, la primera en la historia para un medio sudamericano, realizada un frío mediodía de noviembre pasado en su casa de West Hampstead, al noroeste de Londres.

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Un afiche o tal vez volante de Angel And The Snake, una de las bandas de donde se originó Blondie. El mismo anuncia un show en el CBGB, allá por 1974

En 2016 se cumple el 40 aniversario de la edición del primer álbum de Blondie. ¿Cuáles son tus reflexiones y recuerdos de la grabación de aquel disco?
Pienso que para esta época (N.: esta nota fue hecha a fines de 2016), en aquel año, a fines de 1976, estábamos en el estudio… Si es que eso no fue algo antes, no lo recuerdo con exactitud. Creo que el álbum se editó a fines del ’76 pero, está bien, finalmente lo vimos en 1977, ahí fue cuando lo distribuimos y todo eso. No tuvo mayor impacto fuera de la gente de culto a la banda que nos seguía, ya fuere el rockero neoyorquino, el de la new wave o como quieras llamarlo. O del punk. No éramos punks, no lo llamábamos “punk”, pero como fuere, nos llevó un tiempo. ¿Qué puedo decir? Fue algo fantástico.

La banda estaba muy metida en los 60. Las Ronettes, las Shangri-Las, y todo eso…
Sí. Esa es una de las cosas que sucedieron cuando Clem (N.: Burke, el legendario baterista de Blondie) y yo comenzamos a tocar, ya que Chris y Debbie (N: Stein y Harry, guitarrista y cantante del grupo) venían haciendo cosas hacía rato, de distintas fuentes o formatos. Habían tenido bandas de estilos diferentes, sabés. The Stilettos, Banzai Babies, Angel And The Snake, con las que no iban a ninguna parte. Y entonces Clem, a quien conocía de la secundaria, con quien habíamos estado en la misma escuela y nos conocíamos de adolescentes, comenzó a tocar con ellos. Y fue ahí cuando empecé a pasar tiempo en New York. Porque antes de la escena new wave, o la del punk, si es que querés llamarla así, existía lo que llamamos glitter, o glam rock. Así que era todo Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, ese tipo de cosas. Y había una escena en New York de todo eso. Y principalmente los New York Dolls, que eran la banda local por excelencia.

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La sección vocal de The Stilettos: Amanda Jones, Elda Gentile y una muy joven Debbie Harry

Escena que consistía básicamente en bandas locales, ¿verdad?
En 1973, cuando comencé a enterarme de eso, los talentos principales de la escena glitter eran bandas como los New York Dolls. El lugar en el que solían tocar, el Mercer Arts Center, literalmente se derrumbó y entonces las bandas se dispersaron. La pregunta era “¿adónde ir? ¿dónde tocar?”… Y había un lugar en el East Side llamado Club 82, que tradicionalmente había sido un bar de travestis. Bueno, todavía lo seguía siendo, pero les permitían a las bandas tocar allí varias noches a la semana. Y de hecho ese fue el primer lugar en el que vi a Chris y Debbie. Por entonces se llamaban The Stilettos (N. Además del dúo mencionado, en esa banda estaban también Fred Smith, Amanda Jones, Elda Gentile, Rosie Ross y Billy O’Connor).

Ok, entonces los Stilettos tocaban allí, y te fuiste especialmente hasta ahí para verlos…
Bueno, tal vez fue para verlos, porque yo andaba por ahí, en medio de todo eso. Y gente como Bowie y Lou Reed siempre iban a lugares como el Club 82. Lo leíamos en las revistas, así que acostumbrábamos a ir hasta allí par ver si los veíamos. Esto fue antes que me ponga a tocar… Conté todas esas historias en mi libro “New York Rocker”.

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“New York Rocker”, una muy bien lograda biografía de Gary y un mejor retrato de la escena punk y proto-punk de la NY de los ’70

Supongo que veían las fotos en revistas como Rock Scene.
Sí, principalmente Rock Scene y todas esas, y entonces quizás decías “¡vamos para allá!”, y pasabas un rato en el lugar. Básicamente lo que sucedió es que Fred Smith, al bajista de Blondie, dejó al grupo para unirse a Television. Tom Verlaine había echado a Richard Hell, y entonces Hell puso en marcha su nueva banda junto a Johnny Thunders de los New York Dolls y luego los Heartbreakers. Así que Blondie necesitaba un nuevo bajista, y yo ya andaba dando vueltas por ahí… Tenía la imagen para el grupo. Quiero decir, usaba lentes oscuros todo el tiempo y vivía al borde, y todo eso. Casi que podía tocar algo, y eso era todo lo que necesitabas en aquel momento. No hacía falta que fueras un músico excepcional. Se trataba de tener actitud. Audicioné para ellos y funcionó, por lo que me puse a tocar en la banda. Eso fue a principios de 1975, en marzo o abril de ese año. De ahí en más, se unió al grupo Jimmy Destri (N.: tecladista de Blondie), y empezamos a escribir canciones. Cuando recién me uní al grupo, Chris y Debbie hacían muchos covers. Tenían algunas canciones originales, pero más que nada hacían versiones. Y aún existía esa cosa amanerada gay del Glitter. Jimmy, Clem y yo éramos más jóvenes. Yo había crecido en los 60 y la música que sonaba en la radio era siempre música pop. Ya sabés: los Beatles, los Stones, Motown, los Byrds, todo eso. Había grandes canciones. Así que nos pusimos a escribir las nuestras.

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En los 70, Harry, Stein, y Valentine vivían en un loft sito en un edificio de tres pisos en el 266 Bowery Lane (barrio de avería por entonces), sobre una licorería y proveeduría de insumos para restaurantes llamada Globe Slicers

Siempre fui de pensar que esa fue una de las mejores épocas en la historia del rock, la de New York a comienzos de los 70, donde pasaban grandes cosas, a pesar de que todavía era una ciudad difícil.
Era una ciudad muy dura, y al mismo tiempo todo ocurría dentro del mismo área, ya sea el Lower East Side, o el East Village. El CBGB estaba en el el Bowery. Y nosotros teníamos el loft de Blondie y…

Y también estaba el de Arturo Vega.
Sí, él también tenía uno, a la vuelta de la esquina del nuestro.

¡Perdón por interrumpir!
No, está bien. Mirá, antes de que tuviéramos nuestro propio loft, solíamos ensayar en el de Arturo, así que también íbamos allí, al igual que los Ramones. Pero el CBGB estaba a la vuelta de la esquina de ahí, y entonces era un área de la ciudad por la que andaba todo el mundo. Ahí estaba el club, el lugar donde ensayabas, o bien, si salías a caminar para dar un paseo, te los encontrabas a todos en la calle. Era una escena realmente auténtica, ya que sucedía en esa parte de la ciudad. Entonces nos pusimos a escribir todas esas canciones, y todas tenían esa cosa de los ’60. Y ese look con las corbatas finitas y los trajes, y todo eso.

¿Cómo se llevaban con los otros grupos? Sé que eran muy amigos de los Ramones, o de los Dolls.
Mirá, al comienzo todo el mundo iba a ver tocar a todo el mundo. Entonces, la primera vez que tocamos en el CBGB, había tres o cuatro miembros de cada una de las bandas en la audiencia, y el resto era gente común. Hacíamos todos los show juntos. Los Ramones, los Talking Heads, los Heartbreakers…Y después había otro tipo de público, el de Patti Smith, o el de Television, que tenían un estilo propio.

Que era más intelectual.
Bueno, eran más serios, o como quieras llamarlo, porque no era el mismo que el de los demás. Las otras bandas eran más, digámoslo así, rockeras. Acostumbrábamos ir a los lofts y a las fiestas de los otros, y también nos veíamos en los bares de la zona a la hora del desayuno, o cuando fuera. También había otros grupos fuera de la escena que no eran conocidos, y que eran muy buenos, como The Miamis, que existían desde hacía mucho tiempo, y que hacían canciones satíricas, o que hablaban de actualidad, de cosas que pasaban en aquel tiempo. Había mucha música dando vueltas por ahí.

Y cuando se encontraban con las bandas de la escena en esos cafés, o donde fuera, ¿compartían la idea de llegar a grabar un disco, o lo hacían simplemente por diversión?
Creo que todos lo considerábamos así. Seguramente lo veía así, que íbamos a grabar un disco, y que yo iba a escribir un hit. Tenía esa confianza. Digo, lo hacés porque te encanta hacerlo pero, sí, se sentía que algo estaba comenzando y, ¿no fue Patti Smith quien obtuvo el primer contrato?

Sí, así fue.
Sí, ella consiguió uno, y después los Ramones, Television y los Talking Heads, adenás de nosotros. Entonces de repente la gente de la industria discográfica, que siempre estaban en el Centro, empezaron a acercarse a ese área espeluznante y asquerosa de la ciudad.

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De izq. a der., una de las primeras fotos de Blondie con Destri, Stein, Harry, Burke y Valentine: todos muy jóvenes y muy pelilargos.

¿Qué hacían en aquel momento para ganarse la vida, ya que eventualmente todavía no podían vivir de la música?
Cualquier cosa que pudiéramos hacer. Inicialmente no ganábamos nada de dinero. Con mucha suerte ganabas 10 dólares por noche. Antes de comenzar a tocar, trabajaba de mensajero, repartiendo cosas por ahí.

Eran todos muy jóvenes. Me pregunto si algunos aún vivían con sus padres.
Bueno, Jimmy todavía lo hacía, y yo me había ido de casa a los dieciocho, así que ya estaba viviendo en New York. Lo que quiero decir es, no podía vivir en mi casa y al mismo tiempo dedicarme a tocar, así que me aceptaron de entrada. Vivía con ellos en un departamento chico que tenían en Little Italy. De ahí nos mudamos al loft, en la zona del Bowery, que quedaba muy cerca, y a 1 cuadra del CBGB. Así que el CBGB, el loft de los Ramones, el de Blondie, la casa de William Burroughs, estaba todo ahí.

Todo muy cerca.
Todo quedaba cerca y te veías con todos en la vecindad, básicamente. Clem había venido aquí a Londres a fines del ’75, y cuando volvió, trajo un montón de música, y escuchábamos todo eso, y fue así como decidimos escribir muchas canciones nuevas. Y aparte practicábamos mucho, tocábamos muchísimo. Todavía no hacíamos shows en aquel momento.

Bueno, eso de depender de alguien que te traiga los discos de afuera era algo muy común.
Así es, y uno de los álbumes que trajo fue el de Dr. Feelgood, que era ese tipo de música de rock punk de pub, con Wilko Johnson y todo eso, y eran realmente buenos.

Siempre creí que los 70 en los EE.UU., principalmente en New York, fueron el equivalente a los 60 en Inglaterra.
Bueno, creo que lo que sucedió en New York en los 70 fue como “la última flor”, porque también se trató de volver a las fuentes del rock’n’roll. Quiero decir, ahí es cuando comenzó eso de la nostalgia del rock’n’roll. Entonces había bandas como Sha-Na-Na, o cuando volvió Chuck Berry, que hacían todo ese tipo de material de los ‘50s, tipo doo-wop, y sólo habían pasado 15 años, por lo que sucedía en New York tenía mucho que ver con eso, ya que básicamente se trataba de volver a la forma más simple del rock fundamental. Tres o cuatro tonos, de manera corta y rápida. Entonces no tenías que tener esa idea de que necesitabas ser un gran músico. Hacia fines de los 60 o principios de los 70, estaban Emerson, Lake and Palmer, o Yes, toda esa cosa wagneriana, algo operístico, que estaba muy lejos del rock’n’roll.

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Más fotos de los inicios de Blondie, aquí sin Destri pero con los mismos pelos laaargos

Bueno, ¡entonces ustedes probablemente nos salvaron de todo eso!
(Sonríe) Digo, me resultaba inescuchable. Ya no escucho mucho rock o pop, pero si lo hago, es todo material de los ‘60s o los 70. A veces miro videos en YouTube y es como si fuera “¡oh, mostrame lo grandioso que sos como guitarrista!”… Una de las cosas que se han perdido es esa noción de canción de tres minutos, todo tiene que ser largo…

Entiendo que de muy joven tocabas el piano. ¿Cómo fueron tus primeros días en la música, antes de Blondie? ¿Eras el tipo de persona que se quedaba en casa y escuchaba discos todo el tiempo?
Escuchaba música, pero realmente no era músico. Conocía muchísimos músicos en mi ciudad. Conocía a Clem porque él tocaba en bandas, y durante mi adolescencia en New Jersey, donde crecí, yo acostumbraba a ir a ver a su grupo cuando tocaban en bailes. Y entonces, como dije, llegué a conocer a muchos músicos. Y cuando llegó el momento de tocar en New York estaba mejor equipado, en el sentido que sólo conocía unas pocas cosas, no tenía toda una historia de aprender cómo tocar la guitarra. Siempre había tocado en bandas de zapadas, lo que se dice “bandas de garage”, zapando y tocando, sin ser realmente un músico. Pero escuchaba muchísima música. Todas las bandas de la invasión británica, Motown, las del San Francisco sound, y todo eso. Fue recién a comienzos de los 70 cuando me volví más consciente de algo en lo que estaba metido, como David Bowie, New York Dolls, Mott The Hoople…

¡Justamente acabo de ver en vivo a Ian Hunter en Shepherd’s Bush hace unos 10 días! Sabés, nunca estuvo en Sudamérica, y probablemente nunca lo haga.
Oh, ¡eso es fantástico! Creo que lo vi en el ’74. Vi a Mott The Hoople cuando Queen abrió para ellos. ¡Imaginate, Queen fueron sus teloneros! (risas) Pero sí, estaba metido en todo eso, Lou Reed y demás. Era extraño porque la mayoría de la gente de donde yo venía, en New Jersey, escuchaban a los Grateful Dead, a Santana, a los Allman Brothers…Clem solía estar en una banda que hacía canciones de los Allman Brothers, y ese tipo de cosas, pero una vez que me enteré de Bowie y ese mundo extraño donde se maquillaban y usaban esas ropas, con esa extraña ambigüedad sexual… Era algo demasiado raro para el resto de la gente, así que, al interesarme en todo eso, me volví una suerte de outsider dentro de la escena habitual.

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Los NY Dolls en la Academy Of Music: sexo, drogas y rock and roll. Y más drogas.

¿También escuchabas a Alice Cooper?
Sí, pero viste, no era alguien que me interesara mucho.,, Lo mismo con Kiss. Era todo como “demasiado”. Recuerdo la vez en que los New York Dolls tocaron en el Día de San Valentín, en 1974. El lugar se llamaba Academy Of Music, en la calle 14, un lugar muy grande para tocar. Y cuando llegué allí, no sabía con qué me iba a encontrar. Todo el mundo usaba maquillaje y estaba completamente drogado. Lo que era genial de los Dolls era que no precisaban tocar un tipo de música que fuera fantástico, simplemente hacían buen rock, música simple. Y lo que había sucedido en New York fue una reacción a todo eso. Y en cuanto a Television, cuando tocaban, se ponían la ropa que fuera que encontraban en la tienda de caridad. No tenían un look. Eso fue hasta que Richard Hell empezó a romperse la remera. Pasó de ser todo extravagante y muy colorido, a algo monótono y simple. Lo que fue muy excitante, fue como decir “vos podés hacerlo” No necesité estudiar guitarra durante años. Sólo tuve que agarrarla y ponerme a tocarla con mucha actitud.

Y aún así podías hacer grandes canciones. Más que nada se trataba de gente que se juntaba y tocaba el tipo de música que les gustaba.
Sí. Lo que quiero decir, cuando empecé a tocar en Blondie, Clem era indudablemente el mejor de sus músicos. Chris podía tocar guitarra, pero siempre tuvo una manera excéntrica de hacerlo. Y, desde ya, Debbie podía cantar. No éramos profesionales, pero eso fue lo que lo convirtió en algo real porque, digo, cuando en “Angie” Mick Jagger cantaba “sin dinero en nuestros abrigos…” ¿Cuándo había sido la última vez que Mick no había tenido dinero? (Risas) ¡Nosotros realmente no teníamos nada de plata!

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La Rock Scene inmortaliza las sesiones de grabación del exitoso single “X Offender”, compuesto por Gary. Ahi se lo puede ver a Richard Hell, que se dio una vuelta para agregar unas partes con su bajo.

Pero sí supongo tuvieron un montón de apoyo de parte de la prensa, lo que los ayudó muchísimo.
Por supuesto, mayormente de revistas como Rock Scene, y también del Soho Weekly News. A los del Village Voice les llevó un buen tiempo hacerlo.

¿Recordás cómo fue que conociste a Chris y Debbie?
Bueno, la primera vez que los vi fue en el Club 82, pero que los conocí, fue en un show en que Clem ya estaba tocando con ellos, y esa vez tocaron en un bar en Wall Street, el distrito financiero de New York. No puedo recordar el nombre del lugar ahora. Pero no tenía nada de lujoso, no había escenario. Tenías que sentarte en el piso.

Yo todavía iría a lugares así hoy día…
Oh sí, estaba bien. Debbie cantando, Chris en guitarra, aún estaba Fred Smith, y Clem en batería. Recuerdo solamente pasar el tiempo con ellos, y ahí fue cuando los conocí. Yo era el amigo de Clem, así que andaba con ellos cuando iba a New York.

Eras un amigo con privilegios.
Bueno, creo que era como un groupie, inicialmente, y entonces lo que sucedió es que Fred Smith se fue de la banda para unirse a Television, y Clem me dijo “¿por qué no venís para una audición?” Yo podía tocar el bajo un poquito. En ese momento vivía en East End Street, en lo que se llama básicamente “el frente de un local”. Era una tienda, pero alguien le había pintado las ventanas de negro. Era un lugar para dormir, y yo vivía allí con un tipo que era un individuo muy extraño. Y ahí había un piano, un piano viejo, que tenía casi todas las teclas rotas, pero yo me las arreglaba para sacarle algunas notas.

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Mediados de los 70: Blondie toca en Mother’s. Según el libro de Gary, esto era “un bar gay en la 23rd Street enfrente del Chelsea Hotel”. La dirección exacta es 267 W. 23rd Street, entre Seventh y Eighth

Entonces sí ya tocabas el piano…
No es que lo tocara, realmente, solo podía tocar unas pocas notas. De hecho, lo primero que quise hacer era escribir poesía, y ser poeta. Pasé muchísimo tiempo escribiendo algo de poesía, y eso se transformó de alguna manera en ponerme a escribir canciones. Entonces Clem me llevó a la zona uptown, al lugar donde ensayaba Blondie, cerca de Port Authority, en uno de esos edificios de oficinas. Muchos de esos lugares se habían vuelto salas de ensayo, y ellos tenían una, y ahí fui. Nos pusimos a tocar e hicimos “Live With Me”, la canción de los Stones… (Piensa) ¿del álbum “Beggars Banquet”?

No, esa está en “Let It Bleed”.
¡Claro! Era una canción que Chris conocía, ¡y fue como que nos pusimos a tocarla eternamente! Y le caí bien a Chris. Y entonces Clem dijo “tocá alguna de tus canciones”. Había un piano, así que fui y toqué algo, y todos me dijeron “¡OK, muy bien!” Pero yo tenía que volver a mi casa, porque mis padres no querían que yo tocara en una banda de rock. Tenía que tomar una decisión, y entonces les dije “adiós”. No tenía dónde vivir. Durante un tiempo había estado durmiendo en distintas casas de personas amigas, pero eventualmente Debbie y Chris me dijeron “podés venir a vivir con nosotros” Era un departamento muy chico pero, así y todo, era más grande que el living de esta casa. Vivían en Little Italy. Eso fue en la primavera de 1975. Y poco después conseguimos el loft en el Bowery.

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El anuncio de los conciertos de Blondie en el CBGB que marcaron el debut de Gary. Esto fue del 16 al 27 de julio del ’75, en un festival de rock con los talentos neoyorquinos que aún no habían grabado. En la grilla figuran algunos nombres conocidos…

¡Y te pusiste a tocar con Blondie!
¡Y comencé a tocar! Mi primer show con ellos fue en el CBGB en julio de 1975, en un evento que se llamó “Fin de Semana de las Bandas de Rock Sin Contrato”, o algo similar. No se le decía Punk Rock, ni nada de eso. O tal vez era “Festival de Bandas de Rock Underground Sin Contrato” Y ahí podías ver a Blondie, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, a los Ramones…

¿Por qué elegiste “Gary Valentine” como nombre artístico?
Fue porque en aquel momento, de alguna manera quería tener una nueva identidad. Esa era la idea principal, la de reinventarse. Y estaba toda esa gente alrededor con nombres distintos. Tenías a Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell, Alan Suicide… Era todo estilo oscuro y violento, y yo quería sonar más alegre, más optimista. Mi escritor favorito de aquellos tiempos era Henry Miller, pero su segundo nombre era “Valentine”. Henry Valentine Miller. Me identificaba mucho con él, por entonces. Porque él escribía sobre vivir en New York, y pasaba hambre, y trabajaba como mensajero. Y yo estaba pasando por lo mismo, así que de cierta forma incorporé su nombre.

¿Lo decidiste vos solo? ¿O fue algo que también sugirieron los otros integrantes del grupo?
Fui yo. Como dije antes, quería reinventarme. Yo era la última persona de este mundo en la que alguien hubiera pensado podía convertirse en músico, mucho menos escribir una canción y grabarla. Era alguien que solo andaba con otros músicos, así que resultaba muy improbable. Solamente quería hacer algo. Lo que sea. Poeta, artista, escritor, algo en ese estilo, y una vez que escribí canciones y la gente me dijo “¡Yeah!”, supe que podía hacerlo. Y eso te transforma, sabés.gary-ny-rocker-revista

Por entonces no lo llamaban “punk”
No, no lo llamábamos “punk”. De repente un día vimos todos esos posters que decían “¡el punk está llegando!” Recuerdo que la gente pensaba “debe ser alguna banda de New Jersey” Porque en aquel momento nadie en New York se hacía llamar “punk”.

gary-ny-rocker-revista-360x530Había que ponerle algún rótulo…
Pero sí estaba la revista que se llamaba “Punk”

¿La de Legs McNeil?
Sí, la de Legs y John Holmstrom. Enfantizaban sólo uno de los aspectos, era más que nada sobre los Ramones, Richard Hell, y todo eso. Pero había una muy buena revista que se llamaba New York Rocker. De ahí saqué el título para mi libro. La había fundado Alan Betrock, que realmente fue uno de los primeros productores de Blondie. Fue él quien nos llevó al estudio para hacer las primeras grabaciones, como “Platinum Blonde” y otras que formaron parte de aquel EP con los demos de 1975. Creo que ninguna de ellas sobrevivió. Bueno, una sí lo hizo, la que llamábamos “The Disco Song”, que luego se convirtió en “Heart Of Glass” Ya sabés, fue un gran éxito.

¡Ni que lo digas! ¡Eras fan de las otras bandas de la escena de entonces? ¿O tenías alguna favorita?
Iba a verlas a todas todo el tiempo. Los Heartbreakers, los Ramones, Talking Heads, Suicide, y también a otros grupos como The Marbles o The Miamis, que nadie conoce, pero que también andaban por ahí. Solía ir a ver a todas, pero al final de cuentas, pensaba que “Marquee Moon”, el primer álbum de Television, fue probablemente lo mejor que salió de ahí. Es una gran obra musical.

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1974 y el flyer de tres shows de Blondie. El del Mother’s marcó el debut de Jimmy Destri

Que encima era algo completamente diferente a lo que hacía el resto.
Es verdad, era algo muy diferente. Pero en aquel momento amaba a todas las bandas, iba a todos sus shows. Viste cómo era, los Ramones tenían ocho canciones. Y los Heartbreakers, seis o siete. ¡Pero era genial! Creo que Richard Hell, en cuestiones de actitud, fue realmente el espíritu detrás de mucho de lo que estaba ocurriendo.

Entonces, después de todo, la escena del punk en New York también tenía su parte “artística”, quiero decir, estaban los artistas como Patti Smith, y entonces también incluía poesía. ¿Cuándo creés que comenzó a cambiar?
Supongo que fue con el arribo de la idea del punk británico. Antes de eso, era una mezcla interesante de poesía, rock, arte y film. Acostumbrábamos a ir a lofts de gente en Soho y allí pasaban alguna película extraña…No tenía ningún nombre. “Rock de New York”, o “Rock Underground” Ni bien apareció ese sello simple, el de “punk”, entonces a todo el mundo en New Jersey, en Long Island o en Connecticut se les hizo fácil ponerse un alfiler de gancho, ir a New York y decir “¡hey somos punks!” Me refiero a lo de encajar en ese tipo de escena porque, originalmente, lo que pasaba en New York se asemejaba más a un viejo film de Fellini. Todos se vestían de negro y usaban lentes, fumaban, y nadie reaccionaba a nada. Tenías que esforzarte si querías lograr algún tipo de reacción.

¿Culparías a Malcolm McLaren por todo eso?
Bueno, el era el manager de los New York Dolls, y hubo un show famoso en el que Television abrió para los Dolls, cuando Richard Hell todavía estaba en la banda, y McLaren vio cuando Hell se arrancaba la remera. Creo que hasta lo invitó a volverse a Inglaterra. Pero Hell decidió quedarse y hacer lo suyo. Ya sabés, McLaren intentó convertir a los New York Dolls en una banda de rock comunista. Lo que quiero decir es, a ver, ¡vamos! (risas)

¡Qué pena que no funcionó! Pensalo…
Creo que se veían muy bien con eso de las letras rojas en el logo de la banda, pero era muy diferente. Debo decir que nunca me enganché con toda la parte inglesa del punk.

Antes de morir, en una entrevista que le hicieron en Buenos Aires, McLaren dijo que el legado más importante del punk fue eso de “hacelo vos mismo” ¿Coincidís con su opinión? ¿O bien qué considerarías fue lo mejor que dejó el punk? Digo, si es que dejó algo. O tal vez estés de acuerdo con lo que dijo McLaren…
No, ¡odiaría que fuera así! (Risas) Creo que efectivamente lo que sí sucedió fue el “post punk”, que marcó la diferencia entre la gente “en la onda”, y el resto. Hoy en día todo el mundo se viste de negro, y eso era algo muy excepcional, aún en los 70. Pienso que esa fue una manera de separar a las estrellas de la gente normal. Esa actitud de “hacelo vos mismo” estuvo bien, y creo que en estos tiempos, con todo este mundo digital, podés hacerlo vos mismo de forma mayor. En aquel entonces, tenías que encargarte de todas las grabaciones, copiar todo, hacer los panfletos…

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1977 y una linda foto de la sesión en el Bel Air Hotel en Los Angeles, California. La partida de Gary ya se acercaba…

Y los fanzines.
Sí, eso sí que fue realmente “hacerlo vos mismo” Y ahora todo el mundo tiene toda esta alta tecnología, y pueden hacer sus discos. Nosotros, con mucha suerte, teníamos un grabador a cassette.

Volviendo a Blondie, ¿considerás que tu contribución al grupo, que por entonces fue muy importante, fue suficientemente reconocida? O tal vez, si no fue así, ¿fue esa la razón por la que dejaste a la banda?
En verdad me fui porque en cierto momento quise tener mi propia banda. Resulta comprensible ahora que por entonces no hayan estado felices con la idea, porque yo escribía montones de canciones. Y porque tocaba guitarra. Pero yo quería hacer más que eso. Hubo una par de razones. También sentía que se estaba convirtiendo en “Debbie y su banda de apoyo”, y nosotros no éramos eso. Todos trabajábamos en conjunto, trabajábamos muy duro. Se trataba de un todo, y no de una cantante y una banda.

Pero eso es algo que suele ocurrir con muchos grupos…
Es la historia de siempre, ¿no? Digo, por entonces yo tenía 20 años, y me di cuenta de todo más tarde. A veces te borran de la historia, pero otras veces no pasa eso. Todo depende de quien la escriba. Pero a esta altura, 40 años después, está bien. Estoy consolidado de manera justa, y un par de las canciones que escribí fueron muy importantes en aquellos días.

gary-BLONDIEXOFFENDER1Entiendo que “X Offender” es una de tus mayores contribuciones al grupo, y que tiene que ver con una historia personal. ¿En qué te inspiraste para escribirla? ¿Es verdad que habías cometido un delito?
No escribí la canción pensando en eso. La música, la melodía y el resto vinieron a mí, y lo escribí. También escribí la letra de la parte del estribillo. Pero fue Debbie quien hizo el resto de la letra. Ella propuso la idea de un policía que se enamora de una prostituta. Está vagamente basada en, eh… En aquel momento yo estaba pasando un momento difícil, porque básicamente yo había sido arrestado por estupro. Después de haber cumplido 18, viste cómo es, tener relaciones con una chica más joven…Cuento la historia en “New York Rocker”. Es una historia triste. En aquel entonces, cuando estaba tocando, aún tuve que pasar por esa clase de “probation”, y en realidad es como que no la respeté, porque se suponía que yo no podía vivir fuera del estado en el que sucedió el hecho. Vivía en New York, y no en New Jersey, y todo eso. Entonces la canción estuvo ligeramente basada en mi propia clase de problema personal, sabés. Originalmente se iba a llamar “Sex Offender”, pero tuvimos que cambiarlo a “X Offender”, porque el productor Richard Gottehrer dijo que con un nombre como el de “Sex Offender” nunca iba a tener difusión.

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Y, la palabra “sexo” parece que fue tabú en todas las épocas y en todo el mundo, què va’cer

¿Cuál es la historia de “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear”? ¿Es verdad que la canción incluye cierta suerte de experiencia sobrenatural relacionada a Lisa Persky, tu novia de aquel momento? Y, ya que estamos, debe ser la única canción de la historia de la música que incluye las palabras “kismet” (destino) y “theosophies” (teosofías)… ¿Por qué?
…¡Creo que es verdad! (ríe fuertemente) Bueno, está conectado con lo que estoy haciendo ahora como escritor. Cuando vivía con Chris y Debbie en el loft, en 1975, comencé a interesarme en el ocultismo. Ellos tenían cierto interés kitsch muy divertido sobre las épocas de las muñecas vudú y ese tipo de cosas, así que despertó mi curiosidad y me puse a leer sobre eso.

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Gary abrazado por Lisa Jane Persky, su novia de hace cuarenta años atrás. La otra chica que espera ahí parada vaya uno a saber quién es.

Según leí, también les interesaba el I-Ching.
Sí, todo eso.

¿Pero qué fue lo que te despertó la curiosidad sobre estos temas? Sabemos que le ocurrió a gente como Jimmy Page o David Bowie, ¿pero por qué le iba a pasar lo mismo a una banda pop, o punk, de New York?
Nunca estuve realmente interesado en eso per se. Pero lo que pasó fue que siempre fui un ávido lector. Leía muchísimo todo el tiempo. Poesía, Nietszche, Sartre, los existencialistas, ese tipo de cosas. En aquel momento en New York, en 1975, aún había un montón de material dando vueltas por la ciudad que había quedado de la escena anterior, de la generación previa, toda esa escena de los años 60. Y entonces ibas a las librerías y te encontrabas con libros de Timothy Leary, Castañeda, o el I-Ching. Libros sobre el zen, esa clase de material. Había un libro de un escritor inglés llamado Colin Wilson. De hecho, el último libro que hice es una biografía sobre él. El libro se llamaba “The Occult” (“El Ocultismo”) Se trataba de mucho más que de una colección de historias de fantasmas, o cosas de ese tipo. Era algo más filosófico, más histórico y científico. Muy inspirador. Y me interesé mucho en él porque estaba realmente muy bien escrito, y la forma en que él trataba el tema lo hacía mucho más comprensible. Al mismo tiempo también había comenzado a leer sobre Aleister Crowley. Hubo alguien en el loft en el que vivíamos que también estaba muy metido con Crowley. Era un pintor de cuadros muy salvaje, hacía pinturas muy grandes, e improvisaba lecturas sobre terror. Y me interesé mucho en eso, era todo nuevo para mí. Por lo que empecé a leer sobre todo ese material, y después sobre parapsicología, fenomenos psíquicos, transmisión de pensamiento… Mi novia de entonces, Lisa, también se interesó en eso. Yo tenía 19 años en aquel momento. Y después, cuando Blondie salió de gira por primera vez, comenzamos a darnos cuenta de que estábamos teniendo los mismos tipos de sueños, y lo hablábamos entre todos. Sabés a qué me refiero, a esa conexión… Hay muchísima evidencia que esto le sucede a gente que está relacionada emocionalmente, y de algún modo esa fue la base de la canción, una canción sobre que siempre estaba conectado con ella de alguna forma. Y sí, lo de “kismet” (“destino”) o “theosophies” (“teosofías”)… Creo que es la única canción sobre la telepatía que llegó al Top Ten, no creo que exista otra (Risas). La mayor parte del tiempo en que formé parte de Blondie me la pasé leyendo sobre eso, y cuando me fui del grupo, en agosto de 1977, me mudé a California, porque Lisa era actriz y ella se había ido a Hollywood buscando trabajar en cine y TV, así que fui allí para estar con ella. Y mientaras estuve en California, también leía sobre todo ese tipo de cosas. Había diferentes clases de elementos de las que me enteré. Una de las cosas maravillosas de ese libro de Colin Wilson es que él habla sobre todos esos escritores, gente como Madame Blavatsky, o Gurdjieff, o Yeats, toda esas personas que hablaban de asuntos así. Y yo también me puse a seguirlas.

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La formación de The Know, una gran banda que mereció mejor suerte: Gary Valentine, Joel Turrisi y Richard Dandrea. La foto se tomó en el célebre club Whisky A Go-Go de Los Angeles, en 1978.

OK, eras un ávido lector, ¿pero qué te llevó a convertirte en escritor?
Siempre quise escribir. Como dije antes, comencé escribiendo poesía.

¿Ya tenías planeado hacerlo para cuando te mudaste aquí a Londres? Digo, no habías escrito ningún libro cuando aún vivías en EE.UU.
Lo que sucedió es que tuve una banda propia durante un tiempo, que se llamó The Know (N.: el saber, o el conocimiento). Le puse ese nombre porque estaba interesado en un culto de la escuela esotérica llamado Gnosticismo. C. G. Jung y otras personas habían escrito sobre eso, era como una especie de grupo cristiano de la primera hora, así que obtuve el nombre de ese tipo de idea. Tuve a The Know por un par de años y tocamos muchísimo en Los Angeles y en New York, hasta hicimos un par de grabaciones, pero nunca pudimos conseguir un contrato importante, por lo que la desbandé y entonces me puse a tocar junto a Iggy Pop por un tiempo (N.: vean esta nota ya publicada en MADHOUSE). Y entonces, en 1982, ahí fue cuando paré, y después de eso volví a la Universidad. Comencé a escribir a principios de los ‘90s cuando todavía vivía en California, y empecé escribiendo algunos artículos, críticas de libros, y cosas así. Por lo que me llevó un largo tiempo.

¿Lo hacías como forma de ganarte la vida?
Estaba trabajando en una librería famosa en Los Angeles llamada The Bodhi Tree, que era una librería metafísica y espiritual. Fue muy famosa en los 80 y los 90. Ya no está más, cerró, pero trabajé ahí durante bastantes años. Volví a la universidad, iba y venía de allí, donde obtuve un primer grado en Filosofía. Pensé que iba a enseñar Filosofía, que era la carrera que tenía decidido hacer en los 80. Pero después no la seguí. Me quedé en California y terminé haciendo un doctorado en Literatura Inglesa en la University of Southern California, pero no me terminó gustando la atmósfera académica de aquel momento.

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La tapa del single debut de The Know, con dos temas: “The First One” y “Tomorrow Belongs To You”. El primero llegó a tocarse en Blondie poco antes de la salida de Gary.

Lo que resultaba algo totalmente diferente a lo que venías haciendo…
Intentaba saber qué hacer de mí, es lo que sucedía. Quería escribir, pero entretanto, desde que dejé de tocar música en el ’82 hasta que me vine para aquí en el ’96, fue un período de 14 años en el cual intenté buscar qué hacer musicalmente. También trabajé como escritor de ciencia, porque había escrito críticas de libros y artículos sobre ciencia popular. En aquel momento había abandonado el programa del doctorado, como dije, porque odiaba el ambiente. No sabía qué hacer conmigo, y mi esposa me dijo “tenés que encontrar un empleo, ¿por qué no te presentás para ese puesto de escritor de ciencia?”… Ella había visto el aviso en el diario. Y yo pensé, “OK, voy a hacerlo. Nunca me van a dar el puesto, pero la voy a hacer feliz” No tenía experiencia previa en la ciencia, sólo experiencia anterior en Filosofía. Pero como fuese, me respondieron y me dijeron “¿cuándo quiere comenzar?”. Y entonces conseguí el empleo. No debería haberlo obtenido nunca, pero lo conseguí. Así que estaba trabajando como escritor. No escribía sobre algo de lo que realmente quería escribir, pero lo hacía para la universidad. ¡No era lo que quería hacer, definitivamente! Pasé por una especie de crisis en aquel momento. Mi matrimonio se derrumbó… Pasé por eso de, ya sabés, “¡Oh Dios mío!”… Fue una crisis típica de mediana edad, estaba por cumplir 40.

Lo sé, yo también estuve ahí.
Básicamente todo se vino abajo. Y eso es lo que me trajo hasta aquí. Mi vida se desmoronó en Los Angeles. Yo había estado en la República Checa a fines del ’95. La revista para la que trabajaba, que se llamaba Gnosis Magazine, eran sponsors de una conferencia allí sobre los Rosacruces. ¡No me preguntes por los Rosacruces! (Risas) En esa conferencia conocí mucha gente de aquí, que me dijeron “si querés cambiar el paisaje, si querés escaparte de Los Angeles, podés estar con nosotros”. Al principio no tenía pensado mudarme aquí a Londres. Iba a esperar un tiempo y ver que acontecía, ya que no sabía qué hacer conmigo. La librería básicamente me pidió que me vaya, pero me pagaron el resto del dinero que hubiera tenido de haber seguido trabajando ahí, me dieron un buen montón de plata. Y tenía un poquito de libertad.

gary-turn-offEso alcanzaba para pagar el avión.
Sí, era suficiente para eso y también para aguantar un tiempo. Digo, tenés 40 años, y entonces intentás hacer lo que siempre quisiste hacer, que era escribir, vivir de trabajar de escritor. Y una vez que tome la decisión, empezaron a pasar un montón de cosas diferentes. Conseguí mucho trabajo. Escribí para muchas revistas y publicaciones británicas. Escribí para Mojo, para The Guardian, para The Independent, etc., y entonces en 1999 me encargaron mi primer libro “Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius”, que se editó en el 2001, creo.

De toda la gente sobre la que escribiste, ¿cuál sería tu favorito? Dejame adivinarlo… ¿Ouspensky? Creo que escribir sobre él te resultó muy atractivo.
Sí, P.D. Ouspensky. Él fue uno sobre los que había leído al principio, cuando había comenzado a interesarme en todo eso. Es el más honesto de los seguidores de Gurdjieff. Era un profesor esotérico greco-armenio muy enigmático. Ouspensky fue también un pensador muy importante, y una suerte de filósofo por sus propios medios. Y había escrito un libro llamado “A New Model Of The Universe”, que se lanzó en los años 30. Exploró muchísimas ideas distintas. Sobre el tiempo, sobre las dimensiones, sobre las pirámides… El libro estaba repleto de varias cosas diferentes, y fue muy emocionante por entonces. Así que hice un libro sobre él.

¿Qué podés decir sobre tu más reciente libro “Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson”?
Ese es un libro muy importante para mí porque fue gracias a su trabajo que empecé a interesarme en todo esto. Y también desarrollé una amistad con él. Es más conocido por su libro “The Outsider”, que se editó en Inglaterra en 1956.

gary-colin-576x1024¿Vive aquí en Londres?
Bueno, falleció hace unos años, en 2013. Y ese es el motivo por el que escribí un libro sobre él. Es una biografía, pero también un estudio de todas sus ideas. Wilson escribió muchos libros, alrededor de cien. Estaba muy metido en el existencialismo y en la conciencia y en eso que se llama “experiencias cumbre”. Momentos de creatividad, momentos de afirmación en los que podés sentir esa increíble sensación de poder. En su trabajo, estudia todo eso de distintas formas. Cuando hacés un libro sobre alguien, cuanto más te insertes en el proceso de escribir, más real se vuelve, de alguna manera. Recuerdo cuando estaba haciendo mi libro sobre Madame Blavatsky (N.: “Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality”), esa mujer rusa muy excéntrica del siglo diecinueve…

Todos ellos personajes muy interesantes.
¡Muy interesantes! Todos tenían vidas interesantes, y viajaban mucho. Estaban “del otro lado”. Alguien podría decir que eran los rockers de aquellos tiempos.

Ahí existe una conexión, definitivamente.
Ella pasó muchos años en el Tíbet. Esto era en una época en que el Tíbet no estaba abierto a los extranjeros, y más que seguro no a las mujeres. Y cuando estaba escribiendo sobre eso, sentí esa extraña forma de disidencia. Sentí como si hubiera pasado muchas horas en los Himalayas. Es alguien sobre quien no sabía mucho, o sobre quien no había leído tanto, por lo que escribir el libro fue una experiencia de aprendizaje. Y terminó fascinándome, es un personaje notable. Haber hecho todas las cosas que hizo como mujer, a fines del siglo diecinueve, realmente fue algo muy fuerte.

¿Tus libros se consiguen habitualmente en las librerías de Londres?
No tanto en las principales cadenas, pero sí en las librerías especializadas. Hay una librería famosa en el West End que estuvo allí por siglos. Gente como Aleister Crowley acostumbraba a ir a comprar libros ahí a principios del siglo pasado.

gary-crwleyYa que estamos, escribiste un libro sobre él, “Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World”. ¿Por qué creés que Crowley es tan seguido y adorado por tantos músicos y fans del rock? ¿Considerarías que representa el primer paso para adentrarse en el ocultismo?
Supongo que, para mucha gente, representa quien los introdujo en eso, especialmente a los del mundo del rock… Pero Crowley no era uno de esos personajes excéntricos no convencionales, y fue redescubierto en los 60. Él es como un proto hippie, en el sentido de que experimentaba con muchas drogas, el amor libre, y la perversidad polimórfica. El sexo era lo principal para él, y todo eso. Era muy poco convencional, se había rebelado contra su tiempo. Hay un libro de Richard Cavendish llamado “The Black Arts” que se editó en 1966, creo…

Tengo un libro de Cavendish en casa, en español, pero no recuerdo su título en inglés ahora.
Debe ser “The Black Arts”, que es un libro que se volvió muy popular. Mick Jagger y otros personajes lo leían en su momento. Esa es una de las razones por las que escribí el libro sobre Crowley. En los 60 existió una conexión entre el ocultismo y la cultura pop. Mi primer libro “Turn Off Your Mind” trata sobre eso. Pero respecto a los 70 es como que se vino abajo, se volvió algo especializado. Aunque Crowley se mantuvo como una especie de ícono para el mundo del rock. Los músicos de Black Sabbath lo sabían muy bien.

Y ni hablar de Jimmy Page…
Sí, pero si mirás la portada de “Sgt. Pepper’s” de los Beatles, ahí aparece Crowley, aparece Jung, Aldous Huxley… Así que Crowley se volvió muy popular en los 60 y luego fue redescubierto. Murió en 1947, y a principios de los 50 ya se editó una biografía sobre él, pero no se convirtió en ese ícono enorme hasta que los Beatles lo pusieron en la tapa de “Sgt. Pepper’s”. Y entonces gente como Kenneth Anger se enteró de él. Hubo un periódico under muy conocido aquí en aquellos tiempos que se llamó The International Times, y habían hecho una nota muy grande sobre Crowley, como dije, presentándolo como un proto hippie. Redescubriéndolo y también revisando su vida, y así fue que todo el mundo lo leyó. Esto fue en 1966, o algo así. Luego, en los 70 gente como Jimmy Page o David Bowie se engancharon con él, pero aún hoy día hay gente que lo está redescubriendo todo el tiempo. Hoy podés ver su cara tanto como la de Marilyn, o la del Che Guevara.

gary-sgt_pepper

El rostro de Crowley en la tapa de “Sgt. Pepper’s”, señalado por la flecha amarilla.

Lo que me hace pensar en que nunca hicieron una película sobre él…
No, ninguna que fuera buena.

Oh, ¿entonces hubo una mala?
Bueno, hay una que se llama “Chemical Wedding”, o algo así, que salió hace unos años atrás. No tuvo distribución internacional, ya que no era muy buena. Pero hay personajes basados en él en algunos films, películas de horror y eso. Pero sería algo muy interesante de hacer.

¿Te sentís más cómodo siendo biógrafo o te gusta más escribir sobre sus obras, como hiciste con Jung, Swedenborg o Steiner?
Lo que sucede con las biografías es que, siempre hay un principio y un final. Escribís sobre cuando nacen, y sobre cuando mueren. Me gusta más que haya una historia. Pero lo que me gusta sobre esa gente son sus ideas, que sean parte de sus vidas como ninguna otra cosa, así yo puedo explorar esas ideas a través de sus vidas. Pero también hice libros sobre historias. “Turn Off Your Mind” es sobre los 60 completos. Otro que hice, titulado “The Secret Teachers Of The Western World”, trata básicamente sobre la historia del Oeste vista a través de una filosofía de interpretación esotérica.

Entonces siempre fuiste una persona curiosa. Lo que me parece bien. Si no sos curioso, ¿qué podés hacer?
¡Sí! Estoy interesado en la mayoría de las cosas sobre las que me gusta pensar y reflexionar. También me interesa observar los patrones entre las cosas, ya sabés.

¿Cómo trabajás al momento de hacer una biografía? ¿Vas a los lugares donde sucedieron los hechos? Digo, Crowley en Italia…
A veces, depende. Primero leo todo lo que puedo sobre ellos. Sus propios trabajos, biografías sobre ellos, entrevistas, ese tipo de cosas. Respecto a este libro reciente sobre Colin Wilson, conozco a su familia, así que hablé con ellos. Más que nada recopilo información. Voy mucho a la Biblioteca Británica, y entrevisto a gente.

gary-spanish

Hay Lachman en castellano, amigos y amigas: quien quiera leerlo, que lea

Investigaste mucho sobe lo esotérico. ¿Alguna vez todo eso te influenció en algo? ¿Tuviste alguna experiencia paranormal, o fuera de este mundo? Tal vez sea una pregunta tonta…

No diría que algo fantástico, pero… Como dije cuando hablábamos sobre la canción “Presence, Dear”, tuve algunas experiencias de ese tipo. He escrito sobre sueños premonitorios, pero no fue nada dramático. Pienso que muchos de nosotros tenemos pequeñas experiencias de esta clase de cosas, como la telepatía. Pero no les prestamos mucha atención. Pero como a mí me interesan, como escribo sobre la conciencia, puede que sea más consciente de prestarle atención cuando ocurren. En general, mi filosofía de vida es que, digámoslo así, de un modo negativo, no creo en las explicaciones científico-materialistas estándar. Estoy más interesado en tratar de plasmar una imagen del significado de otras cosas. Ideas esotéricas, experiencias espirituales o sobrenaturales. Lo que me resulta interesante de la gente sobre la que escribo es que me gusta encontrar similitudes entre ellos. Lo que sucede con muchos de estos grupos diferentes es que la gente que están con Steiner, o con Jung, o con Gurdjieff, no se hablan entre sí. Si conocés suficientemente sobre ellos, existen ideas diferentes. Todos hablan de lo mismo, pero usan lenguajes distintos.

¿Estás trabajando en un nuevo libro? ¿Ya decidiste cuál va a ser el próximo personaje sobre el que vas a escribir?
Sí, hay un libro en el que estoy trabajando, y que va a salir a fines de año. El título es “The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination”, esencialmente explora ese otro modo de saber. Conocemos la forma analítica científica de comprender las cosas, descomponemos las cosas y las despedazamos. Esto es más sobre la intuición, es más sobre cómo la imaginación no es solamente algo que crea cosas irreales, es realmente algo que nos permite comprender algo en su propio aspecto interno. Estoy viendo gente diferente, poetas diferentes, distintas clases de filósofos y escritores que hablan de eso. Es un tópico que está en muchos de mis libros. Hay un historiador del ocultismo llamado James Webb, que llamaba a eso “conocimiento rechazado”.

¿Fue entonces Webb quien te inspiró a hacer el nuevo libro?
Bueno, él es alguien a quien leí hace bastante tiempo atrás… Algo comienza, y te interesás en ello, y gradualmente te enfocás más y más en eso, y entonces empezás a ver como distintas cosas alimentan esa idea. De alguna forma acabo escribiendo sobre lo mismo, pero desde una perspectiva diferente, y termina siendo lo mismo.

¿Este va a ser tu libro número…?
Va a ser el vigésimo. Trato de vivir de escribir, por lo que tengo que generar otras ideas

Mis últimas preguntas van a ser nuevamente sobre música, así que volvamos a eso.
Oh, seguro.

¿Aún tocás, o asistís a shows?
No, no lo hago. Debo contestar que “no”. No he escuchado a ninguna clase de música pop, o algo similar, por mucho tiempo. Y tuve otra banda…

No estamos hablando de The Know, ¿verdad? Porque nunca obtuvieron un contrato discográfico, si bien supieron ser muy populares en USA en aquel momento e hicieron muchos shows.
Sí, en Los Angeles y New York, íbamos y veníamos muchísimo. Lo que sucedió fue que, cuando me mudé aquí a comienzos del ’96, de la nada me contactó Chris Stein. Y me pidió regresar a New York y tocar nuevamente. Era lo último que pensaba hacer, sabés, pasara lo que pasara. Lo pensé así: “bueno, tengo 40 años, nunca voy a volver a tener esta oportunidad, ¿así que por qué no?”… Entonces fui a New York y comencé a tocar con Blondie nuevamente. Hicimos algunos shows en el ’97, algunos festivales en USA, y hasta grabamos una canción mía.

¿”Amor Fati”?
Sí, correcto. Es una canción que solía hacer con mi banda The Know, y la grabamos. Para no hacerlo largo, lo que ocurrió es que las cosas no funcionaron… Debo ser la única persona que fue echada de la misma banda dos veces.

Sí…
Con 20 años en el medio. Pero lo que sucedió es que cuando volví a tocar con ellos, había comenzado a escribir canciones otra vez.

Frank Infante (N.: miembro de la formación original de Blondie) tampoco estaba allí, de todas formas…
No, no estaba. Hacía un largo tiempo que no tocaban juntos, entonces intentaron rearmar la banda. Ya sabés. Chris, Debbie, Clem, el tipo que tocaba el bajo -no recuerdo su nombre- y Jimmy. Yo tocaba segunda guitarra. Pero dije, “no, gracias”. Y resulta que yo había escrito todas esas canciones, todas canciones nuevas, y cuando dejé el fiasco de Blondie atrás y regresé aquí, estaba mi novia, que tocaba el violín, y yo pensaba “¿qué vamos a hacer con todas estas canciones? Se suponía que iban a estar en el nuevo disco de Blondie, y no voy a estar ahí. Entonces decidimos formar una banda por un tiempo. Tocamos en Londres, e hicimos bastantes shows. Y eso es lo último que hicimos, paramos en 2000. Esa fue la última vez que toqué.

¿No grabaron nada?
Sí, grabamos algo. Ese material está online, creo. Pero no se editó.

iggy-23-ago-81-oakville-canada-the-police-picnic

Agosto del ’81 en Oakville, Canadá: Iggy y su banda (Gary aparece en la foto de camiseta blanca y guitarra al tono) se preparan para el gran concierto de aquel año en Detroit, abriendo para los Stones. ¡La que les esperaba!

Volviendo a Blondie, cuando originalmente te fuiste de la banda, tocaste con Iggy Pop en 1981. Era un grupo de estrellas que incluía a Clem Burke, Carlos Alomar, Rob Duprey y Mike Page. El año pasado hicimos una nota en la revista sobre la noche en que abrieron para los Stones ese año.
(Se mata de risa) ¡Ja, ja, ja, ja, ja!

Ese fue el show en que la gente les tiró todo tipo de cosas mientras estaban en el escenario. ¿Qué recordás de aquella noche?
Sí, abrimos para los Stones en Detroit, en el Silverdome, y también estaba Santana. Sabés, es un estadio inmenso, para 80.000 personas o algo así, y tocamos antes de Santana. Teníamos un espacio pequeño donde tocar, no podías usar todo el escenario. Nadie fue a ver a Iggy, la gente había ido a ver a los Stones. Entonces, durante nuestro show, ¡podías ver todas esas cosas que venían desde la oscuridad! Era como estar mirando el Cañón del Colorado. Zapatos, monedas, ropa, de todo. Nos arrojaban cualquier cosa que tenían a mano. Y al terminar el show, el promotor, Bill Graham, después que alguien se encargara de recoger todo, salió al escenario con Iggy, porque Iggy estaba muy fastidiado, y empezó a enumerar: “cinco zapatillas, diez encendedores grandes…” ¡Había guardado todo lo que nos tiraron!

¿Cómo es que no le tiraron cosas a Santana? ¡Se las tendrían que haber tirado a ellos!
(Grandes risas) Pienso que eso pasó porque era en Detroit. Iggy era de ahí.

IMG_6196-768x1024

Gary hoy, en su hogar londinense: has recorrido un largo camino, muchacho

Aquí en Londres fuiste parte de un proyecto musical junto a Lora Logic de X-Ray Spex, y después formaste Fire Escape con la violinista Ruth Jones.
¡Me había olvidado de eso! Sí, grabamos algo, y ella lo puso en algún CD, no sé dónde está.

Ahora sí, la última pregunta. Y espero hayas disfrutado de la entrevista. ¡Es que es una larga historia!
¡Oh sí, absolutamente! (N.: en perfecto español)

Habiendo vivido en New york y en Los Angeles, supuse que sabías algo de español…
Hola, ¿qué tal? ¿Cómo están ustedes? (N.: nuevamente en español)

¿Te sorprendió que te hayan contactado de una revista de Argentina? ¿Qué sabés de nuestro país?
Sí, me halagó mucho. Gracias. ¿De Argentina? Más allá de conocer algo de Borges…

¿Leíste algo de él?
Sí, lo hice, y me gustan mucho sus historias cortas pero, a decir verdad, no sé mucho más de tu país. Debo decir que soy muy ignorante al respecto. Voy a tener que aprender más sobre eso.

IMG_6201-recort-1024x871

El autor de esta nota, que no oculta su satisfacción por verla finalmente publicada, tomándose una selfie con Gary. (Foto: M. Sonaglioni)

¿Y estuviste alguna vez en Sudamérica?
No, nunca visité Sudamérica. Es algo curioso, con todo ese tiempo en que viví en Los Angeles, y es algo que ahora lamento, ni siquiera fui a México. Todo lo que pensaba era en ir a Europa. Siempre tuve ese sentimiento de ir a Europa. Pero un par de mis libros fueron editados en Brasil, y también hay un par en español, que fueron publicados por editorial Atalanta, y tal vez estén disponibles en Argentina.

 

 

BOB GRUEN INTERVIEW IN BUENOS AIRES: “ROCK’N’ROLL IS THE FREEDOM TO EXPRESS YOURSELF VERY LOUDLY”

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Original version in Spanish published in Revista Madhouse on April 6 2017

“So how’s your hand”? That would be a very unusual question to strike up a conversation, but so far that’s what I first think of after watching Bob Gruen take care of tens of copies of the book given freely to the visitors of “Rock Seen”, his recent exhibition at the Centro Metropolitano de Diseño public institution, in Barracas area, Buenos Aires, all not willing to leave the place till the author signs each of them. “I’m fine!”, he replies smiling, with a look on his face telling me he has spent most of his life doing the same. “Sorry, I need to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back”, he next admits, more confidently. A few minutes later, he’s asking for a beer at the place’s bar, which arrives at the very moment we’re ready to start the interview. Nearly all through the last 50 years, Gruen managed to become one of the most significant and respected photographers in rock’n’roll history. With such a career on his back, his path is as vast as symbolic, which leads one to accept beforehand time will never be enough to ask him all those questions one may come up with. No time to ask him about his time shooting Dylan during the Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975, or about his many stories as star photographer of the 1976 New York City punk rock scene and frequent attendee at Max’s Kansas City, where he took pictures of Blondie, Richard Hell, Robert Gordon and Patti Smith, among many others, not to mention his days with the New York Dolls, whom he did the band’s best photographs. It won’t be possible to ask him about that photo of a pale and fragile David Bowie in conversation with David Johansen, or the one where Salvador Dalí is crowning Alice Cooper, circa 1973. Or those of The Clash in England, or the Ramones wandering the Bowery in 1975, or those of the band at the CBGB.
jones-strumme-simonon-and-topper-headon-bo-diddley-in-cleveland-february-1979Let alone about the four members of Led Zeppelin posing by the Starship, the Boeing 720 the band made use of as their private jet between 1973 and 1975, at the Teterboro airport, New Jersey. Or his experiences along Kiss at the “Dressed to Kill” photo sessions (mostly the album cover, shot by Gruen himself), or taking them for a ride in Japan in 1977. There will no way but refraining oneself of inquiring him about that famous picture of Sid Vicious onstage, all cut-up and bleeding like Christ, during the Pistols’ 1978 US tour, the Elton John-Stevie Wonder handshake one, or any of the ever-wild Keith Moon, stamping a killer kiss on Leslie West’s lips. To throw in the towel when planning to get his days with the Stones at the Madison Square Garden in 1972 (or about “Crossfire Hurricane”, his book on the band), and not to be able question him about which may be his most classic works, when he portrayed Lennon in his sleeveless New York City white T-shirt, or making the peace sign in front of the Statue of Liberty. Additionally I also felt forced to abort the plan of kidnapping him and try to get every drop of information until the rescuers arrived. Which I almost suggested, before changing my mind for good and instead expressing my disappointment of having to  keep all those questions on a future occasion, if happening. “Never mind, there’s a lot of information about me on the internet,” he suggests. He’s right. In any case, every cloud has a silver lining, or so they say, so we then ended up favouring more uncommon subjects. Like the recent death of Chuck Berry and all those great shot Gruen did long ago and far away, or the Rock Scene years (it’s not by chance the name of photo exhibition sounds so much the same), the ‘70s rock magazine he worked for and he’s so proud of. All those stories available, mostly told with pictures, in the fifteen books he has published so far, or in his documentaries. Best case scenario, they will all be part of the project Gruen is currently working on, his own autobiography, which surely will leave no stone unturned for us grateful journalists deprived of not having enough time when interviewing him.

 

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Do you remember the days without cell phones? You just went to a place, any place, and you didn’t need to know what was going around all the time. You know, I never ever had a cell phone….

Well that’s your problem! (laughs) I always wanted one. When I was very little I read Dick Tracy in the comic books. He always had a two-way wrist radio, I always wanted one, and now I have one. My phone has a lot of information. There’s more information in this phone that in the whole Alexandria library.
 
Now that’s a lot of information.
That’s a lot of information!
 

You won’t probably ever forget you were here in Buenos Aires the day it was announced that Chuck Berry died. Because, how long have you’ve been here already, is it a week now?
Right, about a week, since last Friday. 
 
And then Berry died on Saturday. You did some great pictures of him, I guess my favourite shot is the one where’s he’s carrying his guitar onstage, pointing it at the audience, shotgun-style. By the way I think this is s great way to start the interview, with sharing your thoughts about him. 
First of all, I don’t think so much of the day he died, I think about all the days that he lived. I think about the times that I saw him, and the times that I spoke with him. I’m very happy to have met him, to have known him, to have seen him do many shows. Chuck Berry was the first person who bought a photo from me, as a print, and also the first person who asked me to sign a picture. Nobody had ever asked me to sign a picture. Chuck Berry liked my picture and asked if he could buy it, and I said “of course!” I sold it to him. I said “hello, I took this picture” And he said “I know that picture, I tried to call you up” And I said “I know, I was away that week” And he said “come here, come here” And he took me behind some amplifiers, and he took out his wallet, which was thick with hundred dollar bills, now that was some serious money. I was gonna give it to him, but as soon as I saw the hundred dollar bills I said “ok I’ll take the money” And then he said “I want you to autograph this” The first time I’ve ever signed a picture. I didn’t have the concept to sign it on the front. I didn’t want to mess it up. So I wrote on the back “For Chuck Berry, the King of Rock’n’Roll”, and then I signed it. And I remember that moment just like it was yesterday. That was the biggest thrill, the first time I met him. And after that I saw him a number of times over the years. I’ve learnt something that a lot of people don’t see because they’ve only seen him one time, but I saw him more times. People talk about how he didn’t carry a band with him, and that he always played with musicians that were there, only with local musicians. To me, that was Chuck Berry teaching people how to play rock and roll, because he wouldn’t even tell them when going onstage, or what they were gonna do. There was no rehearsal. In the film with Berry and Keith Richards (“Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll”), Keith wants to rehearse and rehearse, and make sure it’s perfect. And in the middle of the show Chuck wants to change the key, and just make it spontaneous. Chuck Berry was about being spontaneous. It wasn’t about being in tune, it wasn’t about hitting the right note, it was about playing rock’n’roll.
 
Screwing up onstage was very common in him.

Yeah, because rock’n’roll is all about freedom, rock’n’roll is the freedom to express yourself very loudly. And Chuck Berry was very good at that. There’s a famous scene in that film. Bruce Springsteen waited and waited and Chuck’s not there until two minutes before they go onstage, and Chuck comes. And Bruce asks “what are we gonna play?” and Chuck says “we’re gonna play some Chuck Berry songs” And they get onstage, and you have to learn as he’s doing it. I saw him playing many many times, and sometimes it was after the first song, the third song, or the fifth song. He started it at the encore, but when he felt that the band was outstanding him, and if the band was playing rock’n’roll, he would turn around to the audience and he’d say “ladies and gentlemen, now we’d like to start a show” And he wouldn’t say that until he felt he had the band and his music together. And the band didn’t know if that was gonna work out. I saw him once at the Madison Square Garden, and he had the local musicians playing, and in the first song, he didn’t say anything. He just walked over the guitar player’s amplifier, he took the plug, and then he handed it to the guitar player, and then he just turned back around and started playing, and that guy was off the stage with biggest saddest look I’ve ever seen! (laughs) But he was teaching people how to play rock’n’roll, and he did it in front of an audience, so they can learn it too. And that’s the way I saw it.

 

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Was that the first time you met him?
Yeah, that was the first time I talked to him. And then I saw him several other times. There was a time about a year or two later he was in New York recording with Elephant’s Memory. It was very unusual he used a band instead of separate musicians. And the guitar player of Elephant’s Memory played some leads on the album. Having said that, that record never came out! (laughs) So they asked me to come to take some photos of them together with Chuck, but it was a rainy day, and Chuck’s hair was straightened, and on a rainy day straightened hair is not so good. So the band said “Chuck, can we take a picture?” And he said “no, no pictures today” And the band said “but this is Bob, he’s our friend, he was gonna do a picture for us” And Chuck said “I know Bob, he’s my friend, and he’s not taking any pictures today” And I almost fell over, oh my God, Chuck Berry just said I’m his friend! But I’ve got a lot of good pictures of Chuck. The band wanted that one, but I didn’t do it.
 
bg-chuck-berry-cb001bgAnd once again, he died when you were here.
Well, like I said, I don’t always think about the death day, I prefer to think about the life. You know, many people celebrate John Lennon on December 8, the day he died. I prefer to celebrate him on October 9, the day he was born.
 
You said that you were first a fan, and then became a photographer.
Well I was always a photographer, since I was very little.
 
But was it done on purpose? I mean, I’ve probably become a journalist, consciously or not, in order to get closer to the people I really admired.
Well, after high school, I dropped out basically, my parents wanted me to get a job. They were lawyers and they felt that I should wear a suit and a tie and have an office. But I really didn’t like the office. I couldn’t really do the 9 to 5 job because I couldn’t do the 9 o’clock boy. I didn’t want to have any job. I didn’t choose the career of rock’n’roll, I chose the career to turn on, tune in and drop out. That was my career choice. And when I dropped out I lived with a rock’n’roll band, because I wanted to have fun. It was my hobby, I took pictures of my friends all the time, and I was taking pictures of my friends in the band, and when they got a record contract the record company asked for my pictures, and they liked them, so they hired me to start taking pictures of other bands, and more and more I was taking pictures of bands because people were calling me and saying “we’ll pay you to do this” and I said “ok, give me money” Not a lot of money! (laughs) But I did get paid to do it and that’s what I did for the rest of my life.
 
bg-elephant-john-yoko-phil-spectorSo it was about having fun from the get-go, and not to get paid.
Yeah. When I started there was no term, they didn’t have the word “rock photography” There were photographers in rock’n’roll, but they didn’t connect with it as a job.
 
Well I would actually consider you more of a “photojournalist”, as your pictures tell stories too.
And that’s why I liked the magazine “Rock Scene”, because with it we didn’t just want to put one or two pictures and pages of words. “Rock Scene” was all photos. So I could do two or three pages of The Clash on tour, or two pages of, or all kinds of things, say, “Suicide goes to the racetrack”, with all kinds of stories about the bands. 
 
rock-sceneAnd all those parties where you could always see Alice Cooper there…
Right, so we would tell a whole story, two pages about the party and the people that came, and what they were doing. It was more about the whole rock’n’roll lifestyle.
 
Somebody should put up the contents of “Rock Scene” online…
Yes they did! The entire magazine. “Rock Scene” went from 1972 to 1982. It only came out 3 or 4 times a year, so in 10 years there’s only 42 issues. But maybe 10 years ago or something somebody bought the extra copies from the publisher, and they scanned the entire thing and put them online. So if you go to http://www.rockscenester.com/ every single page is available online. The covers, the advertisements, it’s all online.
 
Bear in mind that for us people in Argentina, and so for many other countries, the only way to get them was by asking somebody who was traveling to the US to get them for us, and they weren’t for sale here either, or showed not very often.
Yeah. Well many people had to try very hard to get them, but it seems they did, because it was very influential. We never made any money, not necessarily we got paid for making it. It was just for fun. If you look at it, there’s very little advertising. Which made it easier to read about rock’n’roll, as it was all about bands and musicians, but because we were showing so many new musicians and pictures at parties and other things, we weren’t promoting their albums that the record companies did, so the record companies didn’t buy any pictures from us. Very little advertising, we never got paid, buy we always had fun. That’s what it was all about. It was about having fun.
 
Maybe it was the best rock “cult” magazine in the US at the time.
Well it was a good one, it was the best fanzine. In fact John Taylor of Duran Duran told me he had to take a bus from his house to the train station to the next town to a train to Manchester to buy a copy. Every three months he would go to find it, as there was only one magazine store that he knew it would have it. Sometimes it didn’t come out yet, and he had to go home and come back next week and try to get it (laughs)
 
rock-scene-sabbathIt was also a very light magazine, not many pages…
Yes, very cheaply made. Very cheap. But it had a lot of information, and it was he only place where they had that kind of information about the rock’n’roll lifestyle. There weren’t many rock’n’roll magazines in the ‘70s, it was all more Rolling Stone, Creem magazine, East Coast Rocker…Most of those would have, you know, a lot of stories and writers, they’d be writing a big story about an album or a concert, whereas Rock Scene was all pictures. It was the only place you could actually see people having a party. We took the parties and the lifestyle much more seriously than the records. We didn’t take anything seriously. One thing people liked about Rock Scene is that we made fun of everything. It’s rock’n’roll, it’s not supposed to be serious.
 
Creem was also a lot like that.
Creem was also very funny. When I went to England in ’76 and I met some of the punk rockers there, they had respect for me because they knew I worked in Rock Scene magazine and Creem. If I had said I worked for Rolling Stone or the New York Times, they wouldn’t have talked. But because I worked for Creem and Rock Scene and I had a sense of humor, then they’d talk to me.
 
rock-scene-ramonesHow do you place yourself in the story of rock’n’roll, since you were part of it. How do you think of yourself in perspective?
Well, I usually don’t (laughs) I try not to think of myself too often. But I think of myself in terms of an historian, or somebody who did record the culture of our time. Luckily I lived long enough to be able to share that, and I still do, I go around the world talking about it, and sharing it. It’s not just rock’n’roll, I think rock’n’roll expresses the culture of our time. And as I said before, for me rock’n’roll is all about freedom, the freedom to express yourself very loudly. So I think that my work is more about freedom than a pop star portrait. It’s not just because that person is famous and I took a picture with the right kind of lighting. My pictures have tried to capture the passion, and the feeling, because the feeling is freedom. So the theme for my work, and the way I see myself, is as someone who’s inspiring people to be free, and to express themselves. ‘Cause certainly I don’t want them to be like me. You can’t be like someone else, because everyone else is already taken. You have to be yourself.
 
What do you think of today’s young photographers?
I don’t think about them too often (laughs) Well, I don’t really know too many of the young photographers. I’ve seen many very good pictures. People have really learnt how to express rock’n’roll, they’d seen a lot of history, and I’ve seen some people who took excellent pictures, I don’t remember their names all the time, but there’s one guy who is close to my age, maybe a little younger, called David Godlis, he’s one of my favourite photographers. Like I am, he’s a big fan of Robert Frank, and I think that David captured the very natural feeling, and he mostly covered the history of the CBGB’s, and he made a book that’s very popular. And he’s a very nice guy. Unfortunately he looks like me, so sometimes people say “are you Bob Gruen?”
 
bg-dylanYou were living in Greenwich Village in the mid-‘60s and you got to shoot Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, which was quite a start.
It was my first photo pass, and the first time I was in front of a stage taking pictures. I didn’t know any journalists, I didn’t know anybody in a magazine. I didn’t know any place to sell my photos. I got the photo pass because I didn’t have the money to buy the ticket. And a friend of my mother wrote me a letter that said I represented this photo publicity agency, which was not true. And I went to the box office and I’ve shown them the letter and they said “that’s not true, go away”, and I said “no, I must get the picture”, and I wouldn’t leave. So they finally gave me the ticket, a photo pass. But I wasn’t really working until when my friends in the band got a record deal in 1969. That’s when I started to meet people, in the record company.
 
But before that you had friends in the so-called “folk scene” in New York, which was quite popular at the time.
Well I had some friends that were more folk rock than psychedelic rock, some friends who were making folk music. I wasn’t involved in the scene, I didn’t really know anybody in the music business until around 1969. Actually my first contact with the music business was working in a record store, like many people that started their careers in record stores. Because that’s where you learnt about all the records and all the musicians. They used to have copies of the Billboard and Record World magazines, and you got to start reading about the business of rock’n’roll. But I didn’t get any contacts to take any photos from working there, I was just starting to learn. So once again my first contact with a record company was because of my friends’ band, and that was 4 years after I was at Newport. And then in 1970 I met Ike and Tina Turner, that was the first popular or famous band that I’ve ever met.
 
The Ike and Tina Turner Revue, right?
Exactly. That’s when I took this picture here, the one with the multiple images. That’s one exposure, that’s not Photoshop. That’s what Tina Turner does in one second. It was a great moment that I captured.
 
bg-tinaturner1970_gruen-1

So it didn’t come out like that on purpose?

I was hoping to get something like that but I didn’t know what would happen, because she was just dancing in the flashing light, and I took four pictures. Three of them are terrible, but this one is perfect.
 
At the same time you shot lots of footage from that tour with your former wife, Nadya. Live footage, rehearsals, home footage, which then showed up as “Ike & Tina: On the Road 1971-72”
Yes, that’s a great video, and we got an award for the Best Blues Video. All kinds of footage, including Tina cooking dinner for the kids.
 
Is it all black and white?
All black and white, but also with a few bits of colour film. They wanted me to use colour, so they actually rented me a colour camera. Buy we never finished that, all that we had left was the proof of the colour film, they never paid for the lab or whatever. Anyway, over the years the original got lost, but we had one copy and it had no sound. But I had recorded the sound separately, but it wasn’t connected. And then when we were making the video, the editor did an amazing job of finding certain parts of the colour film to go with the soundtrack, and in fact the film opens in colour with Tina in the back of a car teasing Ike, and he was going “oh honey, honey…”, like Ike was the one in trouble (laughs)
 
How was working with Ike Turner?
I had a great time with him. For me, he was very giving and very supportive of artists, he was generous to many artists. I stayed friends with him over the years, and I went to his funeral when he passed away a few years ago. There were over a thousand people at his funeral, because almost all the people there were people that Ike had helped, that Ike had given something to. And Ike would give you whatever you needed. If you needed a job, he would give you a job. If you needed a car, he’d give you car. You needed a house, he gave you a house. Ike was a very generous person. But that doesn’t excuse him of what he did in his personal relationship. And I think that the movie is a very important one, because it brought up the topic and showed very clearly what happens in domestic violence. I think that the world needed that kind of film, and it has opened up the doors for a lot of people that suffer from that. I don’t necessarily think that Ike Turner needed to be the poster boy for that topic, other people like Rick James went to jail for beating somebody up. A lot of people were much worse than Ike was, but I think the story is very important. It could be subtitled “what happens to a very good man that takes too much cocaine and goes crazy”
 
bg-mick-jagger-john-lennon-new-york-city-1972-photo-by-bob-gruen

Too bad time won’t be enough to ask you all these questions. The problem is, you have a long career, and you’ve worked with all these great artists…

I have long answers too! (laughs) Well there’s a lot of information on the internet. And not everything they say is true, by the way. There’s a picture of Amy Winehouse with my name, but I’ve never met her, I didn’t take that picture. And there’s a picture of Mick Jagger and John Lennon where they’re wearing tuxedos. Somebody put my name on it, but I didn’t take it either.
 
However it was you who did those pictures of Mick, John and Yoko Ono when they were working on Yoko’s “Approximately Infinite Universe”

Yes, I was in the studio with them. I guess there’s also a picture of Debbie Harry on the beach, and that’s not my photo. So don’t believe everything you read.

 

I won’t, I’m not a believer. I keep myself agnostic.
Ever!
 
So, let’s put it this way. At gunpoint, who would be those artists you’d ever be there for, and who would be the ones you’d never pick up the phone for?
I’ll always be there for Yoko Ono, or Tina Turner. Always. Tina’s retired, but I just saw Yoko three weeks ago. I’d drop anything any time to be with Yoko. She’s the most brilliant person I know, and one of the most generous and talented and creative people I know. If people wanna know about Yoko Ono, just listen to what John Lennon says, and don’t listen to what people in the Press say, who don’t understand her or never met her. Everybody I know who met Yoko Ono, they all say she’s amazing. Only a few people from the Press have bad things to say.
 
And then who would you say ‘no’ to?
There’s one or two people I’ve worked with that I’d never work with again, but because I hate them, I wouldn’t say their names and give them publicity. Only two people. They’re musicians, but they were assholes.
 
I read many times that “Bob Gruen did it all” I won’t buy that. Maybe there’s still somebody around that you’d like to work with.
bg-1974-japon-yokoOh yeah I still go see people. I’ve known Green Day for 19 years now and next year, when they make 20 years, I expect to make a book of my pictures of them, but I go to see them because I enjoy them. For me, that’s a night of fun. There’s also a band called the Strypes, from Ireland.
 
Sure, I know them. Very young guys and very ‘60s styled.
Very ‘60s styled, very rock and R&B, very real rock’n’roll, and very nice young kids. I like them a lot.
 
What are they about now? I just remember their first album.
The record company in America didn’t like their second album, so they have a second album in England. It wasn’t released in America. So now they have a third album, and I hope the record company in America doesn’t screw them up. They’ve got a lot ahead of. They’re very talented, I’m sure they’ll be ok.
 
So what are your next steps now?
I’m working on a biography. I’ve been telling stories all my life, but it’s very hard to take the stories that you say and turn them into writing. So I’ve been having trouble trying to get the sound of the reading, the sound of my talking. But I plan to have an autobiography.
 
20170322_144512Have you ever kept a diary?
If I had kept a diary, I’d have two biographies away! (laughs) Because there are a lot of stories in a lot of places. I wish I’d kept a diary but, no, it’s all on my mind. My mind is clear, I’m still ok.
 
Plus you have the photographs to back them up.
Oh yeah, whenever I see a picture, I remember being there, I remember what happened, usually. Sometimes my assistants pull out a picture and I go “I took that?”
 
Is there much left that never saw the light? What about the leftovers, what do photographers do with them?
I have huge files. Photographers put them in a file, until you find them again and you can use them for something else. I’ll have more books. You know, I have 15 books now, but I’ll be doing more.