A Nice Old Chat With Andrew Loog Oldham
The best thing on the radio, aside from Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the weekly news quiz on NPR, is Little Steven’s Underground Garage. That’s Steven van Zandt’s channel that features relevant rock music –by relevant I mean that it has everything from the sixties stuff that still sounds right to the contemporary stuff that isn’t crappy pop. Except, of course, the really good crappy pop. It rocks in a way that still works for me, and it’s really smart. Little Steven himself is a man of taste, as well as a gentleman and a scholar and a historian and a raconteur, and he has assembled a weirdo all star team of DJs who not only play an enlightening syllabus of music, but who are both erudite and experienced–in the Hendrix sense of the word.
There is Handsome Dick Manitoba of Dictators fame, Kim Fowley the famous Hollywood record producer and songwriter (Alley Oop, the Runaways, Popsicles Icicles, the Rivingtons, yadda yadda) who is an extraordinarily original thinker, and my personal favorite, Andrew Loog Oldham, the original manager of the Rolling Stones.
ALO was sort of the sixth Stone. He started out managing at the age of 19, after working for Brian Epstein who managed the Beatles. He wore cool suits, cool shades, and wrote liner notes which were a sort of fusion of beat poetry and Clockwork Orange droogspeak. Oldham wasn’t simply a manager. He was a sort of a rock visionary. He directed the band in terms of style, vetoing matching suits and playing up the bad boy thing that turned into the Satanic Majesties thing. His angle was “Would you want your daughter to marry a Rolling Stone?” (This was before they were rich.) He got them writing original material and he totally changed the way business was done. The Beatles famous manager Brian Epstein had signed a bad deal that had the Fab Four making about 3p. a record, Oldham figured out that the Stones could pay for their own recordings, make them themselves, retain ownership and then lease them to the labels. Brilliant!
Oldham was controversial. He made them drop their piano player Ian Stewart, because he didn’t look like a Rolling Stone. When the Stones got busted for pissing in public he turned it into great publicity. He encouraged them to be the band that scared your parents, the Beatles’ evil twin. He discovered Marianne Faithfull, started his own label, Immediate Records, releasing records by, among others, the Small Faces. He later helped Steve Marriot of the Faces put together Humble Pie. In his spare time (!) he recorded The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra which did for the Stones’ music what the Hollyridge Strings did for the Beatles. The Verve’s huge 1997 hit Bitter Sweet Symphony was based on a sample from the ALOO’s version of The Last Time.
Oldham, whose lifestyle was as druggy as the Stones, sold his interest in the band to Allen Klein in 1966 and continued his adventures around the world, living in L.A., New York, Connecticut and Bogota, Colombia. After subduing his considerable demons he wrote a delightful two volume biography, Stoned (1998 ) and 2Stoned (2001.) Then in 2005 he was recruited as a DJ by Steven Van Zant for the “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” channel on Sirius Satellite Radio. He still does two hours a day on weekdays from his home studio in South America and four hours on weekends, playing great music and navigating one of the more amusing streams of consciousness on the planet.
We had this conversation a few years back. Since the Rolling Stones have a greatest hits album coming out (the deluxe version features 80 tracks), I thought it would be fun to resurrect this conversation.
Andrew Loog Oldham/ Glenn O’Brien
Glenn O’Brien: Hi Andrew.
Andrew Loog Oldham: Hi Glenn. I’ve been reading your blog. What are you wearing?
G: I’m not really dressed. I’m at home in jeans and a sweatshirt but I’m wearing my fabulous Loro Piana cashmere slippers. Anyway, I read both of your books back to back, and there’s so much to talk about in them, so let’s just talk about what you do now, and then we can sneak into the past.
A : Exactly.
G : I had personally almost have given up on pop and rock music in the last few years, and then I bought a car that has a Sirius satellite radio in it and I just stumbled across…
A :What was the car ?
G : I have a Mercedes wagon.
A : And it came with it ?
G : It came with a big engine and a satellite radio. And I just loved the satellite radio immediately, because it’s got a jazz station, a Sinatra station and a reggae station. They had a “Disorder” channel, which I liked because it doesn’t have any format.
A : Is that the one with David Johansen on it ?
G : Yeah. I used to listen to his show regularly but I don’t think he’s been putting a lot of work into it lately. He’s in a kind of Maria Callas, Erik Satie and Havana Cuba Boys rut.
A : I juggle my routine. You got to pay attention to keep it interesting.
G : Your show’s never boring, but I guess that’s because you’re a natural talker.
A : Well, thank you.
G : Your show seems off the cuff. David’s show seems like he’s cut up Baba Ram Das and Swami Satchidananda and he’s delivering it as Buddy Hackett. I don’t know how much planning there is involved in a Sirius. Have you heard Bob Dylan’s show?
A : You know I haven’t. I’ve had plenty of opportunity.
G : You can get it on the Internet. He’s got a research team. It’s really good.
A : I know, people send it to me all the time but… you said that for a while you didn’t listen to music. I don’t. (laughs) Doing the show is enough. It’s the safest way of staying in touch with the music and/or the music business. It’s as close as I want to get. There’s no way I’d do more, it might kill me.
G : But you’re producing records, right ?
A : Well, in South America, producing means what producing used to mean. You book the room and hope for the best. (laughter) It’s not so much about having to have relationships with people, and all that nonsense. I remember in the 80’s being quite disturbed…well I was quite disturbed anyway in the 80s… but I was quite disturbed when Peter Asher told me that he was about to record that group 10,000 Maniacs or is it 100,000?
G : Yeah I think it’s 10,000.
A : And he said, “I knew they wanted me when they found out I didn’t smoke.” (laughter). I mean, please !
G : I think very few people in the music business make decisions based on more rational criteria than that.
A : I produce in South America occasionally. There’s a record I just finished with this beautiful maniac from Argentina, it’s in fact the first record I’ve made in 10 years.
G : Well, it sounds fantastic. So you weren’t sitting there in the control room yelling at the engineer ?
A : Well no. I just said, “I’ve got two words to say to you : John Lennon.” And just get on with it.
G : Yeah, I think there’s too little of that. That’s what I like about Brian Eno, he takes a conceptual approach to producing. Oblique strategies. Just put big ideas in artists’ heads.
A : It’s easy, and usually the most successful approach. I was working at the end of the 70s with this great kind of Bob Dylan meets James Taylor Italian superstar called Francesco di Gregori and I just gave the engineer a copy of Gotta Serve Somebody, and said “don’t let me deter you from this.”
G : I think part of the reason I stopped paying attention to new music had to do with the over-engineering of it. I still hear new records that have no feel, there’s no ambiance, no place, it’s all in a vacuum, this cyberspace and it’s sampled to death and there’s nothing alive about it. I think that’s why the kind of primitive approach to producing is the way to go.
A : Well, of course, if we’re 21, or the new 21 which is anywhere up to 32, you know, we’d have a different point of view. I say I haven’t made a record in 10 years, but that’s the ones I will admit to, there are a couple I’ve made on the side. One was with a great little Scottish group about six or seven years ago, because my son said to me, “why don’t you produce a record ?” And I said, “why ?” And he said, “well, so that you can do it during my summer holiday and I can come along and see if there’s anything in it for me.” I found something, that with all due respect to them, were not your typical 22 to 25 year old “we know what we’re doing, we’re on a mission, fuck you, get out of the way” type that I hope bands are. I don’t know whether, say, Jack White or the Strokes were like that. Or even dear Joan Jett were like that. David Bowie handled his liking of the beauty of Charlie Sexton by saying “It doesn’t pay to meet your idols.” It might not pay to have a formed idea of how people work and be disappointed. They might be as fucking self-serving and dick-sucking as the rest of everybody. So anyway, I went off to Scotland and made the record using Pro Tools. I’m having a great time but the sound is all off the floor and I do it in 10 days. And then I start trying to mix it in Vancouver. Now, you know I don’t have a reputation as a technical producer. And everything I had on Pro Tools was in a circle and the mix demanded that I fit that circle, which I was very happy with, into a square. Therefore everything got diluted.
I was having to do stupid old tricks like overdubbing acoustic guitars into the corner just to fill up the spaces. I was losing by the process of mixing it. It was awful. The sex went out of it once I tried to mix it.
G : I think Pro Tools is for when you have a singer like Grace Jones or maybe Marianne Faithfull after too many cigarettes and you have to do a little cosmetic surgery.
A : Yes, I went through this with this Charly Garcia. Thirty-five vocal takes. You listen to them, mate!
G : Richard Gottehrer was on your show, and I think it was Gottehrer who was saying that producing is a young man’s game. Or maybe you did.
A : He’s still doing it.
G : He’s got to make a living I guess.
A : He’s got The Orchard, (A label devoted to digital music—ed.) so I don’t know that he has to but, also he has, and I mean this politely, a kind of naivete. He actually has a younger brain than I have. I don’t think there’s any chance of him being hurt by the process because he’s at one with it. And I remember in the 70s seeing him record The Gogos at a studio in New York. When he didn’t like what the drummer was doing he ran out of the control room into the studio and he started playing drums to get the drummer back into time. I thought it was wonderful. But this Argentinian record was very interesting, because with a group somebody kinda has to be in charge, or think they are. It should be the producer. Otherwise why would a group of people have one person to do it? But working with Charly Garcia, he’s so talented that it was like being in a room with John Lennon, as wasted as Charly Garcia was. I’m not saying that John Lennon was wasted on the job. You didn’t waste a word with this guy. He’d jump down your throat if you’re lazy with your language. That was something I’ve only really had with Keith, Steve Marriott, and on certain days Mick. That was really why I went to the race this time. That’s why I did it. It was like being in a boxing ring.
G: Since you moved to Bogota have you been salsified and cumbia-ed by Latin music?
A: No. That gives me a fucking headache. It did even when I was out to lunch. I also think it’s generally a myth that Latins have rhythm. On many occasions they’re disappointing on stage. Except for like Cuba. Cuba is a trip. Have you been there?
A: It’s as if God came down and said, I don’t care what else you got, you’ve all got rhythm. When we went there, we were there three weeks before the boat people left. We were in all the places where the government wants you to go. But there were these two English gay people here in Bogota who owned a hotel outside of town. They knew these people in Cuba and they asked us to take them things like razor blades and toilet paper and soap, and to meet this particular doctor they knew there. And that got us off the beaten track. Even on the government holiday end, they have rhythm, but when you get out into the little villages in the sticks it’s absolutely amazing. At one point I heard this commotion that sounded like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes or the Ojays and so I walked out of the hotel and there were about 1000 people standing in a basketball court listening to speakers that were picking up radio from Philadelphia. That was wonderfully bizarre. Of course I wanted to live there.
G: So how do you find the stuff on radio show? You’ve turned me on to so many things.
A: Basically I work by Little Steven’s play-list. I just try to personalize it.
G: You must fill in historically, right? You’ll pull out some early thing from the Who or The High Numbers or Them, that I’d completely forgotten about, and it fits into this great flow of music.
A: A lot of that is Steven. And then a lot of it is memory. I didn’t fucking remember Them with their version of ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ until I saw the movie Basquiat. And when I heard it again it floored me. But back then I was so competitive I’d never have admitted it existed. I can’t imagine walking into the room with Keith and saying “God, have you heard the new Them record, it’s great.”
G: I walked into this used record store yesterday, and there was a guy in there selling his records, and they were playing what must have been the first or second Them record and it hit me how similar Van Morrison and Mick were.
A: It’s uncanny! That kind of wilted youth…
G: If it wasn’t looks, if it was just about voice I think Van might have had a leg up on Mick.
A: Yeah and he had Bert Burns as a producer, who was one of the best. Anyway, going back to the radio. I have these people who I’ve met over the years, one guy in France and one guy in Northern Italy, who are serial fans who send me things, of the Stones particularly. And then one in France, a fan of the Clash. I can of turned of in the 70’s with Studio 54, I didn’t like the music. I think I limited my diet to things like Leonard Cohen, John Lennon and Harry Nilsson. Why do you want to risk your ears over a gram of coke? I wasn’t very adventurous then. I didn’t like that Clash movement or the Sex Pistols at all. But I read an interesting thing recently that Malcolm MacLaren said, I don’t care if he made it up today, it just sounds good: that his original idea with the Sex Pistols was to get them big without ever having to release a record. Personally I think they would have been better off for it. Actually, I do like “My Way” is my favorite. Anyway, I was in Italy and the fan from Italy called me–his day job is he works for the mayor of the town he lives in. Anyway, he played me the sound check of the Rolling Stones in Tokyo last February doing a version of Wild Horses that was amazing. The fucking rehearsal. It was as if Mick had decided he would be Tony Bennett for the afternoon, and be note-perfect. He could have been signed to Atlantic on the basis of this one performance. Crooning.
G: He’s never really been a crooner the way that Iggy Pop or Jim Morrison were, but he has it in him, you think?
A: Yeah, without a doubt. These vocals were very strong. So I don’t like his solo records, but on one of them there’s a song called ‘Hard Woman,’ which, it’s not a song, it’s like an arrangement underneath a guy who’s desperately solo. But the vocal is great.
G: A couple of days after Christmas they were playing all kinds of James Brown, and he did this album of crooning called Soul on Top, with Louie Bellson’s band and arrangements by Oliver Nelson, with guys like Ray Brown playing on it. It’s like James Brown doing Sammy Davis Jr., like, What Kind of Fool Am I? And September Song. It’s amazing, because it’s this whole other dimension that you never even caught a glimpse of. Like, “see, I could be that too if I wanted to.”
A: Well, his favorite singer was Nat King Cole. And isn’t it amazing how they all adored Dean Martin?
G: I still love Dean.
A: Well, he’s great. I love movies about fame and crawling your way to the top in America from the 50’s and 60’s and I thought I knew most of them. Then I caught this one at about five o’clock in the morning, a couple of months ago, called Career.
G: Don’t know that one.
A: With Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine and Anthony Franciosa. You must see it. Anyway, I interrupted you.
G: But how does Little Steven find all this new stuff, these weird bands from Scandanavia and stuff, that fit right in with early Stones and Yardbirds and Dion and the Kingsmen and that give one hope for guitar bands. Bands like the Teddy Bears, the Shys, the Caesars, the Morlocks…
A: They also give you hope for lyrics. I don’t know man, but he seems to have 28 hours a day because he’s just totally clocked in and he keeps coming in with new stuff, he just handed us a new batch of new, fresh, stuff. He’s just totally devoted. Hates three-piece groups. He’s off the floor, he’s great.
G: Do you prepare or do you wing it?
A: I wing it. I mean what I do is I read newspapers, I print out things that interest me and I either get to them or I don’t. It’s better winged, I think.
G: I can never prepare for anything. It makes me nervous.
A: I’ll start reading things from things and then go-what the fuck am I reading this for? It’s not even entertaining me!
G: I’ve got to say that I’m impressed with your memory. I know that in writing Stoned and 2Stoned you interviewed a lot of people, but you really remember a lot. I feel like my memory is swiss cheese.
A: Well, the coke helped. In ’93 or ’94, I sat in Seattle in this gorgeous kind of bed and breakfast place, on of those kind of mansions, and had Fedex ship the blow in. In Colombia, the paper is incredible, you get great books to write in, just huge, and I’d travel with all of those, cause you could travel with stuff then and I filled them up in immaculate handwriting. And then once I turned the corner and changed my style of life, these ten big ledgers were an incredible help. All I had to do was lose the drug rhetoric, and the stories were intact. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have remembered them anyway, but it was a good reference to have. And also the interviewing of other people was very interesting because a lot of them now are dead, well some of them are dead, people like Mickie Most, and you didn’t really socialize back then, because you were all too busy. And if you did socialize you were very distant from each other in those three or four clubs that ran London. The image of Mickie Most when he was a recording artist, walking around with his recording contract on his person, it was wonderful. Interviewing people also kept me interested, because as much as I love myself, I couldn’t imagine a book of “I did that,” and “I thought that.” And that process also just kept me going and got the job done. And you know I’d copped the idea. I copped it off the Edie book. (Edie by Jean Stein and George Plimpton, Knopf, 1982—G.O.)
G: Oh, that sort of group testimonial. I hadn’t thought of that.
A: Yeah, I think that book was 1982. When I read Edie I thought “if I ever do it, this is the way I’ll do it.” The only way it might be entertaining is if I keep myself entertained.
G: Had you written anything before Stoned?
G: You’re a natural, let me say that. I remember actually when I was in high school, reading those hip talk liners notes you did for the Stones. I remember thinking ‘I wanna write like that.’
A: This mission was to prove I could do it straight and do it for a long time and have one hit and then have another one.
G: Well, I guess it goes to show that good talkers make good writers.
A: I don’t know. My idea of a good talker is somebody like Christopher Hitchens. I’m going to hear him speak in Cartagena. There’s a conference there.
G: So, what’s life like in Bogota for you? Are you fluent in Spanish?
A: No, unfortunately. I mean I can get by, but usually only if the subject is musical, something I’m interested in. I don’t have to put food on the table here, by speaking Spanish.
G: There’s something interesting about living somewhere where you don’t understand what’s being said.. I spend a lot of time in Italy, and I understand a little bit, but it just kind of makes your life a little more abstract. It puts you more in your head than in your ear.
A: Exactly. And it really helps what I’m about now. When I first got here in ’75, I thought-“Wow! It looks like 1957 here.” It felt like 1957. It was like being given the chance to start many things over again. And the English language is mine. I don’t have too many conversations like we’re having now because I don’t go out. You know I go three floors on the top of a building, I was born in the middle of London. We’re 8000 feet up surrounded by another 2000 feet of mountains. So from the flatlands of Hampstead to this, there is justice. And it’s a great place to live.
G: I remember you said that was the last thing that you gave up was cigarettes. I don’t know how you could smoke in Bogota. The times I’ve gone to Denver I’ve been winded going up and down stairs, and that’s not even 8000 feet. That’s a mile high.
A: You stopped smoking.
G: I quit three years ago.
A: Stopping was the hardest thing. And that was the last thing I was told by my nutritionist, my dear nutritionist. But I really had to—I took two years to stop.
G: Yeah, I remember you said that your nutritionist said –‘don’t stop now, it will kill you.’
A: I was in Paris recently and met Roman Polanski, right? I enjoyed him. I must have started about five or six years ago, enjoying hanging out with people who were technically older than me. It wasn’t necessarily Peter O’Toole with a walking stick. But, I started having dinner with Bill Wyman. He’s older than all of us, right? Do you do that at all, or it hasn’t occurred to you yet?
G: I have friends that are older.
A: They have things to teach us.
G: I started out working for Warhol and being the youngest person in every gathering, and then a few years later, like in the punk days, I was like four, five years older than everybody. So I think most of my friends are younger. But I also find it harder to tell how old anyone is. Maybe it’s senility.
A: Okay…so the thing about Polanski is this. He’s never smoked.
A: Oh, honey. I wish we had his fucking complexion. Anyone who’s smoked, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve given up, it shows.
G: Then again if you look at people who were fifty or sixty in the sixties, they all look a lot really old. I think it must have something to do with food, drinking a quart of booze a day, and smoking three packs of cigarettes.
A: But we grew up in a time when food gradually got worse. And then there was drugs. When you told me about getting paid 100 dollars to pose for the cover of Sticky Fingers, it took be back to arriving in New York. We got so blasted in New York when we first arrived. Because we’d only been on hash.
G: I never could get high on hash.
A: No? Well it allowed us to work, without the nutsy thing of marijuana. And I remember the first time I went to Warhol’s place where there was silver paper all over the place—it fucking terrified me!
G: Well that was a heavy drug scene. Methamphetamine and pills. It’s funny when you read about when London was really interesting, swinging London and all of that, it seemed like it was a lot about diet pills and hash. I remember when I was like a hippie, we were all on pot and acid, and it turned out the bands were all on speed and smack. It was this weird synergy. We were looking at Cream and thinking, ‘wow, those guys are really high,’ but we had no fucking idea!
A: Oh, dear, yes. Well, London would have been a lot of prescribed drugs, and hash was so opiated then—I mean you really could work on it. I didn’t take drugs recreationally for a long time. It was a work thing.
G: That’s how I was introduced to amphetamines was in college taking them to study, and then you’d wind up sitting up all night talking instead.
A: There were these lovely little gambling clubs, if the session had ended and the speed hadn’t worn off, where you could go to just take a sleeping pill and gamble for a few hours. That was nice, a lot of red velvet, and twenty pounds would get you through the evening.
G: It might be a good thing for our culture if they brought back those moderate doses of amphetamines. Instead we have all these rednecks snorting up big lines of crank and robbing drugstores and to get pills, their hillbilly heroin. But the diet pill dosage with a little hash thrown in seemed to have almost a benevolent effect, you know, made people work hard and look cool. Maybe I’m just being nostalgic.
A: Well, there was also once drug decorum. I hadn’t really taken to coke before I came to Colombia, and when I did at least I got into it with wholesale decorum. You can’t afford to be a pig down here. It was no big deal. It was very interesting.
G: Let me ask you an abstract question, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want, but what would have happened if Giorgio Giomelsky had been the manager of the Rolling Stones and not you?
A: Well it’s not abstract to me. I keep a little place in Vancouver. And the Yardbirds were playing there not long ago. There were two original members-the bass player and the drummer. And much to my surprise they were very good. Of course the new members had been there twenty years and the singer was doing the old songs as if they’re now his. Anyway, I turned around to my wife and I said, “this is what the Rolling Stones might have been but for me” You’d have Ian Stewart in the group. It’s not abstract, you’re dealing with realities, which is really interesting. When I wrote a book, I dealt with it the way I dealt with it then. Now I’m writing another book and I’m dealing with these things again, because it’s partly a book on impresarios, hustlers, and managers, that I’ve known, hero-worshipped, or loathed. But it’s also a bit of a third volume of autobiography. And the onion peels, Glenn, are coming off faster than ever. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever had that with something you’ve worked on, when you come back to the same subject and you go deeper.
G: I’m actually working on a memoir and it’s a struggle and that made yours even more interesting for me. I know what you’re talking about, because I’m dealing with some things I’ve written about before.
A: Yeah I now slap ‘em around the face whereas five years ago I would just squeeze the people.
G: You were pretty discreet I think, especially with the Stones.
A: Well, you know, I’m conservative! Which means to me that I was brought up to have manners. Look, you would have had Ian Stewart in the band? How much would they have graduated toward the pop writing if I hadn’t pushed it, if Brian Jones had continued—mind you there were nails in his fucking coffin from day one. I don’t know. I can’t compute into it the ambition of Mick, and whether he was the Mick I knew for those four short years, or whether he was playing me already. That is abstract. Into the mystic.
G: The Rolling Stones really changed my life. I remember somebody handing me their first album when I was DJing at a school dance, and I put it on and I played it over and over the rest of the night. I was completely blown away. In Cleveland we had great soul radio, so Don Covay, Bobby Womack, Slim Harpo and all that stuff was really right up my alley. It was the music I loved played by guys who looked like we wanted to look. And it was just magic. And I loved Brian Jones. Of course, I’m a Pisces, but I found him the most intriguing member of the group. He was the one who scared your parents. And when he died I was shocked and kind of mystified. You see him sort of marginalized in Godard’s movie One Plus One. But to me he was always an enigma. Then, after reading about it in 2Stoned-I found a copy of (1966 documentary)‘Charlie is my darling.’ It’s the first time I’d ever seen him really talk. And he comes across as very charming, and well-spoken, and the most attractive member of the group in a way. Of course Charlie comes off pretty good, too. But I could never really get a clear picture of him. You must have seen ‘Stoned’ the film. (The 2005 film that has Brian Jones murdered by his building contractor.—ed.)
A: Yes, yes.
G: How did that resonate with you?
A: I only remember one sequence of it, because it’s the only sequence they really got right, which is the Marrakech thing. How hard is it not to get that right, I mean the Rolls Royce, you know, Keith’s Rolls Royce or whatever it was, trollying into Tangiers. The rest of it was just awful. Did you see the movie?
G: I thought it was well art-directed.
A: Well, who did the costumes? Because they blew it with your anorak Stones fans in the opening shot. Like having them dressed in the leather waistcoats that they didn’t put on until they were on a television show seven or eight months later-as if they would wear that in a blues club! I went out about this in 2Stoned, but normally when Grace Jones is up on the screen she goes stiff. Here, Stephen Wooley managed to get all the actors to do it.
A: I came off all right (laughs). I was okay.
G: They got your sunglasses.
A: Hey, going back to Paris with Polanski, Polanski was saying he liked him. But Brian was great. If he wanted you to like him or wanted something from you. I mean you must have seen in the film ‘Charlie my darling’ how calculating he was. He might have been as calculative with his words as Jerry Wexler.
G: He remains a mysterious figure.
A: Have you seen ‘My Dinner with Jimi?’
A: It’s not good, but it’s great. It’s a 2004 movie that didn’t get distributed anywhere. If you know (producer) Harold Bronson you should get him to send you a copy of it. I don’t actually know where you can get it. It’s a screenplay by the guy in the Turtles, Howard Kaylan, and it’s based on them having this number 1 hit, and then going to England, and then realizing all their dreams and going to the Speakeasy. And the movie’s kind of American International Pictures style trashy. The first third anyway, which takes place in LA, and you’ve got Jim Morrison dancing on a table at the Whiskey, and Frank Sinatra, and that doesn’t work for me. Of course, I turned on at five o’clock in the morning. But then the movie hits London and it’s absolute magic because somebody has managed to understand the way people spoke. I presume it’s Howard Kaylan. And the actor they’ve got doing Jimi Hendrix, he’s incredible. They’ve got a shot—and I know Donovan and Graham Nash will be embarrassed how they look in it– but they’ve got a shot of Brian Jones, a Brian Jones, walking down the stairs of the Speakeasy, in that Between the Buttons look or the Ed Sullivan Show look, with the striped blazer and the red trousers, that sort of thing. Completely amazing, right? It’s up there–in a kind of tacky American way–with 24 hour Party People. You should check it out because it’s got the nuance and the rhythm of the speech. It was good. But Stoned wasn’t.
G: No, it was a trash movie but I liked the way it looked. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the fashion of ’67. The guys that are cast as the Stones don’t have any charisma at all. I think you do come off better than anybody. So do you ever get managerial insights, like if you were managing Pete Doherty, you tell him….
A: Yes and no. I mean I see people who I’d just like to be with more, like Steve Earle. Because you end up just thinking about yourself. And when somebody’s music is that good that’s what you want to be around. I mean him, on stage, I’d slap him around, man-Pete Doherty. I mean I’ve got absolutely no respect for the process at all, because you know how disciplined the Stones were. And you may have seen in 2Stoned how when they were in America, when Brian started to get flaky, they took care of their own laundry, man. They weren’t on the phone boring me with it. So I was raised on a very high standard. Look at these poor people today, I mean their lives are ten percent making the product and the other ninety percent is promoting it.
G: Did you ever pay any attention to hip-hop at all or?
A: Yeah, once, here in Bogota my son played me a Tupac record. I don’t know if he’s hip-hop. He played me this record and he said, “did you hear that?” He was about fifteen then. I said “yeah.” And my son didn’t buy that. He grabbed a hold of my arm and said “no, did you hear it?” Do you have children?
G: Yeah I have an adult son and a child son.
A: I have a 42 year-old and a 24 year old. When the younger was born and came back from the hospital I put under his pillow a four and a half hour tape of nothing but Motown. Just soft, with a couple of those little speakers I’d knocked off an airplane. And for the first twelve years of his life-or fourteen-he was totally into black music. When he started dating power ballads seemed to creep in, but it was interesting to see how much affect Tupac had on him, it was like a graduation from Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. No, I’m afraid my main hip hop impacted was from Aerosmith’s Walk this Way.
G: I was around in New York when it started up and it was really interesting then, lyrically and technically. But it seems like it had a bad effect in that people kind of stopped playing musical instruments. It became all about recycling and then it became boring bragging and stuff. I mean, there are still great things, but it’s not a golden moment.
A: Well in the town where I go to the nutritionist, I met a young man called RJ, who at the time I met him, it was only about seven or eight years ago, was a rapper, right? White kid. He’s on one of the last pages of 2Stoned.
G: I remember him. He said: “You’re not a fag are you?”
A: Right, fucking lovely. But since then he’s written three books. And it’s the same language that he would rap with. I’m really taken with his language; it’s interesting. But there are no instruments. I watched somebody on the television the other day trying to justify that turntables are instruments—they’re not. Man, it’s pathetic, all you gotta do is have is a website, and you’re a star. You can be reaching three people. I get e-mails… let’s say the guy’s name is Tom Smith, as soon as he plays coffee houses it’s: “hi Tom Smith people.” Doesn’t that take away from the need to work? It takes away from getting on the bus and getting on the road, because you sit at home and smoke yourself silly and you reach three and a half people and you’re a superstar.
G: I went to see the Stones in Houston with Don Was.
G: That was interesting. Don said it was the first time in all these years that Mick had ever comped him. We had five hundred dollar seats.
A: Well, he’s ahead of me! (laughter)
G: We went backstage, and Don took my friend Michael and his son and me into Keith’s dressing room which was really amusing with the snooker table and the bar and the big speakers…
A: Was this before he fell over the shrub?
G: Yeah. And Keith was blasting Louis Prima on the stereo and Woody was hanging out there with Blondie Chaplin and Ian McLagan…
A: I had such a crush on Keely Smith…
G: Yeah me too. She might have been my sexual awakening.
A: What did you make of it?
G: Well, I had always loved Keith and then in the 80s… remember David Johansen did Buster Poindexter.
A: Yes, I loved that.
G: Well, for two years I was his opening act as a standup comedian. I was post-borscht-belt-modern. Most people loved me– The Hells Angels, Tom Waits, U-2, but almost the worst experience of my life was when Keith came in drunk with my arch-enemy and he heckled me. He seemed to have had quite a lot of whiskey but I think this awful person had initiated it. So I had a festering resentment for years.
A: Was he good or just cruel?
G: No he’d had had too many bottles of Jack Daniels. He was sort of gargling loudly. It was not sparkling repartee. But in Houston he couldn’t have been more charming. I went in with Don (who now produces the Stones—ed.) and Michael Zilkha, who first signed Don (Was Not Was to Ze Records—ed.) and his son Daniel and we hung out for fifteen minutes and when we were leaving Keith jumped up and he came over and said “Nice to see you Glenn, so nice to see you, Michael, Daniel,” and shook our hands. I was astounded by his graciousness and the fact he remembered all of our names.
G: But I must say, although they played well, the show lacked chemistry. I don’t think Mick and Keith looked at each other once.
A: Isn’t that amazing? You’d think, if they’re gonna be the way they are with each other, then it doesn’t help when Keith does one of his songs, which are getting closer to Dean Martin all the time and If Mick and Keith are going to make no eye contact, then don’t rub it in for Keith’s solo numbers having him sing on the same mike as the hired bassplayer, whatever his name is. Because it then becomes blatantly painful to us. But the audience doesn’t care, they’re so chardonnayed out of their minds for four hundred dollars. One of Keith’s best performances is the one that was in Basquiat, that demo that he did of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You.” It’s not on the soundtrack. But it’s in the film.
G: Do I have to watch that film again?
A: Well what I like about the film is it has one of the greatest speeches about fame that I remember.
G: Well, Basquiat and I were best pals. So I have a big problem with the film because it’s such a distortion of who he was.
A: Oh dear.
G: To me the problem with that film is Julian Schnabel’s preemptive strike on art history. It’s to establish his relationship to Basquiat as a mentor. The master to whom this confused young Negro comes to seek wisdom.
A: Well it’s probably similar to the way Allen Klein would handle a film on Sam Cooke. But take me back to the Stones show. I went to see them in Seattle with my son, October a year ago. You forget how many toilets they play. It was quite an ironic week. It was around October the 17th and the Stones were playing there on Monday and coming in on a Wednesday was Paul McCartney. What’s changed? McCartney was coming in with a disc jockey who played only his things before he the show. Anyway, seeing the Stones for me… I’m as jaded as you with the Basquiat thing. You can’t expect me to get off. I got off on them about four years ago at Twickenham in England, where the first two songs took the fucking roof off. But there’s not that many young people, it’s all forty to sixty-five year olds, and they’re all standing on the chairs, and the subliminal message is “God our parents never told us this was possible. We’re meant to be dead by now.” That kind of English vibe. But then the first two songs, I was thinking, there’s gonna be some fucking heart attacks if this keeps up. But no, Mick goes and slaps on the guitar and does that awful song, that new one that they added to Forty Licks, ‘Don’t Stop’, is it? So that brought the show right down and nobody needed their pacemakers again until the end. The last time that they did that for me was probably ’89, it might have been the Steel Wheels tour, where they were beginning the tour with “Not Fade Away.” “Not Fade Away” is as difficult as Satisfaction to do onstage. And they nailed it, it was just absolutely incredible. But Seattle, two Octobers ago, was not incredible. The only point they caught my interest was about ninety minutes in, when suddenly they decided to worship Ray Charles. I’m sorry, maybe I’m cynical but I don’t remember everyone sitting around playing Ray Charles records. They were doing The Night Time is the Right Time. It was odd.
G: I saw them within one week of seeing U2 at Madison Square Garden and that was the opposite. Everyone was standing for the whole show. It’s all ages, and everybody sings along for the whole show. It’s really electrifying. Of course the tickets aren’t five hundred dollars. Stones could have been that, but I was left wondering-why are they doing this? DO they need the money? Or what?
A: (laughs) Right.
G: But you have to give it to Mick that he is in fantastic shape. He’s like an aerobics instructor.
A: When they did “The Nighttime is the Right Time,” he sang it so well, considering he’d been yelping for 90 minutes, that when he got to the bridge it sounded like they had played a recording. It was almost too good.
G: Well I think that he’s never sung as well onstage as he does now. And I’ve seen them a lot of times.
A: Well he’s got a vocal coach for the last four years.
G: Yeah and he probably gave up some other things that adversely affected his vocal cords.
A: He never actually did much of that actually. One Guinness and she’s anybody’s. So when we went to see them backstage, Keith was lovely. We didn’t get go to see Mick, I don’t even think Ian McKellan got in. He was running around like a total fluff with that director Brad, whatever it is, Ratner? The director. We went to see Keith and he’s lovely as usual. I mean he’s says, like ‘Oh, Andrew, look what you began.’ Very nice when you’re standing there with your son. So I became quite taken with the occasion. And my son had just left college in Los Angeles, and he was working as an intern at a place called the Firm. And I said-‘When you go down to South America and you want someone to get the difference between tea and coffee for you, do you have any jobs going? You know, my son needs boot camp, basically.” And Keith looks at him, and my son is an elegant young man, and he says-‘Well, I take it he doesn’t hump equipment.’ And I said ‘well, who do I speak to?’ And he points his finger in the direction of Madame and he says ‘Could you change your second name?’ Now that’s a little fierce.
G: Mick still hasn’t spoken to you since you left. Where does that come from?
A: Well, to me, it was more an indication that Keith is not fighting any more.
G: What could Mick still have against you?
A: Oh everything. He’ll blame me for Allen Klein, even though he must have re-signed the Klein deals thirty times. Then the other part, that I kind of understand, is that he’s got to get up in the morning and be Mick Jagger, you don’t need any reminder of what might have helped you become that. It’s got to be all you. You and I we don’t live that kind of life. But if that’s the life…well, he’s a Leo, and my youngest son is a Leo, and there are marked things that you and I and other non-Leo’s might find slightly lonely. They don’t at all. They’re quite driven that way.
G: I’ve got a little Leo in the house.
A: Well, you watch it. So tell me, you said you were raised Catholic, I had reason the other day to say to my wife, ‘You know you were very lucky that you were raised a Catholic. That it was drummed into you from day one. Even if at a certain time of your life it didn’t appear that way.’ I mean, do you have faith? Have you lost faith?
G: Oh, I think I don’t need faith. Like Peter Tosh said to me ‘Rasta don’t believe, rasta know.’ That’s my viewpoint
A: Exactly. And that was my point. The faith that my wife has is that she knows. I don’t. Mind you, this is because I came up in the English school system, where anything they tried to teach me, I rejected.
G: Well, I think you’ve done many postgraduate degrees in what we call the school of hard knocks. So you know a lot. Nobody knows everything.
A: Oh, what a shame! My idea of conservatism is not just having manners but mainly not leaving luggage behind after you’ve gone. My old partner, Eric Easton, who you know of, right? His son was threatening to sue me when the book came out. And I said to him, ‘I liked your mother, your father was a twat, and the biggest twat he was for leaving his son to clean up his dirty laundry after him. You’ve taught me a lesson.’ And that was it, he didn’t bother with it anymore.
G: So to give this some symmetry what are you wearing?
A: Oh, what am I wearing? Well I’m wearing a pair of Mephisto walking shoes. They are for the most part very ugly but they are so comfortable. You know that English director Michael Winter? I ran into him, like 20 years ago, in the Beverly Hills Hotel. He was on his way to have dinner with O.J. Simpson who appeared in one of his films. And Michael was absolutely immaculate, Brioni and things like that, and I looked down at his shoes then and I said ‘No!’ But the feet get old and the feet still serve, you know? So I’m wearing Mephisto and working clothes from a lovely little shop in Vancouver called Iron Head, that makes kind of a cross between hockey shirts and jail shirts. They’re very comfortable.