In Retrospect: Entertainment Writer
People always ask me about many of the celebrities and other public figures I have written about over the decades— what were they like, where the stories were published and how I write books, that kind of thing. Many of the following stories were originally published in magazines and newsapers before the internet came to life. At last count, as a freelance entertainment writer, I literally have over 3,000 published pieces —all tear sheets in various portfolios.
I even managed to find a few really old stories online (from celebrity fan sites) when I was just starting out, learning my craft. I still cringe a bit when I read these because I am not that kind of writer anymore.
Many of these old magazines and newspapers were in black and white. Some magazines had a color cover and the features were a mix of black and white and color.
I also included some interviews from The Mac Wire (My entertainment site from 2009 to 2019) and a few other sources. This section is a work in progress. Hope you enjoy!
If you like what you see, please sign up to my newsletter at the left. Thanks!
Interview: Cyndi Lauper Adds Country Record to Her Multi-Faceted Career
The Mac Wire
May 6, 2016
By M.A. Cassata
Pop singer, songwriter and Broadway musical composer Cyndi Lauper added a little country twang to her signature Queens accent.
Her country and western covers album "Detour," which is out on Friday, brings another unexpected twist to a career that has included music, theater, television, movies, wrestling and activism. A musical chameleon, she's won two Grammys, an Emmy and a Tony , but despite all the success, she said she's not as savvy at the art of business.
"Much to the chagrin of my family, I have not been the greatest businesswoman," Lauper said during an interview in Nashville, Tennessee. "I was always art for art's sake. But you have to think of it like a business. It's art and commerce and somewhere in between you find the mix."
Her meandering path took her from Broadway where she wrote music for "Kinky Boots ," which won six Tony Awards, to Music City where the pink-haired 62-year- old singer recorded her latest album with guest vocals from Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris.
Together with producer Tony Brown, she worked with some of the city's best session musicians to craft a live sound that wasn't polished to perfection.
"I kept telling them, 'It has to be dirty.' Think sex," Lauper said. "So it was a country western theme, but there was always a stripper walking across the floor with a boa. Like a blues thing."
The songs are from different era of country music, as far back as the '40s, when country was heavily influenced by early rock n' roll and blues, or as Lauper said her record label head Seymour Stein put it, "before Elvis kicked the door down." She covers songs made famous by Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, George Jones, Dolly Parton and Marty Robbins.
To Lauper, the songs reminded her of being a kid in Queens watching cowboy shows on TV and listening to her aunt Gracie's transistor radio. The female stars of country music were like pop stars to a young Lauper.
"Loretta Lynn, you saw her on TV and you knew she wore a cowboy hat," Lauper said. "But she was a television star to us. As I got older, she sang 'The Pill' and I was like, 'Wow, she's a feminist, too.'"
Gill, who sang the duet "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly" with Lauper, said they gave a new twist to the classic originally sung by Lynn and Conway Twitty.
"It has this whole talking back and forth at the end of the record with the two of us and it sounds like her being from the Bronx and me being Joe Pesci," Gill said. "It's hysterical."
Early on in her career, she was in a rockabilly band, so it wasn't a stretch for her to include a song like "Funnel of Love," to which she added a few well-placed high pitched yips. But other songs proved a bit harder for the "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" singer to record.
"When I first did 'Walking After Midnight,' I sang it so darn low. I was like, 'I can't sing! What is wrong with me?'" she said. "But I realized that it had to be in my key. And don't go trying to reinvent the wheel."
She'll be performing the country songs, as well as her classic pop hits, on a tour that starts Monday at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
"And I have an idea of how I am going to put a little country in all of some of the songs I will be singing," Lauper said. "You know, why not? What the heck. You live once."
THE MAC WIRE EXCLUSIVE: ON THE "17 AGAIN" SET INTERVIEW WITH ZAC EFRON
Special for TMW
November 28, 2009
By Anne Raso and M.A. Cassata
In 17 Again, sexy Zac E. is really demonstrating comedic, dramatic and romantic acting chops all at the same time. For this film, Zac is teamed up with Hairspray sister-brother production team Jennifer Gigbot and Adam Shankman again. Zac plays the younger version Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry), who accidentally falls into the LA River and goes from being 38 to 17 (apparently the water has magical powers)!
After being placed back at age 17, Mike has completely different relationships with those around him and he realizes that he has not been a very good husband or father! Through the experiences that unfold, Mike realizes that he had the perfect life–he just has not realized it until this bizarre life-changing incident occurs.
We went on the set for the filming of a scene in Mike's house (in real life, a beautiful historic home in San Feliz, CA) and got to catch a comical bedroom scene being shot between Zac and co-star Michelle Tractenberg. The house was quite interesting—it was very Hollywood and featured loads of entertainment memorabilia on the walls and in fancy cases (especially in the living room).
Q: OK, let's get the basics first—who is your character in this movie and what is he like?
Zac: I play Mike O'Donnell. Mike is not thrilled with the way his life has turned out. In the beginning he had all these opportunities, so many ways he could take his life, but in one day during high school that's all stripped from him. So he wishes he could go back to that day in his life where everything came crashing down. He wants to go re-live that and maybe play it differently. The idea of being able to go back to high school with the knowledge that you have as a 37-year-old – that excited me from day one.
Q: What was the whole process of getting the role of Mike like?
Zac: I was in Toronto filming Hairspray, and the director, Adam (Shankman), approached me and said, "Hey, I've got this idea. It's a movie called 17 Again and it would be like Big but reversed. And you would play Tom Hanks." So after I made sense of that, it was "Sounds great!" I could just go off and play a kid anywhere. The idea that drew me to this role was that it's a different thing playing a 37-year-old-guy. That's an area I have no experience in. I've had a first kiss, I've had awkward dates, and I've had fights with my parents – all that kid drama. But one thing I have not done is gotten in a fight with my daughter, you know? So having nothing to go on for a lot of things was scary. That was really exciting to me.
Q: What has it been like working with Jennifer (Gigbot, director) and Adam Shankman again? Who is more fun? I have interviewed Adam in the past and he is such an outgoing bubbly sort of guy.
Zac: I do not have a preference for either but am quite lucky to have worked with these great people! I got to work with them on both a musical and romantic comedy, This is the most unique project I have ever worked on! They are calling it Child Of Hairspray!
Q: What it is it like working with Matthew Perry and having to mimic his mannerisms for the role and Zac of Mike?
Zac: Once you meet him, you get his mannerisms and sense of humor down in 10 seconds–his sense of humor is very dark and very dry...he is very sarcastic!
Q: You seem like someone really happy with the fan pages that are up on you on the net as opposed to being angry with some of the stuff written about you.
Zac: Well, I honestly have to say I have been lucky and that my fans are the best. I have people who write for me for one of my fan websites right now because they were with me even before I did High School Musical! I have to say that every actor has to take into account the people who got them here in the first place. One person who does a site on me actually goes back to my very first role on the Disney Channel in a not so popular show and I was so flattered they noticed me! They were someone who worked in a pizza place and I kept in touch with them and ordered pizzas as a joke, even though I was hundreds of miles away!
Q: And what is it like working with Michelle? I think she is a great actress and should be even more famous than she is!
Zac: (Laughs.) Well, she is great but she has issues with me. She was constantly mentioning she knew I broke into her Nutella supply and was sticking my fingers in it instead of using a spoon! Ok, so I admit I dip my fingers in her jar but I think germs can't live in chocolate for more than a few hours. (Laughs again.)
Q: I find it fascinating you are doing a movie about Orson Welles in England next—that is really quite a departure for you!
Zac: Yeah, it's set in the 1930s—it is about Orson Welles adaptation of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theater in the mid 1930s...so it is a film the teen mags will really be into. (Laughs.) My character kind of stumbles into Orson Welles when he is opening the Mercury Theater and kind of falls into his theater troupe. He kind of starts to learn about life and love...it is a coming of age story. I co-star with Christian McKay who plays Orson Welles but I think I am not supposed to say who else (is in the cast) right now.
Q: Do you dance in 17 Again?
Zac: Yeah—it is not really busting a move, though, so to speak —I kind of bust an "old man move"! (Laughs.)
Q: What was your best ever outdoor date?
Zac: I grew up on the coast so I would say that a lot of best dates occurred on the beach.
Q: You recently did your first stylized high-end-fashion photo shoot with a big men's magazine that was really cool. You look so great in it and I like the cool "trashed hotel room" look in the background. Did they let you pick wardrobe for this movie?
Zac: Well, it was like, "Here are five shirts—pick one!"
Q: How do you find time for a personal life with all this movie stuff going on?
Zac: You have very little time for a private life but you learn to cherish the time you do have. And you get an unlimited texting package from your cell phone company! (Laughs.)
Alice Cooper Goldmine Interview
Like Elton John, I covered a lot on Alice Cooper. Goldmine, The Music Paper, Faces Rocks and more.
The Love of Collecting Celebrity Dolls
Originally published in Music and Collecting Magazine
By M.A. Cassata
Since the late 1960s there were many dolls, action figures and puppets produced in the image of various music personalities. Some of today's hard to find and rare dolls/toys include The Monkees Finger Puppets (Remco, 1970) and The Beatles bobbing head noddler dolls (mid-to-late '60s). An original mint in package set of The Beatles dolls, which were made of hard plastic and stood only four inches high, were intended to be birthday cake toppers. If you can find them today, they range from $300 to $400 a set. Other official Beatles-like dolls were plastic 8-inch figures from Remco (1964) and inflatable cartoon dolls (circa 1964-65). The Remco dolls were packaged individually and if found mint in box can fetch between $500 to $600 a set! The cartoon Beatles inflatable doll set will run a little less.
In recent years, contemporary Beatles action figurines (though not actually dolls) issued by McFarland commemorated the Yellow Submarine film, and the Sergeant Pepper album.
An original set of The Monkees finger puppets that are five inches high will cost between $150-$200 mint in box. Though, at one point these earlier vintage dolls mentioned and others were originally intended for children to play with until recently where these items are mainly produced for the adult collector. Some of these dolls (vinyl, plastic and porcelain) did not sell well in large quantities at the time they were originally available on the market. However, as nostalgia grows stronger, some of these highly sought after dolls can be among the most expensive and desirable of items. Especially if you happen to big fan of the individual music artist or just a collector of pop and rock memorabilia in general. The temptation to own a doll is present and this is a good time to start collecting.
At the moment, there seems to be an abundance of pop/rock star dolls on the market. Stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and some lesser known teen Brit pop stars Five and S-Club 7 were produced in large quantities, but none as plentiful as various versions of the Spice Girls dolls. Many of these dolls are still available in major toy stores today, even if some have been elegated to bargain bins.
Oh, the price of fame! If you are looking for older and harder to find, but not impossible dolls from the '70s or '80s like Donny and Marie, Sonny & Cher, Diana Ross, Boy George or Michael Jackson, eBay is your best bet as well as checking out memorabilia shows or larger doll shops in your area.
So, who hasn't been a little star struck at times over their favorite music star or waited in long line for an autograph? Many pop and rock stars seem bigger than life to us because we love their music, the songs they sing and more importantly, what they may represent to us on a personal level.
So, if you admire popular music artists and want to preserve them from past and present, owning dolls of some of these very special namesakes is a perfect way to compliment your collection.
Go ahead, you know you've loved Elton John's songs since the '70s and you are ready to take it one step further—honor him in your own way with his namesake doll. You'll most likely find it on eBay for under $150.00. If you were a fan of Abba in the '70s, you may not know there is a very rare and collectible set of dolls (Matchbox, 1978) that featured Frida, Benny, Anna and Bjorn dressed in classic stage clothes.
Collecting music celebrity dolls can be both fun and profitable. You don't have to be a serious doll collector to enjoy the rewards either.
If you are into collecting the more popular vintage music dolls, then there's Cher, Diana Ross, Captain and Tennelle, Kiss (Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley), and Donny and Marie— all from the mid-70s and made by the Mego Toy Company. In recent years, Mattel has offered a number of music celebrity dolls including, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and (a new) Cher. The music legends outfits and appearances too are recreated right down to the last detail. You won't be disappointed.
Considering the hundreds of celebrity dolls out on the market today and a large portion focusing on famed musicians and singers, there's plenty to collect. Nearly every doll company these days is making celebrity-oriented dolls (whether licensed or made to resemble the given artist or not), but music star dolls seem to be on the rise since the 1990s with New Kids On the Block, Britney Spears, 'NSync, Leann Rimes, Elton John and others.
So, why do we like collecting these dolls? For starters, people collect celebrity dolls for a variety of reasons— some are drawn to the dolls because they admire the celebrity that particular doll portrays. For instance, the more serious Presley, Sinatra or even Kiss fans will want to add the dolls to their collection (although they do not collect any other kind of doll).
Then there are some doll collectors that specialize in the different versions (early and later versions of artists' careers) of the Presley or Sinatra doll throughout the years. Other collectors of music celebrity dolls are simply not doll collectors at all, but collectors of pop and rock memorabilia, which includes musical groups— and the singing celebrity dolls, made of them.
Finally, then there are doll collectors that merely like the look of a doll, and want to obtain it, although they are not particularly motivated by the celebrity that the doll depicts.
Collecting celebrity dolls today is more popular today than it was over a decade ago because nearly all doll companies have created a celebrity doll or two. More so with music celebrity dolls. In fact, most of the dolls that are made today represent better resemblance of the person they are modeled after.
Perhaps there are better grade doll sculptors in the last few years than there were three decades ago. For example, there were three issues of a popular Dolly Parton doll made by the Goldberger Company. The first version in 1978 had a pale complexion and face in most Parton fans opinion did not resemble the country singer at all. The second issue later came with a pinker toned skin and smaller head, wider hips, wearing the same original red and silver jumpsuit— but still lacked a clear resemblance to Parton. However, it wasn't until the company's third issue in 1990— a thinner version emerged in a black outfit that fans praised for its truer to life likeness.
When you are searching for that must-have music celebrity doll, keep in mind that not all are authentic (or licensed) and may only bear a resemblance. Prices will vary too depending on the popularity of the music star intended. Of course the more legendary music artists like Elton John and Cher (new Mattel version, not Mego) are more valuable opposed to the Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears or Aaron Carter dolls.
Another factor in to determine the value of a certain doll is the number of dolls that were originally produced. For instance, if the manufacturer made a limited number, the doll's value would be much higher. As most doll collectors know, there is no other category of more difficult to accurately price than dolls— and music celebrity dolls are no exception. The prices listed below are intended to be a guide best used not to value the dolls at set prices.
As music celebrity doll collecting continues to gain momentum with each new doll that hits the market. Not only do these dolls inspire, but are a delightful reawakening of a more carefree and innocent time in our lives. For many collectors, these sentimental namesake dolls will always hold a special place in our hearts— whirlwind of musical memories and all.
Some of Today's Most Highly Collectible Music Celebrity Dolls and Price Guide (in alphabetical order by first name)
Christina Aguilera (Yaboom, 2000), 12" MIB $40.00 Sonny Bono, (Mego 1976), 12 1⁄2". MIB $150.00 Brandy (Mattel, 1999), 11 1⁄2". MIB 25.00
Brandy (Mattel, 2000), 11 1⁄2". MIB $20.00
Captain of Captain and Tennille, Daryl Dragon (Mego, 1977), 12 1⁄2". MIB $125.00
Captain of Captain and Tennille, Toni Tennille (Mego, 1977), 12 1⁄2". MIB $125.00 Aaron Carter, (Play Along, 2001), 12". MIB $19.00
Cher, (Mego, 1976), 12 1/2" . MIB $125.00
Cher, Growing Hair (Mego, 1976), 12 1⁄2". MIB $125.00
Boy George, (L.J. N., 1984), 12". MIB $150.00
Andy Gibb, (Ideal, 1979), 7 1⁄2". $30.00
Vanilla Ice, Robert Van Winkle, (T-HQ, 1991), 12". MIB $50.00
Michael Jackson, (L.J. N., 1984), 12". MIB $75.00
Elton John (Yaboom, 2000), 12". MIB $95.00
Kiss, Gene Simmons (Mego, 1978), 12 1⁄2". MIB $350.00
Kiss, Paul Stanley (Mego, 1978), 12 1⁄2". MIB $350.00
Kiss, Ace Frehley (Mego, 1978), 12 1/2". MIB $350.00
Kiss, Peter Criss (Mego, 1978), 12 1⁄2". MIB $350.00
New Kids On the Block, Jordan Knight, (Hasbro, 1990), 12". MIB $50.00
New Kids On the Block, Danny Wood, (Hasbro, 1990), 12". MIB $50.00
New Kids On the Block, Donnie Wahlberg, (Hasbro, 1990), 12". MIB $50.00 New Kids On the Block, Joey McIntyre, (Hasbro, 1990), 12". MIB $50.00 'NSync, Chris Kirkpatrick, marionette, (All Entertainment, 2000), 6 1⁄2". $15.00 'NSync, Chris Kirkpatrick, marionette, (Living Toyz, 2000), 11 1/2". $25.00
'NSync, JC Chasez, marionette, (All Entertainment, 200), 6 1⁄2". $15.00 'NSync, JC Chasez, marionette, (Living Toyz, 2000), 11 1⁄2". $25.00 'NSync, Joey Fantone, marionette, (All Entertainment, 2000), 6 1⁄2". $15.00 'NSync, Joey Fantone, marionette, (Living Toyz, 2000), 11 1⁄2". $25.00
'N Sync, Lance Bass, marionette, (All Entertainment, 2000), 6 1⁄2'. $15.00
'N Sync, Lance Bass, marionette, (Living Toyz, 2000), 11 1⁄2". $25.00
'NSync, Justin Timberlake, marionette, (All Entertainment, 2000), 6 1⁄2". $15.00 'NSync, Justin Timberlake, marionette, (Living Toyz, 2000), 11 1⁄2". $25.00 Donny Osmond, (Mattel, 1976), 12/ 1⁄2". MIB $85.00
Jimmy Osmond (Mattel, 1976), 10". MIB $85.00 Marie Osmond, (Mattel, 1976), 12/ 1⁄2". MIB $85.00
Dolly Parton, (Goldberger, 1978), 11 1⁄2". $50.00
Dolly Parton second issue (Goldberger, 1980), 11 1⁄2" $50.00 Dolly Parton third issue (Goldberger, 1984), 11 1⁄2" .$50.00
Elvis Presley, Teen Idol version (Hasbro, 1993). 12". MIB $50.00 Elvis Presley, (World Doll, 1984). 18 1⁄2". MIB $150.00
Leann Rimes, (Exclusive Premiere, 1998), 9". MIB $30.00
Diana Ross, (Mego, 1977), 12 1⁄2". MIB $150.00
Selena, (Arm Enterprise, 1996), 11 1⁄2". MIB $85.00
Britney Spears (Yaboom, 1999), 12". MIB $20.00
Britney Spears (Play Along, 1999), 12". MIB $20.00
Spice Girls, Emma Bunton as "Baby Spice", (Galoob, 1997). 11 1⁄2". MIB $40.00
Spice Girls, Geri Halliwell as "Ginger Spice", (Galoob, 1997). 11 1⁄2". MIB $40.00
Spice Girls, Victoria Adams as "Posh Spice", (Galoob, 1997). 11 1/2Ó. MIB $40.00
Spice Girls, Melanie Brown as "Scary Spice", (Galoob, 1997). 11 1⁄2". MIB $40.00
Spice Girls, Melanie Chisholm as "Sporty Spice", (Galoob, 1997). 11 1⁄2". MIB $40.00
Randy Travis (Exclusive Premiere, 1998), 9". MIB $30.00
I, Xena—Lucy Lawless Speaks
Starlog's Legendary Heroes
By Mary Anne Cassata
Newsweek called Lucy Lawless "a formidable natural resource," and while the National Park Service might not agree, her legion of worldwide followers certainly would. "It seems that the world is ready to accept a strong female character," explains Lawless as Xena: Warrior Princess enters a new season of adventure. "I'm pleased with that. It's the first time there has been a female action hero with any level of complexity in quite a while. That's the appeal, perhaps. People were just ready for it. And it's campy, it's fun and it has cool effects.
"I hope our audience sees the humor on the show," notes this lovely, dark-haired, New Zealand-based actress with blue eyes and sweet Auckland accent. "There's a lot of satire and irony on Xena. Everything about the show is sexy, too. Xena can be a lot of fun when she wants to be. It's a way of taking people out of the humdrum."
Hercules and Xena fan conventions are popping up all over the U.S., and there are numerous websites and fan clubs devoted to both shows, not to mention comic books, trading cards, an official magazine, paperback novels, action figures, etc. Unquestionably, this Warrior Princess has struck a deep chord with audiences, particularly women.
What does Lawless think about being an influential role model to women of all ages? "In the beginning, it frightened me," she recalls. "I just wasn't ready for that kind of responsibility. But I guess it was meant to happen sooner or later. It was just a bit sooner than I had expected. Women also seem to be inspired by the great friendship Xena and Gabrielle have. When I first heard about the show making a statement about political feminism, I couldn't believe it. Here we were just a bunch of people trying to put on a TV show that we liked each week. I don t have a problem with feminism. I never expected such a positive response.
After some initial hesitation, Lucy Lawless has become accustomed to being a role model as Xena: Warrior Princess.
Now after a few years of slaying mythical creatures, evil gods and bad guys, Lawless says she has a handle on the role-model thing. "I don't find it a burden, really," she offers. "I mean if people are genuinely helped by watching the show, or if some women feel the urge to chase their dreams, then I say, 'So be it.' Xena is a positive thing, and that's all that matters."
This "positive thing" has exploded to phenomenal heights. Xena: Warrior Princess, along with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, recently sprang to life as a multimillion-dollar interactive "live" attraction at Florida's Universal Studios. Wizards of the Screen utilizes state-of-the-art FX and stunt performers to give studio patrons the chance to fight alongside Xena and Hercules.
Lawless is excited that her larger-than life character has been thus immortalized. "Our viewers who love the world of fantasy and adventure can now live it with this attraction," she says "Xena is a big hit. It happened in a way I never thought it would. I feel honored to be admired by so many people. Now with the attraction, people can really be involved with the show."
Lawless, who stands nearly six feet tall, was born in Auckland, New Zealand to Frank Banker and Julie Ryan. Growing up with five brothers and one sister gave her ample training to survive the hard knocks of show business. "Coming from a big family, I had to learn how to wheedle and manipulate to get what I wanted," Lawless says. "I had to learn how to keep coming back from the knocks and falls. Actually, I was a bit of a tomboy. In fact, my mom told me I didn't know I was a girl until I was eight years old." Interestingly, none of her other relatives ever pursued acting. "There hasn't been a performer in my family since my great-grandmother. They're all politicians and lawyers, but I was just born with this knowledge of what I wanted to do."
Being part of a large, competitive family, though, was perhaps the best preparation one could have to become a performer. "As an actress, you have to face rejection all the time," she notes. "Facing rejection made me a real fighter. There were many times I lost out in auditions. But I didn't give up."
Being a fighter was just the beginning. In her teen years, Lawless learned how to sing (a talent demonstrated on Hercules & Xena: The Battle for Olympus animated video as well as in a planned Broadway stint as Grease's Rizzo). She attended Auckland University, learning how to speak and write in several different languages, including French and Italian. Following a year of college life, Lawless decided it was time to take to the roadwandering gypsy-style. She managed to find odd jobs traveling across Europe, including picking grapes in the vineyards of Germany's Rhine River. Later, she moved to the Australian Outback with her high school sweetheart Garth Lawless, and got married. Australia, in fact, was where her daughter, Daisy, now eight, was born. But road fever hit again and this time the couple moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Lawless studied acting while her husband managed a local bar.
However, it wasn't long before the gypsy spirit in her beckoned the aspiring actress to move back to her homeland in New Zealand, where acting opportunities seemed to be on the rise. Lawless soon appeared in the sitcom Funny Business. Later, she did a stint as host of a popular travel show Air New Zealand, which paved the way for Xena.
Lawless was asked to audition for Hercules and that guest star role led to the international stardom she experiences today. But just what did Hercules' producers see in Lawless? "At the time, I think the producers were looking for a new face," she says. "I suppose I was the rough diamond they were looking for."
Her childhood experiences and early wanderlust years were all the training that Lawless needed to play Xenabut times change. The best part of portraying the character now, Lawless related, is that she is only 20 minutes away from work; and as a mother of a young child, that gives her plenty of comfort. "It's marvelous! It's unbelievable! My daughter goes to school, so it's nice not to have any interruption to her day, And my parents still live in Mt. Albert." During the week, Daisy lives with her fatherbut she spends the weekends with Lawless, who doesn't take motherhood lightly.
"Being a mother and actress are equally important to me. I'm happy living in New Zealand. I can do both things without having to choose one over the other. I'm very lucky." And does Daisy appreciate, or even recognize, that her mother is the greatest female action hero of the decade? "She does. But she comes on the set a lot, and she's not terribly drawn to all the acting stuff. She absolutely loves my costume. Because few people in New Zealand know about Xena, it's not a phenomenon&sht;it's just something that mummy goes to work in town for, and then comes home from."
"Xena can be a lot of fun when she wants to be," Lawless allows. Pausing reflectively, Lawless adds, "Never did l think I would someday become a female superhero. Never did I think this would happen. I always thought I would be this Shakespearean kind of actress. I want to be a fine actress someday. I can't imagine doing anything else with my life but acting. Acting was always the most important thing to me. I have such a passion for it." It's that same passion that gets her through the strenuous 14 to 16 hour work days, six days a weeknot to mention having to wear those mercilessly constraining corsets and breastplates and the teeny fringed leather skirts she flaunts on the show. "It's a hellish costume to wear," she says. "It's very heavy and constricting. I wish it was made of caftan. But you really can't high-kick someone in caftan."
But high-kicking isn't all Xena does. This legendary heroine is tough, and Lawless comments on the difficult physical requirements for the role, particularly how it meshes with the development of the Xena persona. "I'm still struggling with the balance between the growth of my character and the physicality of the part. As far as characterization and acting goes, that's evolving all the time. I get better and more comfortable with the role. But the physicality of itwhoa! I've exercised all my life, but this is just something else! I've got to train after work, just to keep up. I've had to excise certain portions of my life, like a social life. It is gone. There is only time for work and training and my family and there is nothing else."
Lawless is delighted with the character she plays, even though the intense and somber Xena seems to be misunderstood by some of her newer viewers. "Xena is a loner but she's really funny, too," Lawless relates. "She has changed immeasurably. When I watched some of the old episodes with the crew, we were just shocked to see how this supposedly or assumedly liberal character made such a turn around. She has come a long way. The character has evolved. As the writers become more familiar with me, with Xena, it just seems to happen. It's just this big organic thing that grows on, and grows in some new place. There are a few specific things that we're heading toward, but I can't tell you what they are. Her relationship with Gabrielle has changed. We're now mates, friends I mean mates in the usual sense of the word!" she laughs. "They're better friends and Gabrielle is not such a hindrance.
"Xena has more of a sense of humor now. There's a duality about her. She's an assertive woman and yet honorable at the same time, though there are times when it may not always be in Xena's nature to act honorably. Xena's on a mission to find some sense of peace. She has a well-honed kind of mechanism."
It's amazing, with all the hype in America, that so little is heard elsewhere particularly in New Zealand. "If it's a huge hit," the actress says, "we almost aren't aware of it. We hear from the producers that it's doing really well but you can't really know in New Zealand, because you don't get any immediate feedback from the people here. But we're thrilled it's a hit. We're not too surprised, because we worked hard. We're all very proud of what we've made."
"Nobody ever hears about it [in New Zealand] because we don't do any publicity. I can walk down the street in my costume and people just think I'm an idiot. So I tell them I'm a dancer."
With both series successful, are there any plans for Xena and Hercules to tangle once again? "I don't know. We are under the gun to finish, and shooting wildly. There is almost no time when Hercules and Xena overlap, and when Kevin Sorbo goes on hiatus, he really needs it, as I've learned from my own show. You really need your holiday; you don't need to go do something else on somebody else's show. But we would love to have him."
And though Xena isn't going anywhere soon, Lucy Lawless does admit she has other aspirations for her career. " I don't want to be 50 and walking around in my leather skirt, saying, 'Hey, remember me?'" she notes. "I would like to go out on a high. So, we'll just go until it feels right. We don't want to disappoint people.
"I would like to start [other projects], she says, "but I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it, because I don't know how I'm going to feel after 23 more episodes. I'm looking at a couple of [movie] scripts, but nothing that has excited me enough. I could not be working any more than I am at the moment, so when would I have time to do another damn thing? Here, I'm surrounded by fantastic people, really creative people. I love the Xena experience."
Interview: 15th Anniversary Edition Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon By Robert Rosen
The Mac Wire, October 9, 2015
M.A. Cassata knows me from the mid-90s, when we worked for the same company, in Paramus, N.J. I was a "men's magazine" editor and she was a rock mag editor. She'd interviewed people like Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Patti Smith. Some of them considered Mary Anne their friend. So I showed her the Nowhere Man manuscript years before it was published. We've been friends ever since, and even ended up with the same agent, Jim Fitzgerald, who sold Nowhere Man after it had languished 18 years in unpublished limbo.
On the 15th anniversary of the book's publication, on John Lennon's 75th birthday, as I release the long-awaited ebook edition, I was happy to answer Mary Anne's questions. Some were rather challenging. —Robert Rosen
By M.A. Cassata
The obvious first—what took Nowhere Man so long to be published as an ebook? For years fans of the print version have been asking for an ebook.The publisher chose not to put it out as an ebook. For almost 10 years, Nowhere Man has been pirated to death. Now there's an ebook. At the least, people will finally have an alternative to the pirated editions.
For those who may not know the backstory of Nowhere Man or how the first edition, in 2000, first came to be published, can you briefly explain? Under extraordinary circumstances that I explain in the book, I was given access to John Lennon's diaries. I wrote a book about it, but nobody would publish it. The book kicked around, unpublished, for 18 years. Then, through a friend of a friend, I met an agent, Jim Fitzgerald, and he sold it to Soft Skull Press. As I describe it in the new intro, they were "a tiny independent operating out of a tenement basement on Manhattan's Lower East Side." But they were really good with PR and the book took off… amidst much turmoil.
What do you hope to achieve with the ebook version (since it is the most updated version)? Maybe a whole new generation of younger readers?
I'd warmly welcome a new generation reading Nowhere Man on their devices. The ebook edition has revelations that I couldn't put in the earlier editions, like John's programmed sex dream about Barbara Walters and his sexual relationship with his masseuse. I've got bonus chapters; I get into the conspiracy theories. I've corrected mistakes. And if you already bought the print edition on Amazon, you can download the ebook for 99 cents.
Lennon said in 1965 (with the Beatles fame and all) that he didn't want people to follow him or see him as a Christ-like figure.
When you were writing Nowhere Man, did you think Lennon might have had a new message to pass onto his flock of followers?
Yeah, though I doubt it was intentional: Fame will only exacerbate your problems. But it sure is better to be rich and have problems than to be poor. That was the thing about John. He loved money. But he knew it was bad to love money and he tried to transcend it in a spiritual way. That was one of John's great struggles: He had so much power and money, but he fought against the corruption. He wanted to be pure like Gandhi.
Even today the lure of Lennon still holds an incredible fascination and devotion for so many people. Why is that and how does Nowhere Man fit into that idea?
The story of Lennon and the Beatles is like a Bible story, with John as Jesus. They had that kind of power. Nowhere Man is The Book of John.
Do you think there is more to be written about Lennon that hasn't surfaced yet?
Yes, absolutely. There's more stuff in his diaries that hasn't come out, more details about his relationship with Paul that puts John's character into sharper focus.
How did you decide which five bonus chapters to include? Bonus Chapter 5 is pretty intense. It was a surprise to me.
Yes, Bonus Chapter 5: "An Open Letter to G. Barry Golson." He's a former editor of Playboy. He did all he could to suppress the story I told in Nowhere Man. It's my response to what he did.Bonus Chapter 1 is the paperback version of "John Lennon's Diaries," which includes excerpts from my diaries that I didn't have when I wrote that chapter for the Soft Skull edition. I started the ebook with the Soft Skull version because it's more immediate, and I wanted to recapture the feeling of that time.
Bonus Chapter 2 is "Aftermath," from the paperback edition. It's an update on various people in the book.
Bonus Chapters 3 and 4, "The Unfinished Life of John Lennon" and "A Question of Conspiracy," are the original English versions of stories I wrote for Proceso, a Mexico City newsweekly.
Where can readers download the book other than Amazon?
Right now the Nowhere Man ebook edition is exclusive on Amazon. You can download it here:
As I said: It's 99 cents for anybody who's bought the print edition on Amazon.
It will be everywhere else early in 2016.
And you can learn more about John Lennon on my John Lennon page:
Elton John Interview: The Balance Brings Happiness (TMP 1988)
Having written so much on Elton John, and in light of his Rocktman movie, here is the short version of a very lengthy interview I did that was published in The Music Paper (November 1988). I also used some of this material in The Elton John Scrapook I was writing in 2001. Always a pleasure to talk to Elton. He always made me feel special.
Elton John: The Balance Brings Happiness (1988)
By Mary Anne Cassata
The name Elton John conjures up different images for different people — just as listening to his songs From "Your Song" to "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" to "Im Still Standing"means something different to each of us. These days, however, these days Elton John has traded his most identifiable look, his glittery stage wear for a more conventional toned down style.
As the title of his latest album, Reg Srikes Back (MCA Records), implies, Elton John and Reginald Dwight are struggling for balance.
"Reg is stuck with Elton and Elton is stuck with Reg," muses the 42-year-old musician. "Reg is making a comeback. I hated that name for years. It sounds like a cement mixer or something. It's so horrible—Reginald Dwight. But I am kind of settled with it now. Reg is starting to creep in on Elton."
Elton certainly knows how to craft a flawless pop tune. While he admits the future is always uncertain, he is certain about the direction he wants to move forward in. What's more encouraging is the fact that following a very tough year, he's feeling happy and confident about his music, himself and life in general.
There are a lot of artists in your genre like David Bowie, or Robert Plant who have reached a point in their lives where change is absolutely necessary. Their music has to progress. How has your music been affected?
It's a natural metamorphosis, really. You can't be young forever and you can't do the things you did 20 years ago without looking slightly ridiculous. I mean, I've looked slightly ridiculous for 18 years wearing the kind of costumes I did. I enjoyed doing that, it was part of my thing. I wasn't the thin rock singer that stood up at the micophone. I was the cuddly person at the piano who was tongue-in-cheek really. But you get to a point you know you've got to change and go on.
It seems like you had been ready for this kind if change for a while now.
It's been a conscious decision made over two or three years that the last tour was going to be the last time I was going to wear these costumes. I don't want to do that anymore, although I enjoyed every minute of doing it apart from a couple of instances on the last tour where I felt ridiculous. But like I said, it's a natural thng, getting older. It's so hard. You can't cling on to that youthfulness anymore,although I enjoyed every minute of doing it.—apart from a couple of instances on the last tour where I felt ridiculous. It's a natural thing getting older. It's hard. You can't cling to that youthfilness anymore.
It isn't aways easy to let go in this business.
It's a very big danger if you are in this business. It's easier for me to sit at the paino the way I am, but for Mick Jagger or David Bowie, it's a real hard thing. What do you do?You want to dance and you want to look good, but the face changes and your attitude changes. It's a hard thing for an artist who has the longevity to stay for 20 years in the business. But if you got that longevity, you are clever enough to work out what you should do. I just wanted to change the whole glittery glasses type of image. I wanted to divorce myself from that.
What was your main reason?
I thought it was impriosning me. I felt suffocated by it in the end. People were saying, "Oh, Elton, you're an instution now.And I though, 'Oh God, no. Am I really? Because it limits you.It comes to a point where you have to take that gamble and throw it out the window. I think you really have to be ruthless.
An Interview With Eric Burdon and The Animals (FFanzeen 1984)
This is one of two major cover features I did on The Animals back in 1984. This rather extensive interview with Eric Burdon appeared in both FFanzeen and Blitz Magazine. This one features not just Eric Burdon, but Hilton Valentine, bassist Chas Chandler and drummer John Steel. My good friend and FFanzeen publisher Robert Barry Francos accompanied me to the New York Beacon Theater. Our interview took place backstage in Eric's dressing room after the show.
The Animals: It's Their Lives! (1984)
(Text by Mary Anne Cassata, Robert Barry Francos)
© FFanzeen, 1984
Images from the Internet
The '60s music is returning and the Animals are a vital part of it. As with most reunions, hopeful rock bands often fall short, somewhere between a disappointment and disaster. Either the spirit force isn't present or yesterday's music doesn't quite mesh with today's modern rock sounds.
This, however, is not true for the brawling British blues rock band from Newcastle, England. There's no denying the Animals had its share of personality conflicts. This inevitably let to the band's demise in the mid-'60s, but the music never suffered as a result. The original Animals, co-founded by Eric Burdon and Alan Price, formed in 1962, and continued to perform till 1965.
For the first time in over 18 years, all of the original Animals are back together, performing for sold-out houses across the country and Europe. To band members Hilton Valentine (guitar), John Steel (drums), Bryan (Chas) Chandler (bass), Alan Price (keyboards) and the incomparable Eric Burdon (vocals), the reunion tour seemed like they never left the road almost three decades ago. "People everywhere just seem to love us. They go away happy," beams John Steel. "It has been great for us. Couldn't be better."
In the early '60s, clean-cut ambitious young rock bands like the Dave Clark 5 were singing songs about being glad all over, and Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits professed his affections for Mrs. Brown's lovely daughter. Meanwhile, the Animals directed their harsh lyrical statements to working class people and adopted the bad boy image, like fellow Britishers the Rolling Stones and Them.
The Animal's musical, stance was an expression of individualism and personal liberation. The intent of classic songs, "It's My Life," "House of the Rising Sun," and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" remain as affluent today as it did to the '60's generation. These hits were successive, and within a brief two years, the Animals completed three sold out tours. Being successful had allowed them to live out some very real rock'n'roll fantasies, but what actually turned out resulted in more than what they had bargained for.
In a business that's for profit, sometimes artists unknowingly get caught up in dishonest management direction. Needless to say, the Animals were a prime target and never saw any royalties from the early recordings. "Managers are supposed to look after the money and make sure things go properly," says Valentine with a disgruntled sigh. "Our manager was pretty terrible. We were making all these records and going on tour, and all the while he was supposed to take care of things. But after the tour you find out it didn't work out that way; he didn't take care of business at all.
"We all searched, trying to get our money, and found out possession is nine-tenths of the law. We were told, 'This is not attainable now.' All you get are doors slammed in your face. All kinds of things happened. One manager we had to fire, and the other one was a pretty terrible manager."
There doesn't seem to be much concern at this time, since the Animals are a lot more careful with their business affairs. For devoted fans, it is really exciting to have the group back together and it would be disheartening to think the band could be the victims of a ruthless manager again. Earlier in the tour, it was reported they had to fire their road manager because he wasn't getting the job done sufficiently.
The Animals' new studio album,Ark, is an intense offering which, on its own, has received enthusiastic response. Burdon's powerful, scorchy vocals are his best ever. It comes as no surprise that the Animals' influence on American rock'n'roll has been plentiful. Popular rock artists Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and many others have included Animals classics in their live performances. New York's own David Johansen remains the most prevalent, as last year he scored a national hit with the melody of popular Animal songs, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place / Don't Bring Me Down / It's My Life." When first issued as a singe, it proved to be Johansen's largest selling record in years. Recently, he released another Animal's classic, "House of the Rising Sun," which is only available as an import from England.
Much of the material on the new album was written by Burdon and several of his songwriting friends from the West Coast, where he presently resides. Alan Price, who originally left the band in '65 after a rift with Burdon, contributes a song to the long awaited effort. Since the original demise of the group, Price has been the most successful of the five band members with this own group, the Alan Price Set. He scored big with solo albums and British television appearances. In 1973, he acted in, wrote and performed the score for Lindsay Anderson's film, O! Lucky Man! In 1974, he reached the British top-ten with "Jarrow Song." More recently, Price performed in a musical production of Andy Capp on the British stage.
Chas Chandler was credited for the discovery of Jimi Hendrix, and managed the artist's career from 1966 until his death in 1969. Later, Chandler managed the English rock band Slade for nearly a dozen years. He also ran IBC Studios and started Barn Records until 1982, when he sold his music business interests. He was also working on a book about his life as a member of the Animals, but put the project aside to fill in some more chapters in real life with their reunion.[Unless someone can tell me otherwise, as far as I know this book was never published – RBF, 2010]
Hilton Valentine remained perhaps less interested in a music career after the breakup. He lived in Los Angeles for a brief spell before returning to Newcastle for the first reunion of the band, in 1977. [I happily met Hilton when he made a guest appearance in June 2002, playing with garage rocker Michael Lynch at Under Acme in New York City – RBF, 2010] John Steel also dropped out of sight for a while and worked in a factory making parts for refrigerators. On weekends, he doubled as a guitarist playing with local British bands in tiny smoke-filled pubs. "I was quite happy actually," he states. "I wasn't starstruck." Steel, for a shot while, also joined forces with Chandler in the management of Slade.
Eric Burdon, meanwhile, proved to be no slouch either. He continued to lead new versions of the Animals, one of which included ace Police guitarist Andy Summers. A couple of hits ensued, such as "San Franciscan Nights" and "Sky Pilot," before the line-up disbanded. He traveled around the U.S. studying the blues from such artists as Johnny Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williams. Then the funk r&b group War formed, and gave Burdon his last popular song, "Spill the Wine" in 1971. Later, in the mid-'70s, he tried his hand as an aspiring actor in the film The Eleventh Victim (1979), and the play Comeback, in Hollywood and Berlin in 1982, but that too proved short-lived.
When news of the reunion of the Animals began to surface, John Steel was at first skeptical. "I got this call last January from a guy named Ron Weinberg, who said he wanted to the get the Animals back together. He wanted us to make a record, too. I said, 'You got to be kidding!' He said he spoke to Eric, Chas and Alan, and they all gave their approval," he continued with a slight smile. "I figured, if he could get those three together, it was a lot, so I said, 'Keep talking…'"
That's what Weinberg did, and the more John pondered the idea, the more convinced he became that the reunion could have its possibilities. At first sight of one another, all were wary of the outcome. "Since everyone else wanted to do it," Steel continued, "I thought maybe it would be fun. The first thing we did was get into a studio and work on the new songs to see if it could be realistic. I think, without a spoken word, we all really wanted to try it out," he related. "We went back to the old hits and all: I think that is what a foundation is all about."
Steel was also quick to point out that the reunion "isn't another nostalgia trip," and that he hopes the new material will reach a wider audience. "We wanted to give something we could be proud of," he said with enthusiasm. "We know we have to do our old material, because that's what people want to hear. I think that is one of the things that really worked out well. Our oldies have been on the radio for over 18 years now; we're surprised a portion of our audience is younger kids."
Life on the road is better than expected, despite the fact some of the animosity, which lead to their original break-up 18 years ago, still lingers. "Our personalities are quite strong," confirms Valentine. "When this happens, there are bound to be clashes. It's very difficult to put together different personalities that are strong. We all see different ways to doing things. One person sees it this way best and the other one doesn't."
At this point, the Animals are secure that the tour will be completed, but have no plans for a permanent situation. "Somehow we seem to be in sections. We started with a world tour that was supposed to bring us up to November. It's past that now," explains Steel. "We are now doing another section of shows in Europe and plan to record a live album soon [due out in April 1984 – Ed., 1984] [Recorded live in Wembley Arena, London, England on December 31, 1983; released in 1984 – RBF, 2010] . I think when we finish this tour we have to all sit down and think, 'Can we go on and do another tour?'"
Although the band wants to record another studio album soon, they really don't want to be pressured into promoting it. "It's hard to say. We don't know what's going to happen. We might end up going for each other's throats and it could suddenly end bloody," laughs John in mock seriousness. "We all seem to have this friction; we always have and probably will, too." This tension of personality conflict certainly gives their music its rough and gritty edge.
In 1976, the original line-up reunited the first time in their hometown of Newcastle, to record the album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted. Although the effort received remarkable praise from music critics, it ended up as a commercial disappointment.
Since the success of the reunion has been so overwhelming, Hilton Valentine is more than somewhat surprised that people have been so supportive. "People always come up to me and say, 'Can I have your autograph?'," he beamed. "They say it's for their mother or something. Then there are the mothers who come up and say it's for their daughters. It's really nice."
At first mention of the group getting back together, Hilton seemed anxious and yet very cautious. "I got very excited, but wanted to be consulted more before I made my decision," he recalled. "Johnny (Steel) and I were in Newcastle when Weinberg came up to have a chat with us. My first question was, 'How does everybody feel about it?' He said everyone wanted to do it, so I said, 'Okay, I guess it could be done'."
FFanzeen asked Hilton why extra musicians were added to the original line-up, and why doesn't he play lead guitar on the songs. "First of all, when the Animals broke up in '66, we were headed toward augmenting the band anyways," he replies. "It's pretty much like where we left off. We are experimenting on a much larger scale. We have a brass section and did some new things over in London with this sort of line-up." Additional musicians are included in the live show to expand the music arrangements and to add a more full sound.
"This time around we have four extra musicians (Nippy Noya, percussion; Steve Grant, lead guitar; George "Zoot" Money, keyboards; Pat Crumly, saxophone and flute), so actually it's a nine piece outfit," explained Steel. "It gives us more variety and color with the whole thing, don't you think? I think it's good to have extra musicians to work with. It adds something more to the songs."
Hilton paused momentarily before replying to the second part of the question. With a shy laugh, he added, "The other guitar player is much better than I am. I like playing chords on the early Animals songs, and on the new material I basically just play rhythm."
Some of the back-up musicians on the tour were also featured on Ark. The album, recorded rather hurriedly in time for the concert tour, was produced in London by Steve Lipson and the Animals. Much of the new songs dominate their live set, which seemed to be equally accepted by audiences, as well as the older favorites.
During the first quarter of the tour, the Animals brought their live show to the Midwest, but almost didn't make it out of there alive. Reports of a hurricane were brewing in Dallas, Texas, at the time of the group's arrival at the Southern state. Though the storm was imminent, the scheduled show was sold out that night. All the band could do was hope for the best. Luckily, no one was hurt, just pretty shook up. Hilton recalls that fateful night:
"The gig was still on, as far as we knew, so we flew into Texas. We didn't know whether to stay or move on to Austin. By that time, the police had boarded off the town and we had to stay there." It was nearly 3 a.m. when the monstrous typhoon hit and the hotel guests were told to leave their rooms and take refuge in the lobby. "Windows were popping out all over. I don't remember much after that. I went to the bar to get drunk. I figured if I was going to go, I wanted to go drunk silly."
The Animals recently performed in New York City at the renowned Beacon Theater, to a wildly enthusiastic crowd. Eric Burdon, still in fine form after all these years, delighted all for two-and-a-half hours. His riveting blues vocal is a distinct Animals musical trait. Modestly dressed in a two-piece black suit and dark glasses, Burdon worked the crowd, ranging from ages 15 to 40, into an absolute frenzy, leaving them screaming for more. As familiar organ sounds spilled into the hall, Eric flashed a satisfied grin and wailed into the microphone, "There's a house in New Orleans /They call the Rising Sun…"
Many high points that evening included "Bring It On Home," "It's My Life," "Misunderstood," and Burdon's solo of "San Franciscan Nights," which along with Alan Price's only solo of "O! Lucky Man!," was added later to the tour by the demands of the crowds, according to Burdon. The bluesier tunes, "I'm Crying," "Boom Boom," and "When I Was Young," seemed to retain more lyrical sentiment than just an "oldies but goodies" merit.
Later, after the show, Eric and the band (with the exception of Alan Price, who hastened out of the hall) relaxed backstage and spoke withFFanzeen. Chas Chandler, interested in our comments on the show, asked publisher Robert Barry Francos what he thought of it. "I'm a big fan of yours," said Robert. "Thanks to this guy in Buffalo named Mad Louie, I got to see the show up there, too, at Shea Auditorium. Both shows were intense." Chandler listened intently for a moment, and by the look on his face, seemed relived it was favorable. "The tour has been doing good, so far," he said, sipping a glass of wine. "It's amazing. When we played in London, all these papers picked up on us the same day. Some of those papers are the equivalent to magazines like Time and Newsweek in America." Chas said he enjoyed being in the States, but can't wait to get back home to Newcastle and work on the new material for the Animals' next album.
Eric Burdon, with a drink in his hand, huddled in the corner of the dressing room, and was being entertained by several female guests. The 42-year-old legend has always been an ardent believer in emulating the rock'n'roll lifestyle to the extreme and intends to make a film of the recent tour [As far as I know, this also has never appeared – RBF, 2010]. One difficulty he faces with the newfound project is the resistance of the other band members to be seen on film. Eric, however, confident in his power of persuasion, hopes to have the film finished by spring.
Picking up a copy of FFanzeen [No. 11], Burdon carefully inspects it and places it in his coat for future reading. "That's a fine looking magazine," he says, nodding his head in approval, giving the high sign for an interview. He sits down and one of the women pours him a drink of whiskey, and the other, kneeling, lights his cigarette. This typical backstage setting is nothing new to Burdon, who relishes and comes to expect it with each performance.
"Fire away," he said to us. The conversation focused on the blues, one of his favorite topics. "The blues have a lot to do with working class, but more to do with sexuality," he explained. "I remember hearing one of the first blues songs I heard; it had a lot of saxophone in it. It was a real sleazy, sexy sound. I think the white kids are more political and the young black kids are more sociological, and come from that background. They understand because their parents were fighting about being unemployed and subjected."
Eric, in his childhood, used to "hang out with black Americans in particular," and feels these people view the blues as ecology. "That is what makes it working class, I think. My first instant feeling about the music was sexual and very meaningful," he continues. "Johnny Lee Hooker only wanted to express himself through his guitar and voice about what was wrong with his situation. I am more drawn to the erotics of blues than the politics of the blues."
Going on to define different levels of the blues and what kind of people it included, Eric stated, "I think there is an understanding between working class humor and black humor, where worship is involved," he expressed. "There's the marriage of songs, the love lost, and the forgotten songs; and then there is the pimp and whore relationship. What about the guy that doesn't have anyone at all?"
Eric laughed at the thought of the blues ever catching up with him during a live performance. "I try to keep it under wraps. I try to keep on the political side of the blues, mainly because I am white and European."
He is also concerned, socially, with America, on a musical aspect. Eric hopes one day people will acknowledge Chuck Berry as the "poor lord of America. I learned more about the United States before coming over here though Chuck Berry records than I did from books over in London. His rock'n'roll records were fucking documents of the time." Perhaps the blues will make a "return some 20 years from now – who knows, maybe next week," Eric offered.
Earlier in his career, Eric worked with blues great Johnny Lee Hooker, who, to this day, has had an incredible influence on Burdon's music. At that time, Hooker seemed more than willing to combine creative efforts with a long-standing admirer. "Johnny really loved the fact that I was interested in him. I really get the feeling he was flattered by it," Eric recalls. "At one point, I was hanging out too much with him. It was very sad. I watched him drink himself to death."
Before taking leave for the night, we asked Eric how he felt about David Johansen's remake of the Animals' songs. "One night I saw the video on TV. It was funny watching him sing it," he said with a Mona Lisa smile. "I thought it was a little too short, too. It was alright. I like the new arrangement."
With a fond farewell and a hi-yo Silver, Eric Burdon and company rushed off into the night to their questionable future. All Robert and I could think of was to look at each other and ask, "Who was that blues man?"
Who Says Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore? He's Back!
This is one of many Alice Cooper interviews I did back then as a freelance writer for various rock music publications including Faces Rocks, and Hit Parader. Funny years later I came to work full-time for Faces Publications— first as managing editor, followed by editor-in-chief and lastly editorial director for The Faces, Word Up! and Popstar! publications lines. I hope all you die-hard Alice fans enjoy this 1986 interview from The Master's Constrictor period. I really enjoyed this phase of my writing career. It was a good time to be a freelance music journalist. I was writing something like 25 feature stories a month and getting paid on publication.
MCA Records flew me out to Detroit (Alice's birthplace) to interview him before the concert and later I attended a very crowded after party where one of Alice's snakes made a special appearance to the delight of the press. I wish I could remember the snake's name. Apparently I got just a little too close because I was standing next to Alice and his ever-stunning wife, Sheryl just chatting about whatever. Then somebody brought the snake out and placed it around Alice's neck. Before I knew it, the constrictor began twisting the tail end of it form onto my shoulder. Moments later and much to my relief, someone finally moved it off of me. Some of my fellow scribes thought it was funny. I guess I must have looked a little silly and scared both at the same time. But all I could do was smile politely at Alice because I guess it was sorta funny!
Text by Mary Anne Cassata
© Faces Publicatiions, 1986
Remember: When you're under the influence of Alice Cooper, you may never be the same again. It's been nearly 15 years since the rock luminary has wreaked havoc with macabre stage antics and such anthemic classics as "I'm Eighteen", "School's Out", and "Elected". In the early '70s, most bands wore simple jeans and T-shirts on stage, but Alice in his tattered tights hung himself, and chopped up baby dolls. A true innovator, The Coop was the first to dare open a Pandora's box that unleashed all the primers for a shock rock invasion that would ensue a decade later.
Before there was even Ozzy, Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P. and numerous other metal madmen, there was Alice Cooper. He single-handedly influenced a whole generation with his skillful combination of rock and theatre. A minister's son, born Vincent Damon Furnier on February 4, 1948, this extraordinary performer's vision was years ahead of his time. Some dubbed him evil. "Alice Cooper is my hero," Dee Snider of Twisted Sister has often professed. "I used to have this picture of Alice over my sink, and every morning I would bow down to it." Ozzy Osbourne too has cited Cooper as a kind of mentor: "Alice was the father of us all. He was doing things on stage far worse than I can ever do. He's great."
In concert, wearing Kabuki make up, Alice simulated death by execution, wrapped a live boa constrictor around his neck, and was chased by giant spiders. Perhaps he didn't create outrage, or perversity, but there is no doubt he certainly did draw more attention to that "underside" of rock than any other personality in the genre. "People call me the grandfather of punk," Alice states. "I think it's great. When I started out, we could clear out a place of 600 in the space of four songs."
In the early to mid-seventies, Cooper became a music phenomenon of the "Glitter Rock" era which also has served as a launching pad for Elton John and David Bowie. By 1973, at the pinnacle of his success with visually stirring albums likeKiller, Billion Dollar Babies, and School's Out, Alice Cooper had created slightly twisted explorations into the darker side of life - and rock 'n' roll.
Despite a bizarre and shocking image which boasted that he even slaughtered a live chicken on stage (not true), Alice also wrote and performed some of the best, catchiest Top 40 songs in the history of rock music. By 1978 ballads like "Only Women Bleed", "I Never Cry", and "You And Me", gradually had disposed of his sinister exterior. However, his ballad success left little space for artistic recognition; Alice wasn't anti-establishment anymore, nor a threat to society. Amidst his domestic domain in Beverly Hills he played golf with George Burns, drank beer, and was an avid television viewer. A rather normal existance, right? Not entirely. By the late '70s, Cooper's drinking had become a "problem", and he totally lost control before he admitted himself to a psychiatric ward. It seemed his brilliant career was headed toward a rapid demise, and although Cooper still released albums with moderate success, by 1982 he realized that some of those young people he had influenced a decade earlier, now musically eclipsed him. Heavy metal and harder edged rock was in demand, and somehow Alice's original music got lost in between.
When his last album, his 17th, Dada (a return to some of his primal dark and contorted concept songs. Hardly acknowledged by the music industry or public, it appeared that Cooper's rock star days were numbered. But should you believe that the legendary Alice Cooper is some imaginary character who was never really forgotten but left safely pressed between the pages of rock history - surprise! He's Back, and (he informs me) more dangerous than ever. Now I don't know exactly where Alice is back from, but the man is determined to destroy any lingering doubt that may exist about his "status." He new album Constrictor (MCA Records) features the single appropriately titled "He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)" from the movie Friday The 13th, Part Six.
On location in Los Angeles for the filming of the single's video, Alice never looked better. He's fit, trim, and tan, wearing his familiar black leather pants with ice picks fastened to the sides, and a new version of the vest which he wore in the 1972 "Killer" show. "Isn't it nice to know I haven't grown out of my leather pants," he smiles, batting the dark lashes on his intense hazel eyes. Although I have talked to The Coop a times in the past, following his career intently throughout the years, the Alice who sits before me is strangely different from the man I remember. His energy level is still boundless as he easily switches roles from the incensed-eyed Alice Cooper to the proud father of two beautiful children; daughter Calico, age 6, and son Dashiell, a year and a half.
Nonetheless, some things never change: Cooper still diligently protects his personal life with wife Sheryl and family, while the public Alice remains as competitive as ever, and can't wait to get back on the road again. FACES spoke to the legendary rock performer recently about his music, his life, and a most welcomed and long awaited return to rock'n'roll.
It's so inspiring to have Alice Cooper back in rock'n'roll again. Why did you decide to make a return at this particular time?
Everybody that is out there now is doing everything that I ever did. I think it's pretty obvious I'm the musical influence here. I decided this is the time to return, now, because something is really happening. Movies, for one, are getting more exciting. I think the kids out there want rock'n'roll, and they want image too. That's why I'm back. I think it's time to go back and do it again.
Are you expecting more than the hardcore Alice fans to come to the new show?
I hope they all come out. I have provided a real escape. I don't think a lot of fans will consider me a role model for the rest of their lives, then again I don't know. I always thought it was important to be original. I think I hit a nerve with everybody. It must be an important nerve because people are reacting to it.
Is Alice still as competitive as he used to be?
Oh, yes, I've always been like that. I think the competition that comes out is more in the fact that when I go on stage, I try to erase any memory that anybody out there had before me.
How did you feel learning that "Be Crool To Your Scuel" was banned from MTV? Twisted Sister didn't take the news very kindly.
Actually, I thought it was great. I figured it this way: If the only video I'd ever done ended up getting banned, then I must have done something right. I kind of like the idea.
How is the new album a departure from the earlier works?
I think this is the heaviest album I have ever done as far as soundwise. Lyrically it's pretty heavy, too. I think some of the stronger cuts on the album are "The World Needs Guts", and "Teenage Frankenstein". Lyrically everything is very Cooper-ique. It's got a lot of a black sense of humour to it.
What inspires Alice these days to write songs?
I don't know. That's really hard to say. I think alot of what I'm influenced by is, well, I'm not really into TV as much as I am into splatter videos. The songs I wrote in the Dada, Zipper, or Special Forces periods I am not ashamed of at all. I thought it was good for hardcore Alice Cooper fans. I think with the image of Alice, we have taken him up past the eighties.
What's the concept behind the video for "He's Back (The Man Behind The Mask)"?
The idea behind it...as you know it's for Friday The 13th, Part Six. The idea is that these two kids around 16-17 get swept away into Alice Cooperville. I grab them and bring them into my world. It's great. Isn't the set totally surrealistic?
Throughout the years, Alice has taken us through so many phases of his career and life. From teenage uncertainty, high school rebellion, to nightmares and insanity, to name but a few. What's really left for Alice? Can he still shock people?
Oh, there are things I don't dare talk about. You're talking social things, I'm talking...there are so many things to touch on out there. Alice Cooper is a kind of reality, and he could still go out there and shock. We just have to shock on a different level this time. There are things I haven't even done yet.
What if the album and the tour isn't the success that you anticipate? Will you be disappointed?
Yes, I would be disappointed, but I'll just do another one. I just can't imagine it not doing what it's supposed to do. I expect there to be a pretty big tremor about the whole thing. At least I would hope so. This is one of the reasons why I'm coming back now.
What do you think the future of Alice Cooper will be?
I don't put any limitations on Alice. He does what he wants. I just play Alice. He comes up with the ideas. I think the future of Alice is the future of America. Alice is back, and it's going to be for a long time. Whether people like it or not, Alice is back, and he's more dangerous than ever.
Spending Time With Micky Dolenz (Reissue Monkees Spectacular #10, 1987)
I've had many interviews with members of the Monkees since 1987 and of course was devestated when Davy Jones passed in 2010. Many of you know I continue to cover The Monkees, especially Micky Dolenz on The Mac Wire. This interview with Micky was my second. The first, was a phoner when I worked at D.S. Magazines as the editor of their revised Monkee Spectaculars and other Monkee specials through the Tiger Beat magazine brand in 1987.
What a thrill that was for me, especially when I was asked to follow up the four Spectaculars and two one-shot Monkee specials I did along with a a trade paperback book, Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees (That's a whole other story, mistakes, critics and all!).
For now, this "Spending Time With Micky" was written when I was still learning how to be a better writer and entertainment/teen magazine editor all at the same time. When I look back now, I can't help but still cringe a little bit.
In any case, I hope you like this sweet little piece from a naive entertainment writer who had a whole lot of heart and and a fierce determination at the the time to be something more.
Monkee Spectacular #10
Mary Anne Cassata
Published: (originally Feb. 1968) 1987
The Monkees drummer was recently in New York on business, but found time to chat with us at Tiger Beat. When meeting Micky Dolenz one never knows just exactly what to expect. The first time I spoke to the funny Monkee, I was only nine years old. The Monkees were on their first concert tour of the states and landed in my hometown around late April 1967. Like so many other first generation Monkees fans, the pop/rock comedic group were my first-ever concert experience. After the show that night I got to meet my favorite Monkee, thanks to a friend of my aunt's who worked at the concert arena. I didn't get to see the other guys, and I don't remember why, except maybe I said I liked Micky best. He always made me laugh.
In any case, excitedly, I presented the polite young man with a poem I'd written for him. I can still recall Micky's smiling face as he graciously accepted my gift. I held back a tiny scream in my throat (after all I was only nine years old!) as I walked away a very happy little Monkees fan girl.
However, little did I know that nearly two decades later I'd be meeting up with Micky again to write about last summer's incredibly successful Monkees reunion concert tour. When the phone call came in that Micky was available to do another interview, I ran out the door to New York and met up with him backstage as he was preparing to appear on a popular talk show.
"This will have to be a quick one, Mary Anne, I'm really busy today. I've got more press to do later," apologizes my favorite Monkee after the show. "I promise we'll do a longer interview next time."
Still gracious as ever, he managed to squeeze in a few extra moments. "I've been talking about so many things, lots of things," he says. "After the tour I went home for Christmas. When I came back to Los Angeles it was to work on a film." But in the meantime, the top priority will be working on a new album.
"Yes, we are finally going to be doing a studio album," he smiles. "I can't wait. We'll be including some songs that we wrote and others from different songwriters we like the best. Carole King submitted a song. I don't know if Tommy Boyce will or not. You just never know about these things." Like the summer '86 single "That Was Then, This Is Now", the the [sic] Monkees trio intend to keep a nostalgic tone to the new songs. Micky explains: "Everybody wants to recapture their youth. When you are growing up, you don't have so many worries. The songs you heard, the television and movies that you saw are all part of life. I don't think you want to forget that. I know we don't. We're gonna have different kinds of songs on the album."
In those nostalgic times from 1966 to 1968, fan hysteria was a major problem and now the second time around it's obvious the Monkees are still pretty careful about overzealous fans. After one recent concert, an excited fan nearly ripped the shirt off Peter's back. "The security is a lot better now, believe it or not," laughs Micky. "The security people, they've got it down so well. There really isn't much of an opportunity to get us because we are always moving so fast. We hardly have a chance to meet people. When we do find the time to meet people it's usually a good time. I still find it quite amusing that both mothers and daughters fight for our autographs."
When asked his thoughts about the Monkees being one of the best loved pop music groups of all time, the drummer shrugs, "I don't know what to think actually. I don't even think people understand why we are loved so much. People just love us. It's the music; it's a lot of different things." By the look creeping up on his lean and friendly face, I sense it's time to go.
"I guess we'll have to end here for now," smiles Micky. "I think we talked about a lot of things. We seem to have covered everything for the moment… Next time, I promise we'll have more time." Any last thoughts? A message for the fans "Um—yeah, I'd like to thank everybody for their support. It's been great. We'll be doing another tour soon and expect to see everybody out there."
An Interview With Bernie Taupin (American Songwriter, (November 1996)
I did several interviews with with popular songwriters for serious music publications, but this is one of my favorites. As the author of The Elton John Scrapbook, there's no need to explain.
American Songwriter, November 1996
Anyone who has followed Bernie Taupin's career for the past 25 years knows he is a gifted lyricist. The man who writes the words for Elton John is a lot like his musical collaborator, yet the two are very different. For millions of ardent fans worldwide, Bernie Taupin is every bit the living rock legend as his renowned songwriting partner.
Together, the John/Taupin team have co-written some of the most memorable hits in the history of pop/rock music. For anyone who's ever owned a radio, such immortal songs as "Your Song," "Daniel," "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," "I'm Still Standing," and the countless others are etched into our hearts and have become a part of our lives.
At forty-six, Taupin now lives on a cattle/horse ranch, a far cry from the glamour of Beverly Hills he once knew. He waited years to simplify his life and music to create the kind of songs that had influenced him in childhood years: songs by Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Marty Robbins to name a few. (Taupin credits Robbins' "El Paso" as the song that sparked his interest in songwriting).
Over a year ago, the English-born lyricist/poet (now an American citizen) joined forces with some longtime Los Angeles-based musician friends and formed the group Farm Dogs. Their country/roots-oriented debut CD Last Stand In Open Country (Discovery Records) hearkens back to Taupin's early musical influences of country/folk/blues.
Aside from his prolific work with Elton John, Taupin has always maintained a strong interest in other songwriting projects. In fact, he was recently in Nashville looking into future co-writing possibilities.
AS: When did you first decide that you wanted to be a songwriter?
BT: I had always loved to write poetry. I never really thought of myself as a songwriter. I didn't think about writing songs until I saw the famous ad in New Musical Express – the one that brought Elton and I together. I never thought I could make money writing songs. I just didn't think it was possible. But it wasn't until I met Elton that I decided to take writing seriously. As I've said before, I was really into Americana and the American West. One of the reasons why I wanted to write songs was hearing "El Paso" by Marty Robbins. When you write, you really have to go straight for the heart.
AS: What is your writing process?
BT: Many people write in many different ways. As most people know, the way Elton and I write is very different from the way anybody else does. We don't sit down side by side. We work very quickly because we both enjoy writing. I write the lyrics and give them to Elton and he writes the music. Our best work comes when it's straight out – fast. It's simple. Don't let anyone ever tell you it takes a long time to write a song, because it doesn't. I don't think you'll find anybody more diverse than Elton and myself. We've written everything – country, blues, reggae – not just these pure pop sure. We've done it all.
AS: Just what inspires you to write these days?
BT: Oh, lots of different things. I'm inspired by titles mostly. I find titles to be very interesting. I find inspiration in everything I do. Inspiration is all around us. When I write, I use a guitar. I feel much better writing with a pencil and paper. I squall it all down and then throw it into the word processor and play around with it for a while. I think it's important to always strive to find something interesting to write about. I'm pretty much drawn to the darker side of things. I'm under the ground at times. That's where I find my ideas. To me, the dark side is much more interesting.
AS: What do you think are some of your best written songs?
BT: That's such a hard question for me to answer because my feelings always change. My feelings sort of fluctuate with the mood I'm in. It's hard to say. As a writer, there's a barrier put in front of you. I would really have to sit down and think about all the albums we've done together. There's so many songs. Well I think my favorites right now are "Sacrifice" and "The One." You know "The One" is extremely personal to me. I like "Candle In The Wind" too. It's sort of a great marriage of lyric and music. Sometimes when you hear the same songs so often, you tend to forget about them. You also get tired of hearing of them.
AS: You were recently in Nashville. Are you thinking of writing songs for country artists?
BT: Absolutely. I've always been a big fn of country music, but right now, I'm a bit side-tracked with The Farm Dogs. But I have managed to write a couple of songs recently. I met up with some great people like Rodney Crowell and Marty Stuart to name a few. We're talking about doing some writing together. It was a very successful meeting. You know, Rodney has written some really great songs I wish I had written myself. He is definitely someone I'd love to do some writing with. We'll have to see what happens.
AS: Now that you're a Farm Dog, how does your songwriting differ from working with Elton?
BT: It was the first time I sat in a room and wrote a song with someone. It was really a great situation to be in – I mean to be able to create songs in a way I never did before.
AS: Such as?
BT: Well, my melodic ideas were allowed to come out. We would compose in the round. I had fifty percent of the lyrics written beforehand and had ideas of how I wanted them to sound musically, so we sat in a circle and worked out the music. I would put a lyric down and would say, "This is how I hear it." I would start singing and the other guys immediately would pick it up. It was very exciting for me to work that way. The Farm Dogs songs are very personal to me. I've discovered that writing in the round is a great way to write songs.
AS: I know you're not comfortable giving advice to aspiring songwriters, but what do you feel you can share with us?
BT: I don't think I'm the best qualified person to give advice, but I've always believed that if you have the talent, it will work for you. If you don't have it, you just don't have it. If you are good at it, you'll discover it for yourself.
AS: What you're basically saying is the talent has to be there in the first place.
BT: Yes, you can not manufacture talent. Some people have a God-given talent and are able to write songs. That's for the public to judge. Either the talent is there or it's not. If you've got talent, it will pour out of you. There will be no stopping it. I do what I do in a very bizarre way and it works for me. I work on my own terms and rules. What works for me may not work for someone else.
AS: What about those aspiring songwriters who don't know how to get started?
BT: If you have the goods and the talent, you will know how to get started. You will know what to do, and where to go. It's the people that need to be told what to do, that probably don't have the goods at all. It's like this, some people can build a treehouse, and other people can't even comprehend climbing a tree. I don't want to be that person who might sort of crush people's dreams or ideas of greatness or stardom. Everybody in this business has their opinions and I have mine. I wish everybody the best.
AS: Talk about your early songwriting days in England. Didn't you and Elton work as a staff songwriters for Dick James Music?
BT: Yes, but I wouldn't call it the Brill Building (laughs). Elton and I were signed as songwriters. We were getting paid a weekly minimum, and I do mean minimum, to write songs for other people. We were like staff writers in a sense. We were pretty terrible at writing those kind of songs for artists like Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck. Back then, recording artists of that era really depended on songwriters. It's different now.
AS: With the Farm Dogs CD, Last Stand In Open Country, and the way you scaled down your life, has Bernie Taupin returned to his true roots?
BT: Yes I have. I always believed in simplifying one's life. I was always talking about getting back to the country, and here I am. I grew up on a farm. I believe I've come full circle. The songs I write for myself are indicative to the lifestyle I led. I guess it took all this time to fulfill my dream of becoming a cowboy.
An Interview With Patti Smith (The Music Paper, October 1988)
Many of my long time friends in the business (who remembered this piece) asked me when I was going to post the Patti Smith interview to The Mac Wire. I decided not to and posted it here instead. It's always been one of my favorite pieces. Patti was such a huge inspiration in my teen years as she still is today. Anytime the opportunity arises for some kind of industry meet and great, I am there! Parts of this interview have been referenced in a couple biography books I've see on her too. Dream of Life was Patti's much anticipated fifth album in 1988 after a long nine year absence from the music industry.
The Music Paper, October 1988
(Images from the Internet)
Patti Smith: A Rock Visionary's New Dream
The wait is finally over. Patti Smith, seminal seventies avant-garde poet and proto-punk, has returned to rock and roll after a nine year hiatus. Her long-awaited fifth album, Dream of Life (Arista), was co-produced by Jimmy Iovine and Patti's husband and collaborator, Fred Smith, and reunites the Patti Smith Group: Ivan Kral on guitar, Richard Sohl on keyboards and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums.
When Patti Smith first started setting her poems to music in the early seventies, a battle cry for honest rock and roll was sounded. Her independent single, "Piss Factory," backed with a diverting rendition of the Hendrix classic "Hey Joe," may well have been the first punk-rock record ever released. By the time the Patti Smith Group was signed to Arista, they had already gained cult status and were filling now-legendary rock haunts in lower Manhattan like CBGB's and Max's Kansas City.
Horses, Smith's remarkable debut album, was hailed by critics the world over as one of the most original first albums ever recorded. Her second album, Radio Ethiopia, recorded under the guidance of producer Jack Douglas, was another explosion of raw energy and primal rock inspiration. Easter, her third album, was released in 1978. Producer Jimmy Iovine channeled Smith's original lyrical stylings and the band's assassinating rhythms into a disc identifiable enough to reach millions. The LP's single, "Because the Night," (co-written by Smith and Bruce Springsteen), even reached the Top Ten.
Smith once again switched producers for her fourth album, Wave, this time calling on an old friend Todd Rundgren. Its release marked the end of a long journey. The reluctant rock star felt she had achieved all of her poetic and musical goals and decided to take a sabbatical to reassess her life and work. In late 1979 she moved to Detroit to be with her husband-to-be, Fred Smith (formerly guitarist for the radical Detroit-based rock band MC5). The two were married in the early spring of 1980, with Patti joking to the press that she didn't even have to change her last name.
Patti Smith's nine-year absence from the music business has been a positive experience for her, a time of emotional healing and personal growth. She spent most of her time raising her two children, Jackson Frederick (now five) and Jesse Paris (now two), drawing much inspiration from them. Dream of Life is a celebration of family unity and of the love Patti and Fred share for each other, their children and the world. In this exclusive Music Paper interview, Patti Smith opens her heart in a rare discussion of her music and her life as artist, wife and mother.
"Deep in my heart
How the presence of you shines
In a life to last a whole life through
I recall the wonder of it all
Each dream of life I'll share with you."
-- "Dream of Life," Patti Smith
THE MUSIC PAPER: You seemed to have some false starts with Dream of Life. First it was 1980 with only five songs completed. Then two years later those songs were scrapped and new recordings were made. Then the project was halted till last year. When did production time really start for Dream of Life?
PATTI SMITH: Actually, we started production a couple of years ago. I don't know exactly when we started or when we decided to do the album, but we're happy with it. I think what happened was we began to rehearse and things with friends in the middle of '86. I think that's why it took so long. We felt we had something worthwhile to share, so we went ahead and started working on the album. Right in the middle of recording I found out I was going to have another baby. That was a surprise. We did as much as we could. We recorded until it was too strenuous for me. We had to lay off for a while and then go back to it.
TMP: There's no doubt that Fred has certainly played an integral part in the creative process of making Dream of Life. When did you first start writing and working together?
SMITH: Fred and I have always worked together. We write songs together and pursue individual ideas. It's been that way since I met him in 1976. Over the past ten years we have been writing and working on songs together for ourselves. I never stopped writing.
Working with Fred is very important to me. Our album represents us working together. We have a lot of other ideas and songs we haven't done yet. Many songs. We're looking into the future with some other works. We have achieved what we wanted with this album. What we wanted to do was a piece of work together that addressed the things we cared about.
TMP: Did you record most of the album in New York?
SMITH: Yes, almost entirely the album was done in New York. We did the B-side in Detroit of "People Have the Power." It's called "Wild Leaves." We did the "Jackson Song" in Los Angeles. It was done with the vocal and piano live. We had some cello and harp added in. It was really quite an experience for me, recording that song. I'll never forget it.
TMP: What happened?
SMITH: Well, it was a very difficult song to get through. It's very moving. Well, at least it was moving to us. That particular one we chose was different. The other songs weren't live takes. We only did a few takes that were live. What happened was that I missed my cue at the end. I came in a little too late because I got real moved to enter the song again. After hearing the song we decided it was all right and left it that way.
TMP: It's obvious you and Fred are content with your family life. Has having children affected your writing?
SMITH: Having children is great. We love our children. There's a lot of sacrifice and very intense responsibility. It's really wonderful, though. In terms of being an artist, it has affected me in a positive way. I think I've grown and expanded on it. I've grown and expanded as a human being in that way. That's permeated into the work. A lot of the work I've done over the past nine years hasn't been shared yet. I think it's some of the best work I have ever done. It's the most articulate, and I'm pleased with it. Fred and I have done a lot of work together. A lot of writing and exploring in a lot of different areas.
TMP: A lot of your earlier work underlines rage and violence. Today your outlook on life is totally different, more positive. There seems to be a certain peaceful kind of aura about you now. That's inspiring. Would you care to elaborate?
SMITH: Yes. Well, people need to go through periods of reassessment. We don't all have the luxury or the insight to do these things. I don't know what it takes. Sometimes you must simply take stock in yourself and re-evaluate your life and your work and learn how to build on it. I feel really, really happy now. It's communication. The tearing down and rebuilding, and a willingness to expand oneself.
TMP: What was it like going back in the studio again after so many years?
SMITH: I've always liked the whole recording process. When the time came, it was a real exciting experience. It got a little tedious at times -- when you are in the studio you have to really concentrate and know that you are potentially communicating with thousands. If you're lucky, then it's millions. You have all these thoughts in your mind when you are working. The recording process is really very wonderful if you know exactly what you want to do. The work process is what makes it better. The work is the most gratifying part to the artist. When you are at home in your work process, then it becomes private. But in the studio, you know you are going to reach many people.
TMP: What was it like working with Jimmy Iovine again? He's a wonderful producer. He really seemed to capture the essence of your music.
SMITH: Jimmy is wonderful to work with. Fred and him really collaborated well on this project. The important thing is that all the musicians were properly represented. It was a real collaboration on everyone's part. Everyone really did their part, from [keyboardist] Richard Sohl to the assistant engineer. Everyone put so much into this production.
TMP: What is the underlying message of Dream of Life?
SMITH: Well, we are addressing a lot of things that we care about. I would say that the underlying theme is communication. Songs like "When Duty Calls" and "Up There, Down There" shake a few fingers. The underlying principle is the communication between man and woman, between parent and child, between one and their creator. Planetary communication. It's positiveness behind hope, and also awareness of these kinds of difficult situations. "People Have the Power" is a network of communication.
TMP: Do you have a favorite out of all the tracks?
SMITH: I'm happy with the whole album. I love it all. All the work I've done in the past is important to me. Anything I've ever done, I've put a lot of care into. People will have to decide for themselves what they feel about the album. This is an album that cannot be defined.
TMP: You're obviously not concerned with your fans' reactions to the new music, though. It's quite a departure from your earlier work.
SMITH: No, I'm not concerned. You work to communicate. Once you record, mix it and whatever, it no longer belongs to you. It goes out to the world. The idea here is to do a good piece of work. I say, do something you think the people will like. Fred and I are not formulated people at all. Arista was very, very supportive and gave us the space we needed to complete this album. When you work, you can't really anticipate what people are going to think.
TMP: I think that some people were probably expecting to hear another Horses. But if they were, those people haven't grown spiritually enough.
SMITH: Exactly. I wrote the opening line to that album when I was 19 years old. Anyone who would expect me to repeat or have the same thoughts I did when I was 19 probably hasn't gone through much growth themselves.
TMP: It's like what Joni Mitchell once said about Van Gogh not painting another "Starry Night."
SMITH: Yes, look at Picasso. He's another prime example. I mean, everyone loved the "Blue" period. But if he would have stopped there, there wouldn't have been any other great epics of his work. As an artist, you hope the people stay in step -- or at least let you keep stepping. An artist must create space for themselves and for other people. It's almost like a code of artists. It's a code and a risk. You have to do that. I think if people are looking for Horses, they should go out and buy it. I'm proud of what that album is, and if that's what they're looking for, it's already been done.
TMP: Patti, what were some of the inspirations behind the songs on Dream of Life?
SMITH: I think really there are parallel inspirations running throughout the album. It's communication. This album reflects communication and certain concerns. "When Duty Calls" is a concern about border disputes and religious wars, which I find to be very, very painful. The inspiration comes from being concerned about what's happening on this planet. Some of it comes from personal feelings. A friend of mine died, and that inspired a song, a piece of work. The opposite of "Dream of Life" is "Dream of Death." It inspires thoughts of resurrection and hope. It's all about hopes and dreams we have during our journeys. There's many, many influences.
TMP: Do you ever look back at your old image and think, "That's not me, that's another Patti Smith?"
SMITH: No, not really, because you don't change overnight. We are so occupied with our families now, and with the work that we do, that there is no time to think about that. We would rather think about the 1990s rather than the 60s or 70s. Of course, I am certainly proud of the work I did with the band. I think it's great to be able to look back and feel you did a good piece of work. I have no regrets about it. Now I spend time thinking about the future. An artist is always thinking about their next piece of work. That's being part of the creative process.
TMP: What to you hope to accomplish with Dream of Life?
Really bad photo copies, I know. My originals are buried somewhere in storage with hundreds of other published stories. If anyone has this in color, please send it to me. It's really a great cover and I am still so proud of it.
SMITH: A good piece of work, which I think we've captured. The creative process belongs to the artist. The finished product belongs to the people. Hopefully this album will inspire people with things to think about or remind them of a few things to think about. Maybe some will shed a tear or two in the process. I hope it gives them some pleasant moments, too.
Alanis Morissette Queen of the Hill (Women of Rock Magazine, 1996)
I found the following article/interview I did with Alanis Morissette in 1996. It was originally published in a one-shot music magazine I was asked to contribute to that year called Woman of Rock. I have several other stories on Alanis that are probably much better than this one. But I'll have to dig them out of storage first. So for now I am just going to see what else I can find on the internet.
By Mary Anne Cassata (Women of Rock Magazine, September 1996)
She prowls back and forth on the stage, all dressed in black like a panther in a cage. Alanis Morissette growls and whines through such intense self-confessional songs as "You Oughta Know", "All I Really Want" and "Forgiven". Her big, multi-octave voice captivates the audience as they sing along word-for-word with every song. This is not your usual crowd sing along with the rock star either. This performers audience aims to sing with just as much conviction and emotional abandon as Morissette herself- and without a doubt, they certainly do.
In the midst of her lengthy ongoing U.S. and European concert tour it seems like there's just no end in sight for one of today's top women in rock. Here in the states, Jagged Little Pill has sold over seven million copies and made the coveted number one position on the Billboard charts. The latest single "You Learn" is already blazing a patch up the singles' chart in similar rampant fashion like its predecessors "Ironic" and the 1995 mega-hit "Hand In My Pocket".
And considering her outstanding acoustic perfromance of "You Oughta Know" at the Grammy awards, where the Canadian-born singer won four awards including "Album of the Year", what can she do wrong? Not much these days. Just ask any of the thousands of teenage girls who flock to her concerts. Hell, she's barely out of high-school herself and it's crystal clear she surely knows just how to pull the strings of young fans with vivid, recollections of adolescent revelations and turning points.
Since the controversial "You Oughta Know", Alanis Morissette has never felt more comfortable assuming the role of an avenging banshee out for blood from her ex-lover--and she makes no apologies. Overall, she has managed to successfully maintain this aggressive stance with acute bouts of insecurity and big doses maturity.
In regard to writing the songs for Jagged Little Pill, relaxing in her pre-concert dressing room she offers:"I just found myself with a certain sense of fearlessness about my vulnerability. I discovered that the more truthful and vulnerable I was, the more empowering it was for me."
Hard to believe, but every song on the album was written and recorded in a single day. Co-writer, Grammy award-winning producer, Glen Ballard, who has worked with the likes of Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul composed the music to Morissette's lyrics.
"When we first started writing together," she fondly recalls, "at the time I thought, should I be so open or not? At the same time I didn't want to live with this censorship of myself. I didn't want to live halfway between worlds. At that moment, I let go of wanting to please other, and started pleasing myself. I didn't know how much responsibility I could take for having placed myself in dysfunctional relationships."
"Most of the songs are, in a roundabout way, actually addressed to myself," she continues sipping a soda. "There's a certain aspect of the songs that's very confessional, very unadulterated. I'd written these songs almost like a stream of consciousness. For me, it was a very unfettered, spiritual experience."
At 22 years old, this singer-songwriter dynamo expects to remain on the road- her home away from home for a while longer. As Morissette practices strengthening the bond between artist and performer, she'll also continue to write new songs in between performances and traveling. The most recent three songs "Death of Cinderella", "King of Intimidation" and "No Pressure Over Cappuccino" are already crowd pleasers and expect to be included on her next album.
"I'm very excited about what's happening in music these days," Alanis has said. "There are a lot of artists , many of whom happen to be women, trying to express their feelings with complete honesty and without apology. You might say they are just trying to be human."
Other noted and revered women of rock unanimously agree and it's hard not to. One in particular is veteran rocker, Annie Lennox. "She's stunning--really creative and intensely gifted," noted Lennox backstage at the Grammy Awards. "She looks like she won't let this industry ruin her." Just how does this media proclaimed Rock Goddess coping with the pressures of enormous success and fame? Better than one would expect. Says one insider from Morissette camp:"Alanis is amazing. She's handling things just fine. She is one very level-headed person who has worked a very long time to get where she is today. We're all very happy for her."
But where will she be in a year still remains to be seen. However, music industry bigwigs predict Alanis Morissette's music will be dominating the music charts for a long time to come. And there's no denying that loyal legion of admirers continues to grow larger everyday. "She is the voice of our generation", declares a 16-year-old girl proudly wearing a "Do I Stress You Out?" tee-shirt waiting for the concert doors to open. "I skipped school just to get these tickets. Alanis Morissette sings about emotions and situations I can relate to and understand. She's been such an inspiration to me."
Morissette, who grew up in Ottawa is the daughter of two teacher parents and a sister to a twin brother. In elementary school, she joined the cast of a children's show on Nickelodeon called You Can't Do That On Television. Considered something of a Canadian Tiffany, just a few short years later at age 17, Alanis was recording her self-titled debut album of teen fluff which won her a Juno award in 1992 for Canada's Most Promising Female Vocalist. A year later a second effort followed wit more dance-pop ditties. At which point in her young career, Morissette had once viewed herself strictly as an entertainer, not a musician. But that was a long time ago and topic of conversation she prefers not to discuss backstage following two sold-out dates at New-York City's famed Roseland Ballroom. "What I've discovered over the years is people don't realize how much change, wisdom and personality comes out between the ages of 14 abd 21. As each day progresses, I see new attitudes and new mutations in myself."
"Those words I sing have been brewing in me since I was seven years old," she adds regarding the tracks on Jagged Little Pill." Okay, so I wasn't in charge of everything I did at one time, but I am now. I believe in making honest music, from my heart. If I didn't I wouldn't have a record deal today, I wouldn't be making videos, and I certainly wouldn't have the guts to tour. I'm happy my songs mean something to people. JLP is pretty much autobiographical."
Once the tour ends, Alanis will take a short break before recording her next album which should be sometime in early 1997. She currently resides in Los-Angeles and is thinking of buying a house now that she financially secure. Judging by her track record of hit singles and consistent radio play, thus far, it looks like Alanis Morissette has a lot to look forward to in the future.
In Retrospect: FFanzeen Fun
Robert Barry Francos
(Originally printed August 28th 2013)
My good friend and former music print publisher Robert Barry Francos did this lovely little write up on me and some of the other fine FFanzeen contributors. I have fond memories of Robert. We would often hang out in the Village and distribute FFanzeen to various record stores, music shops, cafes, and small clubs like the famous Bottom Line and Bitter End. We always talked music—old and new artists. We liked a lot of the same people, especially The Ramones, Iggy Pop, New York Dolls, and Patti Smith. I was freelancing for a zillion entertainment publications at the time and always had a ton of interviews to place. I remember the first time I spoke to Robert. I was covering off-off Broadway shows for Variety, the famous show business publication. I called Robert and asked if he could use an Iggy Pop interview I had. Most of it was already promised to another publication as a cover story, but I saved a few quotes to use for a slant in FFanzeen because I really liked the look of the publication and wanted to be involved with it.
Robert: When I first met Mary Anne Cassata, she was already writing for a number of other higher-end magazines, including a New York-based Music Paper, but she would rise way above that. Even when she was writing for me in 1984, she was interviewing some of the top artists of the time, including those who did not fit into the concept of my 'zine, such as Elton John, Cher, Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, Alice Cooper, and just about every hair band you can think of that was popular at the time, including Iron Maiden and Ratt. These were published worldwide in so many different glossies, that I know I could never keep track, such as Tiger Beat, Hit Parader, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, Goldmine, American Songwriter, People Weekly, and even Rolling Stone. For FFanzeen, she used her magic touch to bring in interviews like the Animals (I went with her for that one), Mike Love of the Beach Boys, Spanky McFarlane of Spanky and Our Gang, Gary Glitter (went to that one, too), Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop (who had originally refused unless he was on the cover).
After the hard print version of FFanzeenwas put to bed, Mary Anne has kept going, interviewing and writing, as well as being Editorial Director of Faces and Popstar! Publications for a number of teen-based magazines, and some special projects including whoever was big at the moment, and even one on Elvis. She is also known for the numerous of books she has written about artists of many genres, such as Michael J. Fox: The Year of the Fox (1986), Hey, Hey It's the Monkees (2002), The Cher Scrapbook(2002), The Essential Jim Carrey (2010), and The Elton John Scrapbook (2002). Other books she has authored include biographies of Britney Spears, 'NSync, Kirk Cameron and Alicia Silverstone. And her star still rises.