written by Jean Vallely for Rolling Stone magazine (November 1st 1979)
Shit," says Martin Sheen as the makeup man fusses over him, "I've got this deformed left arm, three inches shorter than the right, can't do a thing with it and, gee, I'm just this little guy, five feet eight, 151 pounds. How can that be a star?" He shrugs his shoulders. "Maybe if I looked like Ray," he cracks as a member of the crew walks by, "I'd be a star. You know, I have this reputation of being choosy about my roles when, in actual fact, I never got many offers." He shrugs those shoulders again. "I turned down Magic, but after Apocalypse Now I just didn't want to do any violence." Another shrug. "And I turned down Prophecy, but that was easy; had toilet written all over it. I never got offered the biggies. Guys like Tony Harvey, Spielberg, all those other assholes would never hire me. But I tell you, if just one of my pictures had made money, been a hit, I would have had a different career."
"Relax, Marty," says director Don Taylor. "You'll be a big star soon. Whether Apocalypse Now is good, bad or indifferent, it will make you a star."
We are in Norfolk, Virginia, aboard the USS Nimitz, where Sheen is making FinalCountdown. It's a story about a nuclear aircraft carrier that's caught in a time warp and winds up in Pearl Harbor the day before the attack, with the military capability to destroy the Japanese fleet and, in the process, rewrite history. As we walk down the long, narrow corridors of the Nimitz, Sheen has words for everyone. He talks nonstop — free associates, really — intense one minute, laughing and joking the next. He looks like someone who's spent the last few days on speed. He is more attractive than he appears on film, with wonderfully expressive blue eyes and a healthy head of hair flecked with gray.
"I am right about this," continues Taylor as we make our way through the bowels of the Nimitz. "Apocalypse will make Marty a star."
Sheen has finished shooting for the day and we are sitting in the dining room of the Lake Wright Motel in Norfolk. He's making fast work of an enormous bowl of vanilla ice cream and strawberries. It is two p.m. and besides breakfast Sheen has already consumed a bag of licorice, a melon, some cherry cobbler, a second bag of licorice, another melon and cookies. He eats like a pig and has the body of a panther: lean and hard. It helps that Sheen runs a minimum of six miles daily and does 500 sit-ups and 500 push-ups. Moderation seems to be an alien concept to Martin Sheen.
In between spoonfuls of ice cream, Sheen talks about Apocalypse. "I want to tell you," he laughs, "I was nobody's first choice." Indeed. The part of Willard was offered to Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and Jack Nicholson. Finally Harvey Keitel was cast.
This was January 1976, when Sheen was in Rome making a picture called TheCassandra Crossing. His agent called and said that Francis Coppola was interested in him for Apocalypse. But there was a schedule conflict. Several weeks later his agent called again and told him he must fly to L.A. and talk to someone very important.
"I left Rome on Good Friday," continues Sheen, "and flew to L.A." He was to meet the director in the VIP lounge, but by the time he got through customs, only fifteen minutes remained before Coppola's plane left for the Philippines. Coppola quickly ran down his story and told Sheen he was considering him — along with several other actors — for the role of Willard. "The next day," says Sheen, "Holy Saturday [he thinks of days in terms of religious feasts], I got a call from Coppola's associate saying that Francis wanted me." Sheen said yes (he had not read the script), got drunk with his brother Alphonso, picked up the script on Easter Sunday and flew back to Rome. He wrapped The Cassandra Crossing on Monday, and on Tuesday, his wife, Janet, and their four children flew home to L.A., while Sheen headed for Manila to begin a saga that may indeed make him a star, but very nearly cost him his life.
By this time everyone knows that Apocalypse Now is based loosely on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Sheen portrays Willard, a soldier ordered "to terminate with extreme prejudice" a brilliant Green Beret colonel named Kurtz, who has flipped out and has set up his own renegade army in Cambodia. As Willard makes his journey up the river in search of Kurtz, he makes another journey inside himself. In many ways, Willard's personal odyssey resembles Sheen's own life. "Sheen is Willard," says a crew member simply. "I did identify pretty closely with the character," Sheen agrees. "Making that film was an ordeal, not just physically but emotionally. I was staying in this hotel, and right outside was all this poverty. Pigs running around, children without any teeth." He pauses. "God, the world we live in is so strange."
Sheen got sick, lost weight. He would be all jokes and laughs on the outside, but on the inside he was being eaten alive. "Francis had this way of directing," says one crew member. "He would tell Martin, 'You're evil. I want all the evil, the violence, the hatred in you to come out.' You tell that to a guilt-ridden Irish Catholic and he hasn't a chance. Martin is so pliable.
"Francis," the crew member continues, "did a dangerous and terrible thing. He assumed the role of a psychiatrist and did a kind of brainwashing on a man who was much too sensitive. He put Martin in a place and didn't bring him back."
As Apocalypse Now opens, Willard is naked and drunk in a Saigon hotel room, waiting for his mission. He moves around the room doing karate exercises, then stops in front of a mirror. The vision he sees so repels him that he chops out at the mirror, smashing it. His hand is bleeding and he smears the blood over his face and body.
Powerful stuff. "Francis," continues the crew member, "kept Martin drunk for two days before that scene, kept him locked up. Francis kept telling him terrible things like how evil we all are, that we are all killers. It was devastating." Coppola's wife, Eleanor, writes about this scene in Notes (her running account of the making of the film):
Yesterday Francis shot the scene in the hotel room. He let Marry get a little drunk, as the character is really supposed to be. He and Marty both knew they were taking a chance. The first layer of the character Marty played was the mystic, the saint, the Christlike version of Willard. Francis pushed him with a few words and he became the theatrical performer, Willard as Shakespearean actor. Francis prodded him again and he moved to a street tough, a feisty street fighter who has been at the bottom, but is smart, knows some judo, is used to a scrap. At this point, Francis asked him to go to the mirror and look at himself and admire his beautiful hair, his mouth. Marty begins this incredible scene. He hit the mirror with his fist. Maybe he didn't mean to. Perhaps he overshot a judo stance. His hand started to bleed. Francis said his impulse was to cut the scene and call the nurse, but Marty was doing the scene. He had gotten to the place where some part of him and Willard merged. Francis had a moment of not wanting to be a vampire, sucking Marty's blood for the camera, and not wanting to turn off the camera when Marty was Willard. He left it running. He talked Marty through the scene. Two cameras were going… finally… Francis and Marty were alone. Marty was lying on the bed really drunk, talking about love and God. He was singing an old hymn called "Amazing Grace" and trying to get Francis and me to sing with him, holding our hands and crying. He was strong and wiry like a boxer. Francis was trying to be with him and see that he didn't hurt himself. His cut finger had been bandaged. It started to bleed again because he was squeezing our hands, hard, and sometimes hitting the edge of the bed. The nurse came in… Marty asked the nurse to pray and sing and I could see she was praying dead seriously… Janet came with their oldest child and Gary [Morgan]. Marty wanted us to hold hands and pray and confess our fears. There was that stiffness that exists when someone is drunk or on dope and you're not. They're in a different space… . Marty was preaching and carrying on, singing. Everyone was trying to sort of ease him toward the car. The Filipine nurse was praying out loud and saying, 'Jesus loves you, Marty.' It took about two hours to get him in the car and back to the hotel in the rain.
As Sheen was beginning to fall apart, a typhoon came and wiped out all the sets, closing down production. Sheen and his family returned home to Malibu. Sheen did not want to go back to the Philippines. "I held out," says Sheen. "I fought for more money." He smiles. "Never got it, the bastard. Francis and I battled over that and had a very heavy falling-out. We reconciled and I went back."
Recalls his friend, actor Gary Morgan, "When Marty came home after the typhoon he was real scared. He said, 'I don't know if I am going to live through this. Those fuckers are crazy, all those helicopters and really blowing things up.' It was freaky; at the airport he kept saying goodbye to everyone."
Sheen's gruesome premonitions were not groundless. He returned to the Philippines and his heart collapsed. "I nearly died," he says quietly. "I was alone. Janet had gone to Manila for the weekend. I was under a lot of tension. I had terrible eating habits and I was smoking a lot. I had been up and down like a yo-yo all night. I was reading several books at the time: William Burroughs' NakedLunch, William Saroyan's Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang In Forever, a book on the Fonda family and Tennessee Williams' biography. I kept getting up and picking up one book and then another, and I had this severe pain in my inner elbow. Then my chest started to hurt and I thought, 'I'd better quit smoking.' All the while the wind was howling. The pain grew more and more intense as the night went on.
"At dawn I got up and I looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes were down to here." He points to his cheeks. "I looked bad. Then I really began to feel strange and went into the toilet and started feeling faint. I dressed myself, lying on the floor, pulling on my clothes and my combat boots. I crawled to the side of the road and propped myself up and waited. A public bus stopped and loaded me in. I made myself stay awake because I was sure if I lost consciousness I wouldn't come back. Then the wardrobe van passed and I was loaded into it. We drove to the production office and Dean Tavoularis, the production designer, stuck his head in the van, looked at me and started to cry. A doctor came in and he looked real worried. I just said, 'Get me a priest.' And he came and gave me the last rites. Here I am confessing and he couldn't understand a word of English." Sheen looks away. He smiles. "Well, who cares. That's all right." He smiles again. "I am one of those cliffhanging Catholics. I don't believe in God, but I do believe that Mary was his mother."
Sheen takes a deep breath. Talking about this period remains difficult. He continues, "I just wanted to get to Janet. I was lying there for hours. They were trying to decide if they should risk taking me up in a chopper. I said yes and we flew to Manila. An ambulance met us, and as we drove to the hospital I remember getting up and untying my shoes. The doctors were yelling, 'Lie down,' and I said, 'Don't say another word until I get my boots off.' I untied one boot and threw it to the floor and then the other. See," says Sheen, "when I first went to New York twenty years ago, I was on the Bowery one day and watched these morgue people cart away a dead man. This one guy took off the shoes of the dead man and I'll never forget that. And all the while I was lying there I kept thinking, 'Take those fuckers off yourself and you'll make it.' "
Sheen not only had a heart attack but a nervous breakdown as well. "I completely fell apart. My spirit was exposed. I cried and cried. I turned completely gray — my eyes, my beard — all gray. I was in intensive care. Janet slept on the floor beside me. She called a therapist in New York and I talked to her every day and those two ladies pulled me through. I knew I would never come back until I accepted full and total responsibility for what had happened to me. No one put a gun to my head and forced me to be there. I was there because I had a big ego and wanted to be in a Coppola film."
A radio that has been playing softly in the background is interrupted by a news report on Jimmy Carter. Suddenly, as if someone had thrown a switch. Sheen begins a harangue.
"I love this country a lot, but we have no leadership. That's the lesson of Vietnam. We have to examine it and understand it so it will not happen again. And you know the villain who got away? Henry Kissinger. He aided and abetted the recent administration in the bombing of Cambodia. He was getting off killing Asians, like most of this country was, and now that son of a bitch is aiding the shah. I may not be helping, but at least I'm not helping the shah. I like Carter. I think he is an honest man. But there is still killing going on in Vietnam and there are people responsible, goddamnit. It's no accident. We have to be reminded all the time, and that's what Apocalypse Now will do. It is the first film that has taken the war and shaken it in our face."
And, just as abruptly, click, Sheen is laughing and telling heart-attack stories. Coppola had sent over some films and a phone number to call when Sheen wanted them run. One night he and Janet called, saying they wanted a projectionist at eight that evening. The projectionist, a Filipino, arrived promptly at eight — the next night. Just as the film started to roll, the guy grabbed at his chest and fell to the floor. "I swear to God," laughs Sheen. "Right in front of us, in my room." Janet ran out to get a nurse and the man was carried away. About ten minutes later, he returned to Sheen's room. "He looked awful," recalls Sheen, "and I asked the nurse if he was okay. She said no, he had had a severe heart attack. I said, 'What the fuck is he doing here?' The nurse said that he had no money. Well, Janet went crazy. She grabbed her purse and pulled out all her money and shoved it at the nurse and screamed, 'Get this man to intensive care immediately!' " Sheen laughs. "He actually took my old room in intensive care.
"And then," Sheen's blue eyes light up, "three days later, around six in the morning, I awoke and the bed was shaking and I thought it was Janet fooling around, but it was an earthquake. I thought, 'Oh God, I have survived all this to die in an earthquake.' I had been reading this book on Howard Hughes and how he had been in Santo Domingo during an earthquake and how all his guys were sneaking him on a stretcher through the rubble to safety. Well, I ran to the door, naked as a jaybird, and all the nurses and doctors were abandoning their patients, and suddenly I imagined that I was going to be this big hero and lead all the people out of there, down the streets, just like they did with Howard Hughes, except that I needed my combat boots because I knew I couldn't walk over the rubble in my bare feet. I kept yelling, 'Janet, get my boots,' and she laughed and put me back in bed."
Sheen's heart attack jolted the production company to their senses, and filming in Manila wrapped eight weeks later. Sheen had spent nearly two years in the jungle, and it still wasn't over for him. His life had changed profoundly. He couldn't shake Willard. He slipped into a deep depression. He and Janet separated. (They've since gotten back together.) He started drinking heavily. "It all culminated in an arrest in San Francisco. I tried to beat up a couple of cops. I got rolled, lost all my money. Francis had to bail me out. It was terrible, horrible. I had to publicly confess my sins to the judge. It was the worst day of my whole life."
Sheen looks away. "It was a warning. I have taken a vow not to drink for a year and I am in better shape now than I've ever been. I have to avoid stress situations and I can't smoke. As soon as I got out of the hospital in the Philippines I was right back smoking because Willard was smoking. When I got home and was examined, the doctor told me I had to quit and I did — for nine days. Then, in September 1977, I went to Smokenders for five weeks and was off cigarettes for ten months. But then I had to go to San Francisco to shoot some inserts for Apocalypse and I had this cigarette in my mouth and I just took a little drag and smoked straight for the next six months, right through Blind Ambition. Then I went back to Smokenders this past January and quit smoking on February 22nd, and I haven't had a cigarette since," Sheen sighs. "And I miss it every day."
To even begin to understand Martin Sheen, it is necessary to go back thirty-nine years to Dayton, Ohio, where he was born Ramon Estevez. His father was from Spain, his mother from Ireland. Mrs. Estevez had twelve pregnancies: ten survived, nine boys and one girl. Martin is the seventh son. The Estevez children grew up in a three-bedroom house, sleeping two to a bed. Both parents were deeply religious Catholics and Mrs. Estevez would recite the Rosary to the family each night after dinner. She died when Martin was eleven. Says Alphonso, his older brother, "My father didn't know what to do. There was all this talk about foster homes and orphanages, and he would just go week to week, and at the end of each week he had somehow managed to keep the family together."
The Holy Trinity parish supplied the glue. Sheen would get up each morning at six to serve Mass and he can still recite the entire ceremony in flawless Latin. "We were really poor and belonged to a very poor parish and the Church was the most important part of our lives," says Sheen. "We were taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame, sweet people and I loved them. They were strict disciplinarians. Boy, they beat the hell out of you and then slipped you money under the table for something you really needed. They had charity and compassion. To this day, when I see nuns I respond to them with that same feeling."
There was little time for fun and games growing up. All the children had jobs. At the age of nine, each boy caddied. Sheen would caddy eighteen holes in the morning, eighteen holes in the afternoon and then shag balls until dark. He attacked his first job with a seriousness and determination that would remain with him long after he left Dayton. And just as these qualities surfaced early on, so did his sense of right and wrong, his empathy for the underdog and his religious convictions.
When Sheen was fifteen he led the caddies out on strike. There were two golf clubs in Dayton, and Sheen and his buddies were not being paid as much as the caddies at the other club. "The strike lasted one day," says Alphonso. "Sheen led us out on Tuesday, but, see, Wednesday was the day all the doctors and lawyers played, and the pro sweet-talked everyone back and then fired Sheen."
His older brother Michael remembers playing in a golf tournament and Martin, who was then fifteen, was his caddy. Michael was down three holes with three left. He won the sixteenth, the seventeenth and he was lining up a ten-foot putt on the eighteenth when he looked up and there holding a rosary was Martin. "I got so nervous," laughs Michael, "I could barely concentrate. I sank the putt and went on to win the match in extra holes. Martin told me later that he had promised God that if I won the match he would make a novena."
It was touch and go for a while whether Sheen would become an actor or a priest. When he finally settled on acting, says Sheen, "There was never any question in my mind that I wouldn't become an actor. I knew it." He smiles. "Serving Mass was really theatrical. We dressed up in costumes. It was a performance." And Sheen was always performing, doing plays without props, standing up on boxes reciting poems. All the kids would laugh at him, but he didn't even notice.
Sheen's freshman year in high school and the arrival of a young priest, Father Alfred Drapp, was a turning point. Holy Trinity was Father Drapp's first parish and Sheen served his first Mass there. "The students organized a teen club," recalls Father Drapp, "and Ramon [as he still calls Sheen] was the first president. He was so serious and yet at the same time had this very comedic streak. And from the beginning he had this sense of 'I'll show them. I'm different."'
"He became my dear friend and confessor," Sheen says. "He was most influential and instrumental in my becoming an actor." When Sheen was seventeen he won the year-end award on a local TV talent show called The Rising Generation, reading from the book of Genesis. First prize was a trip to New York, and Sheen returned to Dayton knowing it would not be for long. He had taken to the city like a cowboy to the range.
"My senior year was one of the best times of my life," says Sheen. "I knew I was going to New York and spent the entire year dreaming about it. I let my hair grow long, listened to a lot of music and was very aware of the times. There were two big influences on me, James Dean and Elvis Presley, and no one who had that kind of effect came along until Bob Dylan." He pauses. "Dylan is my patron saint. I went to one of his concerts last summer and was going to go backstage to meet him and then I got scared. I figured there wouldn't be enough time for him to get to know me and I was afraid he wouldn't like me." Sheen gets a faraway look on his face.
His acting ambitions were a great disappointment to his father, who had managed to stash away some money for Sheen to go to the University of Dayton. Sheen, incapable of hurting his father, deliberately flunked his entrance exam. But Father Drapp interceded. Not only did he talk to Sheen's father, but he loaned him enough money to get him started in New York.
"Those were rough years for Ramon," says Father Drapp. "For two summers I went to New York to see him with every intention of bringing him back, but when I got there I just couldn't. Nothing could deter him from becoming an actor."
Rough is a mild adjective to describe those early years in New York, but despite the lack of money Sheen threw himself into the life and rhythm of the city. "It was the start of my adult life," he says. "The day after I got to New York, Buddy Holly was killed. I remember reading the headlines." He drifts off. "But it was all so exciting. Everything seemed to be happening."
Sheen landed a night job as a stock boy at American Express at forty dollars a week and spent his days auditioning at every casting call he could. As Ramon Estevez, he felt he was being typecast, so he changed his name for the stage. He took Sheen from a man he greatly admired, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, and Martin, well, it just seemed to go. He was too poor to take acting lessons but he and some friends formed a group called the Actor's Co-Op under the guidance of Vasek Simek, and performed showcases in a loft next to the old Madison Square Garden building.
"Barbra Streisand was in our group," recalls Sheen. "She was this sweet kid from Brooklyn, very shy, funny, and no one knew she could sing. And then, lo and behold, she was on Broadway as a star." He pauses. "I see her occasionally, but I never mention it. I wonder if she remembers."
An actor in the group landed a role on Broadway and asked Sheen if he wanted his night gig pulling the curtain and setting up props for a play in repertory at the Living Theatre called Tonight We Improvise. "Then began," says Sheen, "a relationship with two of the best people in the human race, two of the first real Christians I've ever met, Julian Beck and Judith Malina. I spent three years at the Living Theatre. That's where I met Al Pacino. We worked together, cleaning toilets, sweeping, painting. We moved props for Allen Ginsberg and John Cage, all those wonderful, crazy people. I met Larry Rivers. The first time I ever got paid for acting was there, in a play called Purgatory, by William Butler Yeats. Five dollars.
"Everything was so exciting. Kennedy was trying for the White House. Dylan was just being heard from, the music was changing and you just knew things were not going to stand still. Here I was from Ohio and meeting all these weird people. I didn't know what a vegetarian was. I didn't know anything. I thought junk was garbage. I met Dorothy Day, the saint of all time, and started hanging out at the Catholic Worker."
In 1961, Sheen replaced Gary Goodrow in the role of Ernie in The Connection and went to London with the play. In 1963 he landed his first television role as an alcoholic wife beater in a segment of East Side, West Side, scarring George C. Scott. Sheen made his Broadway debut the following year in Never Live Over a Pretzel Factory and later that same year broke through, starring with Jack Albertson in The Subject Was Roses. He was nominated for a Tony.
It was at this point that his career began its curious twists and turns. Sheen acted in lots of episodic television: The Defenders, Route 66, Medical Center, The Mod Squad and The FBI, as well as playing a running part in the soap opera As the World Turns. He hooked up with Joseph Papp, appearing in many of his productions, including Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. And in 1967 he made his first feature film, The Incident, in which he and Tony Musante played two drunken hoods who terrorize subway passengers. He later appeared in the screen version of The Subject Was Roses and played the small role of Lieutenant Dobbs in Catch-22.
By this time he'd married Janet Templeton, an art student at die New School. "I just adored her," says Sheen, "but she was pretty shitty to me. I had this long hair, no clothes, no money. I wasn't thinking about getting married so much. Actually," Sheen fidgets, "I was thinking about getting laid. That was uppermost in my mind. It is true. I had never had that experience — Janet was my first." He rolls his eyes. "I don't think she'll mind my saying that, do you? I was really happy about that. We went together, lived together for a year and then got married." He pauses. "Now, I am embarrassed."
Sheen was in this new, strange, exciting world, but his roots ran very deep. He faithfully attended Mass and his sense of outrage at injustice remained. He was offered a part in Bertolt Brecht's Drums in the Night, but quit when the director was, he felt, unjustly fired. The civil-rights movement was growing while Sheen was on Broadway in The Subject Was Roses, and he was deeply affected by it. He went to the general manager of the theater and suggested that they do a benefit performance for the civil-rights movement. The manager said fine, but that they really wouldn't make much money. Sheen went across the street to where Sammy Davis Jr. was starring in Golden Boy and got him involved, and then went up the street to where Barbra Streisand was knocking them dead in Funny Girl and got her aboard. The rest of Broadway soon followed. The result was a huge success, and the night of the benefit, Martin Luther King Jr. came backstage. Sheen desperately wanted to meet him. "I was stuck between these two people and he walked right by me." Sheen looks off. "I never got to meet him."
In 1972 Sheen, who was by then living in Malibu, reluctantly auditioned for yet another low-budget, independent film, Terrence Malick's Badlands. The part called for a nineteen-year-old, and Sheen was thirty-one and already gray. But something in his reading caught Malick's eye.
Recalls Sheen, "I was driving to the studio the next morning to shoot an episode of Mannix. The sun was just coming up and it was beautiful and suddenly Bob Dylan was on the radio singing 'Desolation Row' and I started to weep, so much so that I had to pull the car over. Suddenly I realized what Terry was doing, and I knew, I knew that he was going to make a classic film and I told him so. I told everyone. Hearing that song, I knew that I was going to be tapped." Sheen becomes more animated. "God, Dylan is a genius. I saw Renaldo and Clara twice in the same day and then went to see it again. The movie was sometimes confusing, but never boring. The critics, those sons of bitches, really clobbered him."
Sheen finished shooting Mannix, rushed to San Francisco to film the ABC movie That Certain Summer with Hal Holbrook, then flew back to L.A. Janet and the kids met him up at the airport and they headed for Colorado and Badlands. "From every standpoint, but financially," says Sheen, "Badlands was perfect. I wouldn't have touched one frame. I was terribly proud and excited and I thought it was going to be hugely successful." It wasn't, and Sheen was discouraged. This film, he felt, was his shot at becoming a star. His friends and contemporaries were making it and he wasn't. Dustin Hoffman, who replaced him in The Subject Was Roses, had made The Graduate. Al Pacino, with whom he had swept floors, had made The Godfather. Sheen went back to television, making films like Catholics, The Execution of Private Slovik and The Missiles of October. Each garnered good reviews, each predicted Sheen would be a star.
It is late and Sheen, his brother Joe, several members of the crew and I make our way to a local steak joint for dinner. There is a kid playing guitar and singing in the background. Sheen, who has not stopped eating all day, attacks his dinner like a man coming off a four-month fast. He is wound up tight, joking and laughing. Martin Sheen is a complicated man, at once childlike, mature, naive, worldly. And obsessive.
He is obsessed with religion and his own loss of faith. "He's angry with the Church," says his younger brother, actor Joe Sheen. "It did so much good and it caused so much pain."
He is obsessed with his family. Says his brother Michael, "I think my father struggling so hard to keep us together had a lot to do with all of us being so close and feeling responsible for one another. I think it's why Martin is so devoted to his own family."
He is obsessed with the inequities of the world. Gary Morgan tells how one day Sheen was walking past the lunch wagon on location when he saw some peas left on a plate. He ate them. "Marty," Morgan said to him, "I'll get you some peas," and all he did was point to the plates and the garbage can, saying, "Do you believe all the waste?"
In the Philippines Sheen became friendly with a local priest and through him set up a fund in memory of his father. He donated a percentage of his salary and each month sends money to keep the fund going. The first purchase — 5000 toothbrushes for the children.
"Martin," says Joe Sheen, "can get heavy at the drop of a hat. He needs people around him who are up all the time because he is so serious. He'll read about Angola in the morning paper and begin to cry. We will be talking and he goes off into his own little place. I just let him go. I used to take it as an insult, but now I just leave it. He feels responsible for everyone. People are always coming to him with problems and he gives them his money, his car, his home. When he was making Apocalypse, he was carrying a lot of people. He rented a house for his driver." Joe pauses. "But then, Apocalypse was a crazy madness. Martin paid a lot of penance for that film. Willard is symbolic of his life. Martin is such a lonely man."
And he's obsessed with acting. He loves his work and certainly has had a successful career. During one year alone he was offered seventeen different television series to star in. He has been nominated for one Tony and four Emmys, all of which he pulled out of. And now there is talk of an Oscar. "I don't believe in them," he says. "They put actors in competition with each other. Leave that to athletes and politicians. I mean, how can a De Niro, who was perfectly brilliant in The Deerhunter, be a loser? How can Gary fucking Busey, in his magnificent performance in The Buddy Holly Story, be a loser? I won't join the Academy. Fuck that horseshit."
Sheen may eschew awards, but those close to him say he is frustrated and wants recognition — wants to be a star and is really banking on Apocalypse Now to do that. Maybe it will.
Like most of his performances, Sheen's work in Apocalypse Now is wonderfully considered, thoughtful, not in the least fly-by-night. But as gifted and talented as he is. Sheen hasn't blown us away — yet. It is curious. Like the faceless narrators that writers have to put in bad novels to keep them going, he's always there but you never really notice him. It is almost as if he doesn't expect people to remember him.
The singer in the background starts playing a Bob Dylan song. Sheen sings along and invites the kid to join us. He had been in a special-forces unit in Vietnam and has had a rough time since. Suddenly, click goes the switch and Sheen gets intense. "Where are Goldwater and the rest of those sons of bitches now? Why aren't Monsanto, Du Pont, Chrysler hiring the vet?" This goes on for about forty-five minutes, and then we all get up to leave. Sheen finishes the leftover desserts.
The next day we go to a cookout at Bob Huffman's house. Huffman is a navy pilot and he and Sheen have become friends. Sheen is excited and buys two water-melons and three bags of potato chips to take along. Earlier, Sheen had been uncomfortable at the admiral's party, but this will be fun.
The cookout is rolling along and Sheen is really up. He talks about Coppola. "I have a lot of mixed feelings about Francis. I am very fond of him personally. The thing I love about him most is that he never, like a good general, asked you to do anything he wouldn't do. He was right there with us, lived there in the shit and mud up to his ass, suffered the same diseases, ate the same food. I don't think he realizes how tough he is to work for. God, is he tough. But I will sail with that son of a bitch anytime. There is only one other director I would go that far with, and that's Terry Malick. You bet your ass. I won't get to work with a Malick or a Coppola too many times in my life and, my God, I consider it an honor. I took some bumps. I just wish I had been about ten years younger.
"Eventually everyone has to eat some shit, and Francis, if he's going to eat shit, at least it is going to be of his own making. He has such tenacity and I love that about the guy. I hope he breaks the bank on this one. Why the hell not? You'd rather give the money to some special-effects shark or some asshole swatting planes in the sky or some guy who flies? No. I'd rather deal with a moral question any day. This is the first war movie made that is a trip inside a man's head. We have such a short period of time here, and there are two things I have accomplished in my professional life: Badlands and Apocalypse Now. If my grandchildren get interested in what I did, I'll show them these."
The party is in full swing now and Sheen is way up, fooling around with the kids, posing for pictures with the neighbors. Suddenly he becomes quiet, almost sad, and the next minute he has disappeared. No one knows where he has gone and he doesn't come back.
originally posted on The Current July 19, 2016
I love books, but man, do I LOVE rock magazines. My mail carrier most likely hates my guts.
Growing up, copies of Rolling Stone, Trouser Press, NY Rocker, Spin and Creem magazines were littered across the family coffee table. I'd catch heat every time I tore out pages with photos of Bowie, Joe Perry, Debbie Harry or The Clash to adorn my bedroom walls. All the rest of the dirtbags in the family felt they should have the magazine intact to peruse before I got to my adolescent ripping and shrine-building.
Creem, self anointed as "America's Only Rock N' Roll Magazine," was a snotty, Midwest answer to Rolling Stone. It was founded in Detroit in 1969 by Barry Kramer, who owned a record store called Full Circle. Kramer decided to publish his own paper when a local alt magazine refused to print a concert review he had written. Tony Reay, who had been a clerk at the record store, became the first editor; it was Reay who named the publication after his favorite band, Cream.
Distribution at first was modest, despite the fact that many copies of the magazine were ordered by porn shops who were confused by the fairly suggestive title, displaying it next to Screw magazine. Giving massive exposure to artists like Lou Reed, New York Dolls, David Bowie and Roxy Music years before mainstream press caught on, Creem was among the first national publications to cover Detroit-area artists such as Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, The MC5, The Stooges and Parliament Funkadelic.
Lester Bangs, who is often called "America's greatest rock critic," became editor of Creem in 1971 after having been fired from rival music magazine Rolling Stone by publisher Jann Wenner for "disrespecting musicians" after a particularly harsh review of the group Canned Heat. Honestly, how "disrespectful" can one be when reviewing a band in which the lead singer's voice sounds like a singing sock puppet?
Bangs began a love relationship with Detroit calling it "rock's only hope." The same year Bangs joined the Creem asylum, the term "punk rock" was coined by columnist Dave Marsh. I'm sure that's a debatable claim to fame, but I'd rather be the dude who takes credit for "punk rock" than whoever came up with the term "foodie."
The writers were never afraid to knock bands down a few pegs; in fact, many considered it their duty. Being huge fans of rock 'n' roll in its most primal form, the writers felt a genuine sense of offense when the phonies of the rock world started buying into their own hyped-up bullshit. Prog rock? You didn't stand a chance with these peeps.
Done with irreverent humor and a self-deprecating attitude, Creem clearly informed a lot of people's sensibilities. The magazine became famous for its comical photo captions, which poked fun at bloated rock stars, the industry and even the magazine itself.
The "Boy Howdy" iconic design was drawn by cartoonist Robert Crumb who was reportedly paid 50 bucks for it. In every following issue after December 1971, musicians were photographed for the "Creem's Profiles" features holding cans of "Boy Howdy" beer.
In the 1980s, Creem led the pack on coverage of upcoming bands such as The B-52's, R.E.M., The Replacements, The Smiths and The Cure. It also brazenly sung the devil-horned praises of metal bands like Motörhead, Judas Priest, Van Halen and Kiss.
Changes in ownership of the magazine and a relocation to Los Angeles, as well as a few key players dying of drug overdoses, saw the publication eventually fold in 1989.
But now there is a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a Creem Magazine film documentary that is in the works. For the love of all of the seriously cool uncool rock geeks sitting home on Saturday night listening to Houses of The Holy in their jammies, please consider throwing a few bucks at this.
I'm sure the staffers alive and dead would give you the middle finger of gratitude.
The album cover is an electronically processed image of a burned corpse in the Leipzig-Thekla subcamp of Buchenwald. Jourgensen took a picture of the holocaust from a documentary on television and distorted the image himself. It was originally rejected by the record label but they later changed their mind after Jourgensen presented a head of a roadkilled deer he had found on the road. He cut off the head, put it in his truck, drove from Austin to Los Angeles, went into the Sire Records building, threw the deer on the desk of the head of the art department and said, "here's your new fucking [album] cover".
New Musical Express OCTOBER 13, 1973 - by Nick Kent
Being an account of the latest recorded work of Mr. Brian Eno, late of Roxy Music, and featuring Blank Frank, friend of the Massive Mario.
Clapham, that exotic part of town where folk of differing creed and colour mingle suitably inebriated with natural joie de vivre, will soon gain immortality not merely because yours sincerely has taken up residence within its sacred borders but also because it has set the scene for some of the more intriguing music-weaving to take place of late throughout the recording studios of London.
Down at Majestic Studios, just round the corner from the bingo hall, Brian Eno, that zany purveyor of wit and sparkle, has set about the completion of his awesome solo album project.
Up in Studio 2, surrounded by such diverse tacky objets d'art as a saw hung on the wall beside a speaker and a number of fake potted palm trees, Eno is leaping around like a dervish setting up the tracks for a song called either Blank Frank or Friend Of The Massive Massimo or Blank Frank, Friend Of The Massive Massimo, aided and abetted by Simon King, drummer of Hawkwind, Bill MacCormick, bass player of Matching Mole, and two engineers.
A basic track has already been laid down using rhythm-box, primitive Enoid guitar thrashing and one of the most demented guitar solos ever to be conceived in a respectable recording studio.
The person responsible for the latter piece of wizardry is no less than Robert Fripp, whose studious fingers are performing arguably their most dynamic work to date on these sessions, away from the self-imposed restrictions of King Crimson.
Blank Frank is in fact quite a masterpiece. Bo Diddley meets Ghengis Khan with backwards guitars, a Fellini-type fairground organ sound manically chiming in half-way through and changing the whole track completely, and ethnic Javanese clapping.
Above all this inspired mayhem our hero is heard to chant with machete-like precision ominous tidings about Blank Frank being the messenger of one's doom and destruction and how the aforementioned's skill is disposed in leaving bombs in people's driveways.
If you consider that to be "un peu bizarre" then get an earful of Baby's On Fire, which sounds warped and extremely perverse, complete with more tortured Fripp guitar-picking and the quaint chorus about how baby's on fire and it's necessary to throw him in the water.
Or Here Come The Warm Jets, a more conventional piece which sounds like a 1970s equivalent of Telstar. "It's about pissing," stated Eno with no small measure of pride. Of interest to Eno afficionados, the maestro plays the guitar that he was photographed posing with on the cover of For Your Pleasure.
It was less than three days after I'd visited young Brian at the studio that I was informed he had collapsed from exhaustion and malnutrition, and been banished to hospital.
Publicist Simon Puxley muttered earnestly that his acolyte was suffering from numerous traumas based on his lack of rest. "He needs someone to take care of him," quoth the Pux.
A stout-hearted fellow like Brian Eno forced into a state of collapse through lack of care and attention? Preposterous, I though. And, jiggers, my contention was right, for not long afterwards I discovered Eno working away steadfastly at Advision studios with arch-looner Lloyd Watson.
"I thought it was very amusing when I read in big letters 'Eno Collapse - Malnutrition.'"
So what actually happened?
"Well I was in the studio one night and I went to sit down on what I thought was a chair situated directly behind me, and then discovered that the chair in fact wasn't there."
Eno was busy listening to Lloyd Watson's slide guitar embellishments on Some Of Them Are Old, a slow number built around a tune not unlike that gracing Buddy Holly's Raining In My Heart but made more stately by an intricate Andy MacKay saxophone arrangement.
"It's my least favourite track, at the moment," he muttered nonchalantly before animatedly reciting some of the already-recorded goodies.
Of particular merit is Dead Finks Don't Talk on which he's backed by a couple of The Sharks and Paul Thompson on drums. The pianistics and bass-playing are quite superb, as are the lyrics - which are all about how being a zombie takes such dedication, and other pressing matters.
Needles In The Camel's Eye features Velvet Underground guitar thrashing synthesized through a metal gauze of sound. Possibly the most commercial number of all those recorded so far and the probable choice for a single.
On Some Faraway Beach is yer olde wistful ballad, with strange chords and even stranger lyrics.
By the time you read this, the album, the title of which is tentatively Here Come The Warm Jets, should have been completed. Eleven or twelve tracks are expected to be present, including Driving Me Backwards, Trunk and The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch.
If all goes as well as it should do, the finished product should not only vindicate Eno from being yoked under his current image - that of just another outrageous poseur possessing little talent - but also stand out as one of the very few truly creative projects in rock to appear in a long time.
As I left the studio, Eno was writing out makeshift lyrics for Needles In The Camel's Eye - "All the best lyrics are written in ten minutes. Ha, I'll show you, Roxy Music!"
Musician Magazine - September 1983
Sure he’s a weird kid. For Prince Rogers Nelson, a man whom Henry Miller and Howard Hughes are undoubtedly behavioral models, the two S’s of sex and secrecy are paramount. His reluctance to talk to the press is well established and his role as a beacon of sexual controversy is past legendary. Jimi Hendrix may have helped open the floodgates when he asked an innocent generation, “Are you experienced?” But Prince didn’t have to ask. His sexual excesses in a dank, dark Minneapolis basement with his confident and companion Andre Cymone and a host of neighborhood girls shaped the values of his earliest songs and mirrored the experiences and insecurity of a liberated generation.
His first albums were full of funky innuendo. For You established him as a poetic prince of love, with a mission to spread a sexy message here on earth—a message reinforced by his “special thanks to God” credit on the LP’s jacket. Prince had heard the call, all right, but it wasn’t the Lord’s sermon that he was preaching, and with his next album, Dirty Mind, he catapulted out of the closet and into the public eye as a raunchy prophet of porn.
That album established Prince in rock critical circles as a truly special case. He created his own musical world in which heavy-metal guitars crashed into synth-funk rhythms, where rockabilly bounced off rapid punk tempos, all of it riding under lyrical themes of incest, lost love, sexual discovery and oral gratification. It was then that I became interested in talking to this elusive boy genius.
His concerts that fall had been a hot, erotic blast of wind through the chilly Northeast, and I was primed to meet a proper, swaggering conqueror — “The leader of a pack in a brave new world without rules or categories or any limitations,” as Boston critic Ariel Swartley had extravagantly described him. What I found facing me that sleepy-eyed morning was shockingly different: A man-child in the promised land. Despite the studded trenchcoat, the leather jock bikini and the blatant bare chest, he was a shy and unsure creature, small, and just as elusive.
The interview became a lengthy excursion into Prince’s pained past and through songs that had a purpose beyond the titillating of fantasies, as I was soon to learn. Prince’s preoccupation, disclosed between the lines of the interview, was loneliness, which in the world had become painfully interwoven with sexuality. His own childhood was something else. Multiracial, one of nine children of a hard-working Italian mother and a half-black father—a struggling musician who was mostly absent during his youth—Prince was a veteran of foster homes and a chronic runaway.
At the time of our interview, he was proud and hurt, contemplating ending interviews altogether. He communicated with the gravity of a crestfallen child, speaking in short grudging bursts of words that nevertheless revealed a great deal more than he wanted anyone to know. At the end of our long visit, he gave an eloquent summation: “That was the longest I’ve ever talked,” he said with a child’s awe. He gave me an uncertain grin and, as he trudged off into the New York rain, wobbling a bit on his high-heeled cobra boots, I liked him immediately and had the feeling that Prince would survive his current bout with success.
PRINCE: Well, that was kind of a put-on. . . I wanted to put it out there that way and in time show people that’s not what sex was about. You can say a bad word over and over again and sooner or later it won’ t be bad anymore if everybody starts doing it.
MUSICIAN: Are songs like “Head” and “Sister” serious or satiric?
PRINCE: “Sister“ is serious. “Head” could be taken as satire. No one’s laughing when I’m saying it so I don’t know. If people get enjoyment out of it and laugh, that’s fine. All the stuff on the record is true experiences and things that have occurred around me and the way I feel about things. I wasn’t laughing when I did it so I don’t suppose it was intended that way.
That’s why I stopped doing interviews. I started and I stopped abruptly because of that. People weren’t taking me seriously and I was being misunderstood. Everything I said they didn’t believe anyway. They didn’t believe my name. They didn’t believe anything.
MUSICIAN: Your father’s stage name was Prince Rogers. Was that his real name?
PRINCE: That wasn’t his real name. He made it up.
MUSICIAN: And what’s your last name? Is it Nelson?
PRINCE: I don’t know.
MUSICIAN: Your point about being misunderstood is kind of important. We should try and be as straight as possible with each other so I know that what you’re saying is being interpreted correctly.
PRINCE: Okay. I tell the truth about everything but my last name. I just hate it. I know how it’s just the name that he had to go through life with, and he hated it too. So that’s why he gave me this name and that’s why he changed his when he went onstage. I just don’t like it and I just really would rather not have it out. It’s just a stupid name that means nothing to my ancestry, my father and what he was about.
MUSICIAN: Was your father very much there when you were growing up?
PRINCE: Well, up until the time I was seven he was very much there. Then he was very much away. Then I went to live with him once. . . I ran away the first time when I was twelve. And then he worked two jobs. He worked a day job and then he worked downtown playing behind strippers. So he was away and I didn’t see him much then, only while he was shaving or something like that. We didn’t talk so much then.
MUSICIAN: Did he have any feelings about you being a musician? Was he a supportive person?
PRINCE: I don’t think so because he didn’t think I was very good. I didn’t really think so either. When I finally got a band together he used to come and watch us play every once in a while. But he finds it really hard to show emotion. I find that true of most men and it’s kind of a drag, but. . . .
MUSICIAN: Is your father a good musician? What does he play?
PRINCE: Piano. The reason he’s good is that he’s totally… he can’t stand any music other than his. He doesn’t listen to anybody. And he’s really strange. He told me one time that he has dreams where he’d see a keyboard in front of his eyes and he’d see his hands on the keyboard and he’d hear a melody. And he can get up and it can be like 4: 30 a.m. and he can walk right downstairs to his piano and play the melody. And to me that’s amazing because there’s no work involved really; he’s just given a gift in each song. He never comes out of the house unless it’s to get something to eat and he goes right back in and he plays all the time. His music. . .one day I hope you’ ll get to hear it. It’s just—it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard.
MUSICIAN: How did you get into music? Where were you? What were you doing?
PRINCE: I was at home living with my mother and my sister, and he had just gone and left his piano. He didn’t allow anybody to play it when he was there because we would just bang on it. So once he left then I started doing it because nobody else would. Every thing was cool I think, until my father left, and then it got kinda hairy. My step-dad came along when I was nine or ten, and I disliked him immediately, because he dealt with a lot of materialistic things. He would bring us a lot of presents all the time, rather than sit down and talk with us and give us companionship. I got real bitter because of that, and I would say all the things that I disliked about him, rather than tell him what I really needed. Which was a mistake, and it kind of hurt our relationship.
I don’ t think they wanted me to be a musician. But I think it was mainly because of my father, who disliked the idea that he was a musician, and it really broke up their life. I think that’s why he probably named me what he named me, it was like a blow to her—”He’s gonna grow up the same way, so don’t even worry about him.” And that’s exactly what I did. I was about thirteen when I moved away. I didn’t really realize other music until I had to. And that was when I got my own band and we had to play top forty songs. Anything that was a hit, didn’t matter who it was. We played every thing because they were mainly things that I wanted to go on, not things that were going on. Which is different from what I write about now.
MUSICIAN: Do you feel a strong identification with anything . . . anybody?
PRINCE: No. I think society says if you’ve got a little black in you that’s what you are. I don’t.
MUSICIAN: When you moved away, did you move in with your father?
PRINCE: Well, that was when I went to live with my aunt, also in Minneapolis, because I couldn’t stay at my father’s. And my father wouldn’t get me a piano, it was too much or whatever, so . . . he got me a guitar. I didn’t learn to play the guitar right way, because I tuned it to a straight A chord so it was really strange. When I first started playing guitar, I just did chords and things like that, and I didn’t really get into soloing and all that until later, when I started making records. I can’t think of any foremost great guitarist that stuck in my mind. It was just solos on records, and it was just dumb stuff; I hated top forty. Everybody in the band hated it. It was what was holding us back. And we were trying to escape it. But we had to do it to make enough money to make demo tapes.
MUSICIAN: How’d you get to Andre Cymone’s cellar?
PRINCE: Andre Cymone’s house was the last stop after going from my dad’s to my aunt’s, to different homes and going through just a bunch of junk . And once I got there, I had realized that I was going to have to play according to the program, and do exactly what was expected of me. And I was sixteen at the time, getting ready to turn seventeen.
MUSICIAN: Were you still in high school?
PRINCE: Mm-hm. And, that was another problem. I wasn’t doing well in school, and I was going to have to. Otherwise the people around me were going to get very upset. I could come in anytime I wanted, I could have girls spend the night, and it didn’t make a difference. I think it had a great deal to do with me coming out into my own, and discovering myself. I mean, the music was interesting at that time, once I got out of high school. And I got out of high school early, when I was like sixteen.
MUSICIAN: Did you finish?
PRINCE: Yeah. Because I got all the required credits. And that’s relatively early. In about two and a half years, or something like that. It was pretty easy and stupid. To this day, I don’t use anything that they taught me. Get your jar, and dissect frogs and stuff like that.
MUSICIAN: How’d you support yourself?
PRINCE: Well, that was the problem. Once I got out of high school it was interesting for a while because I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have any school, and I didn’t have any dependents, I didn’t have any kids , or girlfriends, or any thing. I had cut myself off totally from everything. And that’s when I really started writing. I was writing like three or four songs a day. And, they were all really long. Which is interesting for me as a writer, because it’s hard to jus t take a thought, and continue it for a long period of time without losing it. And it’s harder for me now to write than it was back then, because there’s so many people around me now. I wrote a lot of sexual songs back then, but they were mainly things that I wanted to go on, not things that were going on. Which is different from what I write about now.
MUSICIAN: You mean, what you were writing about then was just a fantasy of women?
PRINCE: All fantasies, yeah. Because I didn’t have anything around me. . . there were no people. No anything. When I started writing, I cut myself off from relationships with women.
MUSICIAN: Did you ever have a relationship?
PRINCE: Several solid relationships (laughs). When you’re broken, and poor and hungry, you usually try to find friends who are gonna help you out.
MUSICIAN: Who are rich and things?
PRINCE: Yeah. And successful. And have a lot of food in their fridge. I don’t know.
MUSICIAN: Did you ever do anything that you’re embarrassed about?
PRINCE: Mmm. . . no. . . well. . . .
MUSICIAN: Were you doing drugs?
PRINCE: No. One thing that turned me off to that was seeing my brother get high. At first we all thought it was funny, but then I started asking him questions and he couldn’t answer ’em, you know. So I felt it was kinda stupid. And I didn’t want my mind all cloudy at any time, because I always felt. . . I don’t know, maybe it was a basic paranoia or something about me, but I didn’t want anybody sneaking up behind me, and doing me in, or taking my money, or tricking me in any way. So I never wanted to get high.
MUSICIAN: How does Andre Cymone fit into all of this? Was he there at the beginning, and then you went to New York and came back. and resumed the friendship?
PRINCE: Well. what happened was. before I went to New York we lost our friendship, because he was in the band with me at the time, and I asked them all what they wanted to do, “Do you want to stay here, or do you want to go to New York?” And Andre didn’t speak up, but everyone else was against it. No one wanted to do it. They liked their lifestyle, I guess. I don’t think they really liked the idea of me trying to manipulate the band so much. I was always trying to get us to do something different, and I was always teamed up on for that. Like, in an argument or something like that, or a fight, or whatever. . . it was always me against them. That ’s when I wrote “Soft And Wet.” which was the first single I put out. I really liked the tune. but everyone thought it was filthy, and “you didn’t have no business doing stuff without us, anyway.” I just did what I wanted to. And that was it.
MUSICIAN: When did you realize that?
PRINCE: When I was in Andre ’s basement. I found out a lot about myself then. The only reason I stayed was because of Andre ’s mother. She would let me do anything I wanted to, but she said all I care about is you finishing school. Anything.
MUSICIAN: How much can you do in a basement?
PRINCE: Well, it depends on how many people are there’ (laughs) You know, one time she came down and saw a lot of us down there, and we weren’t all dressed, and stuff like that. It kind of tripped her out. and we got into a semi-argument, and whatever, but it was. . . you know. . . .
MUSICIAN: Was the scene back then in the basement a heterosexual scene? Was it homosexual?
PRINCE: No, everything was heterosexual. I didn’t know any homosexuals, no. There was one guy who walked around in women’s clothes, but we didn’t know why he did it, we just thought it was funny, and that was that. Some things don’t dawn on you for a long time. And now I hear, like . . . Minneapolis is supposed to be like . . . the third largest gay city in the country, or whatever. Huge.
MUSICIAN: Were you ready for New York when you came?
PRINCE: Yeah. I was ready for anything . I felt disgusted with my life in Minneapolis.
MUSICIAN: What’d you do when you got here? Did you know you were gonna live with your sister?
PRINCE: Mm-hm. When I called her and told her what had happened, she said, well come here and I’ll help you. And I came. She had a great personality. You know , all my friends were girls , okay? I didn’t have any male friends, because they were just cheap, all of ’em were just cheap, so I knew then that if she used her personality and her sensitivity she could get us a deal. That didn’t mean going to bed with anybody, it just meant that. . . you know, use your charm rather than trying to go in there and be this man, because you’re not.
And then my sister was introduced to this one guy who had a band. And, I don’t know how she got this, but it was really cool. She ended up talking to this guy and found out everything he did, and found out that he had a demo and he was gonna take it to this woman named Danielle. And he was gonna try to get his band signed to her. So we all went together, and she said, “Can my little brother come in?” And she said sure. So we were all sitting there, and Danielle said, “Alright, put your tape on.” So he put on the tape of his band. That tape was pretty terrible, and Danielle said so, and the guy started making excuses, saying, “Well, that’s not the real guitar player, or the real singers, so don’t worry about it.” And she said, “Well, why did you bring a tape that doesn’t have the real musicians? “
Then my sister started telling Danielle about me and finally she asked me to sing. And I said no (laughs). And she said. “Why not?” And I said, “Because I’m scared. “ And she said. “You don’t have to be scared.” And they turned the lights down, and it was really strange.
That same day I had just written “Baby,” and I didn’t really have it all together, but I sang the melody and she really liked my voice. She said, “I don’t care what you do, just hum, because I just want to hear you sing.” So that’s what I did, just started singing and humming, and making up words and really stupid stuff.
MUSICIAN: Were you singing in your upper register then?
PRINCE: I only sang like that back then because, I don ’t know. . . it hurt. . . it hurt my voice to sing in the lower register. I couldn’t make it, I couldn’t peak songs the way I wanted to, and things like that, so I never used it.
MUSICIAN: Oh! I would think it would hurt losing in a falsetto.
PRINCE: Well, not for me. I wish it was that way, but. . . .
MUSICIAN: Did Danielle sign you to a contract?
PRINCE: Well, she wanted to start working with me immediately. Nevertheless, this guy was pretty upset that he didn’t get his band in there. He and my sister fell out right away, but she didn’t care. And that’s what I dug about her. So I talked with Danielle, and she told me to come over to her apartment. She was very beautiful, too, which made everything a lot easier, I remember that about her. And she made me bring all my songs, and we went through ’em all, and she didn’t like any of ’em.
MUSICIAN: None of them? Not even “Soft And Wet”?
PRINCE: None. Except for “ Baby.” She wanted me to do “Baby “ with a lot of orchestration, symphony, strings. and. . . .
MUSICIAN: How’d that sound to you?
PRINCE: I didn’t care. You know. I was cool with it. All I wanted to do was play a couple of instruments on it and let it say on the album that I played something. And she said no, unless I could play better than the session guy, which I didn’t think I could do if a guy was gonna sit there and read the chart, and I was going to get aced out right away. So that materialized. Anyway. . . after I finished that, that’s when me and my sister kinda had a dispute.
MUSICIAN: About what?
PRINCE: Mainly money. I had nothing; I was running up sort of a bill there, at her place, and she wanted me to sell my publishing for like $380 or something like that—which I thought was kinda foolish. And I kept telling her that I could get my own publishing company. I didn’t care about money. I just didn’t care about money. And, I don’t know, I never have, because. . . the one time I did have it was when my step-dad lived there, and I know I was extremely bitter then.
MUSICIAN: And did you have to go back to Minneapolis?
PRINCE: I didn’t have to, which was nice. Danielle knew this was gonna happen sooner or later. It’s was all really interesting to me back then, and I kind of would have liked to have seen what would have happened if she had managed me.
MUSICIAN: What did happen? Why didn’t she?
PRINCE: Well, when I got back to Minneapolis, that’s when I first met Owen Husney. I had been talking to him over the phone, and all he kept saying was that he thought I was really great, and that . . . .
MUSICIAN: Was Owen big time then? Was he a big -time kind of promoter, or manager?
PRINCE: Mmm. He had promoted some gigs, but he was working mainly in his ad company. And he wanted to manage an act. The main thing he said was that no one should produce a record of mine—I should do it. And, I still had a deal with Danielle if I wanted it, but something about him saying that to me made me think that was the way to go so I told her that I was going to college.
MUSICIAN: Was Danielle somebody that you had a relationship with?
PRINCE: Mm-mm. It was only. . . it was only mind games. I mean, we’d look at one another and. . . play games, but it wasn’t. . . we never said anything.
MUSICIAN: Um. . . when you came back and started working with Owen, what did he do? Did he get the contract for you with Warner Bros.?
PRINCE: Owen believed in me, he really did. First of all, nobody believed I could play all the instruments.
MUSICIAN: How many instruments did you play?
PRINCE: Well, on the demo tapes I didn’t play too many—I played drums, keyboards, bass and guitars, percussion and vocals; but when I did my album, I did tons of things. Some body counted and said I had played twenty-seven on the first album. Different ones, but I don’t know, I never count things (laughs). Because the quantity is. . . people put so much emphasis on that. It’s about the quality, and what it sounds like.
MUSICIAN: It must have been a battle with the record company to produce and arrange.
PRINCE: Well, I got a couple offers and the only difference between Warner Bros. and the others was that they didn’t want to let me do production, they didn’t want to let me plan anything on the records. Warners had a lot of problems with it at first but Owen was fighting for control for me. They made me do a demo tape. So I did it, and they said that’ s pretty good. Do another one, and so I did another one. Then they said, “Okay, we can produce your album.” And they waited a week to call me back and they said I couldn’t. I had to go through that process a few more times. Then finally they said okay. It was kind of frustrating at first but I got used to it.
To some degree in the earlier days I was listening to Owen and the company. I didn’t want to create any waves because I was brand new, and stuff like that. But now I feel that I’m going to have to do exactly what’s on my mind and be exactly the way I am. Otherwise sooner or later down the road I’m going to be in a corner sucking my thumb or something. I don’t want to lose it. I just want to do what I’m really about.
MUSICIAN: Did you know what you wanted to do when you started out? When you got that contract with Warner Bros., and they said to go into the studio and do it?
PRINCE: I had an idea, but it was really vague, and I think that had to do with, at least, having such a big budget. It was really big-over $100,000. You’re supposed to go in and do an album for $60,000. But I went in and kept going, and kept going and kept going. I got in a lot of trouble for it.
MUSICIAN: How much time did you spend in the studio?
PRINCE: Hours. Hours. I was a physical wreck when I finished the record… it took me five months to do the first one. I’m proud of it, in the sense that it’s mistake-free, and it’s perfect. And it’s… that’s the problem with it, you know. But it wasn’t really me, it was like a machine. You know, I walked in, and I was sleepy all the time. I didn’t really feel like recording for eighty percent of the record. But I did it anyway, because, by the time I had gotten close to $100,000, it was like, you know, you were going to have to do something great. So, by that time, I didn’t want to make any mistakes. The relationship between me and the executive producer that they assigned with me was horrifying.
MUSICIAN: Did Warner Bros. ever look as if they were just going to wash their hands of the whole thing, or were they committed?
PRINCE: No, I don’t think so, because I owed them too much money.
MUSICIAN: They had to stick with you, so you could pay off.
PRINCE: Yeah. At least three albums. And I didn’t want to do anything like interviews or touring. I was being real stubborn and bull-headed, and Owen didn’t realize how to get it out of me, and make me stop. And, I don’t know, our friendship died slowly after that. It just got strange.
MUSICIAN: How did you get the whole act together? When did you get a band and decide to go on the road?
PRINCE: Well, the band came right before I did the second album (For You).
MUSICIAN: What happened when you went back to Minneapolis. . . first, after New York, and then, after you had actually recorded? Were you treated very differently? I mean, this was big time with Warner Bros., for sure.
PRINCE: Yeah. The same people who told me I wasn’t gonna be anything, treated me with a lot more respect now. And it made me a much better person. It took a lot of bitterness out of me. Because that’s all I really wanted; I didn’t want the respect so much as I wanted friends hip, real friendship. That’s all that counts to me. And I tell my band members the same thing now. I mean, you have to learn to deal with me on an up-front level, or else, you know, it’s dead. I don’t want people around me who don’t do that.
MUSICIAN: Has your music changed much since then?
PRINCE: I think I change constantly, because I can hear the music changing. The other day I put my first three albums on and listened to the difference. And I know why I don’t sound like that anymore. Because things that made sense to me and things that I liked then I don’t like anymore. The way I played music, just the way I was in love a lot back then when I used to make those records. And love meant more to me then-but now I realize that people don ’t always tell you the truth, you know? I was really gullible back then. I believed in everybody around me. I believed in Owen, I believed in Warner Bros., I believed in everybody. If someone said something good to me, I believed it.
MUSICIAN: And it was reflected in your music?
PRINCE: Yeah, I think so. It was….
MUSICIAN: More romantic?
PRINCE: Yeah. And I felt good when I was singing back then. The things I do now, I feel anger sometimes when I sing, and I can hear the difference. I’m screaming more now than I used to. And things like that. I think it’s just me. It also has to do with the instrumentation. It has nothing to do with trying to change styles or anything. Plus, I’m in a different environment; I see New York a little bit more. In my subconscious I’m influenced by the sinisterness of it, you know, the power. I hear sirens all the time, things like that. It’s not like that in Minneapolis. If you ever go there you’ll see it’s real laid back: real quiet, and you have to make your own action. I think a lot of warped people come out of there. My friends. I know a lot of warped girls, okay? Warped to me means they see things differently than I would, I suppose. They talk a lot. They talk a lot about nothing. But I mean heavy. They get into it like you wouldn’t believe. I mean, we could get into an hour-long conversation about my pants. You know, why they’re so tight, or something, do you know what I mean?
MUSICIAN: Well, why are they tight?
PRINCE: I don’t know (laughs). I don’t know. Because I want them to be. I just like the way they look.
MUSICIAN: Did Warner Bros. flinch when you put “Head” on the third record?
PRINCE: They flinched at just about everything (laughs ).
MUSICIAN: I wanted to ask you about the cover of Dirty Mind. How was that done?
PRINCE: We were just fooling around, and we were jamming at the time. It was summertime, and we were having fun. And that’s what I had on. But my coat was closed, so the photographer didn’t know. I was with some friends and…
MUSICIAN: Does everyone in Minneapolis just walk around with bikini underpants?
PRINCE: (laughs ) No. But, see. . . l don’t know. I mean. . . once. . . I mean, if you’ve got a big coat on. I mean, who knows what he has on? I mean, it was hot out. Everybody was saying, why you got that hot coat on? I’d say, I’m really not that hot. (laughs) And they ’d say, you gotta be.
MUSICIAN: l bet you flash.
PRINCE: No. Not in. . . it depends on who it is. But, we were just jamming and stuff like that, and he didn’t know that’s what I had on. And so, he was taking pictures and I happened to open my coat for one, just as a joke, you know? He said, wow. Like that. And, wel( see: I used to wear that onstage.)
MUSICIAN: How’d you pick that image of yourself? Where did it come from?
PRINCE: Well, I used to wear leotards and Danskins and stuff, because our stage show is really athletic and I wanted something comfortable. And my management said, “You have to at least start wearing underwear, because. . . . “
MUSICIAN: You weren’t wearing any underwear?
PRINCE: No. Kind of gross. So I said, okay, and started wearing underwear.
MUSICIAN: What kind of friends were you hanging with?
PRINCE: Prostitutes. Pimps. Drug dealers. Really bad people and preachers ’ daughters, you know? Which is strange, because they were the total opposite of their fathers.
MUSICIAN: How did you meet them? At gigs?
PRINCE: Yeah. I talk to people. and if they’re real and sincere about what they’re doing, and they don’t really want anything out of me except to be my friends, then, you know, I go for that.
MUSICIAN: The people who you were friendly with back then… that group… did they influence your style?
PRINCE: Well, I think to some degree. They’re really rebellious. They cut themselves off from the world, as I did. The band’s attitude is, they don’t listen to a lot of music and stuff like that. And the band is funny, the only time they ’ll go to see someone else is if they ’re going to talk about them or heckle. It’s really sick. They’re like critics.
MUSICIAN: Are they all close friends?
PRINCE: I don’t know anymore. It’s hard to say. When we first started I think we were. That ’s how they got in the group. Some of them I didn’t find out if they could play until later.
MUSICIAN: Are they concerned, now, about not being on the road? Do they feel that they ’d like to be touring?
PRINCE: Yeah. We all do. Once I stop, then I start writing again, or whatever, or start playing… fooling around, then I don’t want to play out in public so much. I guess I write letters better than I talk, basically. I can write really good letters. And that’s where the records come from. I can sit down and say exactly what I want. I don’t have to worry about someone else next to me doing their job.
MUSICIAN: It ’s funny, because you’re a very imaginative guy. I would think for someone who draws on fantasies and wrote about dreams, fantasy would be important.
PRINCE: Well, it is. But it’s not so much when you’re writing a letter. Do you know what I mean? If I were to write a letter to a friend, and tell them about an experience, I wouldn’t say how it made me feel; I would say exactly what I did, so that they could experience it, too, rather than the intellectual point of view. If you give them a situation, maybe that you’ve encountered, or whatever, give them the basis of it, let them take it to the next stage, they make the picture in their own mind. I know I am happiest making records like this, making records that tell the truth and don’t beat around the bush. Maybe I’m wrong for it, but I know the people at the concerts know exactly what the songs are about, sing right along, and are really into it. We have their attention. They understand, I think, and they ’re getting the message. I don’t know. It seems real to me because. . . well, it is, because I’m saying exactly what’s going around me. I say everything exactly the way it is.
MUSICIAN: Do you think people think that you’re gay?
PRINCE: Well, there’s something about me, I know, that makes people think that. It must stem from the fact that I spent a lot of time around women. Maybe they see things I don’t.
MUSICIAN: People always speak about a feminine sensibility as if it ’s something negative in a man. But it’s usually very attractive for most women. Like a sensitiveness.
PRINCE: I don’t know. It’s attractive for me. I mean, I would like to be a more loving person, and be able to deal with other people ’s problems a little bit better. Men are really closed and cold together, I think. They don’t like to cry, in other words. And I think that’s wrong, because that ’s not true.
MUSICIAN: Is there anything that you want me to mention that we haven ’t talked about?
PRINCE: Well, I don’t know, it’s. . . I don’t want people to get the impression that sex is all I write about. Because it’s not, and the reason why it’s so abundant in my writing is mainly because of my age and the things that are around me. Until you can go to college or get a nine-to-five job, then there’s going to be a bunch of free time around you. And free time can only be spent in certain ways. But if people don’t dig my music, then stay away from it, that’s all. It’s not for everybody, I don’t believe. I do know that there are a lot of people wanting to be themselves out there.
MUSICIAN: Will you always try to be controversial?
PRINCE: That’s really a strange question, because if I’m that way, then I will be forever writing that way. I don’t particularly think it’s so controversial. I mean, when a girl can get birth control pills at age twelve, then I know she knows just about as much as I do, or at least will be there in a short time. I think people are pretty blind to it. Pretty blind to life, and taking for granted what really goes on.
MUSICIAN: Do you think that older people don’t give the twelve- and thirteen-year-olds enough credit for knowing as much as they know?
PRINCE: I’m sure they don’t. I’m absolutely sure they don’t I mean, when my mom had stuff in her room that I could sneak in and get. Books, vibrators, all kinds of things. I did it. I’m sure everybody else does. And if I can go in there and do all that, I don’t see how she figures I won ’t know. And the way she figures I don’t know is, she doesn’t sit down and tell me exactly what’s going on. I never got a rap like that, and I don’t know how many kids do.
MUSICIAN: I think that a lot of kids would like to feel that there ’s somebody who’s capturing that experience for them. And I don’t think anybody really has done it before.
PRINCE: Yeah. At the same time, you’re telling them about wanting to be loved or whatever… accepted. In time you can tell them about contraception and things like that, which need to be said. No one else is going to say it. I know I have def interview points on a lot of different things: The school system, the way the government’s run, and things like that. And I’ll say them, in time. And I think they ’ll be accepted for what they are.
MUSICIAN: So is that really you up there onstage?
PRINCE: What? The way I act? Oh, yeah, without a doubt.
MUSICIAN: In other words, when you go back to Minneapolis, and you go to parties, is that you?
PRINCE: Oh, yeah. And when I’m with my friends, I’m more like that than anything. A lot of times, when I got out to clubs, if I go, I just go to observe, and I watch people. I like to watch people. They way they act and things like that.
MUSICIAN: So what will be the first thing you do when you get back to Minneapolis?
PRINCE: Probably take a long bath. I haven ’t had one in a long time. I’m scared of hotel bathtubs.
MUSICIAN: What do you fear?
PRINCE: They just. . . a maid could walk in and see me.
MUSICIAN: I liked your first two albums, but it seemed to me that the third record, Dirty Mind, was really a growth….
PRINCE: Yes. The second record (For You) was pretty contrived, After the first record, I put myself in a hole, because I’d spent a lot of money to make it. With the second record, I wanted to remedy all that, so I just made it a “hit” album. I usually write hits for other people, and those are the songs I throw away and don’t really care for. Dirty Mind started off as demo tapes: they were just like songs inside that I wanted to hear. So I took it to my manager and he said, “This is the best stuff I’ve heard in a long time. This should be your album.” The drag is that I don’t know how I could make another album like that. I usually change directions with each record, which is a problem in some respects, but rewarding and fulfilling for me. I have mixed emotions.
MUSICIAN: The fourth record, Controversy, sounds more new wave.
PRINCE: It depends a lot on what instrument I write on. When I write on guitar, I come up with songs like “When You Are Mine” and “Ronnie Talks To Russia.·· When I start with drums. I get “Controversy.” Controversy is a little erratic. I’m really proud of this new album (1999).
MUSICIAN: How did “Little Red Corvette” come about?
PRINCE: That song was a real life incident. A girl in a little red Corvette….
MUSICIAN: Did you resist the idea of 1999 being a double album?
PRINCE: Yes. I didn’t want to do a double record, but I just kept on writing. Of course, I’m not one for editing. I did try to shorten things.
MUSICIAN: How do you prepare to go into the studio? Do you have rough ideas… ?
PRINCE: I don’t plan or anything like that. When I record, I find if I usually just sit down and do something, I’ll gradually come up with something. Sometimes it starts with a lyric.
MUSICIAN: Is It easier to work alone rather than with others?
PRINCE: Oh, much easier. I have a communication problem sometimes when I’m trying to describe music.
MUSICIAN: Were you always a musical loner?
PRINCE: When I first started, I always had buddies around me. I never wanted to be a front man. It felt spooky to be at the mike alone. I had a bad habit of just thinking of myself—if I just moved constantly, then people would think I was comfortable. But that wasn’t right.
MUSICIAN: When did you finally become comfortable performing?
PRINCE: Last year, on the Controversy tour. There was something about coming down the pole and going out in front. I felt real comfortable.
MUSICIAN: What was the incident at the Stones’ Coliseum show when you left the stage early?
PRINCE: When we went onstage, there were a lot of people throwing things and making noises and stuff. At first I thought it was fun, okay, and then I thought, “Well, we just better play.” Dez, my guitar player, is just a rock ’n’ roller at heart and he said, “Show ’em we can play, and then it’ll simmer down.” But there was this one dude right in the front and I looked down at him—you could see the hatred all over his face. He wouldn’t stop throwing things. And the reason that I left was I didn’t want to play anymore. I just wanted to fight him. I got really angry. It’s like I’m feeling, “Look, I got twenty minutes. If you can’t deal with that, well, we’ll have to go outside and work it out.” You know? How dare you throw something at me?
MUSICIAN: Many songwriters use the word “love” to mean other things such as ambition or goal or talent. Is the word “sex” almost interchangeable sometimes?
PRINCE: Yes, I think everything basically is. Like in “Lady Cab Driver,” for example, “sex” is used in two different contexts. One is anger.
MUSICIAN: Does that imply an S &M kind of thing? A lot of people might perceive that from the record.
PRINCE: Well, that’s up to them. I don’t want to burst anybody’s bubble, but the idea was that a lot of people make love out of loneliness sometimes.
MUSICIAN: And they want to be touched in reassurance?
PRINCE: Yes, exactly. It just went from anger and you start saying, “Well, how long can this go on? This is a person here. I have to be human.” The right spot was hit so….
MUSICIAN: Do you enjoy being in the studio?
PRINCE: Yes. There’s nothing like the feeling after you’ve done something and play it back and you know that you’ll never hear anything like it and that they’ll never figure it out-I’m sorry, I know what that sounds like. When I say “figure it out,” I mean something like I’ll try to go so high and so jagged with my voice that if everybody tries to do it their tonsils will tall out. I don’t try to trick people. Life is too confusing itself, and I wouldn’t put any more on anybody else. Now everybody’s worried about the fact that I can’t use engineers.
MUSICIAN: You can’t use engineers?
PRINCE: No, they drive me crazy. It’s because they’re so technical. Everything just got so esoteric, “We’ve got to do this a certain way,” when you’re ready to play.,he engineer I use and give credit to on the album, she sets everything up for me, most of the time before I come in. And then I Just do what I have to do and split. She puts things together afterward.
MUSICIAN: I once heard you described as a child prodigy.
PRINCE: Don’t. That’s all fabricated evidence that the management did to make it happen. I don’t want to say that I was anything less than what they thought, but I just did it as sort of a hobby, and then it turned into a job and just a way to eat, and now I do it as art.
CREEM MAGAZINE - March 1976
This album made me so morose and depressed when I got the advance copy that I stayed drunk for three days. I didn't go to work. I had a horrible physical fight with my wife over a stupid bottle of 10 mg. Valiums. (She threw an ashtray, a brick, and a five foot candelabra at me, but I got her down and sat on her chest and beat her head on the wooden floor.)
I called up the editor of this magazine (on my bill) and did virtually nothing but cough up phlegm in an alcoholic stupor for three hours, wishing somewhere in the back of my deadened brain that he could give me a clue as to why I should like this record.
I came on to my sister-in-law "C'mon over and gimme head while I'm passed out." I cadged drinks off anyone who would come near me or let me into their apartments. I ended up the whole debacle passing out stone cold after puking and pissing myself at a band rehearsal, had to be kicked awake by my lead singer, was driven home by my long-suffering best friend and force fed by his old lady who could still find it in the boundless reaches of her good heart to smile on my absolutely incorrigible state of dissolution...I willed her all of my wordly goods before dropping six Valiums (and three vitamin B complexes, so I must've figured to wake up, or at least at the autopsy they would say my liver was OK). Well, wake up I did, after sleeping sixteen hours, and guess what was running through my head, along with the visual images of flaming metropolises and sinking ocean liners foaming and exploding in vast whirling vortexes of salt water...
"Watch out for Charlie's girl...
She'll turn ya in...doncha know...
Ya gotta watch out for Charlie's girl..."
Which is supposed to be the single off Coney Island Baby and therefore may be a big hit if promoted right, 'cause it's at least as catchy as "Saturday Night"...if they can just get four cute teens to impersonate Lou Reed.
Now, when I was younger, the Velvet Underground meant to me what the Stones, Dylan, etc. meant to thousands of other midwestern teen mutants. I was declared exempt from the literary curriculum of my upper class suburban high school simply because I showed the English department a list of books I'd glanced through while obsessively blasting White Light/White Heat on the headphones of my parents' stereo. All my papers were manic droolings about the parallels between Lou Reed's lyrics and whatever academia we were supposed to be analyzing in preparation for our passage into the halls of higher learning. "Sweet Jane" I compared with Alexander Pope, "Some Kinda Love" lined right up with T.S. Eliot's "Hollow Men"...plus I had a rock band and we played all these songs, fueled pharmaceutically by our bassist who worked as a delivery boy for a drugstore and ripped off an entire gallon jar full of Xmas trees and brown & clears. In this way I cleverly avoided all intellectual and creative responsibilities at the cleavage of the decades (I did read all the Delmore Schwartz I could steal from local libraries, because of that oblique reference on the 1st Velvets LP). After all, a person with an electric guitar and access to obscurities like "I saw my head laughing, rolling on the ground" had no need of creative credentials...there was the rail-thin, asthmatic editoress of our school poetry mag, there was the unhappily married English teacher who drove me home and elsewhere in her Corvette...there were others (the girl who began to get menstrual cramps in perfect time to the drums in "Sister Ray"). Who needed the promise of college and career? Lou Reed was my Woody Guthrie, and with enough amphetamine I would be the new Lou Reed!
I left home. I wandered to the wrong coast. (Can you imagine trying to get people in Berkeley, California to listen to Loaded in 1971? Although maybe they all grew up and joined Earthquake...) When Lou's first solo album came out, I drove hundreds of miles to play it for ex-friends sequestered at small exclusive midwest colleges listening to the Dead and Miles Davis. Everyone from my high school band had gone on to sterling careers as psych majors, botanical or law students, or selling and drinking for IBM (Oh yeah except the drummer became a junkie and had a stroke and now he listens to Santana). All the girls I used to wow into bed with drugs and song married guys who were just like their brothers and moved to
Florida or Chicago, leaving their copies of Blonde on Blonde and White Light in some closet along with the reams of amphetamine driven poetry I'd forced on them over the years. By the time Metal Machine Music came out, I'd lost all contact. The only thing that saved me from total dissolution over the summer of '75 was hearing Television three nights in a row and seeing The Passenger.
So all those people will probably never pay any attention to Coney Island Baby, and even if they did it wouldn't do much for what's left of their synapses. The damn thing starts out exactly like an Eagles record! And with the exception of "Charlie's Girl" which is mercifully short and to the point, it's a downhill slide. "My Best Friend" is a six year old Velvets outtake which used to sound fun when it was fast and Doug Yule sang lead. Here it dirges along at the same pace as "Lisa Says" but without the sexiness. You could sit and puzzle over the voiceovers on "Kicks" but you won't find much (isn't it cute, the sound of cocaine snorting, and is that an amyl popping in the left speaker?). Your headphones would be better utilized experiencing Patti Smith's brilliant triple-dubbed phantasmagoria on Horses.
Side two starts off with the WORST thing Reed has ever done, this limp drone self-scam where he goes on about being "a gift to the women of this world" (in fact this whole LP reminds me of the junk you hear on the jukeboxes at those two-dollar-a-beer stewardess pickup bars on 1st Ave. above 70th). There's one pick up point, "Oo-ee Baby" with the only good line on the record "your old man was the best B&E man down on the street," but then this Ric Von Schmidt rip-off which doesn't do anything at all.
Finally there's "Coney Island Baby." Just maudlin, dumb, self pity: "Can you believe I wann'd t'play football for th' coach"...Sure, Lou, when I was all uptight about being a fag in high school, I did too. Then it builds slightly, Danny Weiss tossing in a bunch of George Benson licks, into STILL MORE self pity about how it's tough in the city and the glory of Love will see you through. Maybe. Dragged out for six minutes.
Here I sit, sober and perhaps even lucid, on the sort of winter's day that makes you realize a New Year is just around the corner and you've got very little to show for it, but if you are going to get anything done on this planet, you better pick it up with both hands and DO IT YOURSELF. But I got the nerve to say to my old hero, hey Lou, if you really mean that last line of "Coney Island Baby": "You know I'd give the whole thing up for you," then maybe you ought to do just that.
(from Creem Magazine - February 1976)
Patti Smith will survive the media blitz and everybody’s hunger for another "superstar," because she’s an artist in a way that’s right old-fashioned; Horses lunges with raw urgency, but her approach is very methodical. She could have done this a long time ago, and has been building steadily, paying dues and learning music fit for the reaches of her poetry so as, when the song is finally delivered, to fulfill all her promises.
What must be recognized is that she transcends bohemian cultism to be both positive and mainstream, even though her songs go past a mere flirtation with death and pathology. She just saw that it was time for literature to shake it and music to carry both some literacy and some grease that ain’t jive. The combination makes her an all-American tough angel, street-bopping and snapping her fingers, yet moving with that hipshake which is so like every tease you slavered after in high school.
Her sound is as new-old as her look. You hear the Shangri-Las and other early Sixties girl groups, as well as Jim Morrison, Lotte Lenya, Anisette of Savage Rose, Velvet Underground, beatniks and Arabs. Meanwhile, the minimalism of the band forces her sound out front along with the poetry, and that sound stands. This is not a "spoken-word" album, it’s a rock’n’roll album, and even if you couldn’t understand a word of English you couldn’t miss the emotional force of Patti’s music. And you’ll love it when she makes mistakes (in this era of slick, pre-digested "rock" as muzak), when her voice goes ragged (but right), like the perfect act of leaping for something precious. Who needs the other kind of perfection?
Which brings up one of the truly ballsy things about this album: that she is meeting the Mademoiselle articles and Earl Wilson columns, not with some slicked up tech-mech superproduction (which John Cale is certainly capable of), but the finest garage band sound yet in the Seventies. The band cooks primarily because, with certain momentary exceptions (Richard Sohl’s beautiful piano intro to "Free Money," Allen Lanier’s ghostly guitar in "Elegie"), they’re all used either as percussion instruments or (as in the halcyon days of the Velvet Underground) for the sustenance of one fortifying drone. Lenny Kaye gets off some of the best one-note distorto guitar since the Stooges’ "1969," and the general primitivism makes you realize you’re a mammal again and glad for it, licking your chops.
Which is not to say that there’s not musical sophistication working here; it’s just that it’s gut sophistication, unfaltering instinct rather than the clammily cerebral approach of the old "poetry and jazz" albums. Horses is a commanding record, as opposed to demanding—you don’t have to work to "understand" or like it, but you can’t ignore it either; it refuses to be background music, stops the action in the room when it’s on, and leaves its effects when it’s over whether the listeners like it or not.
Each song builds with an inexorable seethe, a penchant for lust and risk that shakes you and never lets you forget you’re listening to real rock’n’roll again at last. Meanwhile, every song contains moments that go beyond raunch into emotional realms that can give you chills. In "Birdland" it’s the breathtaking "It was as if somebody had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars and they started to slip"; in "Break It Up," Patti’s truly cosmic sequence of "I cried ‘Help me please’/Ice it was shining," and suddenly through that line you can actually hear her hitting her chest metronomically with her fist, leading into "My heart it was melting..."
Throughout, she plays with roles and masks, combining sulky stalking cat and assertedly male aggressor in "Gloria," where she expands the Van Morrison original into a wild fantasy that’s a celebration of raw lust and personal primacy over any god or law. One of the amazing things is that even though she is still learning to sing her voice is all over the place, from the horny yelp of "Gloria’s" "sweet young thuing" to the demonic way her tongue whips the word "locker" first time she says it in "Land" to the brief unearthly but heart-grazing wordless upper register vocal flight in the middle of "Elegie."
Horses really defines itself in "Kimberly," "Land" and "Elegie," the latter two fitting together in one shattering epic of violence, flight, death and mourning that is ultimately purgative. "Kimberly" is the most haunting song I’ve heard in a long time (enough so that by the time I’d had the record 48 hours it was pulsating straight through not only my days but my dreams at night), a sort of Ronettes bolero cum "Waiting For the Man" celebrating the act of giving birth as cataclysm (as it is) in stunning lyrics: "Oh baby I remember when you were born/It was dawn and the storm settled in my belly/And I rolled in the grass and I spit out the gas/And I lit a match and the void went flash/And the sky split/And the planets hit...And existence stopped/Little sister, the sky is falling/I don’t mind..."
"Land" establishes an eerily malevolent sexuality in the opening build leading to the rape scene, then the wild surge, each word an explosion, of "Suddenly/Johnny/gets a feeling/he’s being surrounded by/horses!/horses!/horses!/horses!" and then into a raw, tearing chorus of "Do you know how to pony" from the old Chris Kenner hit "Land of a Thousand Dances." After that the song takes off almost literally into space, Patti’s three vocal tracks weaving in and out of phase, merging splintered images as if by magic: "He picked up the blade and then he pressed it against his..smooth throat/and let it dip in/the veins/to the sea/of possibilities/it started hardening/to the sea/in my hand/and I felt the arrows of desire..." all rising in one raging floodgate of sound and image to explode in choking death chillingly envisaged, life ebbing with one decelerating drumbeat to "Elegie," a gust of pure melancholy stilled just short of whole anguish in Patti’s finest vocal and the loneliest piece of music since Nico’s "Elegy To Lenny Bruce."
Patti’s heroes may be gone, but she is both with us and for us, so strongly that her music is something, finally, to rally around. For one thing, she has certain qualities that can make her a hero to a whole generation of young girls, and may not be what you think. Suffice to say that Patti has done more here for woman as aggressor than all the Liberation tracts published, and has pushed to the front of the media eye that is just as much a process (ordeal) of learning to "become" a "woman" as it is for men wrestling with all this ballyhooed "manhood" business. It’s this tough chick who walks like Bo Diddley and yet is all woman that we’ve been waiting for for so long, a badass who pulls off the feat of being simultaneously idol of women and lust object of men (and women, no doubt).
And even more than that. Patti’s music in its ultimate moments touches deep wellsprings of emotion that extremely few artists in rock or anywhere else are capable of reaching. With her wealth of promise and the most incandescent flights and stillnesses of this album she joins the ranks of people like Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, or the Dylan of "Sad Eyed Lady" and Royal Albert Hall. It’s that deeply felt, and that moving: a new Romanticism built upon the universal language of rock’n’roll, an affirmation of life so total that, even in the graphic recognition of death, it sweeps your breath away. And only born gamblers take that chance.
Copyright © Lester Bangs 1976