I just had a chat with Martha Davis – she of The Motels. Just the other day. I’m thinking, before the call goes through, ‘man, I hope she’s ready to talk about Total Control’. Because, you know, I like that song. And it’s a huge hit – especially down this way, it was the band’s biggest hit down here. When she first turned up in Aussie to play it, so the story goes, she had no idea it was a big deal. She goes to launch into it with the band and the crowd gets their lighters out, knows every word, is howling along with words that almost resemble the lyrics, and wolf-whistling in the pauses and just generally loving the absolute shit out of the song. She’s gobsmacked. The band loves it. They return home super-chuffed.
So I’m thinking what are the chances, perhaps she’s a bit of a jerk about it now, like “talk to me about any other fucking song, please!” But no. You know what, I’ll write that interview up soon and you can read all about it here - but I can tell you now she was aces to talk to. She’s all stoked to reminisce – she’s talking about new music and the band she has now (also called The Motels) and she jokes that “Frank Zappa had only 200 Motels, whereas I’ve had about a thousand”. And she’s a good good sport. But she’s happy to talk about the hits. She knows the hits are what made her. She knows the hits is why she’s talking to me now (er, or then…) and that it’s the hits that are bringing her down the line to NZ. The hits – and the of course the need for a bit of coin and a bit of adulation – but that’s another story. Point is, she’s real – she’s with it. She knows what this is all about.
So she tells me all about waking up one day with “Only The Lonely on the end of the guitar, it’s just there, it’s a gift, and you can’t deny that sort of a gift, you go with it, you shape the song. You’re lucky to have that as a gift”. And she talks – lots – about Total Control. She gets that it is/was a big deal. She tells me it used to be a punk song. It was all fast. She rips it out down the line, she starts tearing through the lyrics at breakneck pace: “Looking counter clockwise/knowing what could happen/any moment/maybe you. MAYBE EVEN YOU!” She shrieks out that last bit. She stops to laugh – tells me that she told the guitarist to slow that shit right down. She says it’s really an angry motherfuckin’ song, right. And she senses it could sound great all glum, all moody, slowed down. And there you have it. There’s a great story about an old, old song. She verifies the shit out of that story about singing it in Aussie – she says she’ll never forget that and will always love us for that. (I think she thinks NZ is part of Australia and asks with genuine concern how I’m coping with the bushfires. So I straightface that I’m doing okay where I am – because, you know, that’s actually the truth. And it’s easier to play along than kill interview time explaining that we’re not a bunch of embarrassing bigots when it comes to boat people, just touring hip-hop artists…)
Anyway. She is the model interviewee is Martha Davis. You get off the phone from someone like that and even if you weren’t looking forward to the gig beforehand (and I’m not saying I wasn’t – I fucking love that first Motels album) you sure as shit ARE looking forward to it all of a sudden.
Hey, it’s a nice perk of interviewing someone. You put up with cancellations at the last minute – being strung along. You sometimes have to pay for the call, you often get very little warning to prepare for the thing – half a day’s notice sometimes. And you’re supposed to always ace it. But you get a good story and a slight hint of a rapport and that’ll keep you at it for another year or so.
But you get some shitters. And you get that thing happen – it’s crushing – where you talk to a hero, or someone you’re simply a bit of a fan of. And then they happen to be a total jerk. You get it. I mean, it can’t always be fun, trucking out the same old yarns and every interviewer thinks they’re asking you shit for the first time and in the best way and they’ve asked it in the dumbest way possible and for the 5000th time…
But it still sucks when someone you like is a bit of a dick on the line; has a bad day. I loved St. Vincent’s music. Her name is Annie Clark. She records and tours as St. Vincent. And she’s a badass guitar player and she writes great little comedy-horror songs. And she pisses all over most of the people that get the good notices. So I’m pretty stoked to chat with her one time. I’ve got all her albums, seen her play once already, looking forward to the second time. And then I get her on the line and she’s having the worst day, already bungled one interview and she’s gutted she’s got a heap more. She takes it out on me big time. And you know I can’t lie – I was fucking gutted. She made me feel tiny. She was horrible. She was so shit to speak to.
But sometimes you get a person on the phone and you really don’t mind if they’re jerk. It becomes part of the story. I never wrote up the time I talked to Don McLean. But man was her ever a giant dick. Thing is, I’d been tipped off before – he gets in fights with journos all the time. Seems he hates talking about American Pie. Well, why else would you want to talk to that dick? I mean that’s his legacy. That – and I guess that Vincent song. Starry, starry night…Okay, so I’m keen enough to chat to him though – just because I get the offer and though I hate most of his music I’ve done my time listening to it. There was a time I loved that American Pie. I can’t lie. I dug it. I was young. But this guy just won’t hear it. He’s all “everything you need to know about that song is in the song”. Oh puh-lease. And so then I try talking to him about Starry Starry Night and his Vincent Van Gogh thing. But nah. Not interested. “Ask me about my new album” he instructs. “So, you’ve got a new album” I say. “Tell me about it…”
“Well, have you even fucking heard it?” He shouts. “Nah”, I say. “Still listening to American Pie, tell me more about that…” I’m kinda taking the piss at this point. And man, he’s taking bait. “I’ve been making music for nearly 50 goddamn years and I just wish people would ask me about something else”. This from a guy whose next biggest hit after those two songs is some pussy-arse shit like Castles In The Air. Fucking give me a break.
We get into a bit of stuff about the structure of his set and what he’ll play. I don’t go to his gig. But I hear it’s pretty bloody awful. His voice is poked. He’s dull. He’s moody. He’s a jerk.
But I’m kinda enjoying my time on the phone with him – in a weird way, sure. But I’m hanging in there. I start bringing American Pie in whatever way I can. And man he’s having fucking none of it. He starts telling me the song was no big deal to him. He didn’t even like it. I tell him it’s the only reason people are going to see him. To say they’ve heard it live. He starts telling me that he’s got songs on all of his albums that are better than American Pie. I tell him that it’s unlikely many other people think that.
Man he gets fucking wild. He starts bitching out and cussing up. And he’s all “people don’t ask Bob Dylan about Blowin’ In The Wind all the time” and then, “Neil Young never has to talk about Like A Hurricane this much”. And I suggest that it’s because they’ve written SO MANY great songs.
And he spits back “exactly!”
And I think I’ve mocked him pretty good there – you know, suggesting that he in fact HASN’T written that many good songs. And he thinks he’s educated me pretty good and I’ve only just got his point. And he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Sir Bob and Sir Neil.
It’s an angry game of tennis this one. But I had read about what an angry man this guy was. This lily-livered folkie-hack has a bit of bite when he’s not writing soft, shitty, boring songs it seems.
We reach our time and I’ve tried every way in – I’ve made sincere attempts to get the conversation going and when that hasn’t worked I’ve just circled back around to bring up American Pie. And then I close off by telling him that I once played in a covers band and that it’s a great thrill to have spoken to him given I played (bad) covers of his two biggest songs.
I don’t even know if I was being sincere here – it was all getting a bit confusing. It’s true though that we played American Pie. I mighta adlibbed and poetic-licensed the addition of Vincent – but man does it sting.
His final line of the interview: “Well good on you. And good luck to you. And maybe next time you’ll learn another of my songs. I’ve written hundreds of good ones you know!” And with that he actually hangs up – like slams the phone down.
It was pretty funny.
But c’mon. Seriously. Who does that giant pullthrough think he’s fooling. He’s good for American Pie. And Vincent. And they’re not even good. But you can bet that’s why 80% of his audience attends. To hear those fucking songs.
All he needed to do was spin a line or two about both and we’d have moved on. But it seems he can’t move on. He feels the pressure, every interview, of the weight of those songs. Well, good. He fucking deserves that. You write something like that execrable American Pie. You deserve to live with that. Your whole fucking life.
It Was The Worst started life as a series of posts on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page