NME, February 1988
STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE
Len Brown, NME, 20th February 1988
"I think that very strong intelligent artists should dictate practically everything, but they don't. If we talk about Tiffany and Belinda Carlisle and the whole influx of Debbie Gibsons we can quite easily be accused of giving too much attention to obviously untalented, obviously discountable people. But these people really are ruling the world of British popular music and I think it's a serious epidemic. The Top 40 has never been as dank and depressing and non-musical as it is now. We're intelligent people, we all know that the Top 40 chart is a game and is, quite seriously in certain cases, rigged. I don't believe that people are going out and buying certain records in the Top 10. It's impossible, even taking into account the possibility that 30 percent of the public might be seriously mentally unspectacular. There's a serious conspiracy going on and I personally blame Jack Charlton."
Without wishing to rekindle the old "burn down the disco, hang the blessed DJ" furore (any fool knows that Panic was written in response to Steve Wright playing Wham! after the Chernobyl newsflash) what do you seriously think of rap and hip-hop?
"I really do think it's a great musical stench. I find it very offensive, artless and styleless. To me it's very reminiscent of thuggery, pop thuggery. I don't want to hear it at all."
But surely it just reflects a different culture from your own?
"I don't think it has anything to do with culture. Initially it did but I think it's burnt out. I know white people who are obsessed with it and feel it speaks to them but I find it remarkably illiterate, without any degree of cunning and without any degree of confrontation. I don't forgive that regardless of the category."
Yet it's got great appeal and it's very strong music because it's the product of our new multi-racial society?
"I think that's proved to be true, very true, but it says nothing to me... about my kitchen."
Do you really think it's fair to slag off an area of music outside your taste and experience?
"Yes, I do."
But Schooly D's never off your turntable?
"All the time."
Whereas The Wedding Present and The Primitives do say something to you?
"Well, it's definitely my world, but even within that I do have certain criticisms, I do have certain rules and regulations. But, yes, they are very much part of my little planet. The Primitives, if we have to get personal about these things, I was initially very excited by but I no longer see what I first saw. I don't know whether that's the draining process; I can understand the pressures of suddenly being on Wogan, of suddenly being on RCA, but a little bit of intrigue has disappeared."
Is that why you refused to perform with them?
"No, I don't think that's very stylish at all, singing with other people, especially as the song in question was 'Ticket To Ride'. I mean, would you?"
"I can't act at all, which is very surprising. I can't be natural in front of the camera... I can't even be natural when I'm lying in the bath. I did one thing for a Brookside spin-off called South, which is about Tracie and Jamie. But it's compulsive non-viewing, essential kettle-on time. I just play, believe it or not, me... in the foyer of Capital Radio waiting to do some incredibly duff acting. It's so bad that you'll no doubt video it and show it to everybody! I believe it's being shown at the end of March. I'm in normal costume, whatever that means, and yes, I have three or four lines. I'm sure even those will be edited down to an eloquent nod!"
"People believe that once you've had a degree of success you've been given everything you've striven for and therefore you back off, you're consumed by luxurious things. I've been successful but I've never been isolated within that success to the degree where I've never been affected for the good or for the bad by success. I am still quite critically, unbudgeably the same person. I've never quite believed in it, not because I don't believe that everything I've done has been done with taste, because I know the world we live in and I know how simple and intolerant it is. The music industry is obviously excessively intolerant of me as a living, breathing, sleeping, walking person."
ON OSCAR WILDE
"It would seem almost impossible, I think, at the height of his fame that he would end a few years later in such a bitter, ruinous state, such a lonely state, and also have such a hideous death. A remarkably sad end when you consider that this man had changed English literature and English language. Also, regardless of how he wrote and how he lived in the public sense, his private life was just as astounding. And that's the final judgement of all artists... I don't think it's enough to switch on and switch off, to be there in the daytime but to be playing hockey at night. I've read practically everything (by and about him) and I have a vast collection of first editions, one signed by Ellen Terry, an old chick of Oscar's... Although he was the most intelligent he simplified everything, therefore practically anybody could read Oscar Wilde and understand. He wasn't complicated yet he still left you lying on the bed panting because it was so real and truthful."
ON THE SOUTH BANK SHOW
"A lot of people erroneously assumed that I entirely tailored The South Bank Show; that I chose the people to be interviewed, that I edited it. I didn't have anything to do with The South Bank Show, I just did one lengthy interview. I found it to be The Smiths too simplified. I would rather it had been a presentation to the people who quite intelligently had followed The Smiths since the very early days; instead it seemed to be the most harmless, the most base viewpoint of The Smiths for the uninitiated. And I never understood why anyone should produce for the uninitiated. But I thought some of the footage was excellent, such as the cows - that was great, but it seemed a bit old, the same documentary could've been made three years earlier."
The Viv Nicholson sequence?
"Very awkward. A beautiful woman but it was really delving into January 1984, just a little bit late. The actual sequence was so abstract, of me and her just disappearing with no sound. It was like some curious Polish play."
ON THE LATE 1970's
"I've never been optimistic. The late '70's became gradually worse and I was quite literally bedridden for years. I found the prospect of turning 20 alarming and I hadn't a clue what was going to happen. When I'd go to bed at night I'd have terrible palpitations because I was so worried. I'd wake up at 3 o'clock and begin to pace the bedroom. It was really the beginning of the severe unemployment situation, and people at that time really believed that if you didn't work you were slovenly and lazy and all those other interesting things. They still do but it's less aggressive now because we realise there's world crisises [sic], whereas then it was a terrible physical disease to stay at home and paint your face."
"I look around me and... well, I don't want to break into a Ralph McTell song, but I do feel the light has gone out and that things just get progressively worse in every way. I can't think of one thing which improves."
Does that make you a pessimist or a realist?
"I think I'm a realist. Which people who don't like me consider to be pessimism. It isn't pessimism at all. If I was a pessimist I wouldn't get up, I wouldn't shave, I wouldn't watch Batman at 7:30 a.m. Pessimists just don't do that sort of thing."
But you're a socialist, as Oscar Wilde was a socialist?
"Yes, but I think a humanist before that. I've never had a flat cap and I've never smoked Senior Service."
You're pretty discontented with the world. Why don't you do something positive like, er, run for Parliament?
"I don't think I'd have much chance in a political sense. I don't think I have the intelligence to begin with but also I don't think I'd be very tolerated. Also to be a successful politician you have to have brittle mental innards and I think I'm too much of a sensualist. I care too much about things like conservation and animals, which aren't allowed."
Are you a member of an animal rights organisation?
"I'm very concerned about animal issues. I've donated occasionally but I'm not an active member of any action group, which is something I'm very embarrassed about... it's largely a question of time."
Do you believe in Direct Action?
"Yes, I do, I think what we're lacking is Direct Action whether we're discussing Tiffany or nuclear waste. Direct Action is the only thing that can save the world, there's no point in sitting cross-legged round a nicely polished table... No, I wasn't referring to us I was referring to political groups, nurses' unions and so forth. I think a few bricks need to be thrown through a few specific windows... like Katie Boyle's."
Will you lead the charge?
"Well, I gladly would if I thought there were any troops, but a one-man army can get a little strenuous... Who would make the tea?"
"I'm aware of how football has also been gagged, the television coverage and the newspaper coverage. I think snooker was introduced to strangulate football crowds. It's very, very sad... I've been seen once or twice on the terraces... I once bought a Manchester United hat, which I think was 12 shillings, and somebody ran up behind me and pulled it off and just ran ahead. So I thought, 'It's a very cruel world, I'm not prepared for this.' And I decided to get my revenge on society."
"I'm bereft of spiritual solutions. I do believe that there has to be a better world, but that's rather simple. I'm quite obsessed with death. I've gone through periods of intense envy for people who've died. Yes, I have a dramatic unswayable unavoidable obsession with death. I can remember being obsessed with it from the age of eight and I often wondered whether it was quite a natural inbuilt emotion for people who're destined to take their own lives, that they recognise it and begin to study it. If there was a magical beautiful pill that one could take that would retire you from this world, I think I would take it and I suppose that's the extremity of the obsessiveness."
GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY (LIKE JACK DUCKWORTH)
"I don't want to walk onstage with a hair transplant, with shoes on the wrong foot. I find pop senility totally appalling to witness and obviously there's so many strong examples of it now. I don't want to haul the carcass across the studio floor and reach for the bathchair as I put down a vocal."