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3am Interview





THE ABSURDIST: AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD STRANGE



"I've recently been on Radio 4. The Today Programme. Cherie Blair is shown in bed in the George Michael video and someone had told them that one of my new songs was a love song to Cherie. Thinking that Cherie was the new love sex pin-up of the intelligentsia or something, they invited me in to play the song. . . . So there I was on Radio 4's flagship programme and no one there had done their homework because of course the song was not a love song at all but referred to meeting Tony Blair in a sex shop and looking at Cherie and saying I had to have her and dropping my trousers. At which Edward shrieked 'This isn't a love song. This is an elaborate hoax. We've been had' and I said 'What did you expect? I am an absurdist!'"

Richard Marshall interviews Richard Strange

COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


RS: I was living in Berlin. I wrote a review of the Metropolis exhibition for The Guardian and was asked by a guy called Mike von Joel if I wanted to be European Editor of his magazine Artline. I thought it would be glamour and money, expense accounts and long lunches but of course it wasn't. You know how it is.

3AM: Absolutely. I'm only here for the free drinks.

RS: Of course it was punk that destroyed my band. There's no way of telling whether you're going to make it in the music industry. It's a lot to do with luck and being at the right place at the right time and we just weren't. Of course, there's talent as well. No medals for being a bit too early. At least, no medals for twenty years! But there we were all set to go and then we had the gig where the Pistols were invited to support us.

3AM: This was the one in Middlesborough.

RS: Yes, that's right. May 1976. Until then we were doing well, we were able to attract 1000 people a night to watch us. The Doctors Of Madness weren't a mega stadium band but we were doing ok. And I knew as soon as I heard the Pistols that we were finished. We were suddenly too old and we couldn't do anything about it. I was 25 -- and too old for rock! Everything we were trying to do was blown away that night. I was just plain jealous. That's how I felt after seeing them. It was terrible, but kind of interesting too. But mainly terrible. It's not often that you can actually point to the exact time and place where one generation gives way to the next , the actual moment, but as I was writing the book it was easy to pick the time and the place. In Spring 1975 the Americans lost the Vietnam War and in November 1975 The Pistols played their first ever gig at St Martin's art college. In those six short months my generation was pushed aside by the next one. The hippies gave way to the punks. It was grim! Oh, And the Pistols pinched our money while we were onstage that night.

3AM: But you did get it back with interest.

RS: Yes, that's right. 20 years later Johnny send me a $50 bill and a note that said "Paid in Full"! Malcolm McLaren said, "But I'm sure it was Steve who nicked the money that night!"

3AM: You've got a new album out?

RS: Yes. I call the band Happiness. After the film. It's ironic. It was enjoyable to do actually. Fun. I'm pleased with it. It's not really possible to make money in the music industry these days. Well, there are probably two ways you can make money. As a pub band where you'll pick up a tenner a night. Or as a stadium band. But the bit in between is where it's all been lost. It's interesting , the way you can make a record now for very little money. Next to nothing. Whereas before, when you'd have to hire a studio at 150 an hour or whatever, you'd need the backing of a big record company. You couldn't just do it on your own when we started out. You'd have to be in Abbey Road Studios or somewhere. So there would be a few bands who got the backing of the record companies. And they'd give you a three-record deal. Now you tend to get one-record deals and then they see how it goes. But the difficulty these days isn't making the records. With the new technologies you can make it in your bedroom. The real difficulty is in the distribution. Getting it out there and onto the radio and into the shops. Getting it known about. That's where you need the publicity machines of the big companies. And of course, with the Net technologies growing now, you can download anything you like. It's fantastic. I love the democratisation of the music industry. The way everyone can get in on it. The Net is really making everything much more democratic.

3AM: You welcome that even though you are in the business? Interesting, because there are so many once radical sounding music makers who now resent the Net and the new technologies, they want greater controls.

RS: No, I love the way it democratises everything. Although I don't have a multi-million pound honey pile to lose! If I did maybe I'd sound a little different. But there's going to have to be adaptation and compromise.

There's money to be made from live concerts and merchandise -- T-shirts and so on. But I think the industry has got some things wrong. I always like having the material. I like to have the CDs and books and so on lying around me. I like the materialism of it. I'm sure a lot of us do. Having the album, or the book lying around on the coffee table to impress the chicks! That's part of the function of pop music. We are what we consume. You can't say to your new girlfriend "Come back to my place and see what I've got on my hard- drive!" It just isn't sexy!

3AM: I listen to stuff on the Net but I like to buy it as well.

RS: Exactly. I do too. I like to be able to have them around me. I guess when we're listening to an album we might only want to hear three or four tracks and maybe what the industry will do is compromise and burn you just those tracks or something. I don't know. But it's exciting and new. What's interesting is the changes that have taken place. Looking at white rock music. If you think in the twenty-five years from 1941 to 1966 you go from Glen Miller to The Velvet Underground. That's a hell of a journey. A huge shift in musical terms and everything. But from 1975 and the Doctors of Madness to 2000 and Pulp there's not been that much of a journey. I know I'm being very careful which bands I'm using as illustrations here, but I think there's something in this. I'm not sure what to make of that. I really like Pulp. I think Jarvis is very talented and unique. I believe in his world.

3AM: I like him because he's a Sheffield lad as well.

RS: You too then eh? Anyway. The trouble with people of our generation is that we think we invented everything. We invented sex, we invented protest movements (the end of the Vietnam war), we invented women's rights, we invented rock, the media, drugs, we invented youth, we invented everything that's good. And I think there's a case for thinking that.

3AM: Mick Farren, in his book Give The Anarchist A Cigarette, says the same sort of thing. Arguing with punks that hippies were political and dangerous, not just flakey, depoliticised softies.

RS: I haven't read that, but it sounds interesting. Of course punk was great, a kind of gesture but coming from an earlier generation I was aware of other things, of history. Ignorance is great as a badge you wear to irritate people but if everyone is ignorant all the time then you don't get very far.

3AM: You're a very articulate guy working in a business that isn't known for its brains.

RS: Again, that's to do with my generation. I don't have an arty background. I did have two elements in my family that did help though. One was my great great uncle who was Sir Arthur Quiller Couch . He's best known for compiling the definitive English language poetry collection The Oxford Book Of English Verse.

3AM: This is the Cornwall connection.

RS: That's right. Fowey, where Daphne Du Maurier also lived. Anyway, he was there in the past. And there was also my uncle Stan, Stan Emeny who was part of a four-man, close-harmony singing group The Radio Revellers who were big in the forties and fifties. Their career was shot by Beatlemania in the sixties. Like The Doctors when the Pistols came along George Melly LOVED the Radio Revellers. But the main thing that inspired me was my English teacher, Bev Woodroffe. He would give me all sorts of things to read -- not just Shakespeare and Chaucer but Pinter, Joyce, Beckett, Burroughs, TS Eliot and so on. He would always show an interest and encourage me to write poetry. I loved writing poetry and wrote a lot of it, appalling stuff without question! But this Mr Woodroffe was the person who showed me that it was possible to be creative and imaginative. It's funny, I hear this a lot from people: some teacher that was absolutely seminal in setting them off on their careers. And they can never find them when they go looking for them. It's as if the teachers do their work and then move on, don't look back. It's incredible. I went to a Brixton Comprehensive school, Tulse Hill. It doesn't exist anymore. Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London and Linton Kwesi Johnson went there as well. It's interesting that I liked it there but they didn't. I met Ken a few years ago and I asked him what was the best thing he ever did there and he answered, "The best thing I did as leader of the GLC was to knock the bloody place down!"

3AM: It's not just music though is it? You've run cabaret clubs, films, installation art. I know it isn't a project, but what would you say the Richard Strange project was all about?

RS: I think I am an absurdist. That's what I am. That's what I've been doing. If you look at the work I was doing setting up clubs and so on, there's a real absurdist, surrealist feel to everything. It's quite interesting to do that stuff. If you're not careful you make everything possible and then it gets boring. So you have to avoid that. That's the challenge. Of course there's a history of this stuff but at the time I wasn't consciously tying myself into it. But looking at what I've been doing , it's definitely about that. Definitely.

3AM: Interestingly, you've done many things but you never wrote a novel.

RS: Ah, that's next. I've already got an idea I'm about to be working through. I just hope it's more than a short story. I think it is. It's a kind of satirical, psychological thriller set in New York and London. For me the word is the thing. You know, when Bob Dylan came along and showed us all what was possible. And then Lou Reed and I suppose later Bowie. After Dylan there was no way the banal three-minute lyric was going to be enough for me. And Burroughs. Of course everyone writes some appalling songs as they go on. There was a time when Dylan wasn't allowed to write anything bad. He was critic proof. Same with Lou Reed. I always thought words were the thing. I've always been interested in arranging them in new ways, finding new possibilities, cut-ups and so forth. New techniques. But you're right, I never tried a novel because there was so much else I was doing. But now I really want to write a novel. Like I said, I have it in process. That's what I'll be doing next.

3AM: You have been friends with people in the art world -- Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk for example -- and you've done stuff yourself. Is that where white rock has gone to?

RS: Damien's a one-off, and some of his really substantial work I think will last forever. I've done installation and performance work, but after Duchamp, what's new in any of this stuff that's everywhere now? I've recently been on Radio 4. The Today Programme. Cherie Blair is shown in bed in the George Michael video and someone had told them that one of my new songs was a love song to Cherie. Thinking that Cherie was the new love sex pin-up of the intelligentsia or something they invited me in to play the song. Edward Sturton and Jim Naughtie welcomed me and Sturton told me there wouldn't be much time so they'd quickly introduce me and then I'd go straight into the verse about Cherie. So there I was on Radio 4's flagship programme and no one there had done their homework because of course the song was not a love song at all but referred to meeting Tony Blair in a sex shop and looking at Cherie and saying I had to have her and dropping my trousers. At which Edward shrieked "This isn't a love song. This is an elaborate hoax. We've been had" and I said "What did you expect? I am an absurdist!"

3AM: In our next interview let's talk about the films -- you're in a new Scorsese -- and other stuff. But before you go, I have to ask. The human hand that was served up to you as dinner by a friend. Did you eat it?

RS: No. We touched it but no, we didn't eat it.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Strange has been approached by Jonathan King. Richard Strange has been robbed by The Sex Pistols. Richard Strange has been signed to Virgin Records by Richard Branson. Richard Strange has executed John Cleese in five different ways in just two days. Richard Strange has spent a year digging a grave with James Nesbitt. Richard Strange has sung a duet with Twiggy. Richard Strange has dribbled over Christian Slater. Richard Strange has wrestled with The Undertaker. Richard Strange has played cricket with Imran Khan. Richard Strange has knocked out a London Showbiz journalist with a single blow, and been rewarded with a bottle of champagne. Richard Strange has sold dirty videos to Bob Hoskins. Richard Strange has paid Depeche Mode 15 to play a half hour set. Richard Strange has asked John Lennon to do him a favour. Richard Strange has cooked Shepherd's Pie for Mariella Frostrup and eaten spaghetti with Sophia Loren. Richard Strange has trashed an art gallery with Jack Nicholson. Richard Strange has had a song on Plastic Bertrand's Greatest Hits album. Richard Strange has been served a roasted human hand for lunch. And now, Richard Strange has written a memoir, Strange: Punks and Drunks and Flicks and Kicks, published by Andre Deutsch in May 2002.





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