Saturday, July 16, 2011
5 Minutes With Marc Spitz
Marc Spitz is a music journalist, author and playwright. Spitz's writings on rock n' roll and popular culture have appeared in Spin (where he was a Senior Writer) as well as the New York Times, Maxim, Blender, Harp, Nylon and the New York Post. He is currently the music blogger for Vanity Fair and a regular contributor to the British music magazine Uncut. Spitz is the author of the novels, How Soon Is Never, and Too Much, Too Late and the biographies We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of LA Punk (with Brendan Mullen), Nobody Likes You: Inside the Turbulent Life, Times and Music of Green Day, Bowie: A Biography and Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue.
Q1. What was the first record you owned and how did it change your life?
I would like to say something cool like Unknown Pleasures, but it was Glass Houses by Billy Joel, which I thought was a punk rock record since he sang about "Hot Punk," and the Chipmunks covered him on chipmunk punk...
I was ten. I had favorite singles like "Cars" by Gary Numan, "Pop Muzik" by M, and "My Sharona," but the full album that i actually bought myself and spent time staring at and thinking about was Billy's. for a Long Island kid, it was sort of a rite of passage. Billy is religion out there and you can't escape it. I still love that record. The shattered glass at the start of "You May Be Right," the push button tones before "Sometimes A Fantasy," The breezy strumming on "don't ask me why" and of course, the sax solo on "it's still rock and roll to me," where he screams, "alright rico." and that "woo hoo," at the very end.
I thought Bruce Springsteen's The River was punk too, by the way....and Voices by Hall and Oates. By 1982, I'd figured it out. But I still love both those albums as well.
Q2. How did you get into the worlds of literature and rock & roll?
When I turned 40 last year I had a whole ‘how did I get here,’ moment, because I never really wanted to be a “rock writer,” especially since there’s a lot of bad rock writing out there. I guess there was in the 70s too but we don’t think about it, we only think about the ones who could do it well: Lester Bangs, Nick Kent, Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer, Christgau, Ellen Willis etc. I guess writing about rock and roll in a literary fashion, with those writers and many more as heroes worked out a lot of anger in a positive way and still keeps my problems with authority from getting out of control. The way I imagine playing rock and roll would handle those issues. I am not musically talented but I can write. Writing about food or even sports and politics just wouldn’t quiet that booming, “Fuck you,” that I have in my head like white noise. Writing about music in a certain way does the trick. I used to live that shit out a lot more but I’m the clichéd “mellowing with age” guy now. Come to think of it, you could tie that all back to Billy Joel as well. He was also one of my first concerts and at the end of every show, he tells the crowd, “Don’t take any shit from anybody…”
Q3. David Bowie seems to be 'off the radar' these days so I am guessing that you weren't able to speak to the Thin White Duke for you book 'Bowie: A Biography' (2009). If you had been able to talk to him what would be the one burning question that you would ask?
I didn’t really try to talk to him. Didn’t pester him. I just assumed he wouldn’t be interested and I didn’t want that hanging over the whole project like a pall. The book had enough issues to vex it, believe me. There’s a book about that book somewhere. I’m actually work on a novel right now about (in part) a rock writer (this alter ego character I have named Joe Green who is the narrator of How Soon and also appears in the follow up novel Too Much Too Late) takes on a huge rock book about a hero and it basically reduces him to tears. If I had one thing to say to Bowie, I would probably ask, “Why didn’t you stop me, man?”
Q4. 'How Soon Is Never' is your novel-cum-homage to The Smiths. Can you tell me a bit about the novel and do you think The Smiths should ever re-unite?
If they did reunite, I would be there. I was on tour with Pixies when they reunited and saw Pavement last summer in Central Park and it didn’t ruin my memory of loving either of those bands in the late 80s and early 90s respectively. And I was warmed to read about Pulp reuniting. I’m not anti-reunions, if they’re done right. Like you have to have the original members if they’re still alive (the New York Dolls get a pass) and I don’t see Moz and Mike Joyce sharing a stage. So it would be Moz, Marr, maybe Andy Rourke and a drummer for hire? Ringo Starr’s kid? No disrespect to him but do you want to hear the drum beat from “Reel Around the Fountain” from that guy? That might fuck with my memories a little. I respect Morrissey for not doing it the same way I respect Bowie for seemingly putting a period on his career and saying, “that’s enough.” This is real non-conformist behavior when compared with the whole Coachella Reunion/Don’t Look Back/All Tomorrow’s Whatever syndrome. Or someone like McCartney or Dylan literally touring into their 70s and making it (to their great credit) fully acceptable. Oh and about the novel, I recently re-read it and was shocked to find that it's very good. I never read any of my stuff after it's published (see above mentioned Bowie lament) but I was trying to get back into the voice of my alter -ego and so it was a must. I was shocked by how brave i was only seven years ago. I've really turned into a mushy pea.
Q5. You have written a new biography of Mick Jagger, the wonderfully titled 'Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue'. Since he's now 'Sir Mick' do you think he relinquished the right to use sobriquets?
I don’t know. This is something you Brits tend to take a lot more seriously. I think we Americans like the idea of Sir Mick or Sir Paul or Sir Elton and it just becomes another term of affection like you calling Madonna Madge or Morrissey Moz as I did earlier (although I can’t bring myself to call Little Wayne Weezy). We don't have knights of the realm. The angle I take in my new book is that it’s secretly the most rebellious and perhaps revolutionary thing Mick has done even though there are some sources who claim that he has been chasing the honor his entire career, there must have been some mid point meet up. They came to him just as much as he came to them and if you think about it, he’s not really publicly affiliated with a cause like Sting or Elton John, he’s unabashedly young in his behavior and his taste and romantic exploits, and has not really stopped being a rebel, even though when compared with keith’s perfect outlaw myth, he seems less so. So to bestow such an honor on such a rogue, is like than scene in Goodfellas when Deniro is elated to first hear that Joe Pesci is getting made (even though it ends in tears later). It’s a victory for all the rogues. I think his contribution to British music and culture is immeasurable. If I were British the Stones would make me feel patriotic. I am assuming that’s what earned him the honor. And if that’s the case, why not give it to Keith too? And Charlie.