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Ian Astbury in a modern take of a classic pose (publicity photo, photographer unknown)

You know what, motherfucker? Take some responsibility.

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There’s incredible stuff to delve into; The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Bhagavad Gita—Tibetans gave it great consideration. The Book of the Dead is not a fucking work of fiction, they actually observed the stages of death and life. I actually saw Sogyal Rinpoche, he wrote The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, this prominent Tibetan Buddhist scholar and enlightened person. He comes out and says “Why is everyone so down? Why is everyone so concerned about death and decay?” Then he said, “Don’t worry about that, you’re going to do that fine. You’ll get top marks!” We’ll all be equal. No one’s going to have a Mercedes. It’s the living we want to worry about, let’s get into the living. This life that we have and what’s left of it.

I recently turned 50; it’s a signpost, a milestone, I drove right by it. I didn’t even look at it, just kept rolling. There was an awareness of the finite since I watched both my parents pass away and several close friends. It’s amazing, Robin Gibb died yesterday and there’s Donna Summer, Adam Yauch. Adam, from the Beastie Boys, that was…wow! I’ve been around that guy since we were 25-years-old. The Beastie Boys used to come into the studio when Rick Rubin was making Electric, they’d be fucking jamming on our gear in the studio and we would throw them out. They were making Licensed to Ill. Everyone on Deaf Jam used to hang out at the studio when we were making that record. That was an interesting period. The Free Tibet movement, that was probably the last time I saw him. We didn’t see it coming.

I knew he was receiving treatments for cancer, but I didn’t know how advanced it was.

Cancers are expanding in our culture, becoming more and more commonplace. Some of the antidotes are out there in nature but drug companies control what we can put in our bodies and what we cannot. Mmmmm, I didn’t vote for that. You come out into a society that always has rules and regulations established. By who? Can you show me your credentials please?

A cloud of people.

Precisely. In the UK, everyone’s going “Yay, the Queen! So good! She has her Jubilee!” whatever it is. At some point the royal family used violence to subjugate another caste. There’s nothing worse. Manifest destiny in the United States. Think about the amount of Native Americans that were killed so you could put your strip mall in. We’ve all got blood on our hands, all of us, even the indigenous. They fought their tribal warfare for centuries. We all, at some point, culture and society, got blood on our hands. Our tax dollars that went to the military paid for bullets and bullets. I’m sure we probably purchased a bullet with our tax dollars. It was fired out of a gun. In some ways we’re all kind of complicit with it. Unconscious, maybe, but we’re all complicit. If you walk around thinking about those things, [laughs] you’d be neutralized! You won’t be able to function. These are huge, profound issues. So we can keep looking at the screen and everything will be okay. It’ll be taken care of for us.

We are seeing people questioning authority—not the actual authority of the institution but the actual authority of the authority. What are your credentials? Who gave you your tag/badge/station/position? Just because you went to Harvard or wherever, does that justify the position you’ve been given? Is it based upon experience? It’s good to see institutions where you can really learn about life experience because when we have people with life experience coming forward and telling you things, they’re usually marginalized and pushed out to the fringes.

I was watching this documentary the other day about Ishi, the last wild Indian. He died in 1916. He was taken by the Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco and the media called him a “caveman”, that he was “backward”, that he dragged women off to the bushes and so on. It was so heartbreaking that our culture can be so naive and cruel. Yeah, we’ve still got a way to go. Even as individuals, there’s plenty of work you can do on yourself. I think it takes courage to step into it. You see so many people being courageous. It’s amazing now, with the blogosphere people are terrified to do anything because of criticism.

The criticism is getting more harsh.

It is. It’s brutal. I’ve seen some stuff on the blogosphere that’s fucking brutal. When the Lou Reed record came out with Metallica [Lulu] there was some brutal stuff written about it, especially from a younger generation. First of all, Lou Reed is, what, seventy-years-old now? I’d say an elder. He’s had experience; I’d say he’s got an incredible body of work. So who would you defer to, Lou Reed or a 24-year-old critic whose life experience is very minimal? Who are we to question his choices? Who are we to question an artist?

To me he gets a hall pass. Not just a hall pass, he gets a seat. He gets a seat at the table of one of the ones you want to listen to. I’d rather hear him speak than a 24-year-old speak about what they think they know about the world. I want to have access to Lou Reed. I want to hear his insight, his words of wisdom and his brilliance. When the man’s speaking everyone else should be quiet. You may learn something. So I kind of felt bad that the culture came out and jumped down his throat. I was like “Really? Wow.” It’s just disrespectful to ourselves.

Have you seen that documentary on the New York Times? [Page One: Inside the New York Times]. David Carr, who is quite a colorful journalist for the New York Times is interviewing Vice magazine and they were talking about the staff of Vice traveling to Africa somewhere, a very poor area where people just go and shit on the beach. They filmed all that, this disgusting human behavior. The guys from Vice were alluding to the New York Times not being aware of the realities of Africa. David Carr straightens them out saying “You do not get to criticize our journalists who put themselves on the line. We’ve been reporting on genocide for decades. You don’t get to do that here.” Put them right in their fucking place.

All that post-modern, ironic, witty, whatever culture got a big slap. You know what, motherfucker? Take some responsibility. We don’t need any more irony. It’s beyond tiresome. But like Keith Richards said, you’ll find out. And it’s a travesty because you’re missing out. I think it’s just fear because people are so brutal out there. People are so cruel to each other. I read the blogosphere, I’ve seen stuff written about me and it’s just fucking brutal. But I laugh at it for the most part. People have no idea of what your experience is. I’m not talking about how much Wikipedia you’ve been through or whatever.

But like you said, the people with the most life experience get ignored.

“Yes, he’s the babbling fool from the mountains!” That’s kind of why we used the iconic image of the shaman on the cover [of Choice of Weapon], we wanted someone representative of What is that Energy? Something that represents forgotten knowledge. That’s homage to the demonstrators. You see fears in the protestors’ faces; they’re scared of direct repercussions. The rebellion is anonymous. Rebellion is not even rebellion, it’s a reaction to the dystopian times that we live in. People are feeling it. When I travel, I definitely see that people are feeling it. How many more kids are going to walk into school shootings? The cracks are appearing. Your kid might go to school and not come back one day. These are institutions of learning. They’re not even really respected. It’s not something that people are excited about; it’s like something you have to do. You have to have your GED to function in society. So you can get a service industry position? There are no factories, anymore.

I think our spiritual lives and our philosophical lives are something that really need a little bit more consideration. That goes for the arts, the passion for the arts. The arts in America—if they took all the funding from the military and put it into the arts, could you imagine what a phenomenal cultural leader this country could be? There are so many incredible, brilliant people in the United States. And the United States has been responsible for a lot of progressive culture in the world. It’s been a place of disparity. “Come to the Americas. We’re free, we’re young. You’ve got a place here.” And that seems to be becoming more and more conservative. Now we have these reality shows where your talent is judged…by a…panel of…talented people? [Laughs] Self-imposed cultural icons. These people are just desperate for work.

I’ve never been so desperate for success, for fame! Never. In fact, when it was put upon me, I didn’t like it. In the Sonic Temple period, when we were at our zenith of public success, whatever that was…the things that were asked of me! “If you want to stay here, these are the things you’re going to have to do for you career.” And I was like “Are you kidding me? I’m not staying.” So that’s why the Cult has had a very erratic life, a very erratic career. We’ve tried to maintain the balance between commerce and art, and it is an industry. It has been a struggle, especially over the past decade with the fall of the music industry. You have to make it up as you go along. I think this time around we had been playing together as a band for seven years, we went into the studio with Goss, we did a bit of discovery, and there are a lot of beautiful things that came out. I think we made a great record.

What has held you and Billy Duffy together for all of these years? A solid partnership is hard to come by.

We respect each other. He respects me for being the way I am and I respect him for being the fucking salt of the earth guy he is. I know where he’s come from, there’s no bullshit about Billy. He’s from Manchester. He was at the Manchester Free Trade Hall to see the Sex Pistols. He snuck in to see Patti Smith at the Rainbow Theater in London. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool music fan. He’s the real deal. He loves music and that’s what tied us together. When we were kids in Brixton, we sat around with his record player, listened to records and discussed them very passionately. That’s what brings us together. I know where he comes from. His dad was a worker as was his mother, as were my parents. So we identify with each other culturally. Even though I had a whole North American element, which is completely different from what he experienced, but maybe that’s what adds to my esoteria, whatever you want to call it. The British are funny, they think they got me pinned. They think I’m some [in an American accent] Johnny Rocker that went to L.A.! You kidding me?

Nice American accent.

Yeah, well I immigrated to Canada in 1973. Everything I saw culturally came from New York. I literally lived forty miles from the New York state border. All the TV shows, all the music I was hearing on the radio came from the United States. Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, Saturday Night Special, all that. We saw the New York Dolls on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in, what, ‘75? Yeah. The Ramones. We used to watch channel 17, which came from Buffalo, New York. There was a lot of great stuff on public television. Public television was responsible for a lot of my education, to be honest with you. Cable access stuff too. The Sex Pistols, in 1978 when they couldn’t get into the United States initially because they were stuck in transit. It was all over the news in Canada. I was actually back in the UK in ‘77 for a three week holiday to see my family, BANG, right in the middle of the Queen’s Jubilee and “God Save the Queen” was number one in the charts.

That was the big year, wasn’t it?

Oh yeah, I was a punk rocker, [just] like that. Punk rocker, immediately.

When you were singing for [revived Doors lineup] Riders on the Storm, were you ever temped to autograph Jim Morrison’s name?

Naw! That would have been really presumptuous. I was aware of what I was getting myself involved in. I didn’t have any delusion I would be filling Morrison’s shoes. Sitting down with Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek and them personally asking me to do it, was pretty profound, pretty powerful. I went in on it because I’m a huge Doors fan. I knew it was going to be done, I knew somebody was going to do it, and I knew that if it wasn’t me I’d be kicking myself for the rest of my life. So it came as a huge responsibility. And there’s a lot more than that to it; as I went in to it, I thought of new lyrics and I’ve done more studying on that [anything else] I’ve done in my entire life. Not just learning lyrics but reflecting the subtext, the intention of the songs. I had to go very, very deep into that work. It was very deep in terms of getting the subtext right for these songs. A lot of soul went into that. I have too much reverence for Morrison. I never took an ounce of his space. I always made that very known. I wasn’t replacing Jim Morrison or filling his shoes or anything like that.

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