Interviews can go either way but most of the time both parties go away suitably happy getting what they wanted from it. Other times, however, it can turn into something quite the opposite, especially if you call John Lennon a ‘phony’ or expect some one like Johnny Rotten to explain themselves on ‘selling out’. Carl Stanley picks out 5 of the best/worst examples.
Tony Parsons v The Clash
In parts this Tony Parsons / Clash interview turns slightly cringeworthy when the cockney ‘wide-boy’ front, coming from both sides, starts to resemble something like a scene from British prison drama ‘Scum’ or even The Clash‘s own in-house production ‘Rude Boy’. With a dimly lit poolroom as its own film-set you could quite easily imagine Paul Simonon discretely picking the balls off the table and placing them in a spare sock for a swing at the man from the media, the fact the cameras were there in the first place could be a main reason for the heavy posturing from the newish, young writer who seemed to possess as much attitude as the band did.
Landing at the NME after answering an ad looking for ‘hip new gunslingers’ Parsons was only a year older than Strummer so though in tune with the ever growing punk scene you sort of get the impression he’d already decided that he wasn’t going to get stumped by these ‘young punks’ before he’d even arrived. There’s a little quibbling with the band and a snappy reply towards Simonon regarding the lyrics to ‘White Riot’. Parsons doesn’t hold back and in places there’s clearly a cynicism hidden within his probing questions- like he’s trying to expose some sort of ‘sham’ going on. But in others he comes across as nothing short of camp, chewing gum like he would if he were rehearsing for the part of ‘Grippers’ sidekick in Grange Hill.
From his first question the tone’s set as Parsons points out that if the Clash sell a stack of records how will they not end up selling out like groups like the Stones; its Mick Jones who takes on the challenge when he directs the question to the guitarist as he plays for a shot…”what do you think, Jones” ………”purple” comes a dead-pan reply, one-nil to The Clash.
In turn the game of pool between the interviewer and interviewee plays like the Q&A itself with each taking it quite serious as they try to score points against each other on the table as much as over it. But by after 9 mins Parsons sort of gives up as The Clash drown him out with their stubborn silence, leaving the music journo nothing but the game itself, it looks as if they simply weren’t having it with his ‘showy’ interviewing techniques resulting in someone else from the crew stepping in to take over. With his predecessor engaging Strummer where he seemingly failed too, Parson must look back at this one from behind the nearest couch if he ever happens to catch it being played in his presence.
Lennon/Yoko, angry ‘Peace’ debate.
An interviewer who couldn’t quite grasp or buy into John and Yoko’s ‘Peace’ campaign pushes the ex Fab to explain his beliefs, and at times quite passionately…though mainly through sheer frustration.
Interviewer Gloria Emerson was actually highly regarded at the ‘New York Times’ as war correspondent and authored the award winning book ‘Winners and Losers’ on the Vietnam war, but whether you agree or disagree with her pushy points of view she in no doubt challenges Lennon where others probably wouldn’t of dared, to the point of accusing him of not knowing anything about protest movements and labelling him a ‘fake’. Though Lennon doesn’t hold back either calling the New Yorker a ‘snob’ which to him Mrs Emerson could of quite easily represented the ‘good old’ Beatles fan who wished for the days he still played ‘Twist and Shout’ in the concert halls instead of wasting his time on such a silly stunt, the type of person he went on to greatly avoid and some times despised.
Though history shows that in some form or another John and Yoko’s ‘Peace’ movement did make some small impact- even if it was only in making the masses think about the term ‘Peace’ something which was heavily aided by the couples outrageous publicity stunts and ad campaigns promoting the cause.
Despite the interviewer’s comments like they ‘lived in their own world’ Lennon just about holds his own with out blowing a gasket using that brittle tongue he owned here and there. But its Emerson’s final line to Yoko that gives her the ‘last word’ when Ono’s theory on war and killers becomes too much for the journalist forcing her departure with the parting send-off:
“Mrs Lennon were boring each other so I’ll go away now”.
PIL walk out.
Selling his product was never John Lydon’s favourite part of being a ‘rock’n’roll star’, and man does it show here. After PIL’s performance of ‘Chants’ from the ‘Metal Box’ album on 80’s music/culture TV show ‘Check it Out’ the band sit down for something like an interview that begins with a sense of ‘ambush’ about it and ends in Lydon’s walk out.
From what we see as the start of the interview Chris Cowey’s first mistake could of been him actually referring to any other band than PIL. The presenters persistence with a supposed comment from a member of the Angelic Upstarts on ‘selling out’ sees Lydon call time clearly not into carrying on what he feels as some interrogation rather than an interview.
Maybe the Grundy episode, which would of been still very fresh in he’s mind was a reason for walking out so early on, maybe it was his way of taking control of the situation – unlike in the Grundy show itself. His comment “oh sorry, rude word!” naturally refers to the Grundy show which was definitely somewhere in his mind. The surprised presenters are left to turn to the rest of the group that sees Jah Wobble berate the pair for an ‘intelligent question’, resulting in a heavily beeped-out Wobble exit bringing it all to an end. I’m sure both Spencer and Cowey were not expecting the reaction they got, maybe they were hoping for something more like Grundy? But despite this failed interview or his extra bad curly mullet Cowey moved on with his TV career going on to produce The Tube, The White Room and was the last producer during the demise of Top of the Pops.
Macca/ Leslie Ash ‘Love-In’.
Maybe not such a stand out interview but some thing calmer compared to others on here, more what you’d call a nice cosy set up with a youthful looking Leslie Ash, before the lip enlargement, smooching up to McCartney with some gentle questioning around his then new project, an all very safe celebrity Q&A.
Its not so much the questions but watching her ad lib it when she starts running out of them, which are placed over the paper she’s holding which you see her regularly refer to without trying to give the fact away, and asking anyone “is there anything you’d like me to ask you about” is normally the last stand by any interviewer.
In what I guess was quite cutting edge for the time the interview takes place in the back of a moving black London cab and its the little comments out side the questions which are nearly as boring,…I mean as exciting as the questions themselves. Macca explains how lonely it gets playing all the instruments which I guess would of got a laugh out of Harrison as that was the reason their relationship broke down, and when he referred to Micheal Jackson as a nice guy it should be remembered that was before he bought the rights to his songs. But just think if Leslie Ash had of actually ran Jimmy Saville over in her car while he was out jogging like she said, could you imagine what the the headlines would of been.
Dylan rips Time Magazine
More than just a verbal from the curly haired one to this bemused Time Magazine writer its a total dismissal of the world press in general. The man from ‘Time’ looks more like a Eaton / Harrow headmaster than the guy sent to question the great Bob Dylan about his music. Though appearances mean nothing really, the feeling from the singer / songwriter here is maybe that this guy ‘just doesn’t get it’ and therefore receives a masterclass from Dylan who, like Lennon, could and would see off writers and journos at will, its Dylan at his cutting best, enjoy…
All words by Carl Stanley. You can read more from Carl on LTW here.