December 5, 2014
Guest: Ian McLagan
DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross. Ian McLagan, the British keyboard player whose band the Faces featured Rod Stewart on vocals, died Wednesday after suffering a stroke. He was 69. McLagan was among the first generation of British rockers getting started in the mid-'60s, when bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were taking over the charts. McLagan played keyboards in the band Small Faces which became Faces when Rod Stewart and Ron Wood joined the group. After Faces broke up, McLagan toured and recorded with The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and others. He settled in Austin, Texas in the 1990s where he formed his own group, the Bump Band, which released several albums and did regular tours. When he died, McLagan was preparing to go to go on tour with singer Nick Lowe.
I spoke to McLagan in 2004 about his life in the rock world and his memoir called "All The Rage." First, here's Faces' only hit in the U.S., "Stay With Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY WITH ME")
ROD STEWART: (Singing) In the morning, don't say you love me, 'cause I'll only kick you out of the door. I know your name is Rita, 'cause your perfume's smelling sweeter since when I saw you down on the floor, guitar. You won't need to much persuading. I don't mean to sound degrading, but with a face like that, you got nothing to laugh about. Red lips, hair and fingernails, I hear you're a mean old Jezebel. Let's go upstairs and read my tarot cards. Stay with me, stay with me. For tonight you better stay with me. Stay with me, stay with me. For tonight you better stay with me.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DAVIES: Ian McLagan, welcome to FRESH AIR.
IAN MCLAGAN: Thank you, Dave, nice to be talking to you.
DAVIES: You came of age at a time in the mid-'60s - it was really the dawn of British rock and roll - and have been doing music all these years. Tell us how you got into music.
MCLAGAN: Well, that's an interesting - actually, my mom paid for me to have piano lessons, but I didn't want to have piano lessons. It took me several years to figure out that that's what I was going to do with the rest of my life. But I'd rather - I wanted to play snooker with my pals, and - who eventually formed a skiffle group and which I joined as the tea chest bass player.
DAVIES: Now, I think you've got to explain for an American audience what sniffle and snooker is.
MCLAGAN: Oh, skiff - oh, OK, snooker is (laughter) what pool should be, with a much larger table and smaller, tighter pockets.
DAVIES: Snooker, right.
MCLAGAN: Yes, and they used to have a lot of snooker holes in England at that time - very popular. And I still like to play whenever I can. Skiffle was what preceded the Beatles. In England, Lonnie Donegan was in a Dixieland jazz band in England - Ken Colyer band and then the Chris Barber band. And in the intermission, he would play his version of blues.
I call it kind of speed folk. It was very up-tempo and influenced by the blues and Lead Belly and all those guys. But it wasn't the blues. It was kind of - it was folk. It was skiffle. That's what it was called, and it became very popular. And almost everyone in my generation who ended up in a band started out playing washboard or guitar or banjo or tea chest bass.
It was a very kind of - it was like punk in its way, you know, that it was very, you know, up and at it. It was all kind of made up instruments - didn't have to be talented. You just sort of had to bash away.
And bit-by-bit, I kind of fumbled my way into playing by - I got a guitar. And I started playing a basic Chuck Berry riff, and then transferred that to the piano, which was sitting in the sitting room still, and which I hadn't played. But then when I heard "Green Onions" - Booker T. & the M.G.s, I thought well, boy, this sound's for me. I've got to get one of those, whatever it is. And it turned out to be Hammond organ.
DAVIES: When you were a teenager in the early '60s and just scratching around in the music business, it was a time when British rock was really just taking form.
I mean, The Beatles and The Stones and The Who were all just getting going. And give us a sense of what the scene was like. I mean, were you aware that something kind of new and different and exciting was happening?
MCLAGAN: Oh, yeah. I mean, it was in the air. You know, I loved The Stones. I used to see them every Sunday after I discovered them, you know, and then I'd follow them. I'd catch them on a Wednesday somewhere else, you know. And then I'd find they were playing somewhere else on Saturday night, and I'd go there.
And then when The Who came out, actually I met Pete pretty early on at Jim Marshall's drum shop, as it was, before he made guitar amps. I met Mitch Mitchell. He used to serve behind the counter there. It was later ended up as drummer with Jimi Hendrix, of course.
And, you know, there was a buzz going on, and Townshend was like, the first time I met him, he said so how you doing? Like what's your bag? He was all interested in what I was doing. I was interested in what he was doing.
And you know, we'd all heard the music. You know, we wanted to play it. And then the next thing was to try and get gigs, and then you know, I became manager and a kind of agent of my band, although I wasn't the singer. I was just the rhythm keyboard player.
But it was very exciting, just constantly trying to get gigs and playing and finding out where the clubs were and checking other bands out and thinking they ain't that good. We're better than them, you know. It was - I was too committed to know that, you know, I was - I was just having the best time.
DAVIES: You were listening to a lot of American blues. Were a lot of British teenagers into that then? I don't think American kids were so much. Where did you get the records?
MCLAGAN: Well, that was - they were difficult to find. You know, the thing is one night, Humphrey Lyttelton had a jazz program. I think it was on Monday night on radio, was BBC 1, I suppose, it was then. And he played "Muddy Waters Live at Newport" "Hoochie Coochie Man."
And that pretty much changed my life. That album, which I eventually bought with great difficulty from the local record store in Hounslow, where I lived, that and Thelonious Monk, "Monk's Moods," just changed my life.
And I figured, well, Monk's a great blues player, and whoever is playing with Muddy is a great blues player, and that was of course Otis Spann. And Otis is probably my main influence on the piano, you know.
DAVIES: So you're with the Muleskinners. They split up, and you find yourself bandless and then get recruited to an established group with a record contract, right? Small Faces?
DAVIES: How did that happen?
MCLAGAN: Well, strangely, I was in another band in between, but they weren't that keen to work. And the van broke down one night, and they kind of laughed, and we were supposed to be going up to Scotland, which is, you know, like a six or seven hour drive back then, before the motorways, you know.
And so we set off again the next night, the next afternoon, and the van broke down again. I said that's it. I quit. And so I was depressed. And I went to see my girlfriend that night, and on the way back I bumped into a friend of mine, Phil, who said so how's the band? And I said, oh, I just left. And he said, oh, you should join the Small Faces.
I said, oh yeah, that's very funny, Phil. It was all sarcastic. And the next morning their manager called me, and that afternoon I joined the band.
DAVIES: Was that just a coincidence?
MCLAGAN: He just - because they had had that one hit, you see. And I'd seen them on television, and my dad said check this band out, they're great. And I looked at them. I thought, boy, they're great, a great singer, and they look great. I thought, that's the sort of band I'd like to be in, you know. And within, you know, a few months, I was a member.
DAVIES: Ian McLagan recorded in 2004. He died Wednesday. We'll hear more of our conversation after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're listening to my 2004 interview with keyboard player Ian McLagan, who died Wednesday at the age of 69.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DAVIES: Your big hit in America with Small Faces was "Itchycoo Park," and maybe we should hear that. Tell us about that song.
MCLAGAN: Well, strangely enough, Steve and Ronnie, Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, wrote together, and it was hard to break into that partnership, although occasionally I would write with kind of a little germ of mine that Ronnie would help, and then that would come out as Marriott, Lane, McLagan.
I could never just separate them, but in fact I didn't realize that Ronnie Lane wrote that song, almost as one of his. You know, the way a partnership works, it's one or the other mainly, and the other one helps.
Well, that was a Ronnie Lane composition. And years later, when I was living in L.A., he called me from Austin in 1990 and asked if I would tour Japan with him, and I said I'd love to. I said just one thing, Ronnie. What's that? I said let's not do "Itchycoo Park." I said, I'm sick of that song. He said, but Mac, I wrote that. I said, I'm sorry, I hate it (laughter).
DAVIES: Do you really hate the song?
MCLAGAN: Yeah. Well, see, I don't think it is all too beautiful. I just - I mean, I'm a lucky guy. I'm a happy guy, but I don't think it's all too beautiful.
DAVIES: And that's so much like most of the music you were doing.
DAVIES: Well, with apologies to our guest, Ian McLagan, let's hear "Itchycoo Park" from Small Faces.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ITCHYCOO PARK")
STEVE MARRIOTT: (Singing) Over bridge of sighs to rest my eyes in shades of green. Under dreamin' spires, to Itchycoo Park, that's where I've been. What did you do there? I got high. What did you feel there? Well, I cried. But why the tears there? I'll tell you why. It's all too beautiful. It's all too beautiful. It's all too beautiful. It's all too beautiful. It's all too beautiful. I feel inclined to blow my mind, get hung up feed the ducks with a bun. They all come out to groove about. Be nice and have fun in the sun. I'll tell you what I'll doâ¦
DAVIES: That was "Itchycoo Park" by Small Faces. On keyboards was my guest, Ian McLagan. "Itchycoo Park" is - it's a song that's sort of more in the psychedelic vein rather than the blues that you were playing. Is that what you don't like about it?
MCLAGAN: Well, it was - yes, but it's the - you know, we were, Ronnie, Steve, and I took acid in 1966 and took acid again the next week and took a lot of acid over a period of time. And the music did change, and I think in some ways for the worse.
I mean, it's like movies made around that time are - some of them are so hopeless, you can't - I can't look at them now. They're just so desperately trying to prove that they've taken acid, you know. And it's all too beautiful was the chorus of "Itchycoo Park," and it's that whole thing.
You know, I don't think you have to prove it. You know, the experience was pleasant, and now let's move on. Let's go back to what we were doing. But we never did, really.
DAVIES: It's also remarkable that you were in a band that had a lot of hits - I mean 14 hits in the U.K., if I remember. And yet you didn't make any money. You couldn't even afford your own apartments for a long time. Why?
MCLAGAN: We had management. We had very good management, or should we say thieves? We were just unlucky in that way. I mean, we were enjoying ourselves, you know, making the music and touring, but we never actually managed to get any royalties, publishing or any money from the gigs.
We were paid a wage of 20 pound a week, and that's pretty much - we were living in a house together at that time. That was paid, and our food was paid, and our clothes were paid, and that was about it. So we got out of it.
DAVIES: You were awfully young. I mean, you were, what, 20, 21, and some of the guys were younger.
MCLAGAN: I was the oldest, yeah. Kenny was 16. You know, I mean, we were ignorant about business. I mean, boy. I mean, we were so thrilled to be able to, you know, play music, really, that it never occurred to us.
We never had a bank account, and our parents kind of suspected it and went to have a meeting with our manager, Don Arden. And he threw a red herring in front of them. He said people in show business spend money and they spent theirs. And anyway, they're on drugs.
And the parents then just left the office so downhearted, you know, and of course we weren't on drugs. We were smoking pot.
DAVIES: Right, butâ¦
MCLAGAN: I mean, it was suggested - the suggestion was, and what they thought, is that we were on heroin or something. You know, it was - that was the end of the inquiry into where the money was, you know.
DAVIES: Well, Ian McLagan, we were talking about your association with the group Small Faces, which split up when its lead singer, Steve Marriott, decided to leave and join Peter Frampton in a group, Humble Pie. And then you recombined and formed the group Faces. I mean, how did that happen?
MCLAGAN: Actually, we wouldn't have called ourselves Faces because we wanted to disassociate ourselves from Small Faces, because we figured, you know, we had Ronnie Wood joining Kenney, Ronnie and I, and Rod Stewart. And we figured the music'll be different. It just, you know, it just naturally will be different. And we weren't going to use the name, but the American company Warner Bros. - we signed in England, but the American branch of the main part of the company weren't willing to sign us unless we kept the name Small Faces.
So in fact the album - our first album called "First Step" came out as Small Faces in America and as Faces in England, because the English company said no, we understand. We can drop the Small. We'll just have to keep Faces.
And I think we thought we might be able to change the name after the first album. I think it was pretty stupid, but we would have been, you know, the Strawberry Newspaper Egg or something, you know? I don't know.
But Faces worked anyway because it kept the lineage of Ronnie, Kenney and me going, you know?
DAVIES: You had four albums and a lot of hits. You toured in the States. Let's listen to a track from the new CD box set. I thought we would listen to "You're So Rude," which is a song you collaborated on with the late Ronnie Lane. Do you want to say a word about this tune?
MCLAGAN: Yes. I only wrote one song with Ronnie, actually, in all the years we were together. And he came over to my house, and I had a beautiful harmonium, a pump organ, in my - in the hallway of the house because I was having work down on the studio. And I couldn't get it in there at that moment.
So it was - you had to kind of squeeze past it, and he said, oh, that's nice. I said, yeah, listen to how I play it. And I played him something I'd written on the harmonium. And then he sat down. He wrote the lyrics to "You're So Rude" in about 10 minutes flat. And it was a true story how he and his girlfriend were caught at it at home. I'm not sure if it was his - his mom's house - anyway, his parent's house. And he suggested, here, wet your socks. Pretend you just got caught in the rain. Anyway, it's a true story.
DAVIES: OK, so let's listen to "You're So Rude." This is the group Faces. It was originally recorded on "A Nod Is As Good As A Wink," and is on the new four-CD box set.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE SO RUDE")
RONNIE LANE: (Singing) My mum, she likes you. She thinks your swell, got the makings of a dance-hall girl. Your low-cut frock and your bird's nest hair, stiletto heels and the way that you swear. She said to take you back to see my folks again on Sunday. Why, it looks as though there's nobody in. They've all gone out to see my Auntie Renee. Don't you worry, you just come right in. I'm sure we'll pass the time 'til they come home. Well, let me take your coat, kick off your shoes, warm your toes, try the sofa.
DAVIES: That was "You're So Rude" from the group Faces. It's included on the new CD box set produced by our guest, Ian McLagan, who played keyboards.
You know, one of the things that I like about that track, apart from the organ that you play at the top, is that it is not Rod Stewart on the vocal, who people have long associated with Faces, but Ronnie Lane, the late Ronnie Lane, the bass player. He gives a great delivery there, doesn't he?
MCLAGAN: Yes, he does. I mean, it's tongue-in-cheek. You know, you can hear his smile, you know. He was a very cheeky boy, Ronnie, and I met the girl in question, funny enough, previously. I met her when we were in Small Faces together.
But he was the most prolific writer with the Faces and Small Faces. And I figured this box set "Five Guys Walk Into A Bar..." should honor him as much as anything because he's not around. He's not here to be honored in person. And he's very much loved by all who knew him and know him or know his music. And so the album, the actual box set, is dedicated to Ronnie.
DAVIES: Keyboard player Ian McLagan recorded in 2004. He died Wednesday after suffering a stroke. We'll hear more of our conversation in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross. Today, we're remembering rock keyboardist Ian McLagan, who dies this week after suffering a stroke. McLagan's bands Small Faces and Faces were mainstays of the '60s British invasion. When Rod Stewart left Faces, McLagan recorded and toured with The Rolling Stones. He spent the last two decades in Austin, Texas playing and recording with his group, the Bump Band. In 2009, the group released an album dedicated to McLagan's wife Kim who died in an auto accident in 2006. Here's the title track called "Never Say Never."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER SAY NEVER")
THE BUMP BAND: (Singing) I can feel your touch on my face. I remember kissing you for the first time. I can sense you just out of frame and I'll be reminiscing for the rest of my life. Never loved anyone. I never loved anybody but you baby. Never been lucky, baby, never back winners but I'll never say never again.
DAVIES: I spoke to McLagan in 2004 about his memoir, "All The Rage", which includes a great story about how he and Kim got to know one another.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DAVIES: One of the other colorful pieces of your life is that your wife, Kim, you - well, I guess stole from The Who's Keith Moon.
MCLAGAN: Actually, I didn't really steal her. And she wouldn't accept that either, I mean, she had had enough of Keith. And she left and I grabbed her.
MCLAGAN: And I grab her still.
DAVIES: And Keith didn't take this easily, I mean, is it true that he once paid a guy, some thug, 200 pounds to break your fingers?
MCLAGAN: Yeah, unfortunately, I knew the guy. But - and I knew he was capable of it but Pete Townshend got wind of it and paid the guy another 200 pound not to do it. So the guy did well, Keith never knew and I carried on - I'm still playing. Yeah, Uncle Pete, God bless him.
DAVIES: Uncle Pete Townshend who...
DAVIES: Did you ever kind of reconcile with Keith Moon before he died?
MCLAGAN: No - I mean, we - in person, he would be fine with me. But, you know, he - it made him very unhappy. He loved Kim. He just didn't know how to show her love or, you know. He was a very - I mean really if I - if anyone was schizophrenic, I'd say Keith was. But I got on well with Keith every time I saw him. And I was a good friend to him before, you know, Kim left him. That's how I, you know, I met Kim through him. But I met Kim when just before they were married, you know? And I thought, what a beautiful girl. And every time I saw her I thought, what a beautiful girl - what's she doing with him? And then I start hanging out - when my first marriage fell apart, I used to hang out with Keith and Kim. And he eventually would fall asleep and Kim and I would spend all day and all night just chatting and drinking and just becoming best friends, you know?
DAVIES: The name of the new CD box set is called "Faces: Five Guys Walk Into A Bar." And in a way, you're five guys that walked into a bar and almost never left, I mean, drinking was a very big part of this band. Is it true that you actually set up a bar onstage behind the drums?
MCLAGAN: Oh, yeah. I mean, we had drinks anyway, we figured well, there was one of the guys was out, two, our manager had nothing to do during the show and so we dressed him up as a barman and had a bar, you know, a bar built, which we carried with us. And, in fact, Glen Matlock is quoted, I think it's funny - I don't know if it's true but he said that during the drum solo in "Losing You," we all went to the bar and stood there and chatted, ignoring Kenney thumping away there. And then walked back onstage as if to start and Ron said - as if to say well, you know, Magedey (ph) said it, well, should we have one more? And we went back to the bar and left him there (laughter). I can imagine that happening but I don't remember it.
DAVIES: Well, let's listen to a cut from Faces. This is one that I think, to me, captures a lot of the energy of some of those live performances although it's a studio recording. It's "Too Bad." It was originally done on "A Nod Is As Good As A Wink..." So let's hear Faces and "Too Bad."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO BAD")
THE FACES: (Singing) All we wanted to do was to socialize. Oh, you know it's a shame I was always getting the blame. All we wanted to do was to socialize. Oh, you know it's a shame how we always get the blame. Sweaty girls and damp motels is where I'm going to stay. 'Cause now I see...
DAVIES: Well, Ian McLagan, when Faces split up, you stayed in touch with the Stones, with Mick Jagger, with Keith Richards. And they eventually invited you to collaborate on a recording session and go on tour. What was that like?
MCLAGAN: Well, actually Keith and Woody invited me to go to Paris from London just for the - a weekend, which, you know, hotels were seen, beds were seen and made but weren't slept it, you know? And we just played nonstop for days and I got back to London eventually when the album came out, which was "Some Girls."
MCLAGAN: Well, actually when the album came out, which was "Some Girls," and I'd played on "Miss You" and "Just My Imagination," when they started to tour - was getting ready to tour in '78, Keith asked me if I would tour with them and I said boy, yeah. And I jumped on a plane and toured with them and then stayed in America. Well, I went back to England but then we moved straight after that. I just - I liked America. That - England was - there was nothing going on for me, you know?
DAVIES: You know, I read in your book that you had played on those recording sessions for the Stones' "Some Girls" and shocked to discover that they never paid you for that session.
MCLAGAN: Well, they did but, you know, I mean I was there as a guest, you know, I mean I was, you know, I wasn't really - I hadn't been hired. I was there...
MCLAGAN: ...To socialize really. But I said to Mick, is there any chance of getting cash? And I think he gave me the equivalent - it was either 120 francs or 120 pounds - didn't really pay for my cab fare, but...
DAVIES: Well, so you eventually ended up touring with the Stones, which must have been thrill. I mean, you'd admired them all these years.
MCLAGAN: Absolutely, yeah.
DAVIES: But you had couple of awkward moments with Mick Jagger where he talked to you about payment - what you wanted to get paid, right?
MCLAGAN: Well, yeah I mean, Mickâ¦
DAVIES: I mean, these guys were multi-millionaires at this point, weren't they?
MCLAGAN: Yeah. Well, this was at the end of the tour. They wanted to record in LA. And so I hung around there for a couple of weeks while we waited to get in the studio and Mick had a conversation with me about money over a game of pool. And he - not really a drinker, Mick, you know, and I am a professional drinker. And so we had a beer together. And the reason he came over to the house was to discuss business and I didn't know, I just thought he wanted a game of pool. Well, he got more and more drunk and he said so how much do you want? And I said well, how long you want to record? And he said two weeks. I said 15 grand. And he said I'm not paying you 50. He thought I'd said 50 instead of 15. He said I'll give you 20, and that's the end of it. And I said OK. But, of course, the next day he completely forgot about this conversation. And then, you know, we screwed around for several days with his employees, as to, you know, deciding what will I be paid, and eventually I did get my 15 but not after a lot of argument (laughter).
DAVIES: You played with Bonnie Raitt and a whole lot of other artists. I mean, you became a fairly sought-after session musician, I guess. You declined a chance to play with the Grateful Dead. Why was that?
MCLAGAN: Well, I didn't actually decline the chance - it was a chance, I wasn't given the gig. A friend of mine, who was a friend of Jerry Garcia's said they're looking for a - their current keyboard player has died and they're looking for someone else. He said you could - you want to - they want you to play to a tape and submit it, you know? And he said you'd make a quarter of a million a year, you know? You could live anywhere you want, blah, blah, blah. And I was actually on vacation at the time in San Diego with my wife and our dogs. And I went out and bought a Grateful Dead CD. And my wife went out to do some shopping and came back to the hotel room and I was sitting in a blue funk in a brown study in a green swarm of hell and she said what's the matter? I said I can't play this music, it sucks. I mean, just my personal taste, I couldn't - didn't understand it, didn't get it, you know, still don't really. I mean, I know they make a lot of money; they got a lots of fans. Sorry if I've upset anyone but, you know?
DAVIES: Wasn't your cup of tea?
MCLAGAN: Wasn't my cup of tea. No more than Phish or that jam band. That's so tediously boring. But, you know, I like a tune. I like a tune and a singer and a solo and now more of the tune. You know, I just couldn't even do it, you know?
DAVIES: A lot of the guys that you shared, you know, a touring, recording and performing life with - I mean, Ron went on to some pretty remarkable things. I mean, Ron Wood still plays with the Stones. Rod Stewart, you know, does his thing out there and plays at arenas. I mean, you do music but at a sort of more modest scale there in Austin and I'm kind of wondering do you like it better that way or do you wish you were out there in front of these huge crowds doing it differently?
MCLAGAN: It's such a good question, you know, when I first joined the Small Faces, I was so happy because as I said I was playing every night, playing with people who wanted to play. And we'd play after gigs. We'd just play, you know, in a hotel room. We'd just, like, be playing and talking, listening to music. Well, I did an interview for a magazine called Beat Instrumental, which was about gigs and musicians, and, you know, in the current scene, back in '65. And they asked me, what did I see in the future, you know, and it's amazing what you say sometimes. And I actually said this, I said, I picture myself in a smoky club playing rhythm and blues. Well, hello, it came true and I shouldn't complain because I love it still. I just wish I could make more money at it but it's what I love to do.
DAVIES: You fell in love with the Hammond organ - in fact, there was one point, when the Faces broke up, that you went across continents trying to retrieve one you had. Are they still around? I mean, are you - just can you - can you still find and play a Hammond?
MCLAGAN: Yeah, actually they're to be found in a lot of churches. And sadly, when a church for whatever reason goes downhill, they sell their Hammonds or other organs. And they're often in perfect condition because they've never traveled, you know. My - I call her Betty, but I've had her since 1969 - that's what you hear on "Maggie May" and on all the Faces stuff and that's what you hear on all my records. She's been with me all that time and she's really too - I mean, she's been around the world a few times, she's been beaten up and, you know, she'd been damaged a little bit more than some older inn rooms but you can still find them. I found a beautiful one in 1980 - no 1994 or '93 for $500, that's - she's my pride and joy. She's in my studio at home and will never tour.
DAVIES: Well, do you play Betty because of the sentimental attachment, or does she have a sound that you just can't get anywhere else?
MCLAGAN: She, well, I've worked on her. I mean over the years, she's a bit of a hybrid. She's a racehorse, you know, not just a plow horse. She's built for speed and built for sound, built for volume. She can, you know, electric guitarists like to think they're loud, you know, they can't top me.
MCLAGAN: I can finally compete.
DAVIES: Well, Ian McLagan, thanks so much for speaking with us.
MCLAGAN: Dave, it's been a real pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
DAVIES: Ian McLagan recorded in 2004. He died Wednesday at the age of 69. Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a new memoir by the British punk rocker Viv Albertine. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST: Our rock critic Ken Tucker says one of the best books he's ever read about punk rock is a new memoir by Viv Albertine, one of the founding members of the British punk rock band The Slits. The book, titled "Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys," chronicles Albertine's life with punk legends such as Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and Mick Jones of The Clash, on through her subsequent careers as a film director and mother. Here's Ken's review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
VIV ALBERTINE: (Singing) (Unintelligible). I lost myself through (unintelligible) mystery. I went up and down like a dementia train...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The modesty and informality that frames Viv Albertine's autobiography is typified by its title, "Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys." But as you read the book, its title also begins to suggest how much it's going to transcend every other book about the punk era. There's been a lot of excellent writing about British punk in the '70s. I'm not just thinking about Jon Savage's great history book, "England's Dreaming." But also the journalism of Caroline Coon, Nick Kent and Julie Bushell. Albertine gives us a different perspective, however. She is the articulate fan, the active participant, the girl who grew into womanhood while making her mark during a remarkable time. Unlike the standard punk rock narrative, Albertine's doesn't reject pre-punk music, but places it in a new perspective.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T DO THAT")
THE BEATLES: (Singing) I got something to say that might cause you pain if I catch you talking to that boy again. I'm going to let you down and leave you flat. Because I told you before, oh, you can't do that. Well, it's the second time I caught you talking to him, so I have to tell you one more time I think it's a sin. I think I'll let you down and leave you flat. (Gonna let you down and leave you flat). Because I told you before, oh, you can't do that. Everybody's green.
TUCKER: As a young girl growing up in the Muswell Hills suburb of London, Albertine writes of the impact of hearing John Lennon sing "You Can't Do That" with The Beatles in 1964. (Reading) This song pierces my heart, and I don't think it will ever heal. John Lennon's voice is so close, so real, it's like he's in the room. He has a normal boy's voice, no highfalutin warbling or smoothed out creamy harmonies like the stuff mum and dad listened to. He uses everyday language to tell me, his girlfriend, to stop messing around.
Viv Albertine, a teenager imagining John Lennon as her boyfriend, gets right to the importance of Beatle music. And her use of the present tense, recounting her history in short, precise chapters, is a perfect way to tell her bold, blunt, yet infinitely subtle story. While she's lucky enough to fall into a crowd that includes Mick Jones, who later formed The Clash, and Vivienne Westwood, who altered the fashion world after outfitting the Sex Pistols, Albertine relies on more than luck to proceed as a musician herself. Instinctively feminist, she has excellent taste in role models.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAND")
PATTI SMITH: (Singing) Suddenly, Johnny gets the feeling he's being surrounded by horses, horses, horses, horses coming in in all directions. White, shining, silver-studded with their nose in flames. He saw horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses. Do you know how to pony like bony maroney? Do you know how to twist? Well, it goes like this. It goes like this. Baby, mash potato. Do the alligator. Do the alligator. And you twist the twister like your baby sister. I want your baby sister. Give me your baby sister. I dig your baby sister. Rise up on your knees.
TUCKER: She is my soulmate visible, Albertine writes of the Robert Mapplethorpe portrait of Patti Smith that adorns the cover of Smith's debut album "Horses." Pretty soon, she is learning to play the guitar and connecting with other young women to form The Slits, making tough, rhythmic music that will help transform everyone's idea of what a rockstar can or should be.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TYPICAL GIRLS")
THE SLITS: (Singing) Typical girls get upset too quickly. Typical girls can't control themselves. Typical girls are so confusing. Typical girls - you can always tell. Typical girls don't think too clearly. Typical girls are unpredictable (predictable). Typical girls try to be. Typical girls very well. Typical girls try to be. Typical girls very well.
TUCKER: Albertine remembers it all - the thrill and the tedium of being part of the punk movement when it was both a promise of freedom and a target for contempt from the media. The tone of her writing is so reportorial, and yet so interpretive of her state of mind, that stuff that could come across as scandalous or gossipy - dating Mick Jones, doing drugs with Johnny Thunders of The Heartbreakers - instead strikes the reader as it struck her - something to be experienced and then to move on from, into the future. For Albertine, that future comprises the second half of this book, when she leaves punk mostly behind her to be a filmmaker, an artist, a wife and mother. That second half is every bit as compelling as the first because in "Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys," Viv Albertine has pulled off the artful trick of all great memoirs. She has made the supposedly ordinary seem transcendent and transcendent's something any of us could achieve if only we approach our lives as honestly as Albertine does her own.
DAVIES: Rock critic Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed "Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys" by Viv Albertine. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the Australian horror film "The Babadook." This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: One of the sensations of this year's Sundance Film Festival was a low-budget Australian horror film called "The Babadook." The story of a mother, a son and a top-hatted demon was written and directed by Jennifer Kent, a former actress. On Monday, "The Babadook" was awarded the prize for the year's best first film by the New York Film Critics Circle. Our film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: The greatest horror stories center not on monsters from without but from within - born of our repressed anxiety, resentment, guilt, rage or all of the above. Now into the demon from within Pantheon creeps Jennifer Kent's phenomenally scary Australian chiller "The Babadook."
He's a bogeyman out of a twisted bedtime story - literally out of it since he announces himself in a rhyming black-and-white, pop-up book that appears on the shelf of a pale 7-year-old named Sam. His mother, Amelia, played by Essie Davis, is a convalescent home aid. Her husband died in a car crash while driving her to the hospital when she was in labor. She's still grieving. It shows in her bedraggled face and snarl of blonde hair. She's lonely, exhausted, financially uncertain, under incessant pressure, much of it from Sam, played by Noah Wiseman - a bright, sweet little kid, but volatile, on the verge of being kicked out of school. That's the context in which Amelia perches on her son's bed and reads from this mysterious book about a man with a black undertaker's coat, a top hat, a pasty white face and fingers like talons. The book is called "Mr. Babadook."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BABADOOK")
ESSIE DAVIS: (As Amelia) If it's in a word or it's in a look, you can't get rid of The Babadook. If you're a really clever one and you know what it is to see, then you can make friends with a special one - a friend of you and me.
NOAH WISEMAN: (As Sam) (Laughter).
DAVIS: (As Amelia) His name is Mr. Babadook, and this is his book. A rumbling sound - then three sharp knocks - ba ba ba dook dook dook. That's when you'll know that he's around. You'll see him if you look.
WISEMAN: (As Sam) Ba ba ba dook dook dook.
EDELSTEIN: As Amelia turns the pages, the verses turn kid-unfriendly with a vengeance. The Babadook wants her to let him in - not into the house since he's already there - but into her. The Babadook is set up better than any monster in any film I've seen in decades. This is writer-director Jennifer Kent's first feature, and she's already uncanny. The images feel as if they've leapt from the collective unconscious of horror and fantasy fans. Kent can freeze your bones with the crackling of lights and sudden off-kilter perspectives. The editing is key to Amelia's edginess. The cuts come a beat earlier or a beat later than we expect. So like Amelia, we never relax.
Essie Davis is known for TV and stage work in the U.K. and Australia. And she makes Amelia's despair astonishingly vivid. Young Noah Wiseman is just as good. He's a cute kid with a pop-up storybook face - those huge eyes on that little head scream, I need, I need. Sam vows he'll protect his mom from The Babadook, but the fight, in the end, is between Amelia and Amelia. It doesn't take long to realize that Kent is less interested in the ghoul itself than a psyche in crisis.
The last part of "The Babadook" is an exorcism thriller but different from those films in which a male authority from the church arrives to expel a demon from the bosom of a family. Prayers and holy water can't exercise The Babadook. Can anything? The end is remarkably satisfying and utterly free of smug piety.
"The Babadook" isn't perfect. Once Amelia and Sam are shut up in their house, the structure becomes a little monotonous. A symptom of many claustrophobic-descent-into-madness films. And it could be argued that the movie is too obviously about motherhood - not monsters. But that obviousness doesn't lessen the terror. It makes it cut all the deeper. I'll let the monster have the last word
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BABADOOK")
TIM PURCELL: (As The Babadook) Ba ba dook dook dook.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
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