By Pete Hamill
June 5th, 1975
Walls and Bridges has an undertone of regret to it. Did you sit down consciously to make an album like that?
No, well . . . Let's say this last year has been an extraordinary year for me personally. And I'm almost amazed that I could get anything out. But I enjoyed doing Walls and Bridges and it wasn't hard when I had the whole thing to go into the studio and do it. I'm surprised it wasn't just all bluuuugggghhhh. [pause] I had the most peculiar year. And . . . I'm just glad that something came out. It's describing the year, in a way, but it's not as sort of schizophrenic as the year really was. I think I got such a shock during that year that the impact hasn't come through. It isn't all on Walls and Bridges though. There's a hint of it there. It has to do with age and God knows what else. But only the surface has been touched on Walls and Bridges, you know?
What was it about the year? Do you want to try talking about it?
Well, you can't put your finger on it. It started, somehow, at the end of '73, goin' to do this Rock 'n' Roll album [with Phil Spector]. It had quite a lot to do with Yoko and I, whether I knew it or not, and then, suddenly, I was out on me own. Next thing I'd be waking up, drunk, in strange places or reading about meself in the paper, doin' extraordinary things, half of which I'd done and half of which I hadn't done. But you know the game anyway. And find meself sort of in a mad dream for a year. I'd been in many mad dreams, but this . . . It was pretty wild. And then I tried to recover from that. And [long pause] meanwhile life was going on, the Beatles settlement was going on, other things, life was still going on and it wouldn't let you sit with your hangover, in whatever form that took. It was like something - probably meself - kept hitting me while I was trying to do something. I was still trying to do something. I was still trying to carry on a normal life and the whip never let up - for eight months. So . . . that's what was going on. Incidents: You can put it down to which night with which bottle or which night in which town. It was just sort of a mad year like that . . . And it was just probably fear, and being out on me own, and gettin' old, and are ye gonna make it in the charts? Are ye not gonna make it? All that crap, y'know. All the garbage that y'really know is not the be-all and end-all of your life, but if other things are goin' funny, that's gonna hit you. If you're gonna feel sorry for yourself, you're gonna feel sorry for everything. What it's really to do with is probably the same thing that it's always been to do with all your life: whatever your own personal problems really are, you know? So it was a year that manifested itself [switches to deep actor's voice] in most peculiar fashion. But I'm through it and it's '75 now and I feel better and I'm sittin' here and not lyin' in some weird place with a hangover.
Why do you feel better?
Because I feel like I've been on Sinbad's voyage, you know, and I've battled all those monsters and I've got back. [long pause] Weird.
Tell me about the Rock 'n' Roll album.
It started in '73 with Phil and fell apart. I ended up as part of mad, drunk scenes in Los Angeles and I finally finished it off on me own. And there was still problems with it up to the minute it came out. I can't begin to say, it's just barmy, there's a jinx on that album. And I've just started writing a new one. Got maybe half of it written . . .
What about the stories that Spector's working habits are a little odd? For example, that he either showed off or shot off guns in the studios?
I don't like to tell tales out of school, y'know. But I do know there was an awful loud noise in the toilet of the Record Plant West.
What actually did happen those nights at the Troubadour when you heckled the Smothers Brothers and went walking around with a Kotex on your head asking the waitress, "Do you know who I am"?
Ah, y'want the juice . . . If I'd said, "Do you know who I am?" I'd have said it in a joke. Because I know who I am, and I know she knew, because I musta been wearing a Kotex on me head, right? I picked up a Kotex in a restaurant, in the toilet, and it was clean and just for a gag I came back to the table with it on me head. And 'cause it stuck there with sweat, just stayed there, I didn't have to keep it on. It just stayed there till it fell off. And the waitress said, "Yeah, you're an asshole with a Kotex on," and I think it's a good remark and so what? Tommy Smothers was a completely different night and has been covered a million times. It was my first night on Brandy Alexanders and my last [laughs]. And I was with Harry Nilsson, who was no help at all [laughs].
What's your relationship with Nilsson? Some critics say that he's been heavily influenced, maybe even badly screwed up by you.
Oh, that's bullshit.
. . . and that you've also been influenced by him.
That's bullshit, too. I haven't been influenced by Harry, only that I had a lot of hangovers whenever I was with him [laughs]. I love him. He's a great guy and I count him as one of me friends. He hasn't influenced me musically. And there's an illusion going around about my production of Harry's album. That he was trying to imitate me on his album.
You mean that he'd gone into his primal period . . .
That's it. They're so sheeplike - put this in - and childlike about trying to put a tag on what's going on. They use these expressions like "primal" for anything that's a scream. Brackets: Yoko was screaming before Janov was ever even heard of; that was her stint, usin' her voice like an instrument. She was screamin' when Janov was still jackin' off to Freud. But nowadays, everything that's got a scream in it is called primal. I know what they're talkin' about: The very powerful emotional pitch that Harry reaches at the end of "Many Rivers to Cross" on the album I produced for him [Pussy Cats]. It's there, simply enough, because when you get to a certain point with your vocals, there ain't nowhere else to go. Was Little Richard primaling before each sax solo? That's what I want know. Was my imitation Little Richard screams I used to put on all the Beatles records before the solo - we all used to do it, we'd go aaaarrrrgggghhhh! Was that primaling? Right?