There’s a 1978 interview with Eddie Money, the radio-staple rocker whose biggest hits still adorn every classic-rock station and outdoor bar serving Mai Tais and Bahama Mamas, on YouTube that perfectly sums up the “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Take Me Home Tonight” singer. The Long Island–via–Brooklyn musician was 29 at the time – a cocky, fast-talking, perpetually discursive, hilarious figure who has always had more fans than critical praise – carrying himself with an old-school New York swagger despite having released only one album at that point. (“We took the limousine out to Long Island where my parents live and everyone knew whose house [we] were at,” Money says.)
Age hasn’t exactly lessened these tendencies. Questions to Money, now 69, are more vague guideposts than definitive starting points, with the affable musician, born Edward Mahoney, sorta kinda maybe answering before occasionally veering off into an unrelated story about, say, his problems with his Homeowners’ Association, a two-minute joke about a dog that busted up a heroin ring or reconnecting with his lawyer after 40 years. He’s the opposite of media-trained; a talk-first, think-later open book who nearly died of a Fentanyl overdose in 1981, experienced the (stereo)typical “trappings of fame” and lived to both extol and mock his own self-image of a “blue collar” rocker who’s never earned a Grammy nomination but has sold nearly 30 million albums.
Then there are the jokes. So many jokes. Dad jokes. Off-color jokes. More dad jokes. (Money, ever on brand, recently tweeted a request to “Tell your favorite dad joke.”) Forget musicians. If Money has any influence, it’s Rodney Dangerfield, with the singer recalling both the comic’s self-deprecating stand-up and Back to School protagonist Thornton Melon’s wise-cracking, life-of-the-party attitude.
Money has only recorded two albums in the past two decades, but his greatest hits – “Baby Hold On,” “Shakin’,” “No Control” – ensure he can stay on the baby-boomer rock circuit as long as he wants, singing his classics ad infinitum to a crowd that just wants to get drunk and scream the choruses back at him. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Spurred by a 2016 Money appearance on Oprah: Where Are They Now?, AXS premiered Real Money, a new reality show featuring his wife and five kids (three of which play in his band) earlier this month. Like its influence The Osbournes, the show posits Money as the everyman rock star–cum–sitcom dad whose wife runs everything and kids are always “up to something.” The contrivances are a stretch even for reality show standards – “You wrecked the car again?!,” – but throughout, Money’s genial affability makes him a compelling figure that’s oddly suited for the medium.
Over the course of an hour, Money will say, “I’ll tell you the truth” 11 times. As the singer shows in his interview with Rolling Stone, this harmless verbal tic could also double as his life mantra.
Did you watch any other reality shows for inspiration?
No. I’m a SportsCenter kind of guy. Before I go to bed, I want to see if the Dodgers won. I’m like Grandpa Money. I saw Ozzy’s show a couple times and it was good, but I wasn’t really into watching a lot of reality TV. When they had me do the show, I really didn’t even know what the whole thing was all about. I wish they would have shot it 10 pounds ago or 10 years ago.
But I got to get a couple of my funny jokes in. When I had to go horseback riding, they gave me this big son-of a-bitching horse. The cameras are on me and I’m looking at the horses and going, “You look really depressed. Why the long face?” [Laughs] I got a kick out of it.
So this entire show is just an excuse to make dad jokes on camera?
Probably so. My wife says to me, “You’re not funny.” You know, what am I going to do? I look at the show and I’m very self-conscious about the way I look. My wife says to me, “You look heavy on TV.” I said, “Honey, the camera adds 10 pounds.” She said to me, “How many cameras did they use?” What a wiseass, huh? What a wiseass.
What did you think of The Osbournes?
When Ozzy threw that steak over the thing [Editor’s note: It was Sharon and Jack who threw various food items, including a baked ham] while fighting with all the neighbors, that’s great because I’m at the Homeowner’s Association where I live and … [Pauses] Wait, I’m not allowed to talk about the HOA. My wife’s hitting me in the face. “Don’t talk about the HOA!” All these people that don’t like me, what don’t they like about me? I haven’t done anything wrong to these people.
You say on the show, about your children being in your band, “Being a father, I can’t fire them.” Why not?
Well, I’ll tell you. I want to fire them for not showing up on time, not doing the music correctly and stuff like that, but if I fire them, I think my wife would fire me. [Laughs] You know what they say, a happy wife is a happy life.
The show also shows you boxing to get into shape. Have you ever punched anyone in a fight?
I remember when the American Indians took over Alcatraz in the early 1970s and there was this really big drunken Indian [one time] and my father always told me, “Whatever you do, don’t ever get in a fight with an Indian.” So, this guy was mouthing off to me and he turned around and punched me right in the mouth and the whole bottom of my mouth where I play the saxophone was black and blue for about a week. I should have listened to my father.
What was the fight over?
What was the fight over? The guy was drunk off his ass and was just out of his mind. He was an alcoholic, 6’7” fucking drunken Indian. What am I going to say?
You also talk on the show about playing with the Hells Angels in the Sixties.
Yeah, [Hells Angels founding member] Sonny Barger was a very good friend of mine. I was working in a bell-bottom store and a lot of the Hells Angels would try to rip off the store. I said to Sonny, “Man, these guys are threatening to kill me.” But Sonny and a lot of the guys were cool guys. There was this one guy I knew named Loser who would be drinking at the bar, take his glass eye out of his fucking socket, put it in the glass of whiskey and take it out and put it back in his eye. These people were out of their minds.
Have you ever said anything you’ve later regretted?
I was doing this show at the Grammy Museum and I said, “My wife always looks like a million bucks and she spends so much money on clothes and I hate it. It’s the Jew in me.” And when I said that [laughs] because my mother is Jewish, [industry lawyer] Bob [Lefsetz] didn’t realize that and mentioned it [in his popular newsletter]. He thought I was Irish Catholic, Polish or German or something and all of a sudden he said I was anti-Semitic and I’m going, “What are you talking about?” [Laughs] It was a misunderstanding and I thought it was a funny joke because I got Jewish blood in me.
Let’s talk about some of your biggest hits. Did you ever use the actual “Two Tickets to Paradise” with anyone?
Well, I was going with a girl at the time. She was in college and I was in college and her mother wanted her to meet somebody that was actually making a living. She had been dating the mayor’s son and I didn’t have any money to take her to Bermuda or Hawaii or anything else like that. So I wanted to take her on a Greyhound bus ride to the California Redwoods. It would only cost maybe 62 dollars for the both of us. But she dumped me and it never happened, so who knows? [Laughs] I think she went to Bermuda with the mayor’s son. [Laughs]
That’s tragic. All this time, I thought “Two Tickets to Paradise” was a love song, but it’s really a sad fantasy.
That’s very, very true. It never happened. Who in the world wouldn’t want two tickets to paradise? And my mother used to say to me, “Son, it’s not the state, it’s the state of mind.”
In “Shakin’,” there’s an ostensibly “misheard” lyric where you sing “Her tits were shakin’,” but come on, you were definitely saying that, right?
You know what? Nobody noticed it and [my manager] Bill Graham was so, so pissed off at me because he said that could’ve been a Top Five single, and “you and your sophomoric fucking bullshit, now I can’t get it on the radio.” But when I talked to people, they go, “I loved it when you said that! Wow!”
You didn’t make a clean radio version?
No, there was never a radio version because nobody caught it til the end. Yeah, I said it and I thought it was funny, but in the long run I wish I wouldn’t have said it because that record probably would’ve went double platinum. But I thought it was funny. You know how it is, you know?
To get a song with “tits” in it played on the radio? I don’t.
I was high. I didn’t give a shit. I said it. Who cares?
The video featured a pre-Purple Rain Apollonia.
Yeah, but if you look at that video and you see her try to dance, that woman couldn’t dance her way out of a Stevie Wonder movie. When I first met Apollonia, she had a boyfriend who was super jealous and a karate expert. I never went anywhere near the woman, but every time I turned around he was threatening to break my arms off.
I’ve got in-laws from the South and I don’t want people to think because my language gets a little [pauses] with the f-bombs and stuff like that. I’ve heard it from my in-laws that I shouldn’t have cursed, but the thing is, I thought they were gonna bleep it out, or I didn’t think that they were gonna show me cursing on TV. ‘Cause then I got people going, “Did you really have to use that language? Your father would be turning over in his grave.”
Your dad was a cop and you entered the NYPD training program and almost became a police officer. What kind of cop do you think you would’ve been?
I would have been a very lenient cop. My dad was one of the last foot cops. My dad was a religious man and I’m proud of the fact that he never gave a black person a ticket because he didn’t think they had enough money to pay for a ticket. Now that is what I call a good person.
But even when you first started as a musician, you were never the critical darling. Critic Robert Christgau said of your debut album that you were “as pudgy and sloppy as [your] voice” and that was the nicest part of the review.
The fans have always loved me. I’d do my shows straight and after, I used to get all pissed off drinking vodka or Irish coffee and I’d get up in the morning and I’d get the paper. If I’d get a so-so review or a bad review, I’d be the stupidest guy in the world and call the [critic] and go, “I know where you live. I’m gonna blow your car up.” All the kinds of horrible stuff I shouldn’t have said. I was out of my mind. I was coming down off vodka, come on. I was probably running out of cigarettes. What are you gonna do?
What’s the worst joke or headline you’ve seen about your last name?
They used to call me “Freddie Foodstamps” or “Eddie No Money.” You read reviews and people get “shortchanged by the Eddie Money show.” These critics are soooo clever with the words, but if you got a name like Money, people are gonna love it or hate it. I was gonna change my first name to Owen. [Laughs hysterically] Owen Money. [Continues laughing]
When people write something bad about you, you wanna come back and say something bad to them on the telephone, I guess. I don’t know. I was never the darling of the critics. For example, I’d do a show with Elvis Costello who was the biggest prick you’d ever want to meet in your life.
Because he wasn’t very nice to me. And I’m … [Makes unintelligible yelping sound to wife Laurie] My wife is punching me in the leg here. Am I saying something fucking wrong here? I can’t talk … Maybe Elvis Costello is a nice guy right now, but when I met him in 1977, he was a scumbag. I opened up for the Who with the Clash. For some reason, these guys from the Clash were really super mean to me, and I’m going, I’m the nicest guy in the world! Why are these people being pricks to me? One thing I can say about me is I’ve always been the same person.
Are there any songs that Eddie Money fans love that you secretly never want to perform again?
Everybody really likes “Walk on Water,” and I hate singing “Na na na na na na na na na.” I feel really silly singing the song, but you gotta go out there and do the songs that they love. [Sings] Na na na na na na na na na. I mean, come on. You try doing that for 30 years in a row. It’s not even a lyric. It was supposed to be a horn part, but the horn player never showed up, so I had to do it with my mouth.
You also have the unfortunate distinction of being the first rock star to publicly overdose on Fentanyl in 1981.
Somebody said it was synthetic something. I thought it was a synthetic quaalude or some shit, but I did the stuff, went out like a light and my nerves didn’t twitch so it killed the sciatic nerve in my left leg. I couldn’t walk for 11 months and it blew out my kidneys. I can remember being on the operating table and I’m looking up at all the doctors with these masks on and they’re operating on me, and “Baby Hold On” comes on the fucking radio. They had it on in the operating room. These people started singing “Baby Hold On” and the one guy said to the other guy, “This is Eddie Money. This is the kid on the radio.” And they’re going, “Oh shit. I can’t believe that.”
What’s the craziest fan encounter you’ve ever had?
There’s a lot of crazy people coming up [to me]. This guy was living in – this is a funny story, because it’s true – This guy was living in Long Island, and he was very schizophrenic and thought he was my twin brother. Now listen to this story: I’m in San Francisco with Bill Graham and we hear about this guy, because he’s writing me letters. He was so delusional-ized, he was getting on a plane to come to San Francisco to assassinate me. When he was flying out to San Francisco and getting arrested, I was flying to Kennedy Airport. He could’ve saved himself a fortune and tried to kill me at Kennedy instead. The guy went into a psychiatric ward for a while. I got to know him. I gave him cigarette money and taught him how to play dominoes. He became a domino champ back in the late Seventies.
Paul Simon, Ozzy Osbourne and Elton John are all around your age and retiring from the road, yet you’re still touring. Have you ever thought about stopping?
I don’t want to retire, because I get the chance to dress up, I can shave and shower and get a haircut and go out there and do “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Baby Hold On” and the fans love it. I’m helping my kids out. I got my son back there on drums, my other kid’s great on rhythm guitar, my daughter is dancing around like it’s her first gig. I feel very fortunate that I’m still doing what I’m doing. I mean, look at Frank Sinatra. He worked until the day he died, for Christ’s sake. Tony Bennett is still out there doing shows.
He’s 91. Do you still want to perform at that age?
I’m gonna stop when I’m rich, and I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen. For some reason, I missed the boat when it comes to the big money. I don’t know what happened, you know? I’m not really getting rich out here. But I look at it like this: The kids aren’t in jail, they’re not in rehab, nobody’s wrecked the car this week and there’s still milk in the refrigerator. I’m having a good month.