Repeated reports that the Mamas and Papas had broken up were at last, it seemed, confirmed. Mama Cass Elliot was going it alone. When I interviewed her – her first interview in more than a year, she said – she had just finished recording her first solo album. She was preparing a night club act for Las Vegas (Caesar’s Palace for three weeks, beginning Oct. 14). She was picking and choosing carefully from among the dozens of guest star television invitations. And two networks were bidding for her talents as host of her own weekly variety show. Another Mamas and Papas album – “Farewell to the First Golden Era. Vol. 2” – was as yet unreleased, but it seemed definite the Mamas and Papas had already said their farewell as a group.
Cass Elliot had sung alone before, in a jazz club in Washington, D. C. (long before joining the Mamas and Papas), and as a member of two other groups, the Big Three and the Mugwumps. But it was as a member of America’s Fantastic Four, the Mamas and Papas, that she built her public reputation; in three years, she became the unchallenged queen of the pop music scene. During the sae period she became a real mama, developed an avid interest in the “borderline sciences,” and, thanks in large part to the Democratic convention, became a political activist.
These subjects, among others, were discussed with all the emotion they were due in the Beverly Hills office of her personal manager, Bobby Roberts. Cass entered an hour late, apologizing. She is a Virgo and she said that meant she hated to be late, but explained that she had just come from Dunhill Records, where she had heard for the first time a complete playback of her album, “Dream a Little Dream.” We began our talk with that subject.
Are you pleased with your album?
Well, David Crosby said about a dozen times it took him further than he’d meant to go, which I thought was such a groovy compliment. It’s me. It’s where I’m at. Some friends came in – Graham Nash of the Hollies, John Sebastian – and they said, “I’m gonna have to tell you, if it’s bad, I’m gonna have to tell you, because I really love you and I wouldn’t want you to put something out that you’re gonna be ashamed of.” I said, “If it isn’t great, it’s because I’m not great then. Whatever it is, it’s where I’m at right now.” I think it’s more important what other people think of it.
I guess it’s a lot lower key than a lot of screaming and yelling I did with the Mamas and Papas. It’s not nearly as intense vocally. I think it’s intense emotionally.
The last Mamas and Papas album was lower key than what had preceded it …
I didn’t quite understand that last album. I thought it was overdone. My role in the Mamas and Papas was basically just to sing. John (Phillips) did all the arranging and althought there were a lot of things I didn’t really understand, we did them. I will admit in all honesty there are a very few songs on all the Mamas and Papas albums that I’m really proud to listen to. I don’t have the records in my house. Not because I’m a snob. I just don’t feel like listening to them. If somebody comes over and says, “Will you play that for me?” what I do is run over to the record player and play “Shake It Up, Baby” or something, because it offends me. But I don’t think I’ll take my new album off. It’s the first thing I’ve ever done I can listen to objectively. I can listen to the vocals and the orchestra and everything and not be chained just to my own voice in a playback.
Who produced your new album?
I had a great producer, John Simon. I just stumbled on him by luck. I didn’t know anything about him. He had a great sense of humor. As a matter of fact, I thought he was silly and I thought here’s somebody I can really work with because I’m basically the silliest person I know. A friend of mine, Alan Pariser, brought him over for dinner. Alan had played me Music From The Big Pink. I guess I was too out of it to listen to it because it didn’t make any impression on me whatsoever the first time I heard it. Then I met Simon. I had been looking for six months for the right producer. Because I knew I wasn’t capable of doing it myself; I didn’t have the objectivity. I didn’t want to hire a staff of people: “Okay, you write the strings, and you write the horns, and you write the arrangements, and you play the guitar.” I wanted one person that I could work with and really communicate with, who could understand me and my music and what I wanted to say. So when he came over the the house the next time, I said, “Hey, are you busy?” He said, “No, I’m sort of busy.” He was doing the Electric Flag at the time, and Janis Joplin and whatever else, a movie, but he said, “I’ve got time.” We sort of separated for a few days and thought it over. I went out and got all the albums he’d ever produced – Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkel – and just listened. I said, “Yeah, he’s definitely the right person.” I called him and for about three weeks we hung out and talked, swam in my pool and played with my baby. Then we started to put material together.
What did you have in mind?
I had a concept for the album. I wanted to do songs that had been written by people I knew, but had never been able to sing because John wrote most of the Mamas and Papas material. People like David Crosby, Graham Nash, John Sebastian. I thought I’d call the album “In the Words of My Friends.” But we found we needed broader material. As it is, I’ve got a song of Sebastian’s, two songs of John Simon’s, one song of Graham Nash, a song my sister wrote, a song John Hartford wrote, a Leonard Cohen song, and Cyrus Faryer wrote two songs. So it did turn out to be the words of my friends.
Which Mamas and Papas songs do you like?
“No Salt on Her Tail,” “Look Through My Window,” “Monday, Monday,” “Go Where You Want to Go,” “Got a Feeling.” Notice I haven’t mentioned any songs from the last album. I wonder what that is. Maybe because that album was such an arduous task. We spent one whole month on one song, just the vocals for “The Love of Ivy” took one whole month! I did my album in three weeks, a total of ten days in the studio. Live with the band, not pre-recorded tracks sitting there with earphones. What a thrill, what a fantastic voyage – as they say in movieland.
What was it that led you to go out as a single? Did you feel the group had run its course as far as you were concerned?
Well, having the baby changed my life a lot. I don’t want to go on the road, you see. It’s actually a matter of economics, much like the Vietnamese war, I guess. I didn’t want to go on the road and I wanted to stay home with my baby. I guess I could go to Kansas and be a waitress and support my kid that way. But I’d rather live comfortable and I wanted to do more creative work. I didn’t just want to be part of a group. I wanted to be able to do television, and a movie it came up, to sort of diversify myself, to extend myself. Within the framework of a group, that freedom is not possible.
We had sort of an unwritten agreement – us all being friends and through all those changes and all – that whenever anybody wanted to quit, they could just quit. So I went to John and said, “Look, it’s been two and a half years and I’m really tired and I want to do some stuff on my own.” He said, “Well, perhaps it wouldn’t be proper for you to do that as a member of the group, so if you want to leave, we’ll understand.”
So then we tried to recapture ourselves on this album. I don’t know whether we successfully made it. I know it hasn’t sold as well. And I can’t help but feel it has a lot to do with the vibrations, vibrations that the music produced–not being as electric and exuberant as we once were.
How does Lou Adler figure in not figuring as producer of your album – or is that a touchy subject?
Oh, it’s touchy as hell. I’ll say it like it is. I think Lou felt that if he produced my record it would intensify the alienation of the group. He didn’t want to be responsible for alienating the group from itself. So he respectfully declined my offer. I waited for months for him to make up his mind.
I didn’t feel that I wanted John to produce my album. I wanted it to be Lou or somebody else. This is conjecture on my part, but I think that John felt he wanted to produce it. I just felt for some reason that as soon as I got out of the group, I wanted to be free of every entanglement, creatively.
Do you think a group like the Mamas and Papas would make it today as completely as, say, two or three years ago?
I think the unique thing about music and graphic art is, as opposed to, say, acting and directing, that if you are good you can always create a place for yourself. In acting, for instance, there’s only a certain amount of good parts; you have to find the right vehicle. But if you’re making good music, man, there’s so much room. I think that any group that’s really good can make it, any time. That was my feeling behind the Mamas and Papas. When I heard us sing together the first time . . . we knew, we KNEW … this is it. This was when we first came to California, after we’d left the islands.
Is that a true story about a pipe falling on your head …
It’s true. I did get hit on the head by a pipe that fell down and my range was increased by three notes. They were tearing this club apart in the islands, revamping it, putting in a dance floor. Workmen dropped a thin metal plumbing pipe and it hit me on the head and knocked me to the ground. I had a concussion and went to the hospital. I had a bad headache for about two weeks and all of a sudden I was singing higher. It’s true. Honest to god.
Do you think the Mamas and Papas might some day re-emerge?
Before I made my album I really believed we’d all get back together some day and do another album. Now I don’t know. There’s something about being a part of a group. You can call it a symbiotic relationship or anything you want – that is unique from doing it yourself. But I would love, in all honesty, to do another album with the Mamas and Papas sometime. I miss them.
We’re still friends and we want to be friends. Because to break up a successful group, which is really what I did, you know, there’s some kind of karma here. I don’t feel guilty about it; I left the group because I had to. That was being honest. My mother always told me that if you tell lies, you get in trouble, and if you don’t tell lies, you never get in trouble. Maybe there is some bitterness, but they’re not showing it to me, and I’m not showing it to them. It’s been very gentle.
Did you use backup voices in your album?
On two songs. I sang with the Blossoms and Brenda Holloway. We did some gospel things. Couple of songs I sang with myself. But basically, they’re all solo vocals. Not double-track, no over-dub, just flat. Me.
Who were the musicians you used?
Oooh, boy. John Simon played piano. Harvey Brooks from the Electric Flag played bass. Paul Harris played piano, too, and organ. James Burton, one of the great guitar players of all time – he played all the Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson dates – played dobro. Stephen Stills. Cyrus Faryar. Jimmy Gordon on drums, Plas Johnson on sax. This crazy kid named Dino, this crazy Cuban from San Francisco, played conga. And Phil Austin of the Firesign Theatre did some tremendous, funny vocal over-dubs. It was a jovial little crew.
Who’s working with you on the Vegas act?
Mason Williams is gonna write it. Harvey Brooks is putting a band together. What we’re gonna do is … I believe that if you truly dig what you are doing, if you lay it out that way, nobody can not respond. I think my plans are to just build up, not relent for a moment. That’s what rock and roll is. Rock and roll is relentless. That’s what I want to do in Vegas – not let up. Really pour it on. Have a band. Bring music and entertainment and relaxation and highness and everything else to Vegas. I don’t think it’s ever been done there.
Have you ever been to Vegas?
Well, Harry Belafonte was opening there that night and his opening number was “Rock Island Line.” I sat there and I thought: He’s great, but it’s gotta be 25 years behind what’s happening. I’m gonna float my band above the stage on an inflatable, helium-filled set. When the curtains open, I want them to go “WHAT???”
I met the bosses of the hotel. They’re paying me an outrageous sum of money: $40,000 a week, which is totally silly. If Emmett Grogan ever heard about it, I’d really be in deep trouble. Anyway, I caught these owners looking at me as if they were saying: “What the hell is she gonna do?” And I thought to myself: “You just wait … you have no idea … I’m gonna blow your brains out.”
I’m trying to get Mike Bloomfield to play guitar for me. I would just dig to have Michael there. I love Michael. You know, I sang on their record. That’s never really been formally declared. I did the background voicing with Buddy Miles on “Groovin’ Is Easy.” Somebody from San Francisco came down and said, “Hey, have you heard the Electric Flag?” I said no, and they said come to the studio at 10 o’clock in the morning. I said, “You’re crazy; nobody gets me into a studio at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning, when I just left another studio at three.” But I went, and got so flipped out by the Electric Flag! It’s too bad their first album was recorded so badly – no presence at all. It’s really too bad, because they were just the greatest group this country has ever seen. Now we’ve got “Big Pink,” and that’s a different bag. The Flag was the first big band rock sound. So I sang with them, although I never admitted it before.
I felt it lost an important element – a vital element – when Michael left. I dig Jimi Hendrix and think he’s an outasight guitar player. But Michael is intellectual and being white, I respond intellectually. He grabs me. He’s a musician and a technician and intelligent. I think he’s probably the finest guitar player we have.
You put music on at least two levels then … one being intellectual, or intellectual as opposed to something else?
No, I don’t put it on levels. I listen to it. If I like it, then later I analyze why I like it. First has to come the initial liking. I can’t say, really. Like, today, I’d rather hear Jimi Hendrix. Today. The Doors, for instance: I can’t really get into their music. I find it very one-dimensional. True, it’s far out. But when you get there finally, it’s just in one. It doesn’t surround me or take me away, whereas the Beatles always have completely turned me on. With Michael it’s the same thing. His music is intellectual and being white, like I say, I respond to that side of his music also, in addition to his musical ability and technical knowledge. I respond also to his intellectualism as he approaches his guitar. It’s not “as opposed to,” but in addition to. Michael can play the blues. So can Eric Clapton and so can Jimi Hendrix. But when Michael plays, he takes me very far. He backhands me a little bit more, whereas Jimi Hendrix is right in there, solid, gutteral, right there! I think Michael’s approach is more intellectual.
Are there records you listen to more than others?
I listen to “Big Pink” voraciously. It’s happy music. I listen to Dr. John the Night Tripper. I listen to the Cream, Jimi Hendrix. I listen to Dylan’s last album a lot. I never really understood him before. I listen to the new groups much. I don’t listen to Janis Joplin and I don’t listen to Country Joe and the Fish or Steppenwolf, or any of the groups that are making a lot of noise now. I haven’t been able to get into their music. I listen to music I understand. That’s why I made the comment about Dylan. The last album, John Wesley Harding, turned me on. I loved it and I understood it.
As a solo artist, how are you being billed?
I hope the marquee (in Vegas) just says Cass Elliot. I’m afraid it might say Mama Cass Elliot. It’s a stigma I might not be able to drop right away. I fought it all my folk-singing life. Before I was even with the Mamas and Papas. I hated it. Everybody’d say, “Hey, mama, what’s happening?” Then came the Mamas and Papas and I was stuck with it. And now people call me Mama Cass because of the baby. So I don’t know whether I’m gonna be able to really get away from it.
The baby goes with me, by the way. It’s in my contract. You do two shows a day seven days a week, so it’s like 48 shows straight and I’d never have time to visit her otherwise. She’s just at the ripe age, 16 months. She plays harmonica and she’s very rhythmical; she dances all the time. An hour a day I put her on my lap and she plays organ. When I was pregnant with her and we were recording the “Deliver” album, I used to put the earphones on my stomach. After she was born and we went to Europe, I left her at my mother’s house for a couple of weeks. My mother told me when I got back that when the baby was unhappy, she’d put on that album and it would soothe her right away. The baby seemed to be familiar with all the songs. It was very relaxing to her. So … that’s my comment on pre-natal influence.
What is your day like, when you aren’t working?
Most of the time I’m at home. I hardly ever go out. I get up early in the day with the baby and my day is her day. At 7:30 I watch the Huntley-Brinkley report, watch a little television, and go to sleep. I’m a member of the Factory; somebody gave me a membership. So occasionally I say to someone, “Hey, you wanna see something?” and we go to the Factory and sit and laugh. I don’t drink, so I’m not one of those people who go from bar to bar.
But you are known as “The Queen of Los Angeles Pop Society.”
Who else is there? Gracie Slick lives in San Francisco. I guess it’s because I know all the people. We’ve all been friends for many, many years, and we’ve maintained our relationships. So if you come over to my house and you see Eric Clapton and David Crosby and Steve Stills playing guitar together and Buddy Miles walks in, it’s not because I got out my Local 47 book and called up and said let’s get a bunch of musicians together. My house is a very free house. It’s not a crash pad and people don’t come without calling. But on an afternoon, especially on weekends, I always get a lot of delicatessen food in, because I know David is going to come over for a swim and things are going to happen. Music happens in my house and that pleases me. Joni Mitchell has written many songs sitting in my living room. Christmas day when we were all having dinner, she was writing songs. It’s a joy for me to have music in my house. It can’t hurt my kid any, either.
At the same time, you are, or have been, very much a part of the public scene, as when you helped open the Kaleidoscope. What is your reaction to that level of what’s going to today?
I think it’s silly. Somebody called me up and said, “You wannt come and cut a tape?” and I said, “Why not?” So I called my friends, none of whom are in pop music, and said, “Hey, you wanna go on a trip? Let’s go down to the Kaleidoscope and I’ll show you something.” It’s silly. I mean, who am I? What possible value can it have? I mean, if somebody calls you up on the phone five, six, ten times to get you to do something, why not do it? I go sometimes just because I just want to see things. I went to the premiere of Alice B. Toklas because I knew if I didn’t go then, I probably wouldn’t have stood in line to go to the movie. It’s hard to move around in public. Go ahead … ask me what I hate most about my fame … go ahead: What do you hate most about your fame, Cass? Say it.
What do you hate most about your fame, Cass?
Everything I’ve learned in life I’ve learned either by doing it or watching the changes other people go through. And when you’re famous, you don’t get to meet people–because they want you to like them and they present themselves to you, present the best sides of themselves, and you don’t see the real people. Which is why I don’t really go anywhere. And when I do, I put on my silly face and do what they expect me to do. Actually, I never do what they expect me to do. It’s the only way I could go on doing what I have to do. I do whatever I … you know, I didn’t even comb my hair today. I didn’t know we were taking pictures, but when I found out, it didn’t change my mind any. Interview verite.
There’s a song in my album called “The California Earthquake” and the opening line is: “I heard they exploded the underground blast/What they say is gonna happen is gonna happen at last/That’s the way it appears/They tell me the fault line run right through here/So that may be, that may be/What’s gonna happen is gonna happen to me/That’s the way it appears.” That’s where it’s at. My sister is a part-time clairvoyant. She says, “Get the baby out of here; move to Kansas.” I say, “Look, I’m here now. There must be a reason I’m here.” If that’s fatalistic, be that as it may. Where my work is, is where my life is, and if we’re falling into the ocean, we’re falling into the ocean. The second verse says: “Atlantis will rise/Sunset Boulevard will fall….” And what could be more timely than that? It’s where it’s at.
David Crosby’s boat is anchored about sixty miles from where this temple is supposed to have risen in the Atlantic, This was reported in the New York Times. Brandon DeWilde’s wife Susan called the New York Times to verify it, and they did. Apparently a temple has been spotted protruding two feet above the surface of the sea in very well-sailed waters, near Bimini off the coast of Florida. And it’s supposedly Atlantis. So I said to David, “Let’s go, man; let’s go see.” Because I pride myself on being an old soul and I would say that I’d know if it’s Atlantis. Maybe it’s not Atlantis. Maybe it’s Miami Beach. But let’s go see anyway.
You’ve mentioned astrology, and now Atlantis … and Dunhill uses a horoscope as a biography for you. … And as I recall, one of the Mamas and Papas albums included an astrological breakdown of the group. Is this general area important to you?
Well, I would say that there are certain glittering generalities that can be made about every sign that will hold true about everybody who’s a member of that sign. For instance, if you had been a Virgo, you would have understood how I hate to be late. I broke up a group I was in once called the Big Three because one of the guys was chronically late and I couldn’t take it. I feel when you’re supposed to be someplace on time, you’re there on time. You don’t hang people up. It doesn’t matter if you’re the President of the United States. That’s not what you are here for, to hang people up. When I know somebody’s sign, and I usually know somebody’s sign whether they tell me or not–after getting into this for several years–it helps me to deal with them. Usually I’d rather let people deal with me. That’s a total ego hangup, but that’s where it’s at.
This interest does go back several years, then?
Yeah, I’d say a couple of thousand. Like I said, I think I would recognize Atlantis. I wouldn’t be pretentious enough to try to explain that, though, because there are people who would be offended by it if somebody said, “Why, I’ll know Atlantis if I see it.” But inside myself I know that, karmically, I would know it if it were Atlantis. I’ve had quite a few experiences like that. I’ll tell you of one. I’ve always wanted to go to England; I’ve always felt a tremendous drawing to England–especially the Elizabethan period. I felt I was familiar with a lot of it–more than what I was familiar with from what I read and studied in school. I went to England. I started driving. I drove to Stonehenge and found that I had been there. It was familiar to me. I went to the Tower of London and knew that I had been there. It was more than just feeling vibrations, which a lot of people can do–feel, you know, vibrations of a place that has antiquity screaming through it. It was an irrefutable fact. It was like coming home for me.
Reincarnation isn’t such a far-out theory, after all. I had a medium who did a karmic reading of my soul. She went into a trance and spoke to me in a completely different voice from her own. I’m a diehard sceptic, but she told me that Owen, my daughter, had been my child before and that her soul had been returned to me. I thought that was a lovely thought, even if it’s not true. And even her name, Owen, which is a peculiar name to name a girl-child, it’s a peaceful sound to me. I don’t think it has anything to do with Om, although they’re all the same, all the soft sounds. She’s a very soft sound.
I spent some time with Rick Griffin and his wife and baby, Flaven. And they’re all the same, all those babies. I took acid five times when I was pregnant. I don’t believe in this chromosomal damage. I think it’s all hogwash; it’s all a vicious plot by the establishment. I was told all the things I couldn’t do when I was pregnant, and I did them all. Because, you know instinctively what you can do. I took psychedelics. I didn’t feel that I had hurt her in any way. As a matter of fact, it was on an acid trip that I relized that I was pregnant – and I was only about three weeks pregnant.
What did you mean when you said “all these babies are alike”?
Babies of hippies have gotta be different from other babies–just by virtue of the fact that they are totally unrestricted. I think that hippies are more enlightened and therefore tend to be a lot freer with their children. Let’s put it this way: The kids I went to high school with, well, I’ve seen their children. Now … my contemporaries … they are not the people I went to high school and college with … they are in the creative forces … and their children are different. And they are different because of their parents. And what they are allowed to do and say. Flaven’s a beautiful child. I’ve heard that story about kids are high naturally, but I’ve seen kids that aren’t high, kids who’ve had the high taken out of them. That’s why I say those babies are all alike; like us mothers.
I hope these babies have a world to live in. I hope they have a place to go, a land to walk on. I remember when I was 10 years old, In Washington, D. C., and I lived with fear of the atom bomb that would keep me awake nights and make me wake up screaming. I used to babysit for my younger brother and sister and I’d be terrified if I heard a siren, a police car or an ambulance. I’d say, “My god, what if this is it! How do I protect them?” We used to have duck-and-cover exercises in school, where they’d ring a bell at any time of the day, sometimes five or six times a day, and we’d crawl under our desks and put our hands like this to protect the back of our necks from the bomb. We all carry that with us.
I think everybody who has a brain should get involved in politics. Working within. Not criticizing it from the outside. Become an active participant, no matter how feeble you think the effort is. I saw in that Democratic convention in Chicago that it was not feeble. There were more people interested in what I was interested in than I believed possible. I saw people crying because the minority plank on Vietnam was defeated in the platform. And I thought: Thank god! All right, so we didn’t get it, but thank god there are some people in there now, in the establishment who want to change it. So let everybody be active. That’s what I dig about Paul Krassner, man.
I heard he will be writing the liner notes for your album.
Yes, he is. I’ve known him for many, many years. I met him with Timothy Leary and I fell instantly in love with his entire mind and body, and I would do anything for him. He’s a hopeless idealist. I asked him to write my liner notes and he was delighted. He asked me what to write. I said write about the Yippies or write about anything; just write what you would like people to read, it doesn’t have to do with the album.
Do you think the Democratic convention and what happened in Chicago really changed many heads?
Oh, yeah. Let me talk about the head it changed in me. It made me want to work, made me feel my opinion and ideas were not futile, that there would be room in an organized movement of politics for me to voice myself and change things.
I was asked to participate in Bobby Kennedy’s campaign. I thought about McCarthy and I realized I thought McCarthy was a little too lyrical, but I agreed with his ideas. I felt much stronger about McGovern; I don’t know why. But I didn’t participate in any way, for anyone. I was just a voyeur and watched it– to see tragedy heaped upon tragedy.
I’d say I’m gonna be active. I’m gonna do everything I can. Whatever it is, and I’m sure there are people who know what it is, and they’ll tell me. I’m guilty of the sin of omission as much as anybody else. I never spoke up.
When I was in Vegas and I saw Harry Belafonte, I wanted to talk to him. I said, “Tell me what to do about fear.” He asked me what I was afraid of. I said, “I don’t believe what those other people believe and I don’t want to have to pay dues for things that I never said and things that I never felt. Tell me what to do when Roosevelt Grier comes running down my driveway to burn down my house. How do I run outside and say, ‘Hey, man, I never said nigger and my kid’s never gonna say nigger.'” That’s my fear– the white, liberal fear. How do you tell them that you’re on their side? Which is a bigoted way of expressing it–implying there are sides. Belafonte was very moved. He just reached out and took my hand and squeezed it. He didn’t say anything, he just looked at me for a long time.
Will you be campaigning now?
Yeah, on all levels. I’d like to see Paul Krassner get in. I think he could change the minds of a lot of people.
My philosophy is I’m gonna fight as hard as I can to keep all the bad things from happening. But if they are gonna happen and I happen to be in the city where they are happening–like in the sang, “California Earthquake” –then there’s not much I can do about it. I can’t uproot my whole life, and change my entire way of living, just because I have a feeling that things may not work out all right. There’s also always the chance that everything is going to be just swell, guys. Just hang in there. But I don’t think it can happen on its own.
I think the most successful way to overthrow any government is through infiltration. It’s been proven for years. The dream, of course, is that there is going to be a fantastic cataclysm, and that tomorrow we have Adlai Stevenson in the White House. That’s not going to happen, and not because Adlai Stevenson is dead. The reason it’s not going to happen is that kind of overthrow is not possible. So I will work in the only way I know how, and that is within the establishment – because that is the only existing program. Let someone come up with another one and if it’s good, I’d do it in a second.
I know very few who are willing to die for their convictions. I wouldn’t be hit on the head with a billy club or have mace squirted in my face. When I was younger and a radical at American University maybe … as a matter of fact, I was at the march on the Pentagon just last year, right in the front taking pictures, just being there to find out what was happening, and I was knocked down and stepped on. I don’t want to do that again. It didn’t accomplish anything. They lied about everything that happened. Everything in the newspapers was just lies. There were 100,000 people there, not 15,000. And it was very orderly, very well organized. They just did not tell the truth. Look, like it or not, Chicago was the truth, and all America saw it.
How important do you feel pop music is in all this?
Well, look what it’s done so far. How can you negate the fact that it has mass appeal? It gets into millions of homes and lives. Like this song Spanky and Our Gang recorded. It turns me on so much when they sing; “And if I can make you give a damn/about your fellow man …” Let’s take the people who have latent thoughts about maybe the United States isn’t always right. They hear a song like “Give a Damn” and maybe it’ll awaken them. If it makes you cross that bridge between apathy and effective participation, that’s great. There’s so much talk about the Drug Generation and songs about drugs. That’s stupid. They aren’t songs about drugs; they’re about life. Music can play a huge part, because it’s the international communicative force.
Do you feel music should make social comment, then?
I feel that it can, and whenever possible, when they have something to say, it should be heard. I wouldn’t say it has to. I wouldn’t go up to the Quicksilver Messenger Service and say, “Hey, you guys ought to do a protest song because people listen to you and you’re in a position of influence, and you should do something about it.” Yet, I do believe that. If you are in a position of influence, you should do something about it. Not necessarily inflict your opinion on other people, but if you really think you’re right, you should tell it.
Does some of the material on your album reflect this attitude?
“California Earthquake” does. There’s another called “Sweet Believer,” which I feel … it’s still so fresh and new to me, it’s hard to say. All the songs mean something. They’re not political. I must admit I didn’t think of politics when I started the album. I was thinking “Who am I?” and “How do I tell people out there who I am?” Not being a writer, the only way is to sing songs that reflect my opinions.
The album was also conceived and put together before the Democratic convention.
Yes, but we had politics before we had the convention, didn’t we?
Yes, but wasn’t it at that point your head changed around some?
Nah. It changed around when John Kennedy was killed. When John Kennedy was killed, I really became frightened. I said: How can they do that, how can they do that … snuff out the white hope? And then Martin Luther King. You know the list. And many people that we don’t know. And that kid, the Black Panther who was shot down with his hands over his head. Bobby Hutton. I didn’t even know him. But I didn’t have to know him to know it was wrong. He may have been anything. He may even have been a bad person, or a rapist, or a walking hallucinogenic drug, or anything. But he didn’t have to die.
I’ve always been so apathetic. I figured okay, maybe the world is going to fall down around me. Now I feel … maybe that’s motherhood, too. I want to make a better world, I want to make sure she has some place to walk around.
What do you think you’ll be doing?
Christ, I hope they don’t ask me to sing. But if that’s what they want me to do, if that’s what I can do, I’ll do it.