The New York Rocker, November 1981

by Kristine McKenna

Tom Verlaine, that guitar pluckin' hank of hair from Delaware, that Garbo of the Bowery, has made a new record. T.V.'s latest mystery achievement is called Dreamtime and when the critical dust has settled (This is war men! Life and limb hangs in the balance as the votes are tallied!) it may stand as his finest work ever. Personally I think it is and I saw no point in dissecting and discussing every drop of life out of the music when I interviewed him. So we spoke about other things. Herewith, a few of Mr. Verlaine's more trenchant observations.

I honestly can't believe that people worship rock stars. When people go to bed at night they don't feel the musicians are religious figures who change history the way Mohammed did. For most people music is just a good time and a way to release tension. I mean, do you really think people took cues from Dylan?

Every writer reveals something of his life in his writing - maybe he reveals some part of his death. Some people manage to assemble songs in a very detached way, but if that detachment is forced I don't think you'll get a good song. You're most apt to get a good song when any notions you might have about "good writing" have collapsed. I've always felt that good writing has to involve another person, not necessarily as a subject, but as someone you're involved with.

Genuine life is one inch gone in retreating. Genuine life is the one you find without looking for it.

I like Lene Lovich's music. There's a lot of intelligence and soul in her music, but it's done in such a way that those qualities aren't immediately noticeable. The last record I bought was a recording of whales. It's a beautiful record - I found it for 49 cents so I picked it up. I don't have a record player but I'm getting one tomorrow I hope.

I didn't go along with the Bowie version of "Kingdom Come" myself but it's always a thrill to hear someone else interpret your work even if you don't like what they do with it. I'd love to hear Ray Charles do that song - I bet he'd do a great version.

If you don't relate at all you won't have problems. But if you're personally involved with someone you're going to encounter some irreconcilable problems.

I'd like to see Ireland. Ireland has the lowest suicide rate, the lowest of all self-destructive rates of any country, plus it has a mythology and sense of history. I have a feeling the mythology is still alive there right down to the grass growing on the ground. I've read a little about the old Irish poets and there's a legend of a real poet who lived before the Christian influence who could rhyme rats to death. That was part of becoming a poet then and that idea is so beyond anything that's called poetry today.

I have these theories about the uses of various drugs. Drugs have two sides, a healing side and a destructive side, and to me, heroin is a mother drug. It puts you in the warm safety of the womb where everything's fine. I've noticed that people with heroin troubles frequently have problems with their mothers. I've taken heroin but I'm not a junkie nor was I ever a junkie even though some people thought I was. Why did I take it? Well hell, why not? I didn't shoot the jazz up because I'm not into that sort of self-image and it didn't affect my work at all. I took the stuff because I got beat up and these guys broke my rib. The first time you take it it's a great pain killer but the second time you have to take twice as much to get the same affect. Actually it doesn't kill pain - it just creates this womb effect of warmth and safety, and maybe people who didn't get that feeling when they were growing up need that feeling. That feeling becomes paradise for them and they become addicted to it. Maybe I had a good family that gave me the basics so that I don't crave that sensation. But then maybe other people got the basics too but want more. There is greed in the world and it operates in all sorts of ways.

Pablo Casals said that "the desire for innovation leads to greater aberrations in art than would acceptance of what's already there" and I think he's definitely got a point.

If you have a friend who's being set up and you have a friend who's a judge then maybe it's your job to go in there and say "hey, this is way off." I've never been in that position myself but a guy does have an obligation to do what he can. I'm beginning to think that things have always been and will always be corrupt, but then I don't know history well. Somebody recently told me that the Renaissance culture was not corrupt and that there were periods in India when the caste system was a successful thing. You do need people to make wheels and there are people who are happy doing that stuff. But between the post-war years and the '60s there was a real turning point away from and disdain for hand work. I can see it in my own family, in my father's generation, the idea that it's beneath you to work with your hands.

I've been reading some things written by the painter Max Ernst. It's a book I've looked for for years that includes a little bit of his writings. It's not a serious book of aesthetics by any means - I find I can't read that stuff at all. Ernst had a sense of humor and wrote about his life in a very interesting way. He was a funny guy - I guess you might say he was an artist.

On the way over here I saw these two guys who were probably in some type of English band like Adam & the Ants, and I realized that whenever I've met people who project a very stylish appearance they've always turned out to be disappointing. People who draw attention to their physicality as being something other than physicality are disappointing in even half-assed intimate situations. Style to me is incidental. The British are very adept at creating it for its own sake, but the best style is incidental. John Coltrane had a style but it was totally incidental to what he was.

Sometimes old songs will run through my mind and I'll think, "oh, that line isn't right." But a little bit of failure can be a good thing. In India, when they weave marriage blankets, they make them perfect until they get to the end then they put in this little screwed-up thing. They say that little mistake is what lets you in. That's what the Grail myth is about - somebody with a wound or "mistake" in him. I think you just have to accept that wound because it might contain its own healing factor. Accepting that wound might be the first ingredient in some kind of recipe.