Lisa Robinson knows everybody. Seriously. She was there when Zeppelin imploded and the Stones rose, “discovered” the Ramones, introduced Bowie to Lou Reed and has been in-depth and behind the scenes with everyone from Dylan to John Lennon, Patti Smith and Stevie Nicks, U2 to Jay Z, Michael Jackson and Prince, The Clash, Iggy Pop, Eminem and Gaga — and she’s written about it all in her brand new book, There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock & Roll (Riverhead)
I wake up at the completely un-rock & roll early hour of 10 a.m. so we can catch up.
“You’re in Nashville?” she asks.
Yes ma’am, I am.
Love that city. Great town.
I was in Nashville for Vanity Fair, we did a shoot with Alison Krauss at Hatch Show Print. Is Hatch still there?
I hate to tell you this.
They moved Hatch Show Print into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
What a shame. That great old building and all that history and they move it into some crappy museum.
You could smell the ink in the old Hatch.
I know. I was there. Well, okay. Either way, I guess we should interview?
I think when it’s just a conversation. I never went in with prepared questions or anything like that. I was from New York and I was educated, I knew music, I knew the blues so I didn’t think of artists as being these great gods. I probably thought I was a little better than them, really. But I would see people literally shaking at meeting Mick Jagger – which is ridiculous to me. Mick is not that guy. When I met Mick I told him his shoes were tacky. He liked that. John Bonham seemed like some farmer from the North countryside. So I approached them that way, just as regular people.
Who were the best interviews?
Mick at first and then after he got off the heroin, Keith was better. You never knew what Mick you might get. He could be funny, campy or then again, very controlling. Keith was always very forthright. He was almost like Lenny Bruce. Eminem was always great, even when he was messed up. Lady Gaga, for sure.
Why did Gaga’s last record flop?
Maybe the company didn’t push it or believe in it. Maybe people were tired of her. She’ll be back though, she’s too great. I told her way back that she would have a career like Elton John’s, that it would go in periods of ups and downs.
From your book: “The entire New York band scene started with 5 or 10 bands who hated each other and yet were lumped into mainstream press as “punk”.
They did! They were all jealous. All waiting to see who got the record deal first.
Well, tell me why people think you did.
Oh man, let me see… The Ramones were on me and Danny Fields from Elektra to give them some coverage. Danny said, “I’ll see them if you don’t want to.” But I told him, “No, I’ll go to CB’s and check them out.” I called later and said, “You gotta sign these guys. They sound like Beach Boys. They’re very loud, very fast and their songs are all two minutes long.” But I don’t know that the Ramones ever made any money. It was ten years – at least – before they had any recognition. It’s very bizarre to see them in the Hall of Fame.
What are your thoughts on the Hall?
Eh, I don’t have a lot of respect for the Hall. I used to be on their nominee board but I resigned after it seemed like it was just all of Springsteen and Jan Wenner’s friends getting in. No Television, No New York Dolls. I think the Clash went in before The Stooges. A lot of great do-wop acts didn’t make it. Keith had to fight to get them to recognize Muddy Waters. I don’t know whose going to get all my interview tapes and shirts and memorabilia from forty years in the business, but it won’t be the Rock Hall of Fame.
I’m going to sell it.
What? No way! Like on eBay?
No. I don’t know. I want to get rid of it. I’m tired of paying the storage. Maybe a college or something.
He was twelve. The record company was saying he was ten.
Okay, you meet him when he was twelve and knew him past the Bad era. What happened to Michael Jackson?
He just never had anything normal in his life. Just such a weird relationship with his family, so controlling. He was their meal ticket in life and still is in death.
I like how you describe the two voices of Michael.
There were. If he were talking to his lawyer or to Walter Yetnikoff, he had a stronger voice. Lower too. Then the media voice was the high whispery thing. Even though he was out of it on This is It, you can see flashes of it there.
Prince vs. Michael Jackson.
Well, they were both crazy.
Prince was never a drug addict. He may have had periods of use but he wasn’t an addict. I don’t know. I never got to know Prince. He wouldn’t allow recorders so I never got to interview him proper. He was and is very controlling. But just an incredible talent. Also, I think the religious thing. Michael’s parents pushed a lot of that on him. Prince is Jehovah’s Witness by choice.
What drives Bono?
Ego, I guess?
Am I right? You have to have some super-sized ego to front a superstar band like that. I know he portrays himself as a left-wing guy, a humanitarian, but I think at least some of that is self-aggrandizing.
How have Television and the New York Dolls influenced music today?
I don’t know about the Dolls. They were just a great New York band. But Television definitely influenced U2 and look at how many people U2 have influenced.
God help us. Unfortunately, yeah.
Do you think music has fallen off in the last twenty years?
I don’t know if that’s the right way to look at it. People always love the music of their youth. So I think twenty years from now you’ll have people who are very nostalgic about Mumford & Sons or Jack White or Kayne West.
What would Warhol find interesting about 2014?
By the time I had met Andy he was on into the money and hanging with the Reagan’s or whatever. But I think he would have found the acceptance of trans-gender very curious. He had Candy Divine and such and there was surgery back then but it was so taboo. Now it’s accepted, there are whole communities.
When I first interviewed Stevie she was very coked up and out of it. Fleetwood Mac was about to break up but no one knew this at the time. Stevie broke down crying. But she got it back together and she is an amazing talent and a beautiful voice.