DO YOU believe in Adam Ant?
The 27 year old Ant trapped in a third floor suite of Manchester’s Portland Hotel is very believable.
Dressed in comforting black, his hair pushed away from a beaten looking face, minus the miracle make-up, this pre-prepared Adam appears as a primitive, shrunken version of the f/ant/asy — not yet drunk on the aches and pains of fame, the frictions and salvations of fortune, but noticeably tipsy. Wrinkles encircle his eyes: his cheeks are sinking.
Here is the fresh faced Adam who has been nagged at for too long by the idle Eve, here is the fighter who’s been through a lot of trouble and who wouldn’t mind some… applause: an embrace.
His mid-afternoon, unpainted physical presence is, for me, emphatically unnerving. There are not enough myths or associations tangled up in Adam for the unattached observer to feel subdued, to feel, shock vibrations. Adam, alone, at this moment, away from the songs, is particularly ordinary: this is not to say Adam will never find that extra.
“If Robert De Niro walked in this room now,” Adam warns me, “you would bog yourself. I swear.”
Downstairs in the hotel lobby a tiny representative of the clamour of the outside world — a 15 year old girl — has just been allowed into Adam’s suite to pick out with delicate painted nails 15 minutes of the man’s life. She handed him a rose. She has definitely felt something special, been near to the extraordinary. She can’t explain…
“He kissed me! I’m not going to wash for a month. He gave me this wristband.”
She can’t believe it. Her friends can’t believe it wasn’t them.
I have been chasing Adam for weeks, never seriously believing that he would talk to me. Adam Ant, the celebrity within the name, was born from some intense, insistently boyish belief and never nourished or supported by the petty, pointed likes of me. His lonely grubby struggles, his solemn ambitions, were treated with nasty irritability — and as he took his dazzling revenge, after he’d met with McLaren and mated with Marco, his response to the new requirements of stardom were considered pathetic and stupid.
Recently, Adam has shown up the committed rock journalists to be lounging about in a world much less “real” than the one they accuse him of inventing. He’s had his revenge and is now concerned with pointing out that he’s not the fraudulent, show-off, not the unprincipled, sycoph/ant/ic social climber, not the diminishing doughnut… He now wants some serious belief: the considered attention he believes he’s never had.
Adam and I consider each other, without trembling, a few hours before he performs for the fourth night his tremendously rich and often gorgeous Prince Charming Revue at the Manchester Apollo. The Revue, nearly three hours of pop, video, dance and tease with Adam using rock music like Sammy Davis Jr. uses a big band dance music, is playing 30 shows in Britain and it will lose Adam more than £90,000. It is the result of Adam’s determination, a reaction to the shabbiness of his prehistoric days, a glamorous representation of his philosophy regarding the basic renewing properties of popular music.
Putting it simply — and Adam prefers it this way — the Revue is a provocative development: it demolishes 20 years of standard pop star appearance. It is the work of someone who is at the very least 20 times better than anyone ever pretended.
All those who see it as their first concert will be disappointed and depressed with whatever they see next.
It is convincing proof that Adam’s theatrical alternative to the failed rebellion of rock and roll is to establish independence or vitality or a preparation or “reserves of hope” through an entertainment that is dreamy, disciplined, persistent, artful and sometimes beautifully stupid. His favourite entities are The Human League — the delight and the faction, the corny and the exquisite; and Dexy’s Midnight Runners — the independence and the glory, the scatter the cheap gestures and awkward symbols of rock and avoid all contact with the music papers.
Mix the League dream and Dexy’s drama, throw in some misted historical glitter, some proud ostentation, a toying sense of the old fashioned, and form a basic picture of the entertainment Adam believes in. Perhaps the point for Adam as entertainer is to… ignite the dullest life, as if all human nature asks for is an evening’s entertainment. His entertainment is action: in effect, it is to do battle with the end of the day, with all those suspicious of forms of faith, with the grim and the lofty.
“Of course I’m trying to provide an alternative to the rock rebellion rubbish… some pride, some hope.”
When Adam starts talking to me his voice is polite, reasoned, contented. Very soon he’s on the defensive, using it as an attack. Towards the end of the interview he sounds like a boxer who’s just been battered. “Th” is clipped to “f”. He often uses the word the NME can’t print.
“You know, it’s like when I play a show, it demands your attention. It starts at a certain time, you don’t wander in at 10.30, we go on stage at 7.30, there is no support band to warm the audience up, there is an extensive use of video… I put them on because I’m proud of them, they cost me a fortune to make, and the kids like them: they’ve never seen them that big. There are dancers…
“You say to me am I trying to do anything valuable? Well, look at the show. No one will see the like again. I’m putting that out to 30 dates, because it’s like… every fucking town should have seen the Projected Passion Revue. Something that involves some heart and soul, something that involves some thought, something that has a completely different atmosphere and something that you will enjoy.”
Believe that, but don’t believe anything. After the interview is over Adam is relieved. He’d been talking so fast he was sometimes incoherent. He had a lot of say apart from his obsession with Barry Lyndon, or his collection of Allen Jones’ art work. He didn’t care for me trying to introduce Nietzsche into the conversation: he is not bothered about the paraphernalia of theory and symbol.
“Well, I tell you, Nietzsche is too deep for me. I tried reading some once… it was too heavy.”
He’d far rather think about Phil Oakey’s girlfriend, and Adrian Wright’s T-shirt.
“Did you see him wearing an Adam Prince Charming T-shirt when The Human League were on OTT? You really know that you’ve made it when Adrian of The Human League starts collecting things to do with you.”
Or, you’re already an item in the kitsch museum.
Do I believe in Adam Ant?
I believe that he was born to this situation… the hotel room, the solitary rose, the show that evening, screaming girls surrounding the hotel, the smears and details of an ordered stardom to consider or control, a conversation where he can tramp through the worlds of Bowie, Ali, Sinatra, Minnelli, Presley, De Niro and feel quite at home, the sum of misunderstandings which gather about a new name, a real fame. Consider… Adam Ant, sublime and sordidly commercial. Can you believe it?
You haven’t talked to a music paper for five, six months — effectively you haven’t talked to this sort of writer, properly, since you were catapulted into The Stardom.
I am very suspicious of the music press, quite rightly. Because they’ve upset my family, they’ve upset me and they’ve given me a lot of grief. And… I don’t need them. My records sell very well without using them at all.
I could start a whole campaign saying well fuck you we’ll stick our ads in colourful little lyric things. The ads are better in Smash Hits. It’s now got to the point where they just invent things. I could sue them, I do sue them, but the damage is done. They get the needle because I say to them I won’t do any interviews with them. Why should I? If they’re going to act on the childish levels they do then why the hell should I bother?
The situation with you coming along… I don’t know what you’re going to write but I hope you will throw every question that you want to throw at me without giving a shit what happens. I feel that there should be communication. And when you put the effort in to talk you want to feel it’s been worthwhile.
I’ve gone out of my way to do interviews and the journalists just throw it all away and say ‘Oh this bloke’s a wanker let’s do him in’: The man who grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory’ — Whoever wrote that must feel seven feet under. Who’s gonna value his opinion? Who cares about him? Why not report just what was said because there will be your insight.
What I’ve noticed, immediately, is that you’ve remained very aware of what is happening, at least musically.
I am intrigued by what’s going on. I won’t do the Bowie and McLaren number and say I never listen to anything else. Forget it… They just go around and nick everything they can. Fair enough. Part of being creative is keeping your eyes and ears open. It’s not honest to say you don’t need nobody, you don’t need to look over your shoulder, you don’t need to know. Everything has to come from somewhere.
That’s why I like what Lenny Bruce said, that he hadn’t got an original thought in his body. I haven’t got an original thought in my body, you haven’t, no one has. You are only original in the way you use the stuff that you’ve nicked and stored.
McLaren’s going around saying I’m just a Gary Glitter character. Why is it that with the same ideas and working over the same period of time Bow Wow Wow haven’t made it and we have? Why? Bow Wow Wow have got everything that I haven’t got: they’ve got credibility; they got the destruction of the work ethic; they got the girl singer. But it ain’t working. Why? ‘Cos it ain’t them doing it. It’s him and he’s an old man.
I do it for myself. I don’t want to get down to bitching, but he threw the gauntlet. They all said go fuck yourself, Adam And The Ants is history… You only got to look at what he did with some of those ideas he had, and what I’ve done with it.
With what you’ve done, I see a great contradiction. In the clubby punkish days you set about sort of celebrating The Outsider, names like Bruce, Genet, Nietzsche were floating around on the periphery. You talked of The Outsider, the outlaw, which you still try and do, but now you’re representing it through pirates, highwaymen, dandymen, very comfortable period versions of The Outsider. You’ve worked your way inside, become too fluffy and acceptable to be that kind of challenge.
Yeah, well, maybe that’s because I think that in rock ‘n’ roll there are too many rebels without any causes whatsoever. What amazes me is that everybody is looking back to the days when I meant something. It gets right up my jumper. Dirk Wears White Socks was hammered, knifed, stabbed, the only people who gave a shit were the kids. All through it. Believe me I was on the outside.
I was the outsider for three years; you’re joking! I was the outsider because people just hated my guts. They just dismissed me. And whatever you say about the pirate and highwayman thing, they have been successful and they’ve given a lot of kids a lot of pleasure.
When I say you’ve neglected that manifesto as “Outsider” this isn’t to deny the value of entertainment, of the entertainer, but there was a time when you seemed to want to be a threat and now you’re in a position where you could be becoming perhaps almost neutral. Do you want to be a threat?
I think I want to be a threat to people who have very fixed ideas about people. If you don’t fit into the rock ‘n’ roll system, if you’re not arty enough, or political enough, if you’re not socially aware, then it’s deemed you’re worthless. I’m sick of the whole hypocrisy of what goes on, the stupid hipness. The credibility thing… it sickens me.
I love playing to kids because they’re more expressive and they haven’t learnt that sick fear of being unhip, they haven’t learnt the codes yet, of what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. I mean, here’s a threat for you… I’ve proved a lot of so called hip people absolutely wrong. I’ve sold 800,000 copies of my LP without one ad in the music papers. You don’t need the music papers! I do an interview because I want to talk to someone about the things that are happening. And I wanted you to see the show before hand because otherwise there’s nothing to talk about… except the tattoos, the make up, the costumes and all that.
Far more important than talking about the cosmetics, the decorations, are the implications of your presentation and your position — say, the problems of the fantasies and new dreams you create and the danger of disillusionment.
It is an escapist entertainment. It’s like going to see Star Wars, Close Encounters, Raiders Of The Lost Ark. You’re gonna come down when you come out of the theatre, that happens with any entertainment. You go and see a movie to escape and in a way build up a reserve of hope.
Entertainment provides a hope for people; fashion is a hope for somebody. My service to people is: I give them enjoyment. I’m not going to solve the world’s problems. No musician has ever done that, no musician ever will. I am giving the individual happiness.
You have said that pessimism is unforgiveable, you talk of hope, of fun as a right. Do you think that all this, plus the fantasies you use, is too much a rejection of everyday tensions?
Mmmm… if you’re not too careful you can create a lovey-dovey fantasy world where nothing is real. But then again if that’s what I wanted to do I certainly wouldn’t go on stage live. I would just make videos. I play on stage, I’m there, I fall off, I still fuck up.
I think the lyrics I write are about me coming to terms with certain problems I have, or reacting to the situations I’m in. ‘Dog Eat Dog’ was written as a result of me going round the toilets for three years and being called a wanker, alright. That’s a real song, as real as anything. It’s a serious lyric. I write serious lyrics. But I’m not going to preach, to get worked up about the same old crap. If people look at what I do and say that it’s just an image then that’s it, there’s very little that I can do.
But I tell you there are a lot of so called punks out there, fifth generation punks, who are just being taken for one long ride and who are getting angry for no result, really. Because where were those guys in 1977? Wearing flares or gobbing at people like me from the back of The Roxy. But now, they say, I’ve sold out!
Maybe some people are dismayed that, for one, you’re stripping away a lot of the excess and maybe excitement of pop music — the value of experimentation. Some see you reducing pop to a very clean essence.
What, like I don’t do drugs, I won’t experiment with drugs? It’s like do I want to experiment with walking under a lorry… no, ‘cos I’ve got common sense. I think rock ‘n’ roll spells some out-of-it guy leaning against a wall completely out-of-it… maaan… and I’m sick of that image. They’re no threat, junkies. They just kill themselves. They’re only a threat to themselves. I’m sick and tired of junkies.
I’m sick and tired of being told that because I don’t drink or smoke or take drugs that I’m a goody-two shoes. OK, so I’m a goody-two shoes. Y’know? So what. I don’t like drugs and that is a threat to the rock ‘n’ roll establishment… rock ‘n’ roll has become the establishment.
Don’t you think that you’re merely an addition to a long line of glossy entertainers who don’t actually stimulate young people to find out or look out — just a lolly to be licked?
What can an entertainer do but provide hope through entertainment? All kids have been given over the last 12 months by a lot of people is a load of negativity. One big downer. I pick up music papers and you might as well read the Observer Colour Supplement. It’s not about the celebration of music… it’s politics, politics, politics.
What do you feel about the treatment of young people — the tribes that there are, the traps that they’re in?
I’m aware, sure, of the difference between me and the kid down there. I know that work of any sort is an important thing. It gives you something to sink your teeth into and it gives you respect that you can take for yourself.
But a lot of kids haven’t got that. What have they got? They’ve got a fucking lot of free time that isn’t free, that is a punishment. If I was in their shoes I would do what a lot of them do. I would put the emphasis on associating with a group of people who look a certain way. I think it’s healthy that there are a lot of fashions. I think that fashion is something that can help. It certainly helped me when I started out. I used to look at Roxy Music covers and they were more than just record covers to me. Those lyrics meant something more than fucking “ob la di ob la da”… it did actually affect me. Even at this stage I still think of that, and — this is important — they helped me get through a load of boring crap at school.
Look, I am not completely divorced from what’s going on down on street level, because I am from the street level. I ain’t gonna ram that down your throat because I don’t like inverted snobbery…
So in that political context and also the levels of inspiration you think an important thing is…
To give value for money is very important. This show is value for money; my records are value for money. I think this show is a real adventure. I don’t think those kids will ever see a show like it again. No one’s gonna put down the money for that kind of show for a start… I’ve put six months of my life into that show. I don’t go through the motions. People still say, “Oh he doesn’t need any of that they just come to see his trousers or his make-up.” I don’t believe that. I think they’ll go away and they’ll never forget that show. It’s like I’ll never forget Roxy in 1971 at The Rainbow. I’ll never forget what they wore, the songs they played. I’ll tell you, it is in fact because of that show that I got the extra fucking push to do this. It’s important that I refuse to take the easy way out and I want to give people something more
…But you don’t ever feel that you wrap these young people with their “fake” freedom in cotton wool?
I don’t think that at all. I think what I do is pretty provocative. I think ‘Prince Charming’ is provocative. Who’s complacent about it? The idea of doing something as childish as taking a fairy story, of using the Cinderella idea, you may think is cotton wool, but everyone I’ve met knows the story. That’s why I used it…
Of course such tales are stitched into our lives, but what did you actually do the fable, the moral?
I took a story that everybody knew and reversed the roles and it really is just a song of hope. Even the ‘Rap’ is a song of hope.
The ‘Rap’ and ‘Prince Charming’ are the result of going through Kings Of The Wild Frontier for 12 months and going round the world to 18 countries. The lyrics of the ‘Rap’ and ‘Prince Charming’ are like a public reply. You have to be careful with that or it could just end up as my life in words. But I thought there was something important to say about what had happened to me and I hope that I’ve got my feet as firmly on the ground as anyone out there, maybe firmer because the pressure on me is much more. But the fact is what I’ve been through means I represent hope for a lot of young people. We aren’t a threat in the rock and roll meaning of the word but so what? I was completely dismissed as the arsehole of all arseholes and I never once gave up. I did it.
You talk of conviction, of being convinced, of quality, originality and diversity… but some of the things you do seem to undermine the fact you can have faith in such things. Perhaps you’re often dismissed because people see more conceit than cunning. Revealing that a highlight of 1981 for Adam was meeting the Queen perhaps confirmed this “cleanness” I’ve mentioned.
All it is, I won’t go along with people’s preconceptions of what somebody involved in as decadent and as sordid a business as the music business should say and do. I basically think the Royal Family are alright. I was asked and it was an honour to do the Royal Variety Show, it was a challenge, and you don’t run away from those.
Y’know, the Queen is born into that situation, she’s an individual, a person, and she’s doing a job… What people forget about Royal Variety Shows is that they’re for charity. You raise a lot of money very fast for people who need it. It doesn’t hurt anyone to do charity work when they can. If me name can pull, great. Earn a bit of money. Nice. I’m not worried about credibility. Those things are illusions. It would have been exactly the negative inward looking rock thing to have turned it down. And of course it was good exposure. I’m glad I done it.
Hey look… were you pissed off when Robert De Niro wore a tuxedo and got his Oscar? No! It’s the same kind of thing…
How do you feel about “nerves”, and how do you fit into the world as “hero”?
There were certain things that were in 1977 that I thought were horseshit, y’know, very Clashy sort of social worker rock, and the funniest one was the thing about no heroes.
I love heroes! Robert De Niro… I stood in a corner and watched that guy for three hours doing the movie King Of Comedy. And Scorcese came out and he said “you’re Adam aren’t you, would you like to meet Bobby?” I go… phew! I couldn’t. Then I get the message do I want to have lunch with him? So I go and wait outside this caravan thing and I’m pacing up and down thinking shit he’s gonna think I’m a right wanker… I was like that little girl downstairs who gives me the rose, y’know? He came out in a light blue suit and we were like two mutes just looking at each other. It was two and a half minutes just standing there, I sort of go. That Raging Bull picture, phew!
And that was all I wanted. I got his autograph, so I know just what it’s like when people want mine.
There is a certain aura about an image, about something that means a lot to you. Then you meet them and it’s great.
Do you think you can get that… edge a lot of your heroes — De Niro, Brando — have?
I don’t know… maybe when I’ve been working at it for as long as they have. I am scared enough to push myself to greater heights as a performer than I think I am capable of sitting here right now. If I make a movie I want to make with a good director and I want to be as good as I can. I don’t want to just be some token face, the token pretty boy. I want to learn about the craft, about acting. If you’re in a film for one minute with Scorcese you gonna learn more than if you do 20 vehicle films. Like my videos, I enjoy setting up ridiculous challenges, physical ones…
Is that showmanship a representation of a shell-like vanity that has just got out of hand?
No, I don’t think so. In a way the success, the drive, has removed a lot of vanities from me. You’re talking about the hearty wholesome images I convey but in ways I feel they suit me. I’m not made to be esoteric, if you like.
Working with Mike Mansfield on the videos has bought things out of me I never knew were there. I felt the idea of sinking loads of money into a Hollywood style video production was important, because records are more and more audio-visual. All the TV shows that show music apart from TOTP are for children and the videos have to be very visual and colourful. Those images came gradually.
Are the songs written purely for the video — the plain wall to be covered?
No, but when I’m writing and recording a song I know I’m going to make a video of it so what I try to do is make it as difficult as I can, in a way… No one will notice things unless they’re so over the top that they don’t believe what they’re watching or what they’re hearing. That’s very difficult to do musically, but visually you have considerable lyrical and action potential. I write those videos, I draw them out, they are part of me, of that record. Not the be all and end all, but very important.
During the Charming Revue it often seems as though the audience are responding more to the video image of Adam than the live Adam.
Oh, I don’t know about that. I think you’re just talking about familiarity. Of course people are coming along with an image they knew very well. The fact that I’m showing the videos is a risk anyway for me, because as you say I could come off looking worse than the videos.
I’ve tried to extend through the set some of the directions the videos were going in and the sets are based on the images. I think the look, the feel, of it is right. It’s the way I wanted it to be and when I’ve finished those sets are going to the Victorian and Albert museum. Historically they will stand up. Believe it or not people will look at that as something more than just a rock’n’roll show.
People say it’s rock panto, but it’s more than that, they always have to tag things. Anyway, pantos are no bad thing. The videos are like grown up pantos. People say it’s all very predictable but no one thought of it. No one else thought of using Di Dors as a fairy godmothers…
Is a great inspiration and encouragement for you an acute need to constantly impress and attract people?
Mmmmm… I think that’s true. My nature is very much… I don’t like being number two. I don’t like being a loser. Number one, never a contender.
Is what you’re looking for just to be loved or is there something greater involved?
I want to have an interesting diverse career in which I achieve success in every area that I take up. And that I earn respect from the people that I respect. I look for challenges.
I mean, if you were writing for a teeny paper… Like you have studied and you have read books and you’ve read other writers, maybe you admired some, but you’ve come to a point where you think Paul Morley means something to you. Your reputation is at stake with everything you write. The challenge is if someone comes up to you from a teeny paper of Smash Hits and says, “right do something about Adam for a 12 year old.” If you are a very good writer you should be able to take the challenge up and write something very simple, very accurate.
That’s a test for a professional. Professionals have barriers. Semi-pros and amateurs don’t. They do all the shouting and talking but nothing else… When you get down to the nitty gritty to make something that’s going to come across very powerfully inside two and a half minutes on a screen that size, you’ve got to have really thought about it. These are the restrictions that test you out.
What would be the basic, descriptive, provocative piece of information that for you would encapsulate Adam And The Ants for this 12 year old?
Um… well, it would have to involve basically what it’s always involved. The idea… like in ‘Scorpios’: “Look pretty look young demand your fun/don’t listen when you’re told there’s none.”
That’s very important to me. I see what’s happening and will happen. It’s a little bit of flash, a little bit of dash, really… but it certainly isn’t after your cash.
I know a lot of people think that. It’s not. I do actually respect what you’re trying to say about what I do and I think it’s a bit of an arsehole thing to say, “Oh I love my public dahling”. But… put it this way: without them I’m nothing and I would have nothing. The only way I can repay them is by putting a great emphasis on the quality of what I do. And yeah, I want to look good when I go out on stage. I want to feel good and I want to move good.
That’s maybe not going to tear the walls down but I think that’s all Elvis Presley was about. It’s arguable that all Elvis Presley ever did for America was get a load of young guys walking around looking tough. Everything I’m saying maybe isn’t that popular or fashionable, but it’s me. I’m not speaking for anyone else. There’s no dishonesty.
I’ve said things in the press about sex. Now I know that my audience are young and I’ve got a responsibility… I don’t say this to be namby pamby; because I think that what I do is relatively sexy.
Do you think that there’s something authentically sexual about your show or is it just that you use the word sex quite often? How does the sex work its way in?
I think you should ask the girls.
Sex manifests itself in different ways at different ages. I’m sure when kids start getting into fashion they’re starting to head in the direction of attraction because they’re looking at themselves in a different way. Suddenly they’re not wearing clothes their parents gave them, they’re wearing clothes because their mates are; because their mates want to attract the opposite sex. They’re getting into attraction.
Audiences are very sensual. It’s very strange to sit on a stool and sing a song called ‘S.E.X’ and you hear what they say, and some of the things they say are really funny and some of the things they say are really sweet.
People may think the idea of kids throwing roses is very limp but I can tell you that I’d rather have a rose thrown at me than a brick or a bottle or a chair. A year ago I had bricks thrown at me: now it’s a rose. That is an achievement.
What I do, it’s basically sex… a very sexual thing. Maybe not a physical sex, but it is aimed around sexuality whether it’s naive or not… OK, it’s very naive. It has a certain form of innocence that is quite refreshing. It is not that strutting yourself all the time. It’s a sex without pornography. A sex without destruction. It’s nothing to do with those things McLaren put on T-shirts.
Is it just fantasy for kids, or is there something genuinely erotic?
I would hope so. It goes back to what kind of audiences you have… People have said in the press it’s just a pantomime and it’s all little kids, but that is wrong. There are teenagers and grown up people there as well and they will come away impressed in their own way. I may be titillating a young person who’s not really understanding what’s going on but at the same time someone at the back who’s 24 may be interpreting it completely differently.
In Australia they come up and say you’re a real spunk. What’s that about? I would hope… let’s put it this way, I’m not David Cassidy yet. I’m not Cliff Richard. I never will be. That’s the answer to a lot of what you’ve been saying today.
What’s the difference?
I’m not satisfied… I’m never going to be satisfied with any image that people take for granted. Really, the safest thing I could do is nothing at all, but I want to work.
When you appear in the daily media it would be much more preferable for you to be stronger. You appear very wishy washy: what you have to say is often neither here nor there.
You’re correct. I do agree. Y’know, I’ll turn up at a gig and these papers they charge in and the go. Right! Bang! Crash! Flash! And that’s it…
What I’ve been saying has gone from the music papers and their quarter million circulation up to eight to twelve million people and it’s been strange. But you want people to know you’re still alive. If you ain’t alive you’re dead.
I decided I was going to do this revue and I will work until that LP is number one. It’s sold nearly a million but that’s not the point. I love working. I’m gonna do this show, and try and be on my feet at the end of 30 dates. Now in between if there’s any press, great.
The people from the dailies are alright, they’re just doing their job, but the stuff that comes out is not going to be good. You lot are a much more protected level; this interview is almost like being at college. Those guys are competing with 20 other guys for the story, for the Adam picture, the new look and all that number. I have to be careful. Mike Mansfield said that the definition of a star is everyone knows your name and your face. Everyone knows Lulu and Di Dors… that’s why I used them in the videos.
I thought you were just going through your childhood sweethearts.
No, no, no! My childhood sweethearts were a little bit different from that… who did I like… I liked that bird who used to be on Magpie. Susan Stranks! She was great. She was nice, really very pretty… I used to watch her every week.
What I’m saying is that you’re beginning to come across as famous — that catch — and nothing else. This goes back not to you appearing on the Royal Show but politely whimpering that meeting the Queen was a highlight of 1981. The energies of the Royal Family, the workings of the dailies, are a repression of the sort of adventure and passion you advocate; they keep people in their place. Yet often you implicitly seem to accept those structures: no hard feelings.
I see what you’re saying… but I won’t accept the structures and in fact I’m not as interested as people would think in that kind of acceptability. I will make sure that I say what I have to say and if there’s any manipulation to be done it will be me manipulating them.
I’m going through this career and there are things happening to me and I’m choosing what to do, what is best. Out of every hundred things that are offered I turn down all but one. I won’t do the Kenny Everett show, because it wants to make me banal and obvious. I won’t fucking take part in the whistling revival in the Daily Mail. I am careful. If people think that I’m clean and boring for shaking hands with the Queen then that’s up to them… what would be outrageous? To spit at her? Drop me trousers? That’s rock and roll rebellion and, like I say, I want nothing to do with that.
There is your predictability. I could sit here and throw that television out of the window and make front page news, easy. What does that achieve?
But isn’t what you’re achieving through this catching fame establishing an insulation from the world just for yourself?
I’m up against the problem of the world as much as anyone else. If the Russians want to fight the Americans, they’re going to do it, they ain’t gonna ask you and me. We ain’t gonna make a piss of difference.
I just think you should try to survive… that’s a great thing about Adam And The Ants. If you get consumed by what people say about the inevitability of it all and all that number then you might as well slash your wrists now and have done with it. I believe that. It may sound over simplified but there you are… I can only go from what I get, and I get a lot of feedback from young kids — I meet a lot of young people — and what they say to me is that what I do gives them a lot of enjoyment, gives them pleasure.
Is there a lot of humour in what you do? Sitting here you seem very clenched, very earnest.
I think there’s a lot of humour in what I do. I’m serious here because I’m trying to make sure that the things I say to you here are… I mean, they’re going to be very sober because I’m not going to sit here with a bottle of wine and get pissed up and relax because I don’t know you and you don’t know me really. And I’ve learnt from experience to take interviews like this seriously. The things you’ve been asking me are pretty serious and you have to be on your guard because I don’t want you to think that I believe in my press, in my image, what is said… what has happened to me has been the result of hard work. No one’s made me… you’re joking!
What happens if you’re just flavour of the year and you lose your people?
I don’t think you have to lose them at all… You can do what Sinatra did. I think you can do what Bowie did. I think if you’re good enough, if you show that you’re willing to make more effort than anyone else around. I’m not going to stand still.
It’s always useful, and in a way comforting, to look at what has happened in the past. There is always an initial boom, an explosion, for somebody and then it’s just a matter of whether they bottle out. People say that the make-up is a camouflage… yeah, maybe it is a camouflage, but it camouflages certain things that the audience shouldn’t be involved with anyway. They don’t want to know if you’ve just had an argument with your old lady or if you’ve hurt your foot or if you’re constipated. They don’t want to know about that.
You know, between you and me, musically Marco and I haven’t even scraped the top of the barrel yet. There is a lot more going on inside us that hasn’t come through yet and will not come through for quite a while. We do take our relationship to be a lot more solid than people assume.
People don’t use the term Ant-Marco. I hope in ten years they’ll be using it in the same way they use Lennon-McCartney. They don’t at the moment and it can be very disheartening.
Y’know, and I have turned down films that other people would give their left legs to do because there is a standard that I want to maintain. I want to do a film but I’ll do that film remembering those I admire… De Niro, Brando.
What scares you about what you are now?
I don’t think there’s anything particularly scary. It’s just that when you’re at the top there’s not many ways you can go. You will either stay there or you’ll go down. And I don’t want to end up like Mohammad Ali, y’know, it’s scary. You can see someone just disappear. I don’t want to be somebody who cuts his mind off from the fact that there’s always that pitfall and there’s always a very easy way down very quickly.
Are you scared of losing your looks?
I think you’re scared of actually wrecking your body. I get scared of the fact that over a course of touring America, Japan, Australia, Europe you can actually feel inside that you’re five years older. You know that your skin is as white as a sheet. You know that you have really punished your body, abused it. I take as much pride in my body as I have to to get up in front of people and perform. It’s a case of stamina; it’s a case of keeping on your toes all the time.
Is there room for creativity amidst the pressure?
I think I’m being more creative now than I’ve ever been. My back’s up against the wall. If you’re told you’ve got a deadline you can come out with the most staggering stuff… I really would like you to see us make a record. We tour for 11 months, come back, make an album, promote it, and it’s not actually a situation where you can…
I envy David Bowie. He can stay right out of it all and enjoy his life, enjoy his music. I can enjoy my life like that when I’ve done a lot more work. I enjoy the fact that I am able still to look at my life from a distance, and also that what I do makes people happy. I do think it makes people think.
Is there much room for love in your life?
I think love’s really a heavy word. A lot of people use it and they don’t understand what it means. A lot of people have kids and they don’t know what it means. Love’s the bit in the film where it suddenly goes from a quick grope in the back of the car to actually that moment when they stop… “I love you”… then it’s all different. Then they let them do it.
I thought I was in love once. I probably was. I enjoyed it… but I enjoyed being in the Boy Scouts as well but I don’t want to go round wearing shorts any more. I value people more than words about people. I think love’s so abstract you can’t even consider it.
What for you is the point of living?
Toseek out… happiness… to work hard and eventually to get into a position where the work you do you don’t consider to be a job. You actually look forward to getting up. You’ve got something that absorbs you always, physically and mentally. That you don’t forget that there are other people in the world…
I’ve wasted my life worrying about what other people think and I just think now that there are ways of worrying. Like all that press stuff that went down; Dave my dresser said “Be like the Duke Of Wellington, just say publish and be damned.” You get to a point where you do become very hard. You become hard but inside you draw back a little. In a way it can be quite refreshing to see how many friends you don’t have that you thought you did. How many people really resent your success. But you’re better off knowing the truth and really it’s surprising how many nice things can come through.
You’ve indicated that you don’t worry about what I say through this piece as long as it’s honest— I think my basic feeling about Adam Ant is that he is delicious but dubious…
Well… let’s hope that the article ain’t too much of a downer. What makes me laugh is those people who go on about the real Adam, the so called official biographers and all that number…
I’ve been writing, like it’s not a diary, I’ve been writing a serious minded, disciplined book… I’ve actually sat down and commanded myself to really record all the important events in my life. It’s been going on for four years now. Oh, it’ll be quite a book. Everybody reading whatever it is they’re reading about me has always got to know that one day there’s going to be the actual truth. No effects, just exactly what happened and exactly what people said and did… That’s the only way to do it. What this guy has done with Elvis Presley is an example of the sickness it can get to. That is just the pits…
But, hey, look — when I stop wanting to get out of bed I’ll let you know.
© Paul Morley, New Musical Express, 16 January 1982