Interview with Vivien Goldman - Full Transcript
In episode four of the podcast, we sat down with Vivien Goldman. Despite her busy schedule, we were able to chat on the phone for about an hour.
You can now read the full transcript from our chat below.
We made it through the year that was 2017. How did you power through the year of madness that was this last year?
Vivien Goldman: It’s a good question. I don’t whether you saw that Trump just made these disgusting comments about Africa? It’s very important to keep your spirits up so you’ve got the energy to deal with things. Try and not let it eat you up.
It’s amazing in this day age how I put away Twitter for two hours and missed the initial reports and I go back and you just see just madness. The bar just keeps getting set lower and lower. It’s unbelievable, racist nonsense.
Countries that he helped to make a mess. Well, not he himself but Haiti is a big mess from before. It’s just appalling to think that this guy can represent us in any way. How can he choose Norway arbitrarily. He’s just a racist idiot. He just picked on two countries that have a lot of problems because largely because what's been done to them historically.
It’s just striking how he brings up Norway.
Just because Norwegian Air goes everywhere. It’s unbelievable vile racism. Normally, even if people think like that they know better than to say what they think out loud. He just doesn’t care. I don’t know how much he’ll be able to get away with. That’s the big question. I had a really good friend of mine, the girl I was in Chantage with [Eve Blouin] just making a documentary in Haiti about Haitian art and politics. They were already reeling from what the Clinton’s had done to them. All politicians are scum. That’s my ultimate comment. Let’s just simply say its appalling to have to function with this level of mentality in one’s so-called leader. There is betrayal and abuse in the world as you looked at it. England is in a mess. Where is the leadership? It’s just that Trump is more overtly idiotic than most. Where is the leadership anywhere?
I don’t understand how there is nothing in place legally about a situation such as this? I don’t know if there is anything in place right now because somehow he got to become the president. It’s extraordinary. At least most people know how to present themselves better.
You keep hearing people bringing up the 25th Amendment, which is the clause for removing a president that is not stable enough to become or be President. People are just bringing up these different sections that show how the President is physically unfit to be the President. All this talk about mental issues and mental health.
His opinions are scummy and really despicable. That doesn’t mean he’s mentally ill. I mean just the entitlement that he can say all these things. He’s just like the boy in the bubble, isn’t he?
He’s lived his life without consequence. He’s been a celebrity for a majority of his life and rich and entitled. He just says these things with no consequence.
It’s this sort of self-aggrandizement to an extraordinary degree. It was a depressing moment when I saw this latest outburst. I just couldn’t believe it. I am working on a book right now about and was like, “well, this will be even more of an act of resistance then.”
With everything going on now, do you feel more inspired to create and react to these artistically?
I’m always working on something. I’ve always been writing. I like to have the time to go off and inspire to think about more ambiguous things. There was never a time when I wasn’t writing or something or the other. Right now, I’m working on two books. One about my friend in art school - Lemi Ghariokwu - who was popularly known as Fela’s artist. He has a residence now for being a radical voice of the people. People uprising using culture to express their anger. Now we’re going to see a flood of songs during this period where everything is so confrontational and so many of the rights that we thought that we had and all of us took for granted. They are being challenged. They won’t even take money. Look at what they are trying to do to stop the weed. They can’t even be convinced of what its done for Colorado. It’s like my song “Private Armies” - little boys dressing up in uniform when their toys blowing things up. It’s sort of depressing but as I was saying earlier, right when it's most depressing it's the most important to somehow find a way to keep your energy up because now is when we need it.
You wrote those songs so long and now you read the lyrics to songs like “Private Armies” and songs by the Flying Lizards. Coming back to those songs now do they ever feel kind of different to you? Do they feel the same or have they taken on a new meaning to you in any way?
Well, it’s taken on a new meaning in the sense that it still seems so relevant and people tell me so and I can see it. That is a deep feeling to see that these ideas last the test of time. It just goes to show that there is a lot of eternal veritas in human nature. You don’t need to underestimate people’s ability to try and demolish others to make themselves bigger. Basically, your left to believe in everybody’s essential goodness in a humanistic way. At the same time, it's wise to be aware that it can be a thin veneer. How you react under pressure is going to be something interesting to watch.
You just gotta keep on going. That’s all. A lot of people are depressed nowadays. You read a lot of stories about it and I see it. A lot of young people are depressed. There is a sense of hopelessness. There is something that will rise still in people. I was just watching an interesting series from British TV where it's some housing estates and they use to have factories and they closed down and there Is zero employment.
Young men just wandering saying, “yes, you can call us feral” - impacts them. Just overbrimming with testosterone. As far as I got in the series, some of them are being more organizers and trying to make things work outside the system, which they keep pointing out has absolutely nothing in it for them. It’s completely ignoring them. They were making squats and the last episode I saw, they were coming to try and bust up the squat but they didn’t succeed. It’s a real-life documentaries series. It’s quite interesting because those are people under pressure. A lot of the old paradigms are really shattered. It's going to be very intense with this separation between the 1% and the rest of us. The rapid vanishing of loads and loads of jobs and people just use to do only being replaced with jobs in a very high tech sector for people that have had a lot of access to education, which is something they are clearly trying to take away as a right. The right to an education. You see that going on. It’s very expensive to get an education often and it's not as easy as it was when I was a student in the UK where there were a lot of grants and it was more of a meritocracy.
It is interesting to see what happens when people are pushed and I think that’s going to keep happening. With things being taken away and the gap between the wealthy and the middle class and poor expanding.
More and more people are trying to create alternative and off-the-grid ways of living.
You have been an active voice with women’s right and recently with the #MeToo movement. Have you had any fellow musicians/writers/ artists who have reached out to you since your post to express gratitude or trading stories?
In a way, one wonders how long will this ripple effect will last because it’s really trying to bring down Babylon. I’m just writing this book called Revenge of the She-Punks, which is about women in punk and about the struggle have had that punk is a gateway to expressing. Women have been so marginalized in so many ways in music and everything they talk about is absolutely par for the course. My girlfriends and I from my generation almost took it for granted and that's why a lot of people would drop out because they didn’t want to have to deal with the levels of harassment that they got. I’m interested to see this counter-movement coming from France headed by Catherine Deneuve. Did you see about that?
Yeah, that was one of the questions I had for you too.
I’m interested in trying to tackle this right now in the coming days as I finish this She-Punk book because it's all very relevant. America has always been much more puritanical than Europe. Will we get rid of all these monsters? These monsters are just about everybody in the media establishment and they took it for granted as their right. That might be the reason I’ve always liked to be freelance as well. Slightly outside the system. Maybe that was part of it. I wonder how young people are going to be able to communicate emotionally and romantically now. Those sort of “monsters” who were like every man in power so so many of them were vile harassers and just sleazeballs. You could look at them and see. It’s a kind of avalanche and its great to have a clean sweep and I’m excited to see if more permanent change really, really comes. Yet at the same time, I wonder they are making emotional unromantic communications. They are putting a lot of pressure on it among people who aren’t like that. I wonder whats going to happen like in France they pay attention to the le drague, which is sort of the process of seduction. Now it's interesting. Are people going to have to exchange notes through a lawyer before they can come onto other people? I’m interested to see if it will hold because I’ve suffered like every other female with this harassment. I cant image or think of a single female who hasn’t. It was sort of the default mode of the patriarchy. What will the knock-on effects be? Will it make it easy communicating between people that are attracted to each other even more fraught then it is, surrounded by paranoias? The whole idea of seduction and the French have so many words for it. Sort of people getting to know each other. Developing an intimacy. The hunt as a word in a romantic way. I think what Deneuve is talking about is what will it do to that. We’re always eager to see bits of Babylon fall. These creepy and entitled guys have running things basically forever so I will be personally extremely happy to see a new paradigm.
I was curious too because reading the responses to that backlash and you saw with the Golden Globes and meanwhile, you have James Franco winning best actor and then three days later its [multiple] people accusing him of sexual harassment.
I don’t know if he was harassing or just trying to hit on somebody. Which is normal - people trying to get know each other and sometimes they get rebuffed. I am not talking about ghastly people like ghastly people like Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Basically, I would say a goodly proportioned of the men with power in those industries did regard those females as their personal fiefdom from whom they could pick and choose and there is no doubt that many, many, many careers have been stunted or thrown away because of people who didn’t want to deal with it. There is no doubt women haven’t had an opportunity and I write in my book how I was already one of the few girls working as a journalist when I saw my first ever girl musician on stage. I was directing in the 80s, directing documentaries for Channel 4 and BBC and the BBC crews were the worst. They just never wanted to listen to me because I was a woman. It was just completely surreal and then I moved to America and the crews were just normal and treated me like a person, despite being a female. Less females have been suppressed and held back and had to make our own resistance art and channels and own ways of trying to do things. I’m still banging on about punk because in my generation, it was a great liberator and I see it continued to be. Resistance Resistance Resistance. The opposition all the way. To me, its the norm to be on a battleground in the world of work. For there to be automatic resistance because there weren’t people without penises working who weren’t regarded as somebody the producers may want to hit on or in some way exploit. Maybe we’ll see a whole new paradigm. A female ascent. Be able to claim the power that women have not really had since the ancient goddess matriarchies. Let’s face it. It’s an interesting moment. I’ve known nothing but those battlefields. Certain areas more welcoming like Rough Trade and aspects of NYU have embraced me but normally, [you] take it for granted. You’re going to have to deal with a lot of resistance and just get over it.
It’s interesting with music because you see a few musicians getting called out but it seems like the rock and roll mentality has always been dominated by this macho, boys club mentality.
That’s what rock was. They were very heavily invested in that. I still so clearly remember the early editorial meetings. Even when I muscled my way into a features editor, they were still saying, “why should we write about women? Women aren’t interested in music. Women don’t buy music. Women make music.” They were saying that to me and I was a features editor. I’d say if you think women aren’t buying the music papers that means you got a whole market to go for. How stupid they are and were. Let’s see if we have a permanent paradigm shift. I’m curious to see.
I think one thing I’ve been sort of battling with - and I’m curious on your take on this too - the idea of can you separate art from the artist? Could I keep listening to Favorite Band A or Favorite Band B if this awful story came out about them? Should I stop listening to them? Should I just treat it as art?
I’ve thought about it before and I always just quote Hitchcock who despite being somewhat spotty in his conduct himself about females, to say the least, he had a tag that went “never trust the artist, trust the tale” [Editorial note: it seems like this quote may have originated with D.H. Lawrence ] and I do believe in that. Otherwise, you could never listen to Wagner for start. Even P.G. Wodehouse who was like a vile fascist who did terrible broadcasts for the Nazis in the war. Let’s face it - Jesus is one of the funniest characters in history. I do think you’ve got to separate.
It’s interesting to see how certain artists get a pass it seems. A paradigm shift is happening but you wonder, you see somebody like Charlie Rose who was a journalist I worshipped and he was one of the reasons I went to journalism school and you see what happened and its like oh my god. What now?
Do you think that invalidates all his work? Actually, I don’t think so. He was a sleazeball who presumably only promoted or hired women he’d like to shag or who would shag him but still, he did some good journalism as well. That’s my creed to follow that Hitchcock line. It just made sense to me. I mean Wagner and P.G. Wodehouse answer that question to me.
That’s a very good point that definitely resonates now for sure. Has the bringing down of these people and with the #MeToo movement, has that ever felt like some sort of redemption for you? Are you happy that it’s happening in this fashion or way?
I feel cautiously optimistic. I think that sums it up.
You have been a teacher for a long time at NYU. How did you become inspired to become a teacher? Was there anything in your family history like that?
I had stuff in my family history. My father's cousin, my Uncle Saul. He was on those refugee German intellectuals that founded the new school. I knew about that. A couple of my cousins are professors. I had never ever really thought about doing it myself. Although, I had communicated in various ways. I’ve made documentaries. I’ve done radio shows. I hadn’t really thought about teaching. I was lucky that I was approached by a man - surprise but I don’t think he’s genuinely brilliant - Jason King, who was helping set up this new department - Clive Davis Institute. He came across my writing in a lot of areas and came to see me speak. We had this discussion - “would I be interested?” I was like, wow that would be [a] really interesting direction in fact. I have loved it. I’m now about to teach a course teaching classical fare that I first taught in 2005 and I’m still digging it.
Do you have any standard syllabus you bring to your students or any sort of manifesto that you bring to the students that are coming to your class?
I’ve been lucky all this time I’ve been actually teaching courses about people I’ve actually worked with and known and really respected. The only one I haven’t had a direct involvement with was when I taught about David Bowie but I was of that generation that was so formed by him. He meant so much to me. He was so significant. All my other courses. I was able to mine my own direct experience one-on-one and the aspects of these artists that have inspired me to get back involved with them and dedicate that much time to thinking and writing about them, I was glad to be able to transmit that to students and these artists have awoken me in various ways. To be able to maybe pass some of that on. I teach about Marley. I teach about Fela, I teach about punk. These are things that really shaped me a lot as a person and shaped my values and my direction and my choice of what to do with my life. It’s very exciting. Now, in this course, I’m doing some writing teaching as well. It’s a different sort of compulsory course. I did get to teach a writing course at Rutgers too. That again is very exciting. I like to see the work evolve. There’s no doubt. The dialogues and the discussions and I find it very rewarding and that’s that. I really do. Also, otherwise, when you’re doing a lot of writing otherwise, it's really good to have a regular thing to get you out of the house. Communicating with people. I think it’s a very good balance. I hope to continue teaching.
Living in New York all this time and seeing all these new students and transplants coming to the city. And you have been here for so long and you have seen the effects of gentrification. Has that ever affected you in terms of your art or work or even how you teach?
Yeah, we teach and talk a lot about that. All of that pops up a lot especially if you’re teaching say, punk in Washington Square because people are walking those same streets and one can show them footage and so on. Like that documentary The Bronx is Burning is an old favorite for these classes. I want to kind of bring it to life for them. The difference between the comparative, prosperous, one might say the sterility of the area. Where its get more and more to present all the funky corners. One is saying goodbye to them and that's widely noted in the press. I was saying earlier about the good old human spirit even though sometimes it's understandable to feel extremely cynical. There’s still always that sort of lick of energy that makes some people get off their bum and having to start to do things and shake it up. Hopefully, that’s when you get a bit of a cultural friction going on where the new art busts through the concrete.
Last year you played your first proper show. How did it feel to revisit those songs and playing those songs on stage?
The one in Basilica felt more like an actual gig because it was sort of a promotional event and I’ve got all my sisters out to give me a bit of oomph. I wasn’t quite sure about standing alone on the stage. I felt to make this statement as this powerful sisterhood thing and luckily everybody could make it. That was really extraordinary. Then to have to go out more as an artist at a gig, that was the first time I’ve done it at Basilica. I just had this feeling that I’m really going to go for it. I just want to communicate. I really still find that the songs have a lot of meaning for me. I still relish them. I relished the opportunity to sing them. Being with Aram and Dunia was fantastic because we’re from the same cut from the same musical cloth. I actually met them through Ari of the Slits who was a good friend of both of ours. I felt like communicating in that and actually whatever reason I was feeling a lot of anger at that moment with what we were talking about before. Just the system throwing huge new curveballs at us from all directions and us trying to weave our way through the minefields. Something must have happened that day that made me felt like I wanted to communicate. A sense of rage that I had at that moment. To me, laughter is really a good way to deal with things and make people think about things. That’s why I like that song “Its Only Money” because if we can find a way to not only just be twisted with rage but also laughing it's just a great way of oxygenating yourself. As I was saying earlier, just keeping the strength up. The rougher it is, the more you need to keep your strength up. You need to laugh. And those stuck away writing, have that enriching contact with other people that I suppose you won’t have with a page or the screen. I’m a great believer in it, the contact with the people.
Do you ever want to do more shows? Would you ever pursue it again or was it more of a one-time thing?
I feel very zen about it. I might do a bit more if there is possibly a certain level of interest in me doing some more. It’s sort of bubbling at the moment and I’ll see which way it goes. I never really wanted to perform. Like when I was a musician I did it barely at all. I think I did one gig with Chantage at a women’s show, where a lot of the feminist criticized us for using lipstick. All these anomalies. I think it might be interesting now to do some shows if it pops up. I’d be interested to do them. Partly because its good to see of my age can get out there sort of shake things up. Shake up the paradigm. Upset the paradigm. That’s sort of one of the things I like about it. I can definitely see what happens. I’m not thinking of suddenly dropping everything and going off on the road. That wouldn’t be my scene. I almost find it more interesting to do now than I would when I was making more music. When I enjoyed being more in the studio. I liked to say about the Flying Lizards, that we were the nerds of synth-pop. After all Flying Lizards - there were like 5 or 6 of us - four or five of us are professors. We use to have really good fun in the studio. And that’s what I liked rather than slepping here or there. I quite like being in the studio with, dare I say it, my boys and my girls when there were girls there. Us doing back up singing for people. Mostly Adrian Sherwood - the dub producer. Then there use to be a great connection. I really adore doing harmonies. You’d have this way where you really looked into each other's eyes when you’re doing it. You just get in tune. You’re in tune on more levels than one. It’s really exhilarating to do that with your sister. Actually, I can point out that when I was a kid I use to do that with my actual sisters, Susan and Judy - because my father was a musician. We use to sing together. That is one of my key joys, to be honest. Singing harmonies with my sisters because I didn’t do it much because I don’t do that much with my actual sisters that much anymore. We all live in different countries. I was saying to Aram and Dunia of Dubistry and they go out and gig a lot and go like, how do you feeling about doing more gigs? And I’m like I will certain jump up and do harmonies with Dunia. I just love doing that.
Do you have any particular bands or artists that are inspiring you right now? What was the last great record you heard or book you read?
I’m thinking about all these artists because I’m assembling this course and I’ve just been writing this book Revenge of the She Punk and then the Flea art book with Lemi Ghariokwu and listening to Fela. When I listen to Fela and I can feel still after all these years why I’ve been working with Lemi to try and get the right context for our book. Everybody should hear Fela. Everybody should have access to that rhythm in their DNA computer because a different energy is unleashed as soon as they rhythms start. Then what he has to say is so confrontational and so caustic. Such a brilliant lyricist. Just going back to those roots, that's been going on and then listening to the punks and some new ones in the book and particularly a song called “Silver Spoon” by a group from London called Skinny Girl Diet. When I saw the name it intrigued me. In fact, what happened was they saw one of those the wives of so-and-so. What do they call them? Those reality shows? The Real Wives.
There’s one like the Real House of New York and there’s this very thin chick who made a lot of money in skinny girl pop tales, similar conundrums, and contradictions and I believe the young women from this band Skinny Girl Diet. They knew about anorexia and when they heard this they thought it was so grotesque and obscene that they decided to flip it and laugh at it and make it the name of their band. Their song “Silver Spoon” is a new song I really love. Everybody loves the interesting things that people like Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar are doing but I can also tell you that harmonic-melodic sound is really liberating for me and in pulling together this course for NYU, I’ve had cause to think about a lot of it. I think about Sun Ra again.
I just saw the Sun Ra Arkestra in Philly with Kamasi Washington. It was such an inspiring show. It was just really powerful. It was definitely the best concert I went to last year.
That is a gem. I like pop and all but I like that type of music that opens you up to another level of light and frees the spirit. Some music can do that. Its that sort of feeling that’s probably why we’re talking now and why I still kept music and still think about music teaching and writing and all that. I still do have faith in it. A lot of people are blasé about the source and potential ethnicity of music but I still have faith in it as something that can lead us forward. I couldn’t believe that when President Trump said that about Haiti and Nigeria. Two of the countries that have given so much great music to the world.
Any other big plans for 2018?
We’ll see. Who knows what the rest of the year will bring and various things bubbling. I hope to expand yet further as do we all and realize certain vision despite everything and impelled by maybe everything in general sort of dread in the air will lead to a surge and a new definition of sorts and new boundaries will draw that are more positive. If America manages to overcome this gap this income gap that will be a huge thing for the country because that’s one thing of the things that is sort of dragging everybody down. The concentration of wealth. That is one of our overriding big struggles and not just in America but it's strongly felt in America. I think we need that to move forward. I think the tougher it gets, I think resistance will form and I think music will have a part to play in it and writing and the arts. I still believe in it. I mean what else do we got to believe in really?
Very true. If anything is going to keep us afloat its art and creating and reacting to all the awful stuff that is going on around us.
You doing this podcast is an act of resistance in itself. You are trying to spread ideas that you believe in that you hope will bring about change.
Thanks again to Vivien for taking the time to chat with me. Be sure to pick up her excellent complication Resolutionary Songs on vinyl, CD, or digitally.