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ROCK 'N' ROLL QUEEN - BEBE BUELL INTERVIEW BY MUDKISS (MEL & DICK)

 Although initially known as a model, then for her legendary relationships with a series of musicians and actors throughout the 1970s, Bebe has been making music professionally since 1980.

Photo: Bebe by Dina Regine

The first record was on 'Rhino Records, called ‘Covers Girl’, which was produced by Ric Ocasek (the Cars) and Rick Derringer. The Cars played and backed on two tracks.

She went onto form her first band The B-Sides, undertaking her first live shows in 1980-81. An EP picture disc was produced by Todd Rundgren called ‘A Side Of The B-Sides’ which came out in 1983. By 1985, she was fronting the rock band The Gargoyles, who released two singles, which received rave reviews, toured across the US and Europe, occasionally opening for The Ramones. Her debut solo album, ‘Retrosexual’ was released in 1994, on the French label Skydog. In 1999 Bebe released ‘Free To Rock’, which had four songs produced by Don Fleming (Sonic Youth, Hole and The Smithereens) – Check them out here:

www.instantmayhem.com/MP3s/bebenormal.mp3
www.instantmayhem.com/MP3s/bebe.baby.mp3
www.instantmayhem.com/MP3s/bebe.littlebylittle.mp3
www.instantmayhem.com/MP3s/bebe.getsome.mp3

SUGAR’ is her first recording in ten years and is available to buy or preview now on Amazon UK or USA. Also check out her debut solo album ‘Retrosexual’ on Amazon. Sugar, was issued in October 2009. Mudkiss tracked Bebe down to talk about the new album, its creation and her forthcoming live dates.

MUDKISS: Let’s begin by talking about your new album, Sugar, how did the disc come together? 

BEBE: I've been composing the songs in my head for a couple of years prior to recording. My husband Jim and my drummer Bobbie Rae recorded all the music then we set to work putting my lyrics to the tracks. The lyrics just flowed out of me as I have a lot to get off my chest. A couple of people I wanted to pay tribute to – Joey Ramone, Johnny Thunders, Dean Johnson, my dog who passed away – and some pain to release.

MUDKISS: Did you have specific backing musicians in mind? 

BEBE: All the music on my album was recorded by two people. David Minehan from Boston, one of my favourite musicians, played lead guitar on ‘Air Kisses For The Masses’.

MUDKISS: How did you come to settle upon the Twinomatick production team?

BEBE: Jim and Bobbie shared my vision and wanted to help me make it happen. The three of us really worked hard. It was an amazing healing experience for me too - being able to say a few things that I felt needed to be said. Plus, they are so talented. I am lucky that they are on my team.

MUDKISS: You’re taking the album on the road with a gig at the Hiro Ballroom on 13th January. Will your backing personnel be the same as on the album?

BEBE: Jim and Bobbie are in the live band. I also have Pete Marshall on bass and guitar – he and Jim switch off for a couple of songs, Pete played with Iggy Pop on both bass and guitar for eight years. He was also in Samhain which was Glen Danzig's band. He has swagger and is brilliant. I have a new keyboard player named Zac Lasher. Lindsey Anderson was playing guitar for several of the live shows, including Hiro, but she is moving to Colorado and I'm so unhappy about it. She will be sorely missed. David Matos also plays with us sometimes. So, for all the future shows we will be me, Jim, Bobbie, Pete and Zac. That’s the line up now.

Video: 'Sugar' - Bebe Buell @ The Hiro Ballroom N.Y.C. 13/01/2010 by Les Steinberg

MUDKISS: I see you have Good Squad on the bill, (we’ve interviewed Miss Guy twice) have you ever performed with Miss Guy before and how did this come about? Are you looking forward to playing live again? What is your favourite song to perform live?

BEBE: I've known Guy for a long time. He even babysat Liv when she was 11 and 12. We have a long friendship and I respect and adore his talent. He is unique and GoonSquad are loads of fun. I live for the live aspect of this. I adore being onstage and I think that shows when I'm up there. I give a lot to my audience. Playing the new songs live is a real workout as they require spot on concentration. I think my favourite songs to do live, besides all of them [laughs], are ‘Sugar’ and ‘Love Is’.

Photo: Bebe & Debbie Harry @ The Hiro Ballroom by Les Steinberg

MUDKISS: The tone of several songs on Sugar seems to be wistful and reflective, and indeed, the lyrics of ‘Timeline’ appear to explore the manner in which the passing of time provides the opportunity to view past events with a fuller perspective. Would you agree that the album has a reflective lyrical theme? Do you feel that you are now in a position to look back over what has been an eventful and often difficult life with a fuller sense of understanding than has previously been the case? How has your mature perspective on your past history affected the way in which you live your life today?

BEBE: You could call these songs autobiographical, of course. ‘Timeline’ is directed to someone who has lied so much that I had to address it in song. I had to point out to the listener that all you have to do is look at the timeline – the history of the relationship to see the truth plain and simple. The truth is usually simple and obvious. Songs are healing and they can be healing to the listener as well. My songs are my band aid – my bandage. I try to speak directly from my heart.

Photo: Bebe by Dina Regine

MUDKISS: Although several songs on Sugar recount or explore broken relationships, ‘Happy Now’ (which makes reference to ‘the mistakes of youth’) indicates a sense of overcoming such emotional traumas, and moving on. Would you say that this was indicative of the way in which your past impacts upon your present? Are you somebody that puts the past behind them and lives without regret, or – if given the opportunity – would you like to go back in time and change anything? Are you somebody who carries around a sense of regret with them, or have you learned to let such things go? 

BEBE: ‘Happy Now’ is actually a very loving song – at first listen one might think I'm venting but if you really listen to the lyrics you'll see that I am begging this person to be as happy for me as I am for them. To see that we have both found love and are in solid loving relationships. To forgive the mistakes of youth and move forward. I have little regret in my life. My only regret is that I didn't have more children. I'm letting the person I'm addressing in this song know that I'm genuinely happy for their gifts of more kids. It is a sincere effort to mend fences. 

MUDKISS: Certainly, the lyrics to ‘Grey Girl’ can be read as a lament to lost friendship – could you tell us a little about the story behind that particular track?

BEBE: ‘Grey Girl’ is about my dog, who passed away in March 2008. She was a grey Chihuahua and my dear companion. My spirit guide, my friend. She was 14 when she died.

MUDKISS: ‘Air Kisses For The Masses’ is a cover of a Dean Johnson song. Many of our readers may be unaware of Dean, and his band the Velvet Mafia. Could you explain a little about them and how you came to cover the song? I notice that there is also an animated video to the song – what was the story behind this? Were you involved in its creation?

BEBE: Dean Johnson was a very colourful person – a six foot seven inch drag queen who looked like an alien. He wrote brilliant lyrics – I find the words he composed in ‘Air Kisses...’ to be socially topical and very powerful. He was a good friend, and he too passed away unexpectedly. I performed that song with the Velvet Mafia for his memorial and knew then and there I needed to sing this song – to record it. I got the blessing of his band and made it my own. I think Dean would love the way we do it. I know he would.

Video: produced by The Nerdy Duo, who turned Bebe into a ‘Beberella’ a character that she admits to loving.

MUDKISS: The album also contains spiritual themes, particularly in ‘Air Kisses...’, these are underscored by your use of the term ‘Godhead’ and the vocal evocation of the kind of chanting one associates with Tibetan monks (at the start of the title track). Would you say that you were a spiritual person? If so, what form does this take? 

BEBE: The term ‘Godhead’, as used in this particular song refers to something Rodney Bingenheimer used to say about things he liked – a Seventies expression – “Oh, he or she is so Godhead!” He said it to me the first time we met. If you have seen Almost Famous, Rodney also coined, “It's all happening!” I was a very lucky young girl to have been front and centre for some of that music – Bowie, the New York Dolls, Alice Cooper, Todd Rundgren, to name a few. The song is a celebration of that era. A salute to Rodney, Cameron Crowe, the Runaways. I have an extensive spiritual belief system. I would be here for hours recounting the entire flora of my thoughts but I do believe in multi-dimensional life levels, reincarnation, aliens, angels and demons.

MUDKISS: Have you ever had any supernatural experiences happen in your life? You also seem to be very much into Astrology, you’re a Cancer sign and from what I have read you seem true to your sign – would you say this was so?

BEBE: Yes, I am very Cancerian but I have Libra rising and a moon in Virgo so my chart is not exclusively Cancerian. I am also a neat freak and take things very seriously. But I do adore my family and taking care of people I love. My daughter Liv is also a Cancer – 1 July. I'm 14 July. I have had several paranormal experiences in my life – too many to discuss. There will be another book one day about all of this, when I'm in my 60s.

MUDKISS: ‘When We Were Godhead’ can be viewed as a eulogy for the golden age of glitter/glam, what are your feelings about this period today, looking back from a perspective of more than 30 years? Is it a period you have fond memories of? What are your most enduring recollections of the era?

BEBE: Things were a lot more innocent in the 1970's and people didn't have to worry about dying from having sex. The drugs were a lot more pure. The music was revolutionary but I don't dwell on the past. I like a lot of bands right now. I love the Kills, anything Jack White touches, Muse, the Killers, Living Things. I was just lucky to have been a part of that time in history. To have witnessed some of the spectacular shows I've seen from the side of a stage. Having Happy Birthday sung to me by John Lennon and ‘Baby Strange’ sung to me by Marc Bolan in the Plaza Hotel at a late night gathering of people and guitars. I treasure the memories but I don't pine for that time. I remember it fondly. Especially Max's Kansas City, what a place that was!

Photo: Bebe @ Hiros by Dina Regine

MUDKISS: Many of the songs on Sugar appear to have been written direct from the heart. How do you set about writing your lyrics – do you have set periods where you sit down and write, or do you just commit verse to paper as the idea hits you? Could you walk us through the lyrical development of a song such as ‘Love Is’?

BEBE: I had the track first – Bobbie and Jim played me the music and I was on holiday in St. Barths with Jim and the lyrics just poured out of me all at once. Most of the songs come in one big swoop. Before computers, I used to run to a pay phone and call my answering machine if an idea hit me on the streets. I'd sing the idea into my phone.

Photo: Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys) & Bebe by Dustin Pittman

MUDKISS: Musically, Sugar contains a diverse selection of styles, from evocative rock ballads, to the post-punk dance elements found within the title track, through to the Eastern undertones of ‘Love Is’. Does this reflect the broad nature of your own tastes? What would you nominate as your all-time favourite music, and why? What are you listening to currently?

BEBE: I love good music – that’s my only requirement. I even listen to Enya or the Cure when I want to relax or reflect. I adore classical music, Victorian Chamber music, R&B, Motown – I listen to so much it would be impossible to pick a favourite. I still listen to a lot of radio when I'm in the car. I like to know what is being shoved down people's throat, [laughs]. But I hear a lot of great stuff that way too. Muse for instance, or the Subways - whose song ‘Rock & Roll Queen’ is one of my favourites. I nearly ran off the road when I heard that the first time. I still love to blast the Ramones or the Dead Boys. Albums like Let It Bleed, or Bowie's Low are mainstays. I listen to those records often. Another favourite album is Damn The Torpedoes by Tom Petty.

MUDKISS: There seems to be some cryptography evident on the back of Sugar’s sleeve; the words highlighted in red spell out the message, ‘God is black sugar touch girl line happy dreams for the masses will rise.’ What was the thinking behind this, or am I seeing significance in something that was simply a design element?

BEBE: That was not intentional, but sometimes it is up to the listener to determine what they want from that sort of thing. I do like "God Is Black". Indeed he is. He is also pink, green, brown, grey and yellow!

MUDKISS: Your inspirational book, Rebel Heart – An American Rock and Roll Journey was completed in 2001. Could you update us a little as to what has been going on in your life since then? Do you plan to write more books? In the book, you finally got your dream home in Portland, Maine – are you still living there? I read that you were writing something entitled, ‘The Rock’n’Roll Etiquette – Inside Rock Society’. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

BEBE: We sold the house in Maine in 2007 – I needed to be back in NYC full time to get this album done. My husband and I knew it was time to get back in the mix. The book aspect of my life is on hold for now – I'm too busy playing, rehearsing and planning the next step. But yes, there will be more books at some point in my life. I'm already writing the next album! 

MUDKISS: Have you ever been approached to have a movie or documentary made about your life?

BEBE: Of course – there are some things in the works right now. I don't want to talk about it until it is formally announced. I'm not ready to share in this info at this time. 

MUDKISS: You’re the Associate Editor with the international online fanzine Punk Globe – could you tell us how this came about, and how you contribute to the magazine?

BEBE: Ginger Coyote is one of my oldest and best friends. We've known each other for decades now. I support and love Punk Globe. I contributed in the past – wrote a couple of articles and interviewed Jello Biafra so I guess that’s why I'm still on the masthead. 

MUDKISS: You’re evidently a woman that is full of energy, with a dynamic personality and involved in different kinds of charities, such as the breast cancer awareness charity, and gay rights, are there any other charities you would like to promote?

BEBE: I will always have a passion for animals and things that are helpless. Displaced children, abused women and children. It is never okay to remain silent. I also like to keep some things private. I don't support these charities or causes for attention. I do it because I am compelled to, because I have to feel in touch with the human race- to do my part. To be a good person.

MUDKISS: As a woman in what has traditionally been perceived as ‘a man’s world’ how did/do you, cope? And what advice would you give you to other women trying to break into the music business?

BEBE: It is not such a man's world anymore- that is changing. I ‘cope’ by just forging ahead and never stopping what I do artistically. I love men; I get along with them and have always been part of the ‘Boys Club’. But I love my women friends just as much. My girlfriends are my soul. I don't determine my relationships by gender, but by how a person treats me and others. I have a lot of the same friends for twenty, thirty and forty years. I would not know where to begin to advise anyone on the music business right now because we are in an anything goes climate. Ageism seems to be disappearing and talent is taking a front seat.

Photo: Bebe Buell Band @ Hiros by Dina Regine

MUDKISS: You’re still a stunning women with your own style – what’s your secret to staying so young looking?

BEBE: I don't have any real beauty secrets except for no red meat. I also don't think about it too hard. I'm not afraid of ageing or getting older. I just wish we had more time on this earth. I do love my life, does that sound corny? I hope not. I do use good face creams and I try to keep it organic. I'm also a champion sleeper – I love to sleep and dream. I look forward to dreaming.

MUDKISS: And finally were you aware of a band called Chester French who recently brought out a track called ‘Bebe Buell’. It’s most flattering to have a song written about you wouldn’t you agree? Are there any other songs out there which you can claim were written for you or about you?

BEBE: Whenever someone is inspired either by you personally or your essence, it is flattering. Sometimes it isn't as obvious as the Chester French song, [laughs]. Pretty cute! As far as songs about me goes, I'd rather let the listener determine that. I dare not tread on the toes of the artist. Maybe they change their minds years later! A great song can be about anyone – that is why people can relate to it. ‘Layla’ may be about Pattie Boyd, but the passion Eric felt for her when he wrote it is universal. 

Thanks Bebe it's been a blast, we wish you all the best with your new album 'Sugar'.

www.bebebuell.org
www.myspace.com/bebebuellband

www.myspace.com/bebebabyblue

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bebe_Buell

Interview by Mel & Dick 22/01/10
Photos: Dina Regine - www.djdinaregine.com & Dustin Pittman
Videos: YouTube