The Pretender talks history, Morrissey and Donald Trump
I know. He died when he was 25, what chance did he have? Yet when I met Johnny Marr – another one of my favourite players, he’s a fucking riot for a start – he knew all of Jimmy Scott’s catalogue, and he was influenced by Jimmy. That’s why I started working with Johnny. We really got it right from the start, because of that common link. Jimmy had a big, big influence, which is one of the reasons I decided I would write my little memoir. When Jimmy died we didn’t make a big fuss about it, because I felt personal stuff has to remain personal. Obviously no-one would understand that these days, because we’re in this confessional society and everyone makes a big deal about tragedy.
The fact that you’re looking for people who are influenced by him is very poignant, as if you’re still searching for that essence he provided.
What was great about him was what he turned me into, what he brought out in me. I guess it’s like when you fall in love with someone – for six months you like yourself, you think you’re pretty fucking great, and that’s what happens when you get in a band together. You bring out the best in each other, and you make each other sound great. But that can only last so long. He made the Pretenders sound. I provided a format for him. He didn’t really care about the lyrics or my singing, he just wanted to play… [pause] I’ve been listening to Morrissey a lot recently. It’s just amazing, the fact you could be in a world and Morrissey is there, making records. You know something’s right with the world, if only that. There is no lyricist like him, there’s no performer like him, and there’s nobody like him.
You and Morrissey are good friends, aren’t you?
Yeah, I like to think that. He’s a great friend, very loyal, but he does things his own way. I don’t see him that much because we’re not always in the same town. We used to go out – he would invite Victoria Wood, and we would go out to a restaurant, just some Italian joint somewhere. He used to meet me at the Chippenham pub sometimes, but they’ve closed it now. He likes working men’s club type of places. I haven’t seen him since Victoria died, I know he took that very badly. He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. Like Dylan, he’s a comedian, as much as anything else, but people overlook that part of him.
Did you and Morrissey bond through your passion for animal rights?
Pretty much. He invited me for a cup of tea in his hotel, and I’m sure that’s why. With all of my closest friends and allies in my life, all roads have led back to [vegetarianism]. With all of us it was never about nutrition or health, it was always about animal welfare. I was really good friends with Linda McCartney; most of my close friends [are vegetarian]. I’ve never done it for my health, in fact I find it distasteful when people endlessly talk about nutrition. It’s like, ‘Just don’t eat very much and you’ll be all right… Try not to hurt any animals.’
Your song “Alone” really has a Lou Reed feel, that whole talk-singing travelogue. I know the Velvets are very important to you.
Of course. I wrote it real fast. When I said I did most stuff on my own, Dan said, “Write a song about it.” I was waiting for a cab to take me to the airport when I recorded it – it was the last thing we did. I’ve had a very surprising response to that song. People I know always comment on that – they often say, “I wish I’d had more time alone.” And it occurred to me that there are a lot of songs that talk about how you wish you weren’t alone, but not a lot that talk about how you’re glad to be alone.
In many ways, solitude is getting rarer.
Solitude is a privilege. Most people in the world can’t afford it, they have to work within a team to survive – it really is one of the privileges of living in an affluent society. And I’m not talking about loneliness, of which there’s an epidemic. It’s never bothered me to do stuff on my own, to go to airports on my own, to restaurants, clubs, whatever. I’m comfortable doing my own thing.
You moved across the world on your own in your early twenties.
I came with a friend, but she didn’t last as long as I have. I move fast, and I move a lot. And you can’t really do that with someone else.
Do you still move house regularly?
Unfortunately, yes. I always have, ever since I moved out of my parents’ house, I’ve moved every three months. When I had kids I tried to stay in the same part of London so they always had a sense of neighbourhood. I live above a shop at the moment, I don’t have a garden.
From what you wrote in Reckless, it seems like you knew that you wanted that lifestyle from a very young age.
People are trying to figure out who they are in the world, and where their place is, and what their duties are. And I didn’t know that. I just kept avoiding the things I didn’t wanna do, and by process of elimination that’s bound to bring me to what I [do want]… It’s discovering your dharma, this thing you’re here to do, if you believe you’re here to do something. When you hear John Coltrane playing the saxophone, you know he was in his element. If you’re lucky enough to find your element, then you’ve won the game of life, because not everyone finds it and not everyone can afford to do it.