Did you have an oppressively religious upbringing?
Not really. My parents wanted us to go to church and we did go to church. You did it, but the language of the ceremonies was so convoluted, no one particularly got it. So there you were, in the church, not really knowing what was going on but getting a good feeling – the bells and so on. I was a choirboy. I think I got three-and-sixpence for funerals, three shillings for a wedding and two-and-ninepence for a birth, something like that. So it was quite nice.
_But surely when rock’n’roll came along it was regarded as antithetical to religion. _
That came out of the US south. All the black people going to church on a Sunday were putting money on the plate. Then when the blues thing got hot they were going out and spending all their money at the clubs on a Saturday night, leaving them nothing to put on the plate on the Sunday. So the church immediately started calling the blues the Devil’s music. In the end it was all about money. I know it did mess a lot of people up. Little Richard was back and forth, and Jerry Lee Lewis. In Britain it was different. When I was a kid we were coming out of a long period of austerity. Rock’n’roll was as much a rebellion against austerity, not religion. But it pissed off our parents because they’d fought in the war, and now you had these Teddy boys. Which I understand. It hadn’t been much fun for them, but it hadn’t been much fun for us either.
But a lot of rock musicians did embrace ‘religion’ of a sort – albeit spirituality in various forms – as the decade wore on.
Maybe they thought there was more to life than_ Tutti Frutti_. They all went for the big, heavy peace. An admirable sentiment, but it doesn’t really coincide with what’s going on in the world.
You’ve written about God. On the song God (Take 1), you have him say, ‘There’s no religion – you did that – it helps to keep your little leaders fat.’
Yeah. It was meant to be dry – but as to how I was feeling, it was a long time ago. It’s hard to remember the place I was in back then, hard to judge. You’ve got to be very careful with lyrics. People are different and you can end up being hurtful, which isn’t the idea at all. There’s another song on that album called Rape. Songs like that, you’re in dangerous territory. Especially with people like your good self just waiting.
Is there a God?
I really don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. I think if there is a God, he probably thinks a lot of people on the planet are making a vast amount of money and accumulating a vast amount of power by scaring people out of their wits ‘explaining’ to them what God and religion are all about, whereas nobody really knows what’s going on at all – and it’s probably meant to be that way. I’ll always respect a person’s belief on the basis that it’s belief, and not fact. Because the fact is, no one has a clue. So I suppose I’m slightly agnostic in that area. But religion, death… The older you get, the more it becomes apparent. There’s people in my era popping off all over the place. You’ve got to have a sense of humour about it, otherwise you’d never survive. Mickey Rooney, God rest his soul, I remember seeing him go on American TV and sing to Judy Garland after she died . It was the most godawful, corny rubbish. I thought: “Whatever you do, never do that.”