Maybe not the cha-cha. [Marlon] Brando used to go cha-cha dancing with us. He could dance his ass off. He was the most charming motherfucker you ever met. He’d fuck anything. Anything! He’d fuck a mailbox. James Baldwin. Richard Pryor. Marvin Gaye.
He slept with them? How do you know that? [Frowns.] Come on, man. He did not give a fuck! You like Brazilian music?
Richard Pryor's Widow Confirms Quincy Jones' Claim That Pryor Slept with Marlon Brando
In Conversation: Quincy Jones The music legend on the secret Michael Jackson, his relationship with the Trumps, and the problem with modern pop.
By David Marchese
You worked with Michael Jackson more than anyone he wasn’t related to. What’s something people don’t understand about him? I hate to get into this publicly, but Michael stole a lot of stuff. He stole a lot of songs. [Donna Summer’s] “State of Independence” and “Billie Jean.” The notes don’t lie, man. He was as Machiavellian as they come.
How so? Greedy, man. Greedy. “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” — Greg Phillinganes wrote the c section. Michael should’ve given him 10 percent of the song. Wouldn’t do it.
What about outside of music? What’s misunderstood about Michael? I used to kill him about the plastic surgery, man. He’d always justify it and say it was because of some disease he had. Bullshit.
How much were his problems wrapped up with fame? You mean with the way he looked? He had a problem with his looks because his father told him he was ugly and abused him. What do you expect?
It’s such a strange juxtaposition — how Michael’s music was so joyous, but his life just seems sadder and more odd as time goes by. Yes, but at the end Michael’s problem was Propofol, and that problem affects everyone — doesn’t matter if you’re famous. Big Pharma making OxyContin and all that shit is a serious thing. I was around the White House for eight years with the Clintons, and I’d learn about how much influence Big Pharma has. It’s no joke. What’s your sign, man?
Pisces. Me too. It’s a great sign.
You just mentioned the Clintons, who are friends of yours. Why is there still such visceral dislike of them? What are other people not seeing in Hillary, for example, that you see? It’s because there’s a side of her — when you keep secrets, they backfire.
Like what secrets? This is something else I shouldn’t be talking about.
You sure seem to know a lot. I know too much, man.
What’s something you wish you didn’t know? Who killed Kennedy.
Who did it? [Chicago mobster Sam] Giancana. The connection was there between Sinatra and the Mafia and Kennedy. Joe Kennedy — he was a bad man — he came to Frank to have him talk to Giancana about getting votes.
What’d you think when you first heard rock music? Rock ain’t nothing but a white version of rhythm and blues, motherfucker. You know, I met Paul McCartney when he was 21.
What were your first impressions of the Beatles? That they were the worst musicians in the world. They were no-playing motherfuckers. Paul was the worst bass player I ever heard. And Ringo? Don’t even talk about it. I remember once we were in the studio with George Martin, and Ringo had taken three hours for a four-bar thing he was trying to fix on a song. He couldn’t get it. We said, “Mate, why don’t you get some lager and lime, some shepherd’s pie, and take an hour-and-a-half and relax a little bit.” So he did, and we called Ronnie Verrell, a jazz drummer. Ronnie came in for 15 minutes and tore it up. Ringo comes back and says, “George, can you play it back for me one more time?” So George did, and Ringo says, “That didn’t sound so bad.” And I said, “Yeah, motherfucker because it ain’t you.” Great guy, though.
Were there any rock musicians you thought were good? I used to like Clapton’s band. What were they called?
Cream. Yeah, they could play.
You hang out in these elite social circles and doing good has always been important to you, but are you seeing as much concern for the poor as you’d like from the ultrarich? No. The rich aren’t doing enough. They don’t fucking care. I came from the street, and I care about these kids who don’t have enough because I feel I’m one of ’em. These other people don’t know what it feels like to be poor, so they don’t care.
Are we in a better place as a country than we were when you started doing humanitarian work 50 years ago? No. We’re the worst we’ve ever been, but that’s why we’re seeing people try and fix it. Feminism: Women are saying they’re not going to take it anymore. Racism: People are fighting it. God is pushing the bad in our face to make people fight back.
We’ve obviously been learning more lately about just how corrosive the entertainment industry can be for women. As someone who’s worked in that business at the highest levels for so many years, do all the recent revelations come as a surprise? No, man. Women had to put up with fucked-up shit. Women and brothers — we’re both dealing with the glass ceiling.
But what about the alleged behavior of a friend of yours like Bill Cosby? Is it hard to square what he’s been accused of with the person you know? It was all of them. Brett Ratner. [Harvey] Weinstein. Weinstein — he’s a jive motherfucker. Wouldn’t return my five calls. A bully.
What about Cosby, though? What about it?
Were the allegations a surprise to you? We can’t talk about this in public, man.
If you could snap your fingers and fix one problem in the country, what would it be? Racism. I’ve been watching it a long time — the ’30s to now. We’ve come a long way but we’ve got a long way to go. The South has always been fucked up, but you know where you stand. The racism in the North is disguised. You never know where you stand. That’s why what’s happening now is good, because people are saying they are racists who didn’t used to say it. Now we know.
What’s stirred everything up? Is it all about Trumpism? It’s Trump and uneducated rednecks. Trump is just telling them what they want to hear. I used to hang out with him. He’s a crazy motherfucker. Limited mentally — a megalomaniac, narcissistic. I can’t stand him. I used to date Ivanka, you know.
Would your friend Oprah be a good president? I don’t think she should run. She doesn’t have the chops for it. If you haven’t been governor of a state or the CEO of a company or a military general, you don’t know how to lead people.
She is the CEO of a company. A symphony conductor knows more about how to lead than most businesspeople — more than Trump does. He doesn’t know shit. Someone who knows about real leadership wouldn’t have as many people against him as he does. He’s a fucking idiot.
Is Hollywood as bad with race as the rest of the country? I know that when you started scoring films, you’d hear producers say things like they didn’t want a “bluesy” score, which was clearly code-speak. Are you still encountering that kind of racism? It’s still fucked up. 1964, when I was in Vegas, there were places I wasn’t supposed to go because I was black, but Frank [Sinatra] fixed that for me. It takes individual efforts like that to change things. It takes white people to say to other white people, “Do you really want to live as a racist? Is that really what you believe?” But every place is different. When I go to Dublin, Bono makes me stay at his castle because Ireland is so racist. Bono’s my brother, man. He named his son after me.
Is U2 still making good music? [Shakes head.]
Why not? I don’t know. I love Bono with all my heart, but there’s too much pressure on the band. He’s doing good work all over the world. Working with him and Bob Geldof on debt relief was one of the greatest things I ever did. It’s up there with “We Are the World.”
There’s a small anecdote in your memoir about how the rock musicians who’d been asked to sing on “We Are the World” were griping about the song. Is there more to that story? It wasn’t the rockers. It was Cyndi Lauper. She had a manager come over to me and say, “The rockers don’t like the song.” I know how that shit works. We went to see Springsteen, Hall & Oates, Billy Joel, and all those cats and they said, “We love the song.” So I said [to Lauper], “Okay, you can just get your shit over with and leave.” And she was fucking up every take because her necklace or bracelet was rattling in the microphone. It was just her that had a problem.
What’s something you’ve worked on that should’ve been bigger? What the fuck are you talking about? I’ve never had that problem. They were all big.
How about a musician who deserved more acclaim? Come on, man. The Brothers Johnson. James Ingram. Tevin Campbell. Every one of them went straight through the roof.
A few years back there was a quote you supposedly gave — I couldn’t find the source of it, so maybe it’s apocryphal — where you dismissed rap as being a bunch of four-bar loops. Is that an opinion you stand by? That’s true about rap, that it’s the same phrase over and over and over again. The ear has to have the melody groomed for it; you have to keep the ear candy going because the mind turns off when the music doesn’t change. Music is strange that way. You’ve got to keep the ear busy.
Is there innovation happening in modern pop music? Hell no. It’s just loops, beats, rhymes and hooks. What is there for me to learn from that? There ain’t no fucking songs. The song is the power; the singer is the messenger. The greatest singer in the world cannot save a bad song. I learned that 50 years ago, and it’s the single greatest lesson I ever learned as a producer. If you don’t have a great song, it doesn’t matter what else you put around it.
I’m trying to isolate what you specifically believe the problem with modern pop is. It’s the lack of formal musical knowledge on the part of the musicians? Yes! And they don’t even care they don’t have it.
Well, who’s doing good work? Bruno Mars. Chance the Rapper. Kendrick Lamar. I like where Kendrick’s mind is. He’s grounded. Chance, too. And the Ed Sheeran record is great. Sam Smith — he’s so open about being gay. I love it. Mark Ronson is someone who knows how to produce.
Putting aside the quality of contemporary songs, are there any technical or sonic production techniques that feel fresh? No. There ain’t nothing new. The producers are lazy and greedy.
Do you see a future for the music business? There isn’t a music business anymore! If these people had paid attention to Shawn Fanning 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess. But the music business is still too full of these old-school bean counters. You can’t be like that. You can’t be one of these back-in-my-day people.
Are you religious? No, man. I know too much about it. I knew Romano Mussolini, the jazz piano player, the son of Benito Mussolini. We used to jam all night. And he’d tell me about where the Catholics were coming from. The Catholics have a religion based on fear, smoke, and murder. And the biggest gimmick in the world is confession: “You tell me what you did wrong and it’ll be okay.” Come on. And almost everywhere you go in the world, the biggest structures are the Catholic churches. It’s money, man. It’s fucked up.
On the subject of money, I have a crass question. You spent the first half of your career working in jazz, which isn’t especially lucrative. When did you start to make serious money? When I started producing after Lesley Gore. I was the first black vice-president at a record label [Mercury], which was great — except that meant they didn’t pay me for producing her. You know how they do; you know your country. But after that, in the ’70s, when I started producing for other artists, and then with Michael of course, that made me a lot of money. And big money came from TV producing — The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, that was huge for me. Mad TV was on for 14 years. That syndication money is great, man.
How often do you think about your mother? All the time. She died in a mental home. Brilliant lady, but she never got the help she needed. Her dementia praecox could’ve been cured with vitamin B, but she couldn’t get it because she was black.
When you think about her now, what comes to mind? That I wish I could’ve been closer to her. What happened to her — for kids, that’s a bitch.
What’s the most ambitious thing you have left to do? Qwest TV. Everybody is excited about it. It’s going to be a musical Netflix. It’s the best music from every genre around the world. So if kids want to hear something great, it’ll be right there for them. I can’t believe I still get to be involved in things like this. I stopped drinking two years ago and I feel like I’m 19 years old. I’ve never been so creative. I can’t tell you, man — what a life!
Posts: 32679 | From: , | Registered: Jan 2010
| IP: Logged |