Andy Sheppard, Redferns Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr says while…
- Posted on Mar 22nd 2011 2:30PM by Peter Gerstenzang
In 2005, Collins suffered a pair of life-threatening cerebral hemorrhages that robbed him of the powers of speech and movement. While recovering, he was the hit with a life-threatening staph infection. The future looked bleak. Two years of physical and speech therapy followed.
Improbably, wonderfully, he is back, with the album, 'Losing Sleep,' which is available now. This moody, rocking affair shows no sign of the auteur's neurological troubles, but it does display the man's trademarks: He still sounds like a better-natured Dracula, backed by Motown's Funk Brothers. On top of that, the album also features guest stars Johnny Marr, the Cribs' Ryan Jarman and Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos.
Collins recently spoke to Spinner about 'Losing Sleep,' his hellish strokes, how he learned to write again and the future of his legendary band, Orange Juice.
Do you remember when the songs started coming again?
Yes, it happened in the hospital, amazingly. Pretty good, considering I could barely talk. Grace was there and I just started singing silly songs to her one day. Bits of things from childhood, nonsense, but it felt good. It wasn't long before I started to come up with [the song] 'Losing Sleep.' It was a joke, a black joke. I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd write a rock song about it, a fast one. Since my stroke, I really like working fast and doing fast songs. Go figure.
Did other songs come out of your hospital stay?
Yes. Not too long after 'Sleep' came 'Do It Again' and 'What Is My Role?'
Can we be forgiven for reading into some of these titles?
Forgiven. Sometimes I was addressing my concerns about my body and mind not working. Sometimes I was just mocking myself. You know, I jokingly say, "I used to be an intellectual," but it's true. Of course, I like my old songs, like, 'A Girl Like You.' I mean, how did I come up with the idea of rhyming "metaphorically" and "allegorically"? [Laughs] But I'm much more direct now. The stroke simplified my thinking and made me focus and pair things down. Of course, I had no choice really [laughs].
Some of the new lyrics address my condition. "I can't walk around in character/I can't act in any way/I don't feel as close to God/As you do every day." That is a bit about me, yeah.
Once you were out of the hospital, how did you start actually writing the songs and showing your collaborators what you wanted to do?
With both Alex Kapranos and Johnny Marr, it was pretty simple. They would get together with me, individually, in my studio, West Heath. Since only one of my arms works, I would have to show them the chords of the song. You know, point at the frets, and they would each voice the chords on the guitar. Alex is a new friend, a very charming, smart and patient man who liked my solo stuff and things with Orange Juice. We became so close, he ended up doing the narration in a documentary about me a few years ago. Johnny I've known since he was in the Smiths.
I knew it wouldn't be a problem for Johnny. After working with Morrissey, I was easy! I love Morrissey's work, don't get me wrong. I always say, though, that even though I may have had a stroke, with him, I'm not sure anybody's home!
You retained your unsettling baritone on the new record. We like the fact that the dark tendencies of your music are still there. There are no big, Spielbergian moments where you say you've been saved, like the triumph of the human spirit and all that crap.
[Laughs] The singing came back to me easily. It's still so much easier to sing than to talk, as perhaps you can tell. But no, I still love rock 'n' roll. The best rock is sometimes dark, but not sentimental.
You recently played the US for the first time since the '90s, but you've been gigging in the UK quite a bit.
It's been furious, man. 60 or 70 gigs since I got better.
Are you doing shorter sets or making any allowances, physically?
No, mate, 100-, 120-minute shows. I'm not tired or anything. Hopefully people aren't tired of me either.
Surely, you have to miss playing guitar, soloing, driving everybody wild?
I feel kind of philosophical about it. I can stand up at the mic and sing. I can lead a band. It's something I didn't think I'd be able to do five years ago. I don't want to be greedy. I've been relearning to play things that only take one hand. Some keyboards, vibes, a little harmonica.
That's a nice easy one.
We've heard some rumors that you've also been producing some other artists.
They're not rumors. I've resumed my producing, having started back in the early '90s, at first to help pay for the studio I'd built. I've produced Frankie and the Heartstrings and a group called Sunderland. It's easier than playing guitar. You don't need two hands to tell people what to do.
On the new record, it's hard to believe that's not you playing guitar. The hooks, the tone of the solos on things like 'I Still Believe in You' sound, well, Collins-esque.
It's not hard. I co-wrote that with guitarist Ryan Jarman. Just as with the writing of the songs, I was able to show or hum what people should play. That stuff is all still in my head. I just have to explain it.
When the record was released last year in England, the response was ecstatic. You had to be pleased at the reception.
Oh, sure. It was really something. Q gave us four stars. Mojo said we were Number 4 on their list for Best Albums of the Year. We've even sold a few copies. It might be nicer to have made a load of money on it, but praise is the next best thing.
Your band Orange Juice is often cited as one of the great post-punk bands. Everyone wants to know: will there ever be a reunion?
Let me be the first to tell you: never. I like being the boss, being a solo artist. Everybody from the band is busy doing their thing. That's something I'm certain about. There won't be a reunion of Orange Juice. We did our gig.
Do you have any messages to people who have suffered strokes or other physical setbacks?
You've simply got to persevere. When I was lying on my back in hospital, a lot of doctors and physical therapists said, at almost every stage, "Get used to it. Accept your condition." Grace [Collins' longtime partner] wouldn't allow it. She pushed for more therapy, not accepting diagnosis. She had me try things like yoga. Still, every stroke is different. Everybody's illness is different. You mustn't let people, even professionals, tell you you can't get better.
I guess what I'm saying is simple: Don't give up hope. And maybe, listen to some fast songs when you can. Rock 'n' roll, as it always has, certainly gives you hope too!
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