By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Did you think Sinatra was talented?
He was very good at what he did, if you care about that. Personally, I find it hard to believe that a man can walk around with his head filled with those lyrics: ”I get a kick out of you . . .“ That shit he did. He wanted it very badly, though, and he’s the only guy who could‘ve come along and put Bing Crosby away, because Bing was a hell of a singer at his best. After Louis Armstrong, he was the first great jazz singer. Sure, he did horseshit like ”White Christmas“ -- he had to, it’s part of the lexicon. But he was a long way from square. He was a terrible person, but so was Frank. I don‘t care about Sinatra. He bores the shit out of me.
Why did you leave Ava Gardner?
I left for New York, and she was afraid to leave Hollywood. She was being paid like a star, and the studios were beginning to think of her as a star, and when I told her I was going to New York, she said, ”They’ll forget me if I leave.“ She was terrified because, like every great beauty, she knew what was ahead for her. She didn‘t know who she was. She was a Tarheel kid with an earthy quality people responded to, but inside she was highly wound up and had a terror of failing. Ava was one in the continuing series of Hollywood queens, and they all understand in some dim way that gravity’s working on them, pulling everything an inch and a half lower, and pretty soon the next 17-year-old will come along. You can‘t compete with that, and if that’s what you‘re selling, you have to face the fact that the merchandise gets shopworn. Eventually you can’t sell it for the same price, and in Hollywood, when you drop, you drop fast.
I have a photograph of Sinatra and Ava that I call ”The Singer and the Movie Star,“ and I keep it because it‘s symbolic of a world I was once part of. She’s on his arm, and he‘s looking back at her with a look that says, ”Boy! Look what I got!“ She’s staring straight into the camera, and they‘re not even remotely connected to one another. Both are busy playing the roles they’ve cast themselves in. She‘s thinking, ”What do people think of me?“ while he’s thinking, ”Look what I got!“ It‘s not important enough to be tragic -- it’s just foolish. What a meager life.
Your other ultraglamour wife was Lana Turner. What was she like?
Lana was dumb, and she bought into the myth. But then, they all did. Success is the great devil. You read enough about yourself, and you begin to think it‘s true -- I’m special, I‘m different, I’m superior. I know, because it happened to me. You know, John Updike once said the damned- est thing in The New Yorker. I couldn‘t believe my eyes when I saw it, and the sentence is engraved in my memory. I noticed he was writing about Lana Turner, so my eyes pricked up. I thought, ”What the hell is this?“ Because he knows damn well she’s an airhead. He said as much in the review, then added, ”But if you want to know how boring it was to go to bed with Artie Shaw, this is your book.“ Updike doesn‘t usually engage in that sort of mudslinging, but he is a man, so he’s probably got some kind of penis problem. Still, I was floored that Updike would give a moment‘s thought to what I’m like in bed. It reminds me of the time Frank Conroy was visiting me and I showed him this satirical, mock-academic introduction I‘d written for my new book. He loved it and asked for a copy because, he said, Saul Bellow was coming to see him and he thought Bellow would enjoy it. I said, ”You can have a copy if you promise not to tell him who wrote it until he’s read it.“ Frank called me a few weeks later and told me, ”Bellow loved the piece.“ But when Frank told him who‘d written it, he said, ”Artie Shaw?“ I knew Saul, and I guess he couldn’t stand it that I knew something about literature.
So, the big question: Why did you quit your career as a musician?
I have a low threshold for boredom. We‘re told you have to make money, be successful and have a big house in Beverly Hills, but that’s all horseshit. I never had a a big band again after 1949, and that last one was a bitch. Everybody liked it but the people [audience], so I decided no more. Then the IRS started punishing me for making some money three years earlier and I needed to work, so I put together a small group that people said was the best small band they‘d ever heard. After a year of playing, I couldn’t stand it anymore. The same pieces night after night after night -- no matter how many changes you make, it becomes sickening, so I broke it up. I wanted to record what the group was doing, though, before we went our separate ways, but nobody wanted to record us. Everybody said, ”There‘s no audience for this music,“ which was sort of semimodern and boppish. I said, ”To hell with this,“ and rented a studio, produced the records myself, put them in storage and moved to Spain. I lived outside a small village in Catalonia for five years, and for a while it was blissful. I fished every day, and America seemed completely remote. I finally began to miss Ralphs supermarket, though, and people kept telling me things were getting better in the States, so I came back. Things weren’t getting better, though. I turned on the television when I got back, and the first thing I saw was Lawrence Welk.