Who would possibly care that Leif Garrett, fallen teen idol from the avocado shag carpet days, is staging a comeback? Only those who derive pathological pleasure in picking apart his hapless, hopeless attempt. Here's the deal: Garrett, who has spent the last half of his 40 years outside the music industry with the bottom-feeding likes of Danny Bonaduce, is now in charge of a hard-rock band. Is it any good? Though one hates to be a naysayer, the short answer is nay. Evidence supporting this conclusion abounds: F8 (pronounced "fate") is the name both of his band and current record, a five-song disc about as generic as a rock project could hope to be -- even Des Moines could probably boast a dozen live acts with far more originality.
Then there's the fact that F8's current tour begins at the Blue Monkey in Monroe, Louisiana. Most telling of all, Garrett has hired a publicist who apparently believes that copy like the following may prove effective: "F8 works as a solid unit. One force that creates together until the sound gets as good as it gets.... It is the immense talent of this band that will keep them on the charts."
After ruling the Teen Beat/Tiger Beat bedroom-poster set thanks to bubble-gum hits like 1979's "I Was Made for Dancin'," Garrett partnered with the Scotti Brothers label to produce a troika of poor-selling albums that prefaced the real fall. That same year, at age seventeen, he found the time to wreck his car and paralyze a friend, Roland Winkler, for life. Disastrous comeback attempts and failed best-of albums sound like the best part of the following years, when heroin addiction was responsible for most of Garrett's publicity. In 1999, VH1's Behind the Music tale of his vanilla surfer-boy beginnings, subsequent self-immolation, and teary reunion between Garrett and Winkler became one of the series' highest-rated episodes. A year later he appeared on an album with the Melvins; his then-band, Godspeed, even played a few shows with the Seattle sludge-rockers. Now, given the marginal potential of F8 (Garrett cheerfully calls it a cross between Led Zeppelin and Stone Temple Pilots -- a mix unlikely to arouse his now-menopausal fan base), his upcoming film with David Spade, Dicky Roberts: Former Child Star, is very likely his last chance. Still in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, Garrett sounded optimistic.
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New Times: I bet some interviewers have been less than polite.
Garrett: I got asked a really obnoxious question yesterday: Have I ever had crabs? I mean -- what?
I don't think I'd want to read about that.
Really! And even if I ever did, I mean, that's just.... I don't answer that shit. It's stupid.
Did anyone ever confuse Godspeed with the Canadian art-rock band, Godspeed You Black Emperor?
You know what's so funny? When we started Godspeed, I wasn't sure about the name, and then all of a sudden there was Godhead, Godsmack, Godspeed You Black Emperor. [Leif Garrett's Godspeed existed from 1999-2000. Godhead dates back to 1995, Godsmack began in 1997, and GYBE formed in 1994.] There were all these "God" names coming out all of a sudden. I'm not saying I had anything to do with that, but ...
Though I can remember seeing you on television, for some reason I can't remember a single song you made.
I have a theory about that. The girls remember the music. Most of the guys don't remember the music because they weren't into it. They didn't like it. Guys were into more aggressive stuff. This was more like [sings] "Put your head on my sho-oh-oh-oulder." Guys aren't gonna say, "Oh, I dig Leif Garrett."
On one of your new songs, "Just Like Me," you scream, "Fuck you, Daddy!"
I wrote those lyrics about my sperm donor, if you will -- my dad, whatever you want to call him. He was never there. That's about me meeting him and him wanting to be like me and me wanting him to be like me. And to get along. But we're nothing alike. I resented him for it, and I still do. I wish I had a dad growing up. But my mom did a good job. I'm very sensitive toward women and stuff like that. My grandfather always thought I was gonna be gay because I didn't have a father around. I am who I am -- I'm not some big queen or something. I mean, that's fine if that's what somebody wants to be, but, you know ...
You obviously learned some hard lessons about fame, celebrity, and how fleeting it can be.
Yeah, teen idolism, I believe, only lasts five years, max. When you're digging a teen idol, you're that age. You're young. Sexual thoughts start happening, so it's a real strong time in that person's life. It's really powerful, so I knew that only time would get rid of that image. I still get the fans at the show who say, "I used to have your poster on my wall. I used to kiss it every night!" That's because that's when they started thinking about sex and things. There's always going to be that. But time has healed or lent me the ability to come out with different music and not as a pinup.
Would it be safe to assume you had no control over your career when you were younger?
Funny you say that. I didn't have any control at all, and that really bothered me. I didn't mind working with somebody. I'd been an actor since I was five years old, so I knew about having to be a team. But the Scotti Brothers were always like, "We made you. You don't know what you're talking about." I said, "People aren't gonna buy this stuff!" and they were like, "Oh, shut up. You don't know anything." I was like a puppet for the -- I was a marionette for the puppeteers. But I didn't end up suing the Scotti Brothers. I believe in karma. I don't know if that's true anymore, though, because they sold the company for, like, $550 million cash -- that I started for them -- and I never saw a dime. They ripped me off for millions.
You no doubt recognize some parallels between your career and that of today's crop of teen acts.
Sure. The same thing happened to the Backstreet Boys. If I could pass advice on to any of these people -- and I don't talk to 'em, I don't know Britney, and I don't know Justin Timberlake or anything like that -- but it's like, you've got to become an artist yourself. You can't just allow the others to say, "Here, do this song." In order to last in this business, you have to become an artist, because only artists last. Pinups don't last. Shaun [Cassidy], David [Cassidy], Andy [Gibb], and I were the last of the solo teen idols. Now it takes five! Now you need one curly-haired guy, one Hispanic guy ... you know what I mean?
Major labels haven't exactly hungered for your comeback efforts, have they?
Well, we're holding out for a better thing with a larger label. I don't want them to expect my name to sell, but I've got a certain fan base, and it'll sell to them. In order to reach other people, we have to do the radio station payola thing or whatever.
So the grownup teenage girls still send you fan mail?
Absolutely. That was the one thing that never fleeted. Somehow people were interested in me, what I was doing socially or what I was doing as far as being addicted to drugs, so that was a good thing. I appreciate that. I wish it wasn't for those reasons, but if that's what kept my name in the media and kept me alive, then fine.
The 1970s must have been a fun time to bed teenage groupies.
I wasn't into the girls so much -- I was into their mothers. I had my fill of the fruit, if you will. And that was all pre-AIDS and shit.
Regarding your drug addictions, was there a gateway drug that led you to heroin?
I never used to believe that, but it is true. You do one thing, and it's like swimming. You get a little deeper into the water, and you swim a little deeper, and you try different things. And of course, alcohol led to pot. Smoking pot led to trying coke. Coke led to trying pills. Then I tried opium, which is basically the same as heroin, and got hooked on that.
Can you casually partake today?
I do drink a little bit, and I've smoked a joint since I've gotten clean, but the other stuff is not for me anymore.
How did you manage to team up with the Melvins?
[Melvins singer] King Buzzo gave me a call and said, "Hey, you want to do a remake of Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'?" I was like, "Well, you know, sure. I'd love it. I like you guys -- how can we do it in a way that would be different?" He's like, "No, no, we're gonna do it the same." I'm like, "Why? What's the point?" And they said, "It'll be funny." So I kinda look back on that now and I wonder, was it a joke at my expense?
It was, wasn't it?
I don't know. I ended up going on tour with them, and we became friends and whatnot. I think it turned out pretty well.
Your rise and fall was fairly well documented on VH1's Behind the Music. You seemed quite uncomfortable doing that meeting with Roland, whom you hadn't seen since the accident.
It was. They talked me into it. They only told me about it the night before. I was like, "Oh my God -- I can't do it." And they ended up saying this and that, and I'm glad I did it. It turned out to be a good thing.
It sure looked awkward. Was it a real meeting, not some contrived scene?
It wasn't [faked] at all. They had cameras hidden in trees and stuff like that. They would have captured that. I forgot the cameras were even rolling at one point, and then I remembered after I started crying. I was like, "Oh my God ... okay, fuck, can you guys cut?" you know?
Sounds as if your new band was going to record a hard-rock version of your teen hit "I Was Made for Dancin'," but now that's not happening?
We did it a couple times on tour; it turned out really well, and people really liked it. But I called up the people who owned the publishing and said, "Look, I wanna do a remake of this song. We know it's gonna be a big hit again if we do it right, and I think we can. Since I got boned the first time around, you guys gotta give me some publishing [rights]; you gotta give me something." They're like, "Nah." I was like, "OK, well fuck you then. I'm not doing it."
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That'll show 'em!
I wasn't about to just give them more money without getting something. It's like, "You guys haven't made millions enough off it?"
It must be tough to approach big record companies today just to be told, "We don't want you; you haven't had a hit in 25 years. You're washed up."
I've never heard those words. Um, I haven't heard that. If someone's saying that, I don't want to meet them.