I stopped taking drugs [in 1983]. There were a lot of things that led up to it. One thing was that a lover died. An ex of mine died in a car wreck and I was really trashed when I found out about it and I couldn't cry. I woke up the next morning and I said, "That's it," so I quit then. It was horrible.
I was a teenager, we were pretty much fully indoctrinated, thanks to sexual scare tactics. I remember so many public-health commercials with a B-actor in a fake alley background warning us to use protection or telling us the only real safe choice was abstinence. We were highly frightened of sex from day one. There was no free-swinging '90s.
I had to get a driver's license and drive to St. Louis to find the punk-rock scene that was happening there. And there was a punk-rock scene. It was sweet. It was real. It was like everywhere else in the county. It was a handful of people who were feeling the same pull, and, of course, it was like the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer . Just the freaks, the fags, the fat girls, the unbelievable eccentrics .
I started lip-synching with "Losing My Religion." There were a few horrendous mistakes we made, but I own those mistakes. I'm embarrassed by them. I always say when I look back at anything I've ever done, it's with equal dollops of humiliation and triumphant glory.
Punk-rock records came out and you bought whatever you could find. But Devo didn't happen for another three years. Sex Pistols didn't tour the States until '78. At that time, for me, it was really about CBGB, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Television.
I've never written a song that's hopeless. I'm not a hopeless person. I'm crazily optimistic. I crazily see the good in people. I crazily see the way out of a terrible situation. I crazily try to be the diplomat. If there are two warring factions in my life, I want them to agree to disagree at the very least.
I knew [Kurt Cobain] and his daughter. And Courtney [Love] came and stayed at my house. R.E.M. worked on two records in Seattle and Peter Buck lived next door to Kurt and Courtney. So we all knew each other. I reached out to him with that project as an attempt to prevent what was going to happen.
By the time [of modern] generation was coming of age sexually, there was already this idea of safe sex. But that didn't exist for me. I came out of the free-swinging '60s and '70s. It was free love, baby. That was it. We had very liberal sex-ed classes in 1973, a yearlong environmental science class, and then Women's Lib and Gay Liberation. So it's insane to go from that to Reagan and AIDS. It was like, "What happened? Where's my future?"
I distinctly remember a conversation with my band in the van where I was having a complete meltdown. It was 1984, I think, and I was huddled in the back corner of our van and saying, "I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this." I didn't want to play any more shows. I just wanted to stop.
I was vegetarian, trying to eat from fast-food restaurants without meat. I didn't know how to eat properly and I was starving. I was adrenalized to the eyeballs from performing. I was afraid that I was sick with AIDS. We were playing five shows a week. I even went through a period of abstinence where I didn't drink and stopped having sex. Which is crazy. Maybe I'm answering too many questions at once here, but this is where my mind was at the age of 25.
By the time I was 18, I had absorbed punk rock from America, Britain, and the West Coast. All of it was so dark and weird and different and cool and hot and sexy and rebellious. It was a fist-in-the-air kind of rebellion that I wasn't getting from the '70s mainstream.
I came to New York for the first time with Peter Buck at age 19. We spent a week living out of a van on the street in front of a club in the West 60s called Hurrah. It's where Pylon played. I saw Klaus Nomi play there. And Michael Gira's band before he did Swans-they all wore cowboy boots and were so cool and had great hair. I was so jealous.