ELLIOTT MURPHY’S FICTIONALIZED HISTORY
He has had four albums released: Aquashow, Lost Generation, Night Lights and Just A Story From America. His articles and interviews have appeared in various magazines including Rolling Stone and Circus. He wrote the liner notes for the Velvet Underground’s live 1969 album. His name is Elliott Murphy. He is a writer.
JEFFREY MORGAN: There’s a line in “Hollywood” that goes: “Hollywood, you’ve shaped my life like a Technicolor carving knife” and another one in “Deco Dance” that “the past is the only thing that survives.” Somewhere between those two lines is a summation of what you’re all about. I don’t see your albums as individual albums as much as I see them as different acts in one giant play wherein different characters from history and popular culture wander in and make cameos. There’s hardly anybody you haven’t mentioned: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Brian Jones, Patti Smith, Isadora Duncan–
ELLIOTT MURPHY: I’ve got to write some more about Brian Jones. I’m not through with him yet. I believe in fictionalized history. Rock ‘n’ roll should tell history, too.
MORGAN: In your songs you don’t seem to want to let people forget. You always keep on bringing up the past and putting it in front of your listeners.
MURPHY: That’s real interesting; that’s real true. I’ve never thought about that.
MORGAN: You’re a fan and you don’t try 46 to hide it, do you?
MURPHY: Yeah, I’m a real fan. consider myself a third generation-I mean, if you consider the first generation were people like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and the second generation was The Beatles and Rolling Stones and Dylan, then I’m definitely third generation and I never think that I’m in competition with that second generation. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m really influenced by them.
I believe in historical rock. See, I mean, someone like Brian Jones: if rock ‘n’ roll people don’t write songs about Brian Jones and sing about Brian Jones, how is anyone going to remember him? I’ve talked to sixteen-year-old kids and asked them who Brian Jones was and they don’t know. But they know who the Rolling Stones are. So maybe it’s my duty. I always write about the same thing. I mean, any good author really writes about the same thing. It’s like fatalistic romanticism: you know there’s not going to be a happy ending but you keep hoping for it.
MORGAN: Around the time of Lost Generation you wrote a biography where you said that you worked as an extra in Fellini’s Roma. How did that come about?
MURPHY: As soon as I got out of school, when I was seventeen, I started traveling. I lived in Key West, Florida for a while ’cause I always liked these authors and I always wanted to go where they went. That’s where Hemingway used to live. Then I went over to Europe with just a couple of hundred dollars and I ran out of money very quickly.
Luckily, I found this agent for movie actors and I told him that I could ride horses. I told him that I was a cowboy actor; that I’d been in Rawhide for years and years as an extra. At the time they were making all of those spaghetti westerns but he said that they weren’t making any Clint Eastwood westerns then; the only thing they were doing was Fellini, so I was taken out to do an interview with him. They stuck me in a room and Fellini opened the door about an inch and just looked in for about ten minutes. Just so I could see his face and know he was looking. He just had me sit there in his office and squirm like I was under a microscope-he never came into the room, never said anything-and that’s how I got the job. I was hired as an extra, which is how he hires everyone.
After the film, however, I decided that I didn’t want to be an actor. I had a couple of other films lined up ’cause I had blond hair and they were making all these Nazi movies at the time like The Damned and The Conformist. They wanted me to get my hair cut, though, and I wouldn’t do it. Besides, after one film I was already fed up with the whole movie industry so I came back to the States for a little while.
MORGAN: How did you end up doing the liner notes for the Velvet Underground’s 1969 album?
MURPHY: Well, Paul Nelson, who was working at Mercury, was really the guy who discovered me at the Mercer Arts Center. He asked me to do it and I did ’cause I’d always been a Velvet Underground fan.
MORGAN: So that’s how you got in Circus doing the interview with Lou Reed about Metal Machine–
MURPHY: Yeah! No, by that time I had become friends with Lou–which was probably my biggest mistake. I’d met Lou for a few times in New York but never really knew him. Then one day my Mother called me up and she said: “This young man just called here looking for you. Really nice young gentleman named Louis Reed and I talked to him for about half an hour. He left this number for you to call.”
Lou can really be a great guy. To call Lou Reed a great guy just sounds crazy, but he can be very normal. He grew up a mile from where I grew up. He’s from Freeport, Long Island and I’m from Garden City, so we sort of come from the same place-not mentally. I don’t think Lou’s seen daylight in years. Lou has great theories, though. Like how polluted air is really good for you; that his body had adapted itself to it.
MORGAN: The way I understood it, Lou was going to produce your third album. What happened?
MURPHY: We were going to do it in the RCA studios up here with Lou, but then Lou got a little crazy. He got more involved with Sally Can’t Dance and I really wanted a change of weather so I went out to California. Another big influence on me has always been The Doors. Jim Morrison I think is one of the only real poets in rock ‘n’ roll.
MORGAN: With all of your influences, do you ever wonder who Elliott Murphy really is? Do you ever look into a mirror and see a central core there?
MURPHY: My whole life I’ve always been shocked when I look into a mirror, it’s an odd- I think, maybe, if anything, I’m a journalistic rock ‘n’ roller.
MORGAN: Still searching yourself out?
MURPHY: Still searching.
– previously unpublished, 1977
Jeffrey Morgan’s book Rock Critic Confidential is available on Amazon.