The Hot Seat: David Fricke, Rolling Stone US

Published in The Music Network


David Fricke is a rare breed among music journalists; he’s as recognisable as most of the rockers he interviews. Even to the casual music fan, the New Yorker is easily spotted as the shaggy- haired regular on rock documentaries. But to the more discerning of music anoraks, Fricke is considered one of the finest living American music critics. Fricke has a storied career with Rolling Stone magazine, dating back to 1979 when he reviewed Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti. Countless column-inches have followed. His interviews with the likes of Patti Smith, Metallica and late Kurt Cobain are mandatory reading. TMN caught up with the storyteller after he delivered the keynote speech at the AMP.

Will you champion some of those nine AMP shortlisted albums you were exposed to?
I’ll certainly tell people about them. I’ve already written about The Jezabels. I liked the Jezabels record so much I told my editor I’d review it. I told him all the background – they were touring here, that the record was coming out. They got a four-star review in Rolling Stone. When Gotye starts blowing-up, I’m sure we’ll cover that in some way; whether it’s me, or someone who can bring another perspective to it. Kimbra will get attention. I’m hoping the Adalita record and the Abbe May record will get some legs abroad.

Are Australian acts under-represented in the United States?
Only in the sense that we’ve got so many of our own, it’s hard to keep it straight. There’s so much of everything, everywhere. It’s always going to be difficult for an Australian band, even if they’ve got the wind in their backs like Gotye. He did sell out the Bowery Ballroom. But people were down at that club the next night to see somebody else. It’s always been hard for Australian bands because the distance is an issue and what plays here may not play there. Getting music to people, the Internet is great but live performance is where it’s at.

One of the things you learn is how much you’ve got, and how much you’ve got to give when you’re up there performing in front of people. If you’re playing for five people and you can do that, then by the time you get to 5,000, you’ll have it nailed. But it takes time and commitment. The distance is a disadvantage, but it hasn’t defeated you before. If you want to do it badly enough, you will. And when you do it, we’ll know it.

I’m often told, the media of the future will comprise press officers and bloggers – hacks and flacks. Will journos still be paid for their words?
The world always needs writers. People will always need someone to express something they can’t express themselves. I relied on music writers to tell me about things that excited me but didn’t always know about or entirely understand. I got a view on the world from them to excite me enough to want to do more than just get a degree and a job in an office. They inspired me to do more. That’s the best thing writers can do. Whether we get paid for it, how we’re going to be paid for it, nobody knows. Anybody who says there won’t be any music critics in ten years, come back in ten years and tell me that. If I’m still here writing, then you’re wrong. If I’m not still here, then so what. I’m dead.

Are you wary of keeping a distance in your friendships with artists?
My relationships with people are defined by my commitment and honesty. They know I’m not going to tell them something I don’t believe. And if I’m enthusiastic, there are reasons for it and they’re genuine. It’s not like I have to be careful about what I say or how I feel about something. They know it’s true. My independence is pretty obvious.

Who’s the most rock ‘n’ roll person you’ve met?
Ha. Probably the most rock ‘n’ roll person on the planet is Keith Richards. Anything you think you’ve done, he’s done already and he’s finished with it. At the same time, he has incredible passion for what he does, for his music and the way he articulates it. He still does it, he’s defied every bullshit known to man, and he refuses to give up. That’s rock ‘n’ roll. He survives. Iggy, David Johansen from the Dolls. They’ve survived. Whatever they did, however much they did was dumb, they survived. Lou Reed, he survived. And look at the body of work. Even if he’d stopped with the first Velvet Underground record, we’d still talk about him. He did some crazy stuff, but he survived. That’s the best revenge.

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