INTERVIEW: Elliot Schneider
Hi Elliot, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Hello, Vents Magazine. I feel very honored that you want to interview me. I’m a big fan of your magazine.
Can you talk to us more about your song “The Moon Has Flown Away”?
“The Moon Has Flown Away” is the opening cut on my new album, “Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basketcase.” Even before the official release of the album, the song started to chart on radio stations in Germany, Scotland and Canada. It was first played on Radio Caroline, the infamous Pirate Radio Station that changed the face of British rock & roll history in 1964. The BBC Radio Merseyside in Liverpool has started playing the CD too–sort of like British Invasion in reverse. My favorite rock band in Italian history, Cirrone, sings the angelic three-part harmonies on the song. Elliot Mazer, who produced “Harvest” by Neil Young and the music for “The Last Waltz” by The Band fell in love with this song and called me often during the the time we were mixing it. My beloved Carmen Castro is also my keyboard player; and Brad Barth (who plays keyboards in ‘Gamma’, the band formed by Ronnie Montrose) is my genius recording engineer. The three of us produced, “Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basketcase.”
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
The inspiration for the lyrics of the song came from a few sources. I often used to think: If there was no moon, there would be no waves in the ocean; if there were no waves, there would be no surfers. Thus there would be “Beach Boys’ or any other surf bands. And on a more serious front, I have been saddened that since 1972 humanity has barely traveled beyond the atmosphere of the earth. Between 1969 and 1972 we practically danced on the surface of the moon, a dream since caveman pondering the mysteries of the night sky. In 1903 men first flew in machines that were heavier than air. 66 years later we pranced on the moon and even played golf there. After 3 years we gave up that dream. Since 1972, 45 years have gone by without our truly exploring space beyond low orbit. And yet it was only 66 years from Kitty Hawk to Armstrong touching the surface of Luna. Regardless of how you feel about the space program, I made this a metaphor for dreams deferred. The idea that human beings can give up on their dreams and inner visions saddens me a great deal. And this song really is a call for all of us to be inspired to try to make these dreams a reality: to never give up the most essential part of ourselves. Without our dreams, we all die inside a bit more every day. I want to live–to truly live before I die. Life is an ineffable mystery. I am awed that I wake up each morning a conscious creature on this green blue sphere we inhabit.
Any plans to release a video for the track?
My son Elliot Cole Schneider works teaching film to young adults with disabilities in San Diego. (I call him Cole to avoid confusion.) Cole is autistic and I truly believe Joey Travolta–John’s older brother who in NOT a Scientologist—saved his life with Joey’s special Film Camps for children with disabilities. Cole was school phobic and rarely left the house. But after working with Joey Travolta and then enrolling in his school for adults, Cole was hired to teach other people with similar conditions as my son. When the TODAY show did a special segment on Joey and his special programs, the largest segment other than Joey himself was about my son Elliot Cole Schneider. Cole even appeared at the White House during the last months of President Obama’s administration. Naturally I’m looking forward to Cole making the video for, “The Moon Has Flown Away.” My son is living his own dream just as Carmen and I am.
The song comes off your new album Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basketcase – what’s the story behind the title?
The title of my new album is an aphorism I’ve been spouting since the late Sixties. In fact my last three albums have been aphorisms I invented in the Sixties. Before “”Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basketcase” I released “Better A Fool Than Aloof.” And before that, “If Looks Could Kill, I’d Wear Mirror Sunglasses.” The title cut from that one got me international airplay; people seemed to get very excited about the video too. It led to my live performance on the BBC Radio Merseyside.
How was the recording and writing process?
My tendency is to pick up my guitar and have a song pour out of me whole cloth within a half hour. Rather like how Athena popped out of the head of Zeus. But on occasion I have started a song, tabled it and then finished it decades later. In this millennium the recording process has been a love affair with my my family of musicians, my truly beloved Carmen Castro–and my wondrous recording engineer Brad Barth. Brad is like my own personal George Martin although I did produce all my albums till this one; our new release is, of course, co-produced by Brad, Carmen and me.
The album has an undoubtedly classic rock and roll sound – was that all intentionally made?
I was born in 1947. The Beatles exploded during my Senior year in high school the month after JFK was assassinated. Young people in the U.S. poured our grief and insanity into all this and transmuted it into a more gorgeous form of divine madness: Beatlemania. British invasion altered all our lives in ways that are hard to convey if you weren’t young at that particular time and space. I breathed in that music: The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, the Who; and I merged with it. It was then I first joined bands and was really an apprentice learning the forms of my trade from people much more expert than me. Across time I suppose I graduated into the vision I have today.
Were you drawn inspiration for the music on this record? I can hear some The Church and New Order in it.
My sources of inspiration are varied; Besides the Beatles and Stones, I was very excited by the Incredible String and The Jefferson Airplane. People sometimes say they hear a bit of Elvis Costello in me; I do admire him a lot but he was never really an influence since I’m years older than him; rather he and I had the same influences actually. I’ll have to listen to The Church and New order to see what you mean. You’ve got me very curious.
What aspect of tragedy and other aspect of your life did you get to explore on this record?
My mother died of breast cancer when I was two. She was only twenty-seven. She got cancer when I was one. My earliest memories are of life and death. In response I lived passionately every moment. Instead of waiting until my sixties, I retired in my twenties and thirties when I was young enough to really enjoy it. My father, perhaps the most amazing man I ever knew–and I met Dylan and Elvis and even played guitar at the feet of Les Paul in his living room–my dad died at 48 of a heart attack–actually a broken heart–when I was 27. When I got breast cancer like my mother in 2005 I almost didn’t make it. The cancer reached a lymph node under my arm. But I survived and fell in love with Carmen Castro and my life completely changed in rather ecstatic ways.
Oh, yes–Les Paul… In the summer of 1969 when men first set foot on the moon, I met Les Paul in Chicago. I was visiting the daughter of his former drummer Tommy Rinaldo. Mr. Paul was both warm and sardonic. He invited me to travel back to New York with him, “Ten Years After” and Dusty Springfield. Strangely enough, I said, “thanks, but I can’t,” and so he gave me his card and invited me to his home in Mahwah, New Jersey.
I played guitar for Les Paul in his living room in 1970. He wanted to produce my song, “First Day Of Summer.” Alas I took an LSD trip that lasted a month—my last acid trip—and wound up 3,000 miles away in La-La Land. Forty-seven years later I finally recorded that song. (Along with “The Moon Has Flown Away,” this album is quite magical to me.) Since I met Les Paul as men were first setting foot on the moon, that almost brings us full circle.
Any plans to hit the road?
At the moment, I am more tempted to start recording my next album rather than hitting the road. (I have always loved performing but there are new songs pouring out of me that I need to lay down.) In my past, well– On December 15, 1979 my band Elliot Schneider and the Pitts was the third band in history to debut at CBGB’s on a Saturday night. (Patti Smith, the Talking Heads, Blondie and Television were some of the debut artists.)
And I loved our tour of the UK we did a couple of years ago, even playing live on the BBC Radio Merseyside in Liverpool. If the right situation presents itself, though,of course I will grab my magical musicians and go wherever the wind whispers we should wander next.
What else is happening next in Elliot Schneider’s world?
I have lived for love and traveled the planet, Peter Pan masquerading as Captain Hook but always being Elliot.
Every day I try to feel ecstatic. The moment is immortal even if we are not. I can live with the fact that I’m going to die. I’ve never waited for the Afterlife—I live now. I’m still going to die and yet the world is still thrilling me. If we spend our life fearing death, we never live at all. My purpose in life has always been to really live before I die. There are stories I still want to tell. When death finds me, I’ll be kicking, gouging and scratching all the way. If I could live forever, I would. How could you be bored with the universe all around you?
So I ask you: Is there life after birth?