The life of Bryan
What with all the celebrity photographs, you might think Bryan Adams is giving up on music. But as he releases his first album in four years, he says he just wants to be a singer in a band.
Monday July 8, 2002
Bryan Adams, aka the Big BA, is a soft-rock legend. There was loose talk of him being the new Bruce Springsteen in the early 80s, but even though he wore a tight white T-shirt it was never going to happen. He has been responsible for any number of epic ballads, most famously Everything I do (I Do It For You), which topped the charts for a record-breaking 16 weeks.
The big BA, as his publicist calls him, is surprisingly small. Tiny, in fact, and skinny. He's known as an everyday kind of guy, and tells me he would have rather done the interview in a little caff near his place in Chelsea. But it hasn't been possible with his imposing schedule so we make do with a suite in the Conrad Hilton.
On the table in front of us there is an unopened box of chocolates and bottle of wine. The Big BA asks if I'd like a glass of wine. Hey, I'm going to enjoy this! Rock'n'roll!! But it turns out that he's joking. He orders a cup of herbal tea. His PR asks if I'd like a cuppa.
"Coffee?" I ask timidly.
"He'll be fine with tea," the big BA says quietly, decisively.
Last week I saw him interviewed on the Brian Conley show. He looked so unhappy to be there as the prop for Conley's lousy jokes. He refused to smile. "I thought he was real cock," he says. Did he tell Conley he was a cock? "No, you're going to tell him for me." He speaks in short, stabbing sentences. He seems wary, defensive, suspicious of questions. Suspicious of conversation itself.
Perhaps Adams has been a victim of his own success. After Everything I Do his name became shorthand for a certain kind of gloopy naffness. Has the song become an albatross? He looks astonished. "How could it be an albatross? It's a moving piece of music and it's international. Everybody around the world got that song."
But did it become an albatross in that it changed... He pre-empts the question. "...Changed people's perception of me?" Yes, did the song turn him into boring Bryan? "Perhaps, yeah," he says. "I never see it like that." I ask him if there is anything he still wants to achieve in music. He thinks, and says no.
Recently, he has enjoyed a second career as a celebrity photographer, and earlier this year snapped the Queen for her golden jubilee. I tell him I liked his portrait of the Queen. "Did you really?" he says tersely. What was she like? "It's very hard to say. Everybody asks that question." OK, then, was she a cock or a not-cock? "Not cock. On the contrary, very sweet. She was very nice to me, made me comfortable."
Adams, 42, has just released his first new record in four years - the soundtrack to the animated film Spirit. Why it has taken him so long - is he edging away from music? "That's a very deep question, isn't it?" When he started out at A&M, his record company, it was tiny, and now it has been swallowed by big companies who have been swallowed by even bigger companies. He says he doesn't feel as if he belongs anywhere. "I used to bring my record in and they'd say, 'Great, we'll put it out.' It was nice to know that it was a family."
He talks about the importance of family in more general terms, and how he would like his parents, both of whom are English, to come back and live in England. I had come across an old story claiming that Adams had had a horrific childhood, and had been beaten regularly by his father. I've never seen the subject referred to since, but I'm surprised when he talks with warmth about his dad.
Your father sounded like a monster, I say. "Hee!Hee!" But he's not really laughing. "My father's a character." He sounded like an abuser. "No," he says adamantly. "You've got a very Sun version of what my life was like. That was all fabricated. I don't know where it came from." Really? "Yeah, absolutely." Did you demand an apology? "No, I never reply to things like that. This is the first time I've spoken about it." The more he talks, the more it emerges that there was little to correct.
I tell him I'm confused because his mother was quoted as saying that she divorced his father because he was violent. "I mean it was never done in a way..." Adams stutters. "I mean, like, having a smack is not something that was particularly unusual growing up. I just never thought it was unusual." In her divorce papers his mother wrote: "He [her husband] would chase him [Bryan] around the house brandishing any weapon that came to hand, shoe stick, belt with buckle, tools." Adams claims his mother exaggerated.
His father, a former military man turned UN diplomat was always on the move. Adams grew up in a variety of countries - Canada, Britain, Israel, Portugal, Korea, Japan. Is it true that he was sent to a psychiatrist three times a week when he was 12? "I don't remember going three times a week. My parents sent me there because I didn't dig them. I wasn't talking to them." Why not? "Because they were always arguing with each other. I was so into my music at the time. I would literally lock the door, put my records on and play guitar, and just not talk to them because they were freaks."
His father hated the thought of Adams becoming a musician, and tried to beat the dream out of him. "One day the psychiatrist said to me: 'Bryan, I want you to know something. You're here talking to me, but actually it's not you who should be here, there's nothing wrong with you. It's your parents who should be here.'"
Was his father as militaristic as his mother had portrayed him? I do a screaming Full Metal Jacket impression - " Adams! Get down for breakfast, you son of a bitch !"
"Well, you know, he's a Sandhurst boy..." he says.
After his parents divorced he didn't see his father for 12 years. He left school at 15 and started hanging with the bad boys. "My worst time on drink and drugs was early years, pre-16." Did he do class-A drugs? "I really don't want to go into details. I was hanging out with a bunch of people who were pretty much going, y'know, on the highway to hell." He laughs nervously. Was he injecting heroin? "No. No, I never did that... We've been down the little road, of you know, whatever was available in those times... We were all on the highway to hell."
How did he get off drugs? "I was arrested and thrown in jail, and my mum came and got me out. I remember sitting with the sergeant at the time, and he said, 'Your mum's come to pick you up, and when you go out there I want you to go and look at her and see how unhappy you are making her.' And I went outside and looked at her, and thought, oh yeah, I can't do this to her anymore." He thinks it was the drugs that left his face pockmarked. "It reminds me of that time. That's why I've never done anything to change it, because I just figure it's part of my character, it's what happened to me."
Ten years ago, Adams decided to seek out his father. "I remember sitting in LA just after my second album and I saw some really crappy emotional father-son story on television, and I said' 'Shit, I've got to call my dad, I've got to find him'. So I phoned London and they said no, he was in Korea. So I phoned Korea and they said no, he was in Japan. So I phoned Japan and his first reponse was [he barks in a posh British accent], 'Where the devil are you?' I said, 'Well, ironically, I'm going to be in Japan next week, let's have dinner.' And in one night 10 years evaporated. It was amazing."
Didn't he want to scream at him? "No waaaay, man! It was the sweetest, sweetest day. I'll never forget it. He walked into this hotel room and suddenly this guy I used to looked up to was the same size as me and there was nothing but embraces and tears."
In what way had he looked up to him? "Physically," he says instantly.
Adams has never married or had children. Maybe his experience of family has made him more reluctant to start his own? "Well, that's a very deep question," he says. "I don't know if I can answer that, I don't know."
There were rumours recently that he was dating the actress Pamela Anderson. He grins, and says it wasn't true. "I was taking photographs of her and she made a comment, 'Oh, I think I'd like to have Bryan Adams as my boyfriend.' Just a giggle." So he didn't take her up on it? "No, I didn't. I didn't fancy Tommy Lee banging on the door at three in the morning, thank you very much. Tommy's a friend of mine so I never wanted to get in between that kind of thing; that's just too big."
He returns to the subject of family, and says how happy he is to have extended the olive branch. "You asked me about family - well, that answers it doesn't it." He looks pleased with himself, seems happy to talk about anything now. "You asked me another question about whether I had any goals. You know what I really would like to do. I always just wanted to be the singer or the bass player in the band. I'd love to have a band, where I was obviously the singer, but where it wasn't me, it wasn't my name. That's why you never see anything about me. I've never been enamoured by the idea of being a celebrity. When Everything I Do was number one for four months, I don't think I did one interview. All I wanted to do was have a band." Why not advertise? "Yes," he says enthusiastically. "You know, singer looking for a group. that would be great," I tell him that we'll do anything we can to help.