Giorgio Moroder (Part 2)
... Leaning and lurching elsewhere, I ask Moroder his opinion of 'Midnight Express', a film that has been mauled for its supposedly extreme portrayal of the Turkish Penal system.
"Yes, I too found some of the scenes a little exaggerated - but, you know, it is a movie. Then again, if one was going to some South American or African countries, the situation there is not too far removed from those in the film. Yes, perhaps it was a little hard on the Turks; the same things would probably happen in, say, Greece or Nigeria or anywhere.
"But I liked the film very much, though I don't like violence at all. I thought it was a good movie for young people to see. If they go to it and don't feel so inclined to smuggle drugs, then good. A preventative, yes, that is how I see it."
Dragging a wider net, I ask Moroder whether or not he considers the music industry itself to be lacking in certain 'moral' departments. He is, after all, one of its most successful sons.
"Well, this again is difficult, a grey area. When Donna toured in Italy not long ago, the press comment was very negative and critical of the luxury of her show, comparing it with the poverty in Italy. But that is the way of it. Donna worked for ten years and suffered a very hard life with her daughter - and some of this has come out in 'Once Upon A Time'.
"I don't know for sure. Every business is there to make money, and making a record is business. This tends to be forgotten by many. That is a fact of our lives and the way we live. Maybe it is right, maybe it is wrong. I am not a politician, I am a producer.
"At the same time I know that I myself worked very, very hard for seven or eight years without making anything back at all. I was losing much over my productions. And nowadays you need so much money to be able to launch a new artist, notably in America; you would hardly believe some of the sums involved.
"You also need an already successful roster of acts to establish yourself before you even begin thinking of something new. Even with Kiss, as you mention, you must never forget the work that goes into making them a success.
"There is more to that band than just four guys with faces painted to look like cats. Neil (Bogart, president of Casablanca Records, the US-based company handling both Kiss and Donna Summer) risked his professional standing to launch Donna and Kiss, all his savings over the years.
"But yes, maybe things have got too big..."
And punk? Could Moroder sympathise with its initially highly motivated attempts to re-establish a more intimate understanding between artist and audience?
"The visual side and the closeness, these I can understand. They are very important. But the results on record aren't so good because, as I hear them, so much of the sounds are rock and roll of ten or fifteen years ago. It's really nothing new - but perhaps I should not say too much about this because, I have to admit, I do not listen to much rock music.
"No, I would never be interested in producing a punk group myself as I probably wouldn't be able to feel this kind of music sufficiently well. I prefer to stay within the fields I am capable. Also, the punk lyrics, I have to admit that so many of them I can hardly understand at all. Nor do I know much about the social movement or the political life in England at the moment. I am reluctant to judge such things without being informed."
I can't help but counter that disco is hardly renowned for its lyrical concerns.
"I agree. But in both pop and disco, my main concerns, the meaning of the lyrics is not too important. I have nothing I feel I particularly want to say and, anyway, Pete writes most of our lyrics.
"This, I suppose, is in the nature of the music that we make. The lyrics are important in a certain aesthetic sense - they should have a nice and pleasing turn of phrase to them - but I think it would be stupid for us to try and tell people who are dancing in a discotheque about the problems of the world. That is the very thing they have come away to avoid."
But reggae is dancing music and makes political statements.
"I know. But I cannot change my skin, so to speak. It would not be honest or true for me to do so.
And the current political situation in Italy?
"Well, some of the industrial sections of Northern Italy - people are not at all happy there. Their life is not good. Somehow I can even understand why The Red Brigades are so successful, because they can have the support of people who are not heard by the politicians.
The Italian Communist Party?
"One thing is for sure, the communists in Italy are very different from the usual communist world and way. I guess they are just very left socialists. I am not sure what would happen if they were in power, but I think there wouldn't be too much of a difference..."
Because Italian politics seem so corrupt anyway?
"Exactly. There would be no more than a little change. Not only is the government in Italy corrupt, but the whole system. You have to do the best for yourself and that is it. If you want to buy a car, you have to bribe someone to get a licence in ten days instead of two months.
"Yes, it is all over - 'endemic' as you say. As for Germany, to me, a foreigner, the situation seems mainly OK. Most people have good living standards and the Baader Meinhof have not the support that is given to the Brigades in Italy. There is not, I think, the need."
Giorgio Moroder is a self-made man, and not ashamed of it. He readily admits he's been "very lucky", but knows his worth. "En Route Moroder' (On the Moroder Road), his associates at Oasis say, describing the constant debilitating commuting Moroder's schedules force him to undertake between Munich, London, New York, Los Angeles and, not as often as he would like, his home in Switzerland ("I live there not for tax reasons, but because I like it there").
Moroder sees himself primarily as an entertainer and rejects interpretations of his work as Art, preferring to believe that he is merely producing music that caters for a genuine popular demand.
"Generally I don't think there is too much art involved in what I do. I would not, however, be happy to do what I do unless I felt that the large audience wanted it. But I do know that I achieved something specially different with 'Love To Love You Baby' and 'I Feel Love'. These songs will endure. They might even be hits again in ten years time.
"I can't explain my own success very well. It surprises even me sometimes. I seem somehow to have this ability to make everything right and put it in order - lyrics, melody, singer, arranger, all these factors.
"Yes, sometimes we aim things at a certain audience. We did make Roberta's second album around an astrological theme because she wanted to and because we know the Americans are crazy about Astrology.
"Donna's appeal? She is, of course, a beautiful woman, but I guess it is the whole production, the package that matters more. In fact most of this presentation aspect is due to Casablanca, not so much to Pete and me. Together though, them and us, we seem to have found a way to give an artist a worldwide appeal, to cover all the markets..."
Amanda Lear (Roxy Music 'For Your Pleasure' cover starlet and black leather'n'whip specialist responsible for a remarkably redundant disco escapade in this years 'Sweet Revenge') has been quoted as saying - in 'Rock et Folk' August '78 - that although Donna is "very gifted', she is "Completely manipulated. They make her sing ineptitudes".
"If that is her opinion, so may it be. Actually, Donna and Pete and I collaborate closely on many of our projects. Donna would not, I know, agree to something unless she wanted to do it in here heart.
"And now you talk of how they say that I, a white producer, should not make songs with a black girl. This is ridiculous", Moroder smiles, "nobody even knew I was white when 'I Feel Love' first came out. When I went to see Donna in performance in New York, the audience was all black, but nobody minded, there were no remarks about this to me. Personally, I am certainly not racist; I even like the British..."
Chuckles and more coffee all round.
"Although, I must say this", Moroder proceeds apace, "that disco does work good or better with black artists or players. They just feel it more. It is as I say about disco becoming the soul and R&B of now - these are both black music and so it is important to involve black people in making them, very important. It is their right, so to say.
"And why do I always work with women? Maybe this has something to do with disco. Obviously there are some artists like The Village People and Sylvester who are working for the gay male audience, and others like The Tramps and The Commodores who are male anyway... I don't know...
"Sexism? These arguments are beyond me. Personally I consider women to be the same as men. I am deeply fond of my girlfriend, who is herself very understanding of me and how I have to work so much."
But, Jill Furmanovsky offers, would you work with a group as readily as with an artist fronting your own pool of musicians, over whom you can presumably exercise a more complete control?
"Yes, if I were to find a disco group who could play by themselves, I would produce them. It is, I feel, becoming a bit boring to work with the same musicians over and over again - another little problem for me, if you like.
"So far Sparks are the only group I have worked with in a quite different way. They approached me about a year ago, wanting to do more electronic things. Only the drums and the voices on the album we have made are natural. In fact, this is an important step for me because I think this is one of the first albums I have made that can be properly enjoyed at home, not only on the dance floor. It is not strictly a disco sound at all. I like it very much; they were very good, very intelligent and imaginative guys to work with."
The fruits of the collaboration between Moroder and Ron and Russell Mael (Sparks) will be released early in the New Year. 'No. 1 In Heaven' features six songs, four co-written with Moroder: 'Tryouts For The Human Race', 'Academy Award Performance', 'La Dolce Vita', 'Beat The Clock', 'My Other Voice' and 'The Number one Song In Heaven'.
The set will provide any stragglers (like myself) concerned at the vacillating fortunes of the Brothers Mael with their most compulsive - and propulsive - encouragement since Sparks' scintillating 1974 Island Records debut 'Kimono My House'. Suffice to say, the album is as decisive a freefall for Moroder as it is for Sparks.
Meanwhile Moroder ponders his, and his peers', newfound producer power.
"Our role in recording disco is becoming more and more important. The actual sound is uppermost now. In this respect we are, I guess, likely to be criticised but honestly I really see not much difference between our way and that of someone like Phil Spector. Both our intentions and our artists are different from rock musicians who write and play all their own material, so we cannot be taken in the same way.
"Which producers do I respect? This guy Chinn (of Chinnichap) is good - with Nick Gilder's 'Hot Child In the City' he is both commercial and sophisticated, the best balance. Also, Billy Joel's producer, Phil Ramone, he is very special. One sound I loved though, this was Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band; they have split, but were so new, so polished, so well done.
"Whom am I wanting to produce? Barbra Streisand or Diana Ross. Because they are the best. I am dreaming, of course..."
And when, if at all, will the disco bubble burst?
"That I just can't say", Moroder shrugs expansively, "my own aim now is to make extremely good disco songs with that little bit extra. But, whatever may happen, it's really hard to believe that in five years' time nobody will want to dance.
"Maybe they are bringing back the tango or the waltz. Who is knowing? Not me."
Pause. Moroder checks his watch, realises he is half an hour late for a mixing session, lets Jill snap him downstairs in the studio before courteously absenting himself elsewhere.
But let me tell you something. Meeting Moroder and finding him as straightforward and pragmatic about his work encouraged me. Enormously.
I had baulked at the prospect of the interview - for fear of having him confirm that the 'disko' mind-priests were right after all, that, yes, 'I Feel Love' was intended as a piercingly incisive commentary on Man and Machine and Modernity.
There will, I suppose, always be those who feel the need to rationalise. We westerners think too much. But how, as our own Danny Baker has pointed out, can anyone reasonably expect to review disco sitting down?
Of course there's as much, maybe more, bad, carelessly and shoddily conceived disco as there is good. But so what? The same could be said of rock, funk, soul, jazz even, whatever. Amanda Lear, for instance, with all her inane gobbledygook about 'intellectualising' disco, is as (s)exploitative as, let's see now, any pseudo-punk poseur (and we must repeat: Amanda Lear is big in Italy and Germany).
Moroder's approach to disco has something in common with Parlia-funkadlic-ments consciously radical debunking of funk. It doesn't take itself too seriously. It is, I believe, fundamentally positive, subversive even.
Naturally Moroder is doing very nicely for himself but, as intimated earlier, his sense of responsibility for his work and his insistence on maintaining standards puts many supposedly 'aware' and 'concerned' rock artists to shame.
Moroder's own public contribution deserves a far fairer, and less fanciful, hearing than it has hitherto received in critical circles. Or maybe it doesn't matter. Like, say, Northern Soul, so much disco is direct-inject from factory floor to dance floor, bypassing the critical grill and grid.
Disco? Giorgio Moroder? It's too late to be hateful. It's not too late to be grateful.
This interview appeared originally
in the New Musical Express, December 1978, with whom copyright resides.
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