Saturday, October 24, 2009

Interview: DOUG FIEGER - His Sharona

Friday, August 24, 2007 

My Sharona. Quite a song. Though not quite one-hit wonders, that song would drive you mad if you were the one who wrote it right? Every Rough Traders' rip-off, Simpsons piss-take and half-arsed metal cover? "Hey, it is what it is. I'm happy that I've had the success I've had because of it, it would be nice if people recognised the other songs, but it does what we wanted it to do and that is make people happy," so says songwriter, singer, guitarist and general all-round LA legend Doug Fieger. And when one of those people is George W. Bush? Fieger laughs at the fact that My Sharona featured on the iPod gifted to the American president by his daughters last Father's Day. "I have no control over who listens to it, I would have put some back-masking in if I could: 'Resign', 'No War' that kind of thing," he grins.

Currently in the country as part of Countdown Spectacular 2 ("hey, they're paying well and I only have to play one song!"), he's philosophical and realistic about his role in the rock world as only one who has seen incredible success and lived through years of substance abuse can be. "I'm proud of the music and the band are better players now than we've ever been. I don't think there is much of a role for The Knack or anybody really in rock and roll nowadays. People have so many distractions, pop music doesn't have the power and importance it once had. We've been together 30 years next year and, to be really honest, nobody cares!" he says laughing. "I'm proud of every record we've made and I have no regrets though. If we released My Sharona today I don't think there would be any success. Radio wouldn't play it and people wouldn't hear it. It's a very different world now, and I don't really keep up with it. People aren't making music for me anymore, I haven't heard anything that particularly knocks my socks off for a long time. Jet were the last band I liked that I heard."

Though still friends (after courtship, engagement and estrangement) with the inspiration of the song Sharona Alperin (now an LA real estate agent), Fieger's songs of the time are often associated with young love and personal experiences. "That was a conscious effort," he explains. "We were writing from the point of view of our remembered adolescent selves. We wanted to tell the story of our lives and start it at that place and move as we went along. Rather than start from the age we were, I was 25, Berton [Averre, guitarist and co-writer] was 24, we made a decision to begin there. The last two albums (Normal As The Next Guy and Re-Zoom) aren't like that. Those songs are written from a much more mature standpoint."

This focus on the adolescence must make the songs even more poignant for Fieger to sing given his battle with lung cancer that began three and a half years ago. Spreading to the brain after being given the all-clear, four tumours were successfully removed from his brain last year after eleven months of chemotherapy. "They still scan me every three months, I'm taking an oral chemotherapy drug and I feel great. I performed while I was undergoing chemo and I'm performing now. I'm a tough motherfucker. It's going to take a lot more than cancer to kill me. I mean, I've been a vegetarian for 17 years, I used to smoke heavily over 20 years ago, cancer doesn't make me look at life differently now, it just gives me greater compassion for people who suffer or have health problems." No sense of encroaching spirituality then? "Man, I've read about a lot of different disciplines and you can open a lot of different doors, but behind all of those doors is the same path."

Known in LA as being somewhat of a guru to others battling with substance and alcohol addiction, Fieger says his only tactic is sharing information. "I tell people what I did. I've been clean and sober for a long time now, coming on 25 years, and people are gonna do what they're gonna do. I don't know what other people find my experience to be, but when someone has shared their experience with you, you instantly have a means of helping them. It's another thing entirely to have a junkie or an alcoholic tell you what a doctor would. I make the connection." A musician who listed My Sharona as one of his favourite songs of all time called on Fieger's help to overcome his problems. "I was supposed to have talked to Kurt Cobain. He was a big Knack fan, and these friends of mine who knew him at the recovery house he went to lined up a meeting for us. Unfortunately he went AWOL before I could reach him, and a few weeks later he was gone."

This time round Fieger hopes to remember a little more than last time he was in Australia. "It was 1979 we were last there. I was imbibing heavily retrospect I guess I was gaining experience. I do remember playing Melbourne and Sydney and having a great time. We played Countdown and a few other shows. I remember it because Sharona had just hit number one in the States when we arrived."

It all comes back to Sharona. That Fieger can be so calm about pulling the song out night after night speaks volumes of a man at ease with life. Though Berton (who Doug refers to as "one of the most underrated and overlooked musicians of his generation") and he wrote it in 1978, that it can still - as with 1994 reissue with the film Reality Bites - jump through generations and fire people up within seconds of it's opening chords is a rare thing. Spectacular, in fact.

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