BILLY THORPE on "The Source

Radio Network"

w. John McGhan. 9/80

Re: "21st Century Man"



Billy, can you tell me what magazines you subscribe to?

Road & Track, Time, Architectural Digest, and Omni are probably the main ones.

Do you have a secret ambition?

Well, I've been in show business since I was ten years old and I think I've fullfilled most of my ambitions as I grew up in the industry. My immediate goal is to be able to do all the musical things I want to in America.

Are you a race car enthusiast?

Not really. I've got too much respect for flesh and blood - mine. I used to go to the track a lot and follow Formula racing. I knew many of the Formula drivers, guys like Brabham in Australia, but it's not something I've had any ambition to be involved in.

Success in one area allows freedom in another area. So many performers and actors are into Formula One.

Into actually racing? I play with Leleand Sklar, who's into rods and rails, and is a complete car freak. But I've seen too many people crack-up. If I were to put my future into going fast, I'd prefer a Lear to fly all over the world rather than go round in circles on a race track.

If you had only one week to live, how would you spend the time?

Probably pretty much as I'm spending it now. I've never been content with what I'm doing and where I am, but I'm emotionally very happy.

From my vantage point and the vantage point of your fans and album buyers, you would be considered a bit of a futurist. And your new album suggests that we are headed for destruction and that there is a cleaner, safer, better place to be.

I'm a futurist in the sense I'm not a static person. I don't like to live in yesterday, and am very much living in the now which gives you a healthy consideration of what is coming. To look at what's going on in the world today and not feel some threat of doom is terribly naive. And although "21st Century Man" is essentially fantasy, it is based on a story I read years ago by Nostradamus. Originally the first track, "1991" had the lyric, "The Eagle in despair, caught the Dragon in his lair/ And in one combined enormous blow, they killed the mighty Bear." It was about a war in which the Chinese and Americans fight the Russians.

I'm not a doomsday prophet or a fatalist, but given what's going on in our time right now, -an awareness of space and space exploration and the fact that you can turn on your television and see Jupiter and Mars - I think we are living in what used to be the "comic-book" future. It's now a reality. People are definately conscious of being outside the planet. In the sixties they were looking in themselves. In the seventies they were looking around. And now, they're looking out. It's an escapist mentality that's going on in the worlk right now.

That's an interesting concept: Looking around, Looking In, Looking out. Before we get into the specifics of the album, let's try to get further into who you are, why you are, and what you think. Do you think your parents did a good job of raising you?

Yes, I think they did a wonderful job mainly because they let me be. My mother waited ten years for me, so I was born an only child when they were in their forties. When I was nine, my parents moved to Australia in semi-retirement, where they had a shop. I was sitting in the back one day playing guitar when a woman walked in and said they were forming a new television station here in Brisbane. Would I like to be on it? It was just like that.

I was always very good at school, I was very lucky, and my parents saw the direction I wanted to go in. They allowed me to play music, so I was out playing gigs unchaperoned when I was ten and eleven with guys in their mid-twenties and thirties. At one point, I had to change my name because of a child protection law that had women running around pulling kids off stage.

Both my parents were very musical but were never very serious professionally. They were the antithesis of show business parents in as much as they stayed out of the way, but when I needed moral and financial support, I got it. I don't think I would have ever gotten into show business without their support.

Has there been anyone who particularly inspired you?

From Buckminister Fuller to Ravi Shankar to Krishna Murti to obscure people I've met and old people that I knew as a child. Every musician that I've seen that's been good has inspired me, but I've never been affected by anyone's style of music. In fact, I think my style is starting to come out now for the first time in my life. I've started to realize my programming and that my influences have varied from light classics to opera to musical comedy to heavy rock and roll to Presley rock and roll. No one person but a myriad of them.

Is there one record you would pick as your favorite?

Yes. Jerry Lee Lewis, "Great Balls of Fire." And it still turns me on. That, and the flip side, "Lovin Up A Storm."

Do you have the original, in Mono?

Yeah, I've got all that stuff. It had been out a long time when I got into music. But there was a country show called "Ranch Party" that we got in Australia when television first started. They were re-runs of shows shot here in the late 50's with Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Jo Mafis was the guitar player. I was influenced by Memphis hillbilly and rock and roll, living in a country 12,000 miles away in Australia. Those were my early roots.

I don't think there was anyone in that time period that wasn't influenced by that.

Well, in Australia, the influences are global. In America, you only get the hits from overseas, but in Australia, almost everything from Europe, England, and America is played on the radio.

This may seem a little wierd, but do you talk to plants?

I get a vibe from plants. I remember reading an article about a guy who developed a machine that read plane emotions. Plants reacted very friendly towards him and were frightened of others, and responded to music. I think plants definitely have a life and an aura and I feel very in tune with them, in a universal sense. When I was a kid, I went out and hunted kangaroos with rifles and shot snakes and lizards and lived in the bush. Now I very much regret those kinds of feelings about animals and plants. I've grown to have a very healthy attitude towards life which I think is all-important.

Do you feel that the Bible is actually God's words?

Because it was written by a man, no. The Bible is a very beautiful book, but I think it is an interpretation of someone's idea about what a doctrine and what a perfect live on Earth should be. I'm a-religious, and don't follow any particular doctrine, but I do believe in an all-powerful, all-encompassing force. What that force is, I don't know. I think that each man is entitled to his own God, and whatever that God is, I do have some form of belief in. But, whether it's the God spoken of in the New Testament, the God of the Jews, or Mohammed, I don't know.

Billy Thorpe, if you were granted one wish, what do you think it would be?

Probably for peace on Earth and the ability to be free. I think it would give me everything I want as an individual as well as give everybody else a good chance.

Let's move on to what we at "The Source" call a Mini-View. We'll talk about your new album, "21st Century Man," track by track. We're talking about the meaning, the direction, the flow of "1991." Side One begins and....

"1991" begins. The date doesn't have any special significance. It's in our time-frame, yet just out of it. This album is Part Two of a trilogy of which "Children Of The Sun" was Part One. That album wasn't set in any particular time-frame, but told the story of a visitation to Earth by a peaceful, loving, all-powerful race of extra-terrestrials called the Sun children. they arrived in a friendly, unthreatening way, and announced that anyone that wanted to go back to the Kingdoms of the Sun with them was welcomed to. Well, everybody left the planet and the last cut of the album ended with them all in space.

When we decided to follow that up with another album that was tied to it, my first task was to find a time-frame in which things would happen and a reason why it all happened. Why would everybody want to get into an armada of ships and fly away from Earth? There could never be any real-life couse, so I decided to stick with complete fantasy. The best explanation would, of course, be a catastrophe of some sort, and at the time I was writing, the Iranian crisis was going on and there was talk of an impending World War. I had also been wanting to do a story about the predictions Nostradamus made of a 26-year-long World War in the mid-1990's. So, I thought, well, how can I use waht I know of his predictions along with what I want to say?

So I chose the year 1991. It had a nice ring to it. And a World War that results in a nuclear holocaust. half the Earth and its population is destroyed, and the blast has set the planet in an orbit closer to the sun. For the first time in history, the entire world is united to save itself, but it's too late. It's at that point in time that the Children of the Sun, who have been watching mankind for millions of years, give everyone the opportunity to leave.

So the track "1991" summarizes what happened, why it happened, and in what time-frame it happened. And that sets up the entire album.

And "Solar Dawn"...

"Solar Dawn" is the first time you enter a first person narration by one of the central characters. It is his personal observation onboard ship of all the visuals and events of the flight. In the middle of the song, they're actually landing and making contact with the extra-terrestials on their home planet.

The name of the planet?

I designed this system that has seven planets revolving around a common sun, each one with its own moon orbiting. The central planet in this system is called Caledrus, and it is a crystal city - you'll actually see it on the back cover. I had been reading a lot about crystals and how they think many space structures will be built from hybrid crystals that can only be developed in non-gravity. We first devised the idea of crystal ships on "Children of the Sun," when I thought, "If this ever gets to a movie stage, I'd want something that was enormous, and really different-looking." And crystal, being reflective, has all those qualities.

With "Solar Dawn," I was trying to create an ambiance, without being too definite and describing everything, in which a kid can sit back with headphones on, listen to all these blasts, and the lyrics, and imagine for himself what Caledrus looks like. When it says "Crystal City," he asks himself "what does 'Crystal City' mean to me?" I wanted the same sort of creative space that is produced when you read a book, or listen to the radio and that you don't get when you see a film. I think there's one verse in there: "Now you can see the seven planets / They look like giant red balloons / Around a separate sun revolving / And each one with a separate moon / Straight ahead I see Caledrus / By a thousand times it dwarfs the rest / This living, breathing, crystal planet / this is the center of our quest." I was setting up the visual, and creating tension, because straight after it goes in to the landing, and there's the rocket blasts. "And it's landing in a blazing flash of light."

I got chills when I heard the landing.

Well, with that we're there, and the listener is there in this environment, wherever it is.

"We Were Watching You"...

"We Were Watching You" is the welcome, the greeting from the Children of the Sun to the Earth people. They tell them how they've watched for a million years as their stupid wars killed half the Earth, and Planet Earth was dying. They finally say, "The Kingdoms are yours now / So open up your Earthly hearts and we will show you how / Just step into another world, another place in time." And that finishes the first side of the album.

Essentially, the first side is: In 1991 we have a war; The Children of the Sun visit the Earth ten years later, around 2000; they fly away; "Solar Dawn" is the journey, the landing, and describes the new environment; "We Were Watching you" is the greeting, and it ends with an Earth Guy being blown away by all that is happening.

Is that guy Billy Thorpe?

Probably. In a fantasy. if there's anything I'd really like to do, it is to get out there in a space shuttle and just even orbit the Earth.

We're talking about "21st Century Man"...

We're at Cut 1, Side 2 of the album, and to keep the story cohesive, we need some from of emotional meeting beyond "space girl" meets "space boy." A space romance, but in a different and new way.

I had a lot of difficulty working when I came to America, because I'd never written any songs before. I was a singer, not a writer. So what I started doing was creating visual scenarios in my head. As opposed to writing a piece of music first, and then creating a film, I create the film in my head, and then try to put that into words.

So, I thought, if there was going to be a desireable character from Earth, there had to be a beautiful female from this planet. Who would she be? What would she look like? Would she be from the heirarchy of the space people? How would they meet and what would the outcome of that meeting be?

It is at this point where the central character who has gone through the experience of the first side starts to develop. He is chosen by the Sun Queen. he doesn't meet her, but is chosen. He's completely over-powered by this beautiful being. She takes him to her crystal palace, to her "velvet room on a bed of air" and makes love to him. And, he's totally seduced.

Without realizing it, I had created the Children of the Future, because a child born out of this relationship would be the first child of the two races. There would be a new race. And that sets up the next song which is, "She's Alive."

"She's Alive"...

In "She's Alive," I was trying to find a way to describe a birth - an obviously significant thing to all of us.

You did very well in the first verse.

"From a long dream, life is just beginning / It seems her time has arrived / She makes her entrance, and immediately cries."

I think that's my favorite line in the entire record because that is what happens.

You punctuated it well with the next line, "It's good to be alive."

I actually wrote it for one of my daughters. I was obviously inspired by her birth. It was always frustrating to me, you know, having two beautiful daughters, probably THE love of my life, and never being able to capture anything about them. I was writing these banal lyrics about trying to get a recording and publishing deal here in America, and Spencer said, "Forget about all that crap, and get down to what you really care about."

One night during "Children of the Sun," I sat in the studio with a mellotron and wrote most of the lyric. I told Spencer that I was really on to something, and wanted to put it on that album, but, unfortunately, we'd finished it. When the opportunity came to get it on this record, it was easy to relate it to the style and context of the other songs.

You obviously feel that the lyrics in this are very...

Yes, they're very personal.

That was "She's Alive." Where do we go from here?

Well, the daughter born from the union of the Sun Goddess and the 21st Century Man would have great significance. With her is born a new race, and it is with her that the hope and the building of a new universe lies. The next title, "Rise" is her generation or generations going out into the universe to settle new planets.

"Rise" is almost like an anthem.

Yes, and the development of an entirely new, peaceful race somewhere. It's "Rise, rise / Let the love in your heart be your eyes / Kings of the Sun / Rise, rise.."

The daughter born in "She's Alive" makes her enterance - "Spinning light turn to a beam / and from its center steps their Queen." If you were watching a movie, there would just be thousands and thousands of people watching this all-powerful being arrive and bless everyone. "And then she told them of their future / Of brave new worlds that would be formed / How Planet Earth had been reborn / Then she rose inside the light that brought her."

I must say, for the first time since we've first gotten into the making of this album, the concept is not sounding corny to me. And I want to know how the damn thing finishes. It's got me hooked. I've started wondering if it is a possibility for our future or just some freaked-out dream inside my head.

I asked how you felt the first time you heard yourself on the radio earlier, because I distinctively remember you thinking, "God, that was corny, I've set myself up." But now you are a painter with words, creating a genesis with "Children of the Sun," and now an entire scene.

I've never liked my own voice or been able to stand seeing myself on the television. I've just started to become a guitar player at last, and would much rather hear myself play guitar. But what has become fun for me is listening to this fantasy grow.

You see, "Children of the Sun" was very spontanious. Spencer and I had come into the studio to make a fairly conventional album, but after cutting that song, I said, "God, we've got a real story here." We stopped recording, I pulled some of the other songs apart, and "Children of the Sun" became an entire side.

With the next album, I'll put the capper on this concept, take a left turn, and then go somewhere completely different. But right now, it's a pleasure to sit down and write this material. Particularly in America. I was knocked out that my first album here went Top 30 last year. It opened a big door for me when radio and the public chose the concept side because Fantasy is an easy area for me to write in.

I think Americans are particularly susceptable to the futuristic. I have a theory that the space shots were an incredible stimulus to quite a few generations of the American public. I got the shock when I got here. One friend of mine, a man in his 50's who edited Roots and worked on the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and another, Larry DuBois, and editor at Playboy, went to Cape Kennedy regularly when the shots went up. Guys 25-75 are space freaks, and were totally blown away by that whole era. "Star Wars" and the incredible influx of space advertising for products whose content has no relation to space are a result. And people are mindful of our approaching the year 2000, which is a significant marker in our development and our time-frame.

If I'm successful in America, I'll have the budget to do the stage show of the decade. I saw Floyd and was blown away. To me, they are the state-of-the-art criteria of what should be done. And it was done with taste and panache and it was wonderful. I thought, "My God, It can be done! That's where I want to go!" I've met Eric Barrett, who does all of David Bowie's lighting, and I have a friend who's just finished producing the first holographic movie, and he's designing guitars for me. One has six reversible necks set on a spiral. This is the land of opportunity. With all my success in Australia, I could never have bought the kind of amplifiers I wanted, and I could never stage things. We had an inflatable starfish that was 70 feet high, and stood on a single tenacle 6 feet in diameter. It had 32 tenacles, the longest was 36 feet, and was made of triple-plex dry cleaning plastic that was inflated with two industrial vacuum cleaners. It was a very phallic thing, and would eject white foam from a fire truck into the crowd.

Where is that now?

In Australia.

You ought to bring it over here.

I will, but I've got to be able to play to 75,000 people before I can get something that goes 80 feet into the air.

I'd love to see this thing. You could put it in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

It was an awe-inspiring thing. It was a beast. We used to do this thing where it killed the band. It grew behind the band and at the end of the show, it "died" on us, and covered us in foam. I think there's a Cecil B. DeMille in me that has to come to fruition, and I think it will come from Fantasy.

Give me a lead-in for "In My Room."

Originally, this album was to be a two-LP set with a space fantasy as one complete record, and an urban fantasy as the other, for which "In My Room" was the title track. This other album was to be straight rock stuff with real street lyrics. Unfortunately the economics of the industry wouldn't allow for a double album, but when we were recording "In My Room," everyone who came into the studio loved it. Not to mention Elektra/Asylum (records) where everybody flipped over it. So we decided to include it because it was kind of a left turn to put something like this after a space fantasy. There's no right or wrong about these things when you make a record, and "In My Room," in its way, is a fantasy that's relative to every young kid today. It's a story of a kid in his own room getting high. It's his environment, and looks the way he wants it to. He's listening to music with his headphones up loud, and he's getting high while his parents are asleep in bed. He dreams of being the rock and roll star who's the hero of millions and dreams of the day when he owns his own car. he loses his virginity in his room. He's your everyday urban hero. It's a happy song. A bright song.

Do you want to tell me what you say at the end of the song?

No, no. That's going to be our contest. If you can decipher the lyric, you'll get a dirty photo of me. When I came into the studio, I hadn't written a lyric for that part of the song. I just did it off the cuff for a laugh. Some of it is obscene, really out there, but it turned out in such a way that it could be mixed down in the song, so that no one would ever know what it is. And everyone we've played it to said, "What's that? It's great!"

You know, you'll get a million people trying to figure out what it is.

I hope so. It's one of those magic things that happens when you make a record. And I don't think people are going to pick it out. I'm sure they won't.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone just going into the music business?

If you're not prepared to be abused, turned down, insulted, kicked in the head, be told you are not worth a pinch of anything, that you're never going to make it, and at the same time have your Grammy Award speech memorized, don't bother getting into it.


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