I : You grew up in the same neighbourhood as Jonathan Richman.. What kind of neighbourhood was that ?
John Felice : Strictly middle class, tract housing ... as suburban an environment as you can imagine. 15 miles west of Boston. Shopping malls and all that kind of shit. When we were young all that stuff was just starting to happen.
I : And I guess you got into music at an early age. Jonathan was what, a couple of years older than you ?
JF : He was like 5 years older than me. He was a big influence on me. Only after of course my interest was peeked in'64 or so by the Stones and Beatles and all that. Shortly after, like 2 or 3 years later... like Jonathan was a bit older than me so I held him somewhat in high regard because of his knowledge. He was a little bit more wordly. He was able to get out and see things that a 12 and 13 I was unable to see, y'know. The Velvet Underground and stuff like that, he turned me on to those kinds of bands in the late 60's .
I : He was like hangin' around the Velvets, wasn't he ?
JF : Yeah, he got to go down to New York and hang out with Andy Warhol and that crowd. He was like.. in Boston there was a New York-Boston connection between the Andy Warhol scene and people up here in the Harvard and Cambridge area. Of course New York always being hipper than Boston.. So anyway Jonathan was in that deal and he would play solo shows on Cambridge Commons every Sunday afternoon. They would have concerts on the Commons... He used to practise by himself in his bedroom. Everyone in the neighbourhood could hear him from blocks away playing in the summer with his windows open, driving the neighbours crazy. I'd had a guitar for a couple of years, we talked about putting a band together, but he never wanted to, he enjoyed doing solo stuff. He went to Europe after he graduated high school. As soon as he came back he contacted me about playing in a band. And that was how the Modern Lovers started. Him and me. We put posters up around town for auditions, got the band together and that was that. It happened as like a steady progression. It was almost like natural... Music was changing. The music that I was into and Jonathan , the anti-hippy type music. I liked the Velvet Underground. I wasn't into like Quicksilver Fucking Messenger Service and all that hippy-dippy shit. I hated that shit. I liked the Stooges and the Velvet Underground and the MC5, that was what I listened to in high school. That was all I listened to.
I : So how quick did you start playing ?
JF : Well you had to make your own gigs. There were no night clubs to play. We put on our own shows at Harvard, we would rent halls, we would sometimes get to play the beach resorts. We played anywhere we could. Down in New York, we played a really great gig - it was one of the things that got recorded, some of it appeared on the "Songs of rememberance" boot-cd - at the Mercer Arts Centre on New Year's Eve with the New York Dolls. That was a pretty momentous gig. That was the very first gig that Jerry Nolan played with the Dolls. Billy had died that Autumn. At that show, me and Johnny Thunders became friends, because we were both same age and he was the baby of that band and I was the baby of the Modern Lovers. Ernie and Jerry and David and Jonathan were all like 5 or 6 years older than me. I was like 16, 17. So me and John became close friends and stayed friends for years afterwards.. I quit the Modern Lovers after that Mercer show because the band was destined to break, I knew it.
I : Was this before they went out to California ?
JF : They'd gone out to California once but I couldn't cuz I was in school. It was for those Kim Fowley tapes. It was just a session to do a quick thing they were back in a couple of weeks. It generated a bunch of record company interest, but because of our lack of decision making we were unable to act upon... We had all the major labels hunting us down as like the next big thing, offering us big, huge contracts, but the longer we waited and dicked around , the smaller the offers became. So we ended up signing a contract for something like $50,000 down from $500,000. A fucking pittance man compared to what... And all the bickering and the fighting was really putting a fucking strain on the band. I had graduated high school the summer before '72. We played Mercer Arts Centre on New Year's Eve '72/'73, and a week later we played up here in Boston at this place called the Stone Phoenix Coffee House. It was our signing party, David Geffen was there, he was just an A&R guy from Warners, and it was my last show with the band. They were leaving in like two days to go out and make the album... We talked about me staying in the band and going but I knew the band was going to break up because we were fighting so much, we hated each other. We hated each other. and I was right. They were out there for fucking a month and the band broke up.
I : - I'd thought you'd quit some time earlier. I've read something about a band you had called the Children's Rockn'n Roll Band.
JF : Yeah I left for a few months while they were persuing record contracts. I had to stay in school.. The Children's Rockn'n Roll Band, Jonathan named it... It was just kind of a goof. See I'd never played in a high school band... The Modern Lovers was my first band, playing Jonathan's crazy "When you get out of the hospital" nonsense and "Astral plane" and shit ... So I quit, because I had to go to school and these guys were like taking gigs on the West Coast. So I said I need to take some time off, I'm going to put together a little band. I said it wasn't permanent, y'know, we'll be back together and you guys make a record y'know, I'm there. And everybody liked the idea of two guitars in the Modern Lovers. It didn't sound as good when Jonathan was by himself. Ernie, Jerry and David really liked the idea of having another guitar because it gave the band so much more power. So I put this little band together, and y'know, we played high schooldances and we did really well.
I : Was this, "Louie Louie" kind of stuff?
JF : No that's when I first started writing songs, during this band. That was 1971.
I : And this was with Paul Murphy - later to become drummer in DMZ, and in the Lyres.
JF : Yeah, he wanted to originally be the singer, but I said I'll do the singing so I loaned hime the money.. I bought him a little Rogers drum set. And Paul was really diligent about practising, he was really cool about that. He practised all the time till his hands were bleeding, he was incredible. And we had Rick Coracio, who was the bass player in DMZ and then in the Lyres, as Murph was also. That's how that started, and of coursewe stayed in touch through the years. I mean it's a small musical community. Those are embryonic stages of a lot of things...
I : So after that, and after you left the Modern Lovers, was it the Kids next?
JF : Yeah. I was starting to feel a little more confident in my own material. You know it's toughwhen you are a kid. I respected Jonathan's material, but it wasn't what I wanted.
I : Yeah, I wondered how you felt about his songs and his direction. There's a Modern Lovers live thing with you on , I guess you've heard it , and there's one song which he introduces as a song you hate - "Wake up sleepyhead" on Longbranch Saloon- and then he gives you the mic and you give your little speil about it. What did you think about him putting himself up, like in "Someone I care about", as this guy with really pure intentions.
JF : See that's when things were starting to rip us all apart. Me and Jonathan, as close as we were, you know, I was like a punk, I was a wise-ass kid. I liked to do drugs, a lot of drugs, I liked to drink, and Jonathan was like this wide-eyed, no-drugs, ate nothing but health food, fucking carrot juice kind of guy...
I : So he was true to his word ?
JF : Oh fuck yeah. He was the fucking honest-to-goodness article. He was everything that he pretended to be. He was never false in his presentation of what he did. And.. it wasn't me, y'know ?
I : Is it true that you were Hippy Johnny (in "I'm straight') ?
JF : Yeah. It was originally Hippy Ernie. That was before Ernie was in the band. After I left it became Hippy Johnny, and the song became more timely, because , y'know, of my drugs... It was just the way I was. It made more sense because Ernie wasn't into doing drugs. - whatever Felice says , Ernie Brooks was not Hippy Ernie according to Jonathan.. but Hippy Johnny might really have been John Felice who answered to Jonathan in the classic Real Kids song "Who needs you".
I : So you were pretty much into all that at that early age ?
JF : Yeah. I was like 17.. I was a hellion, I just didn't fit in. I had a 100 watt Marshall, I had a Les Paul. Jonathan was trying to turn down all the time, and now he's succeeded in turning down into a complete accoustic. Him and me, our paths were growing further apart all the time.. We continued our friendship for years and years, during and after the Beserkley thing, he was back living again in Boston after that for several years. and we're still friends I guess, even thoughwe don't stay in touch with each other.. I guess we're friends. So..
I : So the Kids ..
JF : The Kids.. I was starting to feel my oats as a songwriter and have more to say... My songs didn't sound like Jonathan's songs thank God. I wrote some songs in the Modern Lovers that Ernie and Jerry really enjoyed. I mean, that was another point of contention in the Modern Lovers. Ernie, Jerry and David wanted to play some of my material because it was fun to play. It was loud and raucous and it was fun, you know what I'm saying ? And Jonathan couldn't go for it, because you know, he's got a tremendous ego and ...
I : Did any of those songs later surface ?
JF : No. These were early.