Wednesday, December 27, 2006

One of the greatest parts of my job is when I get to follow up on unexpected e-mails, in this case a man from the JCC sent us a message that they were hosting a coffee shop series featuring Jewish musicians. This month, the group was having singer/but-mostly-songwriter PF Sloan perform. The name jarred a memory, but why? It turns out Sloan has one of the most interesting stories from the 60’s. He wrote songs for everyone and never got any real notoriety. He composed “Eve of Destruction”, “Secret Agent Man”, and tons of others to be made famous by groups like the Turtles and the Mammas and the Pappas – all by the age of 19. By the 70’s he vanished from Hollywood (it has been said that he suffered from a medical condition) and while he was gone, Brian Wilson’s psychiatrist to the stars, Eugene Landy, tried to steal his identity. After much soul searching, Sloan is back. He’s got a new album, Sailover, and is finally starting his first ever tour, all at the age of 62. (Only 50 years after he was first signed to a major lable. Isn’t life crazy? I spoke with Sloan today and he, in his gentle peaceful voice, explained to me why things don’t work out the way you think they might.

NewTimes:Will you be performing mostly songs from Sailover or other material as well?
Sloan: Yes, yes. Although I’ll probably do anything else that anyone would like to hear as well – at my age my problem is more getting off the stage than getting on.
And although you go by PF Sloan, neither the “F” or the Sloan are your actual name. How did you come to adopt this name and do you use it aside from songwriting?
No, no I don’t. Well, the “F” is part of an old nickname [his kid sister use to call him Flip], and the last name, well that was my father. He had to move us out to LA from NY because his wife had arthritis, [but when he] tried to open store, he found that he couldn’t get a lease because their was too much racial prejudice, so he changed it [from Schlein] to Sloan. It turned out that that was enough of a difference so he was able to get the property. I was about twelve then.
And that’s about the age when you met Elvis Presley?
Yeah. He taught me how to play guitar.
Was he the actual impetus for that, or were you fiddling around with guitar before Elvis?
Well, no. I had been playing around with a broken ukulele that I had found in the garbage. And my father purchased a guitar, so I took it to a music store and Elvis was there – he gave me a guitar lesson. Six months later I was on a Rhythm and Blues record label. It was Aladdin Records with Thurston Harris, Little Milton, Shirley & Lee.
How were you able to handle all of that success at such a young age? When I think of how I was at 12 or 13, those were such turbulent years with just adolescents in general, but you started an entire music career.
You know? I have no idea. I was just trying to impress this girl, her name was Sandy.
Did it work?
Uh, it never does. You know, the Sandys of the world are always like “I liked you when you were just a regular person and now you’re this music person.”
Music, in that regard, you have to be really careful with. Music never leads to the dreams that a rock ´n’ roller has in their lives. Instead what it leads to, if your lucky, is greater spiritual experiences that you realize as you get older is a gift that you’ve been given to see the unity throughout the world. But at that time, you’re only thinking about “me me me me me”. It’s never the dreams of money and fame and love, it never comes to that, it’s always the opposite of that. It’s almost impossible for adolescent thought of love and fame and blah blah blah to ever really happen – I think you find out in the end that it’s really the gift of talent that you were given and to see what you were able to do with it.
When did you first have one of those moments, when you started to see some clarity from your youth?
It wasn’t until I really left. Until I really let it all go. I got very ill around 1970 or 71, and it wasn’t until 1986 that I encountered a very powerful spiritual leader in India, and it began to give me clarity. And it takes a long time to really gain that, so I really admire it when I see it in politicians or artists or musicians or movies or books. We’re all in a state of evolution, it isn’t that anyone’s any better than anyone else, it’s just so nice when your able to appreciate and clarify what you life is really about. I mean, you find your dream and then you find out that there are bumps and jumps along the way, and you kind of loose your way – if your lucky, you rediscover your talent and you’re able to really enjoy what your doing then.
In that sense, was it difficult for you when you were younger, or even now, I don’t know, for you to have written so many ballads and catchy tunes that made so many other people famous? Was that difficult for you to deal with or did you kind of assume that that was your contribution?
Well, that’s certainly the clarity that comes later. If your looking for the fame that’s able to give you status in your own family, and in a way I think that’s what the teenage dream of Fame is about, it’s a recognition from your mother that you weren’t a mistake or from your father that you’re not a no-good, or from your sister who really likes Elvis or Ricky Nelson more than you. It’s that kind of fame that the teenage rock n’ roller going into music is really looking for, and basically that never happens. In my experience instead it alienates you from your whole family. They resent the fact that you seem to be more important than they are. So it just seems to be a great yin and yang of opposites: For every positive thing that you do, there’s a very strong negative coming at you that you have to learn from.

And how old were you when you wrote “On The Eve of Destruction”?
Well, let’s see. I was about 18 and a half, 19.
I heard an interview with you where you expressed distress in the way the song was interpreted, when to you it was a love song to America. Could you elaborate on that thought?
I can try…its interesting how the extreme left of the spectrum have just sort of denigrated it. It’s interesting how the extreme right have called it communist propaganda. But it was basically a divine message that I was receiving, it was basically an Americans prayer to America. You see, our generation didn’t think that things could proceed as they have – we thought that with enough muscle and voice we could change all of this.
It must be difficult for you to look at youth culture today, coming from a climate of such staunch political activism and faith. Do you feel that people, in general, have lost track of those things?
I don’t know about “people”, but here in America it certainly seems that there isn’t much descent. I mean, I’m sure that to the people that ARE descenting, they’re going to say, “Well, you’re just not aware of what we’re doing”. But really, to what Joe America sees, there really isn’t much descent throughout the colleges and newspapers. People have stopped looking microscopically at what’s going on.
Something else I was wondering about, was how did you handle it when Eugene Landy tried to steal your identity?
Well, he wasn’t the first.
Yeah, there were hundreds of people who were claiming to be PF Sloan, because I just wasn’t around – I mean, I really just let it all go. I knew Brian [Wilson], and worked with Brian back in ’63, and uhm, I love Brian Wilson and I was praying for him a lot. And so when I heard about Eugene Landy in Billboard Magazine, and they called me up and said “Can you prove that you're PF Sloan?”, I thought “Jeez! He’s been handed to me, delivered to me, I can get rid of him!” I mean, I don’t want to speak ill of someone who has passed away, we all make mistakes but that, well that was really a dumb one. I’m just glad it worked out the way it did. [Landy had his medical license revoked.]
I mean surely didn’t you have friends who were saying “Hey! This guy’s kinda full of it”? Didn’t people you had worked with in the past speak up and say “hey, we know this guy and he’s not him?
You know, believe it or not, Jerry Brown of California use to talk about mass amnesia? I don’t know what else to liken it to. You know the National Association of Songwriters that put out a monthly magazine of songwriters, they were told by Jimmy Webb that there was no PF Sloan – that he had “created the name”. And they wrote that and basically there was no one that said “No, wait, I know him and I’ve worked with him and he’s real.” No, nobody did for about twelve years.
That’s bizarre
Tell me about it.
But now your back and your recording and your songwriting, what kind of welcome home receptions have you been getting by these younger artists that you’ve been working with, like Frank Black[of the Pixies]?
Oh just amazing. I have a tremendous respect for his songwriting. And just being in the groove of whatever art and craft I do is so wonderful now. Whatever has been reenergized in me, I have no allusions or expectations about anymore, I’m just happy to out there and working again and meeting people, and hopefully being changed and changing people for the better.
Did you seek Frank out, or did he seek you out?
Well, Frank was being produced by my producer in Nashville and I had gone to his birthday party. I met Frank there and I hadn’t realized that he had been listening to my old albums on Dunhill, he and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins had been listening to my music and that it had influenced them in some way. So when Frank came down to Los Angeles, he had written a few new songs and he called me up and asked me if I could come down and play piano and do some things. He’s just an incredible musician and he knows about history of music too, he’s probably the best of the best. To me, he’s up there with Lennon in terms of innovative music writing.
And I should ask you about Secret Agent Man. OK, it’s so catchy and fun. The story is that there was a contest to come up with the soundtrack for this spy show and you wrote it and you won.
Yes. That is how it happened.
Right, so did that ever lead you towards guilty pleasures? Did you ever secretly compose television jingles or have the desire to?
No, I never really did and I never really cared for it, because the generation that we came from was kinda like, uhm, …
The opposite of selling things?
Yeah!(laughing) I mean you’d rather have a building fall on you. I mean, there was no pride, but there was a lot of prejudice in getting commercials. But [I was approached] about quite a few. They wanted to use "Eve of Destruction" for an underarm deodorant commercial.
Oh, yeah. The little molecules of underarm deodorant are singing “Eve of Destruction”, and to be honest with you, I just can’t go that far!
You don’t have to! Your touring with all of your own music now.
Yes, this will be my first tour.
Your first tour ever? Are you ready for that wild rock ´n’ roll life on the road?
Well, I’m surrounded by really good people.

Absolutely fascinating!

But please, I'm the real PF Sloan

Read your article and was so surprised with PF Sloan's comments. I am Mrs. Jimmy Webb and believe me, I have been to many Jimmy Webb shows. At many of the shows he speaks about PF, including performing the song that has helped to keep Sloan's name alive during the years he was quiet. Jimmy has never said to anyone that he made up a ficticious character named PF Sloan. Jimmy's words were obviously misquoted. Jimmy devotes much of his time to furthering the cause of songwriters everywhere, including the legendary PF Sloan.
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