Michael Stipe [R.E.M.] : In your catalogue, what are the three songs you’re most proud of?
[Perturbed] Oh, he’s got more than two? This reminds me of a press conference when people stand up and they [say they] have one question and then they ask you five. And you’re, like, “Now I don’t remember the first.” [14 seconds of silence; sighs] Oh, I really don’t like those kind of questions. [Emphatically] It depends on what day it is. Shall we move on?
Russell Brand : Like David Bowie and Jesus, you are a master of reincarnation. Do you ever worry that you may accidentally reincarnate as something unpopular? Or, worse, evil?
Am I familiar with Russell Brand? No. Is that a crime? [Q explains] He’s got big hair? Oh — I think he introduced me at something. Yeah. Yeah. He introduced me at Live… Earth? Live Earth? Yeah. So I met him there.
He seems the kind of person who would ask a cheeky question and I probably wouldn’t want to answer it. So first of all, I wasn’t aware that Jesus reincarnated himself. I think I’d rather use the word “reinvention”. Cos “reincarnate” implies an end of your life and the beginning of another life, right? I’m sure I’ve taken on personas or versions of myself, or whatever, and opinions that are not very popular — I’ve done that already. Some people don’t subscribe to them. But “evil” is a bit strong. Strange question. [Q suggests that looking back over Madonna’s various images, it’s hard to think of any disasters, Madonna agrees] Yes, they all worked. That’s all part of me. You have to embrace it all. Do I think they would have worked at any time in my career? Well, I think time is an illusion. So is space. So is motion. The physical world is ephemeral. Just ask a physicist. Go and Google [American theoretical physicist] Michio Kaku and see what he says about time. Does that mean we’re around forever? Our souls are. It’s very cool.
Neil Tennant [Pet Shop Boys] : When I interviewed you for Star Hits (US version of Smash Hits magazine in 1983], you travelled to the interview on the subway. When was the last time you used public transport? You also said you had a hangover from [producer] Jellybean’s party the night before. When was your last hangover?
OK, I don’t remember the last time I used public transport. The last time I was on the subway was shooting my Hung Up video. We did ride around on the train, so that was two years ago in London. I have ridden the underground [as a passenger] but not for years. When I first came to London… But that was [mock theatrical] centuries ago. That was last century, anyway.
And the last time I had a hangover… probably after my birthday. What did I do? I had a Gypsy-inspired theme party at my house in the countryside [at Ashcombe in Wiltshire] What was I drinking? What wasn’t I drinking! I started off with Krug Rose champagne and then I graduated to a few lemon drops, and then after I had some fantastic Bordeaux for dinner, and then I think I may have had some sort of Château Margaux 1982. Yeah. That’s a hangover.
The next question is from Elvis Costello: I know you play guitar but I read in your Performing Songwriter magazine interview that you learned to play the drums from listening to (Costello’s long-time drummer) Pete Thomas on Pump It Up…
[Interrupting; as if this is the world’s oldest news] Yes, I learned to play drums listening to Elvis Costello records.
…Do you still have a kit and, if so, are you secretly tempted to do sessions under an assumed name?
I don’t have a kit. But whenever I see a drum kit I always want to sit on it and bang away. And every time I do I’m reminded about how much good it does you to practice [laughs]. Good therapy? Yes. It’s a very visceral instrument to play. And it makes sense to go from being a dancer to a drummer because it requires rhythm and coordination. You’re playing one time with your foot and one time with your left hand and one time with your right hand, so it’s very physical. To me it was a good segue between dancing, being a musician and singing.
Tom Clarke [The Enemy] : I think you’re amazing: your career is older than we are. Have you got any advice on how to
stand the test of time?
Do I know The Enemy? [Shakes head] Are they an English band? [An explanation follows] So the question is: what’s my advice? [Thinks] Don’t take yourself too seriously. That’s one piece of advice I could give him; them. Because when you take yourself too seriously, I don’t know, you just… it’s hard to last. It’s good to have a sense of humor about things. It’s good to have a sense of irony. And not to take it too seriously. Then you can ride the ups and downs. And read lots of books. Do I think The Enemy will be around in 26 years’ time? I have no idea.