A few weeks ago at the Star Hits Facebook page, we asked the fans to pose questions for Star Hits staffers to answer, along with asking our own burning questions. Questions from me are labeled Michele, and questions from my co-admin are labeled Big Bunny.
Some of the questions are irreverent, just like our beloved magazine was, and some were slightly more serious. Now it’s time to reveal what our unsuspecting victims had to say!
I’d like to thank David Keeps and Suzan Colón for taking the time to answer, and thank you to David “Keepsie” Keeps for providing the photos (and captions) from his personal collection. We will continue posting questionnaires from other staffers as they come to our mailbox!
DISCLAIMER (from David Keeps): Many grains of sands — entire beaches-full by now —have passed through the hourglass of time since I worked at Star Hits. My recollections may support or contradict other accounts and I may have forgotten some things entirely or embellished others. (For further elucidation, I refer you to the film Rashomon —Pretentious Film Ed
BIG BUNNY asks: “Could you start by telling us how it all began with STAR HITS? When did YOU start and/or depart?”
1983 – David “keepsie” Keeps with imported Smash Hits designer, Kimberley Leston, and Editor Neil Tennant
David Keeps: In 1983, I was working for a New York sportswear company called Street Life, airbrushing pink flamingos and New Wave sunglasses and other designs on clothing and freelancing as a writer for the Village Voice and the NME in London. One day, I got a call from David Fricke, whose name I knew from Rolling Stone. He told me about plans to create an American version of the British magazine Smash Hits, which of course, I loved. I came to the interview with two recent articles I had written, one about Clare Grogan of Altered Images and the other about socks and underwear for the Village Voice. “Oh I remember reading these on the plane over,” said an English gentleman with curly hair and eyeglasses. His name: Neil Tennant. The future Pet Shop Boy, who was then an editor at Smash Hits, had been sent to New York along with art director Kimberley Leston, to provide quality control for the U.S. edition. We were instantly on the same page and became fast friends.
Star Hits was launched by Felix Dennis—known to us as FelDen–a quite eccentric Brit who wore eyeglasses with yellow lenses, smoked incessantly, could be jolly or intimidating and had such a strong entrepreneurial sense that he would eventually create MacUser magazine, Maxim and The Week. He was in a business arrangement with two gents named Peter and Bob from Connecticut who distributed one of those men’s magazines that men didn’t buy for the articles.
Of course, I got the job, as deputy editor under David Fricke. “Frickers” as Neil called him, was a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll journalist with established contacts throughout the music industry. I was the devoted punk rock/New Romantic/New Wave indie music fan—tapping into teenage girl obsession with ease and abandon. I was part of that start-up team, along with Mark Coleman, and we had the luxury of being able to use images and text from Smash Hits as well as a reasonably lavish budget to produce our own photo shoots and stories.
Annoyingly, the name Smash Hits, which was way cooler, had been taken by another magazine years earlier. So we settled on Star Hits and a curious logo that looked like circus poster lettering. The first few months were exhilarating. Lots of phone calls to publicists trying to explain what we were doing—we were very serious about the mission of reinventing a pop magazine that was about the music that really mattered–sending telexes (Google THAT) to London, sorting through every single photo session Duran Duran and Culture Club did, taking trips to the import record stores of Manhattan, spending nights out at gigs and being sent out on the road to do tour stories with the unlikely likes of pop metal bands like Quiet Riot, who happened to be huge at the time but had no appeal to the likes of me. There was always an attempt to be inclusive of all pop music of the time, we covered very early hip hop and straight up pop but mostly made fun of the bands we didn’t like—it was all in the photos and captions, context setting quotes and italicized parenthetical asides.
The first issue, dated February 1984, had Duran Duran on the cover and it was clear after a very short time—because we had a very vocal, letter-writing audience—that the core of the magazine was going to be contemporary British pop. Boy George, Thompson Twins, Billy Idol, Wham, Depeche Mode, the Cure, Dead or Alive—if they talked or dressed funny, they were our heroes.
Within the first year, two crucial things happened. A girl claiming to be our biggest fan and the publisher of a magazine about David Sylvian and his band Japan called the office three times in one day and I finally gave in and told her to come up when she mentioned she could type 86 words a minute. (This was in the murky past where no one used computers) Her name was Suzan Colón. She became our intern. Then when David Fricke left the magazine, I became the editor and gave Suzan a full-time job. She was more than a co-worker. She was a cohort, a comrade, and between us we could make the ridiculous sublime. We’ve been friends ever since.
Star Hits 1984ish – top: Suzan Colon, Alicia Keshishian, deputy editor Mark Coleman, David Keeps, designer Michael Ottersen, Steve Korte, contributor Drew Wheeler in headlock with Susan Freeman, the office manager, and fotog Andy Freeberg
Suzan Colón: I was in college and found myself without a summer job. My mother, wise woman that she is, suggested I call my favorite magazine and ask if they needed an intern. June is kind of late in the game for this to happen, and of course when I called Star Hits the office manager, Susan Freeman, said “We already have our interns.”
For some reason I wouldn’t take no for an answer and called back an amount of times that today would earn me a restraining order. Susan got fed up and handed me over to then-Deputy Editor David Keeps. He said, “Look, Susan told you—seven times—we already have our summer interns. Stop calling us. I mean it.” I, a recent graduate of business school, said, “Do any of your interns type 90 words a minute?” Pause. David said, “Why don’t you come by this afternoon.” Summer at Star Hits. I was the envy of my Cure-style hair-teasing, Duran Duran slouchy boot-wearing set.
Two months later David became Editor in Chief, and he called me one night and said, “You can go back to college and waste your time in your stupid French classes, or you can come work with me and interview rock stars for a living.” My answer is clear from the fact that we’re doing this interview.
DAVID: In short order, I was running a mini magazine empire that would soon mushroom into spinoffs and one-offs. There was Star Hits Summer Issues, Star Hits Yearbooks, TV and film titles like Wow!–edited by the indomitable Steve Korté , who frequently interviewed the Coreys and assorted pre-teens about their pets—Metallix [edited by Suzan with her hair banging cohort Crystal Brown] and a one-issue fashion magazine Attitude. Even then, I was freelancing for other magazines and in 1987, eventually got offered a gig at In Fashion, a style magazine for both men and women during the era of shoulder pads and Capezios. And a lot of Star Hits veterans found their way into the pages of that magazine including Howard Jones, Pet Shop Boys and OMD (the latter of whom showed up for a photo shoot and revealed a penchant for going commando, but that is another story.)
MICHELE asks: “What was a typical day in the Star Hits office like?”
SUZAN: David and I were just reconstructing this last night: Come into the office hung over from some album release party with open bar the night before. First thing upon arrival at office was to get on the phone with the Continental Diner up the block and beg them to quickly bring us the Hangover Special—scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese on a roll, large coffee light with two sugars.
After reviving with that, fight over who was going to interview which band. Write some copy. Someone would go over to our scratchy, cheap record player—these were the days of vinyl, before CDs—and play the same song over and over and over until the others would scream threats.
Lunch, probably at the sushi bar down the block that had the first karaoke machine we’d ever encountered, with song lyrics playing over softcore porn movies.
Back to the office, write some copy, discuss what concert or album release party we were going to that night. Start all over again. Variation: Friday afternoon, we’re on deadline, and we send our intern Sam Moon Rafferty to buy us beer and Twinkies. Spend Friday evening writing, drinking, sugaring. I wrote a really good Siouxsie & the Banshees concert review that way.
DAVID: There were several eras of Star Hits. At first, it was more businesslike, a group of people who had never met, under constant scrutiny by the main investor and representatives from the Mothership (Neil and Kimberley) and we were ensconced in a swank modern office in midtown Manhattan. It was a bit more buttoned-up then but always fun.
Then, about a year in, we moved to a larger space in a crummier building near the fashion district and by then we were left pretty much unsupervised and the cast of characters had changed. David Fricke had left, Mark Coleman had one foot out the door, Suzan Colón was an editor, Crystal Brown had arrived and Steve Korté had made the leap from the advertising side to the editorial team. Hell, had in fact, broken loose.
Imagine walking into a teenage girls’ party covered in posters of your dreamiest dreamboats after the homework is done and the records are all out on the floor and everyone is jacked up on Mountain Dew. Then times that by ten. Thousand. Then pay everyone to do it five days a week from whenever we could roll in clutching a coffee and an egg sammich to whenever it was time to leave to go see a band. It was pandemonium. Lots of music and magazine reading (remember there was no Internet). Lots of the same record over and over again on repeat and mixtape making. Lots of shouting over the music to make telephone calls. Lots of recitations of letters and press releases and desecration of photographs and posters. Tape-loops of ridiculous
David Keeps’ test polaroid for Billy Idol’s First Cover with Deborah Feingold, where he swung his jacket around and broke a light
interview answers from pop stars. Lots of inane arguments. Lots of nicknames, inside jokes, stupid jokes, and friendly one-upmanship. We usually lunched together and there was often a cocktail hour and a costume change before going out for the evening. Hilarity ensued at a very high volume. Until Felix Dennis or one of the more mature office-management or business types stuck their head in our door and told us to knock it off. Of course there was always some drama—a band (usually U2)—refusing to do an interview or Billy Idol knocking over lights at a photo session and us getting stuck with the bill, but it was almost always, like we so proudly advertised: “A party on every page.”
MICHELE asks: “What are your proudest moments when you think back on Star Hits — and what makes you cringe?”
SUZAN: Proudest moment is some of the copy I wrote. I was new but kind of fearless when it came to writing, and I had such love for what I was doing that the writing came out pretty good. Cringe: The photo for the Star Hits Lookalike Contest where I posed as Madonna.
DAVID: There are so many proud moments. On a daily basis there little daily triumphs like writing the best caption ever. (That award goes to Suzan who captioned a photo of Madonna clutching her stomach with “Aaaargh, that third tuna Blimpie! Why did I do it?” which got us blackballed from Madonna for a while) Over the course of the magazine, the pride comes from creating our own universe and language, from immersing ourselves and our readers in a world of wit and imagination and possibilities and from exposing hormone-hopped-up kids to some really great music. In our own sly way, we were also social activists, treating things like gay pop stars, vegetarianism and alternative belief systems not only like they were no big deal, but that they were actually cool. And where would all the young Goths be without our coverage of Siouxsie and Bauhaus and Tones on Tail and Gene Loves Jezebel, I ask you? If you were “weird” or had “weird” taste in music and clothing, you were not only our target audience, but our friend.
Nick Rhodes on the floor of his suite in a West Hollywood Hotel judging the entries in the Nick Rhodes coloring contest in Star Hits. It took him HOURS to decide.
I am also very proud of how we were all very cunning in some ways, turning the most boring interview into something hilarious to read and shamelessly pandering to the interests of pop stars in order to get them in our pages—like taking Nick Rhodes to an art gallery so he could gas on about Andy Warhol—which actually turned out to be a great story. I also think we had the best contests EVER. I remember buying a stuffed dog at a flea market made of canvas with a little loop and a pen. It was from the 1960s or so, and was called an Autograph Hound (you get it?) We named him Barky and took him along to every single photo shoot we did with a Star Hits pop star and had them sign and pose with the dog. And then we gave it away to one lucky winner. I wonder who has it now? Do they know what they are sitting on?
Also, hugely proud of the feature story ideas we came up with and the crazy, beautiful New Wave-edy photo shoots we pulled off with some very talented photographers. Who can ever forget our series of a-ha with fluorescent tubes? So arty!
What made me cringe? Not a lot, actually. Okay, this does. In the first year for the first issue I had to go out on the road in a tour bus with Quiet Riot. They were harmless enough, but they kept saying, “Don’t go in the bathroom, Dave, unless you’re ready for it” I was thinking, “Oh God, is the toilet overflowed?” Eventually, after hours, I did have to use the gents. There, I discovered they’d taped up some soft core Polaroids of female fans faces near their unidentified weenuses. And all I thought was, “the only thing shocking about this is how little your dicks are.” That’s a cringe memory. I also remember coming back from another road trip that year with Motley Crue (hey, I paid my dues) and related that I sat down backstage in a circle with them and they made me chug from the communal bottle of Jack Daniels. And upon hearing that, Suzan (who had not yet entered into her brief fling with hair metal) cringed and shrieked: “OHMYGODDAVID you DRANK from the BOTTLE OF CRUE?”
BIG BUNNY asks: “What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make as an editor?”
SUZAN: I didn’t make too many decisions—that was more David’s department. I just remember writing a lot. I remember us begging our publisher Felix Dennis not to put Billy Idol on the cover for the seventh time in one year, even though Billy sold more issues than any other cover subject, even Duran Duran. But it was getting old. We tried to demand, but Felix shook his head and said, in his British accent, “Billy is my banker.” That shows you the Star Hits editorial clout.
DAVID: I had to let people go now and again. That was never a good time. Usually I’d take them out to the Grand Central Oyster Bar and drop the bomb, so at least they got a nice lunch out of it. And they were usually expecting it. Back then I had a much more difficult time masking my disappointment. It was also hard leaving to go somewhere else. But I was a money grubbing whore back then and got a better offer at a magazine that seemed to have better prospects for mainstream success.
BIG BUNNY asks: “Was there ever any US hard rock or other content you were ‘encouraged’ to wedge into the mag, despite reservations?”
DAVID: Pretty much all of them…see above…and that would also include Van Halen, although David Lee Roth, bless him, gave a great interview then, now and forever. At the time, putting Van Halen on the cover of Star Hits (I believe it was in the first year) seemed like a complete sell-out and there was a lot of internal dissent over that entire issue which also had Lionel Ritchie and a Kevin Bacon Footloose centerfold, which was not cool and not what Smash Hits would have done AT ALL. I wasn’t that excited about doing naff Top 40 pop in general, but there were often gaps between Duran Duran and Billy Idol singles and there was always a way to make those other stories entertaining.
SUZAN: Not too often; more often publicists would use their bigger bands as leverage to get a smaller band some real estate in the magazine. When hard rock and hair bands got really big in the late 80s, our publisher Felix just started a whole new magazine—Metallix—of which I became editor. Not because I was all that, but because I was breathing and in the office. When teen bands like New Kids on the Block became huge, Steve Korté was made editor of our new magazines Wow! and Hot! When hip hop became popular, Crystal Brown suddenly became editor of… Oh my God, I can’t remember the name of it now, because basically our office motto was “A magazine a minute.” David was gone by this point, smart man that he was, and so the remaining editors were editors in chief, and we wrote for each other’s magazines. It was an interesting business model, put it that way.
I do remember an experiment: Van Halen was huge, and they were on the cover (before my time). The readers revolted.
MICHELE asks: “David Fricke vs David Keeps — what were the stylistic differences as editor? (It seemed to me Fricke was auditioning for RS now that I look back)”
SUZAN: Two totally different gents. I didn’t have much exposure with Fricke because I was just coming in as an intern, and I dealt more with David. Two months after I arrived, Fricke left (no cause and effect that I know of). Fricke is the sort of highly educated music journalist who knows about the blues and Muddy Waters and the roots of all music and stuff like that. He’s like a music professor. Keeps knows these things but was more of a fan of the bands we profiled in SH. He was a punk rock pioneer and as much a fan as an authority on the music we were covering. Stylistically, Fricke was a quiet statesman in a leather jacket, and Keeps was, and still is, a brilliant enfant terrible, apt to run down the hall shouting, “Jon Moss of Culture Club just called me!!” For that reason and many others, Keeps is still one of my closest friends.
DAVID: Michele, I think you nailed it. David had a much more traditional approach steeped in serious rock journalism, but he did have a great sense of humor and seemed to enjoy some of the fun we brought to the table. When he left, we just let our freak flags fly.
BIG BUNNY asks: “Tell me about managing & editing shared [Smash Hits] UK content and preparing it for your US readership.”
DAVID: Publishing every two weeks, Smash Hits had much greater access to the most important people for Star Hits and we used a lot of their material. Their writers—Chris Heath, Neil Tennant, Tom Hibbert, Ian Birch, William Shaw, Peter Martin, the incomprehensible Scottish lass Sylvia Patterson and Miranda “Bunny” Sawyer—really helped us set the tone and voice for Star Hits. They were happy to work with us because we often paid them for their contributions and gave them additional assignments. And really all we had to do was take the images and text (with maybe a few minor adjustments, translations, and commentary) and slap it into a new layout. As they say in England: Easy peasy Lemon squeezy.
SUZAN: We’d see what Brit bands they covered were having success in the US. Then we’d take out the Britishisms in their article—“colour” to “color”—and run their articles. We ran a lot more of their stuff than they ran of ours, chiefly because Brit bands were bigger at that time than American bands. Once in a while a Brit band would be touring America and they’d ask us to do an interview, or they’d run one of our concert reviews. I did an interview with Jim Kerr of Simple Minds for Smash Hits, and I found out later one of the editors made fun of me for referring to the band in the article as “the Simple Minds” instead of just “Simple Minds” or “Minds.” What-the-hell-ever. [SC giving side eye]
LAURA asks: “How much “artistic license” did you take when answering reader questions?”
DAVID: Laura, I’m not sure I like the tone of that! We always answered questions to the best of our knowledge and to the height of our wit and creativity.
SUZAN: If it was for Ask Jackie we answered as accurately as we could. Anything else, we defined artistic license as we defiled it.
MICHELE asks: “Did you all play pranks on each other in the office, and if so, what were they?”
Star Hits 1986ish from left – Michael Ottersen, Steve Korte, Alicia Keshishian, Suzan Colon (Swing out Sister haircut), David Keeps, Crystal Brown. I don’t know why we are all holding Image magazine. Not a clue.
This is the editorial bullpen.
SUZAN: Constantly, though they were less pranks and more blatant making fun of each other. David loved to mess with me while I did phone interviews. I had a mild nervous giggle, just a “tee hee” I discovered when listening back to some of my interviews. With trusting stupidity, I shared this with him. He made sure to emit several audible “tee hee”s while I was doing phone interviews with bands.
DAVID: What weren’t they? It was 24/7 Pranktown at Pilot Communications (our corporate name). And lots of messed up songs and nicknames. You’d never know what you might find in your desk drawer or on your chair. Ask Crystal Brown about her “son” “Bronxzilla” why don’t you?
BIG BUNNY asks: “Is it true that BOLD TYPE never quite recovered from Siobhan butting out for good from Bananarama and ‘retired’ to a “macadamia ranch” in Mahinahina?”
SUZAN: I’ll let Boldie answer that [she said cryptically, upholding the mystery of the BOLD TYPE’s true identity].
DAVID: The BOLD TYPE does not disclose personal details and never did. However, virtually everyone from Star Hits thought Siobhan had made a hideous mistake until two things happened:
- They heard Shakespeare’s Sister for the first time
- They met the rest of Bananarama, including that new chick whom everyone forgot, and realized they were the meanest bitches ever
MICHELE asks: “Was there one person writing as the BOLD TYPE or did you all take turns?”
DAVID: The BOLD TYPE does not disclose personal details and never did.
SUZAN: There was, and only ever will be, one BOLD TYPE.
MICHELE asks: “Who were the most annoying fans? (My money is on the Duranies.)”
DAVID: How could I say that about the Duranies, those lovely creatures who paid our bills? Never! Yes, of course, they could be very needy and very desperate—at least once a month we got a letter from some girl who was “dying” and needed John Taylor’s kiss to cure her. (If it were true, could’ve invented the Make-A-Wish foundation) But they were also the most loyal and quite often the most creative. There were also individual fans who made our lives less than happy, like the girl who tried to sue us after she won the Meet Duran Duran contest until our ace photographer Andy Freeberg (now a huge star in the art photo world) found a picture of the ungrateful one with Nick Rhodes (rushing past her to get onto the stage)
SUZAN: I wouldn’t say anyone who liked SH was annoying, and frankly we were grateful for anyone who read the magazine. We were, however, a bit disappointed by readers who didn’t get our sense of humor. I wrote a caption for a Wang Chung photo that read, “I say, Chung, I don’t believe we’re in this issue.” A few people sent mail: “Their names are not Wang and Chung. You guys are stupid.” Not much you can say at that point. You know, you shrug, you try to move on…
BIG BUNNY asks: “Were there ever any bands featured by another writer whose music you STILL haven’t ever heard to this day?” 🙂
DAVID: We all suffered together. We all sat together. I am sure headphones had been invented but we didn’t use them. I can’t think of a single 1980s British pop tune I DIDN’T hear. Sometimes more than I wanted to.
SUZAN: Listening to the music of any band we came into contact with was unavoidable for many reasons. At first, we all worked together in a communal office; we had one record and tape player, and we played music constantly. We also liked to share great music—“Listen to this song! Wow, listen to this whole album! Oh my God we love them!”—and we loved sharing bad music because that had as much of a chance of being on heavy rotation as good music. If someone had to interview a band whose music we didn’t like we wanted shared pain and played it for the whole office.
When we got individual offices and Walkmans with headphones, we were grateful—it felt like getting your own room as a kid—but something was lost.
MICHELE asks: “Who was the most difficult interview, and/or rudest pop star?
SUZAN: I lasted less than eight minutes in the ring with Bananarama, and there were only two of the three present, Sarah and Keren. I can’t imagine I’d be alive to write this today if Siobhan had been there too. They answered my questions with “Yes,” “No,” and/or an eye roll and a smirk. John Taylor yelled at me once for getting some production credits wrong on a Power Station story, but once I made proper apologies, i.e., swearing I’d correct it in print and begging forgiveness, he was great, as usual.
DAVID: Cyndi Lauper was never much fun, despite the fact that she claimed that’s all girls like her wanted to have. Billy Idol always acted surly but always gave great interviews. When I interviewed Madonna at the Hard Rock Café in New York and the waiter asked her what she wanted and she said nothing and he said you have to order something and she looked at him and said FUCK YOU in that lovely Detroit accent (that I share) I thought that was going to be serious trouble, but it was an amazing interview. The full-on rudest pop star was Mick Hucknall from Simply Red. He wasn’t into it and had his publicist sit through the whole thing and I had to accompany Suzan on the interview to make sure she didn’t offend him with “silly” questions and then she asked something fairly innocuous and the publicist said “That’s it, I said no silly questions.” And I rose to my tallest 5-foot-8 ¾ and pronounced. “No, that’s it! We’re leaving!” And Mick Hucknall said, “Hey, man, she’s just trying to do her job.” And I said “And we’re just doing ours. Goodbye” That felt sooo good. Because let’s face it, we were doing that guy a favor even thinking of putting him in Star Hits, which of course, we then did not do.
ROBERT asks: “Who was the most difficult artist to get an interview with?”
SUZAN: Anyone who had a Number One album was suddenly unavailable to us. We were considered great for breaking new bands that couldn’t get in the bigger magazines, but we were old, cold, small potatoes once bands became big. Steve Korté and I took a road trip to Philadelphia when Charlie Sexton’s publicist said he might have ten minutes to talk to us. We drove out, went to his hotel, waited for hours, and then watched his publicist literally usher Charlie by the elbow past us, saying, “He doesn’t have time.” We ate cheese steaks and went home.
I think David Keeps had a similar situation with Cyndi Lauper. She became a huge star and we needed to do a story on her or look like supreme losers (and not sell magazines that month). He’d been turned down for a formal interview but by chance he found himself in an elevator with her. They had a brief exchange, meaning David defied death glares from Cyndi’s publicist and just started chatting with her. He turned two sentences, one of them a “Yeah” into a two page “exclusive” interview. I remember Mark Coleman saying, “David, you can’t do that!” Like we needed to protect SH’s venerable and respected journalistic integrity.
DAVID: U2. They were impossible. We could barely even run pinups or song words for them because their pictures were shot out in a desert or in front of a rock and so arty. There was always a challenge and a negotiation getting Duran as often as we wanted them (which was basically every issue) so when they became Power Station and Arcadia there were tears of joy in our office. A lot of times we’d get one shot at an artist and then they’d decide they didn’t want to be teen pop stars, so we took lots of photos and did really long interviews and parceled things out in case they decided not to play ball with us. It was rarely that way with the English bands, however. They really understood the value of Smash Hits and Star Hits. And there were a lot of bands—ABC, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Duran, Tears for Fears, Thompson Twins, Howard Jones, Blow Monkeys, Curiosity Killed the Cat (*swoooon) —that we did all the time
HILARY asks: “Who was the most boring person you ever interviewed?”
DAVID: We used to say, if they seem boring it’s because you’re not asking interesting questions. But there were a lot of blowhards. They’d get on some high horse or some riff and we’d call it “wheezing” a term we also used when publicists called us to talk about bands we were not interested in. Those publicists were also known around the office as “drills” Okay, now that I’ve hemmed and hawed, I’ll just go with Andy Taylor because I am sure I must’ve interviewed him and can’t remember one thing about it. There, are you happy now?
SUZAN: Either it was so boring I don’t remember, or I never thought of any of them as being boring. Remember, I was a fan turned music journalist. This was never going to be boring for me. That said, some musicians didn’t get our questions, which tended to be, ah, irreverent. That’s the word I’ll use, though some of them used the more descriptive word, “stupid.”
LESLIE asks: “What’s your worst foot-in-mouth slip during an interview?”
DAVID: The time I interviewed Neal Schon and Sammy Hagar about some supergroup record that they put out and they looked at me in my New Wave clothes and asked me how I liked it and I said, “Oh it’s um …um…erm, great” And they said, “You never even listened to it, did you? “ And I had to admit I did not. And they thought it was hilarious and said, “You’ll probably hate it if you ever do.” I had “mad” “respect” for them for that.
SUZAN: Thanks to years of therapy, nothing is coming to mind.
BIG BUNNY asks: “In terms of being a gracious & enjoyable normal person, who was the greatest surprise?”
SUZAN: I believe by the end of my interview with Andy Partridge from XTC I told him I loved him. Sweet, sweet, sweet, and funny, and clever, and appreciative of a good stupid—I mean, irreverent question. Jim Kerr was a total gentleman. Matt Johnson of The The (who was, of course, the The The) was charming as he sat in the conference room of his record company with a bottle of wine and a glass, then asked for another glass for me.
Belinda Carlisle test photo. She played Advice Columnist for one of our mags. I think the column was called Ask Belinda.
DAVID: We always expected our idols to be gracious and enjoyable and hoped they wouldn’t be too normal. Who needs normal? Most of them were very gracious. Boy George was quite outspoken and could be very tempestuous but I rode with him once to the airport and we had a really civilized and fun chat. Siouxsie looked fierce and was also very outspoken, but in person, she cracked me up with her stories. I really loved the Go-Gos because they had such a twisted sense of humor; they were every bit as bad as any boy band but that wasn’t really a surprise. In later years, after Star Hits, I often interviewed Billy Idol, who was always a lovely thoughtful and articulate English gentleman, who liked to talk about history and play chess. That would surprise some.
LESLIE asks: “What was the most extreme/exotic/strange place you interviewed a celeb?”
DAVID: I went to Indianapolis with Tears For Fears. Is that exotic? How about seeing ABC perform on American Bandstand? I went to England and Los Angeles a lot. We did a lot of interviews in record company offices, backstage, hotel rooms, tour busses and photo studios. Then there was the time that Suzan and I went to Live Aid in Philadelphia and thought we were going to get all kinds of backstage access and get great interviews. It was not to be. We were stuck in the bleachers miles from the stage, the sun was pouring down, she was wearing a flannel circle skirt and by noon all the toilets had flooded. We ditched the whole thing and went to our hotel and watched it on TV. (I’ll get back to you if I think of anything else)
SUZAN: Is this like that infamous Dating Game question?
LESLIE asks: Everyone has to have one thing that really sticks with you from your life. What is your story? (coked out celeb, crazy events getting to an interview, or maybe it’s something random and personal)”
A tanned-n-toned David Keeps in a test Polaroid wearing the very same “Dave, ya got body odor” shirt he made Huey Lewis wear …
DAVID: One story that is often retold is my visit to Santa Cruz watching Huey Lewis and the News do the video for “If This is It” We had a photographer on hand, and His Hughness (also known as Sir Hughford of Lewis) had only brought three identical black Calvin Klein T-shirts. (The man did not have a stylist) So I conned him into wearing some of my own clothing, including the shirt I had on my own back. He posed for the picture, returned the shirt and said to me, not exactly charitably but not untruthfully either: “Dave, you’ve got body odor.” (Later, he asked me if I had any weed.)
SUZAN: Perhaps a little too personal, she said cryptically. Tee hee nervous giggle
LESLIE asks: “What interview do you wish you could do over?”
SUZAN: Almost all of them, without the “tee hee” nervous giggle.
DAVID: None. I just wish there was still a Star Hits or a magazine like it so I could do people like Lady Gaga, Iggy Azalea, and maybe Neon Trees—that seems like a fun band. I try to bring as much of that sensibility as I can into my current work, but that very fun, personal style that Smash Hits and Star Hits kind of invented has been widely imitated. I believe they call it blogging now. There are certain people I would like to catch up with and interview again, because I have a soft spot or they continue to fascinate me: Pete Burns, anyone from Depeche Mode, Martin and Mark from ABC, Siouxsie. That list is kind of long, actually
LESLIE asks: “Who did you NOT get to interview and wish you could?”
SUZAN: I don’t think I ever got to talk to Miss Annie—that’s what we called Annie Lennox—and I would have loved that. She was always a favorite, an icon, really. We worshipped Eurythmics and solo Miss Annie.
DAVID: It’s possible that I never interviewed Roger Taylor. If that’s true, that would round things out nicely.
LESLIE asks: “What item(s) have you saved from your Star Hits days?”
DAVID: I have most of the issues, including some doubles. I will happily send you a list of those I don’t have if anyone feels like making my life complete—or trading. I probably have some test Polaroids from photo sessions and I may have some ancient cassette tapes with interviews. I definitely have a mix tape entitled “Eat Me” which has a bunch of music from the era and a tape loop of Chris Lowe admitting that when he was young he “set the field opposite our house alight and fire engines came” and Neil shrieking, “Nooo you had FIRE ENGINES?” over and over and over. I have fond memories, solid skills as a headline and caption writer and enduring friendships but those aren’t really items.
BIG BUNNYasks: “What’s your favourite piece of STAR HITS memorabilia?
The beloved Barkie!
SUZAN: Sadly, all my SH related stuff drowned in Superstorm Sandy. All the copies of the mag, a scrapbook, my interview tapes. Oh well. I do wish we still had Barkie, the Autograph Hound, which was a contest prize. For months we brought Barkie, a vintage plush toy meant to be written on, to interviews and got him autographed. We loved our widdle Barkie…
DAVID: Well, it WAS Barkie, the Star Hits Autograph Hound. I hope he has found a good home. I should never have given him up. Our T-shirts were pretty wonderful too. I believe the slogan: “At Last, A Reason to Learn to Read” for a magazine is about as good as it gets.
BIG BUNNY asks: “How & when did STAR HITS finally fold/end/go under? I seem to remember a bizarre series of fold-out poster editions and [by late ’89?] some issues that didn’t remotely resemble anything from any of the years before. There was a name change to SMASH HITS and then WOW, I think…but it’s all very murky in my mind!
DAVID: Ask Suzan. It was complicated and I was gone. Talk about Murky
SUZAN: We were in the “magazine a minute” stage for a while, with Felix jumping on any music trend by putting out a test magazine, and if it did halfway well, it went monthly, just like that. The reason was that by this point Star Hits was referred to in-house as “The world’s most expensive fanzine.” It was beloved by a small readership and cost more money than it made. Felix was hoping something would hit, either the teen mags, which did do well, or the metal mag, or Crystal’s hip hop magazine that I still can’t remember the name of, darn it.
Anyway, at a certain point most of us just got laid off—me, Crystal, Steve, the cleaning lady—and I think some of the mags were folded. Everything was left in the hands of Chris Nadler, who sadly passed away last year. That’s when Pilot, the parent company, started putting out the poster magazines with, like, Saddam Hussein and a bull’s eye over his image. The rest of us always used to say thank goodness we got out before the Saddam days.
BIG BUNNY asks: “What is your greatest & most enduring STAR HITS era personal mistake? Does anyone have a SCARLETT & BLACK tattoo or the like?”
SUZAN: HAAAHAAA! That’s fantastic 😉 If I did I’d make sure I showed it off every chance I got, and I don’t even remember them. No regrets, no mistakes that I know of. Don’t hold me to that if David names something.
DAVID: We never made mistakes. Only happy little accidents. I dyed my hair a bit too often and never got any closer to blond than carrot orange. Not a good look.
LESLIE asks: ”What fad/style from the 80s do you miss or regret? ( I miss “big hair” and I regret never owning Capezio Jazz Shoes or a pair of parachute pants.
SUZAN: Those are all good. The weird thing is that anything I miss makes a trendy comeback—I’ve seen slouchy boots, neon, big hair…It all comes back. I’m most partial to the sort of vintage-punk mixed worn by Exene Cervenka of X, though at my age it does look rather “Oh dear.”
DAVID: I don’t miss a lot. The clothes were baggy and boxy and made of hideous materials. I wore a lot of vintage and Zodiac high-tops and E.G. Smith socks that were gigantic and you sort of pushed them down and they looked like leg warmers. Actually those were highly regrettable.
LESLIE asks: “Do you still listen to 80s music, or are you just totally over the decade? What bands/music are you listening to now?”
SUZAN: I love when I hear 80s music on the radio until I realize it’s playing on the oldies station, which means I’m an oldie. I have some ABC, Adam & the Ants, Talk Talk, Annie Lennox/Eurythmics, Echo & the Bunnymen, B-52s, Siouxsie, Bryan Adams (“Cuts Like a Knife,” come on, it’s a great song), Yaz(oo), Erasure, lotsa Cocteau Twins, some Duran, the Cult—oh, did I heart me some Cult—a little Cure, Stray Cats, Police, Terence Trent D’Arby, U2…So, yes, I still listen to 80s music.
DAVID: How can you avoid 80s music? It’s everywhere. In movies, TV, commercials, etc. And I live in L.A. where they have whole radio stations dedicated to it. I don’t listen to a lot of new music these days, unless I have a long boring drive ahead of me and I can’t reach anyone on the phone. I like a lot of what I hear, but a lot of what I hear doesn’t sound all that different from 80s pop, really. And if I were editing Star Hits now, I wonder where I would draw the line? Would Coldplay and Imagine Dragons be totally uncool? Probably. Would I put Ariana Grande on the cover? Probably NOT.
BIG BUNNY asks: “Did any of you become & remain friends with your pop star interviewees?”
DAVID: Became friendly with many during those days: Go-Gos, Pet Shop Boys, ABC, Blow Monkeys, Bronski Beat, Communards, Holly Johnson. I still run into Curt Smith from Tears from Fears now and again in Los Angeles. I have always kept in touch with Neil and Chris and see them when they’re in town.
Jimmy Somerville (Bronksi Beat and Communards) and me (David Keeps), somewhere over the rainbow
SUZAN: Yes to the first part, no to the second.
HILARY asks: “Did Martin Gore dress in his harnesses and shit on casual days?”
SUZAN: Wasn’t privy to any of his casual days, but when I interviewed him and Alan Wilder, Martin was wearing some gear.
DAVID: I don’t think Martin “Loretta” Gore had a casual day in his life.
JOSEPH asks: “I’ve often wondered at the mysteries surrounding Doctor and the Medics! Especially their eyebrows.”
DAVID: Joseph, I will leave you to that. When you solve that mystery feel free to get in touch. Or don’t.
SUZAN: You’re not the only one. Mystery as yet unsolved.
ROBERT asks: “Dr. Robert of the Blow Monkeys and Sigue Sigue Sputnik were often hailed as the “Darlings” of Star Hits. What were they like in person?”
Getting a little mancrushy-y with Tony Kiley, drummer of Blow Monkeys, and me (David Keeps) at a Star Hits shoot
DAVID: Suzan was the Sigue-xpert. I believe she went to L.A. with them. Ask her. I met Dr. Robert and he was very dapper and cool, but I had a little more of a Diggin’ Your Scene bromance with the Blow Monkeys’ drummer Tony Kiley. He was a great bloke.
SUZAN: Steve bogarted the Blow Monkeys so I only had contact with the Sputniks, and they were lovely! Tony was such a gent, wearing his pineapple hair with a business suit at the chic hotel bar where David and I interviewed him. The drummers, Ray Mayhew and Chris Kavanagh, were such sweet boys, hanging out with me and my friends in LA. We adored those guys.
HILARY asks: “Ask them what all the pop stars smelled like! I bet Neil Tennant smelled like some classy 80s shit like drakkar noir”
SUZAN: David would know for sure, but probably true. Tennant was a gent through and through. And what a sharp wit! A walking paper cut inflictor, him.
DAVID: Good question! If only I could remember. I tend to remember the bad habits, not the good ones, like the nose pickers and bad breath dragons. Neil always smells delicious, of course, and I am sure he has a collection of the finest designer fragrances.