In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the approximately 40 bazillion teenage girls who plastered their bedroom walls with posters of Leif Garrett throughout the ā70s and ā80s. In fact, I had it so bad for the sleepy-eyed, flaxen-haired heartthrob that my best bud and I would spend hours throwing suction-tip darts at the images and smooching whichever one we hit. So when I finally scored an interview with Garrett, Channel Guide‘s copy chief, Jill, encouraged me not to share that particular story ā or as she sagely put it, āDonāt lead with the crazy.ā
I led with the crazy. And quickly discovered that my lifelong crush has evolved into an open, charming and entirely self-aware gentleman who is humbled by the international legion of fans who refuse to see his tabloid press as the sum total of the man and his career. And thanks to Garrettās comical and sometimes self-satirizing commentary on truTVās flagship clip show Worldās Dumbest, that legion has expanded to include the kids and husbands of the long-ago girls with the posters on their walls.
āYesterday I was at a place called Rock & Reillyās on the Sunset Strip ā I met my friend Lisa Foxx, the DJ from Star 98.7, there for lunch ā and the waitress comes over and says, āThereās a fan at the end of the bar who would like to say hello,āā Garrett says. āShe points him out and itās a guy! He was straight as hell and so nervous and it was so flattering. Iām so used to the girls, and I was like, āThat is awesome!āā
According to Jason Cilo, executive producer of Worldās Dumbest and president of Meetinghouse Productions, Inc., itās that broad-based appeal that landed Garrett on truTV’s executive vice president and COOĀ Marc Jurisā short list to crack wise on the show.
āThereās a likability to him thatās different from other celebrities you may encounter,ā Cilo says. āThe cast has that in common ā they wear their celebrity like a loose-fitting garment. Theyāre not uptight about it. Theyāre not invested in diva treatment. They respect the opportunity and theyāre totally professional.ā
āWow, I like that quote,ā Garrett says when I share Ciloās loose-garment remark. āItās almost exactly right. I donāt hide from it ā and Iām not a recluse by any means ā but I donāt like being treated like that. Donāt get me wrong. Iāve sat with royalty and I know how to do all of that and thatās fun, as well. But I also know how to make the man on the street, the homeless person feel comfortable, too. Iām a people person and I donāt want to be put on a pedestal. Because I think weāre all in this together.ā
I talked with Garrett about his past, his future, music, his hopes for his family and the perils of 24/7 celebrity.
CGM: Since making it known via Twitter that I would be interviewing you, Iāve heard from fans of yours from as far away as Australia, all clamoring for anything they can find out about you and how your mom is doing and what youāre doing next. Are you amazed at the legion of lifelong fans you have out there?
LG: I have a hard time dealing with it sometimes, but at the same time itās so flattering. Itās a very interesting thing to have happen to you. AndĀ I donāt get it. I really donāt get it. It sounds so hokey and clichĆ©-ish, but Iām just a human being like everyone else. I guess everything coming together in perfect harmony at that moment made it happen. It was, obviously, the way I looked and the way I presented myself ā the clothing, the attitude, the music ā that sort of thing. At least I would imagine.
Whatever it is, itās very flattering and I feel privileged to have gone through it, even with the downsides of it ā my management being complete thieves, and making some bad decisions, and stuff like that. Even with all of those things, I wouldnāt change it.
CGM: I spoke withĀ Worlds Dumbest‘s executive producer Jason Cilo about working with you on the show and he said you were on the short list of people who truTVās GM Marc Juris wanted to approach to do the series. How were you approached and how did you make the decision to take part?
LG: They called my people and explained what it was ā watching video clips and doing commentary on camera and they said, “Would you like to take a shot at it ā do you think it would be funny or do you think it would not be funny?”
And Iām a frustrated comedian, honestly. Iām known to be a bit of practical joker and prankster. So I have fun with this stuff. But at the same time, itās blown me away how itās taken off as well as it did. Itās super-popular and I get a lot of mail from the show. Weāre keeping people interested, so thatās awesome.
CGM: And it’s letting you build a whole new fan base, in a whole different arena …
LG:Ā Thatās exactly right. The platform is awesome, because reality TV made it possible for me to do this ā and now Iām ready to go do standup, maybe try an open-mic night. Because I like to meet chicks [laughs] and because I think it would be fun. Itās definitely a trapeze act ā you either make it or you fail. Itās not like doing comedy on camera where you joke around and they take the best stuff.Ā With the live audience, itās like doing a live singing performance ā you know the immediate feedback, you know how things are going, and you adjust accordingly.
Obviously, I would love to do it on film and in other venues as well, but [for now] I have a few friends who are coaching me. Iād like to at least try it anyway. Even if I donāt continue pursuing it, just to say that Iāve tried it would be really cool.
CGM: I’m all for it ā especially if you eventually take your act on the road and tour the country, ahem.
LG:Ā [laughs] Another vote for trying it! All right!
CGM: Cilo also said he thinks your life and your journey would make a great docuseries in and of itself ā if you ever got to a place where youād be open to that. Is that something that youād be interested in doing, or do you prefer to keep your private life private as much as you are able?
LG: Thatās the only problem … because this has been sitting on the table for a while. The possibility of doing thatĀ was presented to me, Iād say, maybe two or three years ago? And I just canāt figure out the format yet ā how to do a reality show and keep as much of my private life private. Because they do want to be there for your entire life, basically. So Iād like to do one on something like me trying racecar driving ā have the cameras follow me doing that. If thereās a way of doing it without every day going back into my home, and like, āThereās Leif brushing his teeth!ā Thatās just errrgh.
CGM: It’s a little scary how, courtesy of reality television and social media and the like, people seem to believe we have the right to every moment of someone’s life if they choose to be in the entertainment industry.
LG: Itās amazing how voyeuristic weāve become as a people and a whole. The whole gossip machine, and the gossip websites ā itās just out of control. Thereās a cool thing about mystique and not being there when somebodyās in a light that you donāt want to see them in.Ā Sometimes itās good to have our fantasies and our idols.
I mean, I donāt want to see Robert Plant getting dressed or grocery shopping or whatever. I want to think of him onstage, live and doing his thing. Donāt get me wrong, I mean Iāve met him and itās OK that heās human ā but thereās that part where youāre not living with them, youāre not their boyfriend or their girlfriend, and you donāt need to know all of the intimate details that should only be for someone that close to you.
CGM: And that’s the story you should get to make up in your head ā what your idol is “really like” offscreen. The rest ruins the magic.
LG: Thatās part of the fun!
CGM: And now Twitter has literally made for 24/7 celebrity …
LG:Ā I heard thereās, like, 45 million fans on Facebook and 25 million fans on Twitter that are getting Justin Bieber’s updates every hour. You ever heard of “familiarity breeds contempt”?
CGM: … and everyone has cellphone cameras, too, so no matter where you are, someone can snap a photo.
LG: And now phones have cameras that can do a live feed, too ā you can send a live feed to somebody!
Some things should be private. Letās say a basketball team wins a championship and theyāre in the locker room. Theyāre sitting in their locker room enjoying their win. Those are things that only they need to feel and be a part of. Those guys ā who earned it, who fought for it. Not somebody who just sits at home and flicks the channel on and gets to be there.
CGM: And no matter how famous you are, should you really have to be confined to your own home to ensure your privacy?
LG: Thereās no chance to screw up! And we all screw up! And thatās OK!
CGM: Well, speaking of invading your privacy, where can your fans see you next and what are you working on now?
LG: Iām about to play the Sunset Music Festival coming up in August here in L.A., and I am probably going on tour to Korea again. I went two years ago, but it looks like Iāll be going back in October. And then Iāve been talking to the person in Europe that Iām doing a record with. His name is Chilli Aguilar and heās a big artist in Spain and France. Iām doing a single with him as we speak. Iām doing a remake of “Surfinā USA” ā by his choice, not mine. [laughs]
Itās crazy, but Iāve been getting letters from people in their teens and 20s that want to come see a show because theyāve heard the music online. So there are things about the future that are really cool. We just did a remake of Neil Youngās Old Man ā and by āweā I mean me and my guitarist and writing partner Craig Else ā and āHelp You, Make Youā is the new song thatās really good. Itās very close to what I needed to get out with my Zeppelin thing. I think Iām done now. I feel good now that I got that out there. Iāve exorcised my Zeppelin demons. [laughs]
CGM: Thereās nothing wrong with Zeppelin demons. If you said you had Bieber demons I might worry.
LG: I gotta tell you, I donāt think his new singles areĀ that great ā and Iād give him props if I thought they were really good. Justin Timberlake is the one who knocked me out. He blows my mind, because he made the crossover ā because he had people working with him instead of against him. His people did the right thing by hiring Timbaland to do his producing. He was the hottest thing in producing at the time and the other artists that he worked with, they all had nice No. 1 singles.
That was really smart, because the audience grows up and you have to grow up with them or you get left behind. You canāt keep making that kind of music when youāre 25 ā it just doesnāt happen. Itās like, you were listening to the Mamas and the Papas and now youāre listening to Frank Zappa. Itās that big jump. You went from Elton John to Zeppelin to Sabbath. Your tastes get a little more experimental and dangerous, so to speak ā the stuff that your parents thought was really not good. But you really needed to hear it … and you liked it. [laughs]
CGM: Plus almost everything on pop radio now sounds the same. Bands hit with one song, everyone else jumps on the bandwagon and you never hear from any of them one CD later.
LG: Itās too quick! This is part of what we were talking about ā itās all happening so fast now that you canāt put out a few singles and wait for a year to see if your first record does well. In that time, people are pushing you off the edge and standing in your shoes. Thereās no room to take a break. You have to hit it hard and keep going and keep going and keep going until you just canāt take it anymore.
And hopefully your fans will still be around when you come back.
CGM: Plus, what exactly is supposed to be the “classic rock” for this generation of kids?Ā
LG: Thatās what I want to know!
CGM: People wonder why everyone still clings to the music that actually debuted on vinyl. Now everything you hear on the radio is so vapid. I mean, whatever happened to lyrics that spoke about what the singer was feeling … other than “I’m wasted”
LG:Ā Theyāre so gross. And the misogynistic lyrics ā ugh! I hate them. Hate them. It’s the lowest common denominator of human intelligence.Ā How many boats you have? I donāt care. I donāt care how many naked women you have dancing around your pool.
CGM:Ā I seriously doubt that those are the albums that kids are going to be clinging to when they become adults and are telling their own kids, “God, this record just said so much about how I was feeling and what I was going through at that particular time!” Although now I guess you have to cling to your iPod, anyway.
LG:Ā And whatever happened to the journey that you go on? There were artists that didnāt need hit singles to be out there and be heard ā such as Pink Floyd. Where you listened to the record from beginning to end and you got the whole vibe of them going into the studio and how they felt while they were doing it. That euphoric feeling you got from feeling like you were a part of it.
CGM: And now when I listen to music from before the days of auto-tune, I’m almost overwhelmed with nostalgia for the honesty and the character in the voices.
LG:Ā Neil Young ā can you imagine Neil Youngās voice on a tuner? Bob Dylan on a tuner? Are you out of your mind? Willie Nelson on a tuner. No! Robert Plant? Cāmon! The ābad notesā are part of it ā and theyāre not even bad notes. Itās a feeling. Thereās a reason that they left it in.
CGM: So what would constitute the perfect career to you ā movies? Music? Both?
LG: Everything was absolutely perfect up until ā84. And ā84 was when the Scotti Brothers made the mistake of telling Paramount and Universal that I didnāt want to sign to a two-picture deal after doing The Outsiders. They started their own production company with me doing a movie about … foosball. Are you out of your fricking minds? I just did The Outsiders and youāre having me do a B-movie about foosball now?
I knew how we had to make my crossover to adulthood. But the people who were in charge, supposedly, had no intention of ever letting me have any kind of say in anything. I would have made a better choice than believe what I was told ā that I had no other offers and nothing else came in. They were greedy and wanted to start a production company with me.
CGM: Seems like you really didn’t have much of a dog in that fight, since you and your mom were both pretty much at the mercy of your management.
LG:Ā Exactly. And I was busy doing the other work. I was busy being in front of the camera while other decisions were being made. And that was just totally wrong.
You know, my mom, I love her to death and, God bless her, sheās hanging in there. She was given six months to a year to live seven years ago now ā stage 4 lung cancer out of nowhere. She never smoked a day in her life. Iāve smoked everything under the sun and Iām OK. Itās so bizarre. I donāt get it.
But she looks great; doesnāt look her age at all. I see her every day, and sheās sort of coming to terms with things. Itās a weird process to watch ā coming and going at the same time. Really getting her whole life and existence, and realizing mistakes that she made. And sheās come to terms with that and apologized to me about not being on top of things, and about being naive. And thatās all very true. Like you said, my mom was always just a puppetā because she never wanted to be considered a stage mother. She never wanted to be looked upon in that light.
CGM: And your sister [actress Dawn Lyn] was also in show business, so she was responsible for both of you …
And I would really like my sister to reconcile with the family, because itās been split for a long time and thatās really depressing. It bothers me a whole lot.
CGM: Are you in contact with her?
LG: Not really. For some reason my sister has it in her head that I am my motherās champion only. That Iām on āher side,ā as she puts it. Iām not taking sides. I just want those two to … [sighs heavily] … to just tell each other how they feel about each other. Because I know that they love each other. They may not like each other very much sometimes, but thatās OK. Thatās just the way things go. But thatās your mother. You came from her loins. You canāt deny that.
CGM: And there does come a point, especially when you get to be our age, where you have to just accept that your mother is always going to think of you as her child. Hopefully that can evolve into thinking of you as herĀ adult child at some point, but …
LG: Oddly enough with my quote-unquote dad ā my sperm donor [laughs] ā he feels so badly about missing the years when you know youāre so proud to have son, like from age 12 to manhood, when you help influence and guide your sonās life. Well, he missed out on all that stuff. He is regretting missing that and he now treats me like that. And Iām trying to get him to understand that Iām a 50-year-old man. Iām not a 16-year-old kid anymore That boatās gone. “Iām still your son. And I will always be your child. But you just canāt do this ā you canāt treat me like a kid. That wonāt work.”
Itās very bizarre because heās missing out on time that we could spend together being friends and doing stuff like working on his hot rods or whatever. Goinā fishinā! With a cooler full of pop ā āHey you want another cola, Dad?” “Yeah, all right.ā [laughs] But heās too busy feeling guilt.
And listen, even my mother does this ā but sheās stopped in the last year, which Iām really proud of ā but they both still have venom in their breath for one another. Which blows my mind! Because they were either the most in love people ever on earth or they hate each other so much that they can still, after 45 years of being split apart, still talk sh*t about one another and even care. That scares the hell out of me! That freaks me out! To hold a grudge that long? Thatās really sad. That seems stagnant ā 45 years!Ā I just hope I didnāt get any of that in my genes.
CGM: So does that affect how you feel about having a family of your own ā or can you see yourself having a child someday?
LG: You know, at 16 I always used to say that I never want to have a kid because I don’t want to bring it into this world. And Iāve kind of kept to that ā but my paternal instincts have become very strong. I think thatās, in part, me growing up, too ā because Iāve hung on to Peter Pan for a long time. And I never want to completely lose that, but part of me needs to grow up a little more. And Iāve been doing that as slowly as possible. But thatās in certain areas. In other areas ā like Iāve finally learned to balance a checkbook! [laughs]
LG: Iām really good at math now. Iām great at math now!
So I would love a kid right now, but I think I want to adopt. I mean, I really want a kid of my own, too, but if that doesnāt happen, Iām not going to force it to happen and become involved with someone that Iām going to eventually regret seeing, just because thatās the mother of my child. I donāt want to do that. I mean, maybe thatās just the way it goes. But the person that I really wanted to spend the rest of my life with [actress Elaine Bilstad]Ā passed away and that one hurt real bad. She was an angel. She was amazing to me ā that someone of that much beauty, not only physically, but also in her heart and in her soul could be taken from here so quickly.
That would have been the person I would have had a child with. And I havenāt met anyone I feel that way about since.
New episodes of World’s Dumbest air Thursday nights at 9/8CT on truTV. Ā Leif Garrett fans can send email toĀ info@Leifgarrett.net.Ā