Perfect Sound Forever

Pearl Harbour Remembers:
Rockin' in San Francisco, London, and Beyond

Pearl Harbour in the '80s

Interview by Kurt Wildermuth

"I can think of one funny Joe Strummer story," Pearl Harbour reports. I've asked her to convey, in a single anecdote, what it was like in London in the early '80s, when she was associated with the Clash, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, and other rock and roll legends--some of them, such as Strummer and Dury, no longer with us. The occasion for our Zoom chat is the triumphant, razor-sharp reissue of the album Harbour made with some of those legends: 1980's Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too. On snazzy purple vinyl and finally on CD, it's out this month, Women's History Month, from Liberation Hall.

This Massachusetts label has for the past two decades been issuing and reissuing recordings in various genres of popular music, including folk, blues, and jazz. One specific focus is on the spirit and sound of raw rock and roll. In reissuing a revamped and expanded edition of Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too, Harbour's awesome first solo album, Liberation Hall puts Harbour in the company of revered rockers from Chuck Berry to the Blasters to Handsome Dick Manitoba, frontman of New York City's the Dictators.

Pearl Harbour also keeps company with the label's small stable of new wavers and punk rockers, including Kim Fowley and the Brat.

But wait, there's more. Pearl Harbour's new home at Liberation Hall makes another kind of sense, and that's the label's special interest in the San Francisco Underground. They've reissued recordings by SF legends such as the Flamin' Groovies, Romeo Void, the Contractions, and Shakin' Street (those last two just out). Before moving to London, Pearl Harbour had been part of the San Francisco scene. She was then Pearl E. Gates: dancer for the theatrical rock sensation the Tubes, member of an underground act called Leila and the Snakes, and frontwoman for the new wavish rock band Pearl Harbor and the Explosions.

She now goes by Pearl E. Gates, or just Pearl Gates. Under any name, she carves her own path in stylish boots, and in February 2024 it was my honor to get her take on a rockin' life. This happened on Valentine's Day--appropriately, because for two decades I've loved Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too and my mental image of the woman who made it.

I wrote about the album and the woman for Perfect Sound Forever in 2006. To see why I couldn't pass up the opportunity to talk with Pearl Harbour now, please have a look back at that piece:

Despite my best efforts in 2006, my coverage of who played on Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too was woefully inadequate. The original LP didn't provide musicians' credits, so I was winging it. I'm not even sure why I went with 1981 as the release date, when the album has a 1980 copyright, but I was probably following an online source. In those days, believe it or not, there weren't many; we're talking Internet 1.0. Even didn't exist. Plus, my vintage-vinyl copy has, of all things, a Library of Congress sticker on the back that gives the date as 1981.

The reissue of Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too provides complete coverage of the main players and guests, including Dr. Feelgood's and Ian Dury and the Blockheads' Wilko Johnson playing most of the lead guitar and the Clash's Mick Jones playing lead guitar on one track--neither of which I'd have guessed, even though I knew about the Blockheads connection and referred to the Clash as a "ghost presence" on the album. I was covering myself, as I did by saying Pearl was "reportedly" once married to the Clash's bassist, Paul Simonon. Indeed, they married in 1982 and stayed together for seven years, and he was one of main players on the album, as was the band's drummer, Topper Headon.

Over these past two decades, when I thought about my 2006 piece, I'd remember not liking Pearl Harbor and the Explosions' one, self-titled album and vastly preferring Pearl Harbour's solo album. In fact, if I hadn't been so enthusiastic about Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too, I wouldn't have written about Pearl Harbour at all. When I reread that article in preparation for this interview, however, I was shocked by how harsh I was about the first album. My gut sense has always been that Pearl Harbor and the Explosions didn't represent its frontwoman at her best, that the material was weak and the lifeless production constrained her. The real Pearl (Harbour, not Harbor) emerged on Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too. The English spelling of her surname, by the way, was the record company's choice, to reflect the album's London origin and flavour (see what I did there?). That spelling now serves as a handy way, in print, to distinguish between Pearl 1.0 and Pearl 2.0.

If I were writing my original article today, the result would be very different. And if I'd reread that old article in advance, I probably wouldn't have tried to set up this interview, because I could only imagine the artists' response to all those negative comments about Pearl 1.0, including my jokes at other people's expense. At this point, either I'm too sensitive, as Bob Dylan once put it, or else I'm getting soft. But who knew what to expect from my conversation with Pearl Harbour? I'd never been in the presence, even virtually, of an artist whose work I'd alternately trashed and celebrated. Maybe the frontwoman loved her time and work with the Explosions. Maybe she'd take deep offense at my dismissiveness of that aspect of her legacy. There's a record-collector nerd making sense of some albums, there's an artist in the abstract, and then there's a real person and her work.

So Pearl Harbour and I have a history, even if only one of us knew about it over the years, and even if he didn't remember it accurately. Memory's funny that way, and life's a learning experience if you're lucky. As we approached the interview time, I oscillated between excitement at finally speaking with Pearl Harbour and sheer, stomach-churning dread--the latter in case we didn't hit it off or she felt I was an opinionated jerk. As it turned out . . . well, you'll see. And you'll get to read that funny Joe Strummer story, which is worth the wait.

This interview has been condensed a bit and edited for clarity, mainly because an electronic Zoom transcript can be a mess. But everything here is as close to the real conversation as it made sense to preserve.

PSF: First off, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. There are good reasons why you might not have wanted to talk to me [laughs], and I do want to get your thoughts on that. But before we go there, I'd like to touch on some other things.

Pearl Harbour: Sure, no problem.

PSF: First, let me say how sorry I am about your lung cancer treatment. I have a family history of cancer, and my domestic partner just went through some breast cancer, so I know how hard the whole experience can be--the prognosis, the treatment.

PH: Yes, it's awful. Thank you.

PH: Cancer sucks. How are you feeling?

PH: Well, this week is okay, today. The week that I get the chemo is a really bad week. I feel good for about a week or so, and then I feel awful for a couple of weeks, and I feel good for a week. So it goes up and down, and it all has to do with the chemo. It's a nasty, nasty drug. It's poison, of course. Everybody knows. It feels really awful to have all this poison in your system, and that's the worst thing. And so I've really been suffering--I'm not gonna lie--but I am here, and I'm talking to you, [laughing] so I'm thankful to be here.

PSF: You sound great!

PH: Thanks.

PSF: So, let me jump in here. For me it came as amazingly welcome news that Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too is being reissued on LP and finally appearing on CD. I'm one of those people who found the vintage vinyl. In my case, that was 20 years after the album came out . . .

PH: Yeah!

PSF: . . . and I was just knocked out by it, so I wrote what at the time I honestly thought of as a tribute to you and to that album for the very website where this interview will appear. We can just link back to where I talked about how much fun and full of energy and "no bullshit" the album is.

PH: Oh, thanks!

PSF: So I feel like one keeper of the flame for the album. I even wrote that the sound didn't do justice to the guitar. Maybe somebody could remix and remaster the album. And it's happened! This version sounds fantastic. Did you ever envision this?

PH: Oh, gosh, no, I had no idea. As time goes on, people do seem to be interested in all my old stuff. And I'm really thankful. A couple of my other albums have been re-released, and this is the album . . . Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too is my favorite album of everything I've ever recorded, and a lot of it has to do with what you just said. It's no-nonsense, sort of "slam, bam, thank-you-ma'am" rock and roll, and that's what it was supposed to be. Each song is short and sweet, and there's hardly any overdubs, and I did all my vocals pretty much live while the band was playing. And so it was fun, and it was very rock and roll, and I was in London, and I had just gotten there. Well, no, actually, I'd been there a couple of months.

      So I was really enjoying myself, and I can't say enough good things about my experience of making this record. It was just total fun, and the Clash were recording--well, Joe Strummer was in the studio right next to us. And he was mastering, or whatever you call it, engineering, producing [the band's fourth album, 1980's] Sandinista!, and then Topper and Paul were in the studio with me. So we were going back and forth between studios, drinking beer and smoking pot, just having a great time.

PSF: You just anticipated one of my key questions, because for a lot of us that time just sounds magical.

PH: Yes!

PSF: You're hanging out with the Clash and Ian Dury and the Blockheads, and you're going to pubs. Do you have one favorite story that can put us in the scene here?

PH: In the scene of the recording studio?

PSF: No, what was it like to be in London at that time.

PH: Oh, my gosh! I was so lucky! Well, first of all, the reason I got to record with the Clash and the Blockheads is because of [Clash associate and sometime manager] Kosmo Vinyl. He was a nice guy who I met in San Francisco when Ian Dury and the Blockheads did their one and only tour of the U.S. And so Kosmo hooked me up with the Clash and the Blockheads, and said--he, like you--and, Kurt, like me--was not crazy about Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, and none of us liked that record. And that whole thing is a long story. But that's how I got to meet and play with the Blockheads and the Clash is because of Kosmo Vinyl.

      I'm trying to think of one particular story. It's really hard, because so much fun was had, and because so much of it involved drinking pints of Guinness, and I kind of don't remember a lot of it, I'm sorry to say, but it was a long time ago, Kurt. It was over 40 years ago, so . . .

PSF: I totally understand. It's why I was hoping for one. But I'm not gonna press you on it. That is totally fine. I mean, that's rock and roll, right? You're there in the moment.

PH: [Jumps in] I can think of one funny Joe Strummer story. But it happened after the album was finished. I'll tell it to you. And it was, the Clash went to Italy, and I stayed behind in London, doing something to do with my band or recording or something. And Paul called me from Italy and said, "Joe and Kosmo said that you and I should break up, and we should not be married anymore, because it's not rock and roll to be married. It's not. It's un-rock and roll to be married." So I said to Paul, "Oh, that's interesting. So what did you say?" And Paul, who's not one to speak a lot, sort of said [adopting Simonon's British accent], "Oh, dunno, I didn't say much." And I sort of said, "Oh, thanks, Paul."

PSF: [Laughs]

PW: [Laughs] I met them at the airport when they came home, and I attacked poor Joe. I threw my cocktail in his face and began kicking him with my cowboy boots, poor guy. He was very brave, and he didn't say much. He winced and was running away from me, and then Kosmo tried to grab me, and then I started kicking Kosmo. And then the police came and grabbed me, and one of them was a woman bobby, you know, English police lady, and she was laughing because she was, I think she was very amused that this little gal was yelling and kicking these big guys--although Joe wasn't exactly big. But anyway, so I yelled at them and said, basically, "Eff you guys, and you don't know what the heck you're talking about here, and I'm just as rock and roll as, if not more than, you guys, because, after all, Joe, I don't have an orange mohawk, and I'm not pushing a pram around London." And that really got him.

      And so then he came to the house later on, with his head down and his tail between his legs, and he apologized and said, "I wanna take you out drinking." And he said to Paul, "Not you, just her." So we went bar hopping, and every bar we went to, Joe pulled up his pant leg and showed everybody his bloody shins where I had kicked him with my cowboy boots, and said, "This is the only person who has the balls ever to set me straight, and she's my favorite gal because of that."

      So it meant a lot to me, 'cause I'm American. And all these people were "bloody Yank"-ing me the whole time I lived there, you know, which is okay, I get it. And so at any rate, that's sort of one of my favorites.

[KW wants to tell PH about the one time he saw Joe Strummer in person, in the crowd at an outdoor Los Lobos concert in New York City in the mid-'90s. Strummer was shepherding his wife and children and wore an expression that said, "I know, I know, you loved the Clash. They changed your life. But I've heard it all, okay? So do not approach me, because I'm out here with my family." Pearl, if you're reading this: Funny, right? But the clock's ticking on the interview, and it's important to hear more from PH.]

PSF: I love it. I'm so glad I asked. You know, that's fabulous. It brings both of you [three of them, really] out at the time, brings you right out. And also anticipates another question, which is: You've worked with so many living legends. And to some of us you are absolutely a living legend, with a really interesting back story.

PH: Thanks!

PSF: So what does it feel like to be Pearl at this point?

PH: I feel really lucky because, I mean, I didn't plan anything. And all these wonderful things happened to me, and I can't tell you why. I had so much fun and so many great experiences. And all these people have agreed to work with me. When I moved to London and started hanging out with the Blockheads and the Clash, I think they all liked me because I know my history of music, and I'm a record collector, and that means a lot to all these people. So I wasn't just a dumb American, although I'm sorry I said that expression. But in those days Americans were always made fun of in the press. And although the Clash obviously adore all their American roots music, Bo Diddley and everybody.

PSF: Of course they did.

PH: So that's why I think I had an "in." And also, I realize it sounds kind of strange, but I have four older brothers, and men are no mystery to me. I know that it's better to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut, unless or if I know exactly what I'm talking about, or if I have a really good point to make, because no whinging and whining, no complaining about "I don't feel good," and none of that stuff ever happened with me throughout my whole music career. I hope this doesn't sound sexist, and gals will get mad at me, but I had to be one of the guys, and I have always been, and that's what kept me in the good books with everybody. Is that what you meant?

Pearl with Mick Jones

PSF: Yeah, yeah! God bless you. I can totally understand, having known some men [laughing], how you managed to stand up for yourself in what was obviously a very macho atmosphere, right?

PH: Oh yes. Nowadays it's okay for me or any woman to get down on somebody for being a macho pig. But back in those days, now we're talking about 1980, if someone insulted you or said something, you had to pick your fights wisely, and you had to be really careful. And yes, I did suffer, in a lot of respects, for being a woman. But on the other hand, I did well because I was a woman, too. So I'm not gonna lie about that.

PSF: Right. You've also put yourself in the right places at the right time.

PH: I know, but by accident!

PSF: Yeah? Was it? Totally?

PH: It, of course, was accident. Like when I met Kosmo, I was rehearsing at this rehearsal studio in San Francisco, and I was in the hallway talking to somebody, and this guy with purple hair and a purple plaid suit comes by and says . . . and it was Kosmo, and I'd never seen a guy with purple hair in a purple suit, and he said [adopts Vinyl's English accent], "You're the second most beautiful girl I've seen today." I was like, "What!? Who is this creep?" And so I said, "And who might you be?" And then he said [again doing Vinyl], "Oh, I'm working with the greatest rock and roll band in the world." And I was like, "Oh, yeah, who's that?" And then he said [again Vinyl], "Ever heard of Ian Dury and the Blockheads?" And I was like, "Yeah! You're with Ian Dury and the Blockheads?" And he said, "We're rehearsing right there, and come on in and bloody look." So I went in, and I listened to them rehearsing, and of course, my mind was blown.

     I knew of Ian Dury and the Blockheads because our band had been a support act for Elvis Costello and the Attractions when they first arrived in the United States. So they're the ones--I made friends with them, and they're the ones who told me all the music to look out for. And of course they told me all the artists on Stiff Records [beloved English label; home to pop-rockers, new wavers, punks, and other misfits]. I don't remember if Elvis Costello and the Attractions were on Stiff Records at that time, but we discussed Stiff Records. And so that's how I got to hang out with Ian Dury and the Blockheads. And so, you see, that was a total accident, 'cause Kosmo approached me, and then after that I started hanging out with Kosmo. We started dating, and so I got to join Ian Dury and the Blockheads on some of their tour, just as a guest and a friend, and watch the shows, which were fantastic. And then the Clash, first Joe and Mick, were in San Francisco with [producer] Sandy Pearlman, and they were doing [their second album, 1978's] Give 'Em Enough Rope, and so then I got to know Mick and Joe through Kosmo.

      Then Kosmo said to me, "You ought to leave your stupid American band and come move to London and play with all these cool people." And I said, "Okay!" And so I left as soon as I finished promoting Pearl Harbor and the Explosions--and we did a whole world tour! And the tour was fun, because we were playing with the Talking Heads most of the time, and that was great, because they're such a good band.

      When I moved to London, everything started happening. But it was because of Kosmo, not because I'm so great.

PSF: I'm gonna beg to differ. I think you've got something special, not just as a performer, but as a person, and people connect with you. I mean, I've connected with you in two seconds. So . . . let's talk about that American band, just quickly. This is sort of the difficult part of the interview, but you've said that you didn't like the album . . .

PH: No.

PSF: . . . and honestly, when I wrote my article way back when, that was my sense. When I heard Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too, I'm thinking, How did the same person . . . ?

PH: I know . . . make that record? And you know what, Kurt? The guy who's helping me with press for this album sent me your article, and I laughed because you're the only person who I've read that didn't like that album. And, I mean . . . Pearl Harbor and the Explosions was my first attempt at having a solo act, in the way that I was involved with songwriting and the whole show, because up until then I had been in other people's bands. And so Pearl Harbor and the Explosions was an equal democracy. It was supposed to be all four of us were equal, blah, blah, blah. But the three guys liked jazz and jazz fusion, and I hate jazz fusion. So I would arrive at rehearsal, and they'd be jamming, and I hate jamming, and I would be standing there bored out of my skull, and then I'd say, "Can we start working on some music that I can sing?" And so my relationship with them was a little bit iffy anyways.

      And then, as time went on, I kind of had no say. They would give me the music and say, "Write some lyrics to this," and I would say, "I don't like this," and they'd sort of say, "Too bad." So that's the way that the band went, and then to produce the album they got David Kahne. John, the drummer, was friends with David Kahne, and as soon as we got in the studio I couldn't stand this guy. He was a creep. And then he was always saying to me, the guys were always joking while I was singing, and David Kahne would get on the intercom and say stuff like "Ever consider voice lessons, Pearl?" and you don't do that when someone is singing, for God's sake. So I was always angry, and then, when the album came out, I hated it, and I didn't like the band, and we weren't getting along. And then I had to tour for months to promote it.

      Like I said, I had fun with the Talking Heads, and I just hung out with Tina [Talking Heads' bassist, Tina Weymouth] all the time. So that's how I got through that tour. But yeah, I didn't like that music. I didn't like the production. I didn't . . . Now, I'm friends with those guys 40 years later. But they know I hated it, and they know that they were mean to me. They used to say stuff like, "How come you do all the press?" "Well, I'm the lead singer. And usually that's what happens." And they kind of didn't get a lot of it. But everybody was young, Kurt. So mistakes were made.

PSF: Well, there are live tracks now [i.e., bonus tracks on the 2019 CD reissue of Pearl Harbor and the Explosions] that definitely give a different impression of the band. If that album had sounded like that, we'd love it, right? [Also, for the record: Peter Bilt was a much more light-fingered, inventive guitarist than I gave him credit for being.]

PH: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Uh-huh. I wouldn't love it, 'cause I didn't really like the music. But yes, the live stuff was a lot more happening than the recording. The recording was just so boring, yeah.

PSF: There's a live cut of you doing Nick Lowe's "Let's Eat," which I assume you got from the [1978] Stiffs Live album, right?

PH: I did, I did, and that was my idea, uh-huh.

PSF: And you know who else is on that album? Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and the Blockheads [laughs], Wreckless Eric.

PH: Absolutely. Yes.

PSF: Great record. So anyway, I think that's where your heart is, and it is awesome to me to have you say all this because I was feeling so bad. I mean, I was gonna apologize to you for the harsh tone of the article.

PH: No, no, no! I smiled when I read it, and I thought, "This guy knows what he's talking about." But then, when I read your review of Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too, it wasn't bad, but it was like you were saying, yeah, it was good rock and roll, but you didn't seem to love it. But I don't care, Kurt, it's okay, it's okay.

PSF: Wait, wait, wait, wait! Don't Follow Me?

PH: Yeah, I know you gave it a good review, but it was more like you just thought it was a good rock album. You didn't think it was spectacular or anything. But that's okay, because to a lot of people it wasn't spectacular. Just the fact that you liked it and thought it was good rock and roll. All this is fine.

PSF: Oh, well, to me a good rock and roll album is spectacular . . .

PH: [Laughs]

PSF: . . . so please take that away from this conversation. I'll make that clear to readers.

PH: Oh, okay. [Laughing]

PSF: I think that album is a great achievement, and I love it as much as I did 20 years ago, and I'm so glad that it's now spiffed up. It sounds amazing. It's got extra material.

[KW, for the (promotional) record: Both the LP and the CD include bonus tracks, but the CD has more of them. The B-sides and the nicely recorded demos all seem like mini-dramas, slices of life. For example, there's the demo of "What I Should Have Said," which is a little gem about rethinking situations.

      For the (historical) record: In my 2006 article, I mentioned "two potentially offensive Asian-themed songs." In covering "Fujiyama Mama," with the Clash and solo, Pearl was paying homage to the trailblazing country-and-rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson. And if anyone has the right to perform "Filipino Baby," it's Pearl Harbour, whose mother was Philippino.

      And for the (musical) record: Her version of Ian Dury's "Rough Kids" cuts both his original, with Kilburn and the High Roads, and Wreckless Eric's--and those versions are great! But there I go again with the comparisons.]

PH: Yeah. When it was out on Warner Bros., they were mad at me. First of all, they were really mad when I left Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, because they had put a lot of money into promoting us, and so on, and so when I broke up the band, then they were really angry. So then I said, "I'm moving to London." "Oh, God! Moving to London!" And then I give them this crazy rock and roll album, and they hated it.

[KW to younger readers: At the time, major labels, such as Warner Bros., were not releasing this type of stripped-down rock and roll. The Clash were on the major label CBS and its U.S. sublabel Epic, but their records were never straightforward rock. They could be sold as edgy political punk, for example, even when stylistically they were diverse. Pearl's record might have found its audience, a small but devoted one, on an independent label--the way, for example, the Cramps' recordings did at that time. By the mid-'80s, indie rock had become a thing, to the point of receiving mainstream attention. Meanwhile . . .]

PH: And then to boot, I said, "I'm not going to include anybody's names who played on it," and that was it. They threw up their hands and said, "Get the hell out of here. We don't even wanna know you." And the reason I did that, Kurt, was because at that time, in 1980, like I said earlier, the British press were really brutal towards Americans, and I just knew that if I put out this album, this unknown American gal moves to London and has the Clash and the Blockheads as the musicians on her album, the press were gonna just say stuff like, "Oh, who's this little Yank? The only reason her album is worth listening to is because it's the Clash and the Blockheads," and I sort of thought that would happen.

      Kosmo agreed with me. Because when I moved to London, Kosmo became my manager as well, and so we all agreed in the Clash and the Blockheads. All of us agreed that we would just not mention who was on the album. Now I think it's a huge mistake [laughs]. But at the time I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought it was like being a good punk-rock girl by not trying to be cheesy about "Look at me. I got all these cool guys on my record." Instead, I wanted them to listen to the record and go, "Hey, this is good. I wonder who these people are." But at any rate, Warner Bros. did not give me that opportunity. I think they printed up about 500 copies of that record and then threw me off the label.

PSF: Five hundred? Is that it? [Mind blown that Warner Bros. didn't, without Pearl's permission, put a big sticker on the shrink wrap saying "FEATURING MEMBERS OF THE CLASH AND IAN DURY AND THE BLOCKHEADS." But clearly they didn't see commercial potential.]

PH: Yeah . . .

PSF: Huh. Well, I don't know what prompted me to buy it other than the cover, but I have the original American cover, which has this beautiful retro look. Did you have a hand in that?

The original U.S. album cover: a bit retro

PH: Oh, gosh, yeah, I have a hand in all the photos. Nowadays people have stylists, but I've always done all my own hair and makeup and clothes, and I told everybody what I wanted. I said, "I want this to look like it's from the '50s," and I brought an old Ella Fitzgerald jazz record from the '40s that was similar to that. I said, "I want it to be sort of like this." So yes, I always have something to do with the visuals. That's most of the fun, besides jumping around on stage.

PSF: Right. Now the reissue has the U.K. cover, which I guess you had a hand in, too.

The original U.K. cover, now on the reissue: a bit contemporary

PH: I just thought that it might be more interesting--'cause the American people, even though they haven't seen the record, probably, at all--but I thought it might be more interesting for them to see a different cover other than the original old one. I'm not sure. Do you think it's a good idea?

PSF: I think the new one looks beautiful. I'm staring here at my vintage vinyl, and I love the old cover. But people can find that image if they're curious. I think the more colorful cover works really well and looks very contemporary.

PH: Yeah, that's what I was thinking. So I just thought I'd offer something different. I'm glad that you like it.

PSF: I like it very much. I'd never seen it, and I just associate the album with the image I know. I'm gonna shock you by saying that earlier this week, I was at my dentist [Manhattan's own Scott M. Fine, D.D.S.]. He's a cool guy, a rock and roll dentist, and I was telling him about this interview coming up, and he was asking, "Will they try to sell the record to these young kids who are buying vinyl now?" And I think that the cover you've used will speak to the rock and roll kids.

PH: I never thought of that! That's good, I agree.

PSF: All the stuff that comes out for Record Store Day kinda looks like that.

PH: Yeah, I'm glad. Did you play your dentist [the album track] "At the Dentist"?

PSF: [Laughs] I didn't even tell him about it.

PH: I think that's good.

PSF: He's a rocker, but I don't know if he wants to go there. But I was thinking about it! Anyway, he's a great guy. If you ever come to New York and you need a dentist, let me know. He even has a jukebox in his waiting room, his old childhood jukebox.

PH: Wow! I hope that if I'm in New York that I don't have to go to the dentist, but I'll definitely call you if I do.

PSF: Definitely. So let me see, we're over time. Do you want to keep talking. Do you mind?

PH: I don't mind. No, I'm okay. I feel good today. So we're lucky. Some days I get out of breath like in 10 minutes. But I feel fine, so let's carry on if you want to.

PSF: Okay, great. Let me see. My questions have gotten a little bit out of order. I wanna make sure that we get back to Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too, but I'd love to dip back into the past. Tell me, when you were growing up, what was your musical life like?

PH: When I was growing up, I had four older brothers, and that's why I know so much about music, because each brother played a musical instrument, and they all collected different kinds of music. So my two oldest brothers collected obscure American music that wasn't on the radio. And then my next to the oldest brother collected mostly girl groups and Motown, and then my brother who is one year older than me--they're all older than me--he collected British rock and roll, so I was really exposed to a lot of good music, and then my one brother who was one year older than me, he had rock bands when we were in high school. So that's how I knew that I wanted to be a singer.

      So as soon as I moved to the United States, which was 1973, and I was 17 years old, I dropped out of high school and left Germany and moved to San Francisco 'cause I wanted to be around all the hippies.

[KW, to readers of all ages: PH was born in the U.S., but her family moved to Germany. Elsewhere on the web, she has reported that when she wanted to move to San Francisco at 17, her father gave her the money to get there and said, "Go!"]

PH: I wanted to be around sex and drugs and rock and roll, to be honest, and I was, so it was not difficult to find a band to be in. The first band that I wanted to be in, I was lucky, 'cause I auditioned for them through a--what do you call it? A talent contest. And that was the Tubes. Nobody's ever heard of them now . . .

PSF: Oh, yeah, no, but I've heard of them. [Thinks of their song "White Punks on Dope," which used to get FM-radio airplay, at least in the New York City area. It was covered by both Mötley Crüe and, with her own lyrics, Nina Hagen, who come from opposite ends of the pop-rock spectrum but are united by a trashy glamor (or glamour). The Tubes' 1983 song "She's a Beauty" was entirely different and a Top 10 hit in the U.S.]

PH: . . . but they were a great band in the seventies. It was all visuals--they had great songs, too--but it was like a rock and roll circus, and so I won their talent contest by tap dancing and being a boxer, as a shadow-boxing tap dancer. So, at any rate, that's how I got to be in their show. And then one of the girls in the Tubes had another band called Leila and the Snakes, and that was an all-girl band, and they asked me to be in that. And then, after being in that band for a while, I said, "Oh, I wanna write my own music and do something different." So that was 1978, that I left Leila and the Snakes and started Pearl Harbor and the Explosions.

PSF: I was going to ask, When you were young, what were you dreaming about? What were your hopes for the future? But it sounds like you were set on being a performer.

PH: Yeah, I always was. Even when I was a little kid, my dad would catch me in front of the mirror, pretending I was one of the Ronettes or something. [Laughs]

PSF: [Laughs] Yeah. It's a testament to the strength of the songs you wrote for Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too that that they hold up against the girl-group classics. You know, "Everybody's Boring but My Baby" is just as good as those songs.

PH: Oh, God, thanks for saying that. That's the best compliment you could ever say. I would say it's a good attempt, but I would never say it was as good.

PSF: Well, again, I'm a fan, but I do feel like if you go from the Pearl Harbor and the Explosions album to Don't Follow Me, the performances and the songwriting just grow tremendously. So tell me a little bit about what the songwriting was like. I don't picture you sitting down, somewhere in a corner, facing a blank notebook page.

PH: [Laughs] No, I kind of haven't, that isn't my style, you're right.

      When I moved to London, Kosmo hooked me up with Nigel Dixon, who is this rockabilly guy. I'd never . . . Rockabilly had not hit the United States.

[KW to younger readers: Rockabilly was born at the dawn of the rock and roll era, in the late '50s, with artists such as Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and the aforementioned Wanda Jackson. By the late '70s, American performers such as New York City's Robert Gordon were revisiting rockabilly. By the early '80s, a rockabilly revival scene was going on in England. That scene's most famous members, the Stray Cats, were from the U.S. Their first two albums were released in the U.K. in 1981 and were condensed into their American debut, Built for Speed, in 1982.]

PH: So when I moved to London I had never seen a rockabilly band, and then going to all the flea markets, they would always have record stalls, and there'd be a huge rockabilly section out, and I would be like, "God, this is great!" So Nigel Dixon was the leader of a rockabilly band called Whirlwind. And so Kosmo said, "You guys should sit down and write a whole album's worth of material." So I went to Nigel's apartment--his flat, as they say--practically every night, and we just worked on music. And he's a great guitar player, so he would strum along on his guitar, and I would start singing or writing some stuff. So we wrote a lot of the songs together, Nigel and I. And the ones that I didn't write with Nigel, I would get together with the person that I wrote with.

      It's bit difficult for me, because I don't play an instrument, and so I would always just be sitting with somebody and listening to them play, and then I'd go, "Oh, I like that!" And then I'd say, "Put that on a tape." A tape! Remember when there were tapes? "Put that on a tape, and then I'll take it home." And that was, that's my best way to write is that if you give me the music on a tape, and then I take it home and just play it over and over and over, and then I figure out what I think it's supposed to be about. So that's my approach to songwriting.

PSF: Gotcha. And so the songs end up being both insanely catchy and memorable. But they're also telling these little stories, which I imagine you're kind of drawing from country music.

PH: Absolutely. Yes, that's what I like the most about country music, it's just stories. So yes, and almost everything I write has a sense of humor, because that's also very important to me, to this day. Throughout my whole career, I've written funny lyrics, and I act so goofy on stage, because I don't really want people to think that I take myself so seriously, or I think I'm great, or any of that. I've seen a million bands where everybody just sort of stands there, but I always like when somebody is amusing, you know, sort of like Shane [the late, great frontman Shane McGowan] from the Pogues. He was just such a goofball, and it made him different from most of the bands--most people, including the Clash. Ian Dury was a goofball, but a lot of the time, because he had health problems, he was kind of serious. But I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew that it's all tongue-in-cheek. The idea was to have fun.

Pearl back in the day. Photo by Greg Allen

PSF: Yup. Much appreciated. I sometimes make jokes in my writing. I'm told humor like that is hard to come by these days [laughs], especially with the young people.

PH: Yeah, they seem to be lacking . . . but each generation, it's kind of like, now I'm an old lady, and I listen to the new music, and I'm scratching my head, going, What? Then I feel like my parents scratching their heads, going, What?

PSF: [Laughs] One major revelation for me on the reissue is the song "Nerves," which was a U.K. B-side. Your vocal there is so creative, it's like a dramatic performance. Do you have any special memories about that one?

PH: "Nerves" is the first song I ever wrote, and "Everybody's Boring" was second . . .

PSF: Wow!

PH: . . . and I just really wanted to emphasize the crazy rockabilly stuff. So that's why I was like [imitates vocal hiccupping], "Ne-e-e-rves," you know, all that stuff. Now I probably wouldn't perform that song, but I used to perform it every now and then. It wasn't one of my easiest songs to do, because it just seemed . . . sometimes it seemed a bit too silly. But now I have a country band. Well, I did before I got sick. But everything, all the country music that I write and I'm doing, has a sense of humor.

PSF: Do you feel a kinship with the psychobilly bands like the Cramps or roots rockers like the Blasters?

PH: Oh, absolutely. I love the Blasters. I love the Cramps. I toured with the Cramps. I played with the Blasters. They're really nice people. Yes, that's my cup of tea is roots rock and all that stuff. I really love it. When I moved back from London to the U.S., which was 1988, I was gonna put together a rockabilly band. But straightahead rockabilly is not that interesting to me as a singer and a performer, because it's basically, you know, like [imitates the standard chugging rockabilly rhythm, like an early Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two record]. I can't, at any rate--I love to go see rockabilly bands like Big Sandy and all that, but I, truthfully, just couldn't pull it off for a whole hour myself.

PSF: Well, your album predates what we now call alternative country, this whole kind of subgenre. Do you feel like you were ahead of your time, and now the world's caught up with you?

PH: No-o-o, I've never thought that. Sometimes I think that about fashion, because in the '70s I used to wear some really crazy stuff, and now I see people wearing it. But at the time people thought I was nutty. My favorite country act at the moment is Sierra Ferrell. Have you ever heard of her?

PSF: No, I haven't.

PH: Oh, my gosh! You've got to, Kurt. She's fantastic, 'cause she's like an alternative-country gal. She writes her songs. She's really talented. Her voice is incredible. She plays fiddle, she plays guitar, and she's really super-talented. A lot of it's funny, and I think you would really like her. She's a modern gal, and she's one of the only contemporary people that I like. I mean, Brandi Carlisle, I like her, too. I probably wouldn't buy her records or go see her live. But I appreciate her and think she's really great. But for the most part I still just buy old records.

PSF: Yeah . . .

PH: Mostly from the sixties.

PSF: Yeah . . . that was going to be one of my questions. What are you listening to these days?

PH: Oh, I like Lucinda Williams a lot. I still go see Patti Smith and stuff like that. But she's, you know, kind of really old-school as well. Daddy Long Legs, I like them. I can't think too much, Kurt, but mostly when I play all my records at home, I just play the old stuff.

PSF: Yeah . . . A couple more quick ones. The year before I wrote about you, I interviewed Graham Parker, and I know you worked with his drummer [Steve Goulding, drummer for Graham Parker and the Rumour and many others, played on parts of Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too].

PH: Yes! I love him too.

PSF: He's fantastic. We had a nice time chatting, and I asked him about satisfaction, and he said, "Satisfaction's a funny thing. In the end, you're left with yourself." What do you think about that?

PH: Well . . . sure, that is true. You mean satisfaction regarding your life and your career?

PSF: Yeah. Exactly.

PH: Well, yeah, in the end I am left with myself. I'm happy with what I have done. I always stuck to my guns. People told me to do this . . . I mean, when I was making the first video in 1979 for Pearl Harbor and the Explosions, they did have a stylist who came, and she brought all these Spandex outfits, like Pat Benatar. And I said, "I'm not wearing that crap, you know. I'm wearing my thrift-shop clothes." And they said, "Well, Warner Bros. wants you to wear this." I said, "Warner Bros. signed me up, and they saw what I looked like, and I'm gonna be who they signed." And so I always stuck with my guns, but it always ended up biting me in my butt because Warner Bros. got really mad that I wouldn't cooperate. So when I made Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too, Warner Bros. didn't like it, and they said, "Well, we'll give you some more money to make another album, and just throw this one away." And I said, "No. I love this album," and that's why they threw me off the label. Then I made other albums, and every time . . .

      One was for Island Records, and Dave Robinson, who used to be the head of Stiff Records, took all my rock and roll and he disco-fied it! He made disco mixes out of them, and I said, "Are you kidding?" I said, "I hate this crap." I said, "I'm a rock and roller, and you know that." And he said something like [adopting Robinson's English accent], "Pearl. Do you want to make records for yourself and your friends, or do you want to sell records?" And I said, "Well, both. I'm making records for myself and my friends, and I hope they sell. But if they don't, I'm not gonna do something to make them sell. You get it?" And then I got thrown off that label.

      So I've always argued with everybody and stuck to my guns, and I'm proud of that. But it didn't get me anywhere. I mean, I could have probably been a lot more successful if I had said yes to these requests, but I just couldn't and wouldn't. I'm proud of that because I didn't, wouldn't, do anything that I didn't like, and to this day I don't do anything that I don't like, and I dress the way that I like. I think I'm more of a punk rocker than a lot of the punks, including the Clash, because they're all like, you know, "We would never . . . We don't take drugs. We don't date models. We don't drive Jaguars." In the end, they dated and married models, took drugs, and drove Jaguars.

[KW thinks of the Clash's "Death or Glory," from 1979's London Calling. Reader, cue it up or just Google the lyrics, especially the line about nuns.]

PH: Well, I never did any of that stuff. I never wore designer clothes. I've always had secondhand cars, no matter what's in my bank account, and I've always listened to cool music. I've never strayed away from my original rock and roll, how I was in the seventies, and I'm kind of proud of that, too.

      So yeah, I'm happy with who I am. I'm a nice person, and I live to tell the tale, to be proud. [Laughs]

[KW thinks of Ian Dury's anthem "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll": ". . . what a jolly bad show / If all you ever do is business you don't like."]

PSF: You've got every reason to be proud. And to me you are the embodiment of punk rock. I love everything you've just said. Do you have any regrets?

PH: Oh, gosh, yeah, of course I do, Kurt, but I couldn't really name them all. I'd have to think about it. But yes, I made a lost of mistakes. Mostly I did stupid things when I was drunk, but I was in my twenties, and I was drunk. Gee whiz! Who doesn't do stupid things?

PSF: Hey, I was drunk and did something stupid the other day. It happens.

PH: Okay, thanks!

PSF: So . . . last question. Tell me about the album title. Did the phrase have special meaning for you?

PH: Oh, I just thought it was funny, because I remember driving around when I lived in the States in the '70s, and it was a bumper sticker, and I remember thinking it was really funny. "Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too" stuck with me. Oh, and actually, I think at a truck stop, I bought the bumper sticker. And I don't know why I did it. That's a good question. I think I just thought it was funny. And at that time, in 1980, new wave, punk, and all that stuff was fairly new. And so I kind of was telling everybody, "Don't follow me! I don't know what I'm doing either!"

PSF: Right. In some small way, I guess you felt lost. Maybe?

PH: Yeah, kind of, but not . . . In a way, I suppose so, because I didn't like new music. I only liked old music, but I was trying to make, trying to write, music that was inspired by old music but sounded new. That's why a lot of it is speeded-up rockabilly.

PSF: Right. That was the goal. It wasn't just that those musicians happened to make that music. That was the kind of music that you wanted to make.

PH: Yeah, uh-huh, and so I explained it to them, and I played every single musician old songs that I liked, and then they would go, "Yep, I get it," and then I'd start singing, and I'd say, "But I want no guitar solos, no screaming guitar solos, and I want it mostly to be bass-and-drum heavy, because that's what makes me want to dance. I want people to want to dance." And so, yeah, I was able to tell each musician on this record exactly what I was looking to do. And that's another reason why I think they wanted to play with me, because it was not difficult, and it was something that they liked too, because they all liked old records too.

PSF: Well, it's a party, and I feel like you and I have had a party today. I would never have imagined this would happen.

PH: [Laughs]

PSF: I remember scrounging around for information when I wanted to write about this album, and I couldn't find anything about you. It never occurred to me that we would have the chance to talk and I would actually find out who this person was, who made this record that I love so much. So I just wanna thank you.

PH: Yeah, well, thank you, Kurt. Did you ever see my Instagram page, Pearl Harbour Music?

PSF: I will check it out. I am so not a social-media person.

PH: [Laughs] I know. But if you did happen to look at it, you would learn a lot about me.

PSF: My domestic partner, Susan, is on Instagram, and I will follow her lead and go and check it out. I have, basically, in preparing for this interview, been through the Pearl Harbour encyclopedia. I wanna give a shout-out to Randy Haecker, the publicist, because he did such an amazing job giving me stuff to work with, and I dug up stuff on my own. So my head has been full of Pearl for weeks now.

PH: Thank you, Kurt. I really appreciate it, because at this stage of the game for me, I'm just really happy that anybody's interested.

PSF: I feel like this is your time, if any time is, because there are lots of women now out there because of people like you, whether they know about you or not. They're drawing on the example you set, doing it your own way, calling the shots.

PH: Yeah, that's cool. Thanks.

PSF: Thank you for being so cool. This has been a great pleasure.

PH: Good luck with everything. And I hope you enjoy your music-writing career. I know that it's fun for you to do what you do.

PSF: You know, I had stopped writing for 5 years. I'd just run out of gas. Nothing was interesting me. And you're a record collector, so you'll get it. I'd just happened on, at a thrift shop, albums by a woman named Carol Hall, and I wanted to spread the word about her [and--hint, hint, record-company people--get her albums re-released], and that's what gets me going. So for the first time after 5 years, I started writing, and it's just been like an avalanche ever since then. I haven't done many interviews, but I could not pass up the chance to talk with you.

PH: Well, thanks again, Kurt.

PSF: Anything I can do. You'll love this piece, I promise you.

PH: [Laughs]

PSF: Best of luck with the album and with the rest of your life.

PH: Yeah, well, you too. Okay. Bye for now.

"Bye for now" sounded like "stay tuned," which was my parting message in the 2006 piece. Now, finally, in so many ways and however many venues, Pearl Harbour gets her say, and Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too gets its due.

In her liner notes for the reissue, Pearl writes that she had a blast making the album. Like her, this record is both a blast from the past and looking forward, so exactly what it was meant to be that it's eerie, transcendent, like a force of nature. The album has such purity and joy, like rock and roll is being reinvented on the spot. It's pure excitement from start to finish, the result of what Pearl's liner notes call wanting to "'speed up' old school rock and roll and rhythm and blues to create a new sound." Another way to put that would be bringing together rockabilly, country, and punk, as the musicians play their hearts out.

For more info and to order Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too, visit Pearl Gates (@pearlharbourmusic) ̣ Instagram photos and videos and

Pearl today. Photo by Anthony Masterson

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