Damo Suzuki, the legendary singer of Can, Dunkelziffer, Damo Suzuki Band and Damo Suzuki’s Network, is the subject of the upcoming documentary Energy. Director Michelle Heighway’s Indiegogo campaign to finish the movie runs through June 20. I never imagined I would speak to Damo Suzuki, and I leapt at the chance to call him by long-distance videophone, Los Angeles to Cologne, earlier this week.
When he said authority was against God’s will, I thought of the English Peasants’ Revolt, and John Ball’s sermon at Blackheath on June 13, 1381:
In the beginning all men were created equal; servitude of man to man was introduced by the unjust dealings of the wicked, and is contrary to God’s will. For, if God had intended some to be serfs and others lords, He would have made a distinction between them at the beginning.
I understand if you’re tired of talking about your health, but if you can just briefly tell us what’s been going on with you over the last few years…
It was end of August until last year, March. But I’m not still 100 percent good condition. I had really heavy-duty during that time—I had cancer. After the cancer, they made some mistakes, and things like this, so that’s why I have to stay so long. And still not that good. Maybe two hours after I wake up it’s not such really good condition, I must take medicine. Then this effect comes, maybe, after two hours, then I feel okay. I can live quite normal. But many things are handicapped, because I cannot carry stuff. More than 20 kilograms, maybe less, I cannot carry. So my work is quite limited. So it’s not sort of really like Californian sun [laughter].
It must be frustrating for you, because you’ve traveled so much and you play music all the time. Has it been hard for you to tour?
No no no, it’s not so bad like I thought. Actually, it’s good, because it’s kind of a therapy that [gives] me a little bit of motivation and enjoyable moment that I’m together with the audience, and I make things which I really like to make. So that way I feel really comfortable. So that’s my answer, not so bad to have this time.
But actually it’s not me traveling. Everybody’s traveling, you too, you are traveling too, every day, in a way. My thing is both sides: geographically and also spiritual way, so I am traveling quite hard. But it’s okay; I survived it already twice. I had once, also, in the middle of the Eighties, I had same sickness, and I survive after that 30 years. So now I survived, maybe I can live for another 30 years.
Mainly I perform in England, UK, and I have quite a young audience. Some of them is really teenagers. So I can perform another 40, 50 years, until they get old. [laughter] Maybe they can find their grandkids, you know, things like that, will come to my concert. So it’s really a nice thing, because I don’t have any kind of a special epoch, you know? I’m always quite into the times. I like it, because I just improvise music, so you cannot say, “This is old, but this is new”—actually, these are not the things that people like to hear in improvised music. They like to hear just what Damo Suzuki is doing, is all. It’s not a matter of “30 years before” or “30 years later,” the main thing is that I’m doing something, because I’m not singing every day the same songs 300 or 400 times. That I cannot make. Like everybody else, I’m doing things which are, for me, easier to make. So life is as simple as possible this way. What I’m doing for myself is the best way. Then I don’t get so much stress.
Do you have any advice for people who face this illness?
Just don’t give up. That’s important, because if you give up, you are just thinking [of] yourself. But if you survive, you cannot imagine—you can make many people happy, and also, you can have very beautiful experiences in the future. So the best thing is don’t give up, because everybody has, maybe light or heavy, many problems. Maybe it’s not an illness, but everybody has to go behind these high mountains which is disturbing you, you know. You can keep on going. This is possible always.
I think it’s difficult to talk about, maybe, but it seems like spontaneity and improvisation are—I admire the way you’ve committed yourself to the present moment, and creating in the moment, um…
No, I understand. Yes, I know what you mean—I think so—I can probably answer like this: This moment, like now, I’m talking to you from Los Angeles. This moment, at the moment now we are sharing together, this time, you cannot change anything in the world. So it’s a very special moment. So everybody, every time, it’s all special moment. For me, or maybe for other people, maybe all people, the important [thing] is just enjoy now, because this is a fact which you can have. But in the future, you have a problem or something, maybe you go another way or something like this, but now is a thing which you can enjoy, and this is a luxury that a human being can enjoy just at the moment.
So if you think about this, to continue this, because at the moment it is really wonderful: I meet you, and we talk to you, and it’s wonderful, and you like to continue this good moment. That’s how, in life, it is. You continue those deep moments with yourself by your taste. That’s all people’s movies, so everybody’s actually making a movie for themselves. It’s a good thing. At the moment, it’s a basis. Maybe tomorrow, next moment, you go another way, but then another movie starts, so it always starts from zero. This is a good thing. I’m very curious, so many experiences are like this to get with myself. It’s really good to have many different kinds of experience. That’s the thing: I’m never too tired to get new information. But if I move—not from broadcasting, or newspapers, or just reading, and this is the information (it’s not)—but if I’m [sharing] experience with some people, and having a time together, sharing a time together, this experience is reality and the truth. Only truth I can say, and it’s truth to the people [too].
But mainly people is quite brainwashed from the media, and this is destroying the creative nature of the people. Because everybody’s creative, because God made the human being as a creative person, because God’s self is creative. So why creativity is important is because creativity is the activity that brings to freedom, and your freedom is the most important thing in your life. Nothing else you cannot compare with this. And you cannot buy this, and you cannot sell this, this is most important thing, this is at the moment. That’s why I’m making music with this moment. Audience comes, 300, 400 people coming in the small places, and everybody in these spaces has their own experience, because I and sound carriers perform every night different. Different members, different music, and maybe different music styles. Also atmospheres are different. People are having different problems, and different possibilities, and also many things all changed. But this moment we are making music special for these 300, 400 people, so they have their own experience. So that’s kind of the platform for making friends with a human being I’m creating with music.
This is, I think, most important in music, because music is communication, so… communication is so good that I’m equal to audience, and we just start in the same space, audience and sound carriers on the stage, everybody starts from zero and nobody has a concept. If you don’t have concept, you can go many different ways. You shouldn’t—“You have to go this way, or not,” this is no matter—all 360 degrees, angles, are free for you and another 300 people. So that’s why I like to make people different experiences, so they can get into the music too. Because it must be interactive if you talk about communication, yes? And so I have some feedback to them, and the audience gives us some feedback, and we make music together in the space. Because one of the most important factors is audience. Without audience, I cannot make music. Without audience, I don’t need any message. Actually, I don’t have message! But all those things which I told you is already message enough, so I don’t need any texture. Maybe people realize by themselves things like this, then it’s a really good thing. It’s a good thing, so everybody open their door. To go somewhere. To meet somewhere. Just better to go open than closed. If we are open, there’s many curiosities, but if we’re shut out and isolated, then nothing comes near, so that’s why you’ll be the first person to open this door, that is the best thing, so you can enjoy your life.
You were saying earlier that people are brainwashed by the media. Do you think isolation has something to do with that?
Yes, I think isolation too, but more… uneducated, actually. If you are not so much curious, if you are not so much interested in anything, then you cannot educate. So you must learn from somewhere. And you can take it, which is a really good substance for your health, your spiritual health, so you take this. But many people don’t do this because they like to live very comfortable, so they don’t like to get any stress. There are many traditional things—if you are American, you have American history, and things like that—I cannot say everything’s the truth. Many things are not really truth. If we believe in going to church, Protestant church, or something, why must people believe in some Protestant church? Everybody must research themselves, who I am, where I’m going to. If you don’t know who you are, and also you cannot honestly say “I’m Oliver,” then you are not a real person, Oliver. So you must be, so you can shout it proudly, so you know yourself much more and you’ve chosen your way. This [decision]: choose a way, many people don’t make it. Because it’s family tradition, so we believe in 200, 300 years of our kings or queens—so why I should change?
But how it starts, they don’t look [into it], but mainly, generally, the beginning of all authority is really bad things. Because people wanted to be better placed than other people. This is already against God, against rules of God. Against nature too. You can see many things all around which we call technology. Technology is totally against nature. That’s why everybody’s getting unsatisfied and unhealthy, and so many problems all over the world. All this kind of comes from information. Because normal people don’t get deep into the information which actually everybody has. Own self, this information. Family, nations, religion, and everything which is your blood, from your parents, as a part of your DNA, or something. These things, almost nobody’s researching, and if you don’t study this, then you’ll never understand why you as a human being came on the Earth, and you cannot find what is your mission—I think everybody has a mission—and what is your mission, you don’t understand. Seeing this is so, you must think of so many truths people is believing as a truth, you must see it as a doubt, and you find your own truth.
I’m trying to make, with music, these things. That’s why, for me, it’s not so much important to have any kind of pieces for the music. For me, it’s much more, as I told you before, I like to make a platform, or a space, that people can meet, getting something together, getting energy together, getting free energy together. This kind of platform is kind of my music. I don’t like to make three-dimensional music, or something like this. But I like to make something which is not common, and not industry, and quite freeform. That means total against system, all systems. Avoid all systems. Within this, I like to create many different things; at the moment, I’m doing this one with music, and at the moment, it’s a really good medicine for me, for my health.
I wouldn’t think of asking this question of almost anyone else, but I think you might have a good answer. What does music do for people?
Yes, music has done many things. It depends on the music. And music is also some kind of… brainwash machine, too. Many things. It’s not really good to categorize people, or something like that, but if you think about some people, and they’re listening to this kind of music, but their character is getting like this, and getting like this, and they are a kind of people in a social [group], from the music people is listening to, you can understand something [about] social standard and character also, sometimes. Music’s done many things, and also, music is very, very dangerous, too. But very calming, too, if you have been sick, and if you listen to the really quiet music, or something just kind of ambient, or you just bathe in the singing, that is also music which is… a better way to influence, and bring you health. Music has done many things for human society.
Music is also remembering some epochs. If I see that it’s a rainy day, and if I see outside from the window raining, maybe I can remember hit music from Cascades from the beginning of the Sixties, or something like that. I can remember this. So you are connecting together with time, too. Or many Beatles fans, connecting “This is ‘64, ‘63, these things happened”—it’s quite easy to remember, with music example, numbers. If you think about 1980s [looks puzzled], but if I know hit music, “Oh, that is this time.” So strangely, music is much more easy to remember when it happened. This is a good thing, too.
But music itself has many, many functions in human society. That’s why I cannot tell “This is music” or “This is music,” it’s impossible to do, because music is beginning already from… No sound is also music, yes? And from there to really loud music, and also locomotive sound, or somebody singing, or sound of the waves. Actually, it’s a part of the universe which we cannot see, actually. It’s enormous.
It’s a part of the universe we can’t see?
We can’t see, because there are many things you cannot see, but it exists. For instance, like a wind. So a wind, you cannot see it, but if you see a tree is shaking and so on, then you can see that it’s windy. Some things you cannot see, for instance, like a smell. You cannot see it, but smell. So there is such a substance which is quite difficult to explain; it’s the same, like God, it extends to God as well. Because you cannot see God, but that’s why you cannot say “God doesn’t exist”—you cannot say this. So it’s also kind of a brainwash, because people are taught God is not existing. So he learned from somewhere, but he never got near to God, because he didn’t read the Bible. Many people don’t read the Bible, even if they are Christians. But if you read the Bible, then you can understand the character of God, and what He likes to do, and within the next year and after 1,000 years, what He’s going to do, it’s clearly standing on the last book of the Bible. People don’t read this one, because it’s quite popular, the ideology that God doesn’t exist. That’s why people don’t go this way, you know. I really like and I’m much more curious about the things not many people is going to, I’m much more curious about this, than where 80, 90 percent of the people is going, you know?
Many things I’ve tried in my life because I like to get some special moment. If you are not mainstream, or trendy, or something like that—if you are in the middle of the trendy, you cannot see it, because this speed is so quickly going, but you are middle of this trend, you cannot get out anymore, you know? Then you are losing yourself, you are losing your opinion. But if you are out of the mainstream and the trendy things, then you have much more perspective to see [what other] people is doing, and from this you can learn many, many things. And you have enough time, because you have time to see the trend moving to this place, another place, going farther, and people don’t realize many things happening, all things which is something to do with trend and fashion, and things like this, is something to do with, I think, a conspiracy. Actually, for some kind of people, it’s quite easy to control this world.
I wonder if another function of music has to do with those moments that happen every once in a while when you’re onstage and time seems to slow down. Suddenly you see the people that you’re with.
Yeah, I think so. Maybe many people have this experience with themselves, because sometimes time is ticking different in different places and different situations—time is ticking really total different. I think people think of time as exactly going, it always exactly is going, but every individual person is a totally different time going on. That’s why you find different systems to enjoy. Also, with improvised music, I think it’s possible to make lengths of a second different. And the more people is inside, and being there they are part of this, they all can enjoy the same time I’m making music and sound carriers making this. With music, you can change a little bit the timeflow also, and I don’t know how, because music itself, you cannot see it. That means it’s not three-dimensional. Maybe music is four-dimensional, that’s why we cannot see it. Maybe it’s not easy to create with some kind of mathematics, but it’s music, you cannot maybe change it to numbers. Who knows. It could be possible, everything is possible to calculate with numbers.
Can you tell me a bit about the movie, Damo? Have you seen it yet?
This movie that Michelle Heighway made about you.
You know, I’m talking about it really like a big actor. “Which movie?” [much laughter] Already like that. It’s not a really good start.
This was Michelle’s idea, three or four years before, I think in the quite early stage of my illness, after the operation. So she asked me if she can make this documentary film. At that time, I was quite a skeptic; you know, it’s a quite private thing. But after a while, I thought, Maybe there are some people who have the same sickness like me, and if I can support these people in a way, maybe it’s really good. Because if you have experience, and if you don’t share it with other people, it’s not real experience. Just stops at your place. But good experience, especially good experience, you must share it with other people. Because it helps, I think, other people in the same situation. Or maybe it shouldn’t be [only] sickness; if you discuss other different kinds of problem, then maybe he can solve them too. Or maybe he doesn’t know anybody who had very bad experience with illness. I almost died; only 10 percent possibility to survive. And this kind of bad situation, you can compare to many things that happen in your life, other problems. That’s why I have a good feeling now with this film which Michelle is doing. She is quite busy. I met her quite a lot of times. When the band performed near to Yorkshire, she came to the concert, last time she came to three concerts, and she was in Germany three or four times. She at the moment needs some money to edit things, and also, she likes to make an international [edition] with another language, too. Things like that cost money.
The press materials about the movie say there’s some animated portions about your dreams?
Oh yes. I had some strange dreams after surgery, so she likes to make this part a special [animation]—only short, short; not more than one minute, but just my dream as a vision, or maybe as a comic, or some different kind of stuff, because a dream itself, you cannot shoot it, really. [laughs]
Yeah. So for this part, it’s quite interesting to make. I had some strange dreams, but the main things I cannot remember, because it was a time, I was getting every day such strong medicine before operation. Almost one month long, I cannot remember that good what happened. It’s really… if you drink maybe two bottles of whiskey and smoke 50 joints, things is like this.
Why is it that you don’t come to the States anymore?
No, not “anymore.” I was thinking quite a long time against U.S. politics. But recently, I get quite a lot of letters from different parts of U.S., “Why you don’t”—same, like you, “why you don’t [tour] in U.S.” So I found somebody from New Orleans. Actually, she wanted to make only one concert in New Orleans, but I explained I have difficulty to get working permits and things like this, and we talk, discuss, and she’s going to help me. If everything is going a positive way, I perform in U.S.A. in April next year. Coast to coast concerts. Beginning from New York City, and end up in Oakland or something, Portland.
It has been a while, hasn’t it?
Yeah, I think so. Ten years or something.
What are you doing right now, Damo? What’s going on in your life?
[signal breaks up]—but I have quite a lot of concerts. I had a tour in May, England and Ireland, all together 14 concerts. This weekend, I go to Sweden and Berlin, then after to Paris. Then after, I’m going to be involved in project of a film student from London. They have already locations in part of Lancashire, England, and Scotland. We’re going to be shooting together maybe almost near to one month long. Low-budget film, it’s the first feature film for this student. [laughs]
Are you acting?
Yes, yes, I’m acting! [laughs]
Have you done that before?
No. But they asked me if I have interest, so I said, “Yeah, why not?” Because I never tried it, so I never know. Maybe I’m really Hollywood actor, you know? It’s okay, because I don’t know. But if young people ask me, I’m really interested to work with young people, because they have another perspective, and another energy, and other ideas. That’s why always for me it’s really a good space to land something. This kind of a project, I don’t say “never,” I really like to make it much more.
Do you know what part you’re playing?
The main person in this film. They have a little bit of a story, but dialogue with everything improvised, and things like that. Young people, they like to try to make something extreme. But I think it will be something like a 90-minute film.
Is there anything else you’d like to say, Damo?
Yeah, happy new year! [laughter]