Q&A with former teen idol Leif Garrett
Compiled by Navar Watson
In 1977, a young teenager with long, golden hair and tight leather pants burst onto the music scene, stealing girls’ hearts all over the world. His name was Leif Garrett, pronounced like “Lafe,” not “Leaf.”
Though his teen idol days are over, Garrett will be performing at The Vogue in Indianapolis July 25 with a group of local artists. But it isn’t an ordinary concert. All of the proceeds are going to a local cancer patient, whom Garrett hardly knows.
The Current had a chance to catch up with Garrett at Kingston’s Music Showcase in Carmel, where he and the new band have been practicing. Here is the Q&A below, edited down for clarity:
Tell me about Saturday’s show and how it came it about.
It all started [with] my friend Billy Lee, who is a native from here … born and raised in Broad Ripple, Indiana. His [brother, Tim Lee] and sister-in-law [Shawn Robare Lee] just bought in, like, November/December a nice big farm and a nice big piece of land and everything, and basically found out in January she has level three breast cancer.
Having had gone through cancer in my own family—my mom got level four lung cancer and never smoked a day in her life—[I know it’s] expensive … We just want to make sure that they wouldn’t lose everything and that they can have money to take care of all of the reconstructive [care] and aftercare.
Do all of the proceeds of this concert go to your friend’s family?
[Nods] All proceeds. We’re going to give as much as possible to other charities as well, like the Breast Cancer Society here.
Who are you performing with?
We’ve got a local cat named Jeff Willock, and the Chicago-based band, Emperors and Elephants. … And then my friend Billy … put the band together for this gig. … They’re mostly metal-looking guys … but you know, they’ve got the sensitive side too. [Laughs]
We don’t even have a name. … I was thinking it was going to be called Hair Band, since everybody’s got so much going on with the beards and hair. So it’s Leif Garrett and the Hair Band.
What kind of songs can we expect?
We’re doing a bunch of different songs. Some of my old stuff from back in the 70s and doing newer stuff. … And then we’re doing some cover songs, so I don’t want to give anything away.
Do you expect to see some of your faithful followers from the 70s?
Yeah! They’ve bought tickets already. We’ve got $100 meet-and-greets, and we’ve got $50 meet-and-greets.
What’s the weirdest encounter you’ve had with a fan that you can say on the record?
I was playing in the Houston Astrodome, and we just finished the show and were coming back to the hotel, and my manager happened to notice that under the door … the light was being reflected in an odd way—like someone was in the room pacing or something. It turned out that a couple of girls had bribed the maids to let them in the room and they were waiting there for me when I got there. … It was very weird. Who knows if they were going through my stuff or whatever.
As a teenager in the business, I feel like you’d have a lot of pressure from people telling you what to do.
Oh, I got ripped off badly. … That’s what I don’t understand. My career ended musically, as far as [the producers] were concerned, when the five-year contract was over and I was, like, 21 or 22, whereas I was trying to let them in on my vision [to grow].
In the teen idol world, the longest a teen idol can last—unless they change and become an adult with their music—is five years. … You go from 16 to maybe 21, and then by 21 you’re already having sex … and that changes your whole world. Your music changes, the things you like change. One thing is puppy love; the next thing is lust. In the teen idol world, it’s puppy love.
New wave [music] was happening. Disco wasn’t going to last, first of all, and that sort of like puppy-love style wasn’t going to last either. Like I said, you grow up and start having sex. Your tastes change. You become more mature. … They just didn’t see it, and my contract was up and I said, “See you later.”
What are you working on now?
I’ve been writing a lot, but I’m also writing a book right now, and I’ve also been doing a lot of music placement for film and television.
Is the book an autobiography?
It’s not an autobiography. I mean, it is somewhat. … It’s short stories. Let’s just say, right now the working title is, “My Crazy Adventures with Notable Friends.” … I don’t know when it’s going to be released yet. I’m still finishing it.
With the people that you’ve met in your career, was there anyone who made a really huge impact on you?
Bernie Taupin—Elton [John]’s writer. His lyrics were probably the first lyrics that really … were my first musical influence. Actually, I remember the exact first song that made me want to do music, and it was a song by Billy Joe Royal called “Cherry Hill Park” and it’s from the 60s. I remember hearing it as a kid, and that was it.
Music affects me really deeply. I get emotional; it reminds me of periods in my life and things like that. But music really affects me deeply, and it’s something that I hopefully do justice to.
What ended up happening with your mother? Did she pass away from cancer?
Nope. My mom was given six months to a year to live 10 years ago. She’s still alive. But I’m taking care of both my mom and my dad right now, and it’s kind of rough. … It’s a bit much sometimes. This has been a vacation for me. [Laughs] But you know, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Doing this and taking care of my parents is something I would want someone to do for me. I do unto others as I want done to myself, and I believe in karma, and I believe in just doing the right thing—being morally correct and right and good.