Interview with ANDY FRASER

June 2005

fraser3There was a doubt as to whether this, almost not music-related, interview should be published here, but then again it must be. The reason is simple, and it’s not that the music’s already been discussed: if somebody, baring his soul, touches us with his art, he becomes close to us as a person, so we can share his world and stand for his cause together, no matter whatever alien the cause could seem to us before. Andy Fraser’s story feels so shattering as his bass playing was way back in FREE times, and there’s a lesson in it – channelled through his music on “Naked... And Finally Free” album and frankly worded below. A gentle man comes across bravely – meet him with sympathy and utter respect.

– How could you describe the therapeutical, or healing, effect that music has on people – on those who listen to it and who creates it?

First, as one who creates it, for me personally, the therapeutic effect comes from the ability to express myself. Get things off my chest, cry out for help, physically work the tension out of my body in a way like the black spiritual singers do in church, unload if you like. Lyrically, a personal issue or emotion may trigger the beginning of a song, and then, when stepping back, and trying to see the universal perspective, it helps me work through it, focus the mind on the problem, as opposed to ignoring it, or suppressing it. In a very general sense, anybody who does what they love I believe will get therapeutic benefit from it. Any kind of artist, in whatever medium, but also everything from playing sports, or writing novels.

The therapeutic benefit effect on the listener? Well as a listener, when I hear something great – Seal’s “Love’s Divine”, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the best of Aretha, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, it’s as though God is speaking through them, and I just tear up, like I am being presented with such purity – it is like a cleansing. We all have long lists of artists that do it for us personally, who make us feel so in the moment, allow to forget yesterday, stop worrying about tomorrow, and the best ones do it every time, and sound just as fresh even years later. [It’s] certainly very healing. Inspiring. If an artist can be brutally honest with themselves, express it clearly, it provokes a similar reaction in the listener, which I believe is very healthy and freeing.

– How does fame influence a person’s psychology and what’s the best way to deal with it?

Fame, I feel can be a very dangerous thing, and I engage it at my own peril, and hope not to be seduced by all that comes with it. When one is approached by people ‘with stars in their eyes’, it is as though they deify you – [which is] not good! There is only one God. It can make one feel somewhat inhuman, as though one is not being seen clearly, but through ‘rose tinted glasses’ as they say. One can even be treated inhumanly. I have experienced fans in the past grabbing at you physically as though you were immune to it.

The paparazzi are something else again. They don’t distinguish between a musician or pro golfer or TV anchor-person. It is all celebrity and getting the money shot. An artist trying to express themselves is not a concept they recognize. Recently, I have seen some news items, where paparazzi work in unison, to ambush, and cause minor traffic accidents with celebrities in order to get the money shot, and regard it as the cost of doing business, when it comes to insurance, or police violations.

Also, when one is getting ‘drowned in money’ it is very easy to think ‘you are right’ – about everything! When you are the cash cow for others, you are subject to the most subtle influencing to keep it coming. If I can try and beware of these pitfalls, accept them as the price one must pay to do what I must, I hope to be able to use it for the benefit of others, and making my little contribution in this world.

The best way to deal with it? Well for me, I don’t read, or take seriously if I come across it, stuff that is written about me – good or bad! For the most part, feel it is what fills the space between the advertising. Also, for me, it has been essential to be completely open, about my sexuality, fears, hopes, most intimate thoughts – basically comfortable in my own skin, naked before the world. Without that, I sense it could be psychologically very damaging.

fraser1– Was it shocking to discover the homosexuality in yourself?

“Shocking” doesn’t quite cover it. Lifelong self-denial is a mighty strange phenomena. Buried very deep in some back compartment of my mind, it was always there. Just denied. I had bought into it being ‘wrong’, and hence, because I was good, it couldn’t apply to me. I wouldn’t let it. I would suppress it. Work so hard, I wouldn’t even have time to go there. But at some point, later for me than many others, I had to confront it, and after being humbled by the fact that it couldn’t be changed, started learning acceptance – personally and then publicly. I realized it would be suicidal to try and be a public person, trying to hide it. People hate dishonesty more than homosexuality, but for me so far, there has been no negativity whatsoever. It is early days, but I am prepared to stand my ground should I encounter any.

– What conscious efforts did you take to reconcile yourself with it – or to fight yourself?

Well, it was a slow reconciliation. Getting to know lots of other gay people, and along with all the ‘flamers’ that the media like to focus on, I’ve met so many just ‘normal’ people from absolutely every walk of life, who happen to be gay, that it opened my eyes, and slowly I was able to just relax on it. Of course having total acceptance from my daughters, and family in general has been crucial, and I realize many others are not so fortunate and get disowned.

Singing about it has helped – that is my outlet, and release. But little things, like mentioning it to a neighbor in passing as appropriate, and not getting a ‘You burn in hell’ type of reaction, has helped make it just not such a big deal. Interestingly, recently I’ve seen school kids on TV asked by the interviewer about gay people, and whether they should be allowed to marry etcetera, and the look on their face is like ‘Why would that be an issue?’. So I think it’s a generational thing taking place. Somewhat like some very smart elderly people just cannot get the computer – [it’s just] different generation. So we are moving in the right direction for sure.

It was pointed out to me recently, so few rock music people are ‘out’ that it defies credibility. Working with the generally accepted 10 per cent figure, it would mean that there are a lot of closeted musicians. I suppose, I was very influenced by having to get along in a very ‘macho’ environment. There are lots of industry people, that who may not be personally homophobic, but like everyone, like to take the easy road. Selling an artist to a lot of young girls, would seem to them a lot easier, than trying to sell a gay guy to a few. So it’s a business decision more than a personal one, that is subtlely impressed upon you. I believe that perspective to be erroneous. People just want good music.

– How important in this aspect is the family support?

My daughters’ reaction was incredible. Having myself gone looking for my father to see for the first time through adult eyes, I recognized it when I got that particular call. They never really understood why their parents divorced, and the reaction was, “Oh, gay? Is that all it is, I thought maybe you didn’t like mum!!!” Since then we have had the most open relationship, no secrets, we work together on this project – all of us using our individual talents and artistic mediums in combination How cool is that? I understand it is a very unique situation, but with every family there has to be a way. I suppose it could have been crushing had it not been so. I am very thankful.

– Deep in depression, you wanted to commit suicide – but how did you manage to overcome depression?

There has been a couple of times. First, before I initially came to acceptance. I had so meticulously planned every stage, including getting the right drug combinations, and getting all my affairs in order, so as to be as tidy as possible for everyone – until I saw passed that point and realizing nothing had been achieved. So I just settled into starting from scratch, letting everything go, including career, and the need for a lot of unnecessary stuff. Forcing myself into physical activity. Exercise really helped. Also learning, that although an emotional or psychological issue may trigger depression, there a physical chemical imbalance occurs and feeds on itself, and that there are medications to help correct the imbalance, meanwhile dealing with the psychological issues that triggered it.

The other main one was being in physical pain for years, and not being able to get a phalanx of doctors to properly diagnose it. I had crippling neck and shoulder pain, and after trying all the things one tries before undergoing surgery, I did the surgery, and it still didn’t go away. At the same time, my hands and arms were going numb first, and then my feet, working up the legs. I would get out of bed in the morning, and my feet would feel like I had walked six hours in a mall in bad shoes, and get worse from there as the day went on. I could be sweating like crazy on an exercise bike, but my feet would feel like they were in a bucket of ice. It went on for so long, I was just being worn down with the pain and frustration. Playing a bass seemed like it was gonna be past-tense, and I was close to giving up. It turned out to be peripheral neuropathy, caused by incorrect medication, causing nerve damage, permanent, but now [it’s] kept in check by medication. It was at this, my lowest point that I wrote “Healing Hands” – really a cry out in desperation. Thankfully my prayers were answered, and the proper doctor and medication were provided.

I must also add, that having a challenge is a necessity. Something that is bigger than you. Something that dwarves one’s little complaints. Without sounding like a ‘zealous missionary’ – and some can really get up my nose – at my lowest point, if all other arguments failed to work for me, the bottom line was if I couldn’t handle this little pain, how could I handle being one of ‘God’s’ soldiers’ which in the end is what it is all about. I have certainly set myself quite the challenge – no time to be depressed. I expect it to be a very long road.

fraser2– You blame your own lack of vigilance for your illness. Could a man who gets ill through intimate relationship be vigilant if a relationship demands to be completely open and close to each other?

Intimacy should be more a state of mind, and feeling for each other. Unfortunately we live in a time when, without a vaccine, we have to suffer the humiliation of putting a balloon on our dicks. Nobody likes it, and the passion of the moment, can be nearly overwhelming, and the wanting to be completely physically intimate too. So we must be vigilant! A relationship cannot demand one doing anything that is detrimental to your, or anyone else’s health, or very existence.

– Was your Kaposi’s Sarcoma, which comes from immune deficiency, AIDS-related?

Exactly! – as I was to find out later. When I first slowly started coming out in the beginning, I would get tested and do all the things one is supposed to do to be safe. I always tested negative, and figured I was doing everything right. So I became more casual about being tested, and obviously was not vigilant at some point. I don’t know when, or with whom. It doesn’t matter. It was my responsibility, and the Kaposi’s Sarcoma was one of the indications that something else was going on.

– Beating back the cancer for twenty-nine times takes a lot of strength. Where do you take this strength to live through pain and carry on?

Actually, the cancer wasn’t a pain issue. Kaposi’s Sarcoma presents itself as black marks on the skin surface, as made famous in the Tom Hanks film, “Philadelphia”. If left untreated, and allowed to reach the inner organs, and lymph system, then we are talking pain and possibly death. I wasn’t even emotionally affected by the Kaposi’s Sarcoma news – just “OK, what do we need to do treatment-wise”, schedule it, do it. Done. Because it wasn’t one at a time, but several to treat concurrently, it sounds more dramatic, than it was. The one time I started to take it seriously was when I got one on my face. Then I started to take it personally. Which only goes to show, I am as vain as the next person…

My strongest memories are, joking around with the medical staff, showing up every day for a month for radiation treatment, and watching lung cancer patients go outside, to stick a cigarette in the hole in their throats! There was more pain associated with the neck and shoulder situation, surgery and recovery, hands and feet going numb – finally diagnosed as peripheral neuropathy.

Where does one get the strength to carry on through pain? Bottom line, it comes down to Faith. Faith in what or who? No one has given me a better reason for the existence of all things, than the reality of God. And not being one of those ‘special favored people’ – ‘religious zealots’ on God’s speed-dialer, all I have to go on is Faith. I have found security in nothing else.
– You look very fit now. What’s your routine to keep in such a great shape?

I get up at four AM. It takes me six hours to get up, but that includes three-hour exercise, breakfast, pill taking, bathroom duties, protein shakes, and Internet activity during all of the above. I now keep a laptop in the bathroom on a stand, so as not to waste a moment, and if only brushing my teeth, I can check mail and deal with whatever comes up. Actually, I can shop or order supplies, equipment, whatever, without feeling I am wasting time. It is a great time technologically that we live in. In fact I am communicating with you right now, while taking care of other business.

I am forced to eat very regularly, very disciplined, no room for anything that isn’t totally nutritious. Missing any exercise, will mean I will feel the effects of the peripheral neuropathy immediately – body tightening up. Medications can’t do it alone. Pain is quite the motivator. Must get full sleep – and life is very normal. Maybe even more so than for others, who don’t feel the immediate effects of slacking off. It is strange to consider, but everything can be turned into as asset – even having AIDS.

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