Pink fixes me with a pale blue eyeball.
“Fucker,” she adds. “Bitch. Motherfucker. Cocksucker. Fuckface.
“There are numerous things you can say in the street,” she cheerfully observes, “and everybody turns around like you're talking to them.”
Pink should know. She often walks her dog, Fucker, around her LA beachfront neighbourhood, and calls him to heel by name. “When I first got him, he looked up at me, and I was like, ‘Ohh, you're the cutest little fucker I ever saw.’”
Between her fuschia barnet and obscenely monikered pet, one can deduce that 22-year-old Pink is not afraid to stand out in a crowd. Never has been. This pert, pugnacious bundle of raunch and aggro, fitted with an industrial strength larynx, landed smack-bang on pop's doorstep two years back, brandishing a kick-ass single, Most Girls. The message being, she wasn't. Most girls, that is. It was hard to argue. And, from the look of her, dangerous.
Most girls - most white girls in the charts, at any rate - are precocious sub-Britney princesses, or Atomic Kitten-a-likes with rictus grins plastered across their simpering mugs. Along came Pink, looking as if she'd sooner die than smile. She'd sneer, at a pinch. Snarl, certainly. But if you saw her teeth, you'd better run. Her songs were mainly concerned with instructing sundry cads and ne'er-do-wells to piss right off. Her first album, Can't Take Me Home, was stuffed to the gunwales with tough, head-smacking R&B. The only thing about it that wasn't indisputably black was Pink's own pink pelt.
Which makes it all the more startling that, having shifted multi-platinum quantities of her LA & Babyface-produced debut, she should barge back through the swing doors armed with a record which, frankly, rocks. And not by accident. Missundaztood is designed to rock. Guitars all over the shop. Aerosmith's Steven Tyler guesting with his customary balls-in-a-mangle set-piece. And most bizarrely of all, a fistful of writing and production credits for one Linda Perry.
Perry is remembered, if at all, as the caterwauling, pint-sized she-Axl who in 1993 fronted 4 Non-Blondes on their solitary, histrionic hit, What's Up. Turns out that she was also Pink's girlhood heroine. As revelations go, this is somewhat akin to Eminem announcing that all he ever wanted in the world was to team up with the hairy feller out of The Spin Doctors.
Many was the time when the teenage Pink - following Perry's lyrical lead - would step outside, take a deep breath, get real high, and scream at the top of her lungs, “WHAT'S GOIN’ ON?” Her Philadelphia neighbours may been wondering much the same thing when they summoned a cop car to haul Pink away. They didn't look too kindly upon this sort of malarkey at four in the morning.
Truth be told, no-one looked too kindly upon Pink back then. Known to the local constabulary as Alicia Moore, the girl was trouble; a scrappy punkette from a home not so much broken as splintered, whose driving ambition was to drop out of school. She achieved this at 15, by which time she was done with a childhood she describes on the new album as “my Vietnam”. A little over the top, some might say. In fact, many already have. But Pink is unconcerned. “I don't take it personally. My dad was a Vietnam vet - he's told me the stories - and he isn't mad at me about it. So nobody else can really get upset. I mean, other Vietnam vets could, a little, but they wouldn't be looking into it that far.
“I didn't have it that bad, of course,” she admits. “Nobody was actually shooting at me. Well, not me personally. My ex-boyfriend was shot in the leg and lost his scholarship to Penn State and could never play football again. In a robbery. Yup, Philly's a pretty poor city. Everybody wants what everbody else has.”
Pink's turbulent upbringing is the most memorable aspect of the new album, despite the fact she addresses it only on a couple of songs. Family Portrait depicts her parents’ divorce when she was eight in terms familiar to any child pychologist: “You fight about money/ about me and my brother. . . I promise I'll do anything/ Mommy I'll be better. . . I won't spill the milk at dinner/ Daddy don't leave.” Did Pink blame herself for Mommy and Daddy's bust-up?
“No, but I think they did for a while. I guess subconsciusly you always think it's your fault, you know” - mock wailing - “‘I didn't love them enough to keep them together, waaaaah!’ But no, they couldn't agree on anything but the fact that they hated each other.”
On My Vietnam, Pink sings: “Daddy was a soldier/ He taught me about freedom. . . Mama was a lunatic/ She liked to push my buttons.” Not hard to work out where her sympathies lie. Especially as, after the recalcitrant Pink jacked in what passed for her studies, Mama threw her out on her ear.
“I very much identify with my Dad,” she agrees. “I am him reincarnated. All the trouble I get into is because of him and how he raised me. He's a fighter. He's a smartass. He always told me if I get in a fight I'd better not lose it or he'll kick my ass. Then I'd get an ass-whupping twice.
“But I love my Mom. I'm surprised she lasted as long as she did. I would have kicked me out a long time ago. I gave her hell. Since I was about nine she raised us by herself, basically. She worked full-time, went to school full-time. I had run of the streets. I started going to clubs when I was 13. I was always out at night. And still out in the morning. I split my time between horse-riding and raving. And skateboarding, because my brother told me girls can't skate. And everything else kicking in too. I had two punk rock bands, I sang gospel in church. I was just confused.
“I wanted to get legally emancipated. Divorce my parents. I brought it up a couple of times but it didn't go over well. They just laughed at me and rolled their eyes like they usually do at most of the things I say. I wanted to hitch-hike across the country to California and get discovered singing on the boardwalk on the beach.”
Substitute Atlanta for Los Angeles and that's pretty much the story. Pink was just sixteen when LA Reid and Babyface signed her to their LaFace label, initially as part of an R&B group which never made the cut. Four wilderness years followed before she notched up a solo US hit, There You Go. Pink's eagerness to tinker with a winning formula so soon by going rock could be seen as brave, or foolhardy. Both would be in keeping with what we know about her character. According to Pink, when Reid told her to forget it, she told him to cram it. He blinked first.
Maybe. But Reid didn't get where he is by hurling uncommercial product at the market. Missundaztood is a slick and teen-friendly piece of work, as exemplified by the indecently catchy single, Get This Party Started, penned by Perry. And, as Pink affirms, “I think a lot of the record's still very soulful. The style is in my voice, it's in my heart, it's in the diversity of in all of it. I've always loved hip hop, old soul, opera, classical, middle eastern - and I've always loved rock music. I thought I was going to marry Jon Bon Jovi.”
Hear that, pretty boy? Better duck for cover.
You've got a few drug references on the new CD - is that something you've been involved in?
“Drugs? I have a lot of friends who have OD'd, and yeah, it's been in and out of my life. What have I tried? Hahahahaha! Oh shit. I don't think we should get into that. Not until it's all legal. Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh. I don't want the cops following me. You know what, the important thing is that I don't any more.
I think you have to educate yourself. I was always the type of person, if I was going to put anything into my body, I was going to go to the library and read the medical books about what the legal form of it is, where it came from, what it's made from, what it does to you. Whereas my friends didn't care, were stupid. If a kid knows that Special K is actually Ketaset, it's horse tranquilizer, then they might not want to do that much.”
Did you get ‘A's in Chemistry, then?
“No, I didn't get an ‘A’ in anything but Chorus and Lunch. And sometimes Gym.”
Were you bullied at school?
“Ummm, no. I mean, a little bit. This girl tripped me off a bus, and I got jumped by four girls. But I used to go after the bullies. I hate bullies, I don't like people like that. I would always feel bad for the underdog.”
You were some sort of schoolgirl caped crusader?
“Yeah, kinda, I was like the little social worker in third grade.”
Did that get you into fights?
“Got other people out of them, though. I used to fight my brother's fights for him, because he was always so little. He's older than me, but he's so little.”
Is the music business like being at school, where you've got the different cliques?
“Sometimes, yeah, it really is.”
So Britney's the cheerleader and you're the weird misfit troublemaker. . .
“Thanks! No, I didn't get onto the cheerleading squad. As for the trouble, I don't think I make it, I just always somehow get involved in it.”
That's what they all say.
“Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.”
You've got a lyric on the album: “Tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears/She's so pretty/That just ain't me.”
“I've never been the cutesy, dainty, proper girl. I tried that for, like, a day. Didn't work.”
Do you have a beef with Britney?
“‘Cause of all the tabloids, right? No. She was in my dressing room, like, two days ago, we were having fun. I got her flowers and they made it look like I purposely got her flowers she's allergic to. It's amusing to watch. It's entertaining, I like buying the paper now.”
What sort of stuff do you get up to on tour?
“I like to toilet-paper other people's buses. I want to get everybody. I'll do anybody. Anybody's bus that has the nerve to park in the parking lot. I might even do my own. But mostly, I stay in my bus and write poetry. I get scared. Start getting paranoid. I swear to God, staying in the same hotel as N-Sync scares me. I won't do it. People sleeping in the halls. Guys on ecstasy knocking on every door: [menacing hiss] ‘Is Pink in? Can she come out and play?’ Biting down on his jaw. I'm like ‘Huuuuh, don't let him find my room. . .’ So scared.”
You dropped out of school at fifteen, left home and went to Atlanta. What do you think would have happened to you if you hadn't got your record contract?
“That's scary. I can't bear to think about it. I probably would have just stayed lost and kept drifting. I know I would have probably got in a lot more trouble.
I've done the jobs, I've done the nine-to-fives. I've worked at every fast-food restaurant that's standing. I had to wear that uniform. Ohhhh [shudders], and pin my hair all up and wear hats. I looked like a total boy. You know, at [restaurant name deleted for legal reasons] we had the seven-second rule, which means if it drops on the floor for less than seven seconds you can still use it. That's why I don't eat there. A lot of fast-food restaurants use that rule. I actually went somewhere and heard of a thirty-second rule. That's disgusting.”
Did you ever get offered money to take your clothes off?
“No, but I was in a club one time, it was like four o'clock in the morning, and this guy came up to me and waved five hundred dollars in my face and was like: ‘Kiss her, over there.’ I was like, ‘Okay - c'mere.’ She was like, ‘Wait a minute!’ I'm like, ‘Hey, you didn't make the deal, I did, honey - see ya!’”
You've said of Linda Perry, “Genius people are usually the tormented ones”. Do you see yourself as a tortured artist?
“Ahahahahaha! I always love the part where artists who have everything complain. No, I'm very blessed, I have a lot things to be thankful for. Yes, I'm a little. . . different, heh-heh-heh-heh, in my thought processes. But I don't think I'm tortured.”
When you were a teenage 4 Non-Blondes fan, did you know that Linda Perry was a lesbian?
“I had no idea. But it really wouldn't have mattered, I don't think. She is the business, as you say. And as a club kid, I was in gay clubs all the time.”
Were you surprised that a lot of people thought the same about you?”
Do they? Really? I hear a lot of stuff, but I never heard that. I heard that people thought I was a man. Me and Gwen Stefani. I'm sure because they thought I was this big man-basher, -hater, -eater girl. But I'm not. I have a boyfriend and [mock-bashfully] I love boys.”
Ever been tempted down that road?
“I think girls are the sexiest, most beautiful creatures on earth, but that's as far as that goes. “
Never thought, “God, I've got to have her?”
“Yeah - got to have her in my band. Hahahahahahaha!”
How did it come about that you appeared on “Lady Marmalade”?
“I have no idea. Somebody called me and said, ‘Lil’ Kim, Moulin Rouge, courtesans.’ I said, ‘I'm in.’”
How did you feel about dressing as a prostitute in the video?
“It's like being in your mother's closet when you're four. It's great. I loved it. I was not into at first, I did not want to do it. I have this girl fat complex thing. But after about five minutes I was like, ‘I can do this.’ I found my inner cat.”
You had to kiss Christina Aguilera in a game of spin-the bottle. How did she taste?
“I dunno, I tasted my hand. I put my hand over her mouth and kissed my hand. Isn't that boring?”
You chickened out.
“Naaah, I just didn't want to piss her boyfriend off.”
Is it true that it's not just the hair on your head you dye pink?
“I plead the Fifth. That's for Carey [Hart, Pink's dirt-bike rider beau] to know and no-one else.”
The video for “Get This Party Started” - does that represent a typical night for you?
“Yeah - a Saturday night. Maybe a Wednesday, Tuesday night too. I like to go play pool too, that wasn't in the video.”
When you say, “I can go for miles if you know what I mean” - what do you mean?
“I mean it in every sense you're probably thinking of. Hey, when does this come out, so I can tell my Dad not to read this magazine?”
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