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Rutles’ leader Neil Innes, dead at 75, goes deep in one of his final interviews: ‘Mortality is real’ – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Rutles’ leader Neil Innes, dead at 75, goes deep in one of his final interviews: ‘Mortality is real’ – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Rutles’ leader Neil Innes, dead at 75, goes deep in one of his final interviews: ‘Mortality is real’ – The San Diego Union-Tribune
January 02
09:35 2020

Time goes by, as we all know, naturally / People come and people go, naturally.

English singer-songwriter Neil Innes wrote these lyrics for “Let’s Be Natural” in 1977 for the debut album by The Rutles, The Beatles’ parody band that counted George Harrison and John Lennon among its biggest fans. He sang them again on July 31, during an hour-long interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, while visiting San Diego to plan what would have been the first U.S. tour by The Rutles.

On Sunday, when the 75-year-old Innes died of a heart attack at his home near Toulouse, France, those lyrics became a coda to the life of a wonderfully distinctive musician whose 50-plus-year career saw him create a niche all his own. (The video below features 30 minutes of his hour-long San Diego interview.)

In what might be Neil Innes’s last on-camera interview, he discusses his band, The Rutles, which counted George Harrison and John Lennon among its biggest fans. He also talks about his love of The Beatles, his regular collaborations with Monty Python, his approach to songwriting and continuing to make music into his 70s.

Innes was a regular musical contributor to the English comedy troupe Monty Python and he teamed with Python mainstay Eric Idle to create The Rutles and their classic 1978 film rockumentary, “All You Need is Cash.”

In 1967, as a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Innes appeared in the Beatles’ movie “Magical Mystery Tour.” (In 1997, the song he and the Bonzos performed in “Magical Mystery Tour,” a jaunty, Elvis Presley-ish ditty entitled “Death Cab for Cutie,” inspired the name of the still-active American alternative-rock band.)

In 1968, Paul McCartney produced the Bonzos’ Top Five hit single “I’m the Urban Spaceman.” It was written by Innes, who was 23 at the time. In 1973, after the Bonzos disbanded, Innes released his first solo album, “How Sweet to be an Idiot.” Some of the songs he wrote and recorded over the years include “Amoeba Boogie,” “Cat Meat Conga,” “Elvis and the Disagreeable Backing Singers” and “Spontaneous,” which begins: The champagne was Canadian / The hostess sang a song / I contemplated suicide / Then you came along.

“When I was twenty-something, I could not imagine being 50,” Innes said during his summer visit to San Diego. “But you get there …

“And mortality is real. There’s that moment in the Woody Allen biography where (there’s a) real big close-up of him saying: ‘I was a happy go lucky kid ‘til about 5, and somebody told me about mortality. … What do you mean it’s not forever?’ And it kind of explains his attitude to a lot of things. … I think humans have a problem with reality, in that they don’t really take it seriously. The wonderful thing about the human brain is that it convinces itself that this is the most important thing, (that this) is what you internalize, and things like that. But we are sociable animals, or supposed to be, but we tend to forget some of the things that the genes and the evolution has given us — if you can say ‘evolution’ in America. I don’t know.

“It’s all up there for arguing with, and may the arguments continue, but it’s been going on a long time. As Socrates said: ‘The un-examined life is just not worth living.’ So, yeah, we could leave it there.”

DVD Review: Mock songs give life to ‘The Rutles’

The classic Beatles parody band The Rutles, featuring Eric Idle (left) and Neil Innes (right), counted at least three of the four Beatles among its fans.
(Photo courtesy of Video Services)

Innes wrote and co-wrote songs for the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” in which he also appeared. The same year saw him contribute music to Python alum Idle’s “Rutland Weekend Television” series, which is where an embryonic version of The Rutles was born.

The 1978 Rutles movie “All You Need is Cash” was produced by “Saturday Night Live” honcho Lorne Michaels. The cast included Innes, Idle, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon and John Belushi, among others. Innes, who played the role of the John Lennon-inspired Ron Nasty, wrote such Rutles’ gems as “Ouch!” “Hold My Hand,” “Cheese and Onions” and the Mozart-inspired “Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik.” These songs were both parodies and heartfelt homages to The Beatles, a band whose music seemed to be an intrinsic part of Innes’ DNA.

“At the moment, there’s a film called ‘Yesterday,’ where they pretend the world doesn’t know The Beatles existed,” he said during his July San Diego visit. “But 40 years ago, that’s what we did! The Rutles pretended the Beatles didn’t exist, in order to tell their story in a more humorous way, to sort of to give a hug to the people that were hurting over the fact that they had broken up and weren’t going to get back together again.”

As if to punctuate that point later in the interview, Innes picked up his ukulele and softly sang “All Things Must Pass,” the title track of former Beatle Harrison’s 1970 debut solo album. It is a song, he recalled, that he and Harrison used to play together on their ukuleles during visits.

After The Rutles’ movie, Innes was also featured in the English TV series “The Innes Book of Records,” which ran from 1979 to 1981, and contributed music to such children’s TV shows as “Puddle Lane” and “The Riddles.” His first book, “Gloom, Doom and Very Funny Money — Economics for Half-Wits,” was published in 1992. The Rutles first toured in 2004 and 2005, and Innes led the latest iteration of the band as recently as May and June of 2019 for a series of concerts in England.

Innes smiled when asked how he would have reacted if, in 1978, anyone had told him The Rutles would be active in 2019.

“You just never know,” he said, speaking in a San Diego recording studio. “But I think when things happen and they look like fun, you go with them. I think my philosophy remains: ‘Well, if it’s fun, I’ll do it — even better if we don’t lose money.’ And, so far, The Rutles have not been a career move. But we’ve always had fun and, so far, haven’t lost money.”

As a solo artist, Innes headlined at AMSDconcerts in 2010 on his “A People’s Guide to World Domination” concert tour. It was the only time he performed in San Diego. His memorable one-liners to the enthusiastic audience that night included: “I’m no stranger to epiphanies. I once had an epiphany about having epiphanies!”

While it was no epiphany, Innes did say during his July San Diego visit that he was contemplating making a third studio album with The Rutles. And he expressed enthusiasm about either a late 2019 U.S. tour or a 2020 spring tour. (This Union-Tribune interview was conducted for an article to preview that tour.)

“The idea is (that) while we love doing it, and we want to keep doing it as long as we can keep doing it, (there) will come a day when … (our) bodies begin to say: ‘Not again!’ But it’s (still) fun and I can still hold two hours of (songs) in my head.”

Innes acknowledged that there was an 18-year gap between The Rutles’ self-titled debut album and its second studio album, 1996’s “Archaeology,” followed by another 18-year gap until the release of the group’s 2014 concert album, “Live & Raw.”

“In fact,” Innes recalled, “ ‘Archaeology’ was — I really wasn’t that keen on doing any more Rutles, because … you know, I happened to be down staying with George (Harrison), and I said: ‘Look, you’re twisting my arm, wanting (me) to do more Rutles…’ And he said: ‘Oh, which one of you is going to get shot?’ So I said: ‘Precisely, George, there’s no fun in that.’ And he said: ‘Well, I think you should milk it for all it’s got.’

“I said: ‘Well, I’m not sure I want to do that.’ And he said: ‘Well, I don’t call every 18 years milking it!’ ”

Source: Rutles’ leader Neil Innes, dead at 75, goes deep in one of his final interviews: ‘Mortality is real’ – The San Diego Union-Tribune

About Author

Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

Martin A Nethercutt is a writer, singer, producer and loves music. Creative Director at McCartney Studios Editor-in-Chief at McCartney Times Creator-in-Chief at Geist Musik President (title) at McCartney Multimedia, Inc. Went to Albert-Schweitzer-Schule Kassel Lives in Playa del Rey From Kassel, Germany Married to Ruth McCartney

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