Moment of Truth
Looking back on it now, the film roles Corey Feldman played in the late '80s and early '90s might have been some kind of predictor of the trouble he was to face in the years ahead: He played the attention-seeking cutup in The Goonies, the volatile, ear-mangled son of a crazed war veteran in Stand by Me, and a bloodsucking vampire in Lost Boys. If life imitates art, Feldman's eventual, and well-documented, descent into the dark side -- specifically, drug addiction -- and bad, bad movies (Meatballs IV, anyone?) might be viewed as the inevitable result of combining a troubled on- and off-screen youth (Feldman divorced his parents while still a teenager), unchecked adulation (at one point, he and his partner in hunkdom, Corey Haim, had an 800 number that infatuated teenage girls could call to hear daily changing recordings of the pair), and access to excess. Feldman, now 29, has said that his drug dabbling began with a little curious pot smoking at the age of 13 with River Phoenix on the set of Stand by Me and ended when a rather voracious appetite for both cocaine and heroin landed him first in jail, and then in rehab.
Today, Feldman is going on 10 years of sobriety, still working sporadically in Hollywood and trying to launch a career as the leader of Corey Feldman's Truth Movement (which released Searching for Soul in 1998 on the Vegas Records imprint), a kind of fusiony rock band that seems highly influenced by Feldman's flair for theater. Searching for Soul -- which features different players from those joining Feldman on his current 28-city tour of America -- has lots of keyboard atmospherics, spindly guitars, almost chamber-style vocal harmonies, elevator brass and Feldman's unmistakable voice. It's not particularly good, but it's not horrible, either, and surely it's not as bad as a generation of knee-jerk cynics -- Xers who grew up with The Goonies and can't quite let go of the fact that Feldman used to dress like Michael Jackson -- will probably hope it is.
Feldman, of course, knows that no matter what he does, there will be those who are poised to make fun of him. The difference these days is that he doesn't seem to care.
New Times: It seems like you currently have fan sites on the Web that are run by young teenage girls. Are there people who are still in love with the teenage you?
Corey Feldman: Jeez, you're making me feel like Spinal Tap. I think there's a very interesting range that I hit. There's all those girls who were into me, and now they are beautiful young ladies who are still around. But there are also little kids seeing The Goonies for the first time, and old people who had teenagers watching my movies almost 20 years ago.
NT: Will you ever be able to transcend your status as "that kid from The Goonies"?
CF: No, but it doesn't bother me. It's beautiful that I was part of something that is timeless. That's pretty much anyone's goal as an artist -- to be part of something that creates its own legacy.
NT: Like Meatballs IV?
CF: [laughs] Yeah, like Meatballs IV.
NT: What's your relationship to Hollywood these days?
CF: I still do everything. Over the past couple of years, I have been more on the production end of things. I directed and produced two projects [notably, 1998's She's So Tall], and I put myself in front of the camera as an actor in those projects. I got to the point where I wasn't too keen on going in and auditioning for parts, so I moved into the idea of creating my own projects. Hollywood is so cutthroat, but people respect you if you don't just sit around and wait for things to happen to you.
NT: You have been pretty open about your drug addiction and recovery and the toll it took on your career. Can you reiterate what circumstances led you to make some of the undeniably stinky films that you did?
CF: When I first got out of rehab, when I first got sober and was getting my life together, I was very much in debt; I had a lot of financial restraints. I had to do stuff that probably wouldn't have been my choice. If I had known the damage that it would do to my career, then I probably wouldn't have made those choices. But the reality is you have to do what you have to do. It's funny, because people start saying, "Oh, he must not be serious as an artist. He doesn't care about his career," when you do care. You're just trying to survive.
CF: There were so many different stories going around about me at the time. Every day there were new topics -- it was a whirlwind, a tornado. I wanted to tell the story once and for all and be done with it. Give one interview instead of a million. I didn't realize when I did it that once people saw it, they would put me in this box where that was always my story; it couldn't change after that. That was more than three years ago, and they have repeated it like 500 times, even though my life has changed and that episode hasn't.
NT: Did you think that viewers and the industry would have empathy for you and re-embrace you, or did you realize they would probably get a thrill out of watching you fall?
CF: People love scandal and controversy. I don't know what it is about society, but we love to dig into people's dirt and to laugh at the person who is weak.
NT: Did anything positive come out of it professionally?
CF: No. Nothing. If anything, the people who blamed me entirely for what had happened realized that I had been a victim as a child due to my parents, who were very abusive.
NT: Did you ever blame Hollywood for your substance-abuse problems?
CF: No. Drugs are available to anybody, anywhere, at any time. Kids in Des Moines, Iowa, have the same access as a kid in Hollywood. The difference is that a kid in Des Moines, Iowa, doesn't get his name plastered all over the newspapers when he makes a mistake. I feel like I was kind of the spokesperson for a generation. I took the brunt of it. I was before Robert Downey Jr. and Christian Slater. Heroin wasn't very popular in those days. I was the first who got hooked, and I got the heat. It took people a long, long time to forgive me, and maybe I do blame Hollywood for that. I was just a kid making mistakes like any other kid.
NT: You would think that your low points, commercially, would have come while you were using. But some of your biggest hits -- Dream a Little Dream, License to Drive, even Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever -- were made while you were in the throes of your addiction.
CF: Yeah, I didn't really do much work when I was using that was all that bad. Of course, that was when it all came down. I did [the voice of Donatello in Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtles when I was loaded. Rock 'n' Roll High School was one of my bigger movies, but it was a blur because I was so high when I was making it.
NT: So we could rent that movie and be able to tell that you were high?
CF: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. The only part of making that film that was enjoyable to me was the writing and recording of the music. [Feldman's character, Jesse Davis, was the leader of a rock band.] I did the choreography for the film, too, and I was sober when we were doing all of that.
NT: Is that where you got your first taste of playing rock 'n' roll?
CF: That was the first time I ever performed anything I'd written. When I was younger, I used to listen to my grandma's records -- Bill Haley and the Comets, that kind of stuff -- and I would play-act like I was performing it. Then I got into KISS and Love Gun. Then came my first Michael Jackson period -- I would dress up and act out "Billie Jean." All of this became unsatisfying after a while, because I wasn't really singing anything. So I started working on my voice, doing karaoke. My parents and family always said I wasn't coordinated, that I didn't have a good voice, so I was kind of determined to prove them wrong.
NT: How did Truth Movement come about?
CF: After Rock 'n' Roll High School, I kept telling my fans that I would release an album. I said it for so long that I finally just had to do it. I recorded, like, a nine-song limited-release CD; there were a bunch of kind of guest stars on it, like Lita Ford and Hunt Sales and Spider from Tower of Power. And then in 1998, I took a bunch of songs from that and reworked them and recorded new stuff with a band and more guests. Rick Springfield worked on it with me, and Joe Elliot from Def Leppard. And so far, it seems like people like it. That's what they tell me.
NT: The album seems like a self-referential concept album.
CF: In a nutshell, it's a guy going through a 12-hour period of his life. He starts off Sunday morning at the beach and ends up Sunday night at the park. The album is all the stuff that happens to him along the way.
NT: You sing about fame being fleeting, about being used and thrown away. It would be pretty easy to read the lyrics as a direct chronicle of your own life experiences.
CF: The character is idealized as myself, but really it's supposed to be a third party. Most of the topics are mostly about self-exploration. They're themes that we all go through, stuff that has meaning. The themes are what we think about: religion, relationships -- maybe even suicide or depression. It is a chronicle of me, in a way, because you can only write about your own experiences. There are some writers who dive a bit more into the whys and wheres and whats -- that's kind of where I set myself. I admire Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Billy Joel, even Michael Jackson -- writers who bring some reality into their music. The music is pretty dark, but the idea is that you have to be brought through the darkness into the light. That's definitely one of the lessons of my life.
NT: You talked about Hollywood being cutthroat. How is the music business any different?
CF: The differences to me are that when you're an actor, you're a hired gun. You read words off a page that someone else wrote. Even if you are directing, there are still 500 people involved in the creative process. With music, it's stuff that comes from somewhere in your brain, and you get to perform it, right there, and get immediate feedback. On the business end, my music is still a very grassroots kind of thing. I've thought about trying to sign with a major label. I really just want to pursue whatever route lets the most people hear and enjoy the music.
NT: Hunt Sales, who drums on a song on your record, played with Iggy Pop and David Bowie. That's pretty good company to keep.
CF: Hunt and I met up in AA, actually, and I have known and played with him for years. I like the idea of collaboration. Plus, people like Hunt certainly add an element of credibility that helps when you're an actor and people assume you can't possibly have any talent as a musician.
NT: By having your name so prominently attached to the music, you are inviting people to say that you are exploiting your own celebrity.
CF: I think a lot of actors do want to be rock stars, for various reasons. But I know in my case, it's not an ego thing, I really love writing music. Even if the album tanks, the tour is a complete failure, people tell me I'm trying to use my position as an actor to become a rock star -- whatever -- it won't matter, because I will still be making music, even if it's just for myself.
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