Leif Garrett burst onto the scene in 1966 at the tender age of 5, debuting as an actor in the quintessential period film, “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.” It wasn’t long before he became a red-hot commodity in Hollywood. He starred in more than 60 hit television shows, such as being a semi-regular on the critically acclaimed hit television shows, “The Waltons” and “Family.” Having achieved tremendous success as an actor, Garrett soon took on the music industry. He became a multi-gold and platinum recording artist and one of the biggest teen idols of all time, gracing magazine covers all over the world. In 1977, Garrett released his self-titled debut album and climbed the music charts with remakes of “Runaround Sue” (#13) and “Surfin’ USA” (#20). In 1978, he released his sophomore album entitled “Feel The Need.” The album quickly became a chart-topper with Leif’s biggest hit, “I Was Made For Dancin.”
After releasing three more albums, Garrett turned his attention to acting again, co-starring in Francis Ford Coppola’s film classic, “The Outsiders” in 1983. He continued to choose other notable roles in the ‘80s in movies such as “Thunder Alley” and “Shaker Run.” In 1991, Garrett appeared with fellow former teen idol, David Cassidy, in the ‘70s spoof, “Spirit of ’76.” Audiences were amazed and impressed with Garrett’s comedic ability and talent.
However, Garrett’s high life came crashing down a few days after his 18th birthday, in 1979, when he crashed his car, paralyzing his passenger, Roland Winkler, after a night of partying. It was nearly two decades later when, in 1998, music fans around the world became reacquainted with Leif Garrett on VH1’s “Behind The Music” series. The gripping episode garnered a sensational response from the viewing public and quickly became one of the highest rated episodes of iconic music series. Garrett’s well-documented bout with substance abuse would continue to generate headlines for years to come. Ultimately, he escaped the clutches of addiction and became a cautionary tale. He would continue to pursue his passion for music by forming a band and touring across the USA, while still making appearances on television and film.
Everyone loves a good comeback story and 2019 has ushered in an exciting new era for Leif Garrett! Momentum began to build once more for this multi-faceted artist when he teamed with author/journalist Chris Epting for an eye-opening retrospective of his fascinating life. “Idol Truth,” released by Post Hill Press (New York / Nashville), is a no-holds-barred look at the former teen idol’s life, crammed with untold personal stories, wild celebrity anecdotes and rare photos from Garrett’s collection. The book details what it’s like to be transformed into an object of insane desire and adoration and also about a kid that wanted a normal family. It’s about the ravages of drug addiction and celebrity culture. It’s about lost youth, trying to be an artist and also fighting for control of one’s life.
The book is Leif’s opportunity to let go of the past and become laser-focused on the road ahead. It’s a journey that he couldn’t be more excited to take! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Leif for an inside look at making of “Idol Truth.” Along the way, Leif offers up insight on his early years as a performer, his profound connection to his dedicated fans and what the future may hold for him creatively.
You’ve been in the spotlight since you were a kid. How did you get involved with the arts early on?
Really, a lot of it came from my mother. She went to art school up north in San Francisco, where she was raised. Eventually, she came down to Los Angeles which started the acting bug she had. She got an agent and said, “Oh, by the way, I have two kids.” The agent said, “Let me meet them!” Before you know it, he signed us, and we were working within a week or two after signing up. After doing it a couple of times, it was like, “OK. This is fun. I don’t have to go to school!” If you do go to school, on set, it’s just for a very short period of time as opposed to going for the whole day. I was really having fun playing these characters! The music thing happened by chance as well. I was doing television and was quite successful for a young actor with roles on “Family Affair,” “The F.B.I.,” “The Walton’s” and stuff like that. I did all those shows! I even had my own series for a little while with Vincent Van Patten and Alex Rocco called “Three For The Road,” which led to “The Outsiders.” I was selling magazines, so they came and said, “We’d like to make a record!” It was like, “OK. Yeah, I like music. Yeah, why not!” So, I just happened into both things, but I think they are two things that suit me well! Had I not gone into the arts; I think I might have been an athlete!
When did you realize you were the center of a pop culture phenomenon?
It’s funny because when you’re the eye of the storm, I don’t know how much of it you truly feel. You have people fawning all over you, grabbing at you, wanting a piece of you or just wanting to know you and talk to you. It was much later that I realized what kind of effect I had on the outside world from things like fashion and hair, oddly enough! [laughs] It was stuff like that! Musically, I wasn’t so much of a trendsetter but that was only because management didn’t allow me to have much say in the song choices. So, that’s where that landed. I think that if I would have had a little more control, my career may have had a little more longevity. I think if I would have grown musically a little earlier on.
Was it difficult to transition from actor to singer?
Not at all. I wish I had been allotted singing lessons ahead of time, as opposed to learning trial by fire! As far as being on stage and performing, to me it is just being another character. It’s playing another part! Ya know, it took a few years to come into my own as a performer because I was very unsure of myself early on. Believe it or not, I was a really shy kid! I know that’s hard to believe! [laughs] There was a point, many years after doing the teen idol thing, where I was more mature and wanted to transfer over, but it just didn’t happen. There were a lot of things that happened, people who didn’t get along and things that were just not acceptable. There were a lot of elements at play and that’s a shame because I wasn’t able to cross over like Justin Timberlake did or Justin Bieber is starting to do now. Michael Jackson did it! Frank Sinatra did it! So, it can be done but the entire team has to be working together, as opposed to just one or two people believing a certain route is the only way. I really feel like I came into my own when I started doing F8!
You mentioned those early days as a teen idol as being a trial by fire. Tell us more.
Oh my god! Yes! The first time I performed anywhere was a full-on lip sync. I had never been on stage before. The management kind of had the idea of “OK, kid! Go out there and wow them! Just do what you do!” I was like, “OK. What do I do?” [laughs] I mean, what I was doing at the time was taking photographs and reacting to the camera. That’s a totally different thing than going out on stage in front of thousands of people! I’ll never forget, it was at the Magic Mountain Amphitheater, and I performed “Surfin’ USA” two times in a row! [laughs] I was the opening act and that’s as goofy as it gets, ya know! I mean, there was a fade out on the song. How do you fade out of singing?! [laughs] It didn’t matter because it was that weird Beatlemania type of thing happening where people were just screaming and yelling the whole time! I could’ve just gone up there and went “Blah, blah, blah,” and no one would have noticed a thing! All I really did was sorta walk back and forth on stage and move my butt a little bit. That was it really! I was scared to death but then things started to change. I started emulating some of my favorites and putting my variations on it. It was a true learning process.
You came up in an amazing era of music. Which artists had a big impact on you?
I think, now more than ever, it’s Led Zeppelin because that old, classic blues rock style is something I’ve done before with F8 and Godspeed. I like everything from that to ‘80s pop stuff to techno and synth. I think Elton John and Matt Johnson are my biggest influences as far as storytelling, along with Bernie Taupin who was Elton’s cohort for the longest time. Matt Johnson, for those who might not know, is from the band The The. Those are my favorite lyricists in the whole world.
Your autobiography, “Idol Truth,” was just released. What made now the time to let the world hear your story?
It just felt right. I’ve been holding on to a lot of stuff for many years. As you’ll read, there are a few secrets or things that have never been out in the press. These are things that never sat well with me. I wanted to tell these stories in the form of a book, but I didn’t want them to come from a malicious, mean or angry place. It just felt like now was the time to try and put on a different suit, so to speak.
How did the ball get rolling and what can you tell us about the creative process?
I met my co-writer, Chris Epting, through a friend and we got along really well. We had a lot of the same interests and musical tastes, so it was a very comfortable situation. I found it easy to talk to him and I shared with him those things I was holding on to, along with a lot of other stories. That was when he took over and began to fill in the blanks. That’s not the way I originally envisioned the book coming about but I’m proud of it. I think it’s a good book that reads well and easily. It’s told through the eyes of a 15-year-old from the times when I was a teen idol. I think that’s the stuff that people wanted to know first. With that said, I have a whole other life to talk about as well! So, there might be a follow up, folks!
Your mom played a pivotal role in your life. What stands out about that relationship?
Ah, man! There was so much. There were so many ups and downs in our journey but, in the long run, all that matters is that I love my mom. I actually moved her in with me and I’m taking care of her now as she’s getting up there. I love her! She did what she could do with the tools she had available and I really love her for it. To be human is to err and that’s okay but not everything was a mistake! There were some things that happened, but it was her artistic creativity that I’m really happy that I got!
What were the biggest challenges you faced, and the lessons learned?
Well, not really being able to hold a note was the biggest challenge I faced! [laughs] You know, you can’t live in fear. You have to try because if you don’t try, you’ll never know what could have been. If you don’t succeed, you can try again for something and see where that road takes you.
In writing an autobiography, you examined your life in a way most will never do. Writing the book seems to have been a cathartic experience. What did learn about yourself through the process?
It was a great experience, it really was! In a lot of ways, it was solidifying who I thought I was and who I think I am. I like me! [laughs] I think I’m a good person. I have made mistakes and I’ve made plenty of them. I’ve been open about that, but I just wish people could move on. By that I mean, I think people often think more about my mistakes than they do about my abilities.
That is a true statement and this book goes a long way to open new doors for you. Where do you see yourself headed in the future?
The focus for me right now is not musical. I definitely want to get back into film and television both in front of the camera and behind the camera, whether it be writing or directing.
That’s exciting! Where do you look for inspiration these days?
Ya know, there is so much new music, good movies and good literature coming out all of the time. As you know, it can be difficult to keep up with it all! You just have to suss it out. The adventure of finding it, no matter if it’s good or bad, is really inspiring to me.
While your focus my not be on music at the moment, you have a lot of awesome music out. What were the creative high points for you after your teen idol years?
I appreciate that and thanks for asking! I did a record with a friend of mine named Dave Navarro, and a gentleman named Zim Zum from Marilyn Manson. We did a thing called Godspeed. I’m really proud of that stuff. I produced it with a gentleman, Christopher Wade Damhurst. There is a lot of good F8 stuff too, so those were some interesting places to explore.
One of the coolest aspects of your career is your connection to your fanbase. They are a special group of people and I love how they push great energy your way!
That’s awesome and I’m glad you recognize that because I do have such an incredibly loyal fanbase! It’s spans the world and there are a lot of really great people who I continue to see throughout the years. There are people from Australia, South America, Europe, Japan, Korea and here in The States. I love them all! The truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it was not for them and I love them to death!
How have you evolved as an artist?
I think it’s all about maturity. It’s important to write about what you know and to demonstrate both what you know and what you oppose. I think that maturity goes a very long way when it comes to expressing yourself.
What’s the best lesson we can take away from your journey?
It’s your life, so never let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t question the things happening around you. If you’re not comfortable with something, question it! Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Definitely embrace because fear of the unknown can hold you back and keep you from succeeding. That’s not a good way to go!
Thank you for your time today, Leif! I know this book will serve you well and I know a whole lot of people are awaiting the followup!
Excellent! I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jason! It was a pleasure talking to you!
Follow the continuing adventures of Leif Garrett through social media via Facebook and Twitter. For an even deeper dive into his acting work and incredible catalog of music, visit his official website at www.leifgarrett.net.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.