Melody Maker: A Wife Less Ordinary (September, 2000)

Transcribed by Jenny Fowler for Beacon Street Online

On the third day of the celebrations, the bells of the old church strike out, a storm of glitter and confetti sweeps from the sky and the bride emerges. Bouquet trembling, mile-long train borne behind her by the legion of pink-haired bridesmaids, she makes a circuit of the plazza on the arm of the venerable old Signor Stefani, treading a trail of rose petals under glass slippers. A cheer rises from the hordes of villagers lining the square, the church doors swing open, the organ pipes a rusty wedding march and, lip now begininng to quiver, the bride plunges into the aisle, stumbling and scrambling towards… towards…

Well… towards whom exactly?

“When I first got into kindergarten,” Gwen Stefani sighs, glassy-eyed, “they asked me what I was gonna be when I grow up. I said I was gonna be a bride. I used to fantasise about it and me and my cousin would always get those bride books and through ’em. I definitley wanna have, like a wedding wedding. One of my fantasies lately would be, like, Italy, a small amount of family members and a fancy dress, and you know how they walk around the little plazzas and an old church and then go have a big fat Italian dinner? Just close friends and family, but make it like a vacation.”

She plucks at the lace of her wedding gown and giggles girlie-girlishly.

“I don’t know what it is. I guess it’s something about dressing up as a princess.”

She shakes herself out of the fantasy and looks around. Not quite what she would have wanted. An LA photo studio with all the romance of a burnt-out Bosnian aircraft hangar. The dress is perfect, but where should be a veil has been plopped a gigantic pink fright-wig that makes her look like Cyndi Lauper with her tongue in a plug socket. No wedding march from the stereo, just a live version of her band’s contagious-as-a-sex-based-e-mail-virus new single, “A Simple Kind of Life”, spinning out her nuptial fallings: “And all I wanted was the simple things / A simple kind of life / And all I wanted was a simple man / So I could be a wife.”

A simple man, huh? Well none of the three suitors lined up to take her hand today quite fill the bill. Tont Kanal, the bassist guy, he dumped her years ago, leaving her nursing an album’s worth of heartache, Tom Dumont, the guitarist fella, they’re just good friends. And Adrian Young, the drumming nudist, he’s turned to woo her without wearing trousers. And so she sits alone in her marriage tresses like a punka Miss Haversham: nothing old, nothing new, nothing borrowed, nothing blue, not even a chuffing groom to speak of.

Oh, and false tits.

“You have these things that are jellies and you have to put them in your top and it gives you a little cleavage,” Gwen confides, “I don’t really have one of those.”

Then the song spins to it’s most hilariously disturbing line and Gwen cheers up. Hey, one day her prince may come. And even if he doesn’t maybe she’ll strike lucky, get up the duff by accident and drag some unsuspecting schmuck up the aisle before you can say, “pro-life tendencies.”

“I always thought I’d be a mom / Sometimes I wish for a mistake” – “A Simple Kind of Life”, No Doubt

“Sometimes you think, ‘Well, then it’s out of my hands, I’m forced into the next stage’,” Gwen Stefani says, nonchalantly discussing unwanted pregnancy like a heavily tranquillised “Little House on the Prairie” character. “Planning it out, saying ‘I’m gonna get married and make a commitment to that and then I’m gonna have a baby’, that’s a lot of responsibility. But if it just happens, then it’s like, ‘Well fuck, man! Here I go! I’m gonna be a mom!'”

So, er, you have actually wished for a mistake?

“I always do. It’s funny because for me you spend your whole life trying to not get pregnant, right? But sometimes mistakes can be blessings in life. They can be that little push that you need.”

Um, isn’t that a bit desperate, like?

“I would say that I get desperate loads of times,” says Gwen, starting to sound like the president of Bunny Boilers Anonymous. “All of us do. I get desperate for change. You get caught up in your own little world and sometimes you need a little push. Kids are something I’ve always, always, always wanetd. I was ready when I was 21. I was like, ‘I’m ready! I want a kid right now! I want four kids! I’m ready!’ Then as time goes by, I guess I get further and further away from it and it seems like more and more of a fantasy and something that’ll never come true becuase I’m so in my life, y’knowwhaddimean? With the band, it takes everything.”

She plucks a long strand of pink-wig hair from her bodice.

“I love the idea of marriage, she continues. “I love the idea of finding somebody and saying, ‘No matter what happens, I’m gonna be there for you.’ I always thought that’s what I would be the best at, being the best girlfriend in the world. But I don’t seem to be getting it. My life has turned out nothing like I’d thought it would be. I think I’m a lot more than I thought I’d be, so I’m a bit like, ‘Woo-hoo! My eyes have been opened!’ So I don’t know what my wedding will be like. I don’t even know if I’ll ever get married! Heh heh! At this rate!”

Perhaps you could get yourself a catalogue husband from the Philippines.

“Heh heh! I don’t think so.”

In “Marry Me”, from your recent, nuptially obsessed “Return of Saturn” album (a record that seems to keep time by the ticking of Gwen’s biological clock), you describe yourself as “a creature conditioned to employ matrimony”.

Gwen shrugs. “Aren’t we all? It’s something we’re brought up thinking that that’s what you do and it’s the right thing and we’re all alone here trying to search for someone else to temporarily ease the pain of the idea that as creatures we’re gonna die.”

Most people would think they’re more than that.

“I’m not. I’m just that.”

Have you ever considered selling your eggs on the internet?

She frowns. “Selling my what?”

Your eggs. You could make a lot of money.

“Oh, my female eggs,” Gwen laughs. “No, I’ve never considered that. Wow, can you imagine? Famous people would probably get a lot of money. I’ve never thought about trying to make money off my body parts.”

She pauses, suddenly realises something.

“Besides,” she says, “I guess I do, because, in this business, I sell myself all the time, right?”

If Gwen comes across as a doe-eyed Bambi waking up from a blissful dream of mumbled vows and breaking waters and finally smelling the Black Box Recorder, you can only blame her fairy-tale life story. Raised in an Orange County Catholic household so well-adjusted it made the Waltons look like The Fall on bad crack, she fell into a career in music when her brother Eric formed No Doubt in 1986 and she kinda joined by default — “I was just this young girl on the couch watching TV, saying ‘What am I gonna do'”

There followed nine years sweeping the cellar of chirpy-all-ska-rock, while the ugly Nirvana sisters refused to let them go to the grunge ball and then — ping! — up skanked a fairy godmother in chequered baggy trousers, waving a magic rhythm stick and yelling, “There shall be a ska revival!” The twin mice of “Don’t Speak” and “Just A Girl” were transformed into chart-vaulting stallions, No Doubt’s second album, “Tragic Kingdom”, shrilled 10 million copies sharpish and suddenly Gwen was a generational icon of the girl-next-door-dom, the karate-kicking belle of the ball twirling on the arm of Prince Gavin of Bushfordshire. And they all live happily ever…

Oh no, hang on. Around the middle of 1998 the clock struck midnight, Saturn returned and it all went a bit pumpkin-shaped.

“The last couple of years I was really not cool,” Gwen admits sheepishly. “I was confused with who I was. Everyone says it’s this whole return of Saturn thing (Saturn takes 29 years to orbit the sun, and thus 29 years to return to the same position it was in at your birth, heralding a reassessment of life – Cosmic Ed) and that was a good title for the disease I felt I had at that time, which was this confusing state. I always had a real beautiful life. I never had any depression. My ex-boyfriend Tony would always be depressed, because he was going out with me, obviously! I’d just go, ‘Go eat some ice-cream and you’ll be fine!’ I couldn’t understand it. But now I kinda do. Sometimes you just get in ruts and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’ve only barely grazed on what it’s like to be depressed.”

I now pronounce No Doubt band and strife. When they emerged from a two-year writing exile for “Return of Saturn”, Gwen was a changed woman, hair the color of Edna Everage’s knick-knacks and enough teeth braces on show at last year’s US Fashion Awards to straighten dentures of a hundred Janet Street-Porters. Psychologically, of course, a drastic image change is generally a sign of a recent emotional shake-up.

“That makes a lot of sense to me,” Gwen nods. “Me and my boyfriend were having problems, obviously, as everyone does, and we’d kinda split up and that’s when I did my hair pink! I didn’t mean to do it forever I just did it for that week. We got back together, like, two weeks later or some high school shit like that, but I wrote ‘Ex-Girlfriend’. The braces wasn’t about that. My whole life I always wanted to have braces. All my friends had braces and I never got them because my parents didn’t think my teeth were bad enough. It was out of pure vanity, wanting perfect straight teeth, I went in there and the next thing I knew they were on. Then I showed up at the Fashion Awards and everyone went, ‘Oh my God! Gwen has braces!'”

You weren’t even doing it because you’d gone totally blinkin’ doolally from an oestrogen overdose and nappy envy, then?

“No way!” Gwen yelps. “Do you think I’d go through that pain for that? I did it for real!”

Did you ever come close to having a breakdown?

“I can’t remember. I think I’m blocking it out now. In a band, you get pulled a lot and you’re giving a lot and you’re expected to be what everyone wants you to be the whole time. But at certain points, you just wanna go, “Stop looking at me! I feel really fat right now! I need to go and eat some cookies and hang out with my family!'”

Or perhaps Gwen was off-balanced by a relationship that seems more on-and-off than Liam Gallagher at a Portuguese rock-throwing contest. There has been lots of speculation about you and Gavin…

“I know!” she shrieks, bouncing in her seat. “It’s such a joke! It’s playground. There’s been ups and downs like everybody and there’s been times we’ve broken up and that didn’t work, so we tried getting back together. The weird part is to see pictures of him with other people saying, ‘Gavin with this girl!’, but nobody really knows what’s going on except me and him. I want to keep that one thing for myself. Gavin’s not really like that. He thinks it’s cute to have pictures together and this and that I guess. I’ve gotten more comfortable with it. But I feel like I’m cheapening it by doing that. And we never know exactly what’s going on with us, so why should everyone else know?”

Whenever I’ve seen him, he’s always been taking a shitty stick to his hordes of admirers.

“Poor thing” Gwen smiles affectionately, “he was just blessed with this amazing… he’s cute, y’know what I mean? I never wanted to go for the cute boys. Why would you wanna have a boyfriend that’s cuter than you are? But with us, we’re trying to find a way like everybody else. We live in two different countries, we have the same life, but we’re in different places all the time. It’s the long-distance thing. Our relationship is all about the hope of the future, rather than the here and now. It’s all, ‘Well maybe I’ll see you then and I miss you so much.’ It’s all about yearning. He’s at my house at the moment and we’re having a really fun time right now, but he’s leaving, you’re taking him away. He’s going back to London to write.”

So we can say that it’s on at the moment?

She shrugs secretively. “You can say it, but who knows if it’ll be true when your magazine comes out.”

Right now, No Doubt are more concerned with kissing and making up with their demographic. The Tank Girl toddlers who carved “Don’t Speak” its plaque up there in bubblegum heaven have swapped their Gwen dolls for Justin from N-Sync vibrators. Meanwhile, the new wave of US pocket money guzzlers are only girl-next-foor to the extent that they’d like to spy on her undressing from their bathroom window, cosh her, tie her in a sack and drop her off the nearest pier under cover of darkness. Surely the current profusion of sexism and violence in rock must make Gwen feel all… icky…

“Music in general right now is really uninspiring for me,” she admits. “I like bands like The Smiths and The Cure, bands that were making music with melodies and saying something. The Cure knew how to be serious, but they knew how to have fun too. I wanna be both. A band like Blink 182 is a band I’ve known for a long time. And I love them. They’re funny to me. I like potty jokes and that’s what they’re all about. They’re a joke band and they say they’re a joke band. They say it’s amazing that they’ve made a career out of it. I have enough sense of humor to get it. Boys will be boys and girls will be girls and it’s our job to go, ‘Fuck you! Don’t treat us like that! Don’t say that about us!’ and it’s their job to poke at us. It’s playground.

But at the same time, some of those Eminem songs! It is shocking. He asked us to put a sample of ‘Don’t Speak’ on the song where he’s killing his girlfriend. I think the tracks are incredible, but at the same time there’s me being a 30-year-old woman and there’s kids out there that I don’t know how seriously they’re taking that stuff. I mean, obviously, everyone should be able to do what they wanna do and if you don’t let them listen to it, but of course they’re gonna hear it anyway.”

She sighs. “It seems like a really violent time right now, violence for no reason. Why are you so angry? What’s wrong? I don’t see the poing, I don’t get it. He writes about how fun it is to rape people? Where do you go from there?”

What about Marilyn Manson? Don’t you want to strap the evil bastard down and give him a right good exorcism?

“He was at my party the other night!” Gwen laughs.

Eh? Little Bo Beep is mates with the Dar Lord Himself?

“I’ve known him for a long time,” Gwen nods. “I met him when he was a nobody… Well, I didn’t know who he was. He was on our label and he was at a dinner party that they threw for us and I walked in and you can imagine, this creature with one blue eye and he was like, ‘C’mon, Gwen! I love your song! Buddybuddybuddybuddy!’ He was there the other night. I threw a big party at my house the other night for Adrian and Tony.”

So the wolf lies down with the lamb and gobbles it’s veggie vol-au-vents. Are you not offended by his use of the Good Book of Andrex?

“Well I’m not a fan,” Gwen says. “I didn’t say I listen to his music, but I know him and every time I hang out with him he’s really nice to me and he’s not like a scary monster and he doesn’t say to me, ‘Show me your tits’ or try to be rude to me. But the things I gravitate towards are things I can relate to and have a little more of a heart. I’m not into the male testosterone shit that’s going down right now. It doesn’t pull my heart. I can see a band like Rage Against The Machine, they have that aggression, but they have something behind it. They have their heart which is what they believe in and I think that’s awesome. But other bands, like for instance [Limp Bizkit’s] ‘Nookie’, it’s an undeniably good song, but my heart is not going to get attached to someone that’s talking about, ‘I did it for a cookie’! Whatever! Good for you!”

Do you find it sad or offensive?

“I think it’s sad for the kids. I grew up in the Eighties and there was music with melodies by people who were expressing things. That’s what I liked. Then there’s all the bubblegum pop records. All of those girl and boy bands that are put together by whoever puts those groups together… there’s room for everything, but I don’t get it. How do the kids get attached to it? There’s nothing there to grab on to. You listen to Morrissey and you’re, like, ‘Yeah! I feel you!'”

If anyone here present knows of any true cause or impediment to the union of No Doubt and superstardom, don’t speak, just forever hold your piece. “A Simple Kind of Life”, despite essentially being a small, round, shiny Mary Whitehouse, is easily their most huggable slice of momrock yet and “Return of Saturn” is an album mature enough to cast off it’s Care Bear and embrace Care In The Community. Mind you, with her upstanding belief in family values, her squeaky-clean image and her diplomatic dealings with the evil dictator types, if No Doubt ever went tits up, Gwen could always run for President.

“No, I’d never do that,” she laughs, “but when I was in the fifth grade we had to do a story about the White House. My mom told me that I wrote that I wanted to paint the White House pink.”

She stands, swirls her wedding skirts and pouts briefly, before skipping off into the cartoon sunset.

“The world is just such a disaster, isn’t it?” she frowns like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” finally grown up. “I don’t think I could save it.”

Older, barmier, more reflective. But if you’re reading this, Gav, we suggest you keep checking Mates wrappers for pinholes.

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