AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH A BUSINESSWOMAN, LYRICIST AND THE ONE TRUE LOVE OF THE SONGWRITER, PRODUCER AND FILMMAKER, IVAN KRAL
“I wish Ivan Kral to be remembered for his kindness, as well as his talent in songwriting. As the first American Czech to be recognized in America in the 1970s, he was a symbol of hope during a dark period in history. He was proud of his heritage even though he loved America.”
The remarkable life story of Cindy Hudson Kral is filled with countless extraordinary experiences. Shortly after she finished her studies, Fate opened important doors for her to the world of rock music she loves. There she has experienced things she probably hadn’t even dreamed of before, dreams such as becoming one of the professionals who would meet and work with so many interesting personalities. One opportunity changed her life in a fundamental way both in her professional and her private life. In connection with the rock music scene, you would obviously expect women everywhere, but rarely behind the lights, especially in the 1980s. As a young girl, Cindy jumped into the business she had no idea about but naturally followed her intuition and huge sense of responsibility, quickly developing the skills necessary for managing the company. It didn’t take her too long to help to turn Fantasee Lighting into the profitable and respected corporation that Cindy successfully ran for a long twenty-five years. Although she travelled the world and often collaborated with famous stars, her aim never was to live a celebrity lifestyle or profit from those connections in any other way than seeing the company growing and the clients being satisfied with the work she and her team did for them.
One thing leads to another, and so it was certainly just a matter of time before the working opportunity connected Cindy Hudson with the songwriter, producer and filmmaker, Ivan Kral. They both were fortunate to find one another and mutually share the rare kind of love many people don’t even have the chance to experience in their whole lifetime. They were deeply in love since 1980 but Destiny didn’t make it easy for them at all, and it took a long time (until 2000) before they could finally and officially live their dream to the fullest. In spite of the passing of time and all the obstacles they faced, their bond grew even stronger. There is no greater confirmation of the karmic connection predestined to happen than the kind of soulmate relationship they undoubtedly had together. Their earthly marriage was unfortunately over way too soon on the 2nd of February 2020 when the sad news of Ivan passing away was spread to the world after his dealing with cancer in the last years of his life. The spiritual connection still goes on in diverse forms, and also through the music and art Ivan created and left behind. Apparently, there was no one else closer to his heart than Cindy, and so she rightfully took over all the responsibility of continuing to spread the legacy of Ivan Kral and sharing his art and the unique memories the two of them lived separately or together.
THE ARTICLE IS ALSO AVAILABLE IN DIGITAL FORM (24 PAGES) AND IS ENRICHED WITH LOTS OF BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS. TO VIEW IT, CLICK ON THE BUTTON LOCATED BELOW.
I N T E R V I E W
Apart from the fact you are half-Japanese, there is no other information publicly available about your childhood or family background. Would you be willing to introduce us to your parents and siblings, and share some of the memories you treasure the most from your childhood and those years while growing up?
0I stayed private for Ivan, but now certain interviews are fine. I had a very happy childhood growing up in a suburb of Detroit. I played with my photographer brother Jeff (4 years older) and my artist sister Monica (4 years younger). Our home had teddy bears, Barbie dolls, mini football players and a pool. I remember having a blast, probably for hours, playing with a little branch from our plum tree. Any of us could go onto the street and find someone to play with. Mom watched soap operas but kept an eye on us during advert breaks. She wore high heels, dresses and lipstick even though she was just at home with us 3 kids all day. We’d pile into the back of her Plymouth Fury Station wagon and zoom off to the grocery – Mom pushing that grocery cart in a psychedelic mini-dress. I always knew which aisle she was in because of the clacking sound of spike heels. Daddy was either working at American Airlines or working at home on some remodeling project, like constructing fireplaces wall dividers, upholstered bars, faux marble stereo cabinets, window treatments, etc. It seemed he could convert junk into art. I’d get ideas from him to make little crafts and sell them door-to-door and soon my friends helped me keep up with all the orders for tootsie pop edible art. I owe my interior design skills to Daddy. I long for such simpler times, and it was definitely an innocent time in American history. It would’ve been fun to inspire/cultivate ambitions of kids. I wish I would’ve had kids in any era.
How much do you feel connected to Japan in spite of having spent your whole life in the USA?
I had such culture shock when I went to Japan as a kid. I remember meeting nice people, but then I would imagine them eating squid tentacles or raw horse and I’d feel different about them. There were entire wasps inside of crackers and a gross dish called shirako. How could these friendly people put turtle meat in their mouths? I maintained a distance. As an adult, I learned that these foods were delicacies.
On the flip side, I remember everything was so clean, that it made me feel dirty. People seemed very polite. Can you believe a Tokyo restaurateur sprinted many blocks to return a toy bracelet that I left on the table in his restaurant? It was just plastic junk, yet he ran to return it to me. I couldn’t believe it. Japanese people are very honest.
My brother, my sister and I would await a package shipped from our Japanese aunt because there’d be cool presents like a pink poodle radio, Astroman shoes, kimonos. Today, in my front yard, I have a big weeping cherry tree and get sentimental when I see the blossoms – sakura. I think Mom tried to raise us Japanese in America – which could never work. There is no guidebook. Overall, I feel I have the best of both worlds.
I have read the biography about the life of Ivan which is the only book officially approved by Ivan himself (written by Czech publicist Honza Vedral, released in the Czech language only). One thing that really impressed me about you was the part where he recalls he liked the way you looked, the way you behaved and what you did. He said, “She was self-sufficient, and she had her own company with 100 employees.” You travelled the world and cared about the lights at the shows, but also at the car shows. How did you manage to run such a demanding business you started when you were still very young, in your early twenties? How did the idea of creating this kind of business actually come up?
My entry into stage lighting for twenty-five years began in 1977 when I was at a Ramones concert with a seat next to the lighting console. The lighting technician said I should get a job with his company. Since I was bored as a corporate secretary, and hadn’t even decided my college major, I went for an interview. I got the job. I acquired many new skills, but no paycheck. The company was just not profitable. Stoned potheads with lighting gear in an old barn on a dirt road “living the dream”. The other half of the barn was another company, with a dozen hippies who wired gizmos and made electronics, like audio intercoms for stage communication, as well as projects like the KISS sign. Their electronics made the lights chase one another in patterns.
Because I was living at my parents, I didn’t need the paycheck money right away. The guys and I, we made a deal that I’d work free for almost a year. Instead of paychecks, I’d own a percentage of the company. Since I now had a stake in the company, I had pride. I had so much eagerness on being a quality company that I didn’t sleep many nights. We moved from the barn into an old Civil War barracks in 1979. It had a loading dock, offices, and lots of space for an ever-growing inventory and rent was cheap.
Concert lighting gigs were coming in fast, and we were growing our inventory of lights and crew. We pursued the nearby auto industry by converting stage lights into car exhibit lights. Theatrical techniques adapted for auto shows made each car glow in its own pool of light. They’re standard in exhibits today, but we were the first! We had Pontiac, then got Mercedes, Ford, and Ferrari – lighting them in major cities like New York, L.A., Miami, and Chicago. We juggled over a hundred stagehands, electricians, teamsters, directors, and crew on set-ups. This was before internet, cell phones, even pagers!
Most major lighting companies in the USA clawed their way to steal our clients. I was very protective maintaining relationships in such shark-infested waters. Then the worst happened. Our loyal staff, that we had trained for years and thought of as family created their own lighting company to compete with Fantasee Lighting. My motivation plummeted. Where did I go wrong? How can this be happening? I didn’t know if I felt stupid for not seeing the signs, or if I felt angry because I gave these people training, paychecks, support.
They had insider info and prices that pushed me out. My new competition! So, I started all over building business relationships at the Frankfurt and Geneva Motor Shows. Then, I’d go to Prague to see Ivan for a few days. He gave me back massages, room service, bubble baths, sleep. I was in the bathtub writing lyrics and he was on the bathroom floor creating music.
I eventually recovered to ride the effects of another booming economy. With a new team, I founded or co-founded an interior design firm, investment consultancy, commercial real estate acquisition, manufacturing, and an architectural lighting design firm named Illuminart, while leading Fantasee Lighting to year-after-year growth. Some businesses were a success for awhile, some were a waste of time, and some were gut-wrenching failures, like manufacturing. Never again!
But, now I’m older, I’m too realistic. I think of liability and what can go wrong first. It’s not as much fun anymore. I miss the thrill of business dreams, and the feeling that I could take on the world.
Could you mention some of the events you worked for and are grateful that you could be a part of? What were the highlights of your career?
Illuminart designed the residential lighting for Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones in Connecticut. I flew there on a number of occasions to help focus lights. I’d stay overnight in a guestroom on the second floor. The first time in bed I asked myself, “What’s that sound?” It was Keith playing guitar in the basement all night. What a gift to be hidden there when he created. I wanted to sneak downstairs and just listen at the top of the basement, but I was there to work, not sneak around. Anyway, I got to know him, his wife Patti Hansen and two daughters a little. I saw him load the dishwasher and get yelled at by his kids fighting for the TV remote control. I would think, “Don’t talk to a legend like that!” when his two daughters would tell him he’s mean or whatever. Just try to envision Keith Richards first attempt at riding his lawn mower. Hilarious! The Hansen-Richards family is very close because relatives seemed to always be dropping by. There was a lot of love in that family. Keith built a guesthouse for his dad, Bert, who could shuttle on his golf cart to the main house from his guesthouse to play games with his only kid, Keith. One time, his Mom, Doris, her new husband and family visited from U.K. Lots of food, alcohol and conversation. Somehow it all worked out well.
Other Illuminart highlights include: lighting the palace for a Saudi king in Riyadh, the Disney store on Fifth Avenue New York (huge), illuminating the city of Houston, Fantasee Lighting lit concerts or tours for many bands, including Prince, Grand Funk Railroad, and Parliament-Funkadelic concerts. I retired in lighting a year after Ivan moved to Michigan in 2000. For a year, Ivan was a tremendous worker, maintaining lighting and rigging, and driving trucks. He did whatever was needed. After that, I attempted to organize Ivan’s archives, but it was too much. I’m still actually archiving it to this day!
After decades of working nonstop, I couldn’t just hit the brakes, so I began organizing Ivan’s media archives. I still haven’t finished! U2 heard about Ivan’s rock footage and since they were friends with Bono, I created a collage of punk images that appeared in their video screen – a screen that was the size of a football field.
Punk rock club CBGB in New York was the place that was so important for many musicians and where everything started for Ivan back in the 70s. Did you observe some shows in the club back then yourself? What did Ivan like to share the most about the CBGB times?
I was just a teensy bit too young for that scene, although I knew the club music scene a few years later from New York and London by going to both in 1978 at age 19. I witnessed each punk scene. British punk was safety pins, mohawks, angry rebellion and Sex Pistols. They were angry at society, and who could blame them? I told Billy Idol I liked his song, and he thought I was insulting him. Things sort of worked as opposites. I couldn’t really compliment anyone, it was, shall we say, a unique experience! I mean, you don’t really say things like “have a nice day” on King’s Road in 1978. New York punk seemed like it was about being individual in sound and appearance, but a sense of opportunity and being underground, going against the system. But this was 1978. Ivan filmed “The Blank Generation” in 1975–76 so he was there for the birth of New York punk. That would’ve been a wonderful scene, but I missed it by a few years.
Although Ivan and his then-girlfriend Lynette had liked to meet at CBGB after work, Ivan only talked highly of the club when he was referring to the stage or audience or Hilly Kristal, the owner, Hilly’s daughter Lisa and the staff. The place was filthy, stinky and stingy. Ivan said he just liked the magic of its stage and the atmosphere that inspired bands to be creative because they finally could be.
“A few weeks before he died, he wrote her a nice letter thanking her for all she had done for him and for the impact she had on his life. Ivan agreed with, and understood, her decision to end the Patti Smith Group because of her love for Fred. Ivan said he would’ve done the same thing for his true love.”
In CBGB, a very important and also exciting era started, not only for Ivan, but also for the whole punk rock generation when the first Patti Smith Group was formed back in 1974. Patti Smith is a great and influential artist. Ivan was involved with the first four albums where each of them had different vibes. How did he like to remember the era he spent with Patti?
He told me about his first gig with the Patti Smith Group there, and how it was so exciting. He said later when they’d pack the place and it was overflowing night after night, he knew something big was about to happen and it was a tremendous high. Then, Patti got a record deal from Arista. She was the first of the CBGB bands to get one. I believe Ivan said there were some unpublished collaborations with Patti, I’ll eventually find them.
The band enjoyed great success together, but with growing success, the outer and inner pressure increased. Even decades later, their mutual engagement somehow appears as an unfinished story with questions in the air that were never officially answered, and it will probably stay that way forever. I cannot get rid of the feeling that the topic was still open in Ivan’s heart and mind. Did he manage to get to a point during his last years when he was at peace with all that had happened and the way it happened?
When she picked musicians for her reunion in the mid 1990s, everyone except Ivan was asked to re-join the band. Everyone thought that Ivan was angry about it. No, he was actually more hurt. Especially since the musician that replaced him, Tony Shanahan, was his buddy and Ivan introduced the bassist Tony to Patti. It felt like a double betrayal. He was hurt but got over it because he wouldn’t have re-joined anyway. He was too busy in Prague helping build the new Czech music scene – that was way more exciting. Writing, producing, performing, recording for all the big Czech names was a thrill. Ivan released solo albums, so, no, he wasn’t crying over Patti, although he was surprised and hurt.
Patti even recited her poem, “Perfect Moon” and also recites at the end of another song called “Rains Again” on “Nostalgia” CD. So, it doesn’t sound like they were too mad at each other. Apparently, in other times, Patti and Ivan disagreed on a certain business matter which was happily resolved years later. A few weeks before he died, he wrote her a nice letter thanking her for all she had done for him and for the impact she had on his life. Ivan agreed with, and understood, her decision to end the Patti Smith Group because of her love for Fred. Ivan said he would’ve done the same thing for his true love.
“What I value most in him is the way he cherished me. Ivan had such chivalry when he defended me against anything. A true gentleman. He was clever, honest, reliable, smart, funny, talented and handsome. He was the complete perfect package 100%.“
The two of you first met when Ivan performed with Iggy Pop in Michigan in 1980 where you rented the lighting system. How do you remember your first meeting? No matter the circumstances in your lives back then, was it love at first sight for you?
Yes. Ivan was gorgeous, shy and clumsy when he approached me. At the time, I thought it was a little bit too sissy, but tolerable. In retrospect, it was so absolutely adorable! Iggy played five nights in Detroit, so I went to see Ivan every day. Then the Iggy tour bus departed for the next city, and Ivan sent me cards, letters – sometimes just cassettes with a love song or postcards from each city. When the tour ended, he’d fly me to New York on Friday nights and I’d return Sunday nights to start work on Monday morning. I remember the flights cost $39 round trip on New York Air.
I was nervous on my first trip to New York to meet him. What if he wasn’t at the airport? He was right there. We fell in love in one weekend. He gave me an antique marcasite ring and said, “I love you. I’m going to marry you someday.” And I replied, “How do you even know you love me? You don’t really know me well.” And he said, “I’m 33 years old and I know what love is.” How could I argue? So, every time the number 33 appeared anywhere, we’d have a giggle thinking of him saying “I’m 33 years old…”
Ivan was admittedly much different and more responsible than most of the personalities in the world of rock and roll. What captivated you the most about his personality? What are the things you value most about him? What do I love most about him?
Ay-yi-yi how do I answer this one? Initially, it was the fact that he was offered drugs by many, yet he rarely took them. We snorted cocaine a few times with others, but not much. That’s what made him so different than other rockers.
What I value most in him is the way he cherished me. Ivan had such chivalry when he defended me against anything. A true gentleman. He was clever, honest, reliable, smart, funny, talented and handsome. He was the complete perfect package 100%. I was lucky to enjoy it briefly in 1980s, 1990s, and for almost 20 years from 2000–2020.
Difference and nonconformity often arouse misunderstanding in other people. From your point of view, is there anything you would feel Ivan was misunderstood or underrated for?
Though he mostly played rock or pop and ballads, I’m quite sure he could master some soul, jazz, instrumentals, and movie composing. Early electronica – especially in the 1970s when synthesizers first became affordable – were a fun scene. He told me wild stories about how he wrote movie scores being in the underground from that era. Some were soundtracks for art cult films like “Subway Riders”, “The Foreigner” and “Unmade Beds”. Those got such great music reviews, instead of movie reviews, from experts. I’m thinking of releasing them on CD. Ivan made beautiful, haunting backdrops to the black/white images.
Ivan was also incredibly devoted. Someone else would probably have left Iggy for his excesses much earlier. Iggy Pop is also undoubtedly a great musician and performer. Was it music or their mutual friendship that kept Ivan tolerant of all of that?
Ivan thought most of it was funny in the beginning. Of course, he cared about Iggy, but Ivan said he didn’t mind hauling Iggy to the doctor, or waiting for him outside a whorehouse, or helping him score drugs, or putting his clothes back on – because Iggy was entertaining through it all. Ivan said that Iggy seriously had a big heart and was actually a softie! All of those situations became normal life, and eventually Ivan said the debauchery just hit a fever pitch. Ivan couldn’t laugh with Iggy anymore because of the huge amounts of drugs and alcohol. Ivan started drinking more, and, dabbling in drugs and that sort of became normal, too. But he had it under control. Ivan was seriously worried about Iggy. He thought Iggy might die if he kept his foot on the pedal. Ivan said the good thing about Iggy’s dancing and physical contortions onstage is that it sweated the drugs and alcohol out of his system quicker, plus it kept him healthy in good physical shape. Ivan’s tolerance for Iggy’s shenanigans were in full swing when Iggy was so wasted he forgot his lyrics onstage at the Ritz in New York. Finally, Ivan said, “That’s it. I’m done.” It was really hard on Ivan to quit, he felt horrible for years about it, but he just couldn’t take any more freaking out that Iggy might O.D. It was too much pressure. Ivan hit the melting point.
Talking about his sense of responsibility, this aspect probably played the biggest role in his decision to return to his first girlfriend who later became his first wife, even though his heart most likely already belonged to someone else. You hadn’t seen each other for ten years before you decided to contact him again. Were you in love with him all those years after Fate separated you from each other?
Yes. We both married others and each of us had a wonderful spouse. Our spouses did nothing wrong, that’s why it was so hard. They were great people with big hearts. Happily, we all became friends and remain friends to this day. Lynette has been very helpful to me in writing about her love with Ivan in “Bloc, Shock, Rock”.
As a couple, you lived together for several years, but you only got married in 2018. I totally understand that. Unfortunately, there are people, especially within the media, seeking sensation and creating their own stories, often not based on reality. Would you be willing to share your version which is, in my eyes, the only meaningful one, on your marriage with Ivan and clarify various speculations spread after his passing away?
I just didn’t think we needed to have a marriage certificate to prove our love for each other. Besides, I like being referred to as his “girlfriend”, not “the wife”. He was my “boyfriend” instead of the serious-sounding word “husband”. But that was just me playing around with words. It meant a lot to him, so then, all of a sudden, it meant a lot to me, and we were both ecstatic exchanging the rings, and he wept, so I wept, when we heard, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” The rings we exchanged were just simple gold bands, except his had a diamond on the inside, because he was my secret lover at one time. It was made by the small French jeweler that made Josephine’s jewelry for Napoleon
You were also involved in the songwriting process and became the lyricist for Ivan for 20 years. Did you write the lyrics for someone else before or did it just happen with growing love between you and Ivan?
In my spare time, I’d write lyrics for local bands. I was the lyricist for some Grand Funk Railroad tunes when they reunited, but they didn’t record them due to personal clashes. I wrote lyrics for a few punk bands. I often wrote poetry since winning the “best poet” contest in fourth grade. It’s amazing what those little amateur kid contests can do for guiding one’s interest in the future. It gave me the turbo boost, and I just cruised from there. My all-time favorite project was either writing Havel’s memorial song (Václav Havel – the last president of former Czechoslovakia and the first president of Czech Republic) or collaborating with Andrea Morricone (son of composer Ennio Morricone) on 8 classical songs in 2013. I surprised myself that I could master classical. Andrea was happy. I was beyond ecstasy.
What was the first song you ever wrote for Ivan, and what was it lyrically inspired by?
I can’t remember the first song because he gave me a cassette stuffed with songs and asked me to write. I think it was “Time” or “Another Broken Heart”. It was inspired completely by the melody and mood of the song. I had lived the reality of those painful lyrics. Ivan had, too. That’s why they’re so believable.
Is it possible to choose one song from Ivan’s catalogue you consider as your favorite and why?
“All Your Yesterdays” on “Colors” CD because it’s about how the present moment is all that really matters. It’s introspection – the lyrics are actually hopeful in love or uncertainty or in pain/illness. It’s about living in the present.
How did the songwriting process usually work? Was It the melody that Ivan came up with first and then you put down the lyrics or the other way around?
He’d do the rhythm track or melody first, then say, “I think this song should be about X and that song should be about Y and the next song should be another X.”
Did he always have the idea for the topic of the lyrics, or did you also have a space for your own creativity in this respect?
He cut me loose every now and then. He wanted lyrics to reflect his or my experiences. That’s why I heard about almost every one of his love affairs and how they ended! It became material for lyrics! I could then imagine it in my mind to write about it. Talk about crazy! Sometimes, there’s too much information to digest, but somehow you do. Occasionally, there would be mindless lyrics like “Hey Baby Baby”. I’d also get ideas listening to the restaurant dining booth next to ours when we dined. It’s a beehive of peering into the lives of strangers, full of activity and one never knows if they’ll get stung. They’re the stuff of songs. Talk of misunderstandings, about relationships that have gone wrong, money problems, falling in love, here’s a secret, my kid didn’t turn out as planned, I saw a text on my husband’s cell phone from a Babette, etc.
Was there any topic Ivan wanted you to write the lyrics about, and it didn’t feel comfortable to you, but you wrote the song anyway?
Karla, that is a funny question to answer. Yes. It’s a dance tune named “Cock”! I feel like I have every American slang term for the male member in that song. Oh, wait, there’s another one, it’s called “Your Boyfriend’s Dick”. His ideas, not mine. Ivan was a gentleman, but not 100% of the time. Oh, yes, there’s another one called “Never Wanna F*ck Without You”
Did it ever happen while working together on a song that your ideas differed, for example, you would feel the melody a bit differently or Ivan would want to have something else in the lyrics?
Not really, he was always the boss from the get-go. He was the one with the musical talent. So, I worked around him. Although he would ask for my opinions and follow them occasionally.
How did you like to spend your time together when you weren’t working on some song? What were your other hobbies or interests?
This is going to sound so ridiculous, but I’m not kidding. We’d spend 1–2 hours per day cuddling in the grass or on the couch, sometimes with bunnies, sometimes just the two of us, talking about anything. Most of the time, though, we were working. Actually, I shouldn’t say “working” because it was fun chasing ideas. He was songwriting and I was reviewing business opportunities. Sometimes, he’d help me do research. We also had friends we’d meet for dinner. Ivan also played guitar with some local musicians. I had my family, though my Mom has passed now. So, losing Ivan has left a hole in my heart because the cuddling was a daily ritual, and now it’s gone.
You once said that Ivan spent a lot of time all alone with his guitar, thinking about life and dealing with sadness after getting the fatal prognosis from his oncologist. This sadness in combination with his specific sentiment was probably inside him his whole life, reflected in most of his songs. Have you figured out where it came from? Do you think it could have been influenced by his openness and his own way of perceiving everything?
I don’t know how or why he had a fetish for sad songs at times, especially since he was such an optimistic person. He had hidden it well when he wrote rockers. I feel he really knew himself well, so there were no doubts about life. He knew he was going to die. I was aching for him and wondering about my future without my soulmate, my sunshine for 20 years. We just couldn’t be ourselves knowing where we were heading. There was nowhere to go, nothing to see… The only future was deterioration and more pain. Not much to look forward to, and it went on and on. Oh, how sad to be in excruciating pain and know that’s only going to get worse. I was helpless. More needles, ambulance rides or so much nuclear medicine that he was radioactive.
“Ivan was surprised by Bowie’s knowledge of business, art, music, the world’s cultures. Bowie could also write, design his stage set, act on a Broadway stage or in a Hollywood movie. Ivan was also astounded at Bowie’s sense of wonder.“
There are some parallels between Ivan and David Bowie, in the sense that their last albums were both released shortly after they passed away due to cancer. David Bowie also covered one of Ivan’s songs “Bang Bang”, and they knew each other in person. How did he remember him as an artist and a personality?
Ivan thought David Bowie was the ultimate artist. He had such love and respect for Bowie and his work. He couldn’t believe how Bowie would always have a new sound. Ivan was surprised by Bowie’s knowledge of business, art, music, the world’s cultures. Bowie could also write, design his stage set, act on a Broadway stage or in a Hollywood movie. Ivan was also astounded at Bowie’s sense of wonder. He was effortlessly worldly and smart, yet he could still experience the joy of discovery. Ivan strived to be like him when Bowie was free of substances. They had many good times together, except when Ivan left Iggy. Then it was polite, but never the same.
The album “Smile” came out less than two weeks after Ivan passed away. Was the album released in the form he wished, or did time run out before he was able to edit some of the songs?
It would’ve been nice to have it recorded with studio musicians, the right studio and engineer. But, yes, time ran out
Were all the songs for his last album “Smile” written after hearing the sad news about the disease he would be dealing with for the rest of his life? What were the messages he mainly wanted to have in the lyrics while knowing each one might be the last one?
They were written both before and after Stage IV diagnosis. So, I chose the topics this time. “I’m Not Leaving” is about a girl who was stalking Ivan awhile back. She wouldn’t go away and would pop up in the most bizarre places. “Walking in Your Footsteps” is another one about her, from her imagined point of view. “They Will Make You – Apocalypse” was written about Ivan’s computer hack when he lost his financial privacy. “What’s Mine is Yours” is about Ivan and me. “Lost Without You” is how I envisioned my future life without him. “Let’s Get Away” was written ages ago when our love was secret, and we wanted to publicly hold hands while walking, but thought we couldn’t be seen together. “When You Gonna Find It” is about searching – in my case for cancer treatments. “Wasted” is about Ivan wanting to tell everyone to not waste their time because there may not be much left. The rest of the lyrics are about anything, nothing, just observations of life.
Dealing with the information that there is no way for you to be healed is, of course, extremely tough. On the other hand, he sings: “I’m Not Leaving, I’m Still Here”. How did Ivan approach death itself? Did he believe in existence other than just this life?
Yes, Ivan believed in an afterlife where he and I will be together again. On his deathbed, I asked him to send me signals from the other side. He said he would prove to me there is life after death. I’m usually a skeptic, but here’s a true story. A wild rabbit comes onto my patio and stands by the sliding glass door looking inside the window wall peeking into the living room. Wild rabbits don’t approach window walls in houses and sit, they’re usually fleeing and running off in the distance. I saw him five times in the winter. However, I believe he’s here more often, like when I’m asleep because I woke up and saw bunny footprints in the snow right up to the glass window door. The footprints are bigger in the snow by the door, so he’s there motionless. I took photos of the snow tracks because I couldn’t believe it. It IS very unusual for a wild rabbit to wait outside a door and look into a home. I want to think it’s him, but I’m usually too rational to believe in such things. He had pet bunnies and he loved them. Is it a coincidence? I can’t explain it.
What have you learned about yourself in the period of time after Ivan had been diagnosed with cancer?
I learned that I’m stronger than I thought. I was Ivan’s carer and learned it’s a lot of hard work. It was emotionally so sad to watch Ivan getting closer to the end and have him barely whisper hopefully, “Did they find a cure yet?” Heartbreaking… Before he lost his voice, he often asked that, and all I could do was go in the living room and cry. I can still hear his voice asking desperately, and now I write about it behind a veil of tears. Please wait, dear Reader, I’ll be right back. I’m too sad to continue for a while.
Okay, I’m back now. I also learned that I’m capable of undying love. I loved someone so much that I went to the end of the earth seeking the next clinical trial or treatment for him for years. It was automatic, like a reflex. I didn’t realize I was capable of so much love.
Many people are dealing with an early death of their loved ones and do not know how to handle the grief which has different forms and requires enough time for processing. What is your advice for people who happen to be in a similar situation such as you have been dealing with yourself?
I have no advice because I’m the one who needed advice. I think Ivan (because hearing is still good right before death) heard our friend Carole was on her way over. As soon as she got in the door, we chatted for a minute and then were on each side of the bed holding his hand, and his breathing lowered, and then he was just….gone. A tsunami of every emotion hit me all at once, and my heart split open. All I can do is tell you about my experience. Grieving is a skill that one never wants to learn. I thought that somehow, I could reverse Ivan’s illness even after he died. We were waiting for his body to be picked up. His hospital bed was in the kitchen, and I lay next to him, draped his arm around me and held his face. It was lifeless. He wasn’t warm. I jumped up, rushed around like I could do something about it, that it wasn’t real. I put Bako, Ivan’s bunny on his dead body, so that his bunny wouldn’t be waiting for him to return. Such an emotional sight, his buddy the bunny licking his shoulder as Ivan lay motionless. The cremation men came and draped Ivan’s face and body with fabric and a single large orchid. I waved goodbye through the window until the van doors closed.
There are no boundaries with grief, it just comes out of nowhere, weakens your knees, stabs you in the heart and blinds you. Those first few months were unbearable, searching for him. I was in our home alone each day with no human contact because the Covid lockdown started. How was I going to live without him? When I awoke each morning, my heart was bleeding when seeing his side of the bed empty. It hit me with such magnitude. I changed sides of the bed where I slept so that I wouldn’t have to wake up to his empty spot. Besides, sleeping in his space made me feel closer to him. Bako, the bunny was extremely depressed after missing Ivan for a month and he, too, died, probably depression and old age. He yearned for Ivan, too.
In January of 2021, you released another posthumous album “Undiscovered” which was, as in the case with the previous album “Smile”, kept without any big changes or someone else’s interference and is more in the form of a demo than the usual album. Was it your intention to keep the authenticity and atmosphere of the songs the way Ivan left them?
No, but I had no choice. There was no time to re-do or revamp the songs in a major studio with a fabulous engineer. It can always be re-recorded by ambitious musicians. I received an email from a fan that really liked it as a demo. She said that it was like being with Ivan during the creative process. There isn’t any slick production or fake tricks. It’s just the song raw, before you cook it.
I’m pretty sure there are still many songs we haven’t heard yet, written by Ivan. How difficult was it for you to put together the whole album? How did you decide which songs to include on the album?
It wasn’t difficult, but it was very time-consuming listening to every little thing on his hard drive. I cherry-picked what I thought Warner would want. However, since then, I’ve found more music, including some songs with Czech lyrics. There’s still more to archive. After that, I’m going to attack the MiniDisc boxes—there are hundreds. Then, the video boxes –almost 200. It will require a Czech person because I won’t recognize a lot of Czech celebrities, simply because I’m not Czech.
Ivan was known as a very peaceful person who was never much involved in any controversy, but of course, it does not mean, he did not sometimes deal with anger. Who or what is he talking about in the song “Little Bastard”?
If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you! (laughs)
What else is behind the album title “Undiscovered” apart from the undiscovered songs?
That’s it. These songs were undiscovered but found after his death. Because I collaborated with him on so many songs, I know there are more somewhere. There are so many half-written songs, so it’s easy to just grab any recording without realizing it’s already been done. I’ve done that. We’d plagiarize ourselves without realizing it quite often! We plagiarize ourselves.
You are the president of “Blank Generation Films“ that holds the rights for the self-titled film from 1976 in which Ivan recorded and captured the most important moments from the punk movement in New York. You also hold the rights for some other underground films and footage. Do you have any particular plans for the films or other plans you wish to fulfill through the company?
Yes, I’d like to continue what Ivan was doing with the movie, “The Blank Generation” – a compilation of various New York punk bands that Ivan shot from 1974–76 by continuing to license clips to filmmakers and using the movie as a historical document for colleges. The other art cult films “The Foreigner”, “Unmade Beds”, and “Subway Riders” are already in distribution.
“Night Lunch” is another concert compilation that Ivan shot, and I’m currently licensing a clip for a Queen documentary, a Patti Smith movie and The Who 1967 documentary. These are all requests from other countries that somehow hear that Ivan had a 16 mm camera when he came to this country to film bands to preserve them in case he was deported. We have re-vamped our YouTube channel IvanKralVault where we’ll add more videos. There will be all things Ivan, whether it’s him onstage, behind the board, behind the camera, in front of the camera. A nice variety to really show all facets of his unique life.
I have seen your status on your Facebook page where you reacted to the article published by the New York Times on the “Blank Generation” film. What was the issue? Would you like to put it right?
Filmmaker Ivan shot performance and street footage of punk bands because he had insider access and he wanted something in case he was deported. Co-editor Amos Poe, added 66 seconds to the whole film and it was not even performance footage. Ivan wasn’t aware Amos had travelled the world giving lectures on what it was like to film “The Blank Generation” – pre-internet times. When the internet appeared and Ivan discovered it, he asked Amos for half payment. Amos wouldn’t pay. This went on for a few years. So, Ivan took him to court. Ivan wanted to be paid, but since Amos’ only assets were other films, our attorney got the other movie copyrights.
There has been an announcement that you are writing a biography of Ivan’s life. You have already mentioned the title of the book earlier which is “Bloc, Shock, Rock”. The word “Rock” is understandable. “Shock” makes me curious considering the fact Ivan’s life was always so different when compared to other rock stars’ lifestyles. How did you come up with the title? What is behind the “Bloc”? Are there any connections with his being born in the Eastern Bloc?
Yes. He’s from the Eastern BLOC. He came to America in 1966 and had culture SHOCK, then he became a musician of ROCK music. I’m so excited about this book. His unique life needs to be both a bio and a movie. From a totalitarianism childhood to the debauchery of New York in the 1970s and back to Prague to shape the music scene in the 1990s. This is an exciting story. Best of all, we got the philosophical deathbed conversations (with his advance permission) which were very introspective. But there’s so much more, like recollections of his early childhood, working for the Beatles, and the revealing interview I had with his Mom, Otylie.
Did you talk about writing the book while Ivan was still alive?
Both Ivan and I have been writing this book for years. Since there was never a deadline, we just casually got around to it, figuring the biography would be better if done unrushed. He walked me through his notes and photos at least three times over the years, so I feel those anecdotes have firmly taken root in my mind. I have his notes and Word documents if I feel I need to reference anything. The time-consuming part is the fact-checking. I remember I’d hold up a polaroid picture and ask who is in the photo and where is it? He’d say something confusing like, “It was either New York or L.A. in 1975 or 1979 and I think it was Johnny Thunders party, but maybe David Cassidy was there. That might be Bob Dylan in the straw hat looking down.” I’m laughing now because it was ridiculous. I have better luck searching online or calling his ex-wife Lynette. Ivan admittedly said, “I can’t remember” to a lot of photos. Certain things weren’t important to him.
When we knew time was running out, we had to get serious about the manuscript, he was in too much pain. But when we had our wonderful philosophical talks when he was free of pain, I discovered all the reasons why I love him so much. His nature, his thought processes, his acceptance of things. Deep conversations that leave me with joy today. I have no regrets about anything we did. I feel myself getting stronger.
The book is going to be the first official biography of Ivan’s life published in English. Are you going to use some parts of the book I have mentioned earlier which was written by Czech publicist Honza Vedral in cooperation with Ivan, or is it going to be primarily your own piece written from a different perspective?
It will overlap in a few areas, like the 1970s, and being a musician. But it will portray Ivan as the lover, boyfriend, and patient. It will be a different perspective. Honza Vedral did a great job on what Ivan wanted at the time.
Ivan was always careful while talking about his private life, but he did not hide his deep love and respect for you. Are you going to reveal more about your precious relationship and the special connection you shared together in the book?
Yes. There will be romance and heartbreak and lots of rock music, songwriting and philosophy. The lyrical meaning of our pain apart captured so well in our songs, and how they got us through a nearly impossible love.
You and Ivan met each other thanks to music. His love for The Rolling Stones and The Beatles is obvious. What are your musical influences? What are the bands or artists from, but also apart from, the rock genre you used to like to listen to together?
Rock and roll, now called “classic rock”. I, too, loved The Stones and went to their concerts. I tried to do their lighting, but it was too innovative and such a huge, precise project, that Fantasee Lighting could never do it anyway. I had big dreams, but reality put me in my place!
The typicals: David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC. I also loved the whole glam and glitter scene coming out of Britain with bands like T. Rex, Rosy Music, The Sweet and Mott The Hoople
From your own perspective, what did music mean to Ivan, not just the music he personally created, but music in general?
He thought music was the highest method of communication. He thought there was no better way to “speak”. In fact, we were disagreeing once, and he kindly said, “I wish you knew music better, because I would play what I’m trying to say and then, you would get it.”
If you decided to put together a tribute album for Ivan, what songs would you choose for it, who would you wish to have singing and playing on the album, and who would produce it?
Because it’s a tribute album for Ivan, I’d select musicians I think he’d choose. He respected the following musicians for their playing style individually, so it might not work if they were a band. There might be too many “bosses”. Each musician would have to be at the peak of their playing career and they’d record one of Ivan’s favorite songs below.
Stewart Copeland – drums
Rod Stewart from FACES – vocalist Keith Richards – guitar 1
John Hiatt – guitar 2
Ian McLagan – keyboards
Klaus Voormann – bass
Jimmy Iovine – Producer
Bob Ludwig – Engineer
Abbey Road – Studio
“It’s a Wonderful World” (George David Weiss for Louis Armstrong),
“Woman” (John Lennon),
“All Your Yesterdays” (Ivan Kral/Cindy Hudson
How do you wish people to remember Ivan and his legacy?
I wish Ivan Kral to be remembered for his kindness, as well as his talent in songwriting. Czechs may not know it, but he did bring a fascinating awareness of the country and Prague to many Americans. Many Americans asked him things like: “What was it like growing up over there?“, “Tell me what it’s like.“, “Tell me what is the beer like?“, “Prague is supposed to be the most beautiful city.“, etc. So, he was a good representative for the Czech Republic, too. A good PR agent for Prague.
As the first American Czech to be recognized in America in the 1970s, he was a symbol of hope during a dark period in history. He was proud of his heritage even though he loved America.