Few performers in the history of Hollywood have experienced careers with the length and breadth of Corey Feldman’s. The well-known celebrity began doing commercials at the age of three, including for McDonald’s. Later, he became a child star with movies like The Lost Boys, The Goonies, and Stand By Me. He voiced Donatello in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. He was a teen idol, gracing the covers of many magazines. And he was famously friends with Michael Jackson. But that doesn’t mean his life was glitzy and glorious all the time—in fact, far from it.
Now, though, he’s beginning a new chapter. He has a mantra: Discover, recover and discard. He talks about giving things up to God. And underscoring all that work is Feldman’s reprieved role as a songwriter. Lately, he’s released several new singles, shared plans for a new six-disc box set and has announced a 20-plus-stop tour, spanning August through September. For someone who’s lived a tumultuous life with high highs and low lows, Feldman is poised for what’s ahead of him. But all of that begins with his very first love: music.
“I was raised in a musical household,” the 50-year-old Feldman tells American Songwriter. “Music was always at the forefront. Acting was a secondary thought.”
Feldman’s father, Robert, performed in the band Strawberry Alarm Clock as well as in cover groups in places like amusement parks, including Magic Mountain in California. And his sister was a Mousketeer in the Mickey Mouse Club. So, between those examples, music and songs were everywhere. He was around rehearsals, musical performances. In fact, he says, as a three-year-old, because he couldn’t read then (like all three-year-olds), his mother would prepare him for acting auditions by putting him in a room and telling him to memorize a song “frontwards and backwards.” He learned Beatles songs. He also watched older relatives play piano and his elderly aunt would teach him songs on the instrument. Feldman’s grandmother, who helped raise him, also had an old record player (the kind you wound up) and one record that resonated with him: Bill Haley & His Comets, who he knew from the show, Happy Days.
“I really connected to that,” Feldman says.
He remembers seeing Buddy Holly, he remembers falling in love with the band KISS at seven years old. He loved their theatrics. He started hosting “pretend concerts” with friends in his front yard, bringing out pots and pans and wooden sticks for drums. He made sketch tapes and had musical interludes. He liked “Weird Al” and his parody songs. And he loved Michael Jackson. He wanted to emulate The King of Pop and Feldman soon became known for his ability to dance like him, relatively speaking, even performing at 12 years old in front of 40,000 people one day at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles.
“I immediately got a lot of attention,” Feldman says. “I would go to kids’ parties or Hollywood-type parties. ‘Billie Jean’ would come on and somebody would go, ‘Oh, he dances like Michael.’ Someone would throw me a hat and everyone would circle around me.”
While Feldman liked the attention and recognition for his musical abilities, he knew impersonating Jackson wasn’t a means to any end. So, eventually, he began to write his own songs. The first song he remembers writing and recording (though somewhat roughly) in earnest was a tune called “Runaway.” He was working on The Lost Boys at the time. He shot a little music video, wore all black. At the time he didn’t know the significance of the track, which now appears on his box set. But looking on it now, he knows what the song meant. He didn’t want to be doing what he was doing at the time. He wanted to run away.
“I was picturing myself as a runaway,” he says. “Like, I got to get out of this situation.”
But while Feldman was becoming a star of epic proportions in the ’80s and’90s, he kept his love of music mostly under wraps. At the time, he said, unlike now where every Disney kids star gets a record deal to try and be a crossover hit in both movies and music was “frowned upon,” he says. But as fate would have it, keeping that side of his creative life quiet may have been the best thing for him. It wasn’t co-opted. Though Feldman says it was his “greatest desire” to be a musician and perform for people, he didn’t. He instead was relegated to glossy magazines and movie marquees.
“I’d become a teen star,” he says.
To talk with Feldman about Jackson is a touchy subject. He’s been linked to the pop star for nefarious reasons. Jackson, famously, has been accused of sexually assaulting minors and many have asked Feldman if he, too, was violated, to which he’s given varying answers. Mostly, though, he honors his relationship with Jackson. Today, he talks about him fondly. In fact, he remembers one time sitting with the mega-famous musician and sharing with Jackson a song he’d written. The two were in Palm Springs, Feldman says. They didn’t often discuss music—Feldman didn’t want to be one of those people to ask Jackson for things, especially help in the business. He says he wanted to keep their friendship just that: friendly, not commercial. But he played him a song—“What’s Up With Youth?”—and afterwards Jackson said, “Corey, this is a number-one hit.” Later, Feldman performed the song for Howard Stern (see below), who mostly derided him for it. Listening to the song now, it’s impossible not to hear Jackson’s influence on Feldman’s musicianship: the quick lyric delivery, the biting lines.
“Michael said, ‘This song can go number-one,’” Feldman says. “He said, ‘I will walk it into [head of CBS records executive] Tommy Mottola’s office right now. I guarantee you can get a number-one hit with this.’ And I said, ‘Gee, thanks, Mike, I really appreciate that. But I have to say no.’”
Feldman says he declined Jackson’s help because he didn’t want to feel like he was using him. But the fact that Jackson liked it was good enough. In hindsight, one may wonder if Feldman was trying to save his musical side from the scrutiny and dangers he’d experienced in his acting life. Maybe music had to be shielded, protected in a way his acting no longer could. Careful what you wish for, there might be no escape if you get what you want. Today, Feldman’s best recent releases, like his song, “Comeback King,” are also pop hits in the vein of Jackson’s. He knows this may incur finger pointing. But he also knows his music isn’t for everyone. Instead, it’s meant for those who resonate with it.
“A percentage of people will come to the shows to make jokes about it,” Feldman says. “But there’s also just as many dedicated fans who love what I do and appreciate it very deeply, who tell me all the time the songs saved my life.”
Throughout his life, Feldman has been in various bands. He’s released pop music, rock music, acoustic ballads. He’s been in sexy bands with scantily-clad women. He’s been solo and in rock groups. He’s had ups and downs. He’s had drug issues, too, and eras of sobriety and faith. Now, some years removed from stardom, he just cares about producing good songs—songs he can respect—and playing them for people for whom they matter. During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, he spent a lot of time in Jamaica and wrote song after song, amassing some 18 tracks. These songs are on his new album, Love Left 2, which is a sequel from the record, Love Left, that he dropped in 1992. To date, he has a handful of record releases in his discography, which now includes the new box set. At one point, the first Love Left was sitting in boxes in his garage, some 1,000 copies, and he “couldn’t give them away.” Now, there is a demand and he’s selling them out.
“I always knew I wanted to keep making music for the rest of my life,” he says, “whether anybody bought it or not. It’s never been about the money or succeeding. It’s only about doing what my heart told me was right. It’s a healthy process for me.”
During his time as a successful actor, he would volunteer his songs for soundtracks. It’s these tracks and others he’s rediscovered and newly written that appear in the six-disc box set. He’s remixed and remastered old tracks. He’s gone back into archives and records that had been dormant for decades. He’s undergoing a personal musical renaissance. The kind he’s always wished he could. Next up? He hopes to tour Europe and perhaps Asia or Australia, hoping to add dates to the fall string of shows he has coming up. It’s the next step in an up and down career that has seen stops and starts for various reasons, some good and some bad. But, Feldman says, he’s determined to keep going.
“Music moves the soul,” he says. “I believe that music at its very root is derived to lift our spirits. To teach us, to move us, and to bring us together. It’s a union. A marriage. When you find people who love the same music as you, there’s an instant connection.”
COREY FELDMAN TOUR DATES:
Aug 17 – The Marquee -Tempe, AZ
Aug 18 – Rail Club Live
Aug 20 – Santa Carla Summer Weekend – San Antonio, TX
Aug 21 – Santa Carla Summer – San Antonio, TX
Aug 24 – King of Clubs – Columbus, OH
Aug 25 – Piere’s Entertainment Center – Ft. Wayne, IL
Aug 26 – Brauer House – Lombard, IL
Aug 27 – Hobart Art Theater – Hobart, IN
Aug 28 – Token Lounge – Westland, MI
Aug 30 – Hard Rock – Pittsburgh, PA
Sept 1 – Granite State Music Hall – Laconia, NH
Sept 2 – The Stafford Palace Theater – Stafford Springs, CT
Sept 3 – Reverb – Reading, PA
Sept 4 – Colony – Woodstock, NY
Sept 6 – Capital Arts Center – Bowling Green, KY
Sept 7 – Headliners Music Hall – Louisville, KY
Sept 8 – Wildey Theater – Edwardsville, IL
Sept 9 – Hard Rock Casino – Sioux City, IA
Sept 10 – The Venue – Denver, CO
Sept 11 – Liquid Joe’s – Salt Lake City, UT
Sept 13 – The Coach House – San Juan Capistrano, CA
Sept 14 – Goldfield Trading Post – Sacramento, CA
Sept 16 – The Canyon – Montclair, CA
Sept 17 – The Canyon – Agoura Hills, CA
Sept 18 – The Canyon – Santa Clarita, CA
Photo by Manfred Baumann / Hello New House