SAN DIEGO — Eric Burdon has finally decided that the time has come to quit denying his past.
In the two decades since the break-up of the original Animals, the throaty-voiced founder and lead singer of the seminal British rhythm-and-blues group has consistently looked ahead by forming new groups--and recording new albums--of his own.
Even two Animals reunions, one in 1977 and the other in 1983, lasted only a few months--just long enough for the band to showcase a batch of new songs, without falling into the nostalgia trap Burdon had for so long disdained.
But on his current tour of the United States as a solo artist, Burdon, 45, is reveling in his past rather than attempting to stifle it.
The clubs he's playing, like the Backroom in Austin, Tex., and the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach--where he'll be Thursday night--are places that traditionally feature resurrected bands from the '50s and '60s. They are clubs the Animals ardently avoided during their two comebacks.
The songs he's singing include nearly all of the old Animals hits, including "House of the Rising Sun," "Don't Bring Me Down" and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." They are the songs Burdon resolutely ignored before.
And when he gets off the road this fall, Burdon plans to further celebrate his past by finishing his autobiography, "I Used to Be an Animal But I'm All Right" and then starting work on a television special detailing the illustrious history of the Animals.
Some switch, eh?
"This knuckling down on my past after all this time does seem a bit strange, I suppose," Burdon admitted. "But as we get further and further away from it, more and more people regard it as important and relevant, and finally I'm starting to see it that way, too.
"I always knew that the music we were playing as kids was important, and that it would affect a lot of people, but I never thought it would last as long as it has. And now that I realize the music I made with the Animals will be around forever, there's no point in continuing to ignore it.
"At the same time, though, I'm hoping it will open up a new future for me. It's taken me a long time to acknowledge it (the past), but the more I do, the greater the rewards in terms of my own opinion of myself."
Burdon said he spent most of the last 20 years trying to outdo what he had done with the Animals. After the original group broke up in 1966, he kept the Animals name alive for several years, both on record and on tour, with disappointing results.
"The magic of the middle 1960s," Burdon said, "was something that simply could not be re-created, and at last I'm realizing that looking back to the past is not necessarily an unhealthy thing.
"In music, looking to the past has always opened up a vision of the future. I've always loved the music that was created before I was born, and the blues of the 1930s and '40s is the primary influence on what became the Animals' sound.
"Now, a whole generation of new bands are creating exciting new music by also looking to the past--and the past, in their cases, is the music of British Invasion bands like the Animals.
"The 1960s really were a magic time. The future seemed bright and exciting, and the music of the day reflected it. Today, on the other hand, very little is happening--and the only excitement comes from the past, be it '60s music, fashion or even cars, all of which are being embraced by the youth of today.
"I'm through trying to ignore it. There's no point in analyzing it. So all that's left to do is accept it, even though it can, at times, be quite jarring on the nerves to face one's past."
As a result, Burdon said, he's now putting as much energy into his live performances as he did in the '60s--and singing the old songs with as much enthusiasm as ever.
"When we started out, I expected the whole thing to be over by the time I was 25," he said. "In fact, I didn't think I'd even live to be 25--and, what's worse, I didn't care. But now I see myself as a survivor."