Friday, September 22, 2017

Millions of Dead Cops: a Dave Dictor interview apropos of tonight's Seattle show

Part of me really likes the idea of pulling up at the US border (I would, as a non-driver, be in the passenger seat, but nevermind that) and having the following conversation:

Customs officer: What's your business in the United States?

Us: We're going to a concert.

Customs officer: What band?

Us: MDC.

Customs officer: What's that stand for?

Us: Well, uh, usually, Millions of Dead Cops.

Even a cavity search would be kinda worth it, you know? And it would be fun to violate my "fuck Trump's Amerikkka" ban on cross-border travel - not that I cross the border that often ANYHOW - to see MDC perform.

If you don't know MDC, start here. (That link is to "John Wayne was a Nazi;" there's also their homepage, here).

Alas, there are health issues this weekend - I am newly missing a tooth and my girl has a hurt foot - and I have no $ for it, so... here's hoping SOMEONE ELSE gets to have that conversation tonight - that this interview makes it into the world in time to promote tonight's MDC concert in Seattle.

I talked to Dave Dictor last year, pre-Trump, about many things - from the homophobic outburst of the Bad Brains against the Big Boys and the Dicks to his vegetarianism, with one update from Dictor, which you will note below. It's only a partial interview, since I appear to have deleted a file I shouldn't have, so there are some missing pieces. Some reference is made to this interview with (the great) Mark Prindle, whose record review site, tho' mothballed, provides hours of fun reading...

I imagine you've told the story many times, but I've gotta ask you about "John Wayne was a Nazi," because that has got to be one of the top ten political punk songs of all time.

Well, he died in 1979, and I was right on campus at the University of Texas. And the University of Texas campus at the time was very collegian - we used to call them frat boys and sorority sisters, and they were very Reagan youth - not the band, but the true Reagan Youth. And they were all crying and everything. And I go, "What are you crying about?" (Faux-sobbing:) "John Wayne died!" People in Texas really take their hat off to John Wayne. And I'm like, "what are you talking about, that guy was a Nazi." I just went home and wrote the song. And I tried to give it a couple of other people, "why don't you sing this," because some other bands were more popular, we were just starting out. And for a long time we just played parties for 30 people, we weren't really a band that could draw 200 people. It's kinda funny, because in Austin, until we went to San Francisco and played that gig, we were a very minor-league band. They had some kind of poll, and we were like 30th in the poll, right there with bands that had broken up years before. Austin's kind of a close-knit town, and none of us were really true out-and-out Southerners. Franco [Mares] was from El Paso, but he was Chicano. And it's a bit of a Peyton Place kinda place. There's a pecking order, and I never looked all that skinny with a big mowhawk kinda thing... I did have a mowhawk at one point, but I just mean, we didn't get that much love in our hometown. It took the outside world, it took getting a call from Tim Yohannan and... I'd sent Mickey Creep from Creep Magazine our record, and actually Jello Biafra was his roommate. Jello started playing it on the radio, Tim Yohannan called us, and then I got Biafra's number, and that's how we got the gig out there. It really started picking up after 1981. But 1978, 1980, we were the nobodies. And I don't mean the band the Nobodys. Truly the nobodies. We were lucky that Gary [Floyd, then of the Dicks] liked us so much, because the only times we got gigs anywhere was when Gary said, "I want my friends the Stains to play with us."   

When did you first meet Gary, anyhow?

I picked him up hitchhiking, right around 1977. He was on his way to San Francisco to see the Sex Pistols.

Oh wow, you drove him to that?

No, I didn't drive him to that, he was just kinda chatting me up. I said, hey, what are you up to, and he said, "I'm on my way to San Francisco - if you knew what you were doing, you'd be coming to San Francisco!" And I said, "ahh, I've got lots of stuff going on in my life." Y'know, Austin Texas is 2200 miles from San Francisco. But wow... and I didn't really know who the Sex Pistols were. He was so ahead. He was the first real punk I ever met. We talked for about a half an hour, and then I think I saw him a few months later when he got back from San Francisco. "It was great, blahblahblah, I'm moving to San Francisco but I'm getting my band together first." Ah, a band! And we just started talking to each other. Because I lived right off the drag, at the University of Texas in Austin, and he worked somewhere around there. And then I found out, he had a pushcart on the University of Texas campus; it was one of those carts where, you sell sodas and pretzels and candy bars off of, and there he was. And every day of the week, in class, I could talk to him, and before you know it, I was skipping class and just hanging out with. I say in the book that he was one of the most interesting people I ever met in my life, he was so strong in his convictions that his view of the universe was way better than the worlds'. And he was an out person, this was way back in 1977, and he was talkin' political things, and way advanced. We were just making small talk, but it was so interesting - it was more interesting than my professors by a factor of ten or something.

He was a few years older than you?

Yeah, he was - I think he's about five years older than me. I'm 56 (a couple of years have passed since we talked, note). But I wasn't that young at the time, I was more like 21 or 22, he was maybe 24. Maybe only three years. But he was such an interesting person, and then he starts telling me he's doing a band called the Dicks. "Would you mind if I called my band the Stains?" He said, "nooo!" And then his band came out, and we followed suit about a half year or a year later. We started playing together, and eventually got a gig with the Dead Kennedys up in San Francisco, in the summer - July 2nd of 1981, and both our bands went out there together, and we just had a great, great time. We discovered the ocean. We decided we were both moving to San Francisco - and we did.

He was the guy who sort of turned you on to punk rock, then?

Yeah, you know... not in total, but I didn't really know what it was. This was in 1977, and I was into the New York Dolls and Roxy Music and Lou Reed, but not really about the British invasion kinda stuff, not really the Ramones... slowly but surely, stuff like Elvis Costello and Patti Smith and Talking Heads were part of my vocabulary, but he was the first punk I ever met, and just his attitude was punk: "I don't care what other people think, I don't care what other people say, this is my life and I'm doing it the way I want to do it." It was just so refreshing, it was just really wonderful. I was somewhat of a political person. It was so sad in that era - I don't know if you remember it, but they forced Nixon out of office in 1972 or 1973 and then the country just went totally downhill. The kids started doing cocaine, and disco came about... It became this - to me - anti-egalitarian (society). People were sneaking off to the backroom two or three at a time to snort cocaine, there's expensive drugs, and... I was so happy to meet Gary. I had heard the word punk, but there, he was one. I think I saw him a few months later, and he had a purple mowhawk. He was way ahead.

Were you at the first Dicks gig, May 16th at Armadillo World Headquarters?

Yes I was at that Dicks gig. I was at both nights - they played with the Big Boys, they recorded at Raoul's... We must have played six, eight, ten shows with the Dicks, we played backyard parties. We were their junior band, and we had a little more, y'know - all our amps were working, all our drums, all our cymbals weren't cracked. We shared a lot of stuff. And our politics very much gelled. We were very much against the authoritarian state, against what was happening to the farmworkers, they were getting murdered in Texas by the Klan, who were hanging out with the police. This was 35 years ago, it was a different world.       

(Gary Floyd with the Dicks)

Both MDC and the Dicks make comparisons between the KKK and the cops - were there actually a lot of connections?

Oh, that's documented. There are famous pictures, and not from the 30's or something, of the Klan hanging out with the cops. They had counties in Texas like King County - it's the home of Purina/ Raulston dog food - and all the judges, all the cops, all the everything were kinda from the same powerful family, and they truly ran the whole state. It's the kind of thing that Bo Diddley [editor: or did he mean to say Leadbelly?] was singing about in "The Midnight Special." You come to town, you say the wrong thing, next thing you know, you're prison bound.

I want to ask about why Austin was so queer, compared to the rest of Texas, but I gotta clear something up here. I had always heard and thought you were gay, and then I read the interview you did with Mark Prindle, and you said that you're not. So I'm a little confused...

I've had some gender issues. I'm think more of a transvestite - I was very friendly with female clothes, and donned drag and performed that way, and people just assumed, across the board, whether gay or homophobic, that I was gay. And I kinda refused to deny it. I was living in San Francisco, and I had a lot of gay friends, two gay roommates. Through the years I've had a half-dozen gay roommates, and I never denied it, I just let the rumour go to the point that I made it to the Homosexual Who's Who of America. And I never said anything about it, but, y'know, with Mark Prindle, the last three or four years, I set the record straight: I'm not really gay, haven't made love to a man in a long long long long long long time, fuckin' three decades. But I would dress in drag, and there was a fascination with all things female in me.

That pre-dated your getting on stage?

Oh yeah! I did drag, there'd be Halloween or this or that, but it was always inside me, waiting to bust out and give word to it. And that's where the song "My Family is a Little Weird" comes in, or [the lyric] "Why is America so straight, and me so bent?" I almost wish I hadn't given that interview, where I set the record straight, it was more fun having everyone think I'm gay. And gay, bisexual, straight... maybe say I'm bisexual, even though haven't been participating with males in 35 years; why not?

Update: the above conversation took place a couple of years ago, after which Dave elaborated on his answer by email. Things change!

I have crossed the threshold and ....come across to consider myself to be part of the Queer community because of trans fluid feelings... Not wanting to change my gender but being able to being fluid. In my thoughts and how I view myself sexually .... I think there is a lot of fluid folks who just didn't know where to stand ..... The new terminology finally caught up to me.... I would say that I felt like the queerest straight guy in the world. Because I wasn't having what the rest of the world considered true gay homoerotic sex. I was dreamscaping erotic sex in my mind of all sorts, acting on only a little, usually involving a female where I would totally feel attracted to the scent of that woman. I knew I was off and in my mind I saw myself in a feminine role and actually seeing and feeling myself to be and as a woman. In these subsequent years, the term "fluid" came about and it seemed almost made for me. Gay men and woman were getting together to gender fuck with each other as queers. I felt sort of ...the inside of out of that... But finally I found a true home in the queer community. And since I have found a woman ( probably many of you who identify as a woman but dreamscape as a male). And I feel that... I love my place in my queer community and actually in all loving communities. And I know there are just millions of you out there ready to take similar steps. All I can say is do it when you're ready and let me tell you the water is fine. I hope you make it soon. I am loving my life like never before and see you in the deep end of the pool.

Continue old interview!

It makes the whole Austin scene look unusual, when I thought you were gay: holy shit, there's the Big Boys, the Dicks, and MDC, and they're all fronted by gay men? What?

It really was a unique space and place. Because it wasn't Texas, it was Austin; and 700 miles in every direction, there was nothing but uptight Ameri-KKK. Especially in the 1970's, even moreso. And there was a small gay neighborhood in Houston named Montrose, but the rest of those people came to Austin, Texas. And even then there was only one or two gay bars. I actually used to hang out at a lesbian gay bar called the Hollywood, very disco-oriented - this is 1976, 77 - and I used to like playin' with those girls, hangin' out with all these gals. Most of them were University of Texas students, some of them just lived in the area, but sometimes I'd go into a lesbian disco, and there'd be maybe three males in a room of lesbian women. It was very cool. Having a certain amount of trans feelings, I felt right at home.

I know, Gary, when he used to dress, used to pin condoms filled with mayonnaise to his clothes and then throw them at the audience.

He certainly did!

Did you do anything like that?

No, he was more in that Divine, over-the-top kind of way. I was more shy about it.

I like hearing that you didn't shave, though, when in drag. Gary and I were actually talking about you, about how he would shave and present himself nicely, and you went out there with a face full of stubble...

I hate to say it's more like I was lazy than any deep seated political [thing]. If I'd had someone around me saying, "darling, please shave," I would have, but I didn't, and that's that.  

So if we could talk about the Bad Brains story... you revered the Bad Brains before that episode, right?

Totally, totally did. I bought their 1981 single "Pay to Cum," and we had just moved out to the Bay Area and played a gig with them. They loved our "no war/ no KKK" stance we were taking against the cops and it's effect on people of colour and people with less power, and they said, "why don't you join us on tour?" We go, "okay," and then next thing you know - literally, that night, we were driving to Houston Texas to play a gig. And like I say, I'm writing this for the book, and we got to Houston and they kinda came up to us after the show... "why is there a woman on tour with us," and this woman was our manager named Tammy Lundy (Cleveland?), she's our manager, and they're like, "women should be pregnant and barefoot at home." And I was like, "thanks for your opinion, but whatever..." And on the way, I was like, "y'know, I could probably get on the phone and set up a quick show in Austin," because I think everyone would love to support you, and they said sure. And we get there, and Randy Biscuit is in the show with the Big Boys, and Gary, and I think MDC. I'm not sure if the Offenders were on the bill. But all of a sudden there's this big scene where HR of the Bad Brains didn't want to sing into the same microphone as those gay guys, and then he yelled, those bloodclot faggots should die. It's one thing to say "I don't really like gay people," it's another thing to say, "bloodclot faggots should die." And it was just terrible and nasty and of course the tour was over. And that is the story. To this day - I'm writing this in the book - it was one of those sad things that really happened. But we went to San Francisco, got interviewed by Maximum Rock'n'Roll, and we felt it was our duty [to speak up]. Because everyone was hypnotized by the Bad Brains, they're still an incredible band. Their dogma and what their lead singer is thinking is warped, but their musicianship, and the influences in some of the songs - "Postive Mental Attitude" - were a cool message. But just what was going on under the surface - by Prophet Joseph, as HR also called himself over the years - was a hateful, "hope they die" - sentiment. I didn't want one more person to put on a show who might be gay or might happen to be a little different and then get taken advantage of by the Bad Brains and made to feel less than they were.


And this was back in the day when most of the punk kids were 16, 17 - it was just me and Gary and Randy who were like, four or five years older. It's one thing to tell an 18 year old "gays all deserve to die," but to us it was like, "what the fuck are you talking about, how about you screw your fuckin' selves?" And I realized it was going to take someone a little older, with - and obviously by that time MDC has some street cred and we were out there touring, and people were digging us, and people were listening. And that interview got out, and the word got out, and believe me, I play a tour somewhere, and every fifth night some kid will come up and say, "tell me the story about the Bad Brains." And American Hardcore did a fairly accurate depiction, I don't know if you read the book, Stephen Blush...

Tim Kerr (of the Big Boys) tells the story there, I think.

Tim likes to whitewash it a bit. Tim didn't like the controversy, "it wasn't so bad, y'know." It really was bad. If you ask Gary Floyd or ask other people that knew that era. It was that bad.

What the hell is a "bloodclot faggot," anyhow? {The Bad Brains had used the term in their hate speech directed at the Dicks and Big Boys]. What does that mean?

A bloodclot is something that causes a hemmhorage, so if you have a bloodclot in your veins, it will kill you, you'll have an aneurysm in your brain. So the gay population is like a bloodclot to the human race.


It's very Coptic-Christian-Rastafari kind of imagery. It wasn't familiar to me, obviously not to you, but it was there.

Do you still perform "Pay to Come Along?" (MDC's musical response to the episode, with lyrics in part that read, "Couldn't help us fight the fight/ Get together black and white/ Returned all support with abuse/ and intolerance beyond excuse.")

No, we don't. We really dropped it from the repertoire, it fell off our setlist in about 1990. I don't want to get up on stage and go, "let's talk about the Bad Brains." I'm not for extending this war, but the word is out. People want to go see the Bad Brains for their musicianship, and that, they know already. I've never said "boycott them" - I wanted to let people know that HR is kind of a hateful guy, don't put yourself in the same position as we did in bringing him to your hometown and finding out just how hateful they were... We played the Democratic National Convention in 1988 and so did the Bad Brains, and HR is looking at me hard. I'm just, like, "What EVER, dude. Have a great life - I'm not going to fight you." The sad thing about him - it really affected his brain with the amount of cocaine he smoked. I'm not going to say it's karma, but when you live in glass houses, and all that stuff...

It's always sickening to see someone who is part of an oppressed minority taking it out on someone who is even more oppressed.

Exactly. You kick the dog that's a little smaller than you, right on down the line.

Coming to the topic of touring... what was the biggest show you ever had?

There were big shows for different reasons. We played in front of 50,000 people, but that was opening for Agnostic Front and Motorhead. The 50,000 people weren't there to see us. That was in 2002, in Germany. So that was the biggest numbers I ever stood in front of and played for. But y'know, way back in the day, we were getting thousand-people crowds on our own, or then when we played with Kennedys or at the Lincoln Memorial with DRI and the Crucifucks, there was upwards of 6-8-10,000 people. Free outdoors, we played with the Dead Kennedys and the Contractions in San Francisco at Rock Against Reagan in the fall, and there were around 8-10,000 people. Those were the biggest shows. They were free shows - it's nice when it's free, because everyone can just come down - but we played the Olympic Auditorium sometimes, and it was four to six thousand people. It was a big boxing arena. We played there with the Dicks, once. The Subhumans, Discharge...

The Canadian Subhumans? 

The British Subhumans.

Ah. I'm friendly with the Canadian Subhumans.

No, not those guys, but they toured very early on, and we saw them in Austin Texas, and Joey Shithead and DOA - I don't know if Chuck was with them at that point... but we'd look at the van and go, "Wow, you're going 30 cities in this van?" Before then, you just played your hometown and hoped that there was a big enough crowd, that some record company was gonna send a rep out and sign you and put you on tour with the Ramones or somebody. It was a whole new way, and DOA and Black Flag and the Subhumans really led that charge, of bands saying, "We aren't going to sit around our hometown and wait for them to discover our kind of music, we'll be sitting here til hell freezes over. We're just going to take it on the road." And sure enough, [when we toured], there were a hundred, two hundred people in every major city, or a lot of major cities - Houston, Austin, of course LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, New York, of course DC, Boston, and a few places in the midwest like Minneapolis, Chicago, and believe it or not Akron Ohio, had a great little scene... I'm sure I'm missing a few little scenes, but there was really about twenty gigs in North America, and we just took it on the road. We got a van, realized we're going to have to be in close quarters with each other, there's no rich and fabulous contract that's going to get signed, that's going to make it feel like latter day rockstars. It was all very working class, do it yourself.

Final question - it's my impression you're a vegan?

I'm a vegetarian. And when we go on tour, we act as vegans, we ask for a vegan menu. I'm not perfect. I just had a vegan stay with me who read every label on everything and ended up throwing out a large amount of food in my kitchen! Y'know, I support veganism, but for whatever reason, my roommate and I - he's in the band with me, he's the bassist in the band - are both single guys, and we do a little cooking but not much. We eat out a lot. And that's exactly what we are. We're vegans on tour, and at home we're a little bit more relaxed. I've been a vegetarian for over 40 years. I go back and forth. What happened was, I was doing a very vegan, pure, wheat grass juice and green tea sprouts juicing diet. And then I had a staph infection. I almost died in the hospital, I lost 30 pounds. And the doctor, I was telling I was a vegan. He was like, "stop. Don't tell me this. Eat some salmon. Eat eggs - go get your free range eggs or cage-free eggs, but something, eat protein. And I took him to heart. I was down to 145 pounds, two years ago. I went purposefully out of my way to start eating eggs.

That's curious, though, it's kind of the opposite of what you'd expect, that you keep to a vegan diet on the road, and are more relaxed at home.

Well, you know... yeah, that is kinda funny, but in the rider, we ask for vegan food, and everywhere we go, generally, they provide a dinner and a breakfast. So you get a great well-paid for vegan diet when you're on the road. And then when you're at home, someone comes over with eggplant parmesan, and - just because there's some cheese in there, I don't make the exception. It's not a lot of cheese, mind you. I don't have a quart of milk in my refrigerator. I do have some eggs. I don't have any ice cream in my refrigerator, but I'm not going to say I haven't had ice cream in years. I can't think of when the last ice cream was, but, y'know... if there's a Ben and Jerry's quart of ice cream melting in front of me, I might just have some.

The rest of this interview appears to be temporarily lost... But there's lots more out there from Dave Dictor, including his book, Memoir of a Damaged Civilization: Stories of Punk, Fear, and Redemption. It can be ordered through the publishers, Manic D Press, among other venues...! 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Allan MacInnis, songwriter (and a new song, "Bald Man with a Hat")

Short version: my new song. (Dedicated to Doug Bennett). 

Long version: It's something that I don't talk about much but I have written a bunch of lyrics for songs in my day.

It started with a teenage friend, Greg Terry: we were fourteen, in his bedroom, him with an electric guitar. I couldn't play anything but I had a gift for words, sorta. So we began to write songs, for a band we were going to call Epicurean Nightmare.

Yep: Epicurean Nightmare. We had a logo and everything. We got the word "Epicurean" from a random flip through a dictionary, looking for ideas for band names. Both words have an E and an N, and nine letters, so our logo kinda intertwined them. We were thinking of both bad food and a sort of blow to high culture - a celebration of low culture, sorta, which is not a totally un-clever name for a punk/ metal band (Greg was a bit more metal than punk and ended up playing in some sorta Christian metal band called Brainstorm, if I recall; I have no idea what he's doing now). 

I remember a few of the songs I wrote lyrics for - "Rock Refugee," "I Want I Need I Cry I Bleed," and, maybe our favourite, "God of Shit," inspired by John Milton, which we were reading in high school English around that time. It was kinda our version of "Sympathy for the Devil." A lot of the verses are lost to time and fog, but the chorus kinda went,

Is there pain anymore?
How long have you been trapped?
Who labels you so pitiful
Oh lord of crap?

...which in a way I think was me commenting on growing up in Maple Ridge. A lot of my lyrics took in sex and drugs and alcohol in ridiculous, whiny, pretending ways: I mean, I had never smoked a joint or had much more than a sip of beer, but I still wrote lyrics like this: 

Far away on a bottle of booze
Thunder in my head and shit on my shoes
Sometimes I wonder why, 
Wonder why?

But I'm doin' my best to ignore it
Be as blind as all the rest
The TV blasts out bullshit
I ain't stupid but I'm doin' my best

Lyin' in the gutter at 3am
The cop says, "move along"
(Something something something)
Where the hell did I go wrong?

Anyhow, Greg banged out chords and would sing the lyrics in his bedroom. He had his own songs too - "Blowjob," "I Wanna," "I Gotta." They were a bit, shall we say, purer as an expression of early brute punk, and hornier. No idea if he ever did anything with'em - but I kinda remember them, too. He did some gender bending with "blowjob," inspired by "Jet Boy/ Jet Girl," and had a line about how "she didn't like my blowjob." I didn't think it made any sense at all, back then, but I guess I get it now. 

Anyhow, those songs with Epicurean Nightmare were my first lyrics. Greg and I kinda fell out while we were still in junior high, though I gave him a bunch of new lyrics I'd written sometime in the 1990's, when he came into a video store where I was working, which, again, I have no idea if he did anything with. 

That was about it for me as a lyricist for ten or so years, until I befriended a guy named Michael, whom I eventually once again collaborated with. That friendship eventually went south, too, and I have no idea what he's doing these days, but he DID play at least one local gig, some ten or so years ago, where he sang a few songs I'd co-written. One of them - the best thing he'd done, I thought, and MOSTLY written by him - was a song called "Choke," which I see has been removed from Youtube. I rearranged a couple of his own lyrics and subbed in maybe a verse and a half of my own, which referred to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," playing on the bit about visions, revisions, indecisions, and decisions which a minute will reverse (all of which can be worked into a pretty good song lyric, actually; too bad the video has been removed or made private or whatever has happened to it, it's actually a pretty great song). 

And yeah, yeah, I know - using Milton and Eliot in rock lyrics is just dorky, but none of these are songs that I am particularly proud of now. My favourite song I have ever written was "If I Was a Bat," which David M. wrote music for, and has performed three times now, including this recent performance at the Rickshaw, opening for Marshall Crenshaw (who was amused by it, he told both of us later, before he even realized that I'd had a hand in it - he said he didn't laugh very often at songs, but that one made him laugh, and that was a good thing). That song has some history: the lyrics were written in Japan, when I was riding my three wheeled bike through rice paddies, ducking as bats swooped by me, on the road between the high school I was teaching at and my apartment. It came to me during one such ride, and  it sat around for fifteen years before I had the idea of asking David to do something for it and sing it at my wedding, since it perfectly expressed, in a way, my anxiety that I was going to be deformed by upcoming cancer surgery and made into something my wife would not want to be married to - some speech-impaired or mute thing who maybe couldn't eat normally, etc. Being a bat was code for becoming some sort of a freak, though that hadn't been the initial intention of the lyric (which was just about being weird, maybe too weird to love). 

Since David M's version of it had music different from the music in my head, when I had first written it, I sang my version on Youtube, for posteriety, just before my operation, in case I would no longer be able to. That arrangement of it has in turn has been performed (only once, to my knowledge) by the great Pete Campbell at a David M. gig where Coach StrobCam guested; they whipped it out one night right after David's version of the song, much to the surprise and delight of myself and Erika (both in attendance). 

One song! Two versions! Covered once! That's a lot of traction for one of my lyrics, actually.  

I mention all the above because I have just now posted a new song on Youtube: "Bald Man with a Hat." I explain it amply on the Youtube vid, so I will leave it at that. It was inspired in part by the previous blog entry, and by a joke Doug Bennett used to make in bars. Hope y'all enjoy.  

Hey, I just noticed that "If I was a Bat" and "Bald Man with a Hat" have the same number of syllables in them, and rhyme. Sheer coincidence, I assure you.

Happy Anniversary Nardwuar! Plus Vicious Cycles, Giuda TONIGHT!

Happy to hear Nardwuar is celebrating his show's 30th Anniversary, starting tonight!

Hard to believe he's been around since 1987. That's only about five or six years short of my even learning what punk rock was (it wasn't high visibility in Maple Ridge circa 1981-1982, which was when a friend first hooked me with Never Mind the Bollocks).

A marathon of Nardwuar begins at 9pm tonight, on CiTR fM 101.9 ! 20 straight hours of Nardwuar interviews - "ranging from Jay-Z to Michael Gorbachev, from Destiny's Child to Wesley Willis to everything in between!"

Do you all know Wesley Willis? "Suck a Caribou's Ass," you know? I had a fun fifteen minutes sharing Wesley Willis with my wife. Speaking of which, I know a woman (knew her BIBLICALLY, you know - why the hell do we use THAT adverb for sex?) who got a Wesley Willis headbutt, which she was quite proud of. It's almost like having had sex with Wesley Willis himself!

And it reminds me of the time I sat on a toilet seat just departed by Doug Bennett of Doug and the Slugs, but I digress. A marathon of Nardwuar's CiTR interviews tonight and tomorrow, then on Saturday there's this gig!
I was delighted to be at the last Evaporators in-store with Nardwuar leading the band out as Thee Goblins (grunting and covered-up and satirizing machoness) and then breaking into a set of giddy, hilarious, high-energy power-pop. The image I will remember is Nardwuar pulling up his Evaporators' uniform to reveal his hairy man-teats for "I Can't Be Shaved," which is right up there, as an anthem for the hirsute, with the Eels' "Dog Faced Boy" (which also works a pun between being "saved" and "shaved," but is nowhere near as funny about it). If I were hairy, this is the anthem I would want. 

Funny that there is more than one song about being hairy but no songs at all about being bald. But what can one say about an absence of hair? (Doud Bennett used to observe onstage that men with hats in bars were always bald underneath, and has made me self-conscious for life about wearing hats into bars or clubs, which, let's face it, is a good place to wear a hat; I mean, you're not gonna wear your fancy new hat out in the RAIN, ferchrissake, so where ELSE are you supposed to wear it?). 

...Happy anniversary Nardwuar!

And speaking of gigs and gig posters, more people should be excited about another show tonight. Go look up Giuda on Youtube, these guys rock - a sort of heavy-glam-meets-Cock Sparrer pub rock - and they're coming all the way from Italy. And the Vicious Cycles MC open (and London ska punk outfit Buster Shuffle, touring with Giuda). Once again at the Rickshaw - another great gig there, one I will even try to peek in on, though tending to my wife's busted foot will also be a factor. Doors at 8pm. 

I think I might wear my hat, in defiance of Doug's rule. What the hell.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

VIFF blogging commences! (plus belated Harry Dean Stanton obit)

I am presently between jobs - the teaching gig I had was incorporated into the union and re-posted, so now I have to fight for it all over again. But my wife has hurt her foot, requiring me to double-down on my household duties, and I've had a couple of weeks' very productive writing while she is at work... so I am going to allow myself a bit more "time off" before I start farming out resumes. (Anyone looking for my skillset, which also includes editing, proofreading, teaching and tutoring, is welcome to seek out the "Contact" button on this page... I would prefer a lifetime position with great benefits, flexible hours, and lotsa holiday time that started at $40/ hour minimum, but, you know, I will probably have to settle for less than that...).

Anyhow, what the hell. Some very exciting stuff coming up this VIFF, and I have the time to take in a few films.

Bong Joon Ho's terrific Okja - which I've already written about on this blog, in a piece unambiguously entitled "I Love Okja" - is making a big-screen appearance. I am under the impression from a controversial Cannes screening that the Netflix original is not going to actually get theatrical distribution beyond festivals - which caused some to balk that it should compete in Cannes - so this will be a rare chance to see it projected with an audience. I recommend doing so: it's a terrific film, and will appeal to vegans, vegetarians, animal rights activists, and people concerned about GMO's - as well as to people who just like good stories (or Tilda Swinton, or Jake Gyllenhaal, who truly broadens his parameters for this role).

I actually have never seen the other Bong Joon Ho film that's screening, his 2003 breakout feature, Memories of Murder, but it's a film my Korean students have often praised over the years, dealing with a lengthy, complex, and frustrating investigation into the real-life Hwaseong serial murders. We used to do, every third term, a class presentation on movies and Memories of Murder was right up there with Silmido, My Sassy Girl, and Welcome to Dongmakgol as a consensus favourite. (I have heard the story explained to me several times, which may be why I've never sat down to watch it; I will spare you that particular disservice).

I've written about Okja for a Straight piece I did, as well, which also mentions Caniba (about Japanese cannibal-killer Issei Sagawa!). The directors are associated with Harvard Sensory Ethnography Labs; over the next day or two, I'll post an old interview I did with them about their previous VIFF entry, the Go-Pro-shot fishing trawler documentary Leviathan (no relation to that Russian film of the same name that came out a couple years ago). Speaking of ambitious documentaries in this year's VIFF, there is also  Michael Glawogger's last film, Untitled, which he died while making. I'll leave my Straight article to fill you in more on Glawogger, but I will share one image supposedly from the film - one I actually forget seeing, though there are, weirdly enough, plenty of animals in transport in the movie, enough so that it becomes a kind of motif. If the idea of a shot like this gets you excited, Untitled is your film.

There's also the new film from Yorgos Lanthimos, whose The Lobster I loved and whose Dogtooth disturbed me; this film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, again features Colin Farrell, but expect something dark and surreal, not one of Farrell's more "Hollywood" roles. I thought The Lobster was  the best neo-Bunuelian movie I'd ever seen, in the vein of films - since there is more than one Bunuel - like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, except as applied to dating and romance. Dunno what it says about our relationship (or past experiences with dating), but Erika liked it a lot too (her parents sure didn't). I am excited enough about Lanthimos' new film that I am reading nothing about it until after I see it, so you will have to research it yourself if you need more. What does the title refer to? What is Colin Farrell doing in this image? I don't want to know until I am watching the film.

Then there's a six hour miniseries from New Zealand auteur (and director of The Piano and An Angel at My Table, among others) Jane Campion, which I gather is a follow up to something I have not seen (and thus am unlikely to check in with, much as I admire Campion). And there's a new film by Michael Haneke (who terrifies me, rather, and whom I have stopped following, but you go right on ahead). All of these films look to be major cinematic excitements, which probably don't need my attention.

There's also what sounds like a must-see fictional feature called Lucky, which, fittingly enough, is a film about Harry Dean Stanton getting ready to die - starring, to be clear, Harry Dean Stanton. I didn't write an obit for Harry Dean Stanton when he passed last week, maybe because the last couple of years of cultural heroes dying have attuned people sufficiently to obituaries that it doesn't feel like a useful function for me to perform; you'll just read about it on Facebook anyhow (as we all did, though I didn't have much to say there either). But I loved his characters, respected his long career, and always enjoyed seeing him onscreen. One does gather from what other people say that he was a bit of a difficult guy to deal with at times (Alex Cox, in his memoir X Films, talks about Harry would go on about "the Jews;" and Bette Midler, in a featurette on The Rose, said that he was not pleasant to work with at all - and she was in the midst of giving one of those gushing "everyone is great" interviews that Hollywood people give, so for her to say that, there must have been pretty serious trouble between them). I was a subscriber to Roger Ebert's Stanton-Walsh rule, that "no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad," and though he later claimed that there were films that broke that rule, it has held for me, even in cases where the only thing I enjoy about a film is the presence of either Walsh or Stanton.
Anyhow, Lucky sounds like a surefire hit. But so far, besides Untitled - more on which later, I hope - and Okja, which I had already seen, I have only looked at one film, the somewhat Lovecraftian Nova Scotian thriller The Crescent, which I am going to heretofore think of as The Shadow Over Inverness (Inverness being the town in Nova Scotia where my father grew up; the beach house in the film isn't that different from the landscape of my father's childhood, though my reference to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" above is a bit spurious; other than it taking place in a coastal town where old, menacing weirdness lingers, there's not much the film has in common with that story - no half-fish people with allegiances to Cthulhu or what-have-you).

It is maybe problematic to build this particular film up too high: the VIFF catalogue likens it to Beyond the Black Rainbow, which is pretty serious praise, and even The Crescent itself gets you totally salivating for next-level cinema with its gorgeous credits sequence, involving close-ups of paint marbling and abstract, drony, vaguely Celtic music (by no one whose name appears in the opening credits, but it's the director's own work, it turns out). This is, no hyperbole, the most inspired and visually compelling title sequence I've seen in years. So you're getting geared up for a trippy cinematic masterwork...

...and then you get a hard lesson in just how indy this film is, as soon as people start talking: the images and performances all let you know within seconds that you're in the territory of the microbudget, shot-on-video Canadian horror. Which is fine, of course: that probably also means you're watching a labor of love, which is almost always going to be an interesting experience, and Seth A. Smith definitely has resources as a filmmaker - if not financial, than for striking compositions, which this film has throughout. But you have to adjust your expectations accordingly; going in expecting the East Coast equivalent of Panos Cosmatos will not serve you well. The biggest challenge of the film is that Smith's talent for striking compositions, like the title sequence or, say, an aerial shot of a house glimpsed from the ocean, or a great moment of a stripe of water disappearing into the sand, or some of the trippier hallucinations in the film - just doesn't mesh that well with the hand-held video technology he's using elsewhere, which gives much of the film a found-footage feel. You can't have storyboarded composition shots AND a found footage immediacy, since the former owes to a very different kind of cinema than the latter. I'm not sure a tripod would have been a solution, either; there's something about shooting on video that is simply different from shooting on film, which requires - unless you can "fake" the look of film - a completely different approach. Smith seems somewhat stuck between aesthetics.

That disjunct aside,  I like the idea of a quasi-Lovecraftian Maritimes psychological thriller as much as anyone. After getting over the sugar crash that the film didn't quite live up to its point of comparison or the promise of its stunning titles, I (mostly) enjoyed it: a mother and child, mourning the death of the child's father, come to a sleepy beach town, to take brief respite and take stock. Things build slowly, from creepy encounters with neighbours - who may be ghosts - to a nicely weird moment with a hermit crab, complete with what seemed to be augmented, crablike sound effects (it's a brief moment but it made me smile; I would love to learn that they got the sound by putting a contact mike on an actual crab, but I doubt it). There are indeed some trippy visual moments, too, though you'll have to be patient to get to them. (Hopefully the dialogue is clearer when it is projected, too, since various key lines - especially spoken by children - were kind of indecipherable on my home video setup). The Globe and Mail review described The Crescent as "The Babadook goes to the beach;" esteemed colleague Adrian Mack mentioned Messiah of Evil and Night Tide (that Dennis Hopper-in-love-with-a-mermaid film that I've never seen, from the guy who directed How Awful About Allan, whose title I approve of deeply). Mack will have something on the film in the Straight, I believe. By me, The Crescent is a B minus movie (at best) with a few A+ moments, from someone who will, with luck, get a bigger budget to work with, sometime soon...

I'll be looking at more films in the VIFF Altered States series - their cult / horror/ high weirdness section - over the next few days (and am especially looking forward to The Endless, the second film by the makers of the arthouse horror movie Spring, which I missed, but which got a lot of praise).

More to come re: VIFF... My Straight article expands on some of this... it ain't online yet, but will be soon enough, I imagine...

Monday, September 18, 2017

David M. tonight at the Heritage Grill

For those who enjoyed him at the Rickshaw: there's a whole lot more to David M. than you saw yesterday. (Tho' his set yesterday included a tune he cowrote with me, so that was pretty great; as were his powerhouse readings of "You Need Your Tongue to Stand Up" and "Cosmic Planet Rock," the first his last collaboration with Paul Leahy and the second an old Transvestimentals tune...). It was nice to hear people laughing; Marshall Crenshaw enjoyed his set, too (and singled out the "bat song" for praise...!).

Anyhow, I cannot be there but David starts at 9pm at the Heritage Grill in New West - no cover, close to a skytrain... Y'all should go!

Had a nice lunch with Marshall Crenshaw, was interesting to hear more about his Tom Wilson project (a producer and musical visionary - there should be an auditory equivalent of "visionary" - who played significant roles in the careers of people from Frank Zappa to Connie Francis, Sun Ra to Eric Burdon, Cecil Taylor to the Velvet Underground)... we had a couple roti rolls at East is East on Main dropped in to Red Cat and Neptoon briefly. He's apparently sitting in at a certain Vancouver tiki lounge tonight with Eddie Angel and a local surf band, but I'm kind of out of the loop (and all spots are full; if you go an line up I guess there's a chance, even with it just being a word-of-mouth kinda event, but... it sounds like it's not gonna be easy to go).

So go see David M. instead! (Note: I won't be at the tiki lounge, either - my wife has a bust foot and I'm tendin' to her and previewing VIFF films. More on that later...).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Marshall Crenshaw: A Household Name in All the Right Households

Now that my Georgia Straight article is online about Marshall Crenshaw, I'll post part two of my interview, though do look at that Straight article for more on Marshall's history with Richard Thompson and a bit more praise from David M.


Marshall Crenshaw: A Household Name in All the Right Households

David M., who kinda dominated Part One of this piece - which is kinda as it should be, because he's the guy who introduced me to Marshall Crenshaw, because he helped with my researches, and because he's the opening act - has seen Crenshaw more than once, including at an ill-fated opening slot for Tina Turner at the Pacific Coliseum, circa 1987, which M. talks about on video here. He’d gone mostly to see Crenshaw, and was stunned at the audience’s utter indifference:

“He was great, but the audience didn’t want it, and they were just silent. Indifference is kinda worse than actual hostility. At one point, he said he was going to do ‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping,’ the Buddy Holly song he does that’s part of the La Bamba soundtrack… He introduced it and said, ‘Here’s a song I did in the movie La Bamba, playing Buddy Holly’ - and, like, just silence. And then he went, ‘Which was a major gas.’ And then they did the song. I always remembered that because it was so depressing to watch!”

The story is even more depressing than M. had released, alas. When I apologize to Crenshaw on behalf of David M (and all of Vancouver) for the audience's treatment of him that night, Crenshaw informs me that in fact by the time M. was seeing Crenshaw at the Coliseum, Crenshaw had already been fired from the tour. "We got fired from the tour on the first night, but they asked us to stay until the end of the Canadian run," Crenshaw, on the phone from New York, told me. "She" - that is, Tina Turner -  "came and saw us that first night and just said, 'No, I don’t want this.' Y’know - I was wearing a cowboy suit that I bought from a successor to Nudie, and I think that one of my amplifiers died during the set; there was some fuckup that happened. That wasn’t good at all." (Crenshaw chuckles drily). "Some of the nights I felt like we were kinda getting over, that three piece band, with Graham Maby [bass] and my brother [on drums]. But no, we were kinda just dead men walking on the Canadian shows. We were already fired."

It seems just another angle on the strange neglect of Crenshaw, whose popcraft is utterly brilliant, and who has some huge supporters among music cognoscenti. It's not just David M: within short reach of my range of contacts, that includes David Bash, recently in town for theInternational Pop Overthrow, who includes Crenshaw in his “Power Pop Hall ofFame”  and says, “I love his music, that’s for sure!”

More locally, there’s Ford Pier - frontman of the Ford Pier Vengeance Trio, onetime second guitarist for DOA, and one of Red Cat Records’ resident music authorities. Pier says that I can tell anyone who wants to know that he thinks "Marshall Crenshaw is great,” and that he is excited to be going to the Rickshaw show. Rob Frith of Neptoon Records also counts himself a fan and describes Crenshaw's music as "refreshing," saying those first two albums - the canonical ones, the ones best received, though all of Crenshaw's catalogue bears exploring - were unlike anything else that was going on at the time: "in 1982, you would hear bands like Air Supply, Rick Springfield, Juice Newton, and Musical Youth. None of them were doing anything for me. Then I heard 'Someday Someway' by Marshall Crenshaw; it was like the first time I heard Dell Shannon sing 'Runaway,' or 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin, or the Clash doing 'Train in Vain,' or Bruce Cockburn doing 'Silver Wheels.' It sounded different but familiar, and I just couldn't hear it enough."

Geoff Barton of Audiopile talks about the "effervescence and exuberance” of Crenshaw's work and ponders why it's so hard to turn young music geeks on to power pop, beyond the obvious draw of Big Star.

China Syndrome leader and Pill Squad axeman Tim Chan echoes Barton’s sentiment. “There seems to be similar stories among other power pop artists (Flamin' Groovies, Posies, Big Star, Shoes, et cetera). Crenshaw’s formula seems to be there (great songs, talented ensemble band, super guitar playing) but it seems he never hit the right moment in the cultural zeitgeist. I remember back in the 80s he definitely had great buzz” - and a hit single with “Someday Someway” off his first album - “but it just didn't seem to elevate any further. I remember there was some controversy about the big 80s production on his Field Day album, but personally I thought it was great and the songs still shone through.”

So with fans and supporters like that - he’s a critic’s darling and a musician’s musician -  why the hell isn’t Marshall Crenshaw a household name? I ask that of David M., and he responds, “He is - in all the right households.” 

It was tricky to word, but I eventually - having spoke to him for half an hour about other - put the question to Mr. Crenshaw himself.

AM: What I’m discovering as I ask around, is that you have some HUGE fans up here, and they’re all people really in the know about music; but it seems like it’s more quality than quantity. Like, the people who love your music here own record stores, musicians, stuff like this. But a lot of people are, like, “Marshall who?” And even I hadn’t heard your music before David M. got me going. It’s really not that high profile at all. So, uh - I’m kinda puzzled by that: why aren’t you a household name? You should be huge!

MC: Yeah, right. I dunno. I did everything I could to get the system to work for me, but it didn’t very well. And I didn’t really care about strategic thinking back then. I just wanted to play in a band! Sometimes I was careless, sometimes I was clueless, and sometimes I was unlucky. And other times I was ambivalent about show business back then. It was really hard for me to schmooze people and pretend I was having a good time if I wasn’t. This, that, and the other thing, you know? But I thought about it later on: maybe I didn’t really want it bad enough, didn’t try hard enough. I don’t know. 

I did other [arena shows besides the Tina Turner one], too. I did a lot of tour dates with Daryl Hall and John Oates. I went up into Canada - that was okay, but I hated doing that anyway, so maybe some of that was manifest in the way I did it. When I was on the road with Daryl Hall and John Oates, I didn’t try to pretend that I was having a good time, because I just thought it sucked to be an opening act on an arena tour. I did want to play arenas anyway! I just hated arena rock, always, from the first time I came in contact with it. I mentioned ambivalence, before, and that was totally… any vision I had back then of us becoming a big rock group, it all had to do with hit records, the only way I figured we were ever going to get there was if we had hit records, and we just didn’t get those. My situation with Warner Brothers became a trainwreck really fast. So that was it. I wasn’t going to go out there on an arena tour and tell myself I was going to be able to conquer territory that way. I knew that it was a losing game, kinda. But that’s what you were supposed to do back then, that’s what the agents and everybody wanted you to do back then: they wanted you to go up that ladder and eventually become an arena rock band yourself, and I just didn’t really want that, you know?

My memory is that opening acts for sometimes treated terribly at arenas, back in the day. Angel City opening for Triumph, that was one I heard where people were booing. Or one I saw myself, Phil Smith and Corsage, opening for the Clash, on the Cut the Crap tour. People were practically throwing stuff, which is a shame, because they were pretty great. But that sometimes happened to opening acts. 

Yeah, well - thank God that never happened to me, I’m glad to say. I like to think that if I was ever given that level of hostility from an audience that I would have given it back to them. Anyway, I never had that experience. I’m so glad I never did.

The guy it reminds me of a little bit is Ray Davies, especially in America, because the people who love him love what he’s done, but he's nowhere as high profile as he should be. The first and only time I saw the Kinks was during his arena rock years, and... I mean, maybe that's he's been knighted, people are clueing in, but I’ve literally talked to a music journalist here - someone young, but still - where I mentioned him, and they responded, “Who’s that?”

Oh really!

Really! There are people who don’t literally recognize Ray Davies’ name. [Technically one person who has suffered enough for their error at my hands, probably, but it's useful to me to make my point. Sorry!].

All I can say is, to me that is a little bit stunning, yes. I mean, with me I can understand it, but with his, that’s baffling to me. How can somebody not know him?

Have you ever interacted with him at all? Is he someone you admire?

I do like him, of course, but there’s a ]particular] chunk of his stuff that I like. Like, the last couple of things that he did… he did choral versions of some of the Kinks tunes? [Crenshaw's tone of voice conveys his ambivalence]. But he’s brilliant for sure. I’ve never met him. I’ve met a few famous people, but I’ve never met him. Just the other day I was at a wedding, and I played “All Day and All of the Night” with the band that was at the wedding. That’s the stuff I like the best - the mid-60’s Kinks stuff, for sure.

Sure, yeah. I’m kind of a Muswell Hillbillies man but there’s great stuff earlier, too. Let me ask though, like I say, I’m finding that the people who like your music are really cool people. So who are your big supporters, people who have really stood in your corner?

Oh, y’know, I don’t want to do that - I don’t want to name drop and boost myself up that way! But, y’know, people who are peers of mine… I feel like I’ve been validated in terms of peer acceptance and things other artistic people have said to me, I feel like, “Okay, I feel like I’m getting away with this.”

Okay, fair enough. I’m gonna name drop some names around here when I write this, but they’re no one you know, just some cool people on the music scene in Vancouver who support what you do.

No, I love it. I love hearing about it, that’s great.

Another guy I wanted to ask you about was Alex Chilton. Some of your stuff, like “One Day With You” off
Field Day, has a bit of an Alex Chilton thing going on. Your voice sounds a bit like Chilton’s, and you have that Memphis Stax thing going on, though you push it further than he does. Are you a fan of his? Did you interact much with him?

I never met him once. And it’s weird, because we have about twenty mutual friends, including the woman who was my A&R person at Warner Brothers, she signed me to the label and I worked with her on all my Warner Brothers records. Her name was Karen Berg, and she was really a great person. And she knew Alex, was kind of on intimate terms with him for awhile - a girlfriend, I guess you would say - and then all the guys from the Southern pop world, the DB’s and Mitch Easter and that whole crowd, they were devotees of Alex and friendly with him. With all of that, I never met Alex. And not only that, but I never checked out Big Star until after Alex died!

Oh jeez.

Yeah! And I thought, “God” - I was really bummed out that he died. It was the early days of that kind of thing happening where somebody in my peer group dies. I’m used to it now but when he died it was kind of a new thing, and it got me down a little bit, and at that time I checked out Big Star, and I did think that it was as good as everybody always said that it is, but it wasn’t an influence on me at all, ever, y’know. But the Memphis soul thing - I’ll go with that, because I grew up in the Detroit area, and I grew up in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, and the R&B thing is really strong with me, always has been. It’s like, uh - that’s part of the mix of influences you hear in my stuff.

I can hear that more than I can hear the MC5, that's for sure. I was surprised to learn that you had toured with them. Obviously you’re a fantastic guitarist and can do it, but - how did that feel? How did that come about? it seems an odd fit, in a way!

I thought it was, too! I was taken aback when I got the call from Wayne. Wayne Kramer is a longtime friend of mine. And he just called me and asked me if I would do it. And in my head I thought, ‘I’m surprised he’s not calling this one or that one,’ but I didn’t say that to Wayne, y’know, I just said, ‘Hell yes!’” And that’s kind of how that went. But I know what you mean. Just to an outsider it might have seemed a little odd. But it felt right to me, that’s for sure. And I’ll tell you what, that was really a good fit, actually. Because I love that music, and as a body of work I just don’t think there’s anything better in rock music. I got in there and played that stuff, and could play it, and could get with the spirit of it, definitely. And I love playing that stuff - what I really would like to have, and should ask Wayne about, is, I know he recorded all the gigs, and I wish that I had some multitracks of some of the shows with his guitars and mine, because I know that we were really killing it; we play together really well.

So this is the tour with Evan Dando on vocals?

That’s right, Evan Dando and Mark Arm, both really nice people. We did a show in Los Angeles though where a woman named Lisa Kekaula got up and sang with us. She’s in a band called the Bellrays. And you might like them, they’re a pretty amazing rock ‘n’ roll band. And she should have been the lead singer on the tour that I did, if it had been the four of us and Lisa, that would have been ridiculous. And then Handsome Dick Manitoba from the Dictators was the lead singer on another one of the gigs I did. If it had been Lisa and Handsome Dick, that would have been something. 

I’m really regretting that I didn’t see that. You did the Vancouver show, at the Commodore on that tour, right? 2004, you were here?

Yeah, I remember that. We did play there. And we did Edmonton and Toronto, also; those were our Canadian dates.

There’s no chance that’s ever going to happen again? That’s never been discussed?

No, plus Michael passed away. It was Davis-Kramer-Thompson, and Davis isn’t walkin’ the earth anymore, but anyway - it was weird, I’ll tell you that, to step into their movie was a little strange. But God, the history of those guys, they really just went through hell together. Their psychic scars are still a little raw.

You saw them at least once back in the day, right?

I saw them three of four times. First time I saw them in person they were one of the opening acts for the Jimi Hendrix concert that I went to in ’68, and that was the first time I really saw them and experienced them. They were pretty good that night, I’ll tell you that. Then I saw them a couple more times after that. I loved the band back then. But later on, when I moved to New York - I moved to New York in 1978, and Wayne was living there, and that’s where I met him and got to be friends with him.

Were there other really formative experiences for you? Obviously you’re associated with Buddy Holly a bit, because of acting in La Bamba, but, I mean, you were six when he died, so - were you aware of his music when you were a little kid?

Yeah, I was!


I was well aware of it. My Dad, kind of unusually for someone of his generation, he loved rock’n’roll music, and before I was born, it was the music that predated rock’n’roll - he liked R&B, he liked black music. He was really an odd man out amongst his peers, I can tellya that. But, uh, anyway - he always had the rock’n’roll station on. And I was real close with some of my cousins, who were a little bit older than me, who were rock’n’roll fans. So I was a fan as a child. I did watch American Bandstand, and I did see Buddy Holly on the Ed Sullivan show, the first time he was on. I was a fan of his when he was alive, yes. I’m old enough to be able to say that! Heh.

How did news of his death hit you, as a kid? Was that weird?

Yeah, it was unbelievable. I didn’t even know what death was, and my parents tried to keep me from finding out about it, but they weren’t able to do that, and - yeah, it shook me up really bad: “what do you mean, what do you mean he’s dead?” It was a very early shock upon my life, put it that way.

One of the things that - coming back to Field Day - that sort of reminds me of him - is that, like with “That’ll Be the Day,” you sometimes have kind of sorrowful lyrics with kind of upbeat and kinda pretty pop - like, with “One More Reason,” is what I’m thinking of… so is that something you got from him, or… are there any influences you can trace…?

When I think of Field Day, I mean, I guess I brought all these influences that I grew up with and I was still engaged with. When I was in my teens, like high school age, I started to rediscover early rock’n’roll and kinda went back and checked out a lot of the stuff I had grown up with. Part of it was takin’ psychedelic drugs - it was after that I started listening to old rock and roll again; I don’t know how that connection works exactly. I guess that the psychedelic experience had sort of scrambled my brain a little bit, and I was looking for some sort of anchor. So I really embraced that stuff and sort of kept it with me through all these years. It’s just - I could listen to a Bo Diddley record now, and it still sounds brand new to me. Now I’m rambling, I’m sorry! So there was a lot of that stuff in my head with Field Day, and when I was making my early records, and also just the stuff that was going on around me in New York City - the stuff I was hearing at the clubs and on the radio, and I was really super-enthusiastic about a lot of contemporary stuff at the moment. That included, like, dance music, disco music, and just everything. I was an omnivore at that time. Still am, but right then I was really in the moment, had my ears open in all directions.

You mentioned early rock and roll and pre-rock and roll, and one of the things David M. wanted me to ask you was about the Orioles, and you doing a cover of “(It’s Gonna Be A) Lonely Christmas.”

Oh, yeah, yeah!

He had two questions about that, actually - if you’d ever considered doing an album of covers of pre-rock’n’roll music, and if you’d ever considered a Christmas album. David’s a big Christmas guy.

Well - the Christmas album, I never have thought of that. I guess I could do either one, but the answer is no, neither one of those things ever crossed my mind. But those are interesting suggestions.

Are the Orioles something that came from your Dad?

No, that was when I was in Beatlemania, 1978-1979. [Crenshaw was John Lennon]. It was on an album called A Rhythm and Blues Christmas, that’s where I got that one.

Okay. One last question about Field Day - I can talk forever, by the way; I have a long list of questions, so whenever you’ve got to go, just give me a hint or something - but were you tempted to remaster Field Day? This is just a reissue - there’s nothing on the album that you wanted to change? For me, it sounds very fresh and contemporary and I don’t hear anything that needs tinkering with, but you’re the artist, so is there anything you’re unsatisfied with.

No - the thing with the remastering is, all that means is they take the original master reels of the final mixes from the album and they put it through the process of mastering for vinyl. It’s something you do for every record, really. But there wasn’t any remixing. You shouldn’t confuse remastering with remixing!

All right.

But actually the mastering job on the reissue is a beautiful job. I got the test pressing on 180 gram vinyl, and the bottom is huge, and you can hear my pick hitting my guitar strings, way up top. It’s just gorgeous, sonically. Now here’s the other thing though. It comes in a 2LP set, and the second LP are these dance remixes that got cooked up back then, but mostly without my participation. I did sort of look the other way while that was happening. But the label that’s putting the 2LP set out, they were already kind of like, into it before they contacted me, y’know? So I’m letting them do their thing. The remixes, I’m ambivalent about those, but the Field Day album itself, I love the way it sounds, and the mastering job they do is really great.

We’re hearing up here that it’s going to be a pricy package, that it’s going to be a $90 album. But that's gotta be wrong...

Yeah, that is wrong! That’s quite wrong. That’s wrong by about 50%, I believe, that’s double what I think it’s gonna be.

Okay . I don’t know where that one came from. Have you changed the cover art, because there was talk about an all new cover.

Heheh. That’s funny. My wife came home from work one day, and I said, “Oh, guess what, Ione? This record label is doing this beautiful, high-class reissue of Field Day, and the first thing she said was, “Did you ask them to change the front cover?” I said “Yeah, how did you guess?”


I had said, “I love that you guys are doing this, it’s just wonderful, but could you do me one favour? Could you get rid of this shot on the front cover? I’ve just hated it, forever, it’s like a curse on me.” So I asked them to use a graphic design for the single of “Whenever You’re On My Mind” that came out back then. Use that for the front cover of the album. And they didn’t say, “Oh, jeez, you should keep the front cover like it is.” They immediately said, “oh, what a great idea, yeah, we’ll do that!” So it’s got a new front cover and everybody is happy about it, especially me.   

Is the building in the original the high school you went to or something?

Nah, that’s just a composite photo with a picture of me from a studio shot, and the building in the back. That’s an other thing - the art design for the album. After we finished the album, I went out of the country on a vacation with my wife and my brother, and when I came back, my manager showed me the mock-up for the album cover that did come out, and I looked at it and said, “you’re joking, right?” And he said - he warned me that if we changed the album cover at that point, it would delay the release of the album by two weeks. “That’ll mess up your touring schedule, and the record label is ready to go, blah-blah-blah.” Stupidly, I got talked into it. And that’s been a regret every since. I thought, how did you find out of that whole photo session - I saw the contact sheets for the photo session - how did you find a picture that bad from the photo session, and why did you put it on the front of the album? Y’know, you picked the worst one, I thought! So that’s the other great thing about the new reissue…

Final question - how did you hook up with Los Straitjackets? It sounds like it's going to be a pretty inspired show. 

Well, it all started with their manager, it was his idea. His name is Jake Guralnick, son of Peter Guralnick, and he just approached me and I said, “oh yeah, that’ll be fun.” I saw Los Straitjackets when they first started - we’re from the same tribe, and so we tried it and it worked.

You’ve done shows with them now?

A bunch. We did sixteen shows in June, and we did eight this month. Promoters really leapt at this thing, like, as soon as we stuck our sign out, we just got lots and lots of offers from all over the country, so even before we did it, people were interested in seeing what we were going to do. It’s been great, y’know? Really fun - it’s a great rock’n’roll show, I think.

Marshall Crenshaw Y Los Straitjackets play the Rickshaw Theatre on September 17th

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Marshall Crenshaw interview part one: of Marshall Crenshaw and David M. (and Hollywood Rock and Vinyl and even Rat Pfink a Boo Boo)

Marshall Crenshaw by Marshall Crenshaw

Confession: besides some dim recognition of his name, I didn't know Marshall Crenshaw until a few months ago, when David M. got all het up about the idea of his opening for him, September 17th at the Rickshaw. He wrote me about it more than once. Why was he so excited? I wondered. This isn't normal behaviour...

Understand: with NO FUN, David M. - besides having played something like 200 shows at the Railway Club over the years - has opened for some pretty respected acts, including the Violent Femmes, John Cale, David Thomas and the Wooden Birds, and, more than once, for Robyn Hitchcock, at storied 1990’s Town Pump gigs that Hitchcock fondly referenced during his recent set at the Commodore.

But in recent years, M. has been content to play more or less off the grid, on his own terms; he’s the opposite of a joiner, whatever that is. He'll do smaller shows at the Princeton or Heritage Grill, mostly playing to friends and long-time fans - he has one such show, Hot Fascism in the Good Old Summertime, a theme show of his that I have never actually caught before, scheduled for New Westminster's Heritage Grill the night after the Rickshaw Crenshaw gig. But he's never seemed much concerned with expanding his audience. When I wrote an article a couple of years ago for the Georgia Straight about his finally making his back catalogue available on CD - after decades of it being out of print and unavailable to anyone besides cassette collectors - it was a matter of weeks before the guy declared a moratorium on production of the thing, because no one had ever done it that way before. ("For a reason, M., for a reason," I believe I replied).

That kind of perversity extends to his live performances, too: offered an opportunity to bring his (superb) Small Salute to David Bowie to the Rickshaw Bowie Tribute last year, he was told (on Facebook, by organizer Dave Bowes, in a thread I was, it happens, participating in) that all he needed to do was volunteer. Instead, he elected to busk outside the venue. (I think he did a similar thing at the Prince tribute, too, but I wasn't there for that). David M. did eventually turn up onstage at the Rickshaw, after his long time friend and NO FUN cohort Paul Leahy died of cancer, but even that took some cajoling. I don't think he's fought for an opening slot for any show in more than twenty years, such that I've occasionally accused him of hiding his light under a bushel. 

(I'm not entirely sure what that idiom means or where it comes from but I know enough to know it fits.) 

But nevermind all that: suddenly when David M. discovered Marshall Crenshaw was coming to town, he was very, very interested. Turns out he's a Crenshaw completist and has been a fan since the 1980’s. Here he is with a stack of Crenshawiana, about a third of which is presently on loan to me:

David M by David M. 

He even, as you can see above, has a book Crenshaw edited in 1993, Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock’n’Roll in the Movies, which he calls “the only worthwhile book of its kind,” in which Crenshaw, among other writers, reviews everything from The ABBA Movie to (bizarro Ray Dennis Steckler cult obscurity) Rat Pfink A Boo Boo. In some cases, Crenshaw’s reviews are more entertaining than the films he’s writing about. For instance, check his review of Abel Ferrara's first feature (not counting porn like Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy), the sleazy "vintage 70's New York" horror/ exploitation film The Driller Killer. The film itself is sleazy and depressing enough that I sold my collector's edition 2DVD set years ago (only the inclusion of the Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy trailer gave me pause). But no matter: I can read entertaining film descriptions like this any day of the week: 

The book isn't perfect - there is a bit of a diss on Alex Cox's Straight to Hell, for one thing, which I absolutely love (and spoke to Cox at length about here), and there is at least one glaring omission for a person with an interest in Vancouver punk history: Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue, shot in Vancouver and featuring the Pointed Sticks. It's a film which, it turns out, Crenshaw does not know, so if all goes to plan, I’ll be passing on a DVD of the film to him when I see him at the Rickshaw. 

Anyhow, I'm grateful to David M. for his enthusiasm in all this, since I've become a fast fan of Marshall Crenshaw's music, which is ebulliant, beautifully crafted, and at times very witty pop (check out "The Usual Thing," probably my favourite of his tunes so far, though "Cynical Girl" might be more apropos, since it is more likely to be on next Sunday's setlist). It's no wonder M. got so excited about opening for this show (which, by the way, is something he will be doing, some come early). 

Plus he's been invaluable in helping me prep for a long conversation I've had with Crenshaw, telling me where to begin listening to the man's music (which is easy: his first album, followed by his second album, Field Day, both of which are absolute classics if you like smart, savvy pop; that first LP, by the way, appears on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums of the '80's list, and well-deserves its place; shame on me for having needed David M. to point me towards it!).

M's knowledge so exceeds mine on this particular subject, that I asked him to help me with a few questions - not something I really needed to do, but it seemed fitting to include him in the process, since I would still have been on the "Marshall who?" page without his guidance. The following are teasers from an upcoming interview with Mr. Crenshaw, more of which later, based on questions emailed to me from David M.   

AM: Hollywood Rock is a great, great book. I had fun looking through that. David M, your opening act here in Vancouver, is a huge fan of both you and the book, and he wanted to know if there are chances of an updated edition?

MC: Naw, I don’t think there’s any likelihood of it. It’s great that somebody likes it; a lot of people love that book, and that’s really cool. But it was a one-off, kinda thing, I’m pretty sure. It was also somebody else’s idea, this guy that I used to know for a little while who was a book packager. But I don’t really hang around him anymore, haven’t seen him in about five or six years. And the last time I did see him, it didn’t come off, so I kinda think not. But it was real fun, it was a fun exercise, it was kind of a learning situation during the time that I spent on it. But no, I think it’s a done deal.

You really write wonderfully. It reminds me a bit of a book by Barry Gifford called
The Devil Thumbs A Ride, which has descriptions of film noir that are as entertaining to read, sometimes more entertaining, than the films themselves. And it was nice to see that you’re a Ray Dennis Steckler fan, too.

A lot of that stuff - the year that I worked on that book was sorta my chance to go down that road and check out that underground film world a bit more than I had, and so yeah, I really got a kick out of that whole thing.

Another question David was curious about was whether you see yourself as a city person. (Actually, M. phrased it slightly differently, writing: "The point of view in your lyrics is usually a romantically urban, downtown, citified one, rather than an idealized pastoral or bucolic one. Is the big city your paradigm for where life is best lived?" But, you know, it ain't easy to work something like that into a conversation).

Oh, boy. That’s an interesting question. I grew up in a suburban environment in the Detroit area, and then that started to go sour for me - I started to hating my surroundings as I got older. Then I finally sorta cleared out of there when I was 22, and headed west. I travelled all over the western United States for about a year and a half, with this bar band, playing, like, little towns in the west. That was really interesting - lived in Wyoming and Nevada and all these remote locations. Then in that period I wound up in New York City, and that was unplanned, y’know, because I’d headed west first. But then I wound up in New York because of Beatlemania [Crenshaw's first big break was playing John Lennon in a touring production of that show]. And the first day that I was in New York City I just fell in love with it immediately. So that really changed my whole life around. The city influenced me, it changed me, kinda like formed me… it sounds funny but it’s really true, just being in the city all of a sudden, it was like, “wow.” It crystallized a lot of things in my mind. But now I haven’t lived in the city in a long time, I moved to the Hudson Valley in 1987, and now I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley for most of my life. And it’s not an urban environment at all. But when I was in Beatlemania, I toured all over the country, and I spent like, five weeks, two weeks, three weeks in every major city in the US, and that was during this real formative time, after I’d fallen in love with New York City, and I was just kind of seeing these places up close. At that point in time, some of them were going through decline, and some of them have kept declining since then. Some of them have bounced back. But cities, yeah, definitely. There was that one period of my life where city life made a huge impression on me.


The first beautiful city that I ever saw in my life, though, was Montreal, when my family and I went to Expo 67 when I was a kid. And when we were there in Montreal, the Detroit riots happened, and the whole community was traumatized by that. But my family and I, we missed that completely, missed the trauma, and I didn’t feel it up close at all. Instead I was in this beautiful place, Montreal, and I was always grateful for that afterwards.

It’s a beautiful city for sure. It must have been tough to see the trajectory of Detroit, having grown up there.

Yeah, it was a major heartbreak in my life, for sure, to watch all that go down. It was something that I had to get away from. 

Let me ask you about the HBO series
Vinyl. You had some involvement with that, I believe? Was it a song you provided, or some writing, or…?

I did do some writing. I was just... I saw a friend of mine over the weekend at a wedding, a guy named Tony Shanahan, he’s the bass player for the Patti Smith Group. And he and I were both on the first recording sessions for that show. We did some of the music for the pilot. If you saw the pilot, there was this scene where this guy stumbles onto the New York Dolls, and it changes his life. So in the show, you hear David Johansen singing, but the band is me and Tony Shanahan and Steve Holley on drums and a guy named Andy York on guitar. We were the New York Dolls for the pilot episode, musically - we weren't in the shots or anything. Anyway, we just such a wonderful time at this session, we were just all excited about this: "oh, this is gonna be great, we'll be doing these sessions all the time for the next couple of years, because this is going to be a smash!" And (co-producer) Martin Scorsese came to the session and hung out with us, and it was really fun. And then the show came on, and I was just "whoa, no, God" - I thought the show was horrible, frankly; I couldn't believe it. "How can it be this bad?" y'know? But it was, and it failed, which is a shame, because the people I met who were part of the production, like the music supervisor and all that, they were really great people. They've done a lot of great projects. I don't know where it went wrong with Vinyl, but I just - it was dreadful, you know? I didn't like the writing, most of the acting. 


But I did some other sessions, I played guitar on a couple of things that wound up in some of the episodes, and then I wrote a Christmas song for one of the episodes, it was a thing where Robert Goulet was supposed to sing a Christmas song in this movie, so I went to school on Robert Goulet and learned what his range was, his style was. I knew of him and everything, but.... anyhow, it came out really good. 

What was hanging out with Martin Scorsese like? I can imagine him being well-familiar with your work - he seems like a real music geek, it's always struck me in his movies that he has pretty great taste in rock music. 

Yeah - it was a gas. He was really sweet, he was really positive, and of course we were all big fans. I didn't do the fanboy thing on him but a couple of the other guys did, y'know? But the funny thing is... one of the guys who I had toured with once, Andy York - every day, when we were on tour, Andy watched Goofellas; no matter how many times he saw the movie, he just wanted to see it again and again, so he sat down with Marty and started asking him questions about Goodfellas. But Marty was into it, y'know, he was ready to talk about it, got a kick out of it. I'm really happy that I met him, it was very cool. 

I bet. Another question from David: how is your brother doing? (Robert Crenshaw plays drums on the first few Marshall Crenshaw albums). 
He's doing fine. He's not really in music in more - although he might say different. He has a job where he teaches people about robotics technology. That's his field - he's in robotics technology. He's got a good thing going with that.

I've got one other question from David. He's curious about your home recording gear. He lent me The 9 Volt Years, as well (full title: The 9 Volt Years: Battery-Powered Home Demos and Curios). He wanted to know what your home recording setup was. His own, from 1976 to present, is a TEAC 3340 4-track, TEAC Model 2 mixer, Roland Space Echo (201, then 301), and Sennheiser/Shure/craptastic microphones. What do you use? What did you record "You're My Favourite Waste of Time" on? 

He's right about the tape machine - I had a TEAC 3340, and it was just old-fashioned overdubbing. I'd fill three tracks, bounce to the fourth, and start over again. I just had two high impedence mikes; I didn't have a mixer, I just had this little switch box. I had MXR stop boxes that ran on 9 volt batteries and I would just plug everything into the tape machine. Or if it was a drum, I would just record it in the room in my apartment. Like, for "You're My Favourite Waste of Time," I had this parade drum - like a field drum - and first I used it for the bass drum, just went "boom,. boom, boom" all through the track; then I used it as a snare drum. It was just so primitive, honestly - you couldn't get more primitive. But it was just a thing where I had to make it work, because that was what I had, you know? And I was able to make it work. A couple of years earlier, I was part owner of a  studio in Detroit, so I learned my recording skills on 4 track and just kind of applied the same techniques to the task at hand, but with much, much cheaper, crummier equipment, you know? I had to make it work so I did. 

I feel really privileged that I'm going to get to see you. David has been playing music since the 1970's in Vancouver, and he's had his own weird relationship with the music industry. But I haven't seen him get excited about opening for anyone until you were comin' to town. Like, in twenty years, I've seen him dozens of times on his own, but I haven't seen him WANT to be on a bill with someone. 

Hahaha. Ohmigod, that's amazing. 

I hope you dig what he does. Anything else you want to say about Vancouver, the show...?

You know, I just - I love Canada, I love Vancouver. I'm really glad we're going to be there. I pushed to make sure that there'd be a Vancouver date on our West Coast tour, and - that's all, I mean, I'm really happy as can be that we're going to play there. 


Marshall Crenshaw Y Los Straitjackets play the Rickshaw Sunday September 17th Ticket information for the event is here; Facebook page here. Thanks to Marshall Crenshaw and David M.!