Friday, January 12, 2018

Flesh Eaters #1: Chris Desjardins interview (2015): "Dancin' with Mr. D."

The following interview is adapted from material that ran online and in print in Big Takeover magazine in 2015. Thanks to Jack Rabid for allowing me to reuse this, to promote the Flesh Eaters' upcoming January 25th gig at the Rickshaw, and also to plug (Flesh Eaters' vocalist, lyricist, and founder) Chris D's first ever Vancouver appearance at a January 24th screening of Border Radio. Chris will be present for that, and doing a Q&A with former Cinemuerte programmer, Spectacular Optical publisher, and House of Psychotic Women author Kier-la Janisse, who knows Chris (She was flying across Canada anyhow to see the band, so I helped arrange the screening, also with thanks to the Vancity Theatre's programmer and resident man of taste, Tom Charity). Note that I have updated this a bit since the 2015 publication to refer to the current tour and reflect recent conversations! 

The introduction bears some similarities with the Big Takeover online portion of my previous interview, but the actual interview has only appeared in full in print, previously - it is online here for the first time! 

No one sings quite like Chris D. His voice, along with that of fellow L.A. punk progenitor Darby Crash, was once characterized by no less than Richard Meltzer himself with the phrase “blabbermouth lockjaw of the soul.” 

Frankly, I’ve always thought those words, colorful though they may be, only scratched the surface of the manic howls, blistering word-spew, and snarling, tequila-soaked ferocity of Chris Desjardins’ singing voice.  (This applies only to his singing with the Flesh Eaters, mind you; his acoustic work, or his various other less intense projects like Divine Horsemen, is moving and accomplished, but it’s not quite so terrifying or singular; Chris may not care so much for his earlier vocal style now - which he considers undisciplined and maybe resultant from too much drinking in studio, but personally, I love it). If you’re not familiar, just check his whooping, demonic delivery of “ShallowWater,”  which appears on what I hold to be the Flesh Eaters’ masterpiece, 1982’s Forever Came Today, the most recent Flesh Eaters reissue (on vinyl and CD) from Superior Viaduct. The lyrics describe a maelstrom drowning out the singer’s voice. It would have to be quite the maelstrom.

So unique is Desjardins’ voice, in fact, that getting him on the phone, in late December 2014 - while a big deal to a lifelong Flesh Eaters fan - came as somewhat anticlimactic. It kind of reminded me of the first time I helped arrange transportation for Eugene Chadbourne to a Vancouver gig. Somewhat to Doc Chad’s irritation, I had expected him to get off the plane looking like a tripped-out mad scientist (Chadbourne later quipped that “my wife gets a lot of this from local yokels who think I sit around the house playing the electric rake all the time or something”). Just as Doc Chad behaved like a perfectly normal man-with-guitars-at-an-airport, Desjardins did not howl, snarl, growl, or roar once during our phone conversation (though he did chuckle at me once). Far from the possessed wildman of the most intense Flesh Eaters’ songs, he was entirely civil, articulate, even somewhat soft-spoken during our talk, which spanned a full 90 minutes.

This relative quietness, of course, only makes him that much more fascinating.

The Flesh Eaters’ are staging their second of two recent reunion tours as of this (2017) publication, both featuring the classic line up of the band, including, besides Chris, members drawn from the bands X, the Blasters, and Los Lobos, all of whom appeared on 1981's A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die (also reissued through Superior Viaduct): that means Dave Alvin, John Doe, Bill Bateman, Steve Berlin, and DJ Bonebrake will be onstage, and doing most of the Minute to Pray album (with a few additions to the set like "The Wedding Dice," a killer track off Forever Came Today). I caught the band in Seattle in 2015, with Mudhoney opening; it was a great night, and seeing them in Vancouver with dark-edged country swing band Petunia and the Vipers as openers - a band who has also collaborated with members of X and the Blasters when on trips to LA - is an opportunity for music fans not to be missed. 

More is to come - including talk of Chris D's junkie ghost vampire horror film, I Pass for Human, and his acting appearance in the 1980's cold war thriller No Way Out, but here's part one, the 2015 interview.

Let me start by asking you about the pronunciation of your name. It seems like it’s a French name - Desjardins? (Day-Jar-Dan) Is that right?

Yeah, you pronounced it right.

You took the name Chris D. because people typically didn’t pronounce it right?

Yeah, that’s part of it. And in 1977, I taught high school English at a private high school for about six months and none of the kids could pronounce my name. So I just told them to call me Mr. D, and that was right around the time when I started playing music, and I thought Chris D. would be a good moniker, rather than the whole name.

What was your family background like, did you grow up in a musical family? A well-to-do-family?

Not a well-to-do family. I would say we were, like, middle-middle class. My father was a professor, he was a scientist. We had a lot of books in the house. So I guess we were definitely a literate family. My mother was, I think, kind of a frustrated artist. She would have done that if she’d been single. But my father was a plant pathologist, which is studying plant viruses and agricultural diseases.

That sounds kind of dry. Were they influences on your development?

Not in terms of science, or her art. She didn’t really pursue the art much longer than when we were kids. She was taking mail order artist classes, drawing classes and painting classes, and she was doing it when we were all little, when I was about ten years old. (I’ve got a brother who is a couple of years younger than I am, and a sister who is three years younger than I am.) No, the way my parents were influential on me was through their being pretty strict, as far as religion goes. We were Catholic. I was an altar boy, stuff like that.

You went to a Jesuit university, as well, right?

Loyola  Marymount, yeah, I believe they were Jesuit.

I know that comes up in your iconography - you see the influence of Latin American Catholic art in some of your gig posters and stuff… but how else did it influence you?

Well, there was a lot of repression in regard to sexual matters, there was a lot of association of guilt with that and various other things that weren’t appropriate, supposedly, for a good Catholic to do. For instance, it was at times very difficult to go see certain movies I wanted to go see. I remember my mother wouldn’t let me go see the Dean Martin Matt Helm films because she thought he was too promiscuous a role model, with his freewheeling supposed alcoholism and objectification of women, which, looking back on it now, I kind of agree with, even though I love Dean Martin. But uh… It was just that kind of repressive feeling. Comic books were frowned on, even though they were allowed. But my parents were actually pretty easygoing in some respects. Once I got a driver’s license I was allowed to drive by myself and go out on the weekends - if I was home by a certain time. It wasn’t, like, super super strict, but it was strict enough that it had an impact. Especially the movie stuff, it was always a bone of contention until I was 15 or 16 or so.  I went to a Catholic boys’ high school, and the English teacher, who was a priest, he was actually pretty liberal, and he told my mother that I was mature enough to go see X-rated movies and stuff. R-rated. By myself, if I could get in, of course. You have to remember that X-rated films back then were like, Rosemary’s Baby…
Midnight Cowboy…A lot of mainstream movies were X-rated, and a lot of movies like Easy Rider were always kind of borderline.

So  your passion for violent and garish cinema, did that start at an early age? Do you remember any films that you saw that really opened your eyes, that really excited you?

You know, probably the biggest influences were when I was in high school, and I discovered Hammer films. I kind of remember going to see a good double feature of Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Plague of the Zombies. So they’re kind of exploitation movies which are relatively “high class,” if you want to call them that. I always wanted to go see any Hammer film that came through, once I was old enough. Those were the first two I saw in the theatre, and I was always looking for them on TV, because they were on TV a lot. Interrupted by commercials, of course.

Did you get to have late night viewings, left alone, when your parents were in bed, and you had time with the TV?

You know, I was supposed to go to bed at a certain time, but the TV was in a separate room which we called the den, and often, if there was a science fiction or monster movie on anywhere from 11:30 to one in the morning, I would sneak in and get up after my parents were asleep and go in and watch it with the volume way down. 90% of the time I got away with it. Fiend Without a Face, Killers from Space… Everything from well-done horror/ sci-fi to really grade Z bottom of the barrel movies like Phantom From Space.

Our backgrounds weren’t that different. I remember that Canadian TV fare sometimes had pretty risqué stuff late at night, and I was really interested in that; the first time I saw Zabriskie Point, say, it was the naked hippies that caught my eye, on late-night TV. Were the films you were seeing pretty censored, back then - what, in the early 70’s?

I was in high school in the late 60’s, so - the films were definitely censored for sexual content, but I remember seeing a Mario Bava movie, The Whip and the Body - it was under a different title. I also Joe D’Amato’s first film, Death Smiles on a Murderer, with Klaus Kinski and Ewa Aulin. I remember seeing those on TV late at night, but they were slightly censored. The last couple of years when I was in high school, and when I was in college - when I moved to Los Angeles - I was constantly going to see movies in Hollywood. Hollywood Boulevard just had so many movie theatres at that time. It was an ideal time for exploitation movies and horror films, with both domestic and European horror films getting showings at cut rate theatres on Hollywood Boulevard. There was also - when I’d come home on the weekends at times, there were a lot of screenings at the local university where my father taught. They had screenings on Saturday nights for the students,  and they were quite often pretty radical foreign films. I remember seeing Weekend, by Jean-Luc Godard, at one of those screenings.   

What was your exposure to Japanese cinema?

I was aware of Kurosawa from the time I was in high school, I started to see his films around that time, but I wasn’t aware of other Japanese films until I saw some of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. I remember seeing clips from some of the ones like Shogun Assassin and Eight Swords of Death that got released here, and I remember really liking those, but my sensibility at that time wasn’t really discerning enough to distinguish between Chinese and Japanese martial arts films. Of course, like, Japanese giant monster films, like the Godzilla movies - I would always see those when they came out. There were a few of those I saw in the theatres, like Godzilla Versus Mothra, the original one, and Atragon - there were a few others. But as far as really getting into Japanese cinema, the first Asian cinema I got into was probably in the mid 1980’s, with the emergence of a lot of really violent crime movies by people like John Woo and Tsui Hark were doing, more Hong Kong based exploitation cinema. And it was probably around 1988, 1989, I had found out about the Kaidan horror films - Japanese horror films, a lot of them set in the Samurai period, and I discovered that there were six Lone Wolf and Cub movies. So I started going down to Little Tokyo and going to the Japanese video stores trying to find those movies. I couldn’t find any Lone Wolf and Cub movies at the time. They had kind of faded in popularity in terms of, at least, finding their ways into Japanese video stores of here, and the same with kaidans. But I found tons of Japanese Yakuza movies from the 1960’s and 1970’s. And I started renting those, even  though they weren’t subtitled, just because the video covers were so amazing - I thought these looked like amazing movies. I watched literally scores and scores of those movies without subtitles. That was my first real exposure - 88 to 89, then 90-91 getting into it heavily and actually starting to think about writing an encyclopedia of Yakuza movies, because there really seemed to be so many of them. That’s when I started working on that Gun and Sword book, that encyclopedia I wrote. It was in the works for 20 years.

Have you managed to track down subtitled versions of most of those films?

I’ve managed to track down subtitled versions of some of that stuff, like the Red Peony Gambler movies, and some of the films that have gotten released here on video - some of the Mieko Kaji films like Wandering Ginza Butterfly, the Female Convict Scorpion movies, the Lady Snowblood movies. And eventually they started releasing the Lone Wolf and Cub movies here… So through various fan websites and domestic releases I’ve seen a lot of stuff subtitled now, but there’s still a lot of stuff I’ve only seen in its un-subtitled state. There’s a lot of stuff in the book I’ve only seen without subtitles.

Do you speak Japanese at all?

No I don’t speak Japanese, but it got to the point where I could discern pretty much what was going on without the subtitles. The movies were so formulaic that it really became pretty easy to distinguish patterns and similar plotlines and variations, without understanding the dialogue. I got to the point where I could understand a little bit of the Japanese - I got to be able to recognize the names of hundreds of Japanese movie actors, directors, cinematographers, and screenwriters’ names in the original Japanese in the credits and stuff, so that was a big plus, but I never got to the point where I could understand Japanese well enough to be able to speak it or be able to translate much more than the movie credits.

So the interviews in something like Outlaw Masters of Japanese Cinema, all of those are done through translators.

Oh, yeah.

I’m jealous you got to speak to people like Fukasaku Kinji. That’s pretty amazing stuff. A fantastic filmmaker. Let me ask - okay, so a last question about film, but it seems like you must consume a lot of cinema? What’s your average?

I’ve really cut back quite a bit. It’s just a matter of having that much shorter an attention span. It’s not really due to age - I don’t know if it’s because of the internet or what. I don’t watch nearly as much Japanese cinema as I used to. I still watch maybe one movie a month that’s Japanese. I don’t watch more than two or three movies a week now, and I used to watch maybe one movie a day. But this whole last year has been a really hard year, for me, in terms of emotional/ personal stuff and financial stuff. I haven’t been motivated to watch as much film as I used to. I still watch anywhere from three to five movies a week.

It’s still a fairly high consumption… Okay, so, were there writers that were formative influences on your writing?

Probably the first... I mean, I was writing short stories when I was in high school, grade school. But the first stuff that I was really satisfied with that I was writing was poetry, which was in the early to mid 1970’s. I did write a first novel in the mid 1970’s, a couple of science fiction novels which will probably never see the light of day. They’re kind of uneven. But I read a lot of science fiction when I was in 7th-8th-9th- grade, during that time period - J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Cordwainer Smith, Andre Norton, Henry Kuttner, John Brunner, John Wyndham, who wrote Day of the Triffids.

Is any of your early SF, is any of that excerpted in the anthology of your collected writings, A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die?

The first science fiction novel I wrote is called Sacred World. There’s excerpts in there. It’s kind of a post apocalyptic kind of thing - not nuclear war, but nuclear energy having polluted a lot of urban and suburban areas. A lot of my writing, my poetry was very heavily influenced by William Burroughs, Jean Genet…

I thought I recalled someone referencing Beaudelaire and Rimbaud, in regard to you…

A little bit later on, in the later 70’s, I was getting more into people like Rimbaud, Beaudelaire, JK Huysmans, Lautrement. By the time A Minute To Pray, the album, came out those were big influences on me. Also Edgar Allen Poe and Gaston LaRoux, who wrote the original Phantom of the Opera novel, which I still think has never been filmed properly. I think all the films - the silent one, I think, comes closest to the book, but the book is so Grand Guignol and intricate in detail and I think all the movies have gone too much for the love story angle, and not been very faithful to the book.

In terms of hardboiled crime, writers like James M. Cain, when did they come into your life?

I started reading people like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett when I was still in high school probably. And definitely through college. But it wasn’t still the late 1970’s  until I started to branch out and find every writer I could. James M. Cain I probably didn’t start reading until the late 1970’s. In 1980, my friend Byron Coley, who I met around that time turned me on to a lot of people like Jim Thompson and David Goodis, Dan J. Marlowe and Harry Whittington.

Hm, I don’t know them at all. I’ll look into them. In terms of music, what was it like, growing up - what was the soundtrack? Was there rock music allowed, or…?

It was kind of frowned upon, it was tolerated. We had a record player in my room, we had a big stereo, and when my parents weren’t home I kind of went to town on the stereo in the living room and played a lot of stuff. We had a reel-to-reel tape recorder that was in the big stereo too, and I remember I had all the original Rolling Stones albums on tape. I got Steppenwolf’s first album when it came out, and all three of the Cream albums - the first three that came out… Iron Butterfly’s Inna Gadda da Vida album, stuff like that.

Were there important concerts when you were young?

A lot of the ones that I really wanted to go see, I was too young. I really wanted to see Janis Joplin and the MC5 when they played Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino. I was still in high school. I really wasn’t allowed to go to concerts until I was in college, in 1970. I went to go see a lot of live music back then, though. I went to go see - I don’t know if you knew who Lee Michaels was, I went to see a lot of his concerts. He was kind of famous for having an ear-splitting organ, and he would sing and play. He had a few top forty hits, although he’s kind of forgotten now. I went to go see people like Led Zeppelin and Traffic and pre-Buckingham/ Nicks Fleetwood Mac. Peter Green had already left the group. I saw Elton John, Leon Russell, Johnny Winter, people like that, and when I was away at college I saw the original Ziggy Stardust concerts of David Bowie, I went to go see Mott the Hoople, and the New York Dolls and Iggy and the Stooges and all those people when they were playing Hollywood in the early 1970’s.

I know you cover Mott the Hoople’s “The Moon Upstairs” on Dragstrip Riot…

Right, yeah.

So do you remember how you felt when punk started, what your first exposure was to punk?

To me it was a really pure expression of what I thought rock and roll would be. It was kind of like, ‘this is what rock music really should sound like,’ and not digressions into all this… I mean, by that time I was kind of disillusioned. I don’t know if you call Jethro Tull a prog-rock band, they were more of a jazz-rock-blues band at first, and I really liked their first three albums, but then with Aqualung and Thick as a Brick especially I thought was terrible. I really grew disillusioned. There were other bands like Jefferson Airplane where I really liked their early stuff, up to Volunteers, and then after that they kind of fell off.

What was it turned you off? Highbrow pretension?

Not really that, it was more a diffusion of energy, they were all losing steam, and a lot of them were getting more into noodling around on the guitar and jams and stuff like that. Songs that would go on too long.

So what was your first exposure to punk? I mean, you saw Iggy and the Stooges, and now retroactively they’ve been labeled a punk band, but I don’t think anyone was calling them that at the time.

In terms of when punk started I guess it was really the British wave of stuff. I went out and got import albums of the Sex Pistols’ first album, the Damned, the Clash’s first album, the Australian band the Saints. And those were the records that I really listened to a lot, but I was also listening to a lot of New York Dolls and Stooges. I was still listening to a lot of Bowie, too, up until Low. He kind of lost me with Low, but I liked everything before that. I really liked Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane

Was any of this influential on your singing voice? No one really sings like you - I love it, but it’s an unusual voice, and it strikes me as a really bold thing that you’re singing in this unprecedented way from your first single on. How did you develop confidence in that particular style? Do you just naturally sing like that, were the people who influenced you, or…?

There were singers who influenced me. Probably though even though you can’t hear it til later, Jim Morrison of the Doors, Captain Beefheart - I think you can probably hear that influence. Rod Stewart when he was singing on those first couple of Jeff Beck solo albums. Rod Stewart had a growling, gritty, sandpapery voice… but there were also black blues singers like Holwin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker. But the singing style… a lot of that is so undisciplined and raw, it’s really hard for me to listen to now. The first single, and stuff that’s on Tooth and Nail and the first album, No Questions Asked, a lot of that’s very hard for me to listen to now. The singing is just all over the place. Some of it’s borderline okay. A lot of people love those songs from that period of the Flesh Eaters and that’s great, I’m glad they do. I like the songs. I don’t like my execution of the vocals on a lot of that stuff. It wasn’t until A Minute to Pray, which was the second album, where the singing was starting to get where I could live with it later on. I really have to give John Doe, from X, credit for that, because he kind of advised me to start trying to sing, as well as doing the screaming/ growling kind of stuff, to use the screaming and growling with more discretion, as punctuation. Just listening to music, I really got more into dynamics, in terms of highs and lows and how to build songs vocally. How to build songs that, even though I wasn’t a trained musician, I wrote a lot of music for the songs. As I went along, I just learned how to build songs, so it would work to a crescendo or a climax.

Do you have a particular favourite period or album?

Well, I really like A Minute to Pray a lot, I like the one that came after it, Forever Came Today, a lot. 

That’s my favourite. I’ve always wondered about A Minute to Pray. There are some great songs on it, but it seems to me that it gets the most attention of any of the Flesh Eaters’ catalogue, the one that people put up there, and it’s just such an odd album. It has the best cover of any Flesh Eaters album, but I wouldn’t pick it for the best album…

I think Minute to Pray is just so off kilter because of the jazz and blues influence, and the whole voodoo thing is just so pronounced on that album. You still get the same kind of lyrical stuff on Forever Came Today and Hard Road to Follow, but the music is… I hate to call it mainstream, it’s still not mainstream when you compare it to mainstream music, but it’s a little more traditional in terms of heavy rock music than A Minute to Pray. I think A Minute to Pray perhaps stuck out because of all the sax and the marimba that’s all over it. I was really trying to transcribe a lot of African and ethnic blues music and try to meld the two together, and I think a lot of that created a lot of really unique rhythms that hadn’t been heard in rock music so much. I think that’s one of the reasons its had its staying power, plus its reputation has only increased because its got a couple of people who were in X in the band [John Doe and DJ Bonebrake] and Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman, who were in the Blasters, and Steve Berlin, whose been in Los Lobos for the last few decades. The reputation of the album has only increased because of the cache of having those guys in the band with me.

You’re right, it’s a very eccentric album. Let me ask about the voodoo thing. The cover design is fantastic. Where did the idea come from, whose hand is that, where did you get exposed to the idea of the hand of glory?

Well, I actually took that image from a frame of the original version of The Wicker Man. There’s a scene where Edward Woodward, the really straight cop who goes to the island, he wakes up one morning and there’s a hand of glory on his bedside table, and that’s the hand. I took that image out of the frame, and did different colour enhancement and stuff. And I started reading up on witchcraft and demonology and stuff like that just because it was fascinating to me. I wasn’t wanting to practice it or anything; even though I wasn’t a practicing Catholic, I still have a lot of those kind of reservations. I didn’t want the album to be perceived as Satanic. I’ve said this in other interviews, it’s kind of an exorcism, the album is meant to be a spiritual/ personal exorcism of demons - demons of my love life…

So did you become aware of the hand of glory through The Wicker Man, first?

It was through The Wicker Man first, and then I read about it in various books on witchcraft.

It interests me because it crops up in a few of your songs - of course, “Hand of Glory” on Forever Came Today, but it’s also in “The Wedding Dice” - “it’s the story of the hand of glory.” I always assumed that that song is sort of like, the backstory of the hand of glory, how the criminal that the hand came from came to be executed. I don’t know if I’m reading that right…

Well, you know, it just rhymed well with the line, “the cops say to this day it’s no heartwarming story.” I wasn’t trying to make it being literal, I wasn’t thinking in horror movie terms, this guy had a hand of glory that somehow cursed him. I was thinking more in hardboiled crime fiction terms and using that as a metaphor than as a literal thing.

Makes sense. So - in terms of voodoo, I know in Vancouver there was actually a gallery in the 1990’s that had Santeria altars, where they did rituals, maybe they did some sacrifices, I don’t know. Was there a voodoo presence in the LA scene?

Not voodoo, but there was a Santeria presence in some of the bodegas. Like, you could go in and get little bottles of charm potions. The idea for the back cover of the Gun Club’s Fire of Love album, with all the little potion bottles. Judith Bell who did the drawings, she and I went to some bodegas that had ethnic shops that had charms and roots for sale, that were basically places you would go if you were into Santeria, and we bought some of those potion bottles just because the artwork on them was so bizarre. Judith, of course, drew her own interpretations of the Gun Club songs for the labels. The potion bottles on the cover were the closest I got to any of that stuff.

You never attended rituals or such.

No, no.

The idea of exorcism and possession and shedding demons. I can really see that in your songs. What is “Digging My Grave” about, the idea of being your family doctor. What is that referring to?

Well, there’s a screenplay I’d written that never saw the light of day. It got optioned by a couple of people and it almost got made, and it was this movie set in Louisiana. It was a swamp horror movie about a girl who grows up to become a vampire in a swamp. And the beginning scene in the movie is of her father murdering her whole family, and she was the only one who survived. I basically took the opening scene of that script and made it into a song. So that’s where that’s from. I would also occasionally get ideas from crime stories that were in newspapers or on television, true crime type stuff. That was around the time that I wrote that script - I can’t really remember what came first, I think I had already written the script when I wrote that song.

Hope you don’t mind my asking, but were drugs part of your life at that point?

I was really drinking a lot of hard liquor. I generally had a fifth of Stoli in the freezer and I would drink Jack Daniels quite a bit. 

Does having cleaned up change your relationship to any of this material? There’s a romance of self-destruction that runs through some of your songs.

Well, there’s still that kind of - I don’t know if you’ve heard the albums that I did when I was sober. There’s one from 1999 called Ashes of Time, and there’s one from 2004 called Miss Muerte. And I think songwise, the production isn’t quite as good on Ashes of Time, but Miss Muerte, the production’s really great, and it’s comparable in quality to a cross between Forever Came Today and some of the best of the Divine Horsemen stuff. Julie Christensen sings quite a bit on both those two albums, so they’re kind of a cross between Flesh Eaters and Divine Horsemen in their sound, even though they’re under the Flesh Eaters’ name… but there’s still that imagery. In some ways I think my writing is better on those last two albums than it was earlier on. It still covered all those bases that I was covering, but wasn’t quite as self-indulgent as some of the earlier stuff - some of the Hard Road to Follow songs, and then going through Dragstrip Riot, which is one of the early 1990’s Flesh Eaters albums that came out on SST, there’s some songs on that that I don’t really like. Especially the Dragstrip Riot album, I was thinking about that the other night. There’s only a few songs on that album I still like.

Oh really? Which ones?

I really like “Tomorrow Never Comes,” “The Youngest Profession” - the first side of the album [Chris tells me that he might try to work up a version of "The Youngest Profession" for the current tour]. It’s a double album, and I think it could have been improved if I’d whittled it down to a single album length. Some of the songs like “Take My Hand” I don’t like very much. “Slipped Tripped and Fell in Love,” which was another attempt to do some kind of Memphis soul-type covers. It could have been on Hard Road to Follow, which I think worked much better - “Rhymes” and “I Take What I Want.”

I like “Slipped, Tripped, Fell in Love” though.

Part of my problem with those covers - “Slipped, Tripped, Fell in Love,” “Moon Upstairs” and “Slow Death” is that my singing doesn’t have as much dynamics as it had at one time. There’s almost a strained quality in the vocals that bothers me. It’s just my opinion.

I don’t feel that way at all! I really kind of feel that Dragstrip Riot is an underrated album.

I’m glad you dig it! There’s some good stuff on there. I like the “Dragstrip Riot” song, that’s one of the really long songs… It could have been a little shorter, but I still like that. I like the background vocals on that song.

Coming back to A Minute To Pray, I want to ask about “Cyranode Berger’s Back.” I have an eccentric reading of that song. I don’t know if I’m off the planet, I don’t know if this makes any sense at all, but the lyrics about speaking for someone else and making someone else look good, it seems like it could be about being a music critic. That’s kind of what music journalists do. But am I reading that at all right?

I hate to tell ya, no. That’s a John Doe song, so he had written the lyrics to that. That was one of the few covers that I did early on, and I really liked that it was a love song and that it was different  from some of the other material on the album, but I also liked the fact that it had some "Chris D. imagery" in it, if I can be so egocentric as to say that. There’s a line - “your eyes are as blue as the coals that burn in your black corsage.” Lines like that, which I really like…

That’s a John Doe lyric?


I always thought that WAS your lyric, because it feels so much like you.

No. I had seen X rehearse that song. I used to go to X rehearsals in the 1980-1981 period, just to listen to them, because I love their stuff so much. And I always loved that song, and they hadn’t recorded it on their first album, and they weren’t going to record it on Wild Gift as far as I knew, and I just asked John if we could do it. He said sure. They did it later on I think on See How We Are, but they did it quite differently, they changed the arrangement quite a bit.

Okay. Well. I was hoping to segue into talking about your time with Slash magazine. There’s none of that in the book, A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die, that I notice. There’s none of your criticism. So what did you do for Slash? I have no idea!

I wasn’t really on a payroll or anything like that. It was Claude - Kickboy - and his girlfriend Philomena. They were the editors, and there was Steve Samioff who was the publisher, and his girlfriend Melanie Nissin, at the time she was the main photo editor. And it wasn’t until late 1979 , I think, that Bob Biggs bought the magazine, and it still kept in the same vein. The art direction changed a little, but Steve Samioff was still involved and he did a lot of the art direction, along with Melanie. But the writers… I wrote a lot of record reviews, a lot of live show reviews. I didn’t really do too many interviews, I can’t really remember interviewing too many bands for that. Judith Bell and I did interview Paul Schrader for one issue of the magazine, and we also interviewed Sam Fuller for the very last issue of Slash. But mostly I just wrote record reviews, and I wrote under a lot of different names. I had a lot of pseudonyms: Half-Cocked, Mr. OK, Bob Clone… There’s probably another one I’m forgetting. And I would write under my own name on some reviews.

Did you do any graphic stuff for them?

No, the only graphic stuff that ever appeared by me in the magazine was when I was doing ads for my albums, like the Tooth and Nail album, I did some artwork, did some of the ads that were in there, and when No Questions Asked came out. But the album went defunct in December 1980, before A Minute to Pray, so… but just some of the ads I placed in the magazine was the only graphics I ever did.

Did you have a visual arts background at all? You did the Gun Club's Fire of Love, and I assume a lot of the gig posters on the Greatest Hits Destroyed By Fire comp, are yours…?

Yeah… but it was just something that came naturally to me. I had some art training or something when I was a kid but not anything that would remotely lead to the kind of collage stuff that I would do later, with flyers and album covers.

There’s something of collage in your lyrics, as well. I was thinking: if the Misfits wrote a song called “Eyes Without a Face,” it would follow the plot of the film: it would be a song about a surgeon who cuts the faces off girls. Your song, “Eyes Without a Face,” has absolutely no bearing on the movie that I can notice.


So as devoted as you are to movies, you seem very willing to take this image here, this image there and completely transform it in the service of your own poetry.

Yeah. I totally agree. I don’t know what else to add to that, except that’s true.

Sometimes I can’t tell where something is you or something you’ve lifted from, like, a poster for an exploitation movie. A phrase like “twisted arm of illegal youth” - I could see that on a movie poster for something like Gun Crazy, you know? But maybe it’s just your writing!

Some of that - when I was in high school, I was really into student radical stuff like the SDS. I was living in Riverside California, so there was, like, no infrastructure or a group of people who were into that also. So I was like a lone wolf in terms of being into that kind of stuff. But once I went to college and I took LSD for the first time, all the political stuff kind of went out the window after that! But a lot of the resurgence of rebellious youth, it was just a general image, it wasn’t something that had anything to do with reality or anything that I’d been involved in. It wasn’t something where I’d gotten rousted by the police and gotten whacked on the head with a baton or anything. It was just strictly transposing stuff that was happening. There were some punk rock riots that would happen at some concerts where the cops would show up and get a little heavy-handed in breaking up the concerts.

I remember reading a very vivid description that Alex Cox wrote about cops beating people up and he’s just walking through the scene on acid getting totally left alone… You never had any problems, though?

I was really lucky, I was never at any of those shows that got broken up. Or if they did get broken up by the cops, I headed out early, I wasn’t going to stick around and try and stand up against the police! To me that was kind of a futile gesture that could only result in grief.

There’s still a hostility towards the police in some of your song lyrics. I always thought the hubbub over “Cop Killer” was kind of funny because I’d been listening to “We’ll Never Die” (with a chorus of “shoot out the eyes of the boys in blue”) since I was a teenager.

Well, no. There was nobody who took me to task for it. That was strictly imagery from hardboiled crime fiction and film noir movies like They Live By Night and Gun Crazy, transposed to more of an updated milieu.

What was “The Wedding Dice” about? There’s a few images of yours where I just have no idea. What are wedding dice?

That’s more metaphorical than anything else - just, “we threw the wedding dice,” we took a chance and got married. The crime imagery in there once more, I was starting to get into storytelling-type songs, and “Wedding Dice” segues into “Hand of Glory,” those two songs are linked, have the same kind of story. There’s no specific details spelled out. “My picture’s in the paper/ but you can’t see my face” - I just remember seeing pictures in the newspaper of guys that would get caught by the cops and they’d take them out to their squad cars and they would have their face shielded by their hands or they’d have a coat draped over their heads or something. So that’s where I got that imagery from.

Okay. A few other specific things that I’ve always been curious about. Why do you have, in “Father of Lies,” “eleven white roses” for your little girl, as opposed to the more traditional twelve?

I don’t know why I picked that, it was just kind of arbitrary. There’s some stuff now I look back on and I read those lyrics and I go, “I don’t know where I got that from.” I mean, there’s some stuff you just have to allow to come up from the ether, it bubbles up from the subconscious and you just grab onto it. I’m a big fan of David Lynch, and he’s somebody I think has a really good handle on how ideas come about, how they can kind of bubble to the surface. And you don’t really know where they came from, and it’s kind of purposeless to try to figure out where they came from. He likes people to get their own interpretation. I’m kind of of the same mind, I’m really fine with any interpretation somebody gets. I probably explain a little too much.

Uhm. I like Lynch’s point of view and I see what you mean. But I want to ask one more question. I’ve never known what a pony dress was or where that comes from.

I just imagined a girl wearing a dress made out of pony hide, instead of cowhide - like, a leather dress. A lot of people thought I meant a dress that had little ponies drawn or embroidered on the dress, but I was actually talking about a dress that was made out of the skin of a pony.

That wasn’t based on anything, that’s not a reference to anything else?

No, I have no idea why I came up with that idea, I really don’t. Out of the blue.

Awesome. I want to ask about a song that you wrote with Tito Larriva - “I & I” that the Circle Jerks covered. Did that ever get recorded?

No, there’s actually some songs from that period I really wish got recorded, like “I & I” and another one called “Under the Gun.” There’s another one called “Automaton Bombs.” Some songs, there was a song called “Achieve that Reject” where I threw the lyrics out and used the same music for the song “Shallow Water” that’s on Forever Came Today. But no, unfortunately, the lineups were so in flux at that time that when Minute To Pray came around, rather than carry on some of the old songs I’d been doing, I really wanted to record just a whole new batch with these guys, that I’d written specifically for that lineup.

Byron Coley implies somewhere that the reason the lineups fluctuated so much was that you were more focused on your writing, that you didn’t really want to have a single solid lineup, but is that true? Am I understanding it correctly?

It’s partly true, but - I hate to say it, but…  There’s a couple different reasons. There’s the reason of financial security, being able to pay for my rent, if I’m going out on tour and try to actually tour with a steady lineup. There was the fact that even though musically I would feel like people should have equal input, to some degree, I wanted to be autonomous in terms of decision making and be the leader of the band, so that my decision would go, as far as what the music sounded like. So there was some of that stuff. I would get together with people who I would like working with, but they wanted to be frontmen in their own bands, like Tito, he had the Plugz, and Stan Ridgway, who was in the band for a couple of months, he ended up having Wall of Voodoo. There were a couple of other people like that over the years that had their own ideas about what they wanted to do. Probably the most consistent lineups I had were during the Divine Horsemen period, but we went through several guitar players in that band. But the other thing too, is that psychologically I could never imagine being on the road as much as these other people I knew, friends of mine like the Blasters and X. They were just continually on the road, and I just couldn’t handle it, psychologically I couldn’t see myself on the road; it would drive me literally crazy, probably. So.

Did you tour a lot outside Los Angeles, in any version of the band?

The Forever Came Today/ Hard Road to Follow lineup, we did a tour in 1982, and Byron Coley was the road manager. We played quite a few cities… I don’t know how many. One…two, three… I think we did about twenty or twenty one cities.

All in the United States?


So you never played in Japan?

No. Divine Horsemen came close to doing some European shows but then the band broke up when Julie and I broke up. So that didn’t happen. Divine Horsemen went on three tours. We did a southwestern tour in 1985, then we did 1987, two tours, one in the late winter/ early spring, and then one in the fall.

Let me ask, when you’ve gone to Japan, did you notice an international following - people listening to the Flesh Eaters? 

There was a guy, I can’t remember his name now, who I stayed with in Osaka who owned a record store, who was a friend of Byron’s.

His name’s not Toshio, by any chance?

No. Oh, god. His initials were K.K.  - something Kodama. I can’t remember his first name. He was a really good guy. But there wasn’t that much awareness of the Flesh Eaters. I mean, there was, they knew who the Flesh Eaters were, but it wasn’t like - there’s a huge Flesh Eaters following in Italy. I have a lot of Italian Facebook friends who are Flesh Eaters fans, and there’s definitely some following in England and France and Germany. We could definitely go over there and do shows. It would be nice to try and do a European tour, but it’s probably impossible, unless I put together a completely non-superstar lineup of guys that weren’t other really successful bands. Trying to get X to take a big break - and John Doe’s got his own solo band thing. Dave Alvin’s got his own solo band thing, and he’s also been doing all those gigs with his brother, and Steve Berlin - Los Lobos are on the road all the time.

It sounds like it would be kind of complicated.

I don’t know. This coming year is kind of an unknown for me, because there’s a lot of financial issues coming up. I’ve been really lucky this last year because I’ve been doing a lot of extra work in commercials, and I got upgraded in one of the commercials I was in to a principal, so I’ve been getting some residuals from that commercial.

Sorry, what commercial...?

I don’t even want to say what it was. I haven’t even seen it on television. Let’s put it this way, it’s a fairly popular candy bar. I don’t know if it’s just been on the kids’ stations, or what! But I haven’t seen it on the TV that I watch. But my TV watching of commercial TV is pretty limited, so I might have just missed it.

You were working pretty regularly as a programmer and a film teacher, weren’t you?

Yeah, I worked for American Cinematheque in Hollywood for ten years, and the last five years I was there I was the main programmer at the Egyptian Theatre, which is one of the two theatres that they had. But then I started to teach more, and I was teaching up in San Francisco. They were flying me up there, and I was at a point where I was teaching four classes a week… then about a year ago, the bottom dropped out with the budget. I’d been doing it for about five years, but they couldn’t afford to fly me up there anymore. And they had other teachers that were as qualified up there, so the bottom line kind of trumped having me. And they’d filled the hole at American Cinematheque after I’d left. Programming for repertory films is a very tiny niche market and trying to find a job doing that… if you can find one, you’re most likely going to have to relocate to Bumfuck Iowa, so… it’s been frustrating. I’ve really had a kind of frustrating last year, but anyway…

But Gun and Sword is out… is that making any impact? It seems like a very ambitious project.

It was associated with several different publishers before I ended up  putting it out myself. Originally Quentin Tarantino’s publishing company was going to put it out in the late 1990’s, and then they only ended up doing one book, their blaxploitation film book, What It Is, What It Was - I can’t remember what it was called. So that got curtailed, and then I was going to go with FAB Press in England and Harvey Fenton was really interested in doing it. And for about a year we were planning on doing it, but he had several big projects ahead, and he wasn’t going to get to it for a year or so. Then the recession happened in 2008, which was around the time he was going to start working on my book. And he had to curtail big projects for a couple of years, and that’s when I just decided to do the book myself, because I was starting to self-publish with the Minute to Pray anthology. And I was starting to do some of my fiction, my novels.

Is there one of those you’re proudest of, that people should start with?   

Probably No Evil Star would be a good one. [Opinionated interviewers note: I preferred Mother's Worry! There are several of his titles which you can find on the "Books by Chris D." Facebook page]

Let me ask, since the Minute To Pray album has just been reissued, and this is the lineup you’re touring, is the setlist going to include material from earlier or later versions of the Flesh Eaters, as well?

We’re going to do the whole album, we’re going to do the song “Pony Dress,” “Wedding Dice,” were’ going to do one song from Ashes of Time called “House Amid the Thickets.” We’re going to do a song from Miss Muerte called “Miss Muerte.” We’re going to do a Gun Club cover, “She’s Like Heroin To Me,” and we’re going to the Sonics’ “Cinderella.” [Note: Chris suggested in a recent talk that the 2017 shows would be similar, but may include a few more songs off Forever Came Today]. 

Cool! And just a final thing. The movie, A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die, is that a film you have any fondness for? That phrase, now - there’s an album, a song, and there’s your book now. Do you have particular regard for that movie, or do you just like the title?

I do like the movie, but I actually used that title before I ever saw the movie. I mean, I got the title from the movie, I was aware of the movie when it came out, but I didn’t get to see it when it came out in theatres. I was in high school when it came out. I saw it later on TV and got a DVD of it. You know what I found out that was interesting? I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, but the lead actor Alex Cord plays an epileptic gunfighter and at the end of the movie, he gets reprieved, he gets amnesty from the governor. But the Italian version of the movie is about ten minutes longer, and after he gets reprieved, he ends up getting ambushed by two guys on the road and killed. The Italian version has the real downbeat ending, which makes me really wish they would release it uncut, because it’s an okay movie in the American version, but the Italian version sounds like it’s great!    

The Flesh Eaters, featuring Chris D. on vocals (and an all-star cast of LA punk royalty, and Petunia and the Vipers opening) play the Rickshaw on January 25th!

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