Monday, August 31, 2009
Open Your Mouth and Say... Mr. Chi Pig
But no, really, the film is worth seeing... tomorrow at 7, Pacific Cinematheque. I've seen it already, but... you go. Various local music figures will be in attendance...
Part of me likes the idea of being out of the city for 2010... tho' I'll still be commuting in to work, as long as the school I'm working at doesn't collapse under the strain of the economic downturn.
Speaking of economics, I read in Metro over lunch today that Vancouver has Canada's lowest minimum wage and its highest cost of living. Isn't that just peachy?
Friday, August 21, 2009
Dear fuckin' city... (re: Cobalt closure, Olympics)
Vancouver development, by Femke Van Delft
Now it IS true that punk venues can also be a hub of dissent - see my old Skinny interview with Todd Serious of The Rebel Spell, a great local punk band that plays The Cobalt frequently, if you're not sure what I mean, there. But y'know what, this actually makes a really nice opportunity for y'all to step in and do something for the community that might be in your long-term best interests and very beneficial to your big Olympics money-party. Would you like to avert Riot 2010? I bet you would. Installing security cameras, hiring rent-a-cops, and designating Free Speech Zones won't really help you very much on that count; if anything, things like this are adding to the fuming mood of disenfranchisement, displacement, despair and impending doom that one finds underneath the surface of this city, sending the message that we're expected to bend down and spread our asscheeks for you, and prompting people either to apathy or rage (or flat out making them leave town). You can stop all that, though, in one swoop. Are you listening, Vanoc?
Do you want to avert Riot 2010? Do you want punks in the city who are cursing the Olympics and planning to Fuck Shit Up to suddenly sing pro-Olympics anthems and contentedly find a comfy corner in your pockets?
Save The Cobalt. Buy the property off the fuckin' Sahotas and turn it over to Wendy to manage, as a city-supported cultural institution. Suddenly a whole bunch of people who count themselves as your enemies will start singing your praises.
Opportunity is knocking, you assholes.
The old A&B Sound doorway, by Allan MacInnis
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Eugene Chadbourne at the Cobalt
Doc Chad, my friend Judith, and myself had hung out briefly before the show, catching a meal at The Reef on Commercial. The conversation that transpired was a little dark - touching on the changes the Olympics are bringing to town, the tasering of Robert Dziekański, the Pickton pig farm and failure of police to do much about the "death industry" that grew up around it, the general decay on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the sense that there is abundant graft everywhere below the surface of this too-slack city, and the battle to keep The Cobalt open (Dr. Chadbourne: the Tyee article on the Cobalt slumlords I mentioned is here). To my surprise, this conversation seemed to inform Dr. Chad's set a bit - he played numerous songs that touched on themes we'd discussed (for instance, "City Of Corruption," the Yardbirds' apocalyptic "Shapes Of Things," "Hippies and Cops," and a version of "I Hate The Man Who Runs This Bar," with a special titling for the occasion - "I Hate The Man Who Owns This Building"). The darkness, acknowledged, and the fact that the gig was at the imperilled Cobalt, made the show one of the more emotionally powerful Doc Chad shows I've seen, and eventually most of the drunken talkers shut up and got into it (one drunken heckler apparently mistook "Orange Claw Hammer" for "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and called out "Gordon Lightfoot!").
Eugene onstage, the best of several completely awful photos by Allan MacInnis
After Eugene switched his electric guitar for a banjo, Dave Chokroun one upped me - not many people in this town routinely do this - by pointing out - I hadn't twigged - that one of Chad's improvs was an Albert Ayler tune. (Dave: which Ayler?). The centerpiece of the night was a very evocative version of "Happy New Year." Thanks, Doc Chad, for coming to The Cobalt, and lending your voice and music to our plight! (Thanks for signing my records, too!).
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Lease Not Renewed: Hmmm
...Or is it because of that time I left a pot on the gas stove and went to a doctor's appointment, necessitating that the fire department come to turn it off, after the fire alarms went off in (he says) the building? I mean, I inconvenienced a few people, but the only thing that got damaged was the pot the water'd been in.
Either way, it was looking like I was moving in with my parents soon, anyhow, so in fact, the timing is just right. Maybe it's time to go live in Maple Ridge for a year, change my life a bit. It would be very good for all concerned: me, my parents... and I could stand not to see what's happening to the city, frankly. I had a minute walking down Granville Street today of complete disorientation: it was a block I've been on a million times, approaching Granville and Robson from the Skytrain station, and I did not recognize my surroundings one whit. The Winners and Future Shop signs could have been in any city in Canada. Where the hell am I? Oh yeah, that's Robson Street.
I wonder what I'll do with this blog if I move? If you think I'm "Alienated in Vancouver," you should SEE me in Maple Ridge... I mean, trust me: I grew up there. And it's not going to be so easy to cover shows or films if I'm busing in from the suburbs.
Hm. Interesting times.
(Mom got into a good rehabilitation program. I was able to say hi to her on the phone tonight (I'm back at work - must pay the bills, since I have next month off and a move ahead). She's saying a few words and can play a good game of rummy, though cribbage is still a bit of a challenge - some of her math went with her syntax.
Anyhow, since I'm in the city anyhow... gonna go see Eugene. See y'all at The Cobalt.
Eugene tonight, Minimalist Jug Band tomorrow, plus Cassavetes' Husbands
So - just a brief music'n'film check-in (I really need to stop blogging for awhile but I can't! Coping mechanisms are hard to come by):
Eugene Chadbourne plays The Cobalt tonight, along with local maniacs Yellowthief. See my most recent Doc Chad interview here... which also ran in The Skinny, tho' not online. (By the way, by me, there's a new SNFU piece, a Damo Suzuki review, and part two of my New Model Army series in the new issue; there's also likely an update on the saga of the imperilled Cobalt. Come out tonight and show your support to the 'balt by two fisting bottles of Pacific, or somethin'.)
The Minimalist Jug Band, it transpires - I learn this from a gig poster by Zulu - is doing his CD release at Cafe Montmartre tomorrow, along with Petunia (Myspace here) and Rodney DeCroo and maybe someone else. See this old article o' mine for a better indication of what that night might hold...
And finally: Videomatica, as of yesterday, had a few copies of John Cassavetes' Husbands on ths shelf, newly released on DVD (HMV, who I thought were getting smarter, didn't bother to bring it in at all; ah, well). DVD Talk review here, for those of you who don't know the film. I boasted when playing a boot of this to a select group of friends a couple of birthdays ago that the version I was playing was as complete as any you were likely to find - it contained "all the vomiting, shitting, farting" and the complete "drinking and singing" scene that presages it (I gather many prints of the film have had some of this material excised; the VHS that came out several years ago certainly is missing a big chunk). I have not had a chance to watch the whole Sony DVD yet, but it appears that all the drinking contest and all the puking scene are there; the runtime is 142 minutes, which appears to be slightly longer than the boot I played, though I haven't figured out where. Plus it's widescreen! ...so I'd say Sony have done a damn good job on this DVD. That great old BBC doc on The Making of Husbands is, alas, not included as an extra, nor the hilarious Dick Cavett interview with Cassavetes, Peter Falk, and Ben Gazzara - but there is a featurette including new interviews with Gazzara, Al Ruban, and cinematographer Victor Kemper, and a commentary with biographer Marshall Fine, which is wayyyy more than I was expecting. Alas, Ray Carney once again appears to be in Siberia for this project, but is it just possible, folks, that without his passionate protests against the butchering of Cassavetes' works, we wouldn't be seeing the whole film released on DVD thus?
Anyhow, it's a must see, and Videomatica had it for only $21.99... Beats the shit out of what Warner Brothers did with their Zabriskie Point release. Or their Performance one, for that matter. Yay Sony.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Bev Davies show held over
Friday, August 14, 2009
When snakes fly
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Update: my Mom's stroke
Mom can't speak in the slightest. It makes for challenging conversations. She completely blanks out when she tries to think of a word. It looks like Broca's aphasia, to me - it's been awhile since I took linguistics classes, but I've studied these things slightly and that seems to be the condition at hand. She seems to have pretty good comprehension when people speak - she laughs at my jokes, shakes her head or nods to yes-no questions, and when she wants to tell me something (often using gestures or pointing to pictures on a chart she's been provided, initiating a sort of 20 questions game where I have to try to figure out what she wants to "say"), she can easily understand when my guesses are wrong and indicate so. She just can't reply with language. It's not a motor thing, for the most part - she can make sounds, and so far has been heard to say "ohh," "ahh," and "Oh God!" - because these phrases, I assume, come from some affective area of the brain that does not deal with grammar. Dad even says she said "Yes," once, and I heard her begin a sentence with "I" before stopping. She can even hold a pen and write a little, though usually she can only manage "would liked." (Not "Would like" - she gets that wrong). But that's it - she manages these two words, then, after several minutes sitting with the pen and paper, shakes her head and gives up, shrugging as if to say, "I just can't!". Her reading comprehension seem to be damaged a bit, too... but otherwise, the main problem is that she can't find the words she wants anywhere. Language has, the above exceptions aside, completely disappeared; she has not, since Saturday when the stroke happened, uttered a single sentence, a single syntactic construction. She can't even repeat what people say to her (tho' I did get her to repeat "Oh God" one time, after she spontaneously produced it; interestingly, her second production was nowhere as clear as her first). We'll see if more words or phrases are possible today - I'm going to try to get her to say a few names, and to repeat a couple of things - but for the most part, her ability to produce language is totally zapped.
All this makes communicating with her a bit challenging, as you might imagine, but I actually enjoy these visits quite a bit. She's still my Mom, she's still visibly present and happy to see me, and the problems that communication poses are an interesting challenge for both of us, at least in the short term (I could see her getting frustrated and depressed at some point, if her language skills stay absent, but at least some part of her seems to find all this quite a weird new journey to be on, and she's bearing up with grace and humour and curiosity). We laugh together a lot - at her noisy wardmates, at stories from home, at the guy across from her who sleeps with his mouth wide open, and at the strange situation we find ourselves in. I can manage a few hours with her at a time before she gets tired and/or my steam runs out. (When "conversation" fades she tends to tap my arm and point at the door...). One can do nothing but accept that this is the situation and try to deal with it - it could have been so much worse that in a way the realities of the situation come as a great relief (ie., she's not dead, catatonic, or in pain; so what if she can't speak right now? We can work on that).
The one who is driving me a bit nuts, however, is my father. He has visited her every day and joked with her and so forth - but, a cancer patient himself, he is determinedly not giving up those things that give him comfort, which he is clinging to for whatever they're worth: namely, beer and horseraces. I try to get him talking about stroke, about aphasia, about Mom's rehabilitation - and he'll listen and ask questions for a few minutes before it all gets frustrating for him, and then he'll want to counter by telling me about the Australian jockey Barry Shin, whom my father considers a very safe bet. (He is more comfortable, like most men, sticking to areas where he has some expertise; things that are beyond him are intimidating and tend to get him upset - like trying to explain how to use the computer for something OTHER than watching horseraces, say). I have a real hard time even feigning interest in his racing stories or the streaming videos he watches from around the world, even though he gives me - and mom - a cut of his winnings. It just really does not matter to me in the slightest which of a dozen horses goes around a track first; I don't get it. Maybe if I had money bet, I could get myself excited for a few races, but I cannot comprehend how anyone could take an interest in this question a dozen times a day every day of the week - to get passionate about selecting horses, jockeys, evaluating track conditions, and so forth. Wouldn't it all start to seem... the same?
My parents getting off the bus at the casinoPlus he's a bit jangly to be around. Even when he hasn't had a few beer, he talks a little too loud, is a little too much; he has to fight, I suspect, to rise above his illness, and he rises, maybe, a little higher than is ideal. I'll be making tea or reading on stroke or checking something online and he'll be booming racetrack trivia at me or telling me about problems in the building or stories about the food in the freezer or such and I'll kind of have to struggle to keep listening; there are so many other things I'd rather be talking about - including how he feels, which is seldom a topic. He's a rather stoic guy, one might say. He's sleeping only a few hours a night, too, so it's understandable that he's a bit wired, but his edginess is a bit contagious, ultimately (which my Mom has noted many a time, before the stroke; I can laugh with her now - I know what she means!).
But the thing that REALLY drives us crazy is his perpetual, maddening obsession with saving money. When Mom was feeling testy the day before her stroke, she gave father "supreme shit," he told me, about an episode where the two of them had searched their vast, full-up freezer - because, as children of the depression, they hoard food, especially him - for ribs that he could cook. (It's about the only food he really enjoys, though cancer is taking his sense of taste even for barbeque sauce). They couldn't find any, so she told him to go buy some, and he responded that he would wait til they're on sale. She flipped: are you nuts? You want ribs - go buy some ribs! Who cares if they're on sale? Her outburst - angrier than usual - startled both of them a little, to hear him tell of it, and he says now that this grouchiness was probably a precursor to the stroke. Mind you, all this ultimately made for two good jokes that my father passed on for me to tell Mom: that he had (he reported proudly) gone out and bought some ribs at full price, and that he had actually found some ribs at the bottom of the freezer - which, to his amusement, had an expiry date (which he saved to show me) from the year 2000 on them. ("Nine years they've been in our freezer!" - she laughed a lot when I reported on this).
His latest bit of cheapness has been an item of contention between him and I for the last day, however. A company that sells vacuums called to tell him he was one of five lucky people in our area who will win a "free gift" if they can come to the apartment and demonstrate their vaccuum cleaners. My father accepted: he doesn't need or want a vacuum, he just wants the free gift - which they'd talked up as being worth a couple of hundred of dollars - or at least to see what it is. He told me this on the phone yesterday, as I called from the hospital to report on Mom's condition; he wanted me to promise that I'd stay here, while he's at the casino, to let the guy in to vacuum and demonstrate. ("Make sure you get the free gift before he does his demonstration!" he told me, half-shouting. "He'll tell you he left it in the car, but under no circumstances let him vacuum until the gift is in your hands!"). But Dad, I said, you know this is going to be bullshit, don't you? "I know! I'm not stupid! But I want to see what it is!" But Dad, you know what the gift is going to be - some worthless trinket, or else a "discount voucher" for some hotel somewhere, which you can only use if you pay a bunch of money to fly some resort or other. "I know that! I wasn't born yesterday! But I want to see it with my own eyes and laugh at them, if they're going to call me with these stupid offers!" We brought it up again after I came home, and he grew increasingly angry as I protested. "If you won't do it, fine - I'll reschedule!" So suddenly it turns out, this morning, that I have to prove my love for him and my family by letting the vacuum cleaner salesman in, watching his demonstration, and getting the gift off him. My mind is elsewhere - I try to imagine getting into a Mexican standoff with the vacuum guy: "No, you can't vacuum until you give me the gift!" ...and then him trying to high-pressure me into buying a $3000 vacuum while I try to think of a way to get him out of the door, clutching my bounty. Not really how I want to be spending my morning, you know? I have other things on my mind.
...In fact, the dude showed up as I was writing that very paragraph. I told the guy at the door - look, my mother's had a stroke, and my father can't be here - I don't mention that it's because he's at the casino. But *I* can watch the demonstration and report to them, if he likes. I feel kind of guilty about the whole thing, since I know the guy is counting on commission: I want to tell him - because I've known people who have done this job - that there is no hope in hell that he's going to get a sale. He says he'll reschedule, then we talk for a minute about how stroke has affected his family, too. He seems a decent enough guy for a salesman. Before he goes, I ask him what the gift is ("my father's really curious.") To my surprise, he tells me: it's a nice set of German knives and a voucher for a hotel somewhere - a "promotional gift," he calls it. (I didn't ask where the hotel is - it's not like my parents are planning on travelling).
But anyhow - mission completed! Now I can get ready to visit the hospital. At least I can make a story out of it - "Sorry I'm late, but you'll never guess what Dad made me do today..."
A blurry photo on a bad day at the casino, Canada Day 2009. My father likes to sit at the keno table and drink beer when he's not feeling well. When Mom and I are there with him, we'd go join him after losing streaks, or to report the odd win...
(Later that night):
Sigh. It turns out that Mom needs TWO areas of impairment before she can be admitted to rehab at Eagle Ridge, which seems the best bet for her to get the help she needs. She can move around just fine, can balance, isn't really paralyzed at all, so the only actual impairment visible at present is language. There may be some cognitive damage - she seems kind of fumbly and confused at times - but she's mostly so alert and cooperative that it's easy, if anything, to overestimate her abilities. (And without language to go by, it's not so easy to assess her cognitive function. I mean, today she picked the month of "September" from a list of months, when her physio woman asked her what month it was; but that might be a language thing, not a confusion about the month).
There are other frustrations with the hospital bureaucracy that I won't get into - bizarre contact precautions relating to an infection Mom had nine years ago, not as much speech therapy as I'd like, and not much for her to do on the ward (even the TV down the hall appears to be broken; she just lies in bed and listens to music). The most hopeful thing is that she could play tic-tac-toe with me today. She could make X's and make intelligent moves, leading to two stalemates out of three games played (see right - she was making X's); the other day, when I invited her to play, she knew what the game was, but could only make a scribble for a mark, and couldn't see when I was obviously about to complete a row (see left - she was making O's, though you'd never know it). On the other hand, she couldn't remember how to play blackjack, and that's a favourite game of hers - she and Dad play it every morning for nickel bets. Or used to... God, Dad has a lot on his plate right now - things have changed so much, so quickly. What will they do if they can't play cards or Scrabble together? It's going to be a rough road for both of them... I wish I knew what he was feeling, but it's so much easier to focus on Mom right now...
One last note: my father and I played one-on-one Scrabble the other day and I found a scoresheet with Mom's last game on it. She won, 335 to 299 (she usually doesn't). She smiled happily when I told her. She also cried a bit today, in frustration and sadness at the state she finds herself in, but I told her I loved her and was just grateful she was still around and still my Mom, and that seemed to help her a bit; we hugged for awhile and she seemed happy at the end of the visit.
Tomorrow I think I'm going to try to re-teach her gin rummy... What might be our last Scrabble sheet as a family - three handers from last weekend, plus Mom and Dad's last solo game in red, and a couple of one-on-one games Dad and I played yesterday.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Then there's Os Mutantes September 3rd at the Commodore, Daniel Johnson September 5th, Bison BC with Three Inches of Blood at the Commodore Sept. 11th, and so forth. All exciting stuff. I would also write about Yellowthief, the exciting, stop-on-a-dime avant-rock project involving Poib Fehr, a young guy around town of much promise. Yellowthief will be opening for Eugene Chadbourne at Fake Jazz Wednesdays on August 19th. GO TO THIS SHOW.
The New Model Army: Tribal Warfare and Western Civilization
Justin and I spoke on his mobile phone on May 18th, 2008, as he drove from his home base of Bradford to London. Most of the songs discussed are off the band's (absolutely excellent) 2007 studio recording, High.
(with the generous help of Justin Sullivan and Joolz Denby; also note that departed NMA manager Tommy Tee - whom I met in Seattle - was instrumental in setting this show up; RIP, Tommy).
New Model Army by Femke van Delft, not to be used without permission.
Allan: There’s an abundance of driving images in your songs... Since you’re driving, maybe we could start there.
Justin: When I was a kid, my Mom used to say, if she was ever going to the shop or anything - anytime she was getting in the car - I used to want to get in the car with her. I just wanted to be moving all the time, all my life. It’s a kind of ongoing theme, really.
Allan: Some of your song lyrics suggest you drive quite quickly...
Justin: Yeah, on occasion.
Allan: What do you drive?
Justin: Anything that gets me from A to B. I haven’t got the kind of money where I can pick my dream car out of a showroom, so I get whatever I get.
Allan: Okay... I gather there’s a large Muslim community in Bradford, and I was going to ask you about that and your song “One of the Chosen.” I assume that song is about Islamic fundamentalism - has there been a reaction from the Muslim community?
Justin: Strangely enough, it’s not written about the Muslim community at all. It was a lyric I wrote a long time ago, and actually it was written about a fundamentalist Christian group. But the thing is, when I was a kid, I used to religion-hop a lot, among all sorts of different religions, actually, and I remember the glory of just surrendering yourself to some great truth. And being right: “we’re right, everybody else is wrong” - that kind of thing. But of course it applies quite well to fundamentalist anything. I actually have a friend who is a Pakistani Muslim, and she’s very religious, and I gave her a copy of the album, wondering what she’d make of it. The one she wanted - she demanded some kind of explanation for was “Into the Wind,” where we “take all the holy books” and we burn them. That was the one that disturbed her much more.
Allan: Why are you burning holy books in “Into the Wind?”
Justin: Well, I think anyone who looks at the modern world sometimes thinks, “Why don’t we just take the Bible and the Torah and the Koran and oh, fucking burn the lot?” Because the endless arguments and conflicts over which God said what to which Prophet are all nonsense, and people know it’s nonsense.
Allan: But you say that as someone who has come from a religious background.
Justin: Yeah, I am from a religious background. By the time I got to about 19, I’d been through quite a few religions, and what I had worked out quite early in my life was that they were all the same. And interestingly enough there’s kind of a mystical element to all of them, which is about light and truth, and not about words. So in Islam, it’s the Sufi element, which is not really interested the words or the deeds of Mohammed; it’s interested in the mystical idea of God. I was brought up as a Quaker, which is kind of the same idea, and the Qabbala is a bit like that... They’re all the same, at the top end, once you get past the “We’re right and everybody else is wrong.” The thing about the religions of the book, and, up to a point, the other great religions of the world, is that they’re all cults, and the reason that they survive is that they’ve got a built-in hostility to outsiders. So in Christianity, it’s the book that’s written sometime afterwards, Revelations, that is the “sting in the tail” of Christianity. Christianity is all about love and truth and light and beauty, and blah-blah-blah, and then there’s the sting in the tail: if you don’t join us, you’re in trouble. And of course, that’s also written into Islam, because Mohammed had to protect his little cult from attacks from the outside. The reason these religions survive is because they have this protection mechanism from outside attack. Therefore they’re all equally capable of hostility.
Justin: But that’s why they’ve survived, the great world religions. Probably much more enlightened small cults die out.... The thing about “One of the Chosen,” it’s not a criticism.
Allan: No, it’s extremely sympathetic.
Justin: Yeah, it’s about how good it feels.
Allan: I mean, that’s something that really interests me about the New Model Army. A lot of punk bands - not that you’re technically a punk band - are really openly and overtly hostile towards religion; but you’ve always had a more complex view of things, talking about what the world is like “now that we’ve killed God,” in “Drag It Down,” for instance.
Justin: I’m pretty ambivalent. I’m ambivalent about everything. When it comes to lyrics, I reserve the right to write about anything. We started in the early ‘80’s, and there were these rumours about this red-hot socialist band coming out of Bradford: “the New Model Army - wow! Really left-wing.” Then the first thing we released was “Vengeance” (a song about taking vigilante action, if necessary, to punish the guilty, from people who push drugs on teenagers to escaped Nazis; the rousing chorus is “I believe in vengeance/ I believe in justice/ I believe in getting the bastards”). It confused the fuck out of everyone, because it’s the most politically incorrect song ever written by anyone! I remember, though the ages, we were completely disowned by the left because we wrote that song. Later on, we wrote a song called “My People Right or Wrong,” which is very sympathetic to a kind of nasty nationalism, in a way, if you look at it. But I reserve the right to write songs about feelings: not about what’s right and wrong, just about how people feel. It’s quite interesting: one journalist once told me that all his fellow journalists in London were utterly terrified to say they liked us, because they didn’t know what we were going to say next week. I don’t think any artist can have a higher accolade than that, can they, really?
Allan: [laughs] No! It’s great praise... Coming back to religion, though... Is Neopaganism something you’ve explored?
Justin: Yeah. By instincts, I’m a Pagan. Basically, to me - I was brought up religious. The idea of God or the Other is entirely part of my life. It seems so obvious to me that there is a whole other level of things going on simultaneously to the material world. I don’t really question it, and I don’t really have to do anything about it; to me, God is nature and nature is God, and we’re part of nature, therefore we’re part of God. It’s all one and the same, really. If I had to name what I believe, it would probably be Paganism. But I don’t feel the need to join any groups, you know what I mean?
Allan: Do you feel the need for any sort of religious practice?
Justin: I go to Quaker meetings sometimes. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a Quaker meeting...?
Justin: Basically, you go in on a Sunday morning and you sit in silence for an hour, and that’s it. If anyone at all is moved to speak - about anything at all - they just get up and say something. Then somebody else can speak, but it’s understood that there has to be at least four or five minutes silence before anyone else can speak. And that’s it, that’s the only rule. That’s quite a rare thing - a shared silence between people is a pretty rare thing in the 21st century. I kind of like it. So I go sometimes, but not often, you know?
Allan: What sorts of things get said between the silences?
Justin: Oh, a lot of times it’s about stuff that’s going on in the world. Quakers have a history of peaceful involvement with the world. If you ever see an anti-war march, there’ll be a couple of grey-haired old ladies at the front, and they’ll be Quakers.
Allan: As a kid, did you go to - is there a Quaker church?
Justin: Meetings. Quaker meetings. I did go there when I was a kid sometimes, yeah. But the whole thing about Quakerism is, specifically, you’re not allowed to proselytize - I’m probably breaking the rules now! Neither are you allowed to favour Quakers over non-Quakers, if you know what I mean. It’s basically sort of a universalist cult, if you like.
Allan: How do people get involved, if you’re not allowed to proselytize?
Justin: They hear about it, go there, and think, “Yeah, this makes sense.” Its roots are the same roots as those of the English Civil War (Note: the New Model Army takes its name from the revolutionary army of Oliver Cromwell in that conflict). Basically: the King was head of the church, and they killed the King. You have to remember that in the 17th century, religion and politics were very tied up, rather like a lot of what’s going on in the Islamic world at this moment. The two things ran very hand in hand. The scene was dominated by Presbyterians, who said, “Well, there you have it. The Word of God is in the Bible. Therefore you do what’s in the Bible, no questions asked.” And then you have some preachers who interpret the word of God for you. And then along came this guy called George Fox who said, “Oh, no, there’s a part of God in every person, and you answer the part of God in yourself, and you have to become quiet and listen to the part of God that’s in yourself. And it’s your conscience, and if you become quiet and you listen to your conscience, that will guide you in the right way through the world. When you meet other people, you’re meant to meet the part of God in them, rather than whatever they appear to be saying. It’s really kind of hippie-ish, really. And obviously they were persecuted very heavily in the 17th and 18th centuries and so on.
Allan: I don’t know much about it, to be honest.
Justin: It’s not that important to know it. I’m very interested in it, and it’s part of my life, without being a dominating part. But no one has ever written as unQuakerly a song as “Vengeance” or the “Hunt,” or “Here Comes the War.” As a writer, I reserve the right to write about anything that I find interesting.
Allan: Right! ...but as I understand it, at various points, you’ve pulled “Vengeance” from the set, and that the band hasn’t played it since 9/11. Or has that changed?
Justin: Ahhh - we did once on a particular occasion, actually. I was doing an acoustic show with Michael and Dean from the band, and we were in a small town, and right opposite the gig was an openly Nazi regalia shop, run by Nazi skinheads. And so we played the song, and actually we went and did vast amounts of physical damage to the shop after the gig. So there you go...
Justin: Better not write that in your paper... Ah, you can if you like. I don’t care. We played the song that night. I think the song is really about how justice needs to be done, but having said that, the world is so full of people screaming for vengeance at the moment that, generally speaking, I don’t feel the need to add my voice.
Justin: Having said that, I haven’t said we’ll never play it again. I think, y’know, as an artist, you always have to be true to yourself, and there are moments when you really want to do something. It may not fit into your political philosophy, but it’s emotionally true. I think the point about music is that it’s not about philosophy, it’s about emotions.
Allan: Right, although you have very intelligent lyrics -
Justin: But what I try very hard to do is not to write about myself. It’s not all my views, do you know what I mean? The character in “One of the Chosen” is not me. Well, it could be me - but it’s anybody, in that particular situation.
Allan: You’ve said that you’ve written songs based on interviews with other people, capturing other people’s feelings in your songs. Can you give an example of some of those...?
Justin: Oh, hundreds - probably the majority of them. Let’s start with recent stuff. The song called “Breathing,” on High, is written about - originally this was quite secret, but it’s become well-known - someone who was very close to the band, that was on the next door carriage to one of the ones that was blown up on the subway in London two years ago. “Breathing” was pretty much word-for-word what she told me when I asked her, when I phoned her...
Allan: How has that been received?
Justin: By her, okay! By everybody else, okay. A lot of people haven’t got a clue what it’s about. In interviews, occasionally, I’ve told people. Among the people close to the band, everybody knows. Like I say, I reserve the right to write about what I like; and everybody says what they say, they think what they think. Sometimes you put a song into the public domain and people read it completely differently from what you intended, but I don’t mind that either.
Allan: Is there an example of that?
Justin: “Ghost of Your Father,” that’s an interesting one.
Allan: I don’t actually have any of the B-sides compilations, so I don’t know that song...
Justin: Well, it was written about somebody else and his relationship with his father as I understood it. And everybody has interpreted it in their own way, according to their relationship with their own father. Which is always interesting.
Allan: Let me ask you about political involvement. “One of the Chosen” could also apply to a terrorist cell or something.
Justin: Yeah. So could “The Attack.” Again, it’s told from the inside, told about how exciting this feels.
Allan: Have you ever -
Justin: Have I ever committed a terrorist outrage?
Allan (laughs): Uh, no.
Justin: I had to answer that on my US application form. The answer is no.
Allan: Okay, but - have you ever been really politically involved? In the song “You Weren’t There,” off Eight, you talk about “walking arm in arm in the sun...”
Justin: Yeah, I do that quite often. I quite like doing that sort of thing.
Allan: Going to demonstrations?
Justin: Yeah, I love doing that. I think it just feels better than throwing bricks at the television in your living room. You go out and you realize that you’re not alone in your fury at the government, or whatever it is. The most famous example being the anti-war demonstrations in London just before the Iraq war. Over one million people went on that. The organizers say closer to two million, the police say less than a million, but certainly more than a million, which is by far the biggest demonstration in the history of Britain. And sure, I was on that. It felt good to know that there were a million people who felt the same way I did. It’s a kind of strengthening thing.
Justin: I don’t think it changes anything, except, in the end, that it gives you a sense of strength. You’re not isolated. You’re among other people that feel the same way.
Allan: I think that’s the draw. But okay, you’ve never committed a terrorist outrage, but - in terms of music, how do you feel about groups that advocate a sort of aggressive activism, say - Crass, for example?
Justin: I’ve been involved in aggressive activism, yes I have. In various situations. However, I never kind of liked the Crass thing. There’s two or three things I just don’t go along with. The whole anarchy thing: there have been plenty of periods of anarchy in history, and they’ve invariably been followed by military dictatorships, without exception. Anarchy sounds lovely when you’re young and fit and male and strong, but when you’re pregnant or old or vulnerable in various ways, it’s not quite a great idea. You don’t feel so secure, you know what I mean?
Justin: It’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. The anarchists have got their lovely dream, and it’s a lovely dream, but it hasn’t worked, because people are people... So that’s one reservation. My next reservation is, one of the things about Crass was that it was utterly confrontational. Like a lot of modern art: deliberately confrontational and ugly. Their argument would be that the world is ugly and they’re displaying the world as it is, without the filter of television or something to make it appear other than it is... But I disagree that the world is ugly and that people are ugly and so on. I can see that point of view completely, but I’m basically, by nature, a romantic. I think that if the world is ugly, why not put something beautiful into it? And I think that New Model Army treads that strange line: it’s very direct, and it’s quite angry, and it’s quite emotionally blunt, sometimes - passionate. But it’s never ugly. There are songs like “One of the Chosen,” which is not a particularly pretty song, I’d agree, but if you take “High,” or even “Into the Wind” - it’s quite bitter, but in a way, it’s musically beautiful, musically romantic.
Justin: The third thing about Crass and that whole politico-punk thing, is that they believe in their philosophy, and the music is there as a background, to put across the philosophy. Now to me, if you do that, you’ve got one album where you lay it out, and that’s it. Why go on? It’s sort of pointless, in a way. I don’t believe that music should be used as a background for anything - I think New Model Army exists for musical reasons, not political reasons. I’m interested in writing about the world, but we came together in the first place for the joy of playing music, and still, when we go out onstage, it’s the joy of playing music, not the message, that’s actually the thing to us. The abstractness of music, not the philosophy. And also, the philosophy, as we’ve established, is very jumbled-up. We’ve got songs that completely contradict each other: “I believe in vengeance.” “I don’t believe in vengeance, I believe in forgiveness.” We can go through both views in the same set quite happily.
Allan: The one thing that stood out at the Seattle show is that I don’t think I’ve seen a performer who was more passionately engaged. You had an amazing look in your eyes, of engagement with the language, with the music. How does it feel to you, when you’re performing?
Justin: Well... I have good days and bad days. I remember liking that gig. What do I feel? It’s strange, I don’t know.
Allan: You could be a fanatic preacher. You’re not, but...
Justin: Oh no, no - I’m well-aware, I could have turned New Model Army into this kind of fanatical cult. I could have done, but I don’t want to do that. That’s not what music’s for. I’m very much lost in the music. If we can talk about music for a minute, my favourite music and my background for music is, more than anything else, northern soul. I used to go to Wigan Casino and all those kind of places in the 1970s -
Allan: Sorry, the connection’s not that good. You used to go where?
Justin: A famous club which was the king of the scene in the north of Britain called northern soul. Which is all the obscure records that came out of Chicago and Detroit, which were largely copies of Motown. Uptempo soul/ dance music. It’s a scene that kind of still exists, and it involved clubs that used to open at midnight. People danced til 8. People didn’t drink; they took, basically, blues and other upper pills, and danced all night. And there was a lot of skill in the dancing. That was the difference between that and raves, which came kinda ten years later: it was all about being a cool dancer. And it was all based on American soul music of the 1960s. So that’s my first love, American ‘60’s soul music, which is all about rhythm sections. And that’s one of the things about New Model Army. People say punk and people say rock and people say folk melodies, but kind of what they miss is that all the albums have this one thing in common, that the bass and drums are really doing stuff. That’s what I like. We’ve had three different drummers and three different bass players. They’ve all been phenomenal. And when I’m onstage, it’s a little bit, for me, like driving a truck down a hill. All the power is coming from behind me. All I’m doing is steering it. I went to this gig in 1979 by this group called The Ruts - I don’t know if you remember them... New Model Army photo by Femke Van Delft. Not to be used without permission.
Allan: Yep. “Babylon’s Burning.”
Justin: Yeah. “Babylon’s Burning” being their most famous record. And they would have become a huge band, but the singer died of heroin in 1980. But I went to a gig in 1979 - there were 200 people in a little pub in Bradford. And I went into the gig, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. And in the hour and a half or whatever they played, it was everything wonderful and terrible and scary and musical and exciting about being alive, and I just felt completely exhilarated by the whole thing. I remember walking out of the gig thinking, “That’s what I want to do. If I could ever, ever make people feel as tense and amazed as I felt tonight, I will die a happy man. And that kind of gig remains my template. Every time I go on stage, I want people to feel how I felt that night.” That’s pretty much it.
Allan: Let me ask about something non-musical, then. In terms of intense engagements with experience - I know when you were in Vancouver, you talked about going whale watching; we’ve talked about driving; you did your container ship trip across the Atlantic (the inspiration for Justin’s solo record, Navigating by the Stars), I think you’ve done some mountain climbing, based on what you said onstage in Seattle...
Justin: I smuggled a truck full of stuff into Pakistan once. That was quite an interesting one. And I lived in Belfast for a year, at the height of the troubles. I’ve done various things, you know? I get bored if I’m stuck at home for more than two weeks.
Allan: How did the Pakistan thing come about...?
Justin: It was a long time ago. It was a Pakistani Mafiosi that I fell in with. This was back in the late 1970’s. The return leg, I wasn’t interested in doing that at all - they never asked me. But I was basically driving a truck from Bradford to Pakistan with videos and boots and shoes and engine parts and just stuff in it, in a convoy of other trucks with all-Pakistani drivers, to what they now call the tribal homeland. It’s the area of Pakistan that the United States is panicking about. It’s the area of Pakistan that’s actually Afghanistan. The people there are Pashtuns. They’re completely tribal. They’ve never been controlled by anyone. It was them that I kind of ran with, and there were three or four of them that I got on really really well with, but the leader of the group, I fell out badly with, and it turned out later that he was a killer, and stuff like that. A business-killer, rather than a religion-killer. So I got out of that.
Allan: I wonder how that’s going to look in a US magazine...
Justin: They’re tribal people. As we all were, once. Their loyalty is to their tribe. I think if times get really hard, which they might in the future, we’ll find that this veneer of liberal civilization - which has its roots, really, in the English revolution, more than anywhere else - is thinner than we think. People for whom life is hard, which is most people in the world, revert to tribal loyalties. Because if life is really really hard, who are you going to rely on? Your family are the most reliable people.
Allan: And that comes into your songs, quite often. You’ve talked about family...
New Model Army by Femke Van Delft. Not to be used without permission
Justin: I’m fascinated by this clash of loyalties, because I come from that liberal individualistic background, where you kind of listen to your conscience and act accordingly. But 30 years ago, when I met Joolz, her parents on both sides were army people, and when I met her, she was married to a Hell’s Angel. Her instincts were all kind of gang-or-tribe related. And all through our relationship, we’ve had that kind of clash, between your first loyalty being tribal, or your first loyalty being self-righteous, shall we say. That interests me. I don’t think either is absolutely right or wrong, you know what I mean? I think there has to be a sense of loyalty between small groups of people. I don’t think either absolute tribalism or absolute individualism is right - they’re both right, and they’re both wrong. In tribalism at its best, you have a system of support for all people. At its worst, you get petty tribal squabbles and warfare which ends in years of slaughter. And in individualism, you get the sort of freedom which especially North America particularly values, but in the same way, you walk over the people who happen to be sleeping in the street, because it’s not your responsibility.
Allan: What’s the situation in Bradford between Muslims and the non-Muslim community? Is there violence, tension, anger...?
Justin: Okay, I’ll be honest, there’s a level of tension. But if you talk about the “Muslim community” - anybody who lives in Bradford, really, knows that there isn’t a “Muslim community.” There’s about seven hundred different Muslim communities. The Islamic world at the moment - it’s a little bit like the 17th century in Europe, or something, where there’s virtually a division between Sunnis and Shiites. And then there’s a division between those people that believe the Koran sets out a political system, and those people who believe that religion is about spirituality and not about politics. And then there are middle class Muslims and working class Muslims, and rural Muslims and city Muslims, and they all see the world pretty differently. If you look at Muslim families in my street, their attitude as towards what is haraam - forbidden - and what is not, is pretty different. There are Muslim girls in Bradford who would consider that they should wear the full hijab, niqab, the whole lot. They’re not forced into that, they choose to do it, as a statement of their aesthetic. And actually, it’s quite fun, I would imagine. If you’re a teenaged girl, wearing a niqab, it’s absolutely fantastic - it’s like wearing dark glasses. You’re sheltered from the gaze of the world - you can sit in there and be self-righteous and cool. Fantastic! And everybody looks at you and tuts and tuts and tuts, but what could be better if you’re a teenaged girl? In the same way there are plenty of Muslim girls who don’t wear a hijab and look like Bollywood queens in their stilettos, and they look absolutely gorgeous. They wear their hair free... They would probably not wear short skirts, they would cover their legs, but as long as they did that, they’d be pretty much free to do what they like. So every stage gets represented. The idea that there is one Muslim way of life is nonsensical as saying there’s one Christian way of life, you know? The west is utterly paranoid and completely stupid about Islam, really.
Justin: There are a small number of nutty fundamentalists, it’s true. Do they pose a threat? Well, yes, there’s going to be some bombs going off in the next twenty-thirty years. Is there going to be Sharia law in Britain? No there is not. You know what I mean? All this kind of panic about it is kind of ridiculous.
Allan: It’s the tribal thing asserting itself, that you were speaking of earlier...
Allan: If we can go there, then - the cancelled US tour (in late 2007): did that have anything to do with politics?
Justin: I have no idea. We’ll never know. They don’t really have to tell us very much. They told us it was on account of a technicality, but we’ll never know if that’s true or not. We’d be stupid to speculate publicly.
Allan: I had read that the band was banned from playing in the US in 1985-86. Is that true?
Justin: But again, we’ll never know why. I don’t believe anyone in the State Department gets the records out and listens to them. Maybe it’s the name of the band, who knows? Maybe it was the technicality - someone didn’t dot an eye on the form. They’re not obliged to tell you very much.
Allan: It’s too bad. I know you lost a lot of money because of it.
Justin: Yeah. Justin Sullivan photo by Joolz Denby. Not to be used without permission.
Allan: If I could ask about Joolz, I gather you’re somewhat private, but you’ve been a couple for a long time, right?
Justin: Yeah, kinda.
Allan: Let me ask about tattoos, then - as something you’ve got in common...
Justin: Well... I have tattoos, which I really love, but I’m not heavily tattooed. Which Joolz is. She’s also a tattooist these days. I think there’s two or three reasons for that. She told me once that when she was a little girl, she read an adventure book which she’s never been able to find again, about a little girl that was shipwrecked in the South Seas, and was taken to an island and tattooed by the natives and given the status of a true island tribal native, in a very romantic, Kiplingesque sort of way. Secondly, she grew up in Portsmouth, which is a naval town, so the front of Portsmouth was filled with tattoo parlors, where all the sailors would get tattooed. These two things fuelled her imagination as a young girl, and she became fascinated with it at a very early age; but also I think, as an artist, she was interested in the possibilities. She had about the first or second Celtic armband ever done. In about 1979, she met a Welsh tattooist called Mickey Sharpz, who has since retired, but was a very influential tattooist in the rebirth of tattooing which has happened in the last 25 years. She had his first Celtic tattoo, and so on. She’s a bit of a trailblazer in that whole world.
Joolz Denby, photo by (or at least courtesy of) Joolz Denby. Not to be used without permission.
Allan: I remember seeing her on TV here in the 1980s, on a cable access TV show called Soundproof. She read some of her poems and showed a black rose on her ankle - there was a famous Vancouver tattoo artist called the Dutchman who she wanted a tattoo by, though she tells me now she never got one...
Justin: I don’t think she had any in Vancouver. I can’t remember. She certainly had a very famous Samoan do a tribal piece on her when she was in New Zealand.
Allan: Oh, really?
Justin: She has a lot of tattoos collected from different artists.
Allan: Has she done any of your tattoos?
Justin: Yeah, she has - she’s done a fish on my foot, a hand tattoo on my foot, which, I have to tell you, was immensely painful, but I actually really love it. Rather like I love all Joolz’ artwork, which - not unlike our music - is very organic. It’s never quite graphically perfect, you know what I mean? She doesn’t have that thing as an artist about graphics; she’s quite into a sort of “tribalistic iconography” style of art. And the other thing is, she’s always - rather like the band - looking to do something new. When she started to do Celtic artwork in the middle of the 80’s, it was all quite new, y’know what I mean? There had been this big Celtic revival at the end of the 19th century in Victoriana, but since then it had been not very fashionable. It had a lot to do with her that it became very fashionable in the mid-1980’s - the Thunder and Consolation cover and so on. When that wave broke, and it became really big in the ‘90’s, she suddenly moved on to doing very different things. As a tattooist, as an artist, you know... when something she’s done becomes kind of mainstream, she’s already moved on to something else. “Done that, move on.”
Justin: Ahhh - some are, some aren’t.
Allan: They seem very, um, tempestuous.
Allan: Based on songs like those, it seems like it might be a stormy relationship, I don’t know.
Justin: All relationships are stormy! Aren’t they? I mean, a little bit. I have to say we’re not that stormy these days, but... we have a complicated relationship, which I don’t particularly want to go into. I think the important thing is that we started a conversation about ideas and art and God and beauty and the world and everything in 1979, and we’re still involved in the same conversation. This is the secret of a long relationship - you never run out of things to talk about.
Allan: It helps that you’re intelligent, creative people, as well, I’d imagine.
Justin: It also helps that we don’t do the same thing. So she does tattoos and artwork and illustration work and writes novels and poetry, and I write songs. If we were doing the same thing, I think it’d be more difficult, because then we’d be in direct competition.
Allan: You have sometimes done the same thing - the Red Sky Coven albums, you’ve worked together on, for example.
Justin: Yeah, but she’s doing what she does, which is reading her poetry and telling stories, and I’m singing songs. It’s not quite competition.
Allan: I’ve never seen those albums anywhere in North America.
Justin: They’re not released. We just kind of sell them at the shows, though we haven’t done a show [as Red Sky Coven] for about five years now. And we do them on the internet. It’s a kind of cult within a cult. But it’s based on the fact that myself and Joolz and Rev and Brett have been best friends for 25 years.
Allan: What’s your visibility outside North America like these days? In Seattle, it didn’t seem like you had a very big crowd. It was a devoted crowd, an enthusiastic crowd, but pretty small... I’ve heard you play to huge audiences in other parts of the world...
Justin: No! No no no. We’re a pretty small cult everywhere. It depends what you call huge - what do you call huge?
Allan: Well, I don’t know. In Seattle it looked like there might have been 400 people there.
Justin: Yeah, okay. If we play Manchester, there’ll be 1000. If we play London, there’ll be 1500, 1600, 2000. If we play Hamburg, there’ll be 1500. When we play Köln every Christmas, there’s usually about 3000. So we’re not a huge band anywhere. We’re a cult band everywhere.
Allan: Do you ever make the decision to pull songs, when you’re going to a particular country, because of the history or the political situation in that country?
Justin: Very rarely. I remember, a couple of years ago, we played a festival in Holland which is a yearly festival to celebrate the liberation of Holland from the Nazis. We only had a short set and we thought “Here Comes the War” was probably the wrong song for the occasion. So we didn’t play it. But generally speaking, we don’t do that.
Allan: Let me ask you about the album High, then. I’ve never seen your lyrics as being very pro-progress -
Justin: Yeah, I come across as a bit of a Luddite. I’m not really, actually - here I am, speeding down the freeway talking to you on a mobile phone. So, not really, no...
Allan: But on this album in particular, in “Rivers,” in “Into the Wind,” there’s almost an awe at human progress. There’s a horror, but also an awe. It seems somewhat of a changed perspective. But I don’t know if I’m reading that right...
Justin: Maybe... Yeah, I think people are pretty amazing. Our capabilities our pretty amazing - we’re clever monkeys.
Allan: So many of the songs seem to fit thematically - partaking of an attempt to rise above the current situation and look around...
Justin: Almost disengaged. I think High is quite interesting in that half the songs are very engaged with the here and now, you know - “All Consuming Fire,” or obviously the one about Iraq, “Bloodsports” - although actually it’s written more about Bradford than Iraq, really. They’re very engaged. And then there’s songs about disengagement, like “High.” And yeah, that’s very me. Sometimes I’m very engaged, and sometimes I’m very disengaged. Sometimes I live in the timescale of people, and sometimes I live in the timescale of nature, which people are obviously a little splinter of. In which case, all of this is just the blink of an eye. And there’s part of me that has the sense that I was born on earth three and a half thousand million years ago, or whatever - whenever life started - and I will die, and you will die, when life on earth finishes, which is a long, long time away. Life on earth will survive human beings very well... And so part of me sees things in that kind of timescale.
Allan: Was there a conscious attempt to develop that theme on the album?
Justin: No. As I get older, I’m pulled both ways simultaneously. I think that’s a pretty common thing: people who are very politically engaged when they’re young, there’s a pretty common journey to elsewhere, you know. Most famously, I suppose, Malcolm X. I’m not gonna say that I’m Malcolm X, but one of my favourite stories - certainly I love the movie very much - is that journey, of someone who starts very materialistic, then finds radical politics, and then eventually finds something much deeper and longer-lasting...
Justin: And is killed for it! (Chuckles). In his case... but I think it’s very common. There’s a guy called John Liburne, who is the founder of the Levellers movement in the English Civil War.
Allan: Freeborn John.
Justin: Yeah, Freeborn John. This is a classic example of a revolutionary who actually ended up as a Quaker, almost renouncing the revolution as a failure and turning to God. It’s a pretty common thing, I’m afraid.
Allan: But not necessarily a bad thing...
Justin: I think, it’s in the nature of getting older, this thing about acceptance. Which is a large part of religion, actually. There’s that famous prayer, isn’t there - I don’t know where it comes from: “Please God, help me to change the things I can change, to accept the things I can’t change and give me the wisdom to know the difference.” As you get older, you realize it’s the relations with the people around you and so on that you have any kind of control over - that the wider world, you have no control over. And I think that goes along with this thing that happens to people at some point in your life. You know how, when you’re young, you say, “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me,” but actually you do very much deeply care what people think about you. You want people to think you’re clever and sexy and brilliant and, y’know, all those things. There comes a time at some point in your life where you think, with the exception of people you’re nearest and dearest to, actually, you don’t give a shit what anybody thinks about you. It hit me when I was about 40. And this kind of huge weight falls off your back. I remember waking up one morning and thinking, “Actually, I don’t give a shit what anybody thinks, apart from the people close to me. I don’t give a damn.”
Allan: I’ve read you talking about the romanticism of being on the road - maybe we could talk about that a bit...
Justin: When I was a kid, I left home, and I got a job in London, saved up a bit of money, and I got a plane to New York and put my thumb out. And I spent three and a half-months hitchhiking around North America. I was always in love with that whole thing, the road thing.
Allan: Do you think of retiring the band at any point?
Justin: In terms of writing songs and going around the world singing them for people, I can’t think of anything I would rather do until I die, y’know? It seems to be something that I love, basically. All those musos who complain about hotel rooms and airports and stuff - I don’t mind any of it, I like it all of it. I like that way of life... It changes if you have children. I don’t have children. Michael, who is my main partner in the band, since Robert left in 1998 - since I like working with drummers - Michael has two young children. And to be honest, when we go away on tour for three months, it’s not something he likes doing. And I understand that. We’ll see.
Eugene Chadbourne plays Fake Jazz Wednesday, August 19th
By Allan MacInnis
Amongst the homemade, self-packaged CDR releases that Dr. Chad will likely be selling at the gig - also available through his online House of Chadula imprint - is We Don’t Have This In The Home, from Chadbourne and Jimmy Carl Black’s summer 2008 “Jack and Jim” tour of Japan. Only available through Eugene, this disc includes some Captain Beefheart tunes, a cover of “Smoke On The Water” (“done for the Zappa night in Tokyo, because I was looking for songs that mentioned Frank,” Chad explains on his site) and the original, “I Got More Pussy Than Zappa,” about Jimmy Carl’s success with the ladies. Contrary to rumours that FZ had a ridiculous number of notches on his bedpost, Chad tells me that he thinks “just about everyone got more pussy than Zappa, from the sound of it, but Jimmy for sure.”
I asked Dr. Chad if he had any stories about Jimmy Carl. “I do not really know of one story,” he responded. “It’s the man's whole life that’s so fascinating. He’s the only friend I have had that was not only a drummer but ran a donut shop, painted houses, was in the Air Force, rode in a rodeo... and back to pussy, lost his virginity in Juarez at the age of 12 in a place called Paris de Noche to a woman named Big Bertha.” See Dr. Chad’s website for remembrances of his friend and collaborator.
Dr. Chad’s early concert experiences, in Boulder, Colorado - before he relocated for a time to Calgary, where he waited out the Viet Nam war - included “garage bands at acid parties, and it does not get any better than that. Each song was an hour long.” Since those days, the widely-travelled musician has played “many strange concerts. One that always comes to mind was one of a series in Bucharest, Romania, that came about through student radio after I recorded my parody of ‘Hello, Dolly,’ entitled ‘Hello, Ceausescu.’ I was supposed to play in a room at one of the campuses and about six people showed up, then another dozen came that kept to themselves and looked at me funny, several approaching to ask me questions about what it was like to work with Fellini!” (No, folks, don’t pause puzzled and wonder if you’ve missed something: Dr. Chadbourne has never worked with Fellini). “Then two older men came in, one of them Italian. It turned out the room had been double booked, not only my concert but the film club had first dibs really, and their guest was one of Fellini's cinematographers. The six people that had come for the gig and the organizer and I decided to do the concert in one of the audience member's apartments. She made a few calls to make sure it was all right with the neighbours, then I got on the subway with the entire audience and the organizer and we went off to do the concert at her apartment. Her teenage son hung around making faces the whole time.”
“Another good one,” Dr. Chad informs me, was “the experimental music club's show in Tallahassee featuring my chamber music group Insect and Western Party. It was bumped up into an early show so that a heavy metal battle of the bands could take place in the evening. Heavy metal bands subsequently kept wheeling in huge amplifiers through the bar’s swinging doors throughout our set. Meanwhile the bouncer, a bounty hunter, watched our oboe player with rapt attention. He told me later how impressed he was how she cleaned her oboe out during a guitar solo: ‘She took the whole thing apart, cleaned it, put it back together right on time - just like a gun!’"
Camper Van Beethoven bassist Victor Krummenacher, who played Vancouver in July, had said of Dr. Chadbourne, “It’s like jumping off a bridge and not being sure how deep the water is underneath you... I’ve had some of the most transcendent moments of my life playing music with Eugene, in some of the most unexpected places. I think one of the things that I’ve learned from Eugene is to trust your gut, and just go for it. He’s not a man to rehearse - he’s hardly a man to even soundcheck; he just shows up and plays, and you either catch up and go, or you don’t!”
Chadbourne tells me that his distaste for rehearsal has more to do with “desperation and the assumption that most musicians forget everything they rehearse, anyhow;” but he does still have to rehearse from time to time. He practices all the time, too - he says he plays guitar at home sometimes “more than on the road.” Still, his career is a model of independence and freedom from encumbrance. Though several of his albums have been released on other labels, many of his early recordings were released on his own Parachute Records imprint, and later, on cassette and CDR. (There are over 60 self-released CDRs available on his website alone). His unique sound, prolific playing and frequent touring have ensured him a loyal following worldwide; while various executives and rock stars fret about plummeting CD sales and the impossibility of making megabucks on today’s music industry, Chadbourne is unfazed. “I was never affected by the big music industry because they have nothing to do with me; the changes now likewise have no impact.” He agrees with me wholeheartedly that the wide access to new music on the internet “has improved and widened typical listening taste....that can be printed in marble, it is for sure true and I have watched it. It is only logical,” and comparable to “the impact the underground FM stations had in the ’70’s... All people need is some exposure. In the case of the internet it is even easier, since you are the disc jockey.”
Asked if he had any advice for budding musicians, Chad replied, “I would stand the advice I wrote in I Hate the Man Who Runs This Bar, to develop music that you like to listen to yourself because nobody else is going to want to!”
Well, maybe not quite “nobody...”
Eugene Chadbourne chats with fans at the Western Front, photo by Allan MacInnis
Eugene Chadbourne plays Fake Jazz Wednesday at the Cobalt, August 19th.