Sunday, January 21, 2018

Flesh Eaters #2: of I Pass For Human, Exorcism, Materialism, and the Realm of Spirits (with 2018 live photos by Deb Frazin!)

Rock'n'roll to me, it's spiritual, and it's beyond good and evil, and I think it's more positive than negative. - Chris D

The first Flesh Eaters album I ever bought was A Hard Road to Follow. I found it at Vancouver’s long-defunct record collector’s mainstay, Odyssey Imports on Seymour Street, probably when it was a new arrival, back in 1983, when I was 15. I don’t think I knew anything about the band at that point, just picked it up on the strength of the album cover alone, for the expressions on the band member’s faces - especially Chris’ - but also for the concept, presenting them as prisoners dominated by a powerful, armed female. I had no idea what to expect, but I had to hear it. I bought it, brought it back to the suburbs, and popped it on my shitty turntable, part of an old console unit that once housed a black and white TV.

I fell in love immediately. I was taken with Chris Desjardins’ angsty, pop-culturally steeped poetry and his singular singing voice, still wild and undisciplined. The lyrics of “Eyes Without a Face” - predating, I believe, Billy Idol’s hit of that name, and having no  direct bearing on Georges Franju’s 1960 French horror film, about a surgeon kidnapping women to try to transplant their faces onto that of his burn victim daughter. That song was featured on the soundtrack of  Return of the Living Dead, too (which I also had on vinyl back in the day. The words spoke to both my anxieties and my desperate, angry romanticism, wanting to make sense of the world, wanting to be loved, wanting to see my inner potentials manifested, but confused, foiled, and rejected at every turn, full of frustration and rage. No song lyrics have ever quite spoken to me the same way since; as far as rock lyrics go, encountering this was a formative experience.

“Eyes Without a Face,” lyrics by Chris D. 

Born into a world I don't understand,
It's hard to get a foothold in drifting sand
Every time I look someone in the eye, they trip up and start to fall
I've been burning a candle for you, private bedroom and a naive altar
of unswerving faith; 
tarnished wedding bracelet in a forgotten drawer,
darling, what are eyes for?
Good for love-talk inside a storm
fuckin’ unnoticed in a crowded room,
someone else by your side, someone else by your side

Two pairs of eyes want to be free
To write their history in a handful of dust
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
Sometimes your eyes can't see
No matter how close they get to me
Writing me a history of misery, 
My eyes without a face
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
my eyes without a face, my eyes without a face

I got blistered fingertips split open with blood
unbutton my top button, my shirt is in shreds
Up for eight days straight, a trip to drop dead
so history crashes to a stop
But I kept going, I didn't end
I didn't end because I can never ever end
I can never ever, ever, ever end
this happiness turned around inside out,
alone in the beating heart of night
pumping blackness into my veins
until any light on your beautiful face becomes the dirtiest word...

Two pairs of eyes want to be free
To write their history in a handful of dust
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
Your eyes won't go away,
They follow my trail down that twisted road
Right into that world I don't understand
a bedroom buried under drifting sand,
Can they catch me? How close can you get?
Can they catch me/ How close can they get?
Because what waits here 
are two burning eyes without a face
Why! Why! Why! Why!

Sorry, Billy Idol, your song’s lyrics blow compared to this. Is it a wonder that the Flesh Eaters sank hooks deep into me, that I had to hear more? I still retain great fondness for A Hard Road to Follow, but I have come to regard it as being slightly lesser of the Flesh Eaters’ classic albums. Forever Came Today remains my favourite, as a savage, potent rock album, though I understand why A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die generally gets ranked above it. (I also love No Questions Asked and Dragstrip Riot, I think more than Chris D. himself does). While I’m a bit sad that I will likely never get to hear “Eyes Without a Face” live, I’m blown away that I’ve been able to spend hours talking to Chris Desjardins, and that I got to see the Minute to Pray lineup in Seattle a few years ago. A band that seldom tours in any lineup, I never imagined I’d get to see them once, let alone twice.

The first part of the following conversation is from 2015, where I touched up a couple of issues from part one, but we soon segue into my 2018 interview with Chris, from a couple of weeks ago. Be sure to also read my Georgia Straight article on the January 25th Rickshaw show, and to check out Border Radio on the 24th at the Vancity Theatre, with Chris D. and writer/ programmer/ former Cinemuerte programmer Kier-la Janisse conducting a Q&A. (I also did an interview with Allison Anders about that film and much more, including her friendship with Wim Wenders, her shared passion for music geekery with Quentin Tarantino, and her time in Vancouver (she’s a big Neptoon Records fan and it is thanks to her knowing Rob Frith that the interview even took place). The following is every bit as much about Chris’ writing, filmmaking, writing, and cinema scholarship as it is about his time as a punk singer, but hopefully a few people will value that. 


So let’s go back to your time writing for Slash Magazine… which of those articles was most important to you?

The Sam Fuller interview, which was in the very last issue of Slash Magazine - it was kind of a big, over-sized issue that we did, but it was a little more elaborate for the last issue. I think it came out in the end of 1980, though I maybe wrong about that. It’s a pretty extensive interview. It meant a lot.

Was it over the phone, or…?

No, we got to meet him in person, we went to his place up on Woodrow Wilson drive. I don’t know if you’ve seen the documentary about him, The Typewriter, the Rifle, and the Movie Camera.

That’s not the recent one that his daughter did?

No, not A Fuller Life. But there’s probably some of the same footage. He had a kind of garage workshop, he had all of his stuff over the walls, and books and magazines that he’d written for and a lot of his army memorabilia. It’s the room where he did his writing, and we got to be in that room and interview him, so that was really cool.

Do you have a favourite Sam Fuller film?

Um. Gosh. That’s a hard one. I really love Pick Up On South Street, that’s probably my favourite.

Mine too! Yay! Widmark is great in that. What was Fuller like - he seems like a larger-than-life, very expressive person. What was interviewing him like?

It was kind of what you’d expect. I mean he definitely is bigger than life. He was very friendly. He was given to, like, really, demonstrative pronouncements, and he was very no-bullshit. He hated the bullshit connected with war. And he didn’t believe in a normal conception of heroics and war. Just a lot of his take on the world and what really happens is really refreshing.

That isn’t in print, right? That material’s all gone? Were you tempted to bring it back for the Minute to Pray anthology?

That’s stuff that I don’t own the rights to. I was actually talking to - there’s a guy I know who was working at Slash near the end of the time that Slash Records existed, and he’s been trying to mould the material into the shape of a book at some point, but there’s so much material, it’s kind of daunting, and he’s got a lot of stuff on his plate. [This book appears to have been published, note, but it isn’t cheap, at least not on Amazon…The entire print run is now also apparently online. And note, as of 2018, Chris Desjardins adds: "I AM going to be reprinting that Sam Fuller interview for the first time since 1980 in my next film book (which is about international noir/ neo-noir/amour fou movies) and which probably won't be available for another year or two. I got Slash publisher Steve Samiof's permission."]

Tesco Vee did a beautiful job with the Touch and Go book. Something like that would be wonderful for Slash. Did you have relationships with the other writers? Like, were you in the office, did you get to hang out with Richard Meltzer and…?

Well, I knew those guys of course, and I saw Kickboy [AKA Claude Bessy] every couple of weeks or so. When there was an office, we would occasionally go in and turn in our copy, because there was no internet at the time, so you had to physically turn in your typed-up copy. I’d sometimes run into Jeffrey Lee Pierce there and some of the other people.

Let’s talk about Jeffrey Lee a bit. I loved hearing the band do “She’s Like Heroin To Me.” What was your relationship to him like? Where did you meet him, how did you end up producing for him…?

I just knew Jeffrey through Slash, basically. Meeting them up at the office, he’d turn in his reviews, and he initially was reviewing a lot of reggae stuff. But he would review everything from blues to reggae to punk, and we gradually became more friendly. When Slash Records started, and I was working there, I heard - I can’t remember if he gave me the tape, or where I got the tape, but I heard some of the demo stuff that he’d done, that later became part of the album, the stuff he did with Tito. And I just thought it was phenomenal.

I guess I don’t know about this - Jeffrey Lee Pierce worked with Tito Larriva?

Tito produced half of Fire of Love. I produced half the songs (roughly) and Tito produced the other half of the LP.

Oh, I missed that. Did you share any particular musical enthusiasms?

Well, yeah - I mean, a lot of the blues and country influences that were on Jeffrey were on me. There was kind of a synchronicity with a lot of people in the original Hollywood punk music scene. John and Exene and I and Dave Alvin and Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Keith Morris had a lot of the same musical tastes, even though Keith was really - you know, you think of him as more of a hardcore punk rocker, but he had some of the same musical tastes. So it was something that was kind of shared and just happening. People were turning each other onto stuff - I can’t remember who turned who on to what. It was like a real symbiotic relationship that everybody had with each other.

You also produced some Germs stuff, right?

I produced some Germs stuff for Tooth and Nail, that compilation that Upsetter brought out, but the Germs album, Joan Jett produced that, and later on, some of the material that was left over, Bob Biggs licensed some stuff from Dangerhouse that they’d recorded with the Germs, like “Lexicon Devil.” I think it was Dangerhouse - maybe it was Slash that put it out.

Were you close with Darby?

Not real close. We knew each other well enough to say hi and make small talk for a few minutes, but I didn’t feel like I had a lot in common with Darby. The one thing I admired about him was his depth of lyrics, his lyrics were always really well-written.

Has there ever been discussion of reissuing Tooth and Nail?

I’ve kind of stayed away from reissuing that because I didn’t want to have to deal with the prospect of having to attempt royalties and stuff like that, for the other bands. A lot of those bands are history, and I just felt that trying to do that would be really more trouble than it was worth, in terms of having to worry about who was owed what money or who had legal claims. So I really kind of stayed away, except for the Flesh Eaters stuff. Plus the Germs songs, for instance, are superior on the Germs album than they were on Tooth and Nail.

What did you think of What We Do is Secret, as a representation of that scene?

Y’know, I didn’t see it. I heard it was terrible.

Mm. To come to your novels, I just read Mother’s Worry. It’s great - very dark, very perverse. And I was struck that there’s a scene where Ray, your main character, watches is girl strip at a strip club, because it brought to mind “Agony Shorthand,” about you watching your girlfriend strip at a strip club [the Ivar, note, written about by Robin Bougie]. So it starts to seem like it’s a personal motif, for you, and I wonder if there are other ones that we can talk about.

Not really. That stripper thing is just kind of a coincidence. My girlfriend that I wrote “Agony Shorthand” about, I never actually went to go see her strip. She was an amateur, she didn’t do it for a living, she did it on amateur night at the Ivar Theatre. It isn’t really a recurring motif. I don’t know why I had that character be a stripper, in Mother’s Worry.

Just a coincidence, then. Okay. Someone was mentioning that there’s quite a bit of Harry Crews in that book. Did you ever cross paths with him?

No, I never met him, but I was a big fan of Feast of Snakes, which was also set in Mystic, Georgia. I made the town in Mother’s Worry the same town. It’s supposed to be, like, years later.

There’s actually a mention of snakes in it? Snake handling, or…?

Have you read Feast of Snakes?

I haven’t.

There’s not really any religious snake handling in Feast of Snakes, but there is in Mother’s Worry. There’s a few little things I put in there as kind of a homage to Feast of Snakes. There’s a flashback episode with the main character, the male main character, who goes through a traumatic experience with the main character from A Feast of Snakes, who - I don’t want to ruin it for you if you read the book!

There’s a character from A Feast of Snakes that pops up in Mother’s Worry?

Yeah, in the flashback, it’s the one where they’re at the juke joint and the character Joe kills this travelling salesman with a cleaver.

The other day when we talked you recommended people start with No Evil Star. Why is that?

Because it was the first one that I actually completed in a long time, and it’s one I really like, I think it came out really well. I think it’s as good as Mother’s Worry.

What’s it about?

It’s about a Vietnam vet who is somewhat damaged from drug use, and he’s the caretaker at a cathedral in New York, and his older mentor from ‘Nam has kind of gone off his rocker and is kind of assassinating drug dealers in Harlem and the Bronx and stealing their money. Then there’s also a whole subplot of a mafia don whose underlings get involved with trying to shut down a storefront rehab for drug addicts, and…just how all these characters interact with each other. It doesn’t have a pretty ending.

Neither does Mother’s Worry! Out of curiosity, is there any other particular writer whose influence hangs over No Evil Star?

Not really anyone I can think of. I actually had a dream, it was a pretty detailed dream, that became No Evil Star. I sometimes have dreams that are in the form of movies, and that’s where that came from.

I’ve always been fascinated by writers and artists who have recurring dreams, repeated structures. Robert Stone, who died just recently, used to talk about a dream about being a smuggler coming into port, and he’s carrying contraband, and knows he’s going to get busted, but no one is going to help him, and he just has to sit there and wait for the axe to fall. If you know the dream, you can see how it comes up in his work - in some of his short stories or in Dog Soldiers, say. So do you have recurring dreams?

Well, one that kind of informs No Evil Star a bit is a dream of like, getting to a point of being destitute and homeless and having to do something like the guy in No Evil Star does, and be the caretaker at some cathedral, with like, one room in a basement. It doesn’t appear in any of the other books, but it’s a dream I have, a primal fear, which I guess a lot of artists might have, of not making the rent and getting thrown out on the street. Something I’m paranoid about (laughs).

Fair enough - I’ve got to interview lots of people I admire and a lot of them are broke. It’s horrible how we treat our creators. Let me ask you, were you happy with the [2015] mini-tour? You looked like you were having a decent time, so will you do more shows?

Yeah, I’d like to do more shows. I know John really wants to do more a lot more shows. Steve Berlin really wants to do a lot more shows. It’s just a matter of people’s schedules. I’m hoping that we get to do something during the summer at a festival.

It was really nice to see how much fun John was having - he seemed to be the person on the stage with the biggest grin. The last thing I wanted to ask you about was Mudhoney. I feel like we should give them a bit of credit!

Well, they Danny Bland, who's Dave Alvin’s road manager, lives in Seattle, and he’s the one who brought the Seattle show together. I know he’s friends with the Mudhoney guys. I’m not really sure who told them we were going to be playing. I know the fact that Mudhoney was more than willing to open for us was a big shot in the arm and shows how great those guys are in terms of camaraderie and being there - musician’s musicians.

I was actually referring to the All Tomorrow’s Parties show. They were curating that, and that’s what led to this lineup getting back together, right?

Yeah! That happened in 2006. They didn’t have a contact for me, and they got in touch with John about doing that, and John called me, and we discussed it and took it from there. It turns out everything worked out, we got what we wanted from the festival, and it was great that Mudhoney took the initiative to do that, because I don’t know if the reunions would have happened if it wasn’t for them.

All live photos by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission; taken at the Echoplex, Los Angeles, 1.18.18.


So what will the current tour hold? Mostly a Minute to Pray, or will you be bringing in more Forever Came Today, since it’s a more recent reissue?

We’re going to be doing most if not all of Minute to Pray. There’s one song on there I’d kinda like to jettison, but we’ll probably be doing all of it - it’s only a half-hour long, and as far as I know - there’s one song from Ashes of Time, which is “House Amid the Thickets,” and there’s one song from the Miss Muerte album, which is the song “Miss Muerte.” We’re already doing one song from Forever Came Today, “The Wedding Dice,” but there’s a couple of others I’d like to learn, and I’ve made that known to the guys. But so far we haven’t been together in a room to discuss it. We’ll just - I would love to do some other songs from some of the other albums, but it’s all about a matter of time. We just did this two years ago, so for the songs they already know, I don’t think it’s going to be a big stretch, but trying to learn new material… the jury is still out on how easy it’s going to be!

What else on Forever Came Today would you ideally like to include?

I’d like to do “Secret Life” and “My Life to Live.” Ideally I’d like to do “Drag My Name in the Mud,” but the song is pretty long, and it’s got a lot of complicated dynamics, so I think it’s best not to even try that one. If we have time there’s a song from Dragstrip Riot called “The Youngest Profession,” that’s just one blues riff repeated over and over; but it changes in the dynamics, the peaks and valleys in the playing and the volume and the singing. It’s kind of more of a hard rock, blues shout kind of a song. But - we’ll just see what happens.

(SETLIST ALERT! Those who consider setlists "spoilers" should not read this setlist, taken a few days ago at the Echoplex by Deb Frazin, Yes, this means you, Ford Pier): 

If we could talk about the movie for “The Wedding Dice,” the video - I don’t think we talked about that when we last spoke.

That was something we did to support the Forever Came Today album. I was still working at Slash at the time, and even though I didn’t have final say on Ruby releases, Ruby was kind of the low budget subsidiary to Slash Records. Of course, A Minute to Pray came out on Ruby, the Gun Club’s Fire of Love [which Chris D. did the front cover art for], Dream Syndicate’s Days of Wine and Roses [which Chris D. produced; great album btw], Green on Red’s Gravity Talks [also produced by Chris D.], Lydia Lunch’s 13.13, um… a couple of others that I can’t remember. But Forever Came Today was the third Flesh Eaters album, and it was the second one that came out through Ruby/ Slash Records. I can’t remember if I got some money from Slash to make that video or not, I might have done it on my own dime, I can’t remember. I do own the rights to the video; I don’t, of course, own the performance rights - Warner Brothers, through Rhino, owns that. They didn’t, of course, when the video was made. I had pretty much control over the making of the video. I wrote a script for it. The guy who directed it, Gary Walkow, was an independent filmmaker. He had optioned one of my screenplays, and I had complete faith in him, that he would be able to execute what was in the script. And he did a good job. Naively, I thought… this was when MTV was in a very young state, before they had all their stupid reality crap shows, when they still actually played a lot of music videos. But that being said, they really had kind of a “punk rock ghetto” show called 120 Minutes that they would have on Sunday night. And, uh, if I was as savvy then as I am now about the music business, I should have guessed we would only have been able to get one or two video plays on that show, which is what happened. It didn’t really get played on MTV. And, I was naïve, there are a couple of scenes with blood, and they really weren’t doing that kind of thing. The photography was kind of grainy - it looked like an exploitation movie. Which is good, that’s what I wanted, but - y’know, whatever. It was kinda disappointing - just these generally naïve expectations about using it as a tool to promote the record. Some copies were made and sent out to big venues in various cities and some other independent television shows around the country, but frankly, I don’t think it got much play. It didn’t get any wide dissemination until it got included as an extra on the Border Radio DVD.

Curious about Mary Woronov, since she appears, and is also in I Pass For Human. I really enjoyed that the second time through, by the way. What was your background with her?

I think I met her at some punk gig or at an art opening, probably it was mid-1978, I’m not sure. But I ended up interviewing her for Slash Magazine, because first of all she was really pivotal in being associated with the Warhol scene. She was in Chelsea Girls, she was in a couple of other Warhol movies. She was affiliated with the Velvet Underground. She did the “whip dance” with Gerard Malanga as part of the Velvet Underground’s original stage show when they were still affiliated with Andy Warhol, on that Velvet Underground and Nico album. And I knew all of Mary’s stuff, I was a big fan of hers, and I knew her from some of the exploitation movies she’d made out in LA. So we hit it off and became friends and I did the interview for Slash. She was a big fan of punk rock, she went to a lot of shows, then later she did some cult films like Eating Raoul and Rock’n’Roll High School, which she hadn’t done yet when I met her. I asked her to be in “The Wedding Dice” video as the coroner just as a favour from a friend. It took two or three hours to shoot her scene. She has been in and out of touch over the years, and then other years when we get together and occasionally go to lunch. Back when I knew her in the early ‘80s, especially when I was single, there were times when we would go out and see movies together. I’m kind of out of touch right now. I saw her about a year and a half ago at one of her art openings. There were so many people I got to talk to her for about ten minutes.

Since we’re talking about women in your life, I had an interesting coincidence where - I hadn’t clued in when I was watching I Pass for Human who Lynne Margulies [producer/ editor on the film] was, then some friends of mine were talking about Andy Kaufman, telling me to watch My Breakfast with Blassie, and I was showing my wife some of his stuff, and then I put two and two together - I hadn’t realized that Lynne Margulies was the same person who was Andy’s last girlfriend, and who directed I’m From Hollywood. And you were actually in a relationship with her?

We were together between 2001 and 2009. It was about eight years, and we ended up moving in together about halfway through the relationship. This is when I was working at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood as one of the programmers, and that’s kind of how I met her. I already knew her brother, who’s Johnny Legend, but I didn’t really meet her through Johnny; she used to go to a lot of screenings at the Egyptian in the early 2000’s, and they were a lot of the same kind of movies that I was going to the screenings of: a lot of horror and exploitation movies that we would occasionally show, and film noir movies. We started out as being friends, and then it gradually developed into a relationship. And she knew that one of my big dreams was to direct a low budget feature. I had quite a few scripts, even though they were designed to be low-budget, they weren’t quite as low budget as we needed, to try and do. So I wrote a new script, I Pass for Human, where I had an idea at least of a few of the locations we could use without having to get permits. Anything we ended up shooting on the street or on public property, we just did it on the fly, we didn’t get any permits. You start trying to get permits for that stuff and you get into all kinds of red tape and bureaucracy and impossible delays. It was a good time to do that movie. We shot it in 2002. I got a leave of absence for about a month from the Cinematheque to shoot the movie. She’d been a producer on TV commercials, and actually had done pretty well for a few years, doing that. And this was between the time that… y’know, she was Andy Kaufman’s last girlfriend, and was instrumental in helping My Breakfast with Blassie, which her brother, Johnny Legend, made, and I’m From Hollywood. I guess she did something for this new documentary that’s out, about Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman, that I’ve heard is on Netflix.

Yeah, that’s gotten a lot of buzz. Jim and Andy.

I knew she’d been trying to get a “making of” done, of the biopic directed by Milos Forman [Man in the Moon]. She had done a whole documentary behind-the-scenes, which in some ways was more interesting than the actual movie. I know she was trying to get that out to the public for a long time when we were still together. Jim Carrey was into it, but Jim’s management was afraid at the time it would put him in an unfavourable light. Because he’s kinda crazy in the documentary, Jim Carrey. He insisted on remaining in the Andy Kaufman character even when he wasn’t shooting the movie, so there were a lot of bizarre pranks they pulled at Universal - I think that’s where they shot it - some of which got them into trouble. But anyway, I’m digressing. Lynne knew I wanted to do a feature film, low-budget, and she thought she knew where we could get $30,000. I used another six or seven thousand dollars off one of my credit cards. And - she’d gotten out of the commercial business, because she’d hated the kind of person it was making her become; she was uptight all the time, got angry very easily, and she saw the kind of havoc it played in people’s personal life that were producers on commercials. I’ve since been an extra on a few commercials, and I’ve seen firsthand the kind of insanity behind the scenes, in terms of really crazy last minute scheduling changes, the kind of things you have to deal with. There’s stuff that line producers have to do, especially if you’re a line producer on a low budget film: you have to put together the production schedule, how you’re going to minimize the shooting schedule based on access to certain locations on certain days, access to when actors are available… we actually did it as a low-budget experimental film, as far as SAG goes, so there were a few actors in the movie that were SAG, so we actually got to play them the lowest rate that we could do for a low budget movie, which I think was $100 a day or something. And we had to bunch up a few actors’ scenes together, like Mary Woronov - I can’t remember if we did her stuff in one day or two days. But there were a couple of other people that were in SAG, too - the lead guy, Josh Coxx and Jennifer Ciesar, who played Mila, who was kind of the crazy sociopathic character… but Lynne was really good at doing that, at putting together the budget, and really good at making it totally easy for me so all I had to worry about was keeping the film on schedule for the shots, getting the shots on the can, and getting all the shots we had planned. Since we shot it on video, we didn’t have to worry about the cost of film stock, so - we were still limited to how many takes we could do, because we had to keep moving in terms of the schedule, but in terms of video stock, it’s so cheap compared to film stock, you could afford to do two or three takes, if you needed to do it, because an actor flubbed a line or maybe there was a camera flare… 

We did a lot of rehearsal on set, before each shot, and sometimes before the rehearsals were over, we started shooting, just in case we got a really good take. Which happens sometimes. But Lynne really carried the brunt of the insanity when dealing with a lot of budget stuff and scheduling stuff, but there were times when she really went through hell. But she kept me from having to deal with that stuff, which is what a good producer should do. She was great. And I knew she was going to be the editor on the film - she had access to a video editing suite that she borrowed from Jim Carrey’s office. She was involved with Bob Zmuda, who did Comic Relief for HBO, and she did a lot of editing for him, and that equipment was in Jim Carrey’s office. I can’t remember who owned it, but we took all that editing equipment, and - at the time we weren’t living together, so we set up all the editing equipment in that bedroom, and, since it wasn’t being used by other people, we got to keep that equipment on loan for about a year, without paying for it. So we really got to take time, fine-tuning the edit, putting in the music cues, adjusting the sound levels, adjusting the colour levels, trying to get… there’s a lot of shot-on-video movies that don’t really bother to go in and do rigorous colour correction and making sure the blacks are as black as you can get them. That’s why you get a lot of movies that are shot on video that look like shit, frankly. They’re overlit, they don’t have black blacks. And we got around a lot of that, because we kept fine tuning it and looking at it on VHS, on various VCRs. If we did it a bit later, instead of 2002, in 2007, I’m sure we would have been using DVDrs, but VHS was kind of in its dying days, and it was the easiest at the time to transfer rough cuts to VHS… It was kind of challenge, but I think we really got a lot further than some people who shot on video.

It looks pretty good, though it’s really the story and the characters that are the hook. I enjoyed it a lot more the second time through, actually. The writing is really solid.

There was one particular sequence that was a voiceover flashback of the Josh character, where he’s recalling how he met his girlfriend, Azami, who died of an overdose, and her dying and stuff. The scene where Jack Hill has a cameo? And we had done a voice over with Josh, telling his story to the character Jane, played by Eleanor Whitledge; and we gradually removed as much voiceover from Josh as we could, to tell the story visually, and not become redundant by him describing stuff we could see going on. Lynne actually wanted to remove more of the voice over, and I was more cautious. That was the only time where we kind of disagreed. We had a significant disagreement about how much voiceover to leave in. Eventually it was resolved - I let a little more of it go, but I know she was still unhappy with how much got left in. 

(Jack Hill on the right, in I Pass for Human)

But anyway… Lynne had gotten out of the commercial producing business because she felt it was destroying her life: made her unhappy, made her angry. And she always wanted to devote her time to painting, which was her real love, and she would occasionally get editing jobs, because she was a good video editor. She also introduced me to the people up in San Francisco, where I eventually taught film history courses for four years, starting in 2009. Which was, ironically, the year that she and I broke up.

I’m curious about the ideas in the background. I know a lot of dreams of yours go into your writing and your screenplays - I’ve read some of your dream journals, and I’m wondering about the idea of having these undead junkie ghosts preying on the highs of living addicts… where did that come from?

I can’t remember if I read it in a story or an article, or. I definitely had a couple of dreams about it, before I got sober, in 1996. So I had some personal experience to draw on. And there were times where I was not in a relationship, I was alone a lot, I was being helped out financially by my parents where I wasn’t working. There would be a few months at a time where I wasn’t doing music, and I wasn’t making money from my music… I occasionally would get temporary jobs. But there was a lot of time where I was just by myself, and that was when I started working on the Gun and Sword Yakuza film encyclopedia, back in the early 1990’s. But I had nightmares several times about spirits that were into feeding off the negative energy of still-living addicts. And I knew I’d read some articles theorizing about if there are spiritual beings. This is regardless if you believe in God or not, if you do, if you don’t… I’ve always thought that people that get caught, and who die of an overdose - I do believe in the soul, in spiritual beings. I’m agnostic. It’s really hard to shake my Catholic upbringing, so a lot of times it gets a bit confusing when I’m not paying attention, because I revert back to my childhood beliefs. But I’m basically a person, when I’m thinking rationally, I don’t believe in a God with a personality who is, y’know, looking after some people and not others. But I do believe that there’s a realm of spiritual beings, and that some of them are developed enough, spiritually, that they don’t have to reincarnate, or they’ve been prohibited from doing so by the rules of the game, whatever those are. Of course, I don’t know for sure, but it kind of makes sense to me, as opposed to an actual omniscient God. Let’s just say that I believe in the supernatural to some extent, and that includes spiritual beings. The nightmares I had about it, some of the things I’ve read - about how there are sex demons that really prey on people, that become sexually addicted, because those demons, those spirits are no longer in a physical realm, and the only way they can experience that sexual thing - or if you’re talking about junkies, the drug high - are through melding onto the spirit of someone who is still alive. I don’t know how much that happens, I don’t really know if it’s my imagination. I personally don’t think it is - I think there are evil spirits and good spirits. There are enlightened spirits and spirits that are kind of caught in the middle, and then at the opposite end of the spectrum, really evil spirits that enjoy inflicting chaos and harm on the human race. These are fundamental spiritual beliefs that I’ve figured out, that make sense to me. I don’t know if that makes any sense, or if I sound like a total crackpot, but that’s just my spiritual world view.

I really appreciate it. I’ve had interviewed different experiences with people I’ve interviewed, and when it comes to spiritual matters - I’ve had a Canadian actor of some fame tell me to turn off my tape recorder for a ghost story, a personal experience this person had had, which - I could hear the story, but I wasn’t allowed to record it. Jello Biafra told me when I asked him if he had religious beliefs that they were none of my business. Michael Gira was a little nicer about it but he still wouldn’t go there. Some people really don’t like to talk about this stuff, in public, so I appreciate your candor. I was going to ask you about your childhood habit of prayer, which you mention in (the book) A Minute to Pray is something you still do… what does that look like?

I still do, and it’s more of - I’m sublimating; I don’t just pray to a kind of symbol of Jesus, I pray to good spirits as well. I like to think that there are literally guardian angels. I hate to call them “angels,” because it’s so Biblical, and there’s a tremendous amount of nonsense in the Bible about how angels can only be men. Which - if there are angels, that’s ridiculous. When we get down to it, if we’re talking spirits, why would a spirit even have a sexual identity, a gender? They could be a combination of male and female to begin with, or they could be genderless, and the only time they get into gender is when they’re in human form. Or if animals have spirits, in animal form. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know about, but I think about this stuff; it’s metaphysical, it’s spiritual. I wouldn’t call it religious, certainly not in terms of organized religion, but it’s stuff I think about sometimes. Because there’s too much manifestation in the worlds of art, creativity, in writing, in literature - from poetry to music to movies… there are all different kinds of artistic expression that I think really manifest something beyond simple self-awareness. Self-awareness is a big thing to begin with, whether it’s a curse or a blessing… 

I think there are some animals that are self-aware. They’re not on the same level as humans - I don’t think there are animals that reflect, but you don’t know. There’s all sorts of animals that are supposed to be as intelligent as humans, or equal in intelligence to humans. They don’t have the capacity to speak, so we don’t really know. But, y’know, there’s dolphins, where there has been a lot of research and scientists agree that they’re easily the equal of humans as far as intelligence... They do have their own kind of language. Elephants are another species that are supposed to be incredibly intelligent. Pigs, of all animals, are supposed to be incredibly intelligent. Of course, then you get into the question of, “why haven’t they created this Utopia” or a kind of civilization, and I think it’s kind of missing the point. It’s like apples and oranges, it doesn’t matter. It’s like the same thing when you’ve got white European pilgrims and settlers, encountering indigenous people in the Americas for the first time, and believing them animals because of the way they lived, when really Native Americans, whether they’re from Canada, what is now the United States or Mexico, down through South America - and you’ve got the aboriginal people of Australia and Japan - there’s a lot of indigenous people that didn’t come up through a Euro-centric or Slavic background. The kind of notion that just because they seem more “primitive” or less enlightened or whatever the case may be, [is problematic]. You look at a country like Japan. There are the aboriginal people that were there to begin with [the Ainu] - but you have a tremendous amount of people that were undoubtedly migrants from China, from Russia, from what are now the other mainland Asiatic countries - the Koreas, further south, Pacific Islanders: there’s a tremendous polyglot mix in Japan, racially, that I don’t think you have so much in China. I think China has got less of a mix of races in their makeup, in their genes… I’m really going far afield with all this stuff, but my point is, Japan was isolated from the west for thousands of years, and the culture they did acquire was from China and mainland Asia. And they assimilated other things, they created some of their own culture, of course - they created their own spiritual beliefs. They’re kind of a country, a race known for appropriating: what is now called cultural appropriation. Which is now a big political hot potato, but I think a lot of it is misunderstood. But Japan has established a really unique culture from that, and because they were cut off from the west, and didn’t become connected to western civilization until fairly late - I mean, they had some Dutch and Portuguese merchants trading with them as early as the mid-1600’s, but they didn’t have a massive influx of western influence until the late 1800’s. You get a language and a culture that is extremely unique, very advanced, but totally different in dress, culture… these civilizations that come up independently of influence from other civilizations tend to vilify the other, the thing they don’t understand. And - whatever argument you can give about being against the global economy - and in many ways I am against it - there’s a lot of great stuff about the so-called global village, and the exchange of culture, the fascination with different foreign cultures. I think that’s one of the things that makes life worth living, the difference in cultures.

I agree.

That being said, the whole idea of cultural appropriation that people are getting into now, especially with food, I think is fuckin' ridiculous. Mexican food, Chinese food, Japanese food, all kinds of ethnic foods - if people open up a restaurant in a small town serving Mexican food, and they're not Mexican, that's somehow like a no-no. To me it gets kind of ridiculous, like the pendulum has swayed too far in the other direction. I think a lot of politically correct stuff is like that. It's taken to an absurd length, and then it invalidates all the things you should be politically correct about, the things that are serious, like the continued marginalization and oppression of the female gender... Anyway, this is the kind of stuff that goes through my mind when I'm thinking about different cultures and spiritual beliefs. I think western civilization, Eurocentric civilization, especially as it's evolved in terms of progress, in terms of material progress to the exclusions of cultural or spiritual progress, it's one of the banes, it's one of the curses of this planet. You see the exact, concentrated epitome of that in the current climate in this country - mostly concentrated in the ultra-conservative right wing, but it's also in the neoliberal wing, which generally - money and profit is the bottom line. It's just that they have all these socially liberal ideas about maybe gender equality or LGBT issues. But in other ways, they're just as greedy as their ultra-right wing conservative opponents. 

Live photos by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission

If we could bring this back towards your music a bit, I know your band name Divine Horsemen comes from Maya Deren's film about voodoo in Haiti. And you've talked about possession and such in regard to A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die. And we talked before about the Santeria bottles on the back of The Fire of Love. There's the whole thing of the Divine Horsemen being the loa, who possess the dancers during rituals... It's kind of a vague question, but I'm wondering because there are Catholic elements incorporated into voodoo, if that made it more interesting to you. And then there's the whole question of African pagan ritual music, and African music that informed your making A Minute to Pray... 

Yes. Umm... I think when you're getting down to the nitty-gritty, the very essence of spirit in a human being... the thing about religion is, it's people trying to organize the very ideas that I'm talking about, trying to establish patterns, trying to establish a framework where they can kinda cherry pick the good and get rid of the bad, and quantify and qualify certain attributes that are ‘virtuous’ or ‘good,’ and those that are ‘evil’ or ‘destructive.’ So you’re looking at that instinct, that essence, to establish that, to distinguish between the yin and the yang, the poles of positive and negative, good and evil, and of course there's a tremendous grey area, which fundamentalists... to me, fundamentalism in any kind of religion, whether it's Middle Eastern/ Judeo-Christian, Eurocentric or primitive, or a mix of religious beliefs... there are certain sects of Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam that are very black and white. There are other sects, certainly of Buddhism, that have virtually no strictures whatsoever, compared to western religion. To me it's very interesting, how those different organizing structures have evolved in different places in the world. The thing that's interesting to me, like, for instance, all the religious and spiritual imagery that's on A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die, or Forever Came Today, or the Divine Horsemen records [connects to] the very idea of getting onstage and using music as a way of transcending your physical self, lifting yourself up to a spiritual realm, [reaching for] a spiritual essence, which creativity is, I believe. There are all kinds of levels of creativity, from very rudimentary and childlike and very materialistic creativity, to abstract ideas that get expressed through creativity. There are cultural ideas, sexual ideas, ideas of love and hate and grief and joy - all different kinds of emotions that get expressed through art, creativity, music, literature or film. Some of these on a really infantile level, like - you see where the motion picture industry is now, tapping into the most infantile, childish emotions in the audience, especially with the proliferation of superhero movies. Which, to me - no matter how exalted or advanced CGI is, or whatever kind of special effects or technological wizardry they use - the story is so primitive as to be almost non-existent. They're templates, they're archetypes, with very little touchpoints with reality; they're pure escapism. They sometimes have pretensions of spiritual growth. I'm not a fan of Harry Potter movies,  but I think at least J.K. Rowling was intending to integrate ideas about spiritual growth into her books. I'm not into that style of stuff, but I have respect for her just from listening to things that she's said. But I think the amount you have to dumb down that sort of mass market entertainment is unfortunate. I don't know if it's unavoidable. But you have to homogenize too many elements... I'm really against homogenizing elements, because what you end up creating are white bread versions that have no spiritual nutrition, so to speak. They're empty spiritual calories. It's like heavy duty carbohydrate intake that supplies you in the moment with energy but in the long run has no nutritional value. So - I'm using all kinds of weird analogies here, but I'm really into this kind of cosmological point of view of life and how everything is integrated together. 

I get it, though.

So to me, art and creativity are kind of a sacred thing. A sexual thing, an expression of love, it can be an expression of sorrow, and grief, and loss, and anger. But those things are very cathartic and therapeutic to the human psyche. It's the way we work things out. It's the way we transcend our physical limitations, transcend our petty attachments to worldly things, to material things. That's why I think with art and film - especially film right now and especially pop music - it gets homogenized to such an extent that there are artists that have worldwide notoreity but to me they're instantly forgettable. They're completely interchangeable. They have no personality of their own. The different elements involved are synthesized from a lot of different music genres and homogenized to the point where they have no real personality of their own. And at the risk of being redundant, they're empty calories - empty psychological calories, empty spiritual calories, empty calories as far as catharsis. They're for a collective, for people without personality, without the energy or the courage to express their own personality, and what is individual about them. They take on the hive mind, the collective mind's view. Which in some respects you see the hive mind, if you're going to talk about bees or productive insects, which make the world liveable because of their pollination, their way of balancing out pests and vermin, things that are destructive to other species.... there's a real give and take to that, that's part of nature. At the risk of sounding too new agey, there's a balance. And the thing that I think is really destructive about human civilization, is trying to get their thumb in every single aspect of nature, every single - they want to control everything, the corporations. It's a real spiritual disease, and the kind of hubris and arrogance and egocentricy that go along with it - the intoxication it gives people who accumulate wealth and power - it's really a negative spiritual energy. I think that goes without saying, I'm stating the obvious. But a lot of people don't even think about that. A lot of good people don't even think about that. And a lot of Trump supporters and ultra-right wing supporters, they don't want to be bothered with that kind of stuff; they want black and white, they don't want grey areas. They don't want human frailty. They don't want diversity. They want everything to be as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Man became self aware, and it's only been manifested throughout the ages. The danger right now is that kind of negative spiritual energy could really manifest itself physically in a negative way and cause the planet to be a burned out cinder. 


Getting back to the music, to me, doing the music, you're allowing some kind of spritual essence to come through you. I know when I start writing, there's a complex set of neurological things that are firing in my brain, but there are also things I don't think you can explain, chemically or electrically within the human body. I think there are spiritual energies from outside the physical being.   

Flesh Eaters 1-18-18 by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission (note Dave Alvin!)

[And that's true] whether it's a human being or an animal being - especially a human being; I don't want to get into equating human beings with animal beings or so-called "lesser creatures," because I think you get into that and you start becoming really arrogant and vain... it's one of human civilization's big flaws, is to not see their place in nature, in the so-called ecological biosphere. They see themselves as outside of that, and able to control it, rather than integrating themselves constructively. I mean, I'm sure this why other life forms from other planets that are more advanced than us haven't started interacting with us, or if they have it's very surreptitiously, because it's a very tricky thing to start fucking with that kind of spiritual evolution, and I think we have to work it out for ourselves, and at times, it really seems the planet is tipping into chaos. The negative, the uncomplicated, the fearful - the people who want to use fear as a tool - are winning, are going to destroy the planet. But that's when art, music, writing, film become really important, because it's a way to exorcise all that. It's a way to kind of burn sage in the room, to get rid of evil spirits. That's what I'm talking about with the exorcism. It's an exorcism not just of negative spiritual energy, but it's an exorcism of anything negative, whether it's  negative emotions, obsessive emotional attachment that's fear-based, based on fear... I'm really going far afield.

It's okay. I was wondering about negative spiritual energy, though. I know people have responded to A Minute to Pray as being kind of "evil," and certainly rock'n'roll is constantly being called, or actually flirting with, the so-called "evil," or dangerous, or a threat. A lot of rock music seems to wallow in negative spiritual energy - I mean, we could look at anything from Body Count's "Cop Killer" to death metal to actual Satanic black metal... I like some of that stuff, but it indulges the darkness a bit. Do you ever have misgivings about that sort of rock music?

I think there's destructive pop music out there, and it's definitely soulless. I'm not into death metal or "death rock," so-to-speak. The Flesh Eaters sometimes get lumped in with death rock. I think death is a really important thing to write about and sing about. The film director Sam Fuller told me when I interviewed him, he told us, "the number one story" - being a former newspaper man, a really good newspaper man - Sam Fuller said, "the number one story on any given day, anyplace in the world is always death. Death is the number one story." And it's because there's a universal thing in human beings, because we're self aware, and we know we're going to die - we're fascinated by other people dying, and we have an almost apocalyptic fear of things getting out of control, and that death, be it on a mass population level or being murdered in a back alley somewhere, or murdered by your spouse, or shot by your four year old son by accident, that kind of thing is constantly in the consciousness of everyone. It's the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the elephant in the elevator, it's "duh: death." It's what we're all headed for. We're all gonna die. There's none of us that aren't going to die. Whether we continue as a consciousness entity after death, spiritually, I don't know. I kind of lend credence to it - more than the spiritual energy, the energy of the body changing into something else, and going on into infinity, but without a self-aware consciousness. I mean, that's certainly a possibility. And it could be just wishful thinking that I think we go on with a consciousness beyond our physical body's death. I don't know. My intuition tells me that you do hold onto consciousness. We have no idea if it's manifested in the same way or not. I can't imagine it would be, because you don't have a physical brain anymore, with endorphins and the same body chemistry that creates and represses emotion. So you wonder how emotion is going to figure into an afterlife. But... rock'n'roll to me, it's spiritual, and it's beyond good and evil, and I think it's more positive than negative.    

John Doe with the Flesh Eaters, by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission

There's negative things about rock'n'roll, there's certainly negative things about punk rock, but punk rock, garage band music, the most abrasive kind of rock'n'roll, the kind of rock and roll the Rolling Stones originally did the first ten years they were together, that kind of rock'n'roll is a reaction. It's a reaction to church, it's a reaction to state, it's a reaction to morality dictated by a so-called authority, whether it's a religious or a sexual authority. It's a rebellion. And as you become older, you pick and choose. Some of those things you may have been rebelling against when you were younger, you may find are necessary to survive, in the world that we live in. There's other things that personally I'm always going to rebel against. I'm always going to rebel against sexual repression. I'm always going to rebel against inequality, racism, any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Obsession with material things. That's one of the things I hate about what rap music became. When rap music originally started, it was about life, a lot about ghetto life. There was a lot of sex in it, there was a lot of concern about material posessions, but not like today, where it's sex and money almost exclusively. Unless I'm missing something - maybe there are rap artists that are popular, that are spiritually elevated and that are not singin' about that shit, I don't know. I'm just looking at what's presented to me through mass media, and it's really made me hate rap and hip hop music. It's made me hate the removal of the melodic.  

DJ Bonebrake with the Flesh Eaters, by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission. 

That's what I really came to hate about punk rock, too. Hardcore punk, I'm not a big fan of. Once in a blue moon, to listen to that kind of music, really hardcore thrash, is cathartic and it might be fine. But to me rock'n'roll has always been about taking something beautiful - a melody that is beautiful, that actually is maybe timeless; and you can have that melody at any point in the timeline of humanity, from before Christ to a hundred years in the future. And it would transcend musical style, transcend technological advances in conveying that music. But when you introduce instruments into the mix, with the melody, you create volume, you create something that moves the body, that moves the physical self... you're going to awaken certain kind of Dionysian things in yourself. You're going to awaken "the basics." Which I don't think is bad. I mean, sex is great, it's liberating, and it only becomes bad when it's selfish and used to demean somebody else, to dominate somebody else... I hate to use Pat Benatar as an example, but she had that very bald-faced song title, "Stop Using Sex as a Weapon." That's so pretensious, but it's an admirable sentiment, because a lot of people who do use sex as a weapon. There's a lot of men who can't get off sexually unless they're assaulting a woman, basically, exerting power over a woman. That kind of thing in rock'n'roll is out of place, and I don't think that's ever been the kind of sexuality that's been popular in rock'n'roll. You get the Rolling Stones sometimes - "Stupid Girl," "Under My Thumb" - that are misogynist on the surface. I don't think anything like that is out of place if you're singing about something personal, that happened to you. If you're singing about how all girls are stupid, or "I've got all girls under my thumb"... Um, there's things in those songs that are about personal situations, they're getting those emotions out. They're reactions to negative things that have been done to the lyric writer or the singer, that have hurt emotionally... you get those songs written by women, as well. You look at some of Patti Smith's or Janis Joplin's songs - really powerful women in rock'n'roll, or you get someone like Alicia Velasquez - Alice Bag, now - or Penelope Huston from the Avengers. There's a reaction to things in the zeitgeist, in the mass hive mind, the hot topic in society - whether it's the oppression of women or misogyny, or whatever it is. There'll be negative things said about men, about men in general. You're always going to have that ebb and flow. Because there's going to be reaction against negative energy that's from the outside. Music to me is a reaction, when it's well-done, and it's well-written, and it's well-performed, and there's some consciousness behind it... it's about righting wrongs, it's about disspelling myths, it's about creating new myths, new mythologies that are positive. It expresses negative energy, and by expressing it, expels it out into the universe to disperse... so to me it's largely a positive force. 

The Flesh Eaters play January 25th at the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver, January 26th at the Crocodile in Seattle, and January 27th at Dante's in Portland (note! I previously wrote "Seattle" for that but no, Dante's is in PORTLAND! Border Radio will screen at the Vancity Theatre Wednesday, January 24th, with Chris D in attendance for a Q&A. 

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