Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Joe steps aside!

Surprised this morning to read that Joe Keithley is stepping aside as Mayoral candidate in Burnaby. Not sure what the full story is - I imagine there's more to it than will be made public - but he's saying that he thinks another candidate, Mike Hurley, has a better chance of beating Mayor Corrigan... I had been looking forward to voting for Joe! 

Meantime protests against the demovictions in Burnaby - posted about below, including photos of graffiti now well-covered by the city - were cut short by the RCMP being called in... Doesn't seem like our charter rights to assembly mean much these days (if they ever did). 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Richard Matheson weekend: Duel and I Am Legend, revisited

I hadn't realized that Steven Spielberg's first film, Duel - based on a Richard Matheson story in which a lone car driver squares off against a giant truck, driven by an unseen madman set on his destruction - was available as a widescreen hi-def Blu-Ray, until stumbling across it at Sunrise Records the other day, for a mere $11.99. I had considered playing it for Erika before, but it would have been my full-frame, standard-defintion DVD. But though the film (shot in 1971, and released theatrically in 1972) was originally shown in a 1:33 aspect ratio, the theatrical cut - which was used as the basis of the Blu - looks superb, was prepared with Spielberg's involvement, and presents much better on a flatscreen than the old DVD ever could. Very nice colours, crisp details. Like every cut of the film, it feels a little padded at 89 minutes, and makes me wonder what the original 74 minute long broadcast version would play like (one scene apparently added to flesh it out for theatrical release, involving a stalled school bus, is perhaps my favourite scene in the film, but some of the filler, like a conversation between Mann and his wife, feels exactly like that: filler). It's a very enjoyable film, though. Keep an eye out for the face of a young Spielberg in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, reflected in the phone booth when Weaver is trying to call the police at the Snake-a-rama. This is definitely a worthy upgrade.

Even more exciting: having gone, prior to sitting down to Duel, on one of my "Mr. Movie Teacher" spiels to Erika - who couldn't care less, but has been now exposed to a few Matheson adaptations, including a couple of Twilight Zones and The Legend of Hell House - I realized that she had never seen I Am Legend, a film that I have come to think of as a disappointment and wasted opportunity (I wrote about it here, giving it a better review than I recall having done, but my dominant impression of the film since has been one of "meh"). The film has a great start, is fresh-looking and engaging and likable for most of its runtime. My concern, as an admirer of Matheson, was that no previous version of the film had really come close to the key idea on which the novel hinges (spoiler alert!): the idea that the vampire-killing hero is in fact himself a monster, presuming his "normalcy" gives him the right to dispense with the infected "Others" around him as he sees fit, since, you know, they aren't really human. That revelation - that he is, in fact, WRONG in what he's been doing - comes to the protagonist at the climax of the book (which I'll say no more about). His "legendary" status is, thus, in the eyes of the monsters, not fellow surviving humans; and he is only a legend in the way that vampires themselves are legendary - as an evil. I can't recall how the old Vincent Price version of the story ends, exactly (The Last Man On Earth, that is); but the Charlton Heston take on it, The Omega Man, is very much a reversal of this; Heston becomes a Christ-figure, sacrificing himself (and his "sacred" blood) for the salvation of humanity. It is to THEM - the survivors, spared the plague - that he is a legend, and his being a legend is a positive thing. He hasn't been WRONG all along, he's been right. Even if The Omega Man doesn't do anything with the original book's title, it betrays the whole point of the original text in favour of a more comforting white-guy-as-hero message. I was really excited for the Will Smith version of the film, and totally engaged by the first three-quarters, because I expected it to be smarter and more sensitive than The Omega Man, and to maybe be truer to the source text.

Then you get to the ending, and blam: it cops out and repeats the basic idea (with some minor variants) of The Omega Man's ending, Neville sacrificing himself for humanity, having been right all along. Like I say, apparently I gave the film a good review back then, but in subsequent years I've come to think of it as a crock of shit, a wasted opportunity, a mere remake of The Omega Man, unworthy of the title of the original novel.

But having talked about the film with Erika the other day, I glanced at the Blu-Ray at a pawn shop on the off-chance that maybe there was an alternate ending, maybe something more in keeping with Matheson's original intention. It's the first time I'd considered revisiting the film in eleven years - and guess what? There IS an alternate ending, which in fact was the film's ORIGINAL ending, changed because, yep, it scored poorly with test audiences (who obviously hadn't read the book and wanted nothing thought-provoking from their cinema, just more reassurance that they are "right" and always have been). In fact, this alternate ending IS in keeping with the Matheson original, and vastly more interesting than what played theatrically. It changes the film radically from what we previously saw, but in fact makes perfect sense as the climax of the movie. The film still has some Will Smith cutesiness you have to rise above, and it still has CGI monsters instead of human actors as the "vampires," but it is possibly the most faithful adaptation, idea-wise, of the novel yet to be filmed. Turns out it's well worth revisiting the film on Blu-Ray, to see what test audiences were too dumb to appreciate in 2007.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

July 20th: China Syndrome and the Circus in Flames, plus the Judges, Rogue Fest

I barely get to go out to gigs these days, and I barely get to do any writing. When I am not actually teaching, I am prepping, marking, researching lessons, or tutoring. My hands are sore from typing and/or holding pens. I have a generous backlog of assessments to mark and a mounting heap of administratively-related paperwork that I'm behind on. When the work-work is done, it's enough just getting my share of the housework done so Erika and I can zone out for a couple hours watching a vid (we've been visiting some old Stephen Soderberghs, including ones I thought trivial when I first saw them, and having a fair bit of fun doing so; plus I asserted the blu-ray widescreen edition of Stephen Spielberg's Duel at her last night, which looks bloody great and is a cheap buy, if you've missed it). 90% of the music I get to listen to is on headphones in transit. I don't even have the time for procrastination; there is a constant feeling of having to stay with it, so much so that the anthem of the week is the Angels' "I'm Scared" - "I'm scared of being scared/ tired of being tired." Going to have a bit of a reduction in work hours come August and maaaaan am I looking forward to it.

At least I ain't pissing blood anymore.

All that said, I still do try to keep a toe in the music world. I did something on the Judges for the Straight the other day - the new punk band led by  Jay Raymond, formerly of the Likely Rads. I don't really know Jay, but I've enjoyed chatting with him (and the last time I ran into him it really WAS in front of the Fuller Watson in Maple Ridge, if memory serves). Plus, umm, he's helping install a car stereo for my wife's Accord today (yep, folks, this particular article is PAYOLA-DRIVEN, tho' I've seen the Likely Rads a couple times, and am happy to support Jay's new band - Opening Statements is a fun fast hardcore mini-album, and I think marks the first time I've actually paid something for a download off bandcamp). 

I didn't actually GO to that Judges gig, mind you - gigs that run past 1am in Vancouver are off the menu when you have to commute to Burnaby and be up at 6am the next day - but I think I WILL be making it out to the Byrd pub in Surrey on the 20th for two of my favourite local bands, the Circus in Flames - whom I wrote about here and here - and China Syndrome (whom I've written about in a few places but the best is here). Both bands boast smarter-than-your-average-bear lyrics; they're a bit musically dissimilar, with Circus in Flames - fronted by Doug Andrew, long a member of the Vancouver punk scene - offering a sort of dark, parched-throat Americana (they'd be a great opener for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds or Tom Waits) and China Syndrome, doing guitar driven power pop. It's been too long since I saw either band. I said hi to Doug at the Rickshaw the other night - where I briefly popped in to see David M. and Jesse LeBourdais at the Fight Back festival - but I missed his set by something like ten minutes. The last time I caught China Syndrome, they were doing a set of almost-all-new songs at the Princeton, off the forthcoming album, and I really enjoyed all of them (which is not usually my way; I usually like to get to know a song on album before I hear it live, find it hard to process songs I've never heard before in a live setting; by the time I've figured out what's happening, the song is over, and tends to vanish in the mists of memory, since I have a poor recall of things I've only heard once... Erika thinks it a bit funny that I do - and sometimes assign - "homework" for gigs but I seriously want to be able to make the most out of seeing bands live, which I find is aided greatly by actually knowing their material beforehand; there'll probably be some China Syndrome and Circus in Flames on my commuting playlists this week, to freshen my memories of their material). 

And for the record, I have no idea who the Campfire Shitkickers are, but I like their name.  
It's funny... I think the last time I was at the Flamingo, it was actually to see strippers, maybe around 1995, as part of the run-up to someone's wedding. Strangely enough, given my work schedule, it's actually the most convenient place (along with the Heritage Grill in New West) for me to see gigs at the moment; I can just stay in Surrey after class on the 20th until the bands start. I wonder when the last Skytrain back to Burnaby runs? If I'm lucky enough to find a well-lit corner, I'll be able to get some marking done between bands... "sorry, I spilled a bit of beer on your paper, Akim - but you wrote really well!" 

(I have no students named Akim at the moment, note; this scenario is entirely fictive). 

Oh, and for those of you not otherwise engaged there will be a free festival of roots music - Rogue Fest - on or near Granville Island Sunday the 29th, including Sue Malcom, the Rocket Revellers, Viper Central and Van Django. I don't think I'll be able to make it but the event info is here

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Aum Shinrikyo leadership hanged, plus Nick Jones and the Frank Frink Five!

The Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on the Tokyo subway happened in 1995. I lived in Japan from 1999 to 2002, during which time Aum - an oddball Japanese religious cult organized around a charismatic leader named Shoko Asahara - was attempting to rebrand itself as Aleph to avoid public scrutiny and distance itself from its more psychotic manifestations (which involved more killings than just the nerve gas attack; you could probably compare them with People's Temple or the Manson family in some of what they did and believed, which included ideas about an impending apocalypse, I gather, and a leader who had sexual relations with many of his members). There were still controversies circling - particularly in neighbourhoods where group compounds remained; who wants to live next door to a murderous doomsday cult? Most interesting, all through the time I lived there, there were cardboard "standee" cutouts in the train stations of three key members, both male and female, who were wanted for their role in the attacks, who remained fugitive. I could read very clearly the word "aum" in hiragana on the cutouts, though the one time I attempted to engage a Japanese - I think a transit security officer, as I recall - in conversation about the cutouts, he denied that that's what they were, maybe to avoid shaming his country in the eyes of a foreigner or something. The standees were similar to this poster (no idea if these folks are still wanted).

Weirdly, seeing these criminals makes me thrum vaguely with nostalgia for my time in Japan, since I saw their images at every train station, everywhere I went in the country. At that point, Asahara was in custody and sentenced to be hanged. It was all reasonably interesting, and when I came home, I actually read a book about the attacks, though I've forgotten much of the content of it.  

All of this came up again on Facebook recently, after I read and posted that Shoko Asahara had been, along with other remaining members of the group, actually executed. It took them 23 years to hang the man, which seems a really long time. To my surprise, one of the people who chimed in was Pointed Sticks vocalist Nick Jones, who was IN Japan at the time of the attacks, long before the Pointed Sticks regrouped to tour there. "I was there with the Stones," Nick told me afterwards. "We were traveling back to the hotel in the morning, then catching a flight to Osaka or Fukuoka, can't remember." When the attack happened, he was four tube stations away. "By the time the plane landed, that was all anyone was talking about," he wrote on Facebook. "The horror and panic in Japan that night was palpable."

Jones wasn't particularly disturbed, in his Facebook posts, to hear that Asahara has been hanged - is more troubled, as am I, that the government spent so long to get around to it. Apparently reaction in Japan to the executions has been mixed, and also includes some disdain for the law's delay. Generally I disagree with capital punishment but some crimes are monstrous enough that it's really, really hard to mourn the perps. 

As for Nick Jones, there are no Pointed Sticks gigs confirmed for the moment, Nick says, but there will be a Frank Frink Five show New Year's Eve at Lanalou's, which actually sounds like a pretty great way to celebrate New Years. I still haven't brought my wife to a Frank Frink Five show; maybe this will be the year. Meantime, happy belated birthday, Nick! 

(And goodbye, Shoko Asahara...). 

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Ingmar Bergman for people who don't like Ingmar Bergman: Sunday at the Cinematheque

There's a real marathon of Ingmar Bergman films this Sunday at the Cinematheque. They're all highly atypical, daring, potent, and under-rated films, which might appeal to people who think they don't like Ingmar Bergman films: The Rite, Hour of the Wolf, and The Shame.

The Rite, as I remember it, is Bergman's kinkiest, and maybe his angriest, film. There are sex toys, censors, and a cruel, expressionist-cum-fascist B&W visual sensibility; the story deals with artists who are brought up on charges of obscenity. It's the only Bergman film that ever made me think of Crass. (Fans of blasphemy - the concept, not the band - should check this out; it was the target of censorship in England back in 1979). I've recommended it on Facebook to Robin Bougie. It is also the only Bergman film that makes think of Robin Bougie. This is not a particularly easy Bergman film to see, which is more than enough reason to check it out; I was stunned when I first saw it at the Cinematheque, at a previous Bergman retrospective, since I'd heard nothing of it previously and expected something minor and forgettable. That it is NOT. And where better to be on a sunny summer Sunday than at an angry black and white Swedish arthouse movie?

Hour of the Wolf - long referred to as Bergman's noir - is better known, but what's not to love about a film about the madness that plagues an artist (the much-loved Max von Sydow), suffering persecution delusions and disturbing sexual thoughts, whose wife (Liv Ullmann) finds herself tormented by the same demons (or are they merely neighbours at a dinner party)? There's not much of a punchline to the film - it ends on a whimper, not a bang - but otherwise it's one of Bergman's most visually striking films: Gothic/ expressionist noir, with a surrealist edge (see below). People who think of Fanny and Alexander as their primary visual reference for Bergman should see this film, to expand their sense of what he was/ did/ could do. I wonder if Kubrick thought of it when making Eyes Wide Shut?

The Shame, meanwhile, also starring von Sydow and Ullmann, shows a couple trying to live during the outbreak of warfare. Their bonds are strained and morality tested (and ultimately compromised) by the need to survive. It touches, also, on what it is to be a refugee, with maybe the bleakest ending of any anti-war film I've seen. Whoever said that it was impossible to make an anti-war film without simultaneously glorifying war never saw this film. It also has the funniest "attempted chicken killing" scene in any movie ever (as I recall, the chicken makes it out just fine). I'm trying to be hyperbolic here, to sell people on this triple bill, but it's still a great film (and a great film to end this very varied but potent triple Bergman bill.)

In short, if you've only tried The Seventh Seal and Persona, say (or Fanny and Alexander, on the other pole) and decided you don't really like Bergman, this is a hell of a day to come out to the cinema. You WILL need to re-evaluate the man, and you'll see three great films to boot. Who needs sunshine and beaches, anyhow? You'll leave the theatre feeling the November of the soul. 

Note: there are other Bergman movies playing this nearly-finished retrospective. I'm sellin' Sunday as a not-to-be-missed event, but for other movies in the Cinematheque's Bergman 100 retrospective, see here

Demovictions in Burnaby: Joe Keithley for Mayor!

Joe Keithley and I talked a bit about the Burnaby housing situation when I visited his place. He has a house - complete with a dog and a garage - but I live in a three-story walk-up, of precisely the sort that are dropping like flies in the Maywood area. I'll be voting for Joe because I believe that he wants to put an end to the current development frenzy here, by which rental units are being replaced with condos for buyers. “We’d put a moratorium on the Maywood/ Metrotown plan,” he said, suggesting that developers create at least one new rental unit for each one they take away. “If developers want to develop, okay, let’s play some hardball with them and get a real deal, so that people who have lived there forever have somewhere to go. There’s people in the area who have been there for forty years, and they don’t have anywhere to go. They don’t have money. What’s going on right now is so heartless, and the mayor [Corrigan] doesn’t care; he’s proved that again and again. I think people might get it this time. So I might be your new mayor!”

To illustrate the point, here are some photos I snapped on the walk home of the newest building slated to fall. I presume at least some of the graffiti here is from previous tenants, now looking for affordable apartments in Surrey or something. This could be my building - it's five minutes from mine (and from ten other similar three-story walk ups to be demolished in the last few years). 

Crossed by a cat!

Monday, July 02, 2018

Of DOA, Bev Davies, No Fun, and the Fight Back Festival, plus a Joe Keithley interview

So the DOA Fight Back festival is next weekend at the Rickshaw. At the request of my German publishers, Ox Fanzine, a few months ago, I went to Joe's house to interview him about the new album, which (the album, that is, but also the talk) I REALLY enjoyed. Thanks in part to Cecil English, Fight Back is the best-sounding DOA album since the Bob Rock-produced Northern Avenger, and is a lot of fun to listen to (especially a VERY catchy, playful cover of the Johnny Cash/ Bob Dylan classic "Wanted Man," which suits Joe's gravelly growl, and Joe's new song about police violence, "Killer Cops," which just smokes, and makes nice companion piece to "Police Brutality"). The new lineup (with former BC/DC members Paddy Duddy and Mike Hodsall) is perhaps the all-round tightest unit I've seen Joe play with (I never got to see the classic Joe-Randy-Chuck version of the band, note; I have gotten to see him with Randy, which was great, but back then, the drummer - the Great Baldini - was more of a metal-influenced heavy hitter than a master of speed and precision, which is kinda what I prefer with DOA). I am starting to kinda actually LIKE Joe as a human being, having spoken to him enough times now that I kinda am getting a feel for him, and I plan to vote for him when he runs for Mayor of Burnaby come October... so, obviously, I wanted to plug the gig - which also includes a whole host of very fine supporting acts, from Doug Andrew to Ford Pier to Jesse Lebourdais (whose new album, Grief Intensity Friendship, takes its title from an article I wrote about him, for what it's worth; first time that's happened, and yes, he did ask if he could use it!). I don't know a lot of the other bands (tho' I believe Sore Points are the band I saw at Neptoon bustin' out a classic cover of the Subhumans' "Behind the Smile" awhile back, which was pretty cool). I realize it is somewhat scandalous that I haven't paid much attention to Roots Roundup, but I guess I'll see them this weekend... There's also going to be a show of classic punk rock photos from Bev Davies at the event, including a couple of pics I'd never seen before, like this one of a young Ron Reyes (my neighbour of late) with that kinda famous band he was in awhile back... what was their name again?

Black Flag at the Smilin' Buddha, by Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission

That current Joe Keithley interview, alas, has been spoken for now in English as well as in German, and will be running in some form or another in the next issue of Big Takeover magazine (presently running part two of my big Art Bergmann piece, fyi). I will do SOMETHING to support the show in just a second - putting up a patchwork of old DOA interviews with a couple new quotes to disguise the fact that most of it was conducted ten years ago - but before that, let me make an interesting note: the Fight Back festival will serve to reunite TWO of the bands that played a historical 1978 Georgia Straight Battle of the Bands competition at the Body Shop: NO FUN (in the form of David M.; RIP, Paul Leahy) and DOA.

Some notes on that event from the Triumph of the Ignoroids back cover:

You'll note if you read the fine print that "David M. of No Fun lent the 4-track" on which Triumph of the Ignoroids was recorded. (The same 4-track was also used for some Subhumans practice sessions, I believe it was, for the "Oh Canaduh" single; that tape appears to be lost, though David directs you to bug Colin Griffiths if you want updates on its location; David does not have it). I don't have the wherewithal to do justice to M.'s telling of it, but he has frequently recounted the story of playing that battle of the bands, which also featured, besides DOA and No Fun, another local fave of mine, Doug and the Slugs. Three great bands, and none of them won; to hear M. tell it, the band that did win was a forgettable embarrassment who went on to do pretty much nothing in the Vancouver music scene. (He's told me the name a few times and it just doesn't stick, because I never hear about them elsewise). M. has said on Facebook that he will, in honour of the occasion - a couple weeks past being the 40th anniversary of that Battle of the Bands - play MOSTLY songs that No Fun played that night (which I believe include "Snog" and "Paisley Brain Bolts of the Mind," though he might also do some version, I think he's said, of "Mindless Aggression," since it has some relevance to the punk scene in Vancouver, appearing on both the Vancouver Complication compilation and in Bloodied But Unbowed, and thematically fits with the whole idea of "Fighting Back". He has something he wants to say from the stage, too, but has not spilled what that might be ).

And yes, as you see, David M. has grown a beard. I think it makes him look a bit like Rade Serbedzija, don't you?

But anyhow, as promised, here's a sort of "compilation" of interviews that I did with Joe Keithley. Bits of this have appeared in Razorcake, the Georgia Straight, Ox Fanzine, and the Chinese rock mag Painkiller (I think; they never sent me a copy, but some of what follows was designed to be read by Chinese audiences, as you might figure out). I stole a quote or two that will appear in Big Takeover, too, and tweaked it a bit so it feels a bit more current.

 Joe Keithley with DOA, February 7, 2014; photo by Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission

Allan: So speaking of the Rickshaw, one of your shows there, not so long ago, was released as Welcome to Chinatown. Why pick that as an album title?

Joe: I thought it was a big reflection on Vancouver in one sense, because the town is changing, and there’s a history: Vancouver was founded as much by Chinese labourers as it was by, y’know, white people - English people, Scottish people, Welsh coalminers and that kind of thing. And the shows were recorded there, at the Rickshaw, and we were hunting around for the title. We had other shows recorded, from Calgary and Edmonton, but when we focused on the title, it was, “okay, let’s do the ones from the Rickshaw.” And that’s basically where we grew up playing music, it was all within two blocks: every bit of trouble we could get into was all in that neighbourhood.

The Smilin’ Buddha is the one famous punk club from that area that I know, but are there are any other venues that were in that neighbourhood?

Yeah, there’s Gombado’s, was one. We used to practice at 343 Railway. And that’s actually about a block from the Japanese Hall, which was where our first show was, basically.

If we could talk about the Buddha - I don’t know the backstory. Why was it called the Smilin’ Buddha? It’s such an Asian name!

Yeah, I don’t know how they came up with that. I think the thing was operating since 1947, maybe even before the war, but not much. That was the original “neon” block. There are cafes, the Balmoral Hotel - that still has a neon sign. But I have no idea why they called the Smilin’ Buddha that, other than it was, you know, a block from Chinatown.

My impression is that there’s a bit of a divide between the punk scene and the Chinese community in the neighbourhood, actually. The only time I usually see Chinese people when I’m at a punk  gig in the eastside is when they’re walking around the punks who are smoking on the sidewalk in front of the venue. Did you ever see Chinese coming in to shows back in the day?

Well, I mean, their kids in that area, of course there were Canadian punks of Chinese descent going to shows, right from day one. Maybe they weren’t the majority of people - the majority of people who went to punk shows in the early days were white people. But besides that - I never felt there was hostility or anything. We lived in that area too, like, the late, great Dave Gregg  lived at the other end of the viaduct, the other end of Chinatown. That was our stomping grounds.

Shall we talk about Dave…?

Absolutely. Dave was a wonderful guy, a really creative guy, a super-sharp sense of humour and - if you pissed him off - sarcasm, right? And he was easy to piss off, because he had, a lot of times, a really set idea of how to do things. But usually he would come up with an idea of how to do things the right way. He was a complete trooper. I didn’t see him much anymore, but I’m going to miss him the same way that I miss Dimwit. When he was really together in the early days, when he was in DOA the first six or seven years, you could count on him for anything, he would just get stuff done. And a lot of ideas that DOA came up with were from Dave and I, late at night, travelling back and forth across North America in the van. Usually him driving, eating sunflower seeds… He was a total trooper, a total talent. He was a raw talent when we first got him, he had a penchant for forgetting arrangements, but after awhile he got solid as a rock, and he was great onstage, too, of course.

I was startled when I saw the rock video for “War” [DOA’s cover of the Edwin Starr anti-war anthem] and realized he was singing the lead a lot on that song.

Yeah, that’s right, that one I would do the verse, and then do the backgrounds in the chorus, and he would do the lead singing in the chorus. It was quite a transition for me. And I didn’t play guitar at all on that song, so later on when we became a three piece I had to figure out how to play the guitar and time ALL the vocals for that song. It was a bit of a learning curve! But it’s funny… we were driving along somewhere, and I always loved that single, ever since I was a kid; and Dave also knew the Temptations version, which I wasn’t really familiar with. I just knew Edwin Starr’s, that had been the big radio hit back in 1967-68, when I was about 12. And one time me and Dave were driving along, and we heard it, and it was, “wow, that would be a fantastic song to cover.” And that’s kind of how [DOA’s 1982 EP] War on 45 came about, because we had that and then [DOA manager Ken] Lester said, why don’t we play [the Dils’] “Class War,” as well. And Stars on 45 was a big album at the time, where they amalgamated Beatles songs with a disco beat behind it. So that’s how we said, “well, it’s War on 45.” You won’t believe how many people told me, “Joe, when I got that 12 inch record, I played it on 33, and I thought, ‘DOA’s finished, listen to how slow they’re playing!’ They didn’t realize it was supposed to be played on 45. One guy the other night told me that, and he said, “I know you’ve probably heard this before,” and I said, “no problem, I always enjoy hearing that, it’s just so fuckin’ funny!”

I don’t think I ever had that problem!

Some people listened to it for days before someone else would come around and say “listen, idiot, put it on 45!”

“The Last Beer," on Fight Back - was that written about Wimpy? Or – I mean, there have been a few people in DOA who have died over the years, but lately there’s been Wimpy, Dave Gregg, and now Brad Kent…?

And Dimwit. Those four, and – it was a tough song. I wrote it in about fifteen minutes, and I cried the entire time. I got the riff, I wrote the lyrics, put it down and went to sleep, and came back the next day, listened to the tape, and went “hm, that’s pretty good.” And I honed it up. I have a hard time talking about those guys.

I think the last time I saw Wimpy at all was at the 2013 DOA farewell show at the Rickshaw, where he got on stage with you and sang “Takin’ Care of Business.”

He was a great guy, and Dave, and Dimwit. [And Brad] had gotten straightened out and was going good, working on music again… Brad I hadn’t hung out with in a long time, but he taught me how to play electric guitar. We were like folkies, we lived out in the country, playing Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. And he came along – he was also from Burnaby, and he listened to us jam and said, “What are you playing that shit for, we’re gonna rock! Joe, you play rhythm, we’re going to play a Status Quo song. I’ll play lead!” He taught me all that kind of stuff – he was a great guy.
Yeah. I believe I met him once, but I never got to see him play. I was thinking about going to see his gig with Monster Baby, and then they were off the bill because he was sick. And then...

It was just tragic.

Dave Gregg with DOA, photo by Bev Davies; not to be reused without permission

If we could go back to Dave Gregg, I was hoping that we could go back to that photo that Bev Davies took of him kneeling with the guitar on fire. What’s the story there?

Yeah, that’s a great one, that’s at San Francisco in 1985, I’d say, at a club called On Broadway, which is upstairs from the Mabuhay Gardens, right in North Beach, in the old strip club area of San Francisco. And the funny thing about that is, Dave would douse it with gasoline, and light it on fire, and then people would scream and holler. But the problem was, he’d done this a number of times, and the wood was really drying out. He throws it on the ground, lights it on fire, and it breaks into about six or seven pieces. So the people in the audience go, “great, what a souvenir!” They grab the pickups, they grab part of the body, grab the neck, and - afterwards Wimpy [AKA mid-period DOA bassist Brian Goble, also singer for the Subhumans] was going, “fuck, Dave, you really lost your cool, it would have been cool if you’d just left it, let the fans have it, but you had to beg them for the parts back!” Hahahaha… and he’s going “fuck you,” right. And then he took the guitar, he got most of the parts back, and they put it together with a steel band around the outside of the body, like on the thin edge, to hold it together. It was a Frankenstein! I don’t know what happened to it.

It was playable?

Yeah, he reconstructed it! He put some money into it and rebuilt it, right.

What kind of guitar was it?

It was a Fender Strat - because Dave idolized Hendrix, just like I did. And what I do now, I do the teeth thing and over the head [ie., playing the guitar with his teeth and behind his back]? People think, “oh, it’s a Hendrix copy,” but really it’s a tribute to Dave, because that’s what he did in DOA.

If I could ask... I was thinking about the film American Hardcore, and their thesis seemed to be that one of the things that really caused the political energy of punk to dissipate, in the mid-80’s, was Reagan getting elected a second time. I’m not so sure about that, but... Things certainly seem to lack an edge these days.

Yeah. I don’t think the artists are as powerful or as passionate – that was a unique time. But I don’t think that the politics of punk or hardcore punk – whatever you want to call it – dissipated because he got elected a second time. Fuck, the one more term of Reagan was even worse! He became more obnoxious as time went on. It sorta like intensified the thing, right? I think what happened – why the hardcore scene split and changed – is that you started to get a lot of bands like the Cro-Mags, or whatever, that started to get a real skinhead thing. And not the SHARPS, but the dumb ones, right... And so that made for a period where – like, we were playing these shows all over the place where it’s just like, fuck, we had nothing but fighting with these fuckin’ guys, these racists, right? And sometimes they’d hold a mini-racist-type rally in front of the show. And I think at that point that’s when a lot of people didn’t want to go to punk rock shows anymore. Rather than getting pushed around in the pit and having a great time, and somebody would eventually pick you up if you fell, it changed and you’d fall down and somebody would try to put the boots to you. And I think that happened much more so in the United States than it did in Canada, ‘cos I remember we had nothin’ but fuckin’ troubles in San Francisco, in Denver, in Houston... in a half-dozen other towns down there, where the racists would just come and start shit. To us, that was the antithesis of punk rock... I mean, think of the shows we used to do here. It’d be the Pointed Sticks and DOA and U-J3RK5 – that’d be a big variation! That’s a quite a few years before 86-87, but having this variation, and having a kind of fun aspect to it, and also a political liberalizing/ revolutionary nature, that drew in a lot of different elements that made it really really interesting.  When the music kind of hardened, when it crossed over to the hardcore and you got a bit more of the metal influence, and drew this kind of “dumb factor,” shall we say, that made it a lot less interesting and a lot less pleasant to go to these shows. So that’s to me kinda what happened. The whole underground thing about being political never really died, it’s just never quite come to the forefront like it did in those days...


To me, that’s kinda the message for younger artists today, that if you get these kinda pop-punk bands and bands on the Warped Tour and MTV and Much Music – if they got off their ass and really pushed some stuff, if these guys kinda used the power and the energy the way guys like Jimi Hendrix did, when you’re a really popular artist, you can change a lot of things. I think that if you have that ability, fuck, you should use it! 

Joe gets his star on the sidewalk, photo by Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission

How do you label yourself, politically, anyhow? Do you consider yourself an anarchist?

Basically, I’m just a free thinker that believes in promoting people power. I don’t really nail myself down - I believe in democracy; I’ve got a great deal of respect for anarchist theorists, who have come up with some really unique ways of looking at the world and tried to help people with their lives, and help their towns, and stuff like that, but I definitely am a voting/ democracy guy. That leaves me out of the anarchist bunch. But there’s definitely respect there, depending on what form they come in. The ones that are thinking and have done good things, they’re really misunderstood and castigated in the press, but there’s a great deal of difference between the punk that gets drunk and throws a bottle and calls himself an anarchist and Bakunin or someone like that.

If I can ask a question from the old days, relating to DOA’s old slogan, “Talk – Action = O...” I’m pretty fascinated by the history of the Squamish Five (an activist group responsible for bombings and vandalism, arrested in 1983. Subhumans bassist and songwriter Gerry Hannah, a friend of Joe’s, had gone underground to join the group, after having left the Subhumans some years previously).

It’s pretty interesting, for sure.

And of course, they went by the name Direct Action. I was talking to Glen Sanford, the filmmaker who made the documentary about Gerry, Useless, and he says he saw around town variations on that, reading, “Talk – Direct Action = O.” I was wondering if we could talk about that...  

Well, just to clarify how that came about, “Direct Action” came before our slogan, because it was in 1979 and 1980 that two banks and three government buildings got firebombed, right? The police and CLEU – the Coordinated Law Enforcement Unit, the same people that botched the handling of the Air India case, along with the RCMP – they never really came up with an answer to that, or if they did they made some kind of side deal with whoever was involved and it never came out in public. But this group would send communiqués to the Sun, the Province, and the Straight, and they called themselves Direct Action. And then we saw the slogan, it was on the front of this anarchist magazine called Open Road – a pretty good magazine – and Ken Lester thought this is perfect for DOA, and we kinda just asked them if we can use this slogan, and they went yeah, sure sure, type thing. I guess it was War on 45, when it appeared on the back cover, and then we started using it a lot after that....

How much were you actually a supporter of the Five, though?

Well, if people are being really downtrodden, sometimes they gotta fight back, but to me, the most effective guy ever at fightin’ back was, y’know, Mahatma Gandhi, for example, or a guy who fought back against extreme conditions, and had peaceful protests that sometimes went violent, look at South Africa and apartheid: Nelson Mandela. So – to me, that’s the kind of action where they would just take a strike and try to make the government change the rules, and to me I kind of always envisioned that, as opposed to going and blowing stuff up.

I really admired how DOA and other local bands rallied around Gerry, though. (DOA released the Right To Be Wild benefit single and wrote the songs “Burn It Down” and “Trial By Media” in reaction to the Five’s arrest). I mean, it sucks that people got hurt. But it was good to see the scene supporting its own.

Absolutely, we did lots of fundraisers for him and put out the single... When we got the story we were in Detroit. We were just sittin’ around, “Oh, what’s Gerry doin’”, and about two hours later Ken phoned, “Gerry’s been arrested on this highway in Squamish,” that kinda thing, and then there was all this sensationalist news coverage – they had the cache of weapons they had stashed, or whatever. We didn’t know what was really true, so it seemed at the time that they would have a really hard time getting a fair trial. And that was a lot of the impetus for doing fundraising for them. Now, don’t get me wrong, the points they were making – talking about Litton weapons systems being morally wrong, about people destroying the environment and propagating violence against women – yeah, those were the right causes. They were fighting against things that were totally fucked. And people still are – this is the whole anti-war thing, anti-globalization thing, the degradation of the environment – these are things that, if anything, have gotten worse, not better. But I would not say then that I thought, “this is the way to go fight the man!’ I never really felt that way, but I thought Gerry’s one of my best friends, and we should go support him. And they made some good points.

I actually interviewed Terry Chikowski, the guy who was blown up at Litton.

Yeah, he was in hospital for quite awhile.

I know Gerry wasn’t part of that particular action, but still, it’s heartbreaking, because I mean, I thought this would be moving to you in particular, because one of the main effects is, he can’t play hockey anymore, as the result of his injuries. He used to be a coach. [Joey Shithead is a known hockey enthusiast and sometimes player].

Yeah. That’s a lousy thing, you’re takin a real chance, right. I mean, they phoned a warning in, but I mean, things like that are always screwed up, right, someone diverts the phone call the wrong way or they don’t call in time or they don’t take it seriously, or whatever, right? You can’t take a chance on blowing somebody up... You gotta get a whole bunch of people to agree with you, to change things. If you can empower people and get them thinking and working together, you can change the fucking world... But there’s gotta be respect for other people and their lives.

I agree, but with songs like “Burn It Down,” I mean... is this what you thought back then, in the time after the Five were arrested?

I don’t know if I totally remember, right? Everything’s just kind of an impression as it goes by... It was like a big event; we never had anything like this happen in Canada for years. It’s hard to say EXACTLY what I thought then, but I don’t think I believed it was right at the time, to blow things up. 

"Burn It Down" doesn't appear on your set very often these days. 

We actually practiced that one. It may come out soon – we haven’t played it in a long time. A lot of people ask for that one. 

Jon Card was telling me that for awhile around that time, the Vancouver police were really targeting punks – he said that they actually kicked Ken Lester’s door in, looking for weapons.

Yeah, when that firebombing stuff happened, like, in ‘79 and ‘80, then mysteriously, you couldn’t play anywhere. All the clubs we used to play at like the Windmill and the Buddha and a few other ones around town, all of a sudden said, ‘no no no, can’t book you, can’t book you.’ So then we started doing shows at little halls out the ‘burbs. It was never completely confirmed, but the police suspected this as being the anarchist gathering place. I guess this is early 1980, late ‘80, or something like that, and what was Richard’s on Richards was called the Laundromat, for about eight, nine months or somethin’ like that. And it got to the point where I know a bunch of people who claim for sure that the police rented a place across the street, like, the CLEU guys, and videotaped everybody goin’ in or out, so they could get a profile of everyone who would go to this kind of anarchistic punk rock gathering. It was like a DOA show, right. But as far as being directly hassled – I kinda only vaguely remember the thing about Ken’s place, but I can see that happening.

DOA by Bev Davies, 10th Street Hall San Francisco, April 11th, 1981; not to be reused without permission (Bev says "Joe is wearing his built like a Mack truck" shirt). 

Did you have any problems with being investigated or such? 

I never got directly hassled. I mean, I wasn’t around town a lot. In those days we toured constantly. We always suspected our phone was tapped, type thing. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.

There was a period right after that when the mood was pretty intense, locally. Where it seemed like shit might actually start happening, around the time of the “General Strike” single and just before...

I still believe that was a good period, when people really expressed themselves, and I was very proud to be part of that – and I still believe if you can upset the apple cart, that’s a good thing.

Do you think that the Squamish Five getting arrested had anything to do with taking the wind out of the sails of political punk? It wasn’t a very inspiring thing to happen. Stand up against the man and go to jail. 

No, to me, because not long after that – that happened in January of ’83 and the potential general strike thing happened in BC in ‘83, and in ‘84 and ‘85 and through the ‘90s, for us personally, as DOA, we started going to Europe a lot, and the places we would play would be these big factories that punks and leftists and anarchists had squatted and turned into their own place and didn’t pay any rent on, right, and they had these fantastic places where they’d have concert halls and workshops and little mini-schools and libraries, and we were goin’ fuck, this is the way to go, if you could do this in North America, right? And it was really confrontational, too. We stayed in this one place in Denmark where you couldn’t get in through the front of the building. You had to walk in through the back alley, and then climb over this wall, and inside the first wall was a big pile of rocks and bricks. I looked and said, “What’s that for?” and the guy said, “That’s our first line of defence, when the police come.” (Laughs). Then we walked across this big open courtyard and climbed up this big steel ladder, and went into the squat, and they could pull the ladder up and bolt the door closed. He said, “That’s the second line of defence, when the police come – then we just rain this shit down on their heads!” Y’know, when they come to try to kick them out. And to me I went wow... And a lot of them were punks, or were slightly sympathetic to it. So in certain areas, it got more confrontational, and it had a real point. And like I said, these guys had a real productive nature to it – it wasn’t just about chuckin’ a brick or somethin’ like that.

Is it still that confrontational?

Not so much anymore. The squat scene is not as big as it used to be. It used to be more fun to play there, cos we’d play these big giant squats, or little ones, or anything in between... The music scene is the same as here. The punk rock scene is still goin’, but is not as volatile. Things are more calm than they used to be, so things are not as much fun. We used to say, with DOA – our template for like a good place to visit was like, we hated anyplace that was really organized, because there was no chance of chaos or anarchy. We always liked Germany, Italy and England, because the punks were always in some sort of confrontation or doing these anti-nuclear demonstrations, and you just kinda got caught up in it, right? You have to have chaos in order to have a good DOA show, is what I’m sayin’. That’s the mathematical formula.

Tell me about the back cover of Something Better Change... What’s the story there? (The cover shows a very pissed off guy charging a falling cop with both fists raised).

I don’t know who took the photo, I don’t know who the guy is, and I don’t know who the cop is, but it’s like... when Charles de Gaulle came to Quebec in 1968 or ‘69 on St. Jean Baptiste Day, and went, “Vive le Quebec liberte,” like, Free Quebec, like, a “fuck you Canada” type thing, a riot broke out and I guess the RCMP tried to bust it up and were unsuccessful, obviously, at least based on that photo, so... It’s a fuckin’ great picture, and Kenny came up and said, hey, it’s a great picture, and it kinda fit in with the theme, ‘cos the photo on the front is pretty cool – let’s stick this black flag up on there, so you got the anarchist flag type thing, so it kinda tied in.

John Armstrong has the joke in his book, Guilty of Everything: “How many punks does it take to change a lightbulb?” And the answer is, “Punks can’t change anything.” Do you feel like DOA has been able to accomplish anything politically?

John’s a really funny guy and he’s got a great wit and sense of humour and stuff like that, right, so, but to me, comin’ from being an activist for half my life or more, you CAN change things – it can be incremental, small changes, right, where you go out and do a kind action to help somebody, or you go out and you raise some shit. As far as things I’ve been directly involved in, I remember goin’ to a bus fare protest with Gerry and I and a bunch of our people, and we sat there and blocked the buses on Burrard Street and stuff like that, and the bus drivers got fuckin’ pissed off, and yelled and swore at us, and then we’d go on the buses and not pay, because of the fuckin’ fare increase, and they’d all be mad... Stuff like that, to me, is really effective, because it got, like, a lot of notoriety. I’m not sure if it slowed down the fare hikes, but it certainly made people a lot more aware that transportation for people without money is a right. How can you get to work if you have no money, type thing, how can you get to school? And stuff like that I thought was really cool... Then there was one show we did – Randy Bachman organized it, I guess this was at the Commodore, I guess about ‘88 or something like that, ‘87, maybe – it was us and Randy Bachman and a couple of other bands, maybe even 54-40, and it raised a bunch of money and the money went to Oxfam, and they used the money to help buy an ambulance to put in Soweto, South Africa. Okay, we didn’t change the world, we didn’t raise ten million dollars like Bob Geldof or something like that, but this is a way of showing people that you care, or if you do a little thing, that can help people along... I can’t think of half the things we did. Another one we really liked – Terry Jacks was doing this thing, like about ’88-‘89, about uh, pollution from pulp and paper mills in British Columbia, and about how cancer rates were higher in the areas with the mills and crustacean life was getting mutated because of the effluence in the water and the air. So we ended up organizing this benefit – (former Quintessence Records employee) Dale Wiese, it was actually his idea - and I contacted Terry, and strangely enough we ended up meeting with Bruce Allen, and we did this show with Bryan Adams, BTO, Terry Jacks and DOA, a REALLY strange combo, and that helped create so much press... I’m not sayin’ we did it alone, I’m not tryin’ to claim this at all, but eventually even the (right-wing) Social Credit government tightened up the rules on the kind of effluence that could come out of the plants, or the amount. And to me, that’s kinda how you change things. People thought, wow, is that ever weird, DOA with Bryan Adams, and yeah, is that ever weird, but it had a very good effect, cause we were able to parlay Adams’ superstar status into a good cause...

One last question – working with Cecil English.

Yeah, good point, thank you. We went through a bunch of choices – we threw around some bigger names we thought we might be able to get to produce the album; it’s for DOA’s 40th anniversary, so let’s make this a good one, right? And one of the guy’s names that came up was Cecil. I hadn’t talked with him for a long time, but he mixed a show for us at the Smilin’ Buddha. And it came up – “let’s do some recording” - and Cecil was into it. I’m real glad, because he’s got a real ear, a real skill level. He did stuff like, for each song, he’d listen to the notes a little bit, we’d play a bit, and we’d have six different snare drums with us. And he’d go, “Paddy, why don’t you try this one here, or try that one.” We’d play the song with that snare drum, and he’d go, “no, that’s not right.” And he’d get us to tune it up again, and he’d go “yeah, it suits the mood of the song.” Like, for “The Last Beer,” let’s get a melancholy-type snare drum, and for “Killer Cops,” we want a super-aggressive, I’m-gonna-rip-your-face-off-type sounding snare drum… And most people not being drummers or musicians wouldn’t pick up on that. But to us it made a lot of sense. He had all sorts of good suggestions about parts – “you guys gotta try this.” We’ve worked together on seven or eight albums, and we don’t always see eye to eye, but we gave everything a go, and tried it. He came to a bunch of pre-rehearsals for the record, too, to see what things would be like.

The album has a really nice cohesion to it.

It took us awhile. We had the first five, which Cecil and I mixed – well, Cecil mixed, and I put in my two cents; I didn’t do the mixing. But we got the first five, we kept going at them for weeks and weeks, going round and round, changing things – changing the order of the songs, or the vocals need to be louder here, or we need to change the sound of the bass. It was an interesting process. We really focused on those five, up to the end of “Just Got Back from the USA,” and when we were finally happy with them, we mixed everything else. It went really quick, because we had our templates. And the one song we kept coming back to was “Killer Cops.” That’s a great mix, that we compared, we A-B’d everything to that. Cecil has made some really wonderful records – Last Scream, Wrong, stuff for the Dayglos. It was really fun to work with him again.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

An open letter to Buck Dharma! (Plus a Stalk Forrest Group plug).

(NOTE: APPARENTLY THIS PIECE HAS PISSED SOME PEOPLE OFF! Look, I'm kinda glib in writing it, I admit. I was amusing myself, I was still a bit high from smokin' up the night before, and I felt playful and relaxed... and, um, I do kinda like the sound of my own voice a bit too much, maybe. I meant NO DISRESPECT. This is a band I utterly love. If you don't have a sense of humour, though, or are particularly thin-skinned, just skip it.)

Hey, Buck Dharma!

(In my mind, that should be read to the tune of "Hey, Bo Diddley..." Just a coincidence, though, right, that you have a B and a D in your stage name, with a one syllable first name and a two syllable second, just like Bo Diddley...? I smoked a little pot last night, since my wife is away, so forgive the odd thought...)

(...Actually, another thing I have always wondered about your name, maybe a little less weirdly - maybe because I'm a language teacher - is whether it is meant as a verb phrase. If "Dharma" is the "principle of cosmic order," as Google just told me - or "the virtuous way of living" as Wikipedia says, then to "Buck" Dharma would be sort of like calling yourself Dodge Virtue, or something like that, no?)

(...shit I just realized that the way I'm writing this so far with these weirdly parenthesized preambles is totally influenced by Richard Meltzer and YOU HAVE COLLABORATED WITH RICHARD MELTZER... wouldn't it be weird if Meltzer helped come up with your name?  Did he? How did you come to the handle "Buck Dharma," anyhow?)

Do you mind being called Buck Dharma? I could call you Donald Roeser if you prefer. I think - because I was listening to the BÖC when I was very young - that you were the first musician I encountered who had a stage name, or at least a stage name that I knew was a stage name, and it used to confuse the hell out of me, because both your names would appear on Blue Öyster Cult records, so I had no idea which you preferred. It's not like early DOA records identified Joey Shithead as "Joey 'Shithead' Keithley." But as far as I can see, it's always "Buck Dharma/ Donald Roeser," right there on the cover. I mean, I have no idea if the Stalk Forrest Group vinyl, sitting beside me as I type, is an accurate repro of what the Elektra cover was supposed to look like but even back then you're "Buck Dharma, AKA Donald Roeser." Why use both names? Why did you not just go by Buck Dharma? It suggests something a little "Multiple Personality Disorder," you know? You've signed records as "Buck Dharma," after all, but from the very start, there's this seeming lack of commitment to your stage name! (Or a weird need to assert your real name as well). 

By the way, DOES Buck Dharma have a different personality from Donald Roeser, the way Vincent Furnier has said Alice Cooper does? Is interviewing Donald Roeser a different thing from interviewing Buck Dharma? Does your family call you "Donald" or "Buck?" 

In any event, I have tons of questions, and not just about your name. There aren't many people out there in rock who I want to interview anymore. I have next to no rep and no meaningful income as a music journalist at the moment, am just doing this for fun (though there are still magazines that publish me, including a nice glossy one in Germany who would be a totally worthy home for an interview). It's just really a privilege to have talked to some of my favourite musicians, you know? When I'm 86, if I make it that far, I'll be looking at the guy in the bed next to me in the hospital and I'll blurt out, "I shook Lemmy Kilmister's hand" and he'll go "who?" and we'll be off to the races. From Gary Floyd to Eugene Chadbourne, from Peter Stampfel to Chris Desjardins, I've had the enormous privilege of meeting and interacting with dozens of the musicians whose art and music have sustained me through my life. There probably aren't that many interviews IN me anymore, but if I honestly ask myself, who do I still want to interview, there actually aren't many people left. In terms of musical heroes and living legends who I still could get really EXCITED about the prospect of talking to, people who I am going to feel NERVOUS getting on the phone with because "Ohmigod I'm going to talk to _____," there is only one person who really excites me as a possible subject for an interview. It's YOU, Buck, it's YOU! 

Or, I mean, "It's YOU, Mr. Roeser, it's you!"

No offense to Jesse Python, eh? (Much respect to him, it's just that I'm interested in particular in the songwriting element, and you've written such amazing songs... and decorated them with such batshit-crazy, entertaining-as-fuck guitar solos, to boot...). 

Some of the questions I have in mind, if you want a sneak preview...

1. The Blue Öyster Cult have been "On Tour Forever," but there hasn't been a new album in a really long time. I think all your fans and critics agree that the last one, Curse of the Hidden Mirror, saw the BÖC in a really great place, back in 2001, finding your voice after a streak of albums that were not so well-received and for which got you very little attention (some of which are actually really good, but I'll get to that later). I wonder why it has been so long to follow up that record? Are you writing songs all the while? Do you have a huge amount of material tucked away for the right time, the right opportunity? It's the 50th anniversary in a few years; it would be AMAZING to have a new Blue Öyster Cult album. I really, really, really, actually BELIEVE that the Blue Öyster Cult have a great record left in them - that you could easily do something vastly more entertaining, say, than the Black Sabbath "comeback" album of a couple years ago, which managed to be "not bad" for an hour and a half, but never seemed inspired or exciting - but I also suspect that you may have some obstacles, both inwardly and outwardly, to making it happen, at least in the way it SHOULD happen, after such a long time out of the studio...

2. I haven't seen you live since the Fire of Unknown Origin days and I don't really like watching live clips on Youtube, so I have no idea what seeing you in concert really looks like these days. It strikes me, though, that the only way, given the audience who likely comes to your shows, that you can do what you do - tour endlessly without a new record - would be to go through the "hits" of your catalogue, OVER and OVER and OVER again. I can't see you having a choice - it would be like if Steppenwolf tried to get by without "Born to Be Wild," in the absence of an album that anyone has heard since 1975 (actually Steppenwolf probably have it worse than you, but no matter). You can't not play "Don't Fear the Reaper," say, not without a legion of fans supporting a new album of fresh material that they actually know and love. And man do I wonder if that gets to be a chore. A local musician and I - Rodney DeCroo - talked about that phenomenon awhile ago, about there being two types of musicians out there, the ones who WANT to play the crowdpleasers and the ones who really, really get tired of their own songs and put certain ones away for years, but there's also a third type, the least enviable type of all, of musicians who, if they want to make a living, HAVE NO CHOICE but to play their hits, over and over again, whether they're bored of them or not (which must be kind of soul-crushing and inimical to keeping the creative spark alive, making your passion into your dayjob; it's one of the "inward obstacles" I wonder if you would have to surmount, in order to get the fire burning properly for a trip to the studio...).   

And just so you understand - if it isn't already clear - I'm that oddball in the audience who actually doesn't WANT you to play "Don't Fear the Reaper," unless you actually really enjoy doing it. If you ever come back to Vancouver, you'll know it's me in the audience if you hear shouts for "The Old Gods Return" and other songs next to no one else in the house even knows. I'm really happy to see that there are a few things like "The Vigil" on your setlists lately (and puzzled about the persistence of "Shooting Shark," which seems neither a song for weirdos like me, NOR a song for the mainstream fans, so I presume you play it because YOU like it; I'd like to know more about that, because it's a song of yours I never really understood). 

It's not that I don't LOVE your hits, of course. I have questions about "Don't Fear the Reaper" too (and whether "The Last Days of May" also involves a suicide pact, and if so, why you have written more than one song about suicide pacts; that's a weird theme to gravitate towards, isn't it?). Or, like, did you have to pay money up front to Toho Studios to do "Godzilla," or did they get litigious, or...? (Do you guys still tour with a mechanical Godzilla head? If not, what happened to it? It would be really fun to know where that ended up - if it's tucked safely in Eric's garage for safekeeping, for instance, to be dusted off for some future date, or maybe got sold to some insane Japanese fan, or...?). 

Personally, I would be more excited to see a Stalk Forrest Group concert, or hear a set completely comprised of NON-hits: a show only of Blue Öyster Cult songs that only rabid fans know! "Fuck you, we're not doing 'Godzilla' tonight, this one is called 'She's as Beautiful as a Foot!'" I just saw Robert Plant the other day and am super-glad he didn't go anywhere near "Stairway to Heaven," though he did do a few Zep songs... He seems to be in a pretty good place, re: keeping the spark alive, actually, has been putting out some fantastic albums, having shrugged off the shackles of his past. I would wish the same for you, in fact, presuming that was a) something you wanted and b) that you had a new album that actually put the band BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT where it belongs....

3. And then there's the case of those albums that no one paid much attention to, that (sorry) "losing streak" that the band was on from 1983, when your last real "hits" were, until Curse of the Hidden Mirror in 2001 (also technically a loser, I guess, since no one paid it much mind among the masses, but a great and creative record, as those who have heard it know). I haven't heard Club Ninja in decades; I am only just discovering that Imaginos - which didn't work for me at all at the time - is actually pretty interesting, ambitious, and worthy of notice; and then there's the one that interests me most at present, Heaven Forbid... 

It took me a long time to get with that record, actually. I don't know if other people had the same bad reaction that I did, initially, to the attempt the band made, in "See You in Black," which kicks off the album, to sound like a contemporary metal act, but the one time I tried to listen to the album, I turned it off before I even finished that song so I could get my face out of the wince it went into; I never even made track two, that day, just knew I wasn't going to buy the record, and put it back on the shelf. I've come around, as I say - not just to the album, but to that song, too, which is JUST FINE - but at the time, I was positively embarrassed. Mark Prindle's record review site totally captures how I felt, though it was maybe even more complicated for me in that I was kind of anti-metal back then. It sounds, as Prindle says, like you're trying to show the world that you can "keep up with the young'uns," kinda like Alice did with Constrictor (which I also wanted nothing to do with). It smacks of desperation or maybe bad advice, like the label was insisting you try to sound "tough" and "contemporary," which is poison to those of us who are stuck in the worship of Secret Treaties, who thought the band was already way AHEAD of anyone else, back in 1973, and who don't WANT the band to "progress," leastways into cliche'd flavour-of-the-month tripe - which, like I say, is how I felt about the song THEN... 

It's a shame I HAD that reaction, back then, of course, because it turns out that Heaven Forbid has some really, really fine songcraft (like "Real World," which is amazing). I've completely gotten over my old objections to the album, and love even the more "metal" moments (like "Power Underneath Despair," a great little revenge anthem).  Your leads are still great, and it seems to me that you're emerging more and more as the center of the band, the lead vocalist and songwriter. I think I'd pick it as the under-appreciated underdog gem in your catalogue, actually. I can rationalize and understand WHY the band might have been unsure how to present itself, back in 1998, fifteen years after it had last had a hit, and in a very unusual place, commanding a certain respect but also finding itself in a landscape very much unlike the one it came up in. I wonder if the relative lack of attention the album received was hurtful, and if, say, you have pride or fondness for it now? (Or if you have another "underdog favourite" of the band's last few records...?). 

4. There's lots more I could ask. What's with the UFO fascination? What the fuck is "The Vigil" actually about? It seems to mix religious imagery with UFO imagery and I'd like to know where that comes from...? Where does the science fiction geekdom come from in the band? Are you still in touch with (or working with) John Shirley? With all these songs co-written with writers (Michael Moorcock, too, say), do you you have them write out lyrics and then put them to music, or do you write music and then ask them to come up with lyrical ideas, or...?  Meltzer has said some kinda unkind things publicly about the BÖC; did you ever bury the hatchet? I wonder if you have any Allen Lanier stories? I want to know about the Flat Out solo record, and about whether the band is actually into motorcycles and car racing and stuff like that? (Because it seems bikers are part of your fan base, which I assume informs why "Transmaniacon MC" remains on the set...).

More than any of all that, I still want to know what a horn swooped bungo pony is, or what it means to have ones "diz" busted, because... you know, I don't think I even want to say what that phrase makes me think of. (Especially if I have to commit to having my "diz" busted SEVEN TIMES by people who are screaming. It sounds very unpleasant!). Is the band actually INTERESTED in occultism? (I always wondered if there was a hidden injunction in the band's name to "Be Occult," eh?). If we do this for Germany - my editor is interested - I'd be really curious to know how performing "ME 262" feels over there, and if you've ever gotten flak for it (never mind Slayer, you guys were writing songs about Nazis in the 1970's!). I WOULD LOVE TO TALK TO YOU, BUCK (Mr. Roeser). And I really really hope you have a new Blue Öyster Cult record coming out sometime soon, that I could help with the promotion of. (Assuming I don't take 20 years to come around to loving it).

Much respect, Buck! Thanks for all the great music, for being SO creative and weird and for continuing to slug it out. COME BACK TO VANCOUVER sometime. I'll come to the show, and I'll fight Steve Newton for the right to interview you! 

(Or maybe we can BOTH interview you.. because the Newt understands, too!). 



PS: If any of my readers have Buck's ear or email address, direct this to him, okay?

PPS: Parties interested in the above should note that the Stalk Forrest Group LP - recorded by the BÖC core and then unreleased for decades, long before they became the BÖC - has been reissued on vinyl and can be ordered in at local stores (Audiopile might even be stocking it). It's wacky, weird, and great, eccentric sorta-psych-rock with a folk element on some tracks, and even WACKIER guitar leads from Buck Dharma than you get on BÖC albums. It is even MORE singular and untimely than the first few BÖC albums, standing wayyy out from it's zeitgeist, with very little in common with the cliche of psychedelic rock of the day (tho' it still kinda fits the category), NOR much in common with either heavy metal as it would come to be known NOR the eventual BÖC sound... It does have a prototype version of "I'm on the Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep," which would eventually mutate into "The Red and the Black," but it also contains a ton of songs ("What is Quicksand") that have no obvious relation to anything the band would become, or anything else in the world then, since, or ever. It's real fun, in short, and really worth a listen! 

PPPS: If there are any doubts I am serious in the above, note that I actually Googled the band name, cut an O with an umlaut and pasted it individually to each instance of the band's name in this article, then cleared formatting for it so that it was the same size and font as all the other "O's" in the article. I really need to get a keyboard that has an "umlaut" function. Or figure out how to make my computer add it without my doing this. Or retire from writing about rock music. Or something. 

Here's what the O looks like BEFORE I cleared the formatting: Ö.

PPPPS: Oh, jeez, it is worse than I thought. I looked up "Seven Screaming Diz-Busters" and found this quote from Eric Bloom: "I think Richard Meltzer and Sandy Pearlman came up with a term, that was sort of like an inside joke to them and used it in the lyric of that song. To them, the diz was the groove at the top of the penis."

To be honest, I was "around back" for this, but I want my diz busted even LESS now.