Friday, May 25, 2007

Cannes You Dig It?

Approximately two weeks ago I got a phone call from Mick asking me what I had planned for May 22nd. Before I could even muster a response, he said "Your answer is nothing". He proceeded to tell me that some film set to be the hit at the Cannes Film Festival used a Dirtbombs song in it and that we were asked/invited to play the premier party, dependant on hotel room availability. A few days later I'm reciting my memorized passport number to Mick over the phone. And a few days later I find out that our flights alone cost $14,000. Our guarantee for the show was initially $7500 but after those costs it got knocked down to $5000.

Couldn't help but think the Dirtbombs were just flown over as some massive ego-stroke for an unexpected character. My initial feeling was that the whole thing is a modern performance art rendition of Great Expectations. Whoever I actually think the person who brought the band over actually has nothing to do with the plan and secretly Robert DeNiro's character has been supporting us the entire time (I know only the movie version of this story…apparently there's a book as well). Ko thought the whole charade would end in a Punk'd manner while Mick personally kept thinking he saw Alan Funt somewhere. Ain't it grand to be immediately suspicious about the wonderful fortune to befall us?

The flights were fine and painless and I slept well on both of them (Detroit to Paris and Paris to Nice). On the Nice flight I sat next to a dude who's tourette's-like pig snorts were both annoying and sad. I said nothing.

The bus waiting for us at the Nice airport was comical in its inappropriateness. This was a 30+ passenger bus complete with cargo holds underneath, a collapsing door that opened with a lever, rainbow striped upholstery, two television monitors and a front window the size of proper Amish quilt. All for the express purpose of getting the five Dirtbombs (Troy, Ko, Pat, Mick and myself) from the Nice airport to our hotel just outside of Cannes.

The buildings and scenery on the French Riviera are peculiar. It's all very reminiscent of certain LA neighborhoods like Eagle Rock. The houses perched upon rocky precipices, surrounded by exotic needle-y flora, so picturesque that it's hard to fathom that people (hell, REGULAR people) live in these abodes, driving their funny cars like Peugeots and Renaults in between the frequent trips to the beach and emergency baguette runs.

We stopped briefly at the venue site (the Cannes outdoor fish market stall) where we sized up the stage, lights and overall set-up that was soon to be torn down for so the market could take place the next morning, only to be re-set for us to play later that night. There were huge posters? Tapestries? Wall-coverings? All over the place with the names of the featured actors of Le Scaphandre et le Papillon emblazoned on them, as well as over-sized reformatted nautical maps with a splatch of red paint and the film's title curving downward like a flaccid penis when viewed from the side.

To the Pierre et Vacances. The rooms were much like those we stay at in Australia, ie meant for an extended stay with lots of comfort space. A foyer, a living/dining room with a small connected kitchenette, two separate balconies with self-locking sliding doors, one bedroom with two twin beds (Pat's) another with a queen size bed and balcony access (mine) as well as a shower/sink room and a toilet sink closet. There was a small TV awkwardly positioned flush against a wall next to a sofa sectional, leaving no logical viewing furniture. The television was not turned on once during our entire stay. And neither was I.

Staying at a place like this makes me want to go get groceries, to spread my crap all over the place and just settle in. But the brevity of our trip severely limited how familiar I could get with the place. In the same way, I don't get my usual day or two to re-familiarize myself with the language I was barely taught my middle two years of high school and one pitiful semester in college. With a warming period I can actually get by alright…in no way as fluent as Mick or Ko, but light years beyond Troy's quirk of trying to get people to understand him better by speaking English with a French accent. So on first try he will say "Do you have a cigarette?" and get absolutely no response, he will retry with "Zoo yoo ave a zigarette?" usually with some added hand-motions. This amuses the rest of the band to no end.

I crashed asleep on the queen size bed listening to Kelley Stoltz on the laptop. Pat woke me up later and we go exploring with Ko. Not too far, as the heart of Cannes is a good five miles away from our spot in Mandelieu and we were more interested in eating.

So back to the hotel restaurant. Pat starts off with a 23 Euro bottle of red wine, served chilled, just the way he doesn't like it. But he also explains he's never had bad wine in France and tonight would be no exception. I had the pizza with jambon et champignons while Ko got it margherita-style and straggling Mick (as rounded up by Ko) got the rabbit with mustard.

After lots of talking Troy shows up and we all decide to head into town together. Back to the room to change, I throw on my blue oxford shirt from grade school, my clean brown leather zipper boots and my grandfather's hand-me-down black polyester suit coat coupled with a pair of vintage Levi's 517's and a just-bought-yesterday-from-Kmart pair of grey toe/heel white Hanes sweatsocks.

And the rest of the band was all dolled up too. Ko in a fancy skirt, Troy in a suit and tie (first time I've ever seen that) Pat in suitcoat (I see that in my sleep) and Mick in some weird black button-down collared shirt with some shit embroidered down the back complete with art-damaged silk-screened t-shirt underneath and stylin' black leather shoes. I cannot recall a previous time in which we were all dressed up. So we hopped in a cab and made towards the scene.

The red carpet was for BBQ the new Gus Van Zant film about a rouge, hat-wearing Canadian garage rocker. We saw Mickey Rourke walk in haggard as hell, followed by the cast of the movie of which I knew no one (although Van Zant did look familiar, but not in a WickedCool inventor of satellite radio way). Played a somber-as-fuck Elliott Smith song over the PA while the cast was making their entrance and I could not fathom as to why. Even after discovering said song is featured in the movie, it is certainly not your typical "thump-thump-thump" red carpet techno crap.

The conversations b/n band members were particularly priceless at this juncture: (me) "I think that's Jamie Lee Curtis….nope," (Mick) "No, it's Gwenyth Paltrow" (Ko) "It's what's-her-name? From the 'Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' movie."

Ko got stopped on the street by some lady who began taking her photo and then started taking group portraits. It was interesting how quick band members (I think Ko and Troy) offered up the info about our (come on admit it, minimal at best) involvement in the Schnabel film. I felt awkward when she was taking the photos and thought Mick did too when he started to complain…only to realize he was complaining that someone was between him and the camera.

We just walked aimlessly as a band. It was nice. I stopped at an ATM, Pat got cigarettes, Ko, Mick and I bottles of water…just absorbing the atmosphere. Uphill on a windy, narrow street flush with restaurants on both sides of the avenue, all hustle and bustle and self-importance and flickering French accents.

We finally settled at a prime restaurant on a busy corner. Ko and I got fanciful ice cream dishes while Troy and Mick both had drinks that came with glo-sticks plopped within. Pat had some apertif? I truly cherish the times that it is the band and only the band spending time with each other. While I am certain to tire of each one's foibles more than I can keep count, it's as if once we're all together a perfect balance is struck. Remove one of us from the equation or add an outsider and it becomes a mess.

So after respite there we canoodled down the street, ran into some Americans Troy met earlier (apparently they even knew who the Dirtbombs were) and slowly, tiredly decided to head back to the hotel. We walked up the street, searching for something just out of reach (a good time, another bar, hope) along all the docked yachts. We resigned ourselves to hailing a cab and with no such luck end up at the cab stand. Mick, Ko and Pat took a cab and Troy and I were in another.

Cab ride cost 26 euro and I gave Troy 15 for it. I don't think he tipped the driver. Withdrew 100 Euro at the bank and by the end of the night was left with 50…fuck. Gave Pat 20 for covering me at dinner (he said he owes me 5) and 15 to cover me and some of Ko's ice cream (for she bought me the water). Shit. I gotta be more frugal. (Pat would give me 10 Euro early the next morning)

So back at the hotel I read for a bit and then went to the lobby to check email, composed a list of White Stripes rarities for their NME cover story and listened as some lady berated the man at the front desk for not having her room key.

Realized that the past four days I'd slept in four different time zones…Nashville, Detroit, somewhere over the Atlantic and now Cannes. Pretty impressive and probably the reason I didn't doze off that night until light had already begun to break.

Early morning pointless wake-up from housekeeping. Damn I hate that. Didn't see a sign to hang on the door and so I'm forced to deal with TWO French women in my room at the crack of whatever. As if the awakening wasn't enough, they actually began to start to talk to me and try to engage in a conversation. Was this their first fucking day? Are all other idiot guests who forget to put the sign on their door handle just happy as shit to see you? Apparently a "no" does not suffice at this rest establishment and instead (I shit you not) I had to sign my name on a piece of paper next to my room number (320) to, I'm assuming, provide written proof that I in fact did not want my room tidied. At this point, I really wish I had that piece of paper just to see how fucked my signature actually looks when I write it immediately after being woken up by some ignorant schlubs.

I didn't get out of bed until 4pm. And I awoke feeling sick…pale green phlegm spit into the sink and a runny nose I blew all over the shower. Troy gave me a packet of Airborne that I drank on our Detroit/Paris flight but as I already had a little sniffle going on I think it was too little too late. The sickness was nothing debilitating, just a minor annoyance that would be unnoticeable by the end of the day. Pat went out on the town and as I combed my hair in the water closet (the mirror in the shower room was rightfully fogged) I heard a knock at the door and expecting Pat, said "What's up cracker?" to which a nervous French dude looked at me confused. I said "No" and he walked away.

Picked up in hotel lobby around 5:30 and straight to the venue. It really was just a shelter like something at Detroit's Eastern Market. This day everyone was working frenzied, putting together tables fresh out of their Ikea boxes and other general activities of preparedness and such.

The drumsets provided came with snare drums. Mine was a metal Gretsch and I decided to use it over my personal wooden Gretsch. I'm really not a gear nerd…just give me something that can withstand the force with which I play and I'll be happy. Tones…fuck tones.

So soundcheck was painless…Pat and I got monitors on separate channels and everything sounded just right by the time we were done. Our lounge behind the stage (near the food prep area) was just a series of over-sized changing screens situated in a circle. Inside were some couches and tables. After brief relaxing, we headed down the street to eat.

First course was a lentil salad. Not bad, but I stayed away from the onions and tomatoes on it. Second was some pork (chop?) dish with polenta. Tasty. Thirds was like a caramel brulee or something. Mediocre. Hearty baguette for munching in-between. Pat tried to tell the waitress he was not hungry, but they didn't seem to understand. He really doesn't like to eat before a show as it messes him up somehow or another. I helped out with part of his pork because he was feeling guilty, but he actually ordered a cheese plate for dessert.

Walked around for a bit, realized nothing was open and that Cannes is a pretty fucked touriste town lacking a culture outside of restaurants. Back to our hut in the back and I zonked out.

Woke up and walked out to watch the red carpet for a hot minute. Sharon Stone was the only face I recognized and she was appropriately bombarded with press attention. Back in our hut, Pat brought Julian Schnable to chat.

What a laid back and cool guy. I was honestly impressed. I remember Jack White saying about Jim Jarmusch that he just "seemed like a guy who was in a band" and while that comment is so obtusely vague, I could immediately understand and comprehend how he meant it. Anyway, Schnabel (to me) just seemed like he was a guy in a band. He was pissed we didn't get to go to the screening. He said he'd arrange one for us in Detroit. He explained in detail how "Chains of Love" is used in the film. He said his initial idea for the song at that moment in the film was "the Stones' song that's the address…shit, the only instrumental song on '12x5'" to which I quickly piped up "2120 South Michigan Avenue" without geeking out and telling him that the German pressing has a longer version of the song.

He explained how some friend of his left "Ultraglide" lying around and that he put it in his CD player with no idea of what to expect. He hadn't heard any of our other records. He said it reminded him of Arthur Lee, the fuzz of Jimi Hendrix, and the voice of (with Mick's help) JJ Barnes.

Julian mentioned that he was friends with Lenny Kravitz and suggested (or maybe said that Lenny suggested?) we do a cover of "Chains of Love" with Lenny. We were all mostly polite in an awkward way before Pat brought up David Cross' proposed video treatment for "The Sharpest Claws" in which Mick apes a Kravitz video where shit like not having milk for cereal and other random "bad luck" crap happens, his idea that Lenny is guilty of ripping Mick off or some such shit. Julian replied, curtly, "Well, I don't know anything about that" and I think we all felt a little awkward

He said we were the first choice for performers after Mick asked if we were only there because Tom Waits said no. Julian was honestly sincerely cordial. He introduced his gorgeous wife. He repeated all of our names as if he was explicitly trying to remember them. He introduced his son, Vito, and some other guy who owns a castle in Germany. Mick also asked if he'd heard anything other than "Chains of Love" that we'd done, expecting that Julian would be surprised watching us perform live, not expecting such terrible, awful noises and racket to come from the studious and prestigious musos behind the operatic "Chains of Love". (sarcasm) It's times like these when Mick over-estimates his shock factor that really get to me. You write catchy songs dude, this isn't your noise project. If they heard "Chains" then they know what they're getting into.

More hurry up and wait. When I finally ventured out to the party room I thought I saw Sofia Coppola. As I got closer, I thought it was Kim Gordon. Later in the night I figured she was probably just a nobody. I did feel a little uncomfortable in my blue jeans and threadbare Black Cat fireworks t-shirt. Underdressed is always worse than overdressed. No one stared, pointed or anything like that. In fact, the complete opposite. When in the party room I felt like I was totally ignored and invisible. Which is really fine in the end.

The scene itself was tres impressive. One of the food serving station had a full-on swordfish head positioned on the table to appear as if the beast was piercing through and the rest of its body was hidden underneath. Add to that a huge faux tree branch suspended above the main bar. Immaculately lit with greens and purples, the day before the thing was open on the bottom and surrounded by wire mesh on the sides. The night of the show the branch was totally enclosed and filled with live butterflies. Now I know next to nothing about the production aspect of private parties, but I can imagine that having a live butterfly wrangler on the payroll is fairly expensive. And these weren't just your run-of-the-mill orange and black monarch butterflies weasling around…no, these things were an exotic blue and BIGGER than any other living butterfly I'd ever seen.

Schnabes (as I assume he would be fine with me calling him) got onstage to introduce us, said something about Gerard Depardieu, and we were off into "Chains". Like the bat mitzvah and wedding reception we played in '05 and '06 (respectively) it seemed the beginning of the Dirtbombs' set was the impetus for most people to leave the party or at least, you know, go for a walk.

I'm fine with such designations at this point, my body artificially manufacturing whatever chemical an active audience exudes and instead pretending that we're playing the greatest show ever. And our performance was not bad…minus Troy's bass head shorting out and being fixed immiediatly (I believe in "Ode to a Blackman") and him missing his entrance on the final chorus to "Kung Fu" and a moment or two where I felt out of sync with Pat and my early start on "Ode" (by a hair really) we were perfect.

One woman stood in front of the stage and danced as she watched us. Applause between songs was light but audible. The span of the entire thing was 40 minutes at most. "I Heard Her Call My Name" as a closer was fun, and only once we started playing it did I remember hearing that Lou Reed is the godfather of one of Schnabes' daughters.

Our set, in order, was:
Chains of Love
Start the Party
Get It While You Can
Ode to a Black Man
Motor City Baby
Cedar Point '76
Kung Fu
My Love For You
The Sharpest Claws
I Heard Her Call My Name

I was really tempted/planning on grabbing one of my tom mics during "Kung Fu" and whispering "do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do" or, if I felt ballsy "I've been working on a piece that speaks of sex and desperation…" Just vocalizing the "do-do…" backstage to Pat got me a laugh. But my conscience thought that if anyone were actually paying attention (a pretty big if) and actually caught the reference (a slightly more massive if) that it could actually get misconstrued. So I balked and instead just blew into the microphones before doing my best (pale) impression of a free jazz drummer.

Most amazing was the fact that Mick played the entire set without breaking a string. With him only bringing one guitar for the gig (and bringing it in a metal guitar case, which was then placed inside a cardboard box and then sent as checked luggage) we were pretty much anticipating sheer disaster. So that was a nice thing that actually went our way.

Back in our hut immediately after the performance Schnabes showed up in his pajamas (bad ass) with a tray of desserts for us. Class act. We sat and talked some more. I've nothing but good things to say about that man. He wanted the rest of our music and we promised to send it to him.

And from there I didn't do much else. Basically stayed in the back room while everyone else was cavorting in the crowd while DJ WOMC played the most obvious dance hits of the 70's that (of course) got everyone up and dancing.

A trip or two out into the party room proved to be boring and uneventful. I felt guilty being at such a soiree and not being totally wowed. Like I wish I could've replaced myself with someone who would've actually taken full advantage of the night and enjoyed themselves to no end. Me? I was content with our performance, glad to meet Schnabes and nothing more. Alright…I ate too many sugar-loaded desserts. Oh well. Hate to be blasé about it all, but that's how it felt.

Troy said Kate Hudson gave him a kiss and told him we were fantastic. I don't believe him for a second, especially since the guy we saw on the street he said was Sam Shepard looked absolutely nothing like any picture of the guy I could dig up. Like the fella who played Wild Bill Hickok on Deadwood, yes, but I'm still not sure what that guy's name is…maybe one of the Carradines?

After what felt like an appropriate amount of time at the shindig (yet while the party was still going) we climbed into the van (a much more feasible 11 passenger minivan with the last bench removed to make room for our gear) and made back to Pierre et Vacances.

I spent a chunk of time in the lobby on the Internet. Then to bed.

Woke up and decided not to shower. Packed all my shit and at 8:30am we climbed back into the comically oversized bus and made way to the Nice airport. As our bus driver dropped us off some band members exchanged hugs and goodbyes. Was I cold and removed in feeling that I didn't really have to say goodbye to her? Especially since I don't think I spoke word one to her during the two times she drove us? Or was I just somewhat emotionally vacant, forgetting that it's always nice to have someone to say goodbye to at the airport?

We checked in fine. Lines for the metal detectors were a tad long, but we weren't fazed. As I finally got to the X-ray conveyor belt and metal detector I was unceremoniously told that I was in the wrong line and that I must go to "five". Let me explain the situation this way…there were five different stations for these checks. With two lines starting on a stairway, it was terribly easy to just get into one of these lines without seeing the one 8x11 sign posted so that only people already in the correct "JFK/ATL" line could read it.

So I put my belt back on, stashed my laptop back into my briefcase, put my shoes back on (probably) reclaimed my passport and boarding pass and made my way back through the line over to what I luckily guessed was "five", stuck behind a flight crew in which every member impressively managed to set off the metal detector and warrant a wand wave-down.

I went through the laptop/shoe/belt rigamarole again and passed through the metal detector with the greatest of ease only to get a very non-sensual patdown. Dude at the end of the belt asked if he could check my bag and I say sure. He unzipped my suitcase and went straight for my kick pedal. "Oh no…zis eez naht good"

Now I'll be the first one to admit to the dangerous powers of a kick pedal…but only when under John Bonham or Patrick Keeler's foot and unleashing a wicked stuttered beat or better yet, "Scentless Apprentice". Otherwise, it's just a big hunk of metal no different or more dangereuse than this heavy PowerBook with which I write to you.

So I say "Fuck" and Frenchie Le Peu looks at me, offended, and says "Fahk me?" To which I have to clarify, "No…not fuck you" which has quickly become my new favorite phrase.

My initial fear that I would just have to leave the kick pedal for them frogs to take home and try to invent ways to kill people with was assuaged when I was told I could just check my suitcase. Luckily I had only previously checked one bag and was able to check another without any money having to change hands. So backwards through the security line for a second time all the way to the check in desk, with mere minutes to spare before they stopped check-in. Luckily there's no huge line of people at the desk, but it appeared that the baggage conveyor belt had ceased to operate, leaving a backlog of bags that still needed to be moved somehow or another.

A kind gentleman behind one of the counters directed me to an empty stall where he weighed my bag, tagged it, gave me my luggage claim check and sent me on my merry way. Somewhere in the middle of all that I realized I'd left my briefcase where the dude was going through my suitcase. I was lucky and prescient in figuring it was no big deal.

Back through the security line (third time's a charm) and at this point I just didn't give a fuck. Walked to the front of the line, took the metal part off my belt, through the teleporter-looking device that never takes me anywhere all while the X-ray jockey is trying to make me wait or some other bullshit. I reclaim my briefcase unharmed and go directly to passport control (a line that was long and sinuous earlier) with no wait and reconvene with Mick and tell him my entire ordeal as we still had 5-10 minutes before boarding.

I guess the entire thing was just a way to pass the time.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The White Stripes Live in Nashville...

Dan Sartain opened and was as vicious as ever. I've seen him 4 times now and he's never had the same band with him twice. I like that. Shows he's got versatility, adaptability, style and grace. And baiting the Tennessee crowd by rah-rahing Alabama's Crimson Tide was sly and crooked all at the same time. I love this man and you should to.

The White Stripes were everything they could've been. With Jack wisely holding back with what he was offering of new songs (a breakdown at the end of "Icky Thump", the last verse of "Effect and Cause" sung away from the mic, only doing half of "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" and Meg's tambourine-only accompaniment to "Martyr For My Love For You") it was all a delightful tease and treat for everyone in attendance. If anyone tries to form an opinion of these songs from a bootleg live recording they will be confused and rightfully so.

And it felt like old a Dirtbomb, some Greenhornes, a Soledad, two Whirlwind Heats, a Brendan Benson...a collection of friends who'd seen 90% of the Stripes shows in the past few years. It'd been forever since I'd seen Jack and Meg in a place this size (a similar late notice show was in the works for the Magic Stick back in '03, but someone had to go and break their finger) and it felt right. I really hope it's not the last of them in intimate venues.

On the nerdy tip, they opened with Hank Williams' "Tennessee Border", a song they'd never done before. "Do" unleashed anger that I'd never detected from that song. And Meg's got a badass circular drum rug done up like a peppermint. Also, they failed to play any songs off of Get Behind Me Satan. I thought at least there would be some "Blue Orchid" or "The Denial Twist" but alas no. Was it a conscious decision on the band's behalf? You decide.

But Meg was the biggest surprise...usually when they're jamming on some spontaneous riff she can be found to take most of her cues from Jack. But at this show Meg was running with it...throwing in accents and tempo changes in these off-the-cuff jams that occasionally turn into something.

This development will be huge. Once they've been on the road for a bit and fully regained their sea legs, the White Stripes live show will easily be at its most ferocious ever.

And what's not to love about a band that sells limited edition (200some made) t-shirts specific to the date/show for $5 a pop? Beating the bootleggers (do people even bootleg t-shirts anymore?), hooking up the fans and a show specific artifact makes everyone happy.

The Setlist:
Tennessee Border (Hank Williams)
When I Hear My Name
Icky Thump
Black Math
Effect and Cause
Jolene (Dolly Parton)
Death Letter (Son House) - Motherless Children (Son House)
Hotel Yorba
Martyr for My Love for You
Canon - John the Revelator (Son House)
Ball and Biscuit
I'm Slowly Turning Into You
We Are Going to Be Friends
Apple Blossom
Wasting My Time

Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
Rated X (Loretta Lynn)
Seven Nation Army

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Arctic Monkeys Have That Special Summat...

Be Your Own Pet sounded alright from the parking lot.

Overheard on a security guard's walkie-talkie "Does anyone have a 20 on Amir?"

Arctic Monkeys were solid. Some bands can just show up and play their songs and not have to flash and dazzle to accomplish the job. This is one of those bands. Opening with the pre-recorded silky string intro of "If You Found This It's Probably Too Late" was classy and perfect and the rest of the show was unrelenting.

More than anything, each song they specifically did NOT play made me like said song even more. So since the show I've been all about "Riot Van" and everything off of Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys? While the wallop contained within their heavy rocking songs is clear, it's the mellow jams that seem to get unfairly ignored. "Despair in the Departure Lounge" completely nails the feeling of leaving a loved one behind (whether for a tour or whatever) and is one of (at most) a handful of songs from the past year that I know all the lyrics too. I feel a deep personal connection to that song and there's nothing more you can ask for as a music fan of a band.

And I guess they haven't been playing anything off of Who the Fuck... live at all this year. Frontman Alex Turner said something along the lines of not really agreeing/feeling the lyrics of those songs anymore and it leads me to believe that EP will in the future be regarded as some wonderful forgotten transition period of the a Kinks' Village Green, Weezer Pinkerton or the Velvets' White Light/White Heat. But you're getting the scoop now...Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys? is unheralded genius and it'll be years before most people admit so.

I also became aware of the fact of how much the Monkeys remind me of the Coral. Granted, their styles could not be any more diametrically opposed. But I think it's more the band configuration, approach, precision and execution that links these two acts as brothers from different mothers (apposed to sisters from different misters). After listening to some live Coral tracks, it was so obvious that I felt dumb for having just realized these similarities. Do an A/B comparison and I think you'll see it too.

The day after the show I listened to "I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor" six non-consecutive times in my car. The dearth of affected guitars on Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not now feels like a quaint dollop of childish inexperience whereas the set-up on Favourite Worst Nightmare is just a pure attack with light-years more strength. Both good and interesting in their own separate ways.

Arctic Monkeys keep me excited and that alone makes me more excited. Bravo.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Interview with Jello Biafra...

So I helped some friends put together a book about rock band t-shirts that should be out in a month or two. Here's the transcription of one of the interviews I did. What started simply as a five question interview became a 60 minute monologue. I guess Jello's spoken word appearances can go up to four hours? That's impressive and (after conducting this interview) entirely believable.

Jello Biafra, Dead Kennedys, 8-23-06

What was your first rock band t-shirt?

I can’t really remember because I went to middle and high school in the early to mid-seventies and rock t-shirts hadn’t really come in yet. Sure they existed but it wasn’t something you saw on high school kids. People didn’t want to put their favorite band as being that big a part of their identity on their t-shirt. Of course there were “Keep On Truckin’” t-shirts, the occasional Coca Cola logo parodied into “Cocaine”. So I guess maybe the first one was one I fished off the floor of the Marquee in England when I went over there on my fear and loathing hippie backpack trip from hell in the summer of ‘77 and of course I sought out punk rock shows and wound up seeing the Saints who’s first album had come out. And the opening band was Wire which must’ve been one of their first gigs…Colin Newman was still putting on Johnny Rotten faces and trying to be all punk and everything. I guess it would’ve been at the end of the gig, somebody threw out a bunch of shrink-wrapped t-shirts for the Saints that all said in a kind of dripping blood red paintbrush on a white shirt “It’s better to be a Saint than a sap” I think that might’ve been my first band t-shirt so I wore it with great pride. I actually brought home two of them and I still haven’t opened the second one. All I have to do is find it.

They also had a bunch of empty jackets from the I’m Stranded album so I pulled one off the floor and had them autograph that for me. Chris Bailey, the singer, and I sat on the edge of the stage and talked about the Blues Magoos. This is the summer of ‘77, the Kennedys didn’t start ‘til a year later. I didn’t even cut all my hair off and put it in a plastic bag and nail to my dorm room door until later that Fall. But I’ve always been really proud of the autographed Saints album cover because the cover was just destroyed by people pogo dancing and spilling beers…it’s the most mangled record cover you’ll ever see. It was what was available. Plus they gave me a free t-shirt and a couple of buttons.

Do you have a favorite rock t-shirt?

It’s hard to say because being somebody who sees a lot of bands and gets a lot of stuff in the mail I’m always inundated with band t-shirts. I try to talk bands out of giving me shirts. I’d much rather listen to their music. So I usually only take one if the artwork on it is really good. Still, I’m not sure I have a lasting favorite because a lot of those would have worn out over the years. I did find a whole barrel of cheap cut-out Donny and Marie t-shirts years ago in a warehouse chain store in Marin County. And I always thought it was really funny that the singer of the very first punk band in Colorado, the Ravers, who I roadied for (as the language was back in the day)before I moved to San Francisco, as a gag he wore a Donny and Marie t-shirt on stage and I always thought that was funny and what do I find but a big pile of Donny and Marie t-shirts. So I wore them night after night on the last Dead Kennedys tour in the Fall of ’85, I had so many of them I actually started to take them off and throwing them in the crowd every night and forgot to save a single one. So I’ve missed my Donny and Marie shirts ever since although they were an ugly color of beige and I’ve gotten a little fatter since.

The Ravers eventually moved to NY and changed their name to the Nails and had that old hit “88 Lines About 44 Women.”

Somebody brought me an amazing looking bible school t-shirt back stage in San Jose but somebody stole it the same night so I never got to wear it.

Maybe one of the first rock band shirts was when I was working for the Ravers, they made a few shirts of their own and I got one. It was my only rock t-shirt, this was before the Saints. I felt cool as shit. Everybody always giving me shit in high school, I never thought my family believed in me, but now I was a fucking roadie, man! I was on top of the world and I had the t-shirt to prove it.

Regarding the Ravers’ t-shirt design:

It’s kind of a guitar that turns into a flower at one end. Keep in mind, anything that was trying to bring back rock and roll was considered punk at the time. ‘Cause I listen back to primitive live recordings of the Ravers now, you know, they clearly had greater leanings to garage and rock and roll than they did to the Ramones. But it was such a horrible country rock and jazz fusion sound just admitting you liked that band would scare the hell out of just about anyone. That was a lot of fun.

Are there any rock band t-shirts that you dislike?

I haven’t really thought of one except…maybe some band I really can’t stand, it immediately brands the wearer as an idiot. But that goes triple for somebody sporting a shirt that’s pro-Republican or openly racist or whatever. I gave Jeff Clayton (Antiseen) a pass on his “I Have a Dream” t-shirt with a Confederate flag on the front because he’s Jeff and we’re friends. If it was a stranger wearing something like that I would have to wonder. You know, like a “Speak English or die” shirt.

Of course, somebody with a really obnoxious, in your face Jesus shirt would rub me the wrong way too. You know it’s one thing to have spiritual values and believe in a God that loves people, but a lot of those shirts are worn by bigoted Christian supremacists.

What do you think is the most iconic rock band t-shirt?

Well, the Dead Kennedy’s “DK” logo did a pretty good job of that. I’d been playing around with it for awhile, drawing out chicken scratches, I wanted to make sure it was something simple and easy to spray-paint so people would graffiti it all over the place. and then I showed it to Winston Smith, he played around with it, came back with a bunch of designs, that had the circle and slightly 3-D looking letters and he had ones with different patterns behind it. I liked the one with bricks, but ultimately I thought simple red behind it was the boldest and the best.

The Magma logo is hard to get away from. I’ve hardly ever see it on a shirt, but I thought it was so cool I had one custom made. Apparently they were selling pendants the one time they played over here the one time they played over here, but I was out of town and didn’t get to see them play. The progheads I still speak to who saw that show tell me it was the best live show they’d ever seen in their lives.

Winston Smith was a rabble-rousing guerilla artist who’s mainly known for his collages now. He could also draw really well. A woman I knew gave him my address and said we should meet. So I get this postcard in the mail with a still from the Zapruder film where Kennedy’s brain is exploding. “If you want more, write me back, Winston Smith” So I wrote him back and then he sent me this big package of collages, a self-portrait which is him with a gas-mask on standing in the middle of a military graveyard. He sent me fake credit cards with names like “Vice” and “Masterscam”. Some kind of scary ass fake deteregent he enclosed, Radioactive Detergent and some other things. Then I wrote him back again and asked for a phone number and we’ve been inseparable ever since.

He even does the cover to my new spoken word album coming out in the fall, called “In the Grip of Official Treason”

Regarding the Dead Kennedy’s logo:

It was turning up behind the Iron Curtain in some of the most repressed former Communist countries. People have reported seeing both that logo and bootleg tapes of my music and spoken word albums on the West Bank. And I think it was Live Skull who sent me a postcard from a little turd town in Minnesota and the post card was of their city park that had a great big tank in the middle of it. That was what you were supposed to see of this city, this big tank, and somebody had painted, it look like it was brush-painted, a DK logo on the side of the tank and it was in all the post cards.

The ex-members of the band sued me, in large part because I didn’t want to put “Holiday in Cambodia” in a Levi’s ad. Lied like fuck in court, claim they wrote all the songs, Ray now claims he designed the DK logo too and were able to con a jury into giving them the rights to everything so now I have no say in how Dead Kennedy’s is basically pimped and I’m not even allowed to see all the books. They do fake reunion shows with the logo in the ad and a lot of times my pictures in the ads too.

They were even talking about making DK logo money clips for awhile. At least I was able to shame them out of that one.

At this point, every time I get a fax form East Bay Ray with the DK logo in the top along with the name of his rogue ex-band member partnership that’s been turned into a money-grubbing corporation that the Dead Kennedy’s is a front for called DK Music, whenever I see the DK logo in collection with DK Music is looks like a swastika. Because about all he ever sends me are lies and threats.

Now the same people who do the DK t-shirts and merchandise also do the Rolling Stones, so it’s all totally gone corporate.

Do you think the DK logo has become like the Black Flag bars logo or the Misfits crimson ghost where the image or icon has become more popular than the music?

I don’t think the DK logo has gone that far. I think I can say for a fact, from what little accounting I’m allowed to see, the music outsells the logo merchandise 10-to-1, if not 50-to-1. It depresses me after doing a 4 hour spoken word show that’s packed with suppressed information I want people to know that people always say “Gosh, that was great, I learned so much tonight, but instead of buying your CD I’m gonna buy a trinket! I want a shirt. I want a hat.”

It goes the same for music, you kinda have to have ‘em now. I resisted making t-shirts at all for years, ‘cause I thought it was just scamming on the whole thing and kinda stupid. But then Winston complained to me that the DK logo was being bootlegged right, left and center and he should be getting a cut of those because he helped design the damn thing and he had a point. After that we startred making them a got rid of a goodly amount of the bootleggers, but not all of them. I can tell a bootleg from a mile away.

Other iconic ones, Black Flag, Misfits, Motorhead, the Rolling Stones…some of those icons are almost like Smiley Faces now. Some of their impact has lessened, some not.

(Jell-o asks me…)

How do you feel about the Soledad Brothers using the Black Panther logo? They originally started with a White Panther logo. They definitely had the full support of John Sinclair and I think they actually talked to Angela Davis, and maybe Huey Newton or Bobby Seale, one of them has a widow and I think someone’s widow saw it gave them the thumbs-up.

(Jello speaks now)

In a way that surprises me. When I saw that, white guys trying to play a black musical form to an audience of all white people, I was kind of offended. If the old ex-Panthers are ok with it I guess I’ll shut up. It weirded me out and I know a lot of other people have never been able to get past that and dig the band as well.

Any interesting/weird stories or anecdotes with you and t-shirts?

People have been arrested on three continents for wearing Dead Kennedy’s t-shirts. I think in Britain and Australia it was a “Too Drunk to Fuck” t-shirt and here it was a “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” t-shirt, of course because of the swastika, rather than the word “fuck” or the bars through the swastika itself.

Imagine walking around with a Millions of Dead Cops t-shirt. I got one from the band early on and I wore it to jury duty, thinking they’re gonna kick me out of this in no time and never call me back again. But it didn’t work! The jury system in the city and county of San Francisco is so horrible that they kick you off one jury and then call you back again and again and again even though it was obvious you were never going to serve. I not only wore it every single day, but I refused to wash it. After awhile I was hoping I’d get thrown out because I smelled bad, but no luck there.