'Without anxiously departing': talking with Kevin Junior of the Chamber Strings
interview by Kim Cooper & Margaret Griffis
from Scram issue #11
It's entirely too rare that the will to rock and a way with jewel-like melody turns up in a single body. Scram is a proud supporter of such anomalies, and also endorses anyone who wears a rooster haircut at century's end. You may know of Kevin Junior's work with the Mystery Girls or Rosehips, or backing up Epic Soundtracks towards the end of his life. His Chamber Strings are terrific, brash, tasteful, swaggering, and sweet, and their Gospel Morning record was one of the finest things to come out in the last couple years. Kevin met us before his band's Los Angeles debut at Spaceland one summer evening, and impressed us very favorably, because even though he was hallucinating, his manners were pristine.
(as we set up the recorder Kevin is telling us about how he was abused by the management for smoking at the club the night before)
MARGARET: So, how was Long Beach, other than that they attacked you?
KEVIN: (chuckling) Terrible! They were just mean to us.
KIM: Was it the audience, or the club?
KEVIN: There was no audience, but if there was maybe they would have been mean, too.
MARGARET: Maybe that's why they were mean to you.
KEVIN: Yeah. Well, they were mean before there was any proof of an audience. It was really comical. But the three shows before that were good.
KIM: How long have you been touring?
KEVIN: We've been to Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.
KIM: Well, tonight will be better; this is a good bill.
MARGARET: There'll be people here.
KEVIN: I'm looking forward to it.
KIM: Everybody loves the Lazy Cowgirls.
MARGARET: And you can go in there (gesturing to the space-themed airlock room above the main club) and smoke.
KIM: Yeah, you can smoke as much as you want in there, and the smoke just sort of hovers under those... satellite dishes.
KEVIN: That's real good.
MARGARET: The smokers' ghetto.
KIM: So, you ran away to England, huh?
KEVIN: Well, I didn't, I just went over there to do some work, basically. I kept coming back. That was where Epic was. When we were first working together there were European tours to be done, and then it became a problem for him to come over here.
KIM: Did he have convictions?
KEVIN: He just never got work permits. He never made any money either, in These Immortal Souls and things--
KIM: But he played shows?
KEVIN: He just flew into Minneapolis airport and got into a bunch of trouble, 'cause they're kind of yokels there. They really don't have much else to do.
KIM: (in a weak attempt at a Midwestern drawl) 'That guy looks weird, let's hassle him.'
MARGARET: (better, but not by much) 'What are you here for, son?'
KEVIN: Yeah, so they completely interrogated him and caused some problems. He was supposed to be allowed to come back a year later, but they kept turning him down for some reason.
KIM: But you didn't have any problems going over there?
KEVIN: No, no. I like going over there.
MARGARET: They don't pick you out of the crowd and...?
KEVIN: I got detained once, but--
KIM: Where, in London?
KIM: Were they mean to you?
KEVIN: A little. (chuckles)
KIM: (hoping for a Midnight Express-type story) What did they do?
KEVIN: Well, they just made me sit there for four or five hours after I'd been on a plane all night. That's pretty mean.
MARGARET: Watching to see what you did. (what he passed, more likely)
KEVIN: They just didn't believe why I was in the country, and once I sorted all that out it was fine.
KIM: Did they bring you a cup of tea?
KEVIN: No. But the last time I flew into Berlin, and they didn't even ask for my passport!
KIM: In Berlin you're normal looking!
MARGARET: (faux innocent) What trouble could you be up to in Berlin?
KEVIN: Every kind of trouble there is you can get into in Berlin.
KIM: I was in a riot in Berlin. I was over there staying with some friends who were squatting in the mid-eighties, and George Bush flew into town that day, so the police decided that there would probably be trouble. So they actually caused a riot: they blocked off this street where all the kids were hanging out anyway and wouldn't let anyone leave, and then started beating people up. It was quite a scene. If you stayed inside a cafe you were all right, but if you went outside you were fair game. They were just chasing kids up and down the street.
KEVIN: Oh my god, how frightening.
KIM: Yeah. And after a couple hours my friends and I were bored, so we took our American passports and walked out and said, 'We'd like to leave, please. We got here by accident.' And they cross-examined us, they asked us what high schools we went to! Then they let us leave. (chuckles) So, have you been recording with Jim Dickinson yet?
KEVIN: No, I wish. We haven't actually been contact with him, but that's who I want to do the next record. We're waiting till we figure out when it's gonna be. Then we'll get on our hands and knees.
KIM: I saw the Memphis plates on your van, so I thought that's where you'd come from.
KEVIN: No, just coincidence. We got the van in Chicago.
KIM: Maybe it's a good omen.
KEVIN: I really wanna do it down there!
MARGARET: Have you been?
KEVIN: Uh-uh. I've always had a fascination with Memphis, but I've never gone. It's better, 'cause I want a reason to go down, instead of just as a tourist. I wanna work. I dunno, even if Jim Dickinson doesn't do the next record, it'd be interesting to go down there with somebody else. Like Ron Easley's studio or something.
KIM: Are the songs written? Your record came out quite a while ago.
KEVIN: Mostly, yeah. The longer I have until it's time to record is probably for the best. If I've got twelve songs ready to record and they say 'You can't do it for another two months,' that's okay 'cause I might come up with something that's better than anything we've got.
KIM: How many songs do you write in a year?
KEVIN: It depends. The first six months of 1998, I didn't write one single song. It's the longest stretch of my life, since I became a musician. But it was just 'cause I was going through all kinds of really bad personal stuff, and I couldn't muster it up. Once I got past that, it started flowing.
KIM: You also had a lot to work with.
KEVIN: Yeah, exactly, and it's hard to write songs in the middle of all that. When you've got a perspective'
KIM: You might not ever want to hear those songs again then! (laughter)
MARGARET: Unless it's the blues.
KIM: Real deep blues.
MARGARET: In Memphis that might be good.
KEVIN: (chuckles) Yeah. It's like '60s Memphis soul is really the stuff I'm most impressed with. I think the next record will incorporate a combination of '60s soul and Phil Spector, Brill Building pop production and arrangements.
KIM: You gonna play with an orchestra?
KEVIN: It's definitely gonna be a string-heavy record, I know that, and brass and piano are gonna be on there quite a bit, too. Sorta the way Gospel Morning was, just a wide range of styles. And I'm just trying with each album to dig deeper into that, just explore as much as I can with all the influences I have. I think it's possible to make it sound compatible, too, and not like a different band on every song. So if I'm trying to get Phil Spector and a Memphis '60s soul sound, maybe it'll end up sounding like Gamble and Huff or something. (chuckles) I dunno, we'll see.
KIM: Just don't be tempted to actually ask Phil Spector to do it.
KEVIN: (laughs) We have the same birthday.
KIM: Really, when's that?
KEVIN: Day after Christmas.
KIM: We just interviewed Johnny Ramone, and he had a few stories to tell, even after all these years.
KEVIN: Oh, I'll bet he did!
MARGARET: The man leaves a lot of stories in his wake.
KEVIN: I mean, if someone said 'Phil Spector's producing your album' I don't know how you could possibly turn it down, even though it might ruin your record or ruin your'
KIM: Life! He's never actually killed anyone as far as I know.
MARGARET: Just kidnapped them.
KIM: And put strings on their records that they didn't want. But you wouldn't mind that. Johnny was really unhappy that there were strings on his record.
KEVIN: Oh, I'd love that. I might be mad if Johnny Ramone played on my record! (laughs) I love the Ramones, but I just can't see a part for Johnny to play on my next record.
KIM: Maybe triangle?
KEVIN: Yeah, he could do that.
KIM: He doesn't wanna play anything anymore, he's completely retired. How did you meet Epic and (brother) Nikki (Sudden, of the Jacobites)?
KEVIN: A mutual friend introduced me to Nikki, and when Epic started coming 'round for his first record we met up. I just introduced myself. I really liked his first solo album, a lot. We got on really well and started hanging out when he'd come to town. Eventually he called me, when Sleeping Star came out, and said he wanted to have a band play with him, and tour Europe. So we did that and then just kept playing together. It worked out well. And before Epic died I did some stuff with Nikki, on one of his records, and did a few shows here and there. After Epic died we did a couple tours together, and recorded a record called Red Brocade.
KIM: Is that a Nikki record, or the Jacobites?
KEVIN: A Nikki record. It's basically the Chamber Strings as his band, but it's not really the same record anymore. When he took it back to England he just remixed the whole thing, wiped the drums off half the tracks ' I don't give a fuck about it now.
KIM: Is it out?
KEVIN: (bored) Mmm-hmm. But, yeah, those days are pretty much over. Me and Nikki still get on, but it just takes too much time away from what I'm doing, and I'd just much rather I was concentrating on the Chamber Strings instead of doing someone else's thing. But we just did a tour with Nikki in April, May, in Europe for six weeks, so that was a nice way to top it off. I'd never say never, we might do something again, but I can't see it happening for a while.
KIM: Do you think if Epic hadn't died that you'd have your own band? Was that something you were working on?
KEVIN: I was working on it in between. My old band had broken up right when I started playing with Epic, and so for the first year I was just writing. Then I started splitting time with the intention that I'd be able to do this band and play with Epic when he needed me. I figured I'd just rearrange my schedule for it.
KIM: This group was in the states?
KEVIN: Yeah. We would have figured it out somehow.
KIM: We have jet flight now, so you can really do anything you want.
KEVIN: What's that?
KIM: Jet flight ' you can go really fast from place to place.
KEVIN: Really? Oh, I hadn't heard of that.
MARGARET: I heard about it on Art Bell.
KEVIN: I bet it costs loads of money, though.
KIM: That's true. What's your favorite conspiracy theory?
KEVIN: (long pause) I don't know that many conspiracy theories. I know a lot of myths--
KIM: A myth will do.
KEVIN: Well, I guess the one that just came to mind today was that L.A. is such a horrible place --
KIM: Is that what they told you?!
KEVIN: (laughing) That's the myth in Chicago!
KIM: And we like Chicago!
KEVIN: I've really enjoyed myself today, so...
KIM: What did you do?
KEVIN: I was real L.A. today: I went to do an interview outside, and we had smoothies (the Scram staff cracks up) on Ventura Blvd.--
KIM: You were in the Valley?
KEVIN: No, I thought it was -- well, maybe it was.
KIM: (as if talking to a child) You were in the Valley.
KEVIN: And it was just really artificial and--
MARGARET: It wasn't that bad, was it?
KEVIN: Oh, it was great, I loved it! It was like you could breathe out here, 'cause it's so humid in Chicago. I was really enjoying just sitting outside and having some ice cream.
KIM: And no one pulled a gun on you, did they?
KEVIN: No, no one pulled a gun on me, and there was lots of trees and plants around, and it was just very enjoyable, actually.
KIM: Well, you can move out here if you want.
KEVIN: Yeah? I just might. I decided when I was in San Francisco a few nights back that I was gonna move there, now I'll probably tomorrow think that I'm gonna move here.
KIM: (looking at the tour schedule) You're going to Costa Mesa tomorrow ' don't be swayed by Costa Mesa!
MARGARET: Oh, that's a different world, as different from here as San Francisco is different.
KEVIN: I just wish I could spend more time in these places, but when you're on tour you don't really get more than twelve hours in a place.
KIM: Real snap-shot view.
KEVIN: Some places you don't really get to see anything at all, but we got to see a lot of San Francisco.
KIM: Where did you play?
KEVIN: The Cocadrie. And we're actually basing ourselves out of here for the next couple of days, so we'll get to see more of L.A.
MARGARET: Go to Disneyland.
KEVIN: Oh yeah! I dunno if I'll have time for that. I just saw the Capitol Records building and thought that was so neat. I only ever tour on the east coast and south and midwest, never have made it out here before. We had a tour booked earlier and it got canceled for whatever reason, but it's nice to finally get out here.
KIM: What's one of the most peculiar things to ever happen to you on these tours?
KEVIN: Well, I find it most peculiar that I'm able to stay awake for three, four days at a time.
KIM: Is that normal? Can you do that all the time?
KEVIN: I can't do it when I'm at home. To me that's extremely peculiar.
MARGARET: Without taking naps?
KEVIN: Hardly, yeah, just being pretty much up three days straight.
KIM: You do three days on and then you crash, as a cycle?
KEVIN: Mmm, and then when I crash it's only five hours or something.
KIM: (laughing) Your metabolism is really twisted.
KEVIN: When I come home from tours I'm always just deathly ill.
KIM: How long have you been awake right now?
KEVIN: One week.
KIM: You've been awake for a week??!
KEVIN: Oh, awake! Away, I thought you meant. We just started this tour a week ago.
KIM: So are you at the end of a cycle right now?
KEVIN: Uhm, yeah, I don't even know, I just know that I haven't slept, like, properly, in a while. Several days.
KIM: Are you hallucinating?
KEVIN: I'm sort of always hallucinating. (everyone cracks up)
KIM: Margaret had a lucid dream last night.
KEVIN: What was that?
MARGARET: I started flying my truck around in the sky.
KIM: You wanted to fly, but you were driving, so you both flew!
MARGARET: (chuckling) An easy way to handle that problem.
KIM: I liked what you said about it, 'It had a hundred thousand miles, so it couldn't go too high!'
MARGARET: I'll have to get the transmission looked at.
KIM: Your mechanic's not gonna understand.
MARGARET: 'Cesar? It didn't fly high enough.'
KIM: Where are you from, originally?
KEVIN: Akron, Ohio. It's a strange place to be from.
KIM: What's it like?
KEVIN: It's working class, and it breeds a weird group of people, I think. But we always seems to get good musicians there.
KIM: Who's from there?
KEVIN: A lot of diverse people. There's bands like the Dead Boys, and then there was the Raspberries'
KIM: They're from Akron?
KEVIN: Cleveland. Actually, Akron ' I went to the same high school as Chrissie Hynde and Mark Mothersbaugh and Rachel Sweet.
MARGARET: (chuckling) At the same time?
KEVIN: (slightly exasperated) No, but they all went to this school.
KIM: Is it a normal public school?
KEVIN: Yeah. Aerosmith played there in 1972!
KIM: In the gym?
KIM: What's the name of your school?
KIM: Firestone!? Like the tire?
KEVIN: Yeah, that's where they made 'em. Akron was the rubber capital of the world, so that just kinda sets a picture for you.
MARGARET: Maybe all that cookin' rubber has done something to the gene pool?
KEVIN: Yeah, it left something in the air, I think.
KIM: Is rubber an artificial product, or is it made out of latex from rubber trees?
KEVIN: (flabbergasted) Wow...?
KIM: You didn't learn this is school?!
KEVIN: I didn't.
MARGARET: It used to be made from trees.
KIM: They used to milk the trees.
KEVIN: I don't know where it comes from. I'm just glad it's here!
KIM: When did you leave?
KEVIN: I left when I was about sixteen years old. Came to Chicago. And about a year later started a band, called the Mystery Girls, that sounded like T. Rex and the Flamin' Groovies. And we couldn't play.
KIM: When was this?
KEVIN: About 1987. We were just such outcasts at the time, 'cause everyone was either in a punk rock band or a heavy metal band. What we were doing was actually really different.
KIM: Antagonistic, I would think.
KIM: Did you look glammy too?
MARGARET: Did you get beat up?
KEVIN: Uh, we didn't! People basically either loved or hated us.
KIM: They guarded you.
KEVIN: Yeah. There were plenty of people who thought we were pretty brave and liked it, and other people didn't get it at all. But you know, anytime Johnny Thunders came to town, guess who go the opening slot?! (laughs)
KIM: How many times did you open for him?
KEVIN: Oh, just once, but if he'd lived I'm sure we would have gotten it the second time around too! (laughter)
KIM: Did he actually play the show?
KEVIN: Yeah, he did.
KIM: I think it was about one out of three towards the end.
KEVIN: That was a good experience, because we were all really young, and we couldn't play our instruments that well. We were just learning how to write songs.
KIM: Who were the big bands in Chicago at that time?
KEVIN: At that time there weren't that many at all. Hardly anybody had record deals. I think Material Issue and... boy, they were one of the only ones. The big bands were 11th Dream Day and Friends of Betty, who became Red Red Meat. Just any band that could get a record out, even if it was on an indie label, was considered a big band in Chicago! Like, us and Smashing Pumpkins were playing the same clubs to nobody. One day it all changed, but Chicago had really nothing to offer for a long time.
KIM: What was it that drew you to Chicago? Just the nearest big city?
KEVIN: Yeah, basically. I just wanted more culture in my life, and I knew I wasn't gonna be able to get that living in Akron, Ohio.
KIM: You must've realized that from an early age.
KEVIN: Yeah, I did. The kids I went to school with, I couldn't get any of 'em into new wave or punk rock or anything. You couldn't even get 'em to listen to an unpopular Stones record! (laughter) They would never put on Goat's Head Soup or something.
KIM: You must've been really lonely.
KEVIN: Yeah, that's the whole thing, I just couldn't relate to any of my friends there. And there were very few open-minded people. It's still that way in Akron. Little groups of outcasts there.
KIM: I guess that you appreciate each other much more when there's only three people that know what you're talking about?
KEVIN: Yeah, it's true.
MARGARET: A secret gang.
KIM: Well, I grew up in Hollywood, and I had a hard time relating to anyone, too. I think it's like that anywhere.
KEVIN: Grass is always greener.
KIM: Oh, I didn't think there was anywhere better! High school sucked.
MARGARET: Oh, that must have been really depressing!
KIM: Yeah, I was in the pop culture capital of the world and I couldn't relate to anyone!
MARGARET: At least when I was growing up I thought perhaps somewhere else was better.
KIM: She grew up in Miami, so... we represent the gamut of America here.
KEVIN: Yeah, we do.
KIM: And we all turned out all right.
KEVIN: We should become president.
MARGARET: All three of us?
KIM: What was that Roman ' triumvirate, yeah. Okay, I'm in. (laughter) So after the Mystery Girls then you were with the Rosehips, right?
KEVIN: Yeah, that was an advancement for sure, 'cause I was really starting to want to be a songwriter foremost. Before, all I wanted to be was a guitar player. And I was forced into singing because the singer in the Mystery Girls quit after a few shows. But by the time the Rosehips came along I was really into songwriting and crafting and arranging things, not just going in with a four-piece band, bashing it out and mixing it in an hour.
KIM: You changed the name 'cause you felt like it was a misrepresentation?
KEVIN: Yeah, we just wanted to start fresh and leave all that behind, instead of breaking up and starting a new band to do that.
KIM: It was all the same people?
KEVIN: Mmm-hmm. That was really good for me, and I like the Rosehips' record. But it did its time, 'cause we had been together for so long before that that we were all just frustrated. And I was starting to talk about Brian Wilson and all these other kinda different things that we'd never really incorporated in our music, and I think everyone was just kinda like, 'What?!'
MARGARET: Back in Akron again.
KEVIN: 'Not Rod Stewart? Not Steve Marriott?'
KIM: 'Why would we wanna do that? No, that's not right!' (laughter)
KEVIN: The main influences for the Rosehips, we were really into the Stones and Faces and Humble Pie, Bob Dylan and the Only Ones, Ike and Tina Turner.
KIM: Those are great influences, but it's kinda one-sided. It's really aggressive.
KEVIN: That's what I said. I've got so many other things in me. That's not even one quarter of my record collection at home. I just knew if I got away from them I could do what I wanted and not have to answer to anybody. I could just play it myself if I had to.
KIM: Was it hard to make that break after such a long time?
KEVIN: It really wasn't at all. It was just like a huge weight off my shoulders, and I was happy to do it.
KIM: And they were probably happy not to be hassled about Brian Wilson anymore.
KEVIN: Yeah (chuckling), maybe!
KIM: Are they still playing Faces music, or what?
KEVIN: No, actually. Two of the guys aren't really playing at all, and the drummer's playing in Cash Money, which is a Blues Explosion sort of band. (as if on cue, thunderous drumming erupts from Spaceland's tiny stage, as the Flesheaters' drummer embarks on a ridiculously 'professional' soundcheck.) Uh-oh!
KIM: (Explaining for the out-of-towner) Hey, that's Chris D., L.A. punk rock royalty. You know I heard he was fired from being a substitute teacher for being too cruel? (Margaret cracks up)
KEVIN: But now I can say to somebody in the band, 'Do you know this arrangement on this Dionne Warwick song?' and nobody blinks an eye. It's not kitschy--
KIM: You can translate what you're hearing
KEVIN: --to them and it's not out of reach. So that's what I want.
KIM: I love the record, by the way.
KEVIN: Oh, thank you.
KIM: We do very few interviews, so you should feel flattered! Mostly we do historical stuff.
KEVIN: Oh, I do! I could tell from looking at the bands on the cover, it looks like you have really good taste in what you do. (Scram blushes) I wouldn't interview very many new bands either. I wouldn't know who to interview.
KIM: Would you like to give any fashion or etiquette advice to our readers?
KEVIN: (usually this question stymies people, but Kevin pipes up without pausing to think) Yes! If you're in a band, don't wear shorts onstage (laughter)--
KIM: What about hot pants, are those okay?
KEVIN: Yeah, sure, you can wear hot pants, I suppose. Don't wear baseball caps onstage--
KIM: Or anywhere.
KEVIN: Yeah. (beginning to sound immensely jaded, so you just know he's had to chastise bandmates for all of these sartorial offenses) Don't wear a shirt with your own band's name on it.
MARGARET: Onstage or at all?
KEVIN: At all!
KIM: That's pretty bad. Okay, but what about if your band's broken up and it's your old band?
KEVIN: Maybe, it depends.
KIM: After five years or so.
KEVIN: We've got these t-shirts now, I'm so tempted to put one on, but...
KIM: You can wear it inside out!
MARGARET: What if you're being 'ironic'?
KIM: Ironic's bad.
MARGARET: It's bad?
KIM: Real bad.
KEVIN: It's hard to see irony. But that would be probably the most ridiculous thing I could do, to wear one of the shirts with a picture of me!
KIM: That's a nice shirt you have on (a tapered Western number in red and black); where did you get that?
KEVIN: Oh, thanks. I think I just got it at a vintage store.
KIM: Unfortunately Nudies' is closed now so you can't go there.
KEVIN: Yeah, I know. Actually I asked somebody right before I came out, being a big Gram Parsons fan, I thought maybe Nudies' -- I knew he died, but...
KIM: The wife kept it open for a couple years, but they didn't seem to be adding to the stock, it was just getting sort of thin toward the end. And it smelled really bad in there! It smelled like some kind of cleaning solution.
MARGARET: But they did have the pictures on the wall.
KIM: I never found the Burritos' picture though; I looked.
MARGARET: I did!
KIM: Did you?
MARGARET: I think it was low, and on the...
KIM: I was in there with my mom, and she wasn't that into it.
KEVIN: Have you seen the new Gram tribute record?
KIM: Seen it but haven't heard it -- how is it?
KEVIN: Well, it's not very good. But there's a couple pictures I'd never seen inside with him and Nudie. One of them they're sitting on his car, and the other it looks like they're inside the shop.
KIM: Is he wearing the (notorious marijuana-leaf) suit?
KEVIN: Yeah! It's not that suit, it's a different suit.
KIM: Wonder whatever happened to those suits?
KEVIN: They've got pieces of it, on the cover. They thank someone for letting them use it. I dunno who. (the drumming gets obtrusive again, and we briefly pause the tape)
MARGARET: -- damn, that's loud!
KIM: That's really loud!
KIM: Kevin, how do you get your hair to do that? (referring to his Keith 'do)
KEVIN: Just get it cut a certain way. I don't have to do anything else.
KIM: You don't put anything in it?!
KEVIN: No, just take a hairdryer'
MARGARET: Dry it upside down.
KIM: Can I touch it? (does, to much giggling)
KEVIN: It's too long, though. (more drums!)
KEVIN: (whispering) Stop it!
KIM: It's not a stadium. What's the worst band you've ever played with?
KEVIN: God, two nights ago, I think.
KIM: That's just fresh in your mind. It can't be the worst ever.
KEVIN: No really, it might have been this band. They're called Vain. They opened up for us in San Francisco, a horrible heavy metal band. Two nights before that some horrible hippie band, a kind of Grateful Dead band. Oh god, I've played with some bad bands before!
KIM: So, we got your fashion tips; do you have any etiquette advice?
KEVIN: Yeah, I think you should definitely try to be less American at restaurants and follow some tips from the Europeans. Just have a more pleasurable dining experience.
KIM: You mean sit there for a very long time without anxiously departing?
KEVIN: Well, everyone's just so quick to do things here. They want to get it all done and over with, and I think that it's so much nicer to spend some time having a meal, and have red wine with it, make it sort of an event. In America, people just don't care. They eat 'cause they have to!
KIM: You think they should take more pleasure in the small pleasures.
KEVIN: Yes! And I think that men should stop being rude to women.
MARGARET: You think they're less rude in Europe?
KEVIN: Oh, I don't know about that! Just in general. I've just been hanging out with some people lately who are extremely rude.
KIM: You're just living with guys, right?
KIM: How many of you are there on the tour?
KEVIN: There's five of us.
KIM: That must be a real scene.
KEVIN: It's okay. They're a good bunch of guys. They're not too rude.
KIM: So that's not who you were talking about, your bandmates?
KEVIN: (laughing) Oh, no! For goodness sake!
KIM: Here in L.A.?
KIM: (laughing) Who are you staying with?
KEVIN: I'm staying with a really good friend, but some of his friends are completely pigs, y'know!
MARGARET: Do they wear shorts and baseball caps?
KEVIN: No. I like 'em, but they're completely rude. It's appalling for me to hear women referred to as certain names, y'know?
KIM: What are those names?
KEVIN: It's not good etiquette!
KIM: Perhaps you could tell us what names not to call women by?
KEVIN: Um, don't refer to them in body parts, I think that's not really nice.
MARGARET: Is it okay for us to refer to other women like that?
KIM: I don't think that's all right. It's crass.
KEVIN: I dunno. Guys think ' when some people just assume that just 'cause they're a fucking fat pig that you are too! They assume that you wanna sit around and hear this kinda stuff come out of their mouths!
KIM: Well you have to speak up.
KEVIN: I just prefer to ignore it.
MARGARET: Then you'd be the target of their wrath.
KIM: They'd call you a girlie man.
KIM: But the girls'll like you.
KEVIN: So those are my etiquette tips. Quit being rude and enjoy your food.
MARGARET: What kind of food do you like?
KEVIN: I like things that have been cooked by a person, basically. I'm just so sick of fast food. Thai food's really good.
KIM: Have you had any good Mexican food since you've been in the Southland?
KEVIN: No, we haven't ' yeah! we had Del Taco! (hysterics)
KIM: No no no no no no no ' you have to have proper Mexican food!
KEVIN: Oh, I live in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood, so I haven't been craving it.
MARGARET: They have very good Mexican food in Chicago.
KEVIN: Yeah, they do, especially where I live.
MARGARET: They don't even speak English.
KEVIN: Yeah, a lot of 'em don't.
KIM: When did they come into Illinois?
KEVIN: I dunno. I think Chicago's always had a heavy Hispanic population.
KIM: I know they're in Detroit too. ? and the Mysterians are Mexican guys.
MARGARET: I always wondered how they got up there.
KIM: I think they started picking, seasonal fruit picking. Kevin, I think we've bothered you enough, perhaps. Is there anything you'd like to make known to the world?
MARGARET: Something you've wanted to tell all those people?
KEVIN: (nervously) Which people?
KEVIN: I hate you! Get out of my way! Please leave me alone!! (laughter) Oh, I dunno, I've got lots of philosophies, but it's just, I'm bad under pressure.
KIM: Do you have a favorite joke?
KEVIN: At the moment I have a couple, but they are so rude that I am not gonna repeat them and have 'em in print! I'm not gonna have that live with me the rest of my life. Let me think of an innocent one.
KIM: You'd rather be remembered as being nicer than you actually are.
KEVIN: Yeah, I would actually. Oh, they're all so rude! I like rude jokes that are so over-the-top rude, they're just so offensive, but people who say that stuff -- (a visit from a little tour fairy interrupts) What's this?
KIM/MARGARET: Drink tickets!!
KEVIN: (suddenly distracted) I'll tell you later, when the tape's not on.
KIM: You've got drink tickets, there's no point in going on.
KEVIN: Yeah, maybe I will start drinking now. I've felt miserable all day. I drank about a gallon of red wine last night.
KIM: Oh! Did it come out of a box or out of a bottle?
KEVIN: No, out of a bottle. It was a good bottle of wine, but, yeah... I'm just irresponsible.
KIM: No you're not; you're on tour.
KEVIN: I take that excuse too much. (we flip the tape as Kevin is saying something about staying with people while on tour) I don't care if you have to go to work tomorrow! Stay up with me! I'm not tired!
MARGARET: You're a mischief-maker.
KEVIN: I guess so. I've got a big devil here (points to one shoulder, then the other), and one right over here.
KIM: (laughing) Two devils? C'mon! He doesn't have any competition!
KEVIN: But they're both really nice guys.
KIM: They'd like to be remembered as being nicer than they are.
HOW KIM FOWLEY CHANGED MY LIFE (…AND HE NEVER BONKED ME OR MADE ME FAMOUS!)
by Aime Joseph
from Scram issue #11
It was quite late, almost 4 am and my diet Mountain Dew buzz was wearing thin. I had been editing a video in Kim Fowley’s living room. In true Fowley fashion, he had wanted to save money, so instead of booking time at a post house he rented some grade “B” equipment from one of his cronies. So there, I sat, on his dusty carpet editing what would soon become one of the largest teen appeal groups of the ‘90s, Hanson.
After two days straight of video editing and Fowley, my head began to droop and I passed out on the dusty carpet. Just as I embraced the zzzzzz, Fowley’s loud monotone shot at me like an army Sergeant’s. “You Encino Princess! I need this done in three hours and you fall asleep on me!” “Kim,” I pleaded, “I’ve been at this project non-stop for two days!” “That means nothing to me! You think anyone at Geffen Records gives a damn how long it’s taken li’l miss film student to edit this piece of shit? If I walk into Geffen this morning without a tape, I’m going to have no gig. Which means no money and no dirty pussy!” “But Kim, I just can’t do this any longer. It’s just about finished anyway!” “Fuck the just abouts up the ass with a broken bottle! You’re only as good as what you create, whether it’s editing a video full of brats or producing an album full of junkies, without a complete creation, you’re as in-demand as dog shit on the street. Now get your teenage Encino ass off my smelly floor and finish this piece of dog shit!”
~IN THE BEGINNING~
Before I had ever met Kim Fowley, I was well aware of his notorious reputation. Despite all things crass that went hand in hand with the mention of Kim Fowley, I was still quite intrigued by his endeavors and hoped to meet him someday. That day finally arrived in 1989. A friend of mine, who was sleeping with Slash, dragged me to a Guns N’ Roses party at a plush hotel on the Sunset Strip. I was beyond bored with the general vibe when this 6’5’, gaunt, yet charismatic, character approached me. Lo and behold, it was the legendary Kim Fowley. After about five minutes of conversation, he handed me his business card and offered me a job as his personal assistant. Then he added, “If you can last with me, you’ll be able to endure anything. See you tomorrow at 11 am — and don’t come any earlier unless you want to stand outside my door.”
Over the next four years I worked for Fowley on and off. To say that it was a surreal experience would be a grave understatement. People often ask me what Fowley is really like. No article, description or array of words could begin to describe this multi-faceted, extremely talented, unpredictable, wild, brilliant, intuitive and morbidly crazed individual. To really comprehend Fowley, I strongly suggest that you make it a goal to set aside at least fifteen minutes of your life and spend it in the man’s presence!
One of my first Fowley assignments was to re-edit this painfully awful Canadian girl video that Fowley had financed. The singer was stunning, but her crackling throaty vox could slaughter a cow. As if Fowley were aware of my thoughts, he blurted out exactly what I was thinking. “Learn from me. When you get in a position of power, think with your head not your c**t! I financed and produced this piece of shit because I thought she was a dirty bitch.” I looked Fowley straight in the face and asked him if that was what he also did with the Runaways. “No, they actually had talent. They were bitches and they were dirty, but they weren’t dirty bitches!”
I’d be painting a gravely inaccurate picture if I were to say that Fowley was always a wonderful boss, friend and mentor. Actually he was more like a Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde, and definitely a subscriber to the bipolar school of mentalness. Although Fowley did possess a certain level of sincere kindness and loyalty, his world-renowned crass persona was more often the norm.
When Fowley got on one of his brutal rampages, he could give Hitler a run for his money.
The first time I personally experienced Fowley’s cruelty was a few months into my job as his assistant. I was quietly filing some of his ASCAP songwriter forms, when he reasonlessly started in. He sadistically grabbed my file folder and dumped the contents onto the floor. “All you pimple-faced students living off your parents’ money, attending your U.C. universities, you know nothing about real life!” At first I was confused and taken aback by his unexpected attack. “I don’t have any pimples, and if I were living off of my parents’ money, I wouldn’t be working for you!” “Shut up, fuckie! You know nothing about life and I am a genius. That’s why you follow me around and let me work you to the bone with the most menial of tasks.” “I don’t think what I’m doing is menial. It’s better than working at Macy’s or Warehouse Music. At least I’m learning about the music industry. You’re a great teacher.” “Then your parents should be paying me $40,000 a year, not U.S.C.” “Why are you being so cruel?” I started to cry. “Mean! You think I’m mean, and you want to be a woman working in the music industry? Well you’d better learn how to be tough or get a tit-job and start working out so you can fuck your way to the top!” “You’re sick and I quit!” I began to gather my stuff up. Fowley stopped me. “Are you going to cry in the middle of a big business meeting with Warner Brothers? Are you going to cry when the band you got signed to Interscope calls you a cunt in the feature article of Spin magazine?” “I’m sorry, but I was just working and you started laying into me for no reason.” “If I was your boss at Warner Brothers and you talked back to me, I’d fire your ass and hire another pimple-faced college graduate who could shut up and take better orders.” “Well, this isn’t Warner Brothers and I quit before you fired me.” All the rage in Fowley’s face left and was replaced by a sadistic grin. “You’re okay, but you gotta get tougher. You gotta start listening to what you know, because in this business the second you turn your back, they’ll be there to mutilate you. Now get back to work.”
I silently went back to the filing. At 7 pm Kim turned to me and said “You’re released unless you want to file papers the rest of the night.” On my way out the door Kim said “Stop! I’m not worried about what you do right. It’s the wrong that needs the attention so it will become right. Hollywood, the city where only perfection is acceptable. Hate me, but learn from my mistakes, fuckie, and you’ll go a long way.”
Fowley was like tarnished silver, in desperate need of cleaning! After years of cooking him tuna or halibut with steamed broccoli and carrots covered with two pats of butter and chocolate pudding for dessert, shopping for Italian fabric for his $1500 custom-tailored suits, taking him grocery shopping, driving him to every record label in Hollywood and booking and keeping him on schedule with his daily appointments, I became privileged enough to know another side of Fowley. When he was in a good mood, he’d call me “mommy!” He’d tell me that he’d always had surrogate mommies because his real mother divorced his actor father when he was a little kid. I was mommy #4. Usually his “mommies” stayed with him for five to ten years! Then they went on to do other things, like Mommy #1 who was the legendary clothing designer, Edith Head. Fowley often compared himself to a dog and his “mommy” to the dog’s master. When I once asked him why he was so brutal and vile to other people and so nice to me he answered, “Dogs don’t shit where they eat.”
Kim was quite a clown. His Hollywood Hills office and residence was always a mess. I used to spend at least an hour cleaning off his desk each day, only to find it in shambles the next morning. Years after I’d left his employ, Fowley was offered a job at Peer Music Publishing in Europe. At this time he insisted that my husband Lee and I come to his house five nights a week and spend hours going through every demo tape, concert flyer, receipt and every piece of correspondence from the late ‘70s to the present.
One evening, Lee asked Fowley why he didn’t keep things organized. Kim simply answered “If I could put things in a file folder instead of on the floor, I’d have been David Geffen.”
In retrospect, two of the most fascinating things about Fowley are his take on music and how he scouts new talent.
Kim Fowley’s entire record collection, consisting of close to 500 releases, all bear his name on them in the form of writing credit, producing credit, arranging credit or publishing ownership. Fowley brags that these are the only albums that he owns. When asked if he is a record collector or who his favorite recording artists are, he’ll always answer in a similar fashion. “A music fan, not really. A talent scout for great music, yes! A salesman, yes! I just give the public the dirt that they want to see and the sounds that they want to hear. Sure the Beatles were great, but not as great as their salesman, Brian Epstein. Mick Jagger was a better businessman than he was singer or songwriter,” states Fowley.
A businessman! Was Fowley ever one. Even in his spare time he was hustling a potential deal. When things began to get dull for him, he’d have me drive him around Hollywood and play his favorite game: “The $500 Hustle.” This consisted of me videotaping Fowley approaching musician-looking folks. Fowley would brag about who he was, what he’s done and how he could turn them into a star. Sometimes, Fowley would have the band sing on camera, other times he would tell them what was right or wrong with their look, then he’d pull the video tape out of the camera and offer them his videotaped advice for $$$! Then he would give them his card and tell them to call him. If they called, he would tell them that for $500 (or less if they couldn’t afford it) he could teach them all the tricks and secret ways to become a “rock star.”
The first time I videotaped an actual $500 Hustle, I was mortified. I felt as if Fowley was ripping off poor innocent musicians, and simply refused to take part in such a scam! “If BMI paid you $25 an hour to videotape one of their songwriting seminars at the Marriott Hotel, would you feel as if you were taking part in ripping off an artist?” “No.” “Well, this is no different. At least I’m honest and give them legitimate contacts.” When Fowley put it this way, it did make sense, but something about it being called a $500 Hustle never sat well with me. Fowley swears this is how he hooked up with The Runaways, Poison and The Orchids. Go figure!
Unlike the list of famous people (including Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Lou Adler) that have publicly complained about Fowley’s financial dealings, in his defense I must state that he was always very kind and generous with me when it came to money. I remember in later years, telling Greg Shaw from Bomp Records about the time I was in dire straits and Fowley had his business manager hand me a check for $500. When I asked how long I had to pay him back, he simply said that KISS had just re-released a best-of box set on CD and Fowley had received a generous advance for his songwriting on three tracks. Shaw was in shock. He said that in all of the years that he had known Fowley, he had never heard of him making such a gesture when it came to money! Like a true chameleon, Fowley often did what was least expected of him.
And that, my friends, is the beauty, contradiction, charm and brilliance of possibly the most notorious person in rock ‘n’roll.
FUCKIE- A flunkie
URINE STAINED- A beautiful yet kinky or bad girl i.e.:
URINE GODDESS- Pamela Lee, Anita Pallenberg, Madonna, Lucy Lawless
DIRTY BITCH- Any girl who may have even the slightest sexual interest in Kim Fowley
PUSSTICLE- A nagging or annoying person
ENCINO PRINCESS/ AN ENCINO LEVEL-Upper-middle class semi-conservative girl
DOG BOY- A man who takes crap from women
HUSTLE- To scam money out of musicians, music industry executives or in business deals
$500 HUSTLE- Fowley charges a novice band or songwriter $500 for five hours of his time and music industry knowledge
TEENAGE LEVEL- youthful, free spirited
RIP GREG SHAW
Greg Shaw remembers... The Sixties Zine Scene
from Scram issue #11, interview by Kim Cooper
When Bomp’s charming publicist Betsy asked if we would like to interview Greg Shaw about his record label’s illustrious twenty-five year history, we said we’d rather go back further still and discuss his role as publisher of one of the very first rock zines, The Mojo-Navigator. Although Greg insisted he didn’t remember very much about such things, he was kind enough to join editrix Kim Cooper over a lunch of Japanese diner food and to offer his (quite detailed) recollections on an important and poorly-documented period in pop history. Read on to learn about a time before Photoshop, Quark or the web, when people got their hands grubby when publishing, and rock writing could be damn near great...
Scram: When did you first started reading rock criticism?
Greg: In a magazine called Hit Parader, a teen mag that started in the ‘50s if not earlier, but changed drastically when Jim Delehant became editor, around ‘64. He was the only person writing about music in the early to mid sixties with any kind of intelligence. The other magazines were just like Teen Beat, 16, total idiocy. But Hit Parader was different; it had writers like Barry Hansen, who became Dr. Demento, people who were writing about rock and roll as if it mattered. Delehant was an inspiration to everyone I know who became a rock critic in the ‘60s. Another influence was Ralph Gleason, in the San Francisco Chronicle. He was mainly a jazz critic, but dealt intelligently with the rise of the “new rock” as time went on; he helped start Rolling Stone.
Scram: Hit Parader reprinted lyrics, right?
Greg: I believe it did, though not as much as other mags, like Song Hits. It also had articles, and in every issue there’d be something on some obscure band, like the Rising Sons, or some new band from the East Village would get a little feature. It was pretty hip for its time.
Scram: And that was based on the East Coast?
Greg: Yeah, New York. So that was the first influence on everybody who later got into it. I’d also like to make the point that to many people, the word “fanzine” describes these teen-exploitation magazines. It never did, nor was it used for the movie mags in earlier days. The term was invented by science fiction fans, who later introduced it to comics and other hobby groups. It came out of the tradition of self-publishing. Everyone who was into fandom had their own mimeograph machine, knew how to cut stencils, how to run it off, and enjoyed doing that. It was a form of craftsmanship. A lot of people made very elaborate, beautiful zines — they had nothing to say! They just filled them up with drivel and cartoons. Others tried to be slick and professional, but because it was essentially done by amateurs, the line was drawn.
Scram: Were those just exchanged?
Greg: Yeah. You could subscribe, but since everybody put out a zine you would just trade. I came out of that tradition, so did Paul Williams, Lenny Kaye (I have a zine of his, discussing music, published in 1960); the people I’m talking about were a part of what was called “fannish fandom”, as distinct from the serious book-reviewers, who were read, but not considered cool at all. Among fannish fans, nobody ever talked about science fiction.
Scram: Not at all?!
Greg: That was considered really dopey, to do that.
Scram: Oh really? So what kind of things other than music were discussed?
Greg: Personal journalism, comments on world politics, gossip, anything. It was like self-expression, trying to be entertaining and possibly humorous, cartoons, descriptions of parties, etc. It was one person’s personality and point of view, and the people who had a good personality and could express it became the stars of that world. Sometimes the same people would write for both factions, Ted White for instance, who later became the editor of Crawdaddy. I mean, I read all the books too, but it was so tedious to write about them. I didn’t wanna be a book reviewer!
Scram: So it sorta went without saying that you all liked sci-fi, but you tried to take a leap beyond that.
Greg: Yeah. It was actually about the culture of publishing these magazines, and meeting at conventions, and having parties. From the time that I was fifteen I hardly ever saw my family. On weekends there’d always be a party in Berkeley at Poul Anderson’s or Bob Silverberg’s house, and I’d go there and be surrounded by these older people, beatniks, whatever. Who was there...? Many people who later got into the rock and roll scene. Chet Helms, the guy who started the Avalon Ballroom, was the best friend of Bill Donaho, who was sort of the head of Berkeley fandom.
Scram: Is that the radio guy?
Greg: No, you’re thinking of Tom Donahue. Bill Donaho was one of the guys who brought Janis Joplin out from Texas. He also officiated at Chet’s wedding. You know, the secret connections behind everything always come down to people you never hear about, who put things together so other stuff can happen. It’s something I’ve seen over and over again, yet historians always neglect to mention it! There was a party I went to at his house around ‘63, and Dave Van Ronk was playing guitar and entertaining all of these serious science fiction writers! It could just as easily have been Bob Dylan. You’d be at a party with a hundred people in this little house in Berkeley, everybody’d be drinking, people would be making out. I was overwhelmed! This was so sophisticated to me, a fifteen-year-old kid from the suburbs; this was the world I wanted to belong to. And that was what science fiction meant to me — it was a social life. It was being surrounded by interesting people who were involved in all kinds of wild stuff that I wanted to know more about.
Scram: And plus you could make your statement, and they didn’t necessarily know you were a kid. They could read you and relate to you intellectually, and you could meet them and immediately be part of their scene.
Greg: Well, in my case at least, the naiveté must have been obvious. But no one judged you for that, if your taste was good. Sometimes I would be asked to write for their magazines, though I really didn’t have anything to say. I wasn’t a very good writer, but I was enthusiastic, and I was always encouraged for that. My zines were terrible; they would not bear reading now at all! But somehow I was recognized as somebody who had the right spirit, because I was welcomed into that inner circle of the coolest people. And that to me was what science fiction fandom was all about, and I think if you asked Paul Williams he’d say the same thing, although his interest in books was a lot more serious than mine. He’s edited and republished all the works of Phil Dick and Theodore Sturgeon, and I would never be able to take on a project like that. I may be as bookish as him, but he has a more traditional interest in the book publishing business, and the academic side of it. That never appealed to me at all. For me the idea of self-publishing was the first evidence that I knew about of the do-it-yourself aesthetic, going back to the late ‘twenties, when the first science fiction fans appeared. I don’t know of any other subculture that had a DIY fandom. Comic books, the film critique zines — all of that kind of grew out of science fiction fans. If you go back to the roots of it, there was always one person who started in science fiction and went off and said “Well, I know how to publish fanzines! Let’s do one for exploitation movies!” or whatever their interest was. So now people talk about fandom as if it were a universal thing, the word is even in dictionaries, but it started off with these guys who read pulp magazines and were writing for the letter column of Amazing Stories, and ended up writing to each other, and starting these little magazines.
Scram: Going back, who had the first actual science fiction fanzine?
Greg: I used to know all this stuff, but am no longer sure. I think it was Forrest J. Ackerman, or somebody like him. There were two or three guys who started back in the late twenties, and everything grew out of that. He’s still around, Forry.
Scram: Yeah, you can go to his house and see his stuff.
Greg: He’s a very nice man. He must be ancient.
Scram: He’s ancient and very flirtatious; it’s pretty kooky.
Greg: I always wondered if he was gay or what?
Scram: Oh no, he loves the ladies.
Greg: Well, he was very flirtatious with me too, when I was sixteen! (Laughter) But he’s a nice person.
Scram: He is. In fact, you can call (323) MOON-FAN, if you’re in Los Angeles, and go and visit him. Once a month he has an open house.
Greg: Well he, at the first science fiction convention I went to, which must have been about ‘62, ‘63, he was very gracious to me, took me out to breakfast, and a couple of other neophytes that didn’t know anybody. He was very kind.
Scram: You know the story about his grandfather and the Bradbury Building?
Greg: No, but that’s interesting you say that, because the first time I came to LA, a bunch of science fiction fans showed me around the city, and the first place they took me to was the Bradbury Building. They said “You’ve gotta see this place! It’s got nothing to do with Ray Bradbury, but it’s a great old building.”
Scram: Well, it’s to do with Forry and his family.
Greg: They didn’t tell me that.
Scram: His grandfather George H. Wyman — this is a very famous story in California architecture — he was a draftsman in an architect’s office, and in the late 1880s he was doing some fantasy drawings based on this book by Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, which projected what the world would be like in the 20th—
Greg: Yeah, I know the book.
Scram: Mr. Bradbury came in, and he was trying to find the architect to build his dream building. And he latched onto this kid and said “I want you to do it!” He said, “I’m not even an architect, I’m just a draftsman. I’m just doing these things for my own amusement.” So he went home to ask his family what they thought, and they were all spiritualists, so they got out the planchette, and the planchette wrote this backwards text which told him to go ahead and do it! It said “Take Bradbury building, you will be—” and then “successful” was written upside-down and backwards. And Forry actually has a photocopy of this he can show you. So he did it, he built the building, and it was the only one he ever did.
Greg: Great story! So it was this culture, this group of people, who had evolved this whole process of doing it yourself, personal journalism — which goes back to Montaigne and shit like that in the 17th, 18th century — but in modern terms, with the hectograph, and there was another one, with the carbon paper — what was it called? Ditto, I think. And also the mimeograph, these little machines you could use at home.
Scram: That’s the purple thing that you used to have in classrooms, right?
Greg: No, that’s ditto. It used carbon paper. Mimeo had a drum full of ink that you turned with a handle, and the ink came out through the typewriter cuts in a wax stencil. Alongside the history of sci-fi fandom, there’s also this association of independent publishers. They’re more into letter-press, doing really high quality, one at a time, perfect reproductions of nonsense, y’know. Just whatever comes to hand, they publish it. It’s the publishing that’s interesting to them. It’s parallel to that, except it’s more connected to pop culture, and I think out of that grew a lot of things, including the rock and roll fanzine movement, as far as I can understand. I mean, maybe I’m attaching too much importance to my own background, but I look at the people who started it — there were only like three or four people who started it, and all of us came out of that scene. Except for a few who came from jazz and folk, where there was a small tradition of fan publishing, at least as far back as the early sixties that I’m aware of.
Scram: And you all had your own equipment already.
Greg: Yeah. I’d done a couple hundred zines already before I thought of writing about music.
Scram: Were there any women involved, or was it pretty much a male scene?
Greg: Yeah... sort of. They were more active on the social side of the scene, but some were among the most respected publishers. Not so much in the rock and roll, but there were a few — now I’ve got to remember the names. They were cartoonists, mostly. Jay Kinney, who was the original art director for Bomp (and later editor of Gnosis, the big slick occult zine), was also a science fiction fan, and he published his own magazines, which were totally great. He was friends with Bill Griffith and a bunch of other people. And there was this one girl, I can’t remember her name, she became very well known as a cartoonist. And there was another who became very wealthy. She has the exclusive franchise to all the Betty Boop cartoons and merchandising. They’re all in San Francisco.
Scram: Is one of them Trina Robbins?
Greg: Trina, yes! That’s the main one I was trying to think of. She was very active in science fiction in the fifties and early sixties. But as a writer, I can’t think of who came out of it. Of course Marion Zimmer Bradley came out of science fiction and went into something else, sort of founded the women’s branch of the archaic revival movement, or whatever you call that stuff! I was actually there at the party in her backyard where the SCA was launched. Who knew where all that would go!
Scram: I guess most of the rock writers who were women were on the East coast.
Greg: I’m trying to think of who. I mean, later, in the seventies, I can think of a few, but I can’t think of anybody in the real early days.
Scram: Lillian Roxon?
Greg: Lillian Roxon, yes! When did she come along?
Scram: She’s from Australia, ‘67-’68 I think.
Greg: I don’t think she started writing that early.
Scram: Well, that huge encyclopedia of hers is from 1969; she couldn’t have written that all right then.
Greg: No, I suppose not, but that was the first thing I saw of hers. I don’t know if she wrote for magazines before that. She was terrific. She was one of the most fun people I ever met, really nice person. It’s a shame she died. I met her through Danny Fields, in 1971.
Scram: You started the Mojo-Navigator in August of 1966—
Scram: I did get to read them last night online, and you were not the editor, actually, David Harris was.
Scram: And who was David?
Greg: He was a guy I went to high school with, and when we got out of school we got an apartment together in the Haight, along with a couple of other friends, Geoff Evans, who was the art director, and somebody else. I had my mimeograph machine set up in the apartment. Dave was one of these real serious, critical kinda guys. He knew about blues, which I’d never heard of, and all these weird new bands from England.
Scram: I could tell that from his articles.
Greg: A Greil Marcus type! And he said — we both just kinda realized, we could do a zine! I knew how to publish it. “Hey, we got a barn, we could put on a show!” (laughter) There was a void. There was a scene happening all around us, we knew all the people, why not start a zine?
Scram: So when did you think that, in July?
Greg: Yeah, I’m not really sure. Did we start as late as August?
Scram: August 8th, ‘66, first issue.
Greg: I thought we started sooner, but I don’t know. I know we moved up there at the beginning of summer, as soon as we got out of high school.
Scram: It was almost like instant journalism. You got the idea, you went out and put it together.
Greg: Yeah, and wrote it up. He wrote most of it, I wrote some.
Scram: You were the technical consultant mostly?
Greg: I was the publisher, I think we called it “managing editor.” I cut the stencils, and any color in there I did—
Scram: Oh, was there color?
Greg: Whenever possible. I loved doing color. With a mimeograph, you can run the same page through three or four or seven or eight times, and get multiple colors and different moiré effects. I used to enjoy that side of it.
Scram: Did that influence The Oracle, do you think, seeing what you guys were doing?
Greg: Could be. I had a meeting with those guys when they were thinking of starting, ‘cause we had already been publishing for a couple of months or longer, and we were the only underground paper in the Haight — if you can call it underground. It was just a fanzine, but it was sold in a handful of stores around the Haight.
Scram: What stores was it in?
Greg: (laughing) The only one I can remember is Cosmo’s Grocery Store! But it was in the Psychedelic Shop too, I’m sure. There weren’t too many places to put it. There were a couple of clothing stores. The print-run was 100, and then it became 200, then it became 300. It was very small. We would sell it at gigs. We were always on the guest list, so we’d go to the Fillmore or the Avalon and have a few copies and sell it or give it away. It was just really a pretext to be involved in the scene, to do something. It wasn’t about making money, although we could certainly use the money!
Scram: The first issue was free, and it was a nickel for the next one, and #3 was a dime.
Greg: But that was a lot of money in those days. I was living on a hundred bucks a month! (laughs) But we didn’t make a living from it or anything.
Scram: So that was real money; you actually wanted to get that for each issue?
Scram: When you would leave them in a shop would they buy them from you outright, or would they give you half?
Greg: (still chuckling) Half.
Scram: Half? It’s the same way now. Did you have any trouble getting paid?
Greg: I don’t recall. It didn’t matter. We got into all these shows for free that woulda cost five bucks. We got to meet everybody. We were like celebrities! It was as good as being in a band. The bands all looked at us as equals — “we’re the bands and you’re the press.” We’re the press now! We don’t have to be Ralph Gleason writing for The Chronicle. We’ve got this little hundred dollar mimeo machine and we’re the press. It’s great! We knew all the bands in town, so we started interviewing them one at a time. And after we’d interviewed all the local bands, or at least the ones that we didn’t hate, we got to meet the bands that came from England and other places — the Blues Magoos, all these kinda bands — and we’d just hang out or interview them. It was great, just being part of the scene. I remember one big show at the Cow Palace where Suzy and I got to be backstage; about twenty bands were playing, including the Who, which I remember because Entwhistle was rude to her. Girls were screaming behind ropes. I signed a few autograph books, “Peter Noone” or something.
Scram: Did you start getting free records pretty quickly?
Greg: Yes. I know by early ‘67 I was on the mailing list from all of them, either from the record companies, or more likely it was local distributors in San Francisco who would represent like twenty labels. And you’d go down to their office and they would just pile you up. And then you’d get stuff in the mail too. I even got stuff in the mail from independent bands in other cities, like I got something from Little Phil and the Nightshadows in Atlanta! And the Deviants sent their self-produced album from England.
Scram: Does that mean that your magazine was getting to those places?
Greg: I’m sure it was. After a few issues we had national distribution because there were people, pockets, here and there. Like Barry Kramer in Detroit was distributing zines. He later started Creem, but before that he was a magazine distributor, so he handled a few, and there was a guy in New York who took a few, so they got around. And then at some point some people I was acquainted with (Chester Anderson and his “Communication Company”) got this idea to start an Underground Press Syndicate. Dave and those guys weren’t involved — Dave moved out of the apartment to Marin, and after that I was running the magazine. They were writing, sending their copy, but I was pretty much left with the chore or the job of running it, paying for it, distributing it, all that stuff. So I got involved with planning and organizing the UPS. They put out a list of all of the affiliated magazines, thirty or forty, and these were all like the big underground papers, The Berkeley Barb and the equivalent in every city around the world. Once you were on that mailing list every member had to mail their zines to every other one on the list, so I was getting all these zines, and then from being on the list I was getting records and other stuff too.
Scram: So it was a single copy, or you were sent them to distribute?
Greg: No, you’d just get a single copy, they put you on their mailing list. So it was like a network. There was visibility for us in it, ‘cause there weren’t that many magazines.
Scram: Although pretty soon there were.
Greg: But I think we were the only one that was actually a music zine. The others were all [somewhat derisively] hippie magazines, tabloids mostly.
Scram: And more expensive.
Greg: I dunno, a quarter?
Scram: That’s a lot of money back then.
Greg: The thing with the hippie magazines, they made money by selling to tourists. Thousands of people would come to the Haight-Ashbury on guided bus tours to see the hippies, like you go to one of those zoos where they drive through — look! there’s the rhinoceros! (laughing) And you’d see the hippies on the street, and they’d be selling these— or they’d be driving through in their cars, and you’d just stand on the street and sell your Berkeley Barb to the straights, and a lot of people made a living doing that. Or The Oracle. Even though it was only a quarter, they’d sell lots of them, and you could buy all the dope you needed. It was a whole economic factor in the hippie community. I used to stand out on Haight Street and sell Mojos too, if I felt like being a part of the circus.
Scram: If you just wanted to hang out?
Greg: No, if I felt like getting a few bucks together to buy a burger! Or meeting some people. That’s how I met Suzy. But yeah, it was like hanging out too. It’s always better to hang out when you’ve got a purpose in being there. I wasn’t gonna panhandle! I really objected to these people who came to the Haight and just hung out and made it trashy, ‘cause when I started to go there everybody was doing something. They were running a shop or in a band — they were contributing to the community. And I felt that I was a part of the community and wanted to make my presence known. But there came a point when that was not what was happening.
Scram: It was just a real slacker culture.
Greg: In ‘66 it was a small, creative scene; by the middle of ‘67, the Summer of Love, that whole culture had vanished. All those people had moved to Marin (or Oregon, or Taos, or... ) and there was nobody left except the hippie capitalists, and the tourists, and the runaways. It was a very different scene. I soon realized that and I kinda drifted away and eventually moved to Marin myself.
Scram: When did you move?
Greg: Oooh, must have been late ‘67? Yeah.
Scram: Did you keep copies of everything, or did you think of it as sort of an ephemeral thing?
Greg: I kept everything, and I don’t know if I still have it, ‘cause when they moved from Bomp they threw away a lot of things they considered trash. I had a whole big box of all the hippie magazines that had been sent to me — hundreds of ‘em! At one time I thought of trying to sell them, and I had an offer from somebody, so I collected and cataloged what I had, and then I never saw that box again.
Scram: I would think that a library would want those.
Greg: It may still be there somewhere, but I’m suspicious because I haven’t seen it in years. I used to go in there and look for it, but it vanished somehow.
Scram: Gee, I hope you find it.
Greg: A lot of things have vanished. It’s sad. But I’m sure most of it is still there somewhere.
Scram: Well, if you want an archivist...
Greg: I don’t really wanna archive this, I want to sell it! I wanna see it end up in the hands of someone who’ll put it to good use, either a university or —
Scram: Yeah, but that’s the first step, you have to prepare an accounting of what you have. A lot of people are doing that now, the whole performance art generation is starting to sell their archives at this point. Allan Kaprow just sold his to the Getty, some of the Fluxus artists. So that’s the people who were active in the early sixties.
Greg: Well, I was telling Rodney the other day — we were being interviewed for this rock and roll museum that’s starting in Seattle — and I was saying to him, “Y’know, Rodney, you still have all your stuff, right?” [in the Rodney voice] “Oh, yeah, archives, all this stuff.” I said, “You could sell that.” “Really???” “Yeah, yeah! If you ever need money you could get thousands of dollars — I bet these guys would be interested!” And I asked them, and they said, “Yeah, we’re interested in buying archives!”
Scram: They’re rich-rich-rich. That’s the other half of Microsoft.
Greg: Oh really?! Is that Paul Allen? Yeah, well I’ve always been looking for the right place. At one point Cal Arts offered me some kind of honorary degree in exchange for my papers—
Scram: No, no.
Greg: —but I didn’t think that was the right way to go.
Scram: No, there’s two rock and roll museums now, and you need to hold out for the right offer. What you have, nobody else has it.
Greg: That’s what I figure, eventually. I want the cash, but I don’t want the stuff broken up. That’s why I don’t want it auctioned off on eBay, because all the cherries will go off to different people and the other stuff will be left behind. If I have a complete set of some magazine or some record label — it’s hard to assemble a complete set of anything these days. I would like that to remain intact, where it can be in one place where people can consult it. I mean, people have come to my office for twenty years to consult, and do histories and encyclopedias. Almost every documentary book out there has at some point used me as a research source, for photos or — people from all over the world have come to look at this stuff. They can’t any more, ‘cause it’s all boxed away, but they always did. So I know it is valuable.
Scram: It is, and it’s worth hanging onto it and doing it the right way. That’s why it’s valuable, because everyone else got rid of it.
Greg: Well, I really think what makes my collection interesting is that I was such an avid collector, that I would make a point of having the complete set of everything. Even if there was one thing missing, and even if it was crap, I’d want to have it just so it would be complete. It’s just part of my nature: if I’m gonna collect something I do it totally. That’s why I stopped collecting, because it’s impossible to do adequately any more. Who can say, “I have every new wave record that came out before 1980?”
Scram: And do you?
Greg: Not anymore, because I sold some of them, but at one point I did! (laughing) How can you resist, when somebody says, “I’ll give you $500 for this Bad Religion single,” y’know?
Scram: What’s the complete collection of which you were most proud?
Greg: Oh, I don’t know. I have a lot of stuff. I have virtually every record released in the sixties.
Scram: What’s your favorite label?
Greg: Philles. I have all of those and all the spin-offs. That was my big inspiration in starting the label; I wanted to be like Phil Spector. I had the same numbering system, the same label colors (laughter) — the same everything! It was just my ideal of how it should be. Every record you put out is great, you’re the coolest guy around, (laughs) all the babes want ya!
Scram: You got guns, everyone’s scared of you!
Greg: (Cracks up) Yeah. I didn’t want that part. I didn’t realize at the time he was like that. In the early seventies nobody really knew how bad he was.
Scram: Hey, I noticed Gene Sculatti shows up in issue #10 of The Mojo-Navigator. Where did Gene come from?
Greg: He was one of the first people I knew in San Francisco. I don’t know why he didn’t write sooner. I think I had to talk him into it. He didn’t think he was a writer or something like that. But I knew him as a friend, he would go to all the gigs, so he became one of our staff writers.
Scram: Yeah, after he first appeared — he reviewed Simon and Garfunkel, and after that he shows up a lot.
Greg: I know it was the first place he wrote for, and then after I moved to L.A. I think he did. Other friends from up north, like Ken Barnes, eventually came down here and all got into the record industry. Gene’s a very valuable resource, because he knows so much. I think he contributes information to a lot of people, like Alec Palao in his history of local bands. Gene is always a consultant on those things. He has a very good memory for stuff that happened in the early days of the Bay Area. His books, the Catalogs of Cool, are very good, very insightful. And he also had an appreciation of lowbrow pop culture, I think he was one of the first — well, after Tom Wolfe, of course — but among the people I knew, he was one of the first to really get into all of that. He loved the car culture of Northern California; to me that stuff was just so lame! I was pretentious. (laughs) He loved it! He was the first person I knew who liked the Beach Boys. To me, the Beach Boys were people the surfer scum listened to, the kind of people who’d beat you up at lunch time at school! I didn’t want anything to do with those people.
Scram: That’s really funny; now it’s all the nerds who listen to the Beach Boys.
Greg: I don’t know who listens to the Beach Boys; does anybody?
Scram: Oh yeah. It’s big-time geek rock. Okay, so after yours there were lots of rock and roll fanzines in the early ‘70s—
Greg: No! Well first, in the ‘60s there were a few, I forgot to mention Vibrations, a very good zine from Boston. In the early ‘70s there were a few more. Primarily Alan Betrock’s zines; his first one was called Jamz, and he did a few issues of that, and then it became Rock Marketplace. And that was the best of them all. Better than Bomp at the time in the research department. I don’t remember what else there was. Heavy Metal Digest—
Scram: When was that?!
Greg: ‘73. That was what’s his name, that geek that wrote the Doors book. Danny Sugarman, that was his zine.
Scram: Oh, god.
Greg: And that was when he was hangin’ out with Iggy, so there was a lot of Iggy coverage in there. Denim Delinquent, around the same time. A few more I’m ashamed to admit I’ve forgotten.
Scram: You wouldn’t count Creem as a zine?
Greg: No, that’s a professional magazine. I’m talking about home-made things. (Although the attitude and the concentration on personal style were certainly there!) Fusion, for instance, was not too far behind Creem in the quality of its writing, but it was commercial too. And Crawdaddy, as it staggered through the years, was always worth reading.
Scram: You started doing Bomp in...?
Scram: That early? How much time was there between Mojo and Bomp?
Greg: The last issue of Mojo was in late ‘67 — and I pretty much gave it up because it was too expensive to publish a magazine when you didn’t have any money behind you. What killed it was going national. We got a national distributor and we were running off thousands of copies and sending ‘em out, and not getting paid. It just couldn’t support itself anymore. If it had just stayed local and mimeographed, it probably would have survived — although there was no scene in San Francisco by 1970, so it wouldn’t have survived forever.
Scram: The last ones were printed?
Greg: Yeah, the last two issues were offset printed. We lost money on those, and I had to come up with like $500 or whatever it is for the printing bill, and that was just too much money. And then Rolling Stone started, and they offered me a job, but I just didn’t like their approach. It seemed very L.A., very commercial, industry-oriented, slick — everything I didn’t want. I wanted this fannish thing, even if it was a professional magazine, I wanted it to look fannish, like Bomp eventually became, with national circulation of around 30,000.
Scram: I always thought Bomp looked good. It was simple, though, it wasn’t flashy.
Greg: It was informal, which is what bugged me about magazines like Rolling Stone. Creem was informal. Creem had a fannish personality to it, even though it was a professional magazine. Rolling Stone never did. So when that came in it just sort of took away the market for rock magazines. So I just kinda said screw this, and I dropped out of it. I got a job and worked for a couple years at the post office, but I was just never happy, ‘cause I missed getting in on the guest list (laughing), and getting all the records in the mail, being a part of it — I really missed it.
Scram: All those perks disappear pretty quickly.
Greg: Yeah, yeah. I still kept in touch with a few people, but it wasn’t the same. I felt cut off. So eventually I got around to starting something else. I still had the old mailing lists, and I just ran off 100 copies—
Scram: The first Bomp was mimeo?
Greg: Yeah, the first ten, twelve issues. Even the massive Lester Bangs issue, which was like 150 pages, all mimeographed.
Scram: Was it stapled in the corner?
Greg: Three staples on the side.
Scram: I wanted to ask you about Lester. What was it like to edit him — did you edit him?
Greg: Oh yeah, he was illiterate! His spelling was terrible. I didn’t edit his grammar, because that was his style, it was very unorthodox, but his spelling had to be fixed. And he was always wired when he wrote, and drunk, so he’d cross things out, and write stuff in, chaotic. A lot of the best writers aren’t really very good typists, and they can’t spell, so you have to edit to a degree. But I never edited his content. I would sometimes make a suggestion, like if his facts were wrong, but it didn’t really matter with him. Like the Count 5 thing (Scram starts giggling), I thought that was great, he got all these people looking for these five unreleased Count 5 albums!
Scram: People actually looked for them?!
Greg: They still show up on want lists, yeah! I love that, it’s brilliant.
Scram: And like Gene, that’s looking at something that’s so lowbrow, at a time when most people wouldn’t even think about it. What was your editorial approach? Did you like to pretty much let the writer shine?
Greg: Well, my most active days as an editor were at Phonograph Record, because there were so many writers and it was a monthly magazine. The budget was pretty decent and I could employ anyone I wanted to. I had all the best writers, and it was really fun, so I began to take myself seriously as an editor. But then I found that there was so much inconsistency among the writers, that if the magazine was to have a consistent tone or style of any kind, that I had to edit, to impose my own style when necessary. Which didn’t mean taking away the author’s style, more like making him sound less mediocre, but it meant creating a kind of focus. With the exception of people like Lester — you really had to get people to stay within bounds and keep on the topic. You’d give them 1,000 words and it had to be 1,000 words — they couldn’t go on for twenty pages. And besides the well-known writers that I was able to get, there were a lot of aspiring writers — Cameron Crowe was one of the people I was the first publisher of—
Scram: He was a kid!
Greg: He came to me with his little high school manuscript in hand, and I published him. He needed a lot of editing, but I saw some talent in him. There were a lot of young writers on the streets of Hollywood, they’d bring something in, and I’d say “Sure, why not? We can run your review of, uhmmm... Silverhead! Why not?” (laughter)
Scram: That’s the right audience for Silverhead, anyway.
Greg: Yeah, but I would always have to rewrite their stuff, ‘cause it was badly written, illiterate, wrong in some sense, so I would fix it.
Scram: I’ve never gotten to that point. I always felt that if you’re not a good enough writer to actually be published, I’m not gonna rewrite your piece for you.
Greg: But you would never make it in the publishing business—
Scram: Well, if I were doing that, I would—
Greg: That’s an editor’s job!
Scram: I know, I know.
Greg: I recently read something. Joan Didion, an excellent writer, she dedicated a book to her editor, who had recently died. She said without his encouragement and his guidance, and rejecting my manuscripts when they needed more work or when my thoughts were off-kilter, showing me the right way, I would never have become the writer I am. And that’s part of an editor’s job, helping a writer develop, to help him be a better writer. You can’t really escape that it you want to be an editor, and that was my philosophy. I didn’t know how other editors did stuff, but that’s the only way I could do it.
Scram: I think it’s different when you’re paying people. I feel like it’s almost obscene for me to tell someone it’s not good enough.
Greg: Well, that’s true, because we were paying people.
Scram: I’d rather just tell ‘em to take it someplace else.
Greg: But I would rewrite stuff for Bomp, too.
Scram: Yeah? Bomp always read beautifully, very clean, crisp.
Greg: Well, that was my policy. There had to be a certain — these words are so vague, but a certain consistency of readability, a certain knowledgability. You can’t have someone writing about something historical if their facts are wrong, or if they’ve drawn the wrong conclusions. If I thought you were really off base you had to do something about it. And a lot of time as an editor you have to delete things because there’s only two column inches on the page and they’ve got four column inches of type! (laughs) Prosaic things like that come up.
Scram: Were you limited with Bomp of how many pages you could afford to do?
Greg: Yes and no, it kind of depended on the level of advertising. There are certain thresholds. The normal threshold, 48 pages, and the next step up is—
Scram: 64, it’s still the same.
Greg: So what do you do, you get one extra ad to pay for those extra pages. So you keep a backlog of material. But I did, I took a very active role in writing, or rewriting, everything I published.
Scram: Who were your favorite writers?
Greg: Well, of course Lester. Dave Marsh. Mike Saunders I liked quite a bit. Charlie Gillett. Nick Kent. John Mendelssohn. I’m trying to think who else; I’ve forgotten so many of those people. I never liked Meltzer, I’ll say that.
Scram: Why not?
Greg: Probably because I didn’t care for him as a person. I thought he was completely full of shit and putting everybody on, and he published a lot of utter nonsense and called it art. Like his grocery list — I don’t think that deserves to be published! But he was one of those people, “If I take a shit, my shit is art.” I just am not in sympathy with that.
Scram: Maybe if you’re Piero Manzoni.
Greg: Well, he was no Jack Kerouac, or whatever he wanted to be. But he had his moments! But he was also really obnoxious, and we just never took to each other. He has his cult of followers, like Byron Coley adores him. I think Byron’s a better writer.
Scram: He’s a more interesting writer. I’ve skimmed through Meltzer — you skim, there’s no content for pages and pages. Every once in a while he makes an interesting point.
Greg: Did you read his book, The Aesthetics of Rock?
Scram: That’s what I’m thinking of, yeah.
Greg: He just did that for the advance money, y’know? You can just tell, the cheap cynicism running through it. But then there are flashes of brilliance, you can’t deny it.
Scram: Jeez, anyone who’s twenty years old better have flashes of brilliance, otherwise just forget it — get a real job.
Greg: I liked some of the writers in Crawdaddy; I thought that magazine had such a high tone that I could never aspire to it, ‘cause those guys had all been to Harvard or Bryn Mawr.
Scram: You didn’t go to college?
Greg: No. Sandy Pearlman was pretty good, and Paul Williams, within limits. Jon Landau in the beginning was good. Jon Landau was my editor at Rolling Stone, and he was a very tough editor. He made me rewrite things two or three times before he’d accept them, even a record review.
Scram: You did end up writing for RS?
Greg: Yeah, in the early seventies. For years I wrote reviews. They paid very well, a hundred bucks for a record review.
Scram: Did you ever print anything that you later regretted having printed?
Greg: Yeah! (Laughs) In Mojo-Navigator, I wrote an editorial against Paul Revere and the Raiders!
Scram: Yeah, I read that last night — I was gonna ask you about that!
Greg: I just thought that was so against what the Fillmore stood for, copping out for the teeny-boppers.
Scram: And now—
Greg: I know. It’s hard to live down stuff like that.
Scram: Well, luckily hardly anyone’s seen it. Would you like to make a formal apology now?
Greg: Yes, I love Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Scram: How old were you when you wrote that?
Greg: Seventeen. The thing is, it was very political. What bands you liked defined who you were. If you liked Paul Revere and the Raiders you were like a geek from the suburbs with a muscle car or something. If you liked Grateful Dead you were hip, you were a street person, you had savvy, you were like on the cutting edge of culture. You weren’t some geek tryin’ to pick up girls in a teen club! And if you were into Country Joe & the Fish, that said something completely different!
Scram: You had a long Grateful Dead interview, and you interviewed the Mystery Trend.
Greg: We were the first people to interview all those bands.
Scram: But you also interviewed the Doors, which I thought was strange. Did you think they were kinda hokey?
Greg: No, I loved them. But it was a funny interview... we didn’t publish that, did we?
Scram: Yeah, you did!
Greg: All I remember about that was goin’ to see them at the Matrix, and there were about ten people there. Nobody knew who they were. It was before their first record came out. And we hung out with them for like an hour after the gig, and we talked about drugs! Jim had just gotten back from Mexico, and was talking about these crazy mushrooms he’d ate down there and comparing notes (laughing) on exotic drugs that we’d tried. That was the only thing I remembered about the interview. I think we were one of the first to interview them, but I dunno if that holds up as journalism.
Scram: It’s an interesting slice of life, especially when you get people just before they’re about to become massive celebrities and not be normal people anymore.
Greg: A good example of that is the Big Brother and the Holding Company interview, ‘cause when they added Janis to the band they were really insecure. They thought that their fans would desert them. “Oh, a chick singer, how commercial, how lame.” So they came to our apartment, hat in hand, “Please, let us do an interview so we can tell the community that we haven’t sold out.” (laughs) It was so funny, they’re so nice, really sweet, down-to-earth people. They were my best friends in the scene. That was the interview that came right at the turning point for them. Almost immediately after that they got signed and made their record, but before that they had just been a local band that was known for really bizarre music. Blowing up their amps and doing these crazy guitar pyrotechnics and instrumentals. They didn’t have a singer, really — just Peter Albin, who wasn’t a real singer. They were like the Who without a singer, and suddenly they become this bluesy chick band!
Scram: That’s sorta unfortunate for them, ‘cause no one even thinks of them as musicians, just as her backing band.
Greg: Yeah. Jim Gurley was the best guitarist I’d ever seen. He could play faster than anybody I ever saw, and had amazing taste.
Scram: Who else out of that scene do you think was neglected?
Greg: I don’t think the Charlatans ever got enough recognition. They got critical acclaim, but nobody ever heard them, and the records that survive don’t capture them at all.
Scram: Do you still read zines?
Greg: I read Newsweek.
Scram: That’s not a zine.
Greg: I read Discover.
Scram: People send you a lot of stuff, right?
Greg: It goes to the office, gets processed there. They xerox the reviews and give ‘em to me; I don’t see the zines. I don’t even know if we keep them. I had every zine published since the beginning of time, and they were all at the old Bomp. I hope the ones they threw away were the tabloid local rock magazines that really were crap, like The Cleveland Scene, every issue from the seventies, we didn’t need that. Although the ones that David Thomas wrote for would be worth keeping. A lot of that stuff is gone, but I hope the real zines are there. I kept ‘em all. But everything from the last ten years or so most likely got dumped.
Scram: If people wanna send you zines, should they send them to you somewhere other than at Bomp?
Greg: No, I don’t really wanna see ‘em. I don’t know who any of the bands are anymore, so why would I wanna read about them? I dunno, it just doesn’t interest me. I mean, I do like good writing, and I like people who have something interesting to say, but I just didn’t see much of that going on in the music press, so I don’t read it. I’m probably missing things.
Scram: Well, you say you’re burned out on the whole zine thing, but I’m going to ask you this anyway. Speaking to a seventeen-year-old kid like yourself in ‘66, who wants to start a zine, what advice would you give him now?
Greg: The whole thing that defines a zine is the personality of the editor. If you don’t have an original point of view or something to say, you shouldn’t be publishing. That’s what first turned me off about the music press, because it had started out with people who had a very distinct point of view and something intelligent to say — even if they said it at inordinate length, if they said it well enough it was still worth reading. And then it just became a lot of people who wanted to be on the mailing lists who would just wrote these pat reviews. Nowadays it’s even worse — they’re writing it on the internet! They’re not even publishing! They want free records for putting it on their webpage. (laughter) And I just think it’s, like, enough already. I don’t see — yourself excluded, and maybe a couple others, Judith Beeman, a couple of others that do good zines — I just see such a low standard. The zines I do see — okay, some of them, like Vendetta, are pretty good—
Scram: Roctober, very good, Great God Pan.
Greg: Yeah, these are what a zine should be. They have some strong sense of identity and personality and a point of view. You know where the perspective is coming from, so it allows you to draw your own perspective on it. If some nonentity says (dolt voice) “this new record is great,” I’m not gonna go out and buy it! ‘Cause who’s he? But if somebody that I know where they stand, even if I disagree with them all the time, takes a position on something, then I can define how I would probably feel about it, and I can seek it out or not. That’s what I’ve always looked for in a critic, even in somebody as pathetic as Christgau, at least it would be an indicator of what my own position would be.
Scram: Did you like anything Christgau ever liked?
Greg: No! Oh, I may have liked some stuff he liked. I don’t like him or what he stands for, or his whole stance as a writer.
Scram: I don’t like the idea of “grading” records, it’s insulting
Greg: Yeah! What does it mean? Everyone wants a simple consumer guide, but there’s so many criteria you can grade a work of art on Of course the problem is a lot of it isn’t art any more, the whole point of making a record is maybe to cash in on the popularity of somebody else, and so it is pretty easily dismissable. And that’s another thing, music has gotten kinda depressing. I’m probably not hearing everything that’s good.
Scram: There’s way too much coming out, it’s hard to filter it.
Greg: And I feel the same way about zines. There’s musicians who should get a day job but they get away with it, and there’s people publishing zines who do not deserve to get free records and do not deserve to get in free at the local club.
Scram: There’s fewer and fewer paper zines than there ever were, though.
Greg: When I did it, the stuff I was writing wasn’t any good, but at least I was the first! (laughs)
Scram: Well, you were also documenting very immediate news. You were coming out weekly and—
Greg: That’s what I liked about it. It was a local news magazine that had gossip and all that kinda stuff. It had some value in documenting a period of time. But as writing, I don’t think it stands up at all, and it is embarrassing. As compared to say Crawdaddy, which was contemporaneous and had some very literate stuff in it.
Scram: But pretentious.
Greg: At times.
Scram: Not as much fun.
Greg: But at times it was just very good. The stuff on the Beach Boys, that needed to be documented too, and in the long run it’s a lot more important that that was documented than that the Mystery Trend. But I did what I could with what I found. Another reason to have a zine is if there’s some local scene that is not being documented by anybody. Like if you were in Seattle in 1990, the way Option was, or Op or whatever it was then. You document a scene and then you become Sub Pop! (chuckles) But just to start a magazine and write about all the free records that people give you, and say nothing but “this is pretty good... I dunno, I got stoned and I listened to it...” Who needs to read that stuff?! I’m just very cynical about it. I’d much rather be reading something I know is gonna be good. It seems strange, but I always am kinda in awe of people who can maintain the whole range of interests they had when they were twenty, throughout their lives. I don’t know how people like that do it. Tim Warren, never changes. I’m changing all the time. And I have to admire that kind of consistency. I was into garage music for a long time, but I’m sick of it now. I don’t know how people stay the same forever.
Scram: You’re not gonna start another magazine, are you?
Greg: How can you start a magazine when you have nothing to say, when you’re completely ignorant of what’s going on, and even if you knew about it you have no opinion? I don’t even trust opinions. I think every opinion is ill-considered, ‘cause you can always think of something that contradicts it. I know too much to be that opinionated. You have to be young, you have to be twenty, to have the courage of your bullshit convictions. (laughter) But all of those people who are the enfants terribles of literature are all gonna grow up and look back with disgust on what they’ve written. And it’s okay. I was very much the angry young man in my time, and now I just don’t give a damn.
Scram: When did you stop Bomp?
Greg: The magazine, ‘79. It wasn’t because I had stopped caring, but we were trying to do so much with the magazine that it could have been a full-time job, except that it was a full-time money loser. So I had to choose between doing that and making money, which meant doing a record label. And the label I thought offered more opportunities for creativity anyway. Magazines are kinda limited in what they can accomplish.
Scram: A magazine documents, but a label actually contributes.
Greg: I thought the two side by side were being kinda synergistic, but when either one of them becomes large enough it’s impossible. Unless I’d have hired five people — and still it’d suck, because without my personal attention it wouldn’t have been the same. So it had to go by the wayside. It was so much work. We were publishing lists of every new record that was released between issues, and all these historical encyclopedias. And the weight of that, keeping up the research and logging in every record, on top of all the other work I was doing, and traveling, recording bands, it was impossible. But I hadn’t lost my enthusiasm. If the internet had existed at the time, it would have morphed into an internet magazine. I would have enjoyed doing that.
Scram: You could have done it without any overhead.
Greg: Just the typesetting, the pasting down, using the stat camera — all the technology of putting it together was very time consuming. Taking it to the printer, coming up with $10,000 for the printing bill. But I work on my website a lot. I’ve always wanted to make it more like a magazine, but I don’t know exactly how to do that. I think that there are some essential differences, even though a website can be like a fanzine, it can’t really be the same.
Scram: There’s a physical immediacy of something that you can hold in your hands.
Greg: Yeah, well you can see, there’s a look and feel that you don’t get on the internet, because everybody’s website looks pretty much like everybody else’s, unless you try really hard. I try really hard to make mine look like paper, but there’s only so much you can do! (laughter)
All thirteen issues of The Mojo-Navigator are readable online at
Sidebar: MEMORIES OF MOJO
by Gene Sculatti
San Francisco, 1966. This was a long time ago. The Grateful Dead swung hard, fast and scary, and Peter Albin’s demented LSD-preacher stalked stages as Big Brother’s frontperson. More to the point, perhaps, the world was not yet drenched in pop-music coverage: no Rolling Stone, no major-paper “critics,” no coy procession of artists faking candor before MTV’s cameras. If you wanted to know anything about music beyond Mark Lindsay’s favorite color or the type of girl preferred by the Royal Guardsmen’s drummer — which is all that Top 40 radio and American Bandstand assumed anyone would want to know — you were out of luck. Over at the monthly Hit Parader, editor Jim Delehant snuck paeans to the Spoonful and Pet Sounds in between the hit- song lyric reprints, but that was it.
I must have seen my first Mojo-Navigator at the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street that summer. Here was this little, eight- or twelve-page mimeo, crammed with news — not just about local bands (“The Mystery Trend are with Tom Donahue and recording for Warner Bros.!”), but about roiling scenes elsewhere (New York’s Village, L.A.’s Strip) that, who knows, might rival our own Richter shake. Mojo’s writers covered Wolfman Jack (then a living, breathing, mysterious night-presence), gave faith-of-our-fathers testimonies to Spector, Chuck Berry and Fifties R&B, and offered opinions freely (“Why haven’t local promoters brought back [Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder’s] Rising Sons?,” griped editor David Harris. “Instead, we get repeat performances every three weeks by Love, an excellent but imitative and limited group”). Plus, Mojo wanted writers: “Articles, reviews and other manuscripts are invited. Free copies are available for contribution.”
I didn’t get into the magazine until Issue 10 (November ‘66). By then, I’d visited the Mojo offices on McAllister St. off the Pandhandle (they had a box full of promo singles in the hall, and you could take whatever you wanted) and met Greg and Dave. They were young guys like me but hipper, wired into this emerging world and, it seemed, aware that there were hundreds, maybe thousands of others like us out there, eager to exchange information and enthusiasms about rock & roll. I’d often run into Greg at the Avalon Ballroom; I recall shooting him an amazed look when Janis Joplin tore into the Chantels’ “Maybe” her first night with Big Brother, and more than once he and I grilled Chet Helms about why wouldn’t he bring the fabulous Seeds up to play. (I’d also started writing for Paul Williams’ Crawdaddy, the East Coast’s Mojo, by then, which rejected my over-the-top review of the Seeds’ Web Of Sound LP: what was with these guys?)
I’ll be forever grateful that the Mojo-Navigator published me, but the truth is my first work for them revealed me as sort of a one-note Johnny. Where their Sounds Of Silence LP rocked heavier, I opined, Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme was “content with lighter stuff.” The W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band’s “Hippy Elevator Operator” single was “the hardest recorded effort out of L.A. yet: a heavy fuzz bass bumps along throughout,” and Bobby Darin’s “If I Were A Carpenter” album I found “somewhat dull. The predominant sound is soft: no electric guitars.” Could there be any doubt this 19-year-old would grow up to give the Ramones debut a raised-fist rave?
Mostly, I recall the period and place as music-rich and ripe with surprises (“Howlin’ Wolf is coming to the Avalon in 2 weeks,” reported Mojo. “The newest group on the English scene is The Fix — the sound and image is roughly like The Who”). And that was the publication’s purpose: to be the principal news channel for that community in its crucial, most exciting days. In doing its job, Mojo preserved history and made some of its own; who’d have thought that its influence and inspiration would itself be the subject of an article almost forty years later?
Scram #11: Johnny Ramone, Chamber Strings, Greg Shaw and Gene Sculatti on the early days of rock zines, "My boss, Kim Fowley," Jack Stevenson on industrial parks and the fake future. This one is going fast. Postpaid price below is for US or Canadian customers only. If you live elsewhere, cost is higher, please email to arrange payment.
Johnny Ramone was interviewed in 2000 by Kim Cooper and Margaret Griffis for Scram issue #11
In the early ‘70s, Rock Music was bloated and nearly dead. Session musicians and arthritic, over-produced spectacles replaced teenagers and fun. In the midst of this, the Ramones set out to restore what was great about rock-n-roll and ended up, for better, inventing punk rock. Their critics accused them of simple three-chord inanities, but they created a unique musical sound and wrote witty, cynical lyrics only masquerading as cheers for dummies. Their fans, part degenerates/ part cartoons, went on to be amused and thrilled for more than twenty years.
It's not every day that the Scramlettes get to meet a true American hero, but thanks to the kind folks at Rhino, Kim and I were able to interrogate Johnny Ramone, Patriot, at their offices in Los Angeles. The occasion: the release of the double CD Ramones Anthology. With as many interviews as Johnny has given over the years, and his tough image, it was surprising to discover how genuinely nice and talkative he was. Anybody who ever bopped to punk rock, slammed to hardcore, shoegazed to indie rock or whatever other permutation was left in punk rock's wake owes this man their thanks. And awayyyy we goooo.....-Margaret Griffis
[the tape begins a few moments into a discussion of Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, whose name Johnny noticed on the front of the Scram Rave Up issue]
KIM: It sounds like he has some good stories.
JOHNNY: That’s why I bought his book. He does an autograph show occasionally at the Holiday Inn on Vineland. He was just sitting there signing copies of his book. I go to it every three months, whenever the show is. I always enjoy it.
KIM: So how many celebs will be in the room?
JOHNNY: About sixty. I’m trying to think of big names. The last time Jonathan Winters was there.
KIM: He’s a terrible bargain hunter. He’s super-super rich, but he’ll try to knock down the prices on things.
JOHNNY: I think he’s a little nuts. I think he always was a little nuts. I mean back in the fifties—
KIM: They put him away for a while! Back then a performer could go in the mental hospital then come out again, and people knew about it.
JOHNNY: They would definitely hide that stuff in the thirties and forties in Hollywood.
MARGARET: It was harder to keep it quiet in the fifties.
JOHNNY: Yeah, there were nuts. I’m sure Mickey Rooney was a nut too.
MARGARET: Or they’ve become nuts, since they had to—
JOHNNY: It’s a tough business. And the women, they get wacky! The stress of trying to be competitive in the movie world; it’s rough.
KIM: And to start getting older—
JOHNNY: They start giving parts to younger women. Then you start getting paranoid about everything. From being out here, I’m starting to see. I thought the music business was ugly. That was nothing! (Giggles all around) I had no interference at all. Movie people have nothing but interference. I would think the slightest thing — if the record company said “Oh, we wanna hear what songs you recorded” — “I can’t take this interference! You’re gonna interfere with everything I do?” I thought that was interference. Anything at all, any suggestion they would make. Now I see real interference when I see movies, and you can’t get anything done.
MARGARET: Have you been working on movies?
JOHNNY: Oh no, no no. These are friends who do this stuff.
MARGARET: You hear about it all day long.
JOHNNY: It’s crazy. People we’re friends with who have been working for twenty years and have made forty, fifty movies, they’ll have to go audition for a part. They have to audition for a part?!? I mean obviously, everybody knows who you are and how you act in film at this point. If I’m making a film, I’m gonna know exactly who I have in mind for the particular part, you know?
KIM: I think that’s all just a psychological power play.
JOHNNY: I’m sure they try to destroy you psychologically.
MARGARET: “We can only pay you this much.”
JOHNNY: “Well, you know, we were looking for someone younger on this.”
KIM: “So why’d ya call me?”
MARGARET: Do you think they call them just to meet them?
KIM: Wouldn’t you?
JOHNNY: I don’t know. I know they have agents who set them up. Maybe people are telling the agents “we don’t really want them.” “Can’t you just give them the audition?” “We don’t really want them, but fine, if you insist.” I don’t know what goes on. Then the agent looks like he’s doing his job. “I got you the audition, and you just didn’t get it.”
MARGARET: Do you like living in LA? Is it fun?
JOHNNY: Yeah, it’s fine, it’s fun. It’s good for retirement. For what I was doing before, it was better I was living in New York. Now that I don’t have to work and deal with these people, it’s good. If I had to go look for a job this would be a bad place. It’s too sick and too crazy and too competitive and everybody’s nervous for their jobs.
MARGARET: It seems that New Yorkers move to LA and are full of complaints.
JOHNNY: I’m really not complaining. I’m really liking it here. I wanted to find a place where the weather was gonna be mild or nice. I would’ve liked it a little bit warmer here, but it’s okay. I wanted to get a house. We considered Florida, Orlando, but my wife did not want to move there. If she ain’t in New York she belongs here.
MARGARET: How are you taking retirement?
JOHNNY: Fine, fine. Of course, you’re gonna miss playing.
MARGARET: Would you consider it again? Not a heavy tour schedule but...?
JOHNNY: Probably not. I mean, if I play again, it will be a one-shot thing for a month, overseas. An offer where it was going to be enough that it’s going to have an effect on my life, I would go do it. I miss it, but I can’t go back just because I miss it.
MARGARET: Do you play at home still?
JOHNNY: No. One time I played with Pearl Jam. They did a Ramones’ song at the LA Forum and— (chortles from the Scram girls) They did a Ramones song. (more chortling, Johnny notices) That’s right. (laughing) You’re not Pearl Jam fans?
KIM: I bet you hear this all the time?
MARGARET: Uhhhh, just no.
JOHNNY: It’s okay, you can say what you feel.
KIM: What’s going on with that? Why is there this Pearl Jam/ Ramones connection?
JOHNNY: My closest friend is Eddie. He just became my friend. I talk to him every other day. Everybody has this image of him as this depressed guy and, you know, stardom and everything. And he’s just this sweet nice guy and has been a very good friend to me.
MARGARET: Maybe because I don’t follow them, but he—
KIM: I’m not too hip on the personality, but it just seems like it’s two different kinds of music.
JOHNNY: Oh yeah, I understand that. At our final show, we had some guests there. He was the most popular and least popular guest. I’ve asked kids in the street who were at the show, “Who was your favorite guest and who was your least favorite guest?” I always quiz them on everything. “What songs did we do that you love? What songs did you hate? What was your favorite song on the album? What was your least favorite song?” I wanna hear their input so that I know what we’re doing.
MARGARET: It’s always Eddie? They always bring him up?
JOHNNY: They either hated him or they loved him.
MARGARET: [seeking to dispel a wide-spread rumor] Does he have the Mosrite?
JOHNNY: No, he doesn’t have the Mosrite. Daniel Rey’s got the Mosrite. He co-wrote about ten, twenty songs. Eddie had interest in it. Eddie’s got the Pinhead, the backdrop.
MARGARET: Eddie’s got a lot!
KIM: Does he have a huge room that it’s all laid out in?
MARGARET: He’s hoarding!
JOHNNY: He’s got his little area, but I think the backdrop is in some sort of practice space. It’s totally different music and all, but he’s just become my friend. I think I’ve been good for him to see things differently. I think he takes things less seriously. He’s come to grips with his fame a little. Y’know, people can start to resent you because you become too big. I would’ve loved to have become that big. I didn’t want to become small, I wanted to become big.
MARGARET: But you’ve got faithful fans!
JOHNNY: Yeah, and I love it, but we were a cult band. And I’m fine with being a cult band. But when I started off, we did not wanna set goals of selling a hundred thousand records. That’s how they started off. I said we want to be the biggest band in the world! When the Sex Pistols and the Clash came out, I said “Great, it’s gonna be a movement. The Ramones and the Sex Pistols will become the biggest bands in the world. I’m all for that.” Bands can’t change music by themselves. You need a whole bunch of bands coming out, because I kept relating it to ’64 in England. The better ones will be the bigger ones, and it would’ve been a good thing for music if “Anarchy” and “Rockaway Beach” would’ve been #1 hits. It would’ve been a better world. (laughter)
MARGARET: I agree!
KIM: You were ahead of your impact. It just took a long time for it to really explode.
JOHNNY: This period where we really peaked was 1977. When did the impact come? 1990? With Nirvana becoming big?
MARGARET: They’re not quite punk rock.
KIM: It’s not the same.
JOHNNY: These bands, yeah, got influenced, but it’s hard to see the influences. A more direct influence was when the Ramones went to England and you see the Damned start and the Clash start and the influences are more direct.
MARGARET: The same could be said about your band. If you played a Ramones record for Elvis, he might say “This sounds nothing like my music.”
JOHNNY: Yeah, “Where’s the influence? There nothing here” But maybe Brian Wilson would hear something, on “Sheena” or things like that. He wanted to produce at some point, I heard. After working with Phil, I wasn’t going to start with that!
MARGARET: Another kooky person?
JOHNNY: Another wacko from the sixties. Phil’d be nice to me, but so mean to everybody. He’s a little man. He’s got his wig on. He’s got his lifts in his shoes. He carrying his four guns. This guy’s full of insecurities. I didn’t want to work with him. I mean, I thought, “Phil did great stuff in the early sixties, but what has he done lately? So what?” He approached us on our Rocket to Russia album. He thought it was a great record. “Oh yeah Phil, thanks for coming down.” I didn’t want to work with him. I wanted to retain as much control as possible over what we were doing. By End of the Century, we thought we needed something. We had four albums. It was a compromise.
KIM: Certainly got a lot of media play.
JOHNNY: Yeah, but it was a big album. “Baby, I Love You” is a black mark that will never go away. When we started I said, “Oh Phil, we should do one of your songs.” I was all for doing one of his songs. I thought we’d just play one of his songs! Then I had to leave. My father died. I didn’t play on it. Mark and Joey were huge Phil Spector fans and what he was doing that was rotten, they didn’t care. Dee Dee hated him. Dee Dee stayed a punk throughout.
JOHNNY: If you’ve seen Dee Dee, he’s like a Charles Manson character at this point. You know he’s nuts.
MARGARET: Where’s he living these days?
JOHNNY: I don’t know. He was out here playing with Marky. The Remains at some club.
KIM: Jack’s Sugar Shack.
MARGARET: Did you go?
JOHNNY: No, no. They kept trying to call me and get me to go.
KIM: What did they offer?
JOHNNY: They didn’t go into it. The promoter called me too, and he’s up and up. But I have no interest at all. I’m only playing if it’s gonna make a difference in my life.
MARGARET: One million dollars for one song at the Sugar Shack!
JOHNNY: Obviously they can’t be offering me that. They can offer me a thousand dollars to come down and play a couple of songs.
MARGARET: A new pair of shoes.
JOHNNY: Spend the money the next day.
MARGARET: You don’t need that in your life now.
JOHNNY: That’s not how I wanna do it. I have to be as good. It has to be the same reaction that you were getting in the Ramones, knowing that you’re up there and the fans — you’re their favorite band. You can’t top this. You get there with the confidence knowing that you’re the king of the hill.
MARGARET: Is that why you ended it? Did you feel it was leaving you?
JOHNNY: Our popularity remained pretty much the same throughout. We made more money each year. And there was no question of slipping in popularity. You start off, and I know from watching other bands, you’re gonna do what you do in a five year period. That’s it. You go on more than five years, you’re just treading water. You’re very dumb if you don’t see that. The Beatles were there from ‘64 to ‘69. Where’ve the Rolling Stones gone since Brian Jones has left the band? They’ve gotten bigger. David Bowie might’ve gotten bigger, but what has he done good since say Aladdin Sane? Say Diamond Dogs. Maybe it’s his last decent album.
JOHNNY: What? Are you a David Bowie fan?
MARGARET: Don’t let him know!
JOHNNY: Yeah, that he hasn’t written a good song since ‘77 and he’s gotten rich.
MARGARET: (nods in agreement)
JOHNNY: So I knew after five years. Ideally I would’ve liked to have gotten really big and stopped after five years. And gone out somewhere around End of the Century, where we would’ve been big enough where people were interested in me, and then I would’ve gotten into some aspect of film.
MARGARET: This is the place to fiddle.
JOHNNY: I know.
KIM: It’s not too late.
JOHNNY: Nah. The other thing I would consider is to be some sort of consultant.
KIM: I don’t know if there are Ramones consultants.
MARGARET: There are a lot of kids that need help.
JOHNNY: So you had to keep playing, because there was nothing else you knew how to do and that was your career. All you could hope to was make a good album. Some will be good, some won’t be good, but we’ve already did what were gonna do. At the fifteen year mark, I thought it would be really great to reach twenty years and stop. Reach two thousand shows in twenty years. I figured it would come out somewhere around the twenty year mark. So as we reached the twenty year mark, we were doing Acid Eaters. I said, “All right, we’ll do a Ramones album, stopping after another album. I’ve had enough.” Y’know, there were times when me and Joey would disagree and if we disagreed on something he’d go “I’m quitting!”
KIM: How many times did you hear that?
JOHNNY: A lot. One day I go to our manager, Gary Kurfirst, I told him that Joey says he says he’s gonna quit. Joey says “I never said that!” I go “Okay.” And I’m sitting there going “Gary, I’m really sick of our publicist. I want to change publicists.” And Joey goes “I quit!” “See, see Gary, that’s exactly what I’m talking about!” He’s quit, y’know. To fire the publicist. Where’s his loyalty? Is his loyalty to the band or a publicist? So, it would be, y’know… “If you wanna quit, fine. Were doing the next album, we’re gonna tour off the album. That’s it. I say it, I mean it.”
MARGARET: You kept your word.
JOHNNY: That was it. We were gonna stop in South America and there was the offer for Lollapalooza. The asshole who runs Lollapalooza comes over and says “I’m the one who got you on Lollapalooza.” I go “Whadda you want me… like I give a shit. Our career is over. I’m done. I’m retiring in two more weeks. This makes a difference to me now? Where were you the last six years?”
MARGARET: The last sixteen years! Why was the last show here?
JOHNNY: That’s where Lollapolooza was ending. I don’t know. The tour ended here. Did you go to the Palace?
JOHNNY: So were you disappointed when Eddie came up there or what?
MARGARET: Well, shocked.
KIM: [gleeful] Tell him what you were doing. She was in the front row.
JOHNNY: Were you giving him the finger?
MARGARET: [abashed] Yeah.
JOHNNY: I saw about six people doing that. I thought, “Oh God, I hope there’s no more. I hope this doesn’t start escalating.” So, you’re a true punk, that’s all right, y’know.
MARGARET: That’s the problem
KIM: Especially if you love the Ramones.
JOHNNY: Hey! I might’ve been mad too if I was a fan. I don’t know. He’s my friend. I wanted to play with him. I really love him
MARGARET: Fans. It’s okay, he’s cool. You’ve done your consulting with Eddie. He’s your first client.
JOHNNY: Who’d you like? Did you like Lemmy? That was good, right?
MARGARET: Yeah, that was fun.
JOHNNY: How ‘bout Rancid?
MARGARET: Y’know, I didn’t know who they were.
JOHNNY: Okay, I like them personally. They’re real nice guys. They’re sort of Clashmania. Instead of Beatlemania they do the Clash routine.
MARGARET: I thought “They look all right, but who are they?”
JOHNNY: Chris Cornell was supposed to sing a song. Do you like Chris Cornell?
JOHNNY: Oh, you don’t like him either. He’s so good looking, right?
MARGARET: [incensed] No, he’s not! He’s not good looking...
JOHNNY: I hear it from every girl. I see girls, I’m walking around with Chris, and I’ll see girls that don’t even know who he is and they’ll like stop.
MARGARET: Really? (incredulous)
JOHNNY: And look at him.
MARGARET: I went to see them in a club years ago, and all I remember is him having bad skin. That’s all I can remember.
JOHNNY: I never noticed that.
MARGARET: He was a young kid, I guess.
JOHNNY: But Chris was supposed to sing a song and our management tried to change the song that day and that took care of that. They messed that up. Who else was a guest? Dee Dee.
MARGARET: Dee Dee, that was fun!
JOHNNY: Funny. Dee Dee was gone. He’s totally lost in the song.
MARGARET: It’s too loud to hear anyway.
KIM: Tell us what you thought of the Dee Dee King album.
JOHNNY: I never listened to it. We were about to do Adios Amigos. He plays me “The Crusher.” I don’t think the arrangement was right. What the chorus is. Rearrange the song and do the song. You gotta have CJ sing this because he’s able to sing the rhythm.
KIM: Have you read his book?
JOHNNY: No. Dee Dee doesn’t tell the truth about anything. And I really like Dee Dee. He was my friend before I was in the band and my friend throughout the band. I felt let down when he left.
MARGARET: We all have friends like that… that we still love.
KIM: But if you know they lie, it’s different than—
JOHNNY: You know people like that?
KIM: Sure. They have to mythologize their lives. They have to, it’s the only way they can function.
JOHNNY: I met him one day while he wasn’t in the band anymore. Went by the Chelsea Hotel. About four kids stop us along the way and ask him what he’s doing now. Each person he talks to he gives a totally different story. He had an appendix scar on his stomach. While he was in the band if anybody would ask him he’d tell a story. A knife fight… Every time a different story, y’know.
MARGARET: Never an appendix.
JOHNNY: Never his appendix. He’ll do it to me, but what he would do is we’d get to a hotel at night and he’d go “Man, I can’t wait to get to my room and just go to sleep.” And I’d go “That’s what were gonna do.” And you’d stay in the lobby for a little while and you’d see him go upstairs and he’d be down in one minute running out the door.
MARGARET: Did you ever follow him?
JOHNNY: Nah, no. So in his book there ain’t gonna be nothing that was really gonna be true except his warped, crazy view of things.
MARGARET: That maybe would be more interesting?
JOHNNY: Maybe right.
KIM: So you gonna do a book?
MARGARET: How have you seen punk rock change over the years?
JOHNNY: I saw three concerts in the last two weeks, which is a lot. I usually go to one about every five months. I saw X at the House of Blues. They’re great. At first, that was rough going. As a kid you stand on these lines and deal with your stuff you don’t care. Here, no matter how easy it was being made for me, it was such a chore. To get my car, park, y’know?
MARGARET: Driving. Do you like driving everywhere?
JOHNNY: It’s okay. I don’t mind it. I don’t go very far. Everything’s a half hour from my house.
MARGARET: I wanted to ask you about your politics.
MARGARET: Well, the reason I’m asking is a lot of my friends who are punk rock are right-wing…
JOHNNY: They are? Okay.
MARGARET: It seemed like punk rock is a right wing phenomena, and I’ve heard you’ve caught slack for some of your opinions.
JOHNNY: Right-wing opinions?
JOHNNY: Oh, okay. I found it very strange, because here you have the hippie movement which is left-wing. Punks, you identify them if you go back to the fifties and sixties as a bunch of greasers who are more right-wing and anti-peace demonstrations and that kinda stuff. Then suddenly in the punk rock movement you start having these left-wing kids who are really hippies who have become punks but are still really hippies.
MARGARET: P.C. people. McLaren was a lefty.
JOHNNY: He was, you’re right. The other guys I don’t get. Steve Jones doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. He was just looking for girls.
KIM: Nothing wrong with that.
JOHNNY: If that’s all your life about, I guess there’s something wrong with that. I don’t know. Ramones fans always seem to be okay. They know I’m that way and I think a lot of the Ramones fans are sort of in agreement with me. Those are the only kids I have contact with. I don’t talk to any of those punks on the street.
MARGARET: Wearing Crass shirts and begging for money
JOHNNY: Yeah, that’s all hippies. Same thing as was going on in the late sixties. To me, I think punk should be right wing. That’s how I see it. The left wing is trying to destroy America by giving handouts to everyone and making everyone dependent on them. They only care about the voter base. They don’t really care about anything else. They don’t care about anyone. If they can get illegal aliens to become able to vote by motor registration, they will. They’re illegal aliens! They don’t even belong in the country, let alone voting. It’s just to keep their base of voters. Is it best for America? It’s not best for America.
KIM: Do illegal aliens actually get driver’s licenses?
JOHNNY: Yes, they passed a law! Pre-natal care for illegal aliens! This is all craziness. Who pays for this? Sure, for rich people it ain’t gonna make much difference. But look at all the middle class people. That ain’t rich. Even at $75,000 a year, you have a wife and two kids, you’re just getting by. That’s not rich people.
MARGARET: They don’t have to have a house.
KIM: Or kids.
JOHNNY: They take away half your money on taxes. Then you pay property tax and tax on everything you buy and then you go get gasoline. The first thirty six cents is tax. Then you buy the gasoline and they tax the total amount. You’re paying tax on the tax! They wanna sue the tobacco companies. Tobacco company make twenty five cents on a pack. The government makes $1.25! The world’s getting sicker and sicker. We’re getting involved in these crazy things. Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, whatever’s left of Yugoslavia here. $40 billion on bombing these countries and having all these refugees. It shouldn’t be going on to begin with unless it’s of vital interest to America. It’s okay to let the Chinese steal our secrets because we’ve been selling them all this stuff.
MARGARET: (says something indecipherable about Kosovo.)
JOHNNY: The reports are greatly exaggerated. Well, the reports we’re getting from our pilots is that they’re finding boxes covered with canvas with tanks drawn on top of the canvas! We wasted all this money. If they wanna give hand-outs, they could’ve used this money to do something with in America. Every report they put out there is a lie. Just a lie. My mother called me up and goes “isn’t that terrible?” And I’m like “You listen to this crap? You listen to this propaganda. It’s all lies. Can’t you get used to hearing the lies?”
KIM: What is the source for your information?
JOHNNY: I watch a lot of stuff. I mean I listen to talk radio, Hannity and Colmbes at 11 o’clock at night. There’s a left and a right viewpoint, and they discuss it. I try to watch this stuff. I find the left, especially the men, are such wimps. (laughs) Such wimps. You can spot them .
MARGARET: I was looking at a picture of Russian revolutionaries from 1905. I said “Ugh, that guy looks like such a Communist!” And it was Trotsky! (laughs) Maybe it’s a genetic thing.
JOHNNY: I had friend who was getting ready to vote for Clinton back in ’92. I said “How could you do this? Don’t you see the lies? He’s evil.” Naw, he voted for him. Within a year he was sorry. He wished he’d voted for Bush.
MARGARET: I’m surprised he learned that soon.
JOHNNY: I’ll never let him forget it. He’ll say “C’mon it’s been seven years.” I don’t care, heh.
MARGARET: I still talk to people who have the blinders on. “Okay, so he sleeps around with women…”
JOHNNY: It’s okay to just let the Chinese steal our secrets. They’re our “friends.” But they have missiles pointed at every American city, and L.A. is the first place they’re gonna shoot because it’s closest.
MARGARET: And that embassy we bombed.
JOHNNY: They are not our friends. We have to have tight security. We gotta stop fighting these wars. So many soldiers die. We should have troops at the border and keep illegal immigrants out of the country. We have a million illegal aliens. You wanna let them stay? Fine, whatever you wanna do. We gotta stop getting any more. They don’t want them to stop because these are potential voters. All they care about is re-election and staying in office.
MARGARET: Do you even vote?
JOHNNY: I think I might start, but I’ve been so disgusted. My wife does. She votes Republican.
MARGARET: That’s what she tells you.
JOHNNY: She does. (laughs)
MARGARET: Like Edith Bunker.
JOHNNY: That’s a show too. They tried to make the conservative look like a bigot. I hated that show. All of sudden I realized, one day, “I see what they’re trying to do. Archie Bunker is the fool and Meathead is the wise person.” I was thinking it would be interesting if George W. takes a woman as vice-president. The left would have to vote Republican. They wouldn’t know what to do.
MARGARET: They should get a black woman.
KIM/ JOHNNY: That would be too strange.
MARGARET: Did you see the Ted Nugent Behind the Music?
JOHNNY: Yeah. I never watch it, but it was on. And then there was the Red Hot Chili Peppers episode, with John Frusciante. People ask me “How can you be friends with John Frusciante?” I only know him straight. I don’t know him any other way. He was like the worst Bowery Bum on heroin. I haven’t seen that one yet, but I’ve seen Poison. These guys talking — the mentality of this band is so different. It’s all about women, and they go nuts on the road…
KIM: They’re not in it for the music at all.
JOHNNY: That stuff never entered my mind. I always had a girlfriend and never cheated on her. Going on the road is touring for the record and making some money. Changing schedules so we could get to the place fast enough to see a baseball game.
MARGARET: Yankees fan?
JOHNNY: Yankees fan. Angels fan too. Baseball fan. So Poison’s mentality… these guys seem all right, but they looked at it as a party. When I go on the road for the next two months it means I don’t drink or smoke pot or do anything till I get back home.
KIM: It’s a real work ethic.
JOHNNY: Each day was about being as good as I could possibly be that night. I don’t do anything to get me tired. Go to bed early.
KIM: It was most important that you do that, because if you screwed up, you’d screw up the others.
JOHNNY: It’s more obvious.
MARGARET: I had a friend mention seeing the Nugent show the other night. They didn’t like him because of his guns and politics.
JOHNNY: Even if you don’t like his music, he’s one of the real characters of rocknroll.
KIM: Do you like his music?
JOHNNY: Just his image more than anything. I don’t hunt, but I don't have anything against people who do. Gun laws don’t get guns out of the hands of criminals. They just make it harder for me and you to get them.
MARGARET: We can hire all those criminals to protect us.
JOHNNY: It’s all about money. That’s all they’re trying to do. Do they want to ban tobacco? They just want to make money off of it.
KIM: How much do they charge for a pack now? Four bucks?
JOHNNY: I think they’re up to that now. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life.
KIM: I smoked one just to see what it was like. It was real horrible.
JOHNNY: I’m not for people not smoking. Second-hand smoke — it doesn’t do anything to anybody.
KIM: It makes your clothes stink.
MARGARET: It makes my eyes red.
JOHNNY: Okay, but it didn’t kill anybody. Have you seen the billboard "Do you mind if I smoke? Do you care if I die?" They go to a bar and they’re worried about second-hand smoke. They’re not worried so much about people drinking and getting on the road and driving drunk and killing innocent people. That’s what’s steaming them. They’re worried about smoke.
KIM: Johnny, when did you realize you were going to be a Ramone forever? And did that make you feel like there pressure for you not to change as a person?
JOHNNY: Well, I didn’t think it was going to go on forever. Like the Dolls, who thought it was going to go forever and spent it all. The track record of bands — they break up.
KIM: Are you a Ramone right now?
JOHNNY: Yes, guess I’ll always be a Ramone.
MARGARET: Is that how you introduce yourself?
JOHNNY: They’ll say “What’s your name?” I’ll say John. My wife will press me to say “Johnny Ramone.”
MARGARET: It’s not on your driver’s license? (laughter)
JOHNNY: No, but it’s part of my own real identity. Pressure to change? No. Not changing musically, that was more pressure. It was better when we didn’t care if the records would sell and just made them for our fans. Adios Amigos, after twenty-two years, I think was a very good album. We didn’t worry about the hits. I tried never to worry about it after the first three albums. I knew we were going to be a cult band and it was going to stay like that. Nowadays, they get albums to go to #1 right away on the charts and you don’t know how many are out there, how many sold, because they shipped a million. All that matters are the final figures.
MARGARET: When I worked at a record store, we were asked to pre-order a lot more Pearl Jam records than we needed, just so they could get the numbers. They were going to pay shipping and everything and a bonus so it wouldn’t cost us anything. They knew we would ship a bunch back.
JOHNNY: It happens. Eddie would be unhappy to hear that. Some people don’t feel they’ve succeeded unless they’ve sold ten million albums, every one went to number one and everyone tells them they’re the best. I never thought I’d get this far. I never thought it would go for twenty-two years. I can retire. Everyone’s nice to me.
KIM: Did you go to college?
JOHNNY: For a year. I went to college because of the Vietnam war, but I had a high draft number so it was very unlikely anyway. Every eligible kid in the country was ahead of me. I was against it. It wasn’t a good war like WW II.
MARGARET: The same people who were protesting the Vietnam war twenty years ago are pro-war now.
JOHNNY: A lot of the heroin coming into this country is going through the Albanians.
MARGARET: Some people think that’s a good thing.
JOHNNY: They have twelve kids per family. The Serbians are Catholic have like two per family. And were choosing sides with the Muslims, like we’re protecting them.
MARGARET: The Albanians carry on blood feuds and generations of Albanian men are stuck at home where they can’t get killed.
JOHNNY: And we’re siding with them?
MARGARET: Hitler did the same thing. He tried to give Kosovo to the Albanians.
KIM: [enough politics already!] So, Johnny, over all, did you have fun?
JOHNNY: Over twenty-two years surely I had some fun. Say, have you been on the internet?
KIM/ MARGARET: Yeah.
JOHNNY: Well, my friend is selling Ramones snow globes! The deluxe edition has a leather jacket in it. They come with pieces of my jeans in them. I’ve signed a bunch of his things that he’s sold on eBay.
MARGARET: Really? How did the leather jackets come about?
JOHNNY: I had mine since ’67. I was a real punk. I was a bad person, then all of a sudden one day I woke up. I didn’t like who I was. I gave up drinking and drugs. After two years, I just woke up. I’d see a bottle in the street and put it through someone’s window. Just petty things that were wrong. I didn’t like who I was. I went to see a psychiatrist but after a while he said “I can’t help you.”
KIM: Reverse psychology!
JOHNNY: I thought “what are you going to do with your life? I don’t know what the hell I want to do.” I decided the next day I was going to find a part-time job. Held that for six months and then went to my father and said I was ready for a full-time job. He was in construction. Then Affirmative Action came around and they needed to fill a quota really quick on a job that was all white and I lost my job. Then I went out and bought a guitar.
SCRAM: And here we are. Thanks, Johnny!