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The Meatmen by Joe Gall, courtesy of Tesco Vee
My favourite moment of seeing the Meatmen perform in Vancouver in 2012 actually occurred between songs, when singer Tesco Vee – shed of his devil horns and giant inflatable erection – acknowledged the presence of what some might describe as a “sweet little old lady” at the side of the stage – no doubt the only woman in her demographic in attendance. “Are you Bev?” Tesco asked nicely. I’d previously explainted to Tesco at the merch table that veteran Vancouver punk photographer Bev Davies was in the audience, then flipped through a copy of the Touch & Go zine anthology, co-edited by Tesco himself, to show where they’d used some of Bev Davies’ photographs back in the day (there’s a vintage portrait of Black Flag that’s also appeared in one of Bev’s punk rock calendars). He got the audience to give a round of applause to a living legend – then completely undercut (and made classic) his gesture by mocking both his own age and Bev’s by launching into the song “Dinosaur” (described below). Everyone got a good laugh out of it, including Bev. (The song, along with many of the new ones discussed below, is available on the new Meatmen album, Savage Sagas from the Meatmen, which is surprisingly good, in fact possibly the best Meatmen album ever).
All images of Tesco Vee and his penis by Allan MacInnis
It was kind of a relief to discover that Tesco Vee, in fact, is a pretty nice guy, since I’d never quite known before I interviewed him how to take some of his songs. Meatmen tunes like “Camel Jockeys Suck,” “Lesbian Death Dirge,” “Blow Me Jah,” and “Tooling for Anus” knowingly cross a plenitude of lines, partaking in unambiguous (if insincere) racism and homophobia so extreme that any liberal would have a hard time not reacting. When Tesco characterizes lesbians, between songs on the live album We’re the Meatmen And You Still Suck, as “nail’ splittin’, clam-lappin’, diesel flab glaciers” who embody “everything we hate,” a sort of politically correct knee-jerk reaction sets in that is hard to completely ignore. It doesn’t matter that Tesco does not actually defend the views that, in character, he puts forth; or that his parodic delivery and over-the-top extremity challenges you to NOT be offended, to not take the bait (because how seriously are you going to take anything said by a man wearing a giant inflatable penis and devil horns, for fucksake?). You still feel like you shouldn’t go along with statements like that, that you should speak up against the lyrical carte blanche he grants himself, or at least interrogate his more provocative moments.
I had attempted to do that somewhat lamely during my interview with him, but there are a few reasons for my failure. Among other things, I don’t want to come across as some politically correct, humourless scold – a position which would irritate me as much as him. Further, I am aware that my own position in regard Meatmen songs is deeply contradictory. I find “Camel Jockeys Suck” kind of offensive, but not the other songs in the so-called “Suck Trilogy,” “Crippled Children Suck” or “French People Suck,” which seem like obviously tongue-in-cheek, outlandish provocations with absolutely no serious content whatsoever. They’re almost the same fucking song, but two of the “Sucks” make me chuckle, while one of them registers as some kind of hate speech. The contradiction baffles me. Neverminding the French (who can surely take care of themselves), why should I feel the need to run to the defense of, err, “camel jockeys,” whilst letting crippled children roast on Tesco’s fire? Surely, even in post-9/11 North America, the crippled children are the more vulnerable target; yet somehow, precisely because of that fact, I am completely assured that Tesco is kidding, and am thus freed from any Pavlovian liberal cringe.
Mostly, though, my failure – and this is actually quite funny when you think about it – to challenge Tesco about some of his lyrics comes from a desire NOT TO OFFEND HIM. What the fuck is with THAT, exactly? The guy makes the most outlandishly vile public pronouncements, and I’m worried that I’m going to offend HIM by taking objection? Just how much smaller are my balls than Tesco Vee’s, anyhow?
The following interview took place on the phone shortly before the Meatmen’s first Vancouver appearance. Another highlight of that show was getting to bullshit a bit with former DOA guitarist Dave Gregg, who posed alongside Tesco for countless photos with fans and stood outside the Fortune Sound Club after the show with Bev Davies and myself, swapping stories for a bit. Gregg passed on early in 2014, and it was, in fact, my only opportunity to meet him; he seemed like a really nice guy. (I also got to hang out briefly with East Van Halen ’s Mike Stand, who had had Tesco autograph his man-boobs, but those photos and my notes from our ranting conversation are long lost).
So, Tesco – you’re actually named for a British supermarket chain.
I am. I named myself. I don’t know if you read the origin of it, but Throbbing Gristle were posed in front of a Tesco, and I just kinda thought it sounded cool.
Have you encountered anyone named Tesco since then? Because it wasn’t ever meant to be a human name.
I know, it wasn’t. No I have not. There’s a lot of dogs and cats named Tesco, thanks to me, but… I’ve never encountered another humanoid with the same moniker.
Me neither. So – let’s start with ABBA. Is your interest in ABBA sincere or ironic?
It’s absolutely sincere. I’m not one of these bandwagon-jumpers, I’ve been listening to them since I first heard the lilting strains of “SOS” and “Waterloo” back in ’74. That wasn’t exactly in my wheelhouse – ’74 was more about Thin Lizzy and Grand Funk and Montrose – but I was immediately taken. I was, like, “what is this, it’s different than anything I’ve ever heard. It’s pure pop majesty,” and I was hooked from day one. People are like, “you’re not serious,” but yeah – I’m absolutely serious.
Did you ever get to interact with them?
No, not at all, but they’re in my heart, and they’re in my record collection, and I’ve got a whole lot of ABBA stuff. I’ve got a big standee in my office, from, like, ’76 I think it is, and all sorts of collectables. Someone in New Orleans actually found a pair of ABBA clogs in a trashcan in, like, 1994, and I traded them, like, six t-shirts for it. They’re proudly displayed, and any of the girls that come over, they gotta try them on: “oh my God, ABBA clogs.” And ABBA dolls – Matchbox put out ABBA dolls, and I got’em all.
Do you keep this stuff in the box?
Oh yeah. Whenever you find it in the box, that’s a bonus. If it comes in a box, it stays in the box. That can double the value of a lot of items.
Absolutely. I’ve interviewed Lemmy Kilmister on his Nazi memorabilia collection, and he plans to retire on that stuff someday. Is your toy collection in that league?
Yeah, I don’t know if I could live the rest of my life off it, but that’s not my goal: my goal would be, I want to open, like, a toy museum – buy a building and put Tesco’s Toy Museum in the bottom floor and then the top floor would be where I live. One wall of the place could be stuff for sale and the other wall could be all in locked showcases, all the stuff I’ve been hanging on until I drop dead. And then my wife Gerta can sell it off and live even longer.
So what makes a good toy for you? Do you prefer like vintage toys, or…?
It’s gotta be vintage for me. It doesn’t have to be a toy – it could just be anything old and cool and funky, like a Satan thing. I collect Satan, Red Devil and Jesus – any religious stuff is fascinating to me, so any images of Jesus or Satan adorn my walls and balance each other out, I’m hoping. But yeah – space toys, anything from the atomic age, those are the things that I like the best. Plus the old TV related toys – I got probably the biggest Man from U.N.C.L.E. collections in the world, and Green Hornet, Get Smart, Munsters, Addam’s Family – all that stuff. I’ve been doing it since the late 80’s, so my basement looks like eBay threw up. That’s what my coworkers say, when they come and look.
The Meatmen by Bev Davies
What do you do, dayjob-wise?
I’m a telecommunications engineer. I install and maintain big telephone systems, voice mails, all sorts of stuff like that – cell phones, I’m responsible for all the smart phones, provisioning iPhones and droids for corporate use and that kinda stuff. It’s pretty boring but it pays the bills.
Does anyone ever realize that it’s Tesco Vee, setting up their voicemail?
You know, sometimes worlds collide and I have to tell people to shut the heck up, because it’s not exactly a Christian rock band that I’m in. I kinda try to keep it on the downlow. But I also don’t shy away from it. Like, every year at our big division Christmas party, I’m the MC, so I come out in these crazy outfits, and blow off confetti cannons, and people are like, “where do you get all this stuff?” “Oh, it’s just stuff that I have laying around the basement, y’know.”
I take it you leave the inflatable penises home.
I leave the inflatable penises home. But I do the scare the crap out of ‘em with the confetti cannons and all sorts of stuff. They’re like, scratchin’ they’re heads, but they like it. Platform shoes… where does a guy with size sixteen feet get platform shoes?
You really have size sixteen feet?
I do! They’re huge.
Holy fuck. How tall are you?
I’m like, 6’5”. I was on Dick Manitoba’s list of tallest punk rockers – me and Thurston Moore and Blag Dahlia from the Dwarves.
He has big fuckin’ feet, too. [I should know – I had previously spent a Dwarves concert at the same venue at front of stage, repeatedly getting kicked in the head in passing by Blag as he dived into the pit. In fact, I have been kicked in the head by Blag Dahlia more than by any other human being in my life]. Anyhow – you grew up in Lansing?
I did. Well – I grew up in Kalamazoo and then we went out east when I was high school – 9th, 10th, 11th grade – and then we moved back to Michigan when I was a senior in high school. So from a senior in high school til I moved to DC in ’82 – that was, what, 72-82, then 17 years in the nation’s capital, or Northern Virginia, then back here in ’99.
It sounds from the Touch & Go things I’ve read that Michigan was a pretty bleak place to grow up in.
Well, it was bleak, but yet there was all these touring bands coming through. 999 played Michigan numerous times, they played right here in East Lansing, and we had the Stranglers and the Ramones a couple times, and just all these bands came through. In the early ‘70’s we had a place called The Brewery, and in a two year period, they had hundreds of bands – T. Rex, Tubes – all these bands. Looking back on it now, it’s like – “wait a minute, what happened?” Even Black Flag coming through and playing at Club Doobie, which I wrote about in the book: “holy crap, Black Flag is in this little town in the middle of nowhere!” Touring back then for these bands was like a giant leap of faith, you were really rollin’ the dice, but their reputation preceded them and of course the place was packed. It was a great place to write the ‘zine, because we’d go to Detroit and see a lot of the touring bands, like the Cramps and Johnny Thunders and Gang of Four. Even Ultravox! Like I always said, you get more clam at an Ultravox show than you do at a Cramps show.
The Meatmen by Bev Davies
What was your early introduction to punk, exactly? Was there a first gig, or…?
Well, I’d read about it, I studied it, I was infatuated all about these mythical bands in England like Generation X and the Sex Pistols and the Damned and the Clash, and saw the pictures, because I used to go and buy Trouser Press and New Musical Express and Melody Maker, and I was reading all about these bands, because there was this giant shift in the whole musical paradigm. So definitely the English groups were the first thing I saw – the Stranglers and some of the more new wavey stuff – Lene Lovich, the Rezillos, and all that stuff would come through before the real American hardcore blew up a year or two later. And there were some Detroit bands I’d go see, like Coldcock. They would warm up the big groups.
In terms of Lansing – like, I don’t know a lot of the local scene; I don’t know the Necros or such. But the Crucifucks, I love.
Oh yeah. A little known fact: my brother-in-law Gus was a guitar player in that band. They were a great band. That was my first exposure to American hardcore, was obviously the Lansing bands, because I was friends with them all. The Crucifucks – that was left of centre to be sure, that was, like, out there – very annoying, very grating, very great.
The stuff I read about Doc Dart or 26 or whatever he’s calling himself, it sounds like he’s having a hard go of things. Is he at all a figure on your radar since you moved back?
No… my friend Steve Miller is writing a book called Detroit Rock City and he’s covering the punk years, too, and he went and knocked on his door. His house is completely boarded up, like there’s no windows. He used to have graffiti painted on the outside – like Symbionese Liberation Army and stuff like that. And he lives in, like, a swank area, near Lansing. But supposedly if you knock on the door, he’ll answer, and they went out for coffee and he interviewed him for the book. But I haven’t talked to him in years, and even my brother-in-law says sometimes he’ll answer the phone and talk, and then he’ll call back a month later and he hangs up on him. But he’s a member of the Dart family, the world’s largest cup maker, so I’m sure he’s well taken-care of.
Yeah, but it’s still sad to hear about it – it sounds like his most meaningful relationships are with his raccoon friends. [Note: One of Doc’s raccoon visitors even appears on the cover of 26’s The Messiah, a must-hear album for Crucifucks fans].
His raccoons and his baseball card collection, that he still maintains. I guess his house is filled with bags of feed for the birds and the raccoons and stuff.
Curious – before punk, did you ever see the Fugs perform? Or Zappa?
Never saw the Fugs. Never saw Zappa. The records I was all over, but they just never came around. The Fugs, they never really toured out this way that I can remember, and Zappa, I’m sure he played Detroit and Ann Arbor. He loved Ann Arbor, but I never got a chance to see him.
*Ed Sanders* seems to have left his mark on you. I mean, one of the raps I’ve heard you do, you talk about sticking your tongue so far up a woman’s “puckered starfish” that you “carve your initials in tomorrow’s turd.” That seems very Ed Sanders-y to me.
Absolutely. The stuff off that Live at the Fillmore – the lesbian dwarfs and the “Coca Cola Douche” and “Saran Wrap” and “I Couldn’t Get High” – that stuff is genius. I try playin’ it now for my guys when we’re on the road, and they’re like, “turn this crap off!” And I’m like, “Really?” …because it was so out there. I just found his Beercans on the Moon album a couple of weeks ago at a yard sale – it was like “*Johnny Mathis*, Bing Crosby, Mantovani – Ed Sanders, are you kidding me!?” I’ve been looking for this record ever since I didn’t buy it back in the ‘70’s! It’s not that great of a record, but you know, it’s still an awesome title and an awesome cover.
Are there comedians that have had a particular influence on you?
I’m not much into standup. Lewis Black is okay, because I can relate to him, being middle aged and angry, but that’s what I love about what I do, because I can do kinda like standup, and set up the song or crack a joke or make fun of somebody in the front row, and then I can launch into the next opus. To me, it’s the best of both worlds. If my material is bombing, there’s another song to play! I heard Jon Stewart, he said, “the response of the crowd is in no way a barometer of the quality of your material,” and that’s really profound and really correct, because one night you kill it, and the next night you come out with basically the same shtick and people just stand there and mouth breathe and you hear pool balls clacking in-between songs. Some towns are more intelligent than others. And that’s all I’ll say… but I’m sure Canada will be super all over it. They better be – I’m coming a long way for this.
The Meatmen by Joe Gall
The thing I’m concerned about, re: playing Vancouver, is that it’s the Left Coast, and people are pretty politically correct here. There’s a pretty vocal gay and lesbian community, there’s a lot of cultural diversity… I’m not sure how well some of your songs will go over.
Yeah, I know. But people need to understand, too, what I’m all about. I’m the most free-thinking, left-wing nutjob on the planet; I’m as live-and-let live as they come. The Tesco Vee character I crawl into – if I lived that persona 24/7, I’d either be dead or incarcerated. But it’s like – there’s a certain element of satire and tongue-in-cheek in what I do. I’m going for the throat, I’m going for reaction – I want people to react, if it’s laughter, anger, whatever. I don’t want them to stand there and be bored. That’s where I’ve been coming from my whole career – I want a reaction, thus the song titles like “Crippled Children Suck.” And obviously I don’t think crippled children suck – or as I say on stage, ‘they only suck when they can actually reach my zipper.’
I don’t know if you want to print that or not.
No, no, we’ll go there. Are your parents still around?
My Dad’s around. My Mom passed a couple of years ago. They’re real right wing Christians.
Dutch Reform, right?
Yeah. So they’ve known I was in a band in the past. My Dad the other day was like (adopts cantankerous old man voice): “Remember when you used to be in a band?” and my nephews and my kids were just looking at each other kind of nervously, because that’s, like, the family secret. He’s 90 years old now, so we shield him from the truth, because if he knew the truth it might just put the old guy over the edge.
So they never made it out gigs.
No, never made it to a gig. I never could do my Jim Morrison thing, when Mommy was sidestage in Cleveland and he did the “Mommy I Want to Fuck You” thing. I don’t know if you remember that one. She was right there. He was a very twisted individual.
Well, that actually brings up something I was going to ask you about – self-censorship. Like, “True Grit,” you actually changed the line about fucking your teenage daughter up the ass, given that you have a teenage daughter, right?
Yeah (laughs)- I kinda did, but not anymore, because she’s 24. But I always change it up. Someday it’ll be “granddad,” someday it’ll be “little sister,” someday – whatever – I’ll just pick out a guy in the front row and sing it right to him. But I guess you could call it self-censorship. But things change, times change. That’s why “One Down Three to Go,” the song about the Beatles, is “Two Down Two to Go” now, because I want to remain somewhat topical.
But, like, did your daughter ask you to change that lyric?
Oh no. My kids are totally into it. My son was one of the ones who got me goin’ again, a few years ago – he was like, “Come on, Dad, let’s do this again, I didn’t get a chance to go on tour and have fun.” So for a couple of years, he was being my road manager, but then he had to get a real job, so…
Are there any songs you won’t perform anymore? I think I read somewhere that “Camel Jockeys Suck” is off the setlist.
Yeah… that one’s just, I dunno. Although, we HAVE incurred the wrath of the Sheik, the pro-wrestler, who will be coming to Tesco-Fest in a couple of weeks – we’re having a big fest in Detroit, and he vowed revenge. So that should be fun! We’re getting a lot of publicity out of that. [Note: you can find the Sheik vs. Tesco Vee Smackdown live on Youtube]. So, yeah… I dunno why that one. “Crippled (Children Suck)” and “French People (Suck)” still make it, but… whatever. People wanna hear all three of’em, and I’ve toyed with doing a third one on a different topic, because it’s a target-rich environment out there. But I dunno. Maybe we’ll just stick with “Crippled Children” and “French People”. We did do “French People Suck” in Montreal, I’m proud to say.
How did that go over?
It went fine. But I prefaced it, because someone took me aside and said “look, the people in Montreal hate the French from France, because they come over to Montreal and talk to the French Canadians, and they’re like, ‘Vat did you say? I can’t understand you,’ because they’re not speaking ‘proper’ French. And that really rankles them.” So I did give a little foreword there – ‘this goes out to the French people in France.’ So I guess maybe, but… call that pussying out, call it catering to the crowd, but…
Well, you gotta survive.
Yeah, exactly: I want to survive the evening.
Have you performed “French People Suck” in France?
Not yet. We’re touring Europe in September [editor’s note: 2012, remember – this is an old interview!] and I do not see France on the itinerary. But I’m sure they’ll love it in every other country in Europe we’re playing.
Heh. I think I remember reading in a Forced Exposure magazine, where you were talking about the Tesco Vee persona, and you talked about having a sizeable gay audience. It made me look at you in a new light.
It’s funny, because I was just up north with my nephew at the cottage, and my nephew said this guy he worked with said, “Did you know your uncle was gay?” And I’m like – “what are you talking about?” But back in the 1980’s, there was a magazine called In Touch, and it was a men’s magazine. And I did a photo shoot in there, and – I dunno, I can’t explain this, but it was me in a caveman costume and it had my bare butt hangin’ out, and a Milk Bone [ie, a bone-shaped dog treat] stuck in my butt, and they had this giant Hungarian guard dog, and he was, like, goin’ for the Milk Bone. So based on those pictures in there, that this guy saw online, he said I was gay. And I think we did pick up a lot of gay fans back then.
You know, it’s like, any other cross-section of humanity: if they’re secure in their own skin, they get it, they get the joke: when we sing “Tooling for Anus,” we’re not going after gay people, we’re just poking fun at gay people, like we poke fun at every other cross-section of society. Those that get it get it, those that don’t don’t. So yeah, I’m sure we have gay fans. We played in Brooklyn at this Polish disco called Europa – we’ve played there a few times – and a friend of mine said, “I invited these two big gay bodybuilders,” and said, “you gotta come see this!” And they came, and they just absolutely died. They loved it.
There is something outlandishly campy about the Meatmen.
Yeah, I mean – I don’t know why we don’t have more gay fans. Are you familiar with that band Black Fag, from Los Angeles? Well, we did some shows with them, and it was a perfect mix. What is it they say – “an absolutely fabulous tribute to Black Flag.” And they do spot-on-renditions of Black Flag songs – I mean, they sound just like Black Flag, except the singer’s like (adopts a fey falsetto): “Rise above, we’re gonna rise above.” You know, it’s just like, really funny. And we did a few shows out west with them and a few shows out east with them, and it’s absolutely a marriage made in heaven.
Talking about covers, I have Cover the Earth here. How many of these songs are going to be in the set?
Actually, none of those songs on there will make it in the set. But we do do a few covers. We do “World Up My Ass” by the Circle Jerks, because that’s going to be on a tribute CD that’s comin’ out. And we actually do a Judas Priest song – but we don’t always play that, only on special nights. And then we do the Venom “Evil in a League with Satan,” which has been a staple of our set for years, and we do “Alcohol” by Gang Green which is technically a cover but we’ve been playing it for so long we kinda consider it one of our songs, now.
What Priest song are you doing?
We do “Hot Rockin’.” You ever seen the video for that one? It’s, like, in a shower.
Like, in 1980, if anybody still didn’t get it that Rob is gay… they’re really stupid!
Right, right. I love “Breaking the Law,” if you do a queer reading of it.
It’s total transgression. Or “Hell Bent for Leather.”
You could take every Judas Priest lyric and realize there is a gay connotation to it. Like, “Delivering the Goods.” “Between the Hammer and the Anvil” – think about that one!
Heh. I was reading about how you guys put together the ‘zine, and I don’t know what an IBM Selectric is.
Ah. An IBM Selectric, they were generally, like, a pea soup green, or a red, and they probably weighed sixty pounds, and they had these little interchangeable balls, so if you wanted to change your font, you would pop this little plastic tab and drop a different font ball on there. In the 60s and 70’s, every office in America had a fleet of’em. I don’t know where I got mine, but that was the workhorse. There were a lot of cigarettes, a lot of Carling Black Label, and a lot of time at my Selectric.
And you would type up the columns and then hand-cut them out and paste them up?
Exactly, you just hand cut’em out and you might steal a graphic out of a Trouser Press or someone might send you a doodle on the back of an envelope and you would use whatever you thought was cool to fill up a page, and I would do half the pages – Dave [Stimson, Tesco’s co-author] would go, “how many do you have?” “I have ten.” “I’ll have ten by next week, that’s twenty pages.” And we would get together and buy some beer and read each other’s pages and proclaim it an issue and take it to the printer.
The assembly, the Xeroxing and the stapling and all that, was done on machines at the elementary school where you worked?
Yeah, it was. It’s funny, because I did an interview with a local magazine here when the book came out, and I kinda admitted where I did it, and I was like, “Are they gonna send me a bill?” Eventually we started going to a printer, but we were so broke – I was a schoolteacher making 10 or 12 grand a year and tryin’ to buy all these records and live. Most of my discretionary income went to vinyl, because we’d drive to Chicago and Ann Arbor and all these record stores. So for the first ten issues or so, I’d sneak in there at three in the morning. If the toner drum on these old machines was low, the copy quality was terrible, so with some of the issues, my buddy who did the Photoshopping, he had to take each page and darken it, but you can only darken it so much when it’s a double-sided image or you just fuck the page behind it…
It’s actually one of the great punk rock traditions, though. Fanzines, gig posters, lyric sheets… “My dayjob paid for this!”
Yeah, exactly. My biggest fear was leavin’ one of those pages on the glass – comin’ in the next day and the principal would be, like, “I need to talk to you.” And it would be something really horrible, like Farrah Fawcett with cum gushing out of her nose.
Okay, so – let me ask you about violence. I’ve talked to a bunch of Vancouver punks – Gerry Hannah of the Subhumans, Joe Keithley – and they all sorta expressed unhappiness about the levels of violence at hardcore shows. Some of the things I’ve read from you made it sound like you were into the violence, like you thought punk should be dangerous!
Yeah. Obviously I don’t condone indiscriminate violence and stabbing and that kind of thing, but to me, the best punk shows that I’ve ever been to, there’s been an element of danger. It’s hard to describe, but just the feeling that something is in the air – something bad might happen, something good might happen. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it’s kind of a palpable sense of fear or danger in the air. And those were the shows that I remember the most. When the DC crowd used to go up to New York and pick fights with the New Yorkers, I always thought that that was kind of stupid – because both scenes are fairly small, so what’s the point? And then in LA you’d have these massive riots – obviously that’s not cool. And the skinhead/ Nazi stuff is obviously not cool either. But there’s a way for a show to be crazy and out of control and still have acceptable levels of energy. Obviously things are a little bit more tame now, and maybe that’s a good thing, but I kinda miss the old days.
Which came first, for you, the ‘zine or the Meatmen?
They pretty much started at about the same time. The ‘zine started in ‘79, and the band started in ‘79. I think I started doing the ‘zine prior to being in a band, but I caught that fever – the DIY thing: “anybody can do it.” I was sick of dreaming of being onstage, I was just gonna go do it. Because you always fantasize, when you’re a hard rock kid in the 70’s, of bein’ up there and shaking your booty. But obviously it was a little different with the punk rock thing. I’m glad I picked that genre, and not hair metal or something. It’s had a little longer lifespan.
I’d like to ask about a story that you’ve told before, the Saturday Night Live story, about *Fear*’s appearance on that show. You must be sick of talking about it.
No, I’m never sick of talking about it – it was so much fun.
The story goes that the show phoned Ian Mackaye, looking for slamdancers. But why? Was Ian the go-to guy for slamdancers, or…?
Ha… I don’t know if it was the Lee Ving connection or what – I don’t know how Ian got the call – but I was crashed on his floor, on my little bedroll, and the phone rings and there it was – Mr. Mike sayin’ “*Belushi* wants slamdancers,” and I was like – sure! [Note: according to Ian Mackaye, it was Dick Ebersol who phoned, not Michael O’Donoghue). So we went up there – I was drivin’ into Manhattan in my little Mazda 626, and I had Henry Rollins in his SOA attire – the cutoff shirt and the chain belt and the engineer boots – and we pull up to the streetlight and the hucksters in the city walk up to the window – “you guys wanna buy some cherry bombs?” And then they look at Henry, and they said, “What are you, a Hare Krishna or something?” Because he was, y’know, clean shaven… And Henry just stared straight ahead. Little did the guy know that he probably could have reached out the window and choked his guts out through his nostrils. [Note: Ian Mackaye also differs in his account, saying that Rollins was in LA at the time Anyway, it was a who’s who of punk rock. I mean, Harley Flanagan was there, Sab from Iron Cross, all the Midwest guys were there and a lot of the DC guys were there, and we did a dress rehearsal, and during the dress rehearsal, somebody knocked over this $60,000 camera. This a $60,000 camera in like, 1980 – you can imagine what that would be like now. So they called it all off and sent us back to the green room, and we were trashin’ the green room. Someone had brought a box of 45’s, and we were jammin’ ‘em in the ceiling, and people were getting Mohawks cut, and everyone was trying to be as punk as they could. And I guess that Belushi held great sway with the producers and so: the show must go on. So Fear comes out, and – you’ve seen the video – it’s total chaos, mike stands getting knocked into Lee’s face, and people are doing stage dives that never did stage dives before. I’m the guy in the front to the right, the big geeky guy that’s doing the “we’re not worthy” bowing at Lee, and after about half a song, I was like, “You know what, I feel really stupid!” So I just left, and walked back. But the best part of that whole night for me was – because my wife is back in Michigan, and somebody had one of those giant VCRs or Betamaxes or whatever it was, and she was recording it. And I still have tape somewhere in the vault, and just before they cut, because there was no five second delay, John Brannon grabs the mike and says, “*Negative Approach* is gonna fuck you up!” And that went out over national television.
That’s not what’s on Youtube.
Nope, it’s not, it fades to black, but on my tape… a guy walks out with a big pumpkin and smashes it on the stage and right after that, the mike is laying there, and that went out over national TV.
It’s kinda funny considering what a ham you are onstage – no offense – that YOU would be the one who gets embarrassed.
Hahahaha! It’s true, the irony of it all. But there’s a certain decorum: the audience can go crazy and whatnot, but c’mon, you gotta let the band perform! The people in the front row were just getting so mad, because people were landing on them… it was just stupid, but I was glad I was there to witness it firsthand. For us little hayseeds from the Midwest, boy, that was quite an adventure.
Did Lee Ving actually have any influence on you? His brand of being offensive is not too far off from yours.
Yeah – I definitely sent the two bucks out of the back of the magazine – Slash or Flipside or whatever it was, it said “Fear single, send $2.” And boy, that was another leap of faith – but sure enough, two weeks later, it showed up in the mail.
What was the single?
It was the “I Love Livin’ in the City.”
Is that the one you guys covered?
Yeah, we did. And the whole concept of the Pony Express is lost on the kids nowadays: mailing away for the first Black Flag single and waiting… My friend Steve Miller, singer from the Fix, talks about it, y’know: “I read about the first Birthday Party seven inch in Touch & Go and it took me six months before I could find it, and in that six months, I was like, beside myself wondering what it sounded like.” And then when he finally found it, it was as good as we said it was. I mean, that sounds stupid, maybe – you can’t find a record for six months – but that’s the way it was back then; you really had to be a student of the music, and you really had to want it. You had to drive all over creation to go to record stores: “you got any boxes of 45s in the back?” Stuff like that – you had to be aggressive. You got a lot of good stuff that way.
It totally adds value to the experience, which the internet takes away.
Do you still have a massive collection of old 45s?
It’s not what it used to be. I went through a couple of purges, because collecting toys sort of took over. I kept all the stuff that was near and dear to me. I wish I had kept my Misfits collection – I kinda sold that back in the 80’s for pennies on the dollar, but what are you gonna do? I’m not a fan of Glenn [Danzig], and I haven’t been for a long time, so I have a hard time hanging onto something if I don’t care of the person who put it out, if you know what I mean. So he went on the chopping block a long time ago, when he turned into a douchebag, around 1985.
Are you getting along better with Rollins?
He’s fine. He did contribute something to the book. I don’t think he’s going to be sending me any Christmas cards anytime soon, but it was really cool that he wrote that forward for the book.
I know you were keeping count – has the book surpassed Get in the Van, yet?
Not yet, but that’s like 17,000 in 17 years, and we’re like, 10 or 12,000 in two years, so – we’re gainin’ on ya, Hank.
You’ve always said Touch and Go, the label, were really fair with you, and I wonder if you want to weigh in on the Butthole Surfers lawsuit.
I’ll weigh in on that. Obviously Corey [Rusk] is a good friend of mine – he’s been a stand-up guy with me for 30 years. And the Buttholes are great people, that I like, too. But it’s unfortunate that it happened. Corey really bent over backwards – I mean, he bought’em vans, and… it is what it is, it’s business, it’s a personal decision they made and I obviously don’t agree with them doing it, and it’s unfortunate because it kinda broke Corey’s heart. But it is what it is. It’s sad. His business model has always just been on a handshake, and it worked 99 out of 100 times. It’s just that one time it didn’t. Unfortunate.
You’re completely in control of your own back catalogue, right?
Yeah, except for the Touch and Go stuff. And they distribute my stuff digitally, too, except for the new one, which MVD distributes I own all the rest of it, now. I want to repop a lot of that stuff on vinyl, because obviously no one buys CDs anymore.
Is there a new album in the works?
There is. It’s coming along like a bowel movement in a fat man, but it’s slowly but surely gonna happen. It’s going to be called Lansing Liberace [Note: nope, once again the actual title is Savage Sagas From the Meatmen] and it’ll probably be coming out next year some time. I hope to tour the US in the fall of next year, and hope to have the new album in tow. We’ve got about six or seven songs in the can so far. It’s just that I practice in Detroit, which is 90 miles away, so it makes it tough to get together, but as soon as we get back from Europe we’re really going to sink our teeth into it. When you live in Michiganm you don’t tour in the winter, because it’s crappy, snowy, shitty. So that’s when we hunker down and hibernate and write a new album. That’s what we’re going to do. I gotta do it, because I haven’t had an album of originals since the 1990’s, so… it’s high time.
Are you going to be previewing a couple of the songs on this tour?
Actually, we are going to be doing a couple of new ones. We got a new one called ‘Dinosaur’ that I actually wrote in 1996 that’s sort of autobiographical in nature: ‘I’ve been around since the dawn of punk time/ I’ve been playing these punk rock waters since 1979,’ that kinda thing. And then we have another one called “Kill Kunt Koulter,” about Ann Coulter, the right wing Nazi. I might not be able to bring the banner across the border, because she has a swastika eyepatch and I don’t want to get stopped at customs. I definitely won’t be taking that one to Germany!
Probably for the best.
And then we have another one that we played in Montreal called ‘The Dwarves Are the Second Best Band in the World, After The Meatmen’ – because you know how the Dwarves are always saying they’re the greatest band in the world? Well we wrote a special song just for them, and it turned out really good, and we played it for them. It’s based on a true story, too, because when Blag was just starting out, he was buying punk records, and he bought the We’re the Meatmen and You Suck album and thought, “this is terrible, I can do better than this!” I read an interview where he said that, so that inspired me to write a song.
A final question, apropos of “Punk-o-rama:” Did you ever actually make a video of yourself beating off, to, like, beat off to?
(Laughs). No I did not! But – but! – a guy I work with, his son is a cop, and they had to investigate a possible child sex complaint. They said to this guy, “we need to see your phone.” He said, “There’s nothing on my phone!” “We need to see your phone!” So they took his phone and looked and that’s exactly what was on there. He was beating off to videos of himself beating off!
The Meatmen by Joe Gall
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