Peter Case : An Interview

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This is the third time I have interviewed Peter Case, so it does not cover the entire arc of his ingenious career, mostly just the new edgy political Case and the 1970s proto-punk Case, but if you’d like a peak at his extremely productive in-between years, please do check out “There’s No Exit for Peter Case” on his handsome website, http://www.petercase.com, or his interview about Mississippi John Hurt in Left of the Dial #1. I wish I had room to dig up his stories about Harry Dean Stanton, recent F.B.I. hassles, and beat poet Bob Kaufman. Alas, there’s always more to come….

First, tell me how T. Bone Burnett got you involved with playing on the Johnny Cash movie soundtrack.

I don’t know, man, he just called me up out of the blue. I didn’t even know that T. Bone even had my number.

But why did he pick you out of the blue?

I don’t know. I mean, I know T. Bone from way back. Every few years, I do something with him, but I just hadn’t talked to him for a while. He called up and wanted harmonica. He wanted some harmonica part on this Johnny Cash song, “It Ain’t Me Babe.” So, they are cutting it for this movie, and they thought they’d have me come down and do that. It’s funny, because it’s not really a Dylan style harmonica, it really is this other kind of style, and it is like what I do, so he knows what he’s doing. So, he got me down there, and while I was down there at Capitol studios, there was Reese Witherspoon…. God, who else was there? This actor Joaquin Phoenix was singing, then there was me….

They are playing June and Johnny.

There was David Kempner and Tony Gilkyson (formerly of X) and different guys. The story was, well, they were doing the acoustic stuff, the stuff on the old records, so I ended up playing some of the stuff like Johnny’s guitar…. Re-doing it, you know. These versions are very cool. It’s interesting, because they are kind of bringing it up to date. Well, if anyone can re-record the Johnny Cash shit and make it sound cool, it’s T. Bone. He did a pretty good job of it. It’s pretty fresh sounding. It sounds good.

And Joaquin has been singing Johnny’s part?

He sounds amazingly like Johnny Cash. When I first heard he was doing the part, I wasn’t into the idea of it. But they are both singing pretty good. It’s kind of amazing. Granted, there are certain problems. I mean, they’ve only been singing for a few weeks. I don’t know how those guys do what they do. But you know, I really don’t have the energy…. Well, I don’t really deal with actors that much in my life. About twenty years ago, I got a call to go meet Martin Scorcese. They were looking for guys to be the Apostles in the Last Temptation of Christ.

That’s right, Michael Been from The Call ended up being one of them.

Yeah, he wanted guys from bands. He was looking for guys from bands to be in it.

But why?

He figured they knew how to be apostles. They knew how to be disciples, work for nothing for a cause, be part of a team, you know. He interviewed me, and I talked to him for a few hours, man. We sat in this room over at this agency or something and we talked for a few hours. It was pretty intense. He asked, “Did you ever want to be an actor,” and I said, “I got to tell you, I never wanted to be an actor” (laughs). I never wanted that. To me, it just seemed like the opposite of what I wanted to do. I just never had any interest in it. I know a lot of rockin’ guys do, rock players, but I never gave a fuck about it.

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There’s no crossover for you between the mediums?

To me, acting seems the opposite of rock’n’roll. Like movies about rock’n’roll are never any good, because what’s good about rock’n’roll is that it is not acting. Do you know what I mean? It’s spontaneous.

But for you, there’s no persona on stage?

I feel that you are just getting in touch with who you are and fucking rock, you know. For some people I know it’s acting, but for me it’s not, it’s the opposite of acting. It’s really being completely yourself. Just doing your thing. That’s the way I look at it. It’s spontaneous. And it’s just your own…. Well, you’re not trying to contrive things. What you are trying to do is put something across. I don’t know. That’s the way I look at it.

But two of the Plimsouls did go into the “business,” one into animation and the other, pyrotechnics.

Yeah, they both went into movies, but it’s not like acting. They’re just doing jobs, blowing up cars and doing cartoons and shit. I guess acting does have a lot to do with it, because like with Bob Dylan, I guess he’s like an actor when he’s out there acting like Woody Guthrie. I suppose there’s a certain amount of acting that goes into the shit we do. I guess I shouldn’t draw such a fine, high line between it, but that’s always why rock’n’roll movies always seem to fail to me, because rock’n’roll exists spontaneously in the moment, and the movies are this faked up shit. Movies, just by their nature, are faked up.

So, the Jerry Lee Lewis movie, which actually starred John Doe, was a failure to you?
Oh yeah, I thought it was a piece of shit. Didn’t you?

I think it’s like having a movie about a writer like Hunter S. Thompson, who both Bill Murray and Johnny Depp have portrayed. It’s hard to capture what makes an artist interesting, because the process, for instance, of writing a song, isn’t always that interesting.
Plus, there’s just no understanding of…. Well, the thing that’s great about that persona is its depth in the moment. Jerry Lee Lewis just rocks, and he’s such a piece of work, but you can’t just put Dennis Quaid up there and get the same thing. It’s like a fucking cartoon.

So it ends up a caricature rather than a depthy portrayal?

Yeah, a band’s caricature. The best rock’n’roll movie I saw was Backbeat, that Beatles movie. A couple of the guys in that movie got across what it was like to be completely nuts in some stupid bar on speed. I thought that was pretty good, I did. Sid and Nancy was pretty good, but it’s not really a rock’n’roll movie, but some of that stuff is just crap, man. The Jerry Lee Lewis, for one, I thought was the weakest one I had seen. Because those people just don’t fucking know, man, they don’t have it, man. Being a big actor and being Jerry Lee Lewis is just a different world.

Whereas you entrust someone like Nic Cage, who did hang out in the Hollywood punk scene during his days of Valley Girl, to be a rocker?

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Well, in a movie, you have a whole chain of command, which is the other part of it, so you have the scene…There are some actors that are fucking great, but they rarely play rockers in the movies. Movies about poets are always terrible (laughs).

But did you see Henry and June with Fred Ward playing Henry Miller?

You know, a lot of people really like that movie.

Let’s talk about the Nerves. As I understand, you met Jack Lee while busking on the streets of San Francisco, and the two of you began to use battery powered amps, is that right?

Yeah, there was this other guy involved too, this guitar player from Alaska, who Jack came down to California with, named Pat Stengl. Those guys are both from the same little town called Sitka, Alaska. They didn’t come together, but they both came to San Francisco in the early ’70s. So, Pat Stengle was in the Nerves, too, and he was playing lead guitar. Yeah, we used to play with these little amps that were called Matthews Freedom Amps and they took like fifty batteries and they were really loud.

You were really the first band to take that sound and hit the street?

Well, I hear in Chicago really old blues guys used to it down on Maxell Street, but yeah, we were blowing people’s minds going out and playing on the street like that. The whole idea, our concept, was to have this band that played on the street. It was sorta the band’s Hamburg, Germany trip. Since I last talked to you, there’s this movie now of me playing the street with these guys, from 1973; we’re playing all rock’n’roll stuff. It’s before the amps, though.

It’s all wrapped up, finished?

It was finished in 1973.

It’s making the circuit?

No, it’s not making the circuit. We might put it out on DVD or something.

What’s it called?

Nightshift.

And it’s you with Jack, or others?

No, it was before I was working with the Nerves. It’s me doing material; well, it’s me playing rock’n’roll on the streets. Sometimes with other people, sometimes me, solo. I actually do “The Harder They Come The Harder They Fall” in 1973.

Just six months probably after it came out.

Maybe not even. And we’re doing the Stones. It’s pretty rocking. I play piano on this one Bob Dylan thing called “Black Crow Blues.” So yeah, it’s pretty interesting, for me. So, we are hoping to get that out.

You have never told me how you met Paul Collins.

Well, he met Jack. Jack was trying to audition drummers and I was off on some adventure, so Jack comes up and says, yeah, I got this guy, he’s really good, he just showed up at the door, and that’s how Paul got in it. I think Jack put an ad in Don Weir’s Music City over in North Beach. I think he auditioned fifty guys and Jack was one of them.

Such a strange dynamic, because out of a three-piece band, each of you ended up as lead singers at some point in other bands. How did you, a guitar player, end up playing bass, and Paul the drummer?

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Well, Paul was already a drummer. He’d never really sung before. He wasn’t originally a singer. Me and Jack were. Jack is a really good bass player and I’m a better guitar player than Jack, so why I ended up on bass and Jack on guitar, I can’t really remember (laughs). Jack just wanted to be the guitar player and he was ahead of me, so if I wanted to be in the band, I had to pick up the bass. Jack’s a really good bass player, though. And I had played in some bands, not that many. Last time I saw Jack, he said, “We really fucked up; you should have been the guitar player, man.” I was like, “Well, it’s a little too late for that.” But I just got into the bass. I love playing bass.

You were the local Frisco band to tour nationally without major label backing?

We were the first band in the United States to tour without a record label to support us. No one had done that before. We were the first fucking ones.

Ironically, later on, bands like Black Flag got all the credit for forging such ground in 1980, but you guys were doing it a few years earlier.

We were out there and played everywhere in 1977. We bought a car for 750 bucks—it was a Ford LTD Wagon (note from Peter: “It was a black ’69 we bought for 750 dollars in San Francisco…. We put 28 thousand miles on it the spring/summer of ’77.”), and at times we had all our equipment in it, and for a while, we were pulling a trailer. We just went everywhere, three people and our road manager.

Tell me about some of the bands you met along the way.

I’ll tell you who we met that year. Cheap Trick, then we went over to Cleveland and met David Thomas right when we came to town, outside of Brown Stadium. He took me over to his mom’s house or something, and we hung out there for a day. We met Devo, Pere Ubu, and then we went to Boston and met DMZ, a couple of guys who were in the Modern Lovers, etc. It just went on and on. We met the Ramones. We went to N.Y.C. and played Max’s Kansas City, which we played for nearly a week at one point. We also got fired from a few gigs, too. To fill in the spaces, we had these regular club gigs that Paul had booked at these big, like, rock clubs. We’d go out to these places and they’d tell us to get the fuck out and shit. We got fired from a few. We got fired in Washington, D.C. In East St. Louis, we were supposed to play for a week at this biker bar, and we got fired after the first night down there. We didn’t have any money. We were always broke and shit. We’d go out and do these scams with cigarette machines, pretend we’d lost our change, to get money. The whole thing was one big hustle, trying to get from town to town. We were doing scams of different sorts to get gas and just barely made it around out there, but we were on the road for a long time.

How did you end up hooking up with the Ramones?

I was handling a lot of press contacts and shit and trying to get some publicity for the gigs, which I did. We did it all ourselves, and then Paul was booking stuff. He started booking all these gigs. At one point, I don’t know if he started talking to Danny Fields or what, and he knew our tour route, and he wanted to play Texas, and we booked the Ramones into Texas for the first time. You’d have to ask Paul, but we played Randy’s Rodeo in San Antonio and we played Waco, which was fucking crazy, with the Ramones. Those are the two I remember. This is six months before the Sex Pistols played Randy’s. It was a crazy, violent, weird gig. A fun gig, too, but there was an element there that just wanted to whomp some punks. It seems like they got brooms from out of the broom closet and gave them to people and they were trying to hit us onstage with these brooms, like some guy was like, hey, let’s go fuck ’em up, here, get your broom. There were people with brooms in the front row swinging them at the stage, but whatever (laughs).

Jerry Lee Lewis had to play behind a fenced-in cage, right? Now, did you guys get back and then start booking the Hollywood Punk Palace?

No, that was way before that. We got to L.A. in January of 1977, on January 1st; we drove down on New Year’s Eve and got into Hollywood and just got off on the first exit, like Vine St., and checked into the first hotel, called the Vine St. Lodge, basically a brothel. We checked into that place, a horrible hotel. We started going around town. The first thing we did, on January 2nd, 1977, we went to the Whisky to see what was happening, and fucking Van Halen is playing. There were like 60 people there. I was like, “What the fuck, they are still playing this kind of crap? This is ridiculous, how could you still be into this dinosaur music? What the fuck, man, this is horrible.” So, we leave; then the next night, I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and we liked them a little bit more, and there were like 50 people digging the show. It was empty at the Whisky, pretty much, for all these bands. But then we tried to get a gig at the Whisky, and they go, “Nah, we don’t really want your type of band here, forget it.” They wouldn’t book us at the Whisky. And we said, “Fuck it man,” and we rented out….Well, the first thing we did was rent out this place called the Punk Palace, and we asked the Screamers to play. We met them, but they didn’t want to play because they weren’t ready yet, and we just tried to get people to play. The first gig was a weird gig, this band, this sort of like glam rock band from outer space called Zolar X. And they all lived in this apartment and they all wore space suits around town, like to the grocery store. They were a pretty famous band in L.A., like Rodney and everybody knew who they were, back in 1977. We were driving down the street and we saw Rodney and Kim walking down the street by Denny’s on Sunset Strip and we were like, “Fuck, that’s Rodney Bingenheimer,” so we just hopped out of the car. We pulled over and I go running over to him and I go, “Hey man, we are running this show down on Sunset Blvd., would you guys host it?” And they were like, “Yeah, sure” (laughs), so they started hosting the show, and Rodney and Kim and the fire marshal came, too, and we got into some trouble, and it was just the start of the whole thing. But that week, right before the show, we met the Weirdos, and they were in these rehearsal rooms in what used to be the Columbia lot right off Sunset Blvd., at Beechwood, I guess it was. This old movie lot that had been converted into a bunch of small rooms where people rehearsed. There weren’t that many bands that were rehearsing, but there were a few. The Weirdos were up there, and we just thought they were great, and Cliff Roman actually had this tape of our first meeting with them when we were telling them, “Man, the Whisky is never going to book you guys, if you guys for that, you are going to be old men and still never have played anywhere. You just got to go for it. We’ve been doing these punk rock invasion shows. Just do the show with us.” They finally said, “OK, but we don’t have a drummer,” and I go, “just play the show, and you will have a drummer.” And that’s what happened. They played the show and Nickey Beat was there. The first bill was kind of a weird one, but the second bill was the Dils’ first gig in L.A., the Ramones, sorry, I mean the Weirdos, um, some weird criminals from there called Short Ice. But they just disappeared. The Zippers, too. They were sort of a power pop sort of band. They were good, and they worked a long time in L.A., too.  They were hooked in with Backdoor Man magazine people. We played that night, too, but the big hit of the night was the Weirdos; they just went crazy. Our next show, I believe, was the Nerves, the Weirdos, and the Zeros, and we moved up the strip to this place; well, we found this place called the Orpheum Theater right across from Tower, and we put our last money on it, that’s all I remember. We had like $700 or something from the band fund. We just put everything in. That was the same night. Well, a lot of people came out that night, and then we were basically losing money on the whole thing, and we wanted to…Well, it was exciting, but we wanted to go on the road. Before this had all happened, we had booked our tour. So, we left, but right before we left, we turned the thing over to, I think, the Weirdos, and then the last one of this series of shows was the Germs’ first gig. I used to talk to Bobby Pyn (Darby Crash) on the telephone in the middle of the night a bunch.

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You never really liked the term “power pop” and instead preferred the term “punk,” because it seemed like a larger umbrella to encompass all the styles from the Screamers to the Dils?

I guess it also related to all the 1960s garage bands, which were considered punk at that time, you know, that Standells’ ’60s garage punk. So, I was really into all that stuff. That was the whole connection.

But there was a post-Nerves band that I never knew existed until this month when I got a 1979 Bomp comp. with you backing up Paul Collins, the Breakaways.

We played the Whisky and shit. Then that fell apart, and it was still me and Paul on bass and drums, and we had another guitar player; then we said fuck it, why don’t we play guitar. Paul wasn’t such a great drummer at the time, and he couldn’t play guitar, so I said man, look, we’ll put you on electric guitar and turn you down until you learn how to play. As you get better, we’ll just turn you up. Then I got a real drummer, the drummer from Milk and Cookies—well, I guess Paul got him, but the drummer was a friend of mine named Michael Ruiz—so we were going to move to N.Y.C., and we wanted to be something like the Heartbreakers. That was my vision of it, something like a real rockin’ band, and so I started working with Paul, and we were rehearsing, and the two of us were playing guitar and stuff, and this whole deal went down—well, I don’t know if I should tell you the story…. Oh well, we have the time. I don’t know. It’s kind of a weird story. It doesn’t make Paul look very good, but it’s why I quit the band.

But this Bomp record liner note talks about you trying to shop the demos around.

Yeah, but we just got this whole other band going, right, which eventually became the Beat, but without me. Because what happened was that we had this band happening…. Eddie Money was an old friend of ours from San Francisco, okay; he used to have us open shows for him, I think because everybody would boo us. He really loved the Nerves, and we’d play, and sometimes the audience would be really hostile to us, but he kept on having us play, right? He was playing packed clubs, but he wasn’t signed yet, either. So, anyhow, we were kind of friends, so Eddie is a big drug addict, alcoholic kind of guy, and he was doing an in-store for a record and there were 1,000 people lined up on Hollywood Blvd., and we went down to see him, and walked up to him from the end of the line, and he’s siting there, signing autographs, and he’s like, “Paul, pull up a car to the back door, man. I got to get out of here, I’m going fucking crazy.” So, we go get our fucking car, pull up behind the place, and he comes running out and jumps in the car, and says, “Let’s get the fuck out of here,” and we go driving away. He says, “Man, you guys, my manager is driving me crazy, he won’t give me any money, he won’t let me go drink or anything, let’s go to the liquor store.” So, we go to the liquor store, buy a bunch of booze and shit, then we go, I don’t know, just drove up to Paul’s apartment or something, and we just all started drinking. He calls up his manager and goes, “I’m out here man, I’m not going to tell you where I am at man, fuck you,” and all this shit. So, that was pretty weird. We spent the night with Eddie, then I had to split, I had to go take care of something, and I got back about an hour or two later, all right, and they had been drinking, and I knock on the door to get into the apartment, and Paul comes out and says, “Look man, this is really weird, Eddie wants to give us a record deal, but you have to go along with this, I told him that I wrote all the songs. He thinks I wrote all the songs, and I am doing the whole thing. You just got to go along with that. I don’t want to fuck it all up.” That’s my buddy Paul, right? (Laughs.) So we go in there, and Eddie’s all fucked up and going, “Fucking Paul, man, you are so fucking talented. Peter, I am going to get Paul a record deal, man. You can be in the band, man, we’ll let you be in the band.” So, I was like, what the fuck is this? He’s talking about songs I wrote, you know, about how Paul is so fucking great, parts of songs that I wrote for Paul, like, “It’s brilliant, man, fucking Paul, I’m going to get you a record deal.” I said fuck this, man. So, I split. I just told Paul, “You can take your band and shove it, fuck you,” and I split, and that started a year of painting houses and other labor. That was the first time I had been without a band for a few years. Paul’s like, “Ah, man, come back, Eddie’s getting us a deal with Columbia and Sony.” I was like, no fucking way, man, I quit. I just couldn’t deal with it anymore.

So that began the downtime between Paul and Plimsouls?

That was 1978, so I had already put the whole band together for Paul, and then they immediately got signed. That band beat me out the door, but I went back and started working labor in L.A. The Nerves’ road manager was going around doing all these painting gigs, so I just started painting and writing songs at night and just hanging out, and I did that basically through 1978. Then, on the very first day of 1979, I met this guy, and he was playing this nightclub gig in El Monte, California, a country-rockabilly-rock’n’roll kind of five-sets-a-night, five-nights-a-week gig. They drafted me into that. The bass player and the drummer of that band ended up being in the Plimsouls, so we just started playing out there, but that’s a whole other series of things. I finally got fired from that gig. The boss said, “Pete’s on acid, he’s fired.”

Were you on acid?

Nah, I was just drunk. I had taken a lot of acid at that point, so I really didn’t need to be on it. What was going is that we were working on our Plimsouls material. As the night went on, we’d get louder and louder, and by the end, we would be totally rocking. There were people coming and digging it, but then one night, the club owner came in, and well, he had quit drinking, and he came and saw us one night when, well, usually they were carrying the guy out of the place, the club owner, but when he came in one night straight and saw what I was doing, he fired me. Then the band quit, and the next thing you know, we started playing in Chinatown.

Those downtown Chinatown bars?

They started happening, so we played Madam Wong’s; some other time we played the Hong Kong; we played Club 88; it was the whole start of that scene. But it was really weird, because the Nerves played, played, and played, and didn’t really get…. Well, it was hard…. Some people got it, but really what happened was that the first time the Plimsouls played, all of a sudden we had a huge following. Sometimes things just happen. When that band started playing, the whole thing just kicked in: there were people at shows, the shows were packed, and then we made a record for Beat records down in Huntington Beach at Spot’s studio down there.

It was made at Spot’s studio?

Well, he was working down there. The group that was in there before us was Red Kross; they were like 12 or something. We were pretty fucking young ourselves, so yeah, we made that record….

Why does it sound so subdued?

The Zero Hour? Oh, I don’t know. I am trying to remember it. We just didn’t know how to get together any kind of sound. “Great Big World” starts off with acoustic guitar; then we got really drunk and put an Otis Redding track on there. But “How Long Will It Take” is not subdued; it’s pretty rockin’, if you go back and listen to it. That was the best thing on there. I don’t know. We were a brand new band. We didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. It doesn’t feel subdued to me, but it just feels fucking trashy or something.

Was it because of the E.P. or the intense live following that you got signed to Planet?

I think because it got on the radio. KROQ was playing “Zero Hour,” which became a bit of a L.A. hit. Then the shows were packed, and we had all these record companies chasing us around and shit. I don’t like the Plimsouls’ records; I’d like to get together the live stuff and put that out. The live stuff is the best stuff we did. “A Million Miles Away” and that stuff is really good, and I like “How Long it Will Take” on that first record.

But the 12” indie release of “A Million Miles Away” is a bigger sounding version.

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Yeah, that’s because we did that one, and then they brought in some guy. They just ran it through a few electronics; that’s all they did. It’s the same take, believe it or not.

There’s been bootleg versions of the Nerves, or maybe even licensed, in places like Spain and Japan, but why not domestically?

There have been some other releases. There was that re-issue in Spain, and Paul Collins—and, by the way, me and Paul Collins are friends again after all that run-in with Eddie Money—that was thirty years ago—but yeah, other people have wanted to put it out, so we are sort of having to make a choice to go with Swami. There’s some other company that Paul has that wants to do it, too, but I’d rather do it with Swami. I just like what they are doing.

When Rhino put out those D.I.Y. power pop comps in the early 1990s….

We were on the cover of one of them.

Did you feel that there would be a tide of interest, or did it fizzle before it could happen?

I never felt that. I never think about that. The tide for that was in ’77 and ’78. I’m on to the new stuff now. Now, it does seem…. Well, I do now see an interest in young bands, young musicians, and young fans, that kind of music, you know. That D.I.Y. stuff is okay. What’s cool now is that this guy from Swami is putting out all this stuff from 1977, putting out Crime, the Nerves, the record by the Testers—have you heard that? It’s pretty good. They are more obscure than Crime. I’ve never heard of them and I had never even heard of them back in ’77. They rock. You got to hear their record. It’s unreal.

Do you think the attention from the Nerves release will overlap into say, some new attention towards your solo career, like the upcoming Best Of… on Vanguard?

I’ve actually gone out and played that stuff at my solo gigs sometimes, and do I count it for any sort of thing? Well, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s so weird. When you’ve been putting stuff out into the world for 20 or 25 years or whatever the fuck it is, it’s out there and it’s doing its work, and people come up with it, whether or not there is any popularity for it, you know what I mean. It’s like a cult or something. People lock into it, and you hear from people who are way into it, know what I mean, and they are out there, hidden in these way out of the way places, and they got all the stuff. You never know what’s going to happen, so in a sense, yeah, I hope that people get to it. The stuff I am writing now in certain ways is really different, but in other ways, the ABCs of the songwriting are still the same. It’s all one path, as far as I am concerned. But basically it’s all in a line there, the different styles being developed. You see this thing from 1973 with me playing on the street, in a really weird way, is the proto-Plimsouls. I’m doing reggae and all that stuff back in 1973. The music on the street was a form of punk rock, which was a form of rock’n’roll, which was a form of Woody Guthrie.

There’s a continuum?

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There’s something driving the whole thing, and you just go with it, but whether or not people are going to get it or not….

But you have become more, hmm, blatantly political with your very newest songs…. Is that due to a change in the political climate, or just a fresh way for you to approach songwriting?

It takes like a big asshole to really (laughs)…. On the Blue Guitar… record we had “Poor Old Tom”; I was singing songs about homeless people and people on the street, and then I guess we got into it on that one song on Six-Pack of Love about Neil Bush, that me and John Prine wrote. Not too many people picked up on that. It’s about the Denver savings and loan fiasco, called “Wonderful 99.” Which, if you check out the lyrics to that, people are going to suffer because of the Denver savings and loan fiasco. I was really pissed off about that. These people ripped off the American public for so much money, and no one ever talks about that because it was like a bipartisan rip-off. One guy told me that the figures worked out so that they could have bought every man, woman, and child a Mercedes Benz, like a total fucking rip-off. That was in 1991, the time of the first Bush.

As a musician, are you responding to the new, actually, somewhat same climate, or is this just refreshing to you?

I just felt that in the political climate I just needed to say things, which I have been doing.

And for you that goes back to Woody Guthrie?

I guess so. I mean my first band was called Pig Nation in 1969.

I never knew that, in Buffalo though, right?

Yeah. It was with Jim Whitford—he’s still back there playing—and Mike Bannister, who is still out there from time to time, and now he’s in a band called Burning Sky, an Indian band. And Whitford just made a record with Gurf Morlix, so we are still around. Our very first gig we got into the newspaper. We were part of the whole Yippie thing, the Youth International Party, anti-war, anti-government.

New Left?

Beyond the New Left. So that’s where it partly comes from, so I’ve always had those leanings. I guess it was submerged there for awhile. I’ve always done those songs live. It’s hard to write good songs that you feel…. Well, to get the two songs on the new Best Of…, I wrote a lot of other songs too. Just because you have an opinion about politics doesn’t mean it makes a good song.

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