THE ONION: Who among you wouldn’t do the same exact thing if an evil 400-year-old witch had trapped your father’s eternal soul inside a cursed iron lantern, flickering faintly each time his agonized moans escaped the murky, otherworldly ether that is his prison?
Look me in the eye and tell me that you would not heed the crone’s disgusting instruction to divert attention away from Donald Trump’s glaring conflicts of interest, nor undermine the nation’s entire intelligence apparatus to salve your boss’s ego, nor categorically deny objective reality time and time again if so doing released your father’s tortured spirit from the in-between realm and at last let him be at peace. […]
Know that when I work up the courage to look myself in the eye, I see the ghoul I have become. Please understand, it makes me blanch and tremble to even think about what I’ve already done, and what I yet still must do. But I don’t have a choice, and neither would you. Had you yourself tried to kill the witch and smash the lantern for the hundredth time and seen your own mother transformed into a millipede for your efforts—finally coming to terms with the fact that the crone’s magic is simply too strong—you too would find yourself standing up for Trump’s attack on a celebrated black U.S. congressman and Civil Rights icon. Do not claim that you wouldn’t.
Could I have avoided this fate? Certainly. Though I warned my father time after time of the dangers of stealing mandrake root from the mystical garden of a powerful hag so that he could once again briefly feel the strength of his youth—oh, your vanity, Papa!—clearly I could have and should have done more. But I can’t dwell on the past now; I simply don’t have time. I’ve completed seven of the 12 tasks and now must shore up Trump’s acceptance of anti-vaccination theories and steal a newborn foal’s first breath before the witch draws the moon down from the sky and sets in motion the Final Degradation. MORE
THE NEW YORKER: His interest is in people and their trajectories; a maximalist, he wants to reveal the entirety of his characters’ lives and minds. In “20th Century Women,” the five main characters periodically narrate their own and one another’s biographies. Their stories are accompanied by montages of period photos intended to create an air of credence. A believer in sympathetic magic, Mills gathers dog-eared objects and forgotten rituals to summon a world of mixtapes and Judy Blume and Three Mile Island and skateboarders who grab their boards behind their front leg.
Julie (Elle Fanning), a seventeen-year-old who cuddles with Jamie—and sleeps with older, dumber boys—reads “The Road Less Travelled” and uses the language of self-help as a weapon. Bening wears Jan Mills’s jewelry, and we see the wooden rabbit that Jan carved after reading “Watership Down.” “Mike is obsessed by exploring the connection between the dramatic and the real,” the director Lance Hammer, a neighbor of Mills’s, said. “I think it comes from the need to believe he’s actually here, that he’s not having a dream, not floating away.”
Directing like a designer—re-creating the family scrapbook down to the last pilled sweater long gone to Goodwill—has its risks. Some critics find Mills’s work quirky or precious; some find it inert. The Boston Globe called “Beginners” “the passive work of a man nervous to touch the third rail of his parents’ discontent.” Yet his films lure you in with their precise, unemphatic presentation, their accrual of details—a heap of oily rags that could ignite at any time. Joachim Trier, the Norwegian director, said, “There’s a Todd Rundgren-ness to Mike’s work, a Steely Dan coolness, the melancholy low light of a late California afternoon in Laurel Canyon.” MORE
NEWSWEEK: As of 11 a.m. ET on Friday, Metro counted 193,000 rides, less than half the 513,000 it counted in 2009 and far fewer than the 317,000 it did for Obama’s second inauguration, in 2013. On Saturday, Metro counted 275,000 trips before 11 a.m., also surpassing the figure from the previous morning. MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: Wayne Barrett, the muckraking Village Voice columnist who carved out a four-decade career tilting at developers, landlords and politicians, among them Donald J. Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 71. Mr. Barrett’s voluminous background files from the Trump biography, and his professional courtesy, made his Brooklyn home a mecca for investigative reporters during the recent presidential campaign.
“There may be no journalist in the nation who knows more about Trump than Barrett,” Jennifer Gonnerman wrote in The New Yorker just after the election.
Timothy O’Brien, who was research assistant on the Trump book and who then wrote “TrumpNation,” called Mr. Barrett’s work on Mr. Trump “foundational.”
“He took Trump seriously long before anyone else did,” Mr. O’Brien, now the executive editor of Bloomberg View, said, “and most of the work that followed Wayne’s was built upon his insights.” […]
Mr. Barrett was once asked to explain to students at his son’s elementary school just what raking muck actually meant in terms of a day-to-day job. To appear in character, he put on a trench coat, pulled up the collar, withdrew a pad from his pocket and defined that special breed of investigative journalist this way: “We are detectives for the people.”
He added, “There is also no other job where you get paid to tell the truth.”
But as an argumentative muckraker in the spirit of Jacob Riis, Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, Mr. Barrett never pretended to be just a dispassionate, impartial journalist. He wielded the power of his pen to lobby for causes and candidates he pronounced deserving and to topple those he vilified. “We thought a deadline meant we have to kill somebody by closing time,” he once wrote. MORE
VILLAGE VOICE: In 1978, when then–Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett requested several thousand pages of records from the State Urban Development Corporation, the staff there set him up in a conference room so he could review them on site. He sat down alone, at a long table with stacks of papers, and began plowing through them. Barrett was only 33 years old at the time. He’d been on staff at the Voice for less than a year, but the story he was chasing, about a series of multimillion-dollar real estate transactions, was a big one. Some of the city’s most prominent power brokers were involved — including former New York mayor Abe Beame — and at the center was a brash young developer named Donald Trump.
As Barrett was sitting alone at the table doing his research, he was surprised when a nearby phone began to ring. “I didn’t know whether to pick it up or not,” Barrett says today. He couldn’t imagine who might be on the other end; no one but a few government employees could have possibly known he was even in that office. But after a few rings he lifted the receiver and heard an unfamiliar voice. “ ‘Wayne!’ ” Barrett says, his voice booming, taking on Trump’s now unmistakable accent. “ ‘It’s Donald! I hear you’re doing a story on me!’ I’d never talked to the guy in my life.”
Though he’d been working on the story for several months, he hadn’t yet approached Trump. He was “circling,” as he puts it today, determined to have his ducks in a row by the time he sat down with his subject. It was Trump’s way of letting him know he was keeping an eye on him, Barrett says. After all, the story he was working on, which would land Trump on our cover in January of 1979, wearing a sneer and a mop of brown hair, was the first detailed examination of Trump’s business practices to appear in the press. And the results weren’t pretty. […]
“I made it the old-fashioned way,” Trump said of his fortune.
But Barrett’s reporting paints a picture of Trump’s background that’s somewhat at odds with the one he paints for himself. Far from that of a self-made billionaire, the image of Trump that emerges from Barrett’s reporting is that of a scion of a wealthy family who got ahead, in large part, thanks to family connections — many of them political. Far from an independent capitalist, Barrett showed, Trump was a businessman who relied heavily on government largesse. “This is a guy whose wealth has been created by political connections,” Barrett says today. And at the time the story was published, even Trump’s political connections came secondhand, through his father. The idea that Trump is a business-world antidote to the world of political entanglement, as he often implies, is “ludicrous,” as Barrett puts it.
The articles described how then-mayor Beame and others at the top of the political establishment bent over backward for Trump to help him develop a property owned by the Penn Central Transportation Company into what was to be a multimillion-dollar convention center. Through hefty tax incentives and guaranteed loans, the city offered the young developer a chance to leverage public risk for his own private profit — without putting up a dollar of his own. Over the course of Barrett’s reporting, Trump tried to influence the process in various creative ways. He threatened to sue Barrett, of course. But Trump also apparently tried to bribe him, subtly hinting that he could get Barrett a nice apartment in midtown and move him and his wife out of the Brownsville home where they lived. As if they’d somehow arrived there by accident. MORE
FRESH AIR: Will Donald Trump’s new job as president create ethical conflicts with his long-running role as a business owner? Trump sees no problem. “I have a no-conflict situation, because I’m president,” Trump said at a recent press conference. He was correctly referring to the federal conflicts-of-interest law that covers Cabinet secretaries, but not presidents. Still, ethics experts say other restrictions do apply to presidents, setting up serious ethical problems for the new administration.
“A president is not permitted to receive cash and other benefits from foreign governments,” Norm Eisen tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “And yet, Donald Trump is getting a steady flow of them around the world and right here in the United States.” Eisen, who served as President Obama’s special counsel on ethics and government reform, has joined forces with Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, to speak out publicly about Trump’s potential conflicts of interests.
Eisen describes Trump’s business entanglements as “frankly and nakedly unconstitutional. … It is extraordinary that we’ll have a president who is violating the constitutional conflicts clause, the so-called Emoluments Clause, as soon as he takes the oath of office,” he says. Painter concurs with Eisen’s assessment. “The president needs to focus on protecting the United States and American interests in a very dangerous world,” Painter says. “I really hope that President Trump takes the steps he needs to, to be free of conflict of interest in that endeavor.” MORE
FRESH AIR: I don’t want to oversell this new version of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I don’t know how not to. Everything that the movie version got wrong, this TV adaptation gets right. And not just right, but brilliantly. The difference is as stark, and as significant, as the difference between the movie and TV versions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — where the writer of that story, Joss Whedon, took the reins and made a television version much truer to his original vision. Daniel Handler, who wrote the original series of Lemony Snicket books, has done the same thing here. And he’s enlisted, as his key co-conspirators, two pitch-perfect collaborators: Barry Sonnenfeld, of Pushing Daisies and The Addams Family fame, as the director of many of the episodes, and an executive producer. And as another producer, and the show’s central star, Neil Patrick Harris.
This new 8-episode Netflix version, which is written by Handler, is inspiringly faithful to the original books, with two episodes devoted to each of the first handful of stories. The look, which comes from Sonnenfeld, is full-out fairy-tale fright mode — occasionally bright colors against oppressively grey backgrounds, aptly reflecting the mood of the stories. And these are sad, sad stories indeed. The narrative begins with three children being told their parents have died in a fire that burned down the family home — and goes downhill from there. These stories are cracklingly intelligent, and delightfully droll, and occasionally, surprisingly, laugh-out-loud funny. They’re also so dark, they come with a warning attached — not just at the start, but throughout.
In the books, these warnings are delivered by the alleged author, Lemony Snicket. He delivers the same deadpan warnings in the TV version, too — but for TV, Lemony Snicket appears throughout as a pessimistic, gloom-and-doom on-screen narrator, sort of a modern-day cross between Rod Serling and Eeyore. And he’s played by Patrick Warburton, whose delivery is as no-nonsense, and as inexplicably charming, as his disclaimers. Though Lemony urges viewers not to watch A Series of Unfortunate Events, I’m begging you to tune in. I haven’t had this much fun watching TV in quite a while. MORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR VICE Steve Jones has been a lot of things in his 61 years: a love-starved bastard, a smooth criminal, a peeping tom, an insatiable man-slut, a master thief, an insufferable prog-rocker, a wouldbe Yacht Rock A&R rep, a SEX shop clerk, Chrissie Hynde’s pre-Pretenders fuck-buddy; a teenage Sex Pistol, a 23-year-old has-been, a sticky-fingered junkie, a shit-hot guitar-slinger-for-hire, Iggy Pop’s muse, a Fabio-haired solo artist, a buff and burnished Hollywood biker, a recovering addict, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, a jailhouse motivational speaker, an ascot’d elder statesman of punk, a beloved LA disc jockey and a sexagenarian social media baller.
All of which is confessed in unflinching detail, with a nod and a wink and a pinch of Cockney slang, in Lonely Boy (Da Capo), his painfully honest, just-published must-read memoir, co-written with Ben Thompson. Recently we got Mr. Jones on the horn to discuss the following: Stealing Keith Richards’s favorite coat/Bryan Ferry’s gold record/David Bowie’s bass amp; his cloak of invisibility; his crap childhood; the tens of thousands of “birds” he’s “shagged”; his semi-tragic inability to forge a lasting relationship with a woman; learning how to read, write and spell after 40; an ex-illegal Brit’s perspective on immigrants and Trump; why he can’t stand being in the same room with Johnny Rotten; watching Glen Matlock shag John Cale’s wife; whether or not Sid Vicious kill Nancy Spungen; why Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is the Dorian Gray of seminal DOA punk rock debuts; the oft-derided virtues of Boston and Journey; and why he pissed on Elvis’ grave.
VICE: Let’s start at the beginning and work our way up to the present. In your pre-Sex Pistols days you were a very prolific and precocious thief. In addition to robbing a lot of unfamous people you also stole Keith Richards’ coat, Bryan Ferry’s gold record, the entire backline of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in the middle of their infamous two-night farewell concert at the Hammersmith-Odeon in 1973. You refer to your ability to operate largely undetected in the shadows as “The Cloak.”
STEVE JONES: The Invisible Cloak, yeah.
VICE: Were you really that gifted a criminal? Or were the police so incompetent and security measures so insufficient back in those days?
STEVE JONES: Well it was that, that’s it. There was no security. No one had cameras. Even alarm systems in stores didn’t work that great. It was the perfect time to be a kleptomaniac for sure, but there was also an element of balls that you had to have. That’s where “The Cloak” came from. I would literally go to any high-end department store up the West End of London — Selfridge’s, Harrods, Hamleys — and work my way into the storeroom and convince myself I was meant to be there. And oftentimes people would actually, people who worked there would see me there, but I had this confidence about me that they wouldn’t even question what I was doing there. And I was like, 12 years old, it was remarkable how many times I did that and got away with it.
VICE: So was it as much about the thrill of doing it as it was actually getting free stuff?
STEVE JONES: It was all about the thrill, to be honest. I mean, it was fine getting some free stuff that I didn’t need, but it was a survival mechanism is what it was. It was, you know, because of the trauma, I guess, if you want to call it that, after my stepfather fucking about with me. After that happened, I didn’t want to be at home, I didn’t feel safe at home. I had this urge on a daily basis to go out into the world and be on a mission. I couldn’t sit still, so that’s why I became a kleptomaniac.
VICE: Your fear and anxiety about your fucked up home situation aggravated your ADHD and may have been the root cause of a lot of the antisocial things you were doing in your youth?
STEVE JONES: It was grim. My upbringing was grim. I had a mother who didn’t really want to have a kid. I had a stepfather who definitely didn’t want me around. Life was good when I was with my Nan, from a very early age to about six or seven. By the time I was about six or seven we moved into this shithole in Shepherd’s Bush in a basement and that’s when the horrible vibes come, you know, and I just hated it. I couldn’t stand it. You know, I was in the way. I was a burden. That’s the feeling I got, you know, and I didn’t want to deal with it.
VICE: In the book you make a very frank and courageous admission that you were once molested by your stepfather. What advice would you offer to somebody who went through something similar to that as a child, who is now an adult but is still so consumed with shame and humiliation they can’t really confront it, even now.
STEVE JONES: I think that happens quite a lot, to be honest with you. I think not 1 in 100 but maybe 1 in 50, where some kind of weird shit happens to you as a kid. But the worst is when it happens to you when supposedly you’re in a safe place, at home, with your parents and, I mean, in hindsight, you know, the best thing to do is to fucking tell someone because when you’re 10 years old you kind of tell yourself that you had a part in it. You kind of made them do it. You know, and it’s when looking back at it, when you’re 10 years old, how the fuck do you know anything, you know? Your totally taken advantage of, and the best thing to do is to talk about it. Talk about it one-on-one with someone if you don’t want the whole world to know. It definitely helps because that’s a big burden, that’s a big secret to carry around and it gives you fucking cancer if you ask me and shit like that, you know?
VICE: Totally. The truth shall set you free. Jumping back to your early life of crime — The Great David Bowie Heist is just hilarious and blows my mind. There’s this iconic moment in rock n’ roll history and there you are in the background sneaking off with everyone’s shit. For the benefit of readers who haven’t read your book yet could you just give a summary of what happened?
STEVE JONES: Yeah, I was a massive Bowie fan, specifically a Spiders from Mars fan — as I was Roxy music, or Rod Stewart and The Faces, or Mott The Hoople. That was my time. When I was a teenager that was what I was obsessed with. Glam rock. Good glam rock, not shit glam rock. I went to what wound up being the farewell concert of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars and Hammersmith Odeon where I always used to go and see shows. I used to know that place like the back of my hand, and I went and saw him. I didn’t realize- well no one realized — this was going to be the end of the Spiders from Mars, and they did two nights and after the first night they left all their gear set up on stage, because they were going to play again the next night. The left some guy who was asleep, well he wasn’t meant to be asleep he was meant to be awake looking after the equipment, but he dozed off in about the fifth row and no one else was in this place other than him, me, and my accomplice.
We snuck on the stage started snipping microphones with some pliers, I took the bass amp, I took some of the cymbals. I didn’t take anything from Mick Ronson I don’t know why I didn’t but um, we loaded up my mini-van that I had at the time, dropped it off somewhere, came back for another round and, about to do some more damage, the guy woke up. He didn’t see me. I saw him starting to wake up and I split. I didn’t realize this was going to be such a big deal. I didn’t realize this was going to be the end of that phase of Bowie. It was on the radio the next morning that all their equipment had been stolen. And of course that made you feel a sense of pride and savor the infamy — hey ‘I did that!’ Like the arsonist who sets fire to houses and stands outside when the cops show up, watching it burn. Getting kind of like a “Yeah, that’s me! That’s me!” This nobody has made a little bit of a name for himself and no one knows it.
VICE: You met Bowie years later, did you ever tell him about this? MORE
PLAYBOY: Dr. King, are your children old enough to be aware of the issues at stake in the civil rights movement, and of your role in it?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Yes, they are—especially my oldest child, Yolanda. Two years ago, I remember, I returned home after serving one of my terms in the Albany, Georgia, jail, and she asked me, “Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much?” I told her that I was involved in a struggle to make conditions better for the colored people, and thus for all people. I explained that because things are as they are, someone has to take a stand, that it is necessary for someone to go to jail, because many Southern officials seek to maintain the barriers that have historically been erected to exclude the colored people. I tried to make her understand that someone had to do this to make the world better—for all children. She was only six at that time, but she was already aware of segregation because of an experience that we had had.
PLAYBOY: Would you mind telling us about it?
MARTIN LUTHER KING: Not at all. The family often used to ride with me to the Atlanta airport, and on our way, we always passed Funtown, a sort of miniature Disneyland with mechanical rides and that sort of thing. Yolanda would inevitably say, “I want to go to Funtown,” and I would always evade a direct reply. I really didn’t know how to explain to her why she couldn’t go. Then one day at home, she ran downstairs exclaiming that a TV commercial was urging people to come to Funtown. Then my wife and I had to sit down with her between us and try to explain it. I have won some applause as a speaker, but my tongue twisted and my speech stammered seeking to explain to my six-year-old daughter why the public invitation on television didn’t include her, and others like her. One of the most painful experiences I have ever faced was to see her tears when I told her that Funtown was closed to colored children, for I realized that at that moment the first dark cloud of inferiority had floated into her little mental sky, that at that moment her personality had begun to warp with that first unconscious bitterness toward white people. It was the first time that prejudice based upon skin color had been explained to her. But it was of paramount importance to me that she not grow up bitter. So I told her that although many white people were against her going to Funtown, there were many others who did want colored children to go. It helped somewhat. Pleasantly, word came to me later that Funtown had quietly desegregated, so I took Yolanda. A number of white persons there asked, “Aren’t you Dr. King, and isn’t this your daughter?” I said we were, and she heard them say how glad they were to see us there. MORE
DAILY KOS: I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech. My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.” Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this. If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about. […] It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus. You really must disabuse yourself of this idea. Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement used to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.
It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment. This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people. White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”
I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparents’ vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank. They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness. My strong, valiant, self-educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men. Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict. Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.
The question is, how did Dr. King do this—and of course, he didn’t do it alone. So what did they do? They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down. Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed. If we do it all together, we’ll be okay. They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating—from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.
And you know what? The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad. Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicced on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened? These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail. That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south. Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song. The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another. MORE
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally posted on January 16th, 2013
BY JONATHAN VALANIA In advance of the eagerly awaited Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker show at World Cafe Life tonight, we got CVB/Cracker mainman Dave Lowery on the horn to talk turkey. Discussed: Bowie, hallucinogenics, Bowling For Columbine, skinheads, Upper Humboldtistan, Patty Hearst, Albanian folk music, The Illuminati, the Inland Empire, La Costa Perdida, what it feels like to be the new Lars Ulrich (pretty good, actually), and just what the hell is a Vampire Can Mating Oven? So Pitch-A-Tent and just get high while the radio’s on. And let us fondly recall The Day That Lassie Went To The Moon.
PHAWKER: OK, let’s start with the elephant in the room, the question that’s on everybody’s mind today — what do you think of the new Bowie single?
DAVE LOWERY: [laughs] I haven’t heard it. I’m not really a big Bowie fan.
PHAWKER: David Bowie is going to be devastated when he reads this. Let’s just move on. Do you remember the day you guys came up with the name?
DAVE LOWERY: Camper Van Beethoven? Yeah. We had the name before we had any songs. David McDaniel was one of the founding members of the band. He was my funny, quirky friend, very devout Christian who spent most of his life as a minister. He also had this crazy stand-up comedy persona that he did where he would say these jokes that had all the reason and rhyme of jokes, but they didn’t really make any sense. He would do some foreign Borat-type accent and say, ‘My country is so small every time we change a tire, everybody laughs!’ I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. And he had this rhyme and reason that was his sense of humor — this whole series of never ending things that sounded like they could be jokes but they deconstructed and destroyed themselves in the process. That’s where Camper Van Beethoven came from. Years later there were all these bands that came along like REO Speedealer and Brian Jonestown Massacre. These two half puns that don’t really go together.
PHAWKER: But it was originally Camper Van Beethoven and the Border Patrol, correct?
DAVE LOWERY: Exactly.
PHAKWER: And that was just another non-sequitur?
DAVE LOWERY: Yeah! Yeah. No apparent reason, didn’t mean anything.
PHAWKER: And where did the fascination with Eastern European folk music come from?
DAVE LOWERY: We thought ska sounded like that, at least the ska that we were listening to back in the early punk-rock days when ska and punk-rock were all mixed together. We would just use those scales and those kind of melodies but we were also really influenced by surf-bands, but we just didn’t play surf beats, but that’s what we were into. But we just put ska and punk rock, and sort of put punk beats and rhythms into the song. Surf music was obsessed with the sound of other cultures.
PHAWKER: And those crazy album titles like Telephone Free Landslide Victory and Vampire Can Mating Oven?
DAVE LOWERY:Vampire Can Mating Oven was actually from a friend of mine who I had been in another band with and I left to do Camper Van Beethoven. When Camper Van Beethoven became successful he was very derisive and snarky. He used to call us ‘Vampire Can Mating Oven.’ So we called our album that. We didn’t want our name or our song titles or our album titles to really evoke anything. And it seemed to freak some people out. Some of the stuff we did was weirdly controversial. The punk kids would be like ‘Hippies! Why are you playing ‘White Riot’ by The Clash slow in country style?!? Every time we’d play with these punk bands like The Dead Kennedy’s or something like that, we had people who wanted to fight us after the show, because they thought we were making fun of them. The reason we did all those ska songs was generally, if things were going wrong, we could do a really quick series of ska instrumentals, or one of the Eastern European things and they would be okay for another ten, fifteen minutes.
PHAWKER: What about Telephone Free Landslide Victory?
DAVE LOWERY: Again, we’re playing with words. There’s a good story that goes with that title. There was this band back in the 60s that we idolized called The Kaleidoscope. One of their classic albums, Beacon From Mars, was actually supposed to be called Bacon From Mars. But apparently it went to the printing plant and somebody just figured it was a misspelling or a typo or couldn’t read the handwriting, and they changed it to Beacon From Mars.
Strange parallel: Telephone Free Landslide Victory was originally called Telephone Tree Landslide Victory. But when we sent it to to Bruce Licher to print the cover, he misread our handwriting and thought it was Telephone Free Landslide Victory. We were like, ‘No, it’s Telephone TREE Landslide Victory!’ And he was like, ‘Oh, shit!’ But he’d already hand-printed fifteen hundred covers. And the we were like, ‘Wait, that’s better!’
PHAWKER: “Take The Skinheads Bowling,” your first single, was this fully-formed perfect pop song. Maybe the CVB’s best song. What’s the back story?
DAVE LOWERY: I just got this idea that I thought a lot of great songs really didn’t mean anything; it was kind of just cool, the way the words went together, and that that should be celebrated. So, I was really carefully trying to make it so that each line didn’t really seem like it had anything to do with the line before it.
PHAWKER: So all these years that I thought I just wasn’t deep enough to get the meaning of ‘Every day I get up and pray to Ja, and he decreases the number of clocks by exactly one’ and it turns out it doesn’t mean anything at all.
DAVE LOWERY: Yes, absolutely, yes.
PHAWKER: And then 10 years ago, Michael Moore used it for Bowling For Columbine, which has taken a renewed relevance as of late. How did that come about?
DAVE LOWERY: I basically got the call, ‘Hi, I’m Michael Moore, I don’t know if you know who I am, but I make documentaries?’ I’m like, ‘Of course I know who you are!’
PHAWKER: Early on there was this perception that you guys had spent a lot of time tripping out in the desert and emerged these sort of wild-eyed, blissed-out alt-rock mystics. You guys seemed to play that up a bit. I remember reading a quote, I think it was in Spin, from one of you guys saying that you were totally paranoid and totally obsessed with the Illuminati. Tell me where your heads were at back then. Were you guys as high as everyone thought you were? Read the rest of this entry »