BY JONATHAN VALANIA For the past four decades, Kenn Kweder has been rocking a mic 4.5 nights a week at pretty much any place in the 215 that would have him: rock clubs, coffee shops, neighborhood taprooms, frat parties, block parties, house parties, garden parties, birthday parties, pretty much any place that people party. He carries a business card that says: KENN KWEDER, ROCK STAR. He’s only half kidding. He never became the internationally famous rock star he was gunning to be for a time, back when he was known as The Kamikaze Kid Of Philly Rock. But along the way he’s become something better, something more helpful: a one-man-band of joy. A troubadour for the drinking class, the man who holds the keys to the cages, the man who can, almost without fail, set the working man free for a few Bud-drenched hours of bliss on a Saturday night. All of which is etched in bittersweet relief into the soul of a wonderful new documentary called Adventures Of A Secret Kidd: The Mass Hallucination Of Kenn Kweder. As the film makes clear, being a local rock star is not for pussies, especially in the third and fourth decade of service. Regrets? He has a few. But Kweder’s a lifer. Wherever beer and distilled spirits are sold, he will be there. Wherever high-fiving white boys are getting their first drunk on, he will be there. Wherever the sad and the tired and the broken and the lonely are gathering under a neon beer light for a smoke and a joke and a leg of hope, and maybe even a key-bump of coke, he will be there. In a world of hate and fear and death and dying he comes singing songs of love. That makes him a hero in my book. Long may he rock.
(Adventures Of A Secret Kidd: The Mass Hallucination Of Kenn Kweder screens Saturday at the Southside Film Festival in Bethlehem.)
PHAWKER: So I watched the movie and I thought it was great, man. You should be proud and the filmmakers should be proud.
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, these young kids, man, I met them when they were in their early 20’s. It was almost coincidence that I happened to be playing on Temple’s campus. There were students filming there, I was just doing my solo, acoustic thing. The one kid, John Hutlemyer, his father was a fan of mine throughout the years from way back, so he kind of knew who I was. I stumbled into him at the Draught Horse Bar on Temple’s campus and he liked what he saw so we stayed in touch. He would do little tiny film projects to get credit at Temple and I was the subject of a couple of those. After a couple of years of that, he just said, “Would you be interested in me doing a large-scale thing?” I said, “Yeah, go for it. Why not?” The only thing I said was, “Let the movie come to you. I’m not really going to have any say in the narrative. It should come from an objective point of view, from someone way chronologically out of my decades. It was kind of cool and he did his homework. These kids, man, they had to film me late some nights and then go to work the next day.
PHAWKER: How long have they been working on the documentary?
KENN KWEDER: Let’s see. It’s been over five years, when they were still students. They graduated in 2011. There was a discussion about it in 2012. Somewhere in the middle, I can’t say for sure. It’s at least three years in terms of making the large film, which you just saw Adventures Of A Secret Kid, so it’s been a long thing. Not every single day because they have their own lives, but they stayed committed to it.
PHAWKER: Just to be clear – it’s John Hutlemyer, Rob Nicolaides – those are the two guys who made the film, correct?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, they are the two cats who did it.
PHAWKER: So let’s just jump into it then. A couple of things before we go through your back story – Kenn with two N’s. Tell me about that.
KENN KWEDER: Well I went to Temple and I was watching all these other people play guitar. Somebody that I met there was doing things with their name – adding N’s and T’s, stuff like that. I put an extra N with Ken because I wanted it to stick out like that. That was a long time ago, I just thought it would add a little bit more of a dimension to my name. My real name is Kenneth, just like any other Ken.
PHAWKER: Gotcha. So I love that early footage of you in Rittenhouse Square in the early ’70s when you had that crazy perm and sideburn thing going. Did you have naturally curly hair when you were younger or were you perming back then?
KENN KWEDER: I used to tease it. This friend of mine, his mother teased it for me one time so I learned how to tease it. I wanted to look pretty outrageous so that it would stick out so I had the teased hair and the beard. But the teased hair, I did it on and off during the early years. Definitely relates to my fascination with Bob Dylan too.
PHAWKER: So you grew up in Southwest Philly, your mother was sort of an aspiring actress/performer that never really got to follow through with it and your father was a scrap metal yard owner?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, my mother was a housewife who was into signing all the time. Before she got married, she was into the show biz stuff and then she got married and the rest is history with the kids. My dad had his own business. He was a hard-working guy.
PHAWKER: What did your dad do?
KENN KWEDER: Well, now we would call it recycling but back then it was scrap metal. There’s a real science to that shit, I worked there briefly. There’s a real science to knowing which metals are worth a lot and which aren’t. He was real good at that.
PHAWKER: Did you guys have a big scrap yard out back of your house or was that separate from your house?
KENN KWEDER: No, down in South Philly, there was this enormous garage. What would happen is my dad and one of the guys he hired, would go and pick up a bunch of scrap metal somewhere. We would get a call, come to this hospital and take out this radiator or these copper pipes. So then he would bring that back to his garage and he would separate the more expensive stuff from the least expensive stuff. He did that five days a week, there was always somebody calling. There were these machine shops that would be grinding metal and brass. It would all add up at the end of the day, just tons of metal and brass. We would go get that stuff, it was heavy as shit. But it was metal gold. Not that it was worth a lot of money, but he made a decent living. It was hard fucking work. I saw some fucked up shit go down.
PHAWKER: Like someone losing a hand or something?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, I’d see this guy and next thing I know, I’d find out that his hand was gone. We would pick up these slivers of zinc plates because back in the day we used to print with zinc plates and you’d take them off the block. This guy, he was kind of like us, he had his own business, he just fucking cut his hand, it was ridiculous. This one time we were moving tons of fucking cardboard out of this big building in the city. We had to bring it to the Philadelphia dump and the dump was trash on trash. It was really helter skelter. Some trucks would get stuck. Someone must have been there in the morning and dumped 50,000 pounds of fucking bad tomato juice. It was fucking nuts man. It was really acrid. It was bizarre. I could go on and on about that job.
PHAWKER: Okay, well your parents worked hard and played hard, there was a lot of wine and song in the Kweder household growing up. Correct?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, people enjoyed the good life, a lot of it in my house. I was a really young, quiet kid and I was waking up because there were all these people downstairs. It was good. It was kind of contagious.
PHAWKER: Now were you playing at any of these celebrations or parties?
KENN KWEDER: No I was really young and I was a basketball player before guitar. I was a Southwest Dr. K, not Dr. J, showboating basketball player. I wasn’t the best but I had a reputation for doing a lot of shit. I thought I would end up in the NBA, but reality hits you and I was only five foot nine. So I was playing with these kids from the city and I just knew there was no way. That’s when I picked up the guitar, at like 16 and a half. I used to bring the guitar and play at the basketball courts. In the neighborhood, I was the guitar player. It was kind of cool, playing on the basketball courts.
PHAWKER: Tell me about this Billy Schied guy. He’s a tragic figure, but a really interesting guy. The little snippets of him singing in the movie show that he really had a beautiful voice.
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, so before I met him I was doing the basketball stuff. I had no idea there was another guitar player in Southwest Philly. He was older. I was 17 or 18. He was 27. That was pretty old to a teenager like me. So I go over to his house, tune his guitar. I give him my phone number and he hits me up. He says come on over, I have some songs. I had never met a songwriter, this was like meeting an alien. But not only was he a songwriter, but he was a really good songwriter. But he would never come out of the kitchen, he just played in the kitchen.
PHAWKER: You say in the movie that there was this constant parade of people coming in and out. It’s kind of 24/7 party with policemen and priests coming in and out.
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, police, priests, and trolley car drivers. Every segment of Philadelphia was coming in there and smoking weed. I was straight as an arrow, man, I was against drinking and against getting high. But I was just playing guitar and watching these guys, you see cops coming in and think “This is psychedelic!”
PHAWKER: Why was he so reluctant to perform in public or pursue music as a career?
KENN KWEDER: Well before I had even met him, he had a semi-successful career in a doo-wop trio or quartet, The Ly-Dels. They were serious doo-wop cats. I wasn’t into the do-wop. But he was a real vocalist. A guy named Chucky from Kentucky would come over and they were some maniacs. They could harmonize perfectly. But that fell apart, it was a bad, bad ending. I don’t know what exactly happened, but it didn’t work for the Ly-Dels. Then, Billy got into Dylan, I think he saw him in 1966 at the Academy of Music. He said his life changed after seeing Dylan at the Academy of Music. He started writing songs on the guitar. The guy was really from another fucking planet.
PHAWKER: Kind of an idiot-savant. What is the name of the song that he comes up and sings with you in the movie?
KENN KWEDER: That’s “Remember Me.”
PHAWKER: Yeah, so is that available online somewhere? Is there a stream of it on YouTube or something?
KENN KWEDER: There’s a version on iTunes, it’s the only one that exists. You could just search “Remember Me.” Plus there are quite a few versions of it online.
PHAWKER: He passed away sadly as a relatively young man. Was it cirrhosis? How old was he?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah it was and he was 44.
PHAWKER: When you meet this guy, you claimed you were straight as an arrow. When did you start to drink and start to party?
KENN KWEDER: I didn’t start doing anything until I was 21. Billy always had it around. After a couple of years of that I checked it out. I started smoking and shit, but it wasn’t until I was older than I started getting ripped. By my mid 20’s I was cooking, going pretty fast. So he was my inspiration though it was my choice. But I did notice that once I adjusted my perception of things, particularly on marijuana, I was hearing things from another universe, lyrics and shit that I couldn’t hear sober.
PHAWKER: Yeah, well I was wondering, early on did you experiment with marijuana and psychedelics because it’s one thing that isn’t mentioned in the movie?
KENN KWEDER: Early days, I was more into the weed. I was never a big acid head, I did it though, I did everything. I never got like married to any substance. I’d do it for a while and stop. The only thing I kept up with was drinking because it was legal. At a party I’d do things, but I wouldn’t wake up in the morning and think this was something I had to do. People think that I had done that but I would never had gotten anything done. You and I have never had a drink together, but I’m sure at some point you could have had a bender. But you have to be somewhat sober to keep your work in check, am I correct there?
PHAWKER: Yes, there have been plenty of benders in my past.
KENN KWEDER: Of course, I mean after the movie I went a little haywire. Now I’m back on the wagon so I’ll stay there for a bit. I’ve got fucking gigs all week.
PHAWKER: Now what do you mean by back on the wagon? You go through periods of drying out?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, I’m like a Nazi, I hit the reset button. Plus I’m in the process of moving so I can’t mess anything up. I need to get things straight, though I kind of push it to the edge. I knew you were calling so I’m not going to fuck this up, so I’m not sure when I’ll drink again. I appreciate this though. It could be a week. But I’ve got to get a handful of things done, moving I’ve got to get done.
PHAWKER: You don’t seem – you are sort of characterized as a functional alcoholic in the movie. But most people, I have a cousin who was just doomed. She was dead by the time she was 41 from drinking peach schnapps and nothing could stop it. She was arrested a few times, like her third DUI. Horrible, horrible things that I’ve seen first hand, where people are victimized by their own brain wiring. A lot of people get worse and worse, till the get black out drunk, till they have to drink a whole bottle of vodka to feel normal. I have a feeling that there were rough periods for you, but it doesn’t seem like that ever got to you. You seem like a very together guy, maybe a boozy fellow but you are a musician who is in bars four nights a week.
KENN KWEDER: I mean, believe me after the premiere I was in Kweder-mode for about 40 hours there. But I get these atrocious hangovers now that I’ve gotten older. It’s almost like the electricity in my body needs a jumpstart from a car. But I know that feeling of being possessed, but I never – I don’t know what it is. For some reason, if it was up to me I wouldn’t drink at all, but I’m in a bar all the time – like tonight, though I won’t drink tonight. But if you are in a bar 17 nights out of 20, you are definitely going to be…
PHAWKER: Plus being that beer is usually on the house in these situations, and there’s always someone that wants to drink with you. Someone wants to buy you a shot or buy you a round. Somebody that saw you a long time ago who wants to reminisce which they go into during the film. But that must be really, on the one hand, gratifying because you’ve brought a lot to people’s lives, a certain amount of happiness to an awful lot of people, and they want to relive it. But functionally it’s not possible for you to drink with everyone that comes up to the microphone, so how do you deal with that?
KENN KWEDER: I deal with it in different ways. I hide out sometimes when I go to a bar. Tonight is going to be pretty tricky because it’s college kids and they will probably want to get me a drink or something. So I will be unavailable until I go on stage. In the old days, I was very available before I went on stage so when I made it up there I was very loose. I mean it is self-preservation. I don’t know what Keith Richards story is but he might be straight. Is he sober?
PHAWKER: I think he’s still drinking alcohol. The last time I heard he still drank Jack Daniels like water. Keith Richards doesn’t count though because he’s a gazillionaire and he’s got people cleaning up his messes. You have to take care of yourself. You don’t have yes-men taking care of everything. Let’s back up, to when you put together The Secret Kidds, where does that band name come from?
KENN KWEDER: One day I was talking to my friend Al, we grew up in the same neighborhood. We were just throwing names at each other and the Secret Kidds just came out. I can’t remember if the genesis was because this girl that I knew had opened up her own day care center and I would stop over there to see her sometimes. I think I jokingly said that these kids were my secret kids or something, but I can’t remember exactly. I know that Al and I talked on the telephone and we were throwing names at each other. We thought that was a good name.
PHAWKER: And the second “D” was that like the second “N” in Kenn?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, exactly.
PHAWKER: So you guys get some momentum, you are packing clubs. You have that huge show at the Ethical Society. Eventually, you cut a record. WMMR and WIOQ are playing it. Then, you attract the attention of Clive Davis, one of the most important music executives in the industry at the time, maybe the most important. He comes to see you at the Hot Club and…
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, he came with a fleet of limos and all that stuff, in 1977. I’m burning up, firing on all cylinders, going wild, and the band is incredible. He comes out and I was doing my show, fucking around with the audience, which I always do, it’s kind of the show. Musically, it was solid and then you have a maniac singing. But I was on my game and the first thing that Clive Davis says to me — we left the Hot Club and walked to Doobie’s at 22nd and Lombard to talk. He goes, “You are one of the most powerful performers I’ve ever seen on stage, you remind me of David Bowie. That’s the highest compliment I could give.” I thought that this was starting off really nice. We got into the brass tacks, I thought he was going to sign me on the spot, which is pretty hard to believe. But we started to get into some criticism, and I didn’t really agree with him. He said you have to get a hit record, you don’t really have any hits and my blood pressure was going up. I thought that these were great fucking songs, it was kind of dramatic and oxygenated. He goes “We’ll be in touch” or some shit. We had a bit of an argument. And Bill Ive was there, he was my manager. He was trying to referee the both of us plus there were people from Arista. You have to understand, I worked for the government before the guitar and when I left I thought I’m not doing what anyone else wants me to. I’m going into music so I can do what I want to do and here is the guy telling me what to do. So I was a little upset, because I had the government job before that.
PHAWKER: What did you do for the government?
KENN KWEDER: I was a caseworker for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I determined people’s eligibility and stuff like that, but I had always wanted to be a musician. I got fed up with the rules and regulations, so I thought I would enter the art world and do what I want to do. I was doing really well that way and I came up against the first of several walls. There were other people that were interested in me, but it didn’t work out. That’s what happened. I hear stories that I poured a pitcher of beer on his head, which if I did, I don’t remember. But I wasn’t that out of control.
PHAWKER: Those were exaggerations is what you are saying.
KENN KWEDER: Exactly, Bill Ive was there, it couldn’t have possibly happened. I’m almost positive. I was lit up, but I was with it. I was more hurt by him criticizing my thing, so when I reacted he didn’t expect anybody to react the way I did.
PHAWKER: Sure, he’d probably never had anyone react to him that way.
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, I didn’t yell at him, it was a difference of opinion.
PHAWKER: If you could do it over again, would you do anything differently? Or do it the same way it went down?
KENN KWEDER: That’s a very good question. People ask me that all the time. I’m not a Barry Manilow or a Bruce Springsteen. I do write really good songs, but I don’t think I could have gone in the studio with the intention of being a commercial pop song guy, it seemed to me to be unethical. In my mindset, back then, I was pretty darn strong about that.
PHAWKER: By unethical, you mean phony or dishonest. You just weren’t that kind of artist and to pretend otherwise would be a lie.
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, I just wrote songs that were the best they could be. Plus if people sang them, then it didn’t matter if they were multisyllabic words or stuff like that, which is what he got into.
PHAWKER: He really did say there were too many syllables in your lyrics?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah he did because he saw a show with songs that have a lot of words, not simple words. Like I did, “Lieutenant Shackled to the School’s in Brooklyn” shit. I don’t think — to him, that’s not a pop hit.
PHAWKER: That sounds like Salieri telling Mozart there are too many notes in his music..
KENN KWEDER: I was just thinking about Salieri, I couldn’t remember his name. I thought about him this morning or yesterday. I wonder what that means.
PHAWKER: In the movie, it sort of seems like you’re building this head of steam, this momentum into your big break, this Clive Davis Moment and that doesn’t happen and it seems like things sort of slowly fade a little bit. The first version of the Secret Kidds split up, is that right?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, that was about 1977, we went through another 18 months. That was a powerhouse band, before we were a bit folky. But there were a couple of other possibilities that didn’t work out and then it was over. I had another band of the Secret Kidds and we were looked at but it wasn’t going to work out.
PHAWKER: Watching some of those performances, I can see that you are very much in tune with the times, like the punk or new wave thing before it was called punk or new wave. You guys remind me of the Tubes.
KENN KWEDER: Oh yeah, absolutely. What was their lead singer’s name?
PHAWKER: Fee Waybill.
KENN KWEDER: Yeah I remember because we were playing the same clubs, not at the same time, but yeah I remember that.
PHAWKER: From the powerhouse version of Secret Kidds, where do you go from there? Did you decide you were going to be more of a solo performer?
KENN KWEDER: Well, then there was another version of Secret Kidds. Then I’m so broke that I go back to work for the government around 1982 or 1983, part time. I work like six months out of the year. I’m really struggling to get work. It’s almost like a heavyweight boxer is up for the championship and gets knocked out in the fucking seventh round. Where do you go from there? Are you going to get another opportunity? I was doing a lot of solo things, plus I had a thing called Tom & Jim which was very similar to Flight of the Conchords. The Tom & Jim show was hilarious, though no one got it. But I continued on and then I left the country in May of ’84. I was gone for a solid nine or ten months. I went to England, just figured I’d have better luck over there because I had friends over there. But that didn’t work out either. So I came back here, I put together a band called The Man from P.O.V.I.C.H. All of the sudden, now I was back. I had all the big shot players wanting to play with me.
PHAWKER: P.O.V.I.C.H., is that a riff on Maury Povich?
KENN KWEDER: Exactly, it was a joke on that, because he was in Philly at the time. After that, year in and year out, it’s different styles and modes. But then I meet Ben Vaughn. He insists I go in the studio and I start recording like crazy. People start giving me money, so I did a succession of records. All on my own label, so we didn’t sell that many, but I was putting a lot of stuff out there.
PHAWKER: At what point were you able to start making a living the way that you are now, playing four or five bars a week?
KENN KWEDER: What happened was in the mid 90’s, I’m walking down the street and a friend of mine, Eddie, he just got back from Copenhagen. He asked me if I wanted to play Copenhagen and I asked how do I do it? He goes, “Well, you have to call this guy up, you already have your originals so you just have to learn a bunch of songs that everybody knows.” I spent a month learning all kinds of stuff. So in the mid 90’s I went over there several times. Each time I went over there I’d see – I call them robo-troubadours – that live and travel from country to country. I became fascinated by these guys. They were Italian, Irish, German and I really admired these guys. I learned everything they did and then I came back to America. I picked up a bartending job and I’d work a couple nights a week as troubadour. But the bartending job ended a number of years ago so the playing went from two nights a week to four at the minimum to stay alive. That’s the minimum generally. I call it four point five, it’s fucking exhausting. I don’t have any other talent right now exactly. But I get in these clubs and I start off by giving them exactly what they want, I keep coming back and tweaking it to the Kenn Kweder weirdness. Soon it’s half Kenn Kweder music and half other music, but I enjoy playing all kinds of music. I fuck around with Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus or whatever to catch people’s attention. I’ll do songs that you would never expect a guy to do, not all the time, but I need to be a chameleon.
PHAWKER: What can a single performer take home in a night? I’m curious as to what the economics are in 2016, I remember being in a band, but that was a while ago.
KENN KWEDER: Well, it’s gotten worse. It provides me with a lifestyle that I can live an okay aesthetic. I’m very much a Quaker. I have a car and a couple of guitars. I keep everything simple so I’m can live. I’m coming off the camping ground so I’m all over the place. I’m moving into a pretty small apartment right on the edge of Chestnut Hill. Those buildings are beautiful. So I can live in an almost Quakerish way, living off the money provided by my guitar. It is hard as you get older, because I don’t go on stage until midnight tonight. I get up in the morning, people don’t know this, I’m always on high alert. But tonight I’ll do that and tomorrow I’m doing a folk show in Mt. Airy. Tonight’s the psychotic show. It’s trickier on the body because I’m 64, it hurts a little bit more. You were in bands, you remember what it’s like moving equipment in and out, up and down fire escapes and shit. I’m still doing it.
PHAWKER: One third of the job of rock star is moving heavy shit. But, you seem to have gotten it down to a science, you’ve really figured out the feng shui of schlepping gear.. You don’t have to lug a big fucking Hammond organ up the back steps of Dobbs anymore. You have your little one man PA. You have your acoustic guitar in your padded case on your back, kind of like a gunslinger.
KENN KWEDER: At this point I’ve almost morphed into an old blues guy. I look at guys like Waco Smith or Nate Wiley. These are guys I always knew of but never seen. Bluesman Willie, these guys worked. Nate Wiley worked like 30 straight years over there at Bob and Barbara’s and I’m sure in other places around Philadelphia. That’s kind of where I’m at with this old time romance attached to it. Before Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis got big, everything was on a local level. You went down to the local bar and you saw Little Richard. I didn’t intend for it to be this way but this is where it’s at. This is where it’s going, I’m still busy as heck.
PHAWKER: There’s a part of the movie towards the end where you are talking and you say that, “I know guys that are doing this and are used to being the center of attention, but when you get older you are no longer the center of attention. It’s not quite as romantic as when you were young but you are 39, 40 years old so it’s not like you are going to learn some new type of business.” You are talking about somebody else, but also yourself.
KENN KWEDER: Definitely, yes. I look around and I see guys who are 40 or 50. When they were in their 20’s, they were stars in Philadelphia. Then things happen and you find out that you have to play in a wedding band, some of the greatest fucking guys are playing in a wedding band. It’s hard to admit it but it’s true, there are some great musicians. I could never be in a wedding band because it’s a frightening prospect, if I came out on stage at somebody’s wedding, I don’t have the chops for that. I did a couple of weddings and it was terrifying.
PHAWKER: You say at a certain point when you are driving in the car and talking about how your mother had show biz aspirations, how she regretted not giving it a try. You would go ahead and finish that, carry her dreams across the finish line for her and yourself. It’s a touching moment. But I’m wondering now, are you happier now that you did pursue your dream than she was unhappy about not pursuing her dream? Do you follow?
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, it would be like a parallax. She’s the negative number and I’m the positive number. I think I’m definitely happier because she was very melancholy. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, though you do lose unfortunately. But I think so, because it was a sad story I heard all the time. It was a chance to right the universe a little bit, I wasn’t going to right her universe. Certainly, it’s just wishful thinking, you know. But there’s no question in my mind that she had regrets that she didn’t continue what she was doing. But back then it was the 40’s and the 50’s.
PHAWKER: Sure, women back then had few professional options besides motherhood or secretary school, it was a different time. A few years ago you fell down a flight of stairs at Dobbs and you suffer a compound fracture of your wrist and hand. It shatters. Tell me a little about that, because the doctor thought that you would never fully get back the use of that hand, which of course means that you can’t play music anymore, that you can’t be Kenn Kweder anymore, that you can’t make a living anymore, which is a serious existential threat. Tell me about that whole experience.
KENN KWEDER: I was a big Wilt Chamberlain fan, I read a long time ago that whenever he got hurt, he always did way more work to get himself back on track more quickly. And I did the same thing, more of the rehab. I was lucky to have a roommate that was helping me out, because this guy knew a lot of medical stuff and my arm could have gotten very badly infected because of all these fucking spikes in it. He kept an eye on that and was also helping me out with my exercises. It was pretty complex, but I needed to get it back. It’s not 100% still, but it’s about 85%.
PHAWKER: How long did that take?
KENN KWEDER: I got back within seven months. It happened in July and I was back on stage in February. I was really focused on my arm, I wish I could get that focus back. I was religious about the whole thing. You know, you fall down these steps with an amplifier and anything can happen.
PHAWKER: I wanted to ask you about at one point that you made this aside that Woody Guthrie was a fraud and that he was taking payments. Were you just fucking around or is there some secret story that I don’t know about?
KENN KWEDER: No, that’s just a fucking joke, my humor. I knew people would be offended if I said it. I have to be a little outrageous. I’m a big Woody Guthrie guy.
PHAWKER: Any regrets that you would do differently? Could you ever have foreseen taking the straight path, you know, married with kids and a job?
KENN KWEDER: I’d probably still be a musician. If I had a chance to get a straight gig, I would study nutrition. There are certain things I would study like oceanography or nutrition, something like that, because I happen to like those two ideas and to me, nutrition is very musical and heals people. But it’s a little too late to get into the nutrition bag.
PHAWKER: We talked a couple of years ago for an oral history of South Street that I did for the City Paper, back when there was one, and I was asking you what your secret was, you’re like a vampire. You look thirty years younger than your actual age. You were telling me that you were on the Bowie diet.
KENN KWEDER: Yeah, hot peppers, raw garlic, root vegetables, things like that. I eat all kinds of things to heal myself, but I get into the root vegetables and garlic. I’ll make myself a garlic sandwich in the morning.
PHAWKER: What’s a garlic sandwich?
KENN KWEDER: Well, you just take about five or six cloves and crush them. Take the skin off of them, put them on a piece of toast with hot peppers, you eat that motherfucker. It’s better to do at night, because then you wake up and it’s already going through your system. I actually feel like I need that sandwich later tonight because my voice is shot. I really believe in all that stuff, I call it forward food, versus reverse food. I’ve never had pizza, I don’t eat cheese. I’m pretty rigid about what I do and don’t eat. I haven’t had cake or pie since 1965. My father had a sugar problem, especially after he ate cake, so I had to rush him to the hospital a million times. I’m not going to eat cake or pie. I’ll have a giant fucking vodka though, admittedly it’s a little incongruous.
PHAWKER: You are 64 now, what advice do you have for anybody that is picking up a guitar and pursuing it as a career?
KENN KWEDER: Think twice, it’s a tricky path and it can be dangerous. To be honest, I don’t know about getting into the music field now, it’s so different because the landscape has changed. If you are into EDM, you might make a living but that’s a roll of the dice, too. If you are going to get into it, go into it with your whole heart but be ready for some disappointments. Try to take care of your health too, you take a lot of rides down back roads in this business.
ADVENTURES OF A SECRET KIDD: THE MASS HALLUCINATION OF KENN KWEDER SCREENS SATURDAY AT THE SOUTHSIDE FILM FESTIVAL IN BETHLEHEM