From the new LP ‘Death Song,’ out April 21st on Partisan Records. Black Angels play Union Transfer on May 4th with A Place To Bury Strangers.
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From the new LP ‘Death Song,’ out April 21st on Partisan Records. Black Angels play Union Transfer on May 4th with A Place To Bury Strangers.
FRESH AIR: An award-winning New York Times reporter Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal reveals the dangerous, expensive, and dysfunctional American healthcare system, and tells us exactly what we can do to solve its myriad of problems. It is well documented that our healthcare system has grave problems, but how, in only a matter of decades, did things get this bad? Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal doesn’t just explain the symptoms; she diagnoses and treats the disease itself. Rosenthal spells out in clear and practical terms exactlyhow to decode medical doublespeak, avoid the pitfalls of the pharmaceuticals racket, and get the care you and your family deserve. She takes you inside the doctor-patient relationship, explaining step by step the workings of a profession sorely lacking transparency. This is about what we can do, as individual patients, both to navigate a byzantine system and also to demand far-reaching reform. Breaking down the monolithic business into its individual industries—the hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, drug manufacturers—that together constitute our healthcare system, Rosenthal tells the story of the history of American medicine as never before. The situation is far worse than we think, and it has become like that much more recently than we realize. Hospitals, which are managed by business executives, behave like predatory lenders, hounding patients and seizing their homes. Research charities are in bed with big pharmaceutical companies, which surreptitiously profit from the donations made by working people. Americans are dying from routine medical conditions when affordable and straightforward solutions exist. Dr. Rosenthal explains for the first time how various social and financial incentives have encouraged a disastrous and immoral system to spring up organically in a shockingly short span of time. The system is in tatters, but we can fight back. An American Sickness is the frontline defense against a healthcare system that no longer has our well-being at heart. MORE
Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER/KOALA PHOTOGRPHY
There is a certain kind of concert review you see from time to time wherein the too-cool-for-school critic goes to some obviously lame concert with the intention of trashing it and comes away humbled by the sheer humanity of, say, fans of the Dave Matthews Band. In the interest of full disclosure I went to see John Mayer at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night fully expecting to write the exact opposite of that kind of review afterwards, i.e. I was planning on really laying into him from on high. And I still may! But it ain’t easy, after being there and seeing something like that. The point is, folks, people love John Mayer, and that is a beautiful thing. They look at each other and hold hands and sway with their big round eyes and honestly, I mean, I’m not a monster am I?
However, by some happy coincidence the concert I went to was on the same day the Donald Trump began bombing Syria, and when he starts singing a song like “Waiting on the World To Change” it was a funny feeling I got. Essentially, it occurred to me that Mayer is a simulator — he is what passes for the real thing in this post-factual age — and he is brilliant at it. When he plays acoustic music he has a backdrop of falling cherry blossoms, and when he play some Mumford and Sons-type song there’s a background of a rustic barn with a bunch of moody candles and it’s all computer-generated and almost seems intended to look fake. One of his back drops is literally just a soft focus high exposure filter, transforming the stage into a daytime TV drama. What he’s doing is simulating these different motifs, going through them one by one: pop star, sensitive lover, daydreamer, cool and classic bluesman. He is simulating being a rockstar for thousands and thousands of people who couldn’t care less about something like “authenticity,” whatever that is.
So when he claims that he’s given up alcohol, and this is the first time he’s been “naked emotionally” on stage, it’s easy to smirk. Because there is something kind of offensive about John Mayer being one of the greatest living blues guitarists, especially if you believe in the whole myth of the blues equalling authenticity. When in fact, John Mayer is smarmy and white and seems like a rich kid. And this is where the simulation begins, where the man ends and the rock star begins. John Mayer is a fucking rock star. He has fucked a swathe through Hollywood, leaving discarded bottles of Glenlivet and famous broken hearts in his wake. Not only that, but he actually can shred like nobody’s business. So watching him on this tour, no longer flaunting his virtuosity or using it as a weapon against the audience, flaying them into submission, he seems to truly be drawing on the love of his fans: playing a lick, waiting for a response, the cheers driving his playing further and further to the climactic finish of the set closer “Gravity.”
His music is almost brilliantly generic, it is so clear and obvious that it almost feels like an eventuality. That is to say, destined in some way. “Your Body Is A Wonderland” is timeless because it could have been written for any era of popular music. It almost as if the song itself, and for that Mayer’s oeuvre as a whole, was lurking in the background of pop for decades, just waiting for him to appear and make itself known. And people — so many people — are so very grateful when it does. They look at each other and hold hands and sway with their big round eyes. And who am I to argue with that? — JAMES M. DAVIS
BY JOSH PELTA-HELLER There’s a die-hard demographic of ‘90s rock fans that will recall the cannonball impact of Boss Hog, the sloppy, ragged swagger of wife-and-husband blues-punk power-couple Cristina Martinez and Jon Spencer. After dropping a handful of albums and EPs to the delight of college rock radio listeners everywhere that decade, the band disappeared for 17 years. Spencer and Martinez became parents. They got day jobs. Who knows, maybe they moved to the suburbs. To hear her tell it, sure: they may have grown up some. But they never grew out of their passion for the garage, and for playing live the blistering, bruising blues they will bring to Underground Arts on Saturday April 8th.
Brood X, Boss Hog’s first record in a decade and a half, is signature Boss-Hog hiss-and-howl.. But their hiatus has informed an evolution, too, and their sound has been updated a bit — Brood X is piss and venom you can dance to. In advance of their Philly tour date in support of Brood X, we got Boss Hog frontwoman Cristina Martinez on the horn. She graciously took a break from her New-York-City day job to talk to us about Boss Hog’s new music and their process, about anthems of resistance in the age of Trump, about bad band names and about worse people who make great art. Oh and, cicadas.
PHAWKER: What do you do at your day job?
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: I am the editorial production director for Bon Appetit magazine.
PHAWKER: That’s pretty different from your night job.
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: Um, it is. This is all math and precision for me, and the other one is the other brain entirely. I’m just really letting go of all of that stuff.
PHAWKER: Did you go to school for one or the other, or no?
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: I did not go to school for one or the other [laughs] — well I mean, I learned math in school, yeah! [laughs] The only thing I use from all of that still, besides basic math, is I still use a lot of algebra for this job, like ratios and stuff like that, basic stuff. Yeah I mean I didn’t go to school for music, I’m a self-taught musician.
PHAWKER: I wanted to talk to you a little about your new record and your return to touring and music after a long hiatus — what’s it been, about 15 years or something?
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: Well, yes. It’s been a very long time. We in 2008 to 2010 played shows, but we haven’t recorded since 2001, so it’s been a minute. But like I said, in 2008 to 2010 we were asked to do a couple of brief tours and some anniversary shows, so we really had a great time doing it and were enjoying ourselves, and so we decided that if we wanted to continue doing that we should really write new material. After that point we also lost our keyboard player from the Whiteout era, Mark Boyce moved away to the west coast. So we found a new keyboard player. His name is Mickey Finn, and he lives in Brooklyn, so it was much easier to sort of get a rhythm going, and build momentum and write stuff, because he was here, and he was also very enthusiastic about doing it. And like I said we enjoyed ourselves enormously in that sort of pick-up that we did in 2008. So it was fun! We just started getting together routinely and writing, and eventually had enough stuff that we thought we should go in and execute it.
PHAWKER: So the decision to do a new album was sort of in support of your interest in touring more?
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: Well I mean..yes, sort of. I mean I think we enjoy touring a great deal, and I do think it came from, like I said, we thought that if we wanted to play shows, we really should have something new to play, instead of just sort of, you know, playing our catalog for the rest of our lives. But also, we just enjoy writing and playing together, and we wrote a lot of material over those three to four years — this record was recorded now two years ago. So we just had such a vast amount of material that we thought it was a good time to record the record. But yes, we also had in mind that we would eventually like to play out again. I don’t know if we would call that the sole reason though, we just wanted to continue the process, all of it — recording and playing and touring.
PHAWKER: What’s your writing process — do you come up with the stuff yourself, or you and Jon together?
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: No no, it’s completely collaborative. We all go down into our rehearsal space and just play. And at the writing stage, we’ll very often trade instruments and sort of just goof around. But we have a really good time playing with each other, it became like a social club — you know, we’d go down, we’d play some music, we’d stop and chat about whatever art show or movie we have seen, and have snacks. It was kind of just a fun way of hanging out together, and we’d all do genuinely enjoy each other’s company, so it was just a very natural, easy process. And then we’d just record whatever bits of music we had.
When it comes time to really arrange songs, and finesse them, I would say Jon is the person in the band who is the best at really doing that. And that’s a real skill and talent that not everybody has. Because I’ve been in other bands where it’s a different process. But Jon has a real knack for arranging songs, and focusing them, and structuring them. And generally, while we’re doing that, I will just be ad-libbing, and singing about whatever comes to mind. And sometimes I’ve written stuff down in a journal that I will bring in, and sort of spark an idea, and then also that gets refined as we go along, so I’ll start to structure it with the song, and come up with a kind of verse-chorus framework for it.
For this record, we hadn’t played the songs out live, which was new for us. We traditionally had really played the songs out a little bit more, and they had become solidified before we went into the studio. Not so for this record. We went in with basic structures, and very loose skeletal lyrical ideas, and they were really finessed in the studio. Especially for me, the music was more finished, but I had to really sort of create larger, more textured narrative, really flesh these ideas out in the studio. Which was hard, because everybody’s watching and you’re paying for it! [laughs] But it was interesting! I enjoyed it. It was definitely different for us.
PHAWKER: What was that like though after that long hiatus, was it easy to get back into the process dynamics you had in the ‘90s, or was that a struggle?
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: You know, it’s easier now, from practice, from having done it for years and years, I feel not so critical of myself, or I feel freer to just do whatever, and I feel very comfortable with my bandmates, who are good friends. So you know, you can do anything — it doesn’t have to be great. It can be pretty shitty, actually. I don’t feel that kind of… self-criticism, is really what it is. I feel free to explore whatever way I wanna go and see what happens. And you know, sometimes it doesn’t work, and you just scrap it and try something else. It used to be that sometimes, if you get caught up with something… for me, if I couldn’t find a vocal path in it, I’d just scrap the whole song. I think I’m better now at having the freedom — and the bravery, really — to try something else, and not edit myself in the moment.
PHAWKER: Do you think that’s a product of getting older, and not giving a fuck as much?
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: Yeah, all of those things! The fact that I am more experienced at it, the fact that I am older and I’m not so self-conscious. Or the fact that you realize, like, it’s all good, the stuff that I was hard on myself for before, like I go back to and say ‘that was great!,’ you know, ‘why was I nit-picking?…’ When you’re creating something, sometimes you do need a little time and distance to sort of appreciate what it was. And the charm of Boss Hog really has always been that it’s not so perfectly clean. [laughs] We’re a little disordered, a little rough around the edges, and I like it that way.
PHAWKER: People can change so much in 15 years, with influences that inform styles and sensibility. What made you want to return to Boss Hog as a cohesive project over starting something new?
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: Mostly because it’s the same people, and so we bring a lot of the same elements, the same ingredients are used. And so it definitely still has that Boss Hog flavor or feel, to me. It’s got a very heavy bass, and it’s very much about the groove, and we like to chop stuff up that doesn’t necessarily make sense together.
I would love to change the name! [laughs] I’ve hated the name from the get-go. You know, we had to make a heat-of-the-moment decision, and that one has haunted me my entire career! [laughs] You know, nobody wants to walk around with a t-shirt that says ‘Boss Hog’ on it. Bad marketing decision! But, you know. It is what it is. I don’t think it’s a very great band name, but I think we’re a great band, so we can survive it.
PHAWKER: I think the Goo Goo Dolls feel the same way.
CRISTINA MARTINEZ: Yes, they must! [laughs] And, maybe they regret those haircuts, too.
The New Pornographers are coming up on 20 years with no discernible diminishment of their power to amuse and enchant. Ringleader Carl Newman envisioned the latest New Pornographer’s album, Whiteout Conditions, as a bubblegum krautrock record that would move at 160 BPM. He told bandmate Dan Bejar about the project, but Bejar had to bow out in order to focus on a ‘quieter’ and ‘weirder’ Destroyer album that had already been in the works. The boys aren’t broken up; the logistics just didn’t line up for this one. Even without Bejar, the album delivers The New Pornographer’s unmistakable prismatic power-pop sound. Picking up where 2014’s synth-driven Brill Bruisers left off, Whiteout Conditions brings to life Newman’s vision of saccharine krautrock with the kind of preternaturally catchy tunes for which Newman has long been lauded.
The Newman-esque disparity between the dark, introspective lyrics and cheery, foot-tapping music is as present in Whiteout Conditions as it has been for all The New Pornographer’s albums, dating back to the 2001 Mass Romantic, with songs like “My Slow Descent Into Alcoholism,” which addresses the vice-grip of addiction over a dancey rock tune. Whiteout Conditions was conceived in the midst of what history will remember as the annus horribilis 2016 and the lyrics reflect this year’s all-too-common struggle to wrangle our fractured postmodern consciousness back from the wrong side of the the alarm/panic divide. The title track describes the suffocating conditions that trigger the angst that necessitates that he make music. Newman sings that he’s, “Suffering whiteout conditions,” and he advises, “…forget the mission, just get out somehow,” as astral synths shimmer, vocal harmonies express human connection, and the drum beat keeps your head bouncing. Whiteout Conditions’ most addictive confection is “Juke,” which begins with a seductive major chord arpeggio that sounds like popping bubble gum if you squint your ears.
Whiteout Conditions is the next logical step forward from Brill Bruisers, with an emphasis on whooshing synth and luminescent guitar parts paired with the controlled mania of Newman’s vocal delivery. Even though Newman hits all his marks, The New Pornographers’ sound is more nuanced and textured with Dan Bejar, whose absence from the album is noticeable. It will be interesting to hear the music The New Pornographer’s make when Newman and Bejar reunite after the forthcoming weirder, quieter Destroyer album. In the end, Whiteout Conditions may not be a revolutionary album, but with their unmistakable, infectious sound and Newman’s penchant for deathless hooks, The New Pornographers didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. – DILLON ALEXANDER
FRESH AIR: Alec Baldwin has been keeping busy lately. The star of the animated film The Boss Baby has a new memoir out and also keeps popping up on Saturday Night Live to play President Trump. Baldwin tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that his impression of the president is purposefully exaggerated. “We’re doing it live on a TV show at 11:30 at night in front of a live audience, so there’s a kind of volume to it,” he says. “It’s kind of the Macy’s Day Parade [version] of Trump — it’s a very larger-than-life thing.” Baldwin grew up in a family of six kids on Long Island, N.Y. His father, a dedicated high school teacher, didn’t make much money, but they bonded over late-night classic movies. Initially, Baldwin thought he would pursue a career in law and government, but he decided instead to go into acting — much to the chagrin of his mother. “She was apoplectic,” Baldwin says. “She was screaming on the phone, ‘What is wrong with you?’ ” Baldwin details his entry into show business, as well as the highs and lows of his career and his life, in his memoir, Nevertheless. MORE
BY DILLON ALEXANDER The Anarchist Cookbook is that forbidden book your older brother and his friends ordered off the internet and used to make napalm in your old, crazy neighbor’s driveway that wound through the woods. Or maybe it’s the book that your posh friends prominently displayed on top of their coffee table for shock value. Maybe you heard about it on the news, when it was found at the apartment of some alienated, mentally unstable man who was convinced that he was the Joker from The Dark Knight. Maybe you have no clue what it is, but chances are that hearing it mentioned, it piques some curiosity. Documentary filmmaker Charlie Siskel (Finding Vivian Maier, Bowling For Columbine, Religulous) [pictured, below], nephew of famed film critic Gene Siskel, found his interest piqued by this incendiary book. For his new documentary, Siskel tracked down its author, William Powell, and forced him to confront the moral implications of his dangerous brainchild. The result is American Anarchist.
PHAWKER: For the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with it, could you explain what The Anarchist Cookbook is and some of the moral quandaries that it represents?
CHARLIE SISKEL: Sure. The Anarchist Cookbook was written in 1970 by Bill Powell [pictured, below right], who was then 19. It was kind of a political manifesto combined with a how-to guide or cookbook for how to make explosive devices, bombs, and how to do other illicit things like make drugs. It also taught certain techniques in guerrilla fighting. That sort of thing. The book was a product of its time in that, during the late 60’s, early 70’s, the counterculture and protest over Vietnam and police violence against American citizens pushed a lot of people on the left to look for more extreme answers to the kind of violence that was happening at the hands of the state.
A number of people, the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, and Bill Powell as an individual in the sea of that resistance, started to advocate violence in response to the violence that he was seeing. The book is a product of its time in that way, but what’s unusual is that the book went on to have a life beyond the late 60’s early 70’s context in which it was written. It was picked up as a cult icon throughout the 70’s and 80’s, and then into the 90’s and 2000’s. Even today, the book’s taken on a life of its own as a badge of rebellion, or sometimes as a curiosity that people would have on their shelf or on their coffee table, similar to Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book.
But unfortunately, as I talk about in the film and as has been written about by some, the book has been associated with some violent episodes between the 1970’s and today, showing up in the hands of a really diverse group of people who have unfortunately resorted to violence. The book is in some ways a kind of a Rorschach test. People see in it what they want to see, and so it is susceptible to many interpretations. What the people who have had the book and went on to conduct violence have in common is that they believe that they are doing the right thing and that there’s some kind of justification for violence. Clearly, they see in the book either the message to carry out violence or some sort of anti-establishment justification for it. All of these things are present in the book and even today when there’s information that’s available online, the book continues to have this resonance. So, what I was interested in exploring in the film is what it’s like to be the person who wrote that book and has to live with the aftermath.
PHAWKER: Can you talk about your interest in Powell as a subject and what it was like confronting his past with him throughout your interviews?
CHARLIE SISKEL: I was interested in Bill as a subject because I think while his circumstances in particular are unique, I think there’s something universal about his story. I think we all have regrets about things that we’ve done in our past, and some people have those play out in a smaller way, in a way that’s personal to them and their families or their friends or their colleagues. Others like Bill have it play out in a much more public way, and that’s what I was interested in; understanding how he made sense of this the book and it’s role in his life. How it shaped his image of himself as a person, as a young person. How his view of the book changed from the time he wrote it to the time I interviewed him about it, when he was a 64 year-old man.
I was interested in him and his process of introspectively evaluating his choices and his past. I recognized that this would be a difficult thing to do, especially on camera. But he was willing. He understood that was what I was interested in talking with him about and that seemed to be what he was interested in talking about, as well. You know, he agreed to do the project. He agreed to be filmed, but from the very start it was clear that he was also uncomfortable with the process, and resisted it. From the very first question, he denied that the book advocates violence in any way. This is what Joseph Conrad calls artful dodges of self knowledge. The things we do to ourselves to keep from confronting our demons or keep from confronting our truths from our past. I think they’re all on display in the film, and it’s fascinating
PHAWKER: Earlier in your career, you worked on Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. Columbine is one of the many examples of mass shootings and terrorist attacks in which The Anarchist Cookbook was found among the belongings of the perpetrators. Was that when you first learned about The Anarchist Cookbook?
CHARLIE SISKEL: That was certainly one of the times that I was thinking about the book. I was familiar with the book back in the late 70’s early 80’s. I had an older cousin who had the book and was, as I was describing earlier, one of those people who had the book because of its cult status. It was a shocking thing to have on your shelf. Maybe it made your parents angry and scared your friends or something like that. So, I was aware of the book then, but I really started to focus on the book because I was interested in the period of the late 60’s early 70’s when the Students for Democratic Society and other groups on the new left began to fracture. Some parts of the left began to advocate violence, and that’s the period that has really interested me.
The notion that we were on the brink of a revolution. That people, as Bill says in the film, believed that they were going to change society. That they were going to upset the balance of power and put power back in the hands of ordinary people. That period fascinates me, and the idea that there was people like Bill that were upper middle class educated who were dropping out of college and putting off plans for careers to essentially join a political revolution that ended up deteriorating. That is the period that has fascinated me, and Bill was a really interesting case.
Just announced: Diana Ross @ The Mann Saturday July 29th! Tickets go on sale April 7th @ 10 AM.
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Diana Ross, on the other hand, achieved mythic stature before she ever became a singer. For as the lead voice of the Supremes, she was really only the soul–or perhaps élan vital–of a machine, ready to plug into whatever arrangement, lyric, or show dress Berry Gordy and the Motown organization provided. She sang of the pain of love without appearing to suffer, but that doesn’t mean that the catch-phrases–“You keep me hanging on,” “Where did our love go?” “Love is like an itching in my heart, and I can’t scratch it”–were softened or somehow corrupted. Instead, they were transcended with the vivacity that is Diana Ross’ great gift. No matter how she is stylized, no matter what phony truism she mouths, this woman always lets you know she is alive. Despite her ghetto upbringing, Diana Ross always has been possessed by a will to cheerfulness. During her seven years with the Supremes she never indicated that she thought about anything except what Berry wanted her to do next. Usually, Berry gave her good things to do… MORE
RELATED: For a party Diana Ross hosted for the Rolling Stones in the ’70s, the list included: “Barry Diller, George Harrison, Berry Gordy, Sonny Bono, Lou Adler, Ron Kass, Joan Collins, Candice Bergen, Sara Dylan, Joan Didion, Elliott Gould, Sue Mengers, Elton John, Bette Milder, Cat Stevens, Ronee Blakley, Garry Trudeau, the Billy Wilders, the Neil Diamonds, the Swifty Lazars — Stones fans all.” MORE
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally posted back in 2014. We are re-posting it today in advance of their show at Underground Arts on 5/3.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA You were born in an age of mockery, which was followed by a decade of irony. You were 15 years old when you played your first gig, opening for Black Flag. Your little brother was only 11. His bass was taller than him. You named your band after the crucifix masturbation scene in The Exorcist. Early on you were fascinated by pop culture gone horribly wrong, you wrote punky odes to Linda Blair, MacKenzie Phillips and Frosted Flakes. You covered Charlie Manson. “No metal sluts or punk rock ruts” was your motto. You recorded six albums before calling it quits in 1997. A bunch of stuff happened, not the least of which was your brother adding bass to every song on The White Stripes Red Blood Cells, with Jack White’s tacit approval. Fast forward to 2012, you release a new album. It’s not just one of the best albums of the year, it is the best album of your career. The title track is Nuggets-worthy 60s garage punk. “Uglier” has the greatest Kiss chorus never made. “Dracula’s Daughter” is, without irony, one of the prettiest songs every made. “Stay Away From Downtown” is the greatest power-pop song since Cheap met Trick. You are Jeff and Steven McDonald, your band is called Redd Kross and the album is Researching The Blues.
PHAWKER: Before we get started, let me just say that the new record is fucking awesome, man. So first question, how old were you and your brother when you started the band back in ’78?
PHAWKER: When did you guys decide that you were going to get serious about music? When did you guys start picking up instruments, listening to stuff that was more than just on the radio?
JEFF MCDONALD: I never listened to the radio. I’ve always been a big fan of records and albums. You know, Beatles and Rolling Stones when I was a toddler, practically. And when the whole, you know, the whole thing started with The Ramones and before even The Sex Pistols, we heard all this stuff via Rodney Bingenheimer’s radio show, that legendary show. At the time, where we grew up, they didn’t have bands that played original music. In the late ‘70’s, groups were just cover bands. They played Led Zeppelin, and all that various stuff. These groups would have these huge Marshal stacks, be very professional, and they’d play at the local clubs but they would play Led Zeppelin songs. And there was no way to get booked into a venue unless you were a major label act, or you were a cover band. That’s how, at the first LA punk scene started, which was, you know, it only consisted of about a hundred people, and this guy Brendan Mullen started this club called the Mask, which was this tiny place that used to get busted all the time. But until then, there was no place to play original music.
Basically there was no hope for us to ever get a gig. But there was a really rare show at a moose lodge in Laguna Beach which was near where we lived and we knew one of the bands. They were called The Alley Cats, and we loved them. They were one of the first LA punk bands. And they had this other group, Black Flag, on the bill. So we went to the show, and it got busted by the cops, and everything. I’d never heard of Black Flag, and we talked to them after the show, and they had a little single that they put out, and I just called Greg Ginn the guitarist, said, ‘We’re in a band, and we want to play with you guys.’ They had only played, you know, one show. So they said, ‘Come down to our rehearsal space, and, you know, we’ll check you out and see what happens.’ So, you know, we went to their, they rehearsed in a church, an old, abandoned church, and they invited, like, ten people. And we played for them. And they were like, ‘Aw, that’s great.’ And they played after us in a little tiny room with their loud amplifiers. We were in. So once they started to play in LA, at the very few venues that they could get into, they always brought us along. So we just kinda lucked into it. At the time, I was so tenacious, I would just cold-call any one of the bands that I loved, used to look them up in the phonebook. And I would ask them if we could play with them, and usually they would just laugh at us. I remember calling X and talking to John Doe and The Dickies. I got nowhere until I met Black Flag. That’s kind of a long-winded answer, but that’s how it happened.
JEFF MCDONALD: We didn’t fit in, but we had to play those shows because there was nowhere else to play. So we would be at bills with all these groups and it wouldn’t go over well, but we learned a lot. It was really fun to kind of realize these people, spitting, throwing crap at you? It didn’t matter, because there was a certain power to be had by having a guitar. It’s just like trial by fire. That’s how we really cut out our own identity, by defiantly being individuals at times where most of the groups were cookie-cutter.
PHAWKER:Is it true that the name comes from the masturbation scene, the crucifix masturbation scene in The Exorcist?
JEFF MCDONALD: Sure! I don’t even remember who made up the name Redd Kross. We were just sitting around and we realized that we had to change our name. We were originally called The Tourists, and we knew that there was a band already called The Tourists, who later turned out to be Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart’s band from before The Eurythmics. So we changed our name. So we went with Red Cross without really thinking much of it. Afterwards, we were like, ‘Why did we choose that name?!’ But we were already starting to become known, so we were just, it ended up being our name. And we’d be like ‘Yeah, Linda Blair.’ And then when we changed it to R-e-d-d K-r-o-s-s, we claimed that we named ourselves after the mixing board the Beatles recorded all of their Sgt. Pepper on. That board was called a Redd, r-e-d-d. Whatever suited the moment.
PHAWKER: So the irony is, is that you guys started out so young, but in the video for the first single from the new record, “Downtown,” it’s your daughter, I believe, that plays the obligatory hot babe in the video. Is that correct?
JEFF MCDONALD: Yeah, her and friend kind of the demonic versions of Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone.
PHAWKER: So now you’re married to Charlotte Caffey, guitarist from The Go Go’s and your brother is married to Anna Waronker from That Dog, who is the daughter of the legendary musicbiz honcho, Lenny Waronker. Is there some kind of dating service for West coast rock people? How did that come about?
JEFF MCDONALD: Well, for me, I was always the most successful male groupie in Los Angeles because when girls started coming around, girl musicians, there were these group of guys that would just follow them around like puppy dogs. We called them GBGs or Girl Band Geeks. But I was, at the time, going out with Vicki Peterson from The Bangles. I went out with her for five years, during the whole career of The Bangles. So, after that relationship was over, I started dating Melanie from the Pandora’s, another all-girl band in LA, then I was a bachelor, and then I married Charlotte. So, I was kind of like the James Taylor of the LA garage scene.
PHAWKER: That Pandora’s album It’s About Time is still one of the greatest garage-rock revival records of all time.
JEFF MCDONALD: Oh yeah. That was when I was going out with Melanie. We shared a rehearsal space with [The Pandoras]. That was a really fun time; that kind of ‘60’s flower power revival thing that was happening in LA.
PHAWKER: Speaking of Flower Power, reading up on you guys I was suprised to learn that you backed up [legendary lead singer of The Seeds] Sky Saxon for a few shows. Tell me about that experience.
JEFF MCDONALD: I was with Greg Shaw from Bomp Records. He had a club in LA for all of the underground garage revival bands called The Cavern club, of course. And I was there the day that Sky arrived from Hawaii. He had been living in Hawaii with some cult for many years. It was just like Jesus coming off of a space ship. ‘Oh my god, it’s Sky Saxon!!’ It was just totally insane. Greg Shaw asked if we would back Sky up for a show at The Cavern Club. We’re like, “Yeah, sure.” But Sky was so weird, he wouldn’t rehearse or do anything. We were at the gig, and all of a sudden, we noticed that there were microphones and video cameras. We were like, ‘Oh, shit.’ It turns out that we were recording a live album. Sky wouldn’t look at the audience, and it was just so strange that we would just start jamming on Runaways songs, and he was just talking about leprechauns jumping from bushes. Anything to kind of piss off the scene, because they were so intensely 1966. We would purposely do “Dazed and Confused” and Sky was unknowingly making up new words for it. It was pretty genius. The record actually exists; it’s called Sky Saxon and Purple Electricity. It’s one of those 35 cent albums you’ll find…It’s actually, people that I know who are completely into noise and insaneness think it’s a brilliant record, other people think it’s the worst record ever made. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.
PHAWKER: So, true or false- Alex Chilton’s version of “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” is that actually better than The Seeds?
JEFF MCDONALD: Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. Well, The Seeds were, you know, they were one of those bands, when they were most successful it was just total failure in action. They were actually trying to be The Doors and The Rolling Stones, but they failed so badly, they came up with something that was really original.
PHAWKER: Your brother Steve has been working as an A&R scout?
JEFF MCDONALD: He was for many years. I don’t think he’s doing that anymore, but he did for a long time. He’s also, with that job, been able to produce a lot of people. He produced fun.
PHAWKER: The ‘We are young’ band?
JEFF MCDONALD: Yeah! He did their first record.
JEFF MCDONALD: By the end of the ‘90’s, I was really burned out from our grueling tour schedule. We were just on the road so much, we became an international group, you know, late ‘80’s and ‘90’s, so we’d be gone for months at a time. And that was what I had always wanted to do; that was my dream when I decided to play music, was to travel and do all that stuff. It was kind of just after a while, it, ugh, I was at the brink of a nervous breakdown. So when we took our time off, it ended up lasting ten years. It wasn’t really our intention, it just happened. Even though I had recorded and stuff [during that time] I had never stepped foot on stage. I never even jammed with anyone. So when we played again, I was kind of nervous, like, ugh, I don’t know if I can do this. But I was able to. I was completely refreshed and ready to go.
PHAWKER: Last question, why is the new record so great? And don’t bullshit me, did you guys make some kind of deal at the crossroads or something?
JEFF MCDONALD: I don’t know! I think it’s because we made it and we didn’t have to. Not a lot of people are making real, straightforward, rock and roll records. It’s what I love, so we figured, ‘Well, we have the ability to make a really good record now, so let’s just do it.’ We didn’t have a record deal or anything. Once we finished mixing it, we just sent it out to a couple people and everyone wanted to put it out.
REDD KROSS PLAYS UNDERGROUND ARTS ON WEDNESDAY MAY 3RD
MARK HARRIS: What is striking about Being There, the portrait of a man who relates to no one but to whom everyone relates, is that it represents both a synthesis of many of the qualities in Ashby’s earlier movies and a sharp break from them. The film is initially quiet; its mood is hushed, almost austere. We meet Chance, a simpleminded, middle-aged man-child who has spent his entire life in the Washington, D.C., home of a wealthy, unseen benefactor, as he goes about what is clearly an unvarying ritual. He wakes up, gets out of bed, combs his hair, and prepares to spend his day doing the only two things that interest him—tending to his garden and watching one of the television sets that are present everywhere. Television is a constant in Being There the way music is a constant in many of Ashby’s other movies; he is never careless about the meaning or content of background noise. Here, he views TV as a presence that can take over if you let it—and sometimes, he lets it.
In these opening moments and in many that follow, the cinematography is dark—no sunlight or fresh air has penetrated these cloistered suites of wealth and privilege—and the tone is initially chillier than in most of Ashby’s other movies; Being There is not interested in swiftly ingratiating itself or telling you what it’s going to be. The world you’re watching is private, and Sellers—an actor whom, in 1979, audiences would have watched expectantly, waiting for him to tell them it was okay to laugh—is a placid cipher, giving nothing away.
Who is Chance? In the cultural syntax of Kosinski’s work, he is a kind of holy fool, a man who knows nothing yet knows everything, a popular mystical/sentimental trope of the time. In contemporary diagnostic terms, he would be considered to lie somewhere on the autism spectrum. Cultural moralists labeled him the ominous end point of what was, at the time, referred to as “the television generation”—an incarnation of stoic passivity who can express almost no preference other than “I like to watch.” In Sellers’s determinedly controlled, virtually affectless performance, he is all those things and more, and also less—a blank slate, an emotional dead spot, the eternal “little boy” his late benefactor’s caregiver calls him, and also, in a very quiet way, a clown. MORE
CHICAGO READER: Whereas [director Hal] Ashby’s previous films had been about rebels and outsiders, Being There tells the story of the ultimate conformist—a man who says only what other people want to hear. The film is a fable of sorts. Sellers plays Chance, a childlike man who has spent his entire life in isolation, living in the mansion of a wealthy person who has employed him as a gardener. At the beginning of the film, Chance’s benefactor dies; after an awkward visit from a pair of lawyers, who shut down the home, Chance leaves the estate for the first time in his life. All he knows of the world (apart from gardening) is through watching television, which he does compulsively. He has no social skills, although he’s soft-spoken and eager not to start trouble. When he winds up in the home of a dying presidential adviser, Chance is mistaken for a socialite, and his blank discourse is accepted as political wisdom by a number of important people, including the president.
Adapted from a novel by Jerzy Kosinski, Being There is clearly a statement about the malign influence of television in American life. Chance is the product of TV, and he finds his apotheosis there—first when the president quotes him during a press conference (wrongly assuming Chance’s aphorism about gardening to be about the U.S. economy), then on a late-night talk show, where his laconic shyness is mistaken for wit. Television has made him a passive consumer of images, someone who doesn’t want to interact with others. Yet in a culture dominated by television, he fits right in. Consider the way Sellers’s costars (such as Jack Warden, Shirley MacLaine, and Melvyn Douglas, who won an Academy Award for his work here) play off him: they pretend that Chance knows what he’s talking about, then respond with a kindness and faux-understanding that makes them feel better about themselves. He’s a mirror for their own emptiness and desire not to upset people.
The President’s on-air citation of Chance’s nonwisdom can be read as a metaphor for any time that televisual blandness has overtaken genuine thought in modern politics. Kosinski, who left communist Poland to become a writer in the U.S., saw how political discourse could be replaced by empty sloganeering; he also saw the potential for that in his adopted country. Many have called Being There, both the book and the film, a premonition of the Reagan revolution, which came to power, in part, on the strength of Reagan’s ability to communicate on TV. The deathlike air of the film certainly connotes the end of something big, while the humor comments on the timeless human desire to be deceived by something that sounds good. These opposing elements give Being There an enduring complexity, although sometimes it’s too bleak in its outlook to be laugh-out-loud funny. MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: Bouncing his young daughter on his knee, or at work in his studio, Mr. Lynch is less cryptic in this film directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm than in the 2007 documentary “Lynch.” Mr. Lynch charts the shift from an idyllic early childhood in Idaho to a darker period after a family move to Virginia. He repeatedly credits the encouragement of the artist Bushnell Keeler and he calls Philadelphia, where he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, a city that would “suck your happiness away and fill you with sadness and fear.” (Images of his paintings and a rumbling Lynchian score infuse even his folksiest utterances with a sense of menace.) MORE
FRESH AIR: Chicago illustrator Emil Ferris has always be fascinated by monsters. As a kid, she would watch werewolf movies and find herself sympathizing with the wolf. Now 55, she’s recently published her first graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. “I always felt like [monsters] were kind of heroic because they were facing something,” Ferris tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “Becoming a monster sometimes isn’t a choice that you have. We’re all that; we’re all ‘the other’ in one way or another.” Set in 1968, Ferris’ novel is rendered as a sketchbook that belongs to a 10-year-old girl, Karen, who loves horror movies and who thinks of herself — and draws herself — as a werewolf. The novel deals with the figurative and literal horrors of Karen’s life, including the murder of her elderly neighbor, Anka, who was a Holocaust survivor. Ferris began writing and drawing My Favorite Thing Is Monsters after she was bitten by a mosquito that infected her with West Nile virus. The virus left her paralyzed, but eventually she regained some use of her right hand and learned to draw again by duct-taping a quill pen to her hand. Ferris now walks with the help of a cane. Looking back, she says the book never would have been written had she not contracted West Nile. “The experience really coalesced my ferocity around regaining the ability to draw and walk and live and create,” she says. “It became clear to me that it was much more important … to do the best that I could and give something to the world.” MORE
FRESH AIR: When President Trump came into office, President Obama warned him that the growingthreat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs were likely to be the most urgent problem he would confront. That’s according to our guest, New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger, who’s been reporting on the North Korean nuclear threat. Sanger says
the regime is getting closer to being able to launch a nuclear weapon that could reach American shores. And now the U.S. is resorting to cyberattacks to try and undermine the North Korean missile program. Sanger also reported on the U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program with the computer worm known as Stuxnet. That’s described in his book “Confront And Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars And Surprising Use Of American Power.” David Sanger has written for The New York Times for 30 years and has worked on two teams that won Pulitzer Prizes. MORE