The Uncommon Bonds of Common Rotation

 

Aquarian Weekly 11/28/11
Buzz

THE UNCOMMON BONDS OF COMMON ROTATION
Discovering the Truth in Lying with a Rare Folk Trio

I am riding shotgun in a rented van crawling up Fourth Avenue with Common Rotation, a road weary L.A. folk trio who has taken a one-day respite from supporting the Indigo Girls’ American tour to back their favorite songwriter on a stopover in New York. The songwriter, Dan Bern, is not only one of the genre’s most prolific composers and thus the band’s hero and mentor, but also its neighbor – along with Bern’s fellow movie soundtrack songster, Mike Viola (Walk Hard and Get Him To The Greek), who lives a few doors down. For the moment, Bern is sprawled in the back amongst the instruments and duffel bags playing scrabble on his smart phone; a touring ritual that I discover later over Indian food has been going on for months between himself and members of CR no matter where they are or the hour of the day or night.

Common Rotation

A mere five minutes have passed since our hurried salutations in front of Joe’s Pub near Astor Place, where the band would be playing a set before joining Bern on stage later in the evening. Normally, this would not be enough time to engage in a furious deconstruction of the Woody Allen film canon; the sudden cross-dialogue of which evokes a zeal usually found in the company of old acquaintances.

Crimes & Misdemeanors is the best Woody Allen movie,” pronounces the stout 34 year-old driver, Jordan Katz, Common Rotation’s all-purpose multi-tasker. Katz’s proficiency on trumpet and banjo, something he claims he picked up when the band wouldn’t let him play bass anymore, is only outdone by his more than credible maneuvering through rush hour traffic. His bemused smile and nifty tie and vest ensemble belies an almost wicked sense that his vehement choice of Woody film is not altogether serious.

A voice from behind intones, “Adam loves Celebrity!” The Adam in question is 33 year-old Adam Busch, a slight, enigmatic soul with a penchant to appear almost cranky enough to be lovable. Later, while riding in an elevator, I proffer that if I were in a band it would be Common Rotation, he leans dramatically toward me and whispers, “Run away…fast!”

Of course Celebrity, a film lampooning the Hollywood bullshit machine made by a New York wise guy, would fit Busch’s idiom as part-time actor. When informed that he looked so familiar that I was forced to remember him from an episode of the cult TV show, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, where he played a nerd villain, (he’s also played, among others, roles in “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House”) Busch sardonically replies, “Yeah, well, everyone has met someone who looks like me.”

As we quite literally run through everything Woody from Hannah and Her Sisters to Match Point, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Love & Death (Bern’s favorite) and of course Annie Hall, a nearly apologetic voice chimes in with, “C’mon, Manhattan.” And with that, the 33 year-old soft-spoken, bespectacled, Eric Kufs enters the fray.

One gets the feeling that this kind of stuff (chatting up relative strangers before donning instruments, clearing throats and whipping off a few ditties) happens routinely for CR; moving from one subject to another with the kind of ease in which they traverse the country, one town and one rented van at a time.

Kufs, guitarist and part-time handler of dobro (lap-slide) duties, and Busch, whose musical expertise ranges impressively from sax, harmonica and glockenspiel, begin engaging in a rapid-fire Woody Allen joke-off. I am, for the purpose of full disclosure, partly responsible for this mess, so I gladly join in.

This lively back and forth goes on for twenty or so blocks and a couple of avenues as Common Rotation heads up to the offices of a rock magazine to play live with Bern for a podcast. One gets the feeling that this kind of stuff (chatting up relative strangers before donning instruments, clearing throats and whipping off a few ditties) happens routinely for CR; moving from one subject to another with the kind of ease in which they traverse the country, one town and one rented van at a time.

It is how it is done the old-fashioned way; plugging a new record, as is God Keeps an Open Gallery, the band’s fourth and latest full-length offering.

Open Gallery unfurls much like my short time with the band, familiar and lively; as if you’ve discovered something new that sounds as comfortable as your most well-worn albums. There are teary ballads and gospel sirens, upbeat sing-a-longs and tender instrumentals, and across them all an enviable string of memorable melodies swept along on beds of wonderful three-part harmonies. Every note, Katz tells me, was rehearsed and recorded in the band’s living room.

“For some of the tunes, I was set up in my bedroom with the banjo, while Adam would be across the house laying down harmonica in his, and Eric was in the living room playing guitar. We’d just sort of roll out of bed, put on headphones, and start playing.”

The romantic notion of sharing suburban Los Angeles digs – Katz describes it as a sprawling California house, circa 1906, once owned by Gloria Swanson – brewing up the morning café, yawning out the cobwebs and getting down to making music together is not lost on Busch.

“Every one of our songs is basically a search for truth,” he says proudly. “I feel like you’re supposed to experience real things for people. I take it as a responsibility to share the experience with the audience. I would hope our live shows are always expressions of those little private moments that are sometimes forced to play out in public. There is nothing more fascinating than a couple breaking up at the next table or a man going through a crisis in an elevator; you’re invested in the wellness of that individual. Isn’t that where love starts, really?”

This search for truth is manifested in two of Open Gallery’s first three songs, the aptly named, “It’s a Wonderful Lie” and “A Reasonable Lie”, both written by Kufs and Busch respectfully, and stark reminders that the search could be something of a chore. This not-so coincidental reminder is on the heels of the band’s previous full-length studio recording and de facto title of its web site; Common Rotation is a Lie.

So what’s all this infatuation with the truth?

“All storytelling is a lie,” Kufs weighs in. “It’s always from one perspective. Even the most even-handed documentary is going to be in some sense coming from its own perspective. So to get to the whole truth is in itself a wonderful lie. Adam’s song deals with what we have to tell ourselves or our friends and lovers that gets us through; a reasonable lie.”

Dan Bern & Common Rotation“We all bring ideas in,” Busch adds. “Eric will come in with something and we’ll play around with it, and then Jordan might add a part, or I’ll have a lyric or musical idea. It’s a group effort, but Eric is the driving force behind Common Rotation.”

Kufs returns volley by making sure I understand that the trio’s relationship, as friends and fellow musicians, is an advantage to his compositions. “I know which of my songs will be for the band,” he states emphatically. “Because I know what everyone can bring to them and I don’t have to say much. After all this time, they know what I’m trying to achieve, what emotion, what theme.”

Open Gallery is by each member’s measure, the most complete vision of Common Rotation, yet the album is replete with guest appearances from the aforementioned Indigo Girls, which Kufs makes sure to mention are “the most supportive and giving artists and friends”. Contributions also include They Might Be Giants’ Marty Bellar and Daniel Weinkauf, neighbors, Dan Bern and Mike Viola, among others.

This atmosphere of the creative give-and-take provides the tracks of Open Gallery a sense of proper contemplation; craftsmen at work, selecting the right mood for a song, the requisite accompaniment, the singular phrasing.

“It was the economic realities of touring that brought us to this self-contained sound,” Busch admits. “We didn’t want to create something that the three of us couldn’t perform on stage. We forced ourselves to enhance what Eric was doing on guitar, whether it’s me and Jordon on trumpet and saxophone or adding the glockenspiel as an undercurrent. That’s why for the first time I think this record is a proper representation of what and who were are. I used to have to explain our records, but I just hand it to someone now and say, ‘This is us’.”

This type of “closing ranks” to produce an insular, singular sound that translates “the truth” of the band can only come from a comfort level provided by a solid background, relationships forged in youth and developed somewhere between the thick and the thin; the story of Common Rotation.

For Common Rotation, this is the place where it breathes, a true band, a gathering of talents presenting its wares; old-fashioned, uncommon, familiar.

The band originated first in friendship and then an uncommon bond in musical talent. Hailing from the same neighborhood in East Meadow, Long Island, crossing paths at Little League in middle school to sharing an admiration for Elvis Costello, especially Kufs and Busch, led to a songwriting kinship, a developed sound, and the obligatory local gigs.

Soon, Busch’s acting career led the band to relocate to California, which brought about an expansion of the act in the famed Living Room tours of its early days when CR literally played at people’s homes, captured in Peter Stass’ documentary, How To Lose, which chronicles the trio’s protest of Clear Channel’s monopoly on the musical touring market. A more old-fashioned route of record promotion is hard to duplicate, unless one mentions the ingenious concept of Union Maid, wherein the band set up a web site to post new songs for fans to download for free. This gave birth to an Internet fund-drive to help the band complete the recording of Open Gallery.

This may be why a reluctant swoon into maturity, a strange seduction with materialism and the constant specter of mortality creeps into what Common Rotation believes is its best work; close childhood friends playing, struggling, growing together as a movable feast for twenty years.

Finally arriving at the magazine on 29th street, the band uncoils like a machine; instruments out, tuning up, the voices warmed and ready. Bern counts off and it is as sudden as the Woody Allen debate in the van or the ease with which Scrabble bounces off cyberspace; four voices meshing beneath Bern’s staccato lead. “I just nod at these guys and they go,” Bern recounts when I marvel at the relative comfort in which CR melds into his back-up unit.

Much later, on stage at Joe’s Pub, the picture is complete; the rushing around, grabbing meals-on-the-run, the seat-of-the-pants Scrabble fades beneath the polished sheen of the music. They put it all on display, the “private moments” in song and dialogue; witty, wistful and harkening to the days of dust bowl troubadours or vaudeville shtick; all of it as real as any lie.

For Common Rotation, this is the place where it breathes, a true band, a gathering of talents presenting its wares; old-fashioned, uncommon, familiar.

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Eric Hutchinson: The Thin White Jukebox

Aquarian Weekly 6/20/11 Buzz

THE THIN WHITE JUKEBOX
Eric Hutchinson Hits The Throwback Road

Eric Hutchinson makes albums like guideposts, allowing him to check out where he’s been and where’s he’s going. The 31 year-old singer/songwriter has spent the last three years since his debut studio effort, Sounds Like This reflecting on his maturation as an artist and life as a rising star, and the results are found on the infectiously soulful and auspiciously titled, Moving Up/Living Down. Loaded with rock-solid melodies and rib-sticking rhythms, every track on Hutchinson’s latest tour de force is more than a collection of songs; it is quite literally a soundtrack for a high-energy stage show that is fully realized on his current 41-city American tour.

Eric Hutchinson

“I was thinking a lot about the live show when I was writing songs for this record,” Hutchinson explains from a quiet hotel room in Ames, Iowa before his show at Iowa State. “Having been on the road for a few years now and wishing I had written something to take the energy to somewhere else, it was fun to write a song like ‘The Basement’ and then see how it lets the band and the audience get there.”

Through the prism of what appears on repeated listens as a living homage to the best of the Atlantic, Stax and Motown sides of the Sixties, Moving Up/Living Down spans the rhythm and blues genre from every angle, to the rousing Isley Brothers meets Sam & Dave driving rat-ta-tat-tat of “The Basement”, which lyrically pays tribute to among others, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson in a raucous tale of heading down to where they “really wanna to rock and roll” to the bouncing vocal elasticity of “The People I Know”, which rings the Stevie Wonder bell as well as it can be rung.

“It’s always been in there,” Hutchinson says when asked about his playfully derivative approach. “I kind of describe myself as a soul singer at this point, because ‘soul singing’ is so much about having it come from inside, that gut feeling, and that’s what I’m looking for when I’m writing songs.

“A lot of what this album is for me is coming to grips with what I am rather than what I’d love to be as a singer,” cites Hutchinson. “I love The Strokes, but I’m never going to be Julian Casablancas and I’m okay with that. I’m comfortable being me, processing my influences and having it come out through my own filter.”

Hutchinson has always been a student of song styles and uses his education well on Moving Up/Living Down, as he flirts with Todd Rundgren smooth in “I’m Not Cool” and channels a 1983 version of Prince for “Living in the Afterlife”. Yet these well-crafted compositions are no mere imitations. There is something wholly original and 21st century to Hutchinson’s stripped down approach, which he honed while building his career entirely solo on piano and acoustic guitar.

It’s what Hutchinson described to me in 2006 as “acoustic soul” after I sought him out following a stirring opening stint for Joe Jackson in New York City followed by a successful residency at the Cutting Room later that year. Hutchinson, a slave to the boogie in his head, used his instruments as percussive foundations, strumming or bouncing off the keys to keep the beat and allowing his vocal arrangements to soar above it. It was a natural evolution to his throwback flirtations so prevalent on Moving Up/Living Down as well as its predecessor, Sounds Like This (2007), a truly masterful pop effort. But to his credit, Hutchinson did not merely rest on his well-earned laurels.

“The big thing for me when I was just starting out I would think; ‘If I could just get to this spot, I’ll be happy – play this venue or sell this many records’, and as things began to go well for me I realized it’s a moving target, there isn’t just ‘this place’, there is no end. You just got to keep goin’, I guess.”

Sounds Like This was written as a solo musician and I got guys to play on it,” Hutchinson recalls. “This time I knew I’d be working with a band and it changed my approach, and now I’m excited about people seeing the show. It’s really hummin’, more and more energy, and I’m especially excited for someone like yourself who saw me do the old show, ’cause I’m still trying to find ways to have that personality come through, but also make it be a rock show.”

Two weeks later at the Highline Ballroom on the south-end of Chelsea, Hutchinson and his band – Andrew Perusi on bass, drummer, Steven Robinson and Elliott Blaufuss on keyboards and guitar – proved his point; from the opening fanfare and grand entrance announcement to song after song of heavy funk, sly soul and a wry wink at several forms of reggae, accentuated at two intervals when taking turns at The Beatles, “Obla-Di, Obla-Da” and Sublime’s “Santeria”. Rather than merely performing, something he aimed for after spending his time during the writing of the album attending concerts by stalwarts, Bruce Springsteen and Prince, Hutchinson looked passionately joyful, a wide-eyed boy aghast that this was all hitting home.

As promised, along with playing every one of his most popular numbers, including the inescapably hummable, “Rock & Roll”, the head-bobbing, “OK, It’s Alright with Me”, and the cleverly structured, “All Over Now”, Hutchinson chided the audience (when a young woman shouted, “I love you!”, Hutchinson began asking her if that’s such a healthy thing to get involved with someone that he hasn’t met and already loved him; “That’s gonna be a strange first date!”) and spun touching tales about playing for change in Union Square in 2001. “Where the fuck were you guys back then?” he asked, smiling.

All the while, as I leaned against the top step of the waitress stand and glanced over the packed house of bouncing heads, I could swear, especially after a wise quip or classic “Hutch” tongue-in-cheek comment, I saw Hutchinson look over to me and smirk, as if to silently say, “I told you so.”

The audience was treated to one moment of ‘the old show’, as Hutchinson removed the veil of inspiration and went right to the source, strumming out a beautifully tapered rendition of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears”.

Moving Up/Living DownWhich brings us back to Moving Up/Living Down, which, according to random e-mail updates Hutchinson regaled me with throughout the process over the past year was not only a gradual evolution from burgeoning club act to legitimate pop star, it was a painstaking battle to find the right musical mix, something he achieved after a random encounter with an industry legend.

“I pretty much had the entire record done and then I had this chance meeting with Quincy Jones,” recalls Hutchinson. “We were at this charity event and they made him sit with me in a VIP section for a few minutes, and I couldn’t let the chance go by without asking him about all the stuff he had done, Thriller in particular, and he said, ‘When we had Thriller finished we picked the five best songs and we threw everything else out and found four more good songs.’ And I thought that was a great idea and went back and tried to dig deeper and make the songs be as good as possible, and one of those became “Watching You Watch Him”.

The first single off the record, “Watching You Watch Him” is Hutchinson at his lyrical best; playing the lovable loser in what he calls an “F’d up lover’s triangle where no one is happy.”

It was Hutchinson’s self-effacing lyrics that first drew me to his work and many of the songs on Moving Up/Living Down center on the irony of maturing or growing in a fish bowl of constant touring. “I had to get off the road and back to reality in New York where no one cares who you are,” laughs Hutchinson.

“I’m Not Cool”, “The People I Know” Best Days of Our Lives” illustrate that all this maturing and growing has him ending up in an emotion cul de sac. In the ska-fueled and strikingly honest, “Not There Yet” the message is more direct, to the point where his “I’m getting there, but I’m not there yet” refrain sounds eerily like he’s singing “not dead yet,” as if the protagonist is fighting the process.

Hutchinson concluded our conversation by slightly disagreeing with my assessment. It’s not so much fighting, as surrendering. “It’s about being infinitely more happy thinking about things circularly rather than linearly. The big thing for me when I was just starting out I would think; ‘If I could just get to this spot, I’ll be happy – play this venue or sell this many records’, and as things began to go well for me I realized it’s a moving target, there isn’t just ‘this place’, there is no end. You just got to keep goin’, I guess.”

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Dick Wagner: Invisible Virtuoso

Aquarian Weekly
5/9/12 Buzz

THE INVISIBLE VIRTUOSO
Guitar Legend Dick Wagner Bears His Soul in New Memoir

In a 1975 interview, conducted when he was musical arranger, band leader and co-lead guitarist for rock legend, Alice Cooper’s record-breaking Welcome to my Nightmare world tour, Dick Wagner, then 33 years-old, told the New Musical Express; “I don’t personally give a shit about being a star; I just want to be a good guitar player. But if that means becoming a star then I’ll become one on a natural basis. I go on pure gut feeling; I was invited to play on Bowie’s tour, but I turned it down even though I really liked David, because it didn’t feel right. One thing I’ll never do is let this business make me crazy. I always try to pace myself when I’m on the road, and when I get some time off I go hang out with my friends and have nothin’ to do with any of it.”

Dick Wagner

Nearly 40 years later, approaching 70, Wagner has never changed his tune about being a star, which he achieved divergently through a lasting respect from rabid rock fans and industry insiders, especially fellow musicians, and long surpassed being a good guitar player throughout a career filled with incredible high and lows. The part about the business not making him crazy, however, was a little more difficult. Serious life threatening and relationship damaging sexual and drug addictions were a constant undercurrent to one of rock’s most compelling arcs.

It is all well documented – dark reflections, humorous anecdotes and insightful memories – in Wagner’s tightly presented memoir, Not Only Women Bleed, titled after one of his most memorable compositions, the achingly poignant, “Only Women Bleed”, a song most known, as many of Wagner’s best work, for someone else.

“I tried to avoid bragging on myself in this book,” Wagner explains, sitting comfortably in his desert home in Arizona. His voice, ragged from years of smoke, drink, and vocal shredding, still evokes the rough affect of his Detroit youth. “It would have been easier to bullshit, but people can read through that. It’s just a story of a human life. I mean, the things that happened to me are unique because they happened to me, but they could have happened to anyone.”

A survivor of serious drug exploits and, more recently, surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain, Wagner humbly reminisces about the days when he was best known for being one of the top studio and touring guitar sidemen in the world; asked to lead international tours for Alice Cooper, jump-starting Lou Reed’s solo live career and subbing on lead guitar (in some cases un-credited) for Aerosmith’s Joe Perry (Get Your Wings) and KISS’s Ace Frehley (Destroyer). His songwriting partnership with Alice Cooper, who in his heartfelt preface to the book, once filed Wagner under “guitar players I’d like to steal”, produced some of the most theatrical tracks of the era and hit ballads like “Only Women Bleed”, “I Never Cry”, “You and Me”, and “How You Gonna See Me Now?”

Yet many rock fans would fail to pick him out of a line-up.

“I’m an artist and have been since I started doing this,” Wagner insists. “For me, it’s about playing well and doing different projects and being able to handle all these different kinds of music and being able to play something great every time. That was my goal… always.”

A studio engineer who, before working with Wagner for the first time in the mid-Seventies, idly queried if he was as good as advertised to famed producer, Bob Ezrin, who used Wagner either exclusively or strategically on most of his projects. Ezrin simply raised his eyebrows and said, “He’ll play, you’ll hear, you’ll know.”

“I’m an artist and have been since I started doing this,” Wagner insists. “For me, it’s about playing well and doing different projects and being able to handle all these different kinds of music and being able to play something great every time. That was my goal…always.”

As if there were a red emergency phone always near-by, Wagner recounts his guitar gun slinging days when he could get a call at any time from either coast and have to be ready to perform on records that were huge hits; “Sometimes I would know a couple of days ahead about a session, and sometimes, like for instance with Aerosmith, I got the call when I was sitting in my apartment at The Plaza, grabbed my guitar and went down to the studio.” Then, after absorbing the track, under pressure and with a looming minute-by-minute deadline, Wagner would sit in a corner and craft his part. “My philosophy in playing on somebody else’s record was get inside and learn the song and treat your guitar playing as an extension of what the melody of the song is and the mood, the attitude of the song; staying, of course, within the confines of what the chord changes are. There are limitations, but you also have complete freedom when they just give you a spot and say, ‘Go for it’, you got a chance then to come up with something that will be lasting.”

Wagner’s whirlwind rock and roll life, as depicted in is his book, was a rollercoaster ride of dizzying proportions. None of it – the women, the hijinks, the bizarre to the sublime – is left out. The reader is invited backstage and on stage, riding on the tour buses, cavorting in the hotel rooms and sequestered inside the studios, while also crawling through an addict’s shadow of desperation and amazingly find a guiding light.

Not Only Women Bleed harkens back to the burgeoning Detroit rock scene filled with the who’s who of late-Sixties and early Seventies pioneers of what champion rock critic, Lester Bangs once dubbed “the rattly clankings” of blue-collar, assembly-line heavy metal; Iggy and the Stooges, Grand Funk Railroad, the MC5, Ted Nugent and more. Wagner’s slick leads and becoming a master composer of both blistering jams and tender ballads penned for such local acts as The Frost and Ursa Major earned him the repudiation of guitar virtuoso, jumping into difficult back-up band jobs to expand the primacy of the stars.

Rock n' Roll AnimalThe best example being the searing duel-guitar suite that opens Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” with fellow guitar great, Steve Hunter that appears on the classic live album Rock and Roll Animal, which inspired a generation of axemen. According to reports at the time, Reed was so jealous of the glowing press and wild accolade from concertgoers directed towards Wagner and Hunter he sacked the entire band. The record went gold, prompting RCA to release second volume, Lou Reed Live a year later, which lead Wagner and Hunter, along with Reed’s entire touring band, to lend its magic to the new Alice Cooper solo project and its ensuing massive tour.

When asked to describe the guitar as if it were a seminal relationship in his life, much like he does with all of his friends and colleagues in the pages of Not Only Women Bleed, Wagner does not hesitate. “It’s really like a lifelong marriage with a woman who is your soul mate, who is always there for you and you always carry her with you in your heart. I used to sleep with my guitar. I don’t mean sex. I used to take it to bed with me, so that if I woke up in the middle of the night I could play it. I had a boom box I kept beside the bed and I had these tapes with backing tracks for the blues and lie there in bed for hours and play guitar to it. That’s how I learned how to play, to completely involve myself in it. It’s like a marriage. It’s the two of you; a way to hide, express yourself and go outward. It can become all things. The guitar has been that important to me.”

But although defined by the instrument, if not secretly becoming among the best guitarists of his generation, Wagner’s story is that of survival, both personal and professional. Even in the midst of recovery from brain surgery in 2011, he worked on two songs for Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, the sequel to his and Wagner’s collaborative 1975 masterpiece. And as Wagner reflects now, as he does in Not Only Women Bleed, the long, hard but rewarding road can lead to better places; “When I wrote the last chapter of the book in recovery from brain surgery, it was a completely cathartic moment in my life and it really made me feel kinder, closer to humanity. It very much was a bearing of my soul. Without sounding pretentious, I have to say I understood something lying in that hospital that I never understood before.”

Wagner’s unique rock and roll journey is a touchstone in American music history, even if much of it has been behind the scenes or inside the hub of creativity, and it is about time it receives its due.

But for Wagner, he can take it or leave it. For him, it is the camaraderie, the inventive pursuits and his beloved instrument that has fueled him and the pages of his fine book all these years later.

“I received a lot of ‘non-credit’ credits and some attention over the years, but my favorite may be one time when I took my sons to see Aerosmith at the San Antonio Convention Center,” Wagner fondly recalls. “Steven Tyler put his arm around me in front of all those people backstage and said, ‘This is the guy who helped us sell three million records’. I really appreciate that more than anything.”

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Why The Fuck Isn’t Kiss In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Aquarian Weekly 10/6/10 REALITY CHECK

WHY THE FUCK ISN’T KISS IN THE ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME? or Why The Hell Is There a Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame In The First Place?

Boys, I’m not gonna go on and on about this fucking spirit shit. I’ll talk about the blues and influences and how I dig you guys and bing-bam-boom, I’ll be out of there. It’s just fucking rock n’ roll, after all. – Keith Richards to the members of ZZ Top backstage at the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Committee (whatever the hell that is), has seen fit to nominate Alice Cooper, sixteen years after his, or if you prefer the band to the character, its eligibility. This makes what is already an abject mockery of what even the most casual observer of the genre would consider downright silly.Kiss Alive! For those of us who cherish its everlasting effect on our souls, it is an insult. After all, The Coop, an icon and creative pioneer in 1970s hard rock, is as influential to rock and roll history as Elvis Presley and his Caucasian-hijacking of an African-American invention is to the ’50s, The Beatles and its image-driven cultural phenomenon is to the ’60s, Madonna and her sexually-charged chameleon star-trip is to the 80s’, and the spit-in-the-face of all that is holy Nirvana in the ’90s.

For several decades, Alice Cooper was a drunken, spiteful, sloppy, defiant, obscene, deafening burlesque freak show that cared less for anything healthy and descent than anyone or anything imaginable; or as he put it to me in this magazine last year, “You couldn’t have a rock and roll drama without a villain.” That, my friends, is rock and roll in a nutshell. Refusing to recognize that impugns any point of celebrating it.

Shit, anyone failing to list “School’s Out” in their Top Ten of most on-the-money rock and roll songs has no fucking clue what the entire rock and roll trip is about; or more likely the case in the realm of the high-brow geeks running this vapid dog & pony show in Cleveland, got off the train with anything post-Traffic.

Turns out Cooper’s drinking buddy, Jim Morrison was right about handing the rebel stick over to the Madison Avenue suits and Hollywood posers who would likely render whatever erect pecker or moist pussy it manifested into a flaccid, dried up twat.

Keith Richards, the godfather of all that is modern rock and roll, and the man for whom even death recoils in horror, would concur. At least if you judge it from the look of a man who’d worked his ass off concocting an outlaw life of violent upheaval and massive substance abuse into gorgeous riffs of heavenly power only to be dumped in his waning years headlong into presenting goddamned ZZ Top to a bunch of gut-sagging, hair-thinned cretins posing as rock critics boozing beside the putrid gaggle of industry turds dressed for prom night.

Video evidence of the event shows Keith looking sick to his stomach and cackling like a hyena at the absurdity of his mission, and doing it right in the heavily-bearded faces of the band he was to induct into this laughing stock of an embalming center.

Keith and Jimmy Morrison knew what those of us who ever cared for rock and roll know; Alice Cooper is the real deal; whether the “keepers of the flame” deign to admit it or not. The Coop and his band kicked the ass and took the names to the tune of record numbers when they ruled the world, and there was a time when they sure as hell did. For a few years no one manipulated our wicked zeitgeist or exploited its most precious disgust better than Alice Cooper.

The only act that even comes close is Kiss. And guess what? Kiss has never even been nominated.

Kiss.

The biggest-selling live act in the history of rock and roll, which not only emerged full-fledged from the gloriously outlandish Alice Cooper excess-driven, shock-treatment womb, but also liberated the genre from its deadening artsy-fartsy, late-sixties to early-seventies jam-band, self-indulgence — predating the usually lauded Bruce Springsteen and the soon-to-seek vengeance of Punk.

Sorry if condescending scribes at the hippie journalists’ convention thumb their coke-addled noses at it, but Kiss stomped the terra without regret and didn’t beg your permission.

Kiss is rock and roll, as much as Parliament is funk, the Bee Gees disco, Michael Jackson pop and Joni Mitchell folk, all of whom have already been inducted into this so-called HOF.

Kiss was, and stupefying still is theater, pomp and bombast; a distorted blitzkrieg off-spring of a Jerry Lee Lewis piano assault, a Jimi Hendrix guitar fire, The Who’s instrumental auto-destruction, an Iggy Pop chest carving, and whatever crazy crap Peter Gabriel or Frank Zappa ever dreamed up. Grease paint, pyrotechnics, leather, and juvenile odes to sex and mayhem are a recipe for rock and roll greatness, and yet for some reason it is trumped by The Pretenders, Fleetwood Mac, and REM — all acts I enjoy and certainly belong in whatever goofy palaver dinosaurs like Jann Wenner fabricate these days, but not at the exclusion of motherfucking Kiss.

I’m sorry, kids, nothing that aforementioned trio produced approaches the anthemic core of the rock and roll gut like “Rock N’ Roll All Nite”, never mind the brilliant fist-pump of “Detroit Rock City”.

Recently a friend, while speaking of his time in Cleveland, asked if I’d visited the HOF museum. To which I followed with a twenty-minute diatribe culminating in the notion that any such asinine endeavor calling itself a rock and roll institution (whatever the hell that is) and claiming to celebrate those whose fame is worthy of its blessed enshrinement, but yet so completely incapable of seeing the worth and testament of titans like Kiss, is nothing I need to see. It’s akin to going to a pizzeria and getting served celery.

And let’s be honest, the entire concept of having a shrine or snobbish observance of rock & roll is antithetical to everything the damn art form stands for in the first place, and second, and most disturbing, is it confirms what purist caretaker, Lester Bangs predicted and oft-times celebrated as its demise propagated by the over-intellectualizing arrogance of the “rock critic elite”.

Barely aware of the comings and goings of something as moronically feckless as a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I was unaware as recently as a week ago that neither Alice Cooper nor Kiss had been included, yet the very bands they helped launch, specifically Van Halen and AC/DC, waltzed in before them. This seemed beyond ludicrous, until I saw the roll call of acts that have preceded their groundbreaking, hit-making, record-smashing concert-receipt resume.

Metallica? Without Alice Cooper and Kiss, where is Metallica beyond a garage in suburban San Francisco? But then at least it’s a rock band, unlike folkie Pete Seeger, gospel queen Mahalia Jackson, soul master Curtis Mayfield, torch song goddess Billie Holiday, crooner Nat “King” Cole, country outlaw Johnny Cash, or for the sake of the Christ, The O’Jays, Jelly Roll Morton, , Brenda Lee, Bill Willis & His Texas Playboys, or fucking Bob Seger.

Bob fucking Seger? What’s next Barry Manilow and Bread?

When Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were playing backyard barbecues in Gainesville and Elvis Costello was learning to snarl with horn-rimmed glasses, Kiss was plowing through America and everywhere making noxious rip-roaring cacophony — making movies, starring in comic books, and turning pop culture sideways.

Sorry if condescending scribes at the hippie journalists’ convention thumb their coke-addled noses at it, but Kiss stomped the terra without regret and didn’t beg your permission.

Oh, and this year’s nominees — alongside the long-overlooked Alice and in place of Kiss? Dr. John, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Donavan, and Donna Summer.

I rest my case.

 

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Rob Monte Says Good-Bye (for now)

Aquarian Weekly 9/15/10 REALITY CHECK

DEEP TANK TO WEIRD BLOOD Jersey Shore Music Icon Rob Monte Says Good-Bye (For Now)

It’s a steamy, late-afternoon on the Friday before the titular summer’s end and Robert Montesdeoca, aka Rob Monte, The Columbian Freak Boy is about to head southeast to do what he has done for the past 20 years; sing, prance and entertain over every inch of a packed barroom. He will do it as he always has; in front of a popular New Jersey rock band. He will make a lot of money for some and some for himself. It is business as usual for the grizzled stage warrior. This time, however, is different. This time will be his last. The long, rock & roll road ends for the man most know as merely Monte this Labor Day Weekend 2010. He is calling it quits after some 20 years of running amok on the famed Jersey Rock Circuit; much of it a blur and all of it chock full of what he politely calls “reckless abandon” while “feeling very comfortable playing it by the seat of my ass.”

Rob Monte“I am one-hundred percent ready” he tells me when I ask if this is truly it. “But for awhile I felt guilty saying it aloud or to anyone, because I might disappoint them.”

That’s always been the nut for Rob Monte, who took every show, hell, every song to be a long walk to the gallows, as if tomorrow was a rumor and squeezing every last inch of a Saturday night meant a little bit more than everything.

There is weird blood running in the man’s veins, much of it tainted with alcohol and the gripping fear that someone in his presence might not be having the time of their lives. It’s a rough gig spending nearly an entirety of an adult life convincing audiences that infinite merriment is tangible while the clock has other ideas.

“It was a unique period,” he exhales, before packing his kitbag of lunacy for one last go-round, two-decades of memory working its way through the fog. “Beer funnels? You can’t do that in clubs anymore, bro! People think that was the dark ages — hundreds of people smoking in clubs? The drinking and driving? The complete chaos?”

His voice cackles over the phone line and it sends a chill down my spine. I have heard that laugh before, a broken gravel of a coughing guffaw, fused with a kind of mischief that knows soon there will be danger afoot. “Whatever the formula was, it worked,” he admits with confidence. “Even with everyone trying to reel me in, there I was deep in some Irish drinking contest off stage, while the band figured it out.”

And the “figuring out” is what made the incredible professionals Monte has played with over the years so fascinating. There are far too many to name here, but know they are brave subjects in an improbable conquering horde of weekend marauders just the same.

“The bands? Four sober guys following along, hanging with me, I want to thank all of them. Thank them or apologize!” Monte laughs, but then there is a serious shift to his tone. “Hey, there was trouble sometimes, but once the club read the register they’d forgive us.”

Monte’s story is hardly unique. It is but one of thousands played out across this great land, where somewhere tonight there are hard-bitten dreamers tossing about elusive glories in cover tunes and original numbers; piano troubadours and harp-mouthed folkies and jazz cats and sing-song beauties putting on one more show for one more dollar and one more round of applause. But here in New Jersey, when a man steps down from his well-earned throne as King of Long Beach Island, it is pretty big news. For the mythical, radical, hysterical place I once called Clubland in my book, Deep Tank Jersey, it is monumental.

As far as icons go, if there is such an animal trolling the sordid corridors once inhabited by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, Rob Monte sure as hell is. He has fronted several bands of varying degrees of reputation and earning power for the past two decades, the most lucrative and history making is DogVoices, the birth of which during its most lavishly successful summer is depicted in the aforementioned book by yours truly. Therefore, Monte’s swansong is also a somewhat selfish personal tribute for this space. It can be argued that without Deep Tank Jersey and the wild events of the summer of 1995, the access and honesty of the original five members of DogVoices, and all those clubs and roadies and fans and wonderfully colorful hangers-on, there may not be a Reality Check News & Information Desk.

There is weird blood running in the man’s veins, much of it tainted with alcohol and the gripping fear that someone in his presence might not be having the time of their lives. It’s a rough gig spending nearly an entirety of an adult life convincing audiences that infinite merriment is tangible while the clock has other ideas.

So blame the whole damn thing on Monte, who was foolish enough to allow the sordid tale of young men treading the floorboards from Atlantic City to Clifton to be recorded for posterity.

Lord knows it is hard for me to believe a word of it today, and I wrote the damn thing. Worse still, I lived it. Barely. Like most of the poor souls who stepped into a Jersey Rock Club looking for a good time but were assaulted with a strange combination of burlesque and mud wrestling soaked in gallons of beer and sweat. Rob Monte the ringmaster of it all, from midnight ocean dives to launches from the odd hotel roof, impromptu strip shows and Tequila-shot binges, bar dancing and a rabble of dawn seekers thrown into the spotlight for an inch of what Monte has come to call home.

It is a home he never takes for granted as he continued to review his incredible run at a pace that would have killed several if not all other men not named Keith Richards.

“I plan on playing my last gig at the Ringside Pub in January,” he says with pride. “The owner, Bob Harper is a friend and mentor. I started there, and I should end there.”

Along with the Ringside, a modest but hopping rock venue in the hamlet of Caldwell, there is the now-defunct Wally’s and Nickel’s Alley, Wild Mike’s, the Wreck Room, and the legendary Mother’s, all of them outlasted by the unsinkable Columbian Freak Boy.

Then there is the cash cow for any serious full-time cover band; the Jersey Shore, where for 18 consecutive years Monte has plied his trade at Nardi’s, the Sea Shell and of course, Bar A. “I have to play Bar A once more in December,” Monte says. “My craziest stunts may have happened there. I broke ribs jumping off that balcony. The owner, Tom Jannarone has always been there for me.”

The center of Monte’s universe for nearly 20 years has been Long Beach Island, known to many in the tri-state area as an interesting amalgam of quiet, sunny family getaways and completely maddening midnight parties, the latter of which became the central force in an impressive career of playing popular songs of the day with a splash of carnival folly.

“The Quarterdeck, Sea Shell, Nardi’s, Joe Pop’s, you could play over four days without ever leaving the island,” Monte chuckles, as if struggling to recall earlier triumphs.

Now, placing it all into perspective, he can securely move into a fulltime career mentoring younger bands with his newly formed Monte Booking Agency, where the man himself tutors his acts to steer clear of the Monte Method.

“No way Monte could survive now,” he says, speaking in the third person as if this Monte creature is a thing of fiction. “Most of the bands I book now don’t know about the Deep Tank Jersey years. I tell them to do the opposite!”

And what about any parting words, a final stage dive or perhaps a Daffy Duck self-immolation jag?

He laughs again and sighs; “I cannot plan anything. It goes against everything I’ve done as an entertainer. So there’ll be no final song. No canned speech.”

Whatever it will be, its toll will end one part of an implausible career, close an era, and provide another reason for those who were there to recall the past.

For me, I wish good luck to my friend, a long-gone protagonist in my first published work.

And good luck to the rest of the Weird Blood who dare scour the depths of what is left of the Deep Tank.

 

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Dan Bern at City Winery 2010

 

Aquarian Weekly 7/7/10

LIVING SONGBOOK ON PARADE
An Evening with Dan Bern, City Winery

SOHO, NYC 6/19/10

There is the Dan Bern you must listen to; the storming riffs and tender shifts of progression that bed captivating melodies, all the better to ferry along the oddly profound witticism – a seemingly endless musical array of parody, satire and tribute. Then there is the one upon the stage, swaying and strumming as the quintessential portrait of a wandering troubadour – the room sufficiently primed by a raucous NYC crowd acting as the perfect chorus for his mini tragic comedies.

Dan BernWhen the prolific Bern is on his game there is really no one better in any genre. The composer of hundreds of ditties over two decades and sixteen records, jumping from folk to country to rock to whatever swims in and out of his yawning transom. He was in fine voice at the City Winery on a sultry Saturday night in the big town, donning a black vest and blue jeans, a gray cabby’s hat atop his head. The less defiant, dare I say, more mature singer-songwriter emerged anew, playing hauntingly arranged versions of his most gripping songs like “I Need You” and “One Real Thing”.

Later the performance expanded into a beautifully accompanied harmonizing romp, as Bern was ably joined by his usual touring companion, Paul Kuhn and opening act, Common Rotation, a talented Long Island trio which seemed to have been gathered together especially for a distinct performance balance of sonic comportment.

Brand new selections, most memorably the riotously clever “Osama in Obama Land” and “Talkin’ Tea Party Blues”, and old favorites, “Black Tornado”, “Breath” and of course, “Jerusalem” raised an already high bar for Bern, who is fresh off two successful songwriting jags for rock comedies, Walk Hard and Get Him To The Greek and appears to have put a new sheen on his best work.

An excellent sample of the present show, which one can only hope unfurls into a longer tour, can be found on Bern’s latest release, Dan Bern Live in Los Angeles.

Having had the pleasure to see Dan Bern ply his trade over the past eight years in every possible venue from a goddamned boat to a half-painted hotel room to political rallies, college campuses and stuffy studios, the Bowery Ball Room to Carnegie Hall, and even his own artist getaway in the desert, he has never sounded better or his songs provided a more deserving exposition than in this most recent incarnation.

The living songbook is once again a must listen and see.

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Alice Cooper: Cabaret Villain

East Coast Rocker 9/23/09 Feature

THE INDESTRUCTABLE THREE-DIMENSIONAL CABARET VILLAIN
Alice Cooper – Over Sixty, Clean & Sober, and Still Kicking Ass

Alice CooperIf a nom de plume can be an enigma, then Alice Cooper is its riddle.

He is the flash-in-the-pan that is mere months from entering a sixth decade of volume-addled irony that is best described in his memorable tune, “Guilty”, as “waking up the neighbors with a roar like a teenaged heavy metal elephant gun.” He started out in the late-sixties scaring hippies and cracking up Frank Zappa, garnered admiration from Groucho Marx and Mae West, drank with John Lennon and Jim Morrison, and broke Rolling Stones touring records on the way to literally becoming an icon.

Alice Cooper is an American original; rock and roll’s Jesse James wrapped up in Charlie Brown angst and jammed inside Dracula’s unblinking gaze. The victim and the predator, the goofball and the kingfish, he has died a thousand times on stage by the rope, the guillotine and the odd Cyclopes, only to be resurrected in time for the Muppet Show. He became Salivador Dali’s artwork and Dylan’s “great unrecognized songwriter”. Without question he’s unleashed a generation of imitators acting out an endless homage from KISS to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga.

To us seventies kids fresh from the city streets rolled into the suburban dirge, The Coop was our resonant screech of infinite rebellion. He had us with “School’s Out”, cemented our devotion with “Elected” and scared the living shit out of us with “Years Ago/Steven” – to this day I cannot smell Lemon Pledge without getting a chill up my spine, vivid memories of a pre-teen innocently polishing his dust-caked dresser in grounded exile while their haunting strains wafted from my childhood Victrola.

Thanks to this magazine, I get a crack at my man, the skinny kid from the deserts of Arizona who, with a little make-up and a cheek-planted tongue, came to embody our most beloved nightmares.

james campion: Have you ever considered your lineage to Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp in American pop culture? When you think of Chaplin’s image today, portrayed in posters or statues, it’s always the Tramp. Also, in terms of the times; how Chaplin created this hobo character, which mocked the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, the way Alice certainly lampooned the excesses of the Me Decade, as both its villain and victim.

Alice Cooper: Oh, yeah, Alice was definitely a created as an American character, and I think he started out being a victim, because I was a victim. I was an alcoholic at the time, but never recognized it. When I invented Alice I guess it was subconsciously. Alice was always stooped over, always getting killed. The press was never real favorable. For a long time there was really nobody in Alice’s corner, so I kind of created him to be that whipping boy. Later, when I became a non-alcoholic, I created Alice to be Hannibal Lecter, and suddenly a different posture, different attitude. So there were two incarnations of Alice. But yeah, I don’t see why a hundred years from now someone shouldn’t be playing Alice, like somebody playing Captain Hook.

It’s interesting hearing you refer to Alice in the third person and that sort of lends itself to the idea that you can be possessed by whatever Alice you want for the short term to make certain social comments or present ironies.

“Alice was a necessary character because you couldn’t have a rock and roll drama without a villain.”

Alice was a necessary character because you couldn’t have a rock and roll drama without a villain. I mean, there needs to be heroes, villains and victims, and Alice needed to be a visual villain. There wasn’t one personified villain in rock and roll, so I said, “Well, I will gladly be that!” And the great thing about being the villain is usually the villain has a great sense of humor.

That brings me to your many imitators over the years. It seems to me that they’ve almost always failed to display the sense of humor, irony or satirical twist that Alice brought to light. Marilyn Manson, for instance, always came across to me as an overly serious rebellious figure, but without the necessary tongue-and-cheek quality that makes for more entertainment than manifesto.

Yeah, I kept waiting for the punch line. (laughs) Now, someone with a good sense of humor is Rob Zombie. Rob’s a tattoo parlor come to life. His stuff is so animated. He has as much reverence for Bela Lugosi as he does The Munsters; the scary and the absurd. He’s like my brother. We have exactly the same sense of humor. Frank Zappa was like that. Zappa had a real sense of absurdity, for the right reasons. He understood absurdity, what cannot be explained. You look at it and it’s purely absurd for the sake of being absurd.

A British rock journalist told me years ago that especially in the rock and roll world, if it has that “What the hell is this?” quality it’s likely to be something worth listening to or watching out for. I would say that somewhat describes the Alice Cooper mission statement.

Yeah, I think so. You know the guys in the Alice Cooper band were lucky to start out in high school as art students and journalists. We were verbal and had a certain artistic way of looking at things, so when we put it in a band it suddenly came together. Maybe because of this we got the joke sooner than anybody else. I mean we were very serious about playing in a rock band and making great music, but I always saw the absurdity of it and capitalized on it. I remember the first time I read Kurt Vonnegut and went, “What is that? There’s something very funny about this, but I don’t know what it is…but I like it.” Like the first time you see Monty Python and it upsets the entire boat and you’re laughing and just really inspired by it. When the Beatles first came along I was like everybody else, I looked at them and said, “What is that?” (laughs)

Yeah, like me trapped in my bedroom listening to “Welcome To My Nightmare” on a gloomy autumn day, dusting my dresser. To this day I cannot smell Lemon Pledge without getting that same chill up my spine.

Alice Cooper(sinister chuckle) How odd is that? (laughing harder) No, I understand that. There was a certain sexual side to my life when I was a kid; every time I went into a public bathroom and smelled those little urinal cakes……Oooh, remember when everything gave you a hard-on?

Ah, that brings me to the music. For me, the finest anthems of the rock genre are “My Generation” and “School’s Out”, both having two of the greatest lines; “Hope I die before I get old” and “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.”

Right!

Now, I’ve not had the privilege to ask Pete Townshend about the former, but when you wrote that or sang it or listened to it back did you think, “What a fucking great line that is!”

Yeah, it really was one of those coloring out of the lines; …”We got no class, we got no principles, we got no innocence, we can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” Because I couldn’t! (laughs) I could not think of a word that rhymed with principles, and I went…”Okay then…”, and it perfectly illustrates the character’s dumbness. (laughs) Paul Rothschild, who produced the Doors and Paul Butterfield and Love, and who we’d tried so hard to get to produce us, told me years later that when “School’s Out” came on the radio he was driving in his Porsche and he pulled over and said, “That’s the greatest line I’ve ever heard.” (laughs)

Well, if nothing else, it captures the entire “Who cares?” bit.

It just fit in. It was the last piece of the puzzle on that song. It’s like the stuttering in “My Generation” I loved that. And that line, “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes” was kind of the capper on that one.

What do you think was your best stage show idea?

Well, everyone asks, “What’s your best stage song?” And I always answer “The Ballad of Dwight Frye”. Only because it puts Alice in a straight-jacket under a cold blue light singing about being in a mental institution and you can feel his claustrophobia and the struggle to get out. It’s a real theatrical experience in that he’s going, “I’ve got to get out of here…I gotta get out of here…I gotta get out of here!” And when he breaks out there’s this orgasm within the audience, because they’re feeling as claustrophobic as Alice. You can feel the veins in his neck popping and when he finally breaks out of that thing, they all break out too. They can breathe again. With all of the bigness of the show, with explosions and everything that’s going on, for those few seconds there’s just this one guy in a straight-jacket beneath a cold blue light struggling to get out. It brings it all down to a pinpoint on stage. And then when he gets out of it, of course, it explodes with the color and light and everything again. It’s a real release for the audience.

Hell, you can feel it on the record.

(laughs) I actually recorded it in a straight jacket. I told Bob Ezrin (legendary producer of many Alice Cooper classic albums, as well as Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and Kiss) this song should be done in a straight-jacket, and he said, “Let’s record it that way then!”

Are you comfortable being lumped in, and I mean this in the best way, with that whole Metal crowd, the hard rock crowd, because I’d always considered you even way back with the Alice Cooper band through your solo career as more of a cabaret performer with electric guitars.

With all of the bigness of the show, with explosions and everything that’s going on, for those few seconds there’s just this one guy in a straightjacket beneath a cold blue light struggling to get out. ”

I look at it this way; we always wanted to be the Yardbirds, to be as good as the Stones, so in that sense we were truly a hard rock band. We were never a Metal band. We were a hard rock band, and we wanted to be as good a rock band as anybody out there. We wanted the swagger. We wanted the snotiness. Guns & Roses had it. Just to get up there and be a snotty rock and roll band, but to be a really good one. The Stones had it. It was built in. And I wanted that to be part of Alice Cooper. The theatrics overtook it, but in my heart we were just a snotty rock and roll band.

Could you ever foresee shedding Alice? Obviously it has to happen eventually, you clip off the hair, get out the golf clubs and say, “Thank you very much, I’m done.” You ever see that happening, and would you miss the old boy?

I guess I could see that. I’ve always said the only time that’s ever going to happen, honestly, is if I physically can’t go on stage and do it, or if nobody shows up. (laughs) Then I know it’s over. If nobody’s going to show up to see it, then there’s no more reason to do it. But so far that hasn’t happened. I think there will always be an audience for Alice. So it’ll take something physical to stop me, and right now I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. (laughs) So I don’t see any end to what’s going on right now. It’s the hardest show we’ve maybe ever done physically and I’ve never been in better shape, so I feel great about it.

It could come full circle for you. I remember you telling a story once about one of your first gigs when you cleared the joint. (laughs)

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I don’t mind admitting we were a horrible band, but we worked harder than anybody to be a great band, and that’s the way I look at it now. I only work with the best musicians, because I want them to be as good as the songs are. Bob Ezrin had a lot to do with making us good songwriters and hopefully the next couple of albums I’ll be working with Bob again.

That’s great news.

Yeah, and you’re going to really love this new show. This new show is so crazy that every night I can’t wait to do it, because it’s so insane.

Unedited Transcript of Entire Interview

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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Alice Cooper Interview

ECR 9/17/09 Cover Feature

Alice Cooper Interview
Unedited Transcript
Conducted from The Desk at the Clemens Estate to York, Penn. 9/17/09

Alice Cooper ThenAlice Cooper – Hey James.

jc: How’s it going Alice?

How ya doin’?

All right. I’ll dispense with the pretense and get right into it.

Okay, great.

I’m doing a little legacy piece here, so I have a few questions to ask along those lines.

Sure. I’ll see if I remember anything. (laughs)

Well, it’s mostly philosophical in nature, really. Have you ever considered Alice’s lineage going all the way back in American pop culture to Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp? When you see Chaplin as an icon today he’s always portrayed in posters or statues as the Tramp character. And also, thinking about that in terms of the times; how Chaplin created this hobo character, which mocked the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, the way Alice certainly lampooned the excesses of the Seventies, as both its villain and victim.

Right, yeah, Alice was a definitely a created American character, and I think he started out being a victim, because I was a victim, I was an alcoholic at the time. You know, when I invented Alice I guess it was subconsciously. I knew I was a victim of alcoholism, and just never recognized it, but here’s Alice whose always stooped over, whose always getting killed, is always sort of, you know, the press was not real favorable. For a long time there was really nobody in Alice’s corner at all, so I kind of created him to be that whipping boy. Later, when I became a non-alcoholic, I created Alice to be Hannibal Lecter – he was suddenly…different posture, different attitude. So there were two Alices, two incarnations of Alice. But yeah, I always look at Alice as someone a hundred years from now…I don’t see why there shouldn’t be somebody playing Alice, or somebody playing Captain Hook. I kind of look at him as an American character. (laughs)

It’s always interesting to hear you refer to Alice in the third person, as you’re doing now, and that sort of lends itself to the idea that you can be possessed by whatever Alice you want for the short term to make certain social comments or present ironies.

Oh, yeah, I think so. I think really he was a necessary character because you couldn’t have a rock and roll drama without a villain. I mean, there needs to be heroes, villains and victims, and Alice needed to be a visual villain. There wasn’t one personified villain in rock and roll, so I said, “Well, I will gladly be that!” And the great thing about being the villain is usually the villain has a great sense of humor.

That brings me to your many imitators over the years, in almost every musical genre, and it seems – to me – that they’ve failed to display a sense of humor, irony or a satirical twist that Alice brought to light. Marilyn Manson, for instance, seems an overly serious rebellious figure, but without the necessary tongue-and-cheek quality that makes it more entertainment than manifesto.

Yeah, I think I kept waiting for the punch line. (laughs)

Most of the modern rebels are missing that spark of Mark Twain.

With a lot of guys. Yeah. Now a guy who’s got a good sense of humor is Rob Zombie. Rob is like a tattoo parlor coming to life. His stuff is so animated. He has as much reverence for Bela Lugosi as he does The Munsters; the scary and the absurd. He’s like my brother. We have exactly the same sense of humor. Zappa was like that. Zappa had a real sense of absurdity, for the right reasons. He understood absurdity. It cannot be explained. You look at it and it’s purely absurd for the sake of being absurd. (laughs)

This British rock journalist told me years ago that especially in the rock and roll world, if it had that “What the hell is this?” quality, it’s likely to be something worth listening to or watching out for. I would say that’s somewhat the Alice Cooper mission statement.

For a long time there was really nobody in Alice’s corner at all, so I kind of created him to be that whipping boy. Later, when I became a non-alcoholic, I created Alice to be Hannibal Lecter – he was suddenly…different posture, different attitude. .”

Yeah, I think so. And you, know, we were lucky enough to be artists and journalists, that’s kind of how we started in high school, before there was the Beatles and the band. We were all art students and journalists. We were both verbal and had a certain way of looking at things as artists, so when we put a band together all of a sudden it all came together. Maybe because of this we got the joke sooner than anybody else. I mean we were very serious about playing in a rock band and making great music and being as good as anybody else, but I think I always saw the absurdity of it and capitalized on it. I liked the idea that it should be absurd. I remember the first time I read a Kurt Vonnegut novel and went, “What is that? There’s something very funny about this, but I don’t know what it is…but I like it. You know, the first time you see Monty Python and it upsets the entire boat and your laughing and just really inspired by it. When the Beatles first came along I was like everybody else, I looked at them and said, “What is that?” (laughs)

Sure. I guess that’s where us Seventies kids have so many moments where Alice Cooper shocked and inspired us. Funnily enough, I put in the lead to this piece a story of when I was kid, I was grounded in my bedroom listening to “Years Ago/ Steven” from Welcome To My Nightmare in my bedroom on a gloomy autumn day, and forced to actually dust my dresser and to this day I cannot smell Lemon Pledge without getting that chill up my spine…

(sinister chuckle) (laughs) Yeah, how creepy it made me feel, how it jacked my imagination. (laughing harder now) How odd is that? No, I understand that. There was a certain sexual side to my life…Every time when I was a kid, every time I went into a public bathroom and smelled those little urinal cakes…when everything gave you a hard-on? Remember?

Yeah, I think I can remember that far back. (laughs) That brings me to the music. For me, the finest anthems of the rock genre are “My Generation” and “School’s Out”, both having two of the greatest lines; “Hope I die before I get old” and “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.”

Right!

Now, I’ve not had the privilege to ask Pete Townshend about the former, but if you could tell me when you wrote that or sang it or listened to it back did you think, “What a fucking great line that is!”

Yeah, it really was one of those coloring out of the lines…”We got no class, we got no principles, we got no innocence, we can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” Because I couldn’t! (laughs) I could not think of a word that rhymed with principles, and I went…”Okay then, I cannot think of a word that rhymes!” And it turns out to be perfect for that character to say that. It perfectly illustrated his dumbness. (laughs) What was his name, the guy who produced…Paul Rothschild…

The Doors.

Yeah, the Doors and Paul Butterfield and Love, we tried so hard to get him to produce us and he told me when School’s Out came on he was driving in his Porsche and he pulled over and he remembered saying, “That’s the greatest line I’ve ever heard.” (laughs) Well, if nothing else, it captures the entire “Who cares?” bit. It just fit in. It was the last piece of the puzzle on that song. It’s like the stuttering in “My Generation” was what I loved.

Right.

Alice Cooper TodayAnd that line, “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes” was kind of the capper on that one. What do you think was your best idea in your stage show? Well, everyone asks, “What’s your best stage song?” And I always answer “The Ballad oF Dwight Frye”. Only because it puts Alice in a straightjacket under a cold blue light and he’s singing about being in a mental institution and you can feel the claustrophobia, you can feel him trying to get out. You can feel it on the record. When he’s going, “I got to get out of here…I gotta get out of here…I gotta get out of here!” And when he breaks out there’s this almost orgasm with the audience, because they’re feeling as claustrophobic as Alice is letting them feel. You can feel the veins in his neck popping and when he finally breaks out of that thing, they all break out of it too. You can breathe again. For me, that song was the best use of theatrics and song.

Hell, you can feel it on the record.

I actually recorded it in a straightjacket. I told Bob Ezrin (legendary producer of many Alice Cooper classic albums, as well as Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and Kiss) this song should be done in a straight jacket, and he said, “Let’s record it that way then. And so when I recorded it I put myself in a straight jacket and you can really tell…(straining as if to escape)…in the voice of…trying…to…get…that…thing off.

That brings to mind another strange memory I have of Alice, when I went to general admission show in a large club in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in 1981 and I remember being jammed in the front, and you were doing that song, which was so mesmerizing for us, having grown up with that song, and imagined Alice so many times straining to escape, and here we were jammed in our own confined herd in the front row and loving every minute of it, but relating to also being trapped, and you were screaming for us, in a way. (laughs)

It was a real theatrical experience the audience had not gotten before. With all of the great bigness of the show, with explosions and this and that and everything’s going on, and then for that one second, that one guy in a straight jacket in a cold blue light, struggling to get out, it brought it all down to a pin-point on stage. And then when he gets out of it, of course, it explodes with the color and light and everything again. It’s a real release for the audience.

Two last quickies. Are you comfortable being lumped in, and I mean this in the best way, with that whole Metal crowd, the hard rock crowd, because I’d always considered you even way back with the Alice Cooper Band through your solo career, as more of a cabaret performer with electric guitars.

I think there’ll always be an audience for Alice. So it will take something physical to stop me, and right now I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life.”

I look at it this way; we always wanted to be the Yardbirds. We wanted to be as good as the Yardbirds ands as good as the Stones and as good as those bands, so we were really, truly a hard rock band. We were never a Metal band. We were a hard rock band, and we wanted to be as good a rock band as anybody out there. We wanted the swagger. We wanted the snottiness. We wanted to have that kind of…I guess swagger is the word. Guns & Roses had it. Just to get up there and be a snotty rock and roll band, but to be a really good one. The Stones had it. It was built in. And I wanted that to be part of Alice Cooper. The theatrics then overtook that, but in my heart we were just a snotty rock and roll band.

Could you ever foresee shedding Alice? Obviously it has to happen eventually, you clip off the hair, get out the golf clubs and say, “Thank you very much, I’m done.” You ever see that happening, and would you miss the old boy?

I guess I could see that. I’ve always said the only time that’s ever going to happen, honestly, is if I physically can’t go on stage and do it, or if nobody shows up. (laughs) Then I know it’s over. You know then there’s no more reason to do it, if nobody’s going to show up to see it. But so far that hasn’t happened. I think there’ll always be an audience for Alice. So it will take something physical to stop me, and right now I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life. (laughs) So I don’t see any end to what’s going on right now. It’s the hardest show we’ve maybe ever done physically and I’ve never been in better shape, so I feel great about it.

It could come full circle for you. I remember you once telling a story about one of your first gigs, when you cleared the joint. (laughs)

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. We went from absolutely horrible…We were a lot of times…I don’t mind admitting we were a horrible band, but we worked harder than anybody to be a great band, and now that’s the way I look at it. I only work with the best musicians now, because I want them to be as good as the songs are. Bob Ezrin had a lot to do with making us good songwriters and hopefully the next couple of albums I’ll be working with Bob again.

That’s great news.

Yeah.

I know you’ve got to get going. Thank for the short amount of time.

Well thank you. And you know what? The best questions I’ve had in the last ten years.

No, shit.

So thank you.

Hey, you know, sir, thank you for giving us kids back in the seventies a voice and opening our imagination.

Well, thank you. You’re going to really love this new show. This new show is so crazy. Every night I can’t wait to do it, because it’s so insane. (laughs)

You stay healthy, hit ’em straight and God bless The Coop.

Okay, man.

Peace.

Bye-bye.

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The Sins of Tori Amos

Aquarian Weekly 8/12/09 BUZZ

IMPECCABLE PECCADILLOES
Tori Amos Defies The Sins of Sexual, Religious & Corporate Segregation

Tori Amos“I can’t stop it,” an ebullient Tori Amos whispers over a phone line somewhere on the outskirts of the road. “The muse walks in and grabs me by the throat, and demands, ‘Pay attention!’ – it could be in the middle of a movie or a nice evening with the husband, where I might be getting somewhere.…” Snickering playfully, she hesitates, exhales ardently, and simply confides, “Creation is in control.”

Amos, who once told the Chicago Tribune that her life was overrun by these “beings”, which she dubbed her songs that come “in and out like fragments”, is never one to ignore their meaning, birthing, and eventual nurturing unto bold statements that liberate her from an entertainment industry usurped by focus-grouped robotics.

“Creation is always there,” she continues, as if desperate to get the word out. “It’s always there for any of us that just want to surrender to it. If you can admit that it’s just not you who’s doing the creating, then it’s there for us all the time.”

Embarking on her first world tour as an independent artist, (she signed a joint-venture with Universal Republic Records late last year) with family in tow, (aforementioned husband, Mark and daughter, Natashya) Amos, who turns 46 this August, has released her tenth studio record, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, a tour de force of disparate musical styles furiously expressing sinister notions of sexual emancipation and spiritual fisticuffs. The tour, the artist blissfully admits, is something between Lounge Lizard and Fire & Brimstone, swings through the NY/NJ area this week with an edge some may expect from the enigmatic pianist cum myth-buster, but this time with perhaps something decidedly deeper.

The show is a reflection of Amos’ new-found escape from the corporate music industry with healthy backslaps at all-things oppressive, as is the balls-out themes broached in her newest razor-sharp collection of songs and throughout our candid discussion.

James Campion: Abnormally Attracted To Sin is replete with strong mythic metaphors; this idea of defining evil or specifically iniquity, which I know has informed your past work – but could you talk about the subjective defining of Sin as a theme in these new songs?

Tori Amos: Well…,once I realized…,once I really thought about how clever the early fathers of the Christian church had been, …because as I’ve traveled the one thing that comes up all the time with women is the segregation of the sexual and spiritual. Women can step into these different energies, but rarely are they together, and in order to get off or get excited and feel sexy, a lot of them have to step into the cliché of porno, instead of being in control and allowing the moment to take over them. Women will say, “Well, I’m liberated, I can do whatever I want with my body”, but in order to get off a lot of them have to pervert what could be a spiritual man. What’s sexier than touching your twin flame? But it’s kind of been put in a holy space, so that women turn to what I would say is perversion and negativity in order to get off. And I think that this is all connected to sin and the definition that was programmed and passed down by the early church fathers. So you couldn’t win; if you step into the bad girl you’re never going to achieve transformation, just orgasm. And if you’re spiritual, you’re not going to get transformation either because you’re disconnected from the body.

I’m reminded of an interview you did a few years ago on the subject of the subjugation of women in the early church while I was researching a book on the historical Jesus. I was in Israel visiting the town of Magdala, which was the town of the New Testament’s Mary of Magdala, later translated as Mary Magdalene, often seen as a woman of ill repute and wrongly depicted in church parlance as a prostitute. In actuality, she was a mainstay in the early Christian movement, or the Jesus Movement, which I call it in the book, and conspicuous in its absence is not one church or plaque or remembrance in the birth town of this Mary Magdalene. This, I think, speaks to that subjugation of women, not only spiritually and sexually, but also literally and historically.

“Women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, throughout the Christian world, how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this.”

Yes, and later once the movement was taken over by what became the Catholic Church, then, as you well know, Jesus’s message was merely a jumping off point for their own message. And their message became shame; that the body wasn’t holy, it was dirty. The truth is I always felt Mary Magdalene was telling us about integration and that she was a prophet. And if you and I go back to the great goddess culture of these women, they were whole. A lot of these women from ancient Egypt….

The symbol of Isis?

Yeah, they were complete beings. They weren’t just only sexual or only spiritual. Women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, throughout the Christian world, how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this. And this is why so many respected women go out and have these affairs and start dancing on the street or on a poll, (laughs) because they haven’t been able to figure out how to liberate the passionate self. And this is why the title of the record is so important, because it really asks you to define; “What are you attracted to?” And once you start knowing what you’re attracted to, until you really can look at what it is, and just talking to women, some of them are appalled and shocked at what they’re attracted to. Some of them have been attracted to men that don’t respect them at all. My God! So then, don’t you see? You have to go into your programming and you really have to reconstruct your main core outward.

That reminds me of something a woman friend of mine said years ago. She was pretty good at chess, but her father was excellent, and she said the problem there is that men are wired to parry and attack, while women are wired to react and protect, to hold back, which is doom speak in the realm of chess. You are pre-programmed not only sexually and spiritually, but also intellectually, instead of choosing to live not on the prospect of fear, but self-empowerment.

That’s right. So in a way I think this record is attacking the way that sin was seeded and put in the psyche, generation after generation.

Which brings me to the lyric in Flavor: “Who’s God then is God/They all want jurisdiction/In the book of Earth/ Who’s God spread fear/ Spread love.” And there is also the stanza from the title track; “She may be dead to you/But her hips sway a natural kind of faith”. And I love the combination of physicality and spirituality here; “That could give your lost heart/A warm chapel/ You’ll sleep in her bell tower/And you will simply wake ” Which has this Buddhist feel to it. I wonder, have you ever heard of Matilda Josyln Gage?

No.

The reason why I ask is your answer speaks to your point. She was a latter nineteenth century suffragette who was ostracized by the women’s movement and in particular Susan B. Anthony for her vociferous stance against the church and Christianity at large. The movement subjugated her because the movement could never be ingratiated into American politics on the momentum of an atheist or pagan voice, even though her points justified the very movement she was kicked out of. And in an essay at the time that I believe ended up in one of her later books, she wrote: “Believing this country to be a political and not a religious organisation…the editor of the NATIONAL CITIZEN will use all her influence of voice and pen against ‘Sabbath Laws’, the uses of the ‘Bible in School,’ and pre-eminently against an amendment which shall introduce ‘God in the Constitution.’In a way she is saying that all of these concepts were set up as a retaining wall to keep women from their constitutional rights, and although it differs slightly to what you’ve been saying, I thought about Gage and this quote upon hearing much of Abnormally Attracted To Sin.

Tori AmosWell it’s funny that you bring this up, because I’ll be playing the Daughters Of The American Revolution in Washington soon at DAR Constitution Hall. (sighs) The thing is, yes, things have changed in many ways, but you probably know how corporations are rife with a Right Wing Christian kind of leaning. And that this is not just an isolated situation I’m talking about, but across the country there’s a movement that is really about subjugating women on every level. It’s everywhere. And yes, there are corporations that are thinking more like you and I, but the fact is that in the twenty-first century there are corporations that are driven by a belief system! So the separation of church and state is a concept that is not necessarily a reality in our country at all. And I’ve had to go up against it as well; nothing like this woman, mainly because of the Internet, where I could get to the people without… (pauses) Without the Internet I’m not sure I’d be on my tenth album right now quite frankly, because the Internet came as corporations were clogging where I stood. And I was very vocal about the emancipation of all people, not just women, from this tyrannical faith system that is not Jesus’ teaching. So, yeah, I’ve had to combat some pretty dark forces. And without the Internet I don’t think that I would have been able to do it, because I got directly to the people.

Working outside of the system that is set up against free thought or free expression?

That’s right. But if we didn’t have the Internet we couldn’t work outside the system. Not like we are.

Sure, and that speaks to the self-empowerment issue as well. One last question about the record, there is quite a bit of prose, almost dialogue, specifically “Welcome To England”, “Not Dying Today”, “Maybe California” – which has a gorgeous melody, by the way – this sort of almost Allen Ginsberg, Beat poetry thing. And I understand there is an accompanying DVD with the record that has videos for nearly ever song. So I’ll assume you saw a cinematic aspect to the songs that could be more direct or succinct visually than audibly?

Well, honestly, I think the audio lives on its own, as you’re talking about it. There are conversations happening. It’s a very intimate record in a lot of ways, because we’re looking in on these conversations this woman is having and what’s going on in her mind, and the deepest feelings of her heart. So I don’t think it needed visuals, necessarily, but when I saw Christian Lamb’s montages I thought of silent movies and I thought of stories being told, but I wanted the visuals to be abstract, not literal. And he doesn’t work literal, so when I saw them I thought, “This is the tenth album and I want to give something sort of, I don’t know, it’s a double-digit anniversary number, I want to give something that is a little gift,” and I was really moved by his montage work.

“When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to ‘I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.'”

So you were inspired in that direction, which makes sense, again I find many of the songs cinematic, especially “Mary Jane”, which has now become my favorite drug song of all time. (laughs) There’s a Kurt Weill style to the song, not sure if you agree with this, but it has that German, nihilistic sound, just as the playful lyric works against it nicely. I know you didn’t do a film for that, but it is theatrical.

Oh, I’m so happy! You just made my day!

Oh, I did. Okay, good. (laughs)

(laughs) It doesn’t have a film, because really to do that film justice, you know…

I understand. Say no more.

Yeah.

But you were thinking in terms of Kurt Weill? Because it screams it to me.

Oh, yeah.

So, how’s the tour going? Can you escape to continue to create and be yourself, when you have so many of these things – interviews and you have to be on planes and in and out of hotels and performing – can you escape and be Tori every once in awhile.

Uh, being Tori…, you see, it’s not segregated anymore. (chuckles), Tash said the other day “Mummy, you rock.” Just about something silly, you know? I got her something cute, and dad looks at her and says, “Well, that’s an actual true statement, you’re mom rocks.”

(Laughs)

And so the thing is we travel as a family, and this is our life. People have said to Tash, you know, when they’re meeting her and they don’t understand the creature, they will say, “So when do you get back to your real life.” She’ll look and say, “Do you think this is a joke, then?”

It’s funny, you call your songs “Your Girls”, and now you have a girl and it’s weird, the balance of that.

Yeah, I mean, Tash has asked me before; “Do you love me as much as your piano?” or “Do you love me as much as your song girls?” And I say, “Uh, Tasha, I love you more than anything in the whole world”, because the mom in me is going to step in at that moment, but the truth is you there are no comparisons. Tash is a physical being and this is ether, and they’re immortal; the songs, they’re not trapped inside human emotions and all that. So in my mind, the way I see it is that the mother, the composer, the performer… this is not a job to me. When I do interviews, I try and put my head space as in there’s an opportunity to have conversations with people. When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to “I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.”

Unedited Transcript of Entire Interview

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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Tori Amos Interview

Aquarian Weekly 8/12/09 BUZZ

Tori Amos Interview
Unedited Transcript 
Conducted from The Desk at the Clemens Estate to Orlando, Fla. 7/28/09

Tori Amos: Hi, James!

jc: How’re you doing, Tori?

I’m doing very well.

I guess I should start off with personally thanking you for Little Earthquakes, because back in the winter of ’95 it really, really helped me finish the manuscript for my first published book. The thing ran incessantly in the background and provided much-needed motivation, so thanks.

Tori AmosOh, good. How’s the writing going?

Um, always tedious, but it just keeps comin’. You can’t keep those words back as Bukowski used to say.

Isn’t that exciting, though. You’ve tapped in, James. (laughs)

So have you.

Look, nobody talks about this. I hear a lot from artists, the idea of a writer’s block, and sometimes I think you can really get into a paranoid place about that. Creation, as you know, is always there. It’s always there for any of us that just want to surrender to it. If you can admit that it’s just not you who’s doing the creating, then it’s there for us all the time.

I’m always after the muse, you know.

Yes.

(sighs) And hopefully she’s always paying attention.

(laughs) It sounds like she is with you, if you’re able to just keep writing those words. I can’t stop it. I find that the creation is control, and when it demands that I show up – it could be in the middle of a movie or a nice evening with the husband, where I might be getting somewhere – and all of a sudden muse walks in, grabs me by the throat, (whispers) “Pay attention.”

That’s actually my first question: How is the tour going, and can you create, can you escape to continue to create and be yourself, when you have so many of these things – interviews and you have to be on planes and in and out of hotels and performing – can you escape and be Tori every once in awhile?

Uh, being Tori…, you see, it’s not segregated anymore. Tash said the other day (chuckles), “Mummy, you rock.” Just about something silly, you know? I got her something cute, and dad looks at her and says, “Well, that’s an actual true statement, you’re mom rocks.” (Laughs) And so the thing is we travel as a family, and this is our life. People have said to Tash, you know, when they’re meeting her and they don’t understand the creature, they will say, “So when do you get back to your real life.” She’ll look and say, “Do you think this is a joke, then?”

It’s funny, a friend recently reminded me when she heard I was going to be doing this interview, that you call your songs “Your Girls”, and now you have a girl and it’s weird, the balance of that.

Yeah, I mean, Tash has asked me before; “Do you love me as much as your piano?” or “Do you love me as much as your song girls?” And I say, “Uh, Tasha, I love you more than anything in the whole world”, because the mom in me is going to step in at that moment, but the truth is James, you can’t…there are no comparisons. Tash is a physical being and this is ether, and they’re immortal; the songs, they’re not trapped inside human emotions and all that. So in my mind, the way I see it is that the mother, the composer, the performer… this is not a job to me. When I do interviews, I try and put my head space as in there’s an opportunity to have conversations with people. When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to “I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.”

Getting to the “eternal ether” of which you speak, I’d like to move onto the new record, Abnormally Attracted To Sin. I found it replete with strong mythic metaphors; this idea of defining evil or specifically iniquity, which I know has informed your past work – but could you talk about the subjective defining of Sin as a theme in these new songs?

Well…… (Laughs)

(Laughs)

Once I realized, once I really thought about it; the church authority, the early fathers of the Christian church, I started to think about how clever they had been, because as I’ve traveled, the one thing that comes up all the time with women, is the segregation of the sexual and spiritual. Women can step into these different energies, but rarely are they together, and in order to get off or get excited and feel sexy, a lot of them have to step into a cliché picture of porno, instead of being in control and allowing the moment to take over them. If that makes any sense, don’t you see then the whole porno aspect, where women will say “Well, I’m liberated, I can do whatever I want with my body”, but in order to get off a lot of them have to pervert what could be a spiritual man. What’s sexier than touching your twin flame? But, don’t you see, it’s kind of been put in a holy space, so that women turn to what I would say is perversion and negativity in order to get off. And I think that this is all connected to sin, and the definition that was programmed and passed down by the early church fathers. So you couldn’t win, don’t you see? If you step into the bad girl you’re never going to achieve transformation, just orgasm. And if you’re spiritual, you’re not going to get transformation either, because you’re disconnected from the body.

“Women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, throughout the Christian world, how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this.”

That brings me to a couple of points, and I’m reminded of an interview you did a few years ago on the subject of the subjugation of women in the early church while I was researching a book on the historical Jesus. This was in the mid-nineties actually. I was in Israel visiting the town of Magdala, which was the town of the New Testament’s Mary of Magdala, later translated as Mary Magdalene, often seen as a woman of ill repute and wrongly depicted in church parlance as a prostitute. Actually, or historically, she was a mainstay in the early Christian movement, or the Jesus Movement, which I call it in the book, and conspicuous in its absence is not one church or plaque or remembrance in the birth town of this Mary Magdalene. This, I think, speaks to that subjugation of women, not only spiritually and sexually, but literally and historically.

Yes, and then, later, once the movement was taken over by what became the Catholic Church, then, as you well know, Jesus’ message was merely a jumping off point to their own messages. And their messages became shame, that the body wasn’t holy, it was dirty and all these things. The truth, that I thought, that I felt Mary Magdalene was telling us was about integration, that she was a prophet. And if you and I go back to the great goddess culture of these women, they were whole. A lot of these women from ancient Egypt…

Isis.

Yeah, they were complete beings. They weren’t just only sexual or only spiritual, and I think women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, through the Christian world, we’re certainly not taught through Christianity how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this. And this is why so many women who are respected go have these affairs and might start dancing on the street or on a poll, (laughs) because they haven’t been able to figure out how to liberate the passionate self. And the title of the record is so important, James, because it really asks you to define; “What are you attracted to?” And once you start knowing what you’re attracted to, until you really can look at what it is, and just talking to women, some of them are appalled and shocked at what they’re attracted to. Some of them have been attracted to men that don’t respect them at all. My God! So then don’t you see you have to go into your programming and you really have to reconstruct your main core outward.

That reminds me of something a woman friend of mine said years ago. She was pretty good at chess, but her father was excellent, and she said the problem there is that men are wired to parry and attack, while women are wired to react and protect, to hold back, which is doom speak in the realm of chess. You are preprogrammed not only sexually or spiritually, but also intellectually, instead of choosing to live not on the prospect of fear, but self-empowerment.

That’s right.

So in a way I think this record is attacking the way that sin was seeded and put in the psyche generation after generation. Which brings me to the lyric in Flavor; “Who’s God then is God/ They all want jurisdiction/In the book of Earth/Who’s God spread fear/Spread love.” And there is also the stanza from the title track, “She may be dead to you/But her hips sway a natural kind of faith/And I love the combination of physicality and spirituality there/That could give your lost heart/A warm chapel/You’ll sleep in her bell tower/And you will simply wake ” Which has a Buddhist feel to it. Have you ever heard of Matilda Josyln Gage.

No.

The reason why I ask is your answer speaks to your point. Apparently, she was a latter nineteenth century suffragette who was ostracized by the women’s movement and in particular Susan B. Anthony for her vociferous stance against the church and Christianity at large. The movement subjugated her because the movement could never be ingratiated into American politics on the momentum of an atheist or pagan voice, even though her points justified the very movement she was kicked out of. And in an essay at the time that I believe ended up in one of her later books, she wrote: “Believing this country to be a political and not a religious organisation…the editor of the NATIONAL CITIZEN will use all her influence of voice and pen against ‘Sabbath Laws’, the uses of the ‘Bible in School,’ and pre-eminently against an amendment which shall introduce ‘God in the Constitution.'” In a way she is saying that all of these concepts were set up as a retaining wall to keep women from their constitutional rights, and although it differs slightly to what you’ve been saying, I thought about Gage and this quote upon hearing much of Abnormally Attracted To Sin.

Tori AmosWell it’s funny that you bring this up, because number one, I’m playing the Daughters Of The American Revolution, in Washington – DAR Constitution Hall. (sighs) The thing is, James, yes, things have changed in many ways, but you probably know how corporations are rife with a Right Wing Christian kind of leaning. And that this is not just an isolated situation I’m talking about, but across the country there’s a movement that is really about subjugating women on every level. It’s everywhere. And yes, there are corporations that are thinking more like you and I, and there are those people as well, but the fact is that in the twenty-first century there are corporations that are driven by a belief system! So the separation of church and state is a concept that is not necessarily a reality in our country at all. And I’ve had to go up against it as well; nothing like this woman, mainly because of the Internet, where I could get to the people without…(pauses) Without the Internet I’m not sure I’d be on my tenth album right now quite frankly, because the Internet came as corporations were clogging where I stood. And I was very vocal about the emancipation of all people, not just women from this tyrannical faith system that is not Jesus’ teaching. So, yeah, I’ve had to combat some pretty dark forces. And without the Internet I don’t think that I would have been able to do it, because I went directly to the people.

Working outside of the system that is set up against free thought or free expression?

That’s right. But if we didn’t have the Internet we couldn’t work outside the system. Not like we are.

Sure, and that speaks to the self-empowerment issue as well. One last question about the record, there is quite a bit of prose, almost dialogue, specifically “Welcome To England”, “Not Dying Today”, “Maybe California” – which has a gorgeous melody, by the way – this sort of almost Allen Ginsberg, Beat poetry thing. And I understand there is an accompanying DVD with the record that has videos for nearly ever song. So I’ll assume you saw a cinematic aspect to the songs that could be more direct or succinct visually than audibly?

Well, honestly, I think the audio lives on its own, as you’re talking about it. There are conversations happening. It’s a very intimate record in a lot of ways, because we’re looking in on these conversations this woman is having and what’s going on in her mind, and the deepest feelings of her heart. So I don’t think it needed visuals, necessarily, but when I saw Christian Lamb’s montages I thought of silent movies and I thought of stories being told, but I wanted the visuals to be abstract not literal. And he doesn’t work that way, so when I saw them I thought, “This is the tenth album and I want to give something sort of, I don’t know, it’s a double-digit anniversary number, I want to give something that is a little gift,” and I was really moved by his montage work.

“When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to ‘I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.'”

So you were inspired in that direction, which makes sense, again I find many of the songs cinematic, especially Mary Jane, which has now become my favorite drug song of all time. (laughs) There’s a Kurt Weill style that the song musically has, not sure if you agree with this, but it has that German, nihilistic sound, just as the playful lyric works against it nicely. I know you didn’t do a film for that, but it recalls an old, visual kind of play.

Oh, I’m so happy! You just made my day!

Oh, I did. Okay, good. (laughs)

(laughs)

It doesn’t have a film, because really to do that film justice, you know, I… I understand. Say no more. Yeah. But you were thinking in terms of Kurt Weill? Because it screams it to me.

Oh, yeah.

Okay, (laughs) That’s wonderful. This has been a treat for me. I do have two quick final questions from fans that I promised to ask – they have to know, because they’re huge fans. The first one is have you been playing covers on this tour, and if so, which ones and why?

Yeah, we’re doing a lot of covers, meaning there’s one a night, just because it fits into what we’re doing. I have a Lizard Lounge section. So it might show up there. Sometimes if it’s raucous it might show up somewhere else. I enjoy doing them. It’s also fits very well in the live format, especially if I don’t repeat the covers that it kind of tailors that show special for them.

That makes sense. And this next question I was thinking of asking myself, if the conversation veered more into the music as opposed to the literary and spiritual aspects of your work, but I know that your proficiency on the piano helped you to stand out among the many women artists that came along in the early nineties. Not only that it’s your style of playing – a facing the audience, more intimate style, and the playing of different keyboards at once. Is that style something that you have always used as a performance vehicle or something you’ve done out of necessity to lend different tonalities to the performance?

Well, all of the above. Once I was playing lounges for so many years, after I had been doing that, and as the records started to get developed and the sounds became more and more, then I thought for me to be able to deliver what I want it to sound like I’d have to include more keyboards on stage, it became…during Choir Girl…I had the harpsichord in Boys For Pele, and after doing that I just realized this is the way to go. So it started with the harpsichord and piano and then it expanded to all kinds of keyboards. In order to have a little orchestra.

Sure, I remember that specifically seeing your show out in Long Island years ago and that was one of the treats of the show. Well, I see we’ve gone a little over our press limit, so I want to thank you for your time, continue to chase that muse and bring her in and best of luck on the rest of the tour.

Hey James, will you let somebody know what book I can read, what you’re working on.

Oh, thank you for asking. Do you have somewhere I can send my books?

I’ll give you Barry and he’ll give you Chelsea’s address or he’ll e-mail you. Is that okay?

And I’ll send down some required reading for Gage, because she’s someone I think you’ll really enjoy.

Oh, yeah, could you do that? You’re the best mind I’ve talked to …ever! (laughs)

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