taste

the author

Interviews with Rock Stars.

One of the cool things about being a "professional" writer is that I occasionally got to meet people who had either inspired or influenced me along the way. When that happens, there often is a brief moment where you get excited by the prospect of actually talking to someone you've revered or respected. Then you get over it. After all, they're people too.


Society does a pretty good job of promoting idol worship, when it comes to the way we look at artists. We tend to remove them from any subjective reality, and view them from a completely different perspective. Most of us don't get excited when we meet someone who can build a house or an automobile, or can cook or garden exceptionally well. Why should we react any different when we meet someone who writes books or pop songs for a living? We're just driven by different motivations.

Interviews can be tricky. If you're seeking enlightenment, you may end up disappointed. I generally veered left of the dial when talking with these individuals - that is, I didn't want to run through the same checklist of questions that every other publication was asking them. I wanted to hear about what motivated them as artists, and let them tell their own stories, in their own words. Quite often, I started out with a list of more questions than I knew I would be able to cover, so if one topic fell flat I could skip to something completely different. Sometimes, I just made up the questions as we went along. In the end, the results were about the same. Not too surprisingly, the best conversations took place once the tape recorder was turned off. It's hard to have a "natural" conversation when you know that every word is being held captive, and can be subverted to suit almost anyone with an agenda. One thing I learned about interviews is to just let them go where they will. If you try to lead them where they don't want to go, it can get pretty ugly. Know your subject, and pay attention, just like you would in any conversation.

Naturally, a few of these subjects were people I had been a fan of for a long time. Amiri Baraka first inspired me to put pen to paper while I was still in high school, when I first was exposed to his politically-charged poetry and jazz critiques, written as LeRoi Jones. As our meeting was neither scheduled nor prepared, I was given the opportunity to just have an unrehearsed, unscripted conversation with one of my greatest literary heroes. In retrospect, there was so much more that I would have liked to discuss with him, but I was simply grateful that he made the time to meet with me, in the midst of his busy schedule.

Robert Pollard was a pretty big musical hero of mine - all too obvious to anyone who knows about my enthusiastic apppreciation for Guided By Voices. Personally, I think the story of how he came to terms with his success is pretty amazing, but how to discuss that with someone who's had the same conversations with practically every music writer on the planet already? And yet, somehow, we did it. Ian McCulloch of Echo & The Bunnymen had been another big influence on me, as a vocalist and songwriter - my old band Borrowed Time owed quite a debt to McCulloch, during the early '80s. Others, such as Daniel Ash, Frank Black, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, John Haggerty of Pegboy, and Lou Barlow of Sebadoh, were all prominent figures in the underground music scene, each of whom had left behind the bands in which their repuations had been established, choosing to explore uncharted territory.

Some of these bands, like Jesus Lizard, God Bullies, and Killdozer, were bands I had been able to work with during my tenure with Your Flesh magazine (and its affiliate, Creature Booking). YF editor Pete Davis was another mentor of mine; helping me take whatever talent it was I thought I had even further than I had imagined. Others, like Hüsker Dü and Babes In Toyland, were just old pals that had been given their fifteen minutes of fame. It should go without saying, that I was a pretty big fan of all of the artists I was fortunate enough to be able to hang out with, in the hopes of sharing their stories with you.

As mentioned elsewhere, much of the material I've written has lost to the ravages of time, but things do have a way of turning up enexpectedly; so here is a tiny smattering of what I've managed to salvage so far.