How's it going?
I just got back from Italy. I did two weeks there with two Italian musicians. Did six gigs and recorded an album called Il Sogno del Marinaio. It means, the sailor's dream, in Italian. These are guys that just kinda met by accident in the experimental scene. Like a lot of young people, they actually started with punk. That's a lot different than my reality. There was maybe the Stooges and Captain Beefheart of course, but I come from arena rock. My first gig was seeing T-Rex. I didn't find out about clubs until punk. I only knew about arena rock.
But yeah, I've been doing a lot of this lately. I've got maybe 12/13 records in the pipeline. The last ten years I've been doing too much gigs as opposed to recording stuff. Gigs are important, they're the main thing. Even when we started the Minutemen, me and D. Boon, we decided we'd split the world into two categories: there's gigs and flyers, and everything that wasn't a gig was a flyer to get people to the gig. I really dig the moment, and playing, and punk taught me all about that, but work's important too, especially when you get to middle age and realise that maybe you aren't going to live forever, and so these things will be here after you. In 11 days I turn 52. I never thought about being a middle aged punk rocker. I didn't think about it, but that's what I am.
What's the deal with the album based on Hieronymus Bosch?
That was an opera with Tom Watson and Raul Morales [the Missingmen] called Hyphenated-Man. And you know them little creatures in the Bosch paintings? Well, some people got an idea maybe those things are just pictures of proverbs and sayings. I don't know 500 year old Dutch or Flemish y'know so I just made it up. It reminded me of the Minutemen. I had to deal a lot with the Minutemen because of the We Jam Econo documentary. When D. Boon got killed it was hard for me to listen to that music and stuff, but then I had to for this thing and it was like, hey this is interesting, these little songs. So this third opera is made out of 30 little songs. I was thinking of the Bosch thing, like all his paintings are made of all these little paintings in a way, so that's kinda a similarity.
Also I used Wizard of Oz. In middle age you think about what the fuck is it about to be a guy and shit. What's life about? That's what Dorothy was trying to do. You notice those dudes, the scarecrow, the lion, the tinman, they're the farmworkers before the tornado. Y'know, to have courage you need a badge and the wizard gives him the shit; to be smart you need a diploma. She's just looking at the trips dudes go through to be men.
How come you play with so many different people?
I do that stuff with a lot of cats because it's good training. Especially with people you don't know. You're totally unfamiliar with their style, so you have to rethink your instrument. It's weird to stay punk, cuz when it first happened to me I was just out of high-school, 18 years old, 1977, and it has this profound effect on you. But as years go by, it still has an effect on you but the experiences aren't like those first ones. So I try to keep the ethic of that first experience. Just do it. Like all those punkers, writing their own songs, maybe not knowing how to play that well but still doing it. They're up there with their friends, they got a band, they're expressing themselves through the music and provocative whatever. I love that feeling. I don't wanna be nostalgic or sentimental. I can't bring that back. But I can make the ethic of that live by making journeys with music. And then, I don't know how it happened, but I get to sit in the classroom of all classrooms and play with the Stooges. It's something I never would've guessed in my life. They're very interesting. Now there's another thing where I'm playing Ronnie [Asheton]'s bass lines now.
Yeah, what's it like now you've moved onto playing Raw Power?
We did the first gig about a month ago in Sao Paulo in Brazil. That was a pant-shitter man. That was scary. I told Ig it was sorta like a skateboarder who was barely hanging on cuz he's trying some wild stuff. James ain't played in a long time, so he's getting back on the horse and Ig told us before the gig, I'm gonna take it easy. He did not take it easy. His work ethic is just so strong. He just goes for it. I would probably follow him down a garbage disposal. It's just infectious. You get caught up in it. To me it's very easy to see why there would be no punk scene without the Stooges. That's primary source, that ain't second, third, fourth, fifth hand. Sitting right in the classroom, playing with them, that was a trip.
This new thing, there's a lot of emotion for me playing without Ronnie. Ronnie was the reason I was in the band. I was in Florida with the Secondmen. In Tallahassee, Florida I get a call from Ig, and Ig says, Hey, Ronnie says you're the man. Which was the trippiest fucking phonecall I ever got in my life. For us especially in So-Cal, our punk scene was pretty small and we're spread out over like 150 towns. When we came up to Hollywood, Stooges was like the one common thing. All weirdos from different parts. The uniting force was the Stooges. That's a trip. Finally I'm the youngest guy in the band.
What would you pick out as the highlights of your career after the Minutemen?
Well, the Stooges for one. That was a fucking mindblow and a half. Actually getting the chance to keep playing. Every gig I try, sometimes I stumble, I get afraid, but the high points…somebody after a gig, Hey man, I had a dream last night and D. Boon was there. He gave me a guitar and said 'play'. This guy wasn't even born until after D. Boon died. Wow, he didn't even tell him what song to play, just told him to play. This kid's gonna write his own tune. In some ways the high point for me is just sharing in the fucking mindblow, the joy, the possibility, people being fired up and wanting to do shit. That seems like a high point because they're letting me share with them on that.
Actually, fIREHOSE. eDFROMOHIO coming to my town and wanting to make a band. That was pretty intense. I thought noone wanted to hear me after D. Boon was killed. Actually, the first thing I did was Thurston [Moore] asked me to play bass on Evol. That was a big highlight, man. Like, What, you want me to play without D. Boon?
I wanted to talk a bit more about the bass and how it's this thing you got so into, but it wasn't really your idea to get into it at the same time...
I didn't fucking know what it was. They're so far away I didn't fucking know they had bigger strings. See in the pictures they look kinda like a guitar. You know there's only four of them cuz of the tuners, but you didn't really know what it was. Music is a lot more accessible to people now. I was in a retard age in a lot of ways. You could tell on the albums that almost every band had a bass, so we knew that was an important part of the band. His ma told me, you're going to play bass. She wanted us to play after school. It was after I moved to the projects, where I met D. Boon. There wasn't a lot of guns yet, it was the early 70s, but she wanted us in the house after school. In those days you couldn't think of gigs or anything, like playing the Forum or Long Beach Arena. It was crazy. You never had a club situation so you never thought of gigs. It was just something to do. You never thought of songs either as a way to express yourself, you just copied off of records, and it was very hard for me to hear what the bass was on the records. There was one Scottish guy I could hear who was very influential, Jack Bruce, from Cream. You could hear him. Then there was an England guy, called John Entwhistle, you could hear him. Then the way RnB music was, the guitars would be small. James Jamerson, I could hear him. And Larry Graham in Sly and the Family Stone. Then another England guy, Geezer Butler, from Black Sabbath. I'd confuse it with the guitar, but those are my early influences. I think the bass is the best thing to be in a band, so I thank D. Boon's mother very very much. People go to the bathroom, they look at the tiles. I look at the grout, the stuff the puts the tiles together. That's what bass is like; we're like glue to stick the stuff together. I've done several experiments where I just bring people the bass line, the first one was that Ball Hog or Tugboat but the idea goes back to the Minutemen, where I thought if the bass player knew the song then anyone could play. So bass is very key to me. I know for some folks it's something you add later, in fact there's some bands now that don't have bass players and I'm thinking, that poor lonely kick drum, nobody to be married to.
Were you happy with the way We Jam Econo turned out?
Those guys, Keith and Tim, were too young to see the Minutemen, so actually the story was kinda them finding out about us, asking these people who were playing during those times. Then there's a lot of footage of us just playing. A lot, y'know. I didn't know that existed. People were sending that in to them that had filmed it. That was a trip. It looks like D. Boon wants to jump out the screen. I like that. I sound like an idiot sometimes. Maybe the talking was too spacey some times. I wasn't trying to be spacey; I was trying to be understood. I tried my hardest and I think those guys did a good job. I've been surprised by all the cats interested in it. Even musicians who can play really well. Back in the old days people who could play well thought punkers were dicks and shit, but nowadays it's way different. I'm glad that thing came out. D. Boon gets to play for people, that's the main thing.
How did it make you feel to be making something like that?
A lot of people ask me that. It was just the attitude of Keith and Tim. They seemed so sincere about it. I thought they should be the cats. It felt weird in a way but the focus is that D. Boon can play for people. And they've got parts where he talked. I also thought that if people saw that three guys like us could make a band, they'd see that anybody can make a band. Not like we were the greatest band, but if these three dorks from Pedro can do it then other cats can too.
Do you think the ethic of punk is something that most people tend to lose as they go on?
Well maybe, but I don't wanna talk down on anybody. But there's people that still have it, and people coming on with it. Young people are very important. And it's trippy about the bass, cuz it's always this search for the right notes not the most notes. So some cat just learning how to play can write a righteous bass line. Yeah I'm a little biased, but when I see a band the first thing I focus on is the bass player. I can't tell you how many times I've talked to them after the gig and the dude's just started playing. Cats just coming on the scene, they will have this fire.
Actually, it goes for almost any work. You see people who lose the fire, lose the passion, they just punch the clock. That's just a danger of human existence. Punk opened up my eyes to that. Man, it changed my life. And I don't look at it as a stepping stone. It's so fucking important, so why would it go? There's something about it that can keep living in you, and you see it living in other folks too. It wasn't the style of music, it was the state of mind. When that sickness almost killed me I was being treated by doctors, but that last round of pills they gave me was over the phone. They didn't even see me. They had lost the fire for their jobs. They took me into county and there was some young intern doctor, Dr. Hopkins, and he was, We're gonna go to town. We're gonna get this, Mr. Watt. The dude saved my fucking life.
So it's all kinds of work, bass, skateboarding, doctoring, building, painting, poems, all this stuff, you gotta keep the fire. Like if you think of Rimbaud, he wrote poems for only two years and they're great poems. But then Alvin Jones, he plays a gig a week before he dies, aged 75 or something. Some people are in it for the short terms, some long term. It also has to do with choice. It's hard for me to be responsible. I feel I owe the scene a big debt, but it's hard for me to change other folks. In a way, I wouldn't want people trying to change me. Although sometimes I'm so glad I have been changed, like from the movement.
What do you think of the idea that punk can die?
No way, no way. It's usually cats who can't fit in that make their own world. That helps down the road to make people fit in, but not in a fascist, hierarchy way, in a creative, sharing the dream way. Not in an oppressive or coercive way. That's the vision I see in it. Sometimes, you gotta get with your buddies and put together a fucking expression trip. Some dudes do it with painting. I know this from Patty Boon, it ain't just the bass, but that's where I found it. Fuck, I found it. D. Boon's ma put me on it. It's strange about life. A lot of shit you can't guess. That's why I think some of the knowing is just by doing. Just bouncing it off each other with respect not to copy and be xerox machines. But God, there would never have been a Double Nickels without Hüsker doing Zen Arcade. I know there's a movement, I know there's a connection. I don't know the connections exactly, but there is something about it. Some kind of fabric.
Why do you feel like you owe a debt to the scene?
Because everything I'm operating on now, getting all excited talking to you on the phone, is because of that scene.
Do you feel like by making Minutemen you were kinda repaying that debt?
Maybe, but I don't think the debt ever gets repaid. There's new cats joining in. It isn't just stale, all in the past. People have worked to keep it living in a strange way. I mean, it keeps morphing and changing based on the dudes, right? It's not some museum thing. There were certain bands in those days, and I like that stuff. But when I talk about the movement I'm talking about more of a dynamic thing that keeps on going. It was fired up then, but maybe there's resonances and reverberations from earlier movements. Patty Boon taught me about Dada and Futurists. There's some crazy ass shit 60, 70 years before us. Somebody once told me the only thing new is you finding out about it. Y'know, what can you do about it? What you can do is what's possible with your dream in your head. You can't fix circumstances, time and shit like this. Sometimes I talk to young people, some young people say they were born in the wrong time, and I try to tell them, No, you were born in the right time, which is your time. It's always easier to look back a bit, but you can't change what's already happened. It's already been done. It's kinda good about the now-days because there's possibility, y'know. Dudes can do shit.
Henry Rollins told me back in the day punk was more of a dirt road, where now it's an 8-lane freeway. Do you think that's accurate?
Oh yeah. It was more of a dirt road because, fuck, remember arena rock? I know from the Stooges that there was a club scene from garage bands in the 60s, but that all got lost. It kinda had to be reinvented. This thing about, Just do it. In those days they didn't have arena rock, they didn't have anything. Young men in the early days, they sent you off to war and shit. There wasn't this idea of the teenager and rock n roll until the 50s. They still hadn't put together the idea of bands yet. Bands were just kids trying to express themselves, because there wasn't a lot of radio, there wasn't a lot of TV, they were professional musicians who had to go play for people. I would agree with Hank, but, OK there's that reality, but there's also the reality of the ethic. So maybe the new fanzine now is the internet. So you can have ways of communicating without some motherfucker setting up a tollbooth or a minder to filter your thoughts. You can still go directly. To me that's the same ethic as the fanzine. The idea of putting together bands and writing your own songs. I don't think that changed. The way you can deliver it changed maybe. It became popular, man. That surprised the fuck out of me. I thought punk might be a little thing on the side, on the fringe, y'know. But man, if you're a young person now almost a couple of years in high school are expected to be your punk ones, right? Yeah, that's something I never would've guessed. It was such a small scene. But if you think of the idea that anybody can make a band, how could that go old-fashioned? Movements go through cycles and trends, but with punk the same core values seem to keep running through.
I did a few Warped Tour shows, and one of the stages was called Hot Topic. I found out Hot Topic's a place at the mall where you can buy punk clothes. Haha, our idea was you made your own clothes. But that's ok, whatever. These things are funny. I don't think it should totally bum you out. Think about Little Richard, Tutti Frutti. Pat Boone sold more Tutti Fruttis than Little Richard did. How did that happen? That was 60 years ago. So this ain't a new idea, this idea of some stuff changing because of new technologies or some stuff getting co-opted, but I'm talking more about, and I think Hank was too, about core values. They can still exist because they're in the heart. They're in the mind. They're just finding different ways of being expressed depending on the individuals doing it. Or small groups of inspired minorities, like Emma Goldman said.
Did you ever feel like in punk or local scenes or whatever the audience would sometimes have a lot of reservations and not really know how to respond?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Kind of a hipster vibe? Yeah, that's when things get a little cynical and people think everything's figured out. They lost like the child-eyed wonder, being fired up. It gets all rusted out and corroded. That's when you can tell a scene's getting a little bit too social. People aren't doing enough work, and they're talking about it too much. People are worried about social things and not taking chances. But, y'know, all humans go through this. I've seen it everywhere, Hollywood, anywhere. You just get this thing sometimes where people think it's all been done. It's hard to control their lives. That's where those people are at. That's their scene. So you've just got to get together with your cats and get that fire going, you know what I mean? Maybe lead by example. It's weird how all these things work with humans. I don't have it all figured out, but I know I felt something happen when I was with the cats I was getting the band together with. Sometimes that's kinda only the world for a little bit. At least to get that expression out and stuff. Then when you take it to other folks I think that's important too. But it is trippy thinking about how they're going to react to this. It isn't even their real reaction. Maybe they're thinking of the dude standing next to them, hey what does he think I think? It's peer pressure. You think it's just a grade school thing but it seems like it goes through the whole trip.