My first New Orleans job, at Palace Cafe on Canal St., awarded me an event I will never forget as long as I live. Yes, I met ZZ Top there. And the Pointer Sisters. But the realest treat came when televangelist Jimmy Swaggart slimed in and sat near the picture window.
Most people only know Swaggart as that awful crying face, begging for TV forgiveness. That gross Media Moment. But I knew him way before that, back when I was little, after a group of my less sophisticated relatives got sucked into Jim and Tammy’s PTL Club (Praise the Lord), and Swaggart’s scam, and any other Christian television bullshit they could throw their money at. They also abandoned any type of fun. My uncle even gave up fishing for Christ’s sake (literally)! I remember my Dad on the phone once pleading with him:“But The Lord doesn’t want you to stop fishing, Jimmy!” (Like Bakker and Swaggart, my uncle’s name was also Jimmy) Debates and fights and arguments within our extended family preceded years of silence, and favorite cousins I was no longer allowed to talk to.
This all made pouring Swaggart’s ice-water and warming his bread 20-years later so much more poignant for me. His wasn’t even my table, but I just had to do at least that. “Hello,” I said, while pouring.
“Hello, young man,” he smiled. Evil bastard.
I then ran away and stared at Swaggart from behind the restaurant’s gold staircase.
He sat chuckling with two other Southern-looking, gray-haired men in gray suits. His wife wore a yellowish-silver beehive hairdo and pearls. Long before his tearful mainstream Media Moment, I knew Swaggart was famous for his singing; he counted both Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilly as relatives. Still, it amazed me when the restaurant’s mobile Dixieland brunch trio came by his table, and he sang a song with them. At my job? Beyond them, out the Palace Cafe’s giant picture window, my bicycle locked to a parking meter provided background as Swaggart sang low, to his friends only.
None of our other customers paid attention to the scene. My co-worker Michael didn’t give a fuck either, distracted playing with a light-up Harrah’s Casino pen someone had given him as a tip. Not looking up from his new purple-glowing toy, Michael sighed,“Oh God, Swaggart always fucking does that when he’s in here.”
“And that doesn’t phase you?” I asked him.
“Does what phase me, baby?” he asked, clicking his pen On. Off. On.
“Uh, that Jimmy fucking Swaggart is singing at your job?” Clearly, living in New Orleans was going to be a casually wild-ass experience.
Before Michael could reply, my entire thought machine focused on Swaggart’s second song — usually the band played only one song per table, but they at least seemed to appreciate the uniqueness of the situation, and so continued, playing the only slow song I’d ever heard them do: “Amazing Grace.” Swaggart sang this one louder, not for the other customers, just louder for himself, eyes closed, Jimmy Swaggart, at my job? The picture window’s sun shot through his now gray, wispy hair, illuminating his skin, which sagged in a way that made him look as if he was crying: a permanent allusion to what he’s famous for.
As I gawked, my co-workers stared only at me, as if my not working for one moment was more incomprehensible than Jimmy fucking Swaggart booming: “To-o-o saaave a wreeetch like meeeeee. I wuuuuuunce wa-a-as lost bu-ut now I’m fouuund…” a minor re-enactment of his Media Moment, a private plea for forgiveness, at our fucking job!
When he finished, the Brunch Band members each shook Swaggart’s hand, and when the trio walked off, his wife leaned in and kissed her husband, sincere, sweet, proud.
As a kid, I loved WWF wrestling. My favorites were the wrestlers’ managers. Bobby “the Brain” Heenan had the best comic timing. And Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart — with his bullhorn and his mullet— was one of the world’s greatest physical comedians.
And so it made sense that Hart once managed the wrestling career of surrealist fake-out comedian, Andy Kaufman. But in 1999, when the Kaufman bio pic Man on the Moon came out, I noticed in the previews that they’d omitted Jimmy Hart from the story, even though Hart was really that story’s second most consistent character. Kaufman rarely wrestled Jerry “the King” Lawler or anyone else without Jimmy Hart cheering him on at ringside (and more importantly, helping him cheat).
I also knew that Jimmy Hart lived somewhere in Florida, as most wrestlers and AC/DC do. I tracked Hart down, and it turned out he lived near me in Tampa. The Mouth of the South readily agreed to have lunch with me to discuss his omission from the movie, and Andy Kaufman in general.
I met Hart at a downtown Tampa restaurant near the newsroom where I worked. He left the bullhorn at home, and wore a normal, non-airbrushed suit. But his signature mullet remained, and he carried a sharpie marker with him to graciously sign autographs for the constant trickle of fans who interrupted our conversation everywhere we went. Hart spoke in an only slightly less animated, deeply-Southern tone than when he’s yelling at ringside, but he was still lively, and great fun in conversation.
I loved his Kaufman stories so much, that Hart and I actually ended up having lunch together two days in a row. Hart explained to me that he and Jerry Lawler — prominently featured in Man on the Moon — were signed to rival wrestling companies, and so Hart’s bosses wouldn’t let him appear in the film with Lawler. Which is a travesty of justice! That entire Q&A can be found HERE. It’s a really great interview.
After lunch both days, we walked around downtown Tampa talking and talking (he and I both deserved the nickname Mouth of the South). Since I too was a musician, Hart told me about his time in 60s garage band The Gentrys, and their million-selling, top-five hit song, “(Gotta) Keep On Dancing.”
This reminded me that I’d recently heard Husker Du frontman Bob Mould had transitioned to a new job writing storylines for professional wrestling. I asked Hart if he knew Bob Mould. It took Hart a second to recall, but eventually he declared, “Yeah! Yeah, I know Bob! You know, everyone tells me Bob’s this big, influential musician — but then, he’s never even had a hit? How does that work? How is he famous without ever having a hit? I just don’t get that!”
Over the next few minutes, I explained the concept of punk rock to Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart: “It’s like what they say about the Velvet Underground,” I explained, “‘They old sold 300 copies of their record, but every single person who bought it then went out and started a band.’” One of the greatest/most surreal moments of my life…
When the article came out, I brought a copy to Jimmy Hart personally at Tampa’s Morrisound Recording studio, where he was busy writing and recording original instrumental music for both his wrestling organization, and a for a monster truck company. For this more casual visit, Hart had brought a fat envelops stuffed with photos and negatives of himself and Andy Kaufman. I poured over this treasure trove for an hour. And though reporters are not allowed to compromise themselves by taking gifts from their subjects, Hart gave me one of those original photos — the black-and-white pic at the top of this post.
Having occupied New Orleans for 20 years now, I’ve seen more concerts than most people on Earth will ever see, and still I declare that the romantic pre-internet 90s were a fucking important time in music. And the Jesus Lizard were the best of that era’s rock bands.
The band’s main attraction, David Yow, is a hilarious maniac — the type of ultra-wild frontman that almost couldn’t exist today without getting MeToo’d. Everyone who ever attended a Jesus Lizard show has a personal David Yow story, because he made a point to attack each audience member individually.
The first couple Jesus Lizard shows I saw in Florida on accident, I found hard to understand. Didn’t get it, didn’t like it. But by the third show, I fell in love and henceforth drove wherever I had to drive to catch them. In 1999, my own band’s incredible big redhead bassist Jack booked them at The Rubb, this amazing club he ran. An indy club, but as nice as a House of Blues, The Rubb was both sweet, and also tight. My subversive redhead friend — the greatest redhead I’ve ever known, if I’m to be honest — ran this high-end motherfucker like a boss for a year or two, filling its sweet soundsystem with the tightest drum-n-bass, alt-rock, and all kinds of other potential money-losers that he managed to spin into success. Jack curated a music calendar not coincidentally customized to the same opinionated views he presented at band practice. We were all in heaven witnessing, up close, Pavement, Sunny Day Real Estate, Prince Paul, Ween, Tricky, Common, DJ Spooky, KRS-1, Cut Chemist, June Of 44, Rony Size with a live d&b band, and maybe the best show I’ve ever seen, The MakeUp in 1998. Plus a million others. Jack provided as many of these “famous people” stories as any publication I’ve worked for.
I remember invading the Jesus Lizard’s dressing room at The Rubb as they gathered steam for their show. We didn’t bug the band, or even say hello, just stared at them across the room while drinking their backstage Makers Mark. I knew this was wrong, stealing whiskey from David Yow, who clearly used it to fuel his over-the-top performances. But such is youth.
When the concert started, our guitar player, Angie, my girlfriend at the time, held a giant glass of Makers Mark. This makes no sense, as Angie was half Chinese. My Asian friends throughout the course of my life just cannot drink. A couple can but… The drunkest I ever saw Angie was after three Rolling Rocks, no bullshit. Her cheeks flushed after the first one. By the third she seemed to almost be in blackout. She was also amazing at math. If facts make me racist, so be it.
Though we hadn’t bothered the Jesus Lizard in their dressing room, David Yow must have recognized us, or his Makers Mark in Angie’s hand, because once the show got going and the sweat started flowing, he jumped off the stage and attacked little 98lb Angie. The cup went flying out of her hand and the Maker’s splashed everywhere as Yow dragged her to the ground. Both small and almost evenly matched, the two of them rolled around on the ground for a solid minute. I worried for her, but had seen Yow do so much crazy shit over the years that I didn’t think to step in and stop him, even though it sort of looked like they were making out.
When the song ended, Yow released her and jumped back onto the stage and announced to the audience, “That was Andy. Somebody get Andy a drink; some asshole spilled her drink.”
I found the mispronunciation of her name hilarious, but was disturbed to find out they’d been talking while wrapped around each other like that. She told me that when he’d tried to kiss her, she bit his neck instead. I felt like a bit of a cuck, because it was all, admittedly, kind of hot.
Though that doesn’t count as me meeting the Jesus Lizard.
In the back of the bus, Duane and I discussed his aluminum guitars. He let me play his — an honor. I then handed Dennison his guitar, and turned on my video camera. He said something like, “What Jesus Lizard song would you like me to teach you?” and then suddenly my camera’s fucking battery died. (Click here for that sad video).
3. David Yow with Flipper, New Orleans, 2019
I finally met the world’s greatest booze-fueled frontman just last year in New Orleans’s French Quarter, when I went to see the legendary band Flipper, specifically because David Yow filled in for departed vocalist, Bruce Loose.
Prior to the show, I sat in a booth enjoying a Maker’s Mark in Yow’s honor. Though David Yow is not a celebrity, I felt warm inside every time he walked by our table.
When the show seemed about to start, I finally stood up and walked over to him and, not nervous at all, said quite honestly, “David Yow, I don’t want to take up your time or embarrass you, but I did want to real quick tell you that I love you, and that I’m really glad to see you again.” He seemed to appreciate this, and we both went in for a surprisingly tender hug.
The Spring after Katrina, New Orleans was still a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and I was busy writing emails and making lists of supplies for the third year of the noise music festival I used to run, when I heard a knock at my door. I looked out the peephole and saw my friend Karen, who lived across town and had never just knocked on my door. I opened the door, very glad to see her.
Behind her stood Jello Biafra, former singer of the Dead Kennedys, political rabble rouser, and hero to many. Karen said Jello had just come from an acupuncture appointment around the corner from my house.
Jello is not unlike a white, punk rock Chuck D, and I would’ve loved to take Jello on a similar Katrina tour. Instead we just walked out into the yard and played with Chauncey together. I showed him how Chauncey liked to be punched him in his rock-hard forehead. “It’s how he plays!” I promised. Jello laughed, and expressed fascination when I told him we’d evacuated Katrina with Chauncey, and that he rode in our car like a dog.
Jello was very nice and mellow, likely because we had something to talk about beside the fact that he was Jello Biafra. Finding an objective topic is key to having a good experience with a person you admire. I did, however, ask Jello if he’d maybe come and DJ our NOizeFest that coming weekend.
Jello said he’d consider it. But then he did not attend. Karen later told me that he didn’t like the pressure of going “anywhere where he has to meet a bunch of people and be Jello Biafra.”
Dinosaur Jr. was my favorite rock band in high school, and not just because they provided the soundtrack to the first real love of my life. I deeply loved this girl for several years in high school before she finally gave me a lil shot, during which we drove two hours north to St. Petersburg, Florida to see Dinosaur Jr. on the Green Mind tour (with opening act My Bloody Valentine, supporting Loveless. Beat that!)
J was also in a complicated relationship at the time, having ousted creative powerhouse bassist Lou Barlow, who went on to prove his worth via Sebadoh. He’d almost pushed out drummer Murph by that time too, playing drums himself on all but three Green Mind tracks. Despite his creaky “singing” voice, J’s loud, wild guitar style really turned me on.
Back in high school, when concerts still felt novel to us, we always showed up to them several hours early. In St. Pete, we stood around outside 2,000-capacity outdoor venue Jannus Landing, staring at the tour buses. We thrilled to the sound of loud amps being tested inside the venue. We watched MBV’s Kevin Shields sit down in the dirt among some surprised kids.
Then minutes later, J Mascis himself moseyed out of the venue. J listened silently but intently to celebrity radio psychic, Gary Spivey, the guy with the giant grey brillo pad attached to his head (photo below), who seemed to be advising J as they walked down the sidewalk together.
We freaked out. His deep convo with Spivey did not deter us from running up on J and telling him we loved him (which I’ve since learned is the last thing you should ever do to someone you admire). For just this occasion, I’d brought along a purple marker, which I shoved at J, along with a flyer for the concert.
Mascis stopped but said nothing to us, just stared in a way that let me know he was exactly the weird, emotionless person that his music made him seem. He sighed slightly, took my flier, and wrote in a crooked scrawl:
The most lazy, J Mascis-esque move. So funny. My girlfriend, even more excited than I, begged him to sign her shirt, a thin, white v-neck t-shirt that made me pant. Just below her collar he scribbled “J”.
As we walked away, my girlfriend turned to me over her left shoulder — beaming so hard that she didn’t realize J Mascis and Gary Spivey had continued walking beside her. She cried out to me: “I’M NEVER WASHING THIS SHIRT!”
I looked past her and Spivey to J Mascis who, unbeknownst to her, leaned forward a bit to make eye contact with me and, with just his furrowed brow, seemed to say, Wow, your girlfriend’s kinda dumb.
But then, which one of us was hanging out with Gary fucking Spivey?
EPILOGUE : Though that girlfriend never loved me like I wanted her to, during that night’s moody, loud rendition of Green Mind’s “Thumb,” she and I shared what remains one of the best long kisses of my long life, and I was sure I loved her even more than I loved Dinosaur Jr.
Also, in 2006, I caught the Dino reunion tour with Lou Barlow back on bass, and ran into newly-reinstated drummer Murph in the French Quarter. He seemed annoyed that I recognized him.
Ian Svenonius, vocalist of Nation of Ulysses, The MakeUp, and Chain and the Gang, remains tied with David Yow of Jesus Lizard as the greatest rock n’ roll frontman of my lifetime— though Ian maybe wins, for doing his whole shtick without aid of booze. No one is more stylishly intense in concert, or as intelligent in interviews. I have read every interview Ian’s ever done, and every word he’s written. He’s not Chuck D, but I’ve loved and followed Ian Svenonius closely for almost 30 years. Whether he likes it or not…
Living in Florida — a state that most rock bands skip — my bandmates and I had really built Ian up from afar. We rarely got to meet our musical idols and so, when The MakeUp booked a Florida tour in 1998, I fucking had to interview him. I called the man twice at his house in DC from my desk at the St Petersburg Times, and tripped out when the British guy who introduced The MakeUp on the band’s live debut Destination: Love, answered my phonecall. Then my heart fluttered when MakeUp bassist (and Ian’s supposed girlfriend at the time?) Michelle May answered my second call and told me Ian was gone for the moment “at the health food store.”
I finally got him on the phone for an interview that was so long it seemed to annoy him. Otherwise, I found him as intelligent as expected. He indulged my every fanboy inquiry, while also seeming to subtly mock my overabundant interest in him — which even at the time seemed fair, and very in character.
2. Live in Orlando, 1998
My bandmates and I drove all over Florida to soak in every MakeUp show while we could. I brought a copy of the article I wrote about them to the band’s Orlando show. Before the show, outside the club, I nervously approached Ian: “Hi, I am the reporter you spoke to in Tampa. I wrote this art — “ at which point Ian interrupted me with a deep, surprisingly sincere hug.
The concert was as good as I’d hoped. The MakeUp’s call-and-response “gospel yeh yeh” sound, in peak form, turned the whole audience into a congregation of participants rather than spectators — or, as Ian had put it during our interview, “We’re trying to belie the trend in the industry, which is to downsize the productive element and increase the size of the consumer body. Including the entire audience in the performance expands the producer base.”
At that show, I think I maybe even cried a little. So fucking good.
3. Live in Tampa, 1998
My band’s bassist, Jack, had booked The MakeUp’s next FLA show that week in Tampa. My girlfriend and I spent days beforehand lovingly screen-printing artful flyers, while listening to the band’s new album, Sound Verite.
On the night of the Tampa show, with full club access via Jack, we over-excitedly followed the band members around everywhere, even rudely entering their dressing room as they changed into matching stage outfits. We were, admittedly, a little too excited to be around them. The band remained gracious though — until Ian eventually turned to us as he buttoned his shirt and said, “Maybe we could write a song for you, perhaps? A Svenonious/May/Canty/Gamboa original?”
He smiled when he said this but, acutely tuned in to Ian’s particular blend of sarcasm and sincerity, I felt deeply embarrassed, and left them alone the rest of the night.
That Tampa show was even better than Orlando’s — maybe the best concert of my life, to this day. I definitely teared up that time, and we all screamed along until we’d lost our voices.
4. Live in Tampa, 2000
At the time, my sister and I piloted an electronic pop duo called FunKruze, which opened for the MakeUp the next time they toured FLA.
Though honored and thrilled to open for America’s best live act, we immediately felt something odd brewing within The MakeUp camp. Lots of folks in attendance mumbled quietly about bassist Michelle May, sitting at the bar with her hand in the back pocket of a handsome indy rocker, who turned out to be The MakeUp’s new guitarist. We didn’t know which was weirder: that Ian and Michelle had broken up, that they were still in a band together, that the MakeUp had unceremoniously added a new member, or that this new member was also Michelle’s new boyfriend…
I made a point to mostly leave Ian alone that night, since I’d already met him last time, interviewed him, picked his brain clean, and felt no reason to bother him further. I may have said “hello,” but nothing more.
After FunKruze played our opening set, a friend went and asked Michelle May what she thought. “They were better than most of the bands that open for us,” she replied. Good enough for us!
The MakeUp rocked well, but their stage energy felt…off. Subdued, almost. When that tour wrapped weeks later, the best band I’d ever seen broke up.
5. Live in New Orleans, 2002
Years later, I moved to New Orleans, and saw that Ian’s newest band, Scene Creamers (still featuring Michelle May and her guitarist boyfriend) had scheduled a show on Mardi Gras night at the Shim Sham club. This new band sounded good, but lacked vital energy. Aside from my two friends, my girlfriend and me, the club was almost empty — a striking difference from those 100% packed MakeUp shows.
The leader of Nation of fucking Ulysses did not deserve this apathy! Not even on Mardi Gras day.
The empty room seemed to give Ian a negative attitude about Mardi Gras in general. From the stage, he made a few disheartening quips about “krewes.” In an attempt to make the show more fun for the poor band, my girlfriend danced up to the stage mid-song and tried to hand Ian a strand of Mardi Gras beads.
He wanted no part. With a dismissive wave of his expressive hand, Ian silently shoo’d her away. My friends and I laughed, but were also mortified, and slightly embarrassed for our hero.
For someone who fed off the power of the congregation, to not “get” Mardi Gras seemed like a serious lapse in judgement/coolness.
6. Live in New Orleans, 2009
In the meantime, Ian Svenonius began releasing books of his famous faux political propaganda, the first being the brilliant tome, The Psychic Soviet. In that book (as in all of his books) he gives a lot of advice about being in a band. In Psychic Soviet, he wrote something ironic and funny to the effect of, ‘You spend your whole life trying to create fans, and then when you succeed, your fans find a way to make you miserable at every turn.’
I imagined him picturing me when he wrote that.
Still, I showed out next time Ian came through New Orleans again with his new group, Chain and the Gang. That time, he’d smartly called on the help of his old friend, genius one-man-band Quintron, who booked the band to play at his home, Spellcaster Lodge. But despite Ian’s band sharing the bill with famous former Beat Happening singer and Dub Narcotic Records founder Calvin Johnston, that show, on a weekday night, still only attracted a few dozen fans.
Always ready to support Ian’s efforts though, I’d brought money to buy the new Chain and the Gang vinyl record, Down with Liberty…Up with Chains. However, I’d learned from befriending Chuck D a few years earlier, that there comes a point when you’ve asked your favorite artist every possible question, and your relationship to them no longer has any purpose. And so I made a point to wait until Ian had left the merch table, and bought the record from Calvin Johnston instead.
And that’s the story of the time I met Calvin Johnston.
7. Live in New Orleans, 2012
When Chain and the Gang swung through New Orleans again not long after, I wanted to help his situation. Having watched Ian (the greatest frontman ever) play poorly attended local show, I feared he may never come back to New Orleans, and so decided to interview him a second time, for the cover of AntiGravity.
By then, I’d practiced my craft for years, and so did a great interview — though my over-enthusiasm still shone through and seemed to embarrass him a bit. Regardless, I remain proud to have gotten Ian Svenonius a local cover story.
At the following show, since he and I had recently spoken, I again felt comfortable saying hello in person. I brought a copy of AntiGravity magazine to the show, along with a few of the books I’d published.
My friend Rob Cambre and I approached Ian outside of Siberia on St. Claude before the show. I said “hello” and began a conversation. Ian quickly interrupted me to point at Rob’s shirt, which featured eternal New Orleans showgirl, Chris Owens. “Who is that?” he asked Rob.
Rob took over, and explained as best he could the majesty of Chris Owens. Upon Rob’s last word, Ian dashed into the club, ending our conversation. I had no chance to give him the magazine or books.
Almost no one attended that weeknight show either, despite my cover story (proving to me, once and for all, that even the best music journalism does not really drive show attendance). This time though, Chain and the Gang totally killed it in that near-empty room. Ian’s smart stage rants and energy had seemingly returned to form.
I remember being sick with a bad cold that night though, and so I left before they finished, and instructed the sound man to pass the magazine and books on to Ian. I heard later than he’d thanked me from the stage.
The next day, Ian texted my phone to tell me “thank you” for the books, and for my support.
I texted him back and thanked him for thanking me. After that, we never spoke to each other again.
Epilogue: A reader just reminded me that, last time I visited Washington D.C., I made a point to go catch Ian spinning records as DJ Name Names, and we took a photo together — the lowliest of fanboy acts. He was very nice though. Then last year, I caught his one man act, Escape-ism, at the Spellcaster Lodge, but we didn’t interact.
More than once, Gambit Weekly nominated my musical act The White Bitch “Best Electronic Artist” at the magazine’s annual awards ceremony. But then they always pitted me against Quintron, who always won.
My booby prize came in the form of seeing the words “White Bitch” blared huge across double Jumbotron screens to a 1,000-plus crowd that included New Orleans’s mayor, and every member of the Neville family. I also got to hear awards host Harry Shearer’s famous voice say “White Bitch” into the microphone — at which point he paused to enjoy the wave of crowd laughter that followed. That was fuckin sweet.
When Quintron won the category, he magnanimously dragged all of the nominees up onto the stage with him. Somewhere in it, Q said my band name again into the microphone. Also sweet. Exiting the stage, we all shook Shearer’s hand.
When the awards finished, we all attended the photoshoot and afterparty, where we hounded Harry Shearer. Quintron’s partner, Miss Pussycat, a talented puppeteer and voice-over artist, told me later that she cornered Shearer, a hero of hers, backstage, and interrogated him about the Simpsons. I think she even asked him to do Ned Flanders. Or maybe Mr. Burns. Either way, I bet he loves when people do that.
Ten years later, I interviewed Shearer for a Columbia Journalism Review piece I wrote about lying, deadbeat former journalist Chris Rose. “[I was at Kingfish and] this waiter walks up, and it took me probably way too long to realize [it was Rose]. I was absolutely startled,” Shearer told me. “To go from an essential voice to a forgotten voice in the relative blink of an eye is pretty shocking. For a city that reveres tradition and history, a city full of second chances, it seems very puritanical what seems to have happened to Chris.”
Big rolls of plastic crowded the stage at House of Blues. Most bands might ask for liquor or M&Ms in their riders, but GWAR’s demanded giant rolls of plastic.
Four or five people from GWAR’s crew joined us House of Blues stagehands in wrapping that protective plastic around all the speakers, all the stage monitors, all the racks of lights, the front of house mixing board, and across the entire stage floor.
Over the six hours this took, it became apparent that most of GWAR’s “roadies” were also the band members themselves.
First we all built a sort of cage that took up the stage’s back half, then draped it in rubber skin masks that hid the band’s amplifiers, and the tanks that would pump “blood,” “urine,” and “semen” onto the crowd. GWAR had switched over to water-based fluids. One of the crew said they previously used corn-syrup based goo, which caused me to wonder, for the 100th time that day, how the fuck GWAR made it this far for this long, all the while inconveniencing everyone and ruining audiences’ clothing.
One of GWAR’S roadies dedicated himself solely to the set-up and care of the rubber characters the band “killed” each night on stage. After we’d loaded all their gear into House of Blues, this guy opened a giant “coffin” full of rubber body parts, all dripping in fake blood from last night’s show. It stunk so bad. The roadie cleaned the body parts and attached them all together to form GWAR’s rubber Mike Tyson, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, etc.
Another roadie, around seven feet tall, played the part of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. His giant dinosaur costume added another couple feet to is height, looming so big it didn’t fit well backstage. We had to pull the dino out of GWAR’s truck and piece it together in broad daylight on the sidewalk out front of the club.
“Is that for Mardi Gras?” some passing tourists asked.
“No it’s for GWAR!” we proudly shouted back.
When we’d finished assembling GWAR’s set and props, the exhausted band and its roadies all went to eat. Not long after that, they played a two-hour show in full costume.
During the show, whenever bandleader Oderus Urungus (RIP!) would chop apart, say, rubber Saddam Hussein, the dead body specialist, now dressed all in black, would sneak out onto the stage, retrieve the bloody limbs, and run them back to the coffin, before readying the next victim. By night’s end, he’d filled the box back up with dripping, smelly rubber body parts.
After the epic show, GWAR stripped off their elaborate costumes, and joined us and their roadies in disassembling the whole stage and loading it back into the truck, dinosaur and all.
I’d always assumed that alotta rock n’ rollers choose their lifestyle to escape real work — whereas GWAR’s rock n’ roll dream dooms them, to this day, to brutal amounts of work. I can only imagine they love it.
Back in the days of answering machines with cassette tapes in them — when you had to wait until you got home to play the tape and hear your messages — I called Doug E. Fresh’s house and had the pleasure of hearing his personalized outgoing message, rendered all in beatbox. Brrrrrt diggity brrrt, leave a brrt-drrt-drrt message… It was amazing.
I otherwise remember little about that eventual conversation.
However, we followed that uneventful 1999 meeting up with a second, more substantial call in 2006, weeks before Doug, Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane all performed at the first post-Katrina Jazz Fest (I spoke with all three rap legends in one day!). When I asked Doug E. Fresh, “How do you feel about not playing any jazz at Jazz Fest?” he replied, “Well, everything derives from jazz… Plus, I may break down into a jazz set. I can do whatever.”
Good answer! “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” was very nice, but also blunt. He told me his sons performed music, but that it bored him.
MPW: You told your sons you were bored with their music? How did they respond?
DEF: Well, they know I’m not a hater, and they know I’m in the mix and that I know what’s going on. So it’s real hard to be mad at me. I like the new group they’re doing…
Doug E. Fresh also asked a lot of questions about Katrina…
MPW: Do you agree with what Kanye West said about Bush?
DEF: What Kanye said was definitely true — in his heart. He didn’t see enough support going out to black people. A lot of people felt that same way, but didn’t have the heart to say it. But even under the circumstance, I’m gonna feel good coming back there! Ain’t no city parties like New Orleans, baby!
MPW: The neighborhood you’re performing in did flood but has come back. Please make a point to go tour the Ninth Ward and Lakeview, and other places that haven’t yet come back. You’ve never seen anything like it.
DEF: You mean, like, dead bodies?
MPW: No, they took those away. I just mean, you can visit the Quarter and never realize that the majority of the city was destroyed. It won’t be fixed for years, maybe decades. So make sure you go look around, so you can bring the truth back to your people up North.
“We need to talk to you guys.” Our drummer knocked on the Afghan Whigs’s dressing room door after a Gainesville, FL show on the Gentleman tour. I was 22, my bandmates tracked younger, and all of us wanted to open the Whigs’ upcoming show in Tampa, no bullshit, let’s do this.
Big, sweaty bassist John Curley answered our knock. “Hi, who are you guys?”
Our drummer broke it down, “We need to talk to you all about your show in Tampa.“
“OK….” Curley did seem confused. He’d just played a big, sweaty show and probably hadn’t had a glass of icewater yet. “Um. Give us a second.”
About five minutes later, the door opened back up and the band invited in a large huddle of young men who worshiped Dulli’s music, and one or two of their girlfriends. I hadn’t visited many backstage areas, and had expected the rockstars would chat up girls, while acting rude to the fanboys. But Dulli sat in a comfy chair, mostly smiles, talking with his real fans. Sunglasses on, he seemed to have ingested more than ice water…
My band sat before Dulli and naively demanded he let us open for the Whigs in Tampa later that week. Dulli seemed charmed that we’d all come together to speak with him, a band that loved his band. He said something like, “Yeah sure, sounds good,” and pretty much agreed to let us open for him. “If it’s OK with our booking guy,” he amended. Which of course it would not be OK with the booking guy. Dulli was just being sweet.
He did put us all on the guest lists for all of the rest of the Florida Gentleman dates. We went backstage to high-five him each night. He gave us personal attention as a form of grooming, raising us into lifelong fans. That shit works; I still know him today.
2. NOLA, 2003
By the age of 30, I’d moved away from his music, but one of the few things I knew about New Orleans before moving here, was that Greg Dulli lived here. His Twilight Singers band recorded here. He’d reportedly had a sort of bad relationship with New Orleans, or at least its drugs.
A couple years after I arrived, one gorgeous New Orleans afternoon, I finally spotted Dulli on Frenchmen St. Just a block from FAB bookstore, I ran in and asked store-owner Otis for a copy of my novel The Donkey Show. I stepped back out the door and into Dulli.
“You were very kind to my band when I was about 22,” I blurted.
“When was that, last week?” All smiles, Dulli shifted his cigarette to this opposite hand, took the book, said the title aloud, and thanked me.
3. NOLA, 2006
That year after Katrina, when New Orleans remained ghostly empty, one terrible hot summer day, a friend and I spotted Dulli riding down Frenchmen on a big black beach cruiser, wearing all black, long pants, big black Jackie O sunglasses.
“Dulli!” I shouted like I knew him.
“Hey guys,” he smiled like he knew me. He pedaled across the street to stand with us and talk about Katrina, the quality of the free meals the Red Cross handed out, and the general apocalyptic landscape.
“My buddy in Marigny had a giant tree fall into his swimming pool. Totally fucked up his pool,” Dulli smiled.” I told him, ‘Whatever you do, do not complain to anyone about the pool.”
4. NOLA, 2006
When I interviewed Dulli on separate occasions for OffBeat and Gambit, he answered his phone, “What’s up, Donkey Show?”
Then he found out my band’s name and henceforth called me “White Bitch.” “That’s the best band name of all time,” he enthused.
5. NOLA, 2009
For my New Orleans music guidebook, my photographer friend took a photo of Greg Dulli behind R Bar, the local bar he owns — downstairs from the Royal Street Inn, which he also owns — wearing a giant bunny head.
6. NOLA, 2010
A friend of mine drove from Alabama to New Orleans to hear Dulli kick off his solo acoustic tour at a nice, small Frenchmen Street bar. Obnoxiously drunk, I pried us backstage afterwards — or really, just into a courtyard adjacent to Frenchmen St., where Dulli and some of my musician friends cooled down.
I introduced Dulli to my Alabama friend. My friend too quickly asked to take a photo with Dulli, whose smile vanished.
“Really?” Dulli asked and I feared our good run over. “Now, man?” Dulli huffed.
“Dulli’s one of my neighbors,” I said to my visiting friend, trying to make a joke of it all, “We don’t do this to our neighbors here in New Orleans!”
But just as my embarrassed friend gave up, Dulli rallied, smiled: “OK, get in here. Let’s take a pic.”
I’ve also heard some hairy local stories about Greg Dulli. He doesn’t have the absolute best reputation here in New Orleans. I know he’s had to beat the shit out of a couple people who’ve fucked with him too much (I love those stories!). But though he’s often painted as the prince of darkness, Greg Dulli has been a gentleman to me for two decades and counting.