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- Posted on Apr 10th 2008 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
How much do you feel your experience onstage as a frontman has prepared you for spoken word?
Yeah, just more stage time with a mic in your hand helps. But I started doing music with Black Flag in 1981 and did my first talking shows in 1983. I say that they're both stringed instruments. One's a banjo and one's a guitar, and if you have a feel for strings and a neck you can kind of get used to one or the other or go from one to the other 'cause you kind of know your way around the room. And so with a band you're vocalizing or whatever; you're on auto-pilot in a way. It's a set course cause here's the song, here's the chorus, here's the thing. But with the talking shows I don't really have a script. It's my mind up there making sense of things. So you better have something to say. Get a point of view; that's the best thing you can walk on stage with, a direction to go. Some people are good when they ramble, I'm not. I go up there, very front loaded. Basically I walk out with the bow already pulled back and I just walk out and go, "Good evening, boing." And we're off.
There's a great tradition of spoken-word artists like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Who are some of the artists in that field that have influenced you?
The people that impacted me were George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, those three people hugely, especially Lenny Bruce, just because of what he was saying when he was saying it. And my mom had those records, so I would listen and you kind of get it. You're a little kid listening to junkie bebop humor. And then as an older guy you get it a little better, a little differently. Then as an adult you're like, "Oh." Then it's very impactful. Carlin was a lot easier for a kid like me to get his head around because 'The Seven Words you Can't say on Television' and all that. And Pryor, he's just a funny guy. But when you come at him culturally, and I come from Washington, D.C., was a very heavy black-white tension there, and hearing Richard Pryor kind of deconstruct the white-black dynamic was healthy. He was easily a genius and a great humanitarian for what he did. I think he gave white people somewhat of a view into the black experience. These guys were listed as comedians, but they're like sociological behaviorists or humanitarian observers or something. It wasn't always funny what they were saying. They would point out all the hypocrisy. And I think that's part of the job of comedy, where fiction gets its truth.
What issues are most important to you in this election year?
I'd like to see someone who's absolute on Iraq, who just says, "We gotta get out of there. It's time to go." And someone who comes down hard with a thing on health care, and says, "What are we going to do in the next 50 years about the real problems of global warming and the real problem that petroleum is a dead end, that runs out, that pollutes the world?" And we should be looking at a place like Brazil that uses ethanol and see if there's something to be done there, like leading the world in progress. I want to hear someone say, "It's a new day. We just did eight years of this and now we're gonna do four to eight years of this." I don't want more of the same. I've had it, I got it, and I didn't like it.
Are there any politicians in past you've really admired?
Yeah, [Jimmy] Carter. He was a man of peace, and people love to hate that dude. People just tee off on him. I think he was probably the one politician who wasn't all bad. I think history's fine with him. It's a bunch of douchebag Republican conservatives who hate him because he doesn't want to drop bombs on people.
Are there people musically who you feel have a voice of social consciousness today?
I don't think there's really the need for it. I think if you tried to come on strong like a Bob Dylan, you'd just be in coffeeshops in front of nice girls who write poetry and stick them under your dressing room door. We live in times where the distraction is what's for sale and the issue is not what's for sale. Now more than ever we live in a consumerist culture where it's all about accessorization, what's in your iPod. So I think youth culture has been kind of distanced from what's out there to know and have an opinion about. This is their country. They're about to inherit this thing. They should be really trying to learn how the machine works. Like, they should be voting. As soon as they turn 18 they should be like, "Man, I've been looking forward to this. This is my country. I'm going to kick some ass."
What is on your wish list of places to travel?
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos -- I've never been up there and I'm probably going to go up there after I finish in Australia in early May. I'll finish in New Zealand, so I'll probably go up there. I'd like to get to Burma, I'd like to do more exploring in Afghanistan. I've been there twice, but I don't think it's really a possibility to be able to go there. It's a great way to get killed. But I'd like to go and see more of that.
You can't really know a place until you spend time there.
Exactly, otherwise you just buy into the hype or you get all kind of run around by the propaganda more than you actually get a sense of what the place is like. And quite often governments are one way and the people are quite another. That's the hope I go into these places with: that these people will see me on my own walking and just figure, "Well, he came all the way out here." And so far, when people say, "What are you doing here?" I say, "Quite honestly, I'm here just to meet people and get out and see a thing or two. That's it." And they are very impressed. They're like, "Oh, meet my brother-in-law. Here's my nephew." And that's served me very well. It might also be the thing that could get me stabbed. I don't know. So far it's been all kinds of cool.
What place have you gone to that's been the most different than how it's perceived?
Iran -- you couldn't meet nicer people. That's what I was always told about Tehran, that I'd go and have a great time. And I went and I did. The food was great, the people were friendly, and I walked all over Tehran without the tour guide and no one said, "Hey, get out!" or anything. Not even close; people were very cool.
When you go to these places and then come back and talk about them in 'Provoked,' do you find people are surprised?
Yeah, people come up and they're like, "What are you, crazy?" I'm like, "Probably, but not any crazier than a guy who skydives or something." I don't feel crazy for going to these places. I just want to go and get my own version of all of this. That's the desire, to find out a thing or two that I'm not getting from the news and from all the hate and the fear. The fear thing just gets so wearisome. So I like to come back and I always say, "I'm not an authority. I'm not trying to tell you that I know all this stuff. I'm no scholar." But here's one guy's testimony. No one said, "Death to America" to me.
Are we going to see you get involved with music again at some point?
It's nothing I'm running back to. I've done so much of it in my life. I'm not putting it down; it's just that I went out in '06 and did a whole bunch of shows with the band and it was cool. It just felt like yesterday. It was like, "Wow, shouldn't I be doing something else now?" I'm still the music fan. But as a player I don't know what more I could kind of add. I still like the idea of singing. And I don't feel like I'm done with music, but I really need to hear something that makes me want to drop everything and do music, and right now I'm just not hearing it in my head. And also I've done a lot of music; I've made a lot of records, I've produced a lot of records, I've done a lot of band shows. There's not a whole lot you can tell me about touring. I've kind of been there and done that. And so at 47, if someone says, "Make an album right now," I'll go, "OK, let's see, that is the next nine months of my life." Well, I did that thing for a quarter of a century, maybe I should do some other things, too.