AN INTERVIEW WITH GRANT HART
"I haven't done many 180 degree turns in my career. You read some people, former members of Husker Du included, and they say 'We're a hard-core band' and then a couple of years later 'We were never a hard core band!' I tend to speak what I'm feeling at the time rather than have a series of pat answers for my interviews. I'm trying to be as honest as possible. In doing so, how could I possibly be wrong? If you feel it, it's real. I think sometimes ulterior motives -- and I'm as prone to them as the next fellow -- but sometimes they get in the way of honest communication. There has been enough healing in my life so that I no longer have to scream. The hurts are different hurts."
Richard Marshall interviews Grant Hart
COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
3AM: …Gregory Corso.
GH: A long lost daughter had been living in St Paul all along.
3AM: Really? Because that's where you're from isn't it?
GH: Yeah. That's where he spent his last days reacquainting himself with her. She was working as a nurse and I'm sure that ... you know, I've enjoyed his sense of humour. Throwing a spanner into the works of all dignified attempts... you know, say if someone like Ginsberg is putting on a good front -- the Apostle Paul of the Beat movement -- and Gregory would show up and say a couple of things and put everything back to zero again! I regretted that I hadn't known that because I certainly could have spent some time with him because he's one figure that as far as I'm concerned I just missed by moments on so many occasions.
3AM: Of that group you knew Burroughs.
GH: Yeah. He's a major influence on me in ways beyond his writing. The man's manners. He stood as a good example of someone who could treat anybody with the dignity which they deserved and yet write like he did. He could walk in there and have the manners of anybody but yet be able to write things that would shock anybody at any given time. We did some recorded compilations like 'Diamond Hidden in the Mouth of a Corpse' and 'Smack My Crack' and 'It's Clean but It Looks Dirty' and video compilations and things. They had a symposium down in Lawrence Kansas where he was from called the River City Reunion that the band Husker Du took part in and the nice thing for both of us is I knew who he was and I knew the nature of his work but I hadn't cued into it so much - I respected him and acknowledged what he did and everything - but I didn't have this cocoon. We met as two people, not fan and object.
By that I think I really stood out from the group of people who were always at him and especially in the last years of his life. I think he had people who prepared for the meeting with Burroughs, they prepared for it! Certainly it was a monumental thing for people who admired his work but it meant that he wasn't meeting real people. Sadly he made the comment to me 'How come you're the only one who comes and tells jokes when you're around me?' You look at the dynamic of the early Beats and sure, that was the forties, but he enjoyed the company of lively people. But by the end everyone seemed to have some Burroughsian topic which they had prepared. You know 'What about cryogenics?' and so on. 'Life on Mars?'
I would ask him about what kind of cars his father drove and stuff like that. Many of the people who moved into the Packard Automobile organisation and vice versa had been employees of the Burroughs Corporation and Mark Burroughs always drove Packards. You don't hear about that anywhere. Not that it's a great key to any great mystery or anything. But it tells you something about the person. Here's something that had a strong owner identity. It was once a somewhat pretentious display of stability. Bankers drove Buick's but people a little bit higher than that drove Packards. So here's something that no one would have keyed onto before.
3AM: Were you reading Boroughs before you met him?
GH: I started reading Burroughs after meeting him. I have noticed about the way I am about music, I read a lot of books but I enjoy reading more if I have a personal acquaintance with the people. Not that's necessarily a qualifier for what I delve into but I've noticed that I really get the window wide open when I get to know the people. He was a greatly flawed person. The people that ended up - I don't want to say controlling him -- but the people who were presenting him were serving up an agenda. But for me Burroughs was a human being first and foremost to me.
3AM: You met Patti Smith at his funeral.
GH: That was an interesting set of circumstances. The cortege went from Lawrence Kansas, across the state of Missouri to St Louis which is on the Mississippi River is one the east side and the Missouri River is on the west side. I had had two copies of the memorial service extra in my coat pocket and as we were winding into the cemetery there was Patti and her boyfriend Oliver Ray. While we were waiting about waiting for the ceremony I handed these two copies to Oliver. I didn't approach Patti. I'd been in contact with her before but although she doesn't have any personal handlers or bodyguards when we contacted in the past it was more of a fan artist thing -- 1980 such and such.
But this was the funeral of a good friend, it was after party that turned somewhat absurd - this person who produced a lot of visual images for William, a fellow with name of T... -- he threw a party at his home. It turned absurd within the twelve hours I was there. William would have found it interesting. As they're leaving this fellow grabs Oliver and just smashes his face into his and makes this comment -- 'Admit it, all you straight guys love it.' The guy clearly saw throwing the party as a step up the social ladder rather than something that he did out of real concern for William. There was little dignity in it. By the end of the night there were something's that had transpired that were pretty gruesome. As we were pulling out of St Louis there was a wayside rest and Anne W seized these fish kids -- you know, white kids with dreadlocks, tie die stuff -- 4 or 5 of them, mixed sex and race and Anne W said they're coming with us and sure enough these kids were fans of the Beats and one of the girls had come up to the hearse and asked 'Is old Bull Lee in there?' like very prescient.
The only book they had on them was Anne W's book on the Beats and the only photo in it was Anne with William. And for the girl to have made that comment was a very psychic situation. And they end up at the affair afterwards and more or less the host of the party said 'Well if you're guests then you're going to perform for your supper.' People had them dosed with special K without their knowledge. It was strange. Here were the next generation of people to whom the torch was going to be handed to and the handle of the torch was hot. I had ... one of the fellows was one of the guys who had been with William and who did ersatz praetorian guard thing with another fellow at the grave side and he and I were talking and I said why don't we get them to finish off all the cream puffs that were left at gun point. Very Kafkaesque. You know, you're at the party so you're going to eat and eat and eat. You know, there were jokes made like that.
Outside by the pool you'd hear comments like "But I'm straight" and "But it's a man's hand on it when you're jacking off yourself". Things that I don't think paints a good picture to anybody. Not that you're putting on airs but you survive by the impression you make on people. Bad impressions spoil things. I just was a little bit put off by this. The guy was wealthy and a bit of a beast. I guess his name doesn't have to be written in to this but it's an example of one of those good scenes gone bad.
Anyway, it turns out that Oliver Ray was familiar with the music that he was not sure which one of Husker Du I was! At risk of mentioning the wrong song titles he went into it with me on the phone later. He admitted it! He didn't want to tell me which his favourite songs were because he was afraid that I might have been the other guy! I guess it's one thing that resonates from the Husker Du legacy is the break-up. There's a new vintage of sour grapes every year! I'm sure there are things I do that tick Bob off...
3AM: How did you two meet?
GH: I was working at a record store and he came in as a customer. 1978. There were few punk rockers in Minnesota at the time and most of them had bands on the vine. He was a guitar player - obviously - and I guess he was looking for an outlet.
This is the rock and roll hotel I'm told.
3AM: Yeah. I met Malanga here.
GH: You met Malanga? Holy cow! I'll tell you a Malanga story. You know Charles Henri Ford? Let me go to my room and show you something.
Surrealism of 1945 or 43 when Duchamps sent the invitations out. These are the invitations to Charles Henri Ford's last exhibition. I mean, one of 10,000. And they're trying to say they're like a limited copy!!! Anyway, you can have it!
Here's a short little piece on Charles Henri that Malanga wrote.
I was in New York to do a show and the Plymell's had become friends with me. I'd actually met them at the wake in Lawrence Kansas. We hit it off really well and we were supposed to ride together in the cortege but we overslept so I rode with different people. But we stayed in touch and he invited me to come to Cherry Valley New York. Cherry Valley Editions was operated by Charles Plymell and his wife Pamela. Mary Beach who ran Shakespeare and Company and published Joyce is Pamela Plymell's mother so I suggested to them that they should write a story about the situation called literary in-laws. I was playing with the title of Ted Morgan's book 'Literary Outlaw'! I was in New York with Charles Henri, who I'd spoken to on the phone before, at the time of his 94th birthday party last February.
Charles enters the home of this guy who looked after Charles's sister and who used to take care of Charles Henri in resplendent flat topped coat, felt orange shirt, pink paisley tie, shock of white hair - it was the look of 'here I'm seeing my friends', the most amazing entrance without there being any fanfare! We were introduced at the party and sidled up next to him. There was a lot of snap snap snap. Malanga was trying to get Charles to take pictures. And the Plymells, me and Malanga we went to the party together. But Malanga has this complicated computer camera and Charles Henri couldn't get the thing to work. Also, the appetizers were unsuitable for Charles. I went down to a little store and bought a cake because Charles was already drinking some wine and he was 94 and knowing Burroughs when he was old - you know, old men, empty stomach and a little taste can prove to be a little embarrassing.
So I got this pound cake and one of those disposable cameras that you just point and shoot. And Charles and I just went round and we did half each of the photographs. It was nice for Charles. I was doing it for a reason. I wanted him to remember me the next time I called. I wrote to him a couple of times afterwards and he wrote back. He was quite attracted by me. Unfortunately the time I made it to New York to visit him he had suffered a fall. There was a reading for him at the Metropolitan Arts Club of New York. I was asked to read alongside Parnell and Malanga. Penny Arcade and Lynne Tillman - she worked closely with Charles and encouraged him to publish 'Water from a Bucket' -
3AM: Tillman the novelist?
GH: Quite possibly. I just assumed she was a scholar. Someone who maybe had the opportunity to do things like that. We hit it off well. Unfortunately when I got back to visit him he was already in decline. There's a final irony to him dying before his show 'Alive and Kicking.' It's almost like a famous contrarian making his final contrary act! In a way he replaced William. Kind of like another adopted grandfather. Plymell is a little too young for that but he and I have hit it off as peers. I still regard him as a respected elder. We have a lot in common on top of the literature. When I came back to this arts festival he was hitting me up for advice. He had an old mercury muscle car and he wanted advice as to how to get the most out of it!
A few years ago I got into Studebaker motor cars mostly as a status project. There's very little deviation from the correct way of doing something. There's a mathematical exactitude. When you torque something to 90 pounds, 92 is too much, 88 is too little. I've always had projects like that in my life at creative times. Like assembling model aero planes where there's an exactitude to it. It stimulates the other side of the mind. It's stimulating itself. Painting helps me write. Writing helps me paint. Cooking makes me do both. Stimulation is a way rather than a what. I was an Arts Student. It was not right though to spend money on tuition and be gone most of the time.
3AM: So Husker Du.
GH: Well, I met Bob in the record store and then Greg Norton and another fellow John Clegg - not the South African John Clegg - we'd been making free jazz, weird kind of fun and improvisational. We had no audience. We did it for each other. Me on drums sometimes, sometimes keyboard, sometimes John would give me his saxophone. He taught me much saxophone in my youth. Bob came along and there were gigs for Husker Du because there was a rehearsal. There was a fellow who was the manager of another band who had these lucrative contracts. He approached me. He was the manager of the store me and Greg worked at. He approached me and asked if it was possible for us to set up some sort of combo that we can exploit these contacts with.
Afterwards the three of us continued to rehearse together. Bob was a spot on guitar player. Quit studies. Business major. Things that were to show up later in his career. I guess your goals are different when you are 17. When older financial security became more important to him. I've always felt that security is the antithesis of freedom. No matter how it is sold to a person, the more security you have, it is at the expense of your freedom. No matter what shape that security takes. Financial security means you have to spend more time working on it and managing it. National Security means that your boundaries have to be protected and you can't have an open door policy.
We hit it off. Let's say that a series of stepping stones disguised the exact river we were crossing. I think that we didn't realise how deep we were getting as the time went on. Even when he tried to modify it to make it more comfortable, 8 years you don't want to throw away. 9 years you don't want to throw away. And it gets to a point where you have had such a time investment in a thing like that that each day is another link in the chain holding you down to a project that in the end is perhaps not altogether appropriate. I'm not saying that we didn't do great things together but for all the animosity that has been vented in the meantime maybe it would have been better to have been a lot less famous and a good deal more happy. But there's nothing like the war to sell records!
3AM: So you're glad you're out of it?
GH: I have very few regrets. One thing that I have worked on remedying and it can only be sorted out by time is I was 17 years old when I started that band and when I left it I think in a lot of ways I was still emotionally a 17 year old. There's a trade-off.
At 26 when I left the band pretty much everything I had acquired as an adult I owed to that. So when you turn your back on that you have a lot of second guessing. If I have one regret it would be that in personal matters keeping the records in print. There are some things we would have sorted out if we were on better terms. We were getting very close to it and then Bob made Greg and I both a very obscene proposal which was to purchase the band from the two of us. I don't know if he intended it to be as insulting as it was - $15,000 for the each of us -- lock stock and barrel. That's putting my time and Greg's time pretty cheap.
I know enough about the man to know that my work and Greg's work from that band would have disappeared had we put it into that man's hands! It would have been the early works of Bob Mould. I guess you can chalk it up to his background and the path that he's walked but I don't think he needs the freedom that me and Greg needs. He wants things to be secure. He wants things to be nicely packaged up. He wants real estate. He doesn't want friends. He wants friends in as much as he wants to tell them how important he is.
There was a series of essays - I forget the writer - it was called 'All Ears' by this fellow who did this writing for interview magazine which is based on Charles Henry Ford's 'View Magazine' and that's what he wants from friends. He has said things in interviews like 'I was supposed to be the producer for Nirvana but I turned it down ' 'I was supposed to be producer for Nevermind. I was the top of their list and they bugged me for a long time but I still declined.' Now that the diaries are out with all the documentation -- there's a list in there -- and I was curious about this because I spent years with the man and I wanted to know the truth. There's a list of potential producers there and that name does not show up in that list. I'm not using that as an example of the man's veracity but let's say that I am fully entitled to call the man a liar.
He's lied about me in an attempt to raise himself above the ashes of the band. He exploited problems that I was having at the end of the band but excluded problems that he had been having at different times. There were people that we had worked with for years that couldn't even approach me because he had a deal with them that if they worked with him they were not even allowed to speak to me. It took me years to sort this out. I'd be asking 'Why is Paul not speaking to me? Why is Paul not returning my phone calls?' Years later I'd find out, after they had stopped working with Mould that this was the case.
Artistically, in the big picture, I will be vindicated, if I haven't been already. Shortly, let's say about a year ago, I forget the title of the album, I was reading a review which was speaking about a song that vented heavily on me. In which, unknown to the listener he discreetly gives out my address, he calls me a deadbeat dad - I felt infuriated at that because there was a piece of my life - my fatherhood - and he could never wear those shoes the way I had. Although we both have similar lifestyles now just the very thought of him criticising anyone's fathering skills was completely hypocritical.
And as it turns out - I don't know if this is true - but several people have told me that he and his companion are already working on adopting a child. They might have done it by now. That is so typical of the man we're talking about. I told you earlier I was interested in Studebaker automobiles - the visuals for his last tour he uses the exact model of Studebaker as one that I own in his video. It's all wrapped up in this - anything you can do I can do better! I'll freely acknowledge things he can do better than me. I don't envy his guitar playing because it's not my pursuit. If I wanted to be a flash guitar player I'd put more time into that. I tend to be more eclectic. I tend to carry a thin layer over a wide area rather than a thick layer over a narrow area. I'm interested in too many different things. Too bad!
On this tour I'm just playing the guitar but only because as the composer in these post Napster days you need to perform to be a composer.
3AM: Is this new stuff?
GH: Well, I don't know where the assumption that it was going to be all new stuff came from. I know that's not what you're saying! I've been led to believe that 'Good News for Modern Man' was not that well distributed in England. I've had record people tell me this. Maybe for a reason. I'll be playing a lot of those songs but because I'm there on my own I can step anywhere I want in my oeuvre. I can play Husker, I can play Nova Mob, I can do what I like without treading on another band member's toes!
3AM: Sounds like an ideal situation for someone like you.
GH: It's ideal although it would be great to have a bassist and another guitar player and things like that. But I don't know what it would do to me to have to be with other band members who had only a financial thing at stake going on. With Nova Mob we learned early not to put the occasional Husker song on the set list because there was nothing at stake for those people. It was bad enough going into an interview with the band and being the only one the microphone was being pointed to. It got to the point where one of the band said 'It's time for the Grant show' and it made me realise that you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
You try to notice these things and you try and accommodate or eliminate these things. With the record sales being what they are it would be great to have the London Symphony Orchestra backing me! I don't mind feeding a lot of people! But my primary concern is my concern. The thing about Nova Mob is that although there were some very fine moments it was never the perfect band I wanted to evolve into. By the time we found the perfect guitar player Tom and I had been drifting apart and the perfect day was the day before the automobile accident.
3AM: What happened?
GH: I got three metal rods holding my foot together. The driver and I were in the front seat. I'm glad he was in the front seat, being the driver! Anyway the engine came through the chassis compartment and the feet in the middle stopped the engine. We were right across the lake from Neuschwanstein on July 4th 1992 and this Catholic priest, soon to be a bishop, was coming back from the castle with a car load of retarded boys. And the traffic in his direction was completely bottled up. We have never determined whether he had an emergency to deal with but he was driving in our lane and quite fast. We saw him and we were at dead stop and sitting in the lane but he continued coming on. He recognised there was danger. It took me a couple of years to get the look off his face out of my head so I could conjure it up consciously rather than been woken by it in the middle of the night. Nobody knows why this perfectly sober and rational person was doing that. A nightmare.
He was killed immediately. The other passenger, our drummer Mark Retish, was a Jewish fellow who had completely skirted Germany in his travels in the past. At great effort in some cases. Here he is in Germany for the first time and he's pulling a dead German out of a burning automobile. The night afterwards he's taken in to jail for interrogation for 45 minutes, stripped down to his underwear and put into this immense cell. They wanted so badly to shift the blame for the accident onto the American rock and roll band. And to make things even worse the fellow he'd saved they didn't put onto life support because he was mentally retarded.
They have a law there that precludes such possibilities. It translates roughly into something like 'Life undeserving of living.' One of the laws that were linked to the holocaust! Ironic!! The legacy continues.
The summer after 'Good News' was released the label owner's wife ran off with the main investor. This guy, born wealthy, basically turned into a pile of shit. There were stupid duties that people had to perform. We're still looking for loads of tape. I've got the records back as part of the severance agreement but what's the point of that if I don't have the master tape? We did a great job of remixing 'Last days Of Pompeii' - the mixing of that one was a little bit rushed. We're looking for a good outlet for that. I would prefer mastering off half inch tape. I'm vastly in the minority in that regard. The percentage of one half of one half a percent of difference it would make.
3AM: The Nova Mob stuff is almost concept album stuff. Big stuff. Where did that come from?
GH: Well it's less personal than the 'Last Days.' Where 'Zen Arcade' was heavy on the linear this was more psycho-political. Its amazing coincidences we would discover perhaps at a subconscious level when it was written. It was out on Rough Trade just before they went bankrupt. It seems one of the signs of a record company losing vitality is me being on it!!!
3AM: How do you write? Do you write along side the rest of the band you're with?
GH: There are those songs that happen in the same way by myself where you're playing along and you're getting into it and then suddenly you conceptualise where you want to go with that rhythm and that tone. Usually on the better things the chorus, music and words will arrive spontaneously together and most often the chorus encapsulates the title which more or less spells the mood out for the whole song. In the past, though I don't want to quote examples as that would be too much of a deviation from the route I'm on right now, but you have a chorus and verse one two and three are all different ways that that chorus has meaning. So in the first verse it's straightforward, in the second verse it's ironic or tragic and the third verse it's resolved. You reach the inspired moment and you do what you can to protect it until it it's sketched out. The worse thing that can happen is that, say, a car goes by with some other music going on. So many good songs have been lost that way. Something about movement, like, when I was young, going on long walks or trips in a car, airplanes and trains, gets a lot out.
3AM: Is this a different process from your graphic work? You're doing graphic work now?
GH: Yeah. I'd say my work is centred on collage at the moment which to me is close to language. A picture can have all sorts of metaphorical meanings. You see a mother and a child and that has one statement. Well, you paste a nude man next to it and it has another meaning. It's just another language. So, just like we incorporate clichés and somebody else's metaphors into what we write, visually it's very close to the same thing.
3AM: Did the painting start at the same time as the music writing?
GH: I was publishing songs before I was really writing them. Some of the early works were me as a punk rocker rather than me expressing myself. Looking back I can spot that in the work where the ones I would complete were the ones that had some sort of internal integrity to me. There were a couple of things early on that I can say that they stand up for me, stand up to my reasons. They say what they need to say and I can agree with what they say still.
I haven't done many 180 degree turns in my career. You read some people, former members of Husker Du included, and they say 'We're a hard-core band' and then a couple of years later 'We were never a hard core band!' I tend to speak what I'm feeling at the time rather than have a series of pat answers for my interviews. I'm trying to be as honest as possible. In doing so, how could I possibly be wrong? If you feel it, it's real. I think sometimes ulterior motives -- and I'm as prone to them as the next fellow -- but sometimes they get in the way of honest communication. There has been enough healing in my life so that I no longer have to scream. The hurts are different hurts.
My attention is being occupied by something else that is more important to me at the time. In order to hate something you still have to have an emotional involvement in it. Take my old band, my only interest in it is that I wish it were more easily available to the younger kids who are interested in the work. You find fewer people that are interested in things but the people who are probe deeper. I really think we've got a good crop of kids who are participating in culture. I was at The Garage last night and although the kids there have grown up in a different world I definitely think there's something sympathetic going on. Maybe they've become too affected by the way the world has become. The way they were willing to pay £8 as punters for a show, that might have been something that we might have changed fifteen years ago. we might have said, 'Bollocks to that, we're going to charge $3!' T-shirts are going to be at a price that anybody can afford them.
Nowadays it's pretty much recognised that bands are in it to make money. People that go along with it -- it's more of a 'me' thing than a 'we' thing. But I think the seeds are there to change things. It's all to do with the economy. Whenever the economy is good people like to dance by themselves and be the centre of attention. When the economy is bad they tend to do things in a communal way. I've recognised this for some time. The people who are selling us things - they would like us to be all wearing earphones so that we all have to buy our own copy so that they sell as many copies as they can.
There is a direct interest in keeping people separate from each other. So they need to buy their compassion. They need to buy their cool. They need to fit in by buying something. On top of that I think you have a parallel insecurity because of that aloneness.
Look at the clothing we wear. Fifteen years ago you wore clothes with slogans and band names on t-shirts. Now you see the name of the t-shirt manufacturer. This is what kids do to say they are all right. I think they are more secure about having their friends. Different brand names will mean things to different groups of people. And although I do try and recognise what's been said I have to recognise that the world is getting to be a dumber place. There's a greater concern for disco-type drum music to be as pervasive as it is and I think in the coming world war its going to be the marching music of the troops.
Especially in the United States. You see the way the meaning of masculinity has been perverted. What it means to be a man is so much altered from when my age group were entering into adulthood. The people think you're more of a man if you hold your woman down, you're more of a man if you are aggressive, you're more of a man if you consume as much as possible. That is the case today. I think the media is beginning to recognise this just as it is beginning to work out that an aggressive policy is not going to sort things out politically.
You know, if I was North Korea or Iraq, calling me part of an axis of evil is insulting. I realise that safety ensures freedom. I would rather have people not killing me because they love me rather than not killing me because they were afraid that I would kill them back or worse. I believe that the world can operate more compassionately. I think in between Jews and Christians and Muslims there could be so much more unity. It's almost like it's obvious that someone is trying not to negotiate this unity. I mean, we all recognise the God Jehovah, we all recognise the importance of Moses, we are all the Sons of Abraham but we treat each other like enemies when we have so much in common. One prays on his knees, one beats his head against a wall, one sticks his ass up in the air, we're all equally ridiculous, we're all equally divine.
3AM: So what's America like at the moment?
GH: Well, within two months Bush wiped out more surplus than we've ever had in our country. Now that money is going to conglomerates and corporations. It's not necessarily to kill people but it's to sell weapons and petroleum. Bush is another oil President. The last oil president we had was lucky enough to die before he was impeached. Hardy. Replaced by Calvin Coolidge. The route that's been taken is going to end in tears. I feel very secure that I know in my heart that when uncompassionate money grabbing ass-holes are in power they will start devouring each other and more power will revert to the people. It's cyclical. I'm afraid we're in for a very long conservative cycle especially because of the way they are manipulating the economy and the press.
There was a statement out of the Head of the National Republican Committee right after 9/11 saying that this was the best thing that had happened to the Republicans in fifteen years. When you have that kind of thinking you're reminded more of the Reichstag fire than of Pearl Harbour. I just hope that it will end in as few tears as possible. Time will tell. The thing that worries me is that so much ground will be lost by the Supreme Court Judge appointments that will probably be made by Bush. There are people that are going on way past their retirement. They can't live forever.
The Republicans can say the same about Franklin D Roosevelt, that he just loaded the deck and was just as manipulative as any President we've ever had. But I see so many things that look like an obvious strategy for them to stay in power. One has been condemnation of the salaries that teachers are getting. Now if you have minimum wages teachers, you're going to have minimum wage education. You're going to keep on the cycle of dumbing down. They want to be able to send their children to private schools and yet they want to get the money the public schools would get to pay from it. So they're robbing the public schools. The theory is that the kids will get a better education but its just going to make the education for the people who can't afford the private schools that much worse.
3AM: So now you're a grand old man, has your role changed?
GH: Yeah. I know that if I start to create shit music I'd negate the role I'm to fulfill. I think it's important to condemn certain trends but I think it's also important to congratulate a work well done! Maybe recommend different music. Like I was with a guy who was asking about Burroughs and he was into him in a deep way, it wasn't just a transient interest. So these you try and take under your wing in as appropriate a way as possible and in as non-threatening a way as possible. Being homosexual there are implications whenever you spend too much time with youth. You know, people thinking -- hmm, we know what's going on there! But just because you walk through a garden of rose buds doesn't mean that you have to clip them! They need something positive. They're growing up in a totally different world. When I think of the early creative times we could go to a resell shop and pick up a movie 8 camera or projector for $2. $5. It's almost like we rescued a technology. Or analogue recording. Real instruments rather than synthesizers.
These were all things that were particularly punk. Making do with what we had rather than riding the crest of the wave, the energy we put into networking, we were doing it by phone and by mail. If these kids were putting in the same energy with the tools that are available now God they'd really do a great job of it. But they've got to have something fulfilling to them, something worthwhile to them. They have to have passion. You see a lot of nonchalance. You know - I don't know if I like this band, I have to talk to my friends - well, that's always been around but it seems exaggerated now.
When I was seventeen we didn't have pre-packaged rebellion. The rebellion that is being sold to kids is not rebellion. It just has the earmarks of it. You hear a lot of bands saying "We're not an emo band." Well, you've got to think about that. What does emotional music mean? What does it mean not be emotional? Music is emotion. When there were bands like Devo and some of the ridiculous bands around in the early days maybe we didn't want to say we were punks but we didn't entirely shun the label. I guess we wanted to make it our own before it made us its own! It's hilarious the way so many people go around saying they're not this, they're not that....
3AM: Is there anything about where you were living that impacted on how you've developed?
GH: Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is having an introduction to ... after building up something slowly having the rug tugged out at the end of the band. Maybe I would caution people about putting too much stock into one particular thing or become too dependent upon anything or any individuals. Maybe this desire to stand on individual merit. There are things post break up.
Like I said before, I was in a similar emotional state when I ended the band as when I started off. Maybe having suffered the slings and arrows that I did there are some symptoms there. I tried very hard to be the first one out there with a record after the breakup. I think I did good with it. There was a certain living down the breakup. Wanting to continue where you were. Maybe that was just an expression of wanting to keep something that was very meaningful to me. The ability to do what I do with an audience. To be considered seriously and lightheartedly. Even laughter has to be a serious endeavour.
3AM: You say punk was influential. Which bands?
GH: Well, for me I didn't have one social group that was predominantly my own. I had friends into athletics and others into angel dust. There was a time between 12 to 15 where so much of the music of my peers was forgettable. The stuff that was good I gave it its due. But I was listening to alternative stuff -- stuff that became alternative.
In Minneapolis there was a bicycle and skateboard shop called the Alternative Bicycle Shop and they'd been in business before punk -- I think it was hippies who had started it - but a couple of members of a few bands worked there and I realised that there was a time where they were referring to their music as alternative music because it tied in with their work place! I'm really having a hard time finding any pre-usage of that term. We're talking 1982. It didn't really come into play until the very late 80's in America. It was used most heavily by the promoters who didn't want to call it punk or anything else. Alternative represents the same thing to punk as new-wave did to an earlier age.
3AM: I'm an old man. I like Bob Dylan. He's from your neck of the woods. Any views?
GH: Well, he's a heavy influence. I can't remember songs outside of school or church. I have no earlier memories of anyone singing someone else's songs. I have two older sisters and maybe the parents didn't want them to go the full route with the guitar so they bought them ukuleles and on long trips in the car they'd play 'Blowing In The Wind', 'The Times They Are A Changing', and being from Minnesota it has a more than just a presence. Not to be taken the wrong way, Dylan's more like a fragrance, that's probably true in general.
Ironically enough, the girl who runs the website and does the domestic booking for me, well, her sister was married to the guitar tech who travels with Dylan. Blood on the Tracks was probably one of the earliest albums I got into as a contemporary album. When it came out I remember specifically the songs and the impact they made. Infidels is another influential album -- it would be a good time nowadays for people to be playing Infidels .
Everyday I drive past fifty Dylan landmarks. If a big fan of his was to come to Minnesota -- Oh, that's Highway 61, that's 4th Street and places he used to live. Just last week Dave Ray of Koerner, Ray and Glover who was a very big influence on Bob Dylan, played many gigs with him, Tony Glover taught Bob how to play the harmonica, Dave Ray passed away last week.
Dylan's an example of someone who could play the guitar but could also walk over to the piano and do that too. I've heard through the grapevine that during the rehearsals for another bout of activity he just got up and said "I think I'm gonna play piano on this tour." I find that very admirable. He's grown more patient over the years but just the way he's prepared to change course like that just to suit what he feels is appropriate. I think there is something so spot on about what he says about being a song and dance man. Once you have a case for your guitar, there's a motive.
If you're taking that guitar anywhere out of your bedroom you're serving somebody else other than yourself with it. That's the earliest indication of selling out, as it were. Selling out and going professional are very closely related. There's an inference that you're losing honesty by going professional and if it's changing material well maybe then you're not selling, maybe you're buying. I've never been close to him but only in a physical way... A very great man. His fans, some of them, they're infatuated with him. God knows what would have happened in the past if Bob Dylan had made himself as available as John Lennon did. It must be difficult for him. Where does he find his solace? Who tells him jokes? I hope he has someone who does that.
Here's a story. They're in a hotel. Bob has his room guitar, the one that goes separate so that it can go to his room so he can have his guitar and he was having some kind of problem with it and he calls this technician on the phone and he says, "Hi, this is Bob. From the tour...' And this is Bob Dylan. And he needs to say that. It was one of the few times he had had to call this guy outside of the normal hours of the tour and he was still down to earth enough to say without any kind of sarcasm 'from the tour.'
3AM: And you're on tour?
GH: Yeah. Just three days though. With a few problems. Trouble at Gatwick. People rattling the tree, trying to see what falls out of it! But I enjoy touring.