Mick Farren: “I’m primarily a writer, but
is so fucking boring.”
Mick Farren epitomizes the rock and roll Renaissance man. One-time
“evil dictator” of Brit underground/proto-punk/amphetamine crazies
the Deviants; rock scribe for the International Times and New
Musical Express; author of no less than four books about Elvis; ace
sci-fi novelist and creator of the DNA Cowboys; co-conspirator with
Wayne Kramer on projects as far back as 1973, including the avant-garde
R&B musical The Last Words Of Dutch Schultz; Mick continues
both publishing in print and exploring the possibilities of “the
spoken word married to rock and roll.”
His current book is the vampire novel The Time Of Feasting; he’s
just finished work on the soon-to-be-published Jim Morrison’s
Adventures In The Afterlife. The last five years have seen the
reappearance of the Deviants’ catalog on CD (Ptooff! on Alive, Disposable,
Deviants 3 and Human Garbage on the Japanese Captain Trips
label) as well as new works (The Deathray Tapes and Eating
Jello With A Heated Fork on Alive, Fragments Of Broken Probes
on Captain Trips) with more in the offing. A busy guy.
Long-time BTC readers will be familiar with the Deviants saga
from #14, and Mick’s own checkered past from Shane Williams and Mike
Snider’s in-depth interview in #20. Those with Internet connections
can find out more about the man and his work from his website, <http://members.aol.com/BYRON4D/>
. I spoke to Mick by phone from his home in Los Angeles, 10:30 to 11:15
CST, 14 January 1999. I’d originally called to talk to him about the
MC5 for a book I’m writing. We wound up talking about that and lots
K: When you were in the Deviants, how did you become aware of the
M: We had this guy called Simon, who was kind of a club DJ, and
worked in a record store called Musicland on Portobello Road -
Portobello Road being the main street of kinda “hippie town” in
London. And he literally breezed in the doorway and said “Come listen
to this,” and played us an import of Kick Out The Jams.
Prior to that, we’d seen the [January 1969] Rolling Stone
story, thought “What the fuck is this?” and then heard the
thing and thought, “Here, they’re a lot more together than we
are.” [The Five were] more interested in Sun Ra than Frank Zappa,
which I think was the main difference between us. Probably because I was
the evil dictator of the Deviants and, not being an instrumentalist, I
took a more sort of literal bent to it. But they were obviously our “cousins
across the water.” And then a few months or a year or so later, we
heard Iggy for the first time and we knew there was another pocket of
resistance out there.
K: I remember when I first heard Disposable around ’72, it
reminded me a lot of that first Stooges album, and I always wondered if
there was some connection there. You actually met the Five when you
toured America in ’69, did you not?
M: M: No! It was a much more circuitous sort of thing, actually. When
John [Sinclair] went to jail, I was working, editing this underground
paper called IT in London, and we were publishing John's
communiqués and sort of sending him care packages of magazines and
stuff, and our publications and whatever in jail. And we got busted, and
decided to run this incredibly bizarre rock festival called Phun City.
K: I've seen the bootlegs.
M: Right. We thought it'd be a good ruse, 'cause they were not doing
very well at the time, it'd be good for them as well, to bring the MC5
over. Things being fairly chaotic, they were not quite stranded
here, but they decided that they should do something England, because
they were getting close to fucking up in America, and then they started
their relationship with Ronan O'Rahilly, which I guess you know about.
K: The Radio Caroline guy, he managed them towards the end?
M: Yeah, right. And so it went. Also, that was really the point when
Wayne [Kramer] and I became drinking buddies. Round about '73, '74, I
started working for the NME. 'Cause the underground press basically went
out of business, became co-opted, and I was working for the NME,
which meant I could kind of scam up trips to the US on various record
companies, which meant I could drop off in Detroit to visit Wayne. That
was about the point in time, just before he went to jail, when we
started writing songs together. He sent me a tape with a number of songs
on it, plus a version of "Ramblin' Rose" which, when he went
to jail, I was able to give to Jake [Riviera] at Stiff so he could do
the Wayne Kramer benefit single.
K: Wayne told me it made a big difference for him when he got out,
having a couple grand in pocket.
M: Well, that was the point of it, yeah. But that's when we started
songwriting, the last demo tape he sent to me before he went to the
joint was what I gave to Jake and Dave [Robinson] and yadda yadda. But
that's really where our association started. Then I moved to New York in
'79, and shortly after that we embarked on the Dutch Schultz
adventure and so on.
K: How would you assess the Five's impact? Why should anybody today
give a shit about the MC5? Or should they?
M: Basically, because they were one of the bands that had the
quintessential down. They were also, in a more esoteric sense,
the best damn two-guitar outfit I've ever seen, in a certain way. I
mean, Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch [from the Shadows] were pretty fuckin'
good, but that was definitely a rhythm player and a picker, y'know? And
in the same way, [Jerry] Garcia and Bob Weir [in the Grateful Dead] were
such kind of different levels of guitar playing, but it worked. Fred
[Smith] and Wayne were both so competitive, and in sync with each other,
and just about the same level of proficiency - I think Wayne had the
edge, but that's debatable. I'd say most of the time, Wayne had the
edge, y'know, the "John Brown's Body" second solo in
"American Ruse", it's one of the greatest solos, and it was Fred!
They were really two lead guitar players, ducking and diving in and out
of each other, in almost a bebop tradition - not sounding like
bebop, but not the Keith Richard/Brian Jones ... they didn't stem out of
the Ventures, if you know what I mean (or the Shadows, which was the
English equivalent). That kind of musically impressed me, but [also] the
general racket that the Five put up. And then there's the fact that I
don't think without the Five, there would've been the Stooges, and there
wouldn't have been "Search and Destroy", and there wouldn't
have been the prototype seventies punk thing. Even if you listen to Blur
or Oasis or whatever right now, you still hear those echoes coming
K: It's become kind of fashionable to cite them as an influence.
Somebody told me Rob Tyner's daughter was in England and she met
Chumbawumba, and they were huge MC5 fans.
M: The lead singer in Chumbawumba is a terrible musicologist. Oh
yeah. I spent some time with him the last time I was over there, 'cause
his manager is a mate of mine, and he really knows his stuff. The time I
went to see them, suddenly in the middle of one of their sort of
semi-rap things, they broke into "What's The Ugliest Part of Your
Body" off [Frank Zappa's] We're Only In It For The Money,
and I thought, "This kid really knows his shit." He's well
aware of the history of what you're doing.
K: Not many people in their teens or twenties really are … they
think it started with Nirvana or something.
M: The English are terrible trainspotters.
K: Why do you think that is?
M: 'Cause we had to try harder. Y'know, we had to co-opt this alien
form of music and bend it to our world, and have been doing so ever
since. At the onset of Bobby Rydell and Fabian or whatever, we had to go
back and maintain the holy flame and teach it back to the Americans
K: Bring Howlin' Wolf to Shindig.
M: Right, and then Eric Clapton had to go out and teach all these
idiot Americans how to play the blues all over again! Kinda depressing.
Say one thing, though, before we get too carried away - without the Who
there would've been no MC5.
K: Let's talk about Pete Townshend, that whole art school axis. In
what way were you affected by them coming up?
M: They were earlier. And also, I went to art school, too. An awful
lot of what affected Pete, and also Steve Marriott…
K: The Small Faces?!
M: Yeah … was coming out of stuff we were all listening to right
around the same time. Things like this Mingus/Roland Kirk album, Mingus
Oh Yeah, about 1965, I would think. Simultaneously, the fact that
the amplification, the technical advances in gear, guitars, began to run
away with people, and you saw what was happening, so almost
simultaneously there was Pete, and Jeff Beck, and Stevie Marriott, and
then there was Lou Reed, and then there was us, and then there was Iggy,
and it was all going the same route … basically incompetence, with
huge amplifiers, and trying to keep control over magnetic fields.
K: Give some kid a big amplifier and enough amphetamines and you're
gonna get something interesting happening.
M: Right! And the place where jazz had got to at the same time, with
Mingus and Sun Ra and Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman, that was getting
crazy enough, too, that it legitimized it. Although being
English, European, we were also thinking about John Cage and Stockhausen
and stuff like that. And then that end of things was kind of re-boosted
by Frank Zappa, because I was much more interested in tape recorders
than any of the Detroit boys were, loops and stuff like that.
K: Studio sound experiment.
M: Yeah. A lot of what was on Ptooff!, the first Deviants
album, was generated by a relationship we had with this old - well, he
wasn't that old, he was compared with us, 'cause we were
only about twenty. I guess he was a venerable thirty-one at the time -
Jack Henry Moore. He was this expatriate gay American who was hanging
out at the Arts Lab in London, and turning us on to all this kind of musique
concrete shit where you had a jackhammer and three tape recorders
with the same tape going all through them, each one fifteen foot apart,
one huge loop, and he'd say, "Yeah, this is fucking great."
But it had a big effect. That kind of thing also had an effect on Pete,
because Pete was very turned on … about 1965, there was something
called "the Destruction in Art Symposium" where a lot of
people smashed up a lot of grand pianos.
K: Wasn't that Gustav Metzke or somebody like that?
M: That's right. Exactly. And he went along to that. It wasn't so
much that that's where he started doing it; he'd already started
doing it, but the wrath of a teenaged speed freak was then legitimized
K: It's interesting - there's a guy named Tom Wright who lives in San
Antonio today, but was actually Townshend's roommate in art school. He's
American, born in Alabama, and he was deported from the UK for pot
around '62. Townshend inherited Wright's record collection, which is how
he found out about Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf and Mose Allison and Nina
Simone and all these American R&B artists who influenced his music.
Well, guess where Wright winds up from '67 to '69 - managing the Grande
Ballroom in Detroit!
M: No shit!
K: The MC5 were definitely Who fans, they covered "Can't
Explain" and "My Generation", like a godzillion other
American garage bands, but they definitely went a different way than the
M: Well, possibly, but apart from Pete's orchestral pretensions, I
think the same might've happened [to the Five] had they been subjected
to stadiums. I once wrote a piece for the Village Voice from the
first time the Who retired [in '82]; the Clash opened up for 'em at Shea
K: I read that article. I was in the Air Force in Korea. I remember
seeing the photo of their gigantic stage backdrop and I thought,
"That's it - they've sold out." [Note: Which was no great
insight - the piece was actually entitled "The Who Sell Out".]
I mean, they had the Clash opening for them as though it was supposed to
be the ceremonial passing of the torch or something. If they'd been
killed in a plane crash after Quadrophrenia, it would've been OK.
M: Well, when I wrote this piece about the ponderousness of being
able to handle both the acoustics and the performance in a stadium, I
got a note from Pete a couple of weeks later, saying, "Yeah, that's
great, and nobody ever really pointed this out before, but it's
absolutely true, and "Baba O'Riley" was completely born out of
that environment." Y'know, Pete's always been sort of …
communicative … so I guess it must be true. But I think that's really
where a lot of the sort of bombast set in, because the Who were a motherfucker
club band, you can probably tell that from some of the recordings that
are still about, but I mean, they were awesome, they were scary.
K: And they kept some of that when they went to the larger venues. I
always thought that the very thing that made 'em, destroyed 'em, 'cause
they came to the States and started playing in front of these humongous
audiences, and it really gave them a sense of the power they had, and
then they didn't know what to do, once they reached that point.
M: Yeah, they held the whole thing together up until … the Fillmore
was OK, that was small enough, but when they started getting to Pontiac
Stadium and shit like that, that was when it changed. And it happened to
everybody. It happened to Led Zeppelin, it can happen to anyone. Or the
Rolling Stones, even. I mean, they've managed to resist it about the
best, but it's just so …
K: It's just so rote.
M: You've got to play to the sound you hear coming back at you about
two minutes later.
K: Hard to comprehend that. It's not like there's any direct contact
between the performer and the audience.
M: It's a tradeoff. Hendrix at Woodstock - he's really only playing
to the press pit in front of him. Which is the temptation - you just
focus on people you can see. But as it went on, they got more
used to it, and the technique was to sort of become more bombastic …
and slower. That's what probably killed Moony, the fact that
slowing down, he was still playing the number of beats per minute, but
the accents were getting more spread apart. He was filling and filling
and filling and filling.
K: He could just beat himself to death.
M: Yeah, right.
K: That happened to a lot of rock in the seventies; the tempos slowed
down. It’s funny, I saw Entwistle not too long ago. He played in a
club in Fort Worth, Caravan of Dreams, and I think he must have been
working at the same volume that he would have in Texas Stadium.
M: That's typical.
K: You can tell he just thrives on that, too.
M: Oh, man, they used to be ear-bleeding at the Marquee. I
mean, Pete was playing through two Hiwatt stacks, completely
cranked. He had this thing, when they were still doing "Smokestack
Lightning" - he'd pull the two stacks together, facing each other,
and stick his Rickenbacker in between (the Rickenbacker is an almost
uncontrollable guitar, 'cause it's hollow), and just leave it there. And
all the smashing, Moony'd kick the drums over, and you'd go, "Jesus,"
plus everybody was completely pilled out of their heads. It sounded
pretty fuckin' great.
That was the effect they had on us! "It can be done."
It was almost a sort of circular feeling, round about 1966 was the peak
of it. People kept coming into the spotlight who just convinced you that
literally anything was possible. First off, from our point of view,
there was the Who, and then the Velvet Underground were doing something
even stranger, and then it'd turn around again and you'd begin hearing
whisper of what Lothar and the Hand People were doing, and Thirteenth
Floor Elevators, and "Oh, my God," y'know. Whenever you did
something, somebody else came along doing something similar and
validated it, and then you were a movement. It was great.
K: It's hard to conceptualize that now, 'cause around '69 it just
became a big business, and since then , it's been all about marketing
and segmenting the audience, rather than pulling people together, having
people in California and Detroit and London kinda on the same wave.
M: It was odd, because I dunno whether it was the gene pool, or the
water, or the drugs that we were taking, but what created Jimi Hendrix?
The fact that he was there, and every guitar player in the world went
"Fuck," and just when they started getting used to Jimi
Hendrix, Syd Barrett came along doing something entirely different in
another direction, and opened up another landscape it was
possible to go into. And it just kept going around. Obviously, there's a
lot of mix-and-matching, like "OK, so we've got this guitar thing
happening, what about applying Phil Spector techniques to that; where
will that take us? Now let's run the whole thing backwards."
K: Just endless possibilities.
M: Yeah. It's like the first guy over the Cumberland Gap went,
"Jesus Christ, look at the size of this country!" You can
never do that again, unless you find another virgin continent, and
they're not too easy to come by. I think it was a great expansion in
rock and rol, and there's no point in mourning over it. It can't
be recaptured; it'll never happen again. It was just truly wonderful.
And that's not to denigrate what's going on now, but it certainly does
seem to me that creativity is much more in accessorizing and
mixing-and-matching and drawing from sources, because there are so
many fucking sources now.
When there's only a bare sort of six or seven years between
"Walk Don't Run" and "Hey Joe", it's kinda
K: Just think about the amount of progress that occurred in music
between 1945 and 1965, and how little happened in the twenty years after
that, and the twenty years after that.
M: It's a bit like the space program. You get to the Moon, and then,
"Hmm, now what do we do?"
K: It's like after the big quantum leap, you get little incremental
K: And I dunno, if that kind of creativity is happening, maybe it's
taking place in hip-hop or ambient, areas I'm not that aware of, but it
seems like marketing and packaging more than pushing back any kind of
M: If it is happening, I don't know about it and you don't
know about it and therefore it can't be valid, because we sure as shit
knew about … y'know what I'm saying? But there were obviously
very few people, comparatively, who heard Sun Ra or Eric Dolphy, but on
the other hand, the influence they had on John Coltrane, the influence
they had on Jimi Hendrix, was so fucking quantum. There may be the
Coltranes and the Eric Dolphys around today, but there certainly isn't
the Jimi Hendrix coming out of it at the moment. We can always hope. I
mean, how many Messiahs can you have in one lifetime?
K: Depends on what the criterion is, I guess. But I can honestly say
for myself that, y'know, you mention Mingus and Dolphy and people like
that - I wouldn't have heard those people if it hadn't been for the MC5.
Because of the influence, and the fact that they were dropping tose
names got them in Creem magazine, which I read as a kid on Long
Island who would never have heard any of that stuff.
M: That's the point, too - you also have Creem magazine, or Crawdaddy,
or the formative Rolling Stone, or whatever. It was such a sort
of multimedia shaping. You wouldn't have heard that if you and't had the
print medium; FM radio was invented with no format to go on and
immediately seized by stoned disc jockeys who would play thirty minute
album cuts. There was always a saying around radio stations, "So I
put on 'Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands' so I could go take a shit."
K: When the Ravi Shankar record comes on, you know he's off to take a
shit, or he's up on the roof smoking a joint. One or the other.
M: Exactly. And then you had print, and you had light shows … the
synthesis of LSD. It was all cooking, on all fronts.
K: A friend of mine and I were talking about the old Creem and
the fact that it was actually pretty well written, and you look at the
level of music criticism today, and it's horrendous; they're shills for
the record companies. And cigarette companies, and clothing
M: The great rule in most of the music magazines is, "Keep your
personality out of your writing." I mean, if you said that to
Lester Bangs, he would have decked you. Simultaneously with all the rest
of it, you had Lester there, really telling it like it was, and
if you had any doubts about what was happening, he'd certainly fill you
in, in no uncertain terms. Except he might encourage you to listen to
Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, which I entirely approved of as
an object, but never really wanted to put on as an evening, to drink
It's nothing to get depressed about, though, 'cause it's a bit like
… you throw a rock in a pond, and the first ripples are pretty
intense, and their wave peak is pretty high, and as it spreadsy out, the
wave peak gets lower, but they're covering more territory, so it's a
tradeoff. If you wanna sell eighty million records, you have to use Sony
and all that that entails.
K: I think there's a lot of good work being done, but it's not
necessarily getting to the largest audience that might appreciate it.
Because there's five or six companies that have the market sewed up.
Maybe the Internet will change that, I dunno.
M: I think so, and I think things are really getting pretty fucking
eclectic right now. I'm even quite hopeful. I mean, twice now, some form
of the Deviants have played at the Ptolemaic Terrascope festival,
which is sort of a tribal gathering of one particular set of interests,
and there'll be others. The sort of enclaves will form. But then people
get kind of jaded, and that makes for a sort of regression. It's a
cyclical thing; it's fine.
K: There's pockets of people in a lot of different countries, and the
question is, how do you communicate with all those people? How do you
get your work out to them?
M: Right. Well, you've gotta remember that back in the late sixties,
the audiences were relatively very small. I mean, the Doors were only
playing to a couple of thousand people, which made it magical; I
mean, the Hollywood Bowl was probably the biggest thing they ever
played, apart from a couple of rock festivals, where they were kind of
anachronisms. But really, on the whole, the sales of records were not
anything like as enormous as they are now.
K: The Deviants are actually going to Japan this year, are you not?
M: We're going to Japan in about four weeks.
K: Who's in the band?
M: Well, me and [guitarist] Andy Colquhoun. This time we'll be going
with [bassist] Doug Lunn and [drummer] Ric Parnell, basically Wayne's
K: I guess they needed something to do since his tour cancelled. What
about Jack Lancaster? Is he not involved?
M: Not at the moment, no.
K: What is he doing? Is he still in LA?
K: What was it that brought you out there? Was it the film and TV
M: Kinda. I'd been in New York for eight or nine years, and I got
divorced and I was setting up a new home. I was kinda subletting and my
girlfriend came out here, and I decided, "Yeah, give it a
shot." And initially it was kinda fun, because you get a bigger
place for the same money than in New York City, and that was a novelty.
The film thing was a bit depressing. Pretty much happened across a
couple of people, and about three years after I moved out here, Andy
moved out here, so we just sort of went on doing what we'd done before.
And around that same time, I really became incredibly interested in
the spoken word married to rock and roll, but not in the traditional
sense, still with the ede and bite to it, and I guess that's what we've
been concentrating on, sort of backtracking every so often, because
we're going out to Japan to play, and some of the tunes are
straightahead rock and roll, but that's what they want. Everybody wants
to repackage the old stuff, and you gotta slip the new stuff in kinda
beside it and convince them that it's an ongoing thing. To be perfectly
honest, I'm heartily sick of a lot of talking about, dealing with stuff
that happened thirty years ago. It gets a bit weird. I'm kind of
interested in the now, not then, but you get asked an
awful lot of questions about the then.
K: Oh, sure. That's the lever that brings people to you, but you're
doing a lot - you're still writing novels and poetry, and doing a lot of
M: Absolutely. It keeps on going. It's not gonna be the same as it
was, because I'm fifty four years old, and not quite as sprightly (or
not quite as insane) as I used to be. So things have to mutate
accordingly. On the other hand, I look at somebody like Johnny Cash and,
"Yeah, well, that's interesting." The one thing I don't
wanna do is to be jumping around a stage kinda like complaining I can't
get laid like Mick Jagger is. We have more important things to talk
about … like the imminent end of civilization. (But then we always
talked about that.)
It's progressing on. You have to. You either swim forward or
you die. I certainly don't want to fall into the temptation of doing a
sort of Eric Burdon kind of thing, when you do half an hour of
"House Of The Rising Sun" and half an hour of Jim Morrison's
"Roadhouse" and everybody cheers and drinks their beer, which
is fine but it's the easy way out. But really, whatever you do, you're
not recreating what it was, you can only be a parody - because we were
young and healthy and crazed - and just routining all that stuff out.
We're going out on this Japanese thing with the Blue Cheer, which is
kinda like, "Oh my God", it's just kinda like the Turtles and
somebody else going out, and yes it is, to a degree, but a stop
had to be put to that - no, we are not playing an entire catalog
of songs from 1968. No, no, no. This one we wrote last year, it's called
"Away We Go". And if they don't like it, fuck 'em. It's like
Ian Dury said, "First night nerves every one-night stand." You
just gotta keep doing that sort of thing. But that's also maintaining
the art school tradition. It's like Picasso saying, "Ahhh, fuck it,
I'm sick of doing these blue paintings, let's do something
different." You have to. Like Chairman Mao said,
K: It'll be interesting to see what kind of crowds you play to in
M: It'll be the same as usual. Earnest young men, mainly. Who know
more about it than you do. I'm guessing, actually, but I think that'll
be the case.
K: Is it the first time for you over there?
K: Do you have plans for another recording anytime soon?
M: Well, we're sort of recording all the time. The Japanese, Captain
Trips are bringing out a mixture of some live things that we did over
the last couple of years that have been recorded, and some stuff that me
and Andy and Phil Taylor worked on [The Deviants Have Left The Planet].
And unfortunately, we can't take Phil to Japan with us, because his
status in the USA is kinda dubious. Until it's sorted out, he can't
leave the country. Also, he's stone crazy. That's why we're going with
Ric and Doug, because they're very fast, they pick stuff up, and they've
been playing together with Wayne for quite awhile, so they're used to
each other, and it makes life much easier than having to go through
nineteen hundred rehearsals.
K: Were both of those guys on The Deathray Tapes?
M: No, Doug was, Ric wasn't. but then again, Ric's on some stuff with
Jack, like Jack's sort of GenX end of things. They're all sort of expat
… well, Doug's American, but Ric's English, he was one of the drummers
in Spinal Tap, the one lying in the bath giving an interview.
He's a really fine drummer. Almost in a kind of jazz thing. So the
Deviants have become a kind of floating crap game. It's not pulling the
same guys together, it's getting the cats who understand and sympathize
with what we're doing. It's not a question of dragging Russell and Sandy
out of retirement.
K: Are Russ Hunter and Duncan Sanderson still doing music?
M: They keep threatening to do some more Pink Fairies stuff. They do
actually motivate it, but Larry [Wallis] usually fucks it up.
K: Where is he now?
M: In his apartment, fucking things up. Y'know, he occasionally gets
these projects, but he sort of chickens out on taking anything
seriously. His fear of failure is completely decimating him.
K: Too bad, he's a talented guy.
M: I know! It's a real waste. It pisses me off. Yo, Larry, y'know.
He's got fabulous stuff in the can that never sees the light of day. Years
of it, 'cause he's had his own studio for, fuck, almost twenty years. I
mean, he was building his own studio when we were cutting stuff like Vampires
and Screwed Up. He cut a whole album for Stiff, and then he had
an incredible fight with Dave Robinson, and that never saw the
light of day. It's a drag.
K: For a lot of people in America, the Stiff thing is where he kinda
drops off the map, even though he was involved with you guys for quite
some time after that.
M: Yeah, but he'd always pull some incredible drunken gaffe and it
would fall apart.
K: Do you ever hear from Paul Rudolph?
M: Yeah, kinda. I get an e-mail from him once in a blue moon. I go
look at his website and he looks at mine. We've never really been
exactly friends. I mean, it was really me and him butting heads
that caused the first breakup of the original Deviants. We're not
exactly chums. We're cordial.
K: He's part of the Twink axis?
M: Kinda. Not an axis that I care to even know, although I understand
that Twink's … I saw him down at Wayne's record release party and,
"Oh, God, there's Twink," but he's apparently moved and he's
living somewhere out in the Valley or something.
K: Can't get away from the guy.
M: No, y'know, he's putting out stuff on Alive, and in a way he's
kinda welcome to it. It's kind of odd that the best stuff we're doing is
coming out in Japan, but it's gotten so global that the records are in
Rene's record store just up the street, so what the hell.
K: That's half the battle, just getting them in stores. Outfits like
Alive and Bomp are pretty reputable when it comes to that, but the
Japanese stuff … I was in Virgin Megastore in Manhattan, where I
figured they'd have everything under the sun, and it's all kind of ghettoized
down in the basement, in the import section where no one ever goes.
K: Have you gotten a lot of hits on your site?
M: I do actually. About a dozen a day.
K: How does it break down between music and book people.
M: I have no idea, until they actually communicate. I have no idea
who's coming by, but actually, hopefully now, as the years go by, it's
started to become fairly homogenized. Some people have a bias towards
books and some have a bias towards music, but a lot seem to be asking
about everything. I wish it all would kind of mesh properly,
'cause I'm getting tired of people coming up to me saying, "Are you
the Mick Farren who writes the books, or are you the Mick Farren who was
in the Deviants?" Yes, of course.
K: He's a candy mint and a breath mint.
M: At the moment, directly we get back from Japan, Andy and I are
going to sit down and … I'm actually staring at it on the screen right
now; I'm just doing the last revisions on this novel called Jim
Morrison's Adventures In The Afterlife, which is actually exactly
what it says it is - his drinking buddy is Doc Holliday - but when we
get back, Andy and I are going to pull out a couple of pages of this and
set it to music, and then send it off to the publisher with a strong
recommendation that they underwrite us going out just as a guitar and
voice and doing this in bookstores and colleges all across the country
to promote the book. In the meantime, these recordings will exist, and
maybe one day there'll be others added to them and we'll stick 'em onto
something and somebody in Lithuania will release them. I don't
But that's the way it's gotta be, because I am definitely primarily a
writer, but writing is so fucking boring, to sit in your room and
do it all the time. You've got to get out and read, and rather
than standing there shuffling in front of a podium, reading to a bunch
of people, it's better to have a band behind you, or at least a guitar
behind you, and there we are off to the races again. It's very
important. It's bringing writing back to where it probably was in the
thirteenth century, a minstrel-based thing, and the performance was as
important as the work on the page.
K: Taking it back to Homer, an oral tradition.
M: Kind of, but I mean, people are now getting used to this
sort of thing. When you've got U2 and Kurt Cobain and people working
with William Burroughs, then everything's fine. Except both Kurt Cobain
and Bill are dead now. But actually, the flurry of Burroughs recordings
in the last six or seven years means that things are starting to make sense.
And although I'm not totally enamored of it as music to drink beer by,
rap has really helped a great deal, in terms of the non-sung lyric being
not so deeply strange that only Patti Smith is allowed to do it, and
then only on a limited basis.
K: People are now used to hearing somebody declaiming over a beat.
M: Right! And the fact that I'm much more Shakespearean than say Ice
K: My daughter says you sound "like an evil Jeremy Irons."
M: But that's exactly what we're trying for! I mean, I didn't have
this wonderful education in order to try and talk like somebody from
South Central. "Yo!" Yeah, right.
But y'know, we do that sort of thing. And it's valid … fuck it. I
don't think it'll ever win a mass audience, but what the hell, y'know.
K: I've got this theory about the sixties and the generation you came
out of … the difference between you and people who came up twenty
years later is the cultural referents are different. The education you
had was different. For kids that are 20-25 years old, the whole thing is
MTV and stuff they were spoon-fed by the media.
M: Well, that is the scary part. I mean, education is a wonderful
thing. I'm not being facetious. Much more to the point, the education
they give you in school sucks. You scurry around looking for the
stuff yourself. I mean, nobody in school ever told me about Woody
Guthrie. But the two people who told me about Woody Guthrie were Lonnie
Donegan on the radio … he probably doesn't mean much to you.
K: The skiffle guy, "Rock Island Line".
M: That's right. And of course, Alexis Korner, who also clued us in
on Leadbelly and John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf, and then everybody
went out and tried to be the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. There
always was a sense that school sucks, but you also had to, by default,
get yourself an education anyway. I don't know. On one hand it doesn't
seem to be happening, but on the other hand, I run into so many 25-year
olds who are reading MOJO and know more about Syd Barrett than I
don. I mean, it's quite hopeful, really.
K: Young people are always gonna be curious, it's just a matter of
what resources are available for them.
M: Yeah, and it really has to be resisted, producing artificial
schisms in what, for want of a better word, is Art. The time it
took to get over all the criticism of punk was a bit of a drag, really.
Bit by bit, you suddenly find yourself … well, I guess it's just as
scant now. I mean, when I was thirty-five, Mick Jones was twenty-five.
Now, whatever age we are now, it really doesn't matter anymore.
K: You reach a certain point where it doesn't matter. It's what you
know and what you can do.
M: We're all old geezers now, according to somebody. That sort of
artificial dividing line, that punk was hip and hippies weren't, was
sort of detrimental, because even when the Clash started to stretch out
a bit and got a bit more psychedelic towards the end, a lot of what they
were trying to do was already … the lessons had already been learned,
and they could have picked it up whole and used it, if they could look
to their recent history. 'Cause it's the recent history that's always
the big problem, you know. It's easy to go back to Hank Williams,
because you're not carrying any kind of cultural prejudices, but to look
at what happened six or seven years ago, then uh-oh. And there's
probably people walking around now saying, "That Seattle shit was
so terrible." For one thing, by getting older, you get more
perspective on things, and everything is valid, and … glad the checked
shirts went away.
K: Well, for Rory Gallagher, they never did.
K: Six or seven years is just enough time to go out of fashion;
thirty years is long enough for it to be retro. Now Glenn Miller's back
M: Right. Although on the other hand, the punks were right about some
things. Ten Years After really did suck. They sucked then, and
they suck every time Woodstock comes on my TV. "I'm Going
Home," y'know. Fuck 'em. They were right about that.
K: But by the time green hair and dog collars have trickled down to
MallAmerica, then you start to question the validity of something.
M: Green hair and dog collars have now been going for twenty years.
It's been a long haul on all that.
K: It's getting harder to play "shock the grownups."
M: I'm a grown-up now and I'm not terribly shockable. In fact, it
takes a lot to shock these days. After Karen Finley, where else can you
© Ken Shimamoto 2000