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Tales Of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock And More?

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Sunday, 29 June 2008

Leave it to a writer to know exactly how to get the attention of other writers. As a whole, the members of the press corps tend to be a fairly predictable lot; there typically tends not to be a single one that won’t get a twisted little smirk at a dick or fart joke, few don’t have significant problems with authority figures and they’re always on the lookout for something that might be construed as controversial to pitch at their editors. So, when Mike Edison—former publisher of both High Times and Screw magazines—was ready to unleash his I Have Fun Everywhere I Go novel on the public, he wanted to get a little support from the press beforehand to promote both the book and Jon Spencer-produced CD of readings from select chapters. After twenty-five years in the game, Edison knew exactly how to make it happen: across the cover of the book (and emblazoned across the top of the press release that appeared in advance of it) were the words, “I Have Fun Everywhere I Go—Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Apes, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes And The Most Notorious Magazines In The World.” Even at that, every writer who’s desk the press release crossed wet themselves and the same thought crossed each mind: “This is going to be fun.”

Edison doesn’t disappoint either. From page one, the book threatens to burst at the seams with larger-than-life characters and dirty deeds that might’ve made the late, great Hunter S. Thompson squeamish in their potency and the best part is that, unlike Thompson’s work, nothing is embellished. The events chronicled in I Have Fun Everywhere I Go are real and the people (though according to the author some names have been changed) either have until recently or continue to walk the Earth. The portrait of existence that Edison paints as he remembers the strange turns that his career has taken is terrifying, funny and elating all at once. The same is true of the CD; among a swirl of synths and Theramins, cohort and producer Jon Spencer trips with Edison through a cross section of the volume’s content and setting up a backdrop of dirty shirt blues, crazed garage rock strains and dirty shirt blues that will leave you wondering if you should testify or go to confession. It all amounts to an exhilarating mix and, like Greg Graffin said, “Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.” The surrealist plain that Edison paints in the novel has been his playground for the last quarter century and no one can miss the fact that he feels his time has well spent. In conversation, he makes that fact plain too; Still writing, still performing and still pushing limits, Mike Edison has found a new way to turn people on and it's on his terms with his story. In any language, that has to be gratifying.

Bill Adams vs. Mike Edison

BA: Hey Mike.

ME: Hey Bill, How's it going?

BA: Better now, my recorder's working. So your book is out, and you are doing promo tours, and you’re doing concerts with Jon Spencer, are they one and the same thing?

ME: Yup, it’s the world’s loudest book tour. It cannot be stopped. We’re going to be doing some high-profile gigs in New York City, in a circus tent, playing with rock & roll bands. Pretty atypical for a book tour.

BA: So you can actually get away with calling this a three-ring psychosis.

ME: Yeah [chuckling] absolutely. We’re trying to take the into a more rock & roll environment. I play with my band, the Rocket Train Delta Science Arkestra, and this summer we did a couple of great gigs, we’ve got Jon Spencer playing in the band now who produced the spoken word record. I hate to describe it as “spoken word” because people tend to get scared when they hear that and I blame that on Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins. They fucked up everything for the rest of us by making unbelievably tedious and long-winded “spoken word” records that never should have been unfurled on a rock & roll public.

BA: [laughing] Well that’s true. You could always go the other route and say, ‘Hey William S. Burroughs did it for a long time, and they always sounded good.’

ME: Well, I don’t recall William S. Burroughs ever making a two-hour record though. His stuff was pretty succinct, and also he was a poet; he’s not whining and complaining the way Jello is, and he’s not self-important and so convinced of his own genius as Henry Rollins is. The thing is too that William Burroughs was really funny; even though his stuff was really dark – he’s got a really arched sense of humour. Naked Lunch was a great, twisted comedy.

BA: Indeed. Have you ever heard The Priest They Called Him? He got Kurt Cobain to play behind him on that.

ME: Oh sure, and there was some other stuff with Thurston Moore and a few other artistically inclined, downtown rocker types. And that stuff is great; the weird thing is that you can read over almost any music and it sounds good, and there are very subtle semiotic implications. If I read with Ennio Morricone in the background versus if I read with some industrial noise versus if I read with some chamber music – Mozart or Vivaldi – in the background, it’ll really change the tenor of it. It’s all good though; it all works. It’s very weird, but it’s an interesting phenomenon.

BA: Indeed. Now, was all of that on your mind when you and Jon started recording the record portion of the endeavor?

ME: Well, I had a few things in mind that I wanted. I definitely wanted a soul-jazz kind of vibe on the pornography stories because I thought it should have a beatnik vibe. I thought it should be upbeat, it should be groovy, it should feel like you’re driving around New Orleans or down 42nd Street when it was still “The Deuce.” Everything evolved very naturally and came together very organically. Getting ready for this record I listened to a lot of music. I listened to a lot of dub reggae and African music, and I spent a lot of time just banging on a lot of pots and pans, and sitting at the piano, smoking those jazz cigarettes…. The idea for “Jews For Jesus” very obviously came from “I Put A Spell On You” — I was listening to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or Creedence Clearwater Revival and it all just clicked. It made sense. It was a matter of sitting there and thinking about what I needed to say, and looking for some inspiration. Tom Waits was certainly an influence on that song as well.

BA: I was gonna say, you mentioned banging on pots and pans and I was going to ask, ‘Oh so you were listening to Tom Waits.’

ME: Tom Waits and Sun Ra.

BA: That’s cool. Now, how long did this record take to make?

ME: We spent much more time on this record than I ever have on a rock & roll record. I think it was twelve whole days in the studio after a day of tracking the basic tracks. The basic tracks were done at a studio in Brooklyn in a very, very large room, a cathedral-sized room, trying to emulate making a Blue Note recor. I wanted it to sound like Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey, with lots of mikes and lots of possibilities, and lots of room mikes so everything sounded nice and big and open with lots of air, and then the rest was finished in a small studio where we took it from two-inch tape and knocked it onto a hard drive and began Pro-Tools-ing it. That’s when Jon came in and started dripping synthesizers and fuzz guitars and Theremins all over the place. We did a couple of other songs in the smaller studio as well, like the G.G. Allin track which started off as a country song, and now everyone tells me sounds like The Misfits. It’s actually very indicative of the songs I was writing with G.G. Allin while we were working together. It’s very simple and kind of sleazy sounding. I’m sure The Misfits have used that chord progression. It’s just something from the rock & roll palette; there are lots of songs that are very similar and we just jacked it up. Johnny Thunders liked that pattern — it’s a C to A minor if anyone is keeping track. I think “Runaway” by Del Shannon is pretty similar. That’s the only song that I play drums on. It’s Jon playing the guitars and me playing the drums. Jon did most of the guitar work, I played a little bit. I did all the piano and organ parts and Jon did an amazing job on the synthesizers and really creating these vast soundscapes. That’s really why this is so not a spoken word record per se. There’s just too much going on musically. It’s pretty far-reaching, more like a psychedelic comedy record. A psychedelic, X-Rated comedy record.

BA: Actually, that’s the best way that I could think of to describe it; you’re right.

ME: Let’s use that. I’ll notify my army of publicists immediately.

BA: There are moments, though, where the music does punctuate the vocals.

ME: Oh well of course! It’s not just the band vamping and me reading it – that would’ve been cool, but it wouldn’t be what it is – I think we did something really brand new with this record. That’s why I’m so excited about it. It wouldn’t exist without the book of course – the book is probably a “greater work” – but lots of people write great books. I don’t know anybody that has ever made a record quite like this. I think we went into some new territory with it. Hopefully it’s at the vanguard of something…

BA: Yeah – hopefully it’ll become the benchmark for other people to follow.

ME: I hope so, we spent a lot of time and worked very hard on it. It would’ve been very easy to truck in a blues band to play behind me while I read, but the more that we got into it, the more we got much narrower — we were shooting for something very cohesive, a very focused presentation. And the live shows are the same way. With Jon in the band, he knows when to draw a question mark or an exclamation point with his guitar.

BA: That’s cool, but with that said obviously portions of the record do exist in the book, but how’d you choose which portions you were going to read for the album?

ME: Well, I think certain things just lent themselves to being told as self-contained anecdotes. Of course, a lot of the stuff on the record has been edited and changed because what reads well on the page might be a mouthful of marbles when you try to put it across on a record, especially when you’ve got Theremins and outer-space synthesizers running behind you. But we were flexible enough to know what to change and also to eliminate certain background noise, meaning to take out unessential details and not refer to things that weren’t self-referenced in the story, so people can come in and hear the record and enjoy my performances without having read the book.

BA: And that makes good sense too because let’s be honest; books are becoming a lost art form.

ME: Dude, reading is a lost art form. One thing I found out by writing this book is just exactly how many of my friends are functionally illiterate. I suspect that they know how to read, they simply don’t spend their allowances on books, and don’t cruise book stores. I read incessantly; I can’t take a shit unless I’m learning something at the same time. Whether it’s an old Archie comic book or Naked Lunch or the Bible or a biography of Duane Allman or one of those giant books of twelve thousand jazz record reviews, I’ve got to be reading some goddamned thing. I’ll read the toothpaste tube it if comes to it.

BA: If you’re reading the Bible, that would certainly facilitate a bowel movement.

ME: I don’t feel that way. I think the Bible’s a hell of a book.

BA: I do too – I think it’s a remarkable work of fiction.

ME: I’m cynical about it obviously – I think any intelligent person would be – but the stories are fucking amazing… but we don’t have to argue religion today. Let’s just say it’s a good book, but it ain’t the only book, if you know what I mean.

BA: As far as your book goes, there’s a really great flow from chapter to chapter, and even paragraph to paragraph, but I’m sure it’s a bit revisionist as far as I’m sure there are lots of things that happened in between. You said yourself that it’s anecdotal stories, how’d you decide what to include and what not to?

ME: Well, I reject the term ‘revisionism’. That implies some sort of Stalin-esque view of the past; some whitewashing of history which just ain’t the case. My book is all true; I promise you, I guarantee it. I don’t have to make shit up. The “memoir”, as a form, has come under much scrutiny these days because there are assholes out there that think they have to puff up their own story, and the truth is that I had to tone it down in some places because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. But to answer your question, people ask me all the time how I remember everything, and the truth is that I didn’t write about everything, I wrote about the parts I remember best or the parts that are funniest ,or the parts that are most exciting which are, of course, the parts that are most vivid in my memory. I played fifteen hundred gigs – I have an exceptional memory, even when I am drunk and wired, but I don’t remember them all perfectly. In the end I think I wrote about three of them. Anyway, I didn’t want to write a book about what it’s like to be on the road, that book’s been done a million times, and day-to-day life on the road with a rock band isn’t always all that interesting. But there are always peaks, valleys and extremes that will make good stuff, especially when you are dealing with the lunatics and dyspsomaniacs in my crew. No one had more fun than we did. When I started thinking about the book, it came very easily to connect the dots; I said, “Well, I’m certainly going to start with my first job and kicking my boss’ ass at Wrestling’s Main Event – the professional wrestling magazine that I used to work for. That was a very dramatic anecdote and I think anybody can relate to wanting to kick the shit out of their boss and moving into his office. From there, it was really easy to rock and roll right up to the end. You know there’s a lot of walking around involved in writing? That’s the secret. I spend a lot of my time pacing around my apartment, walking in the woods, walking around New York City, thinking about it, and it became very natural to link the events together chronologically, and once I got into the stories, of course there are always things that stand out. Some of the best stories are the ones that got told over and over in bars over the last twenty years.

BA: Well that is absolutely true. And it’s not that I was saying you were trying to puff any of the aspects of the stories up or anything, I was more curious to know which parts that you do remember well, but left out.

ME: [stammering a little] I want to get this right. Some pretty kooky things have gone down and it’s still too early to tell everything. [laughing] There are some statutes of limitations that need to be considered.

BA: Nice.

ME: As long as Spain has an extradition treaty with the United States, I’m keeping my mouth shut.

BA: [laughing] Nice. So as far as what you’re doing now, the book’s out, you’re doing the tour, you’re doing the record, what are you doing outside of that?

ME: Well, I know this must come as a shock, but I do get up in the morning and go to work. I’ve got a really awesome job editing rock & roll and jazz books.

BA: At which company?

ME: Backbeat Books. I was the editor of the Official Punk Rock Book of Lists, and I’m just finishing editing a biography of Sly Stone, and I’m going to be working on a book with Levon Helm very soon as well, so I have a dream job. I get to work on rock & roll books and jazz books and then at night I get to actually play rock & roll and jazz. My relationship with my employers is such that they give me a very long leash and encourage me to be creative. What other people might consider to be bad habits they recognize as assets to my creativity. It’s an ideal situation. Ironically, women who are initially attracted to me for that same bad behavior – well, not really bad, you know, like the song: good bad, but not evil – just maintaining a rock & roll lifestyle, are later turned off by the very same thing. At first it is, ‘Wow, you are such a rebel,’ and then, ‘When are you going to calm down?’ But the tour continues, always. We’ll be doing spot gigs in selected cities through the fall in various formats – either the full Arkestra, which is up to five or six members now, or the rock & roll arm of the organization – The Edison Rocket Train – which is three members, but I also do solo shows. It’s expensive to stay on the road so it depends. The most important thing is to get the message to the people. I consider myself to be a 21st century troubadour. That’s what it’s all about, I’m sharing my story with people and hopefully it’s an exciting one. It’s certainly filthy and funny.

BA: That’s absolutely true. I Have Fun Everywhere I Go is a really good read.

ME: Thank you. My editor’s a fucking genius; she’s brilliant and she really helped me turn the book up to eleven.

BA: I don’t think I know a single writer that wouldn’t envy you that. Every writer I know tends to say the same thing, variations on what their editors cut out being what the writer considered to be integral to the piece.

ME: There was never a question of chopping the best part out. And the book was looked at by about a hundred lawyers who were very careful. Some things were re-phrased, some names were changed, but no one ever asked me not to self-censor anything. The only thing my editor would say is that I went too long in some places or, in some cases, that I should expand upon an idea.

BA: That’s cool. And the one thing that I did want to ask about as far as your book and your record and things like that is whether you’re going to further develop it; as I’m reading and listening, and envisioning what the live rock & roll show looks like, I could see it being a really decent documentary. Has there been any talk of getting a camera crew and doing this stuff?

ME: We’ve been taping casually, but it would be a great documentary — someone needs to come to me immediately and present that. It’s interesting because what we’re doing is unique; it’s like every asshole I know has a band, but I’m the only asshole with a book. Well, there are lots of assholes with books, but you know what I mean. In a room full of punk rockers, a book gives you some juice. Even in a crowd of people that aren’t the most voracious book readers, they get the idea that sitting down and writing a book comes with a certain amount of gravitas, authority, and accomplishment that making a record – especially a punk rock or a garage record – just doesn’t carry.

BA: That goes without saying. Everybody figures they can string three chords together and make a punk record.

ME: And some of those records are indelible, monumental works of art, but in a post-Ramones world it’s becoming harder and harder to break new ground.

BA: That’s true and contrary to what people have said, yes musicians can write books, but anybody that has read Rotten by John Lydon can tell you that you still need to be a good writer to write.

ME: Well, I am a writer. I’ve been a writer my whole life; a working writer. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words about wrestling and pornography and pot and I work hard at it. I think about it a lot. As a musician, I take my influences, and try to put them through my own filter: Chuck Berry and Link Wray and Captain Beefheart and The Stooges and James Brown are a just a few of the things that really apply to what I do in a direct fashion. But then there are the things I love that are very inspirational. John Coltrane, and Beethoven are on that list, but there’s no way I could steal riffs from them, it would make no sense for the music I make. The same with writing; I could steal some riffs from Raymond Chandler, but I don’t write stream of consciousness, so what William Burroughs does doesn’t really directly impact my style, yet he is an influence because he taught us that everything is permitted. No rules.

BA: Absolutely. I don’t want to say that anything about the novel is derivative because it really isn’t – but you can pick up little bits here and there that say Mike read Valley Of The Dolls.

ME: Mike’s never read Valley Of The Dolls. I suppose I should get around to that eventually. I’ve certainly read enough sleazy novels in my life. Shit! I wrote twenty-eight sleazy novels before I got here.

BA: Are you still doing that?

ME: Not really. Print pornography is pretty much dead – although what was it they said in The Godfather III? “Just when you think you’ve gone legit, they reel you back in”? Every once in a while, someone will call asking if I want to write some pornography and I always say, ‘No! Absolutely not! I’m done with that!’ And then I think about it and say, ‘But – if I were to write something – how much would it pay?’ At which point I’m fucked. They’ll say a number and then I’ll say a bigger number and they won’t want to go that high, and I’ll say I’m not interested, and they’ll say that they’ll pay in cash…

BA: And then you find yourself a smut peddler once more.

ME: Yeah, I’m a whore just like the rest of them.

BA: I’ve always maintained that writing for a living is about on par with the oldest profession.

ME: Well, I always say that the difference between a slut and a whore is simply the fact that whores get paid and sluts do it for free because they dig it, but there are no guarantees. I guess I am more like an opportunistic slut.

BA: That’s fair enough, and it’s kind of funny because I’ve been saying the same thing about journalism since I started. Every job I’ve taken in the press up until the last year or so has been a paying job and my standing joke for a long time is that I’m a whore – not a slut. Whores get paid and so do I.

ME: I do it because I like it, to be perfectly honest with you. I wouldn’t have necessarily written a book for free, but I sit down every day, and it comes in various forms. Noise, words, whatever.

BA: Okay, so what’s coming next?

ME: Uhm, that’s a good question. I’m doing some magazine work right now and still enjoying performing this book and looking forward to more dates in the fall when we’re doing some more dates. I just did a piece for Spin and there will be some more rock n’ roll stuff. I actually want to start writing about classical music. [chuckling] I’m trying to convince somebody to let me do it, the problem is that I want to write about jazz and classical music and no one will let me because I’m pretty irreverent about the subject matters, and the people that run jazz and classical magazines and are arts editors want to treat these things like sacred cows and museum pieces. The last time I pitched a jazz story, it was about how much Sonny Rollins’ new record sucks. He’s got a fuckin’ rock drummer on it! It was just awful, but they told me that I couldn’t say that because Sonny Rollins was important and jazz is so unpopular that we wouldn’t say anything bad about it. I asked them, ‘Have you heard this record? It’s lame! It sucks, it doesn’t swing and it isn’t recorded well.’ When Ornette Coleman won the Pulitzer Prize, I thought it was such bullshit because his band is so good – the compositions are so good – and the best he could release was a soundboard tape? That’s what won the Pulitzer Prize? I thought it was extremely lazy and cheap on his part not to take that band into the studio and do it right. I’m a big fan of Ornette, but I think they just felt guilty for not giving Duke Ellington the Pulitzer in the late Fifties that they finally decided to throw one at a jazz musician. When I suggested that – and I think it’s a valid and justified opinion – I was told to shut the fuck up and never say it again because a Pulitzer Prize awarded to a jazz musician was good for jazz and no one was allowed to dissent. Jazz! An art form that is supposed to embody the very concept of freedom is now being driven by people that have happily thrown that out the window.

BA: Well, see – now you’ve got the subject for your next book: do all the things that everybody said you couldn’t or shouldn’t do.

ME: [laughing] I do that anyway.

BA: There you go. Call it Better Living Through Sacred Cow Tipping and run with it.

ME: Well, when somebody tells me that I can’t do something, I generally do it twice; the first time to prove them wrong, and the second time out of spite.

BA: [laughing] Nice! God that sounds familiar.

ME: I think that might be the place to end.

BA: That’s actually perfectthanks for doing this again. I feel really guilty about it….

ME: Don’t worry about it; if you’ve got any ideas, let me know.

BA: I will.

ME: Very cool. I’ll look forward to seeing the story dude, call anytime.

BA: Take it easy.

ME: Thanks, bye bye.

Artist:
www.rockettrain.com

Album:
Mike Edison — I Have Fun Everywhere I Go – [Album]. Buy it NOW on Amazon!
Mike Edison — I Have Fun Everywhere I Go – [Book]. Buy it NOW on Amazon!

 

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