Brandan Kearney - 2002

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Brandan Kearney is one of the great unheralded movers and shakers from the 80s-90s SF underground rock scene. He has played in such nationally known acts as World of Pooh (with Barbara Manning) and Caroliner (crazy SF freaks with handmade album covers), as well as oodles of other bands of every stripe and color (including Faxed Head, the Three Doctors and the Bon Larvis Boogie Woogie Blues Band, all of which also featured Zip Code Rapist Gregg Turkington and famed Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance), and best of all, he's the guy on the right on the cover of the Thinking Fellers album Mother Of All Saints! He has co-authored a record review guide with Gregg Turkington that will be published by Drag City in October 2002. But this isn't any old ordinary record review guide.. Read on for no details! We conducted our interview via AOL Instant Messenger - brought to you by AOL! My words are in bold, his are in plain text.

Okay, here goes: You were part of an extremely cynical underground scene in early 90s SF, yet your philosophy seems completely different from that sort of "murder is cool, Manson is cool" stuff. Could you describe your philosophy and how it differs from a lot of the types of people that you used to play music with and to?

I don't think I'd glorify what's in my head with a word like "philosophy." And most of the people I've ever played music with are just fine, ethics-wise...just like most people are.

You could sum up what I believe in as "compassion." I can give of bunch of fancy intellectual justifications for that stance, but that sort of detracts from a position that would ideally be automatic and thoughtless.

Can you elaborate? I remember you mentioning once that everywhere you went on tour, people wanted to show you movies of people dying and "edgy, underground" things like that. That detached "hip" attitude is so easy to fall into when everybody around you is into it, but you seem not to have fallen prey.

I suppose I understood that evil was monotonous, and that the imagination that responds to evil is impoverished. It tries to make up for that by having grandiose dreams in which evil has actual power, but that doesn't help...any more than a drab little building would be helped by being made a hundred times larger.

I think that for most of those people, it was just a phase anyway. I didn't get with that program, because I was old-fashioned enough to recognize the humanity of the people in those movies, and to believe that life is something that needs to be respected in and of itself. I don't get a thrill out of schoolyard fantasies of power and dominance. I'm not interested in power, and I'm not interested, especially, in asserting an individual consciousness. Basically, I try to live my life the way reasonable people always have: I try to be cooperative and fair and compassionate, and to put other people before myself to the extent that I can. And needless to say, I reached that point only through years of being a confused and confusing jerk, and being cruel to people I cared about.

What I'm trying to say is that the right way to live, for me anyway, is neither revolutionary nor philosophically complex. People all over the world behave compassionately every single day. So I'm describing a process of arriving through great mental and physical toil at a philosophical stance that is really a human which I always accepted as correct, intellectually, but couldn't always act on because I let stupid things get in the way.

Tell us about this crazy town where you grew up (hippies, famous people living there).

Jeez. Famous people? The Jefferson Airplane had a summer place there. We used to climb the fence and sneak into their pool. Hippies? There were a lot of hippies there. I don't know...Bolinas was Mecca for a lot of poets and painters and so forth. So you had artists, with all the usual flaws of the artist compounded by the use of hallucinogens and alcohol. And then you had the sort of naive wide-eyed hippies who'd flock around artists like those birds who pick flesh from the teeth of crocodiles. And they in turn attracted the sort of biker lunatics who'd prey on the naive for sex, drugs, and money.

Oh, suddenly Jim Carroll of "Dry Dreams" fame isn't famous enough to be mentioned?

Well, he lived down the street from me. We had the layout sheets for "The Basketball Diaries" littered all over the goddamn house, because he and my father had the same publisher.

Can you talk about the nutjob stalker? Or would you prefer not to? I guess I'm trying to pull together all the crazy shit about your childhood and then ask you how you feel it affected what you are like now.. or something. Who knows what the hell I'm doing.

Christ, I don't know. To make a long story as short as possible, one of the more aggressive lunatics out there burned our house down in 1979. We barely got out with our lives. After that he stalked us for--I don't know, a couple of years or so. He was camped out behind our rented house for a while. There was a lot of tension.

When did you finally get out of that hellhole? And did you go straight to San Francisco?

I didn't really think of Bolinas as a hellhole so much, believe it or not. What happened was I'd reached a pretty low ebb around the time I was 15 or so. I was an absolute mess. I'd flunked out of school, I was miserable about any number of things, and so on. So somehow, I pulled myself out of it, took the GED and started going to college. I met a girl there who had gone to school with me in San Francisco and we started dating. The catch was, she was moving to Canada in a month or so. I was pretty broken up when she left, so I hopped on a Greyhound bus and moved to Toronto for a while. Eventually, we both moved back to Bolinas. But we were always driving to San Francisco for shows and movies and whatnot, and it seemed sensible just to move there. Moths to the flame!

What year this was, and what was going on in SF? Was Jello Biafra still "hot"? Who WAS hot? What was going on? And how did you, as a new kid on the block, assimilate yourself into the underground culture?

I never did assimilate myself, I don't think. I couldn't give myself over wholly to anything. I never really dressed liked a punk or anything. I mean, by Bolinas standards I did and I got a lot of flak for that out there, but in San Francisco I probably seemed pretty tame. As for who was hot...fuck, I don't remember. At the moment, we're talking about the years between 1981 and 1985, excluding '83, which I spent in Toronto.

Biafra was making a pest of himself, of course. There was a lot of death rock, precursors to the great Goth movement. Flipper was happening; I was a big fan of their brand of entertainment. I saw a show in 1984 with Caroliner and Glorious Din and Faith No More...that was a "formative experience," I guess.

Oh! You weren't a founding member?

Of Caroliner?

Yeah, I thought you were.

Oh, no. They were going for about three years before I joined.

Was this when Gregg Turkington was still drumming for them?

Gregg was drumming when I saw them in 1984, but I think he quit pretty soon after.

But no records?

The first record came much later, like a year or so before I joined. Probably 1986.

What was the first record you were on?

Hmm. I think it was this "To Sell Kerosene Door to Door" double-album that Eric from Glorious Din put out in 1987. It had Caroliner, World of Pooh, Archipelago Brewing Company, and Dog Food. You know, back then you could put out cassettes and still be valid, man.

Were you on the first Caroliner LP though?

No. That's probably why it's so good!

HA! Which ones were you on? Because the others DON'T MATTER.

Second through...tenth? Except for "Rings on the Awkward Shadow." They really didn't mind if I sat that one out, as Jethro Tull would say.

Hey man, if you ain't on "Doots," you ain't on SHIT.

That's one way of putting it.

You've explained that Caroliner was really Grux's baby, as far as the songwriting and image and whatnot. What role did you play in the band? How do the non-Kearney records compare to the Kearney-era records?

I feel bad even discussing this, really. The band was supposed to exist without personalities, and I still respect that to an extent, even though it was always kind of an open secret. As far as comparisons, I think people have given me way too much credit, because if you look at the first record, or "Rings on the Awkward Shadow," they're great, and I had absolutely nothing to do with them. I think if I'd never joined they still would have made good records...maybe even better ones. But my specific role had mainly to do with recording and arranging things...production, I guess you'd call it. I didn't write the songs, and I often played within the confines of what Grux wanted to hear...on record, at least. Getting away from the band itself, I'd say that of the things I've done, the Caroliner records are probably what I'm happiest with, artistically. But was the band qualitatively better with me than without me? I don't think you could necessarily say that.

You seem to get involved in a lot of bands that "exist without personalities." Am I even allowed to say that you're in Faxed Head? Or the Bon Larvis Boogie Woogie Blues Band?

You just did, asshole.

OH NO!!!!

Brandan signed off at 2:35:56 PM.

Brandan signed on at 2:36:00 PM.

Got cut off there for a minute. I have a shoddy modem held in with tape.

Whew! For about four seconds there, I was afraid that that whole "Faxed Head revelation" had destroyed our friendship. But getting back -- What's with all the "joke" bands? Faxed Head? Bon Larvis Band? Three Doctors? Did you treat these as "serious" jokes? Or was it just all a goof? Or were you just following Turkington's lead? I never did understand why he spent so much money releasing albums that weren't even MEANT to be enjoyed.

I guess they were "serious jokes," in that they were intended as a sort of commentary. (I think it used to be called satire.) And I don't see why I should be getting grilled about "joke" music by Mark Prindle. That's like being called a faggot by Freddie Mercury.

Or being called a faggot by Mark Prindle! No, wait..

The financial thing needs to be put in perspective, too. For instance, how much would Sonic Youth or Sting spend on one of their albums? I think we're to be praised for making bad music so economically. And the money we saved went to support vegan restaurants.

Actually, what would be helpful to the reading audience would be if you could quickly name all the bands you were in, with a short description of each one.

How would that be helpful to ANYONE?

Let me rephrase: I personally am very curious as to how you would describe all of the different work you've done. Because a lot of it is almost unclassifiable in its strangeness. And you've done a LOT of stuff.

Oh well, if you put it like that...World of Pooh started out as this childish keyboard-heavy trio in 1983, then mutated into pretty straightforward indie-rock by 1987 or thereabouts. Archipelago Brewing Company started out as drunken improvisation in a studio at Hunter's Point. We'd just lie on the floor banging on things with the volume all the way up. Eventually it turned into a sludgy garage rock band with ten members, most of them incompetent girl drummers.

Caroliner? Never mind...I'm not even sure if I was in that band. Steeple Snakes was a parody of noise groups; it was supposed to be so lame that it would cast a pall over the entire genre. At least that's what I thought; other members may have had different motives. Job's Daughters was dedicated to cover versions of 60s-70s pop music. Heavenly Ten Stems was devoted to cover versions of Asian pop music and Indian film music, partially because it was more challenging to play, and also because we had a spillover of Asian material from Job's Daughters.

Horse-Cow was conceived as something that would change for every release, and wouldn't even necessarily involve me. I still have plans for the name, but everything released under it so far has been noise. The Three Doctors Band was a tribute to vanity pressing bands of the seventies. They're still going in Venezuela, with all new members. I hear they're a lot better than we ever were.

Wednesday Morning 3 AM was an "industrial folk group" starring Eric Cope of Glorious Din, who wrote about a thousand songs a week, all in the same key and tempo. I played clarinet. Dog Food was WM3AM stripped down to a duo...Eric on acoustic guitar and me on electric. There's a completed album that never came out, and I've never heard it. Faxed Head? I was never actually a member or anything... I just filled in at a couple of shows when the real bass player was too sick to leave Coalinga. Tarnation was a sort of country-goth outfit started by Paula Frazer, formerly of Frightwig; I played lap steel in the short-lived original line-up. My biggest contribution to their later success was realizing that I was dreadful, and quitting. Totem Pole of Losers was a studio band in the tradition of Alshire Records. I played guitar on one track, which was recycled later as an Easy Goings track (again in the spirit of Alshire). I think that's it.

Wait, no it isn't. Colonel Truth and the Berkeley Street Gurus was a hippy improv band; I went under the name "Hermes." If there are any others, I can't think of them right now.

There! Now see how helpful that is to all of the readers?

I hadn't noticed it 'til you mentioned it.

MAN - it is thundering and lightening like crazy here.

The Gods are angry with you for investigating the secrets of the SF costume-rock scene.

Hey, dig this Jack. What was up with that crazy thing that happened at that Heavenly Ten Stems show? What happened and what were your feelings about it?

The free press needs a muzzle, if you ask me.

Was it "overly PC," or do you think that their perception of the band was understandable, considering that they didn't know you from Adam?

Their perception was understandable. It was willfully ignorant, emotionally crippled, and more than a little unfair...but still understandable. I honestly don't think that they were wrong to be concerned, but I think their way of expressing it wasn't too constructive, for them or for us. What happened is that we were playing covers of pop songs from India, Japan, and China. The singer, Lara, was wearing Peking opera make-up. She also had a dress on that was supposedly a Korean wedding gown. I say "supposedly" because we were told this by the people who attacked us, who were fountains of misinformation in other areas. But for the sake of argument, let's say it WAS a Korean wedding dress.

Mark Davies painted his face with gold paint, which seemed to bug these people, but I didn't understand that. He didn't want to look like himself, but he wasn't trying to look specifically Asian, or even specifically human. I think Mark, like me, looked at shows-- any shows--as a chance to take on a completely new appearance. I saw what he was wearing as pretty abstract. Asians don't have metallic gold skin. No one does.

Alex, the keyboardist, had on a sari. Well, she was white, and she was wearing Indian clothing. Guilty as charged. Roshani, our violinist, was wearing traditional Pakistani clothing. But she's Pakistani, so she's allowed, it seems to me.

The other three members--me, Phil Franklin, and Brently Pusser-weren't wearing anything remotely Asian. In fact, I was wearing the same clothes I'd worn at a Steeple Snakes show not long before.

So in the middle of one song, there was a lot of shouting. Then this woman jumped on stage, said something like "They forgot one thing," and threw a container of yellow paint on us. There was a bit of a scuffle...I remember one of the women who attacked us tearing at poor Roshani's Pakistani scarf and screaming, "What IS this shit? What are you wearing? What do you think you're doing?"

Who WERE these women? Did you ever find out?

Yeah, one of them was actually someone whom Lara had previously considered a friend. And somewhere she had gotten these other two demented women to join forces with her. That's the thing that really got to Lara, was that this woman knew about the show--she'd been invited, in fact--and she could have called Lara and made her feelings known at any point. And Lara wouldn't have worn the clothes or the make-up and that would have been that. But they were going way beyond the clothes...they were saying that we were just making up faux-Asian lyrics, just making nonsense sounds. The fact is, we worked hard to get the lyrics down, and when Mark's Cantonese co-worker heard them, he could understand them. And both Lara and I were studying Cantonese at City College.

So they were pissed because they thought you were MAKING FUN of Chinese culture? That was their point?

Well, to some extent. I mean, we explained that we weren't doing that. But the thing is, even if we could have been exonerated from that one alleged act of wrongdoing, they could still have come up with a thousand more. What it came down to, I think, is that we made them uncomfortable. That's why I don't want to come down on these people too much. You figure there's legitimate pain involved, and when someone else is acting out pain on that level, you want to step back and give them some room. I'm not them and I don't know what it's like to be them. I know that racism exists, and I'm sure they've had to deal with it. But at the same time, you strip away the revolutionary rhetoric and these were very assimilated young ladies. They listened to indie rock and French pop and they hung around with white people. And I don't know to what extent we were breaking some sort of magic spell. I do know that we were an easy, easy target. No one had to worry about getting beaten up for protesting us, unlike at a Klan rally. Or a Dwarves show. I suspect we were a convenient lightning-rod for people who had some tremendous-and probably legitimate--pent-up resentments. Which would have been fine, if they'd treated us like reasonable people who were capable of dialogue, instead of using us as an opportunity to strike self-mythologizing poses.

Speaking of Klan rallies, would you mind telling the good people about the high times at Unnamed Chemical Company? Between you, Gregg, John Singer (Gregg's partner in the Zip Code Rapists) and Margaret Murray (of U.S. Saucer and Three Doctors Band), you had quite a large chunk of the SF music underground inhaling noxious fumes on a daily basis!

Let me finish up my thought on the HTS thing first.

Oops! I'm sorry. While you're doing that, did you guys continue performing in makeup and costumes after that incident?

Yeah, for the one show we played after that. But no one wore anything that was in any way "ethnic." For instance, Lara dressed as a Midwestern farm girl, and I dressed in drag...a black velvet gown and high heels. I always felt that gay transvestism displayed a certain level of hostility towards women, yet it was kind of a sacred cow in the Bay Area- -especially among women--so that seemed to be the way to go.

There are a couple of things that sum the whole situation up for me. There was one woman who wrote a letter criticizing what we were doing, and passed it out at our show...the same show where we were attacked. I thought she was kind of loopy, and I was very angry about the whole thing, but I nonetheless ended up talking to her for a while a few weeks after the show...not least because she'd told me that she thought the woman who'd physically attacked us had some emotional problems that went beyond the racial issue. Besides that, she was at least willing to debate the issue face to face, unlike these people who'd thrown paint at us and then vanished down the rabbit hole.

One thing I told her about was the support we'd gotten from people who weren't white. Lara had spoken to a touring Chinese opera singer who was excited about the band, and gave her make-up tips. Mark's Chinese co-worker translated the songs into English for us, and helped him with certain phonetic things. An Indian family in Nashville helped us find the soundtracks we needed, and they were really happy that we were doing those songs. I told this woman all these things, and she said, "Well, some people are more assimilationist than I am."

And I thought, "Here's someone who runs an underground record store, selling odious shit like Pavement and the Mountain Goats, and she considers herself less of an assimilationist than Indians running an Indian music store in Nashville? Or a Cantonese opera singer from Kowloon?" The Indians had never had a friendly conversation with a white person in their lives until we came in their store! And it burned me up that I was supposed to accept the opinions of two Asian women from the Bay Area as the last word on the subject, and simply dismiss any Asians or Indians who had different ideas as "assimilationist."

Anyway, like I said, we dropped the Asian or quasi-Asian costumes for our next show as a gesture of goodwill, but these folks ended up calling in threats to the club. When that didn't work, they sent observers from some sort of Asian-antidiscrimination group. They were smiling and applauding by the end of the show, so I guess they weren't too bothered by us. And we didn't do any more shows after wasn't worth the trouble. I'm glad we did that last show, though.

Again, I don't really have a huge problem with what those people did. The people I think are unforgivable are the ones who made judgments about the show without being there. Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, for instance.

What did that talented chanteuse do?

Oh, there was an article in "Rollerderby" on the whole situation, and Kathleen Hanna wrote in a complaint about how it was biased. Lisa was giving aid and comfort to the enemy, I guess. The thing is, she had completely misread the article. She was complaining about how we'd compared the people attacking us to Hitler, when in fact it was they who'd compared US to Hitler. And she was holding forth about what happened on stage, basing her observations on an article by a San Francisco Bay Guardian columnist who also wasn't at the show. Lisa was actually at the show, and had a videotape of it, and that tape does not bear out the version of events these people were putting forth. I think that it was amoral at best to distort what happened, when a videotape was available...she could easily have gotten the tape from Lisa and watched it before writing that letter.

I guess you can become reactionary--as so many people have--and start saying that anyone who is vehemently opposed to racism or sexism is ipso facto as stupid and vindictive as Kathleen Hanna. But that's not true, to say the least. What you finally have to recognize is that there are people of good will and people of ill will...people who put finding common ground first, and people who prefer to exaggerate the moral distance between themselves and others.

Now, what was that next question?

Well, now it will just seem frivolous! I was just asking about Unnamed Chemical Company.

Oh, yeah. What about it?

What happens when four people as ridiculous as you, Gregg, Margaret and John get thrown together in an extremely toxic environment every day?

What happens is the Zip Code Rapists, Three Doctors Band, stuff like that. And then later, of course, you get the cancers and whatnot.

Are you concerned about that?

Yes and no. I mean, it's done. What am I supposed to do about it? I lead a reasonably healthy life these days.

The thing about Unnamed Chemical Company is that it paid us enough money that we could release things like the Three Doctors Band or the Easy Goings. It was also a breeding-ground for depression and anxiety and rage, and we all know that those are the ingredients for good music. On top of that, it was the kind of environment that gave rise to obsessive behavior. If someone came to my house and tried to play Roger Daltrey's "Ride a Rock Horse" even once, I'd be inclined to punch his lights out. But at Unnamed Chemical Company, we could play that over and over again. It's like an isolation tank. Pouring cyanide and listening to Roger Daltrey. You get ideas. Not necessarily good ones, but unusual ones.

Was this atmosphere conducive to the friendships of those involved? Or were there negative repercussions to that?

Well, in some cases it was conducive. In others, it wasn't. Kind of like a foxhole, I guess.

Did the bad atmosphere BOND you, or make you bitter and hate each other?

Gregg and John and I have always stayed on good terms.


It's true...none of us got along with Livingstone that well.

Speaking of "fox holes," what are your thoughts on our current War against the Country of Terror?

America has always been a country at war with itself.

Okay, let's get to the goods - the reason we're here - THE NEW BOOK.

The Prayer of Jabez?

What the hell is The Prayer of Jabez?

Some schmuck found one little tiny line in the Bible that seemed to suggest that God wants people to accumulate riches on earth, and now it's printed on coffee mugs and God knows what all. It was a big bestseller.

That's stupid! What about the "eye of a needle" crap?

See, "The Needle" was really a narrow gate in one of the walls of Jerusalem. So it's difficult, but not impossible. Or so they say.

Oh wait! I've heard that theory! I heard it from a crazy Christian nut taxi driver that drove me to the airport in Boston a while back.

Yeah, it's probably pretty reasonable. I mean, murderers can go to Heaven if they repent, right? So you could take it to mean that the temptations involved in being rich will doom almost all of the wealthy. Which history seems to bear out. Dick Cheney seems like the textbook definition of "unrepentant."

The Taxi Driver was saying, "They used BIG GIANT needles back then!" I was like...umm... ok?

Yeah, well...heroin was a big problem back then, just like now. You thought it was IG Farben who invented it? Actually, it was old Pharaoh. To keep the Children of Israel in bondage.

IG Farben invented heroin?

Sure, and aspirin. And Zyklon-B.

Well, I'll be darned. And all this time, I've been giving all the credit to Orville Redenbacher.

No, he invented phosgene.

Every answer invites new questions. For example, "What the hell is phosgene?"

Poison gas. A chemical weapon, in layman's terms. A bummer, in hippy terms.

Do you want to continue on the religious route of discussion or cut to your book? Your call.

It's up to the so-called interviewer. I mean, I'm doing all the talking here...what is this?

Tell about your book now!

The anagram book I wrote with Gregg? Or my monograph on the polyphonic motets of Lassus?

Oh - I thought they were going to be included in the same volume?

No, Drag City wouldn't have it like that.

Drag City? More like DRAG City, if you know what I mean. (Cross-dressing).

Let's go with Book A.

Well, what do you want to know? I demand incisive, hard-hitting questions!

Nobody in the world knows anything about this book. Would you mind giving its title, explaining what it is, how it came into being and then give a few examples if you could? I'm trying to help you move some units here. Seriously - I have the STUPIDEST readers in the universe. Just say the name of the book and these morons will rush right out and buy it. Trust me.

The title is "Warm Voices Rearranged," and it's a sort of metaphysical record review guide. It should appeal equally to fans of Dave Marsh and Eusapia Palladino. As for how it came about, it's yet one more of the homunculi we cooked up at Unnamed Chemical Company. I think all the other details are supposed to stay under wraps for now.

Oh! Okay. Makes sense, I guess. So I'll just emphasize that it's unlike any other record review guide ever written, so ask for it by name in October. Is it getting national distribution? Do you know how many copies they're printing?

Sure, it'll be national. It better be! I don't know how many copies. A fair amount, would be my guess. I don't think anyone needs to pitch a tent outside the bookstore. Unless you read "pitch a tent" as slang for getting an erection.

Why do the book details and my erection have to stay under wraps? Are they planning a big launch?

Yeah, I think they want to "strike while the iron's hot."

While you and Gregg are at your most popular?

My popularity peaked over a decade ago. Gregg's is yet to come. His peak, that is. Not his popularity.

Does your father know about the book? How does he feel about you "following in his footsteps"? A chip off the old block, you might say! The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

Of course he knows. I think he'd rather I was doing more, actually. He's always urging me to get more stuff out there.

Do you have an urge to create? I know it sounds like a faggoty question, but I'm serious.

Well, I must, or I wouldn't have done so much stuff. At this point, it would probably be more like an urge to communicate. I don't really care about art so much. But there are things I feel obliged to express.

Having to do with what?

Lots of stuff. Gilded emptiness and embroidered lies. Bloodless inanity and cyclopic senselessness. Rigid and alphabetic poverty of the mind. Maybe some scene reports, too.

Are we talking writing, music, art, or all three and more?

Jeez, probably writing. It's really the only skill I have. I like playing music, though. But that's not communication. At least, not the way I go about it.

Are you still "all over" Pro Tools? What have you been doing?

Samplitude, not Pro Tools. I'm just fucking around. I spent so many years knocking my brains out trying to do things with tape that are easy on the computer. I'm just amusing myself. Flipping through the outdated magazines in God's waiting-room.

Wait a second. How? That doesn't make any sense. Do you mean like a doctor named Dr. God or something?

Oh wait - you were using a metaphor.

Look, let's take the spotlight off of me for a moment. As far as you know, are any of your bands still active? Probably a couple are hibernating, like herpes.

Oh wait! That reminded me of another question: are you really going to release a CD by the Bon Larvis Band? What record company would release something like that?

Gregg has a label in Australia that wants to do it. Knows a label, I should say.


Yeah, I don't get it either.

And I'm still selling my CDRs for $4 through the Internet. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

Maybe you should play a little boogie-woogie blues instead of all this lo-fi experimental horseshit.

There's nothing experimental about rock and roll!

Well, I still say the blues is the answer. The boogie woogie blues, to be precise.

I suppose when you get right down to it, I'm kinda out of questions. Was there something you really wanted to say that I missed?

Here you are talking to one of the greatest minds of your time, and you're out of questions? Why don't you ask me if I think Pat Benatar was a strong role model for today's female rockers?

Okay then, the final question: Did the terror of your youth affect the person that you are today? If that guy hadn't burned down your house and all that, do you think you would be a different person today?

That's obviously a pretty complicated issue. I could have said, "Gee whiz, that was terrifying. I don't ever want to be in that position again, so I'm carrying a gun from here on out." I used to sit up nights with a shotgun, and I was mentally prepared to kill this guy. I mean, if he'd opened the door or climbed in the window, I definitely would've shot him dead. I could've extrapolated from this that guns equal strength or safety, but I don't believe that. I believe that they are more often crutches for the wounded and weak. I could've supported the death penalty, but I don't. I think some people could've easily used those early experiences as a foundation for beliefs that are the exact opposite of mine. Instead, I think that power gained over other people by force or dishonesty is false power that will come to nothing, and needs to be rejected. So how did I get to that position, which I consider to be the correct one? Grace, I guess.

I have to add that I wasn't actually terrified. I really wasn't scared of anything at that point in my life.

How on Earth could you not have been scared? You mean the fear had been beaten out of you by the fire? Or are you just a weird guy with no fear?

I mean that there's a point where you feel you don't have much to lose. It's not necessarily realistic; it's just the degree of dissociation required to get through it all. You're numb enough to do what you have to do at the time. The fear only comes later when you see the extremes you were driven to, chief among which is the lack of emotion.

So is the fear back now that you're married, and have something to lose? Or do you just have what would be a normal amount of concern? Like a "normal" person?

Gee, why would you be asking me that?

I always had things to lose, and I don't really think anyone is normal. I think you have to separate images that are essentially mental tape loops from actual reality, which in certain limited aspects is much worse than whatever specific negative image you might choose to focus on. But when you come right down to it, we either live in a completely mechanistic universe where death is ultimately as meaningless as life, or we live in some other kind of universe in which life and suffering have some sort of a point. Either way, there are limited grounds for complaint. You could look at it like G.K. Chesterton, or Epictetus: it's a miracle that you get to wake up on a single day, so why complain that you don't get to wake up every day, forever? There's a certain ingratitude in thinking that what you've got at a given moment is worthless unless you can keep it forever. And I've certainly been guilty of that sort of ingratitude. But deep down, you have to realize that it's pretty stupid.

That whole thing you said about separating the mental tape loops from actual reality strikes me. I can't do that. The harder I try, the stronger the loops get.

Yeah, but you're nuts.

That's true - I do have a nice set of testicles.

I mean that sincerely. You know you're crazy, right? So of course you think crazy things. That's what crazy people do, by definition.

Are you crazy?

Yeah, I'm pretty screwy. And everything I'm advising here is difficult for me personally.

Luckily, we have sane, stable people in the government and leading our businesses, so it's okay for us artistic types to be a few bricks shy of a tire on a car missing.

Sure. Besides, what are you going to do? The thoughts you're talking about are thoughts about real things that are happening to people as we speak. You can't say they're unrealistic or impossible. But you can assume that a fixation on them, to the exclusion of everything else, is useless and crazy. And ungrateful.

Only when I'm drunk! That's honestly when I'm the calmest. Luckily, I can't stand how it makes me fall asleep so I only drink a couple times a week.

For 3 and a half days at a time.

What a lightweight! But aren't your fears predicated on the loss of some potential happiness that, when it comes to pass, might actually consist of the same old demented worrying? Like, "What if so-and-so drops dead? What will I do then? What will become of my bed of crimson joy?" Well, did you really have any joy, or were you just completely abstracted and lost in a world of horrible mental images?

No, no.

Doesn't it sometimes seem like you're destroying what you have now, for fear of losing it later? Isn't that a self-fulfilling prophecy?

My "normal" state is very happy. That's how most people know me. It's just very hard for me to get stressors out of my mind when it's something important to me. (post- interview note: when I read this section to my wife, she disagreed vehemently. She says that I do not at all come across as "very happy," but in fact "very moody." Go figure! I guess I don't express myself very well.)

Yeah, but I'm not talking about your normal state. I'm talking about your miserable state. And besides, your normal state is pharmacologically induced!

Like when my website went down a few weeks ago - I couldn't get over it.

Who could? That makes crucifixion look like a piece of cake.

I felt like everything I'd ever written was lost forever, and had all been worthless. Even though I KNOW it wasn't true. In my head, equaled Mark Prindle. My website WAS my identity.

But that's obviously crazy, wouldn't you say? Brenda didn't marry a website.

But the dozens (hundreds? TRILLIONS?) of people out there who really like me and make me feel talented -- I was lost to them. I still appreciated Brenda. I just felt like I had lost my connection to the people who actually appreciate what I'm trying to do (whatever that is). My site is my diary.

I can see that. I'm just trying to say that isolating certain thoughts or behaviors as crazy or painful or counterproductive, and then treating them as inescapably integral to your being, is probably a mistake.

Oh, it's definitely a mistake. But you don't think I'm doing it on purpose, do you? I couldn't think myself out of it. HOWEVER -- Let me say that I DO recognize and VERY MUCH appreciate the fact that if that's my biggest problem, my life is pretty goddamned wonderful.

Yeah, that's the problem. Thinking yourself out of things doesn't work very well. You have to understand your way out, which is a different hovercraft full of eels. And once you've done that, you can start working on understanding how lame the Ramones are.

"A different hovercraft full of eels"? I'm so moved by that turn of phrase that I am unable to read the rest of the paragraph to see what else you may have said in it! Okay, should I get to a final summation and conclusion to this interview thing? I've kept you for like 15 hours now.

Yeah, fine...whatever you want.

I know you have some shitty vegan food you could be eating. own sperm, for instance.

HEY! I found an AWESOME tofu meal the other day. FINALLY!

What was that?

This mango tofu dish at the Malaysian restaurant Penang - unbelievably great.

Oh yeah? I'll have to try it.

I think I'm far enough from having eaten meat to where I can really appreciate the "textures" they create with the tofu. I was eating it going, "Wow! It kinda feels like real meat!"

Glad to hear it. It's pretty hard being vegetarian if you don't like vegetarian food.

Darn tootin'. Up to that point, I'd just been eating bowls of grated cheese morning noon and night.

My brother's got the same problem...felt driven to vegetarianism, but hates vegetables.

Okay - here's the stupid final question. It's not very imaginative but I like it as a summation to a long interview.


As you look back over your long, sordid life, what do you take the most pride in? And I don't mean "pride" in the bad way!

Boy, that's a brain-teaser. I don't know if there is any specific thing. You do the best you can, and hope you'll fuck up less in the future. I honestly can't think of anything! I know that anytime you can avoid causing someone pain, you're on the right track. Unless they're at a Bon Larvis Band show, in which case it's open season!

Thanks, Ted Nugent! And if I don't like it, I can just KISS YOUR ASS!

(But the little woman might appreciate it if she read the interview and saw you saying "I'm most proud of my wife, of course, whom I love very much.")

Yeah, but I'm not proud of being married to her in that sense. I can't feel like it's something I did. It's about her being so great that she can deal with me, not about me winning her hand through mesmeric powers or whatever. I feel like she loves me despite me, not because of me.

(Which sounds unbelievably fucking stupid when written out in stark black-and-white text. Hey, maybe I'm even more of a dumbshit than I thought!)

But it IS something you did - it's something you ARE. Her love is affirming that you are a good person who deserves to be loved.

I guess. But it's hard to take pride in what you are, especially when what you are is sort of haphazard.


But believe me, I try to look at it that way! And going back to what we were saying about mental loops, I know that it's true. So I have to focus on what the reality MUST be, rather than what it appears to be. Thus is materialism laid low! Take that, Christian Smith! From Hell's heart, I stab at thee.

JESUS! Do you realize how everyman Joe Blow Christian Smith is going to react when he sees a member of CAROLINER mentioning him in a nationally published interview? He's gonna cum! He's gonna cum hard! He's gonna cum and cum and cum and cum and cum til his balls are bone-dry and his house is floating down the street in a river of semen!

So - Any final words for the interview?

Rock bands'll come, and rock bands'll go. But rock and roll's gonna go on forever!

Reader Comments (Matt Eaton)
Brandan, you are a genius. Also, come back and play on a new THREE DOCTORS BAND allbum, and it'll be just like the good old days with Gregg and Margaret and Trey and the rest of 'em over at Amarillo. And you will then be reminded of why your life is so good. WE LOVE YOU.

Brandan Kearney
Howdy all,

There's one tiny thing I have to clarify about the Heavenly Ten Stems incident. At one point in my blitherings on this subject, I say: "...these folks ended up calling in threats to the club." I want to make it clear that the woman who wrote the letter that was passed out at our show--the woman I discuss right before this quote--was NOT responsible for calling in these threats, or for purposefully misrepresenting the nature of the attack on us to the SF Bay Guardian. I want to make sure there is an absolutely clear distinction between this Asian woman--who did not condone the violence against us, and was willing to discuss her issues with us face to face--and the multiracial trio of women who attacked us physically, lied about us, and refused to be questioned by us, or by any non-allied journalist. Debates and even arguments are healthy, and I'm always up for them, with anybody. Trying to shut people up through intimidation or deceit is cowardly and weak-minded at best. This seems like an appropriate time, politically, to insist on a recognition of this elementary point of ethics. (Alex)
I put up some photos from the Heavenly Ten Stems show in which we got a little wet ... I played keyboards.

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