Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New: Danzig interview

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM DEPT., MAY 11 - My interview with Glenn Danzig is now online at Vice Magazine. His band has just released their first studio album in six years, and I somehow made the cut for the media pool. Because this band shares a name with the person I would be interviewing (and his & the band's eponymous first album) I had to phrase my tenses and possessives correctly.

Danzig (the man) is that rarest of performers, a public figure with a seemingly total lack of self-awareness. Henry Rollins shared this quirk in the eighties. I'd painfully attempted to interview Rollins twice in that decade, so I was wary of ever again questioning someone for whom there was no wiggle room for self-reflection, let along self-deprecation (in 1991, Danzig - the band - released a behind-the-scenes videography that still stands as the definitive monument to oblivious self-parody). There was a time, long ago, when I wasn't above making people look bad in interviews. All that did was mark me as a lousy writer and a jerk. But working in the opposite direction - gushing rock hagiography, the mode for most Danzig interviews - would mark me as a stooge. How to walk that fine line?

Then there was the matter of staging. Only at the last minute, looking up the address on Google Maps, did I realize that I already knew where I was going. The location of Glenn Danzig's house is an open secret in certain L.A. neighborhoods. It's an imposing, spooky structure, pretty much the exact kind of building one would imagine this man owning. There are only so many of these private landmarks in Los Angeles (Club 33, the Playboy Mansion, the bowels of the Magic Castle), and it was one of life's weird twists to suddenly receive an Open Sesame to someplace I never imagined I'd ever set foot in.

I drove into L.A. and met Glenn. The interview went by more or less smoothly in his dimly-lit back office. The only questions he shot down pertained to his house; he'd had problems with stalkers in the past and didn't want any mention of the place. Over the last decade I've driven past the property dozens of times and wondered what is happening in that house right now? So it was good that our chat left at least some of this mystery intact (Like; where did the huge pile of bricks go? And is it true he defended the property with a pitchfork after the '94 quake?).

After the interview, he ushered me back out into the sunlight and gave me some tips for balms and medicinal pads to buy in Chinatown. We wrapped up our conversation with that strange false camaraderie of most interviews - him assured I had no hidden agenda, me relieved he hadn't stonewalled me, Rollins-style. At one point he said he'd send me the names of some Chinese herbal supplements he couldn't remember at that moment. We both nodded, understanding that he didn't have my email address, or last name, or first name, and that it didn't really matter anyway.

The moment brought me back to a similar exchange, 18 years earlier, with Articles Of Faith frontman Vic Bondi. Our bands had crossed paths in Germany during their reunion tour, and we all had to share a dressing room hours after he'd exploded in an infantile tantrum. After some awkward small talk, Bondi asked about the book I was holding - a copy of Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror I'd lugged to Europe and never read more than ten pages of. Unprompted, he took my book and scrawled a ridiculous bibliography on the back flyleaf (Bondi had once been a history professor). At the time, it registered as a passive-aggressive attempt at reconciliation. But maybe he was just struggling to maintain basic human conversational skills. We've all been there, at one point or another.