Don Howland: An old man who's glad he's old.
Who are you?
An old man. From whose head god decided to remove the hair. An old man who's glad he's old.
Who are you wearing?
At the moment, I'm wearing Reigning Sound. A yellow T-shirt with Reigning Sound in little red letters and then in big black letters below: Kids Don't Know SHIT. I wear it all the time and get a lot of compliments, at the grocery store in particular. It's readable from a car if I am on a sidewalk. I have a couple rock shirts that are cringe-inducing for church-goers, who constitute a majority here, and I always forget I have them on. Shorts and sandals below. It's in the upper 90s. I'd like to add that my entire wardrobe is composed of items ranging in price from free to $7.50. The best thrift store I've ever seen in my life is in Columbus.
Biggest fish you ever caught?
I worked as a dishwasher at Captain Tobey's Chowder House on Nantucket for a few months. One late afternoon I went surfcasting during a hurricane and got a couple in the 30" vicinity, whatever those fish are that migrate by the north side of the island in October. I ate them. I no longer fish after the last time time I caught a bass in a river and stared into its eyes. I still eat them. Catch and release sort of seems like torture to me.
How many ghosts have you seen?
Ghosts, I'm not sure. Spectres who were clearly there to impart some sort of message, two for certain: one on my 30th birthday and one on my 53rd, which seems random. I was too awestruck to say anything at all either time. They were both females and shared key characteristics. I think I know what they were getting at, but I wouldn't share that. Most of my dealings with parallel dimensions involve objects, like 45s and second grade drawings of the Beatles. I was a Beatles man in second grade. The other faction was for the Beach Boys, a band I've always full-on hated. I'd watch obese porn before I'd listen to Smile. Which is to say never.
Marry, fuck, kill: The Great Plains, Gibson Brothers, Bassholes.
They're all too ugly to marry or to have any sort of sex with. Kill Great Plains, obviously. Kill the Gibsons. Hell, kill them all. Burning Bus, too. Wooden Tit can live.
Why don't you want to come back to New York?
From '78 to '94 I spent a lot of time in NYC. I lived in Hoboken and Jersey City and worked in Manhattan for three years in the early '80s. Then Giuliani got elected. I'm not really interested in a version of the city that my friends have assured me I wouldn't recognize. I liked the dirt and darkness of the old city. The city of 6'3" black transvestite prostitutes outside the carry-out two blocks up from CBGBs, the scene around the Lincoln tunnel at 3 a.m., the collapsing elevated highway on the West Side, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks at Max's Kansas City on a Sunday night in front of six people. The Mondo Manhattan, as Chain Gang put it. Also, I'm claustrophobic. I like sky and water - I'd rather go to California or Seattle, in a heartbeat. I had to hitchhike back to Ohio for that Teenage Jesus show, by the way, since the friend I went to the city with didn't want to stay for it. I believe that was the only time something unpleasant happened in all my days of hitchhiking.
Favorite New Wave band?
"New Wave" was industry code for "We've got this punk thing under control." So, the B-52s. I loved Cindy and Kate. The latter, in particular, was and probably still is an archetypal woman. I wanted to roam around her woman-ness. Overall, I think it's mostly healthy when music by gay people gets mainstream popularity because if music is going to be lame it might as well be gay. British Post-Punk, on the other hand, if you're going to call that "new wave", is another matter. I liked the Rough Trade bands and Fire Engines and the reggae Slits. Cocteau Twins, too. Bad Seeds, of course. The Virgin Prunes, who would constitute the opposite of lame gay. Joy Division was one of the five or six greatest bands ever. Too bad New Order was new wave.
What is the secret to having a nice beard?
Grow one, let it get sort of bushy, and then one day when it isn't suspecting anything hack and shave it off real fast. It gets pissed and grows back really fast. Thicker, too. Much like posion ivy, or human populations, in that sense. Caveat: I found a tick in my beard last week who'd been in there a minute. I also found a snake in my kitchen windowsill last week.
What is more stressful: fronting a rock n roll band or being a teacher?
If being in a band was stressful I wouldn't do it. Music is just fun. The only time it's stressful is when a Dutch booking agent books you a tour that you can't possibly break even on. Eleven hour drives through snowstorms to play an abandoned building on a Sunday night for sixty euros sort of thing. I've done it. Teaching is only stressful when the school's principal is a moron. I've worked for brilliant people, where the building hums along like a parallel universe, but earlier in my career I worked for some total buffoons, where it's a bunch of cliques and treachery. I am socially retarded and can not deal with people's machinations. I just retreat into myself. But the kids are always OK. Nearly always.
What is your message to the kids?
I know this is the place for a one-liner but since I've taught adolescents for 21 years, I have a lot I'd like to impart to kids. A lot of it's situational. What I said to poor kids in the inner city I didn't say to rich kids in a boarding school. If there's anything universal, it's that life is complicated and if you are intelligent enough to understand that then it is your obligation to figure it out as best you can. You need to try to understand where people are coming from. There are a lot more "good" people per capita than the entertainment media would have you believe. On the other hand, people are a species of mammal and I think the natural impulse, for survival, is towards greed and self-aggrandizement. Lots of people want to rip you off. I was reading last night, in the wake of a panic attack, about how "good"-ness has a biological function, but it still requires thought or deep convictions. I think it's useful to look at humanity against the virus or plague templates. It has destroyed the surface of the earth and causes huge scale suffering to all all life forms, including itself, in the process. It "knows better" and still continues on. What the hell is people's problem? I am praying for a 20-mile diameter meteor to strike the earth on December 22. And I tell them to keep their minds open to music and film, because they are totally vital art forms you can get swallowed up in, and to stay away from man-made drugs across the board. We associate with smart people who do drugs and sometimes seem to benefit by them, and so we tend to forget how ruinous they are to people who aren't so smart or who have a lot of troubles already. And I try to get them to see how George Orwell and John Steinbeck and Willa Cather had it going on. And that money is evil, and to that end I try to get them to see contemporary mainstream hip-hop for what it is - the mating call of corporate Satan.
Listen to Bassholes here: