The Bink Generation: Dave DiMartino In Conversation, Pt. III
Posted by A.C. Rhodes on March 19, 2008
AR: What was the music scene like in Michigan at the time?
DD: Well, I moved there in the fall of ‘71. In Miami, I had seen and we were very aware of the MC5 and to a lesser extent the Stooges. Ted Nugent was very bog in Miami in the late ‘60s because of his Amboy Dukes thing, “Journey To The Center of The Mind.” And there were a few Detroit bands I was mildly interested in, like SRC, for example, the Frost, and even Bob Seger, whose “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” had been a hit in Miami as well. But it was very much of a prime music scene, and when I moved there, the most significant aspects of it were already on the decline.
AR: I see.
DD: Actually, one of my favorite moments occurred when I on the air, doing my teenage radio show – at the time I must have been 18 at most.
AR: Do tell…
DD: I was in the studio of WBRS, one of MSU’s campus stations, doing my “show.” No one else was in there but me, and all of a sudden three or four people come in and introduce me to the main man, John Sinclair, who apparently had just got out of jail for his pot smoking offense or whatever. I really only had any inkling of who John Sinclair was on the basis of his involvement on the first MC5 album, and I heard John Lennon had some sort of benefit or other for him. I guess if you were a hip counter-cultural teen dude from Michigan, this would be an exciting moment for you. So he asked if I wanted to interview him on the air, and what was I going to say, “Nah, see you later?” So – and I still have a tape of this but have never ever played it – we’re talking, and I assume it’s completely obvious…
DD: I know barely anything about this big lug, only that he was in some sort of legal trouble and it was now resolved. Frankly, that John Lennon cared enough about him to put on a benefit concert was what impressed me the most. So in one of those beautiful moments that all journalists experience from time to time – mostly in their early days – I quite sincerely asked him, in reference to that concert, whether he enjoyed the show. At which time he looked at me and said he couldn’t see it, as he was in jail. I do not think that group considered me one of their brothers from that point forward.
AR: How grievous… for you, but it’s kind of cool to know the legends can make mistakes.
DD: Thanks for the kind words, but I am indeed a dope!
AR: It’s rather endearing. I’m sure they took into account your age and that it was plausible that he could have been out, but needed money. Gary Grimshaw did the art for that concert – the poster.
DD: Gary is a great guy. Did you ever see that David Lee Roth comic that he did for John K. and me in Creem?
AR: Yeah, I know the one.
DD: it cracks me up – because he’s such an historic figure – that we were able to work with him on that. It was great cheesy fun.
AR: Did you get to interview any other musicians or do any stories about them for the paper?
DD: In college?
DD: Sure. Let’s see. Iggy pop, Captain Beefheart, Ricky Nelson, the Strawbs, Gary Wright… umm did a phone interview with the Police before their first album came out, only cause I liked “Roxanne”… Robert Fripp …a lot of people. Jimmy Smith, Pharaoh Sanders, Roger McGuinn, Tim Hardin (very briefly)… Soft Machine… It does go on. Oh yeah, there is kind of an interesting rock criticky kind of story.
DD: So I don’t know if you are a fan of Big Star or not, are you?
AR: Only the biggest.
DD: Then you will like this. Okay, so the band has just put out Radio City. It’s on Ardent, via Stax, which at this point in time is distributed by CBS Records. My good friend and roommate was the campus rep for CBS Records at the time. So it turns out the band is attempting to take it out on the road somewhat. In East Lansing, there was a club called the Brewery, which would often offer top-name national/international talent regularly on certain nights. On their “off nights” they would feature local bands on a week-by-week basis. So, it turns out that Big Star was such a non-commercial blip that they have been booked to be that week’s “local” band, playing four or five consecutive nights. I was ecstatic, so three things happened. First, I wrote a very conspicuous preview of the upcoming stint in the school paper, saying what a treat it was that such a great band was going to be around playing all week. Secondly, I got my CBS buddy to set up a campus-wide radio interview with Alex Chilton and myself – a few weeks earlier we had done a Soft Machine interview that went fabulously and I wanted it to happen again. The Chilton interview went horribly, though he was a nice guy. Oh well.
DD: Anyway, Chilton and two guys – Jody and a bassist named Jon Lightman, I think (is the guy on the album Andy Mummel? I forget) played great the first night of the gig. Not many people were there, and the ones that were there didn’t dance, and barley ordered drinks. I went home that night and the next morning wrote a rave review to publish on the following day – day three of their stint. So later that night – before the review is printed – they play another couple of sets, are equally as good, and then get abruptly fired from their gig because management hates them and no one is buying drinks. So then next day, the paper comes out – it was free, there are 40,000 students there – and it’s very conspicuously trumpeting how great Big Star are and how lucky we are because they’re still going to be playing two more nights, which of course they weren’t, because they’d just been fired. So then the club owner was forced to hire them back to finish the booking and everybody hated each other. It was wonderful. Am glad to have seen them, though, as you can imagine.
AR: Wait, they didn’t take it out on you, right – just club-owner to band and vice-versa? That’s gold, right there.
DD: Oh yeah, they weren’t pissed at all at me. But I would imagine the entire experience was mortifying.
AR: The club-owner should have felt indebted to you and happy that business boomed. And you had the major hand in that – that’s what’s so great about writing.
DD: Yeah, well I don’t know that business boomed or not, but I think he felt he’d be a moron to miss out on the free publicity. Good life lesson.
AR: Just out of interest, why didn’t the interview come off as well? Was Chilton just quiet or something?
DD: Yeah, it was one of the fascinating encounters when every possible open-ended question was answered with a yes or no. He was a cool guy – I mean, after the interview the three of us had drinks (me, the label guy and Alex), but he literally didn’t seem like a guy with much to say. I have done a lot more interviewing since then – er, about 30 years worth, I hate to say – but I don’t think any accumulated skills on my end would’ve made it much better, if you know what I mean.
AR: How did you try to get them talking? You already gave open-ended questions.
DD: It was actually just him. Jody was/is easy to talk to. And I have since met Jody a few more times out here. Great guy.
AR: Hmm, so Chilton just did a Cobain on you – not on purpose, just slow to come out of his shell?
DD: Right. Not a big deal on my end, but I would’ve enjoyed it more if he had a lot to say.
AR: Tell me more about traveling with the bands you covered? I hadn’t known that John [Kordosh] was on the road with Motley Crue for over a week.
DD: Let’s see. Actually one of the more interesting times at Creem came for me when our publisher Arnold Levitt decided that a good way to save money would be to make sure that all three of the editors wrote a feature in every issue. At the time those editors were John, Bill [Holdship], and I. We liked writing, but sometimes it wasn’t appropriate when there were great artists accessible that we couldn’t get as conveniently as some of our correspondents elsewhere – i.e., Sylvie Simmons getting somebody cool in the UK, etc. This meant, at least for me, that if I was going to write about someone every issue, I would start writing about artists I genuinely wanted to talk to, get to know, etc., as opposed to some of them I interviewed purely because I felt a commercial need to do so. I am thinking, of, say, an extended stay in Puerto Rico at the CBS Records convention when I spent two and a half hours – a half hour each – with each and every member of Loverboy individually, including the bassist, drummer, and keyboard player. It’s safe to say we ran out of things to say to each other after 10 minutes or so.
AR: Coo-coo-ca-joob, Mr. Robinson.
DD: Anyway, my point was that toward the latter part of my Creem stay, I decided I had the most fun writing about people I really liked – i.e., John Cale, Lou Reed, Arthur Lee, etc. – so I should continue doing just that until I decided to leave, which is why I started doing people like Robert Wyatt – which was my all-time favorite Creem interview – and Quicksilver Messenger Service and even Tangerine Dream. I don’t know that those artists were at the top of every Creem reader’s need-to-know list, but I thought they had some relevance and also might offset the occasional dorky appearance by some of the pud-like artists we occasionally had to feature to satisfy certain parties.
AR: An atypical circumstance, like traveling with a band or reporting from a show could create an exception.
DD: Well, let’s see. If you ever saw the piece I wrote about Journey – one of my favorite bands ever! I actually went out of my way to portray what happens when you go out with clowns on the road.
AR: Ah, I’ve read it… andmoreagain.
DD: That was weird, because some waitresses there thought I was Jonathan Cain and acting accordingly. Ooh Binky, as they say.
AR: That was a great example of entertaining writing as well as informative about the band.
DD: Now you’re talking! I just re-read that piece the other day, in fact, for the first time in about five years. I think it was on the Creem site, but I found it on the Steve Perry site, which I thought was great.
AR: What others?
DD: The Mosport/Heatwave festival was one of my favorites; both Sue Whitall and I wrote separate accounts. We both had a good time. I considered the piece my “special” tribute to Canada, a country I hold dear.
AR: Many do, now.
DD: I saw a lot of great bands, was able to talk about potato fields, hot young punkettes, the size of soda cans, candy bars with “odd” brand names. In essence, the perfect ugly American’s take.
DD: Gary Numan struck me as a very young, very nice guy who was slightly intimidated about being in the states and how he might be received. He seemed like he had a deep respect for his family – for some reason I remember that – and he seemed so genuinely earnest I never felt like writing a funny caption about him again. At least for a couple of months.
AR: That’s curious considering his music…
DD: Gang Of Four was great, at their peak when I spoke with them was in a tour bus in Detroit. I remember being astounded when they started talking about their deep respect for The Band – couldn’t tell then if they were joking or not, but they started naming obscure Robertson songs, so WTF? Anyway, they put on one of the best live shows I ever saw. Later ended up seeing drummer Hugo B. out here in L.A. a lot. They certainly made an impact that’s more obvious than ever at the moment.
AR: Like the reunion tour.
DD: Talking to Lou Reed for Creem was sort of a big deal for me, as you can imagine, because of the history between Lou and Lester. He was there with Sylvia, and he seemed extraordinarily friendly and well-balanced. He was fixated on pinball at the time (among other things, one supposes), and we spoke at great length about stuff that didn’t go into the interview, mostly about jazz. He was talking about his radio show in college, opening it up with “Excursions On A Wobbly Rail” by Cecil Taylor, etc. Think I got him at precisely the right time, image-wise, in that he was still willing to entertain questions about nearly any period in his life, which he won’t do much at all anymore. I think I gave him a cassette of the James Blood Ulmer album on Artists House, which had just come out that week, if I remember correctly. Rockpile was very close to my favorite Creem jaunt – again to England, this time really really getting plowed in the course of about three hours in the Portobello Hotel bar in London in mid-afternoon. The four of them plus me talking about nearly anything. It was when they had gotten together their one album on Columbia.
DD: When I was there, coincidentally, I was in the room adjacent to Edouard Dauphin, the great Creem writer who would later write such classic films scripts as Invasion of the Blood Farmers and Shriek of the Mutilated. A great guy.
AR: Solid gold…
DD: Anyway, there’s stuff I have on tape from those hours in London that I don’t think even a professional linguist could translate. Absolutely classic time. Captain Beefheart was one of my heroes, and I had already met him before. That’s kind of available – as is the Mojo piece I wrote about him in ‘94 or so – all over the web. Some interesting stuff there.
DD: One of my favorite memories about the Police – who I think I must have interviewed many times, even before they put out their first album – for my college paper because I liked “Roxanne.”
AR: Do you think that helped the piece?
DD: Actually, let me mention this because I find this stuff fascinating. You must imagine a time before anyone in the world had ever heard the Police or “Roxanne.” My job at the time – when radio was essentially worthless for exposing this stuff – was to describe “Roxanne” to readers who might potentially find it compelling. So I remember I actually attempted to describe Sting’s voice. Which is kind of laughable in retrospect, since a host of Police imitators including Platinum Blonde during the ’80s would imitate his voice so often. But, er.
DD: Anyway, I remember in my attempt, calling it like the obvious cross between Bob Marley and – get this – Andy Fairweather-Low and Terry Reid, which I find interesting because it is impossible to hear that now, but it seemed at least appropriate at the time. It strikes me as odd in the same way that when Pearl Jam came out they were virtually indistinguishable from any other band of note at the time – Eddie Vedder more specifically – but within a few years the notion of people imitating Eddie Vedder was widespread with a billion bands. Yet if Eddie or even Sting were so monumentally earthshaking as vocalists from the get-go, why weren’t they received as gods from heaven the minute they arrived on earth. Do you know what I mean?
AR: No, could you explain – you mean within the context of being backed by a band?
DD: It isn’t a big point; I’m just noting how funny it is that often the artists who end up being the most widely imitated in the course of a decade are not instantly perceived as innovators. Maybe an obvious point, but it makes reading about them in their earliest days great fun.
AR: That is perfectly plausible and is insightful in retrospect before the hype machine started.
DD: Anyway, what I was going to say, one of my favorite memories at Creem involved interviewing them with Susan Whitall at a gay bar in Detroit called Menjo’s. It was on the same block as Bookie’s a famous Detroit punk club of the late ‘70s. They were going do a special show at Bookie’s as a favor – it had been the first venue they played in Detroit ever, to about 18 people or so. Demand for tickets was quite high, and the closest place for a reasonable interview was at this bar.
AR: Oh my god… this is delicious.
DD: If I remember correctly, it was Sue, I, and maybe Mark Norton – I think he was there, but I’m not sure – and we were interviewing all three of the guys there. It was an interesting environment to interview these guys, and what I recall the most about the night was how all three – including our bass-playing hero – were making jokes about being “afraid to drop the soap” considering the interview scene. Which normally I would consider par for the course while interviewing a rock and roll band, but Stingbo in retrospect does not seem the sort to tell jokes re soap-dropping.
AR: What a story. Do you care to comment on the malignant, squid-like chokehold that David Lee Roth, Michael Jackson, and Madonna had in the ‘80s? Because it was rather oppressive.
DD: (Laugh) I like the squid.
AR: Of course. And I don’t mean that Creem propagated this, just in general.
DD: It was an interesting time. I don’t want to talk about David Lee Roth at the moment, but the other two – those two were like the pioneers of overwhelming media saturation. I mean MTV had come of age, both of them really made their careers based on it, both rose to the forefront when vehicles came into creation that could promote them vis-à-vis the USA Todays, TV magazines shows that came out of nowhere were suddenly the main of a youth culture was absorbed into the mainstream. And if you saw Madonna or Michael Jackson on the cover of Time it became less about the artist and more about the degree of fame of which they were achieving and the degree of controversy that they were involved in. Whatever air of mystery that made rock or pop fun took a sort of flip-flop – it vanished with those people, we just wanted to see what they were going to do next, what they’re going to wear next, by and large. We knew way more about them than we wanted to know and we had no choice because somebody somewhere was interested and ascertained that that stuff was actually valid and worth reading about and looking at. But one of the reasons I enjoyed Creem and similar enough publications in the early ‘70s was because there was only a select group of people around the country who cared about that stuff, there was a really limited means by which you could find out about it and they were all pretty much reading magazines like Creem, Fusion or Rolling Stone – that was the culture. But those people all grew up and the money kicked in and pretty soon everyone had to read about it, so they were like the perfect case studies of taking someone interesting and splashing them everywhere just because they’re famous.
Stay tuned for part 4