The Bink Generation: Dave DiMartino In Conversation, Pt. IV
Posted by A.C. Rhodes on March 27, 2008
AR: You’re going on to David Lee Roth now, aren’t you?
DD: David Lee Roth is a different scenario. It’s hard to put into perspective now, because it doesn’t make much sense – it depends on how old you are. But when Van Halen came out they were really deemed horrendous by most critics. They were excessive, crappy, noisy, and this really sounds like I’m being a jerk, but I had just done a cover story on them – it’s up on Rock’s BackPages. It got reprinted a lot – the first big Van Halen story we did for Creem. The gist of the story – which is embarrassing now, because as a rule I usually hate most heavy metal – was that I confessed I loved and was captivated by Van Halen. And this was circa the Women and Children First record. And I know at that time it was not deemed a particularly hip move to admit you liked Van Halen, I know. I remember I went to this punk club in Detroit to watch Rachel Sweet play and was wearing a Van Halen t-shirt and got scoffed at by many a punk. Roth was a great showman; great sense of humor and everyone in the band were great guys. The music still stands up – this is pre-Sammy Hagar. They existed in an interesting place – this sounds kind of dopey – a sort of pre-post ironic age. They were really good at acting like morons and knowing they were acting like morons and people liking them whether they were or not.
In a way I was reminded of that years later, living out here, I had to review the new Blue Oyster Cult for Mojo – and this was well past their shelf date, but from an assignment standpoint they asked me who was in town and I said Blue Oyster Cult and they said “Oh, why don’t you review that?” So I saw them and it made me think that BOC also had it good because they had all the trappings of heavy metal, but it all seemed to be a big joke, so they could in one fell swoop get all the hipsters who were sort of in on it, so to speak, and get the ones who weren’t, who liked the music at the same time. And it was just miraculous music that still sounds good.
AR: I guess by the mid ’80s onward it was like one had to work just to avoid the overexposed acts.
DD: Yeah, I agree. The other thing you have to think about is how many music videos you’re familiar with – how many stills from those acts you’ve seen in your mind’s eye, how many brain cells have been wasted with their image splattered on them, that sort of thing. They’re all filled with very striking looking people and it’s almost a mathematical process. People that meet a certain visual criteria, who make music that satisfies a certain amount of people in the country – just put them in the machine and this is the result: In the late ‘80s they’d get on every magazine cover, they were all over TV and the same place at the same time. It’s was the complete antithesis of let’s say, Led Zeppelin, who shunned interviews. These others were out there and setting records for just how out there they could be, for how long. I don’t mean out there crazy, but out there in your face.
AR: And without the musicianship to back it up – too much is studio manipulation that’s hard to translate or transform, live. It’s hard to think of anyone with severe ‘pop’ status today as a Beatles or Velvets.
DD: Nico is a good example. Did you see the movie, Nico/Icon? I was fascinated by that because I was a huge fan, and there wasn’t enough… I just couldn’t see enough of her, if you know what I mean. There was a shortage of images to apply to my consciousness of Nico. I mean, good lord, there’s certainly no shortage of images of Sting to apply to my consciousness.
AR: That’s what was so exciting about the time up to about ’84. You had to search for a lot of releases, like from Lene Lovich or Nina Hagen.
DD: I think I told you before, the very last months I was at Creem we were just writing about stuff that we wanted to write about and I did a story on Quicksilver Messenger Service. I called Gary Duncan, the guitarist – he’s a really good guy and I’ve liked them for a longer career stretch than most people have – and I wanted to make it okay to do that story in the context of Creem. It wasn’t a huge story, and the guy had a new record, and it made sense writing about an interesting group, but my point is: We needed some photos, and when we got them my first thought was, “Oh, so this is what he looks like.” I mean, think about that. That was in 1985 or so. Can you imagine at this point getting a feature in a magazine about someone of prominence and not knowing what they looked like?
AR: Often times it would be a welcome thought.
DD: It’s weird, though. There’s also the age thing. There were try-outs out here for some stupid Comedy Central show years ago called Beat the Geeks and there was a music critic, a film critic and a sports…
AR: Oh, right.
DD: And there was a try-out for the music critic and I went there, and a few other people I know went there, and it was pretty funny. But what was interesting for me was that the guy they had, Andy Zax, he was a good guy and knew a lot about music but was a music geek that knew a lot about the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and I think from a marketing standpoint the show might’ve wanted someone with more geek knowledge of the ‘90s. I dunno, take that for what it’s worth. I’ve been involved in this stuff since the ‘70s, I’ve never not been involved, but some of the audition questions were open-ended ones like, “Name the first three Incubus records.” Now it just so happens that, due to my real job, I’ve interviewed Incubus on video after every one of those records. So faced with that question, I drew a complete blank and had no idea. My interviews with them were fine – but my point is that there’s X amount of room in your head for what means a lot to you.
AR: How hard is it for you to keep interested when you don’t feel something?
DD: Definitely, it’s weird. Professionally speaking I’ve interviewed a lot of people in the past few years, including some I liked a lot, say like The Kings Of Convenience or Momus – and it’s fine. But the bigger issue I suppose, and this has never happened yet – maybe it’s been thought but not said – is like “Why are you talking to us, grandpa?” I mean, I’m in my 50s, but it gets pretty funny sometimes talking to some of these guys who are 23 and 24. I’m pretty fortunate because I don’t think I’ve aged much worse than most, shall I say, but I’m still interested in music enough to do what I do. And when you think of the fact that I used to edit Creem Metal when I wasn’t a heavy metal fan, professionally speaking I have no problem figuring out what’s appropriate content for a certain audience. It’s what I deal with all the time at work – and my goal has always been to insert artists I really care about in areas where it’s appropriate for them to be inserted. One of the first things you learn in your early days of being a music fan and liking things comparatively obscure – this happened to me with the Velvet Underground around the time of their second record – you might have thought “Sister Ray” was the greatest song ever, and if only people heard this on the radio they would realize it was great – it doesn’t take you long to see that if they did hear it they would hate it, just like everyone except for your closest friends who have similar taste. So from an editorial standpoint you have to divorce your own taste from what you think is appropriate to convey to the public.
AR: There are enough people of our generation who still make music, so writing about it isn’t such an oddity to the same age group. Many could appreciate your background.
DD: I’ve interviewed people, like the Meat Puppets and others, who have actually read stories I’ve written for Creem, and that’s really cool and I’m grateful for that. One of the more interesting things that’s hard to explain without sounding weird: If you worked at Creem in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, you had to deal with the immense shadow cast by Lester Bangs. There was no other way to think about it. So there would be times that people would cast aspersions on the post-Lester Creem and what it was all about. I think there was a panel at SxSW a few years ago that I wasn’t at, but a lot of people I know were at, and I think Dave Marsh was talking about Creem being like a “comic book” in the ‘80s. I mean it’s kind of funny, and I don’t think I mind it all that much, but to me the irony of all that is the people now who are making the most-heard and in some ways most relevant music are of a certain age where they were picking Creem up at 7-11 and reading those stories. I mean, I read a quote from Kurt Cobain a few years ago and was just cracking up. He said he’d have a good time if he could go off to a desert island and learn about rock through reading Creem. And you know that a guy his age, if he was reading Creem at all, it would have been that later version of Creem. It sounds like I’m in a defensive mode here, and I don’t mean to sound that way, but the number of people at this point who were fans of Creem even in its pre-Lester early days who may still be as interested in music and pop culture has decreased dramatically, just by nature. Even the people who were reading Creem while I was there – reading about Joan Jett or someone like that – they’re dealing with mortgages and high-def TVs and could give a shit about Britney Spears.
AR: How long had he actually been gone before you worked there?
DD: Think he left in ’77 and I started in ’79.
AR: So there was a two year gap even.
DD: Yeah. You have to realize I was a huge fan of his from having read Creem and all the other magazines from the late ‘60s. That’s kind of the weird thing about being a younger writer back then – I was reading lots of stuff and liking some of it a lot. A couple of writers – I liked Lester Bangs, I liked Richard Walls and John Mendelssohn a lot. I was so interested in those guys as writers and thought that their stuff was so creative and worth pursuing, I suppose it was part of the impetus to go into that ‘business’ in the first place. The thing is, when I was 15 or 16 in high school, I was reviewing Loaded there when it came out – so it’s sort of a strange thing, it’s not like I fell into it later in life, it just comes down to how large your audience is. It’s a strange thing to balance in your head – like the first wave of rock critics are probably between 56 and 66 now and I’m barely that old.
AR: Most were born in the ‘40s.
DD: People like Paul Williams.
AR: Would any of those writers call or come into the office much?
DD: Well, not Lester, obviously. Mendelssohn is a different character. I was such a fan that I sought him out and got him to write for us – he hadn’t written for us before. So we gave him the Eleganza column and started using him as a feature writer. And I was really happy to do that.
AR: Where was he at the time?
DD: I think he was still out in Santa Rosa. He’s an interesting guy – really hilariously funny, actually one of the most interesting people in the business.
AR: What were your interactions with Barry Kramer like?
DD: Before I got hired I had to talk with him. He would come in late at night most of the time when we were getting ready to leave and talk about all of his plans. He was a really good guy. I don’t know how to put this without sounding uncivil, sometimes he would talk about staffing and how he would like to make this change or that change, other times you wondered if he even looked at what was being published in the magazine. But he was inherently a good guy, a very funny guy and worthy of all the respect that should be accorded him; it was his idea to get the magazine off of the ground – there were others that he worked with, but he was the one to keep his nose to the grindstone. And in any business, when you’re dealing with the initial entrepreneur and they’re still involved with it at some capacity, no matter how far away from it their lives may develop, they are the guys that put it together and you have to admire them for that more than anything else. He had a good sense of what was wacky; he was competitive in an interesting way. At one point there was a Rolling Stone TV special and Barry saw that and was real pissed off. They had a band that I think was called The Dry Heaves, it was like Timothy White and a few others playing and Barry wanted to call up Rolling Stone and challenge them to a battle of the bands with a bunch of us who could play instruments. And I think Mark Norton actually did call up and issue the challenge, but it didn’t happen at the last minute.
AR: And he worked there until he died, right?
DD: Well, what happened was when he died I got a call from someone there who was close to Barry who said, “Hey, Dave, Barry’s dead.” And so there was a big funeral, we went to the funeral and it was really weird. It was a sad, sad day.
AR: It was a surprise – his death I mean?
DD: Yeah, I mean it was because, this is sensitive to talk about, but there are certain people who do things that you think if they’re not careful could end their life abruptly. But I don’t think that’s what I thought about him, nor did others as well. He was kind of careless, but not like that. He was a young guy, younger than I am now – which is freaky to think about – who had a young son, so that was sad.
AR: I just meant from the milestones of meeting to working with and then not with him.
DD: He was pretty hands-off about everything that went in the magazine when I was there, as long as it met the requirements and was funny. He was enjoying the fruits of his labor is the best way of putting it, not in a bad way…
AR: Sometimes being hands-off masks indifference while other times they have been around so much and so long they know what’s going on.
DD: His heart was totally in the right place. It was a shame what happened to him. I really look back on him with nothing but respect. I’m surprised that the magazine lasted as long as it did afterward.
AR: What about when the news of Lester Bangs came in?
DD: That was really weird. Billy Altman, who was a close friend of Lester’s, called me and told me and they had a wake for him at CBGBs, so I went out there representing Creem. And it was actually very strange to represent Creem at Lester Bangs’ wake, I must say. But Billy was a good friend of mine and of course Lester’s, so there was some continuity there that was good. But of course the rest was horrendous. I mean his legacy was such that it unerringly was combined with people’s perception of Creem, so it had to be dealt with. Yet it wasn’t like “How do we deal with the editorial hole of Lester’s absence?” when he died – because of course he had already been gone.
AR: Turning back to formative years, part was in New York City, adolescence, etc., part was in Miami before moving to Detroit. You were hitching, then driving to shows and such.
DD: Right. Well, I certainly did - move, that is. Nothing in my past has changed yet!
AR: One doesn’t really think of Miami when thinking of the ’60s and ’70s pop culture – I mean, unless it’s for a vacation or south of John Lennon’s house.
DD: Yeah, that’s where all the really important things happened, as far as I’m concerned; entry into the music scene, awareness of the, er, burgeoning counterculture, man walking on the moon, etc.
AR: Tell me about it.
DD: Miami was a pretty good place to be living if you were interested in seeing live music. First of all, there were several pop festivals that were held there, some of them fairly historic. The first was held at the Gulfstream Race Track, close to my house, and it was put on by the fellow that would soon put together Woodstock – sort of a dry run. It was a couple of days in ‘68, and I saw lots of cool people. Jimi Hendrix, Mothers Of Invention, etc. It was so successful, they had another one. A year later, we got a job selling hot dogs at it, incredibly, walking around watching the bands and selling hippies hot dogs. Saw a lot of artists that I would come to appreciate later – Joni Mitchell, the raw excitement of Steppenwolf, the Turtles, Procol Harum, Marvin Gaye – very good stuff to see early on. Additionally, Miami was often the last gig for a lot of bands that were touring the states, especially British ones. I was able to catch Cream twice, the Jeff Beck Group – which was my favorite show for a few months until Led Zeppelin came. Saw them touring to promote their first album.
AR: At what age did you start going to these things? Where did these manifestations take place?
DD: I started going to these things between 7th and 9th grade, probably in the middle of that period. My first concert experiences involved seeing Wayne Cochran – a local Miami hotshot – and my first national exposure to a band was the enormously relevant National Guardsmen, who performed “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” at a cavernous nightclub called The World. Back then, there was an all-ages mentality going on in all the cool clubs – the World, and later Thee Image, so age discrimination was not a factor. Additionally there was a so-called “love in” that went on in Greynolds Park there every Sunday, where many cool bands would give free shows. Saw the Dead, Earth Opera, and many others. Very nice hippie, pot smoking, peace and love environment.
AR: How would you get there? Did you have an older brother?
DD: I had an older brother. I still do. Two years older. We get along fine, but we tended to hang out with our own set of friends. He was, for want of a better word, more of a jock than a hippie – though that would change down the road. It sounds weird now, but very often, my friends and I would hitchhike to these places, getting picked up by strangers and flashing them two fingers saying “peace” when we departed. I would love to see that captured on film, I’ve got to say.
AR: So, for you and your friends it was as much a live draw as much as the radio or what you could see on TV?
DD: Very much more so. First of all, it was a place to go. Secondly, there really was a hip factor to seeing some of these bands – say, An Ultimate Spinach, who never got an any radio airplay and often were very different propositions form the albums you might be able to buy. It was very similar to the, indeed, rock world in a peculiar way, to tell you the truth. Word of mouth, etc., but very few means of communicating with others who liked the same music.
AR: What other means did you have at the time?
DD: A couple of things. The local radio stations picked up the rights to a few national papers whose names I forget at the moment – it wasn’t GIG, but generic things like ROCK (not the later publication with the same name) – that would have the local play-lists printed in the center but otherwise carried international music news. That was where you would read about the details of, say, the making of Deep Purple’s first album, the one with “Hush” on it. Hit Parader was pretty significant back then, in that they would in fact carry reviews of records we were curious about – Sea Train, Earth Opera, Chrome Syrcus, etc. Further, the local radio stations would devote an hour or two every Sunday night to playing “underground” music – which I used to tape on a cassette player and listen to repeatedly. Some of my favorite music ever came from hearing those tapes – songs by David Blue, Ford Theatre, etc. Interesting array of music, you just had to look for it in the few places it was available.
AR: Better than one would initially think, then. Maybe that’s how you got your taste for independent music as well through the ’80s.
DD: Well, it never really went away, that fascination with what was interesting-looking but hard to actually hear. I was the editor of my high school paper in Miami, and I wrote a record review column – in fact, the staff of my high school paper was pretty interesting, as it also featured two good friends that are writing about music to this day: Michael Lipton – who now lives in West Virginia, and is a great guitarist – he was playing with Kevin Coyne in his final years – and Tristram Lozaw, who has been writing about music for years in Boston. In fact, we were all in a band in high school – a couple of them – funny stuff. Anyway, the music we used to review in our high school paper was pretty interesting. In my column I remember writing about Nico, the Velvet Underground, Mott The Hoople, Mandrake Memorial, the Zombies and Argent, John Cale and Terry Riley. We were a tad taken with the Velvet Underground and Love back then. Also Captain Beefheart, I must add.
AR: One wouldn’t really associate VU & co with Miami, but they played all-age discos back then.
DD: Funny about the Velvet Underground and Miami. There was a club called Thee Image that I mentioned earlier that featured all of the greatest bands at the time. An old converted bowling alley. As I said, my brother tended to be more of a jock than I was, and he rarely went there, whereas I went there often. He came back one night and told me he had seen the VU there, which I still have not been able to believe, but I haven’t been able to disprove. Would have been the post-Cale version with Yule, maybe later, but it killed me beyond belief at the time. Actually my brother went to – as did I, Mike Lipton, Tris and several close friends – the infamous Doors concert in Miami, where Jim Morrison pulled out his weenie and made big news. I should also mention that the Doors was my favorite band of the ’60s, though weenie exposure is not related.
AR: Permission to say ‘cock’, sir. So let me ask, to visualize, did you have long hair at the time?
DD: Yes, I did. It grew to significant length in high school, and by ‘71 it would not be unfair to compare the length to a cross between Robert Plant and, er, Ted Nugent. It was a sight to behold. My dentist told my mother once he saw me driving on the freeway with my window down – this circa 1970 – and that I looked like Prometheus Unbound.
AR: What did you kids wear?
DD: Oh, it was pretty funny. I don’t know, there are expressions I would hear like “elephant bells” that cracked me right up. Bellbottom pants, blue jeans, the usual. I guess, er, in my time – don’t want to offer too much information – kids didn’t wear underwear! We were not very fashion inclined, you might say, but we didn’t make a point of it.
AR: I asked because I seem to remember Army jackets… greens.
DD: Army jackets – dead on – used to go to the Red White & Blue store – Salvation Army – and get many for a dollar apiece. We used to dig the heavy irony of dressing like army men when the Vietnam War was going on. Morons, really, but what the hey?
AR: Speaking of which, what happened to you that year? You were able to go on to college?
DD: Interesting point. Yes, I was able to go to college, but my age group was still eligible to be drafted. They were doing the lottery then. My birthday is October 14th. I remember the day of the lottery, I was at college, and I called up the local radio station to find out what number my birthday had drawn. You wanted high, not low, and the lady said, “14.” I said, “That’s right, October 14th.” Then she said – and I will profoundly remember this – “No, THAT’S THE NUMBER.” AIIIIIIEEEEEEE!
AR: Oh, son of a BITCH!
DD: Anyway, was able to get a 4F out of the whole thing post-physical because I had suffered bronchial asthma as a child, according to my doctor.
AR: How did Easy Rider impress you?
DD: Funny how that worked out. Have seen it several times – my favorite was the edited version where they edit out Dennis Hopper giving those redneck guys the finger, so they just come back and seemingly shoot them for the hell of it. You’ve got to love the existentialism of that. Anyway, we though it was ultra-cool, but thought Hopper was an idiot, as we were supposed to. Years later – and even today, I bet – when you see it, Hopper is clearly the voice of reason and the guy that I, for one, would have liked to have been in retrospect.
AR: No doubt.
DD: I will say that seeing Jack Nicholson getting batted over the head in his sleep made me decide camping was not an activity I’d like to pursue.
AR: William F. Buckley, Jr. thought it had a happy ending. The bastard.
DD: Well, he talked funny.
AR: So, what else, along with the music, was drawing you in at the time? Movies, girls… socio-culturally at that period during highschool. The end of the ‘60s and into the new decade.
DD: I spent a significant amount of my time with my friends – both male and female – hanging out in that dying environ of the Drive-in movie, where we could al hang out in one car, entertain ourselves with the tonic of the times, and laugh at the wretched movies that we loved and I still love to this day. Crappy exploitation movies, not quite x-rated sex films, science fiction and horror movies, just utter crap, which we would spend all our time watching and laughing about.
AR: Yes, like that… what shaped your development and taste.
DD: Like I said before, my friends and I spent a lot of time messing around. It sounds sort of moronic and juvenile, but I guess we were then, too. Mostly focused on music – what records came out, which new artist was better than the, what concert we could go see. There were many. We had bands, covered material by artists all over the map. To this day my favorite movies are crappy exploitation movies, ideally the ones made in the late ‘60s early ‘70s to capitalize on trends of the day. They’re the best. We liked trash movies and saw them regularly at drive-ins – weird sub-B level movies. The Low Blow – absolutely a masterwork of cheapness, which really needs to be seen to be believed. Last line is a mystifying close-up of the film’s “protagonist” who says, “Many people will grow old and die and wonder why I did these things.” A carload of us saw that in 1970 and are still scarred by it! A movie called The Erotic Circus – which was a tad more legit – I forget who directed. Anyway, we used to spend lots of time watching stuff like that, feeling mildly disenfranchised from the community, but not necessarily altogether out of it.
AR: What do you remember about those popular images and characters, each, like men and women?
DD: Well, you would naturally want to resemble the male protagonists in the hip movies, and similarly, your concept of what constituted a dream woman was dictated by fat guys with cigars who made movies like the Beach Party series.
AR: Or Sam Arkoff and Roger Corman.
DD: Yeah, whose niece Vicki ended up working for Creem in its latter days. What about movies that combined music or had a good original score or soundtrack, like The Trip, Psych-Out, Mudhoney, The Wild Angels…
AR: Did you find them humorous in a satirical sense, sexy, scary, all three, maybe?
DD: Yikes! Was very interested in all of those and am even more so now.
AR: Who or what, sub-pop culture wise did you find most compelling?
DD: In terms of artists: Soft Machine, Love, Captain Beefheart, VU, Pink Floyd, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Buffalo Springfield, Zombies. In terms of movies: Was a big fan of Russ Meyer, Beyond the Valley of The Dolls, Putney Swope, Willy Wonka, and Zabriskie Point – which got horrendous reviews but had my favorite explosion ever at the end. We were mostly feeling part of a larger outside culture of which we could only get glimmers via the occasional movie or newspaper article. Stuff like Rolling Stone was becoming more mass-market, magazines like Fusion and Crawdaddy! were actually out there on the newsstands, other ones like Changes and Zygote popped up on occasion as well. Reading that stuff, it all seemed like many people shared some degree of similar interests.
AR: You would get these at record stores?
DD: In a few, but actually at some of the better newsstands in Miami. Saw many more in Michigan in ‘71, but did see my first copy of Creem in Miami, though – before I moved. The one with the Jackson Five on the cover, think it was Sept ‘71.
AR: Miami was more an international city, come to think of it. It’s interesting to see how the different towns you lived in at various times contributed to who you are and what, visually and aurally, drew you in. By no means do I think my background, experience, or taste regarding this sort of thing was unique. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and was a hippie rather than a jock, so I had a lot of free time on my hands.
AR: You must have had one amazing Summer of Love… that was ‘68 or ‘69?
DD: I thought it was ‘67, no?
AR: I’m thinking ‘68, but one would think ‘69 – although that would have been a bummer year with all the assassinations and memories.
DD: Summer of Love Index THE 1967 SUMMER OF LOVE: a web site tour.
AR: Yeah, you were only 16. What could have possibly gone on?
DD: In the same manner that my kids watch FUSE TV and see a band they like today, say Franz Ferdinand – I suppose we would be watching the Summer Of Love stuff and just be waiting for when we were old enough to leave home and get our peace and love quota!
AR: So it all kind of culminated.
DD: After I got married in ‘82 – when I no longer was going out and drinking and listening to loud music all night long – my taste in music dramatically shifted to all this type of music that might be regarded as excessively wimpy: the Lotus Easters, the Pale Fountains, the Marine Girls, the Young Marble Giants, Ben Watt, Care, the Wild Swans – mainly because I would do my listening at another time of the day. Was not hankering to hear the Stooges or Velvet Underground at that time of the day or night.
AR: Do you think your personal relationships shaped that as well? For example, the way it did with John Lennon’s song writing?
DD: Yeah, very much so. In the sense that I would as a courtesy play music that I thought other people might like when I wasn’t alone. Also, when I was in college, I was music director of a radio station there, and also a DJ from about ‘71 to ‘75, so I spent a bit of time dealing with what type of music appealed to whom and when.
AR: Interesting, later it may have been a shift in general mood?
DD: Yeah, or just a reaction to newness – sounds and production – which sounded so fresh because I had been immersed in everything loud, grating, and deliberately aggressive for so long previously. I also tend to favor artists who are songwriters of a certain sort.
AR: You are one of the foremost spokesmen for your generation. Who’s alive, alert and employed, even.
DD: Thanks for mentioning “alive”!
AR: Of course.