This is a piece I wrote for a Vol 1 Reading Night called Three-Minute Punk Stories. Unfortunately, most of the readers didn't time their pieces, so it wound up being 20 people telling 10-minute punk stories and I didn't go on until nearly everyone had left the building. So I figured I'd post it here.
It's always scary to meet people you admire as much as I loved Joe Strummer. So when I got the assignment to interview him in 2000, I was both excited and scared shitless. What if he was nasty or rude? I'd be crushed. And wouldn’t that kill White Man in Hammersmith Palais for me forever?
Sure, I’d had some good experiences with music journalism. Like when Shane MacGowan laughed in his publicist’s face after she instructed me not to let him talk about booze. Or when Jello Biafra asked me not to write about the weirdo green macrobiotic shit he poured into his water at dinner. Murphy’s Law were always a good time, Stanford Prison Experiment were sweethearts and even Skinny Puppy—who’d just lost a member to a drug overdose—were cooperative and nice.
But it’s not like those times like that had made up for the bad.
So when I got a chance to interview Glenn years later, I thought I’d get the most insightful interview he’d ever given. After all, he’d given me his home phone number! Unfortunately, much like the record he was promoting—How the Gods Kill—interviewing Glenn was a big fat let-down.
For one thing, he wouldn’t admit that the slice of chocolate cake sitting on the table in front of him was actually his. I don’t know why this bugged me so much—probably because he’s spent so much time lifting heavy objects in order to turn himself into the perfect square. I just wanted him to cop to one unhealthy habit. But no. In fact, he wouldn’t discuss anything other than his latest boring release.
But as dull as Glenn was, at least he wasn’t annoying like Henry Rollins. Again, I’d been going to Black Flag shows since I was a kid. I’d been sprayed with his sweat! Kicked in the head by stagedivers! I’d even read his books and actually liked some of them.
Henry’s issue was that he refused to make eye contact with me. Instead of sitting across from me, he walked in and sat in the chair next to mine—not close, he wasn’t getting fresh—more like we were on a plane together. I pushed my chair away a little, so I could semi-face him, yet he still stared straight ahead, refusing to look over.
Far more than the Glenn Danzig Chocolate Cake Mystery, this made me crazy. I knew Henry Rollins. I admired Henry Rollins. I had gone to the trouble of compiling a list of well-thought-out, heavily researched, smart questions—and really, I can admit when I’m asking dumb questions, but this wasn’t one of those times. Yet he gave me nothing more than monotone monologues in return, all while staring straight ahead.
It was both unnerving and infuriating. After about twenty minutes I was done with the interview. I had everything I needed, but I wasn’t done with Rollins. No, I wasn’t leaving until that motherfucker looked me in the eye.
I contorted my body around his (as best I could without looking like a complete lunatic) and began a line of obnoxious questions, hoping to provoke him into eye contact.
Didn’t he think his books could use a real editor?
No, he didn’t.
Had he fucked Madonna?
No, he hadn’t.
Was he gay?
I asked him the stupidest questions I could think of and he wouldn’t even look me in the eye to tell me to fuck the fuck off.
Deflated, having exhausted my supply of idiocy, I left and filed the same boring story he’d given everyone else.
So with all these crappy experiences under my belt, by the time it was Strummer Time, I'd worked myself into such a nervous tizzy that I thought I might vomit. I didn’t. Despite my major (and glaringly obvious) spazzout, Joe was extremely kind and actually seemed kind of flattered, rather than alarmed, at my lack of composure. He didn't even wince when I yelped "I love you!" like some fangirl with tourettes.
He answered all my questions respectfully and kindly—even the really dumb ones about his teeth. When we were done, he hugged me goodbye. It was one of the best days of my life. So why did I quit writing about music after Joe Strummer restored my faith in musicians?
Ben Folds Five. But they’re not punk rock, so they’re not part of this story.
*Except for my forthcoming book, The Official Book of Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll Lists (Soft Skull).