The Interview That Cannot Be Named

 Music-loving Millennials who’ve spent enough time on the internet may have seen long-running shock-punk act Dwarves labeled “the last true bastions of punk rock ideology in the contemporary musical age.” For the last 30 years this San Francisco-based group of scum punkers racked up mythic stories of live shows involving onstage sex, drug use, physical violence, and a nameless guitarist who exclusively performs wearing a luchador mask and a leather jockstrap—if he chooses to wear anything at all. 

This absurdist punk rock legend thus came to be known as He Who Cannot Be Named, and 30-odd years later this anonymous tribute to anarchic punk rock perversity hasn’t slowed down one bit. He’s slated to grace Chico’s very own Monstros pizza on March 28th with his solo band, exhibiting a more airtight and eclectic sound in the vein of Dwarves’ later material. In preparation for the show, we contacted the masked man himself through a surprisingly candid email interview, wherein we discussed the flaccidity of todays punk music, his solo records, and today’s culture around music consumption.

Welcome to Chico, He Who Cannot Be Named! Have you ever been here, either with your solo band or with Dwarves? 

He: I did play Chico once with Dwarves in 2001, I think it was. I remember that it was really hot, so it must have been in the summer. I used to play naked a lot back in those days and I remember being advised after the show that it would be more attractive “down there” if I shaved off my pubic hair. So I started shaving my balls in Chico.

With a storied career spanning nearly a quarter century, you’ve witnessed a complete overhaul of the music industry and our culture around music consumption. What are your thoughts on music piracy? How has the changing climate affected your musical career?

He: Yeah, there have been lots of advances in technology in my lifetime. Not only music, but entertainment in general is consumed and produced way differently than when I started doing this. We actually recorded our first several albums on tape, which meant that we had to actually play the songs from start to finish. Computers really changed all that. Now all you have to do is know a little bit of the song and the rest is cut and paste. I think the way many kids learn how to play music has changed as well. I learned how to play the piano first which I think gave me more of an appreciation for melody. Now it seems like there is more of an emphasis on rhythm. Kids often just learn to play a few power chords with drop D tuning.

Melody is becoming less important, it seems, in popular music. I don’t know if that’s because of technology, but certainly the advent of sampling and hip hop music is connected to the use of computers for music generation. Rap vocals represents the ultimate destruction of melody.

As for music consumption, free downloads and digital piracy have made it really hard to make money from record sales, but you know it was always kind of hard. The record companies always have had incredible power to decide what people get to hear, and it seems like they still do. It is certainly easier now to publish your own stuff, so that’s good. The hard part is getting people to give a shit about it with all the music that is available.

I read an interview with you from a couple years back where you spoke on the lack of danger and criminality in today’s punk music. What can be done, if anything? 

He: Wow, I don’t know if anything can be done. I really believe that those kind of creative expressions happened as a representation of what was going on around the artists and audiences at the time. I think punk rock came out against a Cold War backdrop. It was just the next step of the ‘60s counterculture movement. When I was a kid I saw the Vietnam War protests, and I remember the Reagan years, and all the paranoia about the possibility of missiles coming in at any time. We live in a pretty comfortable world here in the USA in 2014. Potential soldiers in today’s wars now see them as opportunities for adventure or career advancement. People have been taught not to take many risks. Compliance is seen as a virtue. That was true for my generation as well, but things like the military draft and blatant racial discrimination left very few options except rebellion for many.

The punks just took it to the next step, turning against the music and the lethargic “peace and love” hypocrisy they saw failing around them. Now, even though we are still at about the same, if not even more, risk for immediate and total annihilation, it seems easier to just ignore it all and seek quality entertainment. That can, and I am sure will, change as history moves forward. I think there are some big-time forces at work right now that will create lots of hardship for people in future generations… Things like mass environmental destruction, and the development of automation technology resulting in world-wide unemployment and economic collapse, will fuck things up in a big, big way for a long, long time. People will once again feel like they are backed into a corner, and I’m sure the world will once again see some real dangerous, challenging artistic expression. I haven’t seen this recently but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are things like this going on now. It’s a big world.

He who cannot be named @ rebellion 2013 by dod morrison photography (43)

Whose idea was it to include a clarinet on “Gettin’ Pissed?” I think it’s great. These little moments of unpretentious humor—singing about dancing “The Wiggle,” for example—are refreshing.

He: I just got this kind of “Hogan’s Heroes” sound in my head while I was listening back to the song and I had to have it. Yeah “The Wiggle” is kind of a kids song. I was trying to do a bubble-gum punk song.

Were your parents ever concerned about your debaucherous rock and roll lifestyle?

He: My parents were very religious. I mean they really believed, they didn’t just talk the talk. It’s funny, we never ever talked about my on-stage antics or my debauched lifestyle, although I always kind of figured that they knew about it. My parents are no longer alive. They died a few years back in a car accident. When we were cleaning out the house I thought I would for sure find copies of at least few of my albums, but no… nothing. That’s OK with me. There are some things that are better left unknown.

Dwarves are often described as “the last true bastions of punk rock ideology in the contemporary musical age.” How do you react to this kind of praise? 

He: It’s kind of hyperbolic, but I guess that is the nature of that genre of writing. It definitely gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

What kind of music are you digging at the moment? Do you listen to anything that fans may be surprised by?

He: This changes all the time. It just depends what I want to hear. If I want to hear awesome percussive piano, I’ll usually listen to some Thelonious Monk. For trumpet, it’s Miles Davis. When I want to hear well-written songs I often put on some Steve Earle or Elvis Costello. I love The Spears or Minor Threat for raw punk. If I want to hear amazing rock drums, I may listen to a Led Zeppelin album. I suppose fans might find my love of classical (especially choral) music a bit curious.

Most of our readers are no doubt of a much younger generation, and missed out on the punk scene of the ‘80s and 90s. How do today’s crowds compare to that of the scene 20-30 years ago?

He: It just depends where you go, how big the crowd is, who is playing, and how fucked up people are.

You’re known for performing solely in a luchador mask and a jockstrap. At what point did you decide that this was going to be a regular thing? 

He: My first gig with “Suburban Nightmare,” as we were called back then, was at a big Halloween party that this biker friend of ours was having. I wore a mask as a costume and kind of enjoyed it. I decided to continue… and it quickly became a gimmick, I guess. The jockstrap started when I decided to put some clothes back on.

How many masks do you own? Any favorites? 

He: I think I have about ten or fifteen. My wife likes the one with the leopard print, but I think that is because she just likes leopard print in general. I don’t really have a favorite.

On that same note, do you ever get sick of it? Or does the lack of clothing offer comfort and flexibility on stage?

He: Sometimes the mask can be difficult, especially when my glasses fog up, but I’m pretty used to it after 30 years. The lack of clothing can be quite comfortable in warm weather. Also, the disguise has helped me escape from a few difficult situations. There have been many times that it gave me the ability to nonchalantly slip away while bouncers or cops searched in vain for the “naked guy wearing a mask.”

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Despite your provocative stage presence and transgressive lyrics, your solo material—and notably much of Dwarves’ later albums—is some hooky, airtight stuff. Do you ever wonder (or care) if you and Dwarves could have been commercially successful if the subject matter was watered down?

He: I think it may have been a little more to it than the lyrical content of our songs. There were a few attempts to write and record a “hit.” We eventually gave up. We did have a moment in the early ‘90s when the Sub-Pop bands were being given lots of attention because of Nirvana’s success. We played a big showcase in New York and I thought it would be funny if I took a piss on the audience. It was.

The waltz-y acoustic song “Black Eyed and Blue” off Humaniterrorist caught me off guard. What’s the story behind that one? 

He: You know, I have been writing a lot of acoustic material lately. But I think that song kind of fits in with the whole death theme of that album. Sometimes people look around and notice that what they once had has long since died away.

San Francisco is a very strange place. Has it informed the quirkiness of your music and stage persona?

He: Yeah I guess it is strange… I’ve always thought of myself as a mid-westerner. We moved to SF from Chicago in the ‘80s, so I didn’t really think of myself being a San Franciscan. I grew to like it though. I have always liked being around freaks. Normal people scare me.

Do you have a day job aside from your life behind the mask? How has your music career affected your working life?

He: Yeah that’s kind of complicated. Let me just say that the mask has an important function. It helps to keep my bizarre double life intact.

He Who Cannot Be Named will be performing at Monstro’s Pizza with Severance Package, Big Tree Fall Down, and Fight Music on 3/28. 8PM, $5.

 

 

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