Mike Watt

Mike Watt’s Punk Rock Portrait of the Middle Aged Artist.

A: In a perfect world, I would have had Raul and Tom [Morales and Watson, the Missingmen] playing these things, all 30 parts of me, at the same time. So the whole piece would have been about a minute and a half, two minutes.

Q: That probably would have been unlistenable.

A: Yeah. That would have been difficult to listen to, or even more difficult for us to execute. But that’s the way it was, in a perfect world, that’s the way it was supposed to be. No beginning, middle, end.

Q: So how did you approach the project to get as close to you could to the idea of no beginning, middle, or end?

A: I kept the integrity in the way I wrote it. First thought was the first one. Last thought was the last one. And there is beginning/middle/end to a listener, who is outside your own fucking head, and they’re going to take the last as kind of a bottom line. Part of middle age that maybe a younger person doesn’t have to deal with is reconciling things. And, you know, that’s part of the deal in how you make it emotionally. But there are some things, I thought about it hard, there are some things that cannot reconcile. And one of the big ones is the way we humans treat each other. And I just can’t find reason for it. I know there’s been a lot of philosophies and ideologies set up, and it just doesn’t work for me. I just couldn’t handle it. So I had to acknowledge it in this thing, and I waited until the end to do it, and that was the “man-shitting-man.” But I thought, “Whoa, this is getting a little too much like the Bosch.” Not the little creatures, but the big paintings, where they read left to right, you know, Garden of Eden and so forth. And I’m thinking that’s too know-it-all and too cynical and too down. And that’s not the way I think. I have crazy hope. So I took the middle song, since it was supposed to be at the same time like a wheel, kind of maybe an Eastern idea like you were saying, Zen or something, but round and round, infinite. And so I put the middle song at the end ["wheel-bound-man"]. Now I needed a new hub, though, and what I had planned originally was 29 ones with spiel and one without spiel because I thought, you know, part of the problem with words is words. I wanted one to be instrumental. Like the end of the second opera, I turned into a pelican, because pelicans don’t have a song. And so then I used the Dante thing there. At the end, he can’t find the words. And so I wanted to be that. Then I thought, “Whoa. You know, if this is really about you, I think I got to put the spiel in all these.” So I wrote a little poem and I said, “Okay, this will be the hub. This will be the middle.” Those were the two changes I made at the end. And so I kind of interfered with my “in the moment” and not redacting or editing myself. Because I was in the studio with Tony, and we were, “Here’s that man-shitting-man. And it’s such a down song.” I said, “I can’t fucking end this piece this way. People will think it’s the summation. Even though it wasn’t made that way, how do they know? They can’t reach into my head for the instructions on how to listen.” So I had to kind of give in there. And I used the hub one, the middle one, for the end.

Q: I like that. It’s like leaving crumbs for your listeners.

A: I know. But for the bold adventure it was kind of half-assed. I went and got scared of my own initial idea a little bit.

Q: I think artists are perpetutally searching for the sweet spot between boldly exploring and actually communicating with a group of people who don’t know you.

A: Yeah.

Q: The two don’t always jibe.

A: But I didn’t want to do a copy of the others, especially with an opera, because it’s such a long format. The other two were very important to do because of their subject, you know. I had to deal with the Minutemen [1997's Contemplating the Engine Room], and I wanted to deal with this almost dying [2004's The Secondman's Middle Stand]. I also wanted to deal with middle age. But the artist, the mechanical artist part of me, wanted to try a different device.

Q: I admire that. A lot people recycle and repeat themselves but you don’t seem to have lost your intensity or your courage.

A: No. But I’m sentimental. I mean for one thing, look at the format I chose, how I started.

Q: Right. You returned, very mindfully according to what I’ve read, to the writing process that you used in the Minutemen: a title, then music, then words.

A: Yeah. And also the little format.

Q: You mean short songs? Was that a sentimental gesture?

A: Yeah. Shit, you know, I didn’t write it on bass, I wrote it all on D. Boon’s Telecaster, his guitar. And I ain’t much of a guitar player, as you can tell.

Q: Why did you do that?

A: Because, you know, I’m going to contradict you here, but I was afraid. I was afraid to do this piece, because I was going to have to talk about this shit. And I was using it, kind of, for a crutch. I didn’t want it to be Happy Days. I didn’t want it to be nostalgic. I remember my pop, when that TV show came on, my pop said, “You know, those were not happy days.” And that’s always stuck with me. When you go back and really just, whatever, fucking wallow in it, it gets kind of gross. I looked at it more as here’s some techniques, some devices I learned, and maybe I can talk about now using some of those things, and not wallow in the yesterday but just use some of those things. Actually, those were things to help me find my voice in the beginning. So I’m just kind of, yeah, putting the training wheels back on.

Q: In a way that speaks to your notion of wanting everything to happen at the same time.

A: Yeah, there’s no past or future.

Q: Exactly.

A: You know, in an ideal world, in the art world, right, we suspend the body. It disappears. And time disappears, whatever. What happened was, in 2005, I was asked to do this documentary called We Jam Econo. These two young guys, they actually never saw the Minutemen, but they wanted to do this documentary. And it was kind of about them finding out about it. So I had to listen to the music again. I wouldn’t listen to it after he [D. Boon] got killed, you know. It made me too sad. But hearing it again, it was like, “Whoa! Look! This is very econo, like no filler. I want to do this again.” And then, at the same time, I was on tour with the Stooges in Madrid. And they got this museum there called Prado. And there is fucking seven, eight Boschs. So this shit from the World Book, it really blew my mind to see those things in real life, combined with listening to Minutemen again, this really got it going for how I was going to do this third opera. It was weird. In a way, it was planned. I thought midlife was a weird thing, and I wanted to do something with it, but when those two things came on me it was like, “This is how I’m going to do it.” Now, there was one other element that don’t get talked about a lot, because I used it really kind of abstractly, but it was The Wizard of Oz.

Q: Really? I didn’t pick up on that.

A: Yeah. In my take on the film, it’s a kind of a coming of age thing for Dorothy and the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Lion, you know. In my mind I could think of them as kind of Boschian amalgams. And man, this is Dorothy tripping on what men do to be men, because I think that is a big part of what’s called the midlife crisis for guys, you know. This man thing. What is a man?

I was thinking of Dorothy tripping out on guys, what they do, and what middle age or whatever — men in crises of manhood — must look like to an outsider, a lady. And so that was another kind of weird perspective. I thought it would have been really fucking ham-fisted to make it real obvious. So it’s subtly in there.

Q: I think subtlety was a wise choice.

A: Yeah, I know. Because it would have cornballed it up totally, you know? But I had to work that in there, to be honest about it. I know James Brown said it’s a man’s world, but I don’t subscribe to that much.

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5 Comments

  1. beth
    Posted October 18, 2011 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    this might be my favorite interview ever. we get older shit gets weirder, and we just go with it.

  2. flap jack
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    i got news for him. he’s leaving middle age behind and approaching old age. why do old men insist they are middle aged? it’s a bit desperate

    • Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

      Hey flap jack, did you even read the article? I seriously doubt it. Your comment about his age and being desperate is totally irrelevant to anything! This guy is a fucking legend and you are so ignorant to judge someone on their age, you get the moron of the year award in my book, oh you better go… I think your mom is calling you!

    • Bob Wakelin
      Posted October 29, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Hey Jacks Flaps! You’re a prick.

  3. Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    “No one never ever says old man to the old man.”

    Mike Watt is such a breath of fresh air, always. I love this interview.

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