Mike Watt

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

Q: So does it feel like a crisis for you? Is that how you would characterize this time of life?

A: Yeah. But just the idea of “what is a man?” You know, that’s at the bottom line. Whether you’re losing it or not is another question, but a lot of that shit ain’t even defined by yourself. You’re taught it by society. And it’s not one thing, it’s a changing thing. Nature does it to you. I mean, your body changes.

Q: And then you layer on top of that the field you’re in. There’s a line, I think it’s in “antlered-man” — where you talk about being “old man punk.”

A: The antler, the stag, that’s fertility, you know. They used this in the Middle Ages. People didn’t read so they made these paintings and the sculptures on the churches to teach people, and the antler, the goat, all this stuff is really strong virileness, you know? And now you’re just watching TV and see these commercials for Viagra and all kinds of things to be, you know, “that man you once were.” Of course, that’s just one shallow dimension of it.

Q: But it’s not shallow if that’s how men define themselves.

A: Or how society is defining us.

Q: Or how society tries to persuade people to define themselves.

A: Right. I think inside, the man has a struggle. He’s dealing with it. What is it? You know, it might be putting on ladies’ clothes. Some dudes do that. I mean, that’s their way of being a man. That’s what I tried to get into, that it is a struggle there. Even if you were alone, a Robinson Crusoe thing, there’s changes going to be happening on you. You started out with your ideal of what things should be, you know? If a she-wolf raised me with my brother Romulus or something, I’ll bet you me and him would both get different ideas and have to fucking be beating it on each other about who was more right about it. But at the end of the day you have to think it out. Also, there’s the people. You’re not alone in the cave. Yeah, they got to deal with how you’re defining yourself. Of course you have to live with the way they’re defining you. And that’s the weird kind of trip.

Q: So does writing the opera and making the record help you work it out in your head?

A: Well, you know, I don’t want to break my arm patting myself on the back but, man, I got the fucker out, and I didn’t cower. I was just glad to do it. I didn’t cower, you know?  Sometimes you have to be dynamic. And maybe that’s manning up on it.

Q: Manning up?

A: Oh yeah, you know, I grew up in Navy housing, with sailors. Boy, you want to talk about male images. Tons, tons. It’s funny, though. We’re never supposed to get old. And we’re supposed to be incredibly powerful. And you’re not supposed to say, “I’m an old man.”

Q: You’ve been playing with Iggy Pop, and he’s a pretty amazing example of a powerful older man.

A: I’ll tell you, last week we were in Romania. He breaks his foot in the first song. He don’t quit.

Q: He did the show with a broken foot?

A: He’d look back at me and go, “Agh!” But he’d turn around singing and jumping and leaping. He did that whole fucking gig.

Q: Well, there it is.

A: Between songs he goes to the side of the stage, you know, “Pull my boot off.” Because he uses wraps from all the years of injuries, he goes, “Pull those wraps off. Okay, stick that boot back on.” And each time he’s screaming, you know, and I was screaming with him. He goes back out there and does five more songs. He goes, “I can’t stop!” Now we can’t play for a couple of months because he’s got to heal. It’s the metatarsals, the big long ones, two of them.

Q: What have you learned from Iggy?

A: I would say work ethic. He reminds me of D. Boon that way, like, “We’re going to fucking do this.” It’s a work ethic. He’s really into that shit.

Q: Yeah, and he’s healthy.

A: Yeah, well, he’s got a broken foot.

Q: That’s another thing about aging. You can’t play fast and loose with your body anymore.

A: No, no. You pay for the blows. You’re not as resilient. But Iggy, the war has been won in his mind. Like, “I’m here. People want to see a gig. I’m going to work this gig as good as I can for them.” And that, to me, is very admirable. That’s the tradition I would like to say I came from. All the other stuff, there’s almost nothing compared to “I’m going to work this gig.” I love that about him. One time he told me he feels like a short order cook. He’s got to get everybody’s order. You want fries? Like, he’s going out to the crowd. “You want a milkshake? What do you want?” But on the other hand he’s not a pandering kind of guy, you know. “Here’s my tunes. Here’s the way I do it. You’re going to deal with it.” So it’s this weird kind of duality. It’s not pandering. It’s not shill. But then, it’s working as fucking hard as you can. I can’t believe that life put me here in that classroom. It’s so intense. In a way, it’s the closest things to parts of D. Boon that I’ve ever seen in a musician. That trips me out.

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  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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