Now that Strep Throat II is in its final stage before total completion - i started thinking about the first issue and wanted to share the interview me and Melissa Cha did with Robin Crutchfield the founder of the no wave band DNA.
So you’re from Ohio. What was that like?
I was born in 1952 and raised in Dayton, Ohio, only a few miles from the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, infamous for its Hangar 18, where they supposedly stored the remains of the aliens recovered from the Roswell UFO crash in 1947. My family moved from there to Pennsylvania after I finished first grade, so I have very few memories of Ohio, except for a very vivid supernatural sighting of a mysterious being from my bedroom window one night.
- When you were growing up, what sort of music did you listen to?
My family had little music in the house, although I do recall two 78s from my parents’ collection that I was drawn to, the classically instrumental harmonica works of John Sebastian (father of the Lovin’ Spoonful musician) and the eerie haunting whistling prodigy Fred Lowery. I bought my first 45 after attending a grade school birthday party where they played rock and roll singles on a fat spindle record player. I loved pop music, especially songs with unusual rhythms or odd sounds and effects. My first single was Sting Ray, by The Routers, a novelty instrumental about the hot rod automobile punctuated by handclaps and car horn beeps. I also loved The Martian Hop by The Randells. Later favorites were The Beatles, The Supremes, The Four Seasons, Petula Clark, Lesley Gore and many others. In my teens I discovered FM radio and bluesrock artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Johnny Winter, Canned Heat, Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After. The the psychedelic world folk music of The Incredible String Band and Tyrannosaurus Rex and eccentric experimenters like Moondog, Nico, Eno, Yoko Ono, and Annette Peacock.
- How did you become interested in art?
I always had a knack for art. I filled sketchpads with scribbles and drawings each morning before school while my mother prepared my breakfast. In my teens I was drawn to the nonsensical fantasy paintings of the surrealists, and later to the heady experiments by minimalists and conceptual artists as well as performance artists.
- What made you decide to come to New York?
I studied art in college and was drawn in a more or less natural progression from drawing, to painting, to sculpture and environmental installations to conceptual and performance art. I was introduced by a professor to Avalanche magazine, which shared much of the experimental art activity going on in New York: artists like Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Bruce Nauman, Lawrence Weiner, Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Serra, Richard Long, Jackie Windsor, William Wegman, Philip Glass and others like Joseph Beuys, Jannis Kounellis, and Gilbert & George. I decided that if I wished to pursue a career in this edgy art, New York was the place I needed to be. In my personal life I’d also been inspired by the PBS portrayal of Lance Loud’s life in New York and Warhol’s Factory and the edgy flamboyant and gay stuff that was happening there through the PBS series “An American Family”. Also, Rock Scene magazines columns by Patti Smith and Wayne County. Working at a book store in a mall, I befriended David Ebony, who shared my interest in art and oddity, and we moved to New York and shared an apartment in Greenwich Village together. (David was later the founder of the band The Erasers and is now editor at Art In America Magazine).
- Can you describe the sort of visual and/or performance art you were involved in before DNA was formed?
One early piece consisted of my wearing bluefaced makeup and sitting for an extended spell on a stool staring at and mirroring the blue static screen of a black and white TV transmission opposite me on another stool. Another consisted of an assistant and myself each inhabiting separate large blank canvas bags and placing ourselves in a showcase window in a university hallway where passersby would encounter lumpish bag sculptures that seemed to alter their shapes over the course of a day. We would only shift our positions when nobody was walking by and eventually folks noticed the changes and even engaged us. One girl touched me then drew her hand back in exclamation, “Ooh! It’s warm!”. That was a wonderful revelation of something I had taken for granted, body heat. My first famously reviewed performance piece in New York was at Stefan Eins’ 3 Mercer St. Storefront where my semi-nude body was encrusted by dozens of genderless baby dolls taped to my torso with adhesive tape. My face and hands were decorated with garish lipstick, rouge and polish. The pants and boots were male. I entered the space confronting a bevelled mirror, a cutout 50’s illustration of a nurse, and an apron pinned to the wall. A small boombox played a homemade tape of two giggly girls singing “tell me why I love you so”. The recording stuck and repeated rhythmically and shifted speeds from highpitched to deepvoiced. I clipped the nurse’s head off with shears then pasted it opposite my reflection on the mirror, then cut the apron strings and started removing the dolls from my body one by one and covering the mirror with them until my own identity was completely obscured and all the dolls had bared my body. Then I left the space. The documented performance photo by Susan Springfield, found on my website and my facebook pages has appeared everywhere from a Vancouver Post Card Show to File, Wet, and Modern Painters magazines.
- Most people associate the “No Wave” movement solely with music, but it was also very much about art, film, performance,
etc…can you elaborate?
In the low rent lower Manhattan scene of Soho in the late 70s, many creative kids from all over migrated to New York to experiment across genres and find themselves. This wasn’t limited to art, but also, music, fashion, writing, theater, film, performance, dance. Any means of creative expression could be investigated and tweaked. There were readings in various clubs and coffee houses, there was a film movement that settled into a small storefront theater on St. Marks Place. There were experimental fashion shows and theater pieces at Club 57 and The Pyramid Lounge.
- No Wave has been described as a “reactionary” movement. What was your personal reaction to the more mainstream cultural climate at the time?
In Europe, punk was a very political movment. In New York, no wave was a reaction to the norm in art and music. A rejection by rejects of all that came before, all that was acceptable in popular art and music: art that couldn’t be bought, taken home and hung on a wall; music that was less than three chords, or defying standard melodies, structures and ideas. It wasn’t anymore about having to please executives at a major label with marketability or paint enormous bloated canvases for expensive gallery owners’ walls to impress wealthy collectors. It was DIY time. Indie labels and loft apartment or storefront galleries or streetworks. The two most important inventions of the 70s, in my opinion, were the Sony walkman and the Xerox photocopy machine. Between them one could make their own music for share or sale and manufacture cover art and street posters to promote gigs or art events. All could be done with very almost no money. Artists were selfmade and not at the mercy of authority figures.
- What’s the story behind the formation of DNA?
Impressed by an early gig of Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, I approached Lydia Lunch to see if I might join her band on keyboards. She was downsizing their efforts at the time and shunting James Chance off to do his own thing with The Contortions. So, she said no, but suggested I start my own band and recommended her two fifteen-year-old sister roadies to work with, or an acquaintance named Arto Lindsay. Arto and I were of similar age and both friends of Lydia and her friends in a band called Mars. We sat together at a CBGB’s table and discussed similar interests in art and music ideas. My most inspirational album towards working in DNA was Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band album released about eight years earlier, that seemingly pitted order against chaos. I used that as a model for what I wanted to do in DNA. I embraced Brian Eno’s notion of the nonmusician, as I had little or no formal musical training, and as an artist, loved the idea of creating something from next to nothing but a few simple tools: cheap instruments at hand that we couldn’t play. Arto knew Terry Ork who booked audition nights at Max’s Kansas City and offered us a date 28 days after hearing of Arto and I starting the band. It was orginally a four-piece, but two members jumped ship in a panic at the short rehearsal time. Arto and I embraced the challenge and drafted Ikue on drums to complete the trio, which debuted on schedule 28 days later with a 20 minute set.
- Can you talk a little bit about Brian Eno’s No New York project and how you got involved?
I still can’t recall whether it was Adele Bertei or Nina Canal who knew Brian Eno, when he came to town, and suggested he come to check out a week of new experimental bands playing at Artist’s Space, a Tribeca art venue that didn’t usually host amplified performances. He showed up with John Rockwell, reviewer from the New York Times, and the project was initiated a few days later, after his having seen the four bands that played the closing two nights. Those were the four bands that ended up on the record. We recorded in a studio on Greene Street that Philip Glass had been using. The sessions were real time live in the studio takes. Two takes of each song I think, with little interference from Eno. His contribution was mixing with the sound engineer.
- Since No Wave was pretty concentrated and short-lived, all of its associated musicians and artists must have been at least familiar with each other. Can you talk about some of the relationships and interactions you had with other No Wave pioneers?
After the initial burst of creativity, members of the bands began to crosspollinate and collaborate with musicians from other bands for one-offs or side bands. After I left DNA and decided to form Dark Day, I worked with Nina Canal of The Gynecologists and Ut, Nancy Arlen from Mars, Stanton Miranda from Thick Pigeon, Laura Kennedy from The Bush Tetras, Fred Szymanski from Ikeyard and others. The grouping that jelled for the single was myself, Nina and Nancy. But, they didn’t wish to maintain a band, being devoted to their own bands. So, we just recorded the two tracks ‘Hands In The Dark” and “Invisible Man” for the Lust/Unlust single, then I went on to try and find other musicians to record an album and tour. I ended up with David Rosenbloom of Chinese Puzzle and Phil Kline later of The DelByzanteens. This grouping even shifted a bit over time and disbanded prior to my doing a second album.
- Can you recall weirdest, most insane thing that happened to you in the mid-70’s?
Well, there was meeting Dali and Gala, and Warhol and William Burroughs, or hanging out with Ray Johnson and meeting Divine, or visiting Jack Smith’s apartment; dancing with Jackie Curtis, meeting Ondine. But the one that stands out is the night of the New York City blackout in the Summer of Sam. I was jamming in a Chelsea basement with Johnny Dynell and Anne DeLeon (Alan Vega’s girlfriend). The power went out and we walked downtown to Christopher and Bleecker where artist David McDermott stood in 1920’s garb on a corner with a wind-up Victrola playing old 78s to the silent masses. A small sign he’d pinned to the side of a building read ‘1928’. It was a magical yet eerie Twilight Zone moment of man at nature’s mercy without the comfort of electricity. I think there was some rioting and looting over the course of the next couple of days, but that night was peaceful and communal and very nice.
- After you left DNA, you formed Dark Day. Can you talk about that transition and how your interests evolved over the years?
DNA approached music from complete ignorance. We were experimental babies taking formative steps. But after slowly progressing for nine months, I felt like my comrades were no further along than when we started. We would rehearse the same songs ad nauseum and they never sounded the same twice. Some might appreciate this degree of improvisation. I just felt frustrated. I needed an evolution of order and structure and left to find it through Dark Day. In each grouping of individuals during the varying phases of Dark Day, I had to compromise my vision to offer creative input from my collaborators. I wasn’t paying them, and this was the only thing that kept them in my band. I couldn’t exert too strict a hand, yet still held a firm direction over which ideas presented met my vision, and which ones didn’t. Generally, after a period of time, either I, or my collaborators lost interest, or found it elsewhere, ending that phase of the band and pushing it on to the next incarnation. It went through many phases categorized as no wave, cold wave, dark wave, proto-electronica, and medieval pagan until finally I was able to afford a computer and software to allow me total freedom to do it myself as a cyclic midi-electronic project. After some reflection on the millennium, I pulled away from electronic instruments and embraced ancient ones that needed no electrical support from artificial means beyond my control. I had always been fond of Nico and Moondog and timelessly ancient-sounding musics, and my adoption of harp, psaltery and tanpura drone, as well as some African drums, filled my soul with joy. The otherworlds of timeless daydreams unfold new vistas to my creative output and I continue to play and record with that in mind.
- What is your life like now? Is it true that you are currently more involved in literature and the visual arts?
I continue my fascination with researching the unknown, the supernatural, the metaphysical and the mysterious. I have written a series of faerie tales available at lulu.com and I sometimes paint and continue to draw. Occasionally I experiment with making film clips to my music that can be viewed on YouTube.
- What music do you listen to lately? Are there any new or current bands that you admire?
I rarely go out to clubs or concerts anymore. I don’t buy magazines because they’ll take over my small apartment. So, I have little exposure to new music and only seem to happen upon it by accident, a reference to a computer link, or a visit to a record shop where something is being played that I like. The last albums I got truly excited by were the debut album by Feathers, the mysterious toylike experiments of Colleen on The Golden Morning Breaks, and Grey Oceans by CocoRosie.
- New York has undoubtedly changed over the years. What do you think of its music and art scenes now?
Artists like oysters are most creative when their existences are taxed by hard times, low wages, and a frustrated limitation to express oneself. Oysters take a bit of grit that rubs them the wrong way and fashion a pearl out of it. New York City these days is much too expensive to attract creative kids who can get by on little. The self-entitled youth of today are upwardly mobile and helplessly dependent on their cell phones and computers. I do believe at some point, a group will rebel and cast off technology and finance and find their way to new creative solutions that will turn the art and music worlds on their respective eyes and ears.
- What’s your favorite synthesizer?
I don’t favor technology anymore; It just puts money in the pockets of big businessmen.
- Do you have any advice for all of the poor young people attempting to pursue art and music?
Pick up sticks and stones. Take castoff materials and make them your tools. Take the things that can’t be manufactured, your voice and your ideas and find your own way to express yourself. Don’t let politics, fortune, or fame enter into your creative process. Reject the world of celebrity. Go off and find your own spirituality. Defy the ‘business’ of art and music. Make art and music to please yourself without a thought to pleasing others. Find your own flow, then go with it, and you’ll feel truly rewarded with joy in your heart.