Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jerry A. and Poison Idea are still the 'Kings of Punk' / Interview

Poison Idea's Jerry A. in Seattle. (All Andy photos, except where noted)
By Andy

Who knows what the person who coined the phrase, "There's a first time for everything," was thinking about.

Certainly not what I experienced on a recent Friday night.

Jerry A. from Poison Idea and myself are standing face to face in the backstage bathroom at El Corazon in Seattle. He smiles and sits on the edge of the shower tub and drains the last drops of his Pabst Blue Ribbon tall-boy can. He turns to face the toilet, knocks the seat down and offers me a resting place in what now is presumably his office — just like The Fonz in "Happy Days."

So this is where we're doing the interview, I thought. I chuckled to myself, stared at the friendly, beefy vocalist for Portland's legendary, incendiary punk band and began to poke through my list of questions. (I actually wrote them out beforehand, another first; I don't know why, I guess I was expecting to be intimidated and wanted to keep my thoughts on track.)

Twice during our interview, people knock on the bathroom door, peek in and then turn back, giving us our privacy.

After we finish, Jerry A., 49, and I walk out the door and various band members in the adjoining room laugh about us doing the interview in there.

"Ah, we were just fuckin'," Jerry A. sarcastically says with a smile and rise of one eyebrow. He pats me on the back, bids me farewell and I'm on my way back down the stairs en route to tell my tale to Cat and our friends.

Here's what we gabbed about before the Poison Idea gig with the Dwarves, Toxic Holocaust, Toe Tag and the Insurgence:

--- 'Kings of Punk' is gonna be re-released on Southern Lord coming up... what is it about that album that you think still excites people after all these years?

Well, I had to re-listen to it because they gave it to me to write the liner notes, and I really honestly haven't listened to it since it came out. Cuz, I (originally) listened to it and was like, 'Ehh,' it's alright, I thought we just kept doing better records as they came out.

But you go back and listen to this first shit and it stands up to stuff that's still out today. You know, they've got this Hot Topic punk rock shit they call punk rock, because it looks -- whatever -- they say it's more of a uniform than actually pissed off attitude that's mad. (But our) songs are really good, they just hold up.

'Kings of Punk' album cover from 1986.

--- Are you excited playing those songs nowadays still?

Some of the topics might seem really dated. I've lived and learned. The anger's still there.

--- And (people) still go mad for it. (Some of the crowd) is a new generation of people that obviously weren't there to see you guys the first time around.

Yeah, and that's cool cuz every year there's a new batch of 18-year-old kids. And that's fine, maybe they can relate to something that we wrote about then.

I was taking a bus, actually, to one of our shows. And these guys pulled over, like, 'Hey, we're going to the show, get a ride.' I didn't know who they were and I jumped in the car, and they're playing something, and I go, 'This is fucking good, what the fuck is this?' -- and it was Poison Idea (laughter).

--- I heard that you guys have some new songs in the hopper, is that right?

Yeah, well we just wanted to stay busy. We just spent years just fucking around, having different priorities. Basically cleaned all the drug addicts out of the band, one way or another. Unfortunately, some died, some went to prison, and then the ones who didn't go that way, we just said, 'We gotta get our shit together.' I still drink, one of the guys in the band smokes pot, I think, but this is the priority -- the music's first. And then if you wanna have a drink later, that's fine.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've always wanted this. This music is what makes me happy, it's what wakes me up, so we just wanted to stay busy and we started writing new songs. We got the 'Vegetable' back (on guitar) from 'War All the Time,' 'Filthkick,' 'Getting the Fear'--- and he's like, 'Oh, this is great,' and he just came right back where he left off, he's like a big kid.

--- What are you writing about nowadays?

Every song that we have is something that really happened. You can pick any song and I'll tell you the story behind the song. They're little vignettes of personal experiences and what happened. As you grow and learn and stuff, different things in life happen. Some people write books about heartache, mistrust, betrayal, frustration, and it's all there.

I just recently in the last 10 years or so, got into having little dogs. I fucking love dogs, man, they're so loyal, they're cute little things. I might write a song about fucking loyalty, you know? It's just shit that pops up. I'm not gonna write something like, 'Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,' (laughter) but I might write something with the theme.

Just write about what you know -- and if you don't, you're lying. And people can tell.

Unfortunately, we come from a really dark place, and all the songs are really fucking dark because that's what we chose to ensconce ourselves with and live that fucking life. When you do that, shit goes crazy around you.

--- So on that note, 'What Happened to Sunday?' Do you remember what that song was about?

That's just a blackout song from days at a time. One of the last shows we play at Satyricon, we were playing and I woke up behind the drum set. I fucking looked up and I'm like, 'Are we in Texas? Where the fuck are we?' I'm looking around, I didn't know where I was, and we're on stage playing. I wake up, it's like confusion -- that's not good. It's not good in life no matter what you do. But especially, people pay to see this thing? This fucking circus on stage? It's seriously like watching somebody die on stage.

--- Was it just alcohol?

At that time, it was everything, drugs, everything. I went into a fucking coma when I had to stop doing anything for a week, and then I woke up in a hospital and they said, 'You have everything in your system.' They were naming the shit off... everything except marijuana. (They asked) why didn't you have (that)? 'I'm trying to get a job,' and they didn't think that was too funny.

So, I don't do that anymore, because you can't. I haven't done any drugs for 18 months. (He shaped up after an incident in 2012, when he had three toes removed from his right foot as a result of treading on broken glass and slicing the bottom of his foot while drugged out in Portland. His leg swelled up and became infected.)

--- Well, let's go back to a simpler time (laughter), what kind of music did you grow up on as a kid?

Just everything, the rock and roll that was good. I used to read Creem magazine, that was a great publication-- they would tell me all that shit about the Stooges.

I liked rock and roll. My mom said when I was a baby, I was singing Beach Boys shit before I could talk, I was actually doing the harmonies. But I really didn't like the Beach Boys until I got into Brian Wilson years later.

Then, music was not so much escapism, I was a little kid, I was 9, listening to Queen, Roxy Music, Sparks. Stuff like that was glamorous, I could be glamorous in my bedroom listening to this great music. Or I could be heavy listening to Sabbath -- and I was dangerous.

Or when the Ramones came, I actually saw them on their first tour of the West Coast, when I was in seventh grade cuz I was going to concerts all the time. My first concert was Three Dog Night when I was 8 -- and I walked behind the drum set, it was festival seating, and I just was like, 'Wow! This is great!'-- this is when they were heavy. After that, it was BTO, the Doobie Brothers, ZZ Top in the early days. It just piled up and I never stopped going to concerts.

When I left home early when I was 15, because I got into punk rock, then I started scalping tickets to shows cuz that's how I made my money and survived. Invested a hundred bucks in Peter Frampton tickets because I knew it was gonna sell out, and I started selling 'em and got my money back plus my rent -- rent was like fifty bucks.

I think it crashed on Yes in the round. Because I bought all these tickets to Yes, I thought it was gonna (sell out) and I couldn't even give 'em away, man, I was stuck with all these tickets and I went in and I was like, 'No wonder people didn't wanna fucking buy these tickets-- this is horrible.'

I was in a punk band still and I was like, 'This is fucking insane. Time's are changing, man.' I could spend a dollar fifty and see the Wipers, right there, I could stand right next to 'em or I could spend twelve bucks and see Yes in the round -- with lasers!

So punk rock -- just the attitude, the music, the energy, the power. Everything about it woke me up.

At the time I saw the Ramones, I was a huge KISS freak like most idiots at that time were. And I would go to the store and wait for the new KISS record every fucking day, I think it was 'Rock and Roll Over' at that time. It fucking came, and I got it, and I ran home, and I was so excited and I put it on and I sat there and I was just like, 'SHIT! SHIT!' (in disappointment).

I was looking over at my Ramones records and going, 'This is it.' It was the changing of the guard. Overnight, I took my fucking shirt, cut my sleeves off, cut my hair off and that was it. And then started getting the shit beat out of me all the time (roaring laughter) -- for being a fag. But it was worth it.

--- What makes you happy nowadays?

Just being busy, staying alive. Knowing that I'm not on borrowed time, but got another chance. Lot of close calls.

--- What makes you angry?

It's the same shit that always has. The 1 percent of this population running the world. And seeing the kids not eating and homeless, and the system throwing them back to their family and getting abused and getting tormented and having no fucking future and no school and no program to take care of them. And the cycle just keeps getting repeated.

You see this sad, heartbreaking insanity.

--- So if record collectors are pretentious assholes, what do you collect? You mentioned dogs, is there anything interesting, like little glass figurines?

Right before Tom ('Pig Champion' Roberts) died, I was homeless for a couple years. Poison Idea was on hiatus and I'd squat, and I pretty much sold everything. Got divorced from my wife, lost everything. And once I got back on track, I got my shit together and stopped doing drugs, I wanted to start getting all those things again-- I wanted that Finnish punk rock record that I really love, the Lama first album. And then I got the Tex and the Horseheads records that I threw away and I got the Detox record that I wanted.

It was weird, because I always had my Germs singles, even when I was fucking homeless. I had those at my brother's. Me and Charley ('Myrtle Tickner' Nims) the bass player were at a homeless shelter once, and this kid said, 'Hey, we were gonna sell this, but if you would sign it.' They had a fucking 'Feel the Darkness' in their backpack, that was the only CD they had... 'If you sign this, maybe we'll hold onto it.' And I was like, 'Yeah, dude, fucking stay strong, brother, thank you so much.'

--- It follows you ...

It's cool. It's great seeing actual punk rock kids with big Poison Idea things on their back, like fighting with some religious guy on the street. Screaming at him, you know? It's great. I love it. They're full of piss and vinegar, and they should be -- that's what you're supposed to do when you're a kid.

When you're old, you're supposed to collect dogs (laughter) and listen to old punk rock.

--- You can do 'em both, you become more well rounded as you grow older.

Not only collecting that shit, but now I'm getting into crazy shit that I never liked before like Beefheart, his first couple records, and Howlin' Wolf, and all the Chestnut and all the old Sun stuff, the old rockabilly shit, 'Dock' Boggs -- that Appalachia, bluegrass, hillbilly music, whatever you call it.

Music still transforms me. It gives me the same feeling I had when I was 9. I listen to it and it makes me happy. It's like a shower of feeling going over you and it's just so energizing. It saved my life before and it's still keeping me alive.

Rounding out Poison Idea's current lineup, from top to bottom:
Eric 'Vegetable' Olson, Natalie Lucio, Jeff 'The Duck' Walter and Flesh Gordie (photo by Dante Torrieri / Useless Rebel Imaging)

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