JERI CAIN ROSSI
Jeri Rossi @ Johnny D's, Boston, November 15, 1985. Tracy White
Life is a Slow Death
Interview by Eduard Barcelón, Part II
Q: After Your Funeral and Die Migrains disbanded, you moved to New York and got in touch with Cinema of Transgression. Later on you moved to Boston and created Black Cat Bone, then to New Orleans and finally San Francisco. As a person who has lived in so many different places and been involved in the underground scene, could you tell me which cities do you consider the most interesting? I guess each city has its own charm, but which one do you prefer and why?
JCR: I moved to Boston first. It was because of a Lyres song. My tastes were more and more rootsy Americana and Boston was the town for that. The Boston scene in the 80s was incredibly inspiring with The Lyres and The Flies and later The Titantics. So many great bands. I moved out there with Michael from Your Funeral. We had patched things up and had done a punk-folk duet called No Time For Flowers. Michael didn't like Boston and moved back to Denver but I stayed and started Black Cat Bone. We had a bit of success and started getting great opening slots around town for bands such as Foetus and Sonic Youth. I had a few side bands also: Death House Pussy, Trashed Out Lez Boys, Hogtied... I can't remember them all. After that, I gave up music for a while, started writing fiction, went into the MFA program for filmmaking. When I got my MFA, I moved to NYC for two years and worked in the film industry. No music.
It wasn't until I moved to New Orleans that my music was resurrected and I was in the greatest band of my life thus so far: Dolly Dillon. We were stripped down Americana and it was divine. The Dolly Dillon recordings are pretty much my favorite. I had finally come into my own as a songwriter and a singer and guitar player. And we went NOWHERE! After Dolly Dillon, I solo'd a lot. Focused on my fiction writing, had two books published, had two plays produced.
After Katrina, I moved to San Francisco. The weather is nice. But I left my heart in New Orleans.
By far, Boston had the most bang for the buck as far as great music. But there's something about New Orleans that lures me back again and again.
Q: What do you think was so important about the whole late '70's and early '80's DIY scene? The fact that we are talking about it now thirty years later means something. What was the most important thing you learnt from that time? What are the differences you see between past and present? Any advice you would say to young kids just getting started?
JCR: I was just a kid growing up trying to make sense of life like all these kids are now. There's a coffee shop I go to where twenty-somethings are the baristas and I like some of the new stuff I hear but I'm mostly impressed how kids today seem to have eclectic tastes of all eras. I think the most important advice I'd give is listen and study the masters. Cover their songs and make them your own. So when and if the Muse speaks to you, you'll know how to answer.
Q: Please name the five most important records in your life. Could you explain your reasons?
JCR: Let's Get Lost soundtrack directed by Bruce Weber, artist Chet Baker. This documentary was filmed just before Chet Baker died. He was the jazz trumpet golden boy with good looks, talent, honey voice and a fierce heroin habit. At the end of his life, he was singing and playing trumpet with dentures, his good looks were ravaged by drug use. His voice on this record is like honey on a razor blade. His voice is even softer, I can tell the sound engineer had to tweak his volume up.You can hear the dentures clacking. But it's the best damn record of all time.
Time Out of Mind by Bob Dylan. He wrote and recorded this record after a major illness that almost took his life. It seems like he wrote a lot of the songs for a lost muse, perhaps his ex wife Sarah, the mother of his children. It's mournful and regretful and features genius Daniel Lanois in the line-up and production.
American Stars & Bars by Neil Young. Anything from the '70's Neil Young has been influential to me. The first song I ever learned on guitar when I was fourteen was "Helpless." I have a deep admiration for Neil Young. Neil Young is my personal saviour. I once dated a boy who was a spitting image of Neil. He died tragically in a fire within a month that we split up. I never got over it, never will.
Junkyard and Mutiny/ The Bad Seed EP by The Birthday Party. When my band opened up for The Birthday Party in Denver in 1983, The Birthday Party was coming to an end, and The Bad Seeds were still germinating. That show and The Gun Club, both at the Mercury Cafe in the early '80's became my musical north star.
When I was in the thick of playing in bands, I listened earnestly to John Lee Hooker, Lightning Hopkins and many other deep blues players. I had bands that opened for The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds, These Immortal Souls. Rowland S Howard (RIP) is one of my guitar gods. Lydia Lunch's 13.13, and early Cure influenced Your Funeral.
Today I enjoy Belladonna by Daniel Lanois, and soundtracks from films like Alamo (the remake with Billy Bob Thornton), Snow Falling on Cedars, The Assassination of Jesse James (soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis), old R&B like Nothing Takes the Place of You by Touissant McCall. Etta James, Irma Thomas. Barrelhouse piano blues. Bordello jazz. Jazz funeral music. The mournful and wistful the better. I guess I have an "Americana" slant, that is, I enjoy rootsy music that hail from blues, jazz & country, especially the old stuff, or new stuff with a jagged take on the old stuff. And Gram Parsons!
Q: Please make a list of your five favourite books and writers, and a list of your five favourite films and directors.
JCR: Writers, more than five! Anything by Flannery O'Connor. Anything by Bukowski especially the poetry. Love is a Dog from Hell especially. Anything by Cormac McCarthy, his use of language is gourmet. Wolfgang Borchert's Sad Geraniums was very influential on my writing style. Ernest Hemingway. David Goodis. Jim Thompson. And last but certainly not least: the immortal John Fante.
Directors: Robert Altman, Gus Van Sant's more poetic films, John Cassavetes, Roman Polanski, Dennis Hopper, Terrence Malick.
If I had directed The Bear by Jean-Jacques Annaud, I could die happily knowing that I had created art that helped humans understand the need to revere the animal kingdom. I gave a copy to my beloved nephew who is an avid hunter. Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution, Desire directed by Ang Lee. Chinatown directed by Polanski. The Last Movie directed by Dennis Hopper deeply affected my vision as a director / writer. Early Robert Altman films like Theves Like Us and Nashville, McCabe and Mrs Miller, and 3 Women. John Cassavetes' Opening Night. Terrence Malick's Badlands. Remember My Name directed by Alan Rudolph. And I have a soft spot for anything Sam Shepard writes, directs or acts in.
Q: If you only could choose one book and one film what would they be?
JCR: Book: Ask the Dust written by John Fante because I'm a hopeless romantic like the main character. Fante makes me laugh and cry on the same page.
Film: Last Tango in Paris because I relate to the decay of the Marlon Brando character. His scene sitting with his dead wife, talking to her tenderly then crescendoing into cursing her, calling her a whore and a pigfucker, then breaking down and crying, calling her pet names. I can't think of a better performance that capsulate the loneliness and craziness of this thing called mortality.
Q: In your opinion, who was the most influential band from Denver? If you had to choose three records made in Denver, which ones would you pick and why?
JCR: I own an original single of The Frantix My Dad's A Fuckin' Alcoholic. They were all so adorable, the whole band. I had crushes on all of them. Ricky showed me some great grungy guitar tricks. This is before grunge was a genre.
Frantix, "My Dad's A Fuckin' Alcholic" 7", Local Anesthetic (1983)
I also saw the last show of The Healers (from Boulder) which was a wall of sound, fronted by John Greenway who co-wrote "California Uber Alles" with Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys. And I'd have to say Jello Biafra (from Boulder) is the most influential music force coming out of Colorado in my generation. After I left, Denver there was another Renaissance of Denver music: 16 Horsepower and the many projects of the former members, such as Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Woven Hand, and Jay Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots.
Q: Is there a book or film related to New Orleans that you recommend?
JCR: The Mardi Gras acid scene in St Louis Cemetary Number 1 in Easy Rider is my favorite. And of course there's Jarmusch's Down By Law which is a masterpiece. Then there's the old melodramatic black & whites that are great to watch if nothing to see old landmarks: Walk on the Wild Side based on the Nelson Algren book and Panic in the Streets directed by Elia Kazan. But no film totally captures the lost soul/tragi-comedy of New Orleans.
Q: What do you like most about living in SF? What differences do you see between SF and NOLA? Do you see yourself living in NOLA again?
JCR: What do I like about SF? The weather. It's temperate. No scorching heat. And it's close to forests, lakes, ocean, beautiful landscapes! And of course it's close to Napa and Sonoma Valley vineyards. People read books here, are more serious, into money, lots of hipsters, lots of poets and artists as well.
The difference between SF and NOLA apart from the weather is that though SF is a big party town also, people are more serious and have to make money because the rents are outrageous. People are more health and politically conscious in SF.
All over the quality of life is better in SF. But the reckless, bacchanal, tragi-comedy that is called New Orleans is irreplaceable in my heart. I can't get the boy named New Orleans out of my mind.
Q: What was the most important thing you learnt of being a young girl involved in the punk / underground scene? How do you think it has affected your life?
JCR: I was a misfit. Even with the underground scene I didn't completely mesh. I was very lonely and I felt like I had to be wild to be accepted. This preoccupation with experiencing wild adventures propelled me to both exotic and horrific landscapes which I can't defend really. It's just how my life unfolded. It took me a very very long time to finally grow up and not be so self absorbed. Is it better? Yes, but there is loss of movement involved when you become more responsible. I'll tell you this though: living on the edge gets old too.
Q: What music do you listen to nowadays?
JCR: I mostly listen to the old stuff, and soundtracks. As far as new bands are concerned, there's a million unsung heroes. I know they are out there, just don't know their names. I go to a coffee shop where all the baristas are in their early twenties and every so often I hear something and ask them who is playing. Little has moved me to actually go out and buy the CD.
But I do believe in Ryan Scully. Our bands played together on and off in New Orleans. His new band is R Scully and the Rough 7. He writes songs that make me wanna cry or else go get drunk and screw some boy who will surely break my heart.
Q: What are you currently involved in?
JCR: I just got a new roommate who moved in his upright piano into his room and an electric piano into the common area. My roommates and I are decorating the common area to be a sporting room which is what the lounges in the old bordellos of Storyville were called. That's where jazz took root – in the sporting rooms of the Storyville neighborhood of New Orleans. I'm tinkering on the electric piano, trying to learn barrelhouse blues and such. So one roommate plays classical piano and another plays Erik Satie kind songs. It's great to have live music wafting in the air.
Otherwise, I've been concentrating with the screenplay form. Whatever the Muse tells me to do, I do it. Whether it's writing, playing music, sewing, knitting, gardening. I'm in no hurry anymore to prove myself. I compare myself to Marlon Brando's character in The Godfather after Michael takes over as the head of the family. Marlon Brando is still deadly but prefers to now focus on the simple pleasures of life.
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