RRM: So Daniel- even if your poetry tended to be more on the Foreigner end of the Rock Spectrum it would have to be said that the cover and actual design of God Save My Queen: A Tribute (Soft Skull Press) is freakin’ gorgeous. Did these ideas come to you whilst on the “throne”? Was it difficult getting Frank Kelly Freas (nice touch) to do the artwork for you? Did you actually get to talk to him or what?
DN: No throne thoughts. The design of the book was part me and part David Janik, who does the lion’s share of book design over at Soft Skull. He’s everything you’d want in a designer: he listens, he reads, empathizes, makes you feel better during the total freakout period while your book is moving from a Word file on your computer to this objet d’rock. Plus he’s an awesome drummer in a band called Company.
As far as the Freas artwork goes, it is not original art made for the book. That would be way too expensive. It’s a detail from an actual Queen album, 1977’s News Of The World. It was way important for me to have some kind of Queen-referencing cover, and this detail was a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Freas, who coordinates on the business end. The conversation was all on email, and as the exchanges went on, I realized how iconic this guy’s work was. I mean, he did covers for Analog magazine, I think Omni, Mad.Incredible. So they gave us rights at a friend/indie publisher rate, and it was a happy day when that went through. After that, the 45 shape and the font for the cover all fell into place.
RRM: Have you ever forgiven your mother for getting in the way of one Daniel Nester getting to see a little band called QUEEN live? Is this something you think about often? Do you sometimes crush or otherwise destroy things with no apparent explanation?
DN: No. I’ve never forgiven my mom. I think about it every day. I’m in therapy for it. I could have seen Billy Squier that night, too. It was the Emotions in Motion tour for him.
RRM: Write a High School English paper (or paragraph, sentence, phrase, etc.) on your favorite member of the rock band known as QUEEN.
DN: My favorite member of the rock band known as Queen on Tuesday mornings is Roger Taylor, the drummer. He was the first band member to have a solo album, Fun In Space, which, like my book, also has comic-influenced cover art. He speaks his mind and doesn’t let anyone get in his way. He was the drummer on Robert Plant’s 1984 European tour, and thinks Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham was the greatest rock and roll drummer, ever. He also, in my opinion, has the best drum solo on the Keith Moon tribute song, Roger Daltry’s “Under a Raging Moon.” The End.
RRM: One thing that really attracts me to your rock-band poetry is that I actually am into that rock ‘n roll and dig reading biography material about musicians, etc. and sorta catch some of your clever subtleties which do require a degree of background knowledge to comprehend. In your experience, do you think your audience gets your work or do they think you’re just trying to be funny? Although you undoubtedly do some really humorous stuff, I get this intense sense of missing– something more serious than sentimentality. There’s this picture of my pops with this brown Super Coupe he had before I was born. I always think how cool it must’ve been to be cruising in this thing and listening to Breakfast in America or Schools Out real loud. Am I just being a dick or is your poetry pretty darn socially significant?
DN: I think the book is very sad. Not only because Freddie Mercury, Queen’s singer, died a tragic death of AIDS, but because, as a fan, there’s always this area of the obsession sad kids have that never, ever gets fulfilled. No matter how many footnotes or lyrical asides, the object that you fixate on – be it Foreigner, Dylan, Queen, Wordsworth, Star Trek – you can never get to that adult point where you say, “OK, it’s over.”
Even if you grow out of it, it’s still there. And if you haven’t grown out of it, as I haven’t, you have to literally channel that childlike feeling. It’s beyond nostalgia, like seeing your dad in a car. You’re not just admiring the fly ride he had, or Supertramp or Alice Cooper. I think you’re thinking about the trees passing by as “Dreamer” plays, your childhood. And the cultural stuff around it makes it all the more poignant.
As for people getting my book, I dunno. I think people who get my book get that it’s not just wonky nostalgia; that it’s a sad book that takes liberties with language for a reason. Because it’s not language if you don’t take those liberties, and it’s our job as human beings to rescue music writing from the pussy music writers, who have turned the entire enterprise into a consumer minstrel show.
So I totally see what you’re saying. And you’re not being that much of a dick. Not that you know.
RRM: What’s your definitive “rock ‘n roll” memory- when you just thought: THIS BE ROCK?
DN: Seeing Fishbone cover Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil,” 1988, Temple University’s spring concert, Philadelphia. I had a Bud can in each deep pocket of my Girbaud jeans.
RRM: Describe the feeling (or song) that coincides with being published by Soft Skull, cracking a cool domestic pilsner, and listening to Fragile at full-tilt.
DN: All three? That’s pretty intense. Listening to Yes on a good boombox in the wintertime, snow coming down, drinking beers outdoors. That’s life.
RRM: Do you listen to CDs or LPs? Why?
DN: Both. I have a great turntable and love to buy vinyl at yard sales. Most CDs suck soundwise, and mp3’s sonic range are even worse. But they’re all so much more convenient, and so I’m into them, too, for pretty much that reason.
RRM: So what’s the writing process/environment like when doing material that specifically relates to a particular band?
DN: In my writing room, I have all my old Queen posters, Queen 45’s, my 2000+ albums, 1000+ CDs, 200 8-tracks, 200 rock books, 80-gig hard drive of music, and poetry books. I surround myself with objects, interacting with them, basically throwing myself back into a 14-year-old with headphones.
RRM: Are you or have you ever been in a rock ‘n roll band?
DN: I was in a band with film professors when I worked at the NYU film department. We called ourselves Fear Itself. We played a couple places in the East Village and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Then I got some real musicians to play with me from my hometown of Maple Shade, NJ, and we called ourselves Unpleasant Event Schedule, which became the name of my online lit mag. UES actually played the CMJ music marathon showcase thing in 1997.
RRM: Your all-time greatest ten rock bands in descending order would be?
Jimi Hendrix Experience
Red Hot Chili Peppers
RRM: Are you or have you even been big hair?
DN: Well-kept hockey mullet, 1985-1991. Senior high school picture attached.
RRM: Well, thanks a lot Daniel- and keep on rockin’ in the free world, keep on rockin’ in the free world.
DN: Neil Young wasn’t on my list, man. Thanks for asking the hard questions.
About the author:
Ryan Robert Mullen is the author of Naughty, Sweet Boy (Word Riot Press) and a columnist at Get Underground. He maintains a website at ryanrobertmullen.net.