I love it when you discover the often surprising musical influences of your favorite musicians. Years ago, when I was writing for Mondo 2000, I interviewed Trent Reznor. During the interview, I asked him who some of his favorite artists were. I was shocked when his response was XTC. Soon after, I interviewed Jim Marcus, of the industrial Die Warzau, another favorite of mine at the time. Driving him back to his hotel room, he started professing his deep love and admiration for jazz trumpeter and vocalist, Chet Baker.
When you think of Fugazi and Minor Threat co-founder, Ian MacKaye, Woodstock, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and the James Gang may not come to mind as influences, but a piece in Rolling Stone reveals just that. The piece is an excerpt of Eric Spitznagel's new book, Rock Stars on the Record: The Albums That Changed Their Lives.
Was there anybody else giving you a better musical education?
I had a babysitter who kind of knew about rock & roll. We visited a friend of my parents who had a pretty big record collection, [including] Smash Hits by Jimi Hendrix. He let me play it, and it was one of those moments where I couldn't stop listening. I fell in love with Hendrix. I still love his music. I've probably studied him more than any other musician.
Really? That's surprising.
Well, maybe not more than the Beatles. The Beatles are also way up there. Their records became holy objects to me. The covers took on almost mystical properties.
You couldn't listen to them?
This was before I had access to my own turntable. In the early seventies, there were some college kids who moved into a group house on Beecher Street in Washington, D.C., just a few houses down from where I grew up.
A group house?
Like a commune. They were hippies, I guess — they had long hair and wore bell-bottoms, and they painted a sun on their stairwell wall, that sort of thing. They kind of took me in, maybe because I was a local little hippie kid. In any event, they were pretty relaxed, and you could just wander in and out of the house.
One of the women, who was probably 17, 18, or 19 — but she might've been 100, for all I could tell — had a crate of about 30 records. She told me that she used the crate to block the door when she and her boyfriend were together. It gave me a sense of just how heavy that crate must have been [and] made me think that whatever it was she and her boyfriend were doing behind the door must have been pretty damn interesting.
What was in the collection?
There was Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers and the James Gang's Thirds. A lot of records I never heard. It was like coming across hieroglyphics, where you want to know what's on the other side of that writing.
The other significant record collection that I came into contact with around that time belonged to a Vietnam veteran who had become a conscientious objector while in the service; he was put into a psychiatric hospital and then deposited onto the streets of D.C. He ended up living in the boarding house next door and became friends with my mother.
I guess he was having money problems, because at some point my mom invited him to move into our house. We already had my parents, five kids, a dog, and who knows how many cats living there. There weren't any rooms available for him, but he was able to set up a little camp under the baby grand piano in our living room.
He kept his records and stereo under the piano, as well. The speakers were these round omni-directional affairs that pointed straight up into diffusing cones. He let me listen to his records and I would go lie under the piano and put a speaker on either side of my head.