The Many Writings of
Initially my editor refused to publish this interview. It wasn't until after a
psychiatric journal offered to pay for the manuscript that it was considered for release.
This article is reprinted with the permission of the Rock Land Journal, and Marshall
Stack/Big Wombat Productions.
An Interview with Barry Carl
I interviewed Barry Carl in his tiny room in the Jamaican ashram where he is now on retreat, following his retirement from the pop vocal group, Rockapella. Carl hasn't been heard from since his last concert with the group in July of this year. This interview breaks the silence he has imposed upon himself since then.
I'm not sure why he chose to break his silence. Many of us valued it. It meant that there was less dense, pseudo-erudite crap on the web to wade through. During the interview, I found it interesting that a man who likes to lard his writing with obscure polysyllabic scrabble words frequently speaks in terse sound bites peppered with expletives. There were so many that editing them out would have altered significantly the tone of the interview, and an opportunity to see behind the façade of this nominally abrasive, overbearing boor.
In an attempt to leave the interview unedited and still be able to read it without being disgusted, I have taken a small journalistic license. 'Fock' and 'shet' aren't words, per se.
I'm not sure how I drew this assignment. I was vaguely acquainted with Carl's writing, but I never listened to his group. I think acapella sucks. I'm not trying to win friends here. I write about rock. But it meant a trip to Jamaica on the company dime, so I listened to a couple of their recent cd's. They were ok. I mean, they were better than I thought they'd be but it was still elevator music.
Still, Carl seemed like an interesting subject for an interview, possessing more than the usual two or three damaged brain cells shared by most of the rock community. He is obviously intelligent, but the kind of intelligence that survives by consuming itself. He comes off as a split personality, alternating between a ruminative Jekyll and a corrosive Hyde. I can't say that I liked either of him after the time we spent in his cramped room. Even though he showed occasional flashes of warmth, a pervasive angry diffidence dominated the interview, which lasted until my legs fell asleep and my butt got cold, sitting on the slate floor. There was, incidentally, no furniture in his room, which was more like a jail cell than a room. When I commented on the Spartan accommodations, he just shrugged and said "So the fock what?"
The following is the unedited transcript of the interview.
BC: So who the fock are you?
MS: My name is Marshall Stack. I'm here to interview you for my paper, The Rock Land Journal…if you remember our…
BC: Never heard of it.
MS: Oh. Ok. Here's a copy for you to…
BC: Keep it.
MS. Oh. Ok. I guess you're not interested.
BC: You're quick.
MS: Hey, look. We just got started. Getting here was a real bitch. What's with the attitude?
BC: I'm goin through big fockin changes, guy. So ask your questions, ok? Shet. I don't know why I said yes to this. Guess I haven't gotten the p.r. thang outta my system yet.
MS: Ok. That's a neat segue to my first question. So, how does it feel to be a nobody doing nothing?
BC: Ah. Good for you. That's a relevant, if somewhat insensitive question, but I wasn't expecting sensitivity. You're a rock writer, yes?
MS: Well, I guess you could…
BC: My point exactly. You mostly write about fockin morons and try to make 'em look sorta like people, with thoughts and feelings and political views and advice on how to raise kids, right?
MS: Uh, yeah, but…
BC: So spare me. Just nod your head. Good. How does it feel to be nobody? It's really fockin weird, is what. I had nearly fifteen years of spotlight, and poof! it's gone. Does things to your head, man. I mean, I'm the same person, sorta, but, uh, it's different. Times I get to jonesing for that live show fix, but then I start thinking about all the fockin shet I had to put up with just to sing a few tunes, and I forget all about the jones. I get to stay home; I get to hang with my kids and help 'em with their fockin homework. There's another thing- school doesn't seem to be about learning anymore. All the kids have their knickers in a wad about these fockin tests they all gotta take. All year all they do is study for these tests. Forget about learning, or learning how to learn. The teachers're just cramming formula shet down their throats so they can pass the fockin tests so the schools can get money. Great. I'm outa the band for three months and I sound like the fockin PTA. Depressing, man. Really depressing. The fast greasy slide from rock to romper room. But there's a big upside, too. No more singing at suck o'clock in the fockin morning on some stupidass radio show that won't play your tunes unless you fork over the big fockin playola dollars, but the dj's cream all over you cuz you're actually performing in their presence and it doesn't suck. No more being asked the same inane fockin questions over and over by vapid tv faces. No more idiots asking why I'm not more fockin famous. Shet, that's irritating as hell. Once in a while somebody will tell me that I look familiar, but they can't remember where they saw me. Doesn't bother me. I usually tell 'em that I just look like somebody on the tube, and I sell tractors or some shet for a living. That shuts 'em up, especially in New York. New Yorkers don't know shet about tractors.
MS: Why are you here, in the middle of the Jamaican jungle? I didn't even know there was an ashram here. Is this part of your spiritual journey?
BC: This place is a well-kept secret. The folks who run it, the Yamonites, don't go out in the world much. I don't subscribe to their philosophy, I mean it's a sort of skewed Rasta thing, but they give me a little space and just leave me alone. I tend my garden, ya know. I think. You're probably thinking that I should be home, huh?
MS: Actually I was thinking that you've punked out on everybody; your group, your family. Why hole up here?
BC: The weather, man, the weather. You ever seen a more beautiful day? Smell that air.
MS: Yeah, smells like skunk.
BC: 'At's what I mean. See? I've only been here a week or so, and I gotta say, this place fockin rocks. For an ashram, I mean.
MS: How long do you plan on staying here?
BC: I dunno. Awhile, maybe. Actually I need to get back and start tending to, ya know, business and stuff. And I miss my bike.
MS: You miss your bike but you don't miss your family? A lot of people are saying that you got off the road because of your family. So what's the truth? Why did you get off the road, I mean, you know, quit?
BC: I didn't quit. I retired.
MS: Yeah, whatever. How could you walk away from success? People don't usually do that. And please don't give me some wussy answer.
BC: Hey, watch it.
MS: Uh, sorry. Just, uh, don't, uh, give me some dumb crap about your bike and expect me to buy it.
BC: Fair enough. Well, I wrestled with that one for a long time. There were times like before I left when I, ya know, would be walking onstage to a standing ovation from a screaming happy crowd of people and think that I had to be losing my fockin mind, to be walking away from this. I knew I'd miss that worse than shet. And the fockin thing is I do. But I had to leave. Part of it was my age…
MS: How old are you?
BC: For the record, I'm fifty-two.
MS: No way. I thought you were prematurely gray.
BC: Nope. It's right on time. All the reasons put together told me it was time to move on and…
MS: Whoa. Just hold it a second. That is such a vague candyass wussy hot tub new age answer. "It was time". Look, I'm a rock writer. You gotta gimme something to write about. Not "It was time". Besides, when you say it, you sound like you're announcing some pretentious new Tom Hanks movie.
BC: Hmm. Uh, well, ok, since you're being so fockin pushy, Mr. music industry butt-lackey, then I'll…
MS: Wait a minute wait a minute. What did you just call me? You wanna repeat that in something other than a subhuman rumble?
BC: How about you just fockin chill, guy. You came in here with a lotta fockin attitude. Now I'm gonna take a couple of deep breaths while you think about your next question.
MS: Ok. My next question is my previous question, which, if you recall, you didn't really answer. How, why would you walk away from success? Most people spend their lives pursuing it. You had lots of success doing what I imagine you love to do. So, why?
BC: You aren't gonna give up on this one, huh?
MS: It's my story. Nope, I'm not.
BC: I see. Well, there were musical considerations. I'd been putting too many personal projects on the back burner. They were starting to gnaw at me. There were personal considerations. I wasn't having fun, except during the shows, and it's a tough thing to keep at when it stops being fun. There were financial considerations. I wasn't making dick. I know, artists aren't supposed to care about money. Bull fockin shet. Then there was all the stuff, all the interpersonal stuff.
MS: Yeah? What was that all about?
BC: We gotta go off the record if you wanna hear that stuff, ok?
MS: Sure. Ok.
BC: So turn off the fockin tape.
MS: Oh yeah. Sorry.
BC: ... and that's how it went down. I think they were all relieved when I left. I mean, a large, cranky, unpredictable, egotistical guy like me…ugh.
MS: Wow! I had no idea all that was going on in the background.
BC: Yeah. Some shet, huh? And then there was the fockin label that focked us out of six figures' worth of royalties.
MS: It's a classic tale in the biz..
BC: Yeah. Unfortunately, it is. You'd think that a bunch of smart guys with a smart manager, business manager and lawyer wouldn't get focked so badly, but what it's come down to in this enlightened age is who can hire the most and meanest attorneys and who can afford the lengthiest legal battle. Check this shet out; The sociopath scumbag who started the label, and was busy using our royalties to scam cars and houses, was replaced by another sociopath scumbag who did the same damn thing. I don't know how this fockwad was even allowed to set up a business. Figures one of the few areas where he'd be able to operate with a free hand was the music business, which is dirtier than boxing and insurance put together. Anyway, he was sucking up our royalty money and swelling like a big tick, and the bitch is we kept making records for the scumbag. He kept claiming he was gonna pay us next week and next week and next week, and we kept on letting him jerk our chain. Now is that fockin stupid or what? I gotta tell you, that was fockin disappointing.
MS: Well, it seems that your colleagues were able to swallow their disappointment over this, and keep going. Every band has stories like that. How come it got to you?
BC: It wasn't the first time we'd been focked on a deal, even with our management team. You know the old phrase, screw me once, shame on thee, screw me twice, shame on me? You know that one? Well, I think the shame just got to me. I'd been telling our fockin manager for years that this scumbag was gonna stiff us, but the band kept plowing ahead like a mindless musicbot, grinding out crap for his little scam-o-rama and getting focked. Maybe things are better with the new label; at least I hope they are. I haven't met any of the principals, but I hope they're from a different mold than The Tick, and I hope my ex-band mates get at least a portion of what they are owed. Me, I think I'll probably be looking at a long line of zero's with no decimal point anywhere. Same thing happened with our Carmen records. Never never ever let a fockin lawyer produce your record. Same thing with our PBS concert video. That guy was a total fockin tool, lemme tell you. Not a fockin cent to the band. Yeah, it got to me. Ok, so we had records in stores, finally. And videos. And DVD's. So what.
MS: Wait a sec. Are you telling me that, even with records in stores, you guys didn't see anything for all those albums? Nothing?
BC: Well, to be honest there were a few measly payments made to us, but they were tokens to keep us off their scaly backs. I have this fantasy of running into The Tick on the street, and popping him. Blood flying all over the place, guts in my teeth, you know, the whole luscious palette of mayhem. That's on my good days. What I'm really trying to do is create some distance between myself and that situation by sitting out here in the jungle. It only works moderately well, and that some of the time. The second I start thinking about it - which is your fockin fault, guy - I start grinding my molars, and that gives me a headache.
MS: I get the feeling that you hold a grudge.
BC: Well, yes and no. I don't waste much time thinking about it. Doesn't do me any good, and there are those fockin headaches I get. But when I do think about it, I get that same icky feeling, like I've been slimed, and I start to feel the old adrenalin surge, and I have to do a lot of deep breathing to calm down. It's an old habit. I was an anger junkie for a big chunk of my life. Serotonin deficiency plus some shetty circumstances. I'm better now, but this one really pushes my buttons.
MS: So are you planning on doing anything with the rest of your life, or are you just going to fester and rot?
BC: You got a real way with words, assmunch. You tryin to piss me off or is this just how you are?
MS: Uh, it's like I said before, I'm a rock writer. Gotta have edge. This is good, edgy, um, stuff here. I'm just trying to keep the edge going.
BC: Oh. I see. Edge. Ok. I'm just starting to formulate plans. I know this isn't practical, but I was so pissed and heartbroken and disillusioned and, frankly, terrified after the last so-called election, that I thought I should serve my country by running for public office. I mean, I'm not beholden to any fockin lobby, I don't give a shet about either money or power, and so I could be honest. How's that for a new concept? All the shet that any opponent could and would dig up would probably be true. I done it all. I inhaled. I enjoyed it. I'm perverse and unashamed of it, and I ain't gonna be one of those clay-footed Baal's and act like my shet don't smell. I'm not afraid of truth. I'm smarter than most of 'em. And of course I look better than those wattled, pasty-faced power mongers. Somebody called politics 'show biz for ugly people'. That's so fockin true. But I look ok, plus I got this voice. I can make just about anything sound reasonable. I think I could even convince people that the truth is the truth. I have this fantasy. Actually I have lots of them, but this one tickles me. I'm in a televised debate with some unctuous politico, who is spouting the usual partisan polemics, unable to get his thin, livery lips around big words like 'nuclear'. He comes off with some blatant lie and a big tv smile. I clear my throat, prepare the stentorian rumble, and say 'You, sir, are a damned liar'. Now it's open fockin season. He reels off a long string of terrible stories about me, all of which he's paid his soft-money-funded toadies to exhume, and I stand there with my chin up and my mature and distinguished-looking gray hair and I say, 'Everything you've just said about me is absolutely true. How about you, girlyman? Can you hang with the truth? Or are you just another whitewash job, sanitized for and by the people? I dare you to tell the truth about just one damn thing. Go ahead, your turn.'
BC: Shet no, that's part of the fantasy. As far as I can see, there's just one hitch. I'm more convinced than ever that Americans want to be lied to. That's how come there aren't more angry people here. I was freaked when I figured this one out. Like, don't tell us that most of the world fockin hates us. Don't tell us that our lifestyle keeps half the fockin globe in poverty. Don't tell us that we've turned into eco-villains and warmongers. Don't tell us that stupendous, naked greed is running our corporations and our government, like there's a difference. Don't tell us our legal system is a fockin joke and our economy is in the shetter. Tell us everyone loves us. Tell us that we're in great fockin shape. Tell us that God has ordained us to be the light of the world, that we're morally superior to everybody. That's the shet we want to believe, so don't tell us anything different. If you do, we'll brand you as a traitor. We'll smear you like a possum under a semi. Just give us gas-guzzlers in the driveway and sports on the tube, and we'll be a jocular, brain-dead horde of well-trained consumers, ready to buy your shet, pay for and fight your wars, and struggle all our fockin lives for the minimal conditions to which we think we aspire.
MS: Oh. So I gather you aren't on the same page as the current administration.
BC: Wow. Your deductive powers are fockin astonishing.
MS: Thanks. Any other plans? Anything you're actually going to do?
BC: Well, yeah, as a matter of fact. I've been working on a solo project, but it's gonna take a while. My eclecticism gets me in trouble. Aside from my own tunes, I got music from three or four different centuries I wanna record. I'm working on a spoken word project. I have a couple ideas that wanna become books. It's a time thing, mostly. Some days I don't even know where to start. So much to do, it seems overwhelming. Other days I'm real focused and get something done. And there's the inconvenience of having to earn a living, but I do that mostly through commercials, which is a shetload easier than humping my bony ass all over the place.
MS: Commercials? Isn't that a part of the consumer conditioning you confess to abhor?
BC: Ok, so I'm a fockin hypocrite, too. So sue me. It's fun work, and I'm real good at it. And as far as a job goes, it beats scraping dead animals off the road. A friend of mine did that one summer down in Florida. Whoo. The Keys in August. Lost her sense of smell on purpose. Now that's a lousyass job.
MS: Uh, yeah. Really. So, uh, anything else coming your way?
BC: Uh, I dunno, maybe. We'll see. I keep on trying to get into an animated feature film; do a voice, sing, do both, I dunno. Cartoons're fun, too. I'm thinking of doing some teaching. I'd probably have to do it privately, 'cause I don't see myself fitting into a university setting, at least not easily. Know what I mean?
MS: I can definitely see where you would have trouble fitting in. It sounds like you didn't have a clue what you were going to do after you left your group.
BC: (Long pause) I didn't.
MS: You mean you just walked away with no idea where you were going? No plan? No vision?
BC: Nope, nope, and nope. See, the thing is that I had no idea where I was going, but I knew that I had to leave where I was in order to get there. It's always been that way with me. I leap into the void and then there's this titanic battle between fear and faith. It's a very emotional time for me, very challenging. Some days, faith wins out. Others, well, suck.
MS: Golly. An existential struggle. How novel and exciting.
BC: You think I'm sitting out here in the jungle doing fockin nothing? This is the hardest work there is, Mr. Rock Writer, just sitting with myself and all my turmoil and shet, trying to rediscover my self. But that's all introspective shet that you can't write about, huh?
MS: You got that right. It's pretty lame, yeah. I was hoping for something, uh, edgier.
BC: Oh yeah, edge. Well, you could take some pix of me doing yoga. I remember seeing a photo of Sting doing yoga in some rock rag around the time 'Dune' came out. He looked great.
MS: I remember that. He did. You, well…are you going to put on any clothes?
BC: Uh-uh. Why? Afraid of scaring your readers? 'Sides, it's hot.
MS: Maybe we should just go on with the interview, ok?
BC: Cool. It was just a suggestion. You look really worried about edge.
MS: Well, you're not exactly giving me a lot to work with here.
BC: Well maybe you should ask some fockin interesting questions. You haven't asked me anything I haven't already been asked a zillion times. You were just a shetload ruder about it. There's your fockin edge.
MS: Ok. Ever do a fan?
MS: Whaddya mean? That's the kind of stuff my readers want to know.
BC: Then they're prurient as well as deficient. Next.
MS: C'mon. Didja?
BC: Ok. No. Happy? Next.
MS: Really? In all that time? Weren't you ever tempted?
BC: Of course. I ain't dead.
BC: So it's like I said. No. Can we move on?
MS: Sure, but I have to say I don't really believe you.
BC: And why is that?
MS: Well, uh, you are sitting there naked, and I can't help but notice, uh, and I'm sure that your fans did, too, that you are, uh…
BC: You gay?
MS: Uh, no, but you…
BC: I what?
MS: I just thought that they, uh, one of them might, you know, uh…
BC: Just fockin give it up, ok? Nothing ever happened. Being on the road was a crazy teeter-totter of opposites. I'd go from the frenzy of a concert and the extended warm fuzzies of talking with fans to the tomb-like silence and stillness of my hotel room, wherever the fock it was. It's a sort of shock, to be swinging back and forth between crowds and nobody, nothing in between. Yeah, it would have been nice to crawl into the sack with a warm, friendly, eager puppy waiting to get stuffed, but I never did it. Guess I'm not very rock after all, huh?
MS: I thought we'd already established that. So let me see…you were musically and personally unsatisfied, you weren't making enough money, you were tired of traveling, you weren't doing the fans…why did you stick it out for so long? What was the attraction?
BC: Well, I was deeply in love with one of my colleagues.
MS: Good. Great! That was edgy. So, really, why?
BC: The music, man, the music. It was fun. I mean, we had lots of fun - we did lots of great, exciting stuff, but there's something thrilling about being in a supertight ensemble, ya know, when you can practically hear what the other guys are thinking before they think it. I truly loved the sound we made together. I hated to leave that. I always felt that my job was to serve the music. I mean, let's face it, singing instrumental-style accompaniments that only use maybe half of my voice - that gets old, and having all of, say, two done-to-death solos in a show, oh wow. Let me control my excitement here. But that somehow didn't mean anything in the heat of performance. I was making music on a pretty consistently high level, getting appreciation - that's a pretty powerful hook. I was always a sucker for the music; music-making, really. The content didn't much matter to me, as long as it wasn't noxiously cloying.
MS: Where did you get your vocabulary? I mean, you drop phrases like 'noxiously cloying' pretty effortlessly, and they don't sound any more stilted than anything else you say. That voice - I mean, everything you say sounds studied, like an announcer reading off a script.
BC: Gee, thanks. You're not the first person to say that, Mr. Original. I actually have a character named 'AnnouncerMan', and that is exactly what he sounds like. I use him to drive my kids nuts. He's not so much a superhero as a master of the obvious. Vocabulary? I guess I've always been in love with sound, the sound of words. I use lots of words just for the sound of them. I know that it pisses off some people; they think I'm doing it on purpose, that I'm showing off. Well, maybe so, but I also just plain like 'em. English is a great fockin language. Most people have a vocabulary of maybe three hundred words, most of which they can't spell. Ever look at an unabridged dictionary? There's a ton of words in there, just waiting for someone to use them, ya know, take 'em out to play. One of the reasons I'm so fockin over most pop songs is I'm so tired of the moon/spoon/June night/right/fight crap that seems to be on an endless loop on every fockin station on the dial. This is supposed to be the greatest nation on the face of the earth, and we're borderline fockin illiterate.
MS: Well, for someone who supposedly prizes literacy, why do you swear so much? I thought profanity was the resort of the great unwashed masses. From the lips of the literate, though, it's really jarring when it's so relentless. What's the deal? You just trying to tweak me? What?
BC: Look, it's just how I talk. I try to save the pretty words for the page. Now and then one might leak out when I'm talking but mostly I'm just lazy. It's like this friend I had in college. She was a soprano, and her speaking voice sounded like gravel in a food processor, but she sang like an angel. I'm kinda like that. Different voices. Anyway I thought it was really rock to swear all the time. It is, isn't it?
MS: Yeah, if you have an English accent, a bunch of chart-toppers and skin-tight leather pants. You, you are an ageing American nobody, so it's just lame.
BC: Oh. I see. Thanks for reminding me.
MS: Yeah, no prob. Uh, do you talk like that in front of your kids?
BC: Fock no.
MS: Do you have time for one more question?
BC: Uh, no, I got an urgent appointment with TriStar in fifteen minutes. They're flying in a rep to go over my contract.
MS: TriStar? Movies? Really?
BC: Naw. Nobody comes out here. Including you. Talk about nobody's…
MS: So that got to you, huh? About being a nobody.
BC: Yeah. You finally got to me. Congrats. You say it enough times, eventually it's gonna bother me, yeah. What's your point with that shet? You need to make sure that I know my place? Look, this whole thing is hard enough, man. You don't have to keep hammering on that angle. I fully expect to turn up on one of those 'where are they now?' shows in a few years, not that I was ever anywhere to begin with. I never cared much about fame in the first place, so it doesn't bother me to be back in the shadows. Once upon a time I hungered for it, for fame. When I finally got it, it didn't fockin matter. I saw the illusion of it, the fickle, ephemeral nature of it, and I realized that I could live without it. In the bigger picture, nobody is a nobody, if you get my meaning. But I am an addictive personality type, and I got used to the spike. Now I'm important to a coupla kids. Wow. Not terribly impressive on the fame scale, but I think that's ultimately how we make a difference. People think that they'll make a difference by throwing money around, or enacting some piece of legislation. I think we make a difference by how we prepare the next generation. So our future is really in the hands of a legion of nobodies, toiling in obscurity and raising the next wave. They hold a bigger piece of our future than all the lawmakers and activists and zealots. If you raise a compassionate individual, you've made a significant contribution to a better world. Too bad your parents did such a shetty job on you.
MS: Likewise. Listen, you talk like you're done with all of it. Are you through performing? Is that over for you?
BC: Um, I don't really know. I've been doing it all my life. I haven't, ya know, closed any doors for good, but for sure I didn't go through an upheaval like this just so I could turn around and recycle myself. I don't think I'm done performing, singing, whatever, but now it needs to be something different, new, uh, well just different is all. For the time being, at least, I'm making music with a few friends. It's fockin weird how I've changed in that way, too. I don't care if I never perform again. It's not about having an audience. It's about being happy and satisfied. I've been singing a lot of classical stuff, stuff I love, in my living room with the fockin out-of-tune piano. On the days when my voice feels great, I don't give a shet if there's anyone there to hear it. It's one of my great pleasures. I'm pretty certain that nobody loves the sound of my voice as much as I do, so I sing for myself.
MS: Do you clap?
BC: Yeah, sometimes, and when it's really great I yell encore and throw flowers at myself, asswad. What's the matter, can't take sincerity? Didn't think so. Rock Writer. Good grief. So this isn't the usual litany of drugs, sex, and bratty behavior that you can pump up into some sort of fockin hype. I don't know what you were expecting, and I really don't fockin care. I think you've taken up enough of my life now. And you look like you gotta take a leak…
BC: …so how about you go back to wherever and have a nice life. I'm outa here.
Last update: November 6, 2002
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