I used to be a judge every year at the WBCN Rock'n'roll Rumble in Boston. One year, 1991 I think, there was a cool young band called Seka in the finals and they really blew me away. They won and I signed them to Sire Records. Seka, the porn star, for whom the band named itself, threatened to sue and the band changed their name to Strip Mind. We put out an album called WHAT'S IN YOUR MOUTH and a (now very rare) maxi called "Jingle My Bells" (which includes sludge and punk versions of "O Tannenbaum" and "O Christmas Tree"). And then the band broke up and disappeared. Except for the drummer, Sully Erna.
The drummer became the founder and lead singer of what would become one of the biggest bands in the country, Godsmack. A little Alice In Chains derivative for me but I was damned happy to see someone I knew achieving success. Good boy, I thought. Not my kind of music personally, but... good boy.
Well... maybe not such a good boy. Godsmack-- who are, after all, from Boston (not Dallas or Boise or Tuscaloosa)-- started getting a reputation for supporting Bush and the war against Iraq and being aggressively pro-military. To be honest, I didn't dwell on it. No one is perfect and I guess in the back of my head I was kind of happy for the huge success Sully and his pals were having. And last week, that success culminated in the release of their inventively-named fourth album, IV. It immediately went to #1. That is so awesome! From my years in the music biz I know what a great feeling that is; I mean only one record per week goes to #1. I would have been so happy for Sully and Godsmack if I knew. But I didn't. I was too busy listening to LIVING WITH WAR by Neil Young streaming for free on the Internet all week to have noticed IV. But if I would have heard about it, I would have been happy... or happyish I guess.
But then my pal Jay Babcock, publish and editor of ARTHUR Magazine e-mailed me. Now ARTHUR is my #1 favorite music mag in the whole world. I love it. And Jay isn't derivative of Alice in Chains-- or anything else-- at all. He's a unique, creative, idealistic true believer. And he's not some kind of liberal publishing magnate. Jay struggles to make ends meet, keep his magazine going, keep his household functioning, keep his cool philanthropic projects-- always aimed at making the world a better place for everyone-- going every single week. Jay told me about Godsmack's #1 chart debut.
And that's not all he told me. Mostly he told me about the interview he had done with Sully on the phone last week. It sounded pretty brutal. You see, Jay feels strongly about the military aggressively luring confused and desperate young kids-- many right out of high schools-- into the Bush Regime's war-profits-schemes. So here's Sully and Godsmack licensing songs to the military to use for their teenage recruitment programs and here's Jay who kind of thinks bands shouldn't be doing that. That's a call that had all the makings of an explosive situation. And the makings exploded.
If this interests you at all, you should read the whole transcript of the interview here at the ARTHUR website including the comments from Godsmack fans and detractors. Or you can listen to the interview as an mp3. This morning Jay wrote "an afterward" on the site too, part of which I'll use as an intro to the segments of the transcript I'm going to reproduce for you here:
I suppose to a degree it's like shooting fish in a barrel, but... lives are on the line. People need to be held accountable. I've been trying to interview this band since 2003. I finally got my chance. It's stimulated a ton of discussion -- check out blabbermouth.net's various threads, or the number of blogs and rock news sites that are now picking this up, or the comments below, or the endless barrage of juvenile hatemail we've been receiving -- and it's embarrassed the band into silence on the issue, which is better than the jingoism they'd been spouting previously.
Finally: Please keep in mind that Sully is a MILLIONAIRE living in a comfortable life. His band is using their music to help recruit poor, under-educated, foolish, impressionable kids into the military at a time of worthless, pointless war, the consequences of which we -- all of us -- will be feeling for the rest of our lives. If he doesn't care to discuss this -- all of this -- he shouldn't do interviews... especially with anti-war publications.
Referring to Greg Goldin's 2003 article in the L.A. WEEKLY, "Selling War: How the military's ad campaign gets inside the heads of recruits," Jay didn't exactly get the interview off to a palsy-walsy start.
JAY: So I notice you guys have been really involved with promoting the military.
SULLY: Well, they actually came to us, believe it or not. Somebody in the Navy loves this band, because they used 'Awake' for three years and then they came to us and re-upped the contract for another three years for 'Sick of Life.' So, I don't know. They just feel like that music, [laughs] someone in that place thinks that the music is very motivating for recruit commercials I guess. And hey, I'm an American boy so it's not... I'm proud of it.
JAY: You're proud of recruiting your fans into the military?
SULLY: Well, no. [laughs, then playfully] Don't be turning my fucking words around, you!
JAY: Well, tell me what you mean. You said your music is powerful, it's got an effect, like you said, and you're letting the military use it. The military, who are they recruiting? 18-to-30-year-olds, right?
SULLY: I guess... I don't know what their recruit age is. I know it's at least 18.
JAY: Yeah, they do down in the high schools now.
SULLY: My thing is... Listen, here's my thing with the military. I'm not saying our government is perfect. Because I know that we make some mistakes and we do shitty things BUT, BUT. You wouldn't have your job, and we wouldn't have our lives, if we weren't out there protecting this country so we could lead a free life. So there's kind of a ying and a yang to that. Sometimes it's not always the best choices that we make, or we stick our noses in other people's shit, but at the same time, we protect this place enough that we're able to like pursue careers and do what a lot of people in other countries aren't able to do. They're kind of picked and they're chosen to be whatever they become... I'm, I'm, I'm proud to be an American, I'll tell you that.
JAY: So your country, right or wrong?
SULLY: Uh, no. Not right or wrong. But I'm proud to be an American. I love my country. I've seen the depressions and how people live in other countries and how they're told what to be, and they don't have the choices that we have. I do love that about our country. So, you know... And I actually sympathize with a lot of the soldiers, and the military in general, that are trained to go out and protect FOR us, and what they have to go through, it's really kind of shitty in a sense that these young kids have to go over there and die, sometimes, for something that isn't our fucking problem. And that kind of sucks. So what I have to do is at least support them, because they don't have the choice that we do.
After some more sparring, Jay and Sully got into it pretty heavy.
JAY: Well I have a quote from you here: "We've always been supportive of our country and our president, whereas a lot of people I thought"--and you said this in 2003, to MTV News, you said--"a lot of people I thought lashed out pretty quickly at what we did and I thought the government did everything pretty cleanly and publicly as possible."
JAY: Well, what are you talking about?
SULLY: That was my opinion at the time. The whole war thing, and trying to keep us up to date like... If you remember, back in other wars, we didn't have the opportunity to follow it through the media, and CNN, and the news--live updates and that kind of thing. And I thought that for the most part you know we were allowed to follow it as best we could through the media sources that were feeding us information.
JAY: [incredulous] You didn't think the media was being controlled by the military?
SULLY: Well, it could be. I don't know.
JAY: You didn't look into it?
SULLY: Listen. Are you a fucking government expert?
JAY: I'm not telling people to go join the military and then not knowing what the military is doing.
SULLY: I don't tell people to go join the military!!
JAY: You don't think using your songs--the POWER of your music, which you were talking about--has an effect on the people that hear it when it goes with the visuals that the best P.R. people in the world use?
SULLY: Oh man, are you like one of those guys that agrees with some kid that fuckin' tied a noose around his neck because Judas Priest lyrics told him to?
JAY: You were telling me how powerful your music was, and what age the people are that listen to it, and you must have thought, 'Well the Navy sure thought it was useful,' so you tell me.
SULLY: Hey, listen. The Navy thought.... It's the same reason why wrestlers work out to the music, and extreme motocross riders listen to the music and do what they do. It's ENERGETIC music. It's very ATHLETIC. People feel that they get an adrenaline rush out of it or whatever, so, it goes with whatever's an extreme situation. But I doubt very seriously that a kid is going to join the Marines or the US Navy because he heard Godsmack as the underlying bed music in the commercial. They're gonna go and join the Navy because they want to jump out of helicopters and fuckin' shoot people! Or protect the country or whatever it is, and look at the cool infra-red goggles.
JAY: You said to MTV, "We're not a very political band but we're supportive of the U.S. military and how they approach things."
SULLY: Listen. Someone turned that around. I never said "and how they approach things."
This led to the explosion I was talking about and to Sully slamming down the phone on Jay and refusing to get back on with him, even after Jay promised the publicist he would just talk about the songs on the new album (IV). Only read the transcript if you don't mind
a little a lot of foul language.
Follow Howie Klein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/downwithtyranny