Musician, motivational speaker, club owner and television host Andrew W.K. made headlines this weekend when he announced on his website that he was traveling to Bahrain to serve as a Cultural Ambassador. Given WK's wild antics and suspicious references to "the power of positive partying," media outlets almost immediately cast doubt on W.K.'s claim, but the performer himself stood by the announcement.
Representatives from the State Department then came forward, first seeming to deny W.K.'s story and then confirming that he had been invited only to be subsequently disinvited. In a phone interview with Salon, spokesperson Noel Clay called the invitation "a mistake and not appropriate."
HuffPost Entertainment caught up with W.K. (given name: Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier) to discuss the cancelation.
You're in London?
Yes, that's right.
And you were about to head over directly from there to Bahrain?
Yes, yes. The ticket was for Saturday to fly there.
And are you still going?
No. Not right now, but we are actually working on making a new trip on our own -- especially because in Bahrain a lot of people have reached out to us and encouraged us to come despite the original trip being canceled.
In one of their statements, a State Department spokesperson said to NPR that you have a lot of fans there. How did that come about?
I'm curious myself, because this would've been my first-ever trip to the Middle East. So that made it even more exciting to get to travel there, especially representing the United States. It's really quite confounding and of course disappointing that this is all been canceled right before I was about to go. We had been looking forward to this for over a year now.
If you hadn't put the press release up, do you think the trip would have gone ahead?
I have no idea. I mean, I've certainly pondered all kinds of possibilites. The way it was presented to us when we were first invited was that this was an ambassadorship, this was a cultural event. So it seems that the whole point of this type of trip is to draw attention to the country you're visiting, to the country you're representing, to the whole endeavor, and the idea that it would be canceled because people were interested in it seems to defy the very foundations of the concept.
Who were you dealing with at the State Department?
I'm keeping that gentleman's name confidential. As much as I've been put through the ringer a little bit, he's even more in the midst of all of this. I have so many questions, and unfortunately he's not been able or been allowed to answer them. I don't know who made this decision to cancel the trip, I don't know why, and this is all very fresh. I mean, obviously it was canceled on Monday morning, just hours after we had received the final confirmation and itinerary and flights. But if nothing else, I really would like some kind of explanation of what it was beyond saying "that's inappropriate" or "a mistake." Why did they go so far with this? Why did they invite me in the first place?
Can you explain a little bit about why the State Department might have invited you?
Well, from the initial invitation, we had gathered that they invited me because of my motivational speaking and my lectures. I've spoken at Yale twice, I've been to Harvard. I wasn't actually scheduled to play a concert.
So you were gonna give lectures? One lecture or multiple lectures?
I was going to go to the main university. It wasn't so much a speech. This was a chance for me to engage with the people of Bahrain. I was gonna go to an elementary school, I was gonna go to music stores and jam with musicians -- it was much more about exploring this culture than it was delivering any kind of formal presentation or performance.
You have an underlying philosophy that you would be promoting, right?
Yeah -- that living life to the fullest is a good thing to do.
Do you have thoughts about how specifically that applies to the situation in Bahrain? Did you study up on that?
Well, I certainly found out a lot more about it. It's obviously very complicated, and I wasn't going to solve anything in particular, or ever think that I could, but just informing people ... I'm sure there's people out there, and I say this with all due respect, some of my friends even, who probably hadn't even heard of Bahrain before this. That is the idea behind this type of endeavor. It's very strange. I like whoever canceled it thought that they would've made this go away, and it's done the exact opposite.
Did you consider slinking away, or did you feel like you had an obligation to stand up and say, 'Wait a minute?'
Well, I didn't really know what I was gonna do. I was just very disappointed. I felt very fortunate and very privileged that I was able to get to go on this trip and represent this country. My dad is the one who said, "Don't back down, don't let them tell you to basically shut up, and tell what really happened here." The State Department almost alluded to the idea that I was making all this up, and that is simply not true. My dad was the one who encouraged me to stand up for myself.
Some people assumed it was a prank, and said it should've been obvious from the beginning that it was a prank. What's your response to that?
Well, I couldn't believe when I was first invited either. That's why this was so exciting. We went through a very lengthy approval process where at many times during the past 14, 15, 16 months I felt like there's no way this is gonna happen, this is gonna fall through, this is too good to be true, someone is gonna pull the plug on this. But it was happening. Once I announced it and people, much like myself, became excited or intrigued or even doubtful, is when, in fact, it did all fall apart. It was very surreal, the whole experience. It felt a bit like I had been hypnotized. I don't blame anybody for being perplexed by it. I am myself.
What were the steps of the vetting process?
Well, it was very basic -- almost like going to a foreign country. They make sure you don't have a criminal record, they make sure you've never been arrested for anything, make sure that everyone is aware of what it is that you do -- though it seemed pretty obvious when they invited me that they understood what it is that I do, because that's why they were asking me to come over there in the first place.
Before I let you go, anything else that you want people to know about this whole thing?
I'm trying to sum up the feeling. I'm very excited that I was invited in the first place, and the fact that I was uninvited, I do not take it personally. For all I know, it has nothing to do with me. It could be about security. For all I know, they're protecting me. I would like to know what really happened and who made this decision and exactly why -- was it something as simple as security or something as mundane as that I have long hair or have had a bloody nose in a photograph, or made a face on TV? The idea that someone in charge would take it upon themselves to decide what is appropriate or not for not only representing this country, but for another country, is, to me, very un-American.