PENTAGRAM: DOWN AND DIRTY, NAKED AND NASTY
michael c hsiung
I can pinpoint the exact moment that I became fascinated with Pentagram—exactly 20 seconds into ‘Buzz Saw.’ That’s how long it took to feel both utterly crushed and suddenly awakened by the weight of all that is good and heavy in rock ‘n’ roll. Further investigation revealed a wealth of musical offerings: some that were relics and some that remain alive and well. Fans of Pentagram (otherwise known as PENTA–FANS and RIVETHEDZ) are legion, and the band’s checkered history is legendary. Nearly forty years since he stepped on stage, lifer-front man-mastermind Bobby Liebling remains a human hurricane. I spoke to the man about heavy music, his forthcoming biographical documentary, his ever-expanding tour schedule and the spirituality and humility he has gained at this point in his life as the figurehead for the greatest underground heavy metal band of all time. As long as lesser groups continue to clog the mainlines of a music industry said to be dying a slow death, I will remain fascinated that Bobby’s artistic vision remains true. He’s the genuine article, with a life’s work that’s led him from the darkness into the light, and he will be playing Pentagram’s first-ever L.A. show this Friday. This interview by Kurt Midness.
What is your full name?
Bobby Liebling: Robert Harold Liebling. I don’t want the Harold part to be printed. Nah, it’s cool!
I was curious what your middle name would be—thought it might be Aleister or Aldous since there is a lot of occult and mystical imagery in your music. Were you ever active in the occult?
Yes. Many, many, many years ago. It’s the wrong way to go. Down and dirty. Naked and nasty. Heavy shit. Don’t fuck with it. I’m very spiritual. I’m very God-fearing these days. I don’t go to church because I don’t go for organized religion, but I pray avidly for hours every day. I’m Christian now for the record. Born to two Brooklyn Jews. Also for the record, I was born in Washington D.C.
Is there something in the air in the D.C. area that contributed to the genesis of what’s now known as doom metal?
I don’t relate it to it at all. Washington D.C. throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s had the worst music scene in the history of music ever. People there got their head up their ass when it comes to the arts in general. They can take the National Gallery and the Smithsonian and shove it. It’s all about making money. That’s not where I come from. I grew up on the order of a far-left hippie-radical thing.
What were you listening to before you started Pentagram that drew you toward playing such heavy music?
In the really early days—I’m talking pre-Sabbath—I was into what we called acid rock. Really heavy psychedelic rock with tons of volume. A lot of bands from Michigan. Ted Nugent—I respect the shit outta Ted Nugent. I met him when I was 16. Geof O’Keefe‘s dad would drive us to the airport to pick him up. Me and Geof would help carry his guitars. I was a hell of a groupie. I was a big fan of all those bands. I liked all their albums even when their other fans would turn on them. Cactus, Grand Funk, MC5, Stooges, SRC.
Since you were a veteran musician by the time punk came into vogue, what was your take on punk?
I don’t look at it like most. Most of my buddies from my generation died of AIDS or in ‘Nam. For me real punk rock was ‘64, ‘65, ‘66. The American bands that were the answer to the Merseybeat bands. They had melody and could play good and everything, but as far as authenticity goes, these bands were raw. I used to call them punks in ‘64 when I was 9 years old. Tough guys. The guys that vomited the words out. They sounded street-y. Bands like the Standells, the Leaves, the Count Five, the McCoys. Songs like the Sonics—’Psycho,’ ‘Witch,’ ‘Strychnine.’ They had the right dimension. My kingpin of that year is Sean Bonniwell from the Music Machine. He’s still one of my all-time favorites. Remember ‘Talk Talk’? How good was that voice?
Pentagram seems to have experienced a real renaissance decades after you started out—how much would you say the music industry had no idea what to do with Pentagram when you started?
98 percent. We were all bummed out. Didn’t write choruses. None of our songs had choruses. We didn’t write formula hits. ‘Ever since I started out I keep on sinkin’ in the pit.’ I wrote that in ‘Sub-Basement.’ ‘I’ll stay a wrong sided hit / I don’t like what’s on the radio.’ I’m still true to that.
Would you say that Pentagram’s music is known more now than ever before?
Absolutely—hands down to the 100th power. I’m floored, astonished and just humbled by the whole thing. It’s too big for my britches. I was over the hill. This is where spirituality comes in. Since I quit heroin and methadone after forty years of use—I think I’m being rewarded now. God saved me. I’m a living testament. The immaculate conception. Reborn from the dead.
Why do you think so?
We have an old sound and a high quality standard. Not bragging. This is not a religious operation. This is a rock band. We are a great heavy metal band. It’s simple, it’s bold, it’s got mysticism and it’s got that hard-edged sound. I like the Pentagram sound.
How does it feel to be touring in 2009?
It feels nervous… extremely nervous! I’m thankful that I’m still here at all. I’m not gonna over do it like when I was younger. This is much more than working—it’s my whole life. I’ve written 450 songs. There could be 10 more Pentagram albums.
Would you be willing to clone yourself or cryogenically freeze your DNA if it meant there would be new Pentagram records for the next hundred years?
No. Absolutely not because what makes a man is what it is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The older you get the more true that is.
Has Pentagram ever performed on the West Coast or Europe?
No. As far as Europe, we have ten times the fans as in the U.S., but in the past few years the U.S. has been growing like a sonofabitch. People that come to Pentagram shows now are anywhere from 16 to 60 years old.
How do you feel about being a cult star for so long?
I like it. Anyone in the entertainment business that doesn’t want to get recognized by even a small amount of people is a hypocrite. I got into it because of the Ed Sullivan Show and I saw bras and panties thrown on stage.
Would you be a good cult leader or would your followers be forced to drink the punch?
You mean like sweet or sour wine? Left-hand path or right-hand path? I would do neither. I’ve always presented both sides as something to think about. Let the audience review their choices. That’s what I’ve always done. Especially since I’ve been on both sides of the fence.
Any word on when PENTA-FANS can expect to see The Fall and Rise of Bobby Liebling documentary?
The movie has finished filming. Finally. There will be up to a year in editing and before it comes out it will go to Toronto and some other film festivals. Then it should be available on DVD.
I’d like to thank all the fans. This means so much to me. Without you guys there is no Pentagram. Stay straight, stay heavy, stay alive… with Pentagram.
PENTAGRAM WITH NACHTMYSTIUM, INTRONAUT AND RADIO MOSCOW ON FRI., JULY 3, AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES, 8430 SUNSET BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 7 PM / $17.50-$22.50 / ALL AGES. HOB.COM. PENTAGRAM’S SUB-BASEMENT IS AVAILABLE NOW ON SOUTHERN LORD. VISIT PENTAGRAM AT MYSPACE.COM/LIVEFREEANDBURN. VISIT BOBBY LIEBLING AT MYSPACE.COM/BOBBYDARLINGPENTAGRAM.