Once the Jesus Lizard walked the earth unchallenged and primitive tool-using mammals quivered before it. Then in 1999 it broke up. But a deluxe series of remasters on Touch and Go (and an encouraging Scratch Acid reunion) helped resurrect the Jesus Lizard for a fearsome set of shows. Vocalist David Yow speaks now from Pioneertown the day before Manimal Fest. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
In the remaster liners, you seem to be skeptical of Page Hamilton’s account of you stage-diving naked and audience members cramming their fingers through your sphincter.
David Yow (vocals): Yeah—I think that was a dream he had or something. I’m not gonna say it’s not possible that I crowdsurfed naked but I don’t think I did. That’s dangerous.
How would you feel if that really was a dream he had?
David Yow: Oh, that’s fine. People think up some pretty sick shit all the time. Nothing I can do about that.
Do you agree with Bruce LaBruce that people look at you differently after you’ve been penetrated?
David Yow: I don’t know how to answer that.
Is it true that Seattle is the only city that specifically banned you from playing?
David Yow: I was banned from Hamilton County, Ohio, for a year. I was arrested at Lollapalooza for dropping my pants. The charge was ‘recklessly and knowingly exposing his private parts.’ ‘Private parts’ is a legal term apparently. I don’t know about being banned from the county—if that was a law or just something the judge thought would be appropriate.
What is your advice for somebody who has to appear in court for something like that?
David Yow: Keep your answers brief.
The New York Times said you’re becoming like Jerry Lee Lewis.
David Yow: Wow, that’s a tremendous compliment. Wowee. I’ll certainly never have as good a haircut as he did. I’m not sure how to take it. He was kind of a prick—I saw him one time at a dinner and show in Austin and somebody threw a cowboy hat on his piano and he stopped playing and said, ‘If I want your fucking clothes, I’ll ask for em!’
Do you think Jerry Lee Lewis is a scary guy?
David Yow: I would say so, yeah. Particularly if you’re a 15-year-old girl.
Who’s the scariest musician you’ve ever been around?
David Yow: I don’t know if I recall any musicians that were that scary.
Who’s the cuddliest musician you’ve ever been around?
David Yow: Well, it wasn’t Pig Champion. Probably Björk.
Is it true you’re a pretty sentimental guy at heart?
David Yow: I cry pretty easily, yeah. My girlfriend and I went to visit a botanical garden in Pasadena and some of the plants there were so incredible… It wasn’t a single plant that did it—it was a whole bunch of them. Just really crazy alien-landscape looking plants that looked like a Star Trek episode or something.
Were you moved to several tears or just a single very pure tear?
David Yow: I think there was surface tension. I think my eyes welled up. I don’t think anything actually went down my cheek.
Which are you most likely to cry over—a sad animal movie or a sad movie about a little kid?
David Yow: Oh, I don’t care about a little kid.
So Old Yeller?
David Yow: Well, sure—Old Yeller, that’ll get you every time.
What about a movie where the sad animal kills the sad kid—like a Pet Sematary thing? Does that move you at all?
David Yow: Yeah—that’s comedy.
What happened when you took an improv class and tried to make everyone cry?
David Yow: Maybe I was talking about when I took a couple monologue classes. The deal was for several weeks we would work on writing these monologues and then at the culmination of the class we would perform them. Everybody else did really funny ones and the ones I did were as sad as I could make them. I was hoping to make everybody sad. They made me really sad when I was writing them. My goal was to make people I don’t know cry. The audience was tremendously bummed. When I finished my ten-minute monologue, there were a few tears in the audience and I got off the stool and off the stage and it was completely silent. Then slowly applause trickled in.
Is that a new thing for you—making people cry like that?
David Yow: No, I just think that if through some sort of art form if you can make people cry, that’s a hell of an accomplishment. Making people laugh is pretty easy. Look at my face and just start laughing. Or you might cry.
What’s the saddest story you could tell?
David Yow: Well the one that I did for a monologue was my mother’s fall into Alzheimer’s and her eventual death and it was a pretty sad story. Several years ago, I met Winona Ryder and she had dated one of the guys in Soul Asylum. She told me a story about the bass player from Soul Asylum—and I took this story and embellished it and changed it around, but apparently the guy was newlywed or something and he and his girlfriend were great, and then he got pharyngeal cancer. But they caught it right in time and removed it and it was a full complete resection which means they got it completely and everything was great. But a few days after the operation, he and his girlfriend were happy and everything was wonderful and I think she told him a joke and he laughed so hard that his stitches ruptured and he bled to death.
Is that an actual story?
David Yow: According to Winona. I think it’s verified. I wanted to write a screenplay of it. I think it would be a bit of a roller coaster. Everything’s happy and everything is great, and then there would be the terror of finding out about cancer, and then there would be the worry of operation and that becomes okay and everything is great! And maybe they could stay on the happy and then have the terrible scene of him bleeding to death and meanwhile she is completely freaking out. And then that would be the end.
Then roll credits with the Benny Hill theme song.
David Yow: I did think of the opening credits. It would be fiberoptics inside of a person’s throat and you would hear chewing and swallowing while a dinner is going on and that would be the opening credits.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever seen happen inside of a human body?
David Yow: God, you’re weird. Hm—I guess that would be when I filled up that little boy’s butt with sperm.
I asked that question because I heard you have an X-ray of a fart cloud inside your body.
David Yow: I don’t have the X-ray but I saw it. The hospital in Albuquerque has it.
Do you think that’s the rarest Jesus Lizard collectible?
David Yow: Well, there’s definitely not more than one of them.
Are you making more?
David Yow: No, that’s a difficult thing to plan.
Did you hear about the guy in China who worked for the iPhone factory in China and he lost a prototype and killed himself?
David Yow: At least he did the right thing. We don’t need those kind of people walking around on the Earth.
Does Jesus Lizard have a rule like that? If you fuck up the organization you’re expected to take care of yourself in an honorable manner?
David Yow: Yeah, a little hari-kiri. Or you could do the Harold and Maude version.
What do you think would be the most artistic way to make a graceful exit from this existence?
David Yow: I don’t know about the most artistic but we’ve all toyed with the idea, right? Usually I think you should do it where you hurt the fewest number of people, but more than likely, if somebody cares about you, you’re going to hurt them anyway. But I’ve often thought when I’m crossing an overpass on the highway, it’d be good to jump off right as a Mack truck was going to smack you. And then hopefully it would be a big pileup.
What sort of horrific tales of death do the Jesus Lizard guys enjoy discussing?
David Yow: Years ago, Albini loaned me a book called Auto-Erotic Fatalities. There was a true story where some girl’s boyfriend went to her house while she was with her parents and while they had gone shopping, he did some weird shit in the backyard including digging a hole and making a bunch of mud. I think he stuck a trowel up his ass.
He was digging a hole for sexual gratification?
David Yow: I suppose—I think he was trying to get off. That kind of stuff, if it doesn’t work—if you live through it but just barely, it’s probably a bummer.
What’s it say about your character that you prefer the overpass splatterjob to the autoerotic suffocation? You’re not a selfish guy?
David Yow: No, I jack off all the time and obviously I’m not a pervert.
Have you ever scared yourself onstage?
David Yow: There have been times that I was scared—that I thought, ‘This is going to hurt.’ And that’s usually a case where there’s nothing I can do about it. Say the audience is throwing me into the barricade headfirst—you can’t grab anything.
How has that sort of crisis-hardened perspective affected your professional life?
David Yow: That is my professional life.
What’s the most pleasant thing somebody threw at you on stage?
David Yow: Money.
Coins or paper?
David Yow: Both.
David Yow: Oh, I don’t know—five dollars.
That’s enough to get another drink.
David Yow: Right, and usually they give us free drinks when we do rock show concerts. So I’ve got that five bucks that I can put in my bank and save for dinner.
If you cooked a special occasion dinner for the rest of the guys in the band, what would you cook?
David Yow: I’m a fan of making my black-and-white soup. I’d probably have that for starters and then glazed pork chops with a balsamic reduction. Maybe grilled veggies.
Where is your favorite place to eat out in L.A.?
David Yow: Between my girl’s legs.
What’s the grossest thing you ever said in an interview that didn’t get printed?
David Yow: I have no idea. I’ve done thousands of interviews and I have no idea.
If we did a collected works of David Yow, would it be a nice surprise for you?
David Yow: I wouldn’t read it.