Chris Goss is the cosmic mastermind behind Masters of Reality, the band who went from labelmates with Slayer to becoming the eminence noir behind the desert-rock scene out past Pappy and Harriet’s. Delicious Vinyl is reissuing the Masters’ psycho-delic debut and Goss will be playing some rare and welcome shows this weekend. For part 1 of this gigantic interview, Chris Ziegler finds Goss just waking up and ready to talk about awakening.
The last big interview I read with you was by Jay Babcock, and you were pretty down—talking about the new dark ages. It’s been a year, so have you cheered up? Or are you holed up in a bunker?
I’m cheered up in my bunker!
What do you do for fun in there?
Twilight Zone 24-7?
I’m from the desert too, so let me ask you a desert-dweller question—how many broken cars do you have in your yard?
We had a neighbor who had quite a few of them. A wise woman who worked at the post office said they show off how rich they are with how many dead cars on their lawn. Or in the sand in front of your house. It’s really great—the desert allows that. The people live the way they fuck they want to. That’s really why I live here.
My dad says people who move to the desert wanna be left the fuck alone.
Exactly. That’s the key. I was born a suburban creature and so it’s fine—I don’t need the fucking local coffee shop, the little cluster of hipster neighborhoods … I’m actually kinda repulsed by it! These are my folk here! If I was rich I’d probably have an apartment in New York City and an apartment in Europe somewhere, but the desert will pretty much be my home. It’s a really really great place to get back to. When I’m not here, I really really miss it.
What was your very first year out there like?
We moved out in ’93 so it’ll be 20 years next year. The first stage was Palm Desert, before Palm Springs was hip again. It was a ghost town. Mid-century modern hadn’t become cool. It was empty mansions and movie star homes with kidney-shaped pools for like $900 a month to rent. It was the best! I remember going to Target in Cathedral City on a summer afternoon and I was the only person there. ‘This is excellent! I’m king of the wasteland!’ Liberace’s old estate was going for like $110,000 at the time. My credit was shot so I couldn’t buy, but we rented an incredible house for nothing. For the price of a studio in West Hollywood, we’d have a four-bedroom house with a pool on a half-acre with ten different kinds of fruit and fig trees. It was like Adam and Eve! The sad thing was before mid-century was in again, people would move in and start making the mid-century houses ‘southwestern.’ It was brutal! The gorgeous angles and colors and stonework beign stuccoed over to look like Taco Bell! And now those same assholes are the ones like, ‘Oooh! Mid-century modern! Oh!’ This wave of taste we have to sit through—that’s the most irritating part of my life. Watching the tsunami of shit—the tide coming in and our decade after decade. ‘Oh no! Here comes the beige tsunami of the 80s and early 90s!’
That’s the thing. You never wanna be too early for the trend. You’ll get swamped.
The reason the Beatles worked so massively commercially is they were a step behind the avant-garde. The door was kicked open by Yoko and walked through by John. Same thing with modern living. Decade after decade of the American aesthetic.
I was reading a Lester Bangs interview from like 1980 and he talks about these exact kinds of things—the music industry losing money and collapsing, TV being horrible, music being all weird and no one knowing what the future will be … it’s strange. It could have come out in 2012.
It’s cyclical, you know? If you’ve lived through three or four cycles, you can predict what’s coming. Unfortunately, it’s getting worse than ever cuz some of the honor involved in the other cycle has been taken out. The pride and honor are out of the picture. Now it’s no-holds-barred. TV shows like ‘I’m A Pig And I’m Proud!’—
Is that real?
No, but it should be, right? It’d be a huge hit! We’re at a stage now of a new level of horror, really. So therefore it gets worse and worse. Why, Chris? What do you think is the reason?
Funny because I was just gonna ask you, ‘Why, Chris? What do you think is the reason?’ And what’s coming next?
I don’t think it’s gonna be very pretty, unfortunately. I really dread going there in conversation. I think it’s gonna get bloody.
What was the last bad cycle you remember?
Honestly—what stunned me … what was an awakening for me was when Bob Dylan put out Infidels. In 82 or 83. And it was a great record, and he started talking about what was going on and what was coming in a very poetic way that’d go over a lot of people’s heads. Songs like ‘Sometimes Satan Comes As A Man Of Peace,’ you know? Where deception and reality are in question. That record was almost a road map of how it happened—the infidels on the back cover are a man and a woman who are embracing, and the inner sleeve is Bob Dylan near Jerusalem picking up the sand in his hand and kind of bringing that 2,000 years up to date. Like nothing’s changed. The infidels are lovers. That’s what’s under attack. Love is under attack. I heard that record and it just stopped me in my tracks. A line in ‘Jokerman’—‘You see the rich man in the furnace without any name.’ That’s kind of where we are now. If you’re rich, you’re evil. But these generalizations are so evil in themselves—but they have this outward good veneer on them. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods—that’s the way it should be. You work hard, you go for it, you shouldn’t be fucking crucified for it. This could get us into politics, and that’s where I don’t wanna go! But I find it disturbing that everyone is looking at each other instead of looking at themselves. I believe that has a lot to do with a lack of faith. Another commandment—honor the Sabbath. I’m not a bible thumper but I’m into simple wisdom, and maybe simple wisdom is you take a day and go inward and take a day off from politics and TV and everything. They call it a Sabbath, but really it’s a day to assess your brain and assess your heart. Those simple little rules that are so healthy and so good. The next stop on the journey for me was when Waco happened. I couldn’t believe that. That was the beginning of this national wave of hate, when they surrounded that compound where there were 100 women and children inside. And the y put the balloon up he was a child abuser—that was the government story. This went on for months. The longest siege in American history or something. I was pinching myself—is this really happening? Cuz David Koresh was in town every day buying groceries and going to the dry cleaners. They coulda pulled him aside like, ‘Hey, if you got machine gun in your compound, give ‘em up. Come on. If you got legal guns, cool, but any heavy artillery, you can’t do it.’ But they chose to make this big expose out of it, and that was another moment. Ten years after Infidels. Like … isn’t this country where you can do whatever you want religiously? You can have a place where followers join you and live a certain way? It’s almost like an attack on the Amish! It’s beyond terrifying. It enrages me that that’s happening. That people are pointing to other people and saying, ‘What are you doing?’ The next stop on the map was hate crime, cuz the concept of hate crime … like I said, it’s a loving veneer. But assault is assault and abuse is abise. If you start to reason why someone assaulted someone, you get into trouble—that will be turned into a reason why you CAN assault someone, you know? Every crime of that nature is a crime of hate—that crime is that crime, period. Murder’s murder. A reason to prosecute will turn into a reason to find the RIGHT reason to kill someone. That’s the danger of that. Hate speech has popped up now, too. Now people will start identifying … what is hate speech? You can say what you want to, and you pay the price for it. But for it to become an llegal thing where the authorities can dictate what is hate speech? Now we’re in really really dangerous territory. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. All those old sayings didn’t come out of nowhere. That’s what this wave is I see coming—it’s shocking to me how quickly the pendulum has swung. It’ll turn into a reason for killing you and having the right reason to kill you, to stop you from saying things, and there is no right reason for all that. All this bullshit if people just watching what everyone else is doing and trying to snuff it—really, who gives a fuck? Tend your own garden and shut the fuck up. I’m a libertarian—I’m not a right-wing bible thumper.
And you have a good memory for Candide. ‘Tend your garden.’
You have to, man! It’s going so much in the opposite direction of that. That is … annoying! Let’s just say it’s annoying. The new Gestapo—it’s like watching ‘em for up and going, ‘Oh, God, here it comes!’ All these generalizations are going to be applied and no one will be safe. They started cleaning put the Mojave desert a couple years ago. People whose houses weren’t ‘up to code.’ Picking on the guy with the fucking trailer in the middle of nowhere. That’s not what it’s about! That’s very annoying to me! It doesn’t jibe with me making music. When Waco was happening, I was making an album and I couldn’t fucking write cuz it was all I could think about. It was just this horror that was coming. And it’s here.
I think Vonnegut had that idea of artists as society’s early warning systems—the canaries in the coal mine. Seems like Dylan did that for you.
Bill Maher, who’s almost a vicious atheist, he said, ‘What? Are these people tuned into some radio station the rest of us cant receive?’ And you know what? Yes. I told Ian Astbury a long time ago—how do you do art when things are morbid around you? I hate to quote myself but I said, ‘I fight my battle on the astral plane.’ You do it on a level in your art that’s beyond understanding on a physical level. Like … why did ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ click so well? No one understood what he was saying! Cuz it was a feeling. In a way, it was a prayer. Without a blatant obviousness to it politically or morally. The loss we suffered with that guy … I think it’d be really surprising to everyone what he’d be doing and saying right now. He had it. Obviously, he saw a lot of that hopelessness in the air, and he was being down on himself as well. That song was a perfect example. Everyone was going crazy to it and they’re not sure why but there’s some urgency to it. The guitar solo sounded like sirens to me. This new teenage paranoia, like he’s in the mind of a kid. Teen spirit, you know? The horror of that paranoia—especially the sexual paranoia at the time in 1991. Now AIDS had reached high school. I popped my cherry in the 70s and it was free! There were no worries. Everybody fucked everybody. All of a sudden, can you imagine the kids in this country with rumors in school someone has AIDS, and everyone who fucked that person is laying in their bedroom freaking out—afraid to say it, afraid to get tested, can’t talk to anyone about it, all the different levels of horror in it all … in a pop song! And that guy’s gone. The fact he killed himself is the size of a tsunami. Lennon made it through that struggle and made it to age 40, and kinda got through. Since you’re basically a rock ‘n roll mag, there’s a great quote from Keith Richards: ‘When you’re in love with someone, you see hope for the world.’ And it’s so true. The difference is ridiculous! When you’re really really in love, the world looks different. When you’re lonely, it’s like a horror movie everyday.
Is that what it boils down to? Hope or horror?
They’re both there. All the time. The shadow and the light. It’s walking a fucking tight rope, isn’t it? And trying not to fall off to either side. Not Pollyanna on one side and the sheer hopelessness on the other. That’s where the artist that can view it from the tight rope—that’s where the good shit comes from.
What happens when you have too much of one and you need some of the other? How do you get in balance?
Great question. That is the question right now. For everybody. We got more than ever and less than ever at the same time and it’ll always be that way. The yin and the yang. Coming to grips with that, you have to borrow a little from everybody’s bible. Certain lessons from Buddhism, from Christianity, from Krishna … taking the wisdom everywhere you can! A little piece here and there to try and keep your house from falling down—a 2×4 from everybody! That’s the only way I know. To seek people who’ve gone through it. And whether it’s George Harrison or Bob Dylan, who were two geniuses who both relied on faith to get through things … there’s a lesson in that that’s kind of being trampled on at the moment. You can’t find your answer in faith? I don’t care how square I sound—I think that’s the only fucking way out of the mess. The genius in ‘endowed by our creator,’ whether you’re an atheist or not … that term is so genius because it gives us all a power that exceeds the king or the government. When things get unbearably oppressive and evil, you can say, ‘No! I got this power higher than yours, a spiritual power.’ And whether you believe in that or not, what that does for you—even if you just pretend it’s there—that’s the key! The key to that document is that phrase, and when that sentence about being ‘endowed by our creator’ started getting left out … I was like, ‘Whoa, idiots! No!’ I don’t care whether you believe in God or not, but believe there’s a reasoning about the current political agenda. That’s a reasoning that sets us free. Gives us the electricity to join with other people to get over this shit. Start praying, brother! Who are the true materialisits? Looking for answers in dollars? If it’s secular vs. faith, I’d say the secular agenda is way more material than the faith agenda cuz it’s all about balance of money. No! It’s about balance of love. And will. The spirit to get up and dust yourself off and keep going—that doesn’t come from a check. Most rich people are fucking miserable.
You’d think they’d have monks and philosophers to have breakfast with them every day. Help them get figured out.
Yeah! Instead they’re looking for a new vitamin or Pilates or whatever—whatever the new physical or political answer is. But the the answer is … you gotta get your strength from somewhere, and it doesn’t come from a secular source. I saw a band last night at Pappy and Harriet’s called Navicula. From Bali in Indonesia. They won a trip to the U.S. from Rode Microphones. David Ketching was one of the voters on the panel, and he voted for their track. The prize was they got to record at the Record Plant and hang out in the states for a while. They’re really great hard rock with groovy funky beats. Bali is a pretty intense area right—Islam is going nuts and there’s very very edgy shit happening. Obviously, there are people in these situations where human rights is a day-to-day life-or-death issue. Rio in Brazil or here. So they had a song they did where they said, ‘Through faith, you find the holy land. And bowing to the air gets you nowhere.’ Rock ‘n roll kids, maybe 20 years old, from an area going through a lot of violent political change—and they’re looking inward instead of just thinking some bureaucracy is gonna solve their problems. They understand that. To hear the wisdom of that coming from kids playing metal—fucking great.
You were talking about what happens when the world feels too morbid to write. How do you work when you can’t work?
I’m really lazy.
Does that help?
It’s two-sided. Laziness keeps you fresh, in a way
Tell me more. In great detail.
When you do work, you’re there. You don’t go there every day. It doesn’t become like going to the gym. Especially writing. And playing music. It’s looking for the moment when you’re playing music where it’s not about ‘this song is gonna be a hit.’ It’s when you’re in a groove and a riff where you leave your body. The repetiton of that and playing that … that’s the high for me. That moment of creation where you know you could play until you faint. Where you lose all sense of physical presence in the room. The zen level. Your brain is just glowing wide-open nothing. When I’m not there … depths are as low as high are high, you know? That’s the rub. When I’m being lazy and turning into TV Boy and growing a beard. I’m a bedroom guy. I can live, eat, work, do everything in bed. I love being in bed! So … I don’t know. Some people can articulate it and some can’t. I do know when I get together with the right musicians, I can reach that state. That’s what keeps me going. A lot of musicians have never even been to that state. The 51st state! Whether it’s on stage or in a studio, that’s nirvana for me. When something just clicks and the groove is a mantra, almost.
Why are people wired for that? That’s in music from all over the planet.
It’s a higher power! And that notion is being dissed left and right right now. Without a doubt … I don’t doubt it. I’ve felt it! I’ve been there. And I think the good musicians know about it.
MASTERS OF REALITY DELUXE EDITION RELEASE PARTY WITH CHRIS GOSS AND JOHN LEAMY IN AN ACOUSTIC PERFORMANCE ON SAT., DEC. 15, AT THE DELICIOUS VINYL SHOP, 6611 SUNSET BLVD., HOLLYWOOD. 4 PM / ALL AGES. AND MASTERS OF REALITY ON SAT., DEC. 15, AT THREE CLUBS, 1123 VINE ST., HOLLYWOOD. 10 PM / $TK / 21+. DELICIOUSVINYL.COM.