You met your wife at a Halloween party in college. What costumes were you wearing?
She was just freaky. She was a pretty nutty girl in college. That's the first time she saw me. I never dress up for Halloween, but this night I shaved my head, painted it yellow, put on a lot of eye makeup and wore a leather jacket and blue jeans. My whole torso was painted white. I definitely looked very sick. My wife saw me then and told me she thought I was gay. She thought I was cute.
So it was love at first sight.
Not for her, but for me.
What's it like watching your twin girls grow up?
They're hysterical to watch — how much fun they're having, how they're turning into people and how much they love sugar and avocados. I worry that I'm screwing up all the time. But as long as I love them, it'll be OK. My kids are what gives me the urgency to say what I think about the world.
In 1996 you opened a string of European dates for Bob Dylan and ended up performing with him. What did you learn from him?
He was really gracious. I'd heard so many horror stories about him, and I'm sure some of them are true, but like great men before, I don't think there's any reason he should be preoccupied with treating people swell. He couldn't have been nicer. We played "Rainy Day Women" and "Maggie's Farm," and it was just an amazing experience. I grew up on him. I have this great photograph of us onstage, but I can't put it up in my house because I'm wearing the worst pants that any man has ever worn in the history of all time.
Plaid pants? I've seen some pictures....
Yeah, I went through an awful stage with plaid. It was my intention to be counterfashion, but I became obsessed by it. I saw a lawyer of mine walking down the hallway in plaid pants, then I said to myself, "Aw, what am I doing? I hate myself."
Death is often a major focal point of your songwriting, partly because so many people close to you — your father, your sister, childhood friends — have had untimely deaths.
I find it much more surprising that death is not part of the conversation at all. I guess as a culture we've grown to admire youth and the naive wonder of youth as somehow better than the wrinkles and wisdom that come with age, and that somehow there's a fault in accepting mortality. That is fucking stupid. Not to say that death isn't shocking, but if there wasn't death, life would be fucking useless. We'd be bored to tears. Mortality makes it so much more spectacular. That's the thing we should talk about more than the delusions of grandeur that come along in the afterlife. What an utter waste of time. But I guess it's more comforting if you think there's this Santa Claus in the sky who's waiting to make us happy, or if we haven't been good, he's not going to give us any presents. God has no plan. It's simpler to think that we'll go to heaven or hell when we die. To me, that seems like a way to avoid living.
At what point in your life did you formulate your ideas about death?
If anything, I think of the times I contemplated suicide.
When was that?
It comes and goes. I don't know that it will ever end. When things inside your head get kind of crazy, and you go, "OK, let's go through the list of options." And suicide was one of them. I've never indulged in it where I was sitting, snot pouring out of my nose, tears pouring down my face, saying, "This is it. Fuck it. I'm gone."
What's the closest you ever came?
Just thinking about ways, which I don't think is uncommon. But I've had a few doctors tell me that it's not necessarily that common.
Did you come up with a method?
The idea of throwing yourself off a bridge, but I'm afraid of heights. I thought about a gunshot, but it's so violent and messy. Gassing oneself is kind of peaceful.
When was this?
In my late teens, early twenties. What turned me away was something a friend of mine said, someone I used to wait tables with. Her name was Carter, and she was a wonderful girl. She told me that my death was done the minute I was born. It's the only guarantee, the only thing that you know is gonna happen. What's the point in hastening it? Why not stick around, if for nothing else than for curiosity?
Have you cut back your drinking?
Yeah, and it gives me a little more time. I like to drink, a lot — I think it's a healthy thing to do. But I've got a family; and I've got other things that impress me more than another drink. My kids, for instance. I go in phases. Some points in my life I'll drink a lot, and other points in my life I won't. I may pause, but I don't think I'll ever stop, because forever is a long time.
What kind of drunk are you?
I'm a very happy drunk, generally. Joyful. Loud and probably irritating. Apparently I repeat myself quite a lot.
Who do you usually drink with?
My wife. But I got a couple of friends I like drinking with. My friend Jonathan and I have been drinking together since we were twelve — lemonade, of course. You have those faithful friends who you can make a good bit of progress with on a bottle of alcohol that otherwise might be more of a challenge. There are people who I'd like to settle into a drink with. Not for the sole reason of getting drunk, but for the ritual of lubricating someone's personality. David Sedaris is one of those individuals. When I read his stuff, I'd like to sit down and have a drink with him. I'd drink with George W., but just to get him out of the White House.
Do you ever feel like an outsider in America?
A lot of people feel like outsiders, and we're viewed as outsiders by the government. Or as un-American. But I'm way more American than George Bush and Dick Cheney. They have no fucking idea what it is to be American. They're fucking idiots, programmed to have everything in the hands of the few. They think it's right that them and theirs have everything and everyone else can just get by on good, hard work. There's something charming about a simple man in the White House. But that's what is deceiving: He's not a simple man. He represents the tiniest, tiniest percentage. He got here on the shoulders of giants. And I think much of the Christian world feels an obligation to support him, because he claims to be a Christian. I don't see much of a Christian in him. I think there should be a long line of nuns ready to spank the crap out of him.
Do you think you're more capable of running this country than George W.?
Yeah. I'd deal with things a little more delicately. I think I have a much clearer view of the world than he does.
I understand people a lot better than he does. And I don't want the job — but there's no shortage of people who could run the country better than him. The most important task facing America right now is to get this administration out of power. I think they're a very dangerous bunch, riddled with dangerous minds. There's a very ignorant view in the White House: a thoughtless, fundamentalist, scary view of how to better the world. I'm truly frightened of this administration.
Do you plan to be more politically out-spoken in 2004?
My focus is to take them out. Hearing myself say that is sort of depressing. I don't know yet who I want to endorse, but I want minds like [Dennis] Kucinich. I want variety. But we're sort of in this avalanche, and we have to stop falling before we can fix it. The Bush administration has squandered everything, and they don't have a fucking clue.
You were raised a Quaker. What tenets of Quakerism have you held onto?
I think that we're all equally good and, for that reason, equally bad and have the potential for both. Kindness and love and all those things, without exception, are the most important. And I don't care how weak it sounds. If peace doesn't wear a leather coat, if it doesn't have studs or a nice haircut, if it's uncool, I don't care. Fuck it.
This story is from Rolling Stone issue 940.
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