The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Rocket From The Tombs — Barfly


An imagined conversation with Rocket From The Tombs
By Vaibhav Sutrave

D’I ever tell you about the time I met Richard Lloyd? You know he’s in Rocket from the Tombs now. The one with Laughner in it – that became Dead Boys and Pere Ubu. No joke! They just released an album, too! It’s not that great. But the guys haven’t played together in 30 years – you could call it a demo. *(Actually I just realized they had this lineup back in 2003. So they’ve been playing-probably not constantly–for 8 years now. Anyway, at least this one’s better than “Rocket Redux.”) Anyway, I went over to his apartment, right? But he wouldn’t come out of his bedroom! I went and knocked on the door.

He said, “What.”
I said, “Richard! What’re you doing in there? Get out here. We wanna hear you play.”
He said, “No.”
“Whaddya mean no? We’re all here.”
“I don’t even know who you are.”
“Just come out here.”
“I said no.”
“Why not?”
“Nuh uh.”
“Richard… Richard… RICHARD! DO YOU HEAR ME.”
“You’re hiding something. What is it.”
“Nothing! Gawd.”
“No. No. Don’t lie to me, Richard. You can’t lie to me. I know you. I know when you’re lying, Richard.”
“I’m not lying! It’s nothing, awright?”
“No, no, no, it’s something. Come on. Out with it.”
“Is Dave there?”
“Dave? Who the hell is Dave?”
“David Thomas.”
“Nope. Um. Nope.” But he was there. He was there the whole time. I was staring right at him.
He banged on the door and said, “Richard, open the goddamn door and get out here!”
“Dave!” I said. “Why, I didn’t see you there. Go away, please.”
“Who are you?”
“What? Just go. I’m trying to get Richard out and you’re not helping.”
“No, just who the hell are you? I’ve never seen you before. What are you, like 18?”
“Twenty? Wowee. Lookathisguy. Who called you? Get the hell out of here.”
“Hey, I’m not the guy that goes to work dressed like a clown in the morning.”
“That doesn’t even make any sense.”
“I mean the fact that you’ve sucked all rock-impulse from Ubu and all that remains now is a denatured tissue with your fat butt and gerdy squeals on top.”
“That doesn’t even make any sense.”
“I’m a writer.”
“Well. Me too. Better than you, apparently. Cause that still doesn’t make any sense.”
“B-but it’s rock and roll. It’s not sposed to make sense.”
“This is real life here, buddy. Rock and roll is, is, is a gallon of milk. Innately it makes no sense. F’you think long and hard about it, eventually it will end up tearing down the wallpaper of life. But we live with it. We might even like it. But we don’t turn around with Sharpies up our butts worhsipping the things.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, of course you don’t. What are you, 23?”
“You don’t know ANYTHING. What am I, like 52 now?”
“Fifty-eight,” said Richard Lloyd, through the door.
“Fifty-eight. I’ve been doing this since long before you jumped out of your pop’s salt water into your mom’s greasy sponge. You don’t knn-n-n-now anything. That’s good. That’s fine. And you’ll be going around like you’re doing now proclaiming you know everything, calling out the old men on their inevitable discoloration and senility. I stand by the album. I don’t know what you expected to hear, but of course it wasn’t going to sound like Laughner. Laughner’s dead.”
“I know.”
“Laughner’s dead. He has nothing to say anymore. We’re still alive, and we’ve still got poems in our toes. Now, I don’t know what you were expecting. Maybe you’ve been listening to Marquee Moon too long. But this is a different band. It”
“And Ad-d-dventure.”
“And that solo record… Alchemy. I still don’t know why I like it, but I do. It’s”
“LISTEN I DON’T CARE. You need to learn to quit talking about yourself. Alright? No one cares.”
“But that’s all we can know is ourselves.”
“Then make something up! Jesus! Imagine! Create!”
“That’s what art is!: buncha guys that hate themselves so much and realize the only way out is through pure denial. ie: affirmation in life outside yourself! (which is a denial of your insides)”
“But eventually you realize the con you were trying to pull on yourself – if you were self-aware enough to get to that first step in the first place, you’ll see it. And you realize you have to go inside deeper. And by that time the inside is all cracked and gangreney. But truth at all costs! So the music ends up cracked and gangreney. I can’t even sing something like ‘Never Gonna Kill Myself Again’ or ‘Final Solution’ because I don’t even have the energy to kill myself anymore. The last time I tried was a few years ago. You can’t really even say it was a try. I was sitting around a hotel room in Kansas, middle of a tour. And I looked at the carpet and I thought, Well, this sucks. And I tried thinking, you know, What can I do about it? And I couldn’t think of anything. I FORGOT HOW ONE KILLS ONE’S SELF.
“Whereas when you’re young you’re struck, enchanted by all the billions of ways people have gotten their brains to quit ticking. Now I don’t even know anymore. I don’t even care. Face it. We’re 50, 60 years old, trying to play ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC. This is the first time in history this is happening, middle-late-aged guys playing rock/roll. We don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know what we’re supposed to do. We can’t die, and we can’t live. All we can do is be. And that album is a product of that. So slish off.”
“Well. No wonder that album was a disappointment,” I said. “How come I didn’t think of it before? ‘Rocket from the Tombs Gets Dementia: The Inside Story: Bell injures his hand opening a jar of mayo: Lloyd cancels a gig because of constipation: Thomas says slow jams are “cool.”‘”
“I bet you haven’t even gotten laid yet. That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why you’re such a mess.”
“I’m going to be famous!” I said.
“Yeah, just like your heroes right? I bet you write 599 page reviews that have nothing to do with the record cause you think you’re Lester Bangs.”
“The music still sucks. And you’re wrong. I’m only 2 decades old but I surpass you by centuries. After you get past this phase you realize what you need to do: synthesize the two – the ulcer-gazing impulse, and the kiss-the-earth impulse. The degenerate introversion and the idiot outside-life-affirmation. What you need to do is create and digest a life with yourself in it.
“And that’s what you missed with the album. You’re still stuck in that introverted phase (- life’s 2nd – the 2nd puberty, if you will…
“You see, you start off in uninhibited awe of life. This goes on for 13 years. Then you start your first period of introversion – angst. By the time you’re 19/20 you should have gotten rid of it – you enter a second period of awefaith in life. You go crazy for this. You become happy as hell about it. You make a couple good albums, change everything. This goes on for another 10 years or so (if you’re lucky). After that, nothing. If you’re not literally dead, you’ve probably got a kid by now, and/or a girl. They suck your time until you’re 40 or 50, and then they suddenly stop sucking your time and you end up bored. Life isn’t hardly revealing itself to you anymore, so all you have to look at is yourself. This is where you’re at, and what you spurged onto the album.)
“You said you don’t know how to kill yourself and you don’t care. But you NEED to. You NEED to gather the energy to kill yourself. Most old people die precisely BECAUSE they waited too long to kill themselves. You need to get the energy and the WILL to kill yourself – and when you’re about to do it, when you’re about to REALLY do it, life will reveal itself to you, and this time you’ll be more familiar with yourself, and with life – you won’t fall crazy into it like you did back when you were 19 and didn’t know anything…
“You have two creatures in you: 1. The masturbating sadhu. 2. The whore-swallowing, sky-drinking romantic/madman. Your life up till this point has been uncontrollable oscillations from one to the other. Your job then is now to turn them into the same person – not go crazy trying to hold two personalities in one cup – but realize they ARE the same person.”
“You’re making no sense.”
“The solution! Become a prophet! You said you think about a milk jug too long and it’ll start tearing down the wallpaper of life. LET IT! It’s blinding us to the raw truth! We need a milk jug to lead us to it. We need rock and roll to lead us to it. That simple, good thing, that makes no sense, but feels GOOD. THAT’S what you missed with this album. Okay, “I Sell Soul” is fantastic (though you mixed everyone else so LOW and yourself so high, dick – that’s why Richard won’t come out of his bedroom – cause you won’t let him play – same with the other guys), and there are moments of real good roll scattered around – but most of it just sounds like old guys trying to play the songs that played on the radio when they got screwed for the first time. I mean, “Sister Love Train”? What the hell? And then you play it again right after, only 1/3 as fast. What’s the deal? You’re supposed to be old and wise – you’re supposed to have become prophets by now. You’ve LIVED, you should KNOW what the good stuff in life is, and you’re supposed to radio report back to us what it is. But what does it look like when all you can find worth saying is, “Unh, Sister Love Train, Unh, Sister Love Train”? Now, I’m not sore. It’s worth the $10. It sure beats everything else I’ve heard by the kids today. But it didn’t destroy me. And that’s all I want is to be destroyed…”
I looked at the ground. I felt awkward. Like when you turn and tell someone something like, “Have you noticed how BLUE the sky is in the midwest? It’s not like this in California! It’s Incredible!” and they say, “Oh, I dunno,” and now they’re awkward and you’re awkward – you’ve revealed something you’re not supposed to, a weakness. Well, here I was, feeling like this in front of DAVID THOMAS. I had to do something.
I did.
I looked up and I said, “You know why we don’t have a religion of milk jugs?”
“Because people are too stupid to start.”
“Oh my god. Wait here. I want to show you to my wife.”

Richard came out, guitar strapped and everything, jumped on stage and they launched into Search and Destroy, and let me tell you, it was the worst version of it I’ve ever heard. But they’ll get better. That’s all they can do. They’ll destroy me with the next one. And I’ll take all of you down with me.