Tony Reflex - 2005

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Tony Reflex is the vocalist for the legendary California punk bands Adolescents and ADZ, as well as a teacher, a Flipside writer, a parent and a billion other things. With the Adolescents reunited, touring, and celebrating the release of TWO new CDs this year, I thought it would be a fine time to demand an interview. See below for its results! My text is as bold as darkness. He's regular.

IMPORTANT NOTE NOT FOR PUBLICATION IN CITIZINE: When I was offered an interview with an Adolescent, I requested Tony. They tried to set me up with somebody else, saying that Tony had been "burned" by another interviewer who promised he'd call but never did. But I insisted, promising that I would NEVER "burn" Tony Reflex. I then proceeded to sit on the interview tape for something like FIVE MONTHS before Jim Laakso, the greatest person in the world, offered to transcribe it for me. Whoops! So that explains the Terri Schiavo conversation. Incidentally, this was BEFORE they pulled out her feeding tube; I mistakenly thought they already had. Ah well. The things you know when you learn things!

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Hey Tony!

What's going on?

I'm the interview guy!

Hi, interview guy! What are you up to?

Interviewin'!

Ha!

Just doin' that whole interview thing. What are you up to?

Trying to keep my kids out of trouhle.

How many kids do you have?

Three.

How old?

Nine, six and almost two.

Are they all big fans of you? Do they like your music?

Yeah, they do actually. Yeah.

Really? Cool!

Yeah. Yeah, they're into it.

You have a concert tonight, right?

Yeah. I guess I better figure out where it is. I gotta be there in a few hours!

Who's in the band now?

Well, let's see - the line-up these days is me, Steve, Frank. And Derek O'Brien, he's playing drums. And we have a rotating second guitar section. Right now it's being filled by Frank's son - Little Frank.

Oh wow! How old is he?

18, I think. Isn't that wild?

Yeah, jeez.

We still had to be like his guardians and stuff for the first tour we did with him.

(voice of a child through the phone): Daddy, can you tell Daria to stop it?

Sure. Daria, stop it!

Heh.

She's buggin' you? Come here, Daria. (Tony talks to his children for a few minutes)

Hey, what should I call you in this interview? "Tony Reflex"?

Yeah, that's the name I use.

Okay. What happened to ol' Rikk Agnew?

Well actually Rikk's in a band right now called Poop.

!!!

But he's been around. He came down to one of our shows when we did a benefit for the flood victims. That was over in Ventura, and Rikk came down and played a couple songs with us.

What's the deal with the D.I. guy? Do you ever talk to him?

Oh, Casey? I haven't talked to him in some time. He's kinda angry with us.

Angry with you?

Yeah. He wasn't ready to leave yet, I guess, at the time. We actually let him go, and he had hard feelings. It's godd since, you know, lately. But for a while there, he was kinda firin' on us left and right.

Why'd you let him go? Was he not showing up for practices?

Yeah, his commitment to D.I. was taking up a lot of his time, and because of that he wasn't putting much into our new material. Which at the time was new, but now is actually three years old. We've got a whole new record recorded that's about to come out.

Oh! Really? A whole new album?

Yeah.

Awesome. When is that coming out?

It comes out in... Uh, whenís it coming out...? I guess itís coming out in May. Weíre supposed to go out on the road in July, so itís coming out in May.

What label?

Kung Fu. (note: it actually wound up coming out on Finger Records)

Oh, yeah. They put out the DVD.

Yeah, yeah. So we have a 13-song album with them. And then Lisaís got this 25-year anniversary thing going on with her label (Frontier), and so I talked to her and I said, ĎHey, Iíve got some old material. Why donít we do a collection of these demos that Iíve got sitting here?í And because itís her 25 years and our 25 years, it worked out pretty nice.

Are these demos from just the first album?

Theyíre from all of them actually, all over the place. Some of them are really early, like about a half dozen really early, very, very raw, off a cassette tape garage rehearsal from when the band first started. Songs that nobodyís ever heard. Well, people have heard them, but theyíve never been recorded or anything. Theyíre from, like, literally, theyíre from... I think we last played some of those songs - they left our set in about April or May of 1980.

Wow.

Yeah. So thereís a handful of songs on there, ĎWe Canít Change the World,í ĎBlack Sheep,í ĎWe Rule.í These are songs that are really archaic. People knew about the songs, but, especially the kids now, they have no idea what these songs were or anything about them. And then some demos, the first demo tape that we did, which some of it has been released on the - BYO put out a record with a couple of the songs on it. But that whole demo. And then a five-song demo we did. Just prior to our work with Frontier, we did five songs. And actually, the source tapes for that were lost but a collector happened to have four of the five songs on a pretty raw cassette. I located a pretty good copy of a 1980 version of ĎDo the Eddie.í So those are all -

1980 version of what song?

Of ĎDo the Eddie,í another one of our old, old, old, old songs. Then we have two songs from a 1986 demo that we did at the Casbah, right before we recorded our second record, that Lisa had actually forgotten that she had, but I told her, "Look, youíve got to go find those tapes. Itís on there." Before D.I. did, we had recorded ĎRichard Hung Himself,í which was actually an Adolescents song that Casey and I had written.

Oh, man.

Yeah. Weíre using one of two takes, so that's on there as well. So itís an interesting little -

So you were responsible for a song that Slayer covered on that CD then. What did you think of that?

(Chuckles) That was great. Another thing that's coming out this year is - I donít want to call it a tribute record, because I donít really consider it one. More like a reworking of the blue album by a lot of different bands. We worked really hard to get Slayer to do ĎI Hate Children,í but it just didnít come together.

Oh.

It wouldíve been just Godzilla, but...

Has that come out?

No, itís actually coming out right about the time our record comes out.

Jeez, so you have three pretty cool things coming out this year.

Yeah, itís a busy year for us. Thatíll have like Pennywise and... Itís the blue album reworked by NOFX, Pennywise, Bad Religion, Dropkick Murphys, Fu Manchu, Alkaline Trio, Pulley and the Briefs, from up Seattle way. The Offspring. Itís going to be a pretty gnarly little record. So itís actually the first Adolescents record, but every track will be cut by a different band.

Let me ask you this. I have all the ADZ CDs, and I like them. And I have all the Adolescents CDs, and, well, you know, Balboa Fun Zone isnít one of my favorite records but I like the other ones. But very few bands had the ability to put out an end-to-end punk album as amazing as that first Adolescents album. Now, are you too close to the project, or can you still listen to it and go, "Wow, these songs really had something. This was really..." That record, itís a classic. I mean, every single track is so perfect. It just captures the time, and itís...

You know, we were intentionally clever sometimes, but I donít think we were really aware of.... We knew that we were involved in something really, really special and really, really important. I donít think we realized when we were doing it that it would transcend the way that it did. We thought that it might transcend counties, but we certainly didnít think it was going to transcend states or countries. And we sure as shit didnít think it was going to transcend generations. You know what I mean? We knew the Los Angeles punk rock scene in 1980 and Ď81 was like a really important thing. We knew that. But I donít think that any of the bands really understood what the long-term effect of it was. We were just doing it. We were in it and we were living it and we were doing it. We didnít realize that there were literally tens of thousands of kids from then to now that were speaking the same language that we were. We just didnít realize it. And when I listen to the record, sometimes I listen to it and I just think that itís...I wish that Iíd done some things a little bit differently, but ultimately I also realize that if...having recorded... Iím sorry, just a moment...

(*Children have been screaming in the background and Tony turns away to tend to the situation*)

Whatís wrong?

Sheís got very long hair and he keeps wrapping his hand up in it and yanking it.

Ow!

You heard her. Stop that! (*Talks to child briefly about going to bed soon*) Sheís being two right now. But anyway, we didnít really think about it in terms of what other people would think. We were in a kind of survival mode, and when we made the record itself I thought it was a pretty desperate cry from a group of very, very, very misunderstood kids. At the time I didnít realize that there were a lot of people that felt the same way. And feel the same way. But when I listen to it now, I certainly see what the appeal is for other people. For me, itís like I love the songs. Iíve played them and theyíve been part of my life, so they are historical for me. Theyíve been historical documents; that was a piece of my life. I didnít realize that people would feel the same way. Does that answer your question?

Yeah, yeah, it does. How come you werenít on Balboa Fun Zone?

Actually I left the band in the middle of a tour in about 1987 or so, Ď88, right around there. Iíd gone out on a second US tour with them and in the middle of the second US tour I got in a pretty big argument with the tour manager. I wanted him to leave, but he was really running the show and we needed him there. He booked it, he put it together, he had the contacts. But the problem kind of culminated in me trying to drop about a five gallon jug of grape juice on his head when he was asleep. It was good for me to go home at about that time. So I went back, and that time I just realized, "You know what, Iím not having very much fun. Iím arguing with everybody and Iíve got things that Iíve gotta get done and Iím not getting them done." I was troubled with the situation, and in this band weíd really have, at any one time, three people trying to run the show. And at that time there was about eight. So it was just nuts. I just wanted to do something else. When I listened to Balboa Fun Zone then, I just laughed. I thought it was just absolutely horrible. I laughed and I said, "Ha ha, thatís what you get for doing it without me."

But now Iíve listened to it without the anger that I associated with it then, and I think thereís some pretty strong tracks. I think the opening and closing tracks especially are especially good. And I think the "Itís In Your Touch" track at the very end of the record is probably one of my favorite songs that Steve Soto has ever written. Itís a really good song. But at the time I was too angry with them for daring to do it without me, even though I left and said, "You go ahead and deal with it." For some reason I didnít equate that with, you know, when you tell somebody that youíre cool with it and then youíre cool with it or youíre not cool with it. Of course, I wasnít as OK with it as I initially had felt. But I really liked that track a lot and I thought that the "Riot on the Beach" track was really good and I love the "Instant Karma" cover that they did. There were some shining moments, and I think that even had I been involved in the project, I donít think that the record would have been a strong record. I think that it definitely had its moments, but I think that at the time, the kind of material that we were writing just wasnít as strong as the stuff that weíd written before or since then. I think every band - anybody that seriously makes music always thinks that the music that theyíre making at that very moment in time is the best music that theyíve ever made. And Iím sure that Iím guilty of that just as much as anybody else, but I really do feel that the record thatís about to come out is a pretty damn good record.

I really liked the new songs that you played on the DVD.

Yeah, thatís three of them. ĎLockdown America,í ĎCalifornia Soní and ĎWithin These Walls.í

Yeah, all three of them were good.

Thank you. Oh, and ĎHawks and Doves,í I think that might be in there too.

Oh, yeah, I think I remember that being on there too.

Yeah, all those are on this record. Iím pretty excited about the record that weíve done. Then youíve got the one that Lisaís got coming out. I hope that when that one does come out itís looked at as it was intended, at least by me. My putting that out was strictly - I think that the songs are great. You can hear the fury. Thereís no denying the intensity of the songs. And sonically itís very lo-fi. Thereís not much we could do because of the source material. But Iím really excited about the fact that somebody's going to put it out, whether it's a limited release or not. Iím just really excited that itís happened, because I didnít think that that was ever going to come out. Can you hold on for just a minute?

Yeah.

(*pause*)

So anyway...

Is it gonna be called OC Confidential?

Yeah. The new studio album is called OC Confidential, and the demos record is called Naughty Women in Black Sweaters. Itís kind of a funny little title. And again, you have to kind of know the history of Fullerton music and the Adolescents in particular. Thereís an intentional inside joke there. The Naughty Women were a transvestite punk rock band from Fullerton who we all loved dearly, just a great rock band. Very, very punk rock, very, very fun. And theyíre a very funny bunch of guys. And the Black Sweaters were a group of girls that used to always hang around the scene, they were kind of the resident groupies of the early Fullerton scene. So we have Naughty Women in Black Sweaters. You can kind of put it all together and it has a whole new meaning. But even without that insight, the titleís kind of funny on any level. But for us, when we did it we were all chuckling. They said, ĎDo you have an album title?í I said, ĎYeah, how about this one?í And I threw that one out and they all just started to laugh. Theyíre like, ĎOh!í So we have a good time. We still have a lot of fun. Fart jokes still make us laugh.

Do you have any plans to do any more ADZ releases, or is Adolescents really your main focus right now? I know youíre busy this year, but...

Well, I do plan on doing more. Itís just that getting those guys moving is really hard. Bruce is a pretty busy guy, and -

You know, when I started getting these ADZ CDs, I recognized his name because when I was a kid I had a tape by Jesters of Destiny.

Oh yeah. He was a Jester, yup. Youíre probably one of the few people in this country that knows that. The Jesters had a wonderful following in Europe.

Did they?

Oh yeah. They were right on that new wave of metal that came out in the Ď80s, they were right on it. Yeah, the guitar player was Sickie Wifebeater.

Oh, yeah! I remember something in the liner notes saying, ĎOne of these guys is in another band. He doesnít want you to know about it.í Yeah, I remember. (Singing) ĎDigginí that graa-ave.í There were some good songs on there.

Yeah. Yeah.

So what the heck happened to your voice between the first record and the second record? Were you just really young on the first record, or was it just all the screaming?

A little bit of both. When the first record was made, the actual recording was done in - well, with the demos and the first album, that stuff was all done when I was like 16. My voice had actually just broke.

Ha!

No, really. It had just changed. Actually, on the very first recording that we did, my voice is actually in the process of changing right then, right about that first recording. So it was kind of hard for me to do some of the stuff because my voice kept cracking. And I didnít understand why it was happening; nobody bothered to tell me. It was just happening. I was a small guy for my age. I was 15 but I was very, very...I must have been 4'11 or something. I was little! And in that year, from like middle of Ď79 to the middle of Ď80, I shot up about a foot. So I started very small but then Iíve grown. Thatís probably why I was so thin, because I was stretching. I wasnít filling out; I was going up. Then after the band broke up, I worked with a few guys from the Fullerton area in a band called the Abandoned, one of about four versions of it. I moved out to Glendora and re-established another band called the Abandoned out there, another one.

Did you do a record with them?

Iíve got a kind of collection. I did a record with the last lineup called ĎKilled by Faith.í It was reissued on GTA a few years ago with all the early demos, with like demos from Ď82 to Ď84. And then an album and about a half dozen live, pretty good quality rehearsal tapes. And in that period is when my voice really changed. Right about the ĎKilled by Faithí record. What happened was we were rehearsing in my auntís cellar and I was singing out of a guitar amplifier so I couldnít hear, and I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing and actually wrecked my voicebox. So what you hear is how I sound. When I talk, sometimes it just varies. My pitch might be a little different, but my voice is always scratchy because I damaged my voicebox.

Oh wow!

Yeah, and it happened between the first two records. And itís the ĎKilled by Faithí where it really just got bad. Now Iíve gotten to the point where I can actually sing, now that I can hear the tune. I couldnít before. I can actually hear it now and I can kind of stay in key and I can do a few shows without completely destroying my voice. But Iíve never had any formal training. And I have asthma on top of everything else, so a lot of the reason I even sing the way I do is I donít know how to breathe. I donít have a breathing technique. I donít know any of that. So things will come fast, because Iíve got to get it all out so I can catch my breath and then do the next line. Derek has been trying to show me, for about a year, how to have a pause, how to take a breath. Iím trying. Itís a real conscious effort, but I never really thought of it as an instrument, I just thought of it as a device for throwing out lyrics and poems and ideas. Not really an instrument for music. I never really saw myself as a singer, but as more of an anthem writer or a sloganeer.

Does it hurt to perform?

Oh yeah. Yeah, it does. If youíre looking for it, you can tell, because Iíll actually pinch my head, the bridge of my nose where my eyes are, to put a little pressure on it to take it off the sinuses. But yeah, it definitely hurts a lot.

Why do you keep doing it? What drives you on?

You know, I donít know. Iíve done it most of my life. I really like to do it. I donít think anybody does the kind of music that I do for any other reason than that they really enjoy the music. Believe me, Iíd make a lot more money doing a lot more things than I do doing this. For the amount of time, energy, and personal damage and risk that I put myself through, it really is a labor of love. Itís not something that I take lightly. I take it pretty seriously, which is all the more reason why I think that when a band is too idealistic they turn me off, whereas if a band is too career-oriented in music, they turn me off too. I donít think this is a forum for politics, and I donít think itís a forum for promoting clothing lines and cameras or instruments or whatever. Iíve gotten to the point where Iíve kind of looked at that from a lot of different perspectives and studied it. I kind of feel like thereís got to be more to all of this than just the promotion of sales of whatever. So many big plugs are written into everything, you know, product endorsements everywhere. I get turned off when I see it in the music. The internet of five years ago and the internet of today are completely different things. And itís kind of a drag. And you can see that in music, too. Itís everywhere.

That "seems completely designed to be played on the radio," real commercial sort of...

Right, right. Yeah, and itís true...

It tries to plug into obvious emotions, the same sort of...

Yeah.

Why do the politics bother you?

Why?

Well, because, you know, there are so many punk bands that are...

Well, I donít think that the politics bother me; itís that I donít really do well with somebody shoving an agenda down my throat. That really annoys me. You know what? Put an idea out there and let me make a decision, but donít make that decision for me. That bothers me. From any field. Anywhere. To me, thereís more to it. I want something thatís not stupid. I want music thatís intelligent, I want lyrics that are intelligent, I donít want just to be bombarded with one idea. I want something layered, I want something thought out, I want something intelligent. I want something with good rhythm in the writing, I want something with good metaphors, I want something with clever plays on words and little idioms. I want something clever and I want it set to a music style that I can listen to and not be turned off by. But I really donít want somebody to just throw a lot of political rhetoric at me that doesnít have any structure and thought. If youíre going to do it, do it like Bad Religion. If youíre going to do it, do it like that. Put it out there, but do it strong and do it well. Donít just stay on one thing. If you read their lyrics, they really run a gamut of ideas, and while I donít always agree with Gregís position on things, heís got an amazing mind and an amazing voice. I donít dig bands where every song is just the same and the message is just negative and down. Gimme something else, gimme a little more. Make it interesting for me. Iím old.

Ha!

Iíve heard a lot of this already.

Yeah, itís hard not to notice that when a punk bandís trying to be political and theyíre not really that up on things, they all say the same thing. They kind of base their opinions on the opinions of Crass or the Dead Kennedys.

Right. And itís dated. You know what? The Dead Kennedys were a fantastic band in their time. The name Jello Biafra was a clever name. And there was a statement there. And songs like ĎPolice Truckí and ĎHoliday in Cambodia' - those were great songs, theyíre good tunes. But just to take the stance and not have the song structure, man, itís a waste of time. Or just to have the song structure but not have any position. That doesnít do it for me either. I could name a lot of bands I donít like, and the reason is because theyíve got this really, really blatant pop sensibility and theyíve got nothing to say at all. That doesnít work either.

Do you still work with autistic children?

Well, I do, a little closer to home than I ever thought I would, but yeah, I do still work with autistic children to some degree.

What do you mean a little closer to home?

Well, itís a little closer to home than I ever thought it would be.

Really?

Oh yeah. And thatís not a bad thing.

But what were the odds on that, though?

Well, you know, I donít know. I have some serious questions for the medical community about the inclusion of mercury in the shots that they have to give the children right off the bat.

Oh my goodness.

Weíll see what happens, but theyíve known as far back as 20 years that what they swore were minute amounts of mercury that they include in these vaccinations for the flu or for hepatitis B or A or C or MMR especially, because thatís one that all the kids get, that MMR shot... MMR is put together, itís one dose for three things. And my wife stays a lot more current on this stuff than I do, but I always thought that she was a little overly cautious about spreading these shots out. I thought, ĎYou know what, give him the whole thing so heís done.í One shot and the kids feel better rather than spreading those out. But sheís researched it pretty well and over time what weíre learning and whatís starting to show up in places like the Los Angeles Times now - so certainly you go into semi-credible sources - is that the amount of mercury that theyíre putting in these things canít really be considered safe. If a fish is contaminated with that much mercury and weíre told, ĎDonít eat this fish thatís coming out of the Pacific Palisades area because itís full of mercury,í and the amount of mercury thatís in that fish is the same amount of mercury that children are injected with and newborn babies are injected with to carry this vaccination, as a serum for the vaccination, then what the hell is going on?

Some children that these studies kind of lean towards are more susceptible to getting autism than others, and for years theyíve been looking for a genetic link. And Iím sure that there is one, but now more and more is starting to come out about the amount of mercury and mercury poisoning. Considering the injection of a poison like mercury into a developing nervous system, and these are mandatory shots! You donít have a choice. You donít say ĎNoí to an MMR shot. If your childís going to go to school, your childís going to have to have an MMR shot. I have a feeling that we will see in the next 10 or 15 years a class action lawsuit thatís going to make what happened to cigarette companies look like...like...Iím sorry to use such a wrong term, but itís going to look like kidsí stuff. Because I think that sooner or later some of these drug companies are going to be brought to task on this mercury thing. And I think itís going to be a big one. I think itís going to be as big as what went down with the cigarette companies. Itís going to be huge. Itís just a matter of time. They knew. There are documents from 20 years ago that said this probably isnít a good idea. And once something like that happens, once that sort of stuff starts to come out, other stuff starts to come out.

Now, what role does the mercury play in this shot?

You know, Iím not exactly sure. My understanding is that itís used as almost like a base to carry it. (To his wife) Do you know what the mercuryís even used for? (Back to me) Itís a preservative to keep it from going bad.

Oh! Oh my goodness.

(*Pause while Tony's wife speaks to him*)

Oh, so itís for cleansing, to prevent the exposure to things like air or whatever that the germs have. Itís a preservative. So, you know what? I have a feeling that in time truth has a habit of getting out. People start to research shit. When I talk about things that are important, these are the kind of things that I consider important. To me, thatís a pretty significant thing. Will someone write a song about it? Well, probably will now. You know? They probably will now. And I think they should. Those are the kinds of things that I think songs should deal with.

Yeah. You should write about it. Have you written about it?

On the next record thatís coming out, there's a song called ĎMonsanto Hayrideí that I wrote about a year ago about the Monsanto Chemical Company and the dumping of poisonous pesticides into the Anniston area and their bullying of farmers as they developed these Frankenfood seeds. They had a lawsuit where some seeds blew into a neighboring farmerís lot. Well, he benefitted from that and they sued him for like copyright-type infringement. For blowing seeds. Itís not like he intentionally grabbed them or whatever. But this is big business, agricultural bullying stuff. Who the hell knows what theyíre doing to the kids. Those growth hormones that theyíve injected into those cows to get them to produce that milk - think about what itís going to do to an eight year old girl whoís been drinking it her whole life. Whatís it going to do to a child? These are significant things. I think this kind of stuff makes the ĎSuper-Size Me' - and I think that kind of stuff is great, I think itís really important that people expose food chains for what they are - but I think thatís the tip of the iceberg. I think thereís a lot more going on underneath than anybody either wants to know or is capable of really comprehending. I just wonder how much stuff will come. But yeah, I write stuff about it and I write songs about this stuff. And I try to make the songs very catchy, because you know what? I want a person to hear one of these songs, to sing along with it, and then when they think about what theyíre hearing, I want to challenge them. Like, ĎYou know what? This is going on.í Itís in our power to do something about this, to inform one another. The internet is not for selling t-shirts. Rock and roll bands are not about selling merchandise. Iím sorry, itís not about selling a product, itís about selling a social... To me, itís a social movement. Itís not a political movement; itís a social movement. Itís a movement of people that canít accept what they see and they do something about it.

Thereís this clever little postcard from some hippy group that I just got which is the best thing in the world. It said, ĎIf Iím not at home accepting what I canít change, then Iím probably out changing what I canít accept.í I love that. Itís a very, very powerful statement. And Iím going to inform people. Iím going to talk to people, Iím going to tell them where to find out about what Wal Mart does, you know? Iím going to say, "You as a woman or as a child who is female, you should know about this company." Iím not going to tell you what to think; Iím going to tell you to go look at what they do. But donít accept this because you see a Wal Mart in every city and because their prices are so good. Donít accept that that means that theyíre fair. Donít believe that thatís necessarily a good thing. Look into it, find out about it, learn. Educate yourself. Take a personal stance: I either accept what a store like Wal Mart does, or I canít accept it. And if I canít accept it, what am I going to do? Iím going to tell other people about it. Just say, "You know what, if youíre a woman and you want a job promotion, youíre sure as shit not going to get one at Wal Mart because whether theyíre going to admit it or not, theyíve got a policy thatís going to keep you down. And if theyíre going to keep you down by gender, theyíre going to keep you down for your ethnicity, theyíre going to keep you down for your religious or political views." It doesnít matter what that is; if theyíll do it to one segment of our society, theyíll do it to a lot more. They got caught for the hiring of undocumented labor for janitorial services. The first thing they said? ĎOh, well we hired these peopleí - ĎTHESE people,í I love the way that that was laid out - Ďfrom an agency. They were freelance workers.í Thatís a way of saying, you know what, it wasnít important to us whether or not they had a legal or illegal work status here; what mattered to us was that we could get this particular group of workers in here to work cheap. And to me, thereís something really, really wrong there. Thereís something wrong with that. This is why there were people like Cesar Chavez out there working. Thatís why we have unions, for that very reason. Because people are exploited by business if they donít organize in some form. Iíll just keep going on. You better stop me now.

No no no! What I wanted to ask was - I go through these phases, and Iím just curious - With so much selfishness and so much greed and so many people behaving in evil ways and not blaming themselves for it, how do you not be depressed all the time? Or get to a point where you go, ĎYou know, weíre all going to die in the end anyway, Iíll just try to be happy and keep my family happyí?

Well, Iím generally a pretty positive person. I do get down, I do battle with negativity, sure, and I think we all do. But itís just a personal commitment to say, ĎYou know what, I canít accept the status quo. Itís not acceptable.í That doesnít mean Iím going to take this out on my coworkers; itís not their fault. Iím not going to take this out on my kids; itís not their fault. Iím not going to take this out on my wife or my husband; itís not their fault. Iím not going to take this out on the guy thatís working his ass off for six dollars an hour because he put the wrong sauce on my food, OK? Iím not going to freak out about somebody who makes an unintentional mistake like he cut me off. Itís just in the way that you maybe can say, clearly, ĎIím sorry.' Iím not going to let my situation influence me so that I take it out on my brother or my sister. Thatís not going to work. To me, thatís not acceptable. Iíve been really upset at myself if I find myself acting in a way that I shortchange them or I treat them, you know - itís so basic, itís such a basic, golden-rule kind of thing. Iím not going to be so proud that I canít apologize to somebody if Iíve done something - and I recognize it - that is offensive. If I say something or do something because Iím in a pissy mood, Iím going to take every possible opportunity to find that person, locate that person, and apologize for my own behavior. If I start by accepting my own behavior and taking responsibility for it, then I canít expect some company to take responsibility for their behavior. But Iím also not going to allow another person or another company to lie to me about their behavior. Iím going to call them on it, say, ĎYou know what, this isnít right. This is not right, and if this is how youíre going to act, Iím not going to use your services. Iím done.í Iíve been dealing with this nightmare for almost... with talking, and me walking through situations with technical support people for more than sixty hours in the last two weeks. And itís frustrating. But if I find myself even getting short, Iíll say, ĎYou know what, Iím sorry, this has been going on for a long time and Iím going to go ahead and do this step and this step, and Iíll call you back later.í Because I recognize that right now this person on the other end of the phone is not to blame for my computerís problem. And itís just a fucking computer. Itís not worth me ruining that personís day. Itís just not worth it. So I do think about it, and I try to be like that. I try to be like that.

See, that sounds like me, and it makes me really happy to hear about other people like that.

People think youíre stupid when you act like that; they think weíre naive. Weíre not.

Yeah! What in your life - you know, Iíve never actually looked at this in myself - but what in your life has made you like this, whereas other people grow up and become cynical, or think itís fun to just be sarcastic all the time, or just get pissy.

I guess itís a defense mechanism. My feeling is they probably do that because itís their survival mode, and in order to survive they feel that thatís what they have to do. They donít see that they can make a conscious effort to be another way, and so they accept that if that works for them theyíre going to be that way. I run into people like that. Iíve been in bands with people like that, Iíve worked with people like that, Iíve talked with people like that, Iíve met bands that are like that. Generally if I have somebody around me thatís like that, Iím not going to get into a verbal spar with the person. Iíll just get up and leave. Because I learned when I was about 12 years old that there were really two kinds of people. There were the kinds of people that would build me up, and there were the kinds of people that would tear me down. And when I found that the kind of person that would tear me down was influencing me, I was in the worst situations and I was in a crisis where I was depressed, where I was aggressive. And I realized that thatís not a place I want to be. I donít think Iím going to make the world a better place by destroying another human being. And I certainly can go out in this world and say, ĎI think itís wrong to shoot another human.' To me, thatís wrong. I think that itís wrong to drop bombs on people when children are starving in my city. I think thatís wrong. Itís wrong to invest billions of dollars into rebuilding a country that weíve just demolished. Thatís wrong. When the state I live in is in such a financial crisis that it could go bankrupt at any minute, thatís wrong.

"You know what you need though, is education." Education. All Bush talks about is education. So what happens? People get educated and thereís no jobs.

But the thing is, is an educated people can take the control away from the people that - it doesnít matter how much money they have. The problem with our governor, for example, is not that heís a lying politician just like all the rest. I mean, he lied about everything he said he was going to do; thatís not the problem here. The problem here is that the popular support that brought him into office is uneducated; they donít really understand what he was saying. It didnít really matter, as long as he ended it with, ĎYouíre a girlyman if you disagree with me,í or if he ended it with, ĎIíll be backí or any of the movie tie-ins that he said. You want to talk about the biggest tie-in in California history, this was way more than Ronald Reagan couldíve ever done. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the governor is probably -Arnold Schwarzenegger Incorporated had probably a 2000% financial gain when he became the governor of the state. Heís not hurting for money. I am. You are. But heís not. His DVD sales went up, his video sales went up, heís in the media every single day. And when you see Arnold Schwarzeneggerís face on television and then you go to the store and you see Total Recall or the Terminator and you buy that, he just got the cheapest commercial ever made to sell that product. I would like to know how much of his own capital he puts into education, because I can tell you I put every single day of my life - and I have for the last 24 years - into educating other people. And thatís just as a career choice. Before that, as the singer of a rock band and as a mouthy, active teenager, Iíve been doing it for 30 years. Iíve put my life into this. This isnít a little thing to me. Iím a very, very education-driven person. And I really, really think that the only way that any of us can grow, spiritually or economically, is to be educated. And I think that we need to be educated not just by rock lyrics, but we need to be educated by people that we donít agree with necessarily. Because we need to know what weíre up against. We need to know what weíre dealing with, and we need to know what weíre up against.

Thereís a song by DOA - and Iím going to go right to a rock lyric - thereís a song by DOA on a record that came out a few years ago - not the newest one, the one that came a couple records back - where they talk about the name-branding on shirts, companies, sodas, whatever. And theyíre saying that for parents, theyíre so slapped by it that they donít even know how to react to it anymore. And I think that it was one little lyric, and I read that and I walked away from this record with this whole different way of thinking about how marketing works. And what did I do? I started reading. I started getting books like Branded, for example, which is an amazing book about the way that clothing manufacturers target teenage girls and literally brand them with their clothing brand as a social ritual. But what happens is theyíre being used to literally be spokespeople for whatever clothing line it is. Theyíll hire a 12 year old girl for a questionnaire. It's what Spyware does now on the internet; it tracks your buying habits.

Yeah, you know, I read about that a while back, about how companies would do this thing where they go to schools or malls and theyíd ask, ĎWho are the cool kids?í And when people tell them, ĎOh, heís cool, heís cool, heís cool,í then they go to those kids and get them to wear their stuff. Yeah, itís amazing. Itís so sleazy.

Yeah.

What I was going to say about education... Well, first of all, I think youíre selling Schwarzenegger short, because he did Kindergarten Cop.

Ha!

But aside from that - now, I had some good teachers. I really did. I had some good teachers who led conversations outside the curriculum and so on and so forth, but do you think thereís a problem with the education process - how itís set up just to make kids memorize stuff? Or do you feel like thereís enough leeway there for teachers who really want to actually teach kids?

Well, you know, one of the problems that I think education is facing right now is the standardization process. It creates a norm and a not-norm, and as much as I think itís necessary to test the quality of education and to make sure that kids get a basic grasp of materials or ideas at a particular point in their school career, it doesnít have to be so stringent and so cutthroat. And itís starting to look to me like itís structured almost the same way as everything else. The process of giving a designed test to every single kid in the United States and saying they need to hit these plateaus or theyíre not on the norm - itís creating a lot of stress for teachers to make sure these kids hit these standards. It decreases their creativity and their ability to be a - and I donít mean that I think that standards are a horrible idea. I think theyíre a great idea. But I think that there needs to be a moderation. I also donít think that a child should be taught nothing but the arts. I have seen examples of a child just being given a year of art, just different kinds of arts by a very talented artist. Artistic thinking is a whole different concept, but if you donít stay on top of making sure that they get math, science and reading concepts, the child goes to another grade and they start to fall. So I think there needs to be a balance. I think there needs to be a guideline. But I donít think that standardizing the whole state or the whole country is the answer, and I think that it actually gives too much power to the testing people, to the publishers of those tests. And if you research whoís making these tests, where are these tests coming from? Who is the company that analyzes these tests, and whoís making the money? Because somebodyís making a great deal of money on these tests that they give once a year and that a lot of schools are bullied into achieving higher and higher and higher every year on. Somebodyís making a great deal of money on that, and the politics of whatís going on with those publishers concerns me not only as an educator, but also as a Californian. Who are they lobbying? Where did their money come from, where does their money come from, and why are they allowed to have so much power over the education of the kids in this state? Who is this publishing company? Because Iíll tell you one thing. If you find out who the publishing company is, you start to find out who more of your schools are going to be buying publishing materials from. Itís a big business. If a textbook is 40 or 50 bucks and you require five of them for a kid, thatís $250 a set per child. And the publishing companies become very competitive in trying to get those things out, to make money - big money, millions of dollars! And itís something that people donít think about.

Every once in a while we get a naysayer. Iíll run into somebody who will be highly critical of me because Iím active in education - that somehow by the fact that I sing and sang in a punk rock band, then I could not have a career. I do music because, really, thereís a freedom in the songs; itís how I can express myself best. I canít get that anywhere else. I take it very seriously. You asked me why I do it even though itís killing me - and it is, itís destroying me physically - but itís something that feels very, very important. In this arena I can say to people, ĎWhat are these standardized tests about? Who are these publishers? Whoís doing this?í And it challenges kids. It challenges kids and adults to go out and find out whoís running this thing. Itís been going on for a long time. Whoís making the choices? Whoís making the money? Whose money is behind this? Where is this coming from? Who are these directives coming from? I feel bad for a teacher who has lost the passion of this job. I do; I feel sorry for him. Because I think that this is probably one of the most important jobs that human beings can have. I canít think, to me, of a more important job.

And I really donít see, even as a musician, I donít see myself as just the singer of a band. Iíve never seen my role in the community as that. Iíve seen myself in the music community as a historian, not just as a singer. And that really came from years of people asking me questions about the blue record and about the social climate of Orange County in the Ď70s and the early Ď80s. And I realized, what I do is more than just sing a few songs. Iím really a historian with a great deal of knowledge about the past, and still very, very active in this social movement that revolves around the alternative rock scene. I think punk rock as an ideal has really morphed into something a lot bigger than it used to be. Thereís a certain responsibility with bands that do have the arena to use the arena to promote social change and justice, not just to rant about how bad the government is. Iím sorry, once youíve dismissed the democratic system completely, whatíve you got?Once youíve done that, the people that youíre trying to get to change their ways have turned you off completely. It never comes into them otherwise. You have to know how to achieve a change without making your opponent defensive or walk away from the game. Thereís a way to do it. You totally shut them down if their whole thing is like, ĎYou know what? It doesnít matter. I canít change anything anyways.í Once the ĎI canítí has entered the personís vernacular, that personís not going to be able to change a damn thing. Theyíve already accepted it. But I canít accept that. I meet people all the time that are frustrated with their job and I say, ĎGet a new job,í or ĎChange this about the way that you deal with this part of your job so that you can do better at the job that youíve taken on. Rather than just finessing it or just going into work and hating the job.' I think thatís so unhealthy. A person that goes into a job that they hate every day, if they donít have an objective or a way to correct the issue that theyíve got, they will live in misery. Thatís just the most destructive thing I can think of, the most destructive personal thing I can think of.

Who do you teach now?

I teach kids that are in fourth and fifth grade now. And Iíve done these grades for some time. My credential is to teach in that grade level and to teach special education.

Now, there are two songs that I wanted to ask you about. One is ĎCommunication Unbound.í Itís based on a book?

Yes, itís based on a book. Itís actually based on a book by a guy named Doug Biklen that came out about maybe 1994 about the the idea that some peopleís autism kind of attacks their motor control and compromises it, and it could be the result of the autism or the autism could just be another element of whatís going on, another symptom of whatever the disorder is. But essentially, autism impairs the personís ability to communicate effectively so that they either become angry or they have tantrums or they behave in a way that might appear goofy or bizarre to another person. Biklen had gone out to Australia and studied this lady in Australia - Crossley I believe was her name - and they had been using a typewriter, a keyboard, to fill a page with communication from non-verbal adults that had been called severely retarded for their whole lives. And what they found was that by giving them some support or resistance against the hands, they could actually counter the involuntary spasms and the person could type messages on a keyboard.

And of course it was no accident; it's like the Prometheus legend - the idea that all of a sudden there was this weight lifted where these people could talk about stuff for the first time in their lives and could communicate where they never could before. And they could say, ĎIíve been called retarded my whole life. Iíve been punching myself in the face because Iím so angry that this happened.í And when youíve got no voice at all, how are you going to act? You look at a kid; how does a kid act when they donít get their way, when they donít know how to tell you what they want? They fall down and scream loudly for it, they lie down and scream. They donít have the ability to communicate. They have these adults that would do the same thing.

With Communication Unbound, essentially what happened was that these theories started to come over to the United States. And in the United States, the reaction was... there were two types. One, there were knee-jerk reactions that anytime somebody typed something out and itís in written print, that means itís true. Thatís not necessarily so. But all of a sudden, there became a lot of uproar and a lot of people became very concerned about whoís guiding the hand. Is the person providing support to the person with autism guiding their hand? They called it the Clever Hans - you know, where you train the horse to do a certain thing and it would hit the desired response but have no comprehension at all of what was really going on. So Biklen went up against a lot of resistance. A lot of studies have discredited his work, but there have been a number of incidents and instances where a person with autism is actually shown - itís known that the ideas that are coming out of these keypads are generated by the, and Iím doing quotes here, the Ďseverely retarded person.í Most recently, a gal over in the Whittier area who they just did a documentary on - sheís going to college, and sheís got autism and uses facilitated communication to communicate. And I believe that all they have to do to give her enough resistance, you know, not holding her arm or her hand to get her to type, is to just hold a small piece of her shirt at the shoulder. So the typing comes from the woman, itís not coming from some educator guiding her through it. But itís just a process and it takes time, it takes a lot of time.

When I was in the studio, I wrote that song and I realized that there a lot of people that really thought that some of the people that I was working with, that their lives were not very useful and they werenít worth very much. And I realized that the ability to communicate and to - when a person or a child that was perceived to be severely retarded is able to communicate a basic idea, all of a sudden the people around them treated them better. And it made me feel really, really bad that the quality of a personís life was based on their intelligence, and if they were more retarded, somehow their value wasnít as significant as a person who could show that they werenít retarded. And that bothered me. That bothered me a lot. And this didnít come from the education field; it came from outside of the education field, the way that people responded in writing and in their debates and their journals, their education journals. And I realized this is a sad thing - that a personís worth and the quality of a personís life is based on whether or not another person perceives them as having retardation. Just to kind of wrap this whole idea up, I really feel that itís not an individual thatís struggling with learning or a person that is perceived as having a disability or being mentally retarded that is the problem here. The problem here is theyíve got all kinds of ability, and we just donít know how to tap into it. We donít know how to extract what they can do. But theyíre a human being no matter what their physical condition or the state of those little blips on the radar on that poor woman that is in Florida - the quality of that personís life shouldnít be based on their intelligence, but the quality of our lives should be based on our ability to communicate with that person and to make that person comfortable and to make that person feel like they have value. Get me going on that husband who wants to pull the plug on his wife in Florida and Iíll just go into a whole different, a whole other situation. That one really gets me worked up.

He did it, didnít he?

He what?

Didnít they say he could do it?

Yeah, they did. And, again, quality of life issues here. They donít see her as having a viable quality, because they say, ĎWell, sheís non-responsive.í I donít know. I saw the video footage, and I can tell you that with intensive work that they would be able to demonstrate that that woman is in there. Because I could see it, I could see it. I could see it in her eyes in the video footage that I saw of how she smiled and reacted to her family that that woman, somewhere deep, deep within her brain, she recognized these people. And if she didnít know Ďthis is my mother,í she recognized that these people were treating her well and they were treating her like she was worth their time. It breaks my heart that this husband is allowed to dictate whether or not her life is worth living. I can say about anybody on this planet that I know, once they got in an accident, oh, you know, ĎSo and so told me blah blah blah, go ahead and pull the plug.í And if I have a personal interest there like that man did... he had a personal interest. He should have never been allowed to make this decision. Never. Yeah, personal interest. He should have been allowed to divorce her and move on if thatís what he wanted and let the state of Florida take it from there. Let people who care about her life take care of her. But donít dismiss her because we, our society, canít communicate with her. Weíre the ones at fault here, not her. We need to figure out how to get to her because she canít get to us right now. If she could, believe me, she would. We are the ones at fault here. We are the ones that have to figure out how to get there. I feel really strongly about that, about life quality issues, especially when it comes to people with disabilities. I left the field of special education a number of years ago because I actually injured myself and couldnít do the job that I knew I needed to do, to be capable of doing the job that needed to be done.

Oh! Howíd you injure yourself?

I fell. I fell. In Germany I fell down a flight of stairs and I tweaked my back and I could no longer lift a person with cerebral palsy that weighed 70 pounds. I couldnít do it without hurting myself. And I realized I canít give this person as much as they deserve. I guess in a lot of ways Iíve been very, very hard on myself, but I feel that if Iím going to really be able to work with a person with palsy or a person with pretty significant orthopedic needs, I need to be able to manipulate them in and out of their wheelchair, get them down onto the floor so that they can exercise a little bit so they donít have to be stuck and seeing the world from one position all the time. I just couldnít do it. I couldnít do it, and I feel horrible about it. I love working with people with disabilities. I think theyíre some of the most uplifting and empowering individuals in the world, but I just couldnít physically do it anymore. And I love education, and Iíve just been really lucky. Iíve got credentials in more than one area so Iím not tied into any one type of role in education. Even if I left schools I could work in other areas of education. Iím multi-talented in the area. Iíve worked hard at it. Iíve put in a lot of personal time and a lot of personal money to learn more. Iím just very, very driven. Iím not a quitter.

I guess I...

Next song. What was the other song? Ha!

Well, my 90-minute tapeís about up...

Iím sorry.

Should I put on a new tape? I should probably let you go.

As long as youíve got questions, sure. I enjoy talking, and I enjoy talking about education especially.

I should probably stop. This is going to take forever to transcribe. No, the other one was ĎStage Diving Daisy.í That really happened?

Yeah.

Does it happen often?

It does. Daisy, bless her heart, is a young woman from the Hollywood area who at the end of one of the shows started to razz me about being a teacher. And in the light of the suicide of Kurt Cobain, I realized that the role - for the rebellious youth - that I had taken was seen as the position of the enemy. And in this young womanís mind, I was. And sheís not the only one. One of my own siblings felt this way, that I was the same thing as their parents. I was, to them, just as bad for being a teacher, which is one of the things that teenage kids rebel against. And I said, you know, what are my choices? Would you like me dead or if maybe I put a shotgun to my head and blew a piece of it off? Is that a better choice? Would it be better to be a drug addict? Because these are the choices that we all have to make. Do I want to do something to improve this world and myself, or do I want to do something to destroy myself completely? I have a great deal of respect for Daisy, because she came right up to me and challenged me, flat out. And I wrote that, and she was actually real hurt. I apologized to her for hurting her feelings, because it wasnít my intention. My intention was to make a statement to another generation that we have choices here. We can either do something to make this world a better place or we can do something to make ourselves palatable to other 'cool' people. And I'm happy to say that Daisy is now a counseler that aids runaways and kids who have been abused.

My tape just ended.

Oh good! At least we ended on an uplifting note.

Yeah! Well, thank you very much for everything. This was a good conversation! I know people like to read about their favorite bands, but you've got more to talk about than just your music.

Oh yeah, that's just one part of my life. I'm also a parent, a writer, an educator - I try to keep my life very full. I'm happy that way. Where are you calling from?

New York City. Are you coming here?

Yeah! We'll be there in July. We're playing on July 15th.

Excellent. That's two days before my birthday!

Oh great! Well, call me or email me a few days before that and I'll put you on the guest list.

Oh, I can pay for a ticket.

But I have a guest list that never gets used in New York. I only know two people there!

Do you know where you're playing?

I guess at Coney Island High. Is that still there?

No, that shut down.

Oh, they don't hold shows there anymore? I don't know where we're playing then. Hey, Doug Viklen did his research in New York.

Oh, did he? Cool. Man, I can't wait to hear all these new CDs you've got coming out! Okay, I'd better head on out. Have a good show tonight!

Thanks. It was nice talking to you!

You too.

Bye.

Bye.

Reader Comments

rocknroll_ghost@yahoo.com
Love Tony and the adolescents but its a bummer to hear him speak so ignorantly about mercury and immunizations. MMR doesn't even contain mercury and never has, and links between autism and shots has been pretty well destroyed- it's junk science.. Anyway great interview! You are always a fun read!

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