By Noah Hubbell
By Leslie Simon
By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
Dave Wyndorf, the lead singer for Monster Magnet, has heard the snickers from snooty, pretentious reviewers who dismiss his band as the real-life Spinal Tap. And he wants such Poindexters to know that they're on to something.
"My whole life in Monster Magnet, and pretty much my whole life in rock and roll, has been a cross between the ultimate satirical stereotype and the times when that stereotype becomes a reality," he says. "The minute you go on stage--and I don't care if you're Weezer or Pantera--you are in Spinal Tap. If you've got a tour manager with a flashlight, you're Spinal Tap--period. But that stuff is a lot of what I always loved about rock and roll when I was a kid, and what I still like about it. And the cool thing is, when you're in a band, you're kind of in the driver's seat of the stereotype. So why not hit the gas?"
That's what Monster Magnet does on Powertrip, its latest mind-bender on A&M Records. The rudiments of the band's sound--mammoth chords and wonderfully wanky solos by guitarist Ed Mundell, mega-boogie bass courtesy of Joe Calandra, the cavernous drum-playing of John Kleiman and Wyndorf's throaty, hyped-up yowling--are deeply rooted in Sixties/Seventies hard rock and psychedelia, and the bold, boisterous lyrics suit this style perfectly. "Crop Circle," in which Wyndorf bellows, "Instead of dragging the swamp for your lost love/Come to me, I'm your living crop circle/Yeah!" sets the tone for the album as a whole; it's a freak-out phantasmagoria that's served up hot and nasty. "See You in Hell," meanwhile, is ostensibly about the end of the world, but a nagging organ, undeniable hooks and the upbeat way Wyndorf brays the couplet "I was talkin' to Jesus through a hole in the floor/He said our time is up, we can't stay here anymore!" make Satan's playground seem like a mighty fine place to be. Just as guiltily pleasurable are "Temple of Your Dreams" ("I bring you a light you can never see in the daytime"), "Tractor" ("My buddy Joe gave me a laughing pill/It tasted like shit and it gave me the chills") and "Powertrip" ("When you get tired of their crap, baby/Move over here and maybe buy some of mine").
Humor surfaces in most of these numbers, as well as in the group's iconography: Powertrip's jacket includes a shot of Calandra behind the wheel of a convertible, trying to run over the Pope as two bimbos cheer him on. But if Monster Magnet is a joke, it's a hugely enjoyable one--a proto-metal juggernaut that should hit the average rock lover square in the pelvis. Sure, it's stoopid, but that's half the reason it's so damn entertaining.
Wyndorf readily admits that Powertrip is unlikely to become required listening for Mensa enrollees. "The critics are gonna hate it," he says. "It's so dumb." Rather than moaning about the disc's intellectual shortcomings, however, he celebrates them--and in so doing, he feels that he comes closer to recapturing the original spirit of the music than most of the acts currently churning out fodder for the Testosterone Nation.
"A lot of the hard rock that's out there now is this kill-me-now-kill-yourself-I'm-so-fucked-up kind of thing," he argues. "But there's not enough time in life for me to dwell on shit like that. I've got torture in me, like I'm sure everybody does. Maybe it's a symptom of the Nineties. But I really think it's too easy to go out there and get in touch with kids with the angst routine. It's like with Korn. The kids want to rock, and Korn looks modern, and they're heavy and stuff. But when you finally get down to it, they're not really connecting, because it's all negative. And I don't need anybody to tell me about negative stuff in my life. I have enough of that already.
"Too many bands just push mosh buttons," he goes on. "They write mosh part after mosh part after mosh part just to elicit an aggressive reaction from the crowd. You know, that head-down, pneumatic pumping. And then there's the whole we're-not-gonna-sing-we're-just-gonna-bark thing. It's all very impressive in the beginning, and when it's done by the masters, like Slayer, it can be an art form unto itself. But when it's done by a zillion other bands and they call it a scene, I just don't buy it. I mean, rock and roll's not really about that. It's about people reinventing themselves to be someone more important than they really were. That's what Jerry Lee Lewis did, and Chuck Berry. And that's what I did, too."
A self-described "white guy from New Jersey," Wyndorf grew up with an understanding that rock and roll was inextricably bound to sex and drugs. He says that lust first became a major force in his life at age six ("I didn't realize it until I was twelve or thirteen," he concedes), and by the time he was fourteen, he was already wild to consume some of the illicit substances he'd heard so much about on television. "All those anti-drug commercials really made me want to do drugs bad," he says. "They'd be like, 'Don't do this or you'll jump out a window,' or 'If you take this, you might think you're a flower and try to float away.' And I'd be like, 'That sounds so cool.' So I bought a bag of pot and smoked the whole thing and didn't get high--but then I bought another bag, and that time I did get high, and it was great. After that I started taking acid and listening to Ramones and Black Sabbath records and watching movies like Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner. The whole thing was an adventure, which was just what I wanted, because I lived in the suburbs, and there wasn't much adventure there."
The title of the first Monster Magnet recording, a 1989 cassette-only release called Forget About Life, I'm High on Dope, underlines Wyndorf's early enthusiasm for the narcotic lifestyle. But today Wyndorf claims to have been drug-free for the past four years. "I completely stopped learning from them," he says. "And when you aren't learning from them, they just get in your way--they impede you. So I quit." Don't expect him to lecture impressionable youths on the dangers of street-corner pharmaceuticals, though. "I'm glad I did them, because I still draw on those times. I still make very psychedelic records that re-create drug experiences I had previously. It's just that I get there via imagination land now. Drugs may help you enter that world, but they definitely don't keep you there--and I can stay there myself now, without help from anything else."
Rock fanciers interested in visiting this territory found assistance on Monster Magnet's next pair of efforts, 1991's Spine of God and the 1993 obscurity 25............Tab, an astounding piece of work highlighted by "Tab...," a song built on a single riff that repeats for a jaw-dropping 32 minutes. The band's bow for A&M, 1993's Superjudge, upped the accessibility quotient considerably, as did 1995's Dopes to Infinity, a whooshing, shooshing journey to the center of Wyndorf's personal obsessions. There are still moments of orgiastic frenzy on the latter, as when Wyndorf thunders "Oh baby/I'm lazy/Oh baby/Introduce me to God!" on "Negasonic Teenage Warhead," but tracks like "Look to Your Orb for the Warning" weren't nearly as silly as their handles. Wyndorf calls Dopes "a very cerebral album," and by his standards, it was.
Powertrip came from a very different place, Wyndorf says. "I wasn't feeling very psychedelic when I wrote it, because I was having money problems. I'd spent all this money from the record company on psychedelic light shows and stuff like that--and they wanted it back! Now, when you see the end coming like that, you can very easily fall into the trap of trying to write something that radio would go for--like, 'Hey, I could do that, and everything would be fine.' But instead, I decided that we needed to do a very physical album. That way, the songs would be quicker and they'd be honest, and they'd allow me to have more fun in the studio. And I had fun with the subject matter, too."
Songs such as "Goliath and the Vampires" reflect Wyndorf's careful reading of comic books by the likes of Jack Kirby. "These were guys who used their imaginations to the fullest for absolutely no money at all," Wyndorf notes. "And their jargon, their vernacular, has become part of my regular vocabulary. Someone will come up to me and say, 'How was your day?' and I'll say, 'My day was volcanic! It was fucking cosmic! I felt like fucking Dr. Doom out there!'"
Carnality, too, gets cartoony treatment: On "Space Lord," Wyndorf declares, "I'm squeezed out in hump drive/And I'm drowning in love." Far from seeing such lines as sexist, he regards them as considerably more woman-friendly than the music being made by rock's Glum Generation. But that comes as no surprise given his insistence that balling anonymous gal-pals who throw themselves at him after shows actually represents a step forward in the fight for male-female equality.
"Women are constantly judged by their families and by people in the workplace, and they really pay the price for wanting to have a sexual good time," he says with more sincerity than most observers would expect. "They pay for it for the rest of their lives, sometimes; they get kicked out of their towns or whatever. But rock and roll is a place where women have as much power as the men. And we stand behind that."
The AIDS era has affected groupie groping, Wyndorf says, but he believes that many of these changes have been for the better. "It's made people a lot more inventive in their sex," he crows. "It's not this hippie bullshit, where people take off their clothes and smoke weed and say, 'Hey, it's cool.' Now, safe sex and the threat of AIDS has put an edge on it that's really quite amazing. It's put a little bit of danger into it...Couple that with the fact that if you really do it you might die, and it causes, literally, like a boiling pot of sexuality. People are like, 'I want this; I've gotta have it.' Well, of course they want it, because they aren't supposed to have it. That's totally American. Everybody wants what they can't have.
"There's a lot of unprotected sex going on out there. I've been on tour for five months, and it's been like a giant, living Jerry Springer show. I'm not kidding--this country is completely mad for sex," he continues. "But I think it's a more interesting time sexually than it's been for a while. The Fifties were probably the best time for sex, because of all the religious repression. I bet people got a lot out of sex in the Fifties. But the Seventies were too much: too free, sloppy. And the Sixties were pretty sloppy, too. But now is a great time. Really great."
That a lot of musicians don't realize that they're living in the Golden Age of Boinking is fine by Wyndorf. After all, their ignorance leaves the field wide open for him--and he's determined to take advantage. "Music is really important to me, and sex is really important to me, too," he says. "And what does music do to me? It makes me horny. So they're both part of the same thing. Very primal, very simple. And in 1998, I'm a lot more comfortable being Frankenstein than Einstein. The more complicated the world gets, the more simple I want my life to be. And sex and rock and roll are as simple as it gets."