Mike Watt, the autodidactic, blue-collar-intellectual elder statesman of punk rock, is back with another punk-rock opera. After spending five and a half years in the Stooges' classroom — as he lovingly refers to his time spent with Iggy and the brothers Asheton — Watt has devised a new power trio that serves as the springboard for his latest opus, Hyphenated Man. The opera is less a narrative than a contemplation about what it means to reach middle age as a punker. Watt elaborated for us in a recent conversation.
Westword: So you're going to be in the recording studio in New York City this weekend recording the new album?
Mike Watt: My third opera. It's called Hyphenated Man, and I'm playing with my Missingmen, Tom Watson and Raul Morales.
Now, as far as the operas are concerned, Contemplating the Engine Room and The Secondman's Middle Stand had a strong narrative structure — the first one with your dad in the Navy, and the second with Dante's Divine Comedy.
The "Inferno" — yeah, the second one was — the "Paradiso" and the "Purgatorio." The Divine Comedy on one and a mixture of Ulysses —James Joyce's Ulysses — and Richard McKenna's The Sand Pebbles on the first one. This one, not so much a narrative like a novel; no beginning, middle and end. More like all middle. It's more like, um...the closest parallel is the little creatures in the Hieronymus Bosch paintings.
On your website, you say that the little creatures represent parables.
So each song is a little parable about you?
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Of being a middle-aged man. There are thirty pieces, and each one is named after a different kind of man that I see in those little creatures. The other half of it is Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and her tripping on all the fucking things guys do to try to be men. Remember, the Wizard says, if you've got a medal, you can be brave; if you've got a diploma, you can be smart; if you've got to fuck, you can have a heart. And middle age is about finally reflecting on that: You've done all the games society has asked you to do, and you're asking yourself, what does anything really mean?
Now, if you're being a punk-rocker, you ask those fucking questions when you're young, you know? The same questions that guys my age — you know, friends I went to school with — are asking themselves now. Me and D. Boon, you know, we were lucky. We started asking them really early 'cause of the scene we were in. So it ain't such a freakout for us.
Fuck, we were freaked out then. We got a head start on the freakout! We were playing along with the game, you know? But then it comes along to a point where you realize that it is a game. Actually, it's also your life. It's everything. Remember the Minutemen had a song called "Life Is a Rehearsal"? And we seriously believed it was not a rehearsal; it's the dealio. You got to go for it. D. Boon had a big effect on my life, you know. I owe a debt to the scene, to the movement, to my buddy. That's what I'm trying to do, and I'm lucky to have the men I do with me.
For more of our interview with Mike Watt, visit blogs.westword.com/backbeat.