(09-01-1988) Conflict 49
(Note: Transcribed "As Is")
THE FROGS---there's something in your throat<br&> <br&> DEATH to the world of straight-infested rock! It's time for a new breed, infinitely superior young MEN, unafraid to express their true sexuality---the ONLY real choice for any man that isn't kidding himself...face it, from the moment you were born, you knew you were gay, you just couldn't admit it...women get out, no fucking doubt,,,is it right to kiss the boys when you're a girl and not a boy? I don't think so...<br&> <br&> The name is Fleming; Jimmy and Dennis, neither of 'em related to Don (he one of those boring straights)...they've created their own bizarre world of the psychosexual, a world with it's own rules, it's own moral code. Their music is delicate, highly complex folk/pop, in the rich tradition of David Bowie, Morrisey and David Niven. They are not merely advocating some wimpy "alternative lifestyle", they are America's one and only GAY SUPREMACIST band (don't tell me about loving women, I don't want to know about it)...none of which is to imply that homosexuality is the only topic they can sing about with authority; the plight of the american indian, teenage runaways, the messiah complex, white power, day care, Santa Claus and coming of age are just some of the chosen subjects...<br&> <br&> Their music is nothing short of extraordinary; gorgeous melodies and unexpected rhythmic twists coupled with 2 extremely distinct vocal styles...to say nothing of the unusual backwords guitar effects, the weird channeling-switching, stereo/mono effect that's often employed...never mind the homo angle for a minute, these guys are total geniuses on a purely musical level...<br&> <br&> Jimmy and Dennis visited NYC in early June to perform at the CBGB Record Canteen, as well as to finish mixing their upcoming collaboration with famed colored musician Tracy Chapman (whose label, Elektra, are said to be "almost interested" in signing the Frogs to a multi-album pact). With the help of acclaimed poppers addict Patrick Amory, I took the oppurtunity to interview American's most important new band.<br&> <br&> Gerard: At what point did the "Made Up Songs" (aka the "gay" material) start coming?
Dennis: We just went up to the room one day and turned on the recorder. I made up a gay song...how did we make them up? "Homos" was the first one.
Gerard: But how long had you been doing straight material before that?
Dennis: Since the spring of 1980. Up until that that point we had failed, it wasn't until the gay songs that we knew we had found something that would change the consciousness of the world, something to get people headed in the right direction. (long pause). I'm not sure how something like that will come off in print...
Gerard: don't worry about it. So how did you stumble upon this, this...uh idea of yours?
Dennis: How do you want me to explain? We were trying to make each other laugh, it was never something we meant for the public to hear, it was just our own private joke. It's like displaying your wears in public, if that's the saying.
Gerard: And how much of it was improvised?
Dennis: Well you have to list them song by song, but almost all of them. Name a song and i'll tell you. "Homos", that was made up on the spot. "Been A Month", that too, almost everything you hear on the first tape.
Gerard: And the funny thing was, I didn't hear your straight material, the stuff you'd done in the studio, the result of 6 years hard work until later on. That stuff...
Dennis: ...that's the stuff that shit's made of! That's the mainstream, bogus, Sonic-Youth sellout crap we were doing. You'll have to cut out the part about Sonic Youth, I was only kidding.
Gerard: You guys are really brothers?
Jimmy: Yes we are.
Gerard: And you live in the same house?
Dennis: Same house, same bed. But that's only right and natural.
Gerard: Did you guys always live together?
Dennis: Almost. I moved out for a time, but now we're back together again. We moved in together 'cause we needed somewhere to practise. It's cheaper doing it at home, we save on transportation and everything.
(Patrick arrives 10 minutes late)
Patrick: Hi you guys, sorry i'm late. I don't always know where these trendy east village eating establishments are.
Gerard: Well i assumed you knew where it was. You and Chris used to pick me up in front of this place every morning.
Dennis: Ahh, he was dressed in pink, ripe for the picking.
Gerard: (?) And where do the Frogs usually play?
Dennis: Oh, everywhere, we'll play with everyone.
Gerard: No, that's not what i meant. What kind of venues do you perform music in? YMCA's?
Dennis: Certainly. YMCA's, youth hostels, usually the kind of places the Village People would have performed.
Dennis: Bathhouses. And that bathhouse you made us play in the other night was the worst, Gerard, we'll never play there again. Are there any bathhouses around here?
Gerard: Quite a few, actually,
Dennis: Good, 'cause we need to get cleaned up. We're feeling unclean.
Gerard: Well, even if we accept for a minute that you somehow fell into this material by accident, some kind of lark i'll assume this, this, philosophy of the Frogs, there must have been something behind it, some sort of research.
(Asst mumbles of denial)
Gerard: No life experiences of any sort that would tie into this philosophy?
Dennis: Other than incest you mean? No, none really. That's the genius of it. Just that sudden flash, the illumination, sometimes a giant lightbulb goes on in our heads, a giant penis head lights up.
Jimmy: That must be nice.
Dennis: Well that isn't how it happens? Doesn't it all just come naturally? How did we do it before? We just got the tape recorder out.
Jimmy: Some strawberry jam from a jar.
Dennis: No, i don't remember that.
Patrick: Which was the first song with the gay subject matter?
Jimmy: I think it was "Been A Month Since I Had A Man".
Dennis: No, it was "Homos", "Been A Month" and then "Lifeguard Of Love", we did around 30, 35 songs in that first night. We just kept going, I said let's not stop until we've filled up the tape, we cleaned everything up later.
Patrick: So you just made everything up as you went along?
Jimmy: Yes of course.
Dennis: But we were still trying for some diversity, we didn't want to repeat ourselves, but there are some repeating themes in there. I suppose you'll have to edit this thing later on Gerard.
Gerard: Don't worry about it.
Dennis: Hey, screw you fucker.
Gerard: Look, you've never even done this before. I know what i'm doing.
Dennis: Ha, we've been interviewed by better fan mags before than this piece of shit. We've done it plenty of times.
Patrick: What other interviews have you done?
Dennis: We've done Barry's interview.
Patrick: And you asked the questions?
Dennis: Yes, but he had all the answers. But we had our way with him, we got our way. He didn't put up much of a fight, no big struggle. The guy we got in the park the other night, wow, did he struggle, even when we roped him down, but no, not Barry.
(EDITOR'S NOTE. we can only assume that "Barry" is some well known figure in the Milwaukee gay sex underground. Neither Dennis or Jimmy would let us know just who they were talking about)
Gerard: Is that backwards guitar in "Car Crash"?
Dennis: No fucking way, not on your life.
Gerard: Then what is it, strings? You couldn't of recorded that at home.
Dennis: Oh, there are a few strings in there certainly we recorded it at home.
Jimmy: It was produced by Dick Spector.
Dennis: I did all the production. It was recorded on 4 tracks, two microphones set up for drums and vocals. The vocals and drums come in on the same track, we had two tracks left over for over dub, although we never overdubed any vocals.
Gerard: Have either of you had any formal voice training?
Dennis: No, never.
Gerard: Because sometimes your voice gets a bit strange, they seem to change quite a bit from song to song.
Dennis: Really? Can you tell who is who?
Gerard: Not until i saw the show friday night. Now i can tell who is who, even on the songs i haven't seen you play.
Patrick: That's funny, 'cause i'm still not so clear. There's the oddly accented high-pitched voice which is Dennis, but there's the more normal voice of Jimmy, but it's still quite confusing. I wanted to ask you about all the Irish inflections.
Dennis: Well, they're old Irish folk tunes, those are my roots.
Patrick: What's the relationship to folk music in what you've done?
Dennis: What do you mean, "folk music"?
Patrick: Well you are sort of New Folk Artists.
Gerard: I didn't tell you guys that we're putting you on the cover as the leaders of "The New Folk Revival".
Dennis: What, you mean like the that Washington Squares bullshit?
Gerard: No, you're going to be on the cover with Lisa Suckdog.
Dennis: Lisa Suckdog? Wow, that sounds like real quality work, Gerard, who are you kidding, that bears no relation to what we're doing.
Gerard: That's not my fault.
Dennis: Not my fault! Look at him sitting there! Not my fault! There sits the man who wrote "Baby Greaser George", go ask him what it's about!
Gerard: Yeah, so what is "Baby Greaser George" about?
Dennis: It's a protest song! Against love!
Gerard: Is it against anything else? Possibly coming from past experiences with children?
Patrick: I do want to point out the obsession with kids. You do mention children a lot.
Dennis: But that's the only song!
Patrick: "The Man With The Candy", "Savior #2", "Rosy Jack World". "Everyone here is too old for sex"...
Dennis: But that line doesn't have to do with kids. I was talking about old fuckers, it's kind of a complaint, you know, "everyone here is too old for sex", and then the guy laughs.
Gerard: How old is too old?
Dennis: You're never too old. The songs are basically for the young, we were going to call the album 'Music For 5 Year Olds And Younger'.
Gerard: And your proposed record cover has a young person on the cover.
Dennis: This is correct, a young boy, a young Irish face, the main man, myself, D.F. a picture of myself when i was five. Doesn't it all make sense? That's me on the sleeve, my gammy Irish legs, so young and ready.
Gerard: At what point did you let the outside world hear this stuff? You said it was only recorded for your own pleasure.
Dennis: Immediately we had to get the word out. The world was waiting to be enlightened. Avatars only come around every so often, you know. There are only six or so on the planet at every given moment. Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Mark David Chapman, you see. I'm just rhyming. That's how we did this stuff, you can figure out how we did it.
Gerard: When you first recorded these songs, did you have any inkling that these would be the compositions that would eventually galvanize an entire generation?
Dennis: No, not at the time, but now we know, and we are reaping the benefits, the benefits of AIDS.
Gerard: That's one of your new songs, isn't it? Just what are, if any, the benefits of AIDS?
Dennis: Benefits? You mean side effects? Gay is right, straight is wrong. Take your pick, a dirty needle or a bloody rump. It's basically a love song.
Gerard: You said the other night that they're all love songs. Are they written for anyone in particular?
Dennis: For God. God made men, not man made God, man made God.I'm not religious, but i'm spiritual more than religious. You see, the church of Barry doesn't sit too well with us. These nine month delays while waiting for record deals really bite on your ass if you know what i mean.
Gerard: Actually not. I'm not very familiar with the record business.
Dennis: Neither are we. Otherwise we'd be sitting somewhere else talking with someone else.
Patrick: Are you guys really brothers?
Jimmy: Of course we are.
Patrick: How is it that you still know each other at your age?
Dennis: A queer accident I guess, some queer twist of fate. We're all brothers and sisters anyway, so what does it matter?
Gerard: How has the gay population of Milwaukee taken to your music?
Dennis: I don't know, they've never heard it. We haven't played out in over 2 years.
Gerard: Why? Are you afraid of them or something?
Dennis: No, but there just aren't that many gay clubs to play at in Milwaukee. There's one bi club...
Gerard: ...Maybe you should move to New York.
Dennis: Yeah, well send us the money, fucker.
Gerard: Why are priests mentioned so often in your songs?
Dennis: Oh, so we have a bias against priests? Look, Monty Python make fun of priests all the time, they're an easy target, it's a fun cheap shot, priests and nuns should be together...sexually at least.
Gerard: But when you mention priests, they're always involved in some unsavory activity.
Dennis: Well that's true to life, isn't it? Aren't priests and nuns always putting their hands where they shouldn't, what's new about that?
Gerard: I wouldn't know.
Patrick: He's Jewish.
Gerard: The few women i've dared play your music for seemed to think you hated women.
Patrick: There's a reoccuring theme in your songs about being chased around by women.
Dennis: Isn't that the way it always is? Aren't women always hounding men? It's funny, don't you think, don't you like that about the songs?
Gerard: Sure, i'm just wondering if it really happens to you.
Dennis: Well, use your imagination, put a big question mark on your head.
Gerard: Have you had any experience with women that have left a particularly bad taste in your mouth?
Dennis: The only thing we don't like about women is that they're not men. Women should be men...and vice versa. Is that a truism or what, if that isn't quotable I don't know what is. I just made that up off the top of my head, our songs come out the same way.
Gerard: You should get a job in the advertising field.
Dennis: Yeah, either that or the rap business. How well do you think Irish rap would do?
Gerard: Dennis, is your employer aware of your extra-curricular activity?
Dennis: Yes, they're aware. I showed them a list of the song titles and they didn't understand, but there's still plenty of time for them to become converted.
Gerard: Well i'd imagine many of your fans are straight.
Dennis: Oh you think so? Well that's their fucking problem. If they can't see the error of their ways, what are we supposed to do? But i'm sure in time, they too will change. I'd prefer not to call them straight, just incorrect.
Gerard: Jimmy, do you have a job?
Jimmy: Oh, probably.
Dennis: He's active in the Irish underground. He's busy writing Irish gay folk musicians songs for the revolution.
Jimmy: I work in a hospital....if you ever want me to come to your aid.
Dennis: (making reference to a line in "Dykes Are We") See "come to your aid", that's where that one came from Gerard. We started singing "we love homos", it just came out, we meant it.
Gerard: Hey, nobody said you were derogatory towards homos...it's black people that you hate.
Dennis: This is totally untrue!
Gerard: I'm just giving you a chance to address the subject.
Dennis: Undress the subject? No, no way, forget it, you've got us all wrong.
Patrick: What about "stringing up the nigger in olde England" from 'Raise Your Mugs'?
Dennis: No, no, that's someone else's song.
Jimmy: A cab driver wrote that one.
Dennis: That's right, some New York cab driver was telling us this story the other night about how he won't take Egyptians in his cab 'cause they stink so bad, so you can go ask any cab driver what that song's about.
Patrick: What about "Nigger Where Ya Goin', Nigger Where Ya Been?"
Dennis: Well you're just picking on that one word, "nigger", aren't you? In terms of artistic license, a writer has the right to take on the voice of a character, doesn't he? Does that mean he automatically becomes the character?
Gerard: We hope so.
Dennis: Then what the hell are you arguing about then? Gerard, you're not really going to put this part in, are you? The song is written from the perspective of a southern farmer's point of view, but there's an interesting lyrical twist in there, like where he says "and where were you today, raping a white woman?" Or was that your girl?". And then he goes on to say "where will you be tomorrow, but in my arms", and it's a gay thing, a wicked gay thing.
Gerard: So you've seen "Mandingo"?
Dennis: Yes. "Mandingo" and "Drum".
Gerard: So i take it those films were the inspiration for "Nigger Pile"?
Dennis: Jesus, Gerard, you're not going to print this. This line of questioning has nothing to do with the material being released.
Gerard: But i'm not only concerned with the material that's coming out on record. I'm not doing this to help you sell records. Let somebody else do that. I'm just trying to...
Dennis: ...save the world, feed the starving...
Gerard: ...to entertain and inform. It's no concern of the magazine's wether you sell records or not.
Dennis: You're not much of an '80's man.
Gerard: I wasn't born in the '80's.
Dennis: I meant the 1880's.
Gerard: Is "Gwendolyn McRae" based on any real person?
Gerard: Are you aware that there is a real life Gwendolyn McRae, a black soul singer whose records are purchased primarily by white homosexual men?
Dennis: No. I've never heard of that, but it sounds appropriate.
Gerard: So none of your songs are based on any real individuals, living or dead?
Dennis: Oh, some of them might be. It's all free form, free association. We never know how anything will turn out until we've finished. I hope there's some poetry to it. Is there any to Sonic Youth's stuff? Are they any better than this?
Gerard: I'm not talking about Sonic Youth.
Dennis: Well i am.
Gerard: Well it's not my fault that you're a frustrated, jealous musician that feels compelled to cut down a band he's never even heard.
Dennis: Oooh getting touchy. That's right, all i've ever heard of Sonic Youth is one song from a CD. I've got no quarrel with them. I'm sure they have none with me. I'm sorry if i offended anyone the other night.
Gerard: The thing i really like about the Frogs is that although you're dealing with lyrical content most of society would consider to be unsavory, offense or immoral, in almost every instance, there's a weird sort of moral code to every action, a sort of rationale for behavior most people would find unthinkable otherwise. You succeed in making gay sex seem far more innocent and natural than anything in the heterosexual universe. Even in a song like "Baby Greaser George", where a young child is involved, it seems completely normal.
Dennis: That's the idea. I mean, these are good songs that have a strong message for people. The characters we sing about aren't any more lost than anyone else in our world.
Gerard: Do you think there are ever consequences to the actions described in the songs?
Dennis: That's hardly for me to decide.
Gerard: Then do you think you have any moral responsibility to anyone?
Dennis: To myself. To G-O-D.
Gerard: But not to the public at large?
Dennis: Well who are you gonna live for? The public? Their whims change every day. Might aswell stick with something rock solid, like the King Of Men.
Gerard: Are you familiar with the AIDS quilt?
Gerard: Start reading. There may be a new song in it for you.
Dennis: What's it about?
Gerard: There's this black girl from upstate New York that claims she was abducted by white policeman who raped and beat her for three or four days. They left her in a garbage bag in a field with dog feces smeared all over her body. They'd written "nigger" and "KKK" on her body with a magic marker. There's considerable suspicion that she or her family may have faked the whole thing.
Dennis: I don't know what to say to that. I'm not suprised there's been an uproar.
Gerard: Are there any beaches in Milwaukee?
Dennis: Sure, of course...no, not really.
Gerard: Then how would you know so much about lifeguards?
Dennis: I've been to the Gulf of Mexico, is that a beach? I've been to the beaches of Ireland, you know, where we ripped off all those ideas from those Irish folk bands.
(tape playing "Lifeguard Of Love ends)
Dennis: You see, the part where i sing "fuck off", and then i add "fucked up"? That's 'cause i really fucked up, I had made a mistake and I kept on going, not without commenting on it of course.
Gerard: I really love the way that song ends, with that really majestic crescendo ("it's wrong when men love women you know it/men should only be...with...MEN"), that would've been the perfect way to end the set friday night.
Dennis: Well, maybe next time. It was a strange situation with the limited equipment we were able to use. Maybe we'll be able to do it right next time.
Gerard: What do your parents think of your music? Your lifestyle?
(40 or 50 seconds of silence)
Dennis: You can just write "interminable pause"
Gerard: C'mon, you can always lie to me.
Dennis: (Visibly shaken) They haven't spoken to me since.
Gerard: Since what?
Dennis: They, they, uh, just don't understand. They just can't figure out what it's all about. It's beyong their comprehension. Even though in their heart of hearts they know it's right.
Gerard: I understand you bought 'The Black Album' yesterday.
Dennis: Yes, it's very very dark. That's not racist is it? It's a very bleak record, very depressing.
Gerard: It's really neat on "Candyland Joe" how you don't mention until the song is half over that Joe is a priest.
Dennis: What else would he be?
Gerard: Who played guitar on "Nigger Pile"?
Dennis: My brother James, he plays guitar on everything you've heard.
Gerard: Then how come the guitar sounds so different on that song?
Jimmy: That's because i played with 2 hands.
Gerard: Out of these hundreds of songs, do you have any favorites?
Dennis: Perhaps when we making them up...
Jimmy: I like the older ones.
Dennis: I really like them all. I'm just amazed at the way the public has endorsed them. These are classics, we fully expect to see some famous actress on screen singing "Been A Month Since I Had A Man". Our album will be recieved as a classic, it's the 'Blonde On Blonde' of the 80's.
Gerard: But the 80's are almost over.
Dennis: They never began to tell you the truth.
Gerard: Where did you find your costumes?
Dennis: These costumes?
Gerard: No, the costumes you wear onstage.
Dennis: We like your costume Gerard, it's very nice.
Gerard: Look Dennis, this is how people dress in New York. Maybe in Milwaukee people walk around with silver wings stuck to their back, but in New York everyone dresses like me.
Dennis: There's nothing wrong with how people dress in Milwaukee that a good bucket of paint couldn't fix. Yes, the costumes were designed by one of the group's wives. See, it was all a ruse.
Gerard: A convienience marriage?
Dennis: Indeed, meanwhile my brother and I are still together.
Gerard: I should hope so. I've been telling people for months that you and Jimmy were twins living together.
Dennis: Yes, you and I know the real story, but we can fool the public, can't we?
Patrick: Are any of the characters based on real people? "Hot Cock Annie", "Big Fat George", "Candyland Joe"?
Dennis: Just my relatives.
Gerard: How old were you when you knew...
Dennis: ....what my destiny was? I always knew, I always had it figured out. From the first time I saw that ice skater on TV, you know, that ice skater...
Gerard: I don't follow ice skating...
Dennis ...Brian, Brian Boitano, he's the one.
Gerard: Why have you made no effort to reach the listening public until now?
Dennis: I don't know. We're not lazy. We always knew we had something special. I guess we were just too busy making the songs up.
Gerard: I have a very hard time doing work or concentrating on anything when your tapes are playing.
Dennis: Why, are you turned on?
Gerard: Yes, very much so. It brings out a whole new side of me I never knew existed.
Dennis: Yeah, many people have the same reaction. Happy things start popping up. Boys never realized they had tits. Girls never realised they had cocks, it all comes together.
Gerard: I think that's why people were leaving the club so early the other night. They were all in a hurry to get home...
Dennis: ...and take a sonic shit.
Gerard: ...and begin exploring new avenues.
Dennis: Do you have any favorite songs?
Gerard: No, none whatsoever, i'm not really into music.
Dennis: Neither are we. We're just into sex, lots of sex and God. Us and Prince.
Gerard: Prince is into God?
Patrick: Prince is totally into God. I can't believe never noticed that! The entire new album is dedicated to God.
Gerard: Just like the Swans, then.
Dennis: All great artists recognize the greater divinity within themselves...
Patrick: Is that why death is such a reoccuring theme?
Dennis: Is it?
Patrick: Sure, "Thank God I Died In The Car Crash", "I'm Sick Of You", "The Murder"...
Gerard: The death scene during "Car Crash" is truly beautiful.
Patrick: You mean when he sucks on his lips?
Dennis: We were just trying to bring him back to life, it's only a humanitarian gesture.
Gerard: You know the music editor of 'The Village Voice' was at the show the other night. He said to me "you know, word of mouth on this has been pretty heavy".
Dennis: Oh jesus. Did you send him a tape?
Gerard: No, i'm too busy to make them for everyone.
Dennis: Too busy! What do you do all day?
Gerard: Nothing, but it's my leisure time. Listen, if everyone reading this sends me $3 and a blank tape, i'll send them some Frogs stuff.
Dennis: That's a good deal too, rare pre-LP material, that's beautiful.
Gerard: I'll send more than just the LP, too, just send more money.
Dennis: And do I get any of this money, Mr. '80's?
Gerard: Fuck no. If you wanna make tapes and send them out, then you can keep the money. As long as i'm making the tapes, i'm keeping the loot. What are you gonna do to me, you live thousands of miles away.
Dennis: You bastard, you cheap lousy fucker.
Gerard: So Doug from the 'Voice' says to me during soundcheck, "what's up with these guys, is this a joke?". And i'm like, "No Doug, I don't think so". And Doug says, "yeah, but are they really gay?".
Dennis: That's the first time anyone's said that. You'd think the guy had never seen gay people before.
Gerard: Well you guys just don't dress gay enough.
Dennis: Oh? And how does one dress gay?
Gerard: A Miami Vice baseball cap with military bars on the brim, green pants too. Maybe a uniform Choice t-shirt. Actually, you should try the man-with-a-ponytail look, as successfully modelled by Mark C. and Ted Gottfried. Women will definently stay away.
Dennis: Next time out here, we'll have our wings and there'll be no mistaking which side of the sexual battle field we stand on. <br&> (UPDATE: Upon the completion of this interview, Dennis Fleming demanded to see the final transcript before publication. Dennis felt that if many of his comments appeared in print without being placed in the proper context----ie. when he was kidding, when he wasn't, etc----the Frogs ran the risk of offending the public and jeopardizing their good name. I countered by claiming that most Conflict readers were intelligent adults who were mature enough to make up their own minds without the benefit of censorship.<br&> <br&> So i lied to him. Dennis said he wouldn't cooperate by supplying photographs if we didn't give him editorial approval over this interview. So if you see a couple on the cover that look sort of like Mr. Hodo and Victor Willis, that means Dennis didn't like the interview....<br&> <br&> ...also, Dennis recently accused me of bootlegging Frogs tapes for profit. While i'll proudly admit to duping Frogs tapes for friends around the country, i've never charged anyone a dime...which isn't to say i'm gonna continue. If you're interested in hearing the Frogs, Dennis and Jimmy can be conntacted on the address below-<br&> <br&> --GC 9/1/88