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Mike Watt Inspired By Dantesque Illness

Last year, Mike Watt was seriously ill — bedridden — for nearly six months. "You ever heard this thing by Dante Alighieri called the 'Divine Comedy'?" he asked me in a recent phone interview from his home in the harbor of San Pedro, Calif. "You've got hell and purgatory and heaven. That's like what I went through — the sickness was total hell. I thought I was going for sure."

Rushed to a Los Angeles hospital in February 2000 after a large abscess burst in his groin, Watt healed slowly and painfully from an unusual infection of the perineum. But the illness and his eventual recovery provided some fresh insights, which he now says inspired his third solo album, The Secondman's Middle Stand, scheduled for an April 2002 release. "This stuff made big impressions on me," Watt, 43, said. "And its good to write from stuff that strikes you strongly and maybe not just a general breeze blowing.

"In fact, this next record is gonna be a different kinda trio," Watt added. "I'm gonna do it with bass, drums and organ. I'm pretty much experienced in the guitar, bass, drums line-up. What the human mind does is when it gets familiar with shit, it starts blocking it out: 'Oh, I've already been here.' So, I wanna shake things up. I have to be alive. Again, I don't wanna be dismissed. I wanna make them curious about what I'm doing."

Following his recovery, Watt, the former bassist of legendary early-'80s punk band The Minutemen, went on the road playing bass with J. Mascis and the Fog. "I know a lot of people call the tour hell but, to me, it was paradise," Watt said. "I could play again. I could ride my bike again. I could play my bass again. It was like a heaven for me. So, that's how the story fits."

Known for his commitment to a do-it-yourself, and often strenuous, touring ethic, Watt, who co-led fIREHOSE during the late '80s and early '90s, kicks off his "time to cat and not mouse" tour 2001 (his 48th) on Tuesday (Sept. 11) at San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill, with Tom Watson on guitar and Jerry Trebotic on drums. He plans to play 52 shows in 54 days. "It seemed to work in the beginning," Watt said of the D.I.Y. philosophy The Minutemen followed religiously. "Don't fix it if it works. Rock 'n' roll stars are blaming people for what's bad in their life and their creative process. If you do stuff yourself, you've got nowhere to look except in the mirror, and take responsibility."

"Mainly what I'm gonna do is get out there and play a lot of songs from my career," Watt said. "About three-quarters of the stuff I'm playing on this tour, I haven't really played for people ... some of it, but a long time ago, not since Minutemen days. A lot of it is to get me warmed up. I'm not gonna do songs from the new album 'cause, like I said, it's a different line-up with the organ.... I'm gonna play stuff through all the years. It's like a retrospective, I guess you can call it."

Like Dante at the time he wrote the "Divine Comedy," Watt is approaching middle age — and he's aware of the seeming contradiction of being a "punk" in his 40s. "It's a weird time, especially being a punk rocker with that Peter Pan syndrome," he said. "In some ways I've had to become very responsible. I've never had a manager. I've never had people tell me what to do. But in another way, I ride around in a van, playing for kids. So, I'm sorta in arrested development.

"You can play as you get older. You have to change the way you play, but the music don't have to leave you. You just have to adapt and change," added Watt, who recently switched to a smaller bass to accommodate the joint discomfort in his hands. "It's one of the few things I feel I have a knack for."

Thoughtful and sincere, Watt has meaningful goals for his audiences. In an age when youth culture is spoon-fed its music, overwhelmed by MTV's Total Request Live and whatever else the corporate music industry is pushing at the moment, kids today are often blinded to their own freedom of choice. Watt hopes to encourage independent thought and spirit at his live shows.

"Seems like these kids are always being told: 'You should like this, you should like this.' You know what? They have so much control over their fuckin' lives from other elements, I think they should pick what they like," Watt said. "And I would like to be held at that same criterion. So, they don't automatically have to like me or have respect. They can check me out now and if they think what I'm doing now is OK, then much respect to them.... If I had one goal about doing gigs and making records, I'd like to instill in people confidence like, 'Hey! It's free up here! You can go crazy!' Don't follow rules, don't follow market trends. This is too precious of an incubator here." — Jenny Tatone [Monday, September 10, 2001]


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John Vanderslice Kicks Genre

Paul Duncan's Elusive Pop

Stephen Yerkey's Wandering Songs

French Kicks Complete 'Two Thousand'

Spazzy Romanticism: Love Story In Blood Red

Brain Surgeons NYC Rock The Big Questions

Jarboe's 'Men' Charts Turbulent Emotions

Delta 5's Edgy Post-Punk Resurrected

Blitzen Trapper Spiff Things Up

Minus Five: Booze, Betrayal, Bibles and Guns

New Compilation Spotlights Forgotten Folk Guitar Heroes

Chris Brokaw's Experiment In Pop

Old And New With Death Vessel

Silver Jews: Salvation And Redemption

Jana Hunter's Beautiful Doom

Vashti Bunyan Finds Her Voice Again

Nick Castro's Turkish Folk Delight

Katrina Hits New Orleans Musicians Hard

Paula Frazer's Eerie Beauty

The National Find Emotional Balance

Death Cab For Cutie's New Album, Tour

Heavy Trash's Rockabilly Rampage

Help The Wrens Get Their Albums Released!

Devendra Banhart, Andy Cabic Launch Label

Lydia Lunch's Noir Seductions

Bosque Brown's The Real Deal

PDX Pop Now! Fest Announces Lineup

Sarah Dougher Starts Women-Focused Label

Jennifer Gentle's Joyful Psyche

Mountain Goat Darnielle Gets Autobiographical With 'Sunset Tree'

Mia Doi Todd's Beautiful Collaboration

Return of the Gang of Four

Martha Wainwright Finds Her Voice

Brian Jonestown Massacre's Acid Joyride

Solo Disc Due From Pixies' Frank Black

Heartless Bastards' Big-Hearted Rock

Mike Watt's Midlife Journey

The Black Swans Balance Old And New

Nicolai Dunger's Swedish Blues

The Insomniacs' Hard-Edged Pop

Yo La Tengo Collection Due

Juana Molina's 'Homemade' Sound

Beans Evolves

Earlimart's Songs Of Loss

Devendra Banhart's 'Mosquito Drawings'

Negativland Rerelease 'Helter Stupid'

Alina Simone Transforms The Ordinary

Sounds From Nature: Laura Veirs

Octet's Fractured Electric Pop

Sleater-Kinney Working With Lips Producer

The Cult Of Silkworm

The Evolution Of The Concretes

Devendra Banhart's Exuberant New Songs

Catching Up With The Incredible String Band

Gram Rabbit's Desert Visions

Three Indie-Rock Stars Unite As Maritime

Remembering Johnny Ramone

Jarboe's Many Voices

Phil Elvrum's Long Hard Winter

First U.S. Release For Vashti Bunyan Album

Incredible String Band To Tour U.S.

New Music From Lydia Lunch

Le Tigre Protest The Bush War Presidency

Joel RL Phelps: Bleak Songs Rock Hard

Time Tripping With Galaxie 500

Patti Smith Wants Bush Out!

Sharron Kraus: A New Kind Of Folk Music

The Fiery Furnaces' Psychedelic Theater

Harder, Heavier Burning Brides

Sonic Youth's Ongoing Experiment

The Dt's Do It Their Way

Poster Children Cover Political Rock

Rare Thelonious Monk Recordings Due

Uneasy Pop From dios

Beck, Lips, Waits Cover Daniel Johnston

Understanding Franz Ferdinand

The Truly Amazing Joanna Newsom

Mylab's Boundary-Crossing Experiments In Sound

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The 'Magical Realism' Of Vetiver

The Restless, Rootsy Songs Of Eszter Balint

The Sun Sets On The Blasters

Devendra Banhart To Tour U.S.

The East/West Fusion Sounds Of Macha

Destroyer Gets Mellow For Your Blues

TV On The Radio Get Political

Sonic Youth, Modest Mouse To Play Lollapalooza 2004

New Music From The Fall

Apocalyptic Sound From The Intelligence

Fast And Rude With The Casual Dots

'Rejoicing' With Devendra Banhart

New Album, Tour From The Polyphonic Spree

Shearwater Take Wing

Sleater-Kinney To Tour East/West Coasts

Resurrecting Rocket From The Tombs

Visqueen Want To Get A Riot Goin' On

Lloyd Cole Makes A Commotion

Funkstörung's 'Cut-Up' Theory

Waiting For Mirah's C'mon Miracle

Electrelane Find Their Voice

The Television Is Still On!

Experimental Sounds From Hannah Marcus

The Ponys Play With Rayguns

Ex-Mono Men Leader Returns With The Dt's

Mountain Goats' Darnielle Adopts A More Hi-Fi Sound

Sun Kil Moon To Tour U.S., Europe

Nothin' But The Truth From The Von Bondies

Sultans Survive 'Shipwreck'

Sebadoh Reunite For Spring Tour

Xiu Xiu's 'Reality' Rock

Meet The Patients

Beth Orton, M. Ward Make Sadness Taste Sweet

Oneida's Pathway To Ecstasy

Radiohead, Pixies, Dizzee Rascal To Play Coachella

Young People Tour Behind War Prayers

Pixies Tour Dates Announced

Ani DiFranco Tells It Like It Is

Deerhoof Back For 2004 With Milkman

McLusky Set To 'Bring On The Big Guitars' Again

Pixies Reunite For U.S., European Tours

American Music Club, Decemberists To Play NoisePop 2004

Damien Rice Set To Tour U.S.

The Frames Accept Your Love

Punk Rock's A-Frames To Re-Record Third Album

Finally! Mission Of Burma Record New Album

A Solo Detour For Ladybug Transistor's Sasha Bell

Return Of The Old 97's

Spending The Night With Damien Rice

Tindersticks Reissues Due This Spring

The Evolution Of 'A Silver Mt. Zion'

Neil Young Rocks Australia With 'Greendale'

Poster Children Back In Action

'The Great Cat Power Disaster Of 2003'

Chicks On Speed's Subversive Strategies

Oranger At A Crossroad

Peaches On Tour And In Control

Jawbreaker's Complete Dear You Sessions To Be Released

Belle & Sebastian + Trevor Horn = Sunny Pop Nirvana

Von Bondies' Pawn Shoppe Heart

Descendents Are Back!

Modest Mouse Touring; Album Due in 2004

London Suede Take A (Permanent?) Break

Saul Williams Wants You To Think For Yourself

The 'Zen' Sound Of Calexico

Elliott Smith Dead AT 34

Debut Due From Mark Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon

The Hunches: Music That'll 'Fucking Live Forever'

Vic Chesnutt Speaks His Mind

90 Day Men Cancel Tour

Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor Highlight SF Jazz Festival

For My Morning Jacket, It's The Music That Matters

EP Due From The Polyphonic Spree

Bright Eyes, Neva Dinova Collaborate On EP

The Rise & Fall & Rise Of Ben Lee

Catching Up With Cheerfully Defiant Tricky

Hanging Around With The Polyphonic Spree

Sophomore Album Due From The Shins

Noise Rock From Iceland's Singapore Sling

Death Cab To Tour U.S.

Rufus Wainwright's Want One Is 'Family Affair'

Death Cab's Transatlanticism On The Way

Heartfelt Rock From Sweden's Last Days Of April

The Minus 5 Get Down With Wilco

Tywanna Jo Baskette's Southern-Gothic Rock

Xiu Xiu's Stewart Takes On 'Gay-bashing'

Portishead Producer Resurfaces Behind New Diva

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wire, Primal Scream On Buddyhead Comp

Yeah Yeah Yeahs To Tour West Coast

Sonic Youth, Erase Errata Kick Off 'Buddy Series'

The Locust Are One Scary Band

Damien Rice In The 'Here And Now'

Remembering Karp's Scott Jernigan

ATP-NY Postponed 'Til At Least 2004

The Soul Of Chris Lee

Gits' Frenching The Bully To See Re-Release

Stephen Malkmus Is In Control

Superchunk To Release Rarities Set; Teenage Girls To Swoon As A Result

Summer Touring For The Gossip

Babbling On About Deerhoof

Irish Song Poet Damien Rice's O Released In U.S.

Chatting With ATP's Barry Hogan

Former Digable Planets Frontman Surfaces With Cherrywine

ATP L.A. Festival Rescheduled For Fall

Freakwater's Janet Bean Takes A Solo Turn

Lee's 'Cool Rock'

Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs Highlight YES NEW YORK

Mark Romanek's 'Hurt' Revives Johnny Cash's Career

The Rapture's Post-Punk, Post-Dance Sound

R.E.M., Wilco, Modest Mouse Highlight Bumbershoot Fest

Set Fires To Flames' Sleep-Deprivation Sound

Southern Gothic Past Shadows Verbena's La Musica Negra

The Subtle Evolution Of Yo La Tengo

Spring Tour For Jolie Holland (Plus A Live Album)

Liz Phair Still Pushing The Limits

Gold Chains Wants You To Dance And Think

Young People's War Prayers On The Way



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