Les Claypool on his hatred for “Wanted Dead Or Alive”

Les Claypool on his hatred for “Wanted Dead Or Alive”

In HateSongwe ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.

The hater: Though Les Claypool has made his rock name as the bassist and vocalist for weirdo funk act Primus, in recent years, he’s gone a bit country. Claypool’s latest record, Four Foot Shack, was recorded as part of his Duo De Twang. Originally conceived as a one-and-done group around San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Claypool and M.I.R.V. guitarist Bryan Kehoe liked working together so much that they laid down a record for ATO. Four Foot Shack still embraces Claypool’s Primus past and present. The record includes twanged out covers of tracks like “Wynonna’s Big Brown Beaver” and “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver,” as well as the duo’s takes on “Battle Of New Orleans,” “Stayin’ Alive,” and Alice In Chains’ “Man In The Box.” If the countrified takes aren’t your thing, though, worry not: Primus is still touring, and is even reportedly working on new, Willy Wonka-themed material.

The hated: Bon Jovi, “Wanted Dead Or Alive”

The A.V. Club: So why Bon Jovi?

Les Claypool: I’m not much of a hater. I tend to deflect away from things that I’m not attracted to, but this song, it’s something that—I very much enjoy Deadliest Catch because I’m a man, and most men like watching that damn show. I’m also a man of the sea. I go out there and drop crab pots. They’re not those giant crab pots that those guys drop, but I go out and drop these things in the ocean out at Bodega Bay where I live.

When I’m at home, the song’s not such a big deal. I can fast forward through the wretched soundscape that comes on at the beginning of the show. But when I’m on the road and just have the TV on in my hotel room, and there happens to be a Discovery Channel marathon, I’m subjected to this song. It’s a very frustrating element in my world.

Then again, maybe Mr. Jovi fast-forwards through the beginning of South Park, so we’re even.

AVC: This song is almost 30 years old. Have you always hated it, or is it just something that came up recently?

LC: Bon Jovi was actually a big influence on Primus back in the day. Basically, the influence was that we wanted to make music that was the polar opposite of Bon Jovi. Each generation rebels against whatever element they feel compelled to rebel against, and that’s what we were rebelling against—music like that, which happened to be very popular as we were trying to make our bones, so to speak. It’s never been something that I’ve been drawn toward.

AVC: This song only made it to No. 7 on the Billboard chart, but it feels like it’s become more popular over time.  

LC: I don’t really pay much attention to the ol’ charts, but it is something I’ve heard quite a bit, because of the show. It actually seems like they’ve slimmed it down. Now they only play a very small portion of it. You don’t actually hear the singing part, which is always a bonus. Less is more.

AVC: It’s crazy how once you get a TiVo or DVR, any time you’re forced to watch something like the Super Bowl live, you think, “I can’t do it. This is insufferable. I can’t watch these.” That’s how I always feel flipping through channels at a hotel.

LC: But see for me, the best part about the Super Bowl is the commercials. I’m not a football guy. I have a buddy who—he’s a bit of a sports guy and he’s pretty well-to-do—always get these crazy tickets for various things. He’ll get courtside seats for the Warriors. He invites me and I’m like, “Look, I’ll go because I like partying and having a good time, but why don’t you ask somebody who would really be into the event of watching these guys run back and forth with this ball?” My favorite part is in between when the little guys come out and go bouncing off the trampolines and do the fancy dunk shots. I like the spectacle of it all, but I don’t know what that has to do with Bon Jovi.

AVC: They probably play a lot of Bon Jovi at sports events.

LC: Not on the West Coast. I don’t think it’s a West Coast thing. Maybe that’s a part of it. Maybe my East Coast/West Coast thing is coming out. You hear Metallica at the Giants games and whatnot around here.

AVC: Is Bon Jovi a New Jersey thing?

LC: I don’t know. There was a bit of homage paid to him in one of The Sopranos episodes, and I was a little surprised, because for us, it was kind of a joke, these guys with this big hair going out and singing these songs about nothing I could relate to.

AVC: It’s funny because, at the time, Bon Jovi was supposedly this “metal” band.

LC: I don’t know if the word “metal” comes into play.

AVC: No. Absolutely not.

LC: That’s some soft metal. That’s like Play-Doh.

AVC: They have the big hair, so maybe they just got lumped into the category.

LC: Girls like that. Where I came from, it was girl rock, which is fine. Obviously there’s a place for it. I’m sure Bon Jovi’s house is way bigger than mine.

But that’s what I’m saying. I’m not much of a hater. There’s a place for everything. You ought to hear some of the music my daughter listens to, Jesus Christ.

AVC: What does she listen to?

LC: She’s on this whole new thing now. It’s amazing. Kids are into contemporary country. It’s huge right now. It’s unbelievable. It’s basically riff rock with a guy singing about his truck.

It’s funny, because I grew up listening to Johnny Cash and Jerry Reed. I just did this twang record, which sort of pays homage to all my old hillbilly heroes. You’ve always heard comics talk about, “Oh yeah, country singers sing about their trucks.” Now, I’d say 80 percent of the songs I hear on her station, the truck is a part of it. In fact, two of the biggest hit songs right now are “Somethin’ ’Bout A Truck” and “Truck Yeah.” So, the truck analogy goes deep.

AVC: Maybe it’s a reaction to that old joke. It’s like, “Yeah, you joke that we sing about our trucks, so now we’re going to reclaim it.”

LC: I don’t think so. My daughter, she’s 16 now, and she wants a truck. That’s what she wants. I’m like, “What the hell are you going to do with a truck? If you load it up with some firewood and do some work around here with it, I’ll give you a truck.” But, I don’t see that happening.

When I was a kid, I was one of the Ford guys. I had a Cougar and my buddy had a Mustang. Then there were the Mopar guys and the Chevy guys. Not too many guys with trucks, but now guys get these diesels and hop them up and jack them up, got flags off the back. It’s kind of the thing, at least in the more suburban and rural areas. I don’t think there are too many trucks flying around San Francisco with American and Confederate flags hanging off the back.

AVC: We’ve been doing Hatesong for a while, and I’m actually surprised that we haven’t talked more about modern country. I can’t believe that no one has picked “Red Solo Cup.”

LC: When I was a kid, I really did not like country music, because it was the background of my life. My step-dad had this old Bakelite radio in the garage and he was always working out there. I’d be out there taking apart my bike and I’d hear what he called the “Okie station.” I remember there was a Merle Haggard song, “Big City,” and I’d go, “What the hell is he singing about?” But as I grew up, these things became very dear to me. Now, that’s what I’m playing all the time, all this old country. I think it’s a huge part of the way I write, because there are a lot of stories being told within the music and that’s what I tend to do with my lyrics. There’s always a tale being told and a colorful character doing something. It’s a soundscape of a certain portion of your life, and it becomes dear to you, because it represents that portion of your life. Hopefully, it’s a pleasant memory. It’s like your sense of smell and how a smell can bring you back to a certain place, or an old film. Obviously music is a huge, huge part of the way we catalog our existence on a planet. 

AVC: Now tie it back to Bon Jovi.

LC: Now I have Bon Jovi to think about whenever I hear that damn song.

I have this kind of love-hate relationship, because I love the show, but I have to endure the song.

AVC: The song’s almost got an Old West attitude to it too.

LC: Well, it’s an Old West attitude about a guy riding a motorcycle.

I don’t know. I’m hoping that somebody will come along and write something a little more fitting. But you know what? I’m sure there are folks out there who fast forward right through that South Park intro too. You can’t please everybody, especially some cynical old bastard like me.

AVC: You’ve earned the right to like what you like.

LC: I think we all have. 

More HateSong