Random Rules: A.A. Bondy

Random Rules: A.A. Bondy

The shuffler: Auguste Arthur Bondy, former frontman for late-'90s Alabama gritty punk/straight-up-rock trio Verbena. A.A. Bondy re-emerged solo last year with his underappreciated folk-blues debut, American Hearts, which was subsequently re-released on Fat Possum Records. Bondy will continue to tour behind American Hearts throughout September and October.

David Bowie, "Some Are"

A.A. Bondy: I like [Low] a whole lot. I get confused by it, sort of, because I know some of it was made to go with that movie, The Man Who Fell To Earth. And my suspicion has always been it's the latter third of the record, the more ambient stuff. 'Cause when I watch that movie—it's got the most horrible dick in it, and I don't know if that makes it better or worse. That movie is so weird, you know, you see David Bowie's dick in the movie and stuff, it's all really strange. I like this whole record a lot, but it seems like two different records put together. This section of the record, I just like to put it on and space out, it helps clear my mind.

The A.V. Club: How do you feel about David Bowie in Labyrinth?

AAB: I have like a very vague memory of what he looks like in that movie. He's got some kind of weird, ornate butt-cut, right? [Laughs.] Like a long, weird hairdo and stuff? I think he's a good actor. I can't really speak to the quality of that film. I know people do like it. I remember The Dark Crystal better. This is terrible, but what did Kermit The Frog say when Jim Henson died? [Slight pause.] Nothing.

This is probably just some side effect of getting old, but Cookie Monster was on NPR for some reason. And I hadn't heard his voice in a while. But in the same way as Kermit The Frog, it's someone doing the original Cookie Monster voice, but it's not Cookie Monster, really. It's kind of a drag. These are the things that bother me in this world.

The Meters, "Groovy Lady"

AAB: Okay. I like this record, but I don't know it so well. I don't know any one particular Meters song, and I don't really throw parties very often, but if I did, I would play The Meters. I'm like a funk tourist. I don't really need to go much further than James Brown records, Parliament records. I don't go that deep with it, you know?

AVC: What sparked your interest in funk music, then?

AAB: I heard this story one time about The Meters. It was one of those bands that I kept hearing their name over and over from people—not like, "You've gotta go get 'em!"—they just were talking about, I don't know. This is probably out of the library of bullshit rock legends, but it's funny. One of The Meters walked in—they were on tour with The Rolling Stones. And one of them walked into the bathroom and Keith Richards was sitting on the toilet, taking a shit, eating a Snickers bar, and getting a blowjob all at the same time.

AVC: So the only logical reaction to hearing that would be to check those guys out.

AAB: Yeah, listen to those guys! Anybody that bears witness to that must have something to say! No, all it takes is some little thing like that.

AVC: Is there a crazier reason you started listening to a band?

AAB: You need a crazier reason than that? That I stated listening to any band? I don't know that I went out and was like, 'Whoa, I gotta hear The Meters!'" [Laughs.] I found my way there. Context helps in art.

AVC: Product placement's in there, too. That doesn't hurt.

AAB: There is, there is! [Laughs.]

Tom Waits, "Jockey Full Of Bourbon"

AAB: It's not one that I'm attached to. I like him a lot. It just seems like he made his own road.

AVC: Tom Waits fans tend to favor a particular period. Do you like his earlier stuff or his more recent stuff?

AAB: No, I go all the way through, on and off. Yep. That Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards record, I don't think that goes all the way back to the beginning. I really like [Swordfishtrombones], there's a lot of stuff on it that I like a lot. That and Orphans.

AVC: Swordfishtrombones is the one where he started to come into his own.

AAB: Yep, like "In The Neighborhood" and stuff like that. That's how I feel. It has some good songs. I just like it when he starts speaking in his own language the best. I like stuff off of Real Gone and Alice. I don't really like Nighthawks At The Diner. I don't really like that record. Bone Machine's my favorite record. That one, pound for pound, is the one I like. I like the song "Who Are You."

Nick Drake, "Day Is Done"

AAB: It's not my favorite song on [Five Leaves Left]. It's kind of maudlin. I do like the first two songs on this record a lot. I hate being so dismissive. I don't have any problem doing it conversationally, but, you know. There's no respect for the living or the dead anymore now, is there?

AVC: Speaking of product placement, a lot of his stuff wound up on car commercials.

AAB: Oh, I know. Exactly. It's weird. He didn't really have anything to do with it. It kind of doesn't affect my opinion of that situation as much as if someone I thought was outside of trafficking and stuff did it. You know? It's such a hard thing. And I don't like condemning anybody for trying to make money. It does get a little dicey when people like John Cougar Mellencamp—I don't know, I could be wrong about this, but I get the sense that [Freedom's Road] was supposed to be political in some way. And then you see him in a Chevy commercial, with a workingman vibe. And that's when it gets kind of weird for me. But I ain't him.

AVC: Would you ever put your songs in a commercial?

AAB: No, I don't think so. TV and film and stuff like that, it's granted you're still selling a product in a way, but it doesn't seem such an outright act of commerce. It doesn't seem like they're trying to use a thing in such a grand way to brand themselves with something. I'd like to think not, you know? If any corporation wanted to use your song without you being completely familiar with all the stuff they do, whether it's good or bad—it's just hard to give something over to something like that.

AVC: "Lust For Life" has shown up in commercials for cruise lines. It can get pretty bizarre.

AAB: Exactly, especially when a song is taken out of context. The big one being Reagan and those folks using "Born In The U.S.A." It's weird. It just goes to show you that so many people don't even realize what that song's about. Or for that matter, the Iggy Pop song. It's really not about exercise. Or vacation.

Tom Waits, "Cold Water"

AAB: I like this song better than that other one.

Spacemen 3, "Come Down Softly To My Soul"

AAB: I sure do like this band. I don't know why. I read an article that was like "This is where blues was meant to go," or something like that? I don't know what it is; I've always liked them. It's deceptively simple. I didn't listen to them for a long time, and I had this notion that they were musically really simple. And maybe any one part taken on its own is, but it's actually pretty layered. A lot of people could be really reductive about them, like, "Oh, they're The Stooges," or "They're like Suicide," or whatever. And they certainly have those elements, but when they get off on like this weird, blissed-out, layered thing, I'm not sure there's anybody else who really sounds like them.

AVC: They had a motto—

AAB: "Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to." That was a title of something. Yeah, I think you're right about that.

AVC: Why don't more bands have mottoes these days?

AAB: I don't know. People don't seem to be empowered to be—there seems to be a more willful spirit in bands when you look back a bit. Like, things were achievable whether they were realistic or not. I don't know, I think we could solve a lot of problems if we could answer that question. Or at least make people aware of those problems.

AVC: What would your motto be, then?

AAB: "I work hard to not care."

AVC: Would it change from band to band?

AAB: Mm-hmm. "Show us the money." No. If I were to start another band, sure. Motto before band, you know?

AVC: What about your previous band?

AAB: It wouldn't be a motto so much as it would be a small vignette of somebody standing above an empty swimming pool and getting ready to dive in, and saying, "Watch this." It'd be that, or, "Hey, watch us crash this plane!"

AVC: Very topical.

AAB: Yeah, right? Topical, but behind the times, right?

Bob Dylan, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Got To Stay All Night)"

AAB: It's pretty fun. It's not particularly psychedelic lyrically or anything like that. It's just kind of a pretty good blues song, I guess, maybe. Yelling Bob.

Leonard Cohen, "The Letters"

AAB: My wife's telling me that I don't know this song.

AVC: Is she right?

AAB: I don't know; he's just such a peculiar creature. I just really like him.

AVC: Did you see Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man?

AAB: I can't talk about that right now. Okay, I'll say Nick Cave is awesome, and Antony [Hegarty] is awesome.

AVC: What about I'm Not There?

AAB: I couldn't do that. I'm so familiar with a lot of that, from what I gather from the trailer and what people have told me. And it seems like I've read enough books and seen enough of those movies to be familiar with enough of it—to watch somebody pantomime it and be like, "Nah." Biopics as a rule are bad, no matter how crafty the person behind them is. Except for Coal Miner's Daughter, which I thought was really good. It seemed kind of low-tech. It seemed like that other movie, Velvet Goldmine. And then [Last Days], that horrible movie about Kurt Cobain? Or, no, sorry, "inspired by" Kurt Cobain? Or based on a Kurt Cobain-like character? Gus Van Sant? Woof.

AVC: You saw it?

AAB: You know when you go to the video store and you've just gotta see something and your guard is down? And you go to the checkout counter at the grocery store, and all the tabloids are right there, and they've got you, the bolt gun awaits. Yeah, no good.

AVC: Did you slug it the whole way through?

AAB: I think we fast-forwarded a lot through it. I'm friends with Michael Azerrad, do you know him? He comes up in the country sometimes or whatever, and I was talking to him about it. It was perplexing. He was working on [Kurt Cobain: About A Son] that just came out that I didn't see, but I think it was all right. It sounded, in idea anyway, a class above the other thing. I just always felt like, if your character is going to be so much like him, why not just say, instead of a character inspired by—

AVC: Well, everybody knows it's him.

AAB: Everybody knows. Yep. It just seemed kind of ham-fisted.

T. Rex, "Cosmic Dancer"

AAB: This is a good one. A minute ago, we were talking about band mottoes. A character that totally believes in himself in some kind of weird or even off-handed way, they just make this world for you, and if you like it, you can hang out there, and if you don't, then fuck it, you know? I just like it for the lines "What's it like to be a loon / I liken it to a balloon." Plus the record sounds so good. They have these good strings and weird backing vocals. I don't have any other records that feel like this.

AVC: How does it make you feel?

AAB: Sad. Like a man. Like a good, sad, sad man. But in an empowering way: empowering man-sadness. It's just good, liberating—it's my favorite song on the record, this one.

The Beatles, "Dig A Pony"

AVC: What do you got to say about The Beatles that hasn't already been said?

AAB: [Laughs.] Beatles are great! To me, if you're talking about them, you're talking about five different bands, almost. Or something like that. If there's anything to be said about [Let It Be]—'cause I'm sure everybody's already said—you know, a live record. Beatles are great! [Laughs.]