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David Thomas Is Just Getting On With It – Part Two

RFTT in flames (Photo credit: Kathy Ward and John Thompson)

Ed. – Part One of David Thomas Is Just Getting On With Ithere.


I hope you had a chance to digest and reflect on what David Thomas had to say in the first installment of our deep dive. In the conclusion to this two-part series, we’re wandering past Satisfied City to see what’s over the next hill…

Weasel poll, pajama troll.
Paint by number, that’s the plot of the show..

– Welcome to the New Dark Ages

Taken from the second track on Rocket from the Tombs 2015 album “Black Record,” David Thomas’ lyrics could have been ripped from current headlines. These are uncertain times, and given the present day political and social climate in America, these words seem eerily prescient.

“It was appropriate and prescient when it was written (2015). It’s been appropriate and prescient for many years now. But, I don’t think it’s any more prescient now than it was last year.”

He’s correct. It’s not any more prescient today than it was yesterday. But you may find yourself thinking more deeply about these words now, when compared to the amount of meaning attached to them in 2015.

There are also those who attach prophet status to David, expressly based on prescience and being well-ahead of his time for most, if not all his career.

“Greil Marcus wrote a book about prophets in American history. There were four of them, as I remember. I’ve never read the book, which you’ll understand in a moment.

l to r: Craig Bell, David Thomas, Steve Mehlman, Gary Siperko, and Buddy Akita. (Photo by Kathy Ward)

“So, there were four prophets of America. One of them was Abraham Lincoln, one of them was David Thomas… that’s me. And there were a couple of others I don’t remember. Now you can see why I never read the book. If somebody goes on about how you’re a prophet, you’re not going to read it.

“Frankly, I’d probably get sick,” he said with laughter in his voice. “Or, I’d turn against Greil… and Greil’s a good guy.”

Although he never read the book, I have. And while I do not attach prophet status as easily to someone as Greil Marcus did, he does make some very good points about David Thomas.

From my viewpoint, David Thomas has always been ahead of the curve with what he sees, and how he interprets those visions.

“Pere Ubu has always been about an observation,” he continued, “we’re talking about Pere Ubu, but it’s the same with Rocket.

“Anyway, Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote this very moving poem about riding in a train across the country. He looked out the window and saw a railroad watchman; some guy with a lantern standing on a platform. And for a moment, his face was superimposed on the window, you know? It was his reflection.

“I mean, Ferlinghetti described it a whole lot better. But, that’s sort of what Rocket and Pere Ubu have always been; this observation of people who just get on with it and how they fit into society, or don’t fit into society, and their interactions.”

His observations of fitting-in or not fitting-in go precisely with the daily struggle of inhabiting this spinning chunk of rock we call home. The wretched denizens expend too much time and energy attempting to fit-in, and worried about what others may think of them and their actions.

At its essence, there are many that try to pigeonhole David Thomas into a specific genre or process of thought. Like attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole, it is never successful.

Barfly Front Cover (Fire Records)

At this point, our conversation delved into the impact that the internet has had on him and his career. David wove the story better than I could ever hope to. So, the following section is David Thomas’ thoughts about the internet in their entirety.

“If you want to talk about prescient… in 1977, I guess, Johnny Dromette (aka John Thompson, Ubu’s art designer since 1978) and I came up with the notion of data panik. Information would serve as a sedative drug. And, there are several other corollaries.

“This was when there was just T.V. So, what happened with the internet is not new, like it sprung from nothing. It was sort of clear that this was happening in the 70’s, though the mechanism by which it would become full-blown, i.e. ‘the internet’, was unimaginable to us.

“I mean, the internet serves some good purposes. When you control it, it serves as a way of giving people… See, we never printed lyrics. And one of the reasons we did that has nothing to do with the music. Reading the words, that’s not poetry. It’s not meant to be read alone.

“But, we always had this thing that if you really wanted to know what the words are, send us a self-addressed stamped envelope and we’ll stick ’em in the mail to you. That was our solution. If you want more information, you have to put forth the effort to get it.

“When the internet came along, that was a perfect solution to us. Frankly, printing out a bunch of lyrics and schlepping down to the post office was a pain in the butt. The internet serves that purpose of if you want more, you can get more.

“I mean, our website is a massive slime mold of ever-expanding information. It’s probably pretty easy to get lost in it (more laughter). So, we’ve clearly taken advantage of that notion of how to handle information. How to give people who want more, access to more, on an individual effort-based basis.

“Now, I don’t need to tell you the pitfalls of the internet. I really try to pretty much restrict myself, which is not hard to do. But, I’m by no means a Luddite. I yearn to go back to the compact Macs; the SE’s, the SE30’s, those sorts of machines. I yearn to have a black and white screen, and very limited internet ability.

“There are great pitfalls, and a great waste of time. I really hate it when everybody hauls out their damn iPhones and are sitting there toggling. I frankly don’t see the point of it.

“I mean, one doughnut is good. But, eighteen doughnuts really is not so good.

“The problem about talking of all this stuff, is that you just begin to sound like an old man. I have this reputation for being this grumpy person. No, I’m not grumpy. I mean, sure, I have my moments just like anybody does. But if you want to dismiss me by saying I’m grumpy, fine. What the hell do I care?

“The great thing about being old is that you’re free. I’m more ‘dangerous’ now, as if a musician could be ‘dangerous’ (more laughter), than I ever was, because I don’t care anymore. I don’t care about what other people think about me. I’m on a mission to push this damn thing until the moment I drop dead.

“Because, what else is there to do? I’m not the old guy in the neighborhood chasing you off his lawn.”

With him, you’re either on the bus or left standing along the side of the road. He doesn’t care which you choose, because he still needs to see what’s over the next hill. If you get left standing by the side of the road, I guarantee you’ll be waving at his taillights receding into the distance.

Yes, David Thomas is dangerous. And that’s just the way he likes it.

“I suppose that I’m a revolutionary,” he said, putting an end to our conversation, “and I’ll always be a revolutionary.”

Rocket from the Tombs play The Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland on May 11 and Ace of Cups in Columbus on May 13.


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