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JG Thirlwell: Hide and Seek - Page 2

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JG Thirlwell: Hide and Seek
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JGT - New Musical Express 1984















He told Brutarian that he made up Clint Ruin to create the illusion that there was more to Foetus than JG Thirlwell, and created Self Immolation to give the impression he had capital behind him. But why bother lying? Why not just say nothing at all?

JGT: I was successful at remaining anonymous for the first 18 months of releasing records, spinning mythology through press releases. Then it became exhausting. I didn't want to be the Residents; they do it so well. However, there was a point when I was creating the mythology of Foetus that I created names for the members of Philip and his Foetus Vibrations. Among them was Frank Want, Clint Ruin, Bubba Kowalski, Karl Satan, Wade Banks and others. Clint Ruin was one I picked as a “stage name,” but it's just how I got inhabited when I played live. I never really thought about it too much; it’s just what happened when I walked out on stage.

For someone so eager to remain unknown, Clint Ruin was a very provocative character. The impression I had is of a skittish young colt: this frightened little thing with gaunt cheekbones and huge eyes. He fidgeted constantly, spouting pithy one-liners while looking painfully self-conscious. He didn’t want to be there – in fact, he regarded interviews as debasing his craft. It was the act of recording that he called his catharsis. At first he refused to do any interviews at all (his first was in ‘84), though his lyrics and art were confrontational. I wonder why he’d invite questions that he didn’t want to answer.

JGT: I don't feel that I directly invite people to ask questions, I make statements, sometimes expressing the opposite point of view than I have. Maybe this is posing questions too.

JGT: It’s good if it provokes discussion; my music is not really passive. It's foreground music (not fairground music). In the last 10 years, though, I'd say maybe 80% of the music I have made has been instrumental. I have written hundreds of pieces for The Venture Bros, as well as four Manorexia albums, commissions and so on. This is probably the most prolific period of my life.

By the summer of 1982, Foetus had released four singles and two albums. JG met Lydia Lunch at a Birthday party gig.

JGT: I was living with Mick Harvey; he introduced me to her. The Birthday Party had met her when they were in NYC. I was aware of her work from Teenage Jesus and Queen of Siam and was a fan. I'd been writing press releases for the Birthday Party, which were quite overblown, and she'd seen them and asked if I would write her a bio sheet. We got together to talk about that; that was the first time we really had talked. She didn't know I made music until some time after that.

JG, Lydia, and their friends Nick Cave and Marc Almond briefly played together in a band called The Immaculate Consumptive. Yet another NME cover without bothering the charts. They played just three gigs – JG broke the piano at the first, and Nick halted a song during the second saying “and then it goes on like that for another five minutes.”

As Clint Ruin, JG made his first recordings with Lydia in May 1983. They were romantically as well as artistically involved for the next few years, and moved to New York together during that year after a brief stay in LA. They made a decorative couple.

He released the seminal HOLE and NAIL in 1984 and 1985 respectively. JG’s artistic endeavors became well respected – both the music and the self-designed covers, which have been shown in art galleries over the years – but Foetus was just too controversial to enjoy mainstream popularity.

On “I'll Meet You in Poland, Baby,” he likens infidelity to the destructiveness of WWII: this girl didn't just break his heart, she broke his world. Even a decade after writing it, it could still bring a tear to his eye singing it live. By contrast, NAIL's lyrics are a spiky mass of ghoulish wit, full of grimly comic lines such as “make a withdrawal from my blood bank” and “they’ll cut off your face to spite your nose.”

His lyrics could offend just about everyone: gay, straight, black, white, any religion or political affiliation; all come under attack from his psychopathically brutal lines. On “Free James Brown (So He Can Run Me Down),” he alternates “I want to die with my hands around a black man’s throat” with “I want to die with my hands around a white man’s throat” (a quote actually appropriated from Miles Davis) – either way round, it’s an ugly, horrific thing to say, and that’s the point.

When I sat with Foetus in 1996, he had answered patiently and playfully. Sometimes Thirlwell admits he finds accusations of sexism, racism, etc. “insulting,” but a lot of his songs are hard to take unless you know enough about him to see the context. “English Faggot” sounds very different once you learn about the homophobic bullying he endured in his youth: the song was inspired by a threatening message left on his answering machine. Old girlfriends speak of him in such glowing terms as to make accusations of misogyny based on his lyrics sound ridiculous.

Most bands sing about what scares them: what unsettled people about Foetus is that you’re getting the horror story from the viewpoint of the killer. However stomach-churning the images are, it’s impossible not to smirk at some of the bleak comedy in songs like “Throne of Agony,” and those choruses are damned catchy.

AS: That whole Oscar Wilde-sings-Johnny Cash thing you did with the lyrics: where did that come from? Is macabre wordplay a strong part of your real-life sense of humor?

JGT: You mean part is wordplay part of my daily conversation? Yes, sometimes. Lyrics come from different places for different songs, and my lyric writing has changed a lot over the years, both in process and content. I think maybe I write from a deeper place now. I may do less of the wordplay, I don’t want to fall back on the same tropes, and that's been co-opted by some other people. Often there are obscure references that only I know. Often my subjects are composite characters. It really changes song to song.

AS: You allude in your lyrics to a painful divorce, but I didn't know you'd married. Was that allegorical?

JGT: It’s allegorical. I use divorce as a metaphor for murder!


Last Updated on Sunday, 18 July 2010 21:34  


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