MICK COLLINS: Brother From Another Planet

Music Features
MICK COLLINS: Brother From Another Planet
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Jan 23, 2008, 04:05

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The Dirtbombs - Horndog Fest
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Few feature-length articles have been printed about Mick Collins. And now that it's my task to write one, I understand why. His musical history, which began in the early 1980s with the U-Boats, is tough to sort out. For all most would-be fans know,  he's just a guy from Detroit who's made some underground rumblings with too many bands to keep track of: the Gories, Blacktop, King Sound Quartet and a few low-profile side projects.

The most well-known of those bands is the Gories, a trio (Collins, Dan Kroha, and Peg O'Neill) that was ahead of its time, to say the least. The kind of band that Lester Bangs might have predicted somewhere in the frustrated, disgusted, and dreamy essaying collected in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. The band's primitive mix of early R&B, blues and garage punk was just waiting for all that hair and synth pop garbage to make way for something that made sense—or at least captured sense and beat the shit out of it. But that didn't happen. The Gories left behind a few records, the I Know You Be Houserockin' LP is arguably the most exceptional and supposedly influential. Besides that they did a string of 7-inches for some bigger labels like Sub Pop. So now, six years after their break up, the Gories are more recognized and talked about than ever. Only they don't play anymore.

“There are way too many people who are suddenly hip to the Gories,” he says. “It's really frustrating, because when we wanted everybody's attention we couldn't buy it. Every time we played in Detroit it was to the same thirty people. Sometimes we were booed off stage. Most of the people who came to see us were inveterate record freaks like we were, and knew what we were doing (and probably could tell you the catalogue number of the record we copped it from). There's even one wild soul in France who claims to be able to name every musical reference the Gories ever made.”

After the Gories, Collins was still in touch with an A&R guy from Warner Brothers who had been interested in signing the band. The rep offered him a demo deal as a solo artist. Collins doesn't say that he went into the thing wholeheartedly, probably due to the obvious disadvantages of working with a major label. But he went to work on a twelve song recording, three songs from each of the four bands he was in at that time. Then for some reason, he didn't finish it on time. And that was that.

“I looked at it as sort of a gilded cage kind of thing,” Collins says. “I finally have enough dough to do what I want to do, but I can't do it.”

BLACKTOP

For Collins, what might seem like self-sabotage has really been a means of survival. While his bands are altered or snuffed out quickly and easily, he continues to be prolific with a list of projects that are all over the place and (most of them) forever basking in the shadows of obscurity. He still plays occasionally with the Yeti Sanction, an extremely improvisational ensemble that once submitted its manifesto on a roll of toilet paper for exhibit at an art festival. (It was rejected.) He and Kroha (now with the Demolition Dollrods) recently made an LP entitled Silky with Detroit R&B legend Andre Williams. (See article on Andre Williams in Y.F.#40.) Collins also produced and sang on the last Red Aunts record Ghetto Blaster, which was released on Epitaph in the summer of '98.

But most of his time is spent playing with his precariously assembled Dirtbombs, a band whose roster changes as fast as Madonna's hairstyles. A bass player and one of two drummers were replaced this past September. Even though the Dirtbombs retain that inevitable Collins-esque quality, the band is a world (and four or more bands) away from the place the Gories were playing from. The Dirtbombs are much noisier, if that's possible, higher on testosterone, and there's plenty of them. None of this “two cool guys and a chick who can't play the drums” thing.

“For now, the Dirtbombs are my main focus,” Collins says. “I don't know how much longer it will go on, at least till next year. This is the first band I've been in that was designed to have a beginning, middle, and an end. I really think that is something to strive for. I hate bands that go on forever. Three LPs should be the limit for most of them.”

So in his endless quest for evolution, Collins has sacrificed the worship of all those '60s punk purist Gorie-o-philes for sure. But even with the Dirtbombs, he's still the same stage-hog jumping around—banging away on his guitar, all blood, sweat, and sexual frustration, making you wonder if he's got one of the elastic eyeglass guards behind his head to keep the dark shades on.

Original DIRTBOMBS line-up

“Everybody knows I spend most of my time off in another world,” he says. “The Dirtbombs understand that, for the duration of the set at least, they're in that world, too. At least I think they understand that, I could be wrong. And any audience member who cares to can jump around and become part of that world if they want to. The whole thing becomes a shamanic experience for those who want to get into it. The rest hopefully see a good rock 'n' roll show.”

Collins is a real oddity, from his penchant for constant change—despite the cluttering effect it's had on his career—to the fact that he calls his punk inflected music “black.” The current state of black music (rap, hip hop, and smooth-jazzish R &B) is something he rebels against, seeing his antecedent more in Jimi Hendrix than Public Enemy (although what Collins does with a guitar involves a lot less technical skill). He's always spilling over with a lot of reasons why, and fortunately, most of them make a lot of sense. Especially when he starts dreaming out loud about some fantasy band that combines Sweet Honey in the Rock with the mangled reggae of the Slits or talking about how the Marshall amp has done more to fuck up rock 'n' roll than Sgt. Pepper ever did or how he'd love to hear a hip hop record done by a big band.

“If rap is, according to Ice Cube, the network news of black consciousness, then where does that leave me?” Collins asks. “Well, the answer is that folks like me, and the Electric Nubians, and James “Blood” Ulmer, and all the rest of the freaky, non-conforming black folks, are right where we've always been: out on the fringe.”

Okay, the ideas might be tough to grapple with, but his mind and music never falter from them. And his voice is amazing, like a scratched up Otis Redding record. He sounded especially worn out and raspy when he sang with Blacktop, but even then he still could've pulled off that cover of Robert Johnson's “Malted Milk.”

All this might leave one wondering how such a quirky guy continues to make records. The answer is Larry Hardy who started his California-based In The Red label just to release a Gories record. In The Red has put out most of Collins' music since then. He and Hardy have even discussed creating a black music label. But the two haven't been able to agree on the music part yet.

“Unfortunately, he likes rap music,” Collins says, “which in the past few months I've come increasingly to view in the same light as progressive rock: old, artistically sclerotic, and ultimately doomed as an evolutionary cul-de-sac. While he was more than happy to let me push boundaries on the Andre Williams LP, he doesn't seem so willing to break all the current rules in the Hip Hop Guidebook. Until someone gives me money to make freaky funk music, I guess there'll always be punk rock.”

For all his talents, Collins might always be more comfortable standing on the outside looking in. And his negotiations with the rest of the world will probably remain hit or miss. That has more to do with the misfit personality that belies his smirking façade of coolness, something he is the first to recognize. “Playing punk rock music is probably the one thing I do that is not traditionally a geek thing to do,” he says. “It's amazing what a pair of shades and a leather jacket will do to somebody. But it's still geek music to me, because of the content. It's revenge of the geek music.”

At one point—though this is tough to imagine—Collins was a little easier to peg than he is now. When the Gories got started in the late 1980s, he was in the thick of Detroit's Mod scene. Although he did bypass the more ridiculous aspects of it (like the mopeds and form-fitting suits) by shopping for records instead of clothes. But what followed was a point of no return. “When the Gories broke up for good that whole scenesterism thing ceased to be important,” Collins says. “The music took precedence, no matter what type of music it was.”

But Collins' “otherness” doesn't stop there. The Dirtbombs just released a pleasingly belligerent record called Horndog Fest (In The Red). The cover is a black and white drawing of a voluptuous anthropomorphic kitty cat stripper: fur, tail, big boobs, g-string, the whole she-bang. For as long as he can remember, Collins has been more than fond of this type of art, as well as the cartoons with talking animals like Kimba the White Lion, Underdog, Bugs Bunny, etc. that captured his interest as a kid. In the early 1990s, the Internet found a name for people like Collins (at least in this respect): furry fans.

Inside the Horndog Fest CD jacket, each of the Dirtbombs members (from the line-up at that time) is drawn in a group picture as some variety of anthropomorphic canine. Four of them leer out with uncertainty from behind their furry masks. All except for the big black wolf who lounges in the corner smirking behind a pair of dark sunglasses. And the song “Burnt to Cinders” is dedicated to furry fandom. Collins says furry references appear in his music as early as the first Gories records. But nobody took much notice back then, or if they did, they weren't going to bring it up.

“I look at myself as being out on the fringe,” he states. “I'd like to stay there. I don't care how it looks to anyone else, really. I'm much more afraid of not having done anything. I've been working on a song about furry fandom. The chorus is: I may be weird, but at least I'm not an ax murderer.”

The furry thing seems to be way scarier than Collins' controversial views on rap. At least for most people, endowing cute little furry creatures with porn star qualities (for the thrill of it no less) is arguably pretty weird. Since furry fandom has yet to publish its official manifesto explaining all of its philosophies, we can only speculate on whether it leans toward bestiality or simply tries to escape the bitter realities of the human condition.

According to Collins and one of the few anecdotes he offered during our interview, furry fandom and his music are both much more about the latter. He says one night he played a whole show to a girl in costume cat ears. The girl did nothing for him later on when he saw her up-close with his real glasses on. But when he was onstage she and her disguise blurred just right.

•••

The article you've just read originally appeared in Your Flesh #41.

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