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Dillinger Four | Situationist Comedy | review | punk | Lollipop

Dillinger Four

Situationist Comedy (Fat)
by Morgan Coe

Dillinger Four have been mixing pop, punk, and politics around Minneapolis for going on ten years now. I was warned not to let more than one of them talk at once, so between the post-show beers and the pre-bedtime beers I managed to get in a few words edgewise with St. Patrick Costello, the White Irish James Jamerson of the Twin Cities punk and hardcore scene.

First off, the obvious: From Hopeless to Fat Wreck Chords - any comments?
We went to another label, it's no big deal. Sometimes you party at one friend's house, and sometimes you party at another friend's house. I mean, we're still totally cool with the guys at Hopeless, and we're probably gonna do something else on Sub City, the subsidiary of Hopeless. We'd been on Hopeless for two albums so we're just trying something different. And I don't know, I wish there was a soap opera, 'cause a lot of people ask us about it. If it makes the interview more interesting, you can put in print that I will stab those motherfuckers in the fuckin' face!

I'll make some shit up and embellish it.
Okay. It's funny because there's a lot of stuff that people think we're trying for that we've already been offered. We've already been offered major labels. We've been offered the Warped Tour two years in a row. Things like package tours with huge bands. We've been offered all of these things. We don't want them, know what I mean? That's not why we're on Fat. The reason we're on Fat is, honestly, because it's a label that gets records everywhere. The next record we're doing is with No Idea, from Florida. Because we love No Idea and, y'know, Var is a fucking freak who's totally into making crazy-looking, awesome-sounding records. But the other thing is, the next record may very well be with Fat. To tell you the truth, there is an ulterior motive to us being on Fat, which is that I want to put out records. I have a friend, Reiner, who's on tour with us now, and he and I are starting up a label. We have a couple of local bands in Minneapolis we're gonna do. We're doing, like, two LPs and a seven inch. And, y'know, I'm not gonna lie: My ultimate goal is that we would get the thing going so Dillinger Four would just do everything on our own. I mean, we're gonna do a Dillinger Four [record] no matter what, but I would love it if we would do it on our own label.

Back to music: Billy Bragg.
Billy Bragg is fucking great.

Still good?
I'm with everything. Uh, I have not heard England Half English yet.

What do you think of early-versus-later Billy Bragg?
Oh, early. Fuckin-a, dude, come on... Although William Bloke was fuckin' great. The whole Billy Bragg/Wilco thing; I might be the only guy on the face of the planet who's like, fuck that. There's nothing that's gonna get me to listen to Wilco. I mean, you could get fuckin' Lemmy to play with fuckin' Wilco and I'm not gonna fuckin' listen to it. But early Billy Bragg is some of the finest shit anybody's ever done. Back To Basics is one of those records that speaks volumes. That's the kind of politics I love. He talks about something emotional, like a love story, and then uses some sort of political metaphor in it. It totally makes sense. But you can play it for somebody else and they'll go "What the fuck? He's talking about glasnost... What the fuck is that?"

Billy Bragg is one of my favorites, but the line you guys borrowed, or stole, from "Waiting For the Great Leap Forward" ["Mixing pop with politics, he asked me what the use is"]...
Actually, dude - oh my God - in some ways, I regret that because every Billy Bragg fan everywhere thinks we're spitting.

Spitting? I see it as a respect thing. But that song, it's very obvious. It's like, he's stealing phrases from Mao, he's dropping Fidel Castro's brother... is that him at his best?
This is cool 'cause you're the only person who's brought that up... The only reason why I used that line was purely because of the fact that, like, to every punker that rang true. The entire idea of mixing pop with politics... Dude, that was, like, the Clash line that was never written. That was, like, the Clash album title that was never named.

The tattoo on Joe Strummer's back that was never done.
Exactly! And that's the thing; that's the reason I used it. The funny thing is, we have tips of the hat that, to this day, no one's ever brought up. Like we have a lot of shit in songs that are references to other people, because you're hoping someone's listening who'll go, "Hey, they listen to Billy Bragg!" We made references to Nelson Algren and, actually, "Fine Line Between the Monkey and the Robot" is a reference to Vonnegut. The funny thing is, after so many years of doing records, I meet people who are like, that's why they got into us. They might've bought a record 'cause we were catchy, but it was those weird little tips of the hat where they were like, "Whoa, right on; these guys are into On the Waterfront!"

Now you see a lot of bands do that too: They try to find weird references to things. But they won't reference a Vonnegut concept, they'll just name a song like... "Cat's Cradle."
"Breakfast of Champions," yeah. Or they'll do something like, instead of using one line from a Billy Bragg song, they'll say [in bad British accent] "Spent all night listening to Billy Bragg, blah blah blah." And that just cheapens it, really. It's all the subtle nuances. Punk rock is suave when it wants to be. (mutters) Very suave. But anyhow, yeah, I really love Billy Bragg. Not so hot on Shane MacGowan anymore...

That was my next question: What do you think of Shane?
He's one of those guys who, to tell you the truth, if I found out he was totally clean, it would actually make me want to see him more, y'know? See, we've had some shows where one or more of us have blacked out, so it probably wasn't a far cry from his shows, but the thing that bums me out about Shane MacGowan is that it's consistent... I find myself asking: "Ten years from now, are we gonna be those guys?" Like tonight, with all those guys yellin' at me to take my pants off. If somebody yells out for it, it's like there's no fucking way...

In an interview, you said you felt weird 'cause people expected it. You show up to play music, and all people yell is "Take your shit off and stick a firecracker up your ass!"
This is the thing: You play a show, and everybody's having a good time, and there's a handful of dudes yelling "Take your clothes off! Take your clothes off!" You know? And you don't feel like it. But you're playing a show, and you're going fucking crazy, and people are having a good time, but maybe it's a club that doesn't usually do shows like that. Maybe it's a basement where people feel kinda uptight. You gotta do something to kinda break the ice: "Hey, we're alive here! Quit reading your books about punk rock in 1977! Quit thinking about the letter you wanna write to Maximum RockNRoll making fun of somebody for some rumor you heard, because we are alive right now, right here, there's music being played, we're here! If you don't wanna move, then don't. Just stand there and enjoy, that's fine. If you wanna dance like a fuckin' moron, dance like a fuckin' moron. That's fuckin' great. This is our space, we're here, we're alive. And someday, we're gonna be 80 and shitting ourselves, and there's no point not enjoying what you have going on right here, right now." You know?

But there are shows where there are dudes like, "Dude, the guy takes his clothes off!" And that's where it's like, dude, no. I look out at the crowd, like tonight, like those kids, and I'm like "You're fuckin' sixteen! You wanna see something crazy? Do something crazy! Who the fuck are you, ya dummy? You just paid money to come see me naked? Then you missed the whole fuckin' point. Fuck you."

I mean, Jesus, that whole headstand-in-toilets thing, that's another thing people bring up all the time. Thing is, everywhere we played, the toilets were so gross you couldn't shit in 'em. And I was like "You know what, fuck this. We're gonna do a tour of the whole country and I'm gonna do headstands in toilets everywhere we go. I'll clean the toilet, and then after we get done playing, I'm gonna do a headstand in it just to show people all you gotta do is clean the fuckin' toilet and you can shit in it, y'know?" (laughs) That's the only reason I did it. We'll play a show and people'll be like, "Dude, do a headstand in the toilet!" And it's like, "Dude, you do a fuckin' headstand in the toilet!"

And on top of that, guess what? My band fuckin' sucks, start your own fuckin' band! What the hell, this isn't a spectator sport. We're not ravers.

So let's talk about situationism, and then we're done here.

What's up with the new record title? [Situationist Comedy]
The term "situationist comedy" has been something I've been throwing around for, like, seven years. There've been songs that were originally called "Situationist Comedy," and then I changed the title after awhile. It's just weird because there's two different meanings... The more optimistic one is that in my fantasy, the good ship Dillinger Four is actually sailin' right. It's a kind of a situationist comedy. It's like, we're gettin' this point across, we're makin' some political points, maybe just some socio-political points, but that's still cool. But we're actually doing it in this ridiculous, crazy, some might even think stupid way. But then there's also the flip side, which is more of a bitter, pessimistic view on the term "situationist comedy," which is just punk rock in general.

...reduced to a sitcom?
No, more that punk music was somewhat spearheaded by the situationist movement in the late '60s, and the art that came out of it and the attitude that came out of it. On one hand, it's very devil-may-care, but on the other hand it's very aware: "This is fucked, and we could change it, but we have to radically change everything we are." And then you have these pop-punk bands, and all their songs are about their fuckin' girlfriends, and they're selling 250,000 copies of the record. They look like squeaky clean kids, and your mom would absolutely love if you'd grown up to be like them. And I look at them and I just think, "How did this come out of that? How did we end up here?" It's supposed to be inherently threatening 'cause it's punk, but no... It ended up being a situationist comedy. There's no point. It's goofy stuff, "I wear skater shorts and I'm challenging society." My fantasy underground punk scene is one that's nothing but geniuses making fart jokes to each other, and playing lawn darts while they drink cheap beer in the sun. That would be the most fun ever. But then again, it also isn't my scene, I don't own the copyright. I'm just another bit player in this b-movie that's never gonna fucking end. But at least the soundtrack's pretty good sometimes.
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