Interview: Mike Hudson - The Pagans
If the name of Mike Hudson means little to you, then maybe you'll be aware of his former, legendary band - THE PAGANS. After about 25 years involvement in music, he has just released his debut solo album, recorded over various sessions in NYC with former Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome. It's a raw, gravel-voiced gem featuring many solo Hudson compositions + a few select covers. Take it away Mike...
..You recently released a solo album, Unmedicated. Why choose now to release, what is essentially, your first solo album?
..Mike) After my brother Brian died in 1991, I fell into a depression and ended up in New York with every intention of ending it all. Turned out I got a job writing literary criticism for the Irish Echo, and there were a bunch of old hands around the East Village who remembered the PAGANS and wanted to go into the studio. After I moved to Niagara Falls in 1998, Mike Albertson of Sonic Swirl Records called me up and asked if I had any unreleased stuff lying around. So I did and, so far, Ive made like $75 off it.
..How do you feel the disc has turned out do you feel it lacks continuity due to the fragmented writing and recording schedule?
..Mike) I like the record. It wasnt written to be an album, but thats the way it turned out. I think it holds together fairly well.
..Were you trying to achieve something with this disc that your previous recordings with the likes of the PAGANS and the STYRENES failed to achieve?
..Mike) We werent really trying to achieve anything. We were laying down some tracks because thats what we did, what we had been doing, since the Seventies. As it happened, there were a dozen or so of them, and when Albertson called, I sent them to him. Its not the first record Ive made that way.
..What about the recording of the sessions? Former DEAD BOY Cheetah Chrome played on a few tracks. Youve known Cheetah since the 70s yeah? How did you find working with him? Who else played on the sessions that we may know of? Did you produce the disc?
..Mike) Cheetah and Jimmy Zero of the DEAD BOYS played on a couple of tracks on Crypts compilation 'Shit Street', all from the Seventies. Cheetahs like a brother to me, and was a good friend to Brian as well. Hes good to go. I ran into him down in New York and we immediately took time out from carousing, fighting and getting hurt to lay down some tracks. Hes a top-notch guy and a good partner. Im not sure who produced the disc, as it was a fuzzy time of my life. Paul Marotta from the STYRENES, I think, plays on the 'Gloria' cover and Gregory Pittman from GREGORYS FUNHOUSE is all over the thing.
..The album has been released on Clevelands Sonic Swirl label. How did you hook up with them? Do you feel the label has done enough in promoting the album?
..Mike) Yeah, theyre fine. Albertsons a good kid who does the label out of love for indy rock, youve gotta respect that.
..If we can just talk about a couple of the tracks on the album, starting with Downtown Beirut. What was the inspiration behind this song? Obviously the situation in that area is in constant upheaval. Do you see any obvious ways to resolve the problems in the Middle East?
..Mike) There was a bar on First Avenue and 10th Street called Downtown Beirut and I used it as my office. Took calls on the pay phone and then another call would come in on the bar phone and Id have both receivers to my ears. The whole thing of homelessness and disenfranchisement was familiar to me, and I guess it came out in that. Nobodys ever asked me before about what I think can be done about the Middle East, but I can tell you that our President Bush is fucking it up big time.
..Brian Always Said is, I presume, about your brother who died in a road accident over 10 years ago. Is that correct? This must be an intensely personal song for you did you debate about recording it and making it available for public scrutiny?
..Mike) Theres a sadder one about Brian on the first album I did with the STYRENES. Its called All the Wrong People Are Dying and was re-released a couple years ago by Overground (UK). Anyone who knows me will tell you I wear my heart on my sleeve and dont debate anything. I dream about my brother all the time and miss him a lot. We were very close.
..Do you find it easier to write lyrics now than in the days of the PAGANS? Would it be true to say that the lyrics of Unmedicated are of a more personal nature than those of the PAGANS?
..Mike) I was a different guy when I was in the PAGANS. Writings always come easily to me. 'Unmedicated' is a rough record I made during a rough time.
..I note there are a couple of covers on the album. Why choose those over other original compositions? Were any other covers considered? Did you, or would you ever, consider re-recording any PAGANS tunes?
..Mike) I always loved Van Morrison, Eric Burdon and Ian Hunter. Never got the chance to record any songs by them though, so did it with this. The PAGANS recorded Bobby Darin, Alice Cooper, the Stones, the Who, Johnny Rivers and other faves. Im sorry I never recorded a Tommy James song. Some kids in Uruguay just recorded a version of 'Give Till It Hurts'. They wrote and asked me so I sent them the lyrics. They did a great job, as have kids in Italy, Spain, Japan, Australia and a bunch of other places. So what do I have to re-record for?
..What are your plans for the album? Do you intend taking it out on the road or doing any form of live performances?
..Mike) No plans. Played my last live show with the PAGANS on May 21st of this year in Chicago. The whole thing was just a scam, actually, an excuse for me and Mick Metoff to go see a baseball game together at Wrigley Field and have somebody else pick up the tab. In the airport, after it was over, we vowed never to play out again. The newspaper keeps me pretty busy.
..Going back into your history Mike, was your childhood exposed to music? Were your parents musical and did they support your early music-making activities? What did they think of the PAGANS? Do they now realise what an influential band it was?
..Mike) Grandpa Hudson was a fine country guitar player and excellent shot with either a rifle or a pistol. He showed me 'Waltz Across Texas' by Tex Ritter and 'Rambling Man' by Hank Williams. Mom and Dad always let us practice in their basement, even after Brian and I moved out of the house. Now they think its comical, and they would especially think that some guy from New Zealand asking me questions along these lines would be too comical to address.
..Was there anything in your adolescence that shaped the Mike Hudson of the future? I mean, can you point a time or an influence that lead you to being the Mike Hudson who fronted the PAGANS? And likewise, the Mike Hudson of today?
..Mike) I hitch-hiked around the country, enlisted in the U.S. Army, read Hemingway, Fitzgerald, London, Kipling, Crane, Maugham, got in fights, drank a lot, listened to the STONES and the VELVET UNDERGROUND and the STOOGES, watched tons of John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart movies and, well, what the fuck? How else are you going to turn out?
..What was the Cleveland scene like back in the early days of the PAGANS? Why do you think that Cleveland became such a hotbed of snotty rock n roll/Punk? Ive read about Clevelands East Side/West Side divide can you elaborate on that a little? What was the friction about just inter-gang rivalry?
..Mike) Theres a river that runs down through the middle of Cleveland called the Cuyahoga. Back in the day, it often caught fire. So the East Side goes for 200 blocks east of it, and the West Side goes for 117 blocks to the west of it. There are virtually no blacks on the West Side, to this day. Its largely German, Polish and what everybody used to call Serbo-Croatian. On the East Side, youve got your blacks and Jews and Irish, Italians and the rest of the mix. The PAGANS were from the East Side. And we didnt take any shit from anyone. Finally, when Johnny Dromette took over a club on West 117th Street, it was a major ordeal to figure out how to get there. Cleveland was very depressed at the time, in 1978 it became the first major city in America to go into receivership since the Great Depression. Being in a band was just something you did to amuse yourselves. Youd play out once in awhile and then you started to meet other like-minded people. Wow, you like the NEW YORK DOLLS too? So it kind of coalesced into a scene.
..You obviously shared stages with the likes of PERE UBU, DEAD BOYS, DEVO etc. Ive always thought UBU came across as rather elitist slightly snobbish even. Is that a fair statement? The DEAD BOYS must have been incredible I still consider them to be the definitive Punk Rock band. Has the legend of the band been amplified/exaggerated as time has progressed or is it all true and justified?
..Mike) Ive said before that Stiv Bators was the greatest rock and roll frontman Ive ever seen. We played with those guys a lot. They were doing well after their first album came out and always insisted we get the opening spot when they were in the Midwest. You couldnt exaggerate how good they were live. PERE UBU took the art school approach, which wasnt our thing, but we played with them a lot as well. We used to share a practice loft, and Crocus (David Thomas) produced and sang on some tracks we did then.
..Why did the PAGANS stay in Cleveland when bigger and better things could have happened in LA or NYC? Surely when the DEAD BOYS left for NYC, it must have been tempting to join them although NYC does seems to be something of a jinxed city for you. Do you think the PAGANS would have been a drastically different band if their location had been changed?
..Mike) Brian moved to New York after we broke up the first time in late 1979. I never could stand LA and youre right about New York, its snakebit. We played CBGB and Maxs Kansas City, but everyone we knew up there were living in these terrible conditions. NYCs a very expensive place to try to live, especially if youre in a band. Would it have been dramatically different? We probably would have all overdosed on heroin.
..After the PAGANS split for the first time, I recall a band called LES RAVING SOUNDS can you tell us about that? Did that mutate into a new PAGANS line-up?
..Mike) LRS was a one off project Metoff and I got bored and came up with. We had started Terminal Records and we had a studio available. Nick Knox from the CRAMPS plays on some of it. It sort of got us back into playing together but it was another year, I think, before we relaunched the PAGANS.
..What were the primary differences between the initial PAGANS and succeeding new versions? The Pink Album that the third (?) version recorded certainly sounds a more polished affair.
..Mike) By the time we got around to putting the 'Pink Album' together, we were a lot better musically. Tim Allee didnt want to do it and Brian was in New York, so we got Robert Conn to play bass, he had done the original vocal on 'Six and Change', and Bobby Richie, who was 15 and playing in a hardcore band, to play drums. Chas Smith, whod been in various bands with both me and Metoff over the years, played keyboards. Only a couple of the tracks were done in a studio, the rest being recorded in my basement or live or from a radio show we did. Metoff joined the CRAMPS in 1983, and I left Cleveland to work at a newspaper in Pennsylvania. When 'Buried Alive' came out in 86, it got good reviews and we started getting offers to get back together. So we did, with Tim on bass and Bobby on drums. Brian had moved to LA by that time. Wed just meet up in Philadelpha or Minneapolis or wherever. Play the show, get our money and go home. It was fun because, with the album out, lots of people came and they were into it. We were playing with bands like the LEMONHEADS and SOUL ASYLUM and it was a completely different scene than it had been in the early days.
..The PAGANS reunite every now and then for one-off shows. How does it feel to be back on stage with Metoff and blasting through Whats This Shit Called Love again? The band had a fractious career with more than a few fists being thrown do you guys still get on when you meet up? Do you only do these reformations in Cleveland? Is there likely to be another one in the near/distant future?
..Mike) Metoffs my best friend in the world. We dont see each other that often, but we talk once a month or so and e-mail back and forth. Theres still PAGANS business to do, but mostly its about baseball. Weve only played out twice since 1989, once when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame asked us to play there a couple of years ago and then again at this festival in Chicago in May. Weve all been through a lot together and are basically like family; albeit a dysfunctional family. I cant imagine what could get us to go out and play again. Vacations are nicer when you dont have to work when you get there.
..You started a couple of record labels also. I read one of your quotes regarding your Terminal Records label stating it was an anarchist collective. Can you expand on that a little?
..Mike) Basically, anyone who wanted to put out a record on Terminal could. I did the 'Cleveland Confidential' comps, Metoff put out a single with a band he had, the CLOCKS, Robert Conn made one with the DEFNICS and Tim Allee did an EP with the BRONCS, but they were all financed and done independently. Nobody asked if they could be on Terminal. We had a lot of fun.
..You went to Pennsylvania for a number of years, yeah? Why did you leave Cleveland and what was at Pennsylvania?
..Mike) I spent eight years in Pennsylvania working for a small town newspaper, fishing, firing large calibre handguns in my back yard and basically just chilling out. It was a good time for me. The PAGANS would play on weekends or Id take some vacation time, people would come to visit from New York or Cleveland. We recorded a single we released as the HIGH ROLLERS in the living room of this old farm house I had.
..Since the final split of the PAGANS, youve spent periods in THE STYRENES and the MURDER JUNKIES after GG ALLIN died yeah? What was it like filling GGs boots? I assume you fronted the band? You get on OK with Merle?
..Mike) I did two albums and toured a bit with the STYRENES. They were great musicians. Most of the stuff is spoken word with a noir jazz background. As far from the PAGANS as you could get. I knew William from the MURDER JUNKIES and they had some shows booked after GG died and he asked me to play on them. I was playing shows with Cheetah and the STYRENES at the time, it wasnt much of a stretch. Merle and I didnt see eye to eye, I liked the music but he was into biting the heads off rats and sticking drumsticks up the drummers ass. I think I did four or five shows with them.
..As mentioned above, you spent about five years in NYC the period you recorded the tracks for Unmedicated. What lured you to NYC was it the job on the Irish Echo newspaper? And what lured you back to Cleveland?
..Mike) Brian died in '91 and I went off the deep end. I thought what the hell was I doing out in the woods in Pennsylvania? Id been going to New York since the 70s, it seemed like a good idea at the time. A buddy of mine was editing the Echo and put me on as the literary critic. Every week Id go into the office and pick up shopping bags full of books, most of which Id then sell at the Strand book store. I think I made more money doing that than I did writing the reviews. By '98 it was clear that I wasnt setting the town on fire and I got a job offer to write for the daily paper in Niagara Falls. That lasted about 18 months and I started my own weekly newspaper, the Niagara Falls Reporter, in 2000. We do 22,000 copies a week and just celebrated our fifth anniversary.
..Its well known that you have had your troubles with alcoholism and drug-addiction Cocaine yeah? Do you think that the PAGANS music would have been that much less dangerous had the band not got involved with LSD, Speed, Cocaine etc? Do you still have yearnings for such substances? What lead you to rely so heavily on drugs and booze was it just the rock n roll lifestyle, or something more?
..Mike) Thats an interesting question and one that Ive given up on. Why does anyone do what they do? I havent done any drugs in a long time. It interferes too much with my drinking. Or maybe Im just getting old. Certainly, anything you take is going to affect your writing and music. Still, Ive managed to be fairly productive in both areas over a long period of time. Ive made 15 albums and published around 5,000 articles, essays and short stories over the past 28 years.
..What music do you listen to today? Do you still follow the Punk scene? What do you make of the commercialisation of Punk Rock? Does Punk today have any parallels to that which you knew in the early days of the PAGANS?
..Mike) Mostly I find myself listening to Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shane McGowan, Johnny Cash, that kind of stuff. I dont follow whats going on anymore enough to even comment on it. I can say that it never occurred to us to try and get signed to a major label, we hated major labels.
..If I recall, you are 50 next year. Has your perception and passion for music deteriorated as the years have progressed? Whats the major difference between Mike Hudson, aged 21 and Mike Hudson, aged 50?
..Mike) Obviously, music was once a major part of my life and now its not. Im not as angry anymore. My idea of a great evening is veal parmesan and ziti for dinner and then watching the Cleveland Indians play on television. When we did that show in Chicago, there were 500 kids there going nuts and I just wasnt into it. Neither was Metoff. Weve seen 500 kids going nuts lots of times. We played about 20 minutes. I thought they were going to tear the place down.
..You are the Editor of a local newspaper a paper you created. Your involvement in journalism dates back to about with the Euclid News, how did you get involved in journalism? Are you a qualified journalist?
..Mike) Ive worked for newspapers and magazines all my adult life. Ive covered murders, plane crashes, tornadoes, criminal trials and government in three states. My writing has appeared in the Associated Press, Hustler, Rolling Stone and 100 other publications. Does that make me a qualified journalist? Fuck if I know.
..Did you ever do, or contribute to, a fanzine? Why did you finally choose to pick up the pen/typewriter and put down the guitar/microphone? What has given you most satisfaction playing music or writing articles?
..Mike) Both give you the satisfaction of creating something out of nothing. Theres no question that I get paid a lot more to write. You meet a lot of interesting people. Sports figures, gangsters, authors, movie actors, cops, politicians. And when things are going good, you can make a little bit of difference, shining a light somewhere its needed. Weve managed to get more than a couple corrupt individuals fired from their posts and even indicted over the years.
..Being a journalist, I guess you must have well-formed political opinions. What are your views on the Bush Administration? Do you feel Bushs second term will give him the proverbial blank cheque to do what he wishes, or has he learned from past mistakes?
..Mike) The presidency of George W. Bush is the worst disaster to befall this country in my lifetime. The oil companies are running wild, brave Americans are dying every day in Iraq for no reason whatsoever, the Christian right is on a crusade to strip us of our civil liberties, its a goddamn mess. And my colleagues in the media have allowed it to happen, by not calling Bush and his minions liars when theyre obviously lying. It will take decades to undo the damage this idiot has done.
..What about the War in Iraq is that something you were/are in favour of? What do you think of the post-invasion strategies that have been employed in Iraq? Do you think that America should now just get out of the country, or clear up the mess it has left in its wake?
..Mike) When New York and Washington were attacked in 2001, it was clear that those responsible had to be made to pay. Im not a pacifist, and supported the invasion of Afghanistan, since that was where the bad guys were. But the Iraq war is another matter entirely. We strongly opposed it during the run up and things have only gotten worse since. Its clear that the intelligence on Husseins weapons of mass destruction was deliberately manipulated and that the Administration had been looking for an excuse for going to war with Iraq since the day they took office, nine months before the attacks. Meanwhile, bin Ladens still running around.
..What do you think of the rise of China as an international super-power? Surely it is only a matter of time until China usurps the USA as the worlds most powerful country. Is that a prospect to savour, fear or blandly accept?
..Mike) The Chinese are shrewd businesspeople, and the United States is their major market. So long as that relationship exists, I dont think we have anything to worry about.
..You told me that you appeared in an episode of Forensic Files regarding a murder you covered. Can you tell us some more about this? What did you make of the whole TV programme-making experience?
..Mike) When I was working in Pennsylvania, a church going, Chamber of Commerce member bookstore owner kidnapped and killed the wife of the local bank branch manager in an extortion plot. I covered the case and subsequent trial for 18 months, filing stories every day. The producer of the show heard about it from one of the cops whod worked it, and ended up reading my stuff. Id also written a piece on the case for Hustler magazine. It was great fun. Between the pre-interview and the taping and lunch it took about eight hours, but when it ran on television I was in it for all of about four minutes.
..Have/would you considered writing an autobiography? Itd make for one of the great rock n roll reads surely!
..Mike) The Web sites about 15,000 words with a discography and lots of photos. I may get around to expanding it and having it published in book form at some point.
..Lastly, what songs that you have written/recorded are you a) most proud of; b) represents your past better than any other; c) that is a total embarrassment and d) defines Mike Hudson in 2005. Please explain your answers.
..Mike) a) Im proud of a lot of the tracks. Someday somebody will put out a PAGANS disc with about 25 cuts on it, and there wont be any filler. Also the 'All The Wrong People Are Dying' disc with the STYRENES.
b) 'Nothing' on the 'Unmedicated' CD. I wrote that with Cheetah and it pretty much sums it all up.
c) We did a record in Germany once called 'Family Fare' and theres a song on it called 'Slice of Life' that stinks on ice.
d) Its gotta be 'I Juvenile', right?