The first time I heard Boris the Sprinkler, my brain melted. Sure I’ve heard wit, sarcasm and humor in Rock N’ Roll songs before but never put together so meticulously and sung with such ferocity. I remember thinking the same thing when I first read Norb’s monthly column in Maximum Rocknroll. Norb now fronts another band called The Onions with former members of Last Sons of Krypton and The Tantrums. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, the good reverend is now also producing his own podcast called Bubblegum Fuzz. A punk rock jack-of-all-trades, he injects his trademark mixture of charm, pop culture wisdom and manic energy into everything he does. So prepare to get tie dyed, deep-fried, pie eyed and Shanghai’d tonight with the voice of geek America himself!
Interview by Jay Castro
You are known throughout this land as being a bit of a Rock N’ Roll enthusiast. At what age do you remember first being moved by music and what band or musician motivated you to want get a band together and write your own songs?
When I was a little kid, I always thought the Monkees were cool, because they lived in a cool house on the beach together and just hung out all day and played music. Same for the Archies, they just drove around Riverdale in their jalopy and then all of a sudden, hey, they’d be playing music together. My mom says she knew I was going to be a musician because of my enthusiastic reaction to the scene in The Aristocats where the zany Parisian cats are playing jazz in their run-down squat, but I don’t think the full real-world weight of it all hit me until I was in about fifth grade, and I went to go see Bob Hope at Lambeau Field with my family, which would have been about 1976. There were a bunch of opening acts on the bill that night, like, Duke Ellington’s son and I can’t remember who-all else, largely a bunch of old-timey orchestras and vocalists and such, playing in the middle of our football stadium. Midway through the night, they announce the next act: “Dr. Bop And The Headliners featuring The White Raven!” It’s this 50’s cover band – wholly un-unique by contemporary standards, but kind of novel back then, as this is right when all that 50’s nostalgia like Happy Days, American Graffiti, Sha Na Na is really kicking in – and the band is already set up at the 50 yard line and playing some intro music. All of a sudden, this dude in a white tux and tails comes sprinting out of the tunnel in the south end zone, the same end zone in which Bart Starr won the Ice Bowl in 1967! It’s pouring rain, but the guy is just running all over the field, playing air guitar, a completely novel concept at the time, like a nut. It is, apparently, the White Raven, I guess “Dr. Bop” was their drummer. This guy is just running around, playing air guitar in the rain all over Lambeau Field while his band plays on, and the crowd is going nuts. He eventually gets to the stage, and they blast through a bunch of 50’s standards like “Barbara Ann” et al. It was great! I was like, “Holy crap, you can just run around in the rain like a nut and play music and have an entire football stadium going crazy for you? Sign me up!”
The first time I heard Boris The Sprinkler I felt three things simultaneously, primed up, hilarity and intimidation. Intimidation because of the fact that for every pop culture reference I caught 7 more soared past me at light speed. Do you ever worry about your writing referencing such obscure subjects that you might become like an Andy Kaufman type, where you would be the only one in on the jokes?
Not really, because the songs weren’t really set up that you had to understand the references to “get” the songs, I thought it was more like, I dunno, free association or something. Like, I don’t think one’s enjoyment of the song “((Do You Wanna)) Grilled Cheese?” is severely impacted by whether or not the listener knows what “Schrödinger’s Cat” is, or that “got a record collection that’s as big as a whale” is a reference to that line about a Chrysler as big as a whale in “Love Shack” by the B-52s, or that “got the law on my back” is a reference to the line “Law on my back! Pressure’s always on!” in the song “Pressure’s On” by Red C and/or the song “Police on my Back” by the Equals. I suppose it would be helpful to know who Christopher Pike is. I always hated bands like NOFX where you had to really follow the lyrics in order to get the joke; I thought they were kinda stupid.
You just released a new 7” with your new band The Onions. A band that already had some releases prior to you coming aboard. How did you end up joining the band?
At one point in time, they were doing a few covers by a few of my old bands: “I Object” by Suburban Mutilation, “I’m Not A Date ((I’m an Alcoholic))” by Depo-Provera, and “West of the East” by Boris, so I would occasionally sing guest vocals with them when they’d do those songs live. They also recorded “I’m Not a Date” and “West of the East” for their album, so I went over and sang vocals on those as well. Around Halloween last year, they asked me if I wanted to sing lead vocals on a Dickies tribute set they were doing at a number of Halloween shows, so we played about four shows we me singing Dickies covers with them. That was fun enough that we started doing it full-time.
I know you are also a bit of a comic book/sci-fi enthusiast as well. What do you think of the mainstreaming of “geek” culture with huge budget movies based on Comic Book characters and TV shows like The Big Bang Theory? Which of these movies did you think actually did a good (or decent) job at adapting these characters and stories to the big screen?
I think the Big Bang Theory does a really nice job of working in comic book geekery, it’s all pretty authentic when they talk about comic books or go to the comic book store; as opposed to earlier, less careful portrayals of comic books in mass media like, say, Robocop, where the liquor stores somehow only stock the shelves with multiple back issues of Iron Man from the 1970’s? As far as mainstreaming goes, it is pretty odd to see some hip-hop looking chick walking around in an Avengers t-shirt, especially when knowledge of superheroes above and beyond Superman/Batman/Aquaman/Wonder Woman/Spider-Man/Hulk was wholly outsider knowledge when I was a kid, you had to belong to a sort of secret brotherhood to know who the Avengers were, or Iron Man, or Captain America, or Thor. I thought Spider-Man 3 did a really good job of that bang-bang Silver Age story progression that’s been lost in comics since the 60’s, which seemed to me to be the most like a comic book come to life. And, like most other people, I think that Robert Downey, Jr., is pretty much the best Iron Man for which anyone could hope. I’m also pissed that Christian Bale didn’t say “Somedays you just can’t get rid of a bomb!!!” when the Batplane was toting that nuke out to sea at the end of the last Batman movie.
The book The Annotated Boris: Deconstructing The Lyrical Majesty of Boris The Sprinkler (and other tales as the need arises) came out a year or so ago. I also read that you are putting together a collection of some of your old columns. Have you ever thought about writing any fictional books or even screenplays?
If you heard that I am putting together a collection of my old columns, you didn’t hear it from me. I’ve considered it, but I dunno. I don’t know that that stuff was really written with posterity in mind, plus I don’t even think I saved all my files…and the ones I did are on floppy discs, in Quark 3.11 or something, for Mac. I’d probably have to re-type the stuff…I dunno. Maybe. Every once in a while I think about writing fiction, but I never really have any particularly great ideas. I don’t really know how to do it, so I wonder why I should bother. I guess you just rip off The Hero’s Journey and go from there. I don’t know that I would be any good at things like plot and character development; if I was to write a work of fiction, I’d worry that it would just wind up being a bunch of characters just standing around saying funny things. As far as screenplays go, I have never held one in my hands, so I don’t have an abstract idea of what they entail, what they feel like, how long are they, etc. It seems like other people would be more qualified for this that I am.
I read about the time you gave TSOL a bad record review and there was a rumor that Jack Grisham wanted to cause you bodily harm. Do you ever remember writing about a band in a negative light and 6 months or so later saying to yourself “I was kind of wrong about this”?
I dunno, but I do remember writing a bad review of the New Bomb Turks Drunk on Cock EP, right before I met and became friends with them. I think I’ve had changes of heart about bands in general, but probably not about records in specific, because why would I even bother to go back and listen to a record I already know I don’t like?
You started the Bubblegum Fuzz podcast where you play your favorite tracks, both new and old. Is there anything you listen to that you think would not fit in at all in your Podcasts and may cause some Rev Norb fans to gasp in disbelief?
I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly secretive with my likes and dislikes, so it’s hard to imagine what I could play that would take anyone by surprise. I did play an Elvis song on one episode, and a Beatles song on another; I don’t know if that’d surprise anyone or not. I don’t completely hate classic rock from the 70’s, some of which I liked, before they invented punk rock, so I could see playing some lost nugget by Aerosmith or Nazareth on the show, maybe, if the songs were off the radar and rockin’ enough to not make a mockery of the show’s principles, whatever they are. I’ve also developed a fondness for real early reggae, ca. 1968, so maybe I could toss an old reggae song in there to piss people off. I live to serve.
If you could assemble an ultimate band for yourself comprising of musicians throughout Rock N’ Roll history, a sort of Justice League of bands so to speak, who would be in it?
On the drums, Ringo Starr! On the bass, Sammy from Teengenerate! On guitars, Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick and Stan Lee of the Dickies! Then I would hire Allan Clarke, Graham Nash and Tony Hicks of the Hollies to sing backup vocals, and Jerry Lee Lewis to play piano. Then I’d hire Peter Noone to sing lead vocals and demote myself to t-shirt seller dude.
I don’t remember Boris The Sprinkler ever touring much, are there any plans on taking The Onions on the road?
Boris actually did tour a little bit; we toured the East Coast thrice, the South, West, and Europe once each. The Onions, I dunno, the economics of touring is a lot more daunting these days. We’ll do what we can without having to break too much of a sweat.
What’s the best way for people to keep up on all of the upcoming Rev. Norb releases, both printed and musical?KEEP YOUR EYES TO THE SKIES! I’m big on skywriting. Otherwise just track me down on Facebook, I’m a notorious self-promoter.