January 5, 2010
Aric S. Queen is not like the rest of us. And that's a good thing. A decade of global criss-crossing has introduced Aric to far-flung corners of the world, and along the way he has met some wild people and gathered some very unique stories. None more unique then running into Tyson Meade, the one-of-a-kind music legend, and saw just how much he has changed.
The famed feathered boa was gone.
As were the crazy on-stage antics.
But I knew it was him.
What he was doing on a dusty Shanghai street wasn’t clear.
But I was about to come face-to-face with Tyson Meade.
Formerly of the band, The Chainsaw Kittens.
If that name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s okay.
Because it does to most bands you listen to.
He, like many famed singer/songwriters before him probably was enjoying a country where fans didn’t follow him around.
But this was a guy who had launched the ‘alternative’ music scene 3 years before any of those other names synonymous with breaking the scene.
And there was no way I was not going to talk to him.
What, in the world, are you doing in China?
TM: “I stopped drinking a few months before I came to China. I was living in NYC which is maybe the bar capital of the world or at least of the States. I suppose I wanted some sort of new adventure. When I drank, I drank for the adventure of it, the not knowing where you would land of it or who you would land there with of it. I suppose I looked at China as a bender without the alcohol.”
You’ve often been credited as being the ‘Godfather of Alternative Music’ – how true is this?
TM: “I hate to try to credit myself for something that I may or may not have created. At the time, I was fed up with everything going on in music. If you were alive in the 80’s you know to what music and bands I am referring. The music that was happening was in no way speaking to me. Furthermore, life in general seemed so restricted. When I started writing music, I was not satisfied with the two choices that were given to me as an 18 year old. The first choice was go to college in order to work your life away at an office. The other choice was to be a townie and work at a machine shop or restaurant in my hometown. I wanted something different that did not entail a new couch, a new car, a new dining room set. Fortunately, I met a like-minded soul in my hometown and we innocently and haphazardly went about putting together a band. This whole process was a head banging one; that is, a banging my head against the wall one. I soon learned, no clubs would book a band that played original songs. Clubs only booked cover bands at that time in the early and mid-80s. So, we played house parties and VFW halls. If we made 20 bucks we were happy, not 20 bucks apiece but altogether. There were a few other bands that were not hardcore punk doing the same thing but not very many. And, I wrote songs about my life and my inner-struggles and all of that sort of stuff that you have going on when you are in your late teens and early 20s. We rammed 50s guitar licks into 60s power pop colliding into 70s glam and punk and more glam and then pureed it in a blender and we had our sound. Soon after, a hoard of other bands did the same and called it grunge or alternative rock. It then became a big business. I never made any money; I have been paid in fan letters, which is really what I set out to do. I set out to make some sort of change. And I feel as if I did. So, I guess I am one of the alterna-Forefathers. I am a starving alterna-Forefather.”
You weren’t overly pleased with how music was shaping up at the time then?
TM: “When I started making music, music had landed in the toilet in the shape of corporate rock, palatable dribble for housewives who looked as music as one might look at an ironing board.”
You lived somewhere, in seclusion, writing stories next to a creek and an apple orchard – aside from the obvious, why?
TM: “I grew up next to a creek [in Bartlesville, OK]. We had an apple orchard and in the summer I picked apples to earn money to buy records. At that time, I bought records for their covers so naturally I was attracted to a lot of the more outré offerings. Of course, I learned later that the stuff that I was digging as a freaky pubescent was selling massively in Britain. In my mind, I suppose, I still go to that apple orchard to write songs to the 12 year old me. And, at times, I do look back and say ‘Wow, I did it.”
Which you did – and that leads me to my next question: having achieved every kid’s dream of being a bonafide rock star – what’s it really like splitting time between stage/studio/bus/the occasional party?
TM: “I loved it until I didn’t and then when I didn’t I knew that I had to have a change. At one point, the whole thing started to become a grind like clocking into a job. I had told myself when that happened I would quit so I quit. There came a time when it was no longer the creative endeavor that it was when I started. I had worked so hard for so long and eventually I was just tired. There are those great moments of playing in front of thousands but then there are those not so great moments of playing in front of the bar staff in some dive bar in Michigan or Arizona. At a certain point, you get older and sleeping on couches and having all night parties and doing loads of drinking and drugs is not as appealing as it was. You also start being thankful that you survived what countless others did not, some of them friends, some acquaintances. But still, every time you hear about a contemporary dying and you know that you have been down that same road – and in that same mode – you say a little prayer. When I was young and it happened, it seemed like it was just happening to someone else in this abstract way but then when people that you know OD or crash and burn you start to wander how you emerged unscathed.”
“There was this crazy turning point for me where I realized what a gift life is. I suppose I stepped out of myself for half a second and I thought about the genocide in Rwanda and how in so many parts of the world people have to struggle to even eat. I realized how spoiled I was. And from that day on, I decided to approach life differently. Somehow, this realization brought me to Shanghai where I lead an almost monastic existence but I love it. Every day is a gift.”
Finally, a rock star worth looking up to.