Was Back on Tour, Late in Life

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Eighties absurdo-disco band Was Not Was has a new album. David Was shares some of his thoughts about embarking on a rock and roll odyssey at a time when he should be figuring out how to stretch his Social Security check.

DAVID WAS: My rock and roll life with the band Was (Not Was) is about to go into hyper drive.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

David Was, a Day to Day contributing writer on contemporary music. Get this, his 80's absurdo-disco band, Was (Not Was), has a new record out. David is going touring with the band when he should be trying to figure out how to stretch is social security check. Here's Dave.

WAS: Flights to London, a Conan O'Brian appearance, and then a three week highway odyssey with a dozen grown men on a ship of aging fools. This is a tour that will test the metal, if not the very sanity, of those aboard. Thank God for noise canceling headphones.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: Vainglory aside, touring with a rock band is very much like being a piece of frozen chicken on a Kentucky Fried Chicken delivery truck. You're carted from the icy safety of the vehicle to a vat of bubbling grease. That would be the nightclub, where you are promptly consumed by a gaggle of hungry music lovers. Barbecue sauce is optional, and no, fries do not come with the shake, rattle, and roll.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: The tragic wrinkle in this metaphor is that, while a humble chicken wing, once eaten, can call it a day, we eternal troubadours must haul our skeletal remains back on to the truck, sleep off our brief bath in boiling oil, and arrive by the next day at yet another KFC franchise. After a sound check and a tepid Holiday Inn shower, one appears miraculously in flesh that same evening and desperate to be devoured yet again. Sisyphus didn't know how good he had it, rolling his rock up and down that hill.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: But what, I ask, you is the choice? The price of a bottle of Lipitor is 10 times higher than a dime bag of the herbal remedy, that used to cure the 1,000 natural shocks that rock and roll flesh is air to. To sleep, perchance to dream, ha! Little Willie Shakespeare never had to try to nod off on a four-inch mattress with three inches of headroom. A tour bus bed is no less than a test run in a coffin to see what it would be like moldering in the grave.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: Back when I ate cactus pie they called me needle tooth. Eye needles, the cops would say, you're tops, pal. Thanks, boys.

Mr. WAS: There are a few thrills here and there. A well played and received show does wonders to restore the spirit. And there's the sense of camaraderie that fellow prisoners of war must feel. But, with war, there's at least the promise of death and eternal glory. For we of the guitar strings and funky beats, there is only tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

(Soundbite of music)

WAS (NOT WAS): (Singing) Motown Sally got a brand new car, 82 Chevy with a back seat bar. You can have suitor for tank of gas, but you better work fast, cause your luck won't last.

CHADWICK: Day to Day contributor David Was. The new Was (Not Was) album is called "BOO," this cut from it with lyrics by David, "Your Luck Wont Last"

(Soundbite of Was (Not Was)'s "Your Luck Wont Last")

WAS (NOT WAS): (Singing) Going to marry Sally on the 10th of June...

CHADWICK: Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

BRAND: And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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Was (Not Was) Still Is

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Hear The Songs

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Was (Not Was) 300

Throughout the band's career, Was (Not Was) has played satirical funk and R&B tunes. Ellen Stone hide caption

itoggle caption Ellen Stone

For almost 30 years, David Weiss and Don Fagenson, along with a rotating cast of musical pranksters, have melded funk and absurdity as the band Was (Not Was).

The group has just released a new album, Boo!, its first new release in more than 15 years. Bandleaders Weiss and Fagenson — a.k.a. David Was and Don Was, respectively — joined Weekend Edition Saturday's Scott Simon from the studios of NPR West to discuss their unique music.

"I'm victim of a kind of seduction of the phrase," Weiss says. "I'm surprised as anybody by what comes out. Just hopefully it's absurdist enough, with one little pivot foot in reality to be interesting."

Weiss and Fagenson are childhood friends from Detroit — the city that inspired and created the soul of Motown and George Clinton, as well as the punk-rock fire of Iggy Pop and the MC5.

It was Fagenson who came up with the band's name after being inspired by his then-3-year-old — who, as Weiss recalled, "was discovering what I think was Piaget's reversibility thinking, saying things like, 'Hot, not hot' and 'Blue, not blue.' And Don said, 'We'll be Was (Not Was), and I'll be Don Was and you'll be David Was' — thinking, 'Well, it's as good a thing as any to have on the tape box when it gets rejected.' "

Throughout the band's career, Was (Not Was) has played satirical R&B tunes, including "I Feel Better than James Brown" and the 1988 hit "Walk the Dinosaur."

In the time since the group's last album, Fagenson went on to produce records for The B-52s, The Rolling Stones and Willie Nelson, as well as Nick of Time, the album that reinvigorated Bonnie Raitt's career and won an Album of the Year Grammy. Weiss also contributed to projects for such jazz greats as Freddie Hubbard and Sonny Rollins.

The two say that contributing and producing records by other artists has informed their own work.

"Having worked with some singers whose instruments I thought were enough so that you didn't have to produce much, you'd be a genius by walking in with like Rickie Lee Jones," Weiss says. "And I realized, whether it's Rickie or Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan, that the ratio between their presence, their ability to communicate — call it what you will: that charisma, that life force — you need less production per unit of that X factor."

Boo! contains many songs that the band had had sitting around for years. "We just worked on it for a very long time," Fagenson says. "If we hadn't gotten a new record deal, we'd probably still be working on it. It was really having a deadline that made us stop."

Still, after such a gap between records, their only real concern, according to Fagenson, was that there'd be a consistency to the sensibility. "Our global perspective may change over the years," he says, "but at any given [moment], pretty much who we are on the record is who we are."

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Boo!

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Album
Boo!
Artist
Was (Not Was)
Label
Rykodisc
Released
2008

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