NME – Yankee Dulli Dandy
YANKEE DULLI DANDY
Depression. A broken heart. Heroin. A dodgy turn. It’s been a tough couple of years for The Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli. But things are most certainly looking up for our Greg and he’s got the album to prove it!
“What you don’t know can hurt you, child
All the things a mind can do”
‘Faded’, The Afghan Whigs, 1996
By May, 1997 the gnawing pain in Greg Dulli’s stomach was so great that he knew of only one friend who could soothe the agony. He’d gone to New Orleans to die and down there he enlisted a friendly, familiar sherpa to ease him along that difficult path. He turned to a long lost flame. He turned to old mother heroin.
“I hadn’t done heroin since I was 22 and I started doing it again,” he says. “I didn’t do it to get high. It mas the Kurt Cobain stomach painkiller method. To live another day in that pain… I couldn’t. I went down to this area in New Orleans called Desire and asked for some dog food, that’s what you gotta do. I thought I was nearing the end.”
Greg hadn’t seen the other Afghan Whigs for a year, not since the pain in the singer’s stomach and his deep depression had become overwhelming. He’d gone down to New Orleans to die and, initially, to record his ‘Twilight Singers’ solo album, but when he found himself mixing it from a makeshift bed in the studio because the pain was such that he couldn’t stand, he thought it was time to do something. The doctors kept telling him that it was ulcers, but it was no ulcer. He took a flight back to Seattle to straighten his affairs and collapsed at the airport.
“I was at the point of no return. During the Twilight Singers album I was trying to drink or drug myself to death. I was at death’s door, completely dehydrated. It was suicide the pussy way, the way you have fun along the way. Typical me. In hospital, they had tubes up my nose and they were checking for AIDS, cancer, everything.”
Finally he was assigned to a psychologist who diagnosed Dulli as suffering from visceral hyperalgesia, a form of clinical depression. He’d been suffering with it for ten years, although it really didn’t begin to bite until 1992 – which is when the stomach pains started. This also coincided with The Afghan Whigs most exciting, rich work, the three-album cycle that started with ‘Congregation’ and ran through the acclaimed ‘Gentlemen’ and ‘Black Love’.
“The psychologist was an older man who I felt very comfortable with. He gave me some anti-depressants and after a few sessions I felt a little better, so he asked to see some of my lyrics. I came back to see him and he was like, ‘Good Lord, son! Did it really take your body to give up for you to realise that you were a screwed-up kid!’ ”
The depression, this “weird, imposing sense of doom” he’d felt since ’92 had gnawed at his guts for so long that it’d literally eaten away his abdominal wall. With the help of his psychologist and some prescription medicine, he slowly started to pull himself clear of the fog.
“I moved back to New Orleans and tried to live a little more healthily. Didn’t work, but I tried! And at the same time my depression lifted, and this sadness I felt from the end of my last relationship receded, the anger I had in me left me and… I started having the best fucking time of my life, ever. December ’97. Normally the holiday season drives me into a deep depression and all of a sudden,’ Wooo-hoooo! Christmas is coming!’ ”
He invited Rick McCollum, John Curley and Michael Horrigan down to join the party, and within 24 hours of the guitarist, bassist and drummer meeting up with their singer they’d nailed two new songs. The Afghan Whigs were on the road to making the most joyous, lusty, swinging album of their career. They were ready to party like it was 1965.
“I’ve got the devil in me!”
‘John The Baptist’ by The Afghan Whigs, 1998
BORN 33 YEARS AGO in Cincinnati, Greg Dulli now calls three cities home: New Orleans, New York and Seattle. “Seattle’s my wife, New York’s my lover, and New Orleans is my dirty whore who’ll do anything I ask,” he chuckles demonically as he settles down to a table in a bar opposite New York’ s Lincoln Memorial Centre.
“And what a beautiful night it is to be meeting up with one of my favourite ladies.”
Cradled tonight in the arms of his bustling lover, this magnetic, lewd and charming bear of a man will slurp thirstily through several whiskeys as he slowly unravels the knot of his career. He can do that now because with the Whigs’ new album, ‘1965’ , he feels like he’s finally on to a new thread.
” ‘The Twilight Singers’ is the end of a cycle that started with ‘Congregation’ , a cycle of introspection, revenge, anger and sadness. It’ s just… the end. Which is why it has to come out after ‘1965’ . I need some breathing space! There are the deaths of two big relationships hanging over those records, but there’ s nothing over this one.
” ‘1965’ is no deeper than someone with such a lust for life living it up, because l’ ve got to live it up. Not in a destructive way, but I didn’ t do a lot of sleeping down in New Or1eans. Nowadays I don’ t want to miss anything. Down there I wanted to do everything. Whether it was just a walk by myself, or a wild stripper coke party in a hot tub… well, more the hot tubs than the walks, actually! Hahaha! But I felt like l’ d missed so much from being locked in, both within myself and literally. I was agoraphobic during ‘Black Love’ . I was too damn anxious to even go to the grocery store. My old friends were, like, ‘Dude, you turned into Morrissey!’ ”
Produced by George Drakoulias in New Orleans, ‘1965’ is the kind of alburn The Black Crowes could make if they had any of Dulli’ s wicked glint. Devoid of much of the lyrical acid that so spiked their previous albums, ‘1965’ swaggers like a teenager allowed out on the town for the first time. It’ s an album without romantic regret, possessed instead by lustful longing, and it’ s the one that finally nails Dulli’ s dream of making a sexy rock’ n’ soul album in the grand tradition of the original satanic majesties, The Rolling Stones. Above all, it’s The Afghan Whigs pop album, without any of the naff artistic abbreviations that implies.
“I wanted to write some pop songs,” he admits. “I used to be so intent on being me, I had to be different. So much so that I denied all this other stuff I like. Stuff like catchy songcraft. Hahaha! What kind of music do I like, really? Prince and The Rolling Stones. Curtis Mayfield. I like sing-along, get-on-down music. Before we go on tour I have to dig out ‘What Jail Is Like’ (from ‘ Gentlemen’ ) just to remember the words. But I could sing ‘Stop In The Name Of Love’ to you right now. I wanted to write some songs that everyone could sing.”
‘1965’ bears the spicy imprint of New Orleans throughout its economical 40 minutes. You can feel the city’ s hot breath panting lasciviously through songs like ‘Citi Soleil’, ‘Omerta’ and ‘Neglekted’, whispering its voodoo ’til the end.
“It wouldn’t have sounded the way that it does without New Orleans, and not just because of the fine local musicians we used. My life down there painted a lot of these pictures. l’m a late-night guy and I finally found my soul mate in New Orleans. “This isn’ t really a New Orleans album, though. It’ s an album made in New Orleans. There is another side to New Orleans, a dark side. Stick your neck out and turn it to left and New Orleans will suck you dry. But for someone like me, bring it on. Let your dark light shine. I see fine in the dark. It ain’ t no darker than anything l’ve seen.”
GREG DULLI HASN’T HAD a fight for a while. In fact, he’ s trying to give it up. Where he grew up, though, in Hamilton, a tough suburb of Cincinnati, he was taught to never turn his cheek. “I used to see those other kids, the ones who would try and walk away and I would see them get their asses kicked, man. So I used to seek out the biggest guy and just hit him with everything. If he kicked my ass, cool. Nobody else’d try.
“My problem is that I can’ t walk away. I have a strong sense of pride, of justice and I won’t back down. I nearly had a fight the other day with some guy, a black guy who made a racist remark, of all things, as I walked past. I wasn’t going to let him get away with it. I said, ‘I’m insulted that you even think you could say that to me. l’m just a man and if I can’t walk where I want we’re going to have a fight and I’ll kick your ass for that. Not for the colour of anyone’s skin, that’s dumb’. But I got in a stupid fight in New Orleans and got beaten, beaten bad. Ripped the shirt off my back and nearly kicked the bones out of my body. Yeah, my mouth keeps writing cheques that my ass can’t cash. l’m a lover now.”
It’s true. Spend a couple of hours with him and Greg Dulli’s legendary romantic prowess is very apparent. How does this big lumpy, leery brute bewitch so? Let’s see… Lean in with him as he winks at you while he easily draws in a young girl at the next table in a quiet restaurant, casually asking her whether she enjoys pot. She doesn’t, but she doesn’t mind him asking. It’s there, too, when he asks the French waitress serving drinks about Monaco’s succession to the throne. It’s even in the air when he offers a Marlboro to a homeless women who won’t smoke anything else and who’s so grateful she hugs him.
And you can feel it flooding through all of ‘1965’, from the opening ‘Something Hot’ where he assures the object of his desire that “after tonight I’ll never walk the same”, right up to ‘Neglekted’ at the album’s end when he warns that “you can fuck my body, baby, but please don’t fuck my mind”. Every song hums with the scent of sex.
So, he’s rampant. But is he happy? “Since l’ve been single, l’ve been having a ball. That’s over a year now. But I don’t hurt anyone. There’s a myth that as you get older there are less available women, but don’t believe it. That’s sexism. There’s just as many women in their 30s who just want a good time, and l’m perfect. l’m here for a couple of nights and then l’m gone. l’m lots of fun. But… l’d like to have kids one day.” Surely it would help to be in long-term relationship to do that.
“Oh, man. I would love that. If there isn’t some great love out there for me, why get up? That’s no slight on all the nice ladies that l’ve met over the last year, but I live for that hope. l’ve only been in love twice but the feeling I got just being in the company of those people, it’s better than any drug l’ve done, any sex l’ve had, even any music l’ve heard.”
What happened? “They dumped me. Yeah. But in 33 years l’ve only had my heart broken twice. That ain’t too bad.”
You’d never guess from listening to either ‘Gentlemen’ and ‘Black Love’. The aforementioned love affairs loom large over both records, but Dulli’s skill as a writer is to make each record seem like a novel rather than a collection of individual songs: ‘Black Love’ was a tale told in reverse of a taboo, perhaps interracial relationship, while ‘Gentlemen’ was the sound of love breaking down against a backdrop of manipulation and paranoia. In fact, it could’ve read like the story of a diseased relationship, one infected, possibly, by AIDS.
“It’s the slow, painful death of a relationship. I was genuinely afraid of getting AIDS, because I knew people who were sharing needles, knew that I had slept with someone who had shared a needle. I was terrified.
“Black Love was written about a girl I knew who was in a taboo relationship with some guy, which I was then able to relate to my own. She killed herself. I didn’t. So I used her story to put me where she might be. “This record is nothing like those. It’s fun. Those are a little dark, a little distant. You can look, but you can’t touch. This one you can throw baby oil all over it and rub it and squeeze it and oooooooh…!!”
He let’s out an evil cackle. “It’s so nasty! I love it!”
WE MEET ON THE EVE of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Tomorrow the world’s Jews will fast until repentance ends at dusk. Mr Dulli, is there anything you’d like to repent over the last year? A few silent moments pass.
“I’m pleased to report, nothing. I made a quick scan because I couldn’t believe my first answer. In the last 365 days, though, l’m going to answer nothing. I haven’t fucked anyone over, haven’t fucked myself over.
” What about the dalliance with heroin, is that behind you?
“God, yes! I only did it for a couple of weeks, to kill the pain. I stopped the first time because my friends were all spiking. It was fun when we were smoking it, snorting it. It was like Hunter S Thompson. But it went from being fun to being scary very quickly when my friends started booting up.
“When I was a little kid I couldn’t wait to do every kind of drug, and I did them all! l’m still not against them. Heroin isn’t an option. But I will still do a hit of E every now and then. If someone sticks a line of sneaky under my nose? Sure! Don’t want to insult them! I still like to get that backstage access to my brain.”
Right now, actually, he’s itching to track down John Curley. There’s a big baseball game on between the Yankees and the Rangers, and Curley’s just bought a new pot pipe. Experience tells Greg that this will be the perfect end to the evening.
“Posh Spice,” he exclaims suddenly.
“She’s my favourite Spice. Her and Scary are tied. But I like All Saints more. That one Robble Williams gets with? Oooooooh! But he’s such a twit. I might just come out of retirement for Robbie Williams, one last dust- up. But it would just be one slap and then he’s crying. See how tough he talks without Noel Gallagher standing behind him… who I’ll also take. But at least he writes good songs. Not that you’d know it from his last LP.”
Not surprisingly, Greg’s more of a Liam fan.
“Hey, what’s Townshend without Daltrey? Just another confused gay man on a moped!”
He emits one last devilish cluck and in a flash of smoke Mister Boombastic is gone. He’s heading for a quiet night in with his boys and a bowl of grass, but with Greg Dulli the quiet nights are always numbered.