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“Interviews” — The Alpha Band

March 30, 2010

In September of 2009 I said that I was going to start a second blog focused on rock music.  Well folks, here it is – a mere 6 months later! 

Basically, this blog gives me a chance to play disk jockey and record reviewer.  Each post will feature a track, plus a short commentary or anecdote about why I chose it.  Most of the tracks will be relatively obscure — hence I’ve selected the Alchemist motto “Obscurum per obscurius” [Rough translation: “Explain the obscure by means of something even more obscure”] as the epigraph for the blog.  In this case, I will be playing the role of “more obscure.” 

My first pick is “Interviews” by The Alpha Band.  Long before he won a Best Song Oscar for co-writing “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” with Ryan Bingham, and long before he won Album of Year Grammys for producing the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and Raising Sand (the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration), and even long before he recorded a string of critically-acclaimed (if only modest-selling) solo albums, Joseph Henry “T-Bone” Burnett1 was a member of The Alpha Band.

The Alpha Band formed in 1976 while Burnett, Steven Soles and David Mansfield were part of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue.  Their self-titled debut album came out in the fall of that year.  “Interviews” is the opening track on that album and was co-written by T-Bone Burnett, Bobby Neuwirth (painter/singer/Dylan associate) and Larry Poons (abstract painter).  The song is kind of a collage; three bizarre characters — a wrestler, a gambler and a circus coin-toss barker (“the people at the next table think that he might be Russ Meyers”2) — are supposedly being interviewed, while at the same time we are given a litany of items — ranging from lava lamps to the People’s Republic of China — that were “sitting in the ground 50 million years ago.”

I saw The Alpha Band perform at the Topanga Corral in 1977.  The distinctive rhythm of this song’s verse (mixed with beer and who knows what else) inspired me to heights (depths?) of awkward dancing — imagine a male version of Elaine Benes’ dancing on Seinfeld.3  Teresa, my girlfriend at the time, was so appalled that she threatened to ditch me if I didn’t stop — it would have been a long walk home from the depths of Topanga Canyon!

T-Bone must have liked that rhythm – he recycled it on the song “Humans From Earth”4 on his 1992 solo album The Criminal Under My Own Hat.

  2. They got the guy’s name wrong – the man who gave the world such cinematic masterpieces as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was Russ Meyer (no “s”).

From → The 1970's

  1. jallebra permalink

    I hear the recycling going on in ‘Humans from Earth’ – which is a song on the soundtrack of the Wim Wenders film Until the End of the World.

    • Thanks for reminding me that “Humans From Earth” first appeared in that Wenders’ film. Bis ans Ende der Welt came out in 1991; The Criminal Under My Own Hat was released in 1992. I’ve found another connection between that song and “Interviews”… Bob Neuwirth co-produced it (with Burnett).

  2. I love that you posted this! Their first LP is one of my favorite records, even after all this time. I was lucky enough to have pounced on a cheap copy sometime around 1989, but I don’t have the technical know-how to upload any of the tracks.

    • Glad you enjoyed it. You’re absolutely right… that whole first album is great! The 3 Alpha Band albums were released as a 2-CD collection called “The Arista Albums,” which is where I ripped “Interviews” from. It seems to have gone out of print (now selling for $93 on Amazon!). Sadly, their second and third albums weren’t nearly as good. Some of T-Bone Burnett’s solo stuff is excellent though.

  3. rocket permalink

    Interviews could be one of the greatest songs ever written . in a nutshell , the way to understand it is ”IN”3” VIEWS”. the word ”ter”in latin means ”thrice”. as we know from the body of T-bone burnetts work he is obsessed with the number 3. he gives us 3 views as created in the image of the triune God of 3 men . these interviews ”come out”of ….. so is the first in 3 views comes out of a … we get 3 views. no one is intervieing anyone . this is where we must be careful not to be tricked . abstract painter Poons co -writer gets this , and so does the riddler T-bone himslef.they avoid the word 3 in the song by saying –the last interview.
    the whole song is a mind blower until we understand what these guys are up to with this thing.
    what is in the ground 50 million years ago . Burnett often uses 50 ( madison avenue , the 60’s ) and other songs.
    but the main thing in all of this is to get that we must see the triple life in each dude that is wicked and though created in the image of the triune God it is perveted. never forget that Burnett is a Christian .

  4. rocket permalink

    one more thing — what is the Endgame of this song ? i think that its purpose is to show us that human beings who live disregarding their Maker , become disfigured and corrupt. time and space is removed from the equation . all that is in the ground comes out , all that is in these characters comes out in 3 views for us to see. man is a 3 sided figure, like a pyramid . hence t-bones obsession aslo with eygpt.

    when i met T-bone in 1983 we did not get to talk about this , but he did explin to me that his purpose as christian artist was never to spoon feed his listeners , but rather to make them think and figure things out . the song Madison avenue off of ”Truth Decay ” does the same thing. it is a riddle meant to figure out.

  5. rgb permalink

    THANK YOU for this page! Finally I can hear this the song Interview which has been in stuck my head since somtime in the late 1970s. I could not remember much of the words, or who the artist was, but the tune was there. I knew it was an obscure band, always thought it was Crack the Sky – but as hours of Internet searches have proven it was not. Finally while researching other obscurities, the song came to me again and the line “think that he might be Russ Meyers” popped into my head, googling that brought me here.

    • You’re welcome rgb. As I mentioned in footnote #2, T-Bone incorrectly added an “s” to the soft-core porn king’s name. Still an amazing song!

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