After I read Lewis Dimmick’s – “This Music” I was curious about the man who wrote it. I knew he played in Our Gang & My Rifle. But that was about it. So I send him a message, if he was into the idea of an interview. He quickly replied and this is the result.
Hey Lewis, what’s on your mind? What’s happening in your side of the world?
There’s lots of bad stuff happening all the time. I’ve started avoiding watching the news.
In my own world I am finishing up teaching for the semester, and enjoying this really cool time when I finished my book and it’s finally out and I’m happy with it and have received a lot of genuine support from my friends, which has felt great.
Yeah, you mentioned being a teacher in the book. How is it to be a teacher these days? Has it changed throughout the years?
It’s changed in little ways. What I’m noticing most at the moment is how incapable students seem of putting their cell phones down for any length of time, but I guess a lot of the world is going through that.
Yes, that’s happening all over the place I’m afraid. I almost forgot, let’s introduce yourself to our readers first. Who is Lewis Dimmick? What defines you?
Well, I teach writing. I play music. I like taking photos. I like to write. My main interest in life has always been to create things. I recently went to the dentist and while I was sitting in the chair I noticed that on a monitor overhead there was a screensaver of a woman standing next to a fancy sports car. I asked the hygienist what that was all about and she explained that it was the doctor’s wife standing next to his new car. I noticed that the car was much more prominent in the picture than the wife. I had to laugh at that picture. It seemed a little absurd, showing off a photo of your car. Let’s just say I feel pride in the book I’ve written just as the doctor must feel pride in the car he purchased.
From hardcore music I got the example that something very short could have great substance. From hardcore I got directness and honesty.
Hahaha. That’s great. When we talked about the book you mentioned being influenced by poetry for it. Could you elaborate on that?
I studied creative writing at NYU. My master’s thesis was a collection of poems, about half of what I would need for a book. I always thought my first book would be a collection of poems, but I’ve never been able to bring it together in a way I was happy with. Though I had been thinking of writing about music for a few years, this project came together relatively fast, in about a year and a half. Reading and writing poetry was definitely a big influence on the book. It influenced my viewpoint, the way I look at the world. It’s a book about metal, punk, and hardcore, but I tried to approach it with a poetic viewpoint, focusing on small moments and details, trying to do a lot with a little the way a poem does. The pieces of writing are short, but I wanted them to be solid in idea. There are 32 pieces in the book. The main objective for me was to write and re-write each one, craft each one until I felt that, to the best of my ability, each one had enough substance to stand the test of time, to be something worth re-visiting. I can never forget the quote from my favorite poet, Stanley Kunitz: “A badly made thing falls apart. It takes only a few years for most of the energy to leak out of a defective work of art.” I tried my best not to let that be the case. A couple of friends have told me, “I read it twice already.” That’s the best I can hope for, that someone will read it and have the desire to read it again.
That’s a great quote indeed! As for those poems you wrote, did you ever write one about hardcore? Care to share one? Doesn’t have to be about hardcore of course, just curious to see what kinda poems you write.
I never wrote about hardcore until recently. If I were to share a poem, I could pick this one from the book, a prose poem. It’s about the experience of getting lost inside your instrument, how thinking seems to end where music begins.
WHERE I WAS
I sat down with my bass. I had been working on my book and I was wondering if I would complete it or if anyone would ever read it and I started jamming on the strings and feeling some grooves and bending the strings and noodling around and sliding up and down the neck switching back and forth between my fingers and a pick finding melodies and getting tangled up in them then spinning loose and this went on for several minutes without pause and when I finally came to and realized where I was it was only then that I knew how long I’d been gone and it came immediately back to me that I was wondering if I would complete my book or if anyone would ever read it.
Very nice of you to actually cite a poem from the book instead of slapping me with a “Didn’t you read the book dummy?”. For some reason I sometimes get stuck with the “poems need to rhyme” narrow-mindedness. Aside from poems, who or what are your biggest influences for your writing?
Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff are my favorite fiction writers. My favorite poets are Stanely Kunitz, Jack Gilbert, Mark Strand, W.S. Merwin, Juan Ramon Jimenez. Hardcore music is also a big influence on my writing. From hardcore music I got the example that something very short could have great substance. From hardcore I got directness and honesty.
How and why did you end up with the title ‘This Music’?
That was the third title I had and it turned out to be the one that stuck. The first title was “Otherworldly,” which is also the title for the first essay in the book. The word “otherworldly” was originally used to describe hearing H.R.’s voice for the first time. One day I did a Google search on that word and came up with all kinds of images that looked completely opposite of what I would want someone to have in mind when reading my book. I basically came up with a bunch of stuff that looked like it was out of the movie Avatar. It was all very soft and dreamy. I knew I had to scrap that title. The second title was “Slave To The Power,” after a piece in the book about Iron Maiden. My friend Natalie kinda chewed me out for that one. I couldn’t argue with her point that Maiden fans would expect a book called “Slave To The Power” to be all about Maiden. She suggested it might be lazy to name the book after a song lyric rather than invent my own title. And I had already started having suspicions that the title was weak when she told me all that. Finally I decided on THIS MUSIC because it was a phrase that I noticed appeared several times in the book, and I like the way it communicates reverence. Even though this kind of music is dirty and ugly and sounds like noise to most people, I hold it up alongside any other kind of art. That’s why I loved, in your book review, when you wrote that you would recommend the book to anyone even remotely interested in “our music.” There was a sense of pride in the way you said that.
Once I saw the finished art by Sean Taggart I seriously tried to step up my game and proceeded to take the book through another draft. I was sweating a little. I wanted the book itself to be worthy of the cover.
Interesting, I always love to know the thought process behind something like that. Sounds, to me, like you made a good choice. It’s also short, to the point, like the content of the book.
How did the book come to life? And how did Freddy Alva end up releasing it on Wardance?
It came to life through hard, persistent work. I asked Freddy if he would be interested in doing this project with me because everyone who knows Freddy Alva loves and respects him. He is one of those people I would describe as having never seen in a bad mood. A very positive-minded person. I hate people like that. When I talk to him I find myself making a concerted effort not to be cynical, which comes fairly naturally to me. We’re old friends, he’s already made valuable contributions to this world of music, and he loves to support artistic projects, especially ones that involve his friends, so it worked out great.
Good to hear. I love Sean Taggart’s artwork and it’s really fitting to let him do the artwork for the book. Did you gave him any instructions or did he come up with this concept himself?
I love his artwork too. I knew if he agreed to do the cover it would be great, and still I was blown away when I saw it for the first time. It was very exciting to watch it go from rough sketch to full color to seeing the logo. He did all his own lettering obviously. Once I saw the finished art I seriously tried to step up my game and proceeded to take the book through another draft. I was sweating a little. I wanted the book itself to be worthy of the cover. In terms of the concept, I described what I wanted, which was a rat sitting on top of a boombox with the city in the background. He has the rat standing up next to the boombox, leaning on it, and I think what he did is perfect. I remember telling him that the cover art would be the first interaction people had with the book, and I wanted him to do it because he was the best. You can’t put a price on a really great cover that grabs peoples’ attention.
Can’t argue with that. So in the end, think the book’s worthy of the cover? Spotted any annoying spelling mistakes yet, or things you would have liked to change? Or did everything turn out exactly like you hoped?
I do think it is. I’m happy with the whole product. I haven’t spotted any spelling mistakes as of yet. I was as thorough as I could possibly be in my proofreading. Same thing with the editing of the pieces of the book and the order in which they appear, so at the moment there’s nothing I feel I would change.
So, how about a follow-up? Can we expect one?
I can’t say for sure, but I would like to write more about music, definitely. I know this much: I want to get started on a new project soon.
Anything in mind already?
I have a few ideas. I just have to sit down and try writing some stuff and see which idea takes off.
Let’s talk music. You play in My Rifle (who got a nice review on our site by Edwin), how did that band come together?
Jason was in Life’s Blood, a band I loved. We became friends on Facebook and eventually started talking about doing a record. Then we started exchanging ideas, riffs, lyrics, etc. It took at least a year to get that record together. Andy Guida (Altercation/Absolution) was the third drummer we had, so those 4 songs had a lot of life in them by the time we recorded them.
There was a humorous aspect in writing about how bad of a band we were. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a highlight of my life.
What’s the current status of the band?
Nothing’s going on at the moment. We realized the goal of doing a record. I have no idea if we’ll ever do another one. Everyone’s got pretty busy lives.
Don’t you wanna play live or record something new? If I would love what I’m doing I would have a hard time kissing it goodbye after 1 record I think.
I would love to do both if possible. When it comes to vocals and lyrics, Jason is extremely talented. For that reason it’s really cool to collaborate with him. On the other hand, a long-distance recording project doesn’t really have any band “spirit.” I miss playing in a room with the whole band.
You used to play in Our Gang. In the book you’re pretty negative (embarrassed even?) about how you guys sounded. Do you really think it was that bad?
Yes! We were terrible live. We had poor equipment that never worked right. We were sloppy as hell. It turns out that you can get away with all that in hardcore, but we wanted (Hobi and I) to be as good as Underdog or the Cro-Mags. While we wanted the music to be tight and precise, it ended up being wild and chaotic, but I think that’s why people liked it. In the late ‘80s not many bands were still playing as fast as we were. We stood out for that reason. We were influenced by earlier punk and hardcore. A lot of the bands coming out then were like a dumbed down Raw Deal. The Raw Deal demo was so great that every band wanted to sound just like them. There was a humorous aspect in writing about how bad of a band we were. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a highlight of my life.
Wanting to be as good as Underdog or the Cro Mags… Don’t we all? Having said that, have any good Underdog or Cro Mags stories?
Hmmm. My first time seeing Underdog was really memorable. It was the summer of 1986. Underdog & Warzone were opening for Agnostic Front. Richie was bouncing around the stage with his hood over his head. It was the first time I ever heard hardcore punk brought forward with a hip hop attitude. It was pretty groundbreaking at the time. Another cool memory is from when I was in a band called True Colors. We opened for Underdog in Albany. I remember watching them do a sound check on “A Lot To Learn.” The song had just started to circulate on a demo tape but their LP wasn’t out yet. GREAT song.
Richie’s vocals are so good. I luckily got the chance to see them play a show in The Netherlands in 2006. Enjoyed every second of it and I really hope to see them come over again some day. Back to Our Gang… What’s your favorite memory of playing in that band? Or from that time?
Our earliest rehearsals are some of my favorite memories. Just the overwhelming feeling of making music for the first time. Or hearing songs come together, hearing lyrics put on top of a piece of music you’ve written, hearing it really come to life. There’s a piece about that in the book.
Creating something, together, is great. And how about the worst?
Well, playing CB’s in 1989 was pretty bad. We opened for Slapshot. Both guitars were shorting out the entire set. There might have been one song where both guitars stayed audible for the whole song. Probably one of the worst shows any band has ever played.
I’m pretty sure there’s way, way, way worse. You did get to play CBGB’s though. That’s awesome.
You’ve been posting a bunch of live recordings to Facebook recently. And in the book you mention recording those sets as well. That stuff’s great, anything left among that box of tapes?
I have some tapes that I’d like to find someday. Some live stuff from The Pyramid Club. I remember taping a Rest In Pieces interview on Crucial Chaos that I could never find. But most of it has been converted to MP3 and shared, so it can spread around and be preserved for anyone who might want to hear it. Keeps the music alive.
Something else, do you keep up with current hardcore?
Not much. I’m extremely picky when it comes to music. I don’t feel strongly about many bands or albums, but when I do I go all in. Music has to win me over completely. Either I’m totally in love with a band or I’d just rather not bother. I’d rather not listen to music than listen to it casually. These days I usually sit down at the computer and go to Pandora and type in Bad Brains and let it go from there: Minor Threat, Misfits, etc. I immerse myself in the stuff that captivated me in my youth. I honestly don’t think anything better has come along. In terms of current music I stay more on the stoner rock / metal side of things: Clutch, Corrosion of Conformity, Kylesa, Red Fang, St. Vitus.
I’m extremely picky when it comes to music. I don’t feel strongly about many bands or albums, but when I do I go all in. Music has to win me over completely. Either I’m totally in love with a band or I’d just rather not bother.
You already mentioned a couple, but what are your personal favorites from back in the day?
NYC Mayhem / Straight Ahead. Reagan Youth. Agnostic Front. Bad Brains. Minor Threat. Krakdown. Token Entry. Underdog. Warzone.
What do you think it is that those bands have, (most, some, all?) newer bands don’t?
A genuine punk influence. Most of the influence is metal now, which is weird. Hardcore bands sound more like Metallica or Pantera than Minor Threat or Bad Brains.
So what’s left on the Lewis Dimmick to-do list? You can cross off writing a book now!
True! It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Having a solid idea for a project and being able to bring it to completion is a satisfying feeling. Mostly what it makes me want to do is write another one.