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20 Questions: Don Fleming

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Tuesday, Nov 8, 2011
The famed songwriter/producer and Sonic Youth BFF sits down with PopMatters to wax philosophical on the Beatles, tell us what it's like going through Marty Robbins' record collection, and why he bears a characteristic resemblance to Shaft . . .

If someone goes up to you and says “Don Fleming is one of the single most unstoppable forces in the history of music”, you would find it hard to disprove such a statement.


After all, Don Fleming was the founder of numerous bands, ranging from the Velvet Monkeys to Foot, from B.A.L.L. to Gumball. During this time, the man with the uncompromising taste in all things aural has proven to be a frequent collaborator with Sonic Youth, an incredible instrumentalist, and—most of all—a highly-regarded producer, having worked on such iconic albums as Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque, Alice Cooper’s The Last Temptation, and even had a hand in Pete Yorn’s Musicforthemorningafter. In short, Fleming’s dance card is perpetually full.


Thus, when Fleming announces a new solo EP—here simply titled Don Fleming 4—people take notice, especially when it features collaborations with the like of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Following the EP’s summer release, Fleming sat down with PopMatters to answer the famous 20 Questions, here waxing philosophical on the Beatles, what it’s like going through Marty Robbins’ record collection, and why he bears a characteristic resemblance to Shaft . . .
  
* * *


1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?


Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger. Well I didn’t actually cry, but it is about a dead dog.


2. The fictional character most like you?


Shaft. He’s a complicated man.


3. The greatest album, ever?


The Beatles’ “White Album” hits it for me on all levels. The sound of it, the look, the poster, and 8x10s inside—they really started to rock and bust out some distortion, and it seemed like the first time that they broke away from the tidy sequences of the previous albums. This was all over the place, and side four was a favorite: “Savoy Truffle”, “Cry Baby Cry”, “Revolution 9”—insanely great.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?


Original Star Trek for me. The show still looks great and [William] Shatner and [Leonard] Nimoy have both put out some stupidly cool albums.


5. Your ideal brain food?


Velvet Monkey Brain Salad.


6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?


Pride has little to do with it. It’s a visceral reaction, recorded through a wire. I have little desire to make “records” or even songs.


7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?


Making great records and songs.


8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?


Syd Barrett (6 January 1946–7 July 2006)


Sid Vicious (10 May 1957–2 February 1979)


9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?


The Pretty Things’ 1970 classic Parachute. It was produced by Norman “Hurricane” Smith, who had engineered all the Beatles sessions up through Rubber Soul. This record is in the damn pocket!


10. Your hidden talents . . . ?


Ping pong, Tai chi chuan, taking out the trash.


11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?


Look out on a summer’s day, with eyes that know the darkness in my soul.


12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?


My two favorite eBay finds are a statuette/award to Monti Rock III for being a judge in US Air Force talent show, and a hot pink Disk-GO-Case 45 holder that belonged to Marty Robbins. There are 45s with notes to Marty on songs being pitched to him . A 45 of “Bop” by Bill Woods with the note “Marty, Cover this on Columbia if possible. This record sold 150 at one store in Bakersfield. Thanks, Bill”, along with 45s of his songs covered by other artists, Sherry Scott doing “Devil Woman” as well as 45s that Marty must have been listening to—Little Walter “My Babe”, Curtis Mayfield “Superfly”, Three Dog Night “Liar”, and to top it off there’s an acetate labeled “Marty Robbins Ent.” and has the title “My Friend Jim”. It’s a cool demo with Marty singing. It looks like the song was listed with his publisher in 1968, but there’s no trace of it ever coming out. And, oddly, the publishing is split three ways with one share going to Elvis Presley. Which leads me to think that Marty cut this demo for Elvis, and for some reason Elvis never recorded it.


13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?


Alligator hide boots, pants, vest, and hat. The rest just falls into place.


14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?


Captain Knuckles because he swings a good tale.


15. Time travel: where, when, and why?


Time warp space warp rockin’ in fury caught my baby Alpha Centauri.


16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?


Phillip Glass, Astronomy Pic of the Day, Supreme Ultimate Fist.


17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?


Dan Blocker, 45 adapters, and “Sexy Sadie”. In that order.


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?


City in my head, heaven in my body. Or the Okefenokee Swamp.


19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?


Time to snap and crackle, Pops.


20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?


Question #20. Oh, and mastering some tracks for an Instant Mayhem Paul Grimstad release, and restoring some killer tapes of Lester Folsom from the ‘70s for a release, restoring some Nurses’ reel-to-reel master tapes, and putting together a Stroke Band re-release. Restoration and Publication. Repetition and Completion.


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