■ Don O’Mahony catches up with Kid Congo Powers ahead of a free gig in Myrtleville
THERE are few musicians with as impressive a CV as Kid Congo Powers, but there is also little doubt that having been at the centre of so much debauchery and excess, he is one of life and rock’s great survivors.
Having served in The Cramps in the early ’80s and The Gun Club in the mid ’80s and early ’90s, he has seen the passing of iconic figures Lux Interior from the former band and Jeffrey Lee Pierce from the latter.
Add to that his time with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, which saw him work on Tender Prey and The Good Son, and such cult acts as The Make Up, Angels Of light and Mark Eitzel and you can be certain there is little he has not seen or that would surprise him.
But these are extreme times right now. Having grown up a second generation Mexican-American in Los Angeles he has been perturbed by the racist diatribes of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. And as a gay man he feels particularly shaken by the appalling events in Orlando.
“The shooting in Orlando has hit me on a deep primal level,” he confesses.
“It had me realise that as bold and out as I have been, I have always had to live with a fear that I can be hurt or killed just for existing as a homosexual. And I’m legally married! It’s post-traumatic stress disorder from having gone through the AIDS first era where we watched so many friends and peers die and no power to stop it.
“In Orlando, all those young people shot and killed in what was essentially their community centre is beyond heartbreaking. I am so sad. And angry.”
Music has provided an outlet and a refuge for the kid born Brian Tristan. He recalls being a seven-year-old and sharing his older sisters’ excitement as they snuck out to see the local Chicano garage bands.
Later on he would fall under the spell of The New York Dolls, The Ramones and Patti Smith.
But there was another figure who would exert a strong influence over him and that was David Bowie. When it came to forming his own band, The Pink Monkey Birds, Kid Congo would take the name from Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’. He credits the late star as being the biggest influence on him both musically and personally.
“When Ziggy Stardust came out I was but a 13-year-old teen,” he recalls. “At 13 you feel like a space alien. I was growing into my body, everything was changing. I was sure I was gay. And experimenting with drugs and alcohol made one sure you were different and perhaps not of this world. So that was the identity bit.
“Musically, David Bowie and The Spiders from Mars hit all the right spots for me. It was sexy, dangerous, raunchy and classy at the same time. It was the bar from which all music was to be judged for me. And my appreciation of presentation of fashion is directly linked to Bowie.
“What a sad day it was when he died. I am so happy that Blackstar is so amazing, sexy, dangerous, raunchy and classy. We will miss him,” he adds.
Having been a sideman in so many great bands throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Kid Congo has been leading the Pink Monkey Birds since 2006 and he confesses it has been a long and ongoing process being the focal point of a band.
“I had to discover what it was all about by trial and error in public,” he shares. “I was not a lead singer and had little idea what vocalisation was about ’til I started trying it. I do admire the beats so had a beatnik approach, which I still employ. I have never had the goal to emulate the singers I’ve worked with; that seemed a silly idea from the start. And face it, no one wants the guitarist to step up and start singing! I had to find the strengths and weaknesses, which was even embarrassing at times. But I needed to face the challenge and come to a workable solution.
“That is our duty as artists. Even in a garage band! Also there has never been a desire to be a nostalgic act. Certainly I have learned lessons from the best of them, and I feel a need to continue the work that has been laid out before me. To honour that music and those efforts by progressing, or maybe transgressing myself.”
Having released four albums of offbeat garage pop, Kid Congo feels he has a firm handle on the essence of his band.
“The essence is to unlock the excitement, magic and joy that rock and roll brings. The thrill of it all,” he adds with a flourish.
Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds play a free afternoon show at the Pine Lodge, Myrtleville, on Sunday, June 26.