Danny Bland

What Your Parents Never Told You About Haiku: An Interview With Danny Bland

When my friend told me about Danny Bland’s new book  — In Case We Die —  she promised that not only would I love it, but that I’d want to interview him. I recognized the name as one of the top tour managers in the business, currently crisscrossing the globe with Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones. As a favor to my friend, and quite grudgingly, I reached past the ever-growing stack of new rock biographies I had promised to read and dove into Danny’s eBook, hoping that like a flu shot, it would be quick and relatively painless.

Within the first five pages, Herbert Spencer’s oft-quoted maxim sprung to mind: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” I was guilty as charged. Absent any information whatsoever, I had steeled myself for a chalkboard-scratch of a read and instead I found In Case We Die to be utterly absorbing — both funny, soulful and thoroughly authentic from start-to-finish. True to my friend’s prediction, I subsequently interviewed Danny for The Weeklings.

Not long after, Danny started posting quirky snippets on Facebook, absent any context or explanation. Eventually I realized that each post was three lines of five syllables/seven syllables/five syllables. Haiku. He posted a new haiku each day and last year Danny took his game up a notch by releasing, I Apologize In Advance For The Awful Things I’m Gonna Do — a collection of his haiku set against the magnificent photography of Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli and the artfully unhinged calligraphy of X’s Exene Cervenka.

I rang up Danny just after he passed through San Diego to get the skinny on this ambitious and wholly fascinating project.
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What’s with haiku? Why not iambic pentameter or some other jaunty meter?

I started doing it as a writer’s exercise. There’s a school of thought that holds that you should write a haiku every day for a year. Steve Earle taught me that. In the great folk tradition, when you do somebody else’s song, you’re supposed to say where you got it from. Like, “Bob Dylan taught this to me and I’m going to play it for you here.” For me, it’s, “I’m going to write these poems, and Steve Earle taught it to me.”

Guys like Dylan are also rarely shy about discussing their influences. So who are your haiku influences?

What’s odd about my choice to write haiku is that I don’t really have any influences. I’m not that familiar with the Japanese masters. I’ve read them, and traditionally there are “rules” beside the five syllables/seven syllables/five syllables lines. You should also include something about nature in each one of them, which is something I do not do. (laughs) Occasionally I might accidentally mention nature in there. When I finished writing In Case We Die — a project where I wrote a little something every day — I started going a little nuts because I didn’t have anything to do, so I started posting a haiku a day on Facebook. I didn’t announce that I was doing it, I just started doing it in place of my regular smart-ass quips, if you will. It took awhile for people to catch on, and I started getting notes from people who were concerned for my mental health… (laughs) Because I wanted to continue writing, even while I wasn’t working on a novel, I wrote a haiku a day. It actually turned into two and a half years. In the early part of that period, a lot of the haiku were notes for the next book. So a lot of those early haiku lay out hints for the new novel. But most people weren’t paying attention to them back then. I don’t know if you can go back through the archives and read those, but a number of those ended up in Awful Things.

Richard WrightOne of the more interesting aspects of the book is that it’s a collision of art forms beyond the haiku themselves. You’ve got Greg Dulli’s photos, Exene Cervenka’s calligraphy… how did these pieces come together?

As I was writing, people were sending me notes and asking when I was going to publish them, so I realized that I needed to figure out an interesting way to present them. I really only own one book of haiku, that I received as a gift. It’s haiku by Richard Wright and the words are fantastic but the presentation is pretty boring because it’s just hundreds of haiku on the page. I wanted to expand on that idea and as I was thinking of how to do that, I was following Dulli’s Instagram feed — I’m friends with him — and he was doing a similar thing, where he posts all these really interesting photographs but without the captions. I thought that was fascinating because they’re stark photographs and captivating as well because you can’t necessarily tell what’s happening in them. He wouldn’t post where they were. It was like Greg Dulli could be anywhere, at any time! He could be home in Los Angeles, he could be in Tel Aviv, or Mexico…you just don’t know. So it lets your imagination run wild. Also, the haiku and photos work well together, so I proposed the idea to Greg and he loved it. And I’m a huge X fan and I’ve always loved the way Exene’s writing looked in the liner notes and the lyrics sheets of the albums, so I asked her if she’d do her magic on some of the poems.

Meatloaf – Danny’s favorite guilty pleasure.

Exene was making headlines around the time this book came out

Yeah, that was interesting. I’ve known her for a long time and she’s always been vocal about conspiracy theories. I’d hope that people could be able to see the difference between art and the personality behind it. I like to think that way about many things. One of my guilty pleasures is Bat Out Of Hell, by Meatloaf. If I attached Meatloaf’s personality to that record, I wouldn’t be able to listen to it anymore because he’s a fucking right wing lunatic. So I wouldn’t be able to enjoy that anymore in the secret shame of my living room. But then again, I’m not perfect because I can’t really listen to Ted Nugent anymore for that same reason. But I’m trying to expand my mind.

I’ve got the book here and I’d like to ask you about a few bits. I don’t expect you to have memorized all of the page numbers yet. Bonus points if you do.  The book starts out on such a high note — Greg’s utterly unnerving picture of the two guys in skeleton masks, standing in a field in a beautiful sunset, holding hands with little kids. The haiku reads, watched you as a child/pull hearts out of old men’s chests/eat them like candy. Talk to me.

That’s one for my daughter. There are several in there that I wrote about her. It’s me thinking of her when she was a little girl and how the charms of a little girl can manipulate great men. As far as the picture goes, when Dulli and I started working on this, he sent me a bunch of pictures that he had and I looked at that and saw that the two fit together so perfectly. Also, I’m fascinated by Halloween, so I was really excited about that photo.

How about this one: she had the dead-eyed/stare, the brass pole expertise/what she lacked was “it”?

I wrote that one after I went to Jumbo’s Clown Room in Los Angeles. People would think from my books that I frequent strip clubs, but I do like Jumbo’s Clown Room because it’s not really a stripper bar — they wear bikinis — so in order to make bank, they have to be almost gymnasts. They’re very physical and very athletic in their routines, and I find that far more entertaining than a naked person. So to watch them work is insane. They’re really great. I’d venture so far as to call them, “artists,” but this one woman was amazing but for some reason, despite her feats of physical strength and her beauty, she was just not sexy for some reason. I don’t know. That’s the “it”.

Danny Bland and Greg Dulli

My favorite is: you are prone to poor/ choices dear, and I am pleased/ to be among them. It sounds like something Mark Twain might have scribbled to some sultry saloon keeper’s daughter.

Thank you. That was a Valentine’s Day card from the common man. The accompanying picture is just a bed, but it’s not frilly and it’s not covered in rose petals or anything. This is everyday life. I was trying to squeeze a romantic thought out of a guy who doesn’t express himself very well.

I’d like to end on five Either/Ors. I haven’t done this deal for awhile and I’m looking forward to it. First one — 80s pop or 90s pop?

Phew… 90s pop. So many great songs were really mutilated by 80s production and I think I like the aesthetic that hip hop brought to pop music in the 90s, as opposed to the techno aesthetic of the 80s.

Bass solos or drum solos?

Drum solos and that is purely based on Lisa Pankratz, who’s the drummer for Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones. I watch her do a drum solo almost every night and it’s never the same and it’s always a brutal and fascinating and beautiful experience.

L.A. or New York?

Hmm… I’m going to go with New York. Wait, that’s tough. OK, New York based on a visit. If I were moving there, I’d go to Los Angeles. Damn. This is tough. But yeah, I’m sticking with New York. New York City is arguably the greatest city in the world and when you have so many people crammed into such a tiny little space, there are so many stories unfolding and so much energy vibrating. Plus I don’t like the sun.

Dogs or cats?

Dogs. I love dogs. I happen to be allergic to cats but if I’m going to get a pet, I love the unconditional love that comes from dogs. This is an easy one for me. Dogs are so excited to see you at every turn. That’s why when someone’s pet dies, it’s one of the worst things ever. You never have bitter disagreements with a dog. You never have resentments from childhood with a dog. It’s just pure love and so that’s why the death of a pet is so devastating — you can have weird resentments attached to people but that never comes with dogs. And cats just don’t like us. No matter how much we love them, they don’t love us back as much. Some of my best friends are cat people, but hell if I understand them.

Sorry, Tom Hansen! Ok, final question — Sex Pistols or Jackson 5?

Well, I’m gonna go Jackson 5 on this one…

No fucking way.

Sex Pistols are great but I mean, honestly, I’ve probably listened to the Jackson 5 more than I’ve listened to the Sex Pistols over my entire life. And if I had the chance of putting on Never Mind the Bollocks or the Jackson 5’s greatest hits right now, I’d go with the Jackson 5.

I meant for these to be difficult choices, but there’s no way I thought you’d go with the Jacksons. Well done and thanks for your time.

Thanks, Joe.

Author’s Note:
After our interview concluded, Danny was gracious enough to text me a haiku to commemorate our interview:

 

a tough decision
sex pistols or the jacksons
Tito versus Sid

bland haiku