the Definitive Interview
July 15, 2001
Tracking down Mr. M, best known to CSP fans as Dr. M, whose flamboyant lifestyle and iconoclastic‹some might even say offensive‹clarinet playing, was by far one of the easier in this series of "Where Are They Now?" interviews with the former members of Clark Schpiell. Do a search on "Doctor M" on any Internet search engine and you¹ll quickly find the link to Puskatawni Mental Health¹s Psychosis and Hallucinatory Institute, where Dr. M is currently residing and being cared for by professionals.
The PMHPHI is situated on several acres of rolling green farmland in the hills west of Beaverton, one of Portland¹s southerly dormitory communities. The buildings of the Institute are airy and full of light. This is the kind of place where you¹d want to go if you were deranged and couldn't be allowed to interact with normal society any longer. The floors and walls are clean; the atmosphere is relaxing, comforting even, despite the drooling, the incessant sobbing and conversations with men who claim to have stolen Mussolini's pants. The place is run by a Dr. Thomas Peanut Christmas, whose patients and staff affectionately call him "Doctor TP," a stout and brilliant psychiatrist who, inexplicably, defines himself as a fan of Clark Schpiell and the Furry Cockroaches without Butts.
"Their name is clever," explains the doctor. "They're kind of kicky."
His wife, fortunately, sheds light on this strange behavior: "He's got the worst taste in everything. Everything you can imagine. He wears plaid pants and a white belt, for God's sake. He said that Bridges of Madison County book Œmoved me to my core.' He makes a good dollar, I'll give him that, but he is the nadir of cultural sophistication. He thought that stupid Cockroach band singer dressed well, and he tried to get his hairdresser to give him that little neck-pillow he's got. It's disgusting."
Dr. TP's love of the band certainly paid off, though: when Dr. M reached the breaking point (I cover this episode in my book, in chapter 11, " 'It's a Woodwind, Baby': the Sea Lion Paternity Suit," in some detail). Dr. TP brought him into the Institute's fold out of a sincere, though perhaps misplaced, belief in the enduring greatness of the band and his possible place in music history for aiding in Dr. M's return from madness. His services and the services of his facility are free to Dr. M, which is fortunate, since his share of the only good money the band ever made (directly after so many parents' groups bribed them to cancel shows in northern Minnesota) was spent almost immediately on buying a specially-made pair of underwear made from pure silver, long a fantasy of M's which was quickly squashed when he realized they were too heavy to wear. Finally he pawned them to buy two forties of Old English 800 and a package of circus peanuts at the corner AM/PM, leaving him destitute.
When I arrive in the common room I spot Dr. M sitting in the corner working on a poem, the writing of which he began seven years ago when he first arrived although he still hasn't finished it. As I approached him I saw he was actually doodling on the wall, drawing his favorite figure, one that has obsessed him since the declining years of the band: a sword with an inverted clarinet as its blade, often embellished with blood-stained mouthpieces. This one, in fact, featured a human heart skewered on the end. Dr. M draws on the walls and tables and floors continually, the staff told me, and no one has figured out why they don't just take away his pencil.
When I say his name, though, he turns, and although a little apprehensive at first (he'd forgotten that today was the day of our visit, as well as all correspondence regarding the interview) he quickly warmed and gave the first interview, albeit short because of his impending medication needs, since the band's breakup.
Have you been in contact with any other members of the band since the breakup?
Not too much. Little J wrote me two letters asking for money, Big J stopped by to drop off some Skittles, that was considerate of him, we don't get much candy, and Boy-Nett has stopped by with lots of copyright releases for me to sign, which I appreciate. He knew that I was in no shape to handle or think about the business end, so when he suggested that he take over all my rights to the Schpiell material, I just thought that was about the nicest thing anyone could have ever done.
Do you miss those days, with the band? Being on the road, in the studio with them?
I don't think I miss those days so much as I make those days.
I'm sorry, you "make" them?
Right. Dr. TP is always telling us, don't "miss" your life before you came in here, "make" your life.
What does that mean, "make" your life?
Exactly. Just like the sensitive cheeses.
Well, some cheeses are sensitive, others are not. Cheddar, for example, is an insensitive cheese, and Gouda. Feta is somewhere in the middle, between those two poles, there are gray areas of cheese just like there are gray areas of my own life, or your own life. Just for the record, Dr. TP didn't tell me that, I figured out the cheeses for myself, he just gave me that . . . first push, you know?
. . . Sure, so there have been some rumors about a possible reunion show, maybe even more than that. What's your take on those rumors?
Hey, you don't got a 'lude, do you?
I tell you, they keep me pretty well doped up, and sometimes TP can get some good pills, but for the most part it's dry as a bone, baby, in terms of that sweet stuff I used to pop. Oh God, it was so beautiful. Anyplace you wanted to travel, right there in your little vials. I'm just glad I get my little blues and yellows in a few minutes. Have you seen those, the blues and yellows, we only get them once a day, but when you get them, you feel so sweepy and warm, it's wike you're in a wittle bitty boat.
M starts cooing and sucking his thumb and rocking back and forth, for several minutes, then suddenly breaks out laughing.
Hey, you thought I was bonking out there, didn't you? See, I always do that with people, I start getting all wiggy just to kind of mess with your mind. I do that to expand people's minds. Because, you see, when people come to see me, they have this preconception that just because I'm in a mental hospital that I must have a screw or two loose.
Well, people can be judgmental.
Exactly, that's exactly what I'm saying. But I'm trying to break people out of their little roles, the little things they've all being programmed to accept by the system, man, you got to fuck with the system, you know? You know?!
Yes, I do know. Anyway, I'd like to talk a little bit about your clarinet playing. Who out there right now in rock clarinet do you think is really good and how do they compare to your own playing?
Well, first of all, I never played the clarinet.
Okay . . . Well, you see, yes, you played for a band called Clark Schpiell...
Yeah, yeah, I know all that, that's not what I'm saying. I never played the clarinet. I never blew a note. I didn't even know how to hold the damn thing. Ask my parents, ask my friends from school, did I ever play the clarinet, did I ever take a lesson? No no no no! I just picked it up one day and I held it to my lips, just like seeing what it was like, and suddenly these sounds started coming out. Everyone turned to look at me. What were those sounds? What beautiful sounds! I was scared, I didn't know what was happening, but I put the thing back to my lips and the music started again, it was this language that was moving through me. I was the conduit from somewhere else, don't you see, I was chosen as an instrument from Beyond to communicate to the earth
Well, in the early days of the band you stood out as someone who seemed to be able to play his instrument, but by the band's end you had in fact devolved only to shrieks and squawks, and sometimes not even playing at all but actually just standing there grimacing. Many attribute this to continual and punishing drug abuse on your part. What do you make of that trajectory?
I had no choice in the matter, don't look at me. That always irritated me, the other band members telling me to stop playing off key, and then to stop the random honking and bleating, especially when we were recording and were just between takes. But the forces from Beyond were talking, not me. I always did wonder what they were trying to say with all that shrieking and everything, then when they wanted me to stop with the clarinet and just scream and start spitting on things. I never did figure it out, but listen, the Beyond had gotten us that far. I don't want to seem immodest, but I truly believe that our success was based upon the spiritual power of the sound of the clarinet in our recordings and concerts. Whatever sonic territory the Beyond wanted to move us into, I believed it was for the best and figured we should let ourselves be taken there.
But the band's most successful recording, the EP "Planting Beans in Your Cornhole," didn't even have clarinet on it, apparently because, in the words of Big J, you were "so blitzed he couldn't even put the goddamn thing together."
He was always the biggest disbeliever in the true nature of my calling, of the band's true calling, he saw it all as just some way to get laid, but you can't trust him. The forces from Beyond will see to it that Big J not prevail. Skittles or no, he went against the Truth, and the Beyond will punish him.
But Big J is actually the most successful of any of you. He's the only one with no felony record, no major addictions, and with his various hardcore pornography web sites, he makes more than the rest of you combined.
You just wait. Just wait and see. The rivers will run with blood . . .
At this, I see that Dr. M is caressing one of his doodles, running his hand along the clarinet "blade" and forming a fist over the pommel as if to lift it out of the wall.
With blood . . .
A muffled bell sounds, apparently signaling medicine disbursement, since at the sound M loses his scowl and starts clapping excitedly.
Blues and yellows, yellows and blues, blues and yellows, yellows and blues!
Dr. M kept this chant up until his pills were brought in a small paper cup. Almost immediately after swallowing them, his eyes rolled back in his head and he sank back in his chair. Talking to no one in particular, he started talking in a burbling incoherent voice about his concern for the emotional well-being of dental floss and his sexual fantasy of being handcuffed to an Eskimo.
Since he would no longer respond to me or acknowledge my presence in any way, the interview ended. One of the attendants on my way out said he was surprised that Dr. M had been as lucid as he had, since he was, in the attendant's words, "completely fucking whacked." When I got in my car, I somehow felt compelled to put into the tape drive Dr. M's virtuoso performance, his nineteen-minute solo on "You're the Dumbass," and listened for about thirty seconds until I had to turn the radio to some Neil Diamond to keep myself from driving off the road.