Interview : Warren Zanes of The Del Fuegos

You are to be forgiven if you’re not familiar with Boston’s The Del Fuegos. Labelmates of X and Los Lobos, chums of The Replacements, the original band splintered after two stellar releases (1984’s The Longest Day and 1985’s Boston, Mass.) and called it a day after two more uneven outings. The members kept plenty busy after packing it in, but now, after nearly a quarter of a century on hiatus, the boys are back for a quick victory lap around their favorite stomping grounds in the Northeast and Midwest, not to mention some new music.

MP3 : The DelFuegos – Friday Night

Guitarist Warren Zanes (who spent his vacation earning a Ph.D from the University of Rochester in Visual and Cultural Studies, teaching college, working for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, writing several books and releasing three solo records) was gracious enough to sit down with MOKB on the eve of the tour to discuss the band, beer commercials and close encounters with Bob Stinson.

MOKB: For me, the Del Fuegos are one of the great forgotten bands of the 80s. Do you think it was just your relatively brief run that prevents the band from being mentioned in the same breath with bands like X and the Replacements?

Warren Zanes: History doesn’t have room for all of the players. As an academic, and one who deals with historiagraphy, I recognize that any history involves pruning and ordering and giving shape to something that, without it, is often without any obvious shape. There’s nothing wrong in this, of course. Wild histories would be interesting–but domesticated histories allow everyone to consider the same information and discuss it. History and fiction only appear to be different species. But the question might be this: should my old band be remembered in the same way that those great bands you mention are remembered? I’m not convinced that this is the case. And I’m not convinced that the Replacements and X feel like they ARE remembered! I think everyone feels a little like they missed the boat, like the party passed them by. And here’s my last thought: isn’t there something cool to being forgotten? Only then can you be dug up by the hooligans of the future. I mean, think of Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation–the beauty there is that these great recordings got lost and years later got dug up. Why not be forgotten? There’s always going to be another party later on, and you might just be invited.

MOKB: Dusting off songs after almost three decades, how do you feel your material has stood the test of time?

WZ: It’s rock and roll. So we’re talking about a form that has a unique capacity to keep meaning something. Every generation discovers Chuck Berry, as if their parents knew nothing of the man. The stuff stays fresh, one of the few organic products that doesn’t go bad in the fridge. So the Del Fuegos stuff feels good to play. I like it up there. It’s better than any PTA meeting I’ve been to, that’s for sure. You turn up the amp–a little louder than your brother likes–and you scan the crowd for pretty girls, and, voila, you have a purpose and a direction.

MOKB: Back in the day, how did the Miller commercial come about, and looking back, how did that impact the trajectory of the band?

WZ: The Miller commercial helped the band financially. It got us a few more miles down the road. Will it be remembered in the same way Picasso’s Guernica will be remembered? I’m guessing not. The odd thing to me was that in making the commercial it appeared to many that we had involved ourselves with a large and savage animal that went by the name of “commercial culture.” Of course, to see this as an exceptional moment in the history of such involvements, one has to view such corporate entities as, for instance, Columbia Records as a kind of realm of purity. So Bruce Springsteen maintained a kind of “authenticity” by not doing commercials. But was he not in the belly of the beast when he signed to Columbia? I love Bruce and always have, but there was a certain logical inconsistency about how “authenticity” was constructed at that time. But, now that I’ve loaded you up with some minor-league rhetorical gamesmanship, let me say that it was probably a stupid choice to do the commercial at that time. Not a lot of dignity in it.

MOKB: All four original members have gone on to very interesting post-Del Fuegos careers, any thoughts on why you’ve all been so successful?

WZ: I would never understate the role of luck in it all. Luck and, along with that, the families we come from. We all grew up with cultural privilege, which ends up meaning a hell of a lot more than economic privilege. We knew about good books, we knew that art can save lives, we knew that comic books and rock and roll and paintings and poems and all of that can make the difference between a good life and a stagnant one. So when the band flamed out, everyone knew a little something about where they could go. And we went. Tom and I both got Ph.Ds, Woody became one of the best known counselors working around addiction issues, Dan helped to redefine the territory of family music. We all found a new place to hang our hats. But we probably came closer to hanging our hats in the crack house than we like to imagine.

MOKB: Very happy to see Minneapolis on the tour. Any particular reason that our fair city made the cut?

WZ: We love Minneapolis. For some reason, it was always a favorite stop. The crowds were real rock and roll crowds. The bands in town were always top flight. Minneapolis had some of the same feeling that Boston had. Our connection with the Replacements, which came about through the offices of our respective managers–who were not as shy as the bands were–also made Minneapolis a little more interesting than other places. In putting a tour together, we put Minneapolis at the top of our list with NYC, Boston, and Chicago.

MOKB: Care to share your favorite Replacements story?

WZ: The first time we stayed out there, I stayed on the Stinsons’ living room floor. I woke up to find Bob looking down at me, a 24 oz malt liquor in hand, asking me if we could give him a ride downtown. He was gentle, absolutely compelling, and like nothing I’d seen before. And he wore dresses. I wasn’t sure that it was going to get better than that.

MOKB: So, ultimately, is this just a “loud vacation,” or is there any chance we’ll get a new Del Fuegos record out of the deal?

WZ: We cut new tracks just last week. The only thing better than making recordings is falling in love or watching your kid in the school play. So we all felt good “letting the tape roll.” Since we did eight songs, we’re starting to feel like we’re awfully close to an LP, though our original intention was to make a short EP. There’s still some life in this sucker, it seems.

MOKB: How do you want the Del Fuegos to be remembered?

WZ: As a rock and roll band. You know, kids who felt like they didn’t have much else they could do or much else they wanted to do.

MOKB: Any new bands you particularly enjoy?

WZ: Do you consider the Kinks new? I think they’re great. I feel like interesting things happen when M. Ward is in the room. Same for Jim James. And, frankly, I think no one realizes how heavy Fountains of Wayne are. Their new record knocks me out. Cemetery Guns. Really great writing.

MOKB: Last question. Saturday morning and Dr. Warren Zanes has to clean the garage. What are you listening to?

WZ: I’m listening to my kids tell me I can’t throw their old crap out. Crap they haven’t played with in two years.

Del Fuegos on Tour
Feb 22 Boston, MA – The Paradise Rock Club
Feb 23 NY, NY – Bowery Ballroom
Feb 24 Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom
Feb 25 Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
Feb 26 Evanston, IL – SPACE
Feb 28 Minneapolis, MN – Varsity Club
Feb 29 Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall
March 1 St. Louis, MO – The Old Rock House
March 2 Kent, OH – The Kent Stage
March 3 Brooklyn, NY – The Bell House
March 4 Concord, NH – The Capital Center

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