Hedwig and the Angry Inch: I barely made it to Long Beach Blvd before that tiny little spare split in shreds and sent my hub into the pavement. At 65 miles an hour, I was looking like a grip of Roman Candles that had gone off in someone's duffel bag. The 76 Station set me up with a new tire, and I was on my way to Sean's house in Irvine, California. Everything was great.
We got wasted on Hebrew National Hotdogs and Italian Moonshine, then we got dressed up like Eminem & Ray Charles and went to the Irvine Court Plaza for some yards of Whore's Bath beer and a film or two. Eminem & Ray Charles give FINAL FANTASY, "Two thumbs up. $*!# happened, then some other $*!# happened. Ming-Na pulled a plant out of a rock; Steve Buscemi's voice came out of this weird looking dude, then things started coming out of some other things. I don't know what the @*#^ was going on, but it sure was cool to look at after four yards of Boston's finest."
Afterwards, I saw Sean into the Great Northwest. Then I remembered I had to be back up in Los Angeles for my Stephen Trask interview. I flew like a bat out of hell, getting to that white courtesy phone 15 minutes before the big talk.
I was looking forward to Stephen a little more than John Mitchell, just because I hadn't yet read an interview with the man. I didn't know what to expect. He entered our private room with a relaxed smile. I don't think I've seen anyone this genuinely happy since I've been in LA. His feet were kicked back, relaxed.
Trask: Were you in here a moment ago?
O: No, I was sitting over there. (I pointed to a plush couch this girl had me sitting on. She was super hot, and she brought me water in someone's old disposable coffee cup. It still had tiny black grains floating in it, but I didn't care. I liked her. I smiled and sipped.)
Trask: I was like, "Wow, I recognize this guy."
O: You seem very familiar to me. Have I seen you in anything besides Hedwig?
Trask: No. You may have seen me around, though.
O: Maybe?You've been doing a lot of these interviews, so I'm sure you've been asked a lot of the same questions?
O: Which question are you just sick of?
Trask: Did John and I really meet on a plane.
O: I've got a question that ties into that. The story of how you and John met on a plane, because neither one of you wanted to watch the in-flight movie, is in every single piece of press for Hedwig that I've read. What was the in-flight movie?
Trask: When Harry Met Sally. (he says this as if it's in the Number 2 spot on the "hated questions" list)
O: You don't like When Harry Met Sally? Not your kind of movie?
Trask: I wouldn't say it had anything to do with that. I'd already seen it, like, 6 times. I love all Rob Reiner movies.
O: Even North? (This question is met with silence and a raise of the eye) No comment, Okay...Do you think people should put on When Harry Met Sally and not watch it, just for inspiration. Maybe to get the juices flowing?
Trask: Yeah. Not bad.
O: Do you hope someday someone's refusal to watch Hedwig on a plane will result in something as meaningful and well received as Hedwig?
Trask: (Laughs) Hats off, but usually, when people refuses to watch Hedwig, it's because they're offended by it.
O: Really? It doesn't seem very offensive to me.
Trask: I know, it's funny. Some people can be just, "Oh! What is this Drag Queen? This Transsexual?" But, yeah, that would be really cool. I would love the idea of that.
O: Do you believe that a person's "Other Half," such as seen in the movie, could be found in absolutely anybody?? That no one person, regardless of sex, color, or sexual preference, should be overlooked?
Trask: Um?Yes and no. But I don't really believe in the "Other Half." So, if you get to the Tommy Gnosis version of WICKED LITTLE TOWN, where he sort of contradicts the notion of the "Other Half" to Hedwig, when he sings back to her? When I wrote that, that was really me singing to Hedwig. In fact, in the movie, that is my voice. I was saying about the "Other Half" thing, I'm not really sure. It's a nice idea. Yeah, in the sense of looking for a lover?I love that. I think a lot of people identify with that idea. I think why gay people might identify with it is the notion that four thousand years ago, there were gay people. I think that really thrills people. The way it describes how love feels. It's four thousand years old, and it still feels like this? People are like, "Yeah, that's how it feels when you're in love, or you have a crush. Or when you're looking for somebody." That's such a good description. That you've been ripped apart from somebody. To know that people have been feeling this way for such a long time. They're like, "Wow." It's not just reading about someone who felt something yesterday, and going, "Hmm, yeah, I identify with that person." Here, you think, "Oh, wow! This is like billions of people for thousands of years that have felt like this."
O: Was animation the only way you could show this idea of the "Other Half?"
Trask: Yeah. In fact, when I starting writing that song, the only way I could think to write it was as a picture book. So I wrote it, all the images in it, and the way the story gets told, as the language of, like, a Dr. Suess picture book. If you read the lyrics out loud, they read like a picture book. Like Dr. Suess. If you read, like, (Stephen begins to perform a bit of the play for me) "When the Earth was still flat, and clouds made of fire. And arms stretched up to the sky, and sometimes higher. Folks from the earth?They had two sets of arms, they had two sets of legs." The song was done like a children's story.
O: That was one of my favorite parts of the movie.
Trask: Yeah, the animation was great. It grew from having drawings in the play. To have them animated, to help show it, and to have them tie into the picture book idea of the song, that just sort of expanded naturally. With our images like that, it's definitely like a picture book or a cartoon.
O: Yeah, it's definitely cool. I was going to ask you about your own record collection. Is it made up of a lot of soundtracks?
O: Don't have any favorites?
Trask: I'm really into that O' Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack, and last year I had the Topsy-Turvy soundtrack. That's a brilliant movie. I mean, I wouldn't have known about any of that stuff if I hadn't seen the movie (it's about Gilbert & Sullivan). But mostly it's a pretty extensive collection of rock and jazz.
O: What kind of rock are you into right now?
Trask: Right now? What have I been listening to lately? Um?I'm trying to think?Like, recent stuff is new Stone Temple Pilots, new Missy Elliot. I liked Eminem last year.
O: Have you heard the new D-12 album?
Trask: Haven't heard D-12 yet. Are they any good?
O: I kind of like it. It's offensive; even more so than Eminem's last album. There's a song about Limp Biscuit that's been getting a lot of press.
Trask: I haven't heard it.
O: Do you have an opinion on Limp Bizkit, or similar type bands?
Trask: I have no comment on Limp Bizkitt. But Eminem I really like. Not because he's offensive, but because he's just so brilliant. He's just so good at what he does.
O: Yeah, I think he's a really good songwriter.
Trask: He is. He's brilliant. And he's a great rapper, too. He's just so crisp, and his timing is just so brilliant. I love in that song where he really extensively quotes Rapper's Delight.
O: Which song is that? Was it off the Slim Shady LP?
Trask: No, it's off this last one. He's like, "Christopher Reeves, you got to get up and do that American Cheese." He does that perfect sort of reference to Rapper's Delight.
O: So, you like all the older rap stuff, too, huh?
Trask: Yeah, I love a lot of that stuff. And I love Prince. I've been listening to the Clash a lot lately. Actually, I've gone back to my old London Calling record, and my old This Year's Model record. I've been listening to that. I spent a week learning all the songs off This Year's Model.
O: Where are you originally from?
Trask: From the East Coast. Connecticut.
O: The whole movie takes place on the East Coast, right?
Trask: Pretty much?Well, no, some of it takes place in the Mid-West. There's all that Kansas stuff, and then it kind of tours around?
O: Through all the Bilgewaters. That's not a real place, is it?
Trask: No that's a made-up restaurant?So, yeah?I listen to all kinds of stuff.
O: Have you heard the new Fantomas?
Trask: What is it?
O: Fantomas. With Mike Patton and Buzz from the Melvins?
Trask: No. Who's Mike Patton?
O: He used to sing for Faith No More. And he's with Mr. Bungle and a bunch of other bands right now.
Trask: What is the?
O: It's really good. It's just kind of different. It's kind of heavy. He doesn't really do any vocals; he just kind of screams and makes weird noises with his throat.
Trask: Cool. You know what I really like? What are they? Sum-50? 49?
O: Oh, Sum-41? With the song?
Trask: I like that song?At first I hated it, then it kind of grew on me. They're so charming, you know?? And I love that video where they have those really hip chicks dancing?
O: Out in the parking lot?
Trask: Yeah, and they're out in the parking lot. They're having such a good time. And the scene that they do in the parking lot just seems so inclusive. You know? I just really dig that.
O: I asked John Mitchell this the other day?Did you guys ever consider showing Hedwig's one-inch nub?
Trask: No. Because, you know?You want to?There's?
O: At the end, I thought you guy's?When he's walking naked down the alleyway?
Trask: That he'd turn around?
O: Yeah, I thought it was going to be like the end of Terror Firmer.
Trask: No. I think it would have been interesting. But you get a good enough description of it in ANGRY INCH. You get that, "One-inch mound of flesh."
O: Yes. That's a very descriptive song.
Trask: Basically, it would look like a? I guess it would look like, well, a Barbie Doll crotch. It would look like a shaved vagina closed up.
O: That's what you imagine it would look like? I've got Will Keenan's bloody nub stuck in my head.
Trask: That's what I imagine it would look like. When they give you a sex change operation, they cut off your penis if you're a guy. Not you?
O: No, I'm not getting a sex change operation.
Trask: But, then they make that into the vagina. They, like, sew it. They cut it open and sew it on, and then cut through it so that you have a bulge there. The vaginal bulge. Right? You have that. And they make the vagina out of the penis. So, imagine that, and it closes up because they didn't do a good enough job. You know? So you end up with a Barbie Doll crotch.
O: I thought they left just a little bit of the penis so that there was a nub there?
Trask: No, it's just a mound. That's what I think. That's how it's described in ANGRY INCH. The only description of it is a one-inch mound of flesh with a scar running down it like a sideways grimace on an honest face. It's the description of a vagina closed up.
O: In the movie, there's a joke. I guess it's a joke, when Hedwig is on the phone, and she says, "It's not the Angry Itch, it's the Angry Inch."
Trask: Yeah, yeah?
O: Has that been a problem?
Trask: Yeah, that's been a problem.
O: I haven't seen the stage play. When I went to see this, I thought it was called Hedwig and the Angry Itch. I didn't realize until way after the movie was over that it was called Inch. I felt so stupid.
Trask: Did you laugh out loud when you heard that line?
O: Yeah, I thought it was funny, but I still thought it was called Itch, even after I heard the line. I know you think I'm an idiot. I got this press book, and I'm looking at it, and I'm like, "It says Inch." God, I felt stupid. How sick of that are you? You guys get that a lot?
Trask: Yeah, we do. And that line always gets a big laugh because people go to it thinking it's Itch. And they get in and they're like, "Oh, its Inch." Then, basically after they realize the title is Inch, they hear that joke, and it always gets a good response.
O: Also, I saw the movie here at the New Line screening room (I point across the room. Stephen thinks I'm pointing at the 20 inch TV in the corner). Not in here, but downstairs.
Trask: I didn't see it.
O: There's the part in the trailer where the sing-along comes on?
O: The room was just dead quiet.
Trask: Really? I've never heard everyone not singing. We've had people singing during the trailer.
O: That's what I was wondering. I thought it was cool, then I realized the people in the room were not into it.
Trask: It's hard, though, with a critic's screening. People are there as an observer. It's like if you go to a culture of Anthropology, you're not supposed to participate in it. You're supposed to write objectively about it. If you participate too much, you lose your objectivity. But I've even heard word of people singing along to the trailer.
O: Really? John tells me he's not happy with the trailer. Who put that together?
Trask: The folks at Fine Line did.
O: You didn't have anything to do with it?
Trask: They showed it to me, and I suppose if I didn't like it, I would have said, "Do this or do that." But they did such a good job.
O: Yeah, John Mitchell seemed really disappointed with it. Personally, I thought it was a really good trailer. I saw it before Moulin Rouge. And I saw it, and I said, " I want to see that movie."
Trask: It was shown before Moulin Rouge a lot. That's actually where someone?It was at the Beverly Center, and they went to see Moulin Rouge, and during the trailer, people sang along.
O: Really? Wow, that's cool.
Trask: At the Beverly Center, which is big.
O: Yeah that's where I saw it. No one sang along, but I saw it at the late show. I wasn't familiar with Hedwig as a stage show, but I enjoyed the movie a lot.
Trask: Cool. Well?
O: I'm glad I got a chance to see it. Did John collaborate on the music at all, or was that all you?
Trask: I wrote the songs.
O: Everything? That's what I thought.
Trask: I mean, we're partners in creating the whole thing. There are obvious things, like the character itself comes from us. And the story and the idea of it is very collaborative. When it comes to actually sitting down?Like actual division of labor kind of thing, I'm the song writer and he's the script writer, but, you know?We talk a lot about it. And we've developed it with each other over a long period of time.
O: Did you look to any albums or artists for inspiration while writing the music for Hedwig?
Trask: I'm always listening to stuff. It depends on where I was at for different songs. When I was writing TEAR ME DOWN, which is the opening song, I started to come up with some music. What I elected to write, I sang it in a Lou Reed voice. That's how I wrote it. I knew it wouldn't sound like a Lou Reed song, because John's voice doesn't sound like Lou Reed. But when I wrote it, I wrote it like?You know that album New York? So, I was like, (Doing a dead-on perfect Lou Reed) "I was born on the other side, of a talented two. I made it?" You know? It's like; "I rose from off of the Doctor's slab, like Lazarus from the pit. Blood, graffiti, and spit." It was very much like that Romeo and Juliet song. Then I know I can give it to John and have it go somewhere else. Um?It was cool, because knowing that I wasn't going to be singing it, and knowing John wouldn't do that, I could do that straight-thing a lot. Like with ANGRY INCH?I didn't go back and listen to it, because I don't like to get to close to it. But I was thinking about the way Fred Schneider tells stories in his songs. Like in ROCK LOBSTER or QUICHE LORRAINE when he starts, "Has anyone seen a dog in a strawberry blonde fall?" When I wrote the spoken word section in ANGRY INCH, "When I woke up from the operation, I was bleeding?I was bleeding down there. I was bleeding from the gash between my legs." I was sort of imagining a Fred Schneider kind of thing for that. Knowing that I could do a little Patty Smith, then give it to John, and it would be something different when he sings it?That's who I channeled for that. Then different people like Sleater-Kinney for one thing, and Burt Bacarach for another thing, and a little John Lennon here.
O: How much did the music change from the stage to the screen?
Trask: Some of the feel of stuff changed from the stage to the screen. I think that when I made the soundtrack I knew more about making records. From the time I made the first record, I went off and played with people. I produced a record for a band, and I worked with some really good people.
O: Which band did you produce the record for?
Trask: It was called Nancy Boy. It's coming out soon. Dean DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots played on that record. I learned a lot from playing with Dean. And, you know, just experiencing other people. Seeing the way different drummers work, and the way different bands put their stuff together. When I went to make this record, I knew so much more about how to make the record. I think when you hear the music in the movie, and you see the image of that kind of punk-ish, European band playing that stuff, the image and the music go together really well. I think, anyway. The sound that you hear, you think that band really does make that sound. That was very purposeful, like trying to make sure when we got it on screen, there wasn't this kind of disconnect between what you're seeing and what you're hearing.
O: Was the singing done live on film?
Trask: A lot of the singing was done live on film. We were all playing our instruments. We were playing exact parts, but the recording had been done previous and flawless. We were playing the actual notes?It was like doing a show, except that if you made a mistake, it's okay, because you're not actually recording it?So, you're basically seeing a real performance when you see the movie.
O: Have you seen Bat Boy, The Musical?
Trask: I've heard of it, but I haven't seen it. That's in New York now, right? Who is that?
O: I don't know. I just know it's based on the tabloid story of the Bat Boy. I thought it was kind of interesting.
Trask: What Bat Boy?
O: Do you ever read Weekly World News?
O: The Bat Boy with the big ears and sharp teeth?
Trask: Oh, right, right, right?
O: They found him in a cave, then they made a musical about him.
Trask: I saw the title of it. I don't go see a lot of musicals. Do you?
O: No. I've had a phobia of stage plays since I was a kid.
O: I think it's because my mom took me to see Jack and the Beanstalk, and the Giant was coming out as a big shadow, and it scared me really bad. And ever since then, I just haven't been comfortable watching stage plays. You're looking at me like that's really dumb.
Trask: No. I don't see a lot of theater, either. This was like a different thing for me. It was exciting doing it, but it was really different.
O: Do you think you'll be doing any more movies?
Trask: Hopefully. I liked being in it.
O: I was going to ask you?You didn't have any lines?
O: Was that a problem?
Trask: No, actually, we did a lot of rehearsal with the band as a whole. In the beginning scene, you can see us playing a spin the bottle kind of game. And we're all kind of talking in a mix of English and some Eastern-European language. We had a lot of stuff shot with these kind of improvisational scenes, with this phony language that we made up. We did a lot of rehearsing for that. And it didn't end up making it into the movie, because it's sort of this extra thing. We're not really making a three-hour Robert Altman movie. It would have been nice for people to see that stuff, because we had a lot of stuff that was really funny.
O: John said some of that extra stuff is going to be on the DVD.
Trask: Yeah, they'll put some of that extra stuff on there. That will be fun.
O: Are you going to participate in the commentary track?
O: Are you going to do a separate music commentary track for the film?
Trask: Oh, are they doing that? Probably. We're just planning it now. I would like to score more films. Doing that sequence where Hedwig dives off the amps, and there's that kind of waltz music?
O: Where everything slows down?
Trask: Yeah, Yeah?There's this kind of trippy music, then it goes into this waltz. And then she lands. Then we threw in this, like, wrestling music. It's like this big sort of thing.
The friendly lady, from the other day, slides open the door.
Friendly Lady: Two more questions, and then it's over, okay. (She says this in a pleasant voice, smiling.)
O: Sure, okay.? (Stephen seems unfazed by her presence)
Trask: ?You really get to take part in shaping the scene when you get to write the score. Especially in a scene like that, where there's no dialogue. Basically, it was like action set to music, because the music was written afterwards.
O: Oh, so you wrote the music after that scene was finished?
Trask: Yeah, all that stuff. The music was written afterwards. I wrote the music to the images. So you really have to get inside the head of the director and the editor to figure out where they're going, what they're trying to say with it there. With something like that, in the indoor scene with Hedwig. All the music wasn't written until it was cut, even though it seems, afterwards, that it was cut to a piece of music. It happened in reverse, so when you're scoring, you have this chance to come in, and you're like the last voice in there. It's almost like being an actor injected into a movie, and you still have to take that direction from the director. And insert yourself into the scene in a way that adds to it as opposed to detracts from it. You don't want to stop anyone. You want to make it better. You want to get it across. I liked doing that. It was, like, Super.? (he gives me thumbs up)
O: That was your favorite part of making the whole movie?
Trask: I guess my favorite parts were producing the record, being in it, and writing the score.
O: In that order?
Trask: They're all the same. They're all fun. I just loved producing the record. It was a blast. Making records is just very fun. And writing the score was great. They're all great challenges, and anytime you have a challenge thrown at you. And being in the movie was great because you sit there and you get made up, and you get to go to the set, and that's fun.
The friendly lady comes in once again...
O: Okay, are we done?
Friendly Lady: Yeah, sorry.
O: Well, it was great talking to you. Best of luck in the future.
Trask: Yeah, you too.
I was out of there quicker than an end shift at E! An interesting fellow, indeed. I hurried back my apartment only to find a rent notice on my door. $412. (I live in Long Beach) It says pay or get out tomorrow. Funny, I gave the rent to my roommate, and he said he took it to the Landlord. What's going on here? There has been an awful lot of beer in our Crip territorial dirt-shack. Hmm, maybe I ought to look into this?