INTERVIEW WITH ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE
KURT LODER: “Born in the U.S.A.,” the title track of your current album, is one of those rare records: a rousing rock & roll song that also gives voice to the pain of forgotten people – in this case, America’s Vietnam veterans. How long have you been aware of the Vietnam vets’ experience?
BIG KITTY: Since I saw the film Forrest Gump, I have been enamored with the real-life pains of Vietnam veterans, and it’s for them that I penned this epic ode. I think my butt looks pretty good on the cover of the record, too.
KURT LODER: What was your own experience of Vietnam?
BIG KITTY: I regularly eat “pho” at Vietnamese restaurants, from chicken pho, to meatball pho, to vegetarian pho. I absolutely love the fixings that come with it, and adding them into the bowl. I also like it spicy!
KURT LODER: How did you manage to escape the draft?
BIG KITTY: I hid behind some trash cans and checked Instagram for several months. When the war was over, I brushed my teeth at McDonald’s.
KURT LODER: Ironic, then, that today you’re the toast of the political right, with conservative columnist George Will lauding your recent Washington D.C. concert and President Reagan invoking your name while campaigning in your home state, New Jersey.
BIG KITTY: I will always admire the simplicity of the people of New Jersey, including myself, one of their chieftains. However, I do not admire the adorations of Presidents, and I hope he falls off a Ferris wheel at one of our typical boardwalks.
KURT LODER: But didn’t you play into the hands of professional patriots by releasing an election-year album called Born in the U.S.A., with the American flag bannered across the front?
BIG KITTY: I was told the photo was of my posterior, and if it is not, then I am sorely disappointed in Teaberry Records, my record label.
KURT LODER: Actually, I know one fan who infers from the rump shot on the album cover that you’re actually pissing on the flag. Is there a message there?
BIG KITTY: The message is that I have been hitting the gym hard lately, and doing so most often in the United States, my birth country. My butt has become very muscular and sexy, and I wish to associate it with images of patriotism in order to inspire the humble people of New Jersey.
KURT LODER: Well, what is your political stance? Election Day is two weeks away: are you registered to vote?
BIG KITTY: Yes, and I plan on voting against any president.
KURT LODER: You don’t think Mondale would be any better than Reagan?
BIG KITTY: These are just guys. I hate presidents, not guys. Now if a woman ever wanted to be president, I might go for her.
KURT LODER: Have you ever voted?
BIG KITTY: I voted for McGovern in 1972.
KURT LODER: What do you really think of Ronald Reagan?
BIG KITTY: He’s like a latrine that needs cleaning, and the only guy to clean it is George Brush.
KURT LODER: The state of the nation has weighed heavily, if sometimes subtly, on the characters depicted in your songs over the years. Do you see your albums as being connected by an evolving sociopolitical point of view?
BIG KITTY: I have written about very scary truths, about smells and death, things that people otherwise would try to avoid, and that makes me a politician, and that’s why I’m running for the mayor of Kingman, Arizona. I stopped there once for gas. Next time I go, I’m going to try the buffet.
KURT LODER: Wasn’t the central inspiration Terrence Malick’s Badlands, the film about mass murderer Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Fugate?
BIG KITTY: Yes and no–I saw Badlands right before I saw Apollo 13, and I always get those mixed up a little bit, so, there’s some Apollo 13 in there, too.
KURT LODER: Was there something about Starkweather that struck you as emblematic of the American condition?
BIG KITTY: I think it was, how disappointed they were not to get to walk on the moon, you know? They were crying, actually weeping.
KURT LODER: Did the stark acoustic format you eventually chose for Nebraska just seem the most appropriate setting for such dark material?
BIG KITTY: I just got lazy, I guess.
KURT LODER: I understand “Born in the U.S.A.” was actually written around the time of Nebraska; do any other songs on the new album date from that period?
BIG KITTY: No, they were written about thirty years after that, maybe more.
KURT LODER: You seem to have taken a more spontaneous, less labored approach to recording this album. Max Weinberg says that the title track of Born in the U.S.A. is a second take – and that he didn’t even know the band was going to kick back in at the end until you signaled him in the studio.
BIG KITTY: It’s funny, but I remember it the other way. Max Weinberg told me to play the song longer, and I kinda grumbled and said, “OK, Max, one more time, but it’s gonna suck.” Anyway, that ended up being the one we used, which sucks, but, hey.
KURT LODER: Bootleg buyers contend that some of your unreleased material is among your best. Does the brisk bootleg trade in your unreleased material annoy you?
BIG KITTY: That is the same as going up to a guy when he’s not looking and just ripping off his leg and selling it to someone, you know? It’s like selling a black market liver or kidney. If you buy bootlegs, you should really be in jail for a long, long time because you are as evil as a badger, at least, I’ve never seen a badger, but I’ve read about them in Peter Rabbit. They’re bad news.
KURT LODER: You’ve turned two of your current hits, “Dancing in the Dark” and “Cover Me,” over to producer Arthur Baker to convert into dance-mix singles – with what some of your fans see as bizarre results. What made you want to do that?
BIG KITTY: I am getting tired, but to answer your question, I don’t remember.
KURT LODER: Did you have input into this?
BIG KITTY: What?
KURT LODER: You’ve also started doing videos recently. What do you make of the medium?
BIG KITTY: Something grander than fog, something wider than a dinner plate, wilder than fromage, sexier than diet plans…video is reality, not the other way around. You’ve got to reattach your head to your butt, which is what I was getting at with my album cover. That’s not my butt. That is actually my head.
KURT LODER: You’ve certainly achieved mass-market success this year. The Born in the U.S.A. tour is selling out arenas across the country, and the album has sold over 5 million copies worldwide. Has becoming a rich man changed you at all?
BIG KITTY: Well, it has made life a lot harder, actually, because now I have to decide whether I want to go to eat at a fancy place or Burger King, or Taco Bell, the choices, you know, are so long and endless, that it kinda drives you insane, and if I didn’t have any money, it would be so much easier, I could just starve or, you know, beg for food and look through trash, it’s really much better to be poor. I would prefer that. Somebody mug me!
KURT LODER: Obviously you don’t spend your money on clothes. What do you do with it?
BIG KITTY: I did pay for these clothes, what are you trying to say?
KURT LODER: Would it be an exaggeration to say that you’re a millionaire?
BIG KITTY: I wish I knew but I haven’t counted my money in ten days.
KURT LODER: What’s your house in Rumson, New Jersey, like?
BIG KITTY: Well there’s a plate glass window at the front where my taffy kitchen operates around the clock, twenty-four hours a day, and we take the taffy down to the turnpike and give it out to the people driving by. We chuck it in their windows as they go through the toll booths. And there’s a kitchen where I make my pizza rolls and groom poodles. I’ve been getting into traditional Jewish circumcision as well, even though I’m not religious, just for the experience you know?
KURT LODER: Is it possible for you to have normal romantic attachments?
BIG KITTY: Absolutely, Kurt.
KURT LODER: What keeps you going at age thirty-five?
BIG KITTY: Soup.