When Jesse Malin’s old group, D Generation, finally had run its course in 1999, after nearly a decade of glam-punk greatness, he was faced with the ultimate career dilemma:
“We had a lot of fun,” Malin said recently from his New York City apartment. “It was five guys who grew up together, and I was the singer. But it was time for something new and something a little more personal.”
The journey wasn’t always easy, but Malin eventually found the right path, leading the way to his stunning, Ryan Adams-produced solo debut LP, “The Fine Art of Self Destruction” (released Jan. 28 on Artemis).
“This was the album I wanted to make,” Malin said. “It just took a couple years to find the right way to do it. It took a few demos and a few gigs growing up in public.”
Whereas D Generation carried the punk torch for Iggy Pop, New York Dolls, Ramones and Johnny Thunders, Malin the solo artist has more in common with the sonic rawness of Neil Young and the lyrical sensitivity of Jackson Browne.
Now fans are crowning the Queens native the unofficial spokesman for post-Sept. 11 New York. Through such tracks as “Brooklyn,” “Riding on the Subway,” “Cigarettes and Violets” and “Queen of the Underworld” (the first single), Malin addresses the city’s aching despair and inspiring resilience.
“New York’s a character in this record,” Malin said. “I’m a New Yorker, but hopefully the sentiments and the feelings there are things you can relate to just on a human level anywhere, whether you’re in Zimbabwe or Finland. I’d like to think that New York’s just a backdrop.”
Living just a mile away from the World Trade Center, Malin said the smell of death was all around for a long time after Sept. 11.
“I think that day is definitely in there in the album,” he said, “because it was such a heavy time here. There’s no songs directly about it. Like, I wrote a song about it, called ‘Falling Angels,’ but we didn’t use it on the album. We felt it could come off the wrong way and maybe we should let the Bruce Springsteens and the Bonos of the world deal with that.
“Still, people came together. There was a lot of love. It scared out a lot of people who weren’t true New Yorkers, and that was kind of good in a way. It’s such a horror. The city’s really broke and with the country being so right-wing and the recession, I think it’s helping music.
“When the economy’s so fucked up and you have a really right-wing government, the art gets a little better … but it’s getting harder to eat. There are only so many variations on how to cook rice and beans.”
It’s easy to tell where Malin’s coming from now, but when he was with D Generation, he admits the band was greatly misunderstood.
“We had a cult following,” he said. “We were a punk, rock ‘n’ roll band. We grew up listening to The Clash and the Replacements, the Dolls, Stooges. We’d play and people instead would talk about our hair and compare us to Poison, Cinderella and Mötley Crüe. It was frustrating.
“It was good that we didn’t start off big like the Beatles or Nirvana, so basically I’m a new artist who has the experience of fucking up a few things and getting fucked up by a few labels, so I won’t let the same dogs bite me again.”
Malin also is thankful for the friendships he developed during and after D Generation, particularly the late Joey Ramone.
“That was the thrill of a lifetime, touring with the Ramones,” Malin said. “That’s how Joey and I became friends. He was a real inspiration to me, not only as an artist, but as a human being and a friend. He was a great supporter. He lent me money when I had no money left after my record contract ended.”
Now that producer Phil Spector, recently charged with murdering a 40-year-old woman, is in the news, Malin laughs when asked if Joey Ramone ever told him about Spector reportedly pulling a gun on the Ramones during the recording of the 1980 LP “End of the Century.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s a true story,” Malin said. “Joey and Dee Dee both told me about it. (Spector) locked them in his house and wouldn’t let them leave. He made them watch a movie, put a gun on them and said, ‘You’ve got to play that chord over and over again.’ But, believe it or not, Joey said he always liked him.”
Malin never had such problems with Adams, a longtime friend, when they went into the studio in December 2001.
“Ryan didn’t hold a gun on me,” Malin said, laughing. “He just had a cigarette. He wouldn’t even let me have a drink. He said, ‘You have only one or two takes,’ so we did the record very fast, in like five or six days.”
“Fine Art” was released four months ago in Europe to immediate acclaim. While Artemis readied the album’s U.S. release, Malin toured Europe extensively, “eating bad pub food but meeting good people.”
“The people would come and sing along and nobody threw tomatoes,” he said. “The press over there seems to get it. Now I’m excited about going back on the road; I’m going to Hawaii and doing stuff in L.A. and Australia. And we’re shooting a video for ‘Queen of the Underworld.’
“Things are great. I couldn’t be happier.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF PRESIDENT BUSH?: “It scares me how awful and retarded he is, very war hungry. I don’t know, maybe he’s trying to impress his dad. I’m really frightened of his retardation. I’m embarrassed. When I go over to Europe, I personally apologize for my president.”
A BRUSH WITH FAME: “I used to move furniture for everybody, from The Swans to Barbra Streisand. I moved a couch for her. I worked for this van service and had crazy dreadlocks and a beat-up, old Dodge. I went up to her Central Park West apartment and when she wasn’t looking, we were looking through her drawers for vibrators and stuff. She flipped out and we got thrown out of the building.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “I think it was ‘Crocodile Rock’ by Elton John. I used to jump up and down on the bed to it before I got into KISS and Ramones and Sex Pistols and started throwing things around the room.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “KISS at Madison Square Garden in 1978. I got involved in the talent show and spit ketchup and stuff.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “Probably washing dishes and mopping floors and cleaning toilets in a coffee shop in Queens … or maybe doing telemarketing, selling correction tape … or maybe moving orange juice for Tropicana.”
ORDER “THE FINE ART OF SELF DESTRUCTION”: Click here.
ON THE WEB: www.jessemalin.com.
BWF (before we forget): Upcoming Jesse Malin tour dates – March 4, Hoboken, N.J., Maxwells; March 12, Glasgow, Scotland, Garage; March 13, Dublin, Ireland, Village; March 14, Manchester, England, Manchester University; March 15, London, ULU; March 17, Paris, La Boulle Noire; March 18, Amsterdam, Melkweg; March 19, Brussels, AB; March 20, Cologne, Gebaude 9; March 22, Zurich, El Lokal; March 23, Munich, Orange House; March 24, Hamburg, Schlacthof; March 25, Berlin, Knaack Club; March 27, Copenhagen, Loppen; March 28, Gothenberg, Sweden, Playground; March 29, Stockholm, Fritz Corner; March 30, Oslo, So What; March 31, Stavangar, Norway, Checkpoint Charlie.