There are few musicians like Jesse R. Berlin. The enigmatic and mysterious performer has worn many musical masks, from Christian pop to electronica, before settling into his new and true guise as a comic synth mastermind. A self-described genius, the tortured artist has spent many a sleepless night mulling over his craft. He plays this Saturday, August 22, at the Funzone’s one-year anniversary show with Honey Maid, Cave Babies, and Internet. We spoke in an email interview about boats, Waffle House, and a hypothetical horse carriage ride.
Your new song is called “Wash Your Boat!” Do you have a boat? If not, what kind and what would you put on it? Where would you go with it? I used to own a yacht that I named Walter Becker (of Steely Dan fame), mostly just because I thought it would be funny to tell my friend Walter Becker (of Steely Dan fame) that I owned him. But these are leaner times, alas. Still, if I had Walter (the boat, not the man) back in my possession, I’d bring a month’s supply of Planter’s Punch and smoked gouda, a few Xaviera Hollander books, and a nice big bottle of Zzzquil, and just, you know, exist.
Any particularly colorful Jesse R. Berlin tales of the sea generally? What’s your favorite sea creature? I did spend one emotionally exhausting and sexually eye-opening year in Sea Org, but unfortunately I am legally barred from discussing it. As for your second question - I’m pretty into the two octopi pictured in Hokusai’s “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.”
Have you had any visions during your insomnia? What did you see? Just the unbearable pain of my own psyche.
You continue to work with your ex-wife, Misty. How are things between you? What is it like continuing to collaborate with her? It is mostly tolerable, so long as nobody gives her any peyote or asks her about her Goddess Circle.
What are some of the worst songs you’ve heard lately? Are you familiar with this fellow, The Weeknd? He is truly a hideous piece of human garbage with a butt hole where his mouth ought to be. His songs give hedonism a bad name, and that breaks my heart. I also recently heard “Closer to the Heart” by Rush playing over the PA at the supermarket, and that was every bit as terrible as I remembered. My god, Rush are just the worst.
What will your auto-biography one day be called? On that note, who will play you in the movie? You All Really Blew It. And I’ll play myself, thank you very much.
What’s your preferred order at Waffle House? Two egg and cheese biscuits, hash browns smothered and covered, grits, and coffee. Or, as it is known at Waffle Houses across America, “The Jesse R.Berlin.”
Have you been to a strip club? What did you think? Love it? Hate it? Any memorable experiences? On that note, you are invited to a private event to watch any historical or pop cultural figure of your choosing strip in front of you - whom do you pick? Burlesque dancing is fine if that is your preference. Well yeah, sure, of course. I’ve lived a fairly full life. But you know, the things that actually get me going are surely unprintable in your family newspaper. So I’ll just say that the answer to your last question there is ME.
You’ve been hired on as a New York City horse carriage driver and have free license to take your passengers anywhere. Where do you take them? What is the horse’s name? Just to be clear, such work is beneath me, as I am a serious and respectable artist. But since this is a fantasy scenario - I take them first to the Museum of Natural History, where I’ll remind them of the insignificance of their lives within the vastness of the universe. Then to Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, where they’re encouraged to buy me several rounds. Finally, I rob them at gunpoint. The horse’s name, if you hadn’t already guessed, is Walter Becker (of Steely Dan fame).
Is it painful to be a genius? Oh my god, yes. You have no idea. Every day is hell.