Sampling Memory

A repost of an old Rob Zombie interview I wrote back in 1999.


Over the years, some content has accidentally disappeared from this site, during migration from one publishing platform to another, and on occasion I have the time and opportunity to reintroduce it.

An email out of the blue last night reminded me of this interview (“That Creeping Feeling”) I did with Rob Zombie back in 1999, when he was still with White Zombie. I’m really proud of this piece. It appeared in Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine, where I was an editor from 1989 to 1996, and continued to write freelance almost monthly until it closed down after Tower filed for bankruptcy (a story that is now the subject of the Colin Hanks documentary All Things Must Pass). Zombie is a super smart guy, not just idea-smart, but emotionally so — he connects his own experience, especially childhood memories, to his music. His work in film I’m less familiar with — this piece covers in part his first forays into shooting videos (both as a young teen, and as a professional rock musician), which helped lay the groundwork for his later horror-film career.

In our current world that the geeks have inherited, I’m surprised he’s not more of a prominent figure. Here’s a short segment of the larger interview in which he talks about copyrights and corporate control of the very memories they instill in us:

He taps on a set of round tin film canisters sitting on an end table: “In this old Super 8 footage I have from the ’60s that I wanted to use in the video, there’s actually a scene of me and my brother when we were little kids going to meet Ronald McDonald. And it’s really creepy the way it’s filmed, the old footage. I wanted to use it because it’s very scary. But guess what? I can’t. I can’t use Ronald, even thought it’s, you know, my memory.” Ronald McDonald, little Rob’s first clown.

Rob Zombie’s brain — like those of his bandmates, peers and fans, all of us — is stuffed with data he is not allowed to access; he’s learned the same lesson as Rushdie and every rap group since De La Soul was sued by the Turtles. The cultural ramifications bring to mind William Gibson’s currently vogue short story, “Johnny Mnemonic,” about a data courier who transports information in a special chip in his brain, to which he has no access. Rob’s living room, like his memory — like White Zombie’s music — is crowded with cultural objects, treasured pop artifacts that, in his words, “spring the memory.”

“I love playing Tempest,” Rob says of one such childhood relic, a video game in this case. “But I won’t play Mortal Kombat. That’s some other kid’s childhood memory, not mine. I mean, some kid is gonna hear that fighting noise when he’s 30 and get all sentimental: ”˜Destroy him! Ha ha ha ha.’ Good old days. Like with Star Trek. When I was a kid, it was on three times a day. I remember kids would come over and be like, ”˜Ya wanna come out and kick some ball?’ And I was like, ”˜No, man, I got two more hours of Star Trek left.’ But today’s show is about as exciting to me as watching General Hospital.”

Read the full piece, “That Creeping Feeling.”

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