THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
19th July, 2007 0
I first met Johnny Coldheart under unfortunate circumstances in the summer of 1988. I was playing a gig in Bay City with the long defunct "Aftershock" when he reared his ugly head. There were summer events all over the place, and the gig was extremely slow that night. There wasn't much to do but drink a bunch of beer and bicker like kids in the backseat on the way to grandmas.
On that night of my first acquaintance with Mr. Coldheart, it also must be unabashedly noted that I, in fact, was the direct object of his disdain. I will also be Woman enough to admit that I had it coming. And very much despite the fact that I am not one to cringe from a conflict or criticism, especially when I deserve it, I can tell you firsthand that getting on Coldheart's bad side can beŠwellŠuncomfortable.
Nae'r do well, unkempt, and unconcerned with the feelings of others, Johnny would answer all questions abruptly, succinctly, and without any great spirit of endearment. He spoke in the third person, like Bob Dole.
"Johnny Coldheart doesn't care," he said to me, when I apologized for doing something really stupid. "Johnny Coldheart doesn't want to hear it".
He wasn't pejorative in the classic sense. Johnny was just a guy who suddenly came about one day through a weird process of reverse osmosis within the body and mind of my drummer, and close friend, Steve Miller.
Steve, in diametric opposition to the Coldheart persona, was a warm, witty, intelligent and well-spoken guy with a hint of an adventurous side. He was a lot of fun, and he was almost always smiling. But the transformation that took place when Johnny Coldheart took over for Steve was nearly bellicose.
Johnny does battle. Johnny sees injustice, and Johnny puts up his dukes. Johnny charges windmills with great passion, while simultaneously expressing his general disdain and greater sense of apathy for all of humankind. Johnny is a walking contradiction, and he could care less.
He's Johnny Coldheart, dammit.
All of this would have been fine and far less weird than it got, had Johnny Coldheart not picked up a guitar.
With punk rock hits such as "Blew Chunks" "Get Your Sh*t Out of my A**", and other such 'warm and fuzzies', Johnny became rather comfortable as his own entityŠ and quickly developed a following.
Yes. I know what you're thinking. I realize how weird it all sounds. Like the heroine in The Three Faces of Eve, I don't believe that Steve Miller has any control over when Johnny decides to step in. And though the transformation seems physical as well as mental, it can take a minute to comprehend that it's actually happening, right before your eyes.
Or is it?
The question has plagued Johnny Coldheart fans for years. Johnny Coldheart, master of irony and all that is brooding, presents strangely when he gets comfortable enough to really be himself. He wears long red under-alls and a fur hat. He plays his guitar wearing deerskin mittens (Well, most of the time). He is a punk rocker with a Michigan Twang, if you can dig it. Though he lives and breathes in Seattle, Washington, he is a Saginaw native who makes frequent trips home and still keeps tabs on the old gang.
Is he really an alternate personality, or is he a put on?
Or, as his fans frequently write: "Is this guy for real???"
Johnny gets riled at the question, responding, "Johnny is not a fake! Is wresting FAKE? Huh? ŠDidn't think so."
To Steve Miller, the alter ego of Johnny Coldheart is an enigma.
Steve is an accomplished drummer, guitarist, and performer. He has been in numerous bands and has been consistently good in all of them. So put yourself in his shoes. What would it be like to become overshadowed by a long johned, fur topped, freak of nature like Johnny Coldheart? Even worse, what if that particular overbearing personality happened to be a part of you??
Confusing as it may be, Miller has come to terms with Coldheart's pervasiveness; perhaps he's even embraced it. So which is weirder? Being possessed by a guy in red long johns, or accepting the fact that he's there and moving on?
Johnny Coldheart began performing when most local rockers were still wearing spandex and makeup. "A lot of people really liked the music even though it was on the cheap, wasn't really all that good, and it may even have been a little obnoxious" Miller says. "But Johnny just did his thing. He didn't care who came to the shows. He didn't care if he sucked."
"Johnny emerged as a defense mechanism. Instead of Steve getting really angry or reacting badlyŠJohnny could be the bad guy."
One would think that having an alternate personality would lead to trouble. Miller says it's just the opposite. "Johnny doesn't get me in trouble." He says. "I would say that Johnny would always actually kind of protect me. Johnny had no reservations...he would say the things Steve was afraid to."
It all sounds rather spooky, to hear Steve describing himself as a separate entity. It's the nonchalance on Miller's end that's puzzling.
"Since Johnny Coldheart takes care of all the negative energy," he says, "I'm able to concentrate on nice things, like the great out doors, fly fishing, and being a daddy. If everyone had their own JC, there would be far fewer love songs Šand therefore a lot better music out there. Beautiful music stations would cease to exist. Elevator rides would be more tolerable. Life would be better."
Is Johnny mentally disturbed? Miller laughs at length. I'm starting to get uncomfortable with the reaction. I'm wondering if maybe I had asked the question backwards.
Finally, Steve deadpans his approach and says, pointedly: "Johnny has no sense of propriety".
It is perhaps well and good that in my talking to Johnny, nearly 20 years to the day since he first appeared to me, that we should connect via Instant Message. I ask him if he is on any particular bent today, and he notes that his neighbors keep a number of rabbits on the property line. "Just got a strong whiff of rabbit crap" he says. "SoŠ yeah. I'm good. Johnny Coldheart is good to go."
Since his debut cut "Blew Chunks" fluently described the metaphysical transformation of milk to cottage cheese, Coldheart has gotten riled up over a more than a few things that we can all relate to. Redneck neighbors with half a dozen bloodhounds were the inspiration for "Get your Sh*t Out of My A**" (When the edited version of song was released on Review This Radio Dot Com, it got innumerable requests for replay so that listeners could "count the beeps"). A tailgating road-rager in Seattle felt Johnny's latest expression of disdain with "Ramrod".
It's hard to imagine that such passionately written odes to anger could be topped, or that Coldheart could ever articulate his irritation with stupidity any more succinctly. However, in "Requiem for a River" Johnny has written what, in his world, is a poignant piece revolving around his love for the Tittabawassee.
Sort of a kinder, gentler Coldheart, if you will. But not to be over wussified, Requiem still manages to relay a stern and direct take on what Johnny Coldheart believes Dow Chemical has done with Dioxin.
More surprising than the reciprocal, somewhat parasitic relationship between Coldheart and Miller is the fact that, off stage, Johnny Coldheart is a rather adroit communicator.
I mean, who knew?
"My favorite way to relax is fishing," he says, his previous irritation over the wafting stench of rabbit-doo but a memory. "It's a peaceful way to kick back and enjoy the environment. As a kid Steve would fish every chance he could, often at the State Street bridge."
"So when the whole Dioxin story broke, I realized that Steve had been secretly exposed. Here's a kid, out enjoying the river, and breathing toxic dust unknowingly! It made Johnny Coldheart fiercely angry! Johnny Coldheart started researching, and discovered that The Lone Tree Council were the only ones who were concerned enough to take action and demand accountability! Living in Seattle, the only way Johnny Coldheart could help was by raising money for Lone Tree. We've sold hundreds of copies of "Requiem For A River" and all proceeds will be donated to Lone Tree Council."
Since 'fighting injustice' is sort of Coldheart's gig, he struggles to view the thing fairly. "There are always two sides to every story." He says. "I accept that."
To him, the levels of contamination are a non-issue. "What I don't accept is that there was toxic waste dumped, and people were exposed unknowingly. Nobody ever had a right to do that, regardless of any study or findings. That the "offenders" are trying so hard not to own up to their responsibilitiesŠwell that has to be accounted for."
In addition to selling CD's on MySpace, Johnny Coldheart is planning a return visit to Saginaw to raise money for The Lone Tree Council. Billed as "The Return of The Red Meany", Johnny promises a cool performance replete with enough original songs to ensure offending at least one ninny in every group.
The appearance is set for August 17 at Rumors on State Street in Saginaw. Billed "This will be the first Tri-City stage appearance for Johnny Coldheart in many years. Produced by Steve Tenney of Tag Team Productions, The Johnny Coldheart band will feature Mark Krawczak (bass), Jeff Coty (drums), John Pressler (guitar), and will alternate stage time with The Raging Hindus, 40 Flee, Hardware, and Child's Play.
As Johnny Coldheart's unaccountable level of success continues to baffle the majority of the thinking world, Steve Miller seems to have accepted his alter ego's notoriety with something akin to that of a proud parent. "I'm proud of Johnny" he says. "I'm glad for him. He is really a nice guy, deep down inside, and not a lot of people know that. He just doesn't like getting pushed around, and there is always someone around to trigger him off."
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)