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luckyPRICK Interview w/Roger Von Golling
By Todd Millenacker
Transcribed by Todd Millenacker
luckyPRICK was recently granted an interview with the very talented Roger Von Golling. In the following interview, Roger speaks about his background, getting involved with Kevin, and his thought process on the various artworks we've all come to know and love. Our sincerest thanks to Roger for taking the time and allowing us into his world, and thanks as well to Todd for handling the interview duties!
Todd Millenacker: In this age of information overload and over sharing, it seems you've managed to keep quite a low profile. Would you mind telling us a few basics about yourself?
Roger Von Golling: I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I... end of interview, right? Anyway, I'll cooperate...
Basic facts you say? Threw out the side stealing as catcher in a high school game, ran the mile in 4:54, mom had a radio show in Fargo (an amateur hour thing - she was on the piano). One of the contestants was Peggy Lee. Mom also had perfect pitch, Dad played boogie-woogie piano with two fingers around the world on an ocean liner at 17, my sister was a psychologist and was also the practice-pianist for the Dayton Symphonic Orchestra, a Mensa member (what a joke those parties must have been!)...
Have had 68 jobs, lived and worked in 7 major US cites, hitch-hiked 10,000 miles, homeless for 4-5 years in my early forties (also in my twenties), have had sexual relations with over 300 girls (mere petting included), lost my virginity to a card-carrying witch in Boston at 24 (yes, that's right, 24!), 7 lasting relationships, mostly god-awful, was stabbed by one, held hands with Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas, had dinner with Joan Crawford...
I went to art school at 30 on scholarship. I’m 5'10 3/4" on a good day but shrinking fast, about 185 lbs, white guy. Born in Cleveland, Ohio 105 years ago. Never bought a car, never shot a gun, avoided the draft (hard of hearing label got me out!), but then tried to join the Navy (better clothes), never bought a house, never bought a dog, voted for Obama...
Favorite author John Updike, favorite artist Alberto Giacometti, favorite musician Kevin McMahon. High blood pressure (but now about 120/79), alcoholic, took up smoking again recently, low in Vitamin D3, oh, I take about 4-5 pills a day, allergies, etc., never had a disease yet (except for Lyme disease for a year, but it’s gone now). I eat well because I've been a cook for 35 years off and on (claim to fame there was I cooked for a year and a half at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago, never fails to amaze me!). I’ve been mostly broke my whole life, lazy, which covers a lot of territory, I could go on... but not much there.
I live alone. Finally have a little studio, but I've been frozen with art the last few years... will pick it up soon.
Todd: Can you tell us a little bit about your earliest experiences with drawing and painting? Did you always have a love/aptitude for the visual medium or was there a turning point?
Roger: The usual finger-painting classes, but then in about 2nd grade I drew a portrait of Lincoln and that the teacher pinned way high on the wall, and I couldn't stop staring at it for days. After that I had a thing about wanting to be a cartoonist… however, they were half-hearted efforts. In Junior High I did all the student council posters. Then nothing. Majored in English at Ohio University and I wanted to be a writer. Yet I remember as a prank I constructed with tangled coat hangers and colored papers, a golf ball suspended on a string in the middle of this thing and smuggled it into the school's art gallery, named it "Unplayable Lie". Pretty proud about that! Lasted for weeks. Then worked on "The World's Largest Doodle" but that conked out. Nothing in my twenties (except a couple of godforsaken paintings as a hobby attempt), but when I worked in publicity in Boston I was always hanging around the art guys in the design studio...
Todd: How and when did you and Kevin cross paths?
Roger: I worked with this guy Bob Jordan in a factory back in the day, and he and Kevin had been on radio with their guitars and would sing songs (originals I presume), I never heard the broadcasts, Tom Lash might know more about it. Bob and I became friends and he brought over to my apartment the "Fans and Cameras" 45. Now lucky Pierre was ablaze in the Cleveland nightclubs, but I had never heard of them since I was muffled in a purely domestic situation with this girl I lived with, we never went out, and she was always playing Rita Coolidge. So needless to say I was knocked out with the 45. Then Bob later said this guy Kevin was throwing a party in an old house a couple blocks from me. All I remember is it was crowded and Kevin in a black silk robe and a metal mixing bowl was stepping over people doling fistfuls of shrimp mixed with cocktail sauce to the raised, trembling paper plates. That's it, and he would disappear upstairs, we were never introduced. Then months later I went out finally with the girl to downtown Cleveland for a showing in this club of the movie of the Kinks "Soap Opera", (my time frame may be way off), and I was on the tail-end of my brief disco-period meaning the only "night-out" clothes I had were horrifying. I'm at the bar, and I hear this guy say, "nice shirt". And I turned around and it was an un-enthused Kevin McMahon. This shirt was a god-awful royal blue rayon job with big yellow butterflies on it. I don't remember anything after that, except since we lived near each other and hung out at the same watering holes, there was a great rapport. When I saw him onstage with that crack band, I was a fan, cemented. I mean I was a fan before we were actual friends.
Todd: Where did the infamous "Prick Puppet" come from? Did it come as a result of listening to the music or was it something you already had that fit together afterwards? I definitely get the vibe that you and Kevin are operating from the same perspective/headspace on a lot of your collaborations.
Roger: Well, I was mulling around and I thought of the Russian ballet dancer who had gone insane, Vaslav Nijinsky, seeming a good place to start because I had read long before that he had gone insane on stage dancing. Now I'm not sure that's exactly true and I didn't look it up, but I always imagined Kevin, so wrapped up in everything, might some day as well, however lucid he forever was. There was a photo I found with Nijinsky in a leather helmet with a Pierrot wavy collar, (I thought I was on the right track with "Pierrot's" name so close to Pierre), (and please correct me if I confuse any of the exact history which is probably common knowledge to a lot of people). I was also aware that Bowie did a "clown" collar thing, but then so did Picasso and countless other artists, and it was just the classic subject matter, especially since I wanted this peak(ish) album to be on the formal side.
Kevin visited me in Boston and at a fake Irish bar (my fault) and I showed him some sketches. He was okay with it but said that it needed further development. I don't know, but it came down to one day that I had to get it done, the final image, let's go, we need it, now. Well, I was renting a little room and that day in Boston seemed like 110 degrees and impossibly humid, and all I had were some colored pencils and some cheap tablets of paper, and I had to do it, I had to be the hippest coolest artist with one drawing... please not only K and the band but the entire music industry worldwide. I came up with what it is. I don't know if the drawing was up to such standards, ha! I didn't know the reaction, but Kevin jacked it up with the puppet theme, something on his mind at the time no doubt, and it was a go.
I think Kevin liked the "soft" drawing concept in combination with this "hard" production. Yes, he had sent me some of the tracks before I drew that thing. And yes, all through the years we rarely discussed visuals because yes we were on the same kind of wavelength, but it was more like he was always my Muse. He also didn't have much money to spend on an artist and I came cheap, ha! I was also avoiding blatant irony, which was going on with everybody, forever it seemed, and you could almost put ANY image with the name Prick. If someone was disappointed with the sexual angle basted over, (poor idiot), it's obvious the picture is an X-ray rendering of inside the vagina - as entered.
Todd: On the subject of Prick - did you design the "The Wreckard" artwork to be an extension of the "Prick" album? They're obviously quite different, but still fit together nicely.
Roger: "The Wreckard", an incredible album I think, wasn't necessarily a direct extension of "Prick", but it's all Kevin's music, and I do what I do, but I will confess he told me to draw the most tragic, depressed image I could.
To answer some of your other questions: (an aside), I always liked the idea of "illustrating" lucky Pierre, as a character, and I thought Kevin was such the protagonist on stage, like the great actors. Plus he gave me complete freedom.
Todd: Speaking of illustrating Lucky Pierre, could you tell us a little bit about how the artwork for "ThinKing" came to be?
Roger: For many days I went to a beach near where I lived and did drawings. There was this one guy with a towel around his shoulders with hands on hips lording over his son and dog playing in the water in front of him. I drew that and added a tilted watch cap.
When Kevin gave me the (brilliant) title of his next record, I thought that particular drawing went well with the title, especially since he didn't appear thin, but could have been beneath the cape/towel. And that he was presiding over just the boy and a dog made me laugh. Too bad it was just a sketch, but what the hell.
Todd: While it was up LuckyPierreMusic.com had posted numerous paintings and drawings of yours... is there anywhere else we can view (or buy) your work?
Roger: No, there's nowhere to buy my art, no website. Kevin was my gallery. I've done stuff for my own, I've drifted to abstractions, but it can't be seen, and for the last several years I haven't done a thing, which I hope to correct.
Todd: When I interviewed Kevin a few years ago he seemed quiet enthused about the "Poortraits of ThinKing" project where you were doing the artwork and he provide the music? We've already seen the excellent "Attitude" and "Fire on the Red Line". Can you tell us anymore about this project? Is it completed or still a work in progress?
Roger: "Poortraits of ThinKing" is "in the can", as Kevin puts it. Pick out the meaning for yourself, like all his lyrics.
Todd: Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us. Is there anything else you'd like to add or discuss about your art? I truly hope to see much more of it!
Roger: Anything else I want to add escapes me at the moment.
You can follow
Roger's new tumblr
for further glimpses into his personal history and artistic process.