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Ariel Pink Is the King of Whatever 

Raised in Beverly Hills, he became the preeminent Eastside satirical musical madman

Thursday, Aug 16 2012
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See also: Outtakes from our interview, "Ariel Pink on His Name, and Why He Hasn't Left L.A."

Ariel Pink is a rock & roller from Beverly Hills. But Beverly Hills doesn't normally mint rock stars. It hatches doctors, lawyers, real estate hoarders, Cher Horo-witz, Rodeo Drive raptors carnivorously bound to "the industry" (aka show business) and the Menendez brothers. Also: Angelina Jolie, Jack Abramoff, waxen real housewives. Perhaps its most famous musical alum, Lenny Kravitz seems like an actor starring in a rock biopic.

"Who lives in Beverly Hills? Iranians, rappers and small-time crooks. Nouveau riche. It's not meant to last two generations before the grandkids squander it all. Systematic suicide," Ariel Pink says with a smirk. The man who was Bar Mitzvah'd Ariel Rosenberg is eating at Folliero's restaurant in Highland Park, walking distance from the art-school-dorm squalor of his apartment, which is 15 miles and several zeroes removed from Beverly Drive.

It's scarcely noon on a Saturday, but the 34-year-old with marble blue eyes and shoulder-length fuchsia hair chases his pepperoni pizza with whiskey and Pacifico. Somehow, the man whose locks are flamboyant enough for his stage name is rapidly gaining ground on Mr. It Ain't Over Till It's Over.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY PIPER FERGUSON - Ariel Pink, right, with Haunted Graffiti
  • PHOTO BY PIPER FERGUSON
  • Ariel Pink, right, with Haunted Graffiti

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Over the last eight years, Pink has been credited with resuscitating lo-fi bedroom recording and inventing chillwave — a micro-genre where blog darlings recast an alternate 1985 with neon synths, melted tape and unremembered nostalgia. Pink is royalty for the weird; perhaps Kurt Cobain if he'd never become more famous than The Pixies.

"The irony is that I see myself as completely normal. The weirdest thing about me is the music," Pink says and pauses, twirling his hair, lips curling. "But maybe I'm not giving myself credit. I'm probably weird."

His new album, Mature Themes, out Aug. 21 on celebrated British indie 4AD, is Pink's coronation as a rock star for those who don't believe in rock stars. It may the most anticipated and best L.A. other-ground album this year. Recorded shortly after the dissolution of his eight-year relationship with musician Geneva Jacuzzi, the record is as romantic and catchy as a Cure record and as hilariously absurd as Frank Zappa's We're Only in It for the Money. It's a karaoke-ready opera of nautical-themed '60s spy shanties, schnitzel boogies and tales of nymphomaniac, Beverly Hills–bred rocking.

Thanks to a bigger budget and a vastly improved band — Haunted Graffiti, who first joined Pink for his last album — Mature Themes is more polished than one would have expected from Pink's raw 8-track tapes, which bled like a tortured voice wailing out of some Sunset Strip Sinai a decade ago. Now, Pink stage-manages a saturnalia of 12-string guitars, psychedelic pop and organs that might as well be offering acid.

It's impossible to know when irony starts and stops, but the music retains an exquisite sadness. He suffers for his sins and those of his hometown. As he once titled a song about the shuttered West Hollywood nightclub Golgotha: Every night he dies at Miyagi's.

"I just want to be Buster Poindexter," Pink says, wryly smiling, as we leave the restaurant and slouch down York Boulevard. The reference alludes to the alter ego of former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen on "Hot Hot Hot," a novelty record cut by the progenitor of punk rock. "I feel like I'm devolving. I used to take myself so seriously; now I don't at all."

Pink's a serious student of music but unable to dismiss the bleak absurdity of life. In person, he's ordinarily, endearingly eccentric, all mordant bon mots and philosophical tangents: Jim Morrison as written and played by Woody Allen. And like the Lizard King, he is the subject of speculation shrouded in drugs, sex and madness. His reputation as indie rock's enfant terrible was burnished by a 2011 Coachella performance where he spent the first 15 minutes smoking cigarettes with his back to the crowd, before strutting offstage (he eventually returned and performed).

Those seeking the nexus of styles next and wrongfully abandoned understand that this is the price of admission. They've worshipped Ariel Pink since Animal Collective's Paw Tracks imprint reissued his album The Doldrums in 2004. Recorded around the turn of the century, it sounded like an AM radio graveyard: a quicksand of spectral laments and '60s pop spooked by the reflection of fat, baby boomer faces. Innumerable releases and reissues followed, as Pink exhumed his backlog recorded between 1999 and 2003. Had he never recorded another note, Pink could have dissolved with a secure legacy, a mercurial genius in the (off) key of Syd Barrett.

"Its honesty and depth of emotion made it brilliant," says Stones Throw modern funk messiah Dam-Funk, a frequent Pink collaborator. "He wasn't a stifled artist, unafraid to suppress his weirdness or worried about fitting in."

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