[Editor's note: Soon-to-be-award-winning gonzo music journalist Danielle Bacher prowls the late late night scene for West Coast Sound. For this installment, she hit the town with controversial musician Ariel Pink, whose latest album, pom pom, was released in November on 4AD Records].
Let me begin with a confession: I have never listened to Ariel Pink’s music and I knew almost nothing about him before today.
He is weird, but you may have met weirder. Everyone who has met him will tell you he is crazy, and they’re right. He’s a talkative, approximately five-foot-six-inch 36-year-old who has shoulder-length blond hair, a cigarette permanently in hand, and is nonchalantly attached to his iPhone.
He’s extremely argumentative and opinionated, even if he often doesn’t make any sense. You probably don’t see him out much in Los Angeles because he likes being alone. He doesn’t own a car. He had too many unpaid parking tickets and it was eventually confiscated.
He hates the beach.
He doesn’t want to be famous. He doesn’t like when people know too much about him. He is aware that people think he’s self-obsessed and self-absorbed. He says he doesn’t care, but you can tell that he does.
The world first heard his tunes when Animal Collective picked his handmade CD-R The Doldrums off their tour van floor and reissued it on their Paw Tracks label in 2004. He blew up social media back in October for claiming he was working on Madonna’s next album, then dissing her body of work, saying she’s been on a “downward slide” since her debut album.
He likes to discuss important social issues (kind of), his family (sometimes) and his rambling musings on everything (always). But here’s the bottom line: He’s engaging, entertaining and means well. I think.
8:21 p.m.: Pink is sitting by himself on Christmas Eve at Mexican restaurant Casita Del Campo on Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake. He is 41 minutes early for our evening together and texts me as soon as he arrives, asking me to come early to get a head start. This is a change from most musicians. I’m usually the one waiting for them.
9: 00 p.m.: Ariel sips his second Corona as I arrive. He’s also just downed a margarita, the salt untouched. He wears a casually unbuttoned plaid shirt over a black T-shirt, with chipped dark pink nail polish on just his thumbs.
He studies the menu and complains that the carne asada tacos are very expensive ($15.75) with a hard shell. He eventually settles on a single beef taco, but doesn’t eat salsa or use the two lemon wedges on the side of his plate.
I ask him if he practices Judaism. After all, we are two Jews in a Mexican restaurant on Christmas Eve.
“I don’t celebrate Christmas,” he retorts.
“Yeah, I know. But do you celebrate Hanukkah?” I ask.
He tells me that he doesn’t unless his family invites him to the holiday and he can make it. He also explains that his mom isn’t Jewish, but she acts like she was born that way.
“It’s more than a race,” he says. “They are the first. Muslims and Christians pray to the Jewish God that was a secret to them. They believe their own bullshit. They have to stick around.
“If you are going to go to heaven, I’m going to heaven,” he tells me. “But I don’t believe in heaven.”
Ariel’s parents divorced when he was two. His father, Dr. Mario Z. Rosenberg, a Beverly Hills gastroenterologist, is alleged to have participated in a $154 million insurance scam at Unity Outpatient Surgery Center in Buena Park. The case involved people being recruited to undergo unnecessary surgeries so doctors could charge the costs to health insurance providers.
According to OC Weekly, Rosenberg pleaded no contest last year to two counts of filing false claims to 16 insurance companies. He entered a plea deal because, according to his attorney, he couldn’t afford to continue fighting the charges in court. It appears that his case is still ongoing; he’s having another hearing on January 30.
His mother, Linda Rosenberg-Kennett, lives in Louisiana. She remarried when Ariel was 18. However, she may be getting a divorce. “I mean, it’s annoying,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Mom, what were you thinking?’ I look at marriage through the eyes of a cynic, obviously. I’m not surprised things didn’t work out.”
Ariel got married in his early 20s, but also is divorced. “It was one of my biggest regrets that I married her,” he says. “I didn’t tell anyone in my family. From day one it was ridiculous. I didn’t even have a ring for her. I basically ruined her fucking life.”
His parents didn’t know he got married until they read about it in an L.A. Weekly cover story.
9:22 p.m.: Ariel was bullied when he was younger. He thanks his bullies now, because it taught him to grow a thick skin.
“I was a harmless little pipsqueak,” he says. “But thank goodness I had to experience that stuff. It made me who I am. I don’t want any injustice brought against the bullies. Bullies just don’t know any better. Anyone who is crying about police brutality or victimization as an adult needs to stop it and realize the privileges we have in this country.”
Ariel feels that he’s more guarded than most men and has a lot of estrogen running through his system. He also acknowledges that he’s crazy. “I’m like a five-year-old,” he says.
He also claims that he’s very open and vulnerable and thus easily taken advantage of. “Yeah, not so good, right?” he says. “People should be more passive with what they consider trustworthy.
“I have lots of friends, but I’m probably a terrible friend to all of them, even my family,” he admits. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself with no friends later on in life. My friends become my enemies.”
9:29 p.m.: As if on cue, Piper Kaplan, 26, and her 19-year-old sister Skylar, the dream-pop duo Puro Instinct, join us at the table. The two have been friends with Pink since for a long time and even toured with him. “I was the only one that didn’t have a nervous breakdown on tour,” Piper says to Ariel.
“There is no such thing as a nervous breakdown at 15,” Pink replies. There is only puberty or something like that. I had a midlife crisis when I was nine, though.”
Piper laughs and swipes a long blond strand away from her eyes. She asks: “Hey, what are you doing? Fuck, can we interrupt? Your hair looks really good.”
As she speaks, her head bobs along with her metallic bow in her hair, and you can see the glitter twinkle on her face. The two girls have painted rosy red cheeks and bright red lipstick to match.
9:33 p.m.: The waiter comes over and Piper orders two skinny margaritas. One being for her underage sister.
“Who is getting the skinny margaritas?” the waiter inquires. Piper points to Ariel and says, “This guy.”
“Who is paying for that?” Ariel asks. The waiter leaves and Piper tells him the drink is for her sister.
“How old are you? Are you even allowed in here?” he asks Skylar. Piper chimes in and says, “It’s ‘Operation Trying to Get Skylar Drunk on the DL.’”
Piper claims to be getting a lot of hot flashes recently. Skylar is shy and has only told me her name so far.
9:36 p.m.: “So what are you guys talking about?” Piper asks us.
“How Ariel hates everyone,” I reply.
“Are you talking about how much you hate me?” she asks, jokingly… sort of.
“No, I only talk about me in interviews. I made the mistake of talking about Madonna one time,” he says.
“You love her, that’s the best part about it. I saw that, though. The backlash was real, dude.”
“Boy, does Madonna love me. And so do all of her queens. Oh my God. They were like, ‘He’s sick. He’s sick. Kill him. Kill him!’”
I agree with Ariel that some of Madonna’s newer work isn’t very good. He tells me that I am going to lose my job. “Don’t agree with me for you own benefit,” he says. “I’m practically a terrorist and Nazi at the same time. Seriously.”
“For what? Having an opinion?” I ask.
“Yeah, for having an opinion that can be discussed in any kind of way intelligently,” he responds. “It’s lame that people can’t defend me. I feel like an old man. I’ve felt old-fashioned and outdated for well over 10 years. That’s confirmed every day with the opinion of the masses.”
“I’ve defended you,” says Piper, proudly.
Ariel looks at her and says: “Yeah, that’s why you aren’t in the magazines at all.”
I ask Ariel if he ever thinks about anything before he says it. He takes a sip of his Corona and avoids the question.
He goes on to explain to me that the media lies and that you can’t believe everything you read. He thinks journalists implant thoughts into people’s minds and that journalists enjoy being trolls, but that it can be a good thing. He thinks journalism is an art and that we should be able to express ourselves. But then, in the same sentence, he says that maybe people shouldn’t express themselves at all.
“I would be a serial killer if I could,” he says. “Shoot me. Just shoot me now.” He also thinks that he’s not misunderstood by his friends, but generally he doesn’t feel understood.
“I’m a total racist, misogynist scumbag,” he says.
“Do you honestly feel that way?” I ask.
“No,” he admits. “I believe in wealth and money. I believe in success. I believe that’s a motivator for people to do better. You can actually pay for things people can’t. That’s the only world that is now. Anything less is just communism.”
He doesn't stop there. “Why have kids? The only people having kids are Muslims. So there will be plenty of people on the planet, but not anyone learning anything good from Western culture. All the intelligent people make themselves extinct.”
9:40 p.m.: The waiter comes over and asks Skylar for her identification card. Piper chimes in, once again, and talks for her sister. “She’s not drinking,” she says. Even though the margarita sits in front of her face.
“Yeah, well, I saw her drinking,” he says.
“I feel like you are coming on a little strong.”
“No, she just didn’t bring her ID with her.”
“I can call the police if you want. You gave alcohol to her.”
“You are going to call the cops? You know, you can get in trouble because you didn’t even card me, which is also illegal.”
“The manager is over there. You can talk to him.”
“I don’t want to talk to anyone, dude.”
“I’ll bring the check over here for you.”
“The check!? Not with that attitude.”
The waiter storms away and Ariel sits completely silent for a moment. “How did he know you were underage?” he finally says to Piper. “Are they recording this right now? Is this conversation being amplified in the back room? I thought he was a minority.”
I tell him I have no idea what that has to do with anything. “I mean if they call the police they won’t take this seriously,” he says.
“I don’t understand why he is even mad,” Piper says.
“Because you didn’t respect his authority,” he says back to her.
10:00 p.m.: Things are tense, and it gets aimed at me for some reason. Ariel asks me if I break the law. I tell him that I have. He tells me that I shouldn’t do that and that I’m a risk to society.
“The law is the law. The law is the law. The law is the law. It makes you do things that you don’t want to do, however small, and you want to actually oppose that,” he says.
I explain to him that I have broken the law before, and I agree there should be laws, but there are some that I don’t agree with. He thinks that no one should ever do this.
“You are sitting here telling me you have never broken the law?” I ask him.
He avoids the question and retorts, “Have you turned yourself into the police? No, you just break the law. I’m just saying if people want to advertise breaking the law…”
“I don’t advertise it.”
“You just did on the tape,” he says, referring to my recorder. “If I would advertise not like submitting to the law and authority, if I would endorse that —“
“I’m not endorsing it.”
“No, but if I were to, just in this interview, that would actually reflect what most people feel and would actually justify breaking the law. That might actually make someone get upset if a cop stopped them in the street. Fuck Ferguson. No, no no, you don’t think it’s a big deal.”
“What? When did I say I didn’t think Ferguson was a big deal?”
“It’s a big deal. Everyone is trying to jump over and knock the fucking po-po down.”
“I’m confused. And what happened with Eric Garner wasn’t right.”
“No, it wasn’t right, but like, are we deciding that outright? But it doesn’t necessarily mean we can break the law in retaliation. What do you want to do, fire the police? What’s the solution?”
“Yes, what that cop [Daniel Pantaleo] did wasn’t right and he should go to jail for killing Eric Garner. He broke the law.”
“OK, that might be true… but it’s not your decision. And yes, cops are corrupt and they have authority because they have guns and they basically protect moneyed interests. But that’s what we need them for, though. Cops know that. What are they supposed to do? They are supposed to intimidate people. People are supposed to respect them. [People] think they can act out and resist when they are just being questioned or scared or whatever.
“What’s wrong with someone stopping you if you look suspicious? You know that they will kill you. If you move, they might kill you. So act nice.”
10:20 p.m.: Ariel asks, “Is this dinner on L.A. Weekly? Who is paying for this? Am I supposed to pay for you?”
“No, you don’t have to pay for me,” I reply.
“OK, I’ll just pay for my drinks. The L.A. Weekly really isn’t paying for this?"
“OK, then we are all by ourselves here. Where is chivalry? When are girls paying for the guys? Why don’t we put it on Spotify’s tab? Spotify can suck my dick. That’s what I want to talk shit on.”
Ariel pays on his card and we give him cash. The women leave but are meeting us over at Hyperion Tavern. Ariel and Puro Instinct both have sets this evening.
10:35 p.m.: We walk outside and Ariel asks me what I am going to write about. I tell him that I don’t know. He tells me that he’s “cuckoo puffs” and that he’s a “little bit aggro” but “means well.” I actually do believe this on some level.
“I’m like the most innocent person you have ever fucking met. I don’t wish ill on anyone. I am really lucky because I do have a sense of confidence and accomplishment and that comes in handy,” he says. “Fuck everyone else. I’m all for the revel. I’m a disaffected teen for life. I’m like a narcissist. I’m fucked up.”
Two seconds later he says, “Maybe I’m not. I don’t know. I’m less harmed if I’m wrong about this stuff. I don’t mind if the world sees me as a pathetic figure.”
10: 40 p.m.: At this point, I feel like I just ran a mind marathon. I’m spent talking to Ariel, and it’s only been an hour and 40 minutes.
However, while outside I take a moment to actually get to know him. He opens up to me in a way that I didn’t think was possible.
I learn that Ariel’s sister is physically and mentally disabled. We connect on this because my brother is, as well.
His sister was in the passenger seat of a car at age 16 on Valentine’s Day. Her date was taking her to a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard and was driving too fast. She survived the accident but suffered severe brain damage. She lives in a nursing home and is taken care of around the clock.
He tells me some other things about his family, deeply personal stuff, but asks that it all be off the record. Then he exhales the smoke from his cigarette and looks down. “I don’t know why I am telling you all of this. Probably because I sounded like a basket case tonight, and I promised myself I wasn’t going to do that. I can’t help it, what goes out there.
“Maybe I talk too much,” he admits.
“You do,” I reply.
11:07 p.m.: We head over to Hyperion Tavern because Ariel is performing this evening. Piper greets me with a big hug (even though we only have been separated for a few minutes). Skylar is drinking outside the bar.
“That woman just took my drink and shoved me,” Skylar says to Piper. I think this is the first full sentence I’ve heard her speak. Karen Centerfold, a legend around Los Angeles who is mainly known for being on public access TV and attending tons of rock shows, storms out of the bar. “You can’t drink outside!” she yells at Piper and Skylar.
11:45 p.m.: Ariel is sitting at the bar by himself. He is talking to the bartender, who hands him a shirt that he puts on. He texts me pictures of his dad, his sisters, his stepmom and his real mom. He also texts me a picture of his sister before the accident. He then sends me a smile emoticon. We don’t actually speak about this. Only through text.
12:30 a.m.: Ariel finally performs on stage and begins with America’s “A Horse with No Name.” He misses a few words and the entire band is off a beat or two. Ariel is reading off a sheet of paper and some drunk girl spills beer all over the drum kit, which is set up on the floor.
Ariel looks pissed on stage and doesn’t remember his own set order. He has papers scattered everywhere on stage with lyrics on them. I’ve never seen him play live, but I seriously hope it’s not like this normally.
1:40 a.m.: Ariel has finished his set and is standing outside smoking a cigarette. He introduces me to his ex-girlfriend, and claims that she doesn’t have a name. She tells me not to take any pills from strangers, especially Bill Cosby.
“Sorry I unloaded on you earlier,” he says to me. “It was just juicy, juicy stuff. Now hurry up and take a picture now. This is so embarrassing!” Ariel allows me to take a few photos and barely smiles.
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2:00 a.m.: Ariel puffs out a plume of smoke and looks for another friend he notices in the distance. For someone who hates people, he sure is surrounded by many who care. Or pretend to.