TWO GUYS FROM LOS ANGELES WHO LOVE COCK AND HAWKWIND FORM BAND
Forgive yourself if you've never heard of Hawkwind, the British rock band formed in 1969 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Brock. It's incredibly difficult to describe just what their sound is — space rock-psych rock-prog rock-glam-proto metal-proto electronic-British krautrock. It's the kind of act that has inspired a fervent cult following, and Sean Carnage and Brett Berg are two such cultists. A few years ago Sean and Brett decided to form Cockwind, a 'gay Hawkwind tribute band' whose shows feature, in homage to Hawkind's live shows, a nearly nude male dancer and live projections of cock-themed imagery. I sat down with Sean and Brett to discuss how their unique tribute band came to be.
Adam: Can I ask you to introduce yourself and say your age and where you’re from originally?
Sean: I’m Sean Carnage and I am 38. And I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania but I consider my hometown to be Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve lived in LA for just under ten years now.
Brett: I’m Brett Berg, 31, and I’m born and raised in Los Angeles
How did you guys meet?
Brett: We met because Sean, for the last five years, has been putting on Monday night rock shows, first at a place called Il Corral and now at a place called Pehrspace, and I met him because I started going to shows there, and then my band, the band I was in at the time, started playing shows there as well.
Are you guys exclusive rock music fanatics?
Sean: No, and my concerts actually are well known for being a mix of everything. It’s more a personal interest. I’m a bass player and he’s a bass player, and he plays bass in Cockwind, so I think we also maybe have a kind of similar ear for music too. Maybe we’re listening to some similar kind of things, kind of progressive things.
Brett: I think we’re just both the same kind of nerd. (laughs)
Tell me about how the band came to be? Why ‘Cockwind’?
Brett: Well Sean had kind of always gone on and on about Hawkwind being one of his favorite bands from the 70’s, and then I, as a progressive rock fan since high school— it was one of bands that I had kind of skipped over, just because things like Rush and Yes were way more colorful, I guess. So I just checked it out and grew to love it instantly. One day Sean said let’s do this, and then it was done.
Sean: I’ve always loved Hawkwind, I just think they’re a tremendous group, they’re so smart but they’re not show-offy…
Brett: They’re broodish
Sean: They’re broodish and boorish and—
Brett: And British!
Sean: (laughs) And British! And they’re into drugs and things, but not cool drugs, they were into marijuana and beer, things that I can really relate to.
Hawkwind went through several different line-up changes right? Do you have a favorite?
Sean: For a certain number of years they had this amazing frontman, Robert Calvert, who was insane basically, clinically insane. He was always leaving the group, but he was just this tremendously literate guy and his lyrics really speak to me. It turns out he had a lot to do with writing music, too. The music for his songs was always really incredible. Not to put down any of the other Hawkwind songwriters, but I really think he was the best, his body of work really stands out. It amazes me to this day that a lot of weird music fans don’t know about him
Brett: Calvert’s kind of the lost glam hero. There’s Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Eno, and Calvert had the chops and the brains and the style, and could have been one of those dudes, but his time didn’t come because he was clinically insane, and too unreliable to be in a unit for more than one period of time. But lyrically, he’s as crazy as any of those dudes. He definitely had a vision for future space rock. All the other people were kind of posers when it came to the cosmic space element in glam; he actually was somewhere in outer space.
There’s nothing really gay about the Hawkwind though, right? Or am I totally not getting it?
Brett: Anybody who’s ever suffered through a classic rock tribute band knows what real suffering is, it can be and most often is horrible. So we knew, if we were going to tribute Hawkwind and Robert Calvert, it couldn’t just be a tribute band it had to be something with a twist. And we’re both queer, you know? Hawkwind was known for having this nude female dancer, you know? So what if we had a male dancer? And showing all this kind of earth mother, like, cosmic film imagery in the back. Well what if we showed, like, cock-worshipping footage, you know? Like James Bidgood derived images—
Sean: Or Jeff Stryker poppin’ up in the background.
Brett: And it’s kind of crazy. All these boys will always come up after the show, and they’re so into it. And I’m never sure— and this is what I like about it— I’m never sure if it’s the music or the imagery, or both. It makes me realize every time we play that a lot of rock is actually secret cock worship. Or not so secret cock worship. (laughs)
Have you heard from Hawkwind fans? Are you getting any weird letters?
Sean: Yeah, the last time we played we got these guys from Sacremento who were like, ‘That’s the greatest thing we’ve ever seen. It’s the best band ever.’ They’re standing right in front with their mouths open through the whole thing.
So do you only do covers? Or do you try and do stuff in their style and write your own material?
Sean: No, exclusively covers. There’s no reason to write anything. One of the things I hope that we do is we’ve not, unlike other classic rock cover bands, we’re not faithful to the music necessarily. We are and we aren’t. We always try and learn the songs.
Sean, you told me before that Hawkwind good sex music, right?
Sean: Yeah! Hawkwind is really good for sex because their songs are really, really long. You can put on a 22 minute Hawkwind song.
Oh, that’s the perfect time for quick sex.
Sean: That’s right. All their music has that Motorik/Neu! kind of sound. They were like the British version of that. That kind of pulsing sound. It’s perfect for sex, and whenever you put it on, boning a guy, it’s going up and then it comes down over a 20 minute period, or a ten or five minute period, these sweeping arcs. Guys always say to me, ‘Oh my god, that was amazing.’ But if it wasn’t presented in a sex context I don’t know if they would ever listen to it, Hawkwind doesn’t have much gay cred.
Brett: I have no similar experience with it, because if I ever tried that with my boyfriend he would just turn it off and try to put on Buffy or Major Lazer or something. It’s funny though, because if you look up any footage of Robert Calvert on Youtube, he’s not exactly the most sexual guy. He seems like a really inwardly drawn British dude. I mean, I don’t know how British dudes are kind of inward. He’s so flamboyant with his stage presence, but it’s not really sexual, just kind of more innocently, retardedly sci-fi.
And that kind of turns you guys on, right? It’s sort of like nerdy hot.
Brett: Well it turns me on intellectually, and that in-turn turns me on I guess. That’s the way I work.
Sean: I would say same way for me. I really like androgynous guys, those are some of my favorite guys in the world, but you kind of expect them to be gender fuck, and blurring things. I think it’s much more impressive when you see guys who are basically the rock-world equivalent of the Cockettes, people like Robert Calvert and some of these Hawkwind guys at various times in their careers. They’re kind of these blokes you know, with the scruffy beards sometimes, wavy hair and kind of burly, but then they’ve got eye-shadow on. You go and see these Hawkwind shows and you will see these biker guys with stars painted on their faces and stuff, and weird makeup. It’s their attempt to be androgynous, or exploratory. I think that’s cool.
Does being in Cockwind get you laid?
Sean: The way I find it to be is, like, rock and roll never gets me laid with gay dudes, but straight dudes will come up to me who maybe have bisexual feelings. That’s always too crazy for me though. I can’t get involved in that. And then with gay dudes, they love the idea that you’re into rock and roll, but just don’t bother them with details. Because if you actually start telling them about records and stuff, you can just watch them zone out. So it’s more like the signifier of, ‘I’m in a rock band,’ that they’re into.
Brett: I’m pretty shy at shows, even though I used to be in a band where I played in my underwear some of the time. (laughs) I don’t know, if you are in a rock and roll band you do have to kind of work it, it isn’t just an automatic thing, you do have to work it to get laid. It’s not like people think. You get the attention, but you have to focus it and hone it.