Amplifying Dissent with Mainstreet Blake
We talked to Mainstreet Blake about busking, VHS and how society hates fun.
This interview is part of a series discussing mandates, restrictions and censorship with musicians and music fans—read more of these interviews here.
Mainstreet Blake is the project of Waterloo, Iowa based writer, vocalist and guitar player Blake Badker. He's busking, drinking, rocking and making excellent garage rock albums.
Music For All: What has your experience been playing live over the past couple years?
Main Street Blake: Outside of a few gigs or open mic nights, all I do is busk 6 primary cities - Madison, Minneapolis, Cedar Falls, Iowa City, Des Moines, and Chicago.
I hit Mardi Gras the past 2 years. There's a list somewhere of everywhere I've played, but you name it, I've played there.
I guess you guys are wondering what it's like busking vs. playing gigs — I think it's a great place to get new people into your music one by one. Sometimes people stop and talk to you about your music and you tell 'em where to find it, and that's what I live for.
You see a lot of crazy shit though down on the streets — I like to incorporate any and all bums into the performance like they're samples. I like to match the melodies of the emergency vehicles with my electric guitar. I like to get drunk. I'd rather be playing arenas...
You guys remember Andrew Wood? If there were 3 people in the venue he'd still go on like it was an arena show. Them kids gotta bring that back...
What do you think is the best way for artists to perform live in the face of so many arbitrary restrictions and societal pressures?
We are in a dark time for live music, and it is especially dark for those who knew different times like when Cedar Falls had The Reverb in the 2000's. That was a golden age for music — it was easy to get a show, plus people were touring more then, and you met a lot of random acts. It was fun.
I don't know why society hates fun all of a sudden, I guess it makes sense to try to kill bands and make them spend their money some other way, doesn't it? I've always felt that that is bullshit though, the people who stick it out should be rewarded and honored as cultural artifacts if anything.
Us musical eccentrics who stick it out because we're nuts should be reminders of how free and prosperous we are as a society if anything.
I don't think we are a threat to the overall social fabric, and I think we will make a comeback... or die trying!!!
I saw you performed at the John Deere strike. What was that like?
Those guys were happy to have me, and that whole strike was good for the community if anything on the social media outlets you got to actually see WHO WORKS AT DEERE'S, and that was a good community boost.
I delivered pizzas to the union hall the weekend before the strike started, and you could tell they were up to something, like the scenes in STAR WARS where they plan to attack the death star... it was cool.
It felt a little "Springsteen sanctimonious" barking out there, but people were honking their horns and I thought, "When else do I get a chance to do something like this??" Just get out there.
Some people were happy with what they got (in terms of wages) some weren't. I was just happy to give 'em a charge...
What do you think about smoking bans in clubs and bars? Sometimes I wonder if it was the beginning of the end for anti-establishment art...
Just go smoke outside. I don't smoke, I take edible weed. I used to bitch at my parents to roll down the windows when they smoked when I was a little shit. I think the authoritarianism has bottomed out though in terms of establishment/anti-establishment.
People are always ready for a new exaggerated bohemia period with the rockers leading the charge. It will take two seconds.
Your music video for "Sorta VHS" is super cool — did you make it yourself?
Yes, I made it myself, and thank you. I'm a firm believer there is a ghost in the machine. During the 2010's when people would throw out old 4:3 TVs I would collect as many as I could, and I am preserving them as historical artifacts, you bet...
I had an argument with a friend about making interesting film, and he was like, "I wanna be Kubrick," and I was like, "I wanna be Sid Vicious..."
I like pushing the boundaries of YouTube to see what i can get away with. It's fun. "Sorta VHS" came during an LA trip I took on the greyhounds, and I get out of the station at East 7th street and start walking toward the skyscrapers making my way to Venice Beach, right? and there's this sticker on a stop sign that says, "SORTA VHS!!!" all sarcastic and shit, so that's kinda what that song's about —
that whole "Can I VHS you?" thing Julian Casablancas was doing with his Voidz band at the time, and we had a band name, "dwellers of the twilight void" several years before that solo project.
Everything is Terrible!, Red Letter Media and a lot of other people had been playing up VHS-nostalgia and I could tell this guy was trying to shoot it down, so I wrote a song about his band name. These things happen in art.
The imagery in that song is a post-apocalyptic mysticism I live week-in/week-out with my stock footage, music, and subsequent YouTube videos. I'm a firm believer in prognostication and I loved how Alejandro Jodorowsky incorporated it into his art-house cinema.
So caveat emptor — if you view my work you are taking a voyage to the center of the mind, and you may not come back. Nice talking to you Camelia, thanks for dropping by...
Thank you for reading!
Here's more from Mainstreet Blake: