It's not often a brother gets to talk to the leader of the "Greatest Band in the History of Recorded Music," but I recently had the pleasure of talking to such a human being, the great Jim Infantino of Jim's Big Ego. You might not know them, I mean they're just another local fucking Boston band, but they are oodles of righteous and everyone in every city should listen to them. My love of JBE came from the aftermath of a slightly awful relationship. Infantino's remarkable lyrics and (un)pop sensibilities have changed the way I look at things and given me insight time and time again. (He is also responsible for "Vandals," one of the best pieces of writing I've come across. Check it at the bottom after this interview.)
This is a big one for me and I hope you dig it too. A big thanks to Jim for not only taking some time to answer my silly questions but for all his rhythmic musings that continuously sooth my soul.
1. If you had to choose between sight and sound, which would you keep and why?
<Long, thoughtful pause> I think I would keep sight, interestingly. Because I've always been fascinated by sign language.
Really? What got you interested in sign language?
Well, as a mode of communication it's unique and I'm very interested in teaching myself new language-type skills. I'm actually terrible with language but I enjoy the way it challenges my mind to learn new methodologies in terms of communication and thinking.
2. The world is about to face inevitable doom and you can only save one piece of culture or art. You can grab anything from anywhere, but only one thing. What are you taking?
I think I would take the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It's the largest tome I can think of that has a comprehensive...no, wait. I can change that answer. I would take a book called the Abhidharma, which I believe is a larger tome of the composite of Buddhist teachings. It is very a old and detailed collection of writings about the nature of the mind.
3. What's the first album you bought and how old were you?
You mean album like complete album?
Yeah, the first time you went out and got to buy an album for yourself.
Lots of people remember this and I don't. I think it may have been Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but I had an uncle who was always buying us records so I didn't have to buy records very often. I did buy some singles and that first one was also a Beatles' single, Love Me Do. I wish I still had that single, but I don't.
Do you remember the first album your uncle bought you?
Yeah, that I was aware of...I think it was either Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens or the Essential John Fahey. He also bought us a Leadbelly album, that he got for my dad. I don't really remember which came first.
Man, Leadbelly. That's some heavy shit to hear as a kid.
It's great. And actually, that Essential John Fahey had a huge influence on me. I loved his approach to the guitar. He's not that well-known. He was remarkable, I think he's passed away.
I'm not familiar. Thank you, I always need old stuff to dig up.
4. So, immortality. Do you have any thoughts about it? Do you think you'd like it?
I think there are lots of different versions of it. The science-fictions versions of it are, you're stuck at 35 years old forever. The downside of that is that everyone you form an attachment to dies around you. So that I think, being unstuck from the nature of the universe, which is impermanence, would create an impossible psychological problem. Another idea is that you just keep getting older and maybe your body transforms into something that can continue getting older - you just become a blob of goo or something. With that of course you are NOT unstuck from impermanence and yet that's also not that appealing. Again you would not be able to form attachments and you'd be constantly changing. The last form of immortality is one that I'm trying to be more familiar with which is what you experience when you practice mindfulness and abandon the attachment to the future and past and stay present. I think that's the one that's the most appealing. It's also attainable. That's the kind of immortality I think I'd like the best.
Yeah, that's definitely the correct choice out of those three. It's a hard thing to learn though, trying to be in the moment.
5. Is there a movie you can you point to that's helped more than others to shape the way you look at the world?
The movie that comes to mind first is Blade Runner, the Harrison Ford movie from the 80s. It was really the first film - well, it's much more common now but then it was unique - but you have a film where everything about every character is drawn into question. What I loved about that movie is that the bad guy was named Roy Batty. It couldn't be clearer, this is the bad guy, but yet he becomes the hero of the film in a strange way when you realize that he may be the most consistent and human character. What's great about him is he's already not human, he's a Replicant, so he doesn't haven't be dehumanized the way you sort of dehumanize bad guys in movies. Usually you have a good guy who feels bad because he has to kill the bad guy and the bad guy is systematically dehumanized throughout the film so that when he dies it's not a human death, it's a victory. In Blade Runner the bad guy is not human and he becomes more human throughout the movie and the people who were chasing him down , including Harrison Ford, become less human. It's a tremendous flip. What it taught me most was that the sort of oversimplification of the dramatic dichotomies that occur in these hero-films, in the ways in which we think of ourselves as heroes, are questionable at best and should always be greeted with a lot of suspicion.
Apparently I need to go back and watch Blade Runner again. Thanks for the reminder on that one. It's been at least a decade. So, those are my five questions. I get the last answerer to leave a question for the next person and this question comes from a rad dude named Josh, the youngest concert promoter I've ever met, and he wants to know:
6. Who inspired you most to do what you do today?
Dave Van Ronk. When I was 13, 14 years old I went down to the Speakeasy to play the open mics and Dave Van Ronk was running the open mics there. I had no idea who he was but I got to know him over a period of time. Of course musically, he was just amazing, He was what was really authentic about the folk music scene of the 60s that I wasn't really around to see but that I really mythologized, along I think with everybody else. Dave inspired me to be true to myself no matter the consequences.
Check bigego.com for Jim's Big Ego related things, including concert window dates! You can watch JBE live in your own home sometimes!
Now, normally I don't let people explain their own plugs. But Infantino and his friend/band manager have come up with a really stunning time-wasting site that might get you fired for being unproductive at work and I'm going to let Jim tell you about it!
"My day job, to support my music habit, was design and computer programming, which is another language that has taught me a lot. Jason, the manager of Jim's Big Ego and I have come up with a complete waste of time called Pop Joust. In some ways it seems like an extension of JBE in that it has some kind of the same random levity with the potential for depth." - Jim. There's a link in the quote, but here's another one, POP JOUST! Click it!