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It could be a rousing success, but the Bruise Cruise will still be absurd. And there’s no one better at plumbing our society’s absurdities than Ian Svenonius, the Nation of Ulysses and Make-Up and Weird War and now Chain & The Gang leader who’s responsible for some of D.C.’s most sharped-tongued modern-day punk rock. He’ll be on hand all weekend as the trip’s “cruise director,” MCing the festivities and leading a lecture on an as-yet-unrevealed topic (all I know is it involves a slide projector). I sat down with Svenonius earlier this week to figure out what the hell we’re doing on the massive boat.
With the caveat that you didn’t actually plan the Bruise Cruise and you’re not responsible for it: Who is the Bruise Cruise for?
That’s a good question. A lot of journalists, I think. Because I don’t think anyone can afford to do that—a lot of people can’t afford to do that. So I think it’s the whole business expense thing. The way the American economy works is business expense accounts and slave labor, whether it be interns or illegal immigrants. I don’t know, we’ll see. I have no idea. Hopefully it’ll be music enthusiasts who like to play shuffleboard.
What will happen at the Bruise Cruise?
Yeah, I don’t know: I am the master of ceremonies but I don’t know precisely what my responsibilities are. But I just try to do a good job whatever it is. If they tell me to break some rocks in the sun, I’ll try to do my best. I think what’s going to happen is there’s going be a lot of rock ‘n’ roll groups. The idea of the cruise might be met with a certain amount of cynicism. But I think like any festival, it’ll have a, you know, giddy sense of event. There’s a lot of people being thrown together in a very unusual situation. Everybody’s going to be emitting some kind of scent. You know what I mean? It’s like a funeral or something.
I would’ve said wedding.
Or a wedding, yeah. A funeral or a wedding.
Why do you think people might be cynical about it?
I don’t know if they’re cynical about it because I don’t really talk to anybody, I haven’t talked to anybody. What I mean is, I think rock & roll people, underground rock & roll people—it’s an iconoclastic set. I think the cynicism would be based on the corporate nature of the boat…In a sense, it’s a little bit vulgar, maybe.
It’s kind of decadent.
It’s decadent. It probably goes against everything most of the attendees of the Bruise Cruise—aesthetically, politically—it probably flies in the face of most of the choices they’ve made through their life, as a way to spend their time and their money. That being said, there’s the novelty of the thing. This is the thing about rock & roll. It’s like an endless, eternal cycle. You have these groups. They make some songs, they record a record, they do the press, they go on tour, and either disintegrate or repeat ad nauseum. So it’s shocking that people haven’t invented a diversion from this. The sameness, the redundancy, the mind-numbing repetition of the rock ‘n’ roll experience has served to demystify all of its threats. Not its threats: It’s served to demystify all of its pretense of being a threat or being kind of subversive or being some kind of ideal or thing to be attained. Anyway, so I think the Bruise Cruise—that’s what’s enticing about it. This is a diversion from the rigamarole. It’s an unusual thing. It’s kind of a bold undertaking. It required a lot of planning.
It’s certainly bizarre. I’m not sure I associate a cruise ship with “threatening.”
Well there’s the threat of it sinking, you know. Or being overtaken by pirates, or the labor force on the ship could mutiny, because I think they’re all horribly exploited. I’m not a cruise ship scholar but maybe there’s some questionable labor…
…I think there are 900 people working on it.
That’s what I mean. There’s a lot of people; most of them are probably disgruntled. Most of them are probably from the Philippines or Malaysia and are living on scraps or bits of bread. And in a sense, maybe the cruise ship is just a microcosm of the United States. That’s what the United States is—it’s like this garish luxury and excess. It would be easy to critique the cruise ship, except that maybe we all live on the cruise ship. We have all this luxury and idiotic diversions that are available to us all the time and it’s all based on slave labor and exploitation. And waste.
One thing that’s interesting to me is that [those of us] who care about indie rock tend to cloister ourselves a little bit, but in this case, four-fifths of the people on the boat won’t have anything to do with the Bruise Cruise.
Yeah, that’s great. I love that. Because nowadays, if you go to New York or Portland, it’s like Logan’s Run or Zardoz, like we’re living in the bubble of Zardoz. So I think it’s great; that’s an important aspect of it.
Will corruption happen on the boat?
I bring this up because I saw an interview with one of the Vivian Girls in which she was talking about the Bruise Cruise, and she said her goal was basically to corrupt pre-teens who weren’t there for the Bruise Cruise.
I don’t know, I think it’s mostly going to be retirees, I would say.
Can rock ‘n’ roll corrupt anymore?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I have a lot of opinions [on that]. Too many.
What’s going to happen at your workshop?
Oh I don’t know. That why I have this slide projector—I’m just planning it today. It’s better if it’s off-the-cuff.
Did they give you any cues or instructions?
No, I have complete freedom. You know, I hope that what I’ve said isn’t too negative. I’m pretty negative most of the time. I’m actually looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be fun. And I think it’s going to be unusual. Maybe rock ‘n’ roll has lost all of its power to scare or threaten or cajole because of its kind of institutionalization. And maybe something like the Bruise Cruise is what’s needed to shake it out of that. Who knows what will happen? I don’t really think that rock ‘n’ roll’s audience is necessarily radical but there’s certainly a radical element within it. So who knows, maybe if there’s some kind of class action—who knows, maybe we can harness that.
Well, like I said. Maybe a Cruise Ship is like the United States. Maybe the revolutionary fervor that’s sweeping the world—think of all the ships that are linked to revolution: The Battleship Potemkin, and the German sailors in World War I who prompted the end of the war with their mutiny. There’s something about sailors: They’re loose canons.
Garage rock doesn’t usually travel by boat.
That’s true. You think of disco and electro-funk and funk music as being obsessed with space travel. Garage rock—they talk, maybe, about cars, but never boats. In gospel music they talk about the train. Psychedelic bands talk about planes. I’d say garage rock is usually very land-based.
The connotation of a cruise performer is different than what we’re getting this time.
Yeah. Maybe this is the first step of indie rock going Vegas.
[With a cruise, usually] you’re either working your way up to Disney or your career is on the slow, sad decline.
Yeah. We’ll see what happens with that. I think that the longer you work as a performer the more you’re drawn to not just the professionalism but the artifice and the kitsch and the perfect grace of, you know, that dinner theater or whatever. Sloppiness is no longer as enthralling. But yeah, maybe you’re right; maybe that’s what these groups are all headed for.
What are you bringing?
Just some clothes and my lecture. I don’t really know. I guess I have to pack.