Neil Hamburger: The Cream Interview



As in the case of our interview with Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham, here's yet another supplement to this week's Scene cover story on the Bruise Cruise. It's a complete transcript of the drunken interview Cream Cap'n D. Patrick Rodgers and I conducted with leading indie-rock insult comic Neil Hamburger in a vacant dining room on a goddamn boat.

In case it's not immediately obvious, Hamburger — a comedic alter ego constructed by the quite-friendly-in-person Gregg Turkington — conducts interviews in character, though he does tend to answer questions in the first-person plural. Anyway, below you can read Hamburger's riffs and reflections on the Bruise Cruise, the bland food on board, Bow Wow Wow, alcoholism, Axl Rose, his own contributions to country music with the help of Nashville's Dave Gleason, the death of Whitney Houston and how it should have been Britney Spears and more.

Nashville Cream: OK, first off, you're a bit of a food critic. What did you think of the food on the cruise?

Neil Hamburger: Well, I mean there were two or three ingredients: salt, Sweet'N Low and food coloring. To make the drinks they would add water to those, and to make the food they would add either a cheap spackle left over from some of the interior design or, in some cases, flour, white flour, or sometimes just powder. I guess people do go on these cruises to eat, but I'm here to entertain and hopefully help people forget about the problems they have, such as indigestion, food poisoning or disappointment with having such a bland food experience. But of course bland is better than food poisoning, and I'm afraid that — I recently read last week that one of these ships had two-hundred-and-something cases of food poisoning, and that's always a fear.

NC: So is this your first cruise experience as an entertainer?

NH: This the first one, yeah.

NC: What did you think of the Bruise Crusie?

NH: Well, you know, there's a lot of good folks involved, a lot of heart that goes into that, and we do appreciate that. We do appreciate what it takes to put together something like this. Some of the music's a little loud for my tastes; I would go more for a big-band sort of sound. But then I did see a few horns on the stage, and that's always nice to see, because a lot of kids these days, they might be able to play one of these laptop computers or one of these types of instruments, but you give them a trombone and ask them to play "Happy Birthday" on it, and these kids can't do it. So to see these guys out there with the trombones and the saxophones and things really playing their hearts out was very, very rewarding to see.

NC: Since you are a bit of a music critic as well, who's your favorite contemporary rock or pop act out there?

NH: Well, I like Bow Wow Wow. I like the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and that's probably about it at this point.

NC: Is there any reason you didn't comment on the passing of Whitney Houston during your performances this weekend? Are there any thoughts you have to share on the life of Whitney Houston, or the death of Whitney Houston?

NH: Well, we have to take these topics and you put them down on paper, and it takes a few years for them to work into the set list. It's good to keep things fresh, but you don't want it to be too fresh. And we will get some Whitney Houston material if that's what you're fishing for, but I believe it's like wine. You gotta let these things age and let people really process how they feel about the death of Ms. Whitney Houston. I'm sorry that it was Whitney Houston and not Britney, who occasionally does perform in Houston. Britney Spears, of course, is who we're talking about, who's also a druggie and a far poorer singer than Whitney Houston. I guess it's the taste of the listener, but I can't say I'm a fan of Britney Spears if that was your question.

NC: [Laughs] That was indeed the question, essentially.

NH: But we are sorry when any entertainer dies, because it's a family. It's not a family you can come to and get money from, because I would have asked Whitney Houston for money long ago. And I think even if I got through to ask her she would have said no. So it's not really a good family, kind of a bad family scene, but it is a family, so you do feel sad.

NC: Do you ever feel a kinship with, say, Axl Rose?

NH: It's the same sort of kinship that I feel with Whitney Houston — it's a removed sort of kinship.

NC: A distant family sort of kinship?

NH: Very distant. I mean I did consider getting some cornrows in my hair when we were in the Bahamas the other day, and I know Axl Rose has done that to great comic effect.

NC: You had a very very positive reaction at the show at Senor Frog's last night. Is there something in general that ...

NH: Wait a minute, what?! I don't remember that. I don't remember a positive reaction at Senor Frog's.

NC: Well the three people around us were laughing. Some people were leaving, but I think that was the food kicking in. Is there something that makes Bahamian audiences more enthusiastic than American audiences that you would experience at a place like Senor Frog's?

NH: Well, I think Senor Frog's is — there's nothing like it on Earth. It's just alcoholism central. These people's livers are exploding, that's why they have an attendant in the bathroom — to mop up these livers and these people's genitals just spewing urine that you can bottle and drink. And I think they do that at Senor Frog's. That's not a normal audience; you can't measure an audience like that. They're a mess, there are people that need help. They have severe problems, and it's too bad when you're trying to tell some jokes and help lighten the burden these people have on their shoulders — the burden of alcohol and drug abuse. And you're trying to tell some jokes and maybe help them forget these problems for a few minutes and laugh their fool heads off. Because they're so screwed up, so messed up, they can't enjoy the show, and I'm afraid we had that happen last night.

NC: Do you think Bruise Cruise is an experience you'd like to relive? Will you come back again?

NH: Well, it would be different; it's gotta be different every time. Of course, anywhere a laugh is needed, I will be there, and it's good to see laughs are needed on the open seas. Because if you've ever looked at a globe or even at atlas, you'll see there's a lot of water out there. Certain cities I can't go back to because they don't want me there, and when you look at the sea and suddenly see that as a new market, the possibilities are endless, and I would love to perform on the Bruise Cruise or any other ship that would have me — any other stage that would have me, any other person who really needs a laugh, I'm there for you, but you do have to pay a small fee. That's how it works, and that's how Whitney Houston also; that's how it worked for her. We're dedicating this interview to her memory, and this article. And I know your article will be bumped to make room for a pictorial Whitney tribute. So I'm sorry your hard work will not ever be seen.

NC: It'll be for email subscribers, they can get it. One quick last question: You are somewhat of a country music artist as well, and you've come through Nashville a few times. Is there anything you would like to say about Nashville, your experiences there and what you think of that town and what you think of the current state of country music? What might you, Neil Hamburger, add to the dialogue of country music?

NH: Well I work with probably the best guitarist in country today, Mr. Dave Gleason, who is there in Nashville. We made a record together called Country Winners, and went for a more Bakersfield Sound really, but Dave can play it all. And we had a crack band behind us and really put a lot of love into that record. Whether it was well-received in Nashville I couldn't tell you, but it was made with complete sincerity in the hopes that people would listen to this record and enjoy it. Who knows, once it's out there on the marketplace gathering dust it's hard to know if anyone does enjoy it. Of course I always loved a lot of the great old singers. Porter Wagoner is one that we were listening to very much when preparing this record, really enjoying the stories and things that he would tell in these songs. Merle Haggard is another one we really enjoyed from Bakersfield. It's a whole 'nother world.

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