Stronger Wine, Madder Music 

Holy Modal Rounders' Last Go 'Round

WHEN YOU INTERVIEW bands, you tend to get a lot of half-ass, boring answers that don't reveal jack shit about anything. Peter Stampfel is the direct opposite. Stampfel's Holy Modal Rounders did things in the '60s that'd still be considered weird or outsider or insane these days. Forty years before the BBC drooled its brains out over "freak folk" or whatever they're calling it now, the HMR were making beautifully annoying, bizarre, hilarious (and oft times damn good) folk music. This is their final tour.

The band is also the subject of Bound to Lose, a documentary that screens January 5 and 7 at the Whitsell Auditorium (1219 SW Park).

Here are a couple short highlights from my two-week-long interview with Stampfel.

MERCURY: Over the past few years there's been a resurgence and renewed interest in folk music, and one of the veins people have latched onto is the weirder stuff. What's your take on this?

PETER STAMPFEL: I think Joanna Newsom is stone brilliant, and maybe the best harpist on the planet. What other harpist has been influenced by fingerpick guitar and African music in general? Do the Crooked Jades qualify? I love them. Weird, ecstatic music. How can anyone with a brain dislike it? What was the Aldous Huxley line? "Stronger wine, madder music." Yeah, I'm delighted with the new stuff that's coming out, although I find a lot of it, like what I've heard of the Espers, dull—in their case, with too strong a tendency toward self-indulgence.

Do you believe in God?

I was raised Catholic, quit at 17 when I realized that was an option (lower middle-class Milwaukee background), became obsessed with Robert Graves' book The White Goddess, and believed in Her for about three years (1959-61). Started AA in '88 (still sober, but still smoke pot), and started praying again. Not positive there is a God, but the notion is most appealing. Can't say [there's a] specific deity, since there would have to be the same one for at least hundreds of billions of galaxies with at least hundreds of billions of stars apiece.

What do you think of Bound to Lose?

I'm embarrassed about a number of things I did, or rather, the way I did them, as opposed to the way I would have liked to, but I respect the warts-and-all approach. Nothing was set up, and there were no do-overs. I'm glad seeing myself up there made me comb my hair differently now.

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