What's My Name?
Who Am I?

interview by Kevan Smith

        More than 25 years poking the underbelly of pop culture as an artist, a musician and a wrestling manager haven't mellowed self-professed Dadaist/Objectivist Zoogz Rift one bit. As outspoken as always, Zoogz continues to speak his mind to a world he considers stupid beyond belief.

     Zoogz has a new album, Psychoaquatic Demons, coming out soon, and the Damn TRUTH! caught up with him recently on IRC. In this interview, you'll get his take on everything from the modern music and wrestling industries to how the death of his father affected his art. And as usual, he's bound to piss off a few of you, especially if you're a Zappa fan.

     Damn TRUTH!: Recently, you said this:

     "Corporate thinking is engulfing everything, more than ever. We are being eaten and absorbed. If you're lame, you're safe, because you don't pose any threat to the machinery. In fact, if you imitate the machinery, you give it credibility, and you make it stronger. But if you rock the boat and create something that the machinery doesn't easily recognize, then you become the enemy, and all available armed forces are called in to nip you in the bud. They want you to blend in, and look, sound, act and follow (notice I didn't say THINK) like everyone else. Where are the heroes? In the shadows, unsure, in danger, unacknowledged and unrewarded. Which is why there are so few of them. But they are out there, plotting against the system, the indifference, the mediocrity. They won't find you--you have to seek them out and find them. Don't tolerate the enemy. Don't support the enemy. Fight the enemy."

     Is this a personal observation of your situation, or do you find it has broad-based truth? could you elaborate on it?

     ZOOGZ RIFT: Well, it definitely relates to me personally, but I know there are a lot of talented people out there who are getting buried in all the bullshit, and I think that's a real crime. There's only so much room in the CD racks at the record stores. The more worthless CRAP they stock on those shelves, the less likely one is to find something of unique quality or substance.

     ZR: And half of what they stock is worthless crap. Derivative, phony nonsense created by accountants to make a buck. This is such a phony world, it really, really disgusts me.

     DT: okay, let's start plugging! Your new album, Psychoaquatic Demons, has experienced delays getting out. Could you explain about that? I know it's frustrating you a little bit. May 17 is the magic day for it?

     ZR: Last I heard, Scott Corkern, President and CEO of AVT Records in South Carolina, consulted one of those TV psychic hot-lines, and they told him to hold off on the release of my new album until he completed his merger with Time Warner, which would be late May, yes. He's a very smart man.

     DT: So, we'll be able to buy it in major record stores?

     ZR: In theory, yes. I have no idea what kind of distribution deals he has worked out for this album. I would assume that the distributors would be anxious to get their hands on it, though, so yes, it should be widely available in all the major outlets, as well as the smaller indie stores. I don't think "weirdness" is as hard to sell these days as many industry big-wigs would like to have us believe.

     DT: Will you re-activate your home mail order to sell it as well, like you sold the Legendary Zoogz Rift Promopaks, which are a literal STEAL at $30?

     ZR: Yes, I will probably make it available through my mail order catalog, just so people on the net don't have to search through hell and high water for it. The problem with me making it available myself is that people don't respect me (or any artist) as a businessman, and everybody and his brother will be hitting me for free promo copies, which I can't afford to send out. It's kind of a catch-22 situation.

     DT: Looking at your phenomenal web site at http://www.rlabs.com/zoogz, I see the new album is mostly instrumental, which marks a slight change of direction for you. Why the change?

     ZR: I get a little tired of repeating my messages. I'm both a dadaist and an objectivist, and one or the other tends to alienate people. My primary message of "Think more, party less," has been said loud and clear, in many of my previous songs. As I think of new things to say, I'll say them, but the most important stuff I wanted to lyrically convey has already been clearly stated. The music, on the other hand, has endless possibilities, and I'm not even through exploring the hidden wonders in that vast jungle.

     DT: Your son, Aaron Rift, is a shithead on the new album. That must make you proud. What does it take to be one of your Amazing Shitheads? What qualities do you look for in a Shithead, and how does the current line-up meet them?

     ZR: Aaron is just naturally interested in music. I didn't push him, or aim him in that direction. I've just advised him when he asked for my advice. He's now part of a full education process when it comes to music, and being a part of the Shitheads provides some good hands-on experience for him. He's still somewhat of a beginner, but he's competent, and gets better on the sax every day. The other Shitheads currently involved in the project include Tom Brown, a superb drummer, Richie Hass, my long-time friend and percussionist-extraordinare, Robert Williams, former drummer with Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, so we're doing pretty good. I'm looking for new people as well, but they have to have talent, and the right attitude. I hate working with assholes.

     DT: With a name like "His Amazing SHitheads," one would think that the "right attitude" is sort of a punk-like contempt and obnoxiousness. But that's not the case is it?

     ZR: No. I need musicians who are into MUSIC, not money, not egos, not showing off to try to get laid, etc. I enjoy working with musicians who think, who contribute, who are dedicated to their instruments, who have a passion to express themselves through their craft. I want CRAFTSMEN, not brats. Lately, I've stopped calling the band the Shitheads for that very reason. People too easily misinterpret my intentions.

     DT: So what do you call them now?

     ZR: Nothing. They're Zoogz Rift's band. That's good enough for now. In a few weeks we start rehearsing for the recording of my next album project, SANITIZED FOR YOUR PROTECTION.

     DT: Okay. Let's play "what if." Suppose Psychoaquatic Demons charts a hit single. Suddenly, you're getting money and are in demand to perform major venues. Are you prepared to handle commercial success, do you think?

     ZR: It depends on the specifics. Yes, I can handle acceptance, appreciation, recognition and money. However, I'm not about to do any major touring again, or industry promotional assault, because I don't see much personal benefit to it. It would depend on a lot of factors we can't even consider right now. It would also depend on what kind of people were at my disposal. I don't trust many people, and feel uncomfortable around them. Almost everyone I've ever known is dishonest, lazy and flaky, so I'm not about to rush into any new, volatile business relationships.

     DT: I guess that was the big bombshell we could drop, that there is an album in the works after Psychoaquatic..... What are your plans for Sanitized? Who will the musicians be, what will the material be like, etc ....

     ZR: I don't know yet about SANITIZED... it's too early to answer those questions right now.

      You are, of course, a huge wrestling fan. You've even managed pro wrestlers. And I know one of your wrestling "idols" is the amazing Capt. Lou Albano. How has the whole wrestling gig and Capt. Lou influenced you as a musician and artist? I know you stole his PEG (politeness, etiquette, grooming) principle for your personal grooming.

     ZR: Capt. Lou is lucky to have known ME, not the other way around! YES--he is a genius. YES--he is my mentor. YES--he personally trained me to take over as one of the greatest wrestling managers of all time. BUT---The man has the brain of a dehydrated bb! Put his brain in a parakeet and ZING--the parakeet would fly backwards! I was personally trained and primed for the managerial world of pro wrestling by the Captain, as well as Luscious Johnny Valiant and John Tolos "The Golden Greek." I'm not managing right now because the promotion I was working for folded, and I decided to devote all my time to the music once again.

     DT: Dada and pro-wrestling are a natural match.

     ZR: I love pro wrestling because I like seeing grown people getting hurt, maimed, crippled and humiliated.

     DT: How exactly do Dada and Objectivism mingle into Moamoism?

     ZR: I live my life by Objectivist principles--I believe in the truth, and rational thinking, and in maintaining my personal integrity. I believe in doing the right thing, and being positive and productive. However, most people on this planet apparently do not do these things. They're lazy, unproductive, negative, dishonest hypocrites. They'll claim to be honest, but proceed to use facades and dishonesty all day long. These people are like poorly-educated, bratty children, creating chaos in a classroom where there is no one in charge. First, these brats need to be educated to WANT to think, then taught how to use reason to think, then to develop a value-system of rational self-interest so they can be productive and make a solid, good life for themselves. IF these brats cannot be reasoned with (and many of them cannot), then we go to PLAN B: DADA.
Dada is satire, it's shock, it's mockery and ridicule, it's absurdity. It's fun for the dadaist, because it provides a fun outlet for all the anxiety created by living in a world of depravity. "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." First, you try to reason with your enemies. If they won't listen, then you use dada to fight fire with fire.

     DT: I'm alarmed that I see the absolute truth in what you are saying.

     ZR: Would I lie to you?

     DT: In the early '70s, you were more of a "conventional" artist making paintings, studying design, etc... Then you destroyed your complete works -- everything up to that point! Why? And do you ever miss what you destroyed?

     ZR: I never miss it. I decided that I was way too attached to my art, to my paintings, and decided that it was time to burn it all and get it out of my life. I've never believed in living off of one's past accomplishments. I live for today, and prepare as best as I can for tomorrow.
So I decided that all the old artwork had to go. I held a public display at an event called the Delaware Valley Festival of the Avant-Garde in 1974, and destroyed every work of art I had ever created. If I was to remain an artist, this forced me to move forward, and create NEW things. I still think that way. Once I do an album, it's done, and I move on.

     DT: If the timeline is correct, you destroyed your work shortly after your father died .... is that right?

     ZR: Yes. My dad died January 1974, and I held the Detonacy event on May 11. Between those two dates, I became friends with composer John Cage, who had originally agreed to participate in my event, but got ill a week before the show and had to cancel. It's a shame, too, because John and I were certainly on the same wavelength, so to speak. I miss him.

     DT: Do you ever consider the two events -- your father's death and the Detonacy -- to be related in any way? Was your father a big influence for you?

     ZR: No. I loved my dad, and we got along well, but he was not artistic or musical. I didn't destroy my art out of anger---it was more out of practicality, and as an artistic act in and of itself.

      What kind of music are you listening to these days? Who are some of the new bands good enough for your ears?

     ZR: I don't watch much TV, or listen to much on the radio other than Howard Stern or oldies stations, so I don't really know what's out there that's new and good these days. I don't go out to concerts. I'm sure there must be some great stuff out there going on, but I don't get to hear it. Most of what I DO hear is awful, and I tend to ignore it rather than let it get me pissed off.
Lately I've been listening to a lot of Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, James Brown, James Blood Ulmer, Johnny Winter. I don't like listening to Zappa as much as I used to, because even though I still love the music, I find his lyrics and fan-pandering approach to be offensive and annoying.

     DT: I know you watch wrestling, though. Any good wrestlers or managers out there? And this NWO thing has been done to death .....

     ZR: The best wrestling organization is the World Wrestling Federation. They've been known to rip off ideas from other feds just as much as anybody else, but generally, they are the innovators. Monday Night RAW is still the best wrestling show on television. I can't stand watching Turner's group, WCW, because it's boring as hell and tries way too hard to one-up the WWF, rather than create a good, solid, entertaining product of their own.
There are other groups out there struggling to survive, like ECW, who need the support of the fans. I don't particularly find ECW or USWA all that exciting, but we need them to survive, if wrestling is to stay interesting. People should go out and attend and support these smaller feds as often as they can.

     DT: Do you still have the "wrestling itch?" What would it take to get you back in the business, a business I think may be more slimy than even the music industry?

     ZR: They're both really slimy. Yes, under the right circumstances, I would get back in and manage. I think the fans would find me to be entertaining, and I'm real good at drawing heat, as my presence on the net has proven. I can do music and wrestling at the same time---they don't conflict.

     DT: Speaking of the net, you have been using it for several years now. What was your opinion of it when you first got on, and what is your opinion of it now? Has it been valuable for you? Or a pain in the ass? Both?

     ZR: The net sucks. There are 10 people on the net, and 8 of them are retards.
Nothing has changed. The net is NOT this great "information superhighway" nonsense they try to sell you---it's a bunch of anal-retentive lunkheads blabbering about the most inane nonsense imaginable.
Most of my time on the net is talking with fellow wrestling fans on IRC, on Efnet's #wrestling channel. That's a cool place. I like those people, because they're more on the ball than most others. Alt.slack isn't bad, but it's gotten way too redundant for me and I barely go in there anymore. It's too bad, too, because I love the Church of the SubGenius, and appreciate all that Rev. Ivan Stang puts into it. Most of my time on the net is *spent* talking.
I'd also like to take a moment to encourage everyone to check out John Trubee's web site, which features his interesting Space & Time World Enterprises catalog. Great stuff. John Trubee is one of my best, long-time friends, and he's one of the smartest people I know. It's an outrage that he isn't wealthy by now. Talk about being blackballed by a fucked-up music industry.

     DT: You're a diabetic, and that I think has caused you to gain back a lot of the weight you once shed. Is the diabetes under control? How is it affecting your work?

     ZR: I gained back the weight because of too many marshmallow peeps and Cheeze-Its, but that's all gone now. I'm a Type II diabetic, which means as my eating improves and my weight decreases, the blood sugar levels fall back to a fairly normal state. I've lost 48 pounds over the past 8 months, and I'm still chopping away at it. I just fell under the 300 lb. mark, so I'm doing well in that department and happy about it.
However, until the weight is down to where it should be, I continue to have diabetes-related problems, including a lot of frequent severe pain in my feet and groin, and a lot of fatigue. At 43, I'm not in the greatest of shape these days, but I'm struggling to get my health back in order, and hopefully I'll succeed before it kills me.

     DT: Well I have enough information to twist and distort to make you seem like a FREAK, just like the real media would. ;) One last question: What do you want to say that I haven't asked?

     ZR: My wife Terry is currently a PhD candidate at UCLA, concluding her dissertation on Pro Wrestling as it relates to Play and Performance (she's an expert in the field of Folklore and Mythology). Hopefully, she'll graduate soon, become a doctor, and get us the hell out of Southern California!