That’s exactly what The Dwarves" have been doing for over 25 years. On their seminal Blood Guts & Pussy they reduced rock down to its three primordial driving factors via minute-long hardcore bursts. Their latest album, The Dwarves Are Born Again found them continuing the study, albeit through different filters of electro, classic punk, and teeny bop music.
Yet, their detractors label them as sexist meatheads. Meanwhile, their supporters argue that The Dwarves represent the human drive itself- the id manifest. [Editor's Note: the id manifest is a theory from Sigmund Freud's Structural Model - the uncoordinated instinctual trends of human nature.] To understand this thing called The Dwarves, Punknews editor John Gentile spoke to founding Dwarves member Blag Dahlia about his three favorite topics.
Click Read More to see what those topics are… as if you didn’t already know.
THE DWARVES MUST DIE
On his birthday, Blag Dahlia woke up surrounded by pussy. To his left was an older tabby named Lucy. To his right was a younger tuxedo kitten named Herman. “My great thrill in life is waking up surrounded by my cats,” he says. “Dogs all kind of share this one personality, but cats are more unique. They choose to like people for very random reasons. They each have their own dislikes and likes, like people. If you’ve earned the respect of your cats, you’ve done something right.”
Later in the day, for his birthday, Blag bought his cats some canned food and then treated himself to sushi. It’s a comfy, relaxed picture.
Just one week earlier, in Dallas, Blag had his hand wrapped around a concertgoer’s t-shirt and was slamming his motorcycle-gloved fist into the man’s face while the man was thrashing upwards at Blag. The band, furious at Blag, stormed off stage as Blag himself was pulled from the melee and shoved backstage. The band was livid with one another. After years of onstage explosions, would this finally be the one where The Dwarves tear their own band apart?
“Shit happens very quickly so you don’t know what happened,” Blag says. “Some kind of an altercation started. A guy in my band was upset because he saw me lash out at somebody. I’ve told my bandmates ‘please don’t let me lash out at people’ because sometimes I do that. I think he thought I was being a little too harsh because he didn’t see that I was attacked. At the same time, I don’t want to really hurt anybody, but I don’t want to be hurt by anybody else. That’s the nature of The Dwarves. Chaos happens very quickly.”
The brawl acts as an example of the fundamental Dwarves philosophy. Although the ideology has run through pretty much all of their releases, they finally gave it a name on 2004’s The Dwarves Must Die: FEFU- That is, “Fuck, Eat, and Fuck You Up.”
But in contrast to the violent and sexual lyrics of the Mentors or G.G. Allen which were pretty much shock for the sake of shock, the lyrics of The Dwarves are more an investigation of the human condition than pure crassness. Despite all of humanity’s advancements, why are we still driven by these base impulses? (And if you think we aren’t, just look at Tiger… or Gordon Ramsey… or Chris Brown… or pretty much any senator.)
“Why talk about sex and violence and food in songs?” Blag says. “For most of millennia music was transmitted around a camp fire along with drama and religion. There were tribal things. All anyone talked about was sex or violence- Killing an antelope, fucking a fair maiden, the gods fucking a fair maiden and creating a steer. All of music, all of drama, comes from the center of sex and violence. It’s what the human condition is.”
For the most part, Dwarves albums have explored these concepts from as many angles as there are kinks. Their breakout LP, 1990’s Blood, Guts, & Pussy was the first album of theirs to be so dedicated to the analysis. On it, they bang in the back seat of cars, scope out the pharmacist for drugs to snatch, hit on teen girls in detention, and fight for the sake of fighting. Blood, Guts, & Pussy was an exercise in nihilistic, berserk hardcore. Twelve songs in just about 12 minutes, it tore through the place with buzzing guitars and shouted snappy refrains.
While it was well received in the hardcore community, the band started to throw curveballs. The follow up, 1991’s Thank Heaven for Little Girls breached the speed-metal envelope in an ode to speed addicts. Then, on 1997’s The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking, the band embraced the pop-punk and cut twelve tracks that were as snappy as any top 20 hit, but still dealt with fucking, fighting, feasting, and more fucking. 2004’s The Dwarves Must Die mashed their punk side with more modern experimentation, but tempered it with classic pop rhythms and productions techniques.
Blag says, “Pop music, what’s bad about it, is taking whole wheat and milling it until only white bread is left. We’ve milled all the sex and violence out of our music. We use euphemism like “love, “or “pain” or “hurt.” We’ve found the acceptable troupes of things you can sing about. When you go outside of that, very interesting things happen.
“For example, one of the most interesting things Eminem did was talk about his mother. It’s so important that he did that for music. He was hated for it, but he was being honest. He wasn’t censoring himself like so many other artists do. When other musicians get to a point where they can stop censoring themselves, it will be easier to ask the question ‘are you trying to shock people, or are you trying to make a point?’ A better question is, ‘why are you so far away from your soul and our heart? Why is so much of what they say manufactured and self-censored? Why aren’t they being honest with themselves?’ When someone comes out with 30, 40, 50 years of music and they never once mention sex, I have to think that they’re suppressing what they are actually thinking about.”
If anything, Blag does seem to write about what he is thinking. For example, he once wrote a song about Anne frank. “I grew up in a Jewish town and I was always attracted to Jewish girls and I always thought Anne Frank was cute. I wrote a song about how I was attracted to her.
“A friend of mine who runs a record label said ‘Hey man, isn’t it bullshit that you did that for mere shock value?’ ‘Isn’t that a sad event?’ ‘Why would you belittle that and mock that?’ My response, is, ‘no, I wrote something sincere and most people censor themselves so much that they view it as shocking.’ The idea that I would write something as sincere about my attraction to Anne Frank, people think that it’s an attempt to shock people. I’m not naïve. I know that it will shock people, but it comes from a sincere place. I think most artists censor themselves, and they are afraid to admit things that I admit.”
The Dwarves continue to investigate this concept of being genuine and writing about what really drives a person. Their latest album, The Dwarves are Born Again, which merges their hardcore side with their pop-punk side with their experimental side opens with the song “The Dwarves are Still the Best Band Ever.” The opening lyrics are “To save the ozone and the Earth and all the creatures and and surf/ This world is full of things to do and yet it always comes back to… LET’S JUST GET HIGH AND FUCK SOME SLUTS!/ Do what we will, not what we must/ forever stuck in juvi-lust, so what?! LET’S JUST GET HIGH AND FUCK SOME SLUTS!”
So, despite 25 years of punk rock experimentation and research of what make humans tick, Blag has apparently determined it all comes down to three simple things: Blood. Guts. Pussy.
By now, the infamous Dwarves show brawls are a thing of legend. One of punk mecca 924 Gilman’s most famous shows was when the band took the stage and the audience began criticizing them for perceived sexism, only to have the audience and band break out into a fistfight within the first six seconds. The show ended with guitarist he-who-cannot-be-named swinging his guitar like a battle axe. A show at Hollywood’s Coconut Teaseszer escalated when a heckler, who had been poking at bassist Saltpeter all night, finally got on stage. Saltpeter drove his guitar down onto the man’s head and the rest of the band rushed him, knocking him backwards while Blag delivered stomp kicks from above. At San Jose’s Voodoo Lounge, the show ended when Blag was pushed off the stage by a stage diver and fell eight feet onto a brick floor. Simply put, the night did not end well for the pusher.
“Overall, I’m a pacifist,” Blag says. “I feel that war is wrong and violence is generally wrong and that we should work towards a society where people aren’t violent towards each other for any reason. On the other hand, I’m a man. Violence feels good. It feels bad when someone is violent towards you, but it feels good when you are violent towards someone else. It feels good to shoot a gun, but it hurts to get shot with one.”
So then, if Blag is a pacifist, how can he justify fighting people at shows? He says, “To me, rock and roll is like an expression of my id impulse. I don’t explain it in linear terms. I never say ‘I don’t believe in violence so I don’t express myself violently.’ I reduce my music to id impulses directly form my brain. There’s violence in there, there’s sex in there, there’s hatred in there.
“Personally, I fear the violence. I was stabbed in my throat in Canada once. I had to get surgery. I’ve been assaulted. I’ve been hospitalized and I’ve put some people in the hospital. Never intentionally, but when stuff came up… My feeling towards violence is that it’s wrong and we wouldn’t have much of society if everybody went around being violent all the time.”
Perhaps Blag’s opinion on violence stems from the fact that in a fair fight, he’d most likely be able to handle himself. Standing at six-foot-three, he’s limber enough to maneuver in a fight, but spry enough to deliver a slug. His arms seem long, even for his height, meaning that when those fists connect, stars will abound.
“If you’re a reasonably healthy, six-foot-three male like myself, it’s not fair to inflict your violence on the rest of the world that tends to be smaller and not as able to take it,” he says. “Still, violence is a part of the Dwarves. It’s a part of our music. It’s a part of our legend. We’ve earned it. If you’ve been stabbed, if club owners have pulled guns on you, if you’ve been chased from clubs by bouncers, if you’ve been flattened, then you have the right to talk about it and think about it. It’s a part of our legacy. I wouldn’t say I’m proud of it.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Dwarves is their perception of themselves. In some circles, they are lauded as the last great dangerous rock and roll band. In others, they are “sexist pigs.” But still, for all their tales of debauchery, fighting, boning, sniffing, shooting, and snorting, one gets the impression that perhaps Blag Dahlia is merely a caricature, or a shade, of the person that bears his birth name, Paul Cafaro.
Paul Cafaro was born in Highland Park, Illinois in a Jewish neighborhood to two parents who could be considered upper-middle class. Cafaro’s father didn’t have an understanding of rock ‘n’ roll, he referred to anything with an electric guitar, from Elvis to Marvin Gaye, as “hillbilly music.” Still, Cafaro’s father is what sparked an interest in the boy’s love of music. Cafaro the senior had thousands and thousands of sheets of music, collected mostly from show tunes and Americana. Cafaro’s older brother was a jazz deejay that introduced him to musicians like Coltrane and Miles Davis. As is one of life’s greatest ironies, Dahlia, who covers his albums with blood and naked women, learned the fundamental structure of what makes a song good by listening to Show Boat, The Music Man, A Love Supreme, and Kind of Blue.
Cafaro’s day usually begins with business. Cafaro/Blag, who self-manages The Dwarves, will answer Dwarves related e-mails, book gigs, work on merchandise. Later in the day, he works on the band’s music. “An old friend of mine, from Material Issue, called Jim Ellison, told me something when I was younger and I’ve never forgotten it,” Blag says. “Basically, most guys in a band just sit around complaining. Just do one thing for your band every day and you’ll be fine. That piece of advice has been more valuable than almost any other one that I got.”
Still, though, Blag seems to want to keep The Dwarves and his music-life separated from Cafaro. When questioned about private things, unrelated to the stage, he’ll answer in ambiguities or pontificate on the general concept of the conversation instead of relaying direct, personal details.
“I’m not going to get too far into his personal life,” says Mike Routhier, a bay area deejay. Routhier has run several radio programs, and his most recent one, Radio Like You Want, is co-hosted with Blag. “There is an awareness to his performance. I don’t know how much he wants to give away.”
Routhier continues, “He’s aware that there’s a persona, but, there isn’t a huge difference between the two. It’s hard to put a measure on it, but he is who he is. It’s not like GWAR where there’ are guys behind the mask. It’s not a shtick. They are who they are in the band. But, he is a regular guy, too. There is a Paul Cafaro who pays taxes and does shopping and laundry, who talks to his parents, who is well educated, who reads literature.”
So then, is Routhier friends with Blag or Cafaro? Or both? “It depends,” Routheir says. “If we’re just hanging out, I call him Blag. But, if we’re with his parents, I call him Paul.”
“I think the wall is half the fun, really” Blag says. “Sometimes truth will penetrate and we’ll do things or say things that are real, and sometimes it’s part of the mythological side. When I was a kid and listening to bands, they didn’t have blogs and shit where people were constantly expounding on how they felt about everything. For me, that was a little bit more fun. There was always that element in punk where this guy is the same as you and he likes the same bands as you and he wears the same shorts as you- this could be you.”
Blag continues “I’ve been around punk rock for 30 years, and a lot of those guys that were supposed to be like you, drove around in big limos and live in fancy houses and do all kind of shit that you don’t get to do. When I was a kid, they had Bruce Springsteen, and he was supposed to be the guy like you, but he was rich and fucking his backup singers. It’s a very twisted tale of who does what they say, who doesn’t. With the Dwarves, it has always been kind of fun. We play around with that. I definitely do a bunch of the shit I talk about and definitely don’t do a bunch of the shit I talk about. You have to figure it out.”
One of the things that Blag has claimed to do in the Dwarves music is drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. “Drug store” is about getting high. “Speed demon” is about another person getting high. “Accelerator” is probably about getting high. “Fuck you up and get high”? Yup, it’s about getting high. The name of their compilation of early recordings? Free Cocaine. The song “We only came to get high”- Well, the title is self-explanatory.
“My history is that I really like smoking weed and I was never really that attracted to other drugs,” Blag says. “I don’t like drinking alcohol and if I’m giving advice, giving up alcohol now is the smartest thing you can do as a band. They give it to you free at every show and if you take it, you’re gonna wind up looking like Lemmy which is not a good thing.”
“I was lucky. I could do a hit of coke and go do a show and I was fine. Other guys, if they did a hit of coke, they needed to do the whole bag and then get another bag. I’ve seen a lot of people strung out on heroin. It’s just bad because you have no control anymore over your life. For, me it is bad enough smoking weed. All these things slow you down, and make you worse at your job. All these things make you more susceptible to being arrested and being fucked over. In that way, I don’t have a real rosy picture to paint of drugs.
“At the same time, drugs were a real basic part of what brought me to rock and roll, a basic part of what kept me there. I can’t give an unreserved positive view of drugs by any measure. Everybody has to test it out. For some people, alcohol makes them really boring pieces of shit that suck. Probably alcohol is the worst drug in that respect and it’s more responsible for making me hate rock and roll and the people around it, then anything else.”
One of the things that have caused the Dwarves to be such a lightning rod of controversy is their dedication to the female form. Nearly all of their album covers feature nude women. Sometimes they’re covered in soap, sometimes they’re covered in blood, but most of the time, they are covered in nothing at all. Likewise, many-a Dwarves song are explicitly about doing the nasty. “Detention Girl” is about waiting for a “bad girl” to get out of school. “Wonderful life of sin” has the lyrics “I lead a life of sin/and I put my penis in/fuck this, plead insanity/save, protect, debauchery.” Obviously, “Let’s fuck” speaks for itself.
On one hand, The Dwarves are just saying what every young, red-blood American male is thinking (and most of the old ones, too). The fact is that dudes want to get laid. The Dwarves act as an expression of this primordial, genetic urge.
But, they’ve also taken some flak. By putting nude women on their album covers, and by having nude women come on stage, The Dwarves have been accused of misogyny and sexism.
“When Michelangelo made a sculpture and it had tits, is that objectifying women?” asks Blag. “I call it a great work of art and the only important thing to sculpt about. I think that there are a lot of art historians who would agree with me.”
“The problem is when you modernize it and when I put a pair of tits on an album cover, people say that ‘you are objectifying these people.’ So, it’s understandable to me that women want to be taken for their merits and brainpower, as they should be. But, I challenge people- allow women to explore their sexuality and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
People do say that by using women as sexual objects in their art to the degree that they do, The Dwarves are objectifying women. “I avoid the conventions placed upon me,” Blag says. “I know that people think I’m a sexist and an ignoramus, and I’ve accepted that. That’s the first part of it. The second part is: objectification is not a bad thing. I would challenge any of you out there reading this, if you have a wife or girlfriend and she doesn’t feel that you are viewing her as a sexual object, you don’t have a very good relationship.
“The same is true in reverse. Women can objectify men as much as men objectify women. If you are a man, and you don’t feel that the female in your relationship views you as a sexual object, then you have sort of a loveless relationship and you’re not very happy with it. The word ‘objectify’ is very interesting to me because we all want to be objectified. Yet, it’s only used in a pejorative way.”
“I believe a woman has a right to say, ‘Fuck you stud, give me that dick!’ I don’t have a problem with a woman saying, ‘Hey look at the pecs on those guys.’ ‘Look at the six pack on Matthew McConaughey.’ ‘Hey, I dated this one guy with a really big dick, I liked it more than this guy with a really small dick.’ I don’t have a problem with a woman saying that and thinking that. To me sexism is a real topic and it deserves to be treated properly. I think for the most part, those that are always screaming sexism, just like those that are always screaming racism, are really the worst offenders. Sexism deserves not to be treated in a bullshit Berkley knee-jerk reaction.
“I think you should treat women fair in a business relationship. I also think that you should treat a woman fairly and kindly in the context of your romantic relationship. I respect women for their intelligence and integrity. We have a society where women’s contributions are not valued enough, especially in things like mathematics and science. In that way, I am sympathetic with those who say sexism is a bad thing and that we should get rid of it. Women should make the same amount of money as men. Women should be respected in all walks of life.
“So, if I have genuine relationships with women, why am I not allowed to express myself in a way that says I want a pair of tits in my face and a pussy on my cock? Why are those things mutually exclusive? To me, they’re not.”
What is so interesting about Dwarves shows is that perhaps more than any punk band, they have the most sexually diverse audience. The truth of the matter is, if you go to most hardcore shows or most punk bands that make anti-sexism their platform, at best, you get about two women for every eight guys. But, at Dwarves show, the ratio is nearly always 50 percent women to 50 percent guys, and at some of the shows, there are actually more ladies than guys, such as when the Dwarves last played The Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.
If you catch sight of Blag before or after a show, he is constantly swarmed by a throng of female admirers, many of whom are nearly one-third his age. In fact, when The Dwarves last played 924 Gilman, there was literally a line of high school seniors lining up to hug Blag and have their pictures taken with him. It was almost as if Justin Bieber grew a pair.
Mike Routhier, who has seen dozens of Dwarves shows, has some ideas as to why the band that is accused of the worst forms of sexism has the most female fans. He says, “Therein lies the honesty of their music. They are constantly being accused of being this sexist, misogynist band, but women like them. I think it’s because they focus on women. Women like to be paid attention to. “
He continues, “That’s not the kind of attention all women want. But, I think women understand it. They have women from all ages, from late teens to their own age. It’s not super serious like the Mentors where they call themselves rape rock. The Dwarves are a little bit more clever. It’s not just bloody girls. It’s more intelligent than that. It does speak to the point that it is music for that environment in which it exists. It’s not for every aspect of life. It’s for the party. A lot of women think that it’s fun. A lot of women like the party and don’t always want to be really serious all the time.”
As with many Dwarves ‘stances, Blag can never quite seemed to be pinned down. The general thought about him is that “Blag likes to have sex with hot girls.” But, last year, during the filming of He-who-can-not-be-named’s solo video in Alemeda, CA, Blag showed up to film his cameo. After he was shot playing a ridiculous guitar solo, a group of plus-sized girls, who would not be traditionally described as attractive, called over to Blag. As he did with the super-model types surrounding him at 924 Gilman, Blag went over and lavished attention on all five women, wrapping his arms around them, making suggestive comments, arching that devilish eye brow of his, and even delivering kisses upon their cheeks.
If Blag is willing, and happy, to spread his attention to women of all shapes, can he be accused of being sexist and forcing an image upon women? It would seem that evidence suggests that Dwarves are not anti-women, but are actually pro-all types of women, in all of forms.
This is supported by the number of women which have passed through the Dwarves tour bus and hotel rooms. Tales of “groupies” abound about the Dwarves, and on a few of their records, they’ve even left snippets of some jaded lovers leaving messages for members of the band (though, those may be a ruse…).
“The term ‘groupies’ disturbs me for several reasons,” Blag says. “Number one, I’m in a group. So, every girl that ever fucked me was a groupie, technically. So what you are saying is that if you’re a woman, ‘if you had sex with a lawyer that’s great.’ ‘You had sex with a racecar driver, that’s great.’ ‘Oh, you had sex with a dentist. That’s great.’ ‘Oh, you had sex with a guy in a band? You’re a groupie!’ I don’t know why we are singled out as the only type of people that it’s not okay to have sex with.
“I grew up in a very Jewish town, and the girls’ moms told them to marry a doctor. Were they doctor groupies? I guess some of them were. I just have trouble with that expression.
“Second, the term ‘groupies’ came from the 1970’s when there was a much more lax attitude of sex then there is now. So, there were actually women who would sleep with everybody in a band. At this point, what is called a groupie is really an embarrassment. Most groupies don’t even fuck. Most groupies are there to explain to you in the first two minutes ‘I love you, I love your music, but I won’t fuck you, I‘m not like that.’ The Dwarves have a name for that - we call them useless groupies. What’s the point of a groupie that doesn’t fuck?
“But yet, what a lot of women who love music have come to, because they don’t want to be considered bimbos or are only useful for their sexuality, is they have to deny their sexual attraction for the band. The bands have to deny their sexual attraction for the girls that come see them. What’s the point? I went into music in part to get fucked… and partly because I love music.
“I’m proud of the fact that girls always wanted to fuck me and be seen with me and hang out with me. I think that’s part of what makes me a rock legend and deserving of the title. People who are ashamed of that - tough fucking shit.”
Despite Blag’s dedication to getting laid, he doesn’t necessarily have a rosy picture to paint when describing the Dwarves’ sexual adventures. Although he retains his usual wall of ambiguity without delving into specifics, he doesn’t necessarily argue that his path is the optimal choice.
“I would caution the guys out there who think that it is the best way to be,” Blag says. “There’s a lot of misery attached to that lifestyle. There are a lot of bad sexual experiences attached to that. There’s a lot of all kinds of problems attached to it. Everything from venereal disease to impotence. There are all kinds of things that can befall if you fall down rabbit holes of unattached sex.
“I think that if you have a girlfriend, it’s a good idea to be faithful to her. You know, it’s good to have a girlfriend. I’ve gone through some really long stretches of being able to fuck whoever I wanted, and there’s some misery in that. It’s not as great as it seems. But, at the end of the day, part of the reason I went into rock and roll was to meet a lot of girls and to fuck a lot of girls and to have a lot of girls think I was cool.”
THE DWARVES ARE BORN AGAIN
Back stage at the Dallas show, the band stared at each other. The show had ended mid-set (as the band has done before) because some members of the band were pissed off at others (that had happened before, too). As with any clash, the on stage meltdown was likely to end the show, and as with any on stage blow-up, it could lead to the end of the band. Remember, Ron Reyes ended up getting kicked out of Blag Flag when he thought he was just walking off the stage. The Misfits ended after Danzig and Jerry Only yelled at each other on stage, drove home in silence, and never spoke to each other again. The Ramones ended when Johnny and Joey walked to separate dressing rooms without even sharing a goodbye.
Then, something unique happened. Dwarves shows are notorious for ending early- once as short as six seconds after the gig began - with the band members fighting the audience, each other, or both. Usually the stage gets trashed, drums get kicked in, and the melee breaks out into the audience or the band punches each other backstage.
But, at the Dallas show, after the band had trashed their own equipment and were yelling at each other, they decided, that, for the first time ever, they would resume a show after it collapsed into shambles. As it turns out, Blag thought the audience was trying to pull him off the stage or was throwing things at him or was encroaching on his space and the rest of the band thought he had attacked an audience member for no reason or that he had a reason but was too severe… or… well, no one really knows. But, they then talked to each other like adults, marched back out on stage, and played one hell of a fierce, smashing set.
Blag explains, “Metallica takes 10 years to work things out, but we’re back on stage in five minutes.“ The statement is a shot at rock stardom excess, but also belies something deeper about the Dwarves. While a great deal of bands want to represent a certain virtue, an unwavering dedication to doing the right thing, a certain sainthood, the Dwarves are more interested in partaking in and investigating the primal drives. They sing about, and do, what their impulses tell them to do.
They argue that the primal drives are really what concerns human the most, not abstract theories developed in some stuffy library. It’s certainly more honest than Bono caterwauling about the Dali Lama or your favorite generic hardcore band screaming about veganism.
“A person that doesn’t have any vices is usually a pretty tedious person,” Blag says. “With some people in the music business, I have to wonder ‘what are you doing here?’ You’re a doing a nine-to-five, you’ve got your relationship, you’ve got your music, you’ve got your business worked out. Why are you in music? Why don’t you just sell shoes or something? I don’t have a super positive view of bands that do everything right. Those were the bands that mangers loved. Little label fucks love them. Everything is nice. That, to me, doesn’t really have much to do with what I’m interested in. I got into this for the girls, for the drugs and for the music.”