The Queers: Joe, His Hat, and His Twelfth-grade Education By Felizon

I had a huge crush on Joe Queer. I won’t tell you how old I was, but I’d listen to The Queers’ early Lookout! albums (Grow Up, Love Songs for the Retarded, Beat Off), and I liked to imagine that I was the girl in each pop-punk love song that Joe Queer wrote and sang. I liked to think that I was his Voodoo Doll, the Burger King Queen, Debra Jean. Fuck the world, he wanted to hang out with me tonight. I knew all the words to all his songs, and if you had told me then that someday I would be interviewing the man himself, I would have called you a noodlebrain. But it’s true: I got the chance to meet up with Joe Queer and see my pop punk idol in person. And the most important thing to me was finding out as much as I could about the man behind the persona. Here’s what I got.

Felizon: For the record, what’s the name on your birth certificate? Is your name really Joe King?
Joe Queer: Yeah.
Felizon: It is?
Joe Queer: Yeah, that’s my name.
Felizon: Really? We thought it was a pun.
Joe Queer: No, that’s my name.
Felizon: What’s on your birth certificate?
Joe Queer: Joe King.
Felizon: Awww… there’s no story behind that?
Joe Queer: No, no. One day I woke up and said, shit, I guess I’ll have to be a punk rocker with a name like that. A lot of kids call me Joe Queer now.
Felizon: In your Fishing Diary, you talked about your Black Flag baseball cap and how you’ll never take it off. Why won’t you take it off?
Joe Queer: Because my hair is thinning.
Felizon: Your hat’s sort of your trademark now.
Joe Queer: Yes, it is.
Felizon: Also, in your Fishing Diary, you referred to your parents as “two old crows,” “a couple of old bags that should be thinking about the hereafter” – you remember writing this?
Joe Queer: Oh yeah, yeah.
Felizon: I figured you were kidding.
Joe Queer: Yeah, yeah.
Felizon: Don’t you come from a family with eight kids?
Joe Queer: Yeah.
Felizon: Where were you in the birth order?
Joe Queer: I was in the middle.
Felizon: Have you ever played “Hi, Mom, It’s Me” to your mom?
Joe Queer: The only time my parents came to see us was when we played with the Ramones in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. My dad came, so I dedicated it to my dad. But he was like – he didn’t pay attention. They’re in this room with all these people, and they didn’t see the difference between Joey Ramone and the kid who did the merch table. But that was cool.
Felizon: You referred to a “no mindless, menial labor” rule. I know you used to work construction, pouring concrete.
Joe Queer: Yes.
Felizon: Did that have any bearing on your “no mindless, menial labor” rule? What did that come from?
Joe Queer: Oh. Yeah. It wasn’t – I mean, I still work on my brother’s fishing boat. I did it pretty much all winter, I did it all through February, March. It’s basically the people you work with that drive me up the wall. You know? Like I’d get on the fishing boat and we had some guy, Keith, into the Grateful Dead or whatever, and he’s kind of an asshole. And he was like, “Oh, you’re in a band called the Queers, what are you, a fag?” And I was like, “Dude…” He’s like, thirty-two. And I said, “Keith, I fucked more girls, at the age of forty, than you will ever fuck in your life. So if you want to call me a fag, go for it.” [pauses] And that’s the fucking truth, too.
Felizon: You also mentioned dating a girl who worked in a strip club. Have you read any good books lately about guys in the construction business dating girls who worked in strip clubs?
Joe Queer: Well, yeah… I read, you know, Sean’s book. Yeah, so that was kinda cool.
(I’m laughing because I set this one up on purpose. Joe Queer picks up on it.) I know. That was kinda funny, you know, a little… [He stops himself.] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Felizon: He told me to ask that.
Joe Queer: You know, I almost finished his book, and then…
[At this point in the interview someone opens the door and walks in, and the music blaring from the club puts a stop to further discussion. The person leaves, but we’ve been distracted and the topic of Sean’s book, Drinks for the Little Guy, is left hanging in the air. Sorry, Sean.)
Felizon: I’m interested in your relationships with women. Some of your songs are just real nice, and then you have these other songs with lyrics that could be interpreted as misogynistic. You said in another interview when you did Beyond the Valley of the Assfuckers, you used “fuck this” and “cunt that”, “just because it would have just have been real easy to do another pop-punk album.” So when you had songs on that album like “Strangle that Girl,” “My Cunt’s a Cunt,” “I Just Called to Say Fuck You,” I was wondering, were you doing that because you were trying to get away from pop punk songs, or were you going through a bad relationship at that time?
Joe Queer: No, that stuff’s all tongue in cheek. A band called The Queers is not obviously.… You can’t take serious. But some people do. They go, “How do you get away with this?” I just thought… I was like, it’s obviously tongue in cheek. No, I’m not like that. I just kind of did it to be a wise ass. Because I think that’s something that is missing – the irreverence – from the punk scene. Bands like Flipper and the Angry Samoans that were just… Rodney would get off the air and stuff like that… but really influenced me. I did a side project with the original Queers called The Drunken Cholos, and we covered a song called “Faggot in the Family”. Back in those days, it was tongue and cheek and funny, and now it’s like, “Oh, how can they say that there?” And I’m in a band called The Queers, so I’m not…
Felizon: I’m not offended by it at all.
Joe Queer: Some people are. That’s the thing, everyone takes this punk thing too seriously. But it’s getting worse, not better, I think, especially with all these bands signing the majors. It’s like the majors are just going to rape the scene and throw shit at the wall to see what sticks. Find another Green Day – if they possibly can. Green Day is a great band. But I see a lot of bands that aren’t that great, signing to the majors. Tons of bands have opened up for The Queers. Some of them are good, some of them I can see going somewhere, and others, I think suck. You know, they’re all serious. Before, when The Queers started, we didn’t play to the eighties scene here, we weren’t solid, we’d break up for two years. Then in the late 1990s we hooked up with B-Face. We just wanted to put out one album on our own and play with Screeching Weasel in Chicago because we’d heard the Boogadaboogada album and I’d met Ben back in ’91. We had no illusions about touring, getting royalty checks. The best that you could ever possibly hope to be was like some loser Youth Brigade, Social Distortion, Another State of Mind tour, you know? I mean, Black Flag and Youth Brigade starved, no matter how good they did. It was not a career move. You know what I mean? We played for the love of music. Now, these kids see Green Day, Rancid, Offspring, and Nirvana, and it’s like a career move. Not to mention Sugar Ray and all these other bands. And it’s a career move. And if it doesn’t work out for them, they go back to college. I’ve got a twelfth-grade education. I don’t have any safety net underneath me. Neither do the guys in the band. We’re not trying punk rock for two years. Bands like Rancid and Green Day don’t have that safety net, either. They’re white trash like me. They live it, you know? It’s really changed, I think, as far as the sincerity, I think, of music, for a lot of the bands. You know, it’s like the ska fucking phase. When the ska phase came through, everybody went ska. Skas were for fags who were afraid to fight punk rockers, in my fucking book. Fuck it. You know, in the old days, you wanted to be like Johnny Ramone or Johnny Thunders or Keith Richards. I mean, now, can you imagine your kid coming up and saying, “I want to be like the trombone player for the fucking Voodoo Glowskulls?” I’d beat his ass black and blue. Send him to a sexual identity, fucking qu- [interrupts himself, but you know he was going to say “queer”] self-help group or something, you know.
Felizon: I teach middle school. I’ve got kids coming in, being all “punk rock” and “I love Kurt Cobain.” That’s what they think punk rock is, what they see on TV.
Joe Queer: I grew up on Black Flag and The Ramones and Flipper and the Samoans and The Dickies and DKs and so, for this, I don’t buy a lot of bullshit that’s in now.
Felizon: That’s funny that you brought up all those major label bands. Because in another interview, you talked about the Warped tour. In one interview, you said you got into punk because you were an outcast and you said “the fucking bands and the audience” – you know, in the Warped Tour – “looked like the jocks that beat me up in high school.” And when I was reading your Fishing Diary, I don’t know if you noticed this, but you referred to “my skinny ass” like three times. Did you notice this?
Joe Queer: Yeah, I was being a wise ass.
Felizon: And you know, I was thinking about connections, you got beat up in high school. Do you carry any insecurity about that, things that happened to you in high school? Did that contribute to…
Joe Queer: What? The band or something?
Felizon: I don’t know… To where…
Joe Queer: Just the fact that you were an outcast. That’s kind of where all the losers drifted towards: punk rock. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t even think about that. I was just trying to be funny. But yeah, now, it’s like so accepted. What does punk mean now? You know, it’s so snobbish. A lot of this stuff on the Warped tour, a lot of the bands on the majors, I see them go up, I see them go down, I see the way they change. And it’s like, “I want to play music and turn out to be a bigger asshole, a worse person than I was before.” And I’m like, fuck it, I’m not going to do it. I’ll go work at McDonald’s or something. Because that’s what it’s about. I see so many of these bands are assholes. I don’t know, I can’t name these bands. I see these bands that have some little tiny buzz about them, that have not done anything in the scene, say they’ll open up for The Queers. I see the arrogance, The Queers are the persona non grata, we’re not cool like The Strokes or whoever, but it’s a good gig, to open up for The Queers or whatever. And they get this attitude. Like, we played with some band the other day and I’m like, “Hey, I need to borrow a cab, fuck it, can you get me a cab?” [Changes his voice to indicate it’s the other band speaking.] “Oh, well, we’ve got one, but James is really particular about his guitar cab.” And I’m like, “a fucking guitar cab!” You know, I was like, “fuck you! You can borrow any of my stuff you want,” I told him. But, see, I just noticed this attitude. Then I met a person like Joey Ramone. I’m not saying I was best friends with Joey Ramone. But I was good enough that he would call me, I would call him, we got to be friends. What an inspiration. I saw a famous guy who changed, not only music, but the world. The Ramones. Totally humble, nice to people. You know? A lot I could learn off him, you know what I mean? Really was a great person. I knew through his songs he would be great, but he was way better than what I ever imagined. And now I see these fucking snot-nosed fuckers. I am so sick of all of them. Acting like rock stars and the fucking Warped Tour. I turned it down, going. I mean, it was a stupid move on my part. We’re The Queers. I turned it down. I might have to go… The whole level of the playing punk field has changed.
Felizon: We’re talking about labels and signing on, so here’s something. I went to The Queers official website and there’s a press release for Pleasant Screams. It says, ” ‘A Proud Tradition,’ that’s one way you could describe The Queers’ relationship with Lookout Records. But in an interview that you did in ’98, when you were asked why you left Lookout, you said that “Lookout didn’t seem like they wanted us.” And then you said that you couldn’t be happier with Hopeless because you were selling way more albums with Hopeless than you were with Lookout.
Joe Queer: But we didn’t make as much money. [Laughs]
Felizon: Then I found another interview that you did for another fanzine, and you said that Hopeless pissed you off and “we’re more known as a Lookout! band, and those guys at Lookout! are my friends.” So you’ve gone from Lookout to Hopeless and back to Lookout. Do you want to talk more about that?
Joe Queer: At Lookout!, we were really good friends with them, and we grew through the whole thing. But at the time Hugh was dying, our drummer. Larry Livermore’s selling the label. It was a weird time. So we kind of decided with the label that it was time to leave. At various times, that was how I felt. We always were known as a Lookout! band. The thing with Hopeless financially didn’t work out. But they’re a good label. They pushed the band. But we’re back there, we are known as a Lookout! band. With a label, it’s like friends. Friends have fights.
Felizon: You said that you wanted to do an autobiography about the band called Get Out of the Van. What kinds of things would you want to put in that?
Joe Queer: Just basically tour stuff. I liked Henry Rollin’s book, Get in the Van, but I just didn’t think – it didn’t seem like he had that great of a time, and I’m sure it was a bitch for him at times. And here, I’ve never met him, but I hear he’s a really funny person. But yeah, I’m keeping notes and stuff.
Felizon: I got the impression that you wanted to get more into writing seriously.
Joe Queer: Yeah, I like doing stuff like that. There’s people like Sedaris (David) and stuff. I like more of that realistic writing, non-fiction type stuff. So basically, this tour… it’s so funny and anyway…
Felizon: You don’t have any good stories?
Joe Queer: They all have to do with girls. I’ve got this thing. These girls had come out with us the over day, and like at two in the morning, this girl called her mom. And the mom had traced my number on the caller ID and so she left me this funny message. I’m saving it and we’re going to use it at the beginning of our next album.
Felizon: I’m sure you have a lot of groupies who come along and they’re like, “Oh, we’re with the band…”
Joe Queer: Oh, no, I don’t really. Sometimes they do… I don’t know… [Remembering] I did, I did. The other night, we’re all standing outside and you know, all the guys were standing around and this blonde girl comes out, she was twenty, and she just comes right up to me in front of everybody. Right out loud and goes, “I want to fuck you.” That was the first time something like that ever happened. Yeah. Yeah.