Back in the spring, MAGNET’s collective jaw dropped when we learned that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declared, in the middle of a briefing with the Washington press corps, that Guided By Voices was “the greatest rock band of the modern era.” It’s not often that our musical tastes intersect with those of the spokesperson for the most powerful man on the planet, so we dropped Carney a line and asked if he’d be willing to sit for an interview about his love of Bob Pollard and Co. Surprisingly enough, he said yes, and we found ourselves in the West Wing of the White House grilling the President of the United States’ spokesman about the finer points of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes.
You declared Guided By Voices to be the greatest band of the modern era during a press conference in the White House briefing room. I recently watched it again on YouTube, and I noticed that none of the White House press corps followed up on this very provocative declaration that you made. They all seemed to be more interested in Afghanistan and some place called China, and I really have to question the priorities of the lamestream media, as somebody we know would call it. And then last summer, you somehow interpolated (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell with Mitch Mitchell, who is the guitarist in Guided By Voices, and then you said, when trying to steer back to the matters at hand, “OK let’s motor on.” Pretty sure you meant “Motor Away” …
I did, I did.
… referring to the song from Alien Lanes. The reason I bring all this up is that nobody in that room got this reference, but we did, sir, and the question is, why doesn’t MAGNET have a permanent seat in that briefing room?
I hereby approve your application for a permanent seat in the briefing room.
I think you’ve earned it by recognizing all of my Guided By Voices references and appreciating them, because I can say, in this job, I get to make my views known in a way I never was able to as a regular reporter for Time magazine, and it’s been especially nice to be extremely declarative about my musical preferences.
My first proper question is a hypothetical: The flying saucers land on the front lawn, and they come down the gang plank and say, “What is this Guided By Voices that the White House press secretary is always talking about?” What is the one song that you would play them to set them straight?
I think “Echos Myron.” Because it might be the perfect pop/rock song. At least since the Beatles broke up, and the reason why I have so much affection for that song is both its perfection and because when I saw GBV at Irving Plaza in ’96 with my GBV buddies, there was a moment in the show—which was the best GBV show I have ever seen—when toward the end they played that, and there was so much extreme happiness there. It was just a perfect moment, a perfect rock ‘n’ roll moment. I just think it’s a fantastic song, and it’s emblematic of the so-called classic lineup’s capacity to take a simple song and make it unforgettable.
I’ve actually had that exact same experience that you’re talking about. It’s a very joyful song. On a related note, another hypothetical: Your house is on fire. God forbid, you only have time to grab one GBV album. Which one do you take with you?
That’s hard. And I won’t cheat by choosing some of the later greatest-hits collections. I would say Bee Thousand.
I would agree with you on that. OK, Tobin Sprout/Mitch Mitchell era or the Doug Gillard era?
Hands down, nothing against the Doug Gillard team, but Tobin and Mitch.
OK, this is a fill-in-the-blank question. The only bad GBV song is …
[Whistles] Here’s the thing: Pollard is so prolific and so good, but being that prolific I think requires that you write some bad songs. And you know, not all of them are great in my opinion. It would be impossible for anyone to achieve that, so I guess if I had to pick … I’m trying to think … I’ll have to think about that a little more …
Well, I’ll help you out here. The judges would have accepted “a song I have never heard and surely hope I never do.” Moving on, has the GBV song “Game Of Pricks” taken on a special resonance given your current vocation?
[Laughs] Well, I hadn’t thought of it before in that context, but I will never think of it otherwise now.
Are you listed in the Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory?
Absolutely. If diehard fans are listed in that directory, I’m in there.
Have you ever kicked an elf?
Have you ever met a non-dairy creamer explicitly laid out like a fruitcake with a wet spot bigger than a Great Lake?
Not that I remember.
We need to know: How does the president come down on the great Bee Thousand-vs.-Alien Lanes debate?
I confess, I have not discussed it with him. In one of the White House press briefings where it came up, somebody asked me if the president was a fan. I said, “I’m working on him,” but the truth is I haven’t. I haven’t brought that into our relationship.
Have you managed to convert anyone else in the White House to the church of Guided By Voices?
You know, I haven’t had the time to prosthelytize. We’re focused on other issues, but some of the younger folks here have come up and said, “Oh, I like GBV,” and I thought, “That’s great, that’s cool.” So they’ve got fans in another generation now, which is good.
Any truth to the rumor that the “In God We Trust” on paper currency will be replaced with “In Bob We Trust”?
[Laughs] I’m working on (Secretary of the Treasury) Tim Geithner to see if we can make that happen.
When you get done listening to all the Guided By Voices albums and assorted EPs, singles and side-project records, what do you put on?
The thing is, in my life now—which is a great life—I have two kids, a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old. I have a family and stuff, and there’s not a lot of sitting around listening to music. It’s running out to soccer games and baseball games or to (D.C.’s) 9:30 Club—my son has paced the stage of the 9:30 Club and belted out rock ‘n’ roll on three occasions.
What’s his band called?
They’re called Twenty20, ’cause that’s the year they graduate from high school. They just finished fourth grade. My son kinda looks like Bob Pollard. His name’s Hugo, and he and his pals have a little sort of school-of-rock band here, and they played a battle of the bands at the 9:30 Club. I’d been to the 9:30 Club many, many times—it’s a great venue, seen Guided By Voices there many times—and to see my son up there belting out “Teenage FBI” was just a great moment.