A Dirty Dozen Dirtbombs Facts, and One Opinion
By Mark Swartz
Since 1992, the Dirtbombs have been making music that just about perfectly balances the soulful and the cerebral and that simultaneously worships rock while dancing on its grave. Mick Collins, the undisputed leader of the band, sings, plays guitar, and dreams up half-baked concepts for their albums, like covering techno classics or manufacturing fake bubblegum classics. He’s also—spoiler alert—a furry fan.
1. The “Detroit garage-punk icon” lives in Brooklyn. “Psychologically, I still live there,” he says. “I read Detroit papers and listen to Detroit radio. I just happen to sleep in Prospect Heights.”
2. Mick Collins is famous in Europe. Ask him yourself.
3. I’m sure he’s a darling to work with, but for some reason the Dirtbombs have gone through several different lineups. No, a lot of different lineups. Through all the changes, they eccentrically retain two drummers and two bassists.
4. He is a proud longstanding furry fan. “I’ve always liked anthropomorphic animals,” he explains. “As a kid, if a cartoon didn’t have talking animals, I didn’t watch it. In the furry world, we call it the ‘door you came in.’ For a lot of people, it was Disney’s Robin Hood.” He attends as many furry conventions as he can.
5. Most inadvertently apt critic putdown ever? “The aural equivalent of skyscrapers built out of wattle and daub.” —The Wire on Party Store.
6. His original motivation to be in a band: seeing his own record in a record store. “I never had anything to say. It’s always been about the physical object. It’s not that vinyl sounds better. I don’t care about sound.”
[Intermission: Listen to this.]
8. His own record collection, comprising more than 8,000 albums, is being held captive in a storage facility in Warren, Michigan.
9. Unlike a lot of professional musicians, he isn’t ashamed to use file-sharing services to get his music. Recent triumph: tracking down Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Meets King Penett (1978).
10. He’s a fiction writer, with two published short stories. In "Snapshot from Fayetteville," which appears in the anthology Best in Show, a human strikes up a relationship with foxgirl who lives in a morph ghetto. Collins is currently at work on a young adult novel about street gangs set in 1957.
11. He was an artist, too, until 1992, when he returned from tour with The Gories (one of his many previous bands) and found himself locked out of his studio. “My keys no longer fit the door.” Not one of his large-scale, AbEx-influenced canvases was ever recovered.
12. The Dirtbombs may be a great band, but to Collins, they’re a failed art project. It all started 23 years ago as conceptual art. He set out to create all the ephemera of a band that never existed. “It was supposed to be this fake band that did a finite number of records and then vanished. Live shows weren’t part of the original idea. As time went on, people would believe it was a real band, and a legend would grow around them, with hipsters saying, ‘I totally saw those guys play live’.” Collins flubbed the follow-through and went ahead and played gigs, and along the way he forgot to be finite. Très rock and roll.
The Dirtbombs are the greatest rock and roll band in the world, even though (a) they’re not really a band and (b) rock and roll died at least 20 years ago. Their place in the pantheon acutely resembles that of German artist Albert Oehlen, who Peter Schjeldahl recently described as “the foremost painter of the era that has seen painting decline as the chief medium of new art.”
Since at least The New York Dolls and Suicide, there have always been bands that aimed to destroy rock and roll. More recently, The Hives, The Strokes, and Collins’s friends The White Stripes have had their innings. I just happen to think the Dirtbombs are, to paraphrase the old Raid commercial, killing rock dead.