31 minutes and 31 seconds with Gary Bear
Photo (from Gary Bear's Xmas Show) by Babsomatic
Gary Bear: So is this going to be a scripted interview, or a non-scripted interview?
DoC: A scripted interview?
Well, since I'm not really sure what that means. . . .
That it's gonna be off a script. I mean like, all written out.
Oh, uh . . . no. So . . . I read that you were born on Mars. Were you born on Mars?
Were you born on Arcton?
No. Zebulon. It's a hybrid planet.
I don't really knowastronomicallyfrom here.
Zebulon. What's that mean?
Well, zeb was an Egyptian word for bear, so their word for bear survives in Zebulon, which is where our hybrids are raised.
How did the bear thing develop?
It's quite simple. Years ago, I started writing songs and I wanted to find out how to copyright them and I got information from the Copyright Office and it said you could put a whole bunch of them together, but it should bear a title. . . .
And I was reading this other thing that your work should bear a copyright symbol, so I put bears next to my copyright symbol and kind of went on from there. Now I have this storyline about space bear invaders that I'm playing with. I don't have like a full anthology of space bear stories, but I've been kind of playing with the storyline a little bit. They come from the planet Arcton and they all have IQs of like 2400, and they have opposable thumbs so they can use that intelligence to make tools and stuff and they're capable of inter-dimensional travel and their planet's located near a far-distant quasar.
What's the relation between Zebulon and Arcton?
Zebulon is where their hybrids are raised. See, I'm actually a human-bear hybrid.
I like to eat a lot and sleep a lot in the winter. The way bears are, they have sex in the summer but the females don't get pregnant unless they eat enough food to get fat enough that they can have cubs. So the bears have sex and then the male bears go away and the females go off and they raise the young. I mean, that's not what I intend to do, but. . . .
Sounds like a pretty good arrangement.
It's for summertime.
The Mungo Jerry thing.
Have you always performed as Gary Bear?
Pretty much. I was Gary B for a while, and I sometimes use the name Kelvin-296.
I noticed that on your website.
I was using that more like for karaoke nights, when I used to do things like that. I was trying to change it, actually, to have a band, and I was going to be Kelvin-296 and the [tape garble]. Kelvin is actually a scale of temperature for . . . it's a scientific scale of temperature. 296 is about 72, 73 degrees. So it's room temperature and I have no idea why room temperature sounded right, but at the time it just did. Not cold, not hot.
Didn't you work some with Bebe and Serge?
You didn't perform together with them, though, did you?
Serge drums with me sometimes.
How do you bill yourselves in that configuration?
Gary Bear Deluxe. And it could be anything; Gary Bear with piano accompaniment is Gary Bear Deluxe. The drummer for Pork Torta sat in on keys, and we did a trio thing once. Gary Bear Deluxe.
Do you consider Gary Bear a character? Or do you consider it more like . . . how Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan, not a character?
I use it primarily as a stage name, but sometimes I do characterize who I am when I'm doing it, like the intro tonight, about traveling from another planet.
Gary Bear looks to the Space Bear Skies. Photo by Babsomatic
Do you improvise a different intro each performance?
Yes and no. I re-use some of the same ones. Sometimes I'll take one and I'll change it up a little bit. Sometimes I don't even use an intro.
How did the puppets come about?
I just kind of feel like it's good to break up the music. And it allows me to express other storylines and creative components without having to write songs about them.
Any excuse to wear socks on your hands.
Oh, yeah! They're very nice and soft. Someone gave me the beads. I don't know if you noticed that the female character had beads. This lady who's running a small coffee shop in Tucson had those and I used to perform there, and people were saying I should do more to make the male sock and female sock look different. And that bear: I was sort of playing with the Space Bear From Arcton concept and storyline and I had a friend who had a garden outside of Tucsonit's actually pretty far out of townand I thought it was like resort-hotel-housing development type of place. We got there and somehow it was under the authority of the park system, National Park system. Ventana Canyon, or something. They have an art gallery there and they had a gift shop that had bear puppets, among other things. So I thought he could be the space bear.
I notice that when you're performing, you kind of have a British accent.
I have that sometimes just talking to people. I don't realize I'm doing it. It just relaxes me.
Is that part of the Gary Bear character?
It can be, but usually it just happens. The odd thing is, I do some amateur acting, and if they ask for a British accent, forget it!
Your performances seem almost troubador-ish, in a way. Do you know what I mean? A lot of your songs seem to be about unrequited love.
Yeah, well. I've had a really bad love life. The worst thing about it is that's all I ever wanted. And that's why I've really avoided holding a job, since I was twenty years old. I mean, I've had jobs a little bit. I do odd jobs, mostly, on my own. Since I was twenty years old, the one thing I can think of that I wanted, was women to drink wine with and explore sex with. But the problem is, you can't tell them that. They freak out. They don't hear it. And if I sit there and wait for something to happen, it doesn't, and then it comes back to relationships, develop a relationship with someone, but even that's hard to do. I try to do friend things and then it just doesn't go anywhere. And so I've spent years and years and years on this quest to just meet some women who'd be a little open sexually and help me explore my sexuality. I've never found them, and I've had, like, one-and-a-half relationships. I had a girlfriend for a number of years and she had no other friends, period. And arthritis.
Yeah. And it turned into this sort of burden for me. I mean, it wouldn't be totally crippling, but it would be like . . . everything turned into an expedition, like just going to the store. And she was poor, on disability, and she was always broke, and I . . . I don't mind buying lunch for somebody that I could date, but just because I get hungry and this person is poor, now I have to buy her lunch all the time? It got to be a burden, some, for me. And it's not the lunch thing, it was everything. Like, I'd try to help her out, socially, take her to a party and it'd be past her bedtime, so we'd have to leave.
Was she from Tucson?
Yeah, that was in Tucson. And this other lady, I think she probably would've married me, if I wanted to, because she was just interested inshe wanted to be married and have kids. I don't know, I liked her and she was cute, but I just didn't really . . . like I wasn't totally crazy about her. And we had an off-and-on friend/sex relationship kind of patchwork for a while, and she moved. And she didn't drink at all. I mean, I don't want to waste my life on alcohol, but sometimes it's fun to drink. Sometimes I'd invite her to parties where people would drink a lot, and I can't take her there. I'd be better off with a prostitute, except they talk too much. They under-service and I don't trust them. I just don't. I need sex from a friend, so I know she's not going to cheat me and I can talk to her, no problem, and
What do you mean by under-service?
They want to leave right away. I don't want you to go, I want you to be here with me. If she wants to go, she should just go. I don't really want to leverage a woman into something or fight with her. I'm just gonna let her go. And if I'm gonna do that, then she's gonna take the money and go right away, and if she does that, I'm not gonna get my money's worth, so there's no point in me going in that direction.
When you dedicate your songs to "a very special lady," is it always the same one?
Those songs were written about a very specific woman.
The same one?
But not the one you're talking about now.
Not any of the ones I've had relationships with.
That's what I meant by comparing you to the troubadors. The troubadors used a trope concerning unattainable love, rather than love they had experienced. I wondered whether that was part of the stage character.
Nothing intentional. I just like this woman a lot and I wrote the songs about her and that's as far as it went. She won't even talk to me. She used to talk to me. Nothing happened between us. I liked her a lot but she had a boyfriend, so it was sort of like not really a possibility as far as I knew. And she suddenly left him. But she won't talk to me. I have no idea why.
Does she know that you've written songs about her?
I don't think so. I doubt she's ever heard them. And I don't use her name; I made up a name. I created that because sometimes in a song I like to really address the person, but I don't want to address somebody by their real name in public.
Do you want her to hear them?
It's not a possibility. She left her boyfriend and now she's a prostitute but she won't let me be one of her clients. She's got problems, problems. I just wish she'd talk to me. She won't even do that. I'd rather have her than the songs. But I've got the songs.
Do you find it painful to sing about?
No. I adore her. I don't care. She can do what she's gonna do. I still love her.
What kind of plans do you have for your website?
Currently I made this section called "News," but what I'm going to do is turn it into like a library or a reading room: news articles about what I'm doing, whatever. Maybe some stories, I don't know. I don't want to have a separate page for every category of text, so it's all just on one page. Probably I'll change the audio clips. Currently I just have streaming audio but I thought I might include some MP3s. And a photo gallery. As soon as I get some photographs. This other lady friend of mine, her boyfriend's a photographer. I mean, I don't think he's making a living at it, but he actually went to school and got a degree in it and is serious about it, he graduated and all. He took some photos of me at a show and just gave them to me. My other plan for the site is to get people there. I'm not getting a lot of traffic. I've gotten some hits from Sweden, Norway, Brazil, Czech Republic, but just a couple of them here and there.
People in Europe are often more interested in non-mainstream American music than Americans are.
That's true. I know some bands in Tucson who do fairly well over there.
Do you remember Rainer?
He died a few years ago. He used to repair guitars down at the Chicago Music Store in Tucson. He would tour Europe and was known internationally as a blues guitarist. I don't understand that phenomenon. Many of the best reissues of old American good stuff come out of Europe. Bear Family, out of Germany, for example. Here they don't seem to care so much for that stuff.
I guess that'd be the trick, then, to get into a European tour to help support that. That'd be impossible, the path of it, and booking it and all that is beyond me.
Maybe you could meet the guys in Calexico or something. They have a European following, I believe.
Actually, I know Joey. Not well; I mean, we don't do things together, but we say hi. The thing about it is the plane fare over there. And I don't actually know anyonewell, actually, I do know someone in Europe, now that I think about it. Not involved in music, but he speaks German and he speaks English fairly well.
How long have you been in Tucson?
More than twenty years.
And you came from. . . ?
Before that was California, but I was actually born in Illinois.
What's your overall impression of the Tucson music scene?
It's interesting. It can be fun. I'm having a hard time getting in any place there, though. They book me once in a while. I don't know what it is. They don't seem to like me very much. I mean, they're nice to me; they'll say, "Yeah, when the right show comes along," but the actual reality of getting book in the clubs there is pretty slim.
Has it always been that way in Tucson for you?
Yeah, pretty much. I was playing a little more a few years back, but I knew somebody who was booking shows at Club Congress, so he had something to do with me getting put in shows there. I mean, he wasn't doing all the booking, but he helped them kind of get their band scene going and then he would actually promote shows there.
Like the Daniel Johnston show?
What's your goal? What would make you happiest? To try and make a living at it?
I'd actually like to try and generate an income from it. I actually put a lot into it. Some people might think, Oh, write a song, blah blah blah, but there's a lot more to it than that. Sometimes finishing a verse is like, to get it right, it's not that simple. And then typing the lyric sheet and proofreading it and practicing and making changes and then filing copyright, filling out a form, getting an envelope, putting an address on it, writing a check--all this stuff has to be done before a song's actually finished.
You do that for every song?
Well, usually what I do is I put songs together in a collection so I only have to fill out one form and write one check, but still, it takes time to record them and stuff.
You mentioned your mother; do you play your music for her at all?
No. She's really unsupportive. I mean, if I confront her with that, she'd say, "Oh, you should have it, you know, as a hobby, but you need some kind of regular job" thing, you know. If I find that I have some booking coming up and try to tell her about it, she'll just kind of cut it down. "Can you buy a car with that? How much is it going to pay?" I'm like, that's not the point. She doesn't relate to that.
Not a music lover, huh?
No, and she comes out of an immigrant family with like thirteen kids, and the father was killed when she was like five years old, so they had this single Italian mother raising thirteen kids, and going through the Depression era, come out of that into World War Two, so to her, having these low-paying jobs was probably considered a real boon in her day. I don't think she ever had time to think of doing anything called personal initiative or personal productivity without actually getting paid to do it.
[A question from Babs: Do you prefer paper or plastic?]
Actually, I prefer the new miracle paplic. It has some of the characteristics of paper and some of the characteristics of plastic.
Can you give us a message from the Genius Bears?
Straighten up and fly right.
[A question from our IHOP waitress: What's your favorite color?]
Veridian. It's a rich, dark green.
[A question from Heather: What's your favorite song?]
"I Want to Love You in a Public Place."
[I forgot to ask about "Reba Gray," who writes fiercely in defense and support of Gary Bear on Gary Bear's website, but the reader can surely answer that question .]
© Deuce of Clubs
Hear Gary Bear's music and check for upcoming appearances at GaryBearMusic.com
Also: My first Gary Bear encounter