Where Do I Go Now?

Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll From Here

"Jesus had a comeback," cracks Jesse Malin when told his excellent new solo album marks a distinguished return to the rock biz. "I never made it—I was in a failed band." D Generation, Malin's respected L.E.S. glam-punk outfit ('94-'99), rode the punk-revival wave, opening for Green Day and the Offspring, then sank after the advent of teenpop. Many bands aspire to that level of failure, but the Queens-born 34-year-old clearly longs, all cheerful self-deprecation aside, for the spotlight's glare: "Unless you're playing squats, you wanna reach as many people as possible." His darkly rocking debut, The Fine Art of Self Destruction, has already earned Malin the easy affection of Britain's tabloid music press. Just released stateside by indie luminary Artemis, the album—which recounts the life and times of a man "with funny memories and a broken nose/lots of baggage and not much clothes"—has begun collecting yet more accolades for its gritty, Springsteen-via-the-Replacements anthems.

"My parents split up in the first grade," Malin reminisces on "Almost Grown," his voice weathered but not weary. "My father never did come back/My sister liked John Travolta/but I wanted Billy Jack." "These songs are pretty autobiographical," he volunteers. "Sometimes you change a name to protect the guilty." As in the case of "Wendy," who, the song tells us, "liked Tom Waits and the poet's hat," and left him "all alone/no postcard or telephone." Whether or not it has to do with his preoccupation with abandonment, Malin will gregariously prop up a conversation with rehearsed stories marked by highly expressive hand gestures and colorful words like "fruity." There's the one about getting robbed as an adolescent after a failed search for hookers in Times Square; another concerning the male prostitution ring run out of his high school ("That's why that guy asked me to go to Atlantic City with him"); and the account of being arrested for drinking in public after D Generation's first Garden appearance. Headliners Kiss kicked the band out of their dressing room, and Malin hit a Giuliani-era sidewalk holding a half-full beer. "I explained that I'm a New Yorker, that I've waited my whole life to play Madison Square Garden. They put the cuffs on me and I spent the night in jail." He snarkily refers to these narratives as his "Lenny Bruce-Henry Rollins spoken-word thing."

And so Malin relates the making of The Fine Art of Self Destruction: "I was living on Third Street, the safest block in New York, across from the Hell's Angels—there were no bars on any of the windows. I'd lived there for eight or nine years, and the owners wanted to rent it for $2500 to somebody with pressed pants and a credit card." Giving up his lease in exchange for a generous check, he bought a week's worth of studio time. Friend and alt-country heartthrob Ryan Adams agreed to produce and play on a dozen of the songs Malin had written since D Generation's breakup. (Former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Maur also contributed backing vocals.) "We banged it out in six days, like a '50s record," Malin recalls. "Actually, five days—Ryan didn't show up one morning. I think he had too many sodas the night before." At first unhappy with the hurried takes ("I thought I'd pissed my apartment away"), Malin knew Adams had captured the songs' rough-around-the-edges intimacy after hearing them over the Continental's speakers.

Zoinks!: a Shaggy-haired Jesse Malin
photo: Statia Molewski
Zoinks!: a Shaggy-haired Jesse Malin

When we talk, a fully confident Malin is looking forward to making a video for chiming ballad "Queen of the Underworld" the following weekend. "I love that Sum 41 video," he enthuses, referring to the clip for "Still Waiting," which hilariously parodies the calculated slovenliness of return-of-rock outfits. Not only does he own up to Sum 41's unhip merits, but Malin also defends their principal target, the Strokes, whom he rightly credits with making "a fucking great record" (and who, coincidentally, share his shaggy-hair-and-tight-jeans look). What should we expect in his own bid for MTV play? "It'll be the usual," he deadpans. "L.A. Sunset Strip, tits, girls, cars, maybe some weird sunglasses, smoke, a strobe light." It won't make him bigger than Jesus, but a spot on the charts might just make Jesse Malin feel a little less lonesome.

Jesse Malin performs May 9, Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 212-433-2111.

March 6
Manhattan Center Studios, 311 West 34th Street, 212-485-1534

Three-fourths Rage Against the Machine plus one-fourth Soundgarden equals . . . ? OK, so the CD isn't good at all, really. But if memory serves, wasn't Cornell the one who quit the band before the record came out, and didn't the record get shelved and the super-hyped "super group" left dead in the water? Wouldn't you love to be one of the few to see them on their first and probably last tour? OK, maybe not. But many will—guaranteed. (Bosler)

March 6
Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Avenue, 212-247-4777

Won't you get hip to this timely tip? If Britney can road trip down to the Crossroads to find herself, well then so can Tori. Last year's Scarlet's Walk, an imagistic log of her post-9-11 America-finding jaunts, ranks among her best, its introspection and romance reflected in Pacific cliffs, Mid-western rainstorms, New York bridges, and scorched Southern earth. Live, she should provide her usual controlled spinout. (Sinagra)

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