Greg Dulli is no GG Allin–to the best of our knowledge, the frontman of the recently reunited Afghan Whigs has never taken a big sloppy shit onstage then hurled his feces into the crowd (well, maybe metaphorically he has). But he’s definitely teetered on the dangerous edge of rock ‘n roll for the better part of 25 years, occasionally tumbling right over into the abyss and yet always somehow managing to claw his way back up to the land of the living. Dulli, who once lyrically celebrated that “I got a dick for a brain,” has scarfed all the drugs, fucked all the women, brawled with all the bouncers, and he’s poured his fury and guilt into the Whigs’ searing, swaggering, eminently soulful songbook, much of which will be unleashed at tonight’s sold-out Terminal 5 gig (which comes a few months after the band’s triumphant reunion show at Bowery Ballroom–their first performance together in 13 years).
Their return has prompted loads of Whigs tribute pieces, retrospectives, reappraisals, and so forth; in the same spirit, here’s a few of our favorite Greg Dulli-related appearances and anecdotes from the past couple decades.
Dulli and Donal
One of Dulli’s best friends is actor Donal Logue, who kickstarted his career by playing “Jimmy the Cab Driver” in tons of MTV spots in the early ’90s. In 1994, while the Whigs were promoting/touring the previous year’s Gentlemen, the pair teamed up for a hilarious takeover of 120 Minutes. Check it out above as they smoke and slur like a couple of alt-rock Rat Packers, mock Kurt Loder, entertain a bizarre visit from James Iha, and act out scenes from Scarface and The Godfather II.
“Fat Greg Dulli”
At some point in the early ’90s, a venomous zine called “Fat Greg Dulli” emerged, its mystery publisher gleefully shredding the singer for being, well, fat. And a lout. It featured content like this:
Greg Dulli One-Night Stand Kit:
Nifty Afghan Whigs money clip and dice cufflinks
8 miniatures of Wild Turkey
2 packs of Dunhills
1 bottle of rib sauce
3 moist towlettes
“Karaoke With The Staples Singers” tape
“Best Of America” karaoke tape
1 Today contraceptive sponge
Don Fleming’s phone number
In 2007, infamously hard-partying former Elektra A&R guy Terry Tolkin–who was instrumental in bringing the Whigs to the label back in the day–claimed that he and a female New York City publicist were in cahoots to put out the zine. Whatever the truth is, “Fat Greg Dulli” clearly got under its namesake’s skin. From a 1996 Guitar World interview:
“I’ve never met the woman who puts it out, and she purports to give a shit about the band, but she’s devoted a large portion of her life to ripping it apart,” says Dulli with mournful wonder. “Her shtick is ‘This guy needs to be taken down a notch.’
“Taken down a notch? We didn’t sell 200,000 records last time. Somebody asked me how I felt about being called Fat Greg Dulli. How do you think it made me feel? It made me feel fat. It’s just being grade-school mean, calling somebody fatty on the playground. But why me? You’re automatically limiting the number of people you can sell to to be making it about me. Fat Bon Jovi, I could understand. Or Fat Madonna. But most people are going to think. ‘Who’s that guy?'”
1994 saw the release of the drama Backbeat, which portrayed the early days of the Beatles as they were establishing themselves via gigs in Hamburg, Germany. The film wasn’t exactly a hit, but the Don Was-produced soundtrack was interesting–no actual Beatles songs, but a truly all-star assemblage of Dulli, Dave Grohl, Thurston Moore, Mike Mills, Dave Pirner and Don Fleming covering Fab Four tunes. Above, they all hit the stage and tore it up in front of a comatose MTV Movie Awards crowd.
The Gutter Twins
On Valentine’s Day 2008 we had the pleasure of witnessing Dulli and fellow dark traveler Mark Lanegan join forces under The Gutter Twins moniker for a remarkable debut show at Bowery Ballroom. We wrote it up for VV sister paper Seattle Weekly thusly:
The vibe was as deliciously black as the pair’s threads, smoky as the wisps oozing from Dulli’s ever-present cigarette, and gritty as their band name (and, at one time, the streets right outside the venue itself) suggested … For the entirety of the 75-minute-or-so set, Lanegan maintained his standard pose–hands gripping the microphone and stand, his body leaning ever so forward–and cast sideways glances at his partner-in-gloom, while Dulli, often wielding his shiny black Les Paul, was a bit more animated as he flailed and spun, lit cigarettes and guzzled bottled water, and interacted with the rest of his bandmates. Both were in spectacular vocal form, Lanegan’s sepulchral croon and Dulli’s impassioned, anguished howls meshing together more perfectly than you could even imagine. There was little in the way of stage banter, but the band was more interested in creating and sustaining mood with their nocturnal ballads and grimy rock-outs than smilin’ and chattin’.
Dulli vs. Ronstadt
In his excellent 33 1/3 book about the Whigs’ Gentlemen, published in 2008, journalist Bob Gendron revealed the behind-the-scenes brouhaha that erupted over the album’s Nan Goldin-inspired cover art, which depicted a young boy and a young girl on a bed:
Gendron explains that singer Linda Ronstadt–one of the Whigs’ labelmates at Elektra–thought the photo was highly inappropriate and said so to Elektra publicist Sherry Ring, who repped both Ronstadt and the Whigs and whose daughter it is on the cover. Ring’s quote, from the book:
“[Ronstadt] said, ‘You let your daughter do that album cover? I can’t believe it!’ I said, ‘Well, to be honest, I didn’t know it was going to be quite what it turned out to be because Greg sort of kept assuring me that it wasn’t.’ He lied,” Ring says, half-jokingly. “It’s not something I showed around her kindergarten class or however old she was at the time; it wasn’t like show and tell. Look, Linda is very women’s lib and very protective of children. It wasn’t out of line. I thought it was very Linda.”
But Dulli, in typical blunt form, offered Gendron a pretty harsh take on the episode:
“I’m like, ‘Linda Ronstadt: You’re dressed like a whore on the cover of Living in the USA with roller skates, curls in your hair, and shorts up to your twat. Fuck you.’ That was my attitude toward Linda Ronstadt, who was a great singer. Now she’s kind of a bore.”
Return Of The Whigs
Dulli and company killed it at the Bowery Ballroom in May, showing hardly any rust as they plowed through a career-spanning setlist. One of the night’s highlights was the band’s inspired cover of Frank Ocean’s “Love Crimes”–a song lyrically and thematically seemingly tailor-made for the Whigs to tackle, and they made it their own. Hope for it to happen again tonight.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 5, 2012