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“The last interview I did on mushrooms, I said something about the Beatles, and then I’m like, ‘Sorry, I can’t do this.'”
The day after his first show with his new band, Andy Animal’s Cannibal Tribe, Andy Animal is driving me to the Bronx Zoo to eat mushrooms and commune with his non-human brethren. (We were supposed to take his motorcycle, but it’s in the shop.) An anti-hippie song by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is playing on the stereo. It’s Mother’s Day and the weather is beautiful. The generally happy-go-lucky rock and roll mascot is nervous; I assure him he won’t have to answer any actual questions while tripping.
For those not in the know, Andy Animal has been a figurehead of New York’s garage punk scene for many years as the frontman of Stalkers and various supergroups; as the mastermind behind The Meltdown, a weekend long musical blowout that invades a campground in upstate New York every summer. And also as a ubiquitous character who seems to know everyone and has gained the Internet’s notice for his series of tongue-in-cheek Yankee Candle reviews. He has appeared on several episodes of The Science Channel’s Oddities.
“I’m still getting used to playing guitar in front of people,” he says. “We’re trying to sound like Davie Allan and the Arrows…they did a lot of ’60s biker movie soundtracks.” Also: punk pioneer Link Wray. Eschewing most new music except for that of his friends, Andy is most inspired by that magical time in the 1960s when the building blocks of punk rock were just being created. The band’s vibe is also reminiscent of John Waters and old cannibal films, naturally. The two female backup singers look like they’ve just stepped off the set of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
When we arrive at the zoo, we immediately split a mushroom chocolate, which contains half an eighth’s worth of psilocybin. This should heighten the experience without driving us out of our minds. Alluding to a period of hard drug use in his past, Andy says the only drugs he does now are weed and shrooms. Everything he says is punctuated by his distinctive gravely laugh: “huh-huh-huh.”
While waiting for the chocolates to kick in, we check out the Madasgascar exhibit, where some impressively large crocodiles are hanging out. “Beautiful,” marvels Andy. “I wanna touch it.” He tells me the story of his pet alligator, a gift from a fan he kept in his bathtub for the better part of a year before releasing her into a swamp in Florida. Was she getting too dangerous? “Nah, she’s all right…crocs are the ones you gotta be careful with. She just needed to be in the wild.”
Halfway through Madagascar, Andy is already feeling it, and wishes for the first time of many that he could hang out with the animals in their habitats. “I just wanna be inside all these things, you know?” I say that I do.
Out the other end of Madagascar, we pass by some rhinos (“look at the size of that rhino’s vagina!” says Andy, “huh-huh-huh.”) And then, against all odds, we run into Andy’s friends Drew and Shusha. He really does have friends everywhere. They agree to help guide us on our journey.
Despite wanting very badly to be outdoors, Andy has special affection for that upstart of a cobra that escaped recently, which is now named “M.I.A.” (No relation to the Sri Lankan rapper.) I ask if he’s behind the BronxZoosCobra twitter. “I’m not saying it isn’t me,” he replies coyly.
Like most reptiles do most of the time, the cobra is chilling in the corner of its cage not doing much of anything (or maybe it’s plotting its next escape?), but Andy seems satisfied after taking a picture of it. “Bye Mia, bye baby,” he says, waving. “I can’t believe they took Mia’s sign down.” Fame is a fickle beast. Next we pass by a milky eyed jungle snake (“that one’s all goth,” he says), a fat tomato frog, which gets the laugh, and some snake necked turtles, which he views with suspicion. “That freaks me out, a snake coming out of a turtle.”
On the way to see Andy’s ultimate spirit animal, the gorilla, we stop by the bear enclosure, where some brown bears are swimming and playing in their cute but terrifying way; Andy says he’s run several bears off his property in Woodstock, where he lives part time. Next we go by some rock hyraxes (“do you think the hyrax ever eats hydrox cookies?”) and a body of muddy looking water, which Andy really wants to swim in. “Do you think anyone would care if I took my clothes off?” he asks. “There’s no sign that says not to go in the water.” I tell him to try to control himself, but that I won’t stop him if he does.
Next, we pause in a little cafe area while Andy chases a peacock around until he lets a toddler take over for him. But we stop what we’re doing when we notice an ibex staring directly at us from its rocky mountain perch. “He’s grillin’ me,” says Andy. “I feel like this goat is judging me. ‘You should be with your mother right now.'” “Let’s get out of here,” I say, hurrying him along.
Away from the prying eyes of the ibex, we admire some giraffes, who are less judgmental, ostriches (“Johnny Cash killed an ostrich once, it was charging him”) and okapis (“That thing’s gotta make up its damn mind). “Am I safe to take my clothes off yet?” he asks. I say that’s up to him.
We just want to see the gorillas, but it quickly becomes clear to us that the zoo is set up in such a way as to force us to view the lesser animals before we can see the really exciting ones. So we walk through another hot and stinky indoor area, where Andy evaluates some butterfly fish (“What the fuck, those are crazy”) a clawed frog (“Looks like the Stay Puft marshmallow man”) and an eel-like African lung fish (“I hate it. Eels are nature’s cruelest mistakes.”) There’s also a nile monitor, which seems to be winking over its shoulder at us. “That’s one sensuous lizard,” says Andy of the giant carnivorous reptile. “I feel like he’s trying to seduce me.”
Fucking finally, we come to a large room walled in plexiglass that allows us to view the lowland gorillas, and Andy beats his chest in excitement. “Andy, we found your new home!” says Drew. As promised in the subway ads, the eerily humanoid creatures can come right up to the glass to peer directly into our souls, and one does just that. Are they as fascinated by us as we are by them? Andy is transfixed by a large silver-backed male, and I ask what he’s thinking. “I’m just kinda relating,” he replies. “When I was a kid, I’d look for gorillas in the woods. I’d bring a hammer with me, not to hurt them, but for self defense.”
The room is full of people tapping on the glass, talking too loudly, and generally behaving worse than the animals. This starts to harsh our mellow, so we mosey along. “That’s where I saw the gorilla eating his own vomit,” says Andy, pointing. “The only thing I know how to write songs about anymore is animals. I understand them.”
On our way out of the congo gorilla forest, Andy wishes he’d brought some beer. “Beer and early Motorhead mellow out my trips,” he explains. What about the animals? “All animals mellow me out but eels.”
Andy wants to see the penguins before the zoo closes, so we skip past some flamingos to the aquatic bird area. “The flamingos are wearing kneepads,” he observes. “They must suck a lot of dick. Or maybe their parents make them wear them.” By the flamingos, there’s a question you can flip up to see the answer, and it is, no joke, “Where are the palm trees and hula dancers?” A: “In your imagination.” Andy says that he can see them now. This zoo was clearly designed for little kids and adults on psychedelics.
We find the aquatic bird area and enter yet another smelly series of rooms, in which Andy takes a break from shirt wearing. We pass by some puffins, which Andy believes are from Cape Cod and talk like Kennedys, before emerging into a large outdoor habitat. There’s guano everywhere. “I feel like nobody would mind if I get in the water,” Andy says, grinning.
Some birds called inca terns are nesting in the rocks above us, and I realize their high-pitched cries sound exactly like a pitch-shifted version of Andy’s laugh. I tell him so, and he begins to chuckle, “huh-huh-huh.” The birds chuckle back, “ha-ha-ha!” This escalates until the birds can’t take it anymore and fly away to a rock on the other side. To Andy’s great disappointment, none of them shit in his mouth.
On the way home (a friend is driving), Andy calls his mom to wish her a happy mother’s day and ask her for permission to go out and kill tonight, as per the Misfits song. She says no, as usual, but he makes plans to meet up with her tomorrow anyway. “Someday my mother will give me permission to kill,” he sighs. I’m vibing out in back on how much I love the zoo and how lucky we are to have it right there in the Bronx, and how I should buy a membership, probably, but I take a moment to appreciate what a cool and patient woman Mama Animal must be. “The Book Of Love” by The Monotones blasts from the stereo, followed by Danzig’s “Mother.” (Huh-huh-huh.) He also calls his young niece, whom he helps care for, and who accompanied him to the zoo the last time he went. “Do you still have that elephant hat I got you?” She does.
Back in Brooklyn, we drink two-for-one beers at Bushwick Country Club and talk about how excited we are for this year’s Meltdown. Mungo Jerry is playing! And White Mystery! And lots of other great bands, some a secret.
A nice Chinese dinner later, a now sober Andy agrees to drive me and my friends home, and also to take two Chinatown street turtles — an ill advised gift — off my roommate’s hands for her and drive them to a pond upstate. Their names are Rat and Spider, but he re-names them Fred and Cinnamon, which seems fair. He promises to give them a good new home, and also to give me a rain check on that motorcycle ride. I have no doubt he’ll come through on both counts; that’s just the nature of this beast.