It's a great Hollywood back-story: L.A. kid begins selling pot for his mom at age 14, experiments with Orthodox Judaism, lives on the street, turns tricks for heroin and, following bouts with marriage, fatherhood and sobriety, raps about it all on his major-label debut album.
Released by Interscope in 2006, Mickey Avalon was met with critical acclaim, the sordid background perfectly complementing the artist's wicked wit and cunning mix of hip-hop, electro-punk and glam-rock influences. Think Beastie Boys without the annoying-nephew thing, Jim Carroll without the Catholic guilt.
Sure, there's plenty of comic bravado: "Who that dude sleeping with your girlfriend / Getting nude and rude in your bed / Same dude that your sister like / Mickey Avalon, call me Mr. Right." But Avalon also has his more sobering moments: "All my friends and all my lovers are dead / Some from cheap narcotics and others from lead."
Career-wise, Avalon now finds himself at something of a crossroads. He tells me he's just parted ways with Interscope, leaving an unreleased album in contractual limbo: "It has guest appearances by Katy Perry and Ke$sha and Perry Farrell and Kid Rock and, yeah, that's about it. I worked with a bunch of great producers and a bunch of good songs. I mean, I know that those songs will get out. Maybe my next label will pick them up."
In the following interview, Avalon talks about his upcoming "cannabis lifestyle convention" gig, his unorthodox path to success, and what it means to "do the Jane Fonda."
Indy: You went out with Snoop Dogg on the Blazed and Confused tour, and you're playing a medical marijuana convention here in Colorado. Do you have your card yet?
Mickey Avalon: I actually don't have a card. All my friends do, so, you know, they take care of all that. I just never really got around to it. Probably just too stoned, I guess.
The funny thing about this show is that they said I'm actually not allowed to curse. I have to censor all my songs, which I thought was pretty funny for a weed thing. But it just goes to show, it's a family thing these days.
Indy: Well, it kind of was for you, too, growing up, right?
MA: Yeah, my mom got me into that, into the family business, I guess.
Indy: There's a kind of mythology that's grown up around your past, because, you know, it is a good story and all. What elements of that story do you think were essential to making you who you are, both personally and also professionally?
MA: I guess maybe, because of my upbringing or where I'm from, I just learned from a young age how to hustle. But a lot of it was just kind of what was necessary. You know, like, if you're a drug addict, you sometimes have to do what you gotta do to get by. And in hindsight, it makes for good copy, but I definitely wasn't planning it.
My music publisher teaches a college class, and they asked if we figured all this out for marketing or something. [Laughs.] And I'm like, "No, not quite." I mean, whatever they have to exploit to keep it going is fine, but none of it was planned or anything like that.
Indy: You've shared stages with a ton of people: the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snoop Dog and, most recently, Ke$ha. What were your most and least favorite shows, and why?
MA: Uh, I don't have too many least favorite shows — I mean, they're all pretty fun one way or another. There was a show with the Chili Peppers in Europe where I got booed and stuff, but it wasn't really the way it seemed on YouTube.
Before I went on, they said, "OK, they're gonna boo you and throw stuff, but the main thing is you just gotta get through the songs and get through the set." And I was like, "OK, not a problem." So I played the first song and no one booed or anything, and then I made the mistake of saying, "Oh, they told me you guys were gonna boo and throw stuff." And then, basically before the sentence was out of my mouth, they were throwing stuff from that point to the very end of the show. But even that kind of stuff, it just makes the show more memorable.
Maybe the least favorite was when I got a lawsuit for a show. I have two dancers on stage and this guy was just heckling them and kinda messing with them. So then me and him had a few words, and then he tried to get on the stage, so I hit him with the mic and smashed his face. And so then I had to come back to Maryland a few times to go to court. But it ended up being dropped, and so it was just a pain in the ass.
Indy: Was it dropped because he provoked it?
MA: No, he just didn't show up. I think I probably would have won, hopefully. I mean, we had the footage on DVD. But stuff like that, there's no need for it to happen. Now I know just not to get provoked. Just let security deal with that, because that's what their job is. But you know, it's hard in the moment. And because I have a little bit of notoriety or whatever, people will try to mess with you. I can't really fathom someone trying to start a fight in order to sue you, but that happens. So you know, you have to make little changes to your life, the more popularity you get.
Indy: I actually wanted to ask about that. It seems like you had a tough life early on in a lot of ways, and then suddenly you became famous. Or at least it seemed sudden to the rest of us. Were there points where you thought, this is just really weird, that things are moving the way they are?
MA: Yeah, I mean, the whole thing is weird. I think it all the time. The fact that these opportunities arose to begin with is kind of surreal. I definitely didn't think that this was something that was available to me. But when it came around, I did what I had to do to keep it going. And I don't want to lose it, because I don't want to go back to working minimum-wage jobs and stuff like that. So I'm very grateful, but it's definitely a trip, at all times.
Indy: OK, one last question: Why Jane Fonda?
MA: It was just a joke. When we were kids, all our moms did the Jane Fonda aerobics, and the building was right down the street from us at Olympic and Robertson. The producer for that one was Cisco Adler, and it was his idea. At first I thought it was pretty stupid, but it ended up taking on a life of its own. And since then I've met Jane Fonda and I played the song at her Christmas party, so it was pretty funny. And I've always liked her haircuts. My haircut is kinda based on hers in Klute.
Indy: So is there a "Fonda"? Is there a dance you can do?
MA: No. I mean, you could. You could make one up. [Laughs.] But no, there isn't any particular one. It's more just about sweating and jumping around, you know? Like there's definitely an innuendo in there, I just don't know exactly what it would be.