- Illustration by Casey Burns
- Jon Wurster: drummer, writer, rock 'n' roll survivor
Video may have killed the radio star, but it never put away radio comedy. At least, that's what Jon Wurster and Tom Scharpling are betting on, as they ply what they call their "radio hijinks" on WFMU, the famed, freeform radio station based in Jersey City.
Both write and create elsewhere: Scharpling has penned scripts for the hit cable television comedy Monk, while Wurster is also Superchunk's drummer and a busy session man. On Tuesdays, from 8-11 p.m., Scharpling presides over the self-proclaimed "Best Show on WFMU," and Wurster is his invariable foil who calls into the show under a variety of guises. Their M.O.: Scharpling receives calls from a rogues gallery, colorfully personified by Wurster. If the Jerky Boys were loud blasts of pulp fiction, Scharpling and Wurster raise the prankish art to literary heights, their warts-and-all goons and a-holes peppered with alluring pop culture morsels.
The duo's biting fourth CD collection, The Art of the Slap, excavates these psyche explorations in long-form, slowly unfolding the escapades of ne'er-do-wells like Philly Boy Roy, Andy from Newbridge, and Corey Harris from the alt-whatever dude rock band Mother 13.
M13 tried becoming the first band to rock Mt. Everest with unlikely mountaineers Clarenc "Big Man" Clemons (of E Street Band fame) and super-sized troupe Polyphonic Spree. Now Harris is pushing a new group, Corey Harris's Mother 13 (featuring Corey Harris), also known as "CH'sM13," or "fCH" for short. They're touring "in support of a new sticker" and will be on the "Purina/Hefty Who Let the Catfood Out of the Bag Tour." We asked Harris what's next.
Independent: So, Corey, hope you're recovering well. The families of your former bandmates sound upset about the trip.
Corey Harris: They're also instigating a wrongful death lawsuit against me, which is totally unfair because there have been articles in the Nepal tabloids saying that the guys have been seen partying in several local nightspots (no bodies were ever found).
With your injuries from the climb, it must be hard not being able to keep the partying lifestyle to which you're accustomed. Or have you been able to "maintain" during your recovery?
It's hard, but I made a decision several years ago to become the best rock star I could possibly be. There's a lot of responsibility that goes with that. What if I'm at a bar and some young fan sees me drinking a soda instead of doing shots? That kid would be crushed... for life. He worshiped me for the way I lived and that one image will ruin him.
I'll be honest, sometimes you just don't feel like drinking or doing rails. But it's like the tattoo on the back of my right calf says: "Dude, Party through the Pain, Dude."
After Mother 13 went for an unsuccessful major label ride, how did your perception of the music industry change?
People are always telling me to put out my music on my own label. Who do they think I am, Omelet Ertegun? I'd need millions of dollars to do it the way I want to do it. I have huge ideas. I want my fans to be able to download, not just my songs—I also want them to be able to download and print out an entire shrink-wrapped CD. And T-shirts. These ideas require the kind of backing that only a major label (or oil company) can provide.
What motivates you to continue making music at this point? It seems like you've kind of been through the wringer.
Hey, you don't talk to me like that. I talk to YOU like that. I do this because the world NEEDS to hear my music. I feel sorry that, due to the choke job pulled by RCA, the world never got the opportunity to fully appreciate Mother 13. It's one of the great crimes in history. When it comes down to why I keep going, that's big picture stuff—you know, the questions we all ask ourselves in the middle of the night—"why are we here?" "why am I one of the all-time greats?"—stuff like that. I'm only following the script.
What are you listening to these days? Coming from such an eclectic band, you must have pretty varying taste.
Absolutely. My tastes are all over the map. I'll hit shuffle on my iPod and we'll see what comes up. Here we go: Train, Nickelback, Daughtry, Vertical Horizon, Sister Sheila, OAR—the whole gamut, really. I don't know anyone who likes stuff as electric as I do.
Since your band got a record deal, the country has seen the continuing rise of American Idol, America's Got Talent and other talent-related reality contests. What do you think of this age in modern music?
I think things are better than ever. Back when Mother 13 was first starting out you had to really work your way up. Well, Mother 13 didn't—we got signed to RCA because of our photo (a couple of us were models)—but most artists had to. That can probably be a real drag.
Now, all you have to do is post a video of yourself online and you get a record deal. This just happened to my 17-year-old sister, Corrine. She posted a video of herself sucking on a lollipop on YouTube and now she's on a major label. She's got the total package:
1) Killer looks (Think Angelina Jolie meets a more toned Carrie Underwood)
2) Great personality (She has that God-given gift of being able to go from "you wanna go back to your car?" to really convincing "aw shucks" humbleness at the drop of a hat.)
3) A top-shelf management/ production team. They told Corrine she's so good she doesn't even need to sing on her own record!
Corey, you just don't seem like a quitter. Would you ever take another stab at the Mt. Everest idea again, bringing some heartier fellow travelers like some North Carolina road-experienced musicians? How about Superchunk or maybe The Mountain Goats (there aren't really any "goats," it's mostly one dude)? Of course, that depends on how you feel about indie rockers.
I've always said that "Non-Quitter" is my middle name. (In reality, it's "Throckmorton"—don't ask.) But, man, that climb was brutal. I thought because I'd put in several hours climbing the big fake cliff at Go Climb a Rock, the mountain climbing store at Newbridge Commons, that I was good to go. I wasn't.
No, the next big project for CH'sM13 (fCH) is a little more realistic: We're going to become the first rock band to play a concert while skydiving. I mean, how hard can it be? All you gotta do is pull that little ripcord thingy, right?
I don't know those bands you mentioned. Are they cool? When you say, "indie rock" do you mean, like, "Indian rock?" Like Redbone and Cher? That actually sounds pretty cool! I would definitely be down with something like that.
Listen to The Best Show on WFMU streamed live online at wfmu.org/ssaudionet.shtml, Tuesdays from 8-11 p.m. For more on the show, visit www.friendsoftom.com. Their new CD collection, The Art of the Slap, can be purchased at www.stereolaffs.com.