Published on December 15th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
John Cafiero On The Dr. Demento “Covered In Punk” Tribute, The Future Of Osaka Popstar & More
John Cafiero is a very hard individual to define. He is the singer of the band Osaka Popstar, the manager of The Misfits and the Estate of Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone, a record label head, a film director, and a film producer. One of Cafiero’s most recent projects is Dr. Demento Covered In Punk, which was technically a #1 release on the Billboard charts. A star-studded tribute to legendary radio host Dr. Demento, Covered In Punk features the likes of Joan Jett, “Weird Al” Yankovic, The Misfits, William Shatner, Fred Schneider and Batman‘s Adam West, to name just a few of the performers.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with John Cafiero about Covered In Punk, Dr. Demento, his work with The Misfits, and life as a successful multi-hyphenate. More on Dr. Demento and the Covered In Punk project can be found online at www.coveredinpunk.com, while Mr. Cafiero can be followed on Twitter via @JohnCafiero and/or visited through the Osaka Popstar website.
How did you first become aware of Dr. Demento? Had a friend told you about his radio show?
John Cafiero: When I was about six or seven years old, a friend played Benny Bell’s “Shaving Cream” for me and I LOVED it. He’d recorded it on cassette off the air. That was my first taste of The Dr. Demento Show. From then on, Dr. Demento represented the entire weird and funny music genre in my mind. He was the brand name that housed all demented music and artists as far as I was concerned. I’d try to listen to the show whenever I could, but it would change stations here on the East Coast often. It never seemed to stay in the same place very long. There was no Internet at the time, so it was really special when you’d find it again. Throughout my childhood, The Dr. Demento Show seemed almost like a UFO that would disappear and reappear without warning.
How long did it take to put this project together?
John Cafiero: From inception to completion… 4 years. In fairness, I did work on other things simultaneously, which prolonged the process a bit, but even so, it still would have been at least two, maybe three years, regardless. Great care and attention to detail went into each and every aspect. It’s a fairly-elaborate project in all respects.
I presume that some artists are more outward about their appreciation of Dr. Demento than others. But who was the most surprising fan of Dr. Demento to you?
John Cafiero: Yes, absolutely. Quite a few of the artists were long-time fans of the show and really enthused to be involved. I can’t say I was surprised by anyone in particular being a fan though. Some may have been bigger fans than others, but if I felt you were right for this project creatively, then being a fan of Dr. Demento’s would make perfect sense to me too. Not that everyone involved was, it wasn’t a prerequisite, but a great deal of the artists involved certainly were.
Did you know Drew Friedman before working on this compilation?
John Cafiero: Yes, I’ve known Drew for about 10 years now give or take, been a huge fan of his work far longer, and was thrilled to have him create the cover for Dr. Demento Covered In Punk. I couldn’t think of a more perfect artist to visualize the essence of this project. In fact, after I confirmed Dr. Demento’s involvement, Drew was the first person I asked to come on board, and he immediately agreed.
In recent news, I’m executive producer on a new documentary about Drew called Vermeer Of The Borscht Belt. The film is directed by Kevin Dougherty and will be released sometime in 2019 through Shout Factory. If you like Drew’s work, be sure to keep an eye out for it.
Do you have an all-time favorite song from Dr. Demento’s show?
John Cafiero: It’s so hard to pick just one because I have countless favorites and there’s such a wealth of amazing material, but if I had to narrow it down to one alone, I would have to say “Fish Heads”… That’s why I picked “Fish Heads” as the track my band Osaka Popstar would reimagine for the album. I was obsessed with Barnes & Barnes as a kid, and in particular the Voobaha album “Fish Heads” was featured on. Every song on that album is amazing.
I used to write fan letters to Barnes & Barnes when I was in grammar school and, to my pleasant surprise, they’d always write me back. I even had the same “Fish Heads” t-shirt that Artie Barnes wears on the cover of the album and wore it until it literally, fell apart. I think I was in high school by the time I had to throw it away.
Being that Dr. Demento has been on the air for five decades, there are many classics not featured on this compilation. What would it take for you to make another compilation?
John Cafiero: Time, that’s about it. When I finished the first one, it was so involved I had no intention of revisiting it. But the response to the album has been incredible, and I’m beyond pleased with the way it all turned out creatively, as is the Doc, so… I’m in the planning stages for Dr. Demento Covered In Punk Vol. II.
Beyond this compilation, you are an artist and a manager. Can you tell me what else you’ve been working on as of late?
John Cafiero: Sure, there is a lot of great stuff going on…
I proudly manage icons like the Estate of Dee Dee Ramone, and The Misfits who I’ve been with for 20 years now. After about 14 years of working towards the goal of seeing an original Misfits reunion come to fruition, we’re amidst it, which is a real thrill for me. Five historic shows have taken place from 2016 to present, and they’ll be playing together again in April 2019 at the Allstate Arena in Chicago. It’s amazing to see them perform together live. There’s nothing else like it, and no band that can match their level of authenticity and ferocity. It’s truly something to behold.
Two all-new Osaka Popstar EPs are recorded and will be released a few months apart in 2019. Collectively it’s about an album’s worth of material, but very different in theme and tone. The first of the two new EPs will be released simultaneously with an extremely-cool new indie comic book I’m producing and overseeing. The comic is totally unrelated to Osaka Popstar, aside from the fact that a track on one of the new EPs is connected with the first issue.
The debut album, Osaka Popstar & The American Legends Of Punk, has been sold out and out-of-print physically for years now, but will be reissued in 2019 on CD — and for the first time ever on vinyl — with newly-added bonus tracks and some additional artwork too.
There are a bunch of other projects I’m working on and really excited about, but it’s too soon to go into detail publicly. One, if not more of them, will be released in 2019 and I think many who appreciate Dr. Demento Covered In Punk will be just as enthused as I am by things to come…
In juggling so many projects, how would you describe what it is you do for a living?
John Cafiero: I don’t know that I could surmise in one label or word… maybe “auteur,” which I do think applies in some capacity to pretty much everything I do. I wear a lot of different hats and my work and roles are multi-faceted, so I’d have to use several labels… My Twitter profile reads: “Producer, Director, Writer, Musician, Artist, Indie Record Label CEO, Manager of Icons & future Icons” and while that is an accurate description, even that isn’t all-encompassing. I guess you might say, I just do what I believe in…
How are you able to stay so prolific? Are you big on calendars? To-do lists?
John Cafiero: I work constantly, and consistently and I’m genuinely passionate about the things I devote my time to. Yes I have lots of to-do lists written on post-it notes all over my desk, a calendar of reminders, but most of all, a file cabinet in my brain that’s constantly loading up stuff in need of my attention. (laughs)
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
John Cafiero: Free time is more like stolen moments for me, but I love watching animation, cult films and old exploitation movies — especially in lush new 4k transfers whenever possible. I love collecting artwork, seeing occasional live shows, and I particularly enjoy seeing full orchestras perform film scores live. I saw the New York Philharmonic perform the score for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, accompanied by a screening of the film earlier this year at Lincoln Center, and that was an amazing experience. A couple of weeks ago I saw Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin perform the complete score to Dario Argento’s Suspiria live with a screening of the film and really enjoyed that too.
Finally, John, any last words for the kids?
John Cafiero: The only things that happen in life are the things you make happen. Don’t wait for lightning to strike, go out and do it — but don’t hurt anyone or yourself in the process either. In the immortal words of the Quaker Oats marketing team: “You and the Cap’n make it happen.”