Prehistoric Rock

Queens of the Stone Age communicate to their audiences, but not to alt-weekly freelancers.

Didja ever wonder how music critics score all those way-cool interviews with fabulous rock stars for articles such as this one?

Well, come all ye readers and gather 'round the coffeehouse where you snagged this free rag. Relax with your latte and muffin as you vicariously experience the glamorous world of music journalism.

In the process, you also may learn a little about the hard-rock band Queens of the Stone Age, which is scheduled for a March 1 appearance at the Rialto Theater. The excellent band is on a national tour to promote its third and current album, the critically acclaimed Songs for the Deaf (Interscope), which is really a terrific album, regardless of any music-biz hyperbole.

If you write for a publication such as the daily newspaper under the yoke of which I toiled for some 15 years, you'll probably get sent a press packet full of clippings from other publications, bios and color or black-and-white photos, not to mention free CDs, weeks in advance of an artist's concert in your town.

Soon, you can expect publicity lackeys to start phoning you, pitching articles about their artists. With the tacit or explicit approval of your editors, you choose which articles you want to write, and which rock stars with whom you'd like that 20-30 minutes of quality time. Then you ring up said rock star at a swank hotel in whichever town he/she happens to have landed and become one of the 15 or 20 faceless names on the telephone line that day, posing such insightful queries as, "What are your influences?" and, "Have you really put all your substance abuse days behind you?"

Next, you weave together some of the quotes you gleaned into an article seasoned with tidbits of trivia borrowed from other articles and enlivened by your own well-considered descriptions of the rock star's music. Maybe you finish off with some thoughtful analysis of the artist's climb to fame, making it clear that you were listening to his/her music long before it was popular with the masses.

Voila! Rock journalism!

On the other hand, if you are a freelance writer for an alternative publication such as this one, you may have to squeeze endless phone calls and e-mails around your day job simply to justify to a publicist's lackey that you are, in fact, a legitimate journalist with a bona fide assignment to interview one of the members of Queens of the Stone Age.

After going through the artist's manager and various record company functionaries, you reach the lackey. She requires an e-mail--or, worse, a letter on the publication's letterhead--explaining who you are, your publication's name and circulation, whether this will be a cover story and the phone numbers at which you can be reached day or night.

One day out of the blue, the lackey calls your home phone--despite the fact that you have given her a cell phone number to call while you are at work--leaving a message: The band has time for interviews that afternoon, and can you be ready in a few hours? When you get home from work, you discover this message a few hours after the interviews were scheduled to take place.

A call to the lackey the next day reveals that the projected interviews never happened anyway, but that the band's tour manager has your number and that you will be getting a message when the band decides to do some interviews--again, probably with only a few hours' notice.

Jumping through hoops such as these in a seemingly endless loop goes on until you feel as if you are stuck in one of Dante's circles of hell. At the same time, of course, deadline looms.

It takes no genius to guess from this indulgent preamble that an interview with a member of Queens of the Stone Age for this publication never materialized.

That shouldn't reflect at all on the band's innate ability to rock, nor on the expected quality of its concert Saturday night at the Rialto. This process, however, is a perfect example of the ridiculously circuitous system of gatekeepers and wasted money and energy that afflicts today's music industry.

So what, then, do we know about Queens of the Stone Age? The group combines snarling metal and punk, sludgy proto-rock and the occasional Beatlesque pop music and avant-garde noise in a palatable, though somewhat ironic, whole.

The band has released three albums since its formation five years ago: Queens of the Stone Age, Rated R and Songs for the Deaf. The latter has hopped on and off of Billboard's top 200 album since September, peaking at No. 17. The British music weekly NME (New Music Express) dubbed the Queens "The Rock Band of the Weekend/Year/Decade."

Primary members are 29-year-old guitarist-singer Josh Homme and 31-year-old bassist-singer Nick Oliveri. Both men were members of the legendary Kyuss, a band of sun-worn stoners from the Southern California desert that created a stir among critics and fans in the early 1990s.

The rest of the Queens of the Stone Age's current recording line-up includes vocalist Mark Lanegan from the Screaming Trees; keyboardist Troy Van Leeuwen of A Perfect Circle; and drummer Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, a group that beat out the Queens for a "best hard-rock performance" Grammy Award earlier this week (though a fill-in will beat the skins at the band's performance at the Rialto).

References are made in almost every Queens article to the members' affection for taking illicit drugs. In fact, the group's tune "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" is a chanted homage to favored substances: "nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol ... c-c-c-c-cocaine."

But Homme and Oliveri always seem a little more intellectual than your average headbanger. For instance, in a story in Blender magazine, Homme compared himself to German filmmaker Werner Herzog and his partner Oliveri to actor Klaus Kinski, who was Herzog's muse and vehicle in many movies. Kinda esoteric, no?

And then there's that nonsense name that maybe ticks off some of the more macho and violent elements of the rock 'n' roll audience. Its built-in alienation is by design.

Said Homme to Entertainment Weekly, "We've been trying to eliminate the menagerie of dumb-ass-ery for a long time. We don't want the front rows of shows to be taken up by shirtless meatheads that want to rub up against each other. You can't pick your audience ... but you can try."

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