Spike Lee Talks Summer of Sam & Punk Rock with Furious George

| 13 Aug 2014 | 12:22

    "First he tells me to fuck off, then he calls me a pussy," Adrien Brody says to Spike Lee, as we stand outside a location on Rivington St. where we're shooting a scene for Spike's new film, Summer of Sam. "It's okay," says Spike, calmly, "I'll handle this."

    "My character, Ritchie, is abused throughout the whole film, you know," continues Adrien, "and his band should be his salvation."

    "The way I see it," I explain to Adrien, Spike and a nice woman who is the on-set acting coach, "is that in this scene Adrien, I mean Ritchie, whatever, is late for rehearsal, and I'm supposed to act accordingly."

    "By saying, 'Fuck you,' and calling me a pussy?" Adrien asks.

    "He," I say, pointing to Spike, "asked for improv, and for it to be realistic," I explain to the star of the film, who seems genuinely concerned.

    "But he insults me in front of my onscreen girlfriend, Ruby," says Brody, of his costar Jennifer Esposito.

    "Look dude," I say to the spiky-haired actor, "I'm supposed to act like we've been waiting around for you and you're late. That's why I call you a pussy and shit. That's why our drummer, Michael, I mean Ray-Gun, made the jerking-off signal with his hand." "But it's not fair," whines Adrien.

    I start to feel really bad for the guy. His character Ritchie is this punk singer who fronts our band and gets accused of being the Son of Sam.

    "Okay, Adrien," says Spike, "we'll change the dialogue. Now why don't you run around the corner and have lunch. We have a lot to shoot."

    "Thanks," says Adrien, and pats Spike on the shoulder, smiles at the acting coach and walks away.

    I begin to follow him. Lunch. Yummy.

    "George," says Spike, "can I have a word with you?"

    My heart starts beating like crazy. I just know I'm gonna get yelled at. Spike's going to tell me I was being a jerk, can't act for shit, and fire me. My career as an actor is over. All those future years on Broadway wiped out with a single blackball from Spike Lee. He'll tell everyone I was harder to work with than Robert Downey Jr. I'll end up waiting tables in Village cafes for another 20 years. Then I remember I'm not an actor. Phew.

    "What's up, Spike?" I say to the director in the red Yankees hat with the Summer of Sam logo on it.

    "Listen, about what Adrien just said," says Spike.


    "Don't change a fucking word," Spike says.

    "Yeah," says the acting coach, "it's perfect!"

    I smile.

    One day early last summer I got a call from Louise at CBGB. Louise who books the bands. She left a message on my answering machine saying to call her back at the club.

    When I heard the message I figured she wanted one of two things. Either she wanted my band to play the club, which was highly unlikely, since I would usually be the one to beg her for gigs, or she wanted a phone number. She knew I had a "punk rock Rolodex" and was able reach lots of people who had addresses that changed every other week.

    So I called her back.

    "Oh, hey George," says Louise, "Hilly wants to talk to you, hang on."

    Hilly? Hilly Kristal? The owner of the club? Why did he want to talk to me? Did one of my stupid friends do something dumb again like light the stage on fire? Rip out another urinal? Actually draw more than 12 people to their gig?

    Hilly comes on with his very deep and gruff voice. "Listen, Spike Lee was just in here and he's looking for some bands for his new movie he's gonna shoot in a few weeks. Punk rock bands."

    "Uh-huh," I say to the ex-manager of the Dead Boys, the greatest band that ever walked the face of the Earth next to the Ramones. "Do you have any idea who they want?"

    "Well," starts Hilly, and then my mind races ahead. I think he's gonna tell me that the Ramones are re-forming for the film. Or the Dead Boys. That Stiv Bators actually crawled out of his grave. Or that Spike is putting together an all-star lineup and he needed a phone number. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what he said next.

    "I gave him your number. I think your band would be good. I hope that's okay."

    "Okay? It's fucking great! Thanks so much, Hilly!"

    "Don't thank me yet. It's the movie business. You never know how these things are gonna go."

    A week later I got The Callback from Karen Gilman, Spike's casting director. Furious George had already gone up to the Summer of Sam office in Tribeca and had our pictures taken with a Polaroid, then answered some questions in front of a video camera. As we left, I gave Karen and her assistant Furious George t-shirts, stickers and records. I told her to pass some of the stuff on to Spike. I guess she did.

    "Spike wants to meet you and the band. Is that okay?"

    We arrived at the office again a couple of days later, and again I made the band wear all black, and their leather jackets, even though it was like 90 degrees out. They whined and bitched about that, but I told them to straighten up and start acting like men, not pussies. When we arrived we saw another band that was asked to audition for the film. The L.E.S. Stitches. I was in shock.

    Here we were, all friends, and for all we knew, competing for the same part. None of us had seen the script, so it was very awkward. But in a nice way. The L.E.S. Stitches were called in to see Spike before us, and we wished them good luck and everything. They then said the same thing to us. The way we all figured it was that at least one of us would probably make it into the film, and that was good. That a good band would be in the movie representing our scene, instead of some lame-ass glam pussies. Finally the L.E.S. Stitches left via another exit and we were called in to meet the mighty Spike Lee.

    Now I have to tell you, I've been a fan of Spike for years. I saw She's Gotta Have It when it first came out with my old girlfriend, Allison. I remember she got so turned on by the "please baby, please baby, baby, baby please" we went home and fucked for hours. Spike was responsible for giving me some of my best sex. Ever.

    So we walk into Spike Lee's office and there he is, in a baseball cap and those glasses, behind a desk. He asks us to stand against the far wall in front of a video camera as he talks to us. First he tells us that he really likes the Furious George Goes Ape CD, and that he thinks the whole concept of the band is really funny. I have to bite my tongue not to tell him that Curious George doesn't think it's so funny and has me in court. He asks us to talk about ourselves.

    "I'm Evan, I play bass in the band and I'm from Norwood, NJ," explains Evan. "I love punk rock and being in this band."

    "I'm Michael," says our drummer, "and I'm from Michigan, and I play drums."

    "Uh-huh," says Spike Lee.

    "I'm Furious George, um, George Tabb, the singer and guitar player," I say, "and I'm from Brooklyn fuckin' New York." Spike raises an eyebrow so I go with it.

    "I was born in fuckin' Brooklyn, and my grandfathers both lived there until the days they died. I moved to fucking Greenwich Cunt-Etiquette at about seven, and was beaten up every day for many years of my life for being a Jew. They'd call me 'kike,' 'hooknose' and 'dirty Jew.' But fuck them pussies. I'm from Brooklyn and I coulda fucking killed them."  Spike Lee laughed.

    We talked for quite a while about punk rock. Spike thanked us for coming to meet him and shook our hands. He gave me a sheet of paper with some words typed on it. He explained they were words David Berkowitz had written to Jimmy Breslin before he was caught. He asked us if we could maybe make the words into a song for the movie. We told him we'd try.

    Of course, the minute we left the meeting Michael and I ran back to my apartment and began writing the song. We figured the L.E.S. Stitches had been asked to do the same thing, and fuck if we weren't gonna write the best song, ever.

    Three days later, we found ourselves in a real recording studio recording our version of Davey Berkowitz's wonderful poem, which we titled "Hello From the Gutters." We made it sound real, real Dead Boys, with a touch of Furious George thrown into the mix just for the hell of it.

    About a week later we were told that Spike loved the song and I met with Alex Steyermark, the music guy for the movie. He was so fucking cool it wasn't funny and everything just sort of fell into place. The next thing we knew we had been cast as THE BAND in the movie. The band was to be called "The Rabies," but they then changed the name to "The Snot Boogers" before again changing it to "Late Term Abortion." Whatever. Our pals the L.E.S. Stitches were cast as themselves in the movie. Sewage, another local band, was also cast.

    As the days ticked by, second by second, we got closer and closer to our first filming day. We were actually gonna be in a movie directed by Spike Lee, with Adrien Brody playing our singer and Jennifer Esposito (that hot chick from Spin City) singing with us, too. Also in the film were John Leguizamo and Mira Sorvino. Mira walked in on us one day at wardrobe out at Forty Acres and a Mule, Spike Lee's movie company in Brooklyn. We were in our underwear, as was she. But I didn't know who she was and kinda asked her to get me more clothes to try on. 


    During the filming, there were picnics, softball games and lots and lots of spit at CBGB. I think that's when Spike and I bonded the most. While we were onstage at CBGB and the morons in the audience were stage-diving.

    And it was supposed to be 1977. And that hadn't been invented yet.

    It got to the point where I just grabbed the mic and yelled at the crowd that they were a bunch of pussies and that they should pogo, not stage-dive. It was then I think Spike really knew that I wasn't "acting" in the film, I was just being myself. A punk rocker.

    I got to meet with Spike last week for this interview at the Regency Hotel, the day after a private screening of Summer of Sam at 666 5th Ave. Fitting address, I suppose.

    Okay, I got this SAG card from being in your movie.

    You got a SAG for the movie? Congratulations!

    I also got this MetroCard for the New York transit system. My stepfather, Nick, would say at least one gets me on the subway. What do I do with the other one besides try to impress waiters? (laughs) 

    Well, another great thing with the SAG card is when the cabinet period comes up, you get to go see movies for free. 

    Shit, really?

    Yes. SAG members during the cabinet period get into screenings for free.

    You think I could get laid with this thing? (laughs) 

    I dunno about that. I think your guitar might help you with that more than your SAG card.

    I just saw the movie, and it was fucking great. But my lines seemed to have all but vanished. Now you can tell me the truth, it wasn't my great acting that was in question, it was that Disney didn't want me saying "pussy" and "fuck" every other word, right?

    No. You're talking about the scene we had where we had you guys talking in the dressing room, right?

    Yeah, and the rehearsal scene.

    Yeah, well those scenes will come back one day when we do the DVD/Directors Cut. The film is 2:20 now as it is, so we had to compress a lot of stuff. But it had nothing to do with your acting. Nor the profanity.

    You would say then that my acting is pretty great, right?

    Oh yeah, you're a natural.

    That's what I wanna hear! Okay, speaking of Disney, I got something that really bothers me about them, they kinda ruined 42nd St. They cleaned it up and?

    They weren't the only ones. They got the theater and the store, but Warner Bros. is in there now, and you got the Ford Theater. That's really Giuliani more than Disney.

    Oh, we'll get to him, believe me. (laughs) 


    But now I have nowhere to go look at naked women while hiding in small dark places?I mean, besides my hot neighbor's closet. Any suggestions?

    I wouldn't know. I just feel Giuliani has done a disservice to New York City as a whole. There was nothing wrong with having this one area in New York City, where if you were in need, or whatever ya wanna do, you go to that one area. New York City is not Disneyland. Or middle America. I think they're just trying to make it too antiseptic.

    Well, besides Disney, who I really don't think are that bad because I do like Bambi, I loved it, it made me cry as a kid when my mom took me? (laughs) 

    That's why I said I didn't want to put the total blame on Disney.

    Right, so what I wanted to tell you is that Giuliani is on my shitlist. He's closing down all the punk clubs, as you know, and he's encouraging the police to act like the Gestapo against citizens. He's a real fucker.

    Exactly. And he's throwing squatters out of buildings on the Lower East Side.

    So don't you want to punch that toupee-wearing fuck in the head?

    I can't say that I want to do that to Mr. Giuliani, but what I would do, which is even more effective, is I will not vote for him. I will vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton. I'll do whatever I can for Mrs. Clinton. I know that Giuliani's ultimate goal is to become president of the United States, and the best way to get rid of that is don't let him become senator for New York state.

    Don't you think he wants to be like Hitler?

    I'm not going to use the word Hitler, but he definitely has some Il Duce tendencies. (laughs)


    Okay, back to the movie and the controversy. And I do love that word "controversy." I don't know if you know this but I'm in a legal battle with Houghton-Mifflin...

    About Furious George?

    Yeah, Curious George versus Furious George, we're in court fighting these people and?   Because I'm in a punk rock band and I make hardly any money and they think that my band is going to ruin their children's book.

    It's two different universes. Plus, they can afford the lawyers more than you can, right?

    Right. It blows dog dick. I'm spending all my time in court fighting these assholes. You must have to face this kind of shit sometimes.

    That's a nuisance suit. Those things are the worst. Where's it at now?

    Well, they just went and got an order of protection against me. I guess they're afraid of me. Well, my monkey could kick their monkey's ass. (laughs) 

    Maybe they need an order of protection. You must have said something to make them think that.

    Their monkey is a pussy.

    You didn't send "Big Louie" after them, did you?

    No Big Louie, but I'll get King Kong to smash that pussy monkey. This is a picture of my dog, Scooter. You met him at one of those picnics/softball games we had during the shoot. I swear he talks to me all the time. He says stuff like, "I wanna go out," "I wanna poop" and the dreaded "I wanna hump your leg." I understand him. Does this make me a potential serial killer?

    No. Because human beings talk to animals all the time. I think what made the difference with David Berkowitz was that he said that Harvey, a 2000-year-old black lab owned by Sam, told him to go out and kill people. I think that's a big difference.

    In the movie we do this song "Hello from the Gutters," based on the letter Berkowitz wrote to Breslin. It has great lyrics like "Hello, good-bye, this summer you die." But I heard it's not on the soundtrack CD. I was wondering if that was because people would be afraid that he could make money off of it, even though there's the "Son of Sam" law that prohibits him from doing so.

    Well, the thing was that we just put songs on the soundtrack from that period. Not necessarily stuff we created for the film. But you have the right to put it out.

    Oh? We do?


    I have the right to put it out?

    Yeah. (laughs)



    You said it! That's great. That comes straight from the top. From Spike. Thank you. Since they appear in the film, let me ask you which Yankee team was your favorite? Which year? Mine was 1972.

    '72? They sucked in '72. (laughs)

    Thurman Munson was at his best in '72.

    You're saying that was his best year?

    I think so.

    Where's The Sporting News and Baseball Digest? I don't think '72 was Thurman Munson's best year.

    I thought he was great. I was a kid and we used to go out to the games and get near him and yell, "Bozo! Bozo!"

    When I was growing up we were Met fans and we used to call him "Herman Munster." (laughs)

    Did he yell at you too? He used to really yell at us.

    Oh yeah, he was a real hard-ass.

    My parents would plug my ears up when he yelled back at us because he could really let out a string of obscenities. "You fucking little brats, you fucking shut the fuck up!" (laughs)

    My favorite team, um, I mean, I loved last year's team, but the team that came back....that was down two games-zip to the Braves...what was that?


    Yeah. And the '78 Yankees. Down 14 games in August to the hated Boston Red Sox.

    Boston sucks.

    The whole '77 and '78 teams. Nettles, Bucky Dent, Mickey Rivers, Johnson, Randolph, Chambliss, Reggie Jackson.

    You had Reggie in the movie. Was that a thrill to work with him?

    Yeah. Actually, that day we shot we also brought back Williams and Randolph and Chambliss because they're coaches with the Yankees. They had to get cut out, but we kept Reggie Jackson in. That was fun.

    Okay, thanks Spike, finally I want to say?

    What paper is this for again?


    We're the anti-Village Voice.

    You're where they used to be. Another thing, George, other than working with Alex [Steyermark], I've never really been into punk rock, so that's one of the things I really needed Alex's help for, doing the research. And even though I passed CBGB a million times, to and from the Manhattan Bridge going into Brooklyn, I never set foot into CBGB until we shot there. I was quite surprised when the audience started spitting on you guys. (laughs) While the performance was going on!

    When I was playing in that scene, I had my mouth open and some fucker spit a huge gob and it landed in my mouth. I sure hope it was from a cute girl. (laughs) 

    Does that usually happen when Furious George plays?

    Sure. It's fun.

    Eeew. Yick.

    Listen, Spike, it's better than them throwing piss-filled water balloons at us.

    They did that?

    Yeah. Last time we played in Berkeley. Also dead animals and rotten food.

    Berkeley, California?

    Yeah. It was kinda gross. But funny.   What's the point of that?

    I think just to piss off the band and piss off the audience. The whole provocative thing.

    They didn't want to be moved by the band? They didn't want to like the band? They wanted to hate the band?

    They love the band. It's a love/hate thing.

    So how do you show your love for the band by throwing piss-filled balloons at them? (laughs)

    Well, they're reacting to you. At least they are reacting to you. They're not standing there with their fucking arms crossed. That's an insult. If they're throwing something at you or spitting, that means they love you. Or at least they care.

    So you prefer to have piss-filled balloons thrown at you than to just have people stand there?

    Absolutely. I'd rather have them puke on my head than just stand there.

    Oh, eww. Don't say that!

    I'll call the audience a bunch of pussies, motherfuckers and every other name in the book until they start reacting toward the band. To me, that's what punk rock is about. Getting the reaction.

    What was the band's name that we cut out of the movie?


    Yeah, we are very sorry about that. Because it was just for time. But we were able to get in, um?

    The L.E.S. Stitches.

    Yeah. Nice guys. What's the guy's name? The lead singer?

    Mick. (laughs)

    He was rolling around on the stage. He has a lot of energy.

    Actually, the guitar player, Curt, was telling me he's afraid you hate him. He was drunk at the barbecue and he's like, "Oh no, Spike hates me 'cause I was fuckin' drunk!"

    No, no. Get drunk at the barbecue. We didn't care. That's why we had the beer there.

    So you could say for the record that you are not mad at Curt. He's a sensitive guy.

    No, I'm not mad at him. I think their scene in the film was great. Skull Grenade! Skull Grenade! I mean, I never had seen any of you guys perform and I was really impressed by your energy. I'm just glad you wanted to be part of my film. And we hope that whatever help you gain from the film boosts your careers.

    Thanks! (yelling)

    Furious George, as currently seen in Summer of Sam! Go ahead, I don't care. (laughs)

    So, wait, I can have that tape back and play that song?

    Yeah, get it from Alex.

    So if I went on the radio and played it you wouldn't care?

    I wouldn't care.

    What if I went on Howard Stern and played it? (long pause)

    Me and him don't really get along. I mean, you guys should perform that song.

    I know. But I want to bring a tape to Stern and say, "Hey, play this on the radio!" Will that be okay with you? I know I'm putting you on the spot.

    Any place but Howard Stern. (laughs) 

    Okay. Finally, the last and most important question.


    Is there anyway you can fix me up on a date with Mira Sorvino?

    She's here. She's in the hotel. Go interview her!