From suburban kids who masquerade as Delta bluesmen to country-club preppies who dress as reality-show rednecks, pop culture has always had a soft spot for its poseurs and charlatans.
In best-case scenarios, the conceit will reach the level of performance art: The Residents hid their identities behind oversized eyeball masks with top hats. The "nameless ghouls" in Ghost cloak themselves in quasi-Satanic robes.
But attention-getting gimmickry can also overshadow the music.
Far be it from me to suggest that Governor Mortimer Leech and his Boulder-based punk-cabaret band The Widow's Bane are not in fact centuries-old zombies. They may well be.
Either way, they're clearly more creative and nuanced than your run-of-the-mill undead accordion-bashers.
On Don't Be Afraid; It's Only Death, the 2013 follow-up to their self-titled debut, the eight-piece troupe employs cabaret, country and circus instrumentation in service of an unholy 3/4-time mix of Slim Cessna, the Pogues, Gogol Bordello and the World/Inferno Friendship Society.
The group also reveals a more reflective side on tracks like "The Pledge" and "Skeleton Cage." There's even a whispered "I love you" at the end of the funereal "For Sentimental Reasons."
Speaking from what I'm told is a phone booth on Denver's East Colfax Avenue, Leech is wickedly hilarious, playfully hostile, and, in a strange way, almost sensitive. He also swears like a sailor — or, more accurately, an undead sailor with an appetite for crack, whores, and the music that comes from fronting the house band on a cursed ship for 300 years.
A number of indie acts seem to have spent a lot of time listening to artists like Tom Waits. Is that the case with you?
No, no, that motherfucker ripped me off. And now he's getting rich for the rest of his life. If I ever see that bastard again, I'll teach him a lesson he won't forget.
Of course, there are a lot of indie bands who've taken up accordions as well ...
Are you asking me if I'm just trying to be like the fuckin' Lumineers or some other shitty band like that, is that why we have an accordion? No, that's why we burn accordions, because they've come to represent the fucking indie movement of America. And then we steal their accordions and play them the next night. Fuck indie bands, and fuck emo, they are the bane of my existence.
So you must be happy about the death of emo.
Is it dead? Jesus Christ, nobody told me. I couldn't tell by flipping through the fucking stations.
Well, when they are dead, won't they just be hanging around you?
No, they will not be hanging around me. Because what they indulge in will be the epitome of their afterlife. So that means they'll be locking themselves into closets, cutting their arms, and trying to turn their penises into vaginas.
Basically when you die, that's the bastard you are forever. So if you're a scared little shit and you're worried about the bills, you can be a scared little shit worried about bills for all eternity.
So how many years has it been since you passed into the afterlife?
Jesus Christ, Bill, this might surprise you — because people are always asking about dates and times — but what the fuck do I care? I'm now immortal. It matters not to me what year it is. It just matters where the nearest crack rock is, where the nearest whore is, and where the nearest mindless crowd to capitalize on is.
Has your music changed over the last couple of centuries?
Oh yeah. We've sailed a lot, and we ended up in a lot of different port towns around the world. And so the flavor of our music was seasoned, if you will, by many different areas and cultures.
You must have heard a lot of sea shanties along the way.
Well, we were forced to sing a lot of sea shanties onboard the SS Widow's Bane. But I never really warmed up to them. I'm more of a crooner, really, that's more my nature. As Leonard Cohen said, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.
What about your more serious songs? Do you play those in a live setting for people who are there for a good time and maybe think of you as more of a novelty act?
Well, you know, I am talking on the phone with you to promote a show. So I might be better off saying, yes, if you come to a Widow's Bane show, it's nothing but fucking zombies and beer and pussy, and you can forget about your miserable, pointless, ill-lived life. Because that's why they're coming, isn't it?
No matter what concert you're at, no matter what CD you're listening to, no matter what bird you've got your prick shoved in, you are just as pointless as the rest of them. You've got no clue how to live your life, and you're pissing it away, just like the guy next to you that you're criticizing to your girlfriend.
So are there any people you see living their lives well? Or is that something you only do when you're dead?
Haha, that's suggesting that I'm living my afterlife well, in accordance with how a mortal would be living their life well. They're two separate things. When you're alive, you have a limited amount of time. And that makes everything you do important. So you'd better do it fucking well, and you've got to do it with a head on your shoulders, and you'd better pay attention to the repercussions of what you do. Once you're dead, it doesn't fucking matter.