There was a time when Cristina Martinez was the biggest female sex symbol of the indie-rock/underground movement. In her first performance as the lead member of the band that would become Boss Hog, it was unclear how much of the show’s success was due to the music or to Martinez being completely naked for the entirety of the performance.
At the same time, she and her husband and fellow bandmember, Jon Spencer (you may have heard of him), were notoriously private, despite being, other than Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon (and for a time, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love), the most recognizable couple in alternative rock.
Martinez stopped performing in 2001 to raise her son Charles, who is now approaching his teen years. Boss Hog, a band that had a small but maniacal following in the ’90s, arranged to perform at ATP, and on Dec. 17 performed in New York for the first time in eight years. While not technically a reunion, the new tour doesn’t have the cashing-in vibe that plagues so many contemporary tours by indie-rock greats of the ’80s and early ’90s. Both Boss Hog and other Spencer projects have interacted with major labels before (with limited success), and the band’s unassuming nature has done nothing but please its fans.
Of course, with a requisite nod to rock boisterousness, Martinez tied the reunion to the end of the Bush adminstration, declaring: “It’s been two torturous terms of Republican disease and culture death. Now that we’re free, it’s the perfect time for us to bring back our own brand of sick in celebration.”
Here, the iconic frontwoman talks about Peter Gabriel, raising a son, and New York then and now.
How has your relationship with Jon changed in the past seven years or so, when you haven’t been performing together? We haven’t heard much from you during that time, but he’s still been putting himself out there.
Well, while I would never refer to our relationship as conventional, it did become more so when I decided to stay home for the sake of our family. And even though I made the decision to be the anchor, of course, there were occasions when I felt a little resentful. But they were brief and inconsequential because I knew that I would eventually have another go.
I’ve always been fascinated by kids who are raised by rock stars (especially when both parents are alive and relatively stable). How do you think your lifestyle has affected his upbringing? Now that your son is at an age when he can begin to look at what you and Jon did in the past with a discerning eye, what has his reaction to it has been? I mean the "Whiteout" video is right there on YouTube and all…
It has its pros and cons like everything else I suppose. I have little to compare it to, really. He goes to an amazing progressive school where most of the parents are pretty unconventional and many have some level of celebrity. On the up side it has given him an incredible opportunity to travel, which has hopefully broadened his view of the world and made him appreciate other cultures. He is a complete Japanophile. He’s at the age now where his peers have heard our bands and some are interested, that may worth a little cool cache, but mostly he doesn’t care. I think we embarrass him as much as any parent does their pre-teen. I often wonder if he’ll ever question us more about the lyrical content of our music. I think that will be a very interesting conversation and I look forward to it.
Boss Hog went pseudo-electronic on Whiteout right before everyone else started doing it. Do you feel like you missed an opportunity a little bit?
No, not really. I like our place in history just fine.
You’ve alluded to the Boss Hog mini-reunion being tied to the end of the Bush administration. Now that your scheduled gigs are winding down, do you think you’ll take this any further?
We agreed to discuss any future plans after the shows were done and we could reflect on how we felt about it. We haven’t had that conversation yet, but I will say we’ve been having a lot of fun.
I found a video (link) of you talking in the early ’90s about how good the New York rock scene had gotten. The rock scene has obviously changed since then, and so has New York (I grew up in New York but was too young to really experience its crime-ridden phase). What do you think is the most important thing currently missing from the rock scene? What’s the biggest thing missing from New York? Do you think either has gained anything for the better since then?
My friend sent me a link to that same interview. It’s funny isn’t it? I miss the old New York and all its grittiness. When we first moved here in ’86, there were packs of wild dogs roaming the East Village and bags of body parts were routinely found in the vacant lot that spanned the block next to our building on Avenue D. It’s where they built the facade for that movie Batteries Not Included, and I remember the neighborhood was outraged because they built just the facade and not a whole building that later could have benefited the community. Ah, those were the days. New York is a fucking mall now, complete with Red Lobsters and Bed Bath and Beyonds. I’m disenchanted but still love the city and all her kooks.
A lot of the complaints about indie rock go along the lines of most current bands being overeducated, privileged, smug postmodern
deconstructionist plagiarizers (roughly). But you and Jon were doing something like that in the ’80s, long before it was considered a bad thing. How would you contrast what you guys were doing 20 years ago to what’s going on now?
There were others before us and they’ll be many after. It’s important to know you’re history and to be humble about your music. There will always be some poor deluded fucks who think they invented the wheel and act like giant assholes. I guess that’s rock bravado and people dig that shit. I can’t be bothered.
What would you say is your most unlikely musical influence?
Peter Gabriel. His record "Security" changed the way I listened to music forever.