A Knack For Survival

After 1981 it seemed as though America was through with the Knack; the band had been properly disposed of. Prescott Niles got a gig with Josie Cotton; Berton Averre went on the road with Bette Midler; Bruce Gary got a gig backing Jack Bruce (and Bob Dylan!); while Fieger turned up every now and then on Roseanne. Fieger spent most of the '80s trying to detox from the drugs and booze he vacuumed during his brief moment as a superstar; the man didn't waste a second of his fame.

"I had a long recovery period," he says. "Since I was a little kid, I was very involved in chemical enhancement, and, at the end of 1983, I had to take a look at my life and think, 'Am I going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?' That took years. It's still going on, but in the meantime I can make music. There was a point there where I couldn't even pick up a guitar. It's not something I would wish on anyone -- not even a critic. But it was something I needed to go through."

The band would reunite briefly in 1986 for a short tour, but it was a road to nowhere. We got the Knack again in 1991, when they recruited new drummer Billy Ward and unleashed Serious Fun -- an album so good it might as well have been blank (though Fieger would tend to disagree). But you know the rest of the story: In 1994, Reality Bites not only gave Lisa Loeb a career for a few months, but also made "My Sharona" a hit one more time.

"By any stretch of the imagination, the Knack has been a huge success," Fieger says, pointing to the popularity of the "My Sharona" rerelease. "Just because 15 or 20 writers don't like us, what the fuck does that mean?"

The band reunited once more and hit the road on a 32-city summer tour that found them opening their shows with lesser-known songs so dreadful they cleared out every club they played. By the time they rolled around to "My Sharona," which they inevitably played twice, the audience -- don't even think of calling it a crowd -- was just relieved they made it through to The Song.

But the moment of resurrection came last April at Johnny Depp's Viper Room in Los Angeles, when the original lineup took the stage in front of a crowd that included Clash 401(k) recipient Paul Simonon, severed Talking Head Jerry Harrison, and Robbie Rist (The Brady Bunch's Cousin Oliver and frontman for the Knack-like Wonderboy) -- not exactly the coolest crowd ever to step in the Viper Room, but still. And damn it all if it wasn't a pretty brilliant show. The old songs didn't sound so old, the new songs thankfully didn't sound so new, and everyone who attended stayed 'til the very last song, astonished that such a fragile moment constructed out of kitsch and nostalgia would hold up so well. Harold Bronson, cofounder of Rhino Records, thought enough of the band to sign it to a deal -- which makes the Knack one of the few functioning bands on the reissue-heavy label. Irony is apparently spelled K-N-A-C-K.

Oh, yes. Perhaps this would be a good time to mention the Knack is touring in support of a new album. The does-its-job Zoom sounds like more of the same old same old, beginning with a song called "Pop Is Dead" (oh, those kidders!) and featuring one Fieger-Averre composition called "Good Enough" that sounds like all of Get the Knack rolled into one song (which makes it the highlight by default). Rhino, never one to miss a tie-in, has also released a "best of" titled Proof; and no, it's not just a reissue of Get the Knack.

Fieger insists that Zoom is the best album the Knack ever made. He says it was "more fun" to make than Get the Knack, that new (ex-Missing Persons) drummer Terry Bozzio is "more fun" than fired original Bruce Gary; he asserts that 20 years later, he and Averre and Niles write better songs. I will take his word for it, because I can't tell the difference.

"Guys like Jim Morrison and others have waxed poetic about the power of rock," Fieger offers. "But rock was really about the audience and the band having fun, and that's what I boil it down to. I am concerned people place such importance on a pop band, a rock band. I would say we were a rock 'n' roll band, but that's just another label. We're a pop band in that Little Richard was pop and so was Little Anthony and the Imperials, just as Metallica and ABBA were pop artists. People place so much importance on these things.

"I think of being an entertainer as a high calling. For that 15 minutes that your record's on or that hour and a half you're on stage, you are taking someone out of their daily life and moving them in some way and giving them enjoyment, and that's a high calling. But it's no higher calling than a plumber when you have a leaky faucet and need your faucet fixed. You don't want a pop star. You want a plumber. Society just places more importance on pop stars, and the people who do that take on these mantles are absolutely ridiculous. I am suspect of anyone who would want to treat me that way -- good or bad. If you don't like our music, don't listen to it. It's pretty simple.

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