Sympathy For The Record Industry's Long Gone John..the Interview
Sept. 18th 2006
Sympathy for the Record Industry's success can be summed up in three words: Long Gone John (aka John Mermis), the founder and owner of the California based rock-n-roll and punk label. Recently John's interest may be shifting from his record label towards other aspects in his life.
Can you imagine a life without Sympathy Records? It has been a staple in underground music for just short of 20-years. Though nothing is certain just yet, the last day may come sooner than we think. A new documentary called "The Treasures of Long Gone John" maps out the unconventional art and musical obsessions of the underground rock legend, this is what the man himself had to say about it.
Hey John, whose idea was 'The Treasures of Long Gone John' and did you have much of a role in the production?
"It was the idea of the director, Gregg Gibbs. We had become friends through an acquaintance, he is a pretty cool artist and I had him doing knock-offs of Warhol, Liechtenstein and Darger for me. He expressed interest in doing a film, I never suspected it would be started or completed so I half-heartedly agreed to participate and before I knew it was well underway."
Can you sum up the The Treasures of Long Gone John documentary?
"It is supposedly a film about me, but that actually isn't very accurate. It's a film about many things which is why I didn't want it to have my name as part of the title. I wanted it named "Pictures of the Gone World" after the book of poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but that is only one of the many battles I fought and lost. It is about artist, mostly from southern California, focusing on four in particular: Mark Ryden, Todd Schorr, Camille Rose Garcia and Robert Williams, but it includes many others. It is also about music and it delves into my criminal childhood, my sordid life of obsessive collecting and adventures with my companies, Sympathy for the Record Industry and Necessaries Toy Foundation and it contains 40 tracks from my catalog in the soundtrack. It's difficult for me to be objective about the film, but I think it's turned out pretty good, at the very least I’m not terribly embarrassed by it, which somehow seems a modest victory."
Long Gone John & friends
Necessaries Toy Foundation, do you have the same ambition with this venture, or more, than your duties with Symapthy for the Record Industry?
"Well, I just enjoy doing these things and of course I would like it to be profitable...I’m happy with breaking even on projects because even that is difficult enough to achieve. I’ve done eight figures so far, they have all sold out so I guess I’m doing something right. Next up is three figures by a friend of mine, a girl named Fawn and also two figures by Liz McGrath. I prefer at this point to work with female artists. I want to do large pieces soon, like 18 to 24- inches, no one is doing cool big stuff."
Sympathy has been around for over 17-years, do you see yourself doing this for another 17-years?
"I’d say that is a distinct impossibility. With the state of the industry being completely dismal and with things getting worse all the time, I’ll be lucky if I’m able to last 5 more years. I’m kind of tired of it anyway. I see myself soon selling off my collection of records, posters, memorabilia, and ephemera on Ebay. I’ve got a fortune in extra copies and things that won't kill me to part with. I have so much, probably one of the best collections of punk rock in the world and all the peripheral stuff to go with it. What do I hear as opening bid for this ultra rare Sniveling Shits "Terminal Stupid" single?"
At this point in your life, what do you feel is the best album that you have released? Or is it always changing?
"I could never say, way too many great releases and way too many great bands. I’m probably proudest of the releases by legendary artists like Panther Burns, Roky Erickson, The New York Dolls, The Gun Club, Spacemen 3, Wanda Jackson, The Scientists and Suicide.
I've done a lot of firsts like Hole, Supersuckers as well as Turbonegro and Holly Golightly's first U.S. releases. I'm very proud of all the releases by Rocket from the Crypt and Billy Childish. All the Memphis stuff, including loads of Jeff Evans, Greg Cartwright and Jack Oblivian. Also the Detroit stuff with the Detroit Cobras. Man, there has been a lot of amazing stuff. A few other standouts are April March, El Vez, Wreckless Eric, Geraldine Fibbers, Mr. Airplane Man and Matson Jones. I'm sure I’m forgetting lots of very important ones."
"I like the collections a lot, I like 'Root Damage', 'Their Sympathetic Majesties Request' and the 'Girls' collections. There are quite a few releases I wish I’d never of done for various reasons, but such is life. All things considered I think I’ve done pretty damn good. I listen to Sympathy stuff more than anything in my car and I think that’s a pretty good sign."
Long Gone John
You put out a double Suicide LP, obviously because they were great, but how do you decide on what to re-release? Is it stuff that you personally dig a lot, or just shit that you think a lot of people want to hear?
"Suicide as well as the early Alan Vega stuff are personal favorites of mine. It’s an incredible injustice that Suicide are not more recognized for their importance and the massive influence they have been on thousands of bands. The "Attempted" album I put out is not a re-release that live show is exclusive to Sympathy, I licensed in from Marty Rev. I originally put it out on cd and then finally as an LP along with double albums by The New York Dolls and Roky Erickson. Those were all highlights for me, as they are all among my personal favorites."
Since the start of your label, what has been the best part of the job and what has been the total crap of it all?
"Best part, is not having to answer to anyone, anywhere. I do what I want when I want and don't have to consider comments or suggestions by anyone else. That is an extremely valuable luxury in my so-called life. I could never work for or with another person ever again, I’d rather hang myself, euthanize myself or be sentenced to the electric chair for 5 to 10 years."
"Worst part, is having to be a master juggler, as there is no one to help I am ultimately responsible for every little aspect of the label except for the actual recordings. I have to deal with all the incompetent manufacturers, printers, distributors and all the morons in radio and press and if you haven't noticed sometimes bands aren't the most sensible or agreeable people to work with. It is a lot of work and not rewarding often enough."
What can we expect from you in the future, anything to keep an eye out for?
"November is 18 years for Sympathy as a label, an I guess I’m pretty content with what I have accomplished. I’ve released well over 750 records by over 550 artists from around the world. I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing bands and many important visual artists for cover artwork. It'd be nice if things were easier, but that doesn't seem to be my lot in life. I have a couple great releases in September by L.A. bands. One is a new album by Veruca Salt, they made an amazing record and I have high expectations for it. The other is the debut album by The Ettes who are a 3 piece lead by an incredibly gifted girl named Coco and they recorded their album at Toe Rag Studios in London. Not many people know them at this point, but they are going on an extensive tour and hopefully that'll change soon as they are an amazing live band. Veruca Salt will be touring as well so keep an eye out for them. In October, I have a new album by Jack Oblivian and the Tennessee Tearjerkers and it’s nothing short of brilliant and features lots of great guest stars.
Other than that, looks like I’m slowing down with Sympathy and concentrating a bit more on my toy company which is now in it's fourth year and doing really well.
You also publish books, what's next?
I also have several books I’ll be publishing through Sympathetic Press one of which is titled, "Punk Like Me" by Terry Graham of The Gun Club. Also might be publishing a book of writings by Arthur Kane (of The New York Dolls) I’m working out details with his wife right now, I guess that’s it.
Any last words?
Buy my records! Buy my toys! Buy my book! I’m trying to raise enough money to buy a Chinese Junk and a dozen or so miniature horses."
Some Obvious "Sympathy" Links:
Treasures of Long Gone John Offical Website:
Sympathy for the Record Industy
Necessaries Toy Foundation
Mark Ryden: the talented artist for Sympathy
Long Gone John: Bio
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