Swooning Over Crooner Isaak
I’ve been chatting up Chris Isaak fans. As much as they love his music or his teeth, his hair, or his overall crooner self, what they really want to talk about is his live shows. I asked him about that. “I love to sing. I love to be onstage, talking to people. I like to go into the audience, try to get people onstage with me. Dressing up is part of it. I’m sure some people think, ‘Liberace must have left that jacket in the closet!’
“The piano catches fire in one number—you gotta put on a show. Even if you don’t know my music, we’re gonna give you a fun evening.
“We musicians are tender fellows. My band has been together for 30 years. We all get along and you see that onstage. After the show, we get on the bus—your bus is your mama! – and talk for two hours and make jokes. I travel around the world with my friends having a party. I have the job that when you’re in Jr. High, they tell you, ‘You’ll never make it, you might want to learn to hang doors.’”
He laughs easily. And I swoon a little bit. I ask if that’s really him onstage or a character he plays (which isn’t as crazy as it sounds, given ‘The Chris Isaak Show’ on Showtime, in which he played a fictionalized version of himself).
“I’m not that great of an actor – I couldn’t be pretending. If anyone in the crowd saw me mowing my lawn, they’d see the same person they saw onstage. I’d just have a much lighter-weight sequined suit.”
This ‘not much of an actor’ actor has worked with legendary directors David Lynch, Bernardo Bertolucci and Jonathan Demme. I ask about his film work.
“People think the weird stuff on the Showtime series was made up, but that’s the stuff that actually happened! I learned my place real quick on that show. The other characters would make a sandwich or go to the bathroom when it was a scene focused on me. I think I’m somewhere between journeyman actor and box office poison.
“My dream is to do a piece of film noir playing a washed-up singer or detective. I keep dreaming that someone calls from Europe and says, ‘I’m making a low-budget film noir. Will you star and write the soundtrack?’ and I say ‘Yes, I’m in!’”
I laugh, thinking that would actually be the perfect Chris Isaak film.
“You know, Jonathan Demme just passed away. We were friends for a long time, we got to work together a few times, but in the end the friendship is what mattered to us both. Jonathan actually offered me Ray Liotta’s role in The Silence of the Lambs. I turned it down because I was making a record. I was an idiot!
“We get distracted a lot in this life. But what you really remember is your friends. Jonathan was such a nice guy. When I say that, I mean you could sit at lunch or go around town running errands with him. It hurts to lose people like that. There’s plenty of me, not enough of him.”
I had to ask about that mirror suit. Because mirrors. Suit.
“‘I’ve had three or four, maybe more, over the years. One was even stolen. It was recovered thankfully. They take forever to make. And they are heavy—each one weights 35 pounds. People wanna know how we clean it. You have to Windex the whole thing and then air it out.’”
At this point I ask Chris (can I call him Chris now?) to tell me what he’s never asked about, but would like people to know.
“I do a lot of drawing. I’ve drawn album covers and illustrations. And t-shirts that we sell. People don’t realize. I draw three to four hours a day. I’ve got tons of sketch books. I’d like to put together two books—one family-rated one and one with a lock on it.”
He’ll be in Layton the week after his 61st birthday. Is 60 the new 40?
“How did that happen? Last time I looked I was 23. The good thing is all my parts still work. Lately I’ve been crabbing as a workout. I paddle out on my surfboard, set my traps, go surf for a few hours and then come back to them.
“I’ve got all my hair and my teeth, so James Brown would be proud.”
Jerry Rapier has written for CATALYST since 2002. His husband Kirt runs Davis Arts Council and his brother Ryan is a big Chris Isaak fan who is traveling from Arizona to sit front row center.