John Michael McCarthy (also known as JMM) is about to sign any future creative work as SUPER TUPELO, JR.. He sat down with me while I was in Memphis for DEATHWEEK (the week of August 16th in Memphis Tennessee which observes the passing anniversary death of Elvis Presley). This year Elvis has been dead 25 years. SUPER TUPELO JR is quick to point out that Jesse Garon Presley (Elvis' stillborn twin brother) has been dead for 67 years and next year is the fabled '68' number combination!) SUPER TUPELO JR.'S latest product (and sadly, his only new product this year) was a rap video for a group caled "201" produced out of Willie Mitchell's famous south Memphis studio. Jon Spenser tempted JMM with three (count' em three!) separate projects this year "but something outside his control screwed it up every time at the last minute." It was no sweat for JMM, who has been turned down by bigger rock stars than Spenser. JMM's latest feature film SUPERSTARLET A.D. (2000) will be released by Troma Entertainment as a feature-packed DVD on September 11, 2002. The feature played at Cannes this year as well. I asked JMM (born in 1963 out of East Tupelo) to take us back to some of his early memories so you could see just how he become the Prime Minister of (Soutern) Pop Kulture:

"It really came from comic books. I was given FANTASTIC FOUR#88 the summer I turned six (1969). The artist, Jack (King) Kirby's style was so alien to me - I thought machines must have drawn it. I thought Jack Kirby was a robot. It was my first lesson in how a human being could grasp a style and maintain it." McCarthy dropped out of first grade and was heavily into his comic book collection by the time his parents forced him to re-enter school the following year. "I lived out in in the country on a gravel road. I played in ditches, breathed second-hand smoke, built tree houses (the same tree as seen in his TEENAGE TUPELO), watched my dad shoot at cars driving too fast down the road, and I jumped and banged on the 1953 Holiday Oldsmobile that had brought me home from the hospital - and I read comic books about urban superheros. I was a redneck who never hunted, fished, or polluted and I chastised my parents (who were actually grand-parent age) for any racist remarks they may have unconsciously made because post-'60's comic books had already trained me to be politically correct." McCarthy drew comics on notebook paper, tied them together with bread wrappers and stuck them in comic book stands in Tupelo grocery stores in the early 1970's. "It started a tradition of me giving my work away!" In 1975 McCarthy's first published cartoon work was in QUASIMODO'S MONSTER MAGAZINE. "I was obsessed with AURORA GLOW IN THE DARK KITS, especially the VICTIM kit and the NEANDERTHAL MAN prehistoric scenes! I remember the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA model gave me bad dreams." McCarthy was the first student at his Union County high school to have shoulder-length hair - and he almost didnt get to graudate with his class because of it. "It was friggin' 1982! They should have punished me for being ten years BEHIND the times! Instead, they asked me to play Satan in the high school play." McCarthy's interest in music and movies took a little longer to formulate. "I was attracted to the BATMAN TV show and perplexed by DARK SHADOWS. I had this really far out GREEN HORNET white sweatshirt. Television certainly kept me pacified and I probably saw more subversive movies on late night TV (via Memphis affiliates WMC-TV, WREG or WHBQ) than I would have by going to the movies. Later, I would sneak into the Lee County Drive-In (Tupelo) to see JOYRIDE. I saw GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and GOLIATHON at the '78 Drive-In (also in Tupelo). Oddly enough - in the very heart of the bible belt - the Union County Drive-In (in New Albany, Mississippi) showed porn every weekend through the early 1980's".

McCarthy is working on a theory called the RISE AND FALL OF AMERICAN POP CULTURE. "It's interesting to me that in the year I became a teenager, and ready to experience American pop culture to the fullest, there was no new progressive strains to explore. It dried up. Marketers couldn't figure kids out anymore (or didn't have to) because adults were now refusing to grow up. So we got New Wave (instead of Punk), and slasher films (instead of Horror) and alternative comics and "believable special effects" in movies and every other shitty thing just so 'adults' could buy into without feeling silly. It's no wonder kids started killing in the schools." McCarthy cites the death of Hollywood progression with two films: JAWS and STAR WARS. "Between '75 and '77 the ultra-conceptualized marketing strategies were set into motion in Hollywood. JAWS was the first movie to open EVERYWHERE at once. Companies that knew nothing about movies were buying into Hollywood. The same was happening to comics, turning them into a collectors market. And the sad thing is, you have to cut your teeth on these images when you're young - those images have to hold you until you can transcend deeper layers of art, deeper layers of POP."

And music? "1977 saw the end of progression in rock as Glam with BOWIE'S "Heroes" and IGGY POP'S "Lust For Life" sequeing beautifully into coinciding and decadent late phase as Punk Rock was charting, thus ending by the time it exploded. The fifties, sixties, and seventies were all incredibly progressive decades in rock and roll, soul, gospel, and country. And when Elvis died in 1977, it seemed like everyone just kinda checked their watches and said, "Whoa, we better make some money and get outta here fast." I liked those periods the most because it was actually possible to market something new."

McCarthy did not go to film school but received his Bachelors Degree from the Memphis Academy of Art in 1986. "My tastes were so psychotronic and monster mag-ish that it was hopeless that I would find anyone who would truly understand me. Luckily two teachers (Bill Womack and Ellis Chappel) allowed me to do sequential art to finish my hours." McCarthy played in a melodious punk band called DISTEMPER with George Cole during 1986. "We played the first all ages show that summer at the world famous ANTENNA CLUB with DAGNASTY and the DESCENDANTS. We got to open for AGRESSION, BONELESS ONES, and finally STRANGE FLESH." McCarthy had met George Cole at Northeast Junior College in Booneville, Mississippi. "George was a nineteen year old Japanese kid but his tastes were American. He turned me onto the RAMONES and everything that came with that. The first week I met him in the fall of 1982, he made me a tape of maybe thirty punk bands (ABRASIVE WHEELS, DAMNED, NUNS, MUMPS, AGENT ORANGE, VILETONES, 999, BUZZCOCKS). Then he asked me to play in his band THE ROCKROACHES with the other original members John Prescott and Bill Eaker. The next week I threw all my hard rock albums away (LED ZEP, TED NUGENT, ELO). I only regret losing QUEEN 2."

"I tried turning a lot of country friends onto Punk, but they wouldn't have anything to do with it: 'The songs all sound the same!' It made me feel even more like a loner, which is exactly what I wanted to be at the time, It was this time (1983) that I discovered I was adopted. George had never met his father, so he could relate. John's parents were divorced and Bill's mother had passed away, so we made a good bunch of bastards for awhile. 'Bastards of Young'." Mostly Cole wrote songs (like "Skoal Patrol") in another short lived incarnation called the ANGRY REDNECKS (with McCarthy and Prescott), the best versions being on cheap Certron cassettes." McCarthy adds "Maybe twenty songs survived years of house robberies, neglect, and Volkswagens sinking into the ocean." The ROCKROACHES loved the KINKS more than anything, and picked up on other bands where they saw a strong and logical parallel. "I always thought the KINKS begat The BUZZCOCKS begat The REPLACEMENTS. A few years later I realized that Paul Westerburg worshippped Alex Chilton and the BOXTOPS and was very knowledgeable of all of the Memphis sound. It took someone from far off who I admired to show me the best music on earth in my own backyard.

The ROCKROACHES played their first official Memphis gig at the World Famous Antenna Club, where they had first visited back in 1983. "We were sitting in the River City Donuts Parking Lot scared shitless, and then we see this dude with a mohawk and leather walking in. The first dude this Mississippi boy had ever seen with a mohawk! We figured we would get the shit beaten out of us. When we went in and sat down (bathed in the Antenna's blacklit walls) there were Sex Pistols videos on the many wall mounted television sets - and the guy with the mohawk turned out to be our waiter!" The ROCKROACHES broke up in 1992 over a big argument about pot smoke in the van. "Rod Thomas was drumming with us at the time, and also playing with the COMPULSIVE GAMBLERS. I think he wanted to play the blues and George and I were into limp-wristed power chords. At the time we saw allegiance to the blues as a connection to the shitty white music that had almost ruined our tastes in rock and roll to begin with but I loved the GAMBLERS." Not to be outdone, McCarthy and Cole turned their interests toward a mixture of punk and auto-bio comics with KID ANARCHY and sold the idea to Fantagraphics Books in 1988 at the Dallas Fantasy Fair. There were three issues. "I used to hawk them from the Antenna Club stage. Even read them aloud at the mike." Cole and McCarthy's proudest moment at Fantagraphics was sitting on a panel with the Hernandez Bros., Peter Bagge, Dan Clowes, and Paul Mavrides (moderated by publisher Gary Groth). Peter Pagge loved the letter columns in KID ANARCHY. He thought it was edgy. He didn't know we made it up." McCarthy married future starlet Dawn Ashcraft in 1989 and lived in Morrison Street's Fountain Court apartments. McCarthy, his brother Ronnie Harris, and former members of the band HELIUM GRAPE's LSD excursions led him to draw (and write) his coolest comic book work for Fantagraphics Books sister imprints. "I did SUPERSEXXX and BANG GANG for the Eros line. Supersexxx was a manhater who got her powers from semen. Imagine putting that one in the portfolio and driving around town looking for work." McCarthy did only two issues of CADAVERA for the Monster imprint, "about a girl made from the parts of dead movie stars." McCarthy still intends to make a CADAVERA movie. "I wish I could have cranked the books out, but it took me too long to produce - and I never made enough on comics to quit the day job. Not that the day job was ever that important."

That's when McCarthy discovered a pop world that hadn't really been accessible to the latent baby boomer until SOMETHING WEIRD video started releasing exploitation movies on vhs tape. "These 'bad' movies were akinto punk, so relative to the garage rock style that local bands OBLIVIANS and IMPALA were playing, that it was second nature to strip to the sound." Everyone thought McCarthy was using "art" as an excuse to get girls out of their clothes, but his features are shockingly thought-provoking and not pornographic in the least. Many girls sought McCarthy out for his faux-Euro "boot camp for art" in Memphis. "I made my life into a comic book plot and nudity and was my cheapest special effect." As McCarthy started out his own kind of Memphis-worship on Super 8 and 16mm celluloid, Memphis as Ground Zero for Pop Kulture hit him hard with epiphanies. "We have lots to offer here but the left and right coasts don't care. I saw the inherent snobbery of Hollywood looking down on the South as something to be proud of. You won't find any other place that is as 'real' as Memphis, Tennessee and sometimes that's a good thang!" It also keeps a lot of crap out because most bands just won't play here. We are too close to Mississippi. We might be torn down but we'll never be gentrified. We invented rock and roll down the street and we just don't care." But Japanese leather rockin' GUITAR WOLF came to town, recorded their first release for Eric Oblivian's GONER RECORDS and the rest is history. "I don't know how I raised 31K for The SORE LOSERS (1997), but I did. I guess there was a buzz at the time. Guitar Wolf worked the shoot into their American tour as did Jack Oblivian and Mike Maker and we embarked on losing our minds." The SORE LOSERS is a heavy dose of psychedelic imagery set to a modern garage rock sound that will remain timeless forever. Images (with sneering rockers and nude KERINE ELKINS) seamlessly collide for no better reason to keep you awake, and isn't that the opposite of television? The movie also starred D'LANA TUNNELL ( who JMM had known since producing a litttle blood cheapie called GORE WHORE (1993) which also starred George Cole under a 'Brady DeBussy' alias. In 1995 SOMETHING WEIRD VIDEO released TEENAGE TUPELO starring D'Lana Tunnell wearing next to nothing. "Though I wouldn't call it 'nothing'," McCarthy adds, "To say that D'Lana is the redneck Isabella Rosellini is only the tip of the ice cube. Her image is indelible. Look that one up." D'LANA TUNNELL was the OBLIVIAN'S cover girl, she modeled for Richard Kern's NEW YORK GIRLS, and she was featured on PLANET PIMP and ROOSTER Records promotions. SOUTHERN LIVING just ran a picture of D'Lana in their August 2002 issue as the girl responsible for all those fiberglass retro lamp shades. But D'Lana and JMM could still work together again. "I love D'Lana and I always will. She played my Mother for Christ's sake - and she came to visit last Mother's Day weekend."

McCarthy has sought out Danzig, The Cramps, Rob Zombie, and Iggy Pop, but so far these "esoteric iconoclasts" haven't given JMM the proverbial "lift up the rock and roll ladder". Though clearly the 'alienation on steroids' and wild abandon at work in McCarthy's films is the same (if not more) as RAW POWER or GRAVEST HITS. In the meanwhile, JMM maintains his regional image. "There is a limit to making incredible looking fantasies on a shoe-string. People ask me when the next movie is coming out as if there was a certainty!" Plans to shoot a CADAVERA film are on hold as well as an animated pilot called PSYCHEDELVIS. McCarthy has even written a treatment for a Gram Parsons/Keith Richard movie, "It's going to happen eventually. Just like VELVET GOLDMINE happened. Just like an Elvis-bio movie is going to happen. And I'll be sitting in the theatre cringing at all the concepts they got wrong." McCarthy has made four features: DAMSELVIS, DAUGHTER OF HELVIS (1994), TEENAGE TUPELO (1995), SORE LOSERS (1997), and SUPERSTARLET A.D. (2000), three videos for GUITAR WOLF, three videos for THE MAKERS, and one vid for the OBLIVIANS. You might say he made a documentary with SHINE ON SWEET STARLET (which lists as "one of the ultimate bachelor party movies of all time"). His last piece was a short produced by Craig Brewer called ELVIS MEETS THE BEATLES (which PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO called "Dazzling and brilliant!") All of this in a span of seven years. JMM has also played a large part in getting his soundtracks (with the exception of SUPERSTARLET A.D.) released on SYMPATHY FOR THE RECORD INDUSTRY. The S.A.D. sountrack has yet to find a home. EMTB vinyl is slated for Italy's ROCKIN' BONES label.

Scottie Diablo for GARAGE & BEAT #7, August 2002