Sunday, December 28, 2008

Interview with Chopper: a mad man's rap sheet

From: Empty
This is old but it wasn't on the web anywhere so I wanted to post it. A while back I had the scary privilege of interviewing Mark Brandon Read aka Chopper. The gangster/author/comedian/painter had just added rapper to his bow with the album An Interview with a Mad Man, produced with some of Australia's underground rappers. Admittedly (I write safely from the other side of the globe) it was a damn shit album, but for Chop's spoken word moments, which are fucking classic. Anyway, Chop Chop has put out a new song with a hip-house artist Ace Wonder featuring Bukkcity, and a sample from the gangster - it's pretty shit. Listen here. Chop has proved himself a best selling author, a successful painter and great comedic story teller and with his criminal past he's got serious street cred. He just needs to learn to edit his output to maintain a bit of artistic cred. He don't know shit about shit when it comes to dance music. But in my eyes that's a compliment, he listens to original alt-country heros like David Allan Coe, Guy Clark and Steve Earle. Alas I've said too much, here's the story.

Excerpt from Interview with a Madman
“This is Mark Brandon Chopper Read. This is a message for all those journalists and music experts that are going to review this album and they’re gunna put shit on my musical ability and my rhyming and my singing ability and my being involved in this particular genre of music, Well, fuck youse all and that’s all I can say, fuck youse all. Go and get a dog up the whole lotta ya.”

This is my first interview with an ex-felon, what shouldn’t I ask you?
“You can ask me anything you like mate, I couldn’t care less.”

On the phone, at a nice safe distance, Mark Brandon Read is a man of few words unless provoked on one of two topics: his enemies of either the underworld or the art world; or on self-promoting. The latter he is brilliant at; not just is he a made man, he’s a self-made man.
Since publishing his first memoir Chopper 01: From The Inside, in 1991 from jail, Chopper has been under ridicule by the media and art critics for capitalising on his crimes and gangster lifestyle. Of course they’ve only added fuel to the fire by beating up the situation. He repeated the tried process for another few books, naming names and illustrating his torturing repertoire with titles Term of His Unnatural Life, How To Shoot Friends and Influence People before swinging into fiction with The Singing Defective and The Popcorn Gangster and – much to the dismay of uptight parental bodies – the world of children’s books with Hooky The Cripple illustrated by Adam Cullen, and an adults only fairytale The Adventures of Rumsley Rumsfelt. And while he didn’t make a penny from Chopper the biopic of his tumultuous gangster life, it certainly bolstered his profile to become Australia’s anti-hero, a title the man himself embraces whole-heartedly. From author he moved to stand-up comedy, meanwhile selling out an entire collection of 150 paintings, one of which sold for $8000. With everything he’s published, publicised and joked about, it’s debatable whether actions do speak louder than words as he’s more famous now in a multitude of the arts than he was infamous as a gangster. And considering he claims to have killed 19 people in his previous career that’s a very big challenge.

How did this record come about? Did you approach Rott’n?
“I met this young kid doing work experience and he was helping out with the film crew and he said “do you want to do a rap song with me?” and I said “Why should I?” and he said “well I just work at Pizza Hut in my spare time.” And I agreed to help him out cos he was a young kid and he had a dream. So three years later he had earned $30,000 from Pizza Hut to put the CD together so I helped him out to do the CD. His name is Jesse and he is Rott’n Records.”
What do you say to those people that are going to cast this off as another way of profiting from your crimes?
“Well screw them, I’m the only real-life gangster doing gangsta rap in Australia. I mean hip-hop has got a fascination with the criminal world. I’m the only real criminal doing hip-hop. I’m the only one that’s shot anybody, right. Who else has all these other hip-hoppers shot? I mean how many people have 50 Cent ever shot? Who’s he shot and killed? He’s killed fucken no one, he’s shot nothing. And yet they put a lot of emphasis on their criminal credibility, they’ve got none at all. So to all my critics ‘screw you. You’re all a bunch of faggots and peanuts.’ Ya know, who are they? They’re just a bunch of fairy boys. Nancy boys, the lot of ‘em.”
What style of music do you normally listen to?
“I listen to Country music, David Allen Coe.”
Did Jesse or any of the guys get you interested in other rappers?
“No, they got me disinterested. ‘Cos the ones I heard were a bunch of faggots.”

Rejecting the hip-hop community by calling them a bunch of faggots is no big deal for Chopper who has always chosen to create his art as an outsider.
And while it might be the artist – it’s more likely the entrepreneur in Read that has him immediately deliver to the market whatever he has just created and simultaneously adopting the appropriate title; be it author, painter, gangsta rapper or straight gangster, with all others in the game becoming competitors rather than colleagues.
How many other luminaries in Australian pop culture can brag about wearing so many successful hats? Unlike high culture, pop culture succeeds on name brands, slogans, diversification and quick returns and the Chopper Read tag is an extremely saleable product – to quote “rival” rather than “fellow” gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg, “I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind”. Shit, shouldn’t Chopper have an action figure by now? Either way you know you’ve made it when you’re the victim of a knock-off or parody.

What are your thoughts on the Ronny Johns Half Hour impersonations?
“I like that, yeah that’s good. He does me pretty well… Well, he impersonates Eric Bana pretty well.”
And of Eric Bana’s role and the way the film portrayed you?
“I didn’t mind Eric’s role. The movie was 80 percent true and 20 percent bullshit. He did a good role, he’s a good impersonator, he’s not a good actor. He’s a good mimic, he won’t win an academy award but he’s a good mimic.”
At the beginning of one song on your album you shit on Tarantino’s depiction of cutting off ears (from Reservoir Dogs). To the law-abiding citizen it was a pretty gruesome torture yet you lopped your own ears.
“I thought that was a shit scene, there was no blood. When you cut somebody’s ears off there is blood all over the place, they just don’t stop bleeding. I lost nine and a half pints out of cutting my ears off. They didn’t even stop up on the operating table. They had to put plasma into me, as a blood transfusion. It’s like putting on two taps on the side of your head, pissing out red blood. Fucken for hours. And he didn’t have any blood on him, that copper that had his ear cut off. That Tarantino knows fuck all about cutting off ears. He shouldn’a done it, unless he checked up with someone that cut off their fucken ears and found out about the blood, he shouldn’a put that scene in the movie.”
So what could one expect being stuck in the middle with Chop Chop, what’s your favourite torture mechanism?
“A blow torch between the toes?”
Oh Fuck, did they scream?
“Fucken oath they scream.”

Torched tootsies aside, along with Chopper’s media persona and wrap sheet, it seems he’s is a nice guy – given that he can muster up some kudos for the impersonators and that he helped a young guy with a dream. In Tasmania where he now resides, he’s considered a fine citizen and a polite and gentlemanly customer at his local cafĂ©. In his own words from the record, “I may be a stand over man but I’m a stand up bloke”. He claims he’s never harmed an innocent person, picking only on the murderers, drug-dealers, pimps and general human filth. He’s also volunteered his time to produce campaigns to stop the abuse of women and drink-driving. The latter featured Read speaking to camera in his kitchen, undoing his shirt and revealing the many scars he received while in gaol: a slash in the face; a butcher’s knife here and an ice-pick there before threatening to the viewer if they’re unfortunate enough to hit somebody while under the influence “you ought to pray to God that you don't go to prison.” The advertisement won a coveted Cannes Gold Lion in 2001 for Saatchi and Saatchi Australia.

You’ve got a number of scars on your body, explain what it’s like to be stabbed in the back, literally?
“I got stabbed in the guts too. It just feels like a big heavy punch with a cold needle in the middle, cos the knife blade is cold. Where as the bullet feels like a big heavy punch with a hot needle in the middle because the bullet comes out of the gun hot.”

And like the scars he’ll bear for life, reminding him of his jail-time, are his tattoos. It would seem none of which he regrets; not even the “SHAZ” across his wrist. They’d get the ink through the education system in gaols – “tie a needle to a matchstick with cotton, dip it in the Indian ink and go for your life. Jet black Indian ink and it comes out blue on the body.”

You started the longest gang war in Pentridge Jail history that lasted five years. What did you fight over when you’re in jail with nothing?
“I just didn’t like their fucken heads, that’s it. So I attacked them.”
How would you go in gaol these days?
“I’d go alright, as long as I could recruit an army of young blokes to back me up. At 51 years old naturally I couldn’t handle myself against young blokes these days, don’t be fucken ridiculous, ya know. 51 years of age, give us a fucken break. But if I could recruit half a dozen mentally ill young blokes and arm them to the teeth I’d take the fucken jail over.”
And that’s what you did at Pentridge?
“Yeah, fucken oath.”

After Pentridge Chopper was moved to maximum security at Jika Jika doing three and a half years in Unit 2. “It was 23 hours lockdown a day, with one hour to yourself for a shower, a shit and a shave,” he explains on of the album tracks. “It was mental and emotional fucken torment. You’re sitting there like a shag on a rock for bloody years, it’s pretty fucken hard. Go in when your twenty, come out when you’re thirty.” Maximum security consisted of only three prisoners, himself and two others. Life took its toll on the other poor souls, both now passed away.

So is prison the right way to rehabilitate someone so they can rejoin the community with both parties safe in the knowledge that they won’t re-offend?
“No. I don’t know [what is] but prison is not the answer. You’re not going to rehabilitate anyone in jail. But then again you’re not out to rehabilitate them.”
Are you still looking over your shoulder for gun-toting enemies?
“No. Thanks to the Melbourne gang wars that have been going on since 1998 every enemy of mine on the face of the living earth have been killed off.”

Nowadays Chopper is back in the community and fitting in just fine as a celebrity, busy signing autographs wherever he goes. What with his trademark handlebar moustache, his missing ears and the blue markings that look like he passed out at a party, he’s not the most inconspicuous man.

Interview With A Madman is out now on Rott’n Records through Shogun Distribution.
Mark Chopper Read

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