Dinner With Fake Dog Owner & Real Drummer Danny Young
“So how are you?” I ask Danny as we take our seats at Manhattan’s Great Jones Cafe, home of the Rotten Apple’s best pulled pork sandwich.
“How do you think I am?” he says with a smirk.
My dinner companion could be making reference to several aspects of his vastly interesting life, but in this moment we both know exactly why he’s radiating. Twenty-four hours prior, Danny (who, with his thick glasses and sandy blonde hair, bears passing resemblance to Peter Billingsly) was one of the chosen few allowed inside Cafe Wha? to witness Van Halen’s exclusive 2012 tour launch performance. Fans and journalists came from all corners of the Northeast to see the ultimate ’80s party rock band play their first club gig in decades, but Danny Young was the only VH disciple to fly in from the exotic land of Norway.
“One guy in line outside said, ‘Oh, I rode the subway here.’ Another guy said, ‘I flew here from Philly.’ Yeah, okay,” Danny tells me in a playfully dismissive tone. “They couldn’t believe how far I had come. They called me ‘Norway’ for the rest of the night. ‘Hey, what did Norway think of that?’”
Certainly the most dyed-in-the-wool Van Halen fan I currently know, a connection at Universal Records London got Danny on the über-exclusive guest list. I didn’t ask, but I’m fairly certain this connection was forged somehow through the eight years Danny spent drumming for Gluecifer. Gluecifer gets my vote for best hard rock band happening in the late nineties/early aughts—on Norwegian shores or any other. They never gained much traction here in the States, but neither did the majority of their Scandinavian contemporaries (Turbonegro, the Hellacopters, et al). America at that time was preoccupied with less testicular outfits such as Jimmy Eat World and Sum 41. It is as it was, the Pope might say.
This Cafe Wha? deal was the first time Danny had ever seen his favorite band in the world, and he was was right up front, stage right, close enough to taste Diamond Dave’s sweat. By all accounts, it was an amazing show. Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie VH’s twenty-something son who has controversially replaced original bassist Michael Anthony in the reunited Halen lineup, “held it down” and “gave it his all.” Dave Lee Roth’s vocals were low in the mix from where Danny stood but still sounded great. The only letdown was Alex Van Halen’s abnormally small drum kit.
“It was about one-fifth the size of what he normally plays with,” Danny says, making appropriate hand gestures to articulate just how tiny these drums were. “He had to play the beginning of ‘Dance The Night Away’ on the pipes above him. Dave walked over with the mic and stuck it over him.”
The influence of Alex Van Halen on Danny’s own style is discernable—both have rock solid meter and a knack for smartly complimenting whatever the guitars are doing—but there are, of course, other percussionists the man counts as heroes. John Bohnam. Joey Kramer. Peter Criss (the early stuff, before he became “a pussy wrist”). Ginger Baker. A clear pattern is emerging.
“I’ve always been a classic rock guy. The other guys in Gluecifer, they were all into punk—I never listened to that stuff, aside from the Ramones, who weren’t really a punk band, and Motörhead.”
This is reflected in Danny’s current band, Smoke Mohawk, which he started a couple years back with Gluecifer guitarist Raldo Useless. Classic rock is the only applicable genre term you could apply to the etherel take on Grand Funk they present on their debut album, The Dogs Are Turning Red. The distilled rage and chest-thumping bravado that was Gluecifer’s calling card is all but absent. I wonder if Danny’s aversion to punk or outward love of Van Halen caused any friction in his former band.
“No, but it was something I always joked about with Jon [Average, Gluecifer bassist]. He hated being called a musician. He didn’t want to think of himself that way. Total punk. So I’d tease him, ‘Oh, you’re a big time musician, you know,’ and he’d get so mad.”
Our conversation turns to the individual personalities of Gluecifer. As a fan, I’m captivated to hear this stuff. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s really disheartening. I learn that one member locked himself in his Manhattan hotel room for the entire the weekend of the band’s final show here in 2005, emerging only to take the stage. Danny still seems perplexed by this behavior.
“Maybe he was sad that the band was breaking up,” I suggest.
“Huh,” Danny responds, an expression on his face as if a cloud has lifted. “I never even considered that. I was sad too—on the cab ride to the airport afterwards, I remember feeling sentimental while I was texting with the other guys—but I had other things going on in my life. I was going to school in Los Angeles, I had just joined a band in Germany…yeah, maybe he was sad about the breakup.”
A flurry of fanboy questions shoot forth from my mouth.
“What of Gluecifer’s canon are you most proud of?”
“Yeah, your records.”
“Oh, Automatic Thrill, by far. That was our best and hardest record. I would have liked to see what we could have done after that. But when two guys in the band don’t want to go forward…”
“Is there anything you guys recorded that you’d go back and change?”
“I never thought about that…I guess maybe make some [material] more commercial, but that’s what we were trying to do anyway. So, I don’t know.”
“What’s the first thing you recorded with Gluecifer?”
“A seven inch called ‘Lard Ass Hagen.’”
“Fuck yeah, that’s a great song.”
“The guys weren’t too happy with how those songs sounded. That, ‘Mano A Mano’—we recorded those two seven inches together. I thought it sounded good, but they didn’t like it so much. I can’t remember if ‘Lard Ass’…was that actually the flip side to ‘Mano A Mano?’”
“No, ‘Mano A Mano’ was its own a-side with something else on the flip side.”
“Ah, okay. Yes.”
“Was that your real life dog in the ‘Losing End’ video?”
Danny laughs hard at this question, tilting his head back. Turns out the German Shepard who fetched his drum stick in the otherwise “serious” video was a hired hand. This makes me just as sad as the hotel story. I wanted to believe Danny Young owned that dog.
Around this time, Danny’s phone rings. It’s a member of Monster Magnet. They’re planning a meetup tomorrow before Danny flies back to Oslo. As they chat, I flip through my phone’s contact list. I have a member of GWAR’s number, but only because I interviewed him for a project some time last year. He’s not going to call me up ever and suggest we drive out to Red Bank, New Jersey to get funky.
“Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?” I ask Danny, the last question of the night I get off before everything becomes “off the record.”
“Dolly Parton. Her European tour manager cut her teeth managing Gluecifer. Dolly was playing somewhere, and I went. I love ‘Jolene,’ but I’m not some superfan…I went backstage anyway. We were introduced, and the manager said, ‘Danny’s a musician.’ [ADOPTS EERILY ACCURATE EFFEMINATE SOUTHERN VOICE] ‘Oh, d’ya play guh-tar and sing?’ [REGULAR VOICE] ‘No, I’m a drummer.’ [DOLLY IMPRESSION] ‘Oh, you could play with us!’ Haha, can you imagine that?”
For a moment, I do imagine the sneering blonde who pounded out “Lard Ass Hagen” holding a pair of brushes and lightly tapping out a beat behind our nation’s most buxom country treasure. It seems only slightly less ludicrous than flying eight hours from Norway on a Thursday to see the biggest heavy metal band of the Reagan Era perform in a shoebox-size tourist trap Bob Dylan made famous before anyone knew what a David Lee Roth was. Then I remember just moments ago I felt depression when I learned a dog in a music video wasn’t “real,” and life in general seems pretty funny on both sides of the coin.
For the benefit of all foodie completists reading this, yes, I had the pulled pork sandwich. Danny had the chiliburger. Both were deemed “fuckin’ great.”