People like to compare Mickey Avalon to Eminem, and maybe that’s fair: Get rid of Avalon’s Holocaust-haunted family and hand-jobs-for-heroin career track and Eminem’s Detroit trailer-park background, and you wind up with two white guys who both rap about their hard-luck stories. What these people forget, though, is that Eminem would be a total sex god if he weren’t such a homophobe — come on, you saw 8 Mile — and Avalon has no such masculinity issues. And while Eminem has devoted his life to hip-hop, Avalon is more of a hustler, using music as a vehicle to get his life to a better place. Putting his lanky body on display, Avalon rhymes about “sassy little frassies with bulimia” (of which he’s had many), and strung-out male prostitutes on Sunset (of which he was one), single-handedly forging a new genre—call it glam-rap—with every bat of his mascara’d eyelashes. He’s like the product of an unholy union between David Bowie and Run-DMC.
When I sat down with Avalon in late August, I wasn’t expecting him to be an unassuming little slip of a thing, hardly taking up space in the booth at Cantor’s Deli. It’s hard to believe this waif is the same guy who’s been writhing around on top of windshield-blown cars in West Hollywood nightclubs, or that he’s about to become famous. But given his single “Jane Fonda’s” prominent spot in a recent episode of Entourage, his record deal with Interscope, and a much-passed-around LA Weekly profile that’s now been optioned for a biopic, it seems like Avalon is perched on the brink of something big.
You and I have something in common: We both went to Beverly Hills High.
I went to Beverly for one year and then I went to a school called Excelsior for one year—I think for a year—and then another called Ridgewood.
How come you moved around so much?
I used my grandmother’s address to go to Beverly and it wasn’t really my scene. I kind of like did it for a year and got with it. I don’t want to say I didn’t fit in ’cuz I fit in wherever I go. It’s more like I didn’t have that kind of dough and, I don’t know, it just wasn’t somewhere I wanted to be. I think I went the next year, I went for like one week and was like, “I gotta get the fuck outta here.”
What did you not like about it?
I just have to get really careful, like politically correct and all that. For the most part, kids are influenced by their folks. I went to Horace Mann, where it was mostly kids whose parents had just moved here from another country. They lived in apartments. It was still kind of the same. And then all of a sudden at Beverly, it was all the really rich kids. Nowadays, I don’t have anything against rich people. It was just all of a sudden I was rubbing elbows with people I had never really rubbed elbows with before. It was uncomfortable.
It’s interesting because in your songs, you play off that rich L.A. aesthetic.
That was more in response to a few years ago … I moved back. I was living in this halfway house and I still never went out or anything and then I started going out with my friend Simon (Rex), and the clubs that we could get into—or that he could get into—were like ritzy and kinda like Hollywood A-class. Again, not really my scene. It was kind of similar to like what we were talking about. But you know, I could usually drink for free for the most part, drugs, whatever, girls, whatever. It’s just, like, you know, it was a good time. And I was taking part in it and indulging. ?
The first thing I heard about you was: Mickey Avalon is the first “glam rapper.” What do you think about that description?
You know, I rap and I wear glitter. It’s better than “alternative rap” or “rock-rap” or something gay like that. [My music] sounds more like the rap I grew up on than what you hear now.
You know, like what folk music is. Like Bob Dylan sings about what’s going on around here. And when rap music started it was kind of rad. Now, it might just be a commercial for Louis Vuitton. But I don’t play guitar, and even if I did it wouldn’t even be that relevant to the times right now. I just happened to grow up on rap music. That’s what I know how to do.
Who influenced you when you were growing up?
Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Dana Dane, Stetsasonic, 2 Live Crew, Too Short. You can narrow it down to a certain time period: 1985, 1986, 1988.
Did you see your life going like this, toward music?
When I was a teenager I would write rhymes, like where my mind was at. Other friends were making an underground hip-hop movement, and taking it seriously. I got married and had a kid and went to Oregon, and it wasn’t really my deal. I came back [to Los Angeles] and my friend Andre Legacy was still into it and so was my other friend Simon Rex, a.k.a. Dirt Nasty. I just kinda got back into it for fun, just to fuck around.
When was that?
Probably like four years ago. They were way more into me doing it than I was. I moved here from Oregon to get off [heroin]. My mom helped me out. She made me go to school and learn how to use the computer, ’cuz I missed that. I was doing some graphic design shit for this independent record label, and then I said a rap out loud, just fucking around. I didn’t know anyone was listening. They heard it and brought me into the studio to make a song. I was still like, “whatever. “ I was just trying to survive. And then that CD got to Kevin [his manager]. People pretty much took to me. Now I realize, “Okay, fuck, this is something real.”
Your tattoo ‘I’m Sorry’—what does that mean? What are you sorry about?
Now, nothing. But there was a time in my life, maybe in everyone’s life, when that’s all that comes out of your mouth. These are just to cover up tracks. [Mickey points to a pair of dice tattooed on both arms.]
How did you kick your heroin habit?
I kick it all the time.
Are you still using?
No I haven’t seen a needle in a long time. Nowadays I try my best not to indulge. I know it will kill me, or not kill me, but make things dark. But now they got it in pill form, OxyContin, Vicodin. But I do my best to stay clear of the dark side, you know? I’m just trying to provide for my kid, and this is the time.
I wanna ask you what you thought of the LA Weekly piece that ran about you.
I thought it was great. I’m actually friends with the writer now. We went to the racetrack to talk and do our little thing, and we just ended up liking each other and I trusted him. And we got a movie deal. Him and a writer named Jerry Stahl, who did Permanent Midnight.
The author said it seemed like “no one in the family would ever be free [of the Holocaust].” He’s really saying something serious about you and your family.
I think with the generation before me, like my father and like my aunt, that’s definitely true. I’m sure it’s true of me, but I’m just thinking about the degree that it [the Holocaust] affected them. My father had a big tattoo of “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which was the sign above Auschwitz. It means “Work Will Make You Free.” My aunt has a Masters degree, and all her papers are like, “Children of the Holocaust.” It affects me a lot, but I don’t know in what way. I’m fascinated by it. I think about it. I remember my grandfather’s number.
Did that have anything to do with your becoming an Orthodox Jew?
No. I think that more had to do with me and who I am and more about my father and who he was. Now I can accept certain things about myself and try to be better and work on them and not beat myself up over them. It was the fear of becoming my father and going to hell. And I don’t even believe in heaven and hell like that. I mean, I believe in them as far as state of mind [is concerned]. I was young, impressionable, my father was dying [of a heroin addiction], I was addicted to drugs. I thought there was some salvation there. I think part of me wanted to be like Harry Houdini. And part of me didn’t want to be that person.
What made you change your mind about Orthodox Judaism?
Having a child was part of it. When you have a child you think about everything you do. Honestly, I think it’s all bullshit. Whenever you get into a club mentality it gets weird. If you look into the different religions, there are cooler things about some than others. But for the most part, all are chauvinistic; all are anti–human nature, anti-life a lot of them. It’s like that little voice that finally gets loud: “I’m doing way too much that I’m not okay with.” Like if you’re a stripper and you try to convince yourself that you’re into it, but then you’re getting more fucked up and you’re like, “Why am I even here?” There’s a percentage of people who need those guidelines, but what it’s become and what the rabbis have done—and I’m talking like Second Temple time—it’s not what it was. But I’m not really into secular Judaism either.
What was your first show like?
I totally remember that. It was at the Roxy and I was opening up for Andy Dick, the comedian, and the White Stripes, and I lived in a halfway house. I wasn’t even allowed to spend the night out. So I had to do the show and go home. I hardly knew the words. I never performed. I recorded songs in the studio. I never, like, tap-danced for my family as a kid. It wasn’t my deal. I remember I started the show with my back to the audience, and after the first verse of the first song I turned around and I knew no matter what, at that point, I was finished. I could do that. And I turned around and it was packed. And it kinda started. I knew it would be okay.
Your acts are pretty racy now. Do you think about that, being a father with a young daughter?
I have thought about that, and the thing that keeps me from going like full force could be that. I’ve been photographed nude and stuff before any of this. But now I wouldn’t want to do that—sexual stuff on tape, anything visual. I don’t want my kid at school to see pictures of me bangin’ some chick in a motel room on the Internet.
But your act itself is kosher for someone her age?
Yeah that’s fine. She knows what’s real and what’s illusion. It’s more stuff like, even if you’re acting it’s still … She’s gonna have to deal with what she’s gonna have to deal with, me being who I am. But then sometimes I think, “Fuck, I don’t want to limit myself or censor myself.” Minus making, like, a porn video, I don’t think there’s much I would not do because of her. She’s smart. I basically don’t want anything too funny on the Internet that could be pulled up in the library or paraded in class. Anything to embarrass her too much.
Does she have a MySpace account?
No! She doesn’t even watch TV. She plays piano. She’s a kid, she plays. She lives with her mother now.
Were you married?
Yes, but I’ve been divorced for years.
Is Mickey Avalon your real name?
No. [My real name] is Tibetan. But I feel way more comfortable being called my normal name [Mickey has asked that we not disclose it. –ed.] As a kid, with a name like that you want to be called Joe or Johnny, so by the time you’re okay with it, you’re really okay with it. The first time I heard Mickey Avalon it kind of irked me, but now I get what I gotta do.
How did you come up with it?
I think I was thinking about a porn name.
For actual porn, or for music?
No, neither. You know that thing you do with names. You start with the street you lived on— that’s your last name. My mom’s family is on Avon, but that didn’t sound cool at all, so it became Avalon. The pet’s name is supposed to be the first name, and I just wanted something that sounded cool, and my friend Andre Legacy came up with it. It kinda became an outlet for me.