Punk rock legend Blag Dahlia (Paul Cafaro) has been touring the world for over thirty years as founder and lead singer of “The Dwarves.” Courting controversy is second nature to the band, though it always comes after solid hard-core musicality and Paul’s inspired song lyrics.
The Dwarves have produced fourteen albums, several music videos, and have played over 1,000 live shows. Fans follow the band along a global silk road of concerts, never tiring of the raw energy, sexuality, and The Dwarves you-never-know-what-will-happen-next reputation.
If you know Paul as a friend, as I do, you’ll know that deep down he’s a serious dude. A voracious reader, he talks music, art, writing, politics, philosophy, travel. He’s published two novels and just finished his third–completing a trilogy about his alter-ego heroine, the outrageous young Nina West.
Does he ever get tired of all the travel, late nights, and…let’s just call them other things?
And anyway, what’s in a punk rock legend’s carry-on bag?
What’s in your carry-on bag?
The main course is socks, shirts and Astroglide. I also carry a ballpeen hammer with the head removed for safety, a roll of Frog tape in case I need to paint something, and a picture of Nancy Sinatra from 1966 that just makes me happy.
Do you still use a pillowcase for a carry-on bag?
My first ten years on the road I used a pillowcase as a carry on. I also used a pillowcase as a checked bag, but the airlines really frown on that. Eventually I got a little Samsonite bag with wheels and a handle, so now I pack more ambitiously. Sometimes I’ll bring a speaker and a hard drive full of songs on the road.
Favorite city and club to perform?
We play a lot of small clubs and tend to do best on the West Coast, though any big city works for us- NY, Chicago, Austin, LA, SF. We play a lot in Europe, Canada and Australia, especially at festivals. In the US punk bands don’t play as many festivals, so the foreign trips give us a chance to play to a few thousand people at once. It’s going to be weird to see how many little clubs survive the pandemic, it could really decimate the live music scene which is still reeling from the recession 12 years ago. Live music might well become another tentacle of the internet and bands like the Dwarves will become a “you shoulda seen it live when you had the chance” kind of a band.
If you weren’t based in San Francisco, where would you want to live?
I come from the suburbs and I love the country, but I’m a city guy. New York, Chicago, LA, something like that if I were to stay in the US. In Europe it’s Amsterdam, Oslo, Stockholm, anyplace where whitey has perfected socialism. The thing is, all of these places are priced for the extremely wealthy. When I first met Helen, NY was a place where you could get rooked in a 3 card monte game, snort coke at Brownie’s until 6am and then fuck someone you just met in an alley across from the police station without breaking a twenty. Now it’s a place where trust fund brats sell artisan chocolate to tech nerds and congratulate themselves for showering in the kitchen. We need a new planet!
Is Elvis still your hero?
I’m inspired by anyone who is great, and Elvis is way up there on my list. If you play rock n roll, he is the original legendary performer. There is a new reading of him in this identity politics era, that he’s a racist and a cultural appropriator etc. All bullshit. Leaving aside that he was responsible for more racial advances than any other figure of the 20th century just by playing the music he liked and being sincere about it; he invented rock and roll music, which is different than R&B music. He created the culture he’s accused of appropriating. I could go on and on about this, but you get the idea.
20th century American music. Blues, jazz, country, rockabilly, boogie-woogie, pop, punk, dance, disco, if it’s performed well I like it. What I hate is a mediocre version of anything. If you’re going to do it, do something interesting with it or just shut the fuck up. I feel the same way about writing. I read too many lame books by writing workshop kind of people. They remind me of people who go to rock & roll fantasy camp or something.
They always write lots of descriptive stuff and do a bunch of research so things seem ‘real’. Then a few pages later you get something faux outrageous, someone shoplifted or someone is a lesbian or something. And the needy characters always smoke cigarettes. Then it’s back to descriptions of things- “the house looked like gingerbread with great ribbons of cinnamon latex paint across its three ample stories. A Nissan Sentra was parked in the asphalt driveway”…Yawn. School’s out, junior!
How do you stay in shape on the road?
I don’t! I stayed skinny until my mid 40’s when eating a pint of ice cream after midnight every night finally caught up with me. I have now inherited my dad’s body. The road destroys all who embark on it.
Sleep on the plane! Try and get some sun. No pills.
I love the Jupiter Hotel in Portland. I stayed in a groovy Norwegian one in Tromso called Scandic Ishavshotel where the sun stayed up all night and the only way to get to sleep was to sacrifice an Eskimo to the great god Inaluk. And free breakfast, too!
How did your Nina novels come about?
Nina is my muse, I suppose. She was inspired by the cute, well groomed, mean little girls I went to high school with in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. God bless them. What makes the follow up book Highland Falls interesting is that not only is Nina still me, but Ace, the talentless rock singer is me, and Ricky the lazy useless old guy is me, too. I managed to work a few more versions of me into this piece so that people can really hate the author in a more three-dimensional way this time.
One thing we’d be surprised to know about you?
I love musicals. I just produced a bunch of ‘woke’ songs with a female vocalist. And I can’t tell the difference between an anarchist and a libertarian, except that I wouldn’t piss on either if they were on fire.