Ariel Pink has a prediction about the future. A future where the divisive musician's accumulated songs, albums, music videos, proclamations, press releases, feuds, personas (self-made, media-imposed, or crowdsourced on Wikipedia) live on beyond the existence of his corporeal self, which, as we talked recently on what was the hottest day yet of this New York City summer, was a little pungent, and clearly suffering.
“On the giant projection screen of the future, I feel it all really doesn’t even amount to shit," he said, sitting across from me in a ratty Rolling Stones t-shirt. "There will be nothing to mine or sift through. There’ll be no one to even care about it in five years. I don’t think people are even going to care about The Beatles in five years.”
Why the future? It has to do with the current angst hanging over Pink, and the fact that he and I are sitting in the sparse Brooklyn dining room of Crystal Fawn, a second-generation psychic and self-described “modern mystic.” As it were, Pink was about to receive a prediction about his own future.
“Jesus. What if next week is when I die?” Pink asked Crystal as she arranged an ornate deck of tarot cards in front of him.
“There’s no such thing as death,” she assured him. “They can’t see death.”
Bubbly and apologetic about the heat, Crystal finished arranging 10 cards in a standard Celtic Cross pattern. “So, the reading is just going to be a little about what’s going on right now and a little about what’s going on in your future,” she began. “First, is there anything I should know about?”
“I wanna see if you know about it,” Pink replied.
On September 15, Pink will release his eleventh album, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson. Making songs is, without question, the thing Pink is most qualified to do. His oeuvre is a distorted briar of pop music tropes reimagined for no one but Pink himself—yet, we listen. A large number of us do it eagerly, even. His songs range from insouciant genre experiments to FM gold divined from some alternate reality. He succeeds because his aesthetic is singular and real. But operating outside the mode that musicians since the age of Mick Jagger have been forced to correspond to—that is, a never-ending adolescence—has been more challenging for the 39-year-old Pink, who would prefer the public eye altogether. Or so he claims.
Pink’s last foray into the public sphere was three years ago, around the release of his last album, Pom Pom, a 67-minute pop tirade. He's a self-described "career artist" who speaks only to the press out of a sense of duty to the enterprise of being a musician, but when he does it can be to his own detriment. The press that came with Pom Pom was about positive as the coverage of the rotating cast of goons speaking on behalf (or not) of our current president. In short time, Pink was labelled a misogynist, a beta-male, and a troll for his spats with Madonna and Grimes, whom he debased with a needless, misogynistic swipe. He praised Westboro Baptist Church (on first amendment grounds), referred to himself as a “small, nice, white guy” who just wanted to “touch some boobies” in front of a writer for The New Yorker, and told the Guardian that “everyone is full of shit” before announcing, just hours later, that he actually loved everyone, despite it all. It's a mode of willful agita that is not well-represented in the culture right now. Never mind that the album, when it was finally discussed, was critically adored.
“I didn’t even get to promote the record per se,” he told me. “I was just put on a very strange track of trying to double down or back up on things I said or supposedly said or said in response to someone. It was like going down a rabbit hole of retardation.”
Pink's lack of tact in situations that require it certainly fueled the media pile-on. About that, he is still sore. “It was just clickbait, a passing thing. I mean, I appreciate [the press] not giving a f--- enough to really ask questions you’d expect them to ask about,” he said, underhandedly. In this current round of press for Bobby Jameson, though, he’s found the previous firestorm has quieted. I suggested that maybe we're a little tired of, or conditioned to, unmediated "honesty" these days.
He agreed, and ran with it: “I got the Trump treatment before he did!” he exclaimed, referring to Donald Trump’s boastful claims of a casual sexual assault, before pivoting back to his own schadenfreude. “No one even cares, now. Nobody from now was even around three years ago. The world moves on a lot quicker now,” Pink said, adding, with self-effacing awareness, “There’s no lingering stink from my misogynist days.”
Crystal Fawn flipped another card. There was, it seemed, some blockage in Pink’s life.
“I don’t wanna say you’re getting bad advice, but there are people that you go to and they tell you that you have to do things that you don’t want to do. There's a martyrdom situation in that,” Crystal declared.
“That’s good,” Pink said dryly.
“You’re not getting the best advice. It’s subjective as opposed to objective, and that’s what’s distracting you from your awesomeness."
“That’s what I’ve been saying!” Pink agreed. He looked at his publicist, who was across the table sipping on a sweating iced coffee. “You’re fired,” he joked.
For Bobby Jameson, Pink reshuffled his own deck. Haunted Graffitti, his “band,” had been culled from the process since before Pom Pom; he’s on the second iteration of his post-Graffiti backing band. He also ditched his old label, 4AD. Even the nervous PR guy with the iced coffee is new. Perhaps most importantly, Pink took his recording process back to the bedroom, the wellspring of his creative past life. Here, he was free of punching the clock, worrying about money, or about hurting the players' feelings (the last time that happened, his ex-drummer filed a lawsuit for a cool $1 million).
Bobby Jameson is an oddly ebullient collection for Pink, dedicated to a burnt-out psych rock musician from the 60's who was criminally forgotten even in his own time. The songs are shifty, playful, a little perverse, and as stylistically sprawling as Pink’s own Los Angeles milieu. On “Time To Live,” the album’s second single, Pink sings the title as some ad infinitum mantra. He’s cheering on Jameson’s downtrodden soul, and of course, his own. “He never got the acknowledgement that he felt he needed,” Pink said. “It’s important an artist get that acknowledgment.”
Is Jameson a foil for your own creative insecurities, I asked.
“No, I’ve felt acknowledged since I was 26,” Pink replied. “I’m living on the other side of the deficit I used to create in. I’m a career artist now, and I’m not doing it for the same reasons as when I was younger.” He ran his hand through his short, dark hair. “I think art is a therapeutic thing. You should do it once and never have to do it again. You should outgrow the need to be creative.”
The depressed smog that hung over his early cassette-recorded romps has lifted at this point in life, he claimed. It was at this moment that Crystal pointed out the Golden Fleece card laying before him.
“It’s literally the depression card,” she said. “I don't treat it very lightly. Do you have a therapist or someone you talk to or go to?”
“I’m happy,” Pink insisted. Then he downgraded the claim: “I’m lukewarm. If I get too happy, I get scared and depressed.”
Crystal quoted a line from Erin Brockovich: “Don’t be too nice to me, it makes me suspicious.”
“Things aren’t ever going to be too good ever again,” Pink said.
“Ever again?” she asked.
“Maybe, I’ll have a child some day, and their life will be full of wonders that I can…”
“Draft off of?” Crystal interjected.
“That I can suck all the juice out of,” Pink finished with a laugh.
What Pink seemed to want to make clear, with his future on the table in front of him, was that he’s not a cynic. Not about tarot cards or the future. Not about music, art, women, sex, or the contentious plots he’s played a starring role in since his first demo tapes were discovered long ago. “I’m just jaded,” he explained. “As long as I’m a benign entity in the world that doesn’t stir things up or rock the boat too much, then everything is good.”
The openness lasted for a second. The tarot reading, he said, withdrawing a little, was not his idea. “It was his idea,” he said to Crystal, nodding in my direction. “He got it for me. Just know it’s not like I was asking for something.”
Crystal blinked and slid up in her chair. “Totally,” she said. “Sometimes the universe sets stuff up for you.”
“Yeah,” Pink agreed. “I’m just riding shotgun, that’s all.”
See what's trending on W video: