The Tubes, veteran masters of rock satire, may be more relevant than ever
More than 40 years down rock’s often fickle road, it’s still “inspiring to be inspiring” to new and veteran fans, Charles Lempriere Prince says.
The veteran musician and artist is best known as Prairie Prince, the drummer for early and still-master satirists of popular culture, The Tubes, headlining The Lamp Theatre in Irwin at 8 p.m. Oct 26.
He was a founder of the band Journey and continues to play and tour regularly with Todd Rundgren.
Through the years, Prince has recorded with the late Beatle George Harrison, members of the Rolling Stones, Brian Eno and David Byrne, among many others.
It’s still very much a blast to play with The Tubes, he assures.
The group won, and keeps, a loyal cult following, he says, because it was instrumental “in bringing lots of controversial subjects and ideas to sort of a rock/ theater performance back in the early ’70s.
“It got people’s interest because we were trying to do something different and we expressed it in several different ways.”
Still carrying the torch
Prince says The Tubes are still carrying that torch.
“We continue to hold up those standards as much as we possibly can,” he says. “It’s just getting better and better and more interesting to watch.”
While it is no longer the Busby Berkeley-style elaborate musical production numbers, the group still carries on with a theatrical mindset.
Lead singer/showman Fee Waybill still does costume changes for songs the group popularized in its ongoing 44-year-plus run. “People will still see him running around the stage,” Prince says. “The music sounds better than ever. The show has really good musicianship, songs and good rock ’n’ roll. If you like to dance and stand up and sing, you’ll enjoy the show.”
In addition to Waybill and Prince, the group still includes two other original members in guitarist Roger Steen and bassist Rick Anderson.
A Frisco launch
The band launched from San Francisco where Prince was on a scholarship at the San Francisco Art Institute. He majored in painting.
“It just got all crazy when we got here. We met a lot of interesting people here,” says Prince, who still resides there.
Their debut album, “The Tubes” (1975), was produced by Al Kooper, whose work as a musician, songwriter and producer included Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blood Sweat & Tears.
The track “White Punks on Dope,” described as an “absurd anthem of wretched excess,” ridiculed the Hollywood offspring of the rich and famous.
Their 1983 single, “She’s a Beauty,” was a Top 10 U.S. hit, and its music video was frequently played in the early days of MTV.
The group performed in the 1980 film “Xanadu,” a romantic musical fantasy starring Olivia Newton-John and featuring the last screen appearance of Gene Kelly.
“I think we are pioneers of sorts from a TV generation, taking things that inspired us,” Prince acknowledges.
“Probably most didn’t get it (the satire),” he admits. “Some took ‘White Punks on Dope’ literally. We were also advocating anti-drugs as well. A lot of our friends died and overdosed and passed out, and lot of rock idols we knew were passing in front of our eyes. We had to make a statement.”
On a song like “Mr. Hate” (helmed by famed producer David Foster), he says, “We were showing what a horrible thing violence was.”
Some early shows were actually banned.
Making a point
“We were risqué, just as some of big Broadway plays and musicals were risqué,” Prince explains. “These presentations we thought were fun and of the times.
“I suppose it could be offensive to some people. Some people got it wrong, not really understanding us. It was taken by some less as entertainment, but on face value. A lot of times, we were trying to make a point.”
Music with substance
The Tubes’ music is inspiring to a new generation, he theorizes, because there is an element of young people who want more substance in their music than “hip-hop or sort of weird grunge or mindless pop.”
“Kids want to hear more beat and body and meaning than what is being put out on record today, or whatever they are calling (records),” he adds.
Delivering good vibes
He believes there is still relevancy to The Tubes’ satirical subject matter. “The times they are a-changing! We said it back in the ’60s and ’70s and continued on. We can say it again. While it is a new ball game, what we are talking about is still very relevant, maybe more extreme today.
“We are bringing good vibes to people and encouraging them not to stick their head in the sand and to get out and vote. Regular everyday life these days is like a satirical comedy. We’ve always taken the piss out of politics, media, entertainment, art, all kinds of things, the whole gamut of social media and life.”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.