“This is awesome. My parents are going to be very happy. Usually if anything ever happens with things like this, it really bides me time for my mom to go, ‘Look, Davie’s in the paper,’” jokes Big D And The Kids Table vocalist David McWane via telephone from Boston. McWane has a lot to smile about these days—he recently released his fifth book The Modern American Gypsy, a wild recollection of Big D’s marathon 220 day squat through Europe and shortly after was diagnosed with—and beat—thyroid cancer.
McWane chatted with AP about his book, his weird recovery diet and what Big D has planned for 2012.
Interview: Bryne Yancey
So how are you feeling?
Pretty good. It’s kind of interesting. The whole thing started around November 18, and then the whole getting the surgery, recovering from the surgery then going on the diet you have to go on before you get radiation and then the radiation and recovering from the radiation—all of that wasn’t so bad. It was just kind of, you knew what you were getting into, so you were prepared for it, so it’s just a lot of laying on the couch watching Indiana Jones movies. It’s not so bad.
It was when they took out the thyroid that they had to get my right thyroid medicine dosage. They have to replace what that guy [before] was doing and that was tough because you’re taking these pills and you’re just supposed to go about your day and it was very difficult to function on them. After about a month or two, they finally got the right dosage and it was like, “Boom!” Suddenly one morning I was back to normal.
What was the diet like?
The diet was weird. I had to not have any iodine. Basically, there’s this thyroid menu and you have to cook all your foods a special way, and not have eggs and stuff. It’s not that bad, but you start to crave all the things you’re not allowed to have. I really just wanted to pick up a stick of butter and eat it. I would think about it while I was daydreaming. It was like, “I just want to eat a huge stick of butter.” [Laughs.]
That’s awesome. Let’s talk about your book—The Modern American Gypsy. That’s your fifth book, right? How much time did you spend writing it?
Yeah. It’s kind of interesting, I forget when the first book came out, but it was maybe—I’d have to check, but Big D was on the road for so long that it was one of those [I spent] constantly writing. The first stage is really just writing down the stories and notes and then there’s cleaning up whatever my version of [the events] is. Once everything was cleaned up and I sat down to write it, I would say it was about a year [after the tour]. It’s funny because you write it and then I think you spend most of the time just correcting your spelling.
It’s cool, it’s the account of a 220 day squat tour that we took through eastern Europe and England. It was just a certain time where every single time we turned any sort of alley, it was just crazy [stuff] happening. I had to put it down so when I was 86 years old, I could read and go, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”
Obviously you write music all the time and obviously you write other things—poetry, prose, all that. What would you think, from a writing perspective, is different about those approaches?
Definitely that with writing songs or a record of songs, there’s topics in Big D I can’t cover and that really helped with some of the prose and poetry books. Nicer topics and different shades of topics that you can’t write in a punk/ska band. [Laughs.] The kids will get in your head. That was a great outlet to be able to do that. Once you start writing so much, the inspiration of any topic is coming to you, so you can’t really turn it off.
It was great to be able to do those first books to be able to get that all out, but then with Modern American Gypsy it was kind of interesting because it is about the band, so it’s the first time writing a true story about the band that isn’t lyrics. It has all the components of what you might find in the lyrics, but it’s a book about the excursions of the band. The poetry helped topics outside the band, but Modern American Gypsy helped expand topics of the band. You can finally see what these three-minute songs are talking about and walk with the band. It was pretty good.
Basically, I would write it because you can have a drive from two hours to 12 hours to driving home from California, which is 72 hours. I would write lyrics to a song and then once I was burnt out, go back to the book. It was a good escape because van life can get kind of monotonous and you can get shell-shocked there.
I get institutionalized, too. Like, we’ll get to a destination and they’ll open up the van doors and I’ll be like, “Can I leave the van?” [Laughs.]