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Cobra Verde

By Holly Day
Pulse of the Twin Cities
October 6, 1999
John Petkovic ain't your average rock star. When he's not actually performing, the multifaceted artist spends his time writing a column for Cleveland's daily newspaper, The Plain Dealer; working as an aide to the exiled Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, producing a weekly radio show for Cleveland's NPR-affiliate on the Balkans, and creating an online magazine called Scamcity 2000: A Journal of American Anti-Culture and a Guide to Millennial Panic. The other CV-ers do just as much.

Drummer Chas Smith is not only a board member of the Church of the Sub-genius, he's a professor at Cleveland State University. Guitarist Frank Vazzano designs juggling pins for a living, and bassist Dave Hill is a professional musician who recently composed the theme for the HBO show Reverb. Drummer Mark Klein is a studio engineer as well as a computer whiz - "He does lots of weird stuff on the Internet," says Petkovic.

Cobra Verde started in 1994 with the release of their first LP Viva La Muerte, which was picked by several magazines, including Rolling Stone, as one of the year's best releases. In 1997, the band joined up with Guided by Voices to record Mag Earwig!, which has been proclaimed by many as Guided by Voices's best album. That same year, Cobra Verde released an album of their own: a singles compilation called Egomania (Love Songs).

This past September saw the release of Cobra Verde's newest album, Nightlife (Motel Records), which manages to draw on just about every aspect of the band member's musical histories. Petkovic fronted the '80s glam-punk outfit Death of Samantha for many years, while the band's other members have performed in groups as varied as Sons of Elvis to The Cleveland Chamber Orchestra. After an exciting game of phone tag, pulse managed to catch up with Petkovic to talk about the tour.

You're a pretty snappy dresser. Where do you get all those cool outfits?

Thanks! Pretty much everywhere, I guess. There are more opportunities for men to dress nice now that women wear pants more than skirts and dresses. It opens more clothing opportunities for men. Actually, I just recently went to this outlet store in Las Vegas - Las Vegas has the greatest outlet stores - and either women come in weirder shapes and sizes than I was previously aware of, or these clothes were actually designed for men to wear, because I got these pants that were labeled a size 12 that fit me perfectly, and they were pretty damned long for having this skinny waist. So I guess they were made for some tall, skinny woman with a man's ass? They fit me perfectly, and I'm almost 6'4". They were covered with tar or something, too, like roofing tar, maybe. They looked pretty cool, but I couldn't picture a woman actually wearing them. A lot of times, I find some really cool women's pants, and they don't even come down to my ankles, and that kind of looks bad.

One of the bad things about so many people working at home via their computers is that it's really put a crimp on fashion and fashion trends. You don't usually get dressed up to sit in front of your computer or television. I tried getting dressed up to watch a video on my VCR the other night, and my girlfriend just started laughing at me. But at the time, I wanted to do something, get out of the house and go somewhere, but there was nothing to do, so I thought I'd just get dressed up like I was going out anyway. I had just bought this new outfit, and thought, "Hell, I'll just start wearing this around the house."

How did you guys hook up with Mike Watt for this tour?

I've known Watt for a while now. I remember seeing the Minutemen when I was really young, too, and I loved them. I just think his approach to music is really great. When I first saw the Minutemen play, it was pretty amazing, because there was this band coming to Cleveland, in the middle of nowhere, all the way from California to play in the basement of some joint just because they heard there was a cool scene starting up here. Back then, there really was no blueprint on how to do a real tour as an independent band. I think he's one of the few musicians who'd been able to survive by doing things his own way for over twenty years now. It's not unprecedented, but there are very few people who've been able to do what he's been able to do.

What's the most public place you've ever been naked?

Well, I have a lot of people coming through my house all the time, and I always get yelled at for forgetting to wear clothes when there's company. Actually, I just recently got arrested for public exposure - what's it called when you go to the bathroom in public? Public urination? Something like that. It sounds really bad, "public exposure," but it's not like I was exposing myself to little kids or anything. But I was in front of two police cars and ten people, who were adults, and I got caught.

I used to go back and forth from the U.S. to Europe all the time, and in Europe, they don't care if you're walking around naked in most places. My family's from Yugoslavia, and pretty much all the beaches are clothing optional there. So I never think people are going to be offended to see me naked, because I grew up around all that stuff. It's just not that big of a deal to me. I don't like to go outside my house naked here in Cleveland, though, because here, people kind of get the wrong idea if you just walk around the neighborhood nude.

Have you ever been attacked by a fan?

I got bit by a fan once, but I think it was a mistake on her part. That one's a long story, and I can't really get into it-sorry. I did get bit by a dog, once, though, and I can talk about that. I got bit right on the mouth. The dog's name was Sheba, but I thought he looked like this dog I knew named Cocoa, so I kept calling it Cocoa. The dog apparently did not like being called Cocoa, and when I called it to come over, it ran right over and bit me square on the mouth. It left a little scar - nothing serious, but there's a mark.

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