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Nightlife the next venture for Cobra Verde

Toronto Sun
August 26, 1999

TORONTO -- When it comes to criticism, Cobra Verde frontman John Petkovic has heard it all.

He's written a good deal of it, too.

The singer-guitarist for the Cleveland psych-pop-rockers band -- at the El Mocambo tomorrow night -- straddles the great pop culture divide, spending his daylight hours banging out an arts and entertainment column for his hometown's respected daily, the Plain Dealer.

"It's a strange way to moonlight," says Petkovic, 33, down the line from his post at the newspaper. "I'll read reviews of my records and catch myself going, 'Ah, what do you know, you're just some hack... hey, wait a minute, so am I.'"

It only takes about 15 seconds of conversation with Petkovic to notice that this mile-a-minute talker isn't -- ahem -- your average rock journalist.

His daily column centres not just on tunes but "furniture and automobile exhibitions, books, Fellini movies" and basically whatever unique musings happen to spill out of his crammed cranium. He's also hosted a political panel show for National Public Radio in the U.S., and worked as an aide to the exiled Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia.

But, he says, "The music came first. I think maybe I met a quota at the newspaper, like affirmitive action for perceived hipsters. You know, like, 'We need a hipster in this position and we perceive him to be one.'

"My job gives me enough holiday time to tour. Anyone who can fill space every day basically builds up enough political capital to say, 'Look, I gotta go play some gigs.'

"If I wanted to be big in, like, Nebraska, I'd probably have to quit my job."

Petkovic's musical career pre-dates his journalistic one: He won underground recognition at age 20 fronting the band Death Of Samantha. Cobra Verde, formed five years ago, are best known for backing up Ohio legends Guided By Voices on that band's 1997 Mag Earwhig disc.

Still, within the grooves of CV's upcoming fourth album, Nightlife, the singer/writer comes on like a man possessed to rock, star-like.

That flair has earned the group numerous glam-rock comparisons, which, considering the blasts of Roxy Music-style sax and Stooges swagger that snake their way through Nightlife, aren't far off the mark. But there's also something smart and crafty about CV's knack for a pop tune.

"I actually make songs up while I'm driving," Petkovic says. "It's a half-hour from my house to the studio. It's kind of like working on deadline. Rock 'n' roll lyrics just seem too corny to write down. I have this image of these tortured rock artists sitting in a little room with a little lamp late at night, 'Hmmm, let's see. You drove me insane/ I can feel it in my brain. Nah, maybe I should make it a heart.' I'm fairly uneasy with that."

Nightlife comes out on New York City's Motel label Sept. 7.

Next, Petkovic launches a new online magazine, Scamcity 2000: A Journal Of American Anti-Culture And A Guide To Millennial Panic, at www.scamcity2000.com.

"We thought it would be kind of fun to be able to write about the histories of Negro League ballplayers, music, politics and pull them together into a site. It will generate new content but also store up people's ideas. For fun."

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