“I don’t like the term ‘Rock Star’,” Crawford confesses, taking my arm and leading me down a slimy, narrow alleyway behind the bar where we’ve arranged to meet for our first interview. His Doc Martens are scuffed and there is a red plastic tambourine on a string around his neck. “I mean, what is a star, anyway? Some shiny thing in the sky, that you make wishes on? Stars are, like, kind of gay.”
He stops to stare moodily at a dumpster.
It’s not always easy being lauded as a ‘musical genius’, nor is it always likely. Crawford Lawman is well aware of this. When his critically acclaimed band, The Pan Flashes broke up, there were those who claimed that his spotlight had dimmed forever. Fortunately, the volatile bassist, who once shocked the nation when he streaked his hair with orange, had other plans. His first solo album, “Lightning Tongs” was released six months later, and its instant success and fairly positive reviews rocketed him to instant stardom. He has been the man of the hour ever since.
The next time I see Crawford, he is smoking what appears to be a stub of charcoal. It doesn’t seem to stay lit, but apparently serves other purposes.
“I can write with it if I need to, if an idea strikes me,” he tells me, lips coated with black carbon. “You never know when you’ll need to jot something down.” Crawford turns and draws a smiley face on the brick wall behind us in charcoal.
We both stare moodily at it.
During lunch, Lawman orders a shot of Nyquil to wash down his chicken tenders and is outraged to learn that it is not on the menu, nor can it be special-ordered.
He rips off his leather jacket and tries to bite it in half.
“Easy, Craw,” the bartender soothes. “Why don’t you go around the corner to the CVS an’ pick yourself up a whole bottle?”
Last Spring, Lawman appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a g-string made of kazoos. This prompted The New Yorker’s Alex Ross to proclaim, “Who is this guy?” Several critics since have called him “a visionary genius”. Others are not so complimentary. One former roommate I interviewed said that Lawman “still owes money for his share of cable and utilities for the last three months we lived together.” Mrs. Horner, Lawman’s querulous mother, reached by phone, requested that I ask her son “if it would kill him to come for dinner once in a while?” His father, who was busy “watching his stories,” at the time, was unavailable for comment.
I was disappointed by my conversation with Mrs. Horner. I had very much hoped that speaking with Lawman’s parents would help to supplement the little that is currently known about him: Born in 1979 as Herbert Horner in the small town of Stockbridge, Connecticut, it has been established that Lawman was a mediocre student who enjoyed gym class and disliked wearing hats. None of his elementary school music teachers appear to remember much about him, which leaves the initial formation of his tortured genius steeped in mystery. Lawman’s childhood friend, Ben Beasley, with whom he is in sporadic contact, has said in interviews that the young Herman Horner was something of a “dweeb”.
“Not exactly an outcast,” Beasley added, when I met with him in his West Newton, MA apartment. “Like, just a big dork. We weren’t rebelling against anything. We weren’t really a part of much of anything either. We mostly hung out after school and watched TV and ate jello jigglers.”
It is difficult from these small snatches of information to piece together a portrait of who this American Legend really might be. Our exchanges over the course of six interviews were limited by Lawman’s terse, one-word responses, his difficulty understanding certain words, and his fondness for quoting entire scenes from the comedy Space Balls for twenty-minute stretches at a time. While nuanced and vibrantly hilarious, his recitations did not get me any closer to understanding the brilliance that lay beneath those fringed vests and polyester smocks. My time with Lawman was a tantalizing, frustrating glimpse into the world of the maverick genius.
The last time I catch up with Lawman, he is sitting on the stoop of a neighborhood Laundromat.
“I wash my clothes here sometimes,” he says. “I do a lot of thinking here, too.” He stares moodily across the street.
I point out that his shoelaces are untied.
He gazes down slowly.
“Fuck,” he says. “I meant to wash these pants today.”
We both stare moodily at his pants. Later, he will call me to tell me he wrote a song, Dirty Pants, about the incident.