Child Abuse is a band that sounds like the reanimated corpse of Miles Davis hatefucked all the guys in Morbid Angel, moved to Brooklyn, and raised the resulting children on Bach, Nintendo, and methamphetamines. Drummer Oran Canfield has had quite the life. His dad is neither a dead jazz musician nor a crazy death metal dude, but someone even more intense: self-help guru and Chicken Soup for the Soul creator Jack Canfield. He split when little Oran was a toddler, leaving him and his brother with their itinerant therapist/hippie mom. By the time he was 13, Oran had done time at an anarchist private school, learned to juggle under Wavy Gravy, and spent two years in the circus while living at a San Francisco punk house. He later dropped out of art school, got addicted to heroin, played in a bunch of noise bands, and almost died on multiple occasions. If anyone's entitled to write a memoir at age 35, it's this guy. So he did. It's called Long Past Stopping, and it's coming out September 15. We talked to him about it.
Vice: Had you ever written anything before this?
Oran Canfield: No, I'd never written anything before, other than journal entries.
How was it sitting down and making a book? Was it hard? It seems like it would be hard.
It was probably close to the worst thing I've ever done.
Why'd you do it, then?
It kind of just happened. I came up with a title, which they didn't end up using...the original title which sparked the whole thing was "Gimme Some Bread with that Chicken Soup." My friend said she'd ghost write it...then I wrote a couple paragraphs and realized that I was kind of able to write. I didn't necessarily think I could write a whole book. Given the subject matter and that fact that I'd never written before, it was an incredibly difficult thing to do.
But you did it!
I did do it, shockingly.
How was it growing up with the Chicken Soup for the Soul guy as a dad?
He left when I was one, so he was a biological dad. We'd speak on the phone like once a year, and I'd see him on average once every two or three years.
Did you read his books?
No. I tried to read the first one and I was so grossed out by it that I couldn't go any further. I was already angry when I started reading the shit, so I definitely didn't approach it with an open mind.
I imagine it would feel odd to read that kind of aphoristic, feel-good stuff coming from someone who kinda fucked you.
Yeah. It just made things worse. That whole self-help movement culture is the furthest thing from where I feel like I'm at. And again, adding to that...if he wasn't my dad, I probably wouldn't notice any of that stuff, but because of that connection, I really directed a lot of anger towards it.
I think a lot of people do. There's something sort of sinister about it, no?
Um, yes. I think that they do think what they're doing is good, but it's a tough pill to swallow for me. It seems manipulative. And I'm suspicious of that kind of stuff when there's money involved. I don't think anyone would deny it, including them, that money is a big motivating factor.
It's like The Secret, right? Theoretically positive, but there's the other side of the coin, which is that if bad things happen, you must just not be wishing hard enough or whatever.
It doesn't allow for people to be human and have faults. For me, because I have ended up having to do a lot of work on myself, it's been quite the opposite of what they preach in terms of getting more money, etc. Those books cash in on the idea that people are looking for a reason for their kid getting cancer, or their wife getting in a car accident, or whatever it is, and I don't think there are reasons for that shit.
When did you reconnect with your dad?
Weirdly enough, when I started writing the book and getting all this stuff out. I gave him the proposal and I think it was pretty shocking at first. We just didn't know each other and it was the first time he's gotten to see me. It wasn't like I painted a pretty picture of him, I was pissed. But once he knew I was pissed, and once I started to see what his perspective might have been, we started to see each other for who we are, and that enabled us to start talking to each other in a more real way than we had.
That actually sounds pretty constructive.
It has been. And now when I'm talking to him on the phone, I actually am myself. I'm not like this weird shell of a person. He can be himself and it's a whole different thing, despite our different lifestyles or whatever.
From what I can tell, people in that field just have fucked-up kids. I think the jarring thing is that they're selling this thing and they're still human. In one rehab I was in, six of us checked in and were in this little group together, and all six of us, our parents were therapists. Maybe therapists shouldn't have kids, I don't know. But they don't seem to be the best parents for whatever reason. Dr. Spock, who's like the preeminent child psychologist, I think his son ended up in rehab too. People want to point fingers at my dad, but it's not unique.
Let's talk about Child Abuse. It seems like it has dual things going on in that it's really noisy/badass and academic/nerdy at the same time.
I'll take that as a compliment. It's certainly a little bit nerdy in that all of us have been listening to and playing music for so long. Tim [the bass player] went to school for it and he actually makes his living playing jazz...and Luke and I are music nerds, so I'll take it as a compliment.
The name Child Abuse is pretty provocative. Who came up with it?
I came up with the name and I'm not proud of it. What happened was, Luke and I started playing and he was on this little tiny Casio keyboard and I had this tiny little drumset and it just kinda sounded like brutal kids' music. Once you hear the music I think it makes a little more sense, but it's a jarring name if you haven't heard the music. It was supposed to be jarring, but I don't think we had any idea that we'd be together five years later or touring or even leaving the neighborhood, to be honest.
Do you get punks and hardcore kids at your shows? How do they react?
I think like our music, our audience isn't that classifiable. I wouldn't say we fit into the punk scene. On the occasion they happen to be at a show, they really like it, but it might be a little too nerdy for them. I don't know.
I read a review from a metal magazine that hated it.
Yeah, a lot of people hate it. The interesting thing is, all those reviews, it's about 50/50 of people passionately hating it, and people loving it, but there doesn't seem to be much middle ground, like, "Oh, this is OK." But if you take out the opinions, the descriptive elements are pretty much the same throughout.
Is your music informed by your crazy childhood?
I think so. I mean, there's certainly a lot of angst in my playing. I think the reason I was drawn to drumming and why I continue to do it is 'cause of how cathartic it is. I definitely get a lot of that kind of anger and aggression out through my playing, in a healthy way.
One story in the book that ties into the music stuff is when I was nine I was living at a punk rock club in San Francisco called The Farm. I was living there because I was in a circus and that's where we rehearsed. We'd have rehearsals during the day, and at night people like Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Fang...all the old 80's punk rock bands played there. It definitely had an impact on me. I ended up back in the Mission largely as a result of romanticizing that weird little period when I was nine. One of the few happy memories of my childhood was living at that place.
Did you like punk rock going into it?
I actually was not into punk rock. I remember being at those shows and being really drawn to the whole attitude and environment, but not the music. I was raised on hip-hop and jazz more than anything, so even at nine, the music seemed a little too simple to me. I always was drawn to the energy of it but not so much to the music.
Did you ever meet Henry Rollins or other big punk figures?
I was walking around backstage while he was getting drunk but no, I didn't meet him. Famous people I met when I was a kid were hippies. Jerry Garcia, Wavy Gravy, people around the Grateful Dead. The summer camp where I learned to juggle was run by Wavy Gravy. He's still out there doing it. I did meet the singer from Neurosis and some bay area punk bands. I did some roadieing for him and hung out with him, and that had a big impact on me. Oh, and Trey Cool was a friend of mine when we were little kids. I lost touch with him when I was 13 or so.
So there's not gonna be a Child Abuse/Green Day collab?
I don't think that would happen whether or not we were still friends, heh. But yeah...Trey's the only one who ever wrote me a letter when I went away to boarding school. Trey was a good guy. The first time I met him, he played the drum solo of "Burning Down the House," which kind of blew my mind...he was like 13 at the time.
Was your mom cool with her nine-year-old living in a punk house?
Not just cool with it, I think in reality it was more her idea than mine. I kind of went along with it because every kid is supposed to want to run away and join the circus. But in reality, it was hard fucking work, waking up at 5 AM and really going nonstop till about 10 at night and then doing it again the next day. For a nine-year-old...I didn't have friends my own age, it was tough.
That sounds like kind of an extreme thing for a mother to push her kid into.
I was a pretty depressed kid and she had tried giving me piano lessons or this or that or the other, but I was just depressed, I didn't talk much, I didn't do anything, and learning to juggle, she saw that I had some kind of passion for it--or whatever, I was seven years old--and I think it went from being supportive to being a little pushy about it, and eventually it was kind of a career. It was leading in that direction by the time I was nine. The support turned into a stage mom kind of relationship, so that was too bad.
Did she think you'd discovered juggling to be your purpose in life?
She did, and maybe I had, but it seemed like I was too young for someone else to make that decision for me. But I was good at it, so I understand a little where she was coming from.
Let's jump ahead to when you kicked heroin. What can you tell me about ibogaine?
It's a pretty intense hallucinogen. I had to go to the Bahamas to get it. Now, I think you can go to Mexico. I did relapse right afterwards, but it was definitely the beginning of the end.
How does it work?
For me, what happened was that the experience itself was so horrifying and so terrible that when I started coming out of it, for the first time in my life that I could remember, I was psyched to see other people, I was psyched to be on Earth and back in my body, cause for the whole experience I was just in my head. Rather than being this huge profound experience it was kind of this more grounding thing, like, get the fuck out of your head, you are a member of the human race. Got me to join in a little bit. A tiny bit.
I've done a lot of acid, and it made acid feel like I was hyperventilating or sniffing glue or something. It was really fucking intense. And there's a whole biochemical thing going on with the ibogaine where it's re-growing neural pathways and braincells and afterwards you have massive amounts of seratonin in your system for six months. So I had a six-month window afterwards where I was not depressed like I usually was, and was able to get into a daily routine of going to work, not using...by the time the stuff left my system and I went down into a deep funk again, I was already used to not using to be able to get through it.
Are you ever going to write anything again?
I don't have plans to. I don't know what the future holds. I don't feel like I have another book's worth of material to write at this point, but who knows?