The Sun Runner Magazine


Shawn Mafia may be a little rough around the edges, but he’s also one of the most unique singer/songwriters and performers to come out of the desert. Part Bukowski, part circus sideshow, steeped in Steinbeck and Waits, Mafia creates songs of three-time losers and drifters down on their luck, unemployed gravediggers, and dimly lit corner bars with characters elusive as shadows. With the annual charity event, the Merry Mafia Christmas Concert, fast approaching, music columnist Judy Wishart paid Mafia a vist. Shawn Mafia, late night, with a $2.99 bottle of Duggan’s Dew, a 32 of Miller High Life, a styrofoam cup filled with cold coffee, and half a pack of cigs tackles the hard questions: You created the Merry Mafia Christmas last year. What was the impetus behind that? I put it all down to shameless self-promotion. Really though, it was an idea that Shanghai Steve Brown was tossing around last year. I had told him that we should try and secure the Playhouse to put on an event for the holidays where everybody could have a “very Mafia Christmas,” and he said “Ya, great, how about ‘The Merry Mafia Christmas Concert?’” The rest is as they say ... hindsight. Why did you choose Tender Loving Christmas as the charity to support? I got a list of all the local charities on my wall and threw darts. Best two out of three was the winner. Actually Steve had hipped me to Mara and her organization and what they were doing for the elderly, the down trodden, and the desperate on Christmas Day. No stranger to hard times myself, I really felt raising a few extra bucks to lend in the effort was quite a worthy proposition. I remember back in ’94 my ex-old lady had left me for a bartender in some dive in Dunsmier, CA, on Christmas Eve. She took all my money and left me broke and asking directions at the nearest filling station. So I was wandering the streets Christmas Day and stumbled into this Mission to get a meal. It was free grub as long as you got saved afterward. The turkey was so tough I nearly threw my back out trying to chew it and the mashed potatoes were colder then the other side of the pillow. They served this coffee that was muddier then the Sacramento River! I felt if I could lend my talents (or lack of) to raise money for TLC, then perhaps folks wouldn’t have to endure a similar experience. There has been a whirlwind of controversy surrounding you and your music as of late, why do you think that is? You must be referring to the Wild West Coyote Festival. We performed last year and, apparently, on the strength of a few letters complaining of profanity in the set, certain factions within the chamber of commerce decided to ax us from this year’s bill. My material tends to deal with more adult-oriented themes at times, but I don’t go out and try and be profane and controversial. It is all in the context of a more real, rougher edge of existence I am trying to portray. The chamber opted for more Disney forms of musical entertainment and apparently Shawn Mafia & The Ten Cent Thrills did not fit the bill. Funny, because a few of the acts at this year’s event certainly did not fall into that category. Put it down to censorship or hypocrisy? I don’t know. It’s too bad they couldn’t open the gates of communication a little more to express their concern. How do you think that will affect the Merry Mafia Christmas Concert? I don’t think it will effect the Merry Mafia Christmas Concert one bit. Let’s let the public come out and decide for themselves. You have a new CD coming out, “Death in D-Major.” Is it a continuation of “Tales From a Street Corner Confessional,” your first CD, or a completely new chapter musically? When can we expect the release and the ensuing mayhem? Yes. We have been down at the Rancho [de la Luna] laying down some tracks. I have about 20 more tunes I want to get out. Would like to flog them to a few indie labels before I attempt to put the CD out myself. I want to get some real distribution for it. I found that releasing it yourself is a lot like spinning your wheels in the mud ... you might get a few feet out, by giving it a lot of gas, but you eventually sink back in. A new chapter ... yes, I would say so. I have a steady backing band now (The Ten Cent Thrills), and these guys really make me look like I know what I’m doing! It could be considered a continuation of Tales because it is a lot of tales from the mortuary. My day job is working down at the funeral home. There’s lust, murder, love, loss, and betrayal all in there. All the themes that have fueled humanity’s interest and imagination for centuries ... with my own unique twists, of course. I expect to have it out in some form or another by next summer. You had some unusual shows in unusual places this year. Tell us about them? We performed at the Wherehouse in Palm Springs. We were doing our whole act as usual. Snake show drunken cabaret ten in one. Due to lack of proper promotion, the majority of the folks were just customers out to buy music. After each tune there would be this resounding silence where the only thing audible was the clang of CD’s against one another as folks flipped through browsing the merchandise. One person would reluctantly clap and it would build from there. Must’ve made for a strange and surreal shopping experience! We played the Memorial Day event at Mountain Valley Memorial Park Mortuary & Crematory in Joshua Tree. Right out on the lawn with all the markers and tombstones. That was amazing. They didn’t know what hit ’em! It isn’t all the time you can perform for the living and the dead. We did another show at the Great Temecula Tractor Races. They had us playing in this tent with a dirt floor and the wind beating against the tarps. Everybody was covered in mud and drunk to beat hell. It was so much like the scene from Hunter S. Thompson’s, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, where he is covering the dirt bike races. It doesn’t get much better than that. I hear you are debuting some material at the concert. Could you tell us something about your new Christmas song? Yes. A few new ones. Songs of real life murder and meth use in the hi-desert. Tales of medicated pathos. And I do have a new Christmas song titled, “Last Call on Christmas Eve.” Very excited about that one. It’s a 100-proof urban love story. The sentimentality of Sinatra mixed with the grit and madness of Bukowski. A lovely ode to the holiday season from the mean dives of the Morongo Basin. What are your plans for the new year? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll drive to the Salton Sea and shoot fireworks. No, probably spend time with my daughter. She really gets a kick out of drinking apple cider in champagne glasses and toasting to just about anything. I remember this one New Year when my grandfather had flipped the bill for a cruise in the Bahamas for all the immediate and not so immediate family. We were up on the top deck of the ship. The ship crew was up there selling wine and very expensive champagne in ice filled bucks right in the middle of the swimming pool and spa area. I ran this scam, with my half cousin, which entailed me distracting the bartenders with questions about year, vintage, and taste while my cousin stole the bottles out of the buckets when their backs were turned. Expensive champagne tastes about the same as the cheap stuff ... especially after numerous whiskey shots. I woke up the next morning in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a hangover big enough to build a parking garage on. Do you know what they do with people that get into fist fights on cruise ships in foreign waters? They drop you off with the authorities at the next port of call and leave without you! I learned that the hard way. - Copyright ©1999-2008 The Sun Runner, The Magazine of California Desert Life & Culture 6847 Adobe Road, 29 Palms, CA 92277, USA Webmaster: Steve Brown