Monday, February 05, 2007

Inherit the Wasteland

My daughter is studying immigation in her 4th grade class right now. As part of this project each student was asked to interview an immigrant. So Kallisti sat down and spoke to her old pal and former housemate Neil Robinson. Neil immigrated to New York in 1984 and became a prominant fixture among the thriving L.E.S. squatter movement as the original vocalist for seminal crust band Nausea. He went on to front Jesus Chrust and Final Warning and founded Tribal War Records which he operated for 15 years before quietly retiring from the punk scene to focus on organic farming here in Portland, Oregon. His message of protest and resistance has never wavered. This was my daughter's first interview. She may have a future with Destroying Angels. This is how their conversation went...

Kallisti: What did you do in your old country?

Neil: When I left school I got a job working in hotel kitchens in London. I started out as a pot washer and worked my way up and became a chef and I done that until I left. So I was a cook for 10 years.

What was your favorite food? Do you have a favorite recipe?

Fish and chips! Haha…not much of a recipe…

Yeah…haha!

...potatoes and a bit of fish! But yeah, I was really into fried foods.

Why did you decide to immigrate to the United States? Had you been here before?

No, I hadn’t been here before. I met an American girl in London and she had visited me like four times and on the fifth time, about two days before she left, she said she couldn’t afford to keep coming over. I said, “Well there’s no way I can afford to come to America.” She said she would buy me a plane ticket and two days later I left and ended up in America! I originally came for 2 weeks and ended up staying for 22 years!


How did you learn to speak English?

Haha…it was a natural thing…the Queen showed me!

What route did you travel to come to the U.S.? What form of transportation did you use?

Well it was pretty simple, I took a plane. It wasn’t very exciting.

Would you like to tell me anything else about what it was like to become an immigrant?

It was pretty hard coming to New York City. It was weird that even though I spoke English, people had different ways and words of communicating and it was really hard the first couple of months. No one understood what I was saying or anything like that. I was really nervous and I was scared about getting a job. It was so much more expensive than where I lived as far as housing and stuff, so I didn’t know how I was gonna live. The first few months I was really scared that the immigration would catch me and I’d get kicked out.

Where did you land when you arrived in the U.S.?

I landed in Newark [New Jersey].

Did you have any difficulties getting through immigration? Were you detained?


I was pulled aside. I had a Russian stamp in my passport. I had been to Russia and they really didn’t like that. So they took me and interviewed me for about an hour about what I’d done in Russia and was I a spy and all this other stuff! It was pretty intimidating. And the customs people can be really hard on immigrants. It wasn’t a very nice atmosphere.

Do you remember seeing any famous monuments when you arrived, like the Statue of Liberty?

Yeah, I saw the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center! Probably the most intense was flying in and seeing the whole of Manhattan.

Did anyone come to meet you?

My girlfriend’s mom came to meet us. It was pretty strange because at the time I had a mohican…

Hehehe!

…but she was really cool, y’know, she gave me a hug and welcomed me to America. It was nice.

Is there anything else you would like to tell me about when you first arrived in the United States?

When I first arrived here I stayed out at my girlfriend’s mom’s house in New Jersey in this little town. And the cops didn’t like me in that town very much. It was a very white, conservative town and we would go into the city for shows and when we were coming home- twice we had cop cars try to run us off the road! So I got out of there as fast as I could!

Where did you go to make your first home? What was it like?

I moved up to Manhattan, to the Lower East Side. I first lived on 1st Avenue between 10th & 11th, it was above a punk bar called First Avenue and it was really noisy 'cause they had a punk jukebox. But I spent most of my time down in the bar…haha…It was really expensive and at that time it was hard to get a job, so I moved into a squat on 8th Street between Avenue B & C. It was just an abandoned building that a group of people took over and we made a home. I lived there for most of my time in New York.


What was you first job and what did you do?

My first job was moving furniture. It was for a furniture company in the Lower East Side and it was mostly illegal immigrants that worked there. The work was really hard and the money was terrible. I had to get up at 5am in the morning and wait in line to see if I would go out in the truck that day. But I met some really interesting people and I met a lot of people that kind of shared experiences of how to live as an immigrant and how to live on the streets of New York and how to survive. So I kind of learned my survival skills from them.


What is your job now and what do you do?

I am now the Produce Manager of People’s Food Co-Op. I buy produce, put it out on display, I decide what specials are going to be for the week, create recipes…And People’s is a collectively run store, so I’m a Collective Manager as well. Part of my duty is to help manage the store.

Are there any things you miss from your old country?

Yeah, I really miss the history. I miss the culture, I miss the working-class culture that I grew up in. My favorite part of England is the West Country, Cornwall and Devon. One of the reasons I moved out to Oregon was 'cause I started really missing Europe, but I didn’t want to go back. I came out here and the coast really gave me the same feeling as those favorite parts of England. That’s why I moved out here and that’s helped a bit. It’s a different vibe on the West Coast.

What was the biggest change to your way of life when you came to the U.S.?

Um…I think the biggest change was the opportunities in America. Even though it seemed like it was hard to get a job, there were plenty of jobs for immigrants in New York, even if the money wasn’t that good. It felt like all of a sudden I had all this money which I never dreamt in England I could ever have! And within a year I had a car! And I would’ve never ever…it’s kinda funny…I would never be able to afford a car in England! So it was kinda weird coming here. It seemed like a lot of people had money.

How do you stay connected to your old country, friends, and family?

Well, my brother e-mails me and he tells me when I have to call my mom and dad…haha! I was actually trying to phone them today. My mom and dad came over here last summer and that was really nice. I hadn’t seen them for 12 years. It was kinda strange cause I realized that I’ve aged and they’ve aged. It’s a weird process when you’re not together and seeing each other age.

Well, that’s it.

Cool!


Thanks to Kallisti & Neil for letting me post this interview.

9 comments:

Leon said...

That was a lot of fun to read. Your kids are already on their way to living a more interesting and diverse life than most. I hope they will look back and appreciate it. I know I did with my own upbringing when I got past my gross "angst"-y years ... !

Foulweather... said...

Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Great interview Kallisti,
I've known Neil for ages and remember him from the ancient NYHC scene. He did sound and organized many of our early shows at abc no rio and was a likable chap. Cheers to old man Neil and you guys for posting this interesting and informative interview.

Best Regards,

Daryl / Citizens Arrest, New York City

Sean the Sean said...

Wicked! Yeah man, so like, i'll second the above. Neil is a cool dude. Also, it's great that your kids can be around these cool sorts of people, picking some interesting folks out of the endless rivers of bland, bleached out shit.

Anonymous said...

If you see Neil give him a big hello from Luxembourg, Europe. Man he's getting really old lol.

Nice interview.

Ronnie Riot

mike said...

awesome interview with an awesome role model by an awesome kid with awesome parents. great work kallisti! and thanks for sharin' dennis. and thanks for holdin' down the fort for all these years neil. you're a way under-appreciated hombre.

phyte club katie said...

I just found your blog, and almost immediately came to this post. Reading an interview by a fourth-grade girl of a '80s punk is too perfect. Did she transcribe this or did you (transcribing's such a bitch....!!)?
Awesome blog, thanks for putting it out there.

Dennis Dread said...

Phyte Club Katie: Thanks for your comment. My daughter recorded and transcribed the interview herself (she was only 9 at the time). She transcribed it verbatim to retain the tone of the conversation so you can read exactly where they giggled and paused. Glad you enjoyed it!
~Dennis

Dennis Dread said...

P.S. I helped her with spelling and punctuation.
~Dennis