"Keyboardist Roessler Turns to Poetry to Deal with Dark Period in His Life"
by Rahne Pistor
Being a skilled keyboardist in the center of a rock 'n' roll reawakening with plenty of raw, unbridled rebellious energy and creativity but very few fluent musicians places you in great demand, Paul Roessler found out as L.A.'s punk scene exploded in the late 1970s.
He was an essential part of early Los Angeles punk favorites The Screamers, played with goth punk innovators 45 Grave, and was sought out by eccentric German pop diva Nina Hagen to record on the CBS Records release Nunsexmonkrock, the first record that Hagen sang in English.
Later, Roessler added musical production to his areas of expertise as he began working with punk/alternative producer Geza X at his Satellite Park studio retreat, which overlooks the canyons in Malibu.
Now Roessler has turned to poetry, and plans to debut a work he wrote over a period of six months focused on what he describes as some of the darkest and most dismal days of the eight years of his life that he was a drug addict. The poetic work is titled "Eight Years" and will be released as a chapbook by Brass Tacks Press.
Roessler is scheduled to do a reading at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 8th, at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. Roessler will share the bill with fellow punk scene favorite Keith Morris and his most recent project, Midget Handjob, a group whose chaotic whirlwind of sound might best be likened to the sonic result of jazz punk and spoken word poetry being run through a garbage disposal. Suggested donation is $7 for general admission and $5 for students.
It might have been a cliche story, had Roessler become a drug casualty of the early Los Angeles punk scene days like so many of his contemporaries in the 1970s and 1980s.
But it wasn't until he was in his 30s in the 1990s that his life became overrun by addiction to methamphetamines, he says. It took him about eight years before he finally shook the habit in 2002.
And it wasn't until this past year that he was inspired enough to write about his experiences.
For a six-month stretch, Roessler went to work in areas of Mississippi devastated by Hurricane Katrina. He was working with a consulting company that photographed the destruction caused by the natural disaster.
"I saw real suffering," says Roessler. "I saw people pulling out bodies and true destruction."
It was just this destruction that he says most likely caused him to go back and revisit a dark period of destructiveness in his own life through poetry. He worked on the writings throughout his stay in Mississippi, having no background in poetry except for the lyrics of songs he had written.
"Poems just started coming out," says Roessler. "Well, I don't like to call them poems out of respect for the genre. I don't study poetry, and I don't read poetry."
But somehow a 24-part poetic work resulted dealing with drug addiction, family and his experiences in music.
Roessler got married around the time he joined the Nina Hagen Band in the early 1980s, and within a few years had two children. With his family, he has maintained some stability in what is often the solidly unstable life of a punk rock musician.
"Some people put the music and writing and creativity above everything, where family and children play second fiddle, but I've never been able to do that," says Roessler. "Some are willing to go all the way and commit to art above living."
Roessler has somehow managed to maintain both, even when performing with groups considered at the fringe of pop eccentricity.
In the late 1990s, after about a 15-year hiatus, Roessler was asked to rejoin as keyboardist for Nina Hagen, who still enjoys a successful touring career and pop stardom in her native Germany, while she maintains cult status in the United States.
"Nina Hagen was able to really connect culturally in Germany, even though she's pretty out there by their standards as well. In the United States, however, she's just one step too far removed from American pop culture."
The influential punk bands Roessler started out with also proved too far removed for mainstream American culture, although their influence reverberated through less substantive "pop-punk" groups in the late 1990s.
It was perhaps his theory on music which helped develop the two-way street of attraction between Roessler and more eccentric pop/rock artists.
"When I play keyboards on a song, it's my goal to achieve what I call emotional violence," says Roessler. "Meaning, if the song is sad, I want to make my part sound so intensely sad. If the song is angry, I want my part to sound so intensely angry."
Bands that Roessler worked with (including the Dead Kennedys) often had a strong political, social or artistic message in their works. But still Roessler says he's skeptical that music is truly an effective tool to bring about meaningful social change.
"It's very rarely that a song touches people so deeply that the message is woven into people's daily reality," Roessler says. "However, it can affect people's hearts. It can get people angry and worked up."
"There are pop bands today like Green Day or Neil Young that are saying something relevant. But they are wealthy and perhaps disconnected from the people they want to change. Truly, people change by example. When Gandhi wanted to change India, he wore homespun robes and nearly starved himself to death for his cause. People change through the examples that they see."
But Roessler sees a lack of positive examples among today's mainstream American society.
"Right now we have a fascist government that's creating bombs that can be controlled with a joystick," he says. "It's us, it's our culture that chooses to live that way."