The Man Who Came to Dinner

Greg Kihn

David drove a Plymouth Duster. Puke yellow. Seventy-one or '72, I think. On a good day, and with the right amount of pleading, this was my ride to the mall or the movies. The bus was usually my ride back. It was New Jersey, 1981, and playing over the tape deck of my brother's car stereo, always, was one of any number of Bruce Springsteen albums, or -- David's only real break from the Boss -- the newly released RocKihnRoll, by the Greg Kihn Band.

It only took me two or three trips to Paramus Park before I knew all the words. They just don't write 'em like that anymore ....

Of course, that was a long time ago, even before what would eventually be Greg Kihn's biggest hit, "Jeopardy," earned him the sincerest form of flattery -- a Weird Al parody, and the coveted musical guest spot on the then-towering Saturday Night Live.

Eighteen years and at least two lifetimes later, I parked my green Honda Civic outside of Greg Kihn's town house in Lafayette, Calif., and walked to the door.

"Come on in," he said. "Nice to meet you. I'm just getting ready to start." Though I still knew most of the words to one of his earlier albums, I realized then I'd never really known what Greg Kihn looked like.

Greg looks like a guy. Just a regular guy in shorts and an old Hawaiian shirt. And he carries a little more weight than I imagined he did as a rock star. The cumulative results leave him looking a good bit younger than the math would suggest. Inside, he gave me a quick tour. "This is too big of a house for one guy," he explained. "I lived here alone for two years. And I've got two cats, so, like, I'm a bachelor, right?"

Greg's voice is gruff, but twangy at the same time -- a reminder, perhaps, of both his Baltimore upbringing and all those years on the road. "Hey, this steak's been marinating for 2 1/2 days," he called enthusiastically from inside the refrigerator, waving a piece of Tupperware in the air.

Upstairs he showed me the office where he spends most of his time. These days, in addition to making occasional appearances with the Greg Kihn Band, Greg hosts the morning drive show for KFOX radio in San Jose and bangs out a new novel every year or so. As his printer spit out a copy of his latest manuscript, he led me to a wall covered in book jackets. "Horror Show was my first novel," he said. "And that's a horror novel. It's about a guy that made movies in 1957. Like an Ed Wood. Except he used real corpses. And then bad shit happened. Shade of Pale was the second one, and that's about a psychiatrist who's treating this guy who has delusions that he's being stalked by the banshee. And then Big Rock Beat was the third one. It shifts genres. It's kind of got the same vibe as a beach party movie, only a lot darker. And then Mojo Hand," he concluded, "is the one that just came out. And the groove is that what started with Big Rock Beat continues through Mojo Hand. You know, the idea of a rock 'n' roll novel. So, just like Tom Clancy writes techno thrillers, and John Grisham writes legal thrillers, right? Well, Greg Kihn writes rock 'n' roll thrillers. And that's what Mojo Hand is."

We headed back downstairs just as Greg's town-housemate Elisa arrived home. "Do you want to participate in dinner?" Greg asked her. "I've got too much. Plus you can help me."

As Elisa went to drop off some things in her basement apartment, Greg and I settled in the kitchen, comparing notes on female roommates. "I love it," he said. "It's a whole other world. Although I got to tell you right now, Barry: I'm an old-time asshole. I'm a man's man from the East Coast, and I just do what I fuckin' do, and fuck everybody. That's the way I'm always gonna be. I can't be real charming."

Most everything Greg says is laced with a conscious sense of irony. My kind of guy.

"You been married?" I asked.

"Twice. The first time I married my childhood sweetheart. When we were in high school, in the late '60s, I was in bands in Baltimore and she got pregnant. In those days you got married. My son, Ry, plays in the band now. Joe Satriani was his first guitar teacher, when Joe was in my band. This was before Joe really made it. So the fucking kid was playing Hendrix by the time he was 13. And I've got a daughter at UC Santa Cruz."

Elisa rejoined us, allowing Greg to introduce our dinner project for the evening. "We're all gonna participate. I'm making the steak. And we're gonna 'cue the 'shrooms and the peppers. So that's your veggies, your meat. And with the salad, now, we could go any way. I got these nice-looking tomatoes, and I thought we'd do the mozzarella, and sliced red onion, in balsamic. What do we think, guys -- is that the way to rock?"

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