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40 Life Lessons From 40 Years of the Melvins

Buzz Osborne’s bottom line seems pretty straightforward: Work hard, do cool shit, live and let live, and don’t trust the government, whether you lean left or right
Melvins (Buzz Osborne, center), Photo credit: Mackie Osborne

When the Melvins formed in Montesano, Washington in 1983, they couldn’t have anticipated that, four decades later, they’d be counted among their generation’s most influential bands. Loud, weird, and nonconformist—even by underground music standards—they’ve never headlined a stadium tour, hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, or released a platinum-selling album. Still, they’ve left a behemoth-sized crater across heavy music while inspiring subgenres like grunge and sludge metal, cultivating a fervent global fanbase, and influencing countless bands—most famously Nirvana.

Now based in Southern California, the Melvins’ core of founder and frontman Buzz Osborne (aka King Buzzo) and drummer Dale Crover has remained intact since 1984. Since 2015, they’ve been rounded out by Redd Kross’ Steve McDonald on bass. 

This year, the Melvins hit the big 4-0, which they celebrated with a European anniversary tour and two new collaborative releases on Amphetamine Reptile. In June, they paid tribute to industrial noise legends Throbbing Gristle on Throbbing Jazz Gristle Funk Hits with Atlanta electronic artist Void Manes, and last month they put out a five-track EP with Seattle rock trio Helms Alee titled Controlling Data for a Better Feeling Future. They also recorded an yet-to-be-named full-length studio album, which is slated to come out next year on Ipecac.

Since late August, they’ve been on the road with the equally eclectic and prolific Japanese trio Boris (who named themselves after the first song on the Melvins’ 1991 album, Bullhead) on a co-headlining tour they’ve dubbed “Twins of Evil.” Just days before the tour was set to kick off, though, Crover learned that he was in need of immediate spinal surgery that would take him out of commission for several months. (Feel better soon, Dale!) 

Many rock bands would’ve had to back out of the tour entirely, but in this instance the Melvins’ history of unconventionality worked in their favor: Filling in for Crover is Coady Willis (Big Business, Murder City Devils, High on Fire), who served as the Melvins’ second drummer from 2006 to 2015, when he and Big Business singer-guitarist Jared Warren expanded the group into a four-piece. 

It’s early September, and the Twins of Evil have descended upon Chicago’s beloved independent venue Metro (which, coincidentally, also recently celebrated its 40th anniversary), where a line of fans adorned in Melvins merch begin to wind down the block hours before doors opened. When I thank Osborne for making time for the interview, he dryly quips that I might regret saying that by the time the conversation is over.  

That may or may not be a nod to the fact that, in recent years, Osborne’s comments have occasionally raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers. In 2020, he drew controversy when a 2018 interview he did with Gavin McInnes (the Vice Media co-founder who left the company in 2008 and later founded the Proud Boys) resurfaced. Osborne later told Metalsucks he didn’t know anything about McInnes except his prior affiliation with Vice until much later. “I’m not in favor of Nazis,” he said. “I’m not in favor of white supremacy. I’m not in favor of hate groups. I’m not in favor of any form of political violence along those lines whatsoever. I could not be less for that. I hate that kinda stuff.” (To that end, he’s made a couple records with Jello Biafra—the guy who wrote “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and ran for the Green Party’s 2000 presidential nomination—and has said their friendship goes far beyond politics). 

His personal opinions may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but speaking to him at age 59, his bottom line seems to be pretty straightforward: Work hard, do cool shit, live and let live, and don’t trust the government, whether you lean left or right. 

Even so, when I asked him to share 40 life lessons from 40 years of the Melvins, he threw in a few surprises. The following are in no particular order:

Photo credit: Chris Casella

1. Work hard, no matter what. While everyone else is wasting time, you should be working. Whether you’re in a band or not, the idea that you’re gonna be successful by working 40 hours a week is total bullshit. I don’t know who came up with that, but it wasn’t a successful person. 

2. Don’t be afraid to change. If you’re speaking of music, [when I started the Melvins] I saw a hole in what I thought was missing in a lot of heavy rock music, so I decided to change my tune about what we were gonna do and how it was going to work. In the end, it influenced enough people to where it changed music on a global level. If I had been afraid of change, that wouldn’t have happened. 

3. Don’t be a joiner in-er. I’m very much a Groucho Marxist when it comes to this thing, which is, “I don’t wanna join any club that would have me as a member.” I have no interest in being a part of anything or having brother bands. We don’t fit into any of that stuff. Not with our name, not with our record covers, not with our songs. 

4. Be as peculiar as possible. Hideous mediocrity doesn’t stick out.

5. Live conservatively and let your wildness come out in your art. 

6. Be happy with what you get and not with what you think you should have gotten. The fact is, if you’re an artist and you’re getting anything, you should be happy about that. One thing you’ll never hear me talk about is how pissed off I am that I’m not in someone else’s position. 

7. Don’t worry too much about what other people think. Even though I read a lot of stuff that’s negative about us, it motivates me. A lot of times you have to look at what [those people] actually like and that will explain why they don’t like you.

8. [Life is] a war of attrition. Your enemies will eventually go away. In 40 years, we’ve outlasted everyone who ever thought anything bad about us. 

9. Be nice to everyone. It’s easier to be nice than it is to be mean. I’m always nice, unless someone’s a jerk to me, and then I’m not nice. But I start off nice and take it from there. 

10. Don’t drink. That’s obvious. 

11. Don’t do drugs. That’s obvious too. 

12. Since you’re still going to drink or do drugs anyway, at least do it irresponsibly. There’s nothing more boring or more stupid than drinking or doing drugs responsibly. It doesn’t make sense. That’s like going into war responsibly. … Is there anything more half-assed or candy-assed than that? “I’m gonna do coke, but I’ll be responsible about it.” There’s nothing responsible about doing any amount of coke—now you’re just being stupid.

13. Don’t go to college. If you want to be indoctrinated into stupidity, you go to college and learn from people who’ve never run a business or done anything in their lives other than teach, generally. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t see any reason to. Basically it’s going to prolong your adolescence. Why would you want to do that? Get going earlier, learn on the job, and figure out what you wanna do from there, unless you want to be a doctor or an engineer or something like that. 

14. Don’t finish high school. It’s a total waste of time. If I had to do it over again, I would not have graduated from high school. 

15. Work on your instrument. If you’re gonna play guitar or if you’re gonna be a painter, you need to do this. You need to do this on a level that makes it where lots of other areas of your life fall by the wayside. If you want to be a writer, or you want to be an artist, a painter, or a guitar player, other areas of your life are gonna have to suffer as a result of that or you will never be any good.

16. Don’t listen to hipsters. They don’t know anything at all. The biggest problem with hipsters is their necks are always hurting from turning around to see what everyone else thinks. I hate hipsters, and usually the bands that they really like—with almost no exception—I think are garbage. 

17. Have a very dark, non-PC sense of humor.

18. Find good musicians to play with. This will only elevate your skill. If you’re in a band, find the very best musicians you can find. It will make you look better.

19. Don’t trust the government to take care of you. These are people who can’t do anything, who’ve never done anything except lie with every breath they take and use money that they took from someone else. They’re not good people to trust your welfare [to]. That’s across the board. I have absolutely no affiliation—nor do I have any interest in being affiliated with—any kind of political party. None of these people speak for me.

20. Get lots of exercise. If you’re a couch potato, you will turn into a couch potato. I think activity is a really important part of anyone’s life.

Photo: courtesy of the Melvins

21. Read lots of books. Nobody reads books. I find people with highfalutin opinions about all this stuff, and I’ll ask them, “Please, tell me what books you’ve read. I would love to read those books.” They either tell me books I’ve already read or they don’t have any suggestions. It’s pathetic. When I walk into someone’s house and I see that they have a lot of books, I understand these are people that are important to me because they like information. (They could also read a Kindle or something.)

Since I was a very young child, I’ve been interested in books. Whether it was Jack London or whoever it was, I found an escape that helped me get through my life without parking a bullet in my head.

22. Watch a lot of movies. Movies are probably one of the most important artforms that’s ever been made. They have visuals, they have storylines, they have music. Nothing has moved me more than music, but movies have come close. Watch them across the board from the blockbusters to the art films. 

23. Don’t watch normal network television. I haven’t watched normal network television for probably 40 years. Whether it’s Fox News or CNN, I have no idea what’s on there. 

24. Corny, eighth-grade level jokes are good. People shouldn’t lose their toilet humor. 

25. Stay out of other people’s business. What I do in the privacy of my own home, stay out of it, as long as I’m not hurting anyone. If you’re not hurting anyone, I see no reason why you shouldn’t be allowed to do whatever you want. 

26. Learn to appreciate athletic ability in sports. I always loved playing sports, but I quit playing them because I hated the people who played sports. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate sports. I think that for teenagers and younger kids, sports are generally a good idea. It gets ’em active, it gets them thinking, it gets them trying to be puzzlesolvers. And it probably keeps a certain amount of them out of trouble as well.

27. When someone older and wiser than you talks, you should listen. You never know what they’re going to [teach you]: “How did you pay off your mortgage? What did you do? What were the important things?” There’s lots of things like that that people can learn from. 

28. Be on time. To me, if you can’t do that, you can’t do anything. 

29. Drive like it’s you against the rest of the world. 

30. Love and appreciate dogs. They’re a man’s best friend for a reason. I’ll say cats too, but we have dogs. I can’t imagine my life without them. 

31. Get married and stay married. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to that sort of thing. I think it’s an important partnership that you should have. Generally people get married so they can have children and all those kinds of things, and even though I don’t have children I understand why you would do that. 

[How do you know you’ve found the one?] For me, one of the most attractive things to me about my wife [artist Mackie Osborne] was that she didn’t need me. … Women who have strong opinions and careers and are strong are only going to help you, as long as they understand that about you as well. 

32. Get a job as soon as you can. This whole idea that teenagers barely work now is crazy to me. I don’t mean 17, 18, 19 year olds. I mean 13, 14—they should all get jobs. I don’t care what it is: Mow the lawn, sweep the driveway… 

When people say children shouldn’t work, I don’t see any reason why not. How else can you learn how to deal with hot-headed customers and crazy bosses and all these kinds of things? It’s only gonna help you in life. 

33. Don’t worry about things you have no control over. It’s a waste of time. 

34. Enjoy the simple things. If you can’t find happiness in simple things, you won’t find it in complicated things. Enjoy the time that you spend with your wife at home or sitting on the couch with your daughter. Life doesn’t get any better. Sure, you can enjoy a much more complicated vacation or whatever, but if you can’t do that, your vacations are probably gonna be a nightmare. 

35. Don’t go to jail. I’m always surprised at how few police hassles I have when I’m not doing illegal stuff, weirdly. 

36. Collect things. I like to be surrounded by all kinds of interesting things when I’m at home. I think it’s a really great way to live, and I want to build a home that is the most important and most comfortable place that I will be in my life. It can be simple stuff, but it could also be a collection of paintings, or music, or whatever.

37. Listen to bands like the Who, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. I will never tire of those bands, and I don’t trust people who don’t like them. Whenever I hear someone say, “I don’t like the Beatles or the Stones,” I think, “You can’t find one song of theirs that you like? That’s just crazy.” The Who to me are the best live band of the ‘60s, if not the best live band ever. They’re definitely my favorite band and have been since I was 12. I think there’s a lot people can learn from those bands. 

38. Find friends you can trust. Your real friends are people who would drop everything to come and help you. And I would do the same for [my friends], and I have. That’s what you want. That’s what you strive for. Surround yourself with people—even a few people—where that’s the case and you’ll be much better off.

39. Do stuff. Whether it’s golfing or hiking or whatever it is (this also goes with exercising), do all kinds of things along those lines to get you outta your own head. Even if it’s going to church, or whatever. …  I think too many people now put their belief in things like the government. I think that that’s a really, really super bad idea, both mentally and spiritually. Even though I don’t buy most of the religious shit, I still think that there’s something to it that you can attach real meaning to without joining it. These people believe in something, and it’s worked for lots of people. And [to that extent] there’s gotta be something good about that that you can somehow take out and use in your own life. 

Things like, “Don’t murder people, don’t steal.” That all came from religion. Intellectuals didn’t dream that up—the religious people did. Now we just take it for granted. When people say, “I’m not a religious person,” well, you actually are in so many areas of your life—you’re not even aware of it. Where did you learn that you weren’t supposed to kill people? I’m not an atheist because I think that’s really arrogant, but I’m also not a believer in normal spiritual type stuff. Whether it’s Muslim or Jewish or Christian, I don’t have any interest in joining in. So like I said, don’t be a joiner in-er. But what can you learn? There’s gotta be a lesson you can learn and utilize in your own life.

40. Move somewhere where the weather is good. Even birds fly south for the winter. I’ve lived in the southwest part of the U.S. for the better part of 40 years, and as much as I respect places like Chicago or the Northwest, I can’t do the winters. Having lived in a really, really amazing climate for most of my life, I can’t imagine not.