Is there life after Oingo Boingo?
Well, yes. But if you take Boingo front man Danny Elfman even half seriously about how he’ll follow the group’s final-ever concert on Halloween at the Universal Amphitheatre, it’ll be life behind bars:
“I plan to finish the last show, have a stiff drink and go on a tri-state killing spree,” the mischievous redhead said, sitting upstairs at a Burbank rehearsal studio, as band mates Steve Bartek, John Avila and Johnny (Vatos) Hernandez roll their eyes.
Who can blame them--and not just because they’ve put up with Elfman’s twisted humor for most of their adult lives? Elfman, 42, can joke all he wants. He doesn’t need Boingo. He’s got a thriving career going as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after film score composers, with a decade’s worth of credits running from the fun frivolity of his first, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” to the current, more somber “Dead Presidents” and “To Die For.” And now he’s parlaying that into a shot at writer-director status, with a script in development at Fine Line.
But for the other three, the series of farewell shows running Thursday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and Friday, Saturday, Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 at the Universal spells the end of their No. 1 meal ticket and source of public recognition.
Boingo may never have reached a great level of national success, but it’s been a true Southern California institution since 1979. The trend-setting rock station KROQ-FM’s recent countdown of the top 500 songs chosen by listeners included six Boingo songs, a total topped only by Depeche Mode, R.E.M., U2, the Cure and the Smiths/Morrissey.
“The feeling now is numbness,” says bass player Avila, 38, the “new kid” in the band, having joined in 1984. “But the closer it gets to Halloween, the more the numbness is wearing off and I’m starting to realize this really is it.”
“The good thing is going forward to make a move,” says guitarist Bartek, 43, who like Hernandez and Elfman was part of the earlier Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, a mid-'70s avant-garde theater troupe led by Elfman’s brother, Rick, before the mutation into a rock band. “It’s been real easy when something else came up to sit back and say, ‘Boingo is doing something so I don’t need to do this.’ Now I have to look after myself.”
Elfman agrees it’s overdue for his lesser-known cohorts to be “pushed out of the nest"--though they might not have to go too far away.
“I’m sure you’ll see their names involved with various projects I’ll be doing,” Elfman says.
Elfman has already used their talents in his film music, all as musicians and Bartek as orchestrator for 20 out of his 21 scores. Now Bartek has graduated to scoring films himself, composing for two recent films: “National Lampoon’s Senior Trip” and the independent release “Cold Blood.”
Bartek’s also doing production, working with a young Lake Arrowhead band called Gristlefist. Avila, who co-produced Boingo’s last several albums with Bartek and Elfman, is also “diving into production,” recently finishing an independent album by a D.C. band called Sorry About Your Daughter.
But for Avila and drummer Hernandez, a longstanding extra-Boingo partnership will now be the first priority. The two played together during Boingo breaks in the band Food for Feet from the late ‘80s through early ‘90s, and now anchor a group that for now is called the All Stars. Still, Hernandez, 44, who also is working on songwriting and plays with a jazz trio, wistfully admits that it won’t fill the void in his life.
“It’s good,” he says of the new band. “But it’s not like making music with Danny and Steve.”
A bit more ready for life without Boingo are the three members of the group’s horn section. Sam Phipps, Dale Turner and Leon Schneiderman--all veterans of the Mystic Knights days--actually left the band two years ago when the group moved to a leaner rock sound for the 1994 “Boingo” album (the Oingo of the name was also jettisoned at the time).
Back in the fold for the farewell shows, the three, in a separate interview, seem unconcerned with the impending finality, having already moved on with their lives. Phipps, 42, is the only one of the trio even still living in the L.A. area, where he plays in a jazz quartet and, fittingly, is moving into film and TV, having written and performed the theme for an upcoming USA Network series, the Sandra Bernhard-hosted “Real Wild Cinema.”
Turner, 54, moved to Eugene, Ore., where he is exploring world music styles. Schneiderman lives in Northern California, playing in a reggae band and devoting himself to historic and environmental preservation activities.
Says Phipps: “We got used to not being part of this, and now we get to again. It’s nice to have some life left to do other things.”
Schneiderman adds: “It was a nice run as a band. No one died, no one’s strung out on drugs.”
Concludes Phipps: “Maybe that’s why we didn’t make it.”
That, Elfman says, is fine by him.
“I’m glad we will never be big enough to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he says. “That’s what hell is all about, to be part of an institutionalized legacy machine. Legacy is in the eyes of the beholder. We obviously survived. I suppose the legacy is that a band can stay together for a long time without hit records.”
* Oingo Boingo plays Thursday at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, (714) 855-4515, 8 p.m.; tickets available at $28.50, $25 and $18.50. Also Friday, Saturday, Oct. 30 and 31 at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, (818) 980-9421, 8:15 p.m.; all shows sold out.