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NT: You had a starring role in Little Buddha. Have you had much reaction from the nonrock public?
Isaak: Yeah. They say mostly nice things. Most of the people that would see that kind of film, you know, they're the kind of people that would actually read Reader's Digest, you know? They're the reading public.
NT: But Reader's Digest isn't exactly heavyweight material.
Isaak: Hey, I didn't say they were intellectuals. But they read the whole digest. Like, "I Am Joe's Colon," remember that series? "I Am Joe's Testes," "I Am Joe's" whatever it was. It was a whole series--probably some old lady collected em all--it'd be a whole seven-page story about What I Do. "I am Joe's saliva gland, I produce mucus."
Isaak: It was a real trip for me cause I don't go to these things much, and you see all these women with cleavage and sequined dresses, and these guys in tuxedos, and to me it's kind of exciting. They have big trays of food and shrimp and you can eat all you want, so, being a musician, I gravitate over there and talk out of one side of my mouth and throw em in the other.
NT: But surely, at this stage of your career, you can have all the shrimp and cleavage you want at the snap of your fingers.
Isaak: [Snaps fingers.] Nope . . .
NT: What's it like doing Letterman? Isaak: I actually like Letterman's show; I watch it once in a while because I think he's funny. And, to me, it's like I get to peek backstage and see how it works and I still have no idea what makes David Letterman tick. When you were on the Carson show, between commercials he'd sit there and tap his pencil and be looking off like, "I don't really want to talk with people because I've done this a million years." Very calm and together. Letterman seems like he's thinking ahead, very focused, and you feel like you'd distract him if you talk to him. But it doesn't matter, every time I'm on his show, I say something like, "When are you going to have Pete Barbutti on?" He was like a Las Vegas jazz comedian. Letterman just looks at me like, "What?"
NT: What does he say when he leans over as they go to a commercial?
Isaak: Well, last time he said something that I don't understand. I was sitting there and my drummer was offstage--we'd just played--and he says, "You've got a good-looking drummer. He's a handsome man." I thought, "Okay. Thank you."
NT: You have that mirrored suit, and other stage clothes made out of garish upholstery; you seem to rely on a more traditional show-biz ethic than a lot of contemporary musicians.
Isaak: Early on, a musician who's a lot older and wiser than me said, "When you go onstage, never go on looking like the audience." And I thought that's some of the best advice you could get. You do wanna act like you're cool and casual, but it's better to kind of admit to people, "Yes, I'm here to entertain, it's my job and you're supposed to be looking up here." Somebody gave me good advice for boxing one time, but I use it for music, too. It was, "Hit em hard in the head." That's it, you know? Hit em hard in the head.