Steve Burns: The Interview by Trixie Dumont

Steve Burns is the entertainer of children, comrade of the blue dog, the mellow, calming voice, coming from the video machine as I make dinner, make phone calls, breathe. He is my sometimes 15 minute passport to freedom and my kids like him almost as much as I do.
But wait, it gets better Steve Burns is now also a rock god. Or, as he refers to himself on his new website, a rock godlet. Working with Steven Drozd from the amazing band The Flaming Lips and Producer/Engineer Dave Fridmann (who has worked with bands The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, Creeper Lagoon, Elf Power to name a few) he has crafted songs you would be unlikely to find in Mr. Roger's neighborhood, and although he declares This album is not for kids. They might like it. But it was written with grown-ups in mind an element of playfulness is evident when one of his songs is described as being about a man who invents the most amazing thing ever invented.
I sat in front of my computer trying to figure out what questions to ask for this interview. How could I contrive to unravel an enigma that is disguised as the former host of a wildly successful children's television show turned rock godlet?
Trixie: Are you contractually bound to say only good things about Blue's Clues? If not, can you dish some gossip about the show?
Steve: I am not contractually bound to say only good things about Blue's Clues. If I appear effusive, it's because I have many happy memories. Gossip? Let's see. Slippery used to arrive at work each morning without his bubbles. As you might expect we were terribly embarrassed at first, but by the second season everyone sort of got used to it. Well, everyone but Tickety. She eventually filed suit with H.O.G. (Household Objects Guild). They shut us down for a week.
Trixie: How did your perception of being the host of a childrens television show change from 1996 to 2001? When all was said and done were you thinking Well, that was a good experience or Oh, the wasted years! Salt shakers don't really talk.
Steve: When the show first started no one knew what to expect. I thought the show was brilliant, in a sort of punk rock, kill-your-tv short of way, but I certainly didn't anticipate a phenomenon. No one did. Looking back, it was (is) a fascinating experience. An honor and a privilege.
Trixie: Who are your most gushing fans the children who watch your (former) show, or their parents? What has been your freakiest fan moment?
Steve: The parents, by far, outweigh the children in terms of fanaticism. Parents seem truly grateful for Blue's Clues. They often go all out to thank me. Once, a man brought his young son over to meet me at a hockey game. They were perfectly nice people. Problem was, I happened to be standing at a urinal at the time. Urinating. Somehow, I found it difficult to have a discussion about the mechanics of skidooing while midstream. I told him this and he asked me for an autograph. I asked him for a snowbank.
Trixie: Do you ever just want to flatten people who think they are being funny by singing Blue's Clues songs to you like, do people at the post office sing "We just got a letter" when they see you walk in the front door? And in your head you are thinking: Fuck off asshole! but you just nod and smile, nod and smile?
Steve: Yes. People often expect me to be outrageously merry upon demand, which is a tough expectation to meet. Richard Simmons would have trouble meeting that expectation. Sometimes, I just want to be sort of sad. It is a weird thing to be listening to Fake Plastic Trees and get to the good part, I mean really good part- the part where he says she looks like the real thiiiing and your sooo into it and you feel so wonderfully glum and you look up and there are four nannies with strollers beaming at you ear to ear from across the subway car. It can get uncomfortable, but I just think of the good the show does, and how incredibly lucky I am to ever have had that job. And more often than not, those who are suddenly moved to sing/shout the mail song in public are also bold enough to perform at least a general approximation of the tail wagging, arms flailing, G-rated disco that accompanies it. Which is a great thing to see, I gotta tell you. Know someone who would be interested in this topic? Send the page to a friend.
Trixie: Many parents are uncomfortable with exposing their children to a lot of media, even a show like Blue's Clues, which seems relatively benign, because of the commercial aspect of it all. What is your opinion of advertising and merchandising directed at children?
Steve: I am highly critical of overly commercial childrens television. I fully understand that a show needs to generate revenue by licensing and selling toys, (I participate in the sales of Blue's Clues merchandise) but there needs to be some degree of restraint. I guess it's about emphasis. When a show starts creating characters based on their ability to be easily rendered in plush for example, then it has clearly gone too far. The show starts to function as prolonged commercial which, when directed toward very young children, is hardly fair. It is one thing to tell a thirty year old man that he will be cool, less bald and super studly if he drives a convertible sports car, but telling a four year that he or she has GOT TO CATCH EM ALL!!!!! seems beyond manipulative. Almost sinister, when you consider how young the target demographic can be.
Trixie: I bet if you waited about 10-15 years, until all of your fans were of voting age you could be elected President of The United States Of America! If you were elected, what is the first thing you would do?
Steve: I would outlaw the forwarding of all chain letters and otherwise annoying, useless content via global interweb. Any fracture of this law would be punished by immediate wedgie.
Trixie: Who has more charisma: George W. Bush or a sock monkey?
Steve: I would have to go with the sock monkey. But in all fairness to Dubya, I have met some very charismatic sock monkeys.
Trixie: Your friends describe you as: A) A funny guy B) A man with a heart of gold C) A quivering, emotional wreck D) None of the above
Steve: E) all of the above
Trixie: I've read other interviews with you where you indicated a real respect for your Blue's Clues audience and that you had rejected certain roles, which you thought might be at odds with your persona as a childrens icon. Now that you are no longer with the show will you accept other acting jobs? Can we expect to see you playing villains on television/starring in adult romances on the big screen, or is all acting on hold while you concentrate on making music?
Steve: I was, and remain, concerned with preserving the image of the character. But it becomes tricky: I need to put some distance between me and Steve the Character, but I don't want to destroy the image. You would be amazed at how many seemingly wise and responsible media types have suggested that I do something horrible in public, to kill Steve. That seems absurd to me. I worked very hard on that persona and have seen it do actual good in the world. Why would I want to destroy it? Hip Mamas of the world, tell me: What is wrong with people?
Trixie: Were you a sought after slow dance partner at your high school dances?
Steve: No. I was right there at very-uncomfortable-face-in-breasts level. It wasn't until years later that realized what a marvelous opportunity that really was.
Trixie: Who were/are your musical influences as a kid/now?
Steve: As a kid I was very taken with the Rocky soundtrack. I still am. My oldest sister also played a lot of Bowie, for which I am eternally in her debt. The three most important records to me have been The Unforgettable Fire (U2), OK Computer (Radiohead), and The Soft Bulletin (The Flaming Lips). Lately I ve been listening to early Bowie. And the Spacemen 3. And Stevie Wonder. Has anyone heard the Phantom Planet record? I heard one song and liked it.
Trixie: Do you ever play air guitar when nobody is around?
Steve: I am much more likely to air drum. I think it looks way cooler. Steven (Drozd) HATES it when I do that. So I make point to do it A LOT, no more than eight inches away form his face, staring right at him. Ah, the shenanigans.
Trixie: Will you be touring with your new album? Are albums even called albums anymore? Should this question be: Will you be touring with your new cd/release?
Steve: I ll let you know the answer to that just as soon as I get a record deal. Do any of the Hip Mamas work for Matador?
Trixie: If you come to my town, can I be on the guest list?
Steve: Yup. Bring your homies. Just don t ask me to do the mail song.
Intrigued about the Man? Want to know more about Steve Burns? About dust mites? About squirrels? Have a need for affirmation? Check out his amazing new website and be sure to sign up for his mailing list so you don't miss out on a damn thing!