Kristian Hoffman and Lance Loud were best pals at Santa Barbara High School, bonding over a shared love of the Stooges, Velvets, Kinks and Sparks. They played music together in the Louds’ garage. And then the PBS docu-series An American Family was aired in 1973, changing everything. Kristian and Lance moved to New York, started Mumps, built up a following but never released an album…until now, nearly 50 years later, with a career-spanning retrospective. Though Lance Loud died in 2001, Kristian Hoffman carries on. Michael Shelley spoke with him for PKM.
Kristian Hoffman met Lance Loud in art class at Santa Barbara High School. The two formed an instant, lasting and complicated bond. Their musical collaboration started in the Louds’ garage with an ever-changing cast that included most of the Loud siblings and various musicians from high school and the neighborhood. When the Loud family was chosen to be the subjects of the PBS docu-series An American Family, often referred to as the first reality television show, it catapulted the naturally charismatic Lance into the national spotlight. Songwriter/keyboardist Kristian and frontman Lance ended up moving to New York City, forming Mumps, becoming regulars in the early CBGB/Max’s Kansas City scene, touring, releasing two singles, building a loyal following and eventually, after seven years of flirting with breaking through, breaking up.
The Mumps’ new release Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That: Best Case Scenario, You’ve Got Mumps has been called their “Great lost album.” It is a career-spanning retrospective that includes the band’s released output (two singes) along with previously unissued demos and early recordings. The release has been getting a fair share of press, some focusing on the band’s music, and some taking this time to re-visit the frenzy surrounding the original release of An American Family and the coverage of Lance Loud, and how his, and the band’s sexuality was perceived. Because we’re inundated with reality television, and because attitudes toward sexuality have changed so much since the show’s debut in 1973, and L.G.B.T.Q. characters are commonplace in mainstream entertainment, it’s hard to imagine how viewers reacted to An American Family, or how groundbreaking it was. Kristian Hoffman takes a look back at the music making, and the sexual politics.
PKM: When did you first meet Lance Loud?
Kristian Hoffman: I was in Santa Barbara High School, which was a very nice high school, very fancy. Santa Barbara is a real bastion of white privilege. It was kind of upper crusty, but it was lovely there, and he was in Mr. Baker’s art class, and that is where I met him. I saw him from across the room and he was making a paper-mache dodo bird. He was stapling avocado leaves on instead of feathers and I thought “My God, that guy is fucking weird.”
It turned out he was already the teacher’s pet, and the teacher was kind of a slightly closeted queen—you could say he was clever in the old-fashioned parlance of a euphemism for being gay—and Lance was already his favorite. They would sit at the desk and judge all the art of the other art students and say mean sarcastic things, and I thought “That’s a club I want in to,” and it was easy for me to sneak my way in there. We enjoyed each other’s company a lot and we sort of became best friends quickly. Later on, I learned the fact that, even though I was only 15 and a half, I had my own car… he liked that there was a sense of convenience that he could get around with a chauffeur.
PKM: The phrase upper-middle-class is often used when talking about the Loud family and Santa Barbara. Do you think that’s accurate?
Kristian Hoffman: No, it’s less upper. I come from incredible wealth and privilege, though my mother got disinherited because my grandfather supported Nixon and had a silver platter with Nixon’s profile on it. So I’m the one who came from the fancy background, but the Louds were kind of newly rich. They lived in a little Brady Bunch-type suburban home in a very nice neighborhood, but it was a typical late ‘50s-early ‘60s suburban development, so the whole idea of their incredible wealth… They succeeded because they were fun and interesting and charming and smart. Pat Loud [Lance’s mother] did come from a background of some privilege, but they were mostly just an up-and-coming couple in a moderate suburban area and they had big aspirations, but most of all they were really welcoming and funny.
PKM: So, at what point did it go from you and Lance being art class pals to “Let start a band”?
Kristian Hoffman: It was pretty quick. We connected over music. We had four favorite albums: Raw Power, The Velvet Underground & Nico, the first Sparks album and The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society. So that set us apart from absolutely everyone we knew. The Louds were very welcoming musically, so I remember we used to play Raw Power at swimming parties at their house all the time. So our tastes were kind of arcane and we really enjoyed that. And, of course, we soon learned to shoplift…I was the designated shoplifter because Lance didn’t want to go to jail, so we got new records every weekend and we used to listen to everything.
The Louds had a garage and here’s the cliché, they let all the kids play, because all the kids wanted to be in bands. Kevin was a fantastic bass player, Grant was a really good guitar player and songwriter and he was the good-looking one in the family so he had everything going for him. Both Lance and I were kind of goony and couldn’t do anything but it just turned out ultimately that we were the ones who stuck with it, but we were all allowed to play it in the garage and Pat said, “I’ll let everyone practice back there as loud as you like and as long as you like, but you have to let everyone in the band who wants to be in it.” So we ran through all kinds of high school students. Ultimately, we got Jay Dee Daugherty on drums, who we also went to high school with, and he later went on to fame with Patti Smith without us.
PKM: So everyone in town wanted to be in a band… or were you guys outcasts?
Kristian Hoffman: It was a social thing at the end of the Sixties. It was what you did with your spare time in California. You were either going to go be a surfer, which we made fun of, or you wanted to be in a band. Almost everyone we knew from high school wanted to be in a band.
Everyone would listen to KIST [107.7 FM] and check the Hit Parade in the back of the Santa Barbara newspaper. Everyone I knew was just into music. There was another guy who shoplifted records in Santa Barbara High School and I’d see him walking up and down the high school halls with the big shopping bag full of records, and he’d sell you a record for a dollar, so everyone was doing it. Music was kind of the Bitcoin of the time. You could decide whether or not you liked somebody. We loved The Beatles, but if you were too into them… or if you loved The Beatles but hated The Monkees, then we hated you, because those songs were good… so everybody was snooty and divisive and sarcastic, which is fun.
PKM: As a teenager at the time, was Lance out? Was that a thing to do at that time and place?
Kristian Hoffman: At that time, I was under-versed in sexuality. I just didn’t know anything about it. I even had girlfriends for a brief time, although I didn’t really know they were my girlfriends. Then I became best friends with Lance, and I didn’t have any schooling in homosexuality… so when we met we felt a kind of bon ami… which if you rephrase it as a gay word, it’s pretty gay. I didn’t really understand it, but I felt at home with him, and he sort of was an outcast in high school, but he wasn’t specifically outcast for being gay. Although I did hear that Tim Bottoms, who was also a friend of ours, who went on and had a splash at movie stardom in The Last Picture Show and then was never heard from again, although he was in the movie that Sparks was in “Rollercoaster,” but in any case… he used to call Lance a faggot, which at first I didn’t even know what it meant, and then when I knew what it meant it didn’t bother me because I just thought “He’s a fucking idiot, and who cares what he thinks.”
But over the course of the end of high school, Lance brought me into my own sexuality and schooled me about that stuff and even arranged for me to have my first sexual experience because I didn’t know how to go about it and was very clumsy and inept. He arranged for me to have sex with his then-boyfriend and then it turned out it really wasn’t for me to learn about having gay sex, he was actually testing his boyfriend, and when his boyfriend went ahead and had sex with me, I had to drive Lance home and he cried the entire time, and I thought, “Why are you mad? I thought you were setting this up for me so I’d understand this stuff.” He didn’t speak to me for a few weeks afterwards. It was high teen drama.
So it became known to each other that we were gay, but it didn’t really figure into my self-image. I never really fit into regular society. I wasn’t really interested in it.
PKM: Tell me about the filming of An American Family.
Kristian Hoffman: When it started happening it just seemed ridiculous. I didn’t think anything would ever happen to it. The producer, Craig Gilbert, came to Santa Barbara and he’d been brought there to meet another family, this is as I remember it as a 17 year old, but I was at the cocktail parties where they all discussed this kind of stuff, and he just happened to go to a cocktail party at Bill’s work [Bill Loud, Lance’s father], and he picked the Louds as the family he thought was going to be interesting enough to document. It all seemed very random.
Lance Loud in conversation with his mother, from An American Family:
PKM: I always wondered if there were some nefarious motives behind choosing the Louds. You know, did the filmmakers have a sense that this All-American family might actually have a lot of dysfunction, and was that their plan all along to show the underside all along?
Kristian Hoffman: I can’t speak for their mindset. but it was not a troubled marriage to the point of divorce when they started filmmaking. I know the family was looking forward to showing off all their good sides. They were all articulate and had these wonderful dinner parties and everyone just loved them, so their home life was admirable and full of interesting people and I think what happened over the course of the filming was once people became cognizant of the camera as a witness, things that might have happened over the course of a few years got sped up.
Pat, as a person who was being cheated on, now had a witness. So, I don’t think the producers, even if they were psychic, they couldn’t have smelled out how much action there would be. Lance wasn’t transparently gay. He didn’t have a lisp, he wasn’t effeminate, and he was actually very muscular and talked like a regular guy.
There’s a scene where Lance is putting on makeup with his sisters in the bathroom and that got captured on film. Lance was just trying to be outrageous like David Bowie. We were very much of a musical bent, whether we could play or not, and music was central to our lives, and we always tried to dress like Marc Bolan or David Bowie and they opened us up to our sexuality in a way that might have been harder for generations before or after. So having a camera there almost seemed natural, like “We’re crazy and interesting, and we’re smarter than the other kids in the room,” and now we got to play it to the camera and be ridiculous.
PKM: How old were you when An American Family came out and what was watching it a surreal experience?
Kristian Hoffman: Lance and I moved to New York when I was 17, I had graduated high school early, and we only stayed there for about eight months because we didn’t really realize you have to pay your rent on time and stuff like that, but we’d already met David Bowie’s drug dealer, so it was very exciting. So, we went back with our tails between our legs, we were humbled and back in Santa Barbara. I get mixed up on these times, that was 1970 or 71… so anyway we thought the series was unbelievably boring, so we didn’t even care to watch it religiously. It just seemed like the moments that were kind of crazy were fun to watch and then in between it just seemed like a lot of filler and we’d already lived that shit anyway. It didn’t seem that revolutionary or interesting to us, and the other thing is, Lance never comes out in the documentary. Everybody put that on him. There’s a scene where he’s walking around the park with Pat and she’s troubled by his sexuality and the world he chose to live in in New York, at the Chelsea Hotel with this strange guy… he always found a guy who would let him live with him… maybe there was sex involved… I was too stupid to figure that out at the time… and Pat came and was just overwhelmed, and that was entertaining to us, but the series itself wasn’t that interesting to us, and when the reviews came out and it turned out it was an opportunity not to review the documentary as a documentary but to review how sad and misguided and middle class and blinkered the family were, that was a total shock to us. As an art student I would think “Does it show a truth that we haven’t seen before?” and I think the truth it showed was that any prejudices against the middle class are okay.
PKM: I take it that you and Lance and the family and the community in Santa Barbara did not accurately predict the effects of the documentary.
Kristian Hoffman: We had no idea. We were just kind of doing it as a lark. As I said, the family, I think, was glad to have a witness. They did have the sense of providence. Like “We’re a great family,” which they were, “We’re an interesting family,” which they were. You know Bill was kind of an amazing, hilarious guy and a really good friend to me over the course of our lives, but he was more of an old-fashioned “cheat on the wife – I’m the breadwinner – what I say goes” kind of guy. But, when Lance came out, he was completely accepting of him.
PKM: So, you and Lance eventually moved back to New York. How long did it take until you had the first version of Mumps ready to play gigs?
Kristian Hoffman: It’s confusing to me… When we got there, Jay was still in the band and we played one or two gigs with him, but then when Jay quit to play with Patti Smith and we kept switching drummers, and we lost our bass player, so it took quite a while to assemble the final Mumps who played Max’s and CBGB all the time. It was around the same time everybody else started playing there, in 1976, but we couldn’t hold it together, we’d go for months at a time without a gig, but we were writing songs and being musicians that entire time.
PKM: Were you commercially ambitious? Did you think the thing you were doing was going to connect to the top 40?
Kristian Hoffman: No. Our model was kind of a cross of all the things we loved at first, the songwriting of The Village Green Preservation Society, which I think was the worst-selling record in Warner Brothers’ history. And we loved the Stooges and we were both completely obsessed with The New York Dolls. I used to go see them five times a week. So we love the raucous rock & roll, but also the crisp, clever wordplay. So our idea was we could get a big enough following to maybe make some albums, maybe be as big as Sparks or maybe get lucky and become a one-hit wonder. We believed we could tour and make albums. That’s as far as our aspirations went.
PKM: I’m interested in that time and that cultural change, from the early ‘70s hippie and glam time to the 1976 New York City scene…
Kristian Hoffman: Don’t get me wrong, we hated hippies. We were in that tweener moment where we thought hippies were stupid stoners, when we thought “They just lie around and don’t do anything” and the Grateful Dead is the worst band in history.
PKM: Did you feel that change coming in the air?
Kristian Hoffman: We always felt “other”. And we always felt that the music we loved was “other”. Even though The New York Dolls were transparently based on The Rolling Stones and David Johansen was transparently the “other” Mick Jagger. To us they were the anti-Stones. They were more radical and weirder and welcoming and their lyrics were in your face and divisive and crazy and clever, and so that’s what we liked and we never identified with mainstream music.
PKM: So, did a light go off at a certain point? Did you make any 90-degree turns in presenting your music when you got to New York?
Kristian Hoffman: No, that moment is made up by journalists. That didn’t happen at all. Maybe later it became more ROTC, and you had to have certain aspects if you wanted to appear Punk. We understood it was a label foisted upon us by journalists as an easy way to describe the scene, but we didn’t mind being called punks because we were anti. Punks were differentiated from the mainstream and we didn’t mind that.
The first band we played with was Television, who I loved, but they transparently loved The Grateful Dead. That’s not Punky. They had 18-minute guitar solos, which we would snore through. When they did those kind of orchestral inter-exchanges of beautiful fluid guitar playing it was really well done and it wasn’t just jamming. They were trying to make something really transcendent and poetic, but were we like them? No. But did they like us? Yes. When Blondie came along, a band like The Shangri-Las, that’s a great idea. When The Ramones came along, a band like The Shangri-Las, that’s a great idea. They’re both based on the same songs and the same chord structures.
The thing that we liked was how everyone was different, but we all supported each other. All those bands were excited about the differences between them.
PKM: With you being the musical force, the songwriter of the band, and being Lance’s best friend, there must have been some frustrating times. I’m sure that Lance’s celebrity opened doors for you but, did you sometimes wish you could just concentrate on music?
Kristian Hoffman: I loved being in a band with Lance, but Lance was at times very difficult. He was the only person who sometimes didn’t show up for rehearsals.
PKM: When the band broke up was there an event or what did it just kind of putter out?
Kristian Hoffman: The specific thing was… there was this thing in the Soho News… they were very supportive and they were trying to help us get signed and they did this thing where they had four guys from the scene, one of them was Walter Lure, one of them was Cheetah Chrome, one of them was me, and I can’t remember the fourth one… and they put us all on the cover and they interviewed us all and of course I just was learning to drink. I didn’t have a drink until I was 26. So I was maybe two years into my drinking career and I had no idea how to control it, so I was completely plastered by the time they were interviewing us and they asked what I liked in music and I just said whatever labels I could think of, and I said “I love Seymour Stein, I love that label Swan Song” and I just joked about all these label owners because I thought “One of these people is gonna sign me,” because I was drunk. So the next day I get a call from Seymour Stein and he says “Do you really love me?” And I didn’t know what to do. I said “You’ve given so many bands chances and support that never would have had another chance, you really helped invent the audience for this kind of music…” I actually came out of that line of tripe in the middle of a hangover. So then he said, “We want you to come up and we’ll make a demo with you.” So we had a meeting with the Mumps afterwards and everybody was really excited, but with reservations because we were all getting along really poorly at that time because of the lack of success. We were like brothers, and we got upset at each other like brothers, so we were a little bit at each other’s throats. So we made the decision that if we got signed we’d stay together and if we didn’t get signed we would break up. So we did the demo, which is on all of the reissues, and it’s middling, but I think the songs are good, they gave us a kind of a rote producer who was trying to force us into a smaller sound and to be less crazy, and he thought he was helping us when he made the songs sound more normal, and we had three hours to record it and while we were recording it, this was actually in the Sire building, Seymour Stein invited me up to his office and he talked to me about that article and about loving him and I was kind of put on the spot and I thought “What the fuck? Is he still carrying that around with him? Doesn’t he run this entire label and doesn’t he have 300 other bands to take care of?” But I knew I was negotiating some kind of crazy moment, and then he pulled out a drawer and said, “Last night I had coke with Dee Dee all night.” I had never taken any drugs, but I knew that this was kind of an offer of friendship and kind of what people in the music industry share, and if I sat around and maybe took some coke with him it might make the meeting go more smoothly… but then I went back to the recording session and Lance started yelling at me “You just lost us our record contract! Maybe if you’d offered to give him a blow job or something!” so then I started crying in the middle of the session. I didn’t know what to do, and I don’t know if anything had happened between us if it would have made any difference at all. And it never occurred to me that I was attractive to anyone. Since then, people have told me I was good-looking, but I always thought I was ugly. So we had that plan, if they passed on us we’d had enough sour-pussing around and we wouldn’t continue any more.
PKM: It must feel cathartic that the new re-release is reaching a new audience. How do you feel about that?
Kristian Hoffman: We feel really blessed.
PKM: A lot of the coverage of the new reissue has focused on the sexuality of the band. I’m guessing it is nice to get some credit for being “pioneering”, but that you are not 100% comfortable with the idea of being labeled a “gay band,” is that right?”
Kristian Hoffman: This is a complicated question that used to be very simple. I haven’t ever liked being compartmentalized into a diminished field of comparison. Once you typify an artist as a member of a subset, it feels like a vehicle for marginalization, or dismissal.
I never aspired to be, a “gay” musician. I was never a “gay” songwriter or artist. I never started a “gay” band. I was blessed to work with magnificent artists who were “gay”. I can name drop: Klaus Nomi, Rufus Wainwright, Joey Arias, Kid Congo, Prince Poppycock. But they were not defined by “gay” either. Importantly, I also worked with, toured with, wrote songs for, played piano with, arranged and produced for loads of “straight” people too. Is their name prefaced with the word “straight”? Is Dave Davies a “straight” artist?
I am a songwriter. I am an observational songwriter, and I write from experience like many songwriters I dearly revere. I am also a postulatory songwriter: I can imagine a story or an instance or happenstance with which I have not been personally involved, and I can write about it from feeling, life experience, research and extrapolation. I am NOT a “Gay” songwriter. That unasked for qualification seems to limit the expected scope of my songwriting abilities, my experience, and my imagination.
In the Bay Area Reporter (and I know I’m wildly privileged to have so much support in the “gay” press), it was suggested that the Mumps’ song “Muscleboys” was “camp”. That song (which I did not write!) does have an obvious gay subtext, but it was not “camp” – it was about cruel disinclusion for superficial differences, and an unfortunate ROTC-like mental regimentation about what was then acceptable or desirable in “gay” culture. That isn’t “camp”. That is angrily and disappointedly observational.
I am completely ready to fail in cringeworthy lack of skill or inspiration, and be found inexcusably wanting in talent or vision, or just possibly to excel as an artist, without the word “gay”. I’m ready to fail at the feet of the great masters whether that master is Leonard Cohen or Jobriath. John Lennon or Cole Porter. One thing I am not wanting for: aspiration.
But then the “gay word” IS complicated. I don’t claim to be unique except as all humans are unique. But my story is peculiar.
Not everyone was in An American Family, thought to be the first televised delivery system of an openly “gay” character. Not everyone drew the insert for the first New York Dolls album. Not everyone was in one of the very first “punk” bands to ever play CBGB.
Not everyone got Mumps fan mail with enclosed hand drawn pictures of Lance, and heartfelt gratitude that he (and even later “we” – Lance, me and Kevin Kiely) had given them the courage to come out to their parents, no matter what the result.
Not everyone lived with openly gay artist David McDermott. Or was close friends with openly gay Diego Cortez. Or was told he has “cute legs’ ‘ by Arto Lindsay. Or was good friends with “gays” Brian Grillo and Tomata DuPlenty. Not everyone was close friends with all three of the “gay” Zone brothers from the Fast. That part is confusing. Not everyone had a boyfriend who was the drummer for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Not everyone was boyfriends with fantastic “gay” playwrights Donald Kreiger and Justin Tanner, or fabulous “gay” chef (and Elvis impersonator) Kash Brouillet.
So, although I did not purposely comport myself in any of those experiences as if “gay” were at the forefront of my persona or art or commentary, I was indeed “gay”. I was out to all my friends, gay and straight, since I was about 16. We made fools of ourselves everywhere! I went to gay bars with gay friends (and some straight friends too!) I had gay sex. I was beaten and left for dead on a New York City sidewalk for being gay. I know it’s not an oppression competition.
In fact, that last incident seemed oddly unremarkable to me, because everyone I knew was always getting beaten up in that era for something, or nothing, by some violent stranger. I had an SF Hippie chase me down the street and actually stab me with a knife, “to the bare bone” as they say, while he was screaming in my face: “You fucking punks! Punks! Punks! Punks!” after playing a night at the Mabuhay with the Avengers.
But the continuing oppression of gays, either by typecasting as a de-legitimizing ploy, or being found too “amusing” to be taken seriously, or being thought of as “pretty good for a ‘gay’ songwriter”, or most recently being inexcusably oppressed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that institutionalizes that homophobia is now protected by law for “Catholic Charities”- it does make it wildly important to stand up and be counted for gay rights. It is a source of some troubling confusion for me. Can you spell Matthew Shepard? I wrote a song about him, upon which I duetted with that other “gay” artist, Rufus Wainwright. Is being appalled at that murder of an innocent young man who was found somehow unacceptable by prejudiced morons – is that “gay”?
“Sing, sing, if you’re glad to be gay!” I’m no Tom Robinson. I guess I’m an idealist. I’m not “proud” or “glad” to be gay. I don’t need to be “gay” to be “other”. I am proud to be “other”. I am proud to be renegade in my tastes and aspirations!
In retrospect, mostly because of “An American Family”, Lance and I were given an odd platform. Or had one thrust upon us. Maybe we were not adult enough to recognize it. Or smart enough to use it for public good. Or maybe that responsibility was too great for us.
Maybe we weren’t “activist” enough, although I do think by being resolutely openly gay and expecting to be treated as completely equal to our companions and idols, we were always default activists.
But does that mean that I can’t write a song that will resonate with a “straight” audience in equal measure as a “gay” audience? I don’t know. Is being “clever”, “melodic”, “satirical”, or “amusing” merely “gay”? I don’t know. Can I, as “gay”, not identify with every human feeling of want or deprivation or love or adoration or comfort or family?
All I know is this “gay” qualification or surname is put upon me. I don’t choose it. But I will stand up for my sexuality and the sexuality of others as, ultimately, completely unremarkable. What is remarkable in all artists and human beings is how they comport themselves in relation to their fellow humans, and the world. In what I dare to hope is an amusing fashion.