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Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne of Spokane: ‘The police came to kill the hobos with kindness’

UPDATED: Thu., March 4, 2021

Teddy bears painted on the side of a police van is what the Melvins singer-songwriter Buzz Osborne thinks of when Spokane crosses his creative but warped mind.

Osborne, 56, has witnessed his share of the amusing and the strange during a nearly 40-year career. But nothing has ever cracked him up as much as the sight of a moving drunk tank that would have fit perfectly in a David Lynch film.

“I’ll never forget that when we returned to Spokane in 1986 for a downtown show in this community center kind of place, where we played on the second floor, there were all of these homeless drunks, hobo types causing a scene in front of the venue,” Osborne said while calling from his Los Angeles home.

“Apparently, it was a daily occurrence. The hobos were fighting out there, and the promoter called the police, and they showed up in a police van painted with teddy bears all over it. The Spokane police went down there not with force but with love. It was literally the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. The police came to kill the hobos with kindness.”

The Melvins didn’t let the disorder discourage the sludge-rock trio from revisiting Spokane. The band, which arguably has had the biggest impact on grunge, has played Spokane at least 10 times.

“Maybe the next time we come to Spokane, we should get the key to the city?” Melvin cracked. “We have been back to Spokane a lot. It’s a cool place in the middle of nowhere. Spokane is like an island but surrounded by land. It reminds me of Perth. It’s way off the beaten track in Australia.

“It’s the most isolated place in the world, but it’s surrounded by land. In Spokane, you can tell who the outsiders are. There’s culture in Spokane, but it’s not overbearing. It’s not a big town, but it’s not a small town. When we play there, fans get the same show they get from us that they do in New York or Berlin.”

The Melvins would love to showcase material from its latest album, “Working With God,” which dropped Feb. 26. It’s a familiar-sounding project featuring the amusing “Brian, the Horse-Faced Goon,” sludge-rock “Hot Fish” and an irreverent but hook-laden poke at the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around,” with a name that’s unprintable.

“We wanted to touch on all the things that make the Melvins the Melvins,” Osborne said. If it feels like a throwback album, well, it’s the second release in a row that features the Melvins lineup circa 1983-84: Osborne, Dale Crover and drummer Mike Dillard.

“Mike isn’t as good of a drummer as Dale, but I wrote songs that he could handle,” Osborne said. “It all worked out.” Osborne, who was close friends with Seattle icons Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell, has influenced many recording artists. Slipknot, Helmet, Mastodon, Lamb of God and Earth are just some of the hard rock bands impacted by Osborne and the Melvins.

Osborne introduced Cobain to Nirvana’s missing piece, Dave Grohl. Osborne has never fallen off sonic course since he’s always embraced a wide variety of music. “I’ve always been that way,” Osborne said. “Some of the best shows I ever saw were Bad Brains and Blondie, both early ’80s shows, Elton John in Las Vegas and George Jones.

“I’m so glad I went to that George Jones show,” Osborne said. “It was just before he died, and he was just not right. The show was weird on so many levels. It was fascinating to see. I was with (Faith No More and Mr. Bungle vocalist) Mike Patton, and we just looked at each other like what is going on? I like all kinds of music. It’s more interesting that way. Elton John was excellent, and so was Bad Brains. Who doesn’t like going out to shows?”

Osborne doesn’t expect to hit the road until 2022 at the earliest. “But when we do come back, we’ll be in Spokane again,” Osborne said. “We’ve played there so many times. If it is true that we played there more than anyone, have the mayor come out to the show and give us the key to Spokane.”

Too bad Osborne doesn’t drink. There’s no chance of him landing in the drunk tank if the police ever dust off the teddy bear wagon. “That is something I would love to see again, but I can’t imagine something like that being around today,” Osborne said. “It was surreal, and I loved it.”

But is there a chance that Osborne’s memory of the teddy bear police was off?

“Even if I don’t remember it right, it doesn’t matter,” Osborne said. “It’s like what a character said in that David Lynch film (“Lost Highway”). He said, ‘I don’t like videotape recorders because I prefer to remember things the way I want to.’ ”

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