Rock star and motivational speaker, Andrew W.K. was appointed a goodwill ambassador to Bahrain by the U.S. State Department and had a trip planned by them. Three days ago, the trip was cancelled. I reached out to Andrew to ask him about the cancellation which has been widely reported on, even by Rolling Stone Magazine. We spoke by phone yesterday afternoon as I sat in the Diversey Rock and Bowl, one of my favorite places to work.
Lee: How were you first contacted about the trip? Did you ask to go?
Andrew W.K.: No, I received an Email Sept, 13 2011 saying, “The US Department of State invites Andrew to do a motivational speech in Bahrain.
Lee: Ok, so they were aware of your experience as a speaker?
Andrew W.K.: I think that was exactly why they asked me.
Lee: Maybe they were only aware of your experience as a speaker?
Andrew W.K.: I never had thought about that before, but when you say that, maybe they only thought I was a motivational speaker. They weren’t aware of my other stuff. It’s hard to imagine. We went through so many levels (of security clearances.)
Lee: They probably had the FBI sniffing up your butt.
Andrew W.K.: IN 10 seconds they could find out that I do more than motivational speaking, so it’s hard for me to believe. It’s not even clear why it was offered in the first place.
Lee: Did you think it was a serious offer when you first received the email?
Andrew W.K.: It was absolutely serious. I certainly was shocked, blown away and amazed that I would be invited to do this. I was very excited.
Lee: I don’t think you get enough credit for your serious side.
Andrew W.K.: Having fun is a serious matter.
Lee: I think you don’t get enough credit for being an influential artist with a message that is always positive.
Andrew W.K.: Well, I appreciate that.
Lee: Why do you think the trip was cancelled?
Andrew W.K.: I have no idea. My first reaction was it because of the way I look, because of the photo of me with the bloody nose, or because I sing about partying? I have no idea. It could have been a security issue. I could have been something that we’ll never know about, it could be something very secret.
Lee: You were supposed to leave Dec. 1, and for how long?
Andrew: Yeah, on Saturday, is that the first? I was going to be there for three and a half days.
Lee: So they gave you five days notice cancelling after a year of communicating?
Andrew W.K.: Yeah, they sent the itinerary over on Monday morning, we had just talked a week before going over the details. The contact explained to me how I should announce it. I did all that and the minute it started getting attention, it was like they didn’t want people to know about it which defeats the whole purpose.
Lee: of promoting good will.
Andrew W.K.: Yeah!
Lee: Have you thought of doing the trip anyway (without The State Department’s support?)
Andrew W.K.: Yes, absolutely. We are actually working on that as I speak with you. There’s been an outreach and an outpouring of support from Bahrain encouraging us to come anyway. And since I have never been to the Middle East, it seems a shame not to go.
Lee: So you have all of the passports and visas that you need to go?
Andrew W.K.: Yeah, we got that all set up, we’ll have to start over without the support of the U.S. government.
Lee: Is the visa you had no good now?
Andrew W.K.: That’s a good question actually. I have paperwork, but I don’t know, a visa could be different, I have never been to the Middle East.
Lee: Were you booked on a commercial flight?
Andrew W.K.: Yeah, it was a regular flight.
Lee: When do you think you will go on your own?
Andrew W.K.: We are not sure now.
Lee: I think every generation thinks the next generations music is awful and corrupting, like Elvis swinging his hips.
Andrew W.K.: I can understand that, but why would they have invited me in the first place? I was very excited, I think everyone in Bahrain too was very excited. There were other options they could have suggested.
Lee: Was your whole band supposed to go?
Andrew W.K.: No, it was just me going to talk, talk and jam with other musicians. It was a personal tour to go and spread good will and spread positive impressions America.
Lee: That makes even less sense of why they would cancel it. You don’t have a criminal record or anything like that?
Andrew W.K.: No, I have never been arrested! We went through background checks and all that. I have been asking and maybe they will tell us, but I have a feeling that we will never know why the tour was cancelled or who made this decision.
Lee: You might want to check the visas, you may be able to go anyway!
Andrew W.K.: That’s a very good point.
Lee: They have stuff planned for you (in Bahrain) and our government certainly has no control over that.
Andrew W.K.: That is a good point, I guess I was very excited about them (The U.S. Department of State) hosting the trip and organizing it and having their guidance especially since I have never been to the Middle East. It would have been really great for them to be my host.
Lee: When I first saw the original announcement that you were going, I thought it was fake.
Andrew W.K.: When they first asked me, I couldn’t believe that they were asking me. I felt it was a dream somehow. I have learned a lot and I don’t regret anything, it hasn’t dampened my spirits. I have only just felt confused (since they cancelled.)
Lee: The bottom line is, you have never done anything wrong. You know what I mean? You are a good example of the American Dream, an American who is encouraging other people to improve themselves.
Andrew W.K.: You’ve got to go for it when you have the chance and that’s the American spirit. I am very thankful to be born and raised in the United States. I don’t really think I would be doing what I am doing (if I was born) anywhere else. I love my country as much as ever, this hasn’t changed my feelings.
UPDATE: State Department Spokesperson, Victoria Nuland was asked about Andrew’s trip during a Monday State Department press briefing.
QUESTION: …and this is really kind of bizarre – there’s an entertainer who goes by the name of Andrew W. K., who says that he has been named or appointed by the State Department to be a cultural ambassador to appear at some event in Bahrain. Do you know anything about this?
MS. NULAND: And here I thought we were going to get through this whole briefing without that one coming up.
QUESTION: Oh, you do? You do? Is it true? You have something?
MS. NULAND: I do have a little something on this. So we had a Bahraini entity that approached the Embassy about cosponsoring a visit by this guy, who I take it is pretty popular there in Bahrain. That was initially approved. And then when more senior management at the Embassy took a look at this, the conclusion was that this was not an appropriate use of U.S. Government funds.
QUESTION: Is that – did – and would they – the government would have paid for his trip over there, had it –
MS. NULAND: I don’t know what the details of our sponsorship were to be.
QUESTION: Can you explain why it was – was it – I mean, his – was it that – it was decided that it was inappropriate to send someone over there to Bahrain to represent the United States whose hits include Party Till You Puke and things like that? (Laughter.) Is that why it was decided it was inappropriate?
MS. NULAND: Thank you for sharing that. I think —
QUESTION: Is that why?
MS. NULAND: I think the conclusion was, when they looked at the body of his work, that we didn’t need to be part of this invitation. I’ll leave it —
QUESTION: Got you. And just hold on. And just to make clear, it was – the invitation was actually never extended to him?
MS. NULAND: Frankly, I don’t have the details. There may have been some preliminary conversations with him, but he is not going to be going to Bahrain on the U.S. Government’s dime.
QUESTION: All right.
UPDATE II: I contacted The Department of State via email (no response) and by phone, they answer the phone! Answers coming soon, hopefully they won;t simply send me a press release.