You Gotta Laugh
"The Boardwalk's gone. I didn't know the Boardwalk was gone until three days ago. Somebody said, 'You know, there's no more Boardwalk in Atlantic City.' I said, 'What're you talkin' about, man?' I can be over in Atlantic City in a half an hour, an hour, and I didn't even know that! All I knew is the air conditioning was bouncing around the window and the house was creeping away. It's a hundred-year-old wooden house and I thought the top was gonna blow off. I stayed in bed for three and a half days!"
Bobby Liebling lets out a small laugh which trickles away into a sound that almost makes it seem that he's going to burst into tears. For half a second, there is silence.
"So everything was normal", says Victor Griffin, the timing so perfect that everyone in the room bursts out laughing -- bassist Greg Turley and drummer Sean Saley, Pentagram's tour manager, attendant photographer Karen Toftera and myself included.
"Everything was normal", agrees Bobby, warming to his place as the butt of the joke. "I just stayed in bed and made plans!"
It's the penultimate date of Pentagram's first UK tour, a date in Bristol rescheduled from The Fleece on the 31st which is now taking place at The Exchange later this evening, November 3rd. Hurricane Sandy forced the band to change their plans. After another few dates in Europe, Victor Griffin will no longer be Pentagram's guitarist. Having filled the position twice before in two different decades, he joined this time for a spat of US dates in 2010 and ended up staying two and a half years, playing on and producing the band's first album in seven years, 2011's _Last Rites_, released by Metal Blade. The interview I conducted, which began with Bobby Liebling alone and went on to encompass Griffin has just ended. We take some photos and we leave to let the band get ready to go onstage.Photo credit: Karen Toftera
It doesn't seem like much, but the little joke above sums up what a special relationship Victor Griffin and Bobby Liebling have: almost no-one but Griffin could make such a joke at the Pentagram singer's expense and have it taken with a smile. Liebling can be both sensitive and difficult to work with. According to his fellow bandmates from the original line-up of Pentagram, it was that sensitivity coupled with an unwillingness to compromise that cost the band a major record deal in the mid '70s. Then there's Liebling's drug problems, which are the stuff of legend. By the middle of last decade, his failure to turn up or inability to perform at scheduled Pentagram appearances had led the vast majority of people to write off both the band and Liebling as entirely beyond hope.
More than one former member of Pentagram has vowed never to work with Liebling again. Victor Griffin himself, interviewed for the 2011 film "Last Days Here" even quipped, "It surprises me people who go out and buy advance tickets for Pentagram shows... I would just wait until the night of the show and go to the door because why sink your money into something that you don't know is even gonna happen."But as that same film chronicled, Liebling has succeeded in turning his and Pentagram's fortunes around. He got himself clean in 2008 and by 2009 Pentagram were playing their first shows in Europe with a new line-up. At this point Victor Griffin was not involved, his place being filled by the ample talents of Russ Stratham. They played Norway's Hole in the Sky festival the summer of 2009 with Mark Ammen on bass on Gary Isom on drums. (The latter had played in Pentagram briefly in the late '90s and also manned the kit for their 2010 Maryland Deathfest appearance, released on DVD in 2011 as _When the Screams Come_). It was at HITS that I was first exposed to them. It was incredible -- and I felt like a doofus. I had just never got around to checking them out. From the first note of the first song to the thundering finish, I just headbanged, completely caught up. Appearing in ludicrously huge stacked heels and a shiny green catsuit, his hair periodically blown into a flowing mane behind him by powerful turbines mounted by the front of the stage, Liebling was mesmeric. As I put it to him when our interview begins, it was like a time machine had transported him from somewhere else just to liven' up the place.Treat Me Right"Why did you feel that?" Liebling asks this with a hard voice and a stern face. We're a few seconds into our interview in an upstairs room at Bristol's Exchange. It's cold, I've just disturbed Liebling eating pizza and caused his wife to migrate from next to him on the couch to across the room. I stumble, ask him to repeat himself and then turn the question back at him in desperation: why did I feel that?"Yeah, I mean the time machine, you think I'm like a throwback?" He seems on the verge of being genuinely pissed off now and I'm stumbling, wondering whether this interview will be over when it has hardly even begun. In a split second many things cross my mind. I originally requested to speak only to Victor Griffin, believing that Liebling might have interview fatigue. This tour being Griffin's last with Pentagram I thought to spare Liebling, but maybe he was informed and offended. I arrived a few minutes ago to a room with Liebling the only band member in it, and a minute in, here we are, him feeling like I've insulted him. I hastily beg off that I wasn't regarding him as a throwback. He quips back:"'Cause we are, you know", and then lets out a little cackle. Sitting just to Liebling's right, their tour manager Klaus puts in, "I think he's baiting you." I agree with a laugh and relax, explaining my position. To me music is just great or not great, whatever era it came from, but yeah: if you appear in stacked heels and clothes from a different era, then that's the feeling you get. But I mean, it was a complete breath of fresh air. Really, something amazing."That's cool. Thank you." Liebling must have said this thousands of times to many people more worthy, but his sincerity is refreshing. Making it to Europe for those 2009 shows was a milestone for him: you could sense at that gig that he really felt he'd pushed it somewhere, really got somewhere. "Yeah. It was the first time we'd made it to Europe and it was like: it's about damn time, you know? The band had been together almost forty years at that point... and we'd never been to Europe. We'd never been anywhere." He laughs loudly. "Washington DC, that was our scene, and we never broke that because I had a lot of demons holding me back for many, many years. I couldn't go anywhere or anything like that and I'd just get fucked up and stay home. I just thought, what does it matter", lets out a mad chuckle. "I almost gave up music at one point. I -did- give up, basically. Before I met my wife I, uh... I was, you know, just about dead." He says what sounds like 'phew' and lets out a big exhale of breath.In "Last Days Here" we get to see just how badly Liebling was doing, circa 2007. He was smoking a lot of crack and believed he had parasites infesting his skin which caused him to scratch and injure himself. For the first twenty or so minutes we see him mostly in bandages, a lost man living in his parents' basement. Though talking to him in the cold upstairs dressing room in Bristol on November 3rd, he is a tricky interview subject at times, not always easy to transcribe because of mumbling and sometimes switching topic or timeline without warning, the change in him is incredible. Onstage later, he acts like someone much younger than his near-sixty years.I must confess that I came to this interview without having done much research. I knew Pentagram had a complicated history. I knew I didn't have time to go through all of it and sort the truth from the fictions. I knew that I didn't have much time, my interview being scheduled for during the gig, with the band due to take the stage less than an hour after. So I went in as an enthusiastic admirer with almost no information or preconceptions. I think it worked out for the best, too. It leads to some interesting moments, though, as the following illustrates.When the Slips ComeIt begins when I ask Liebling about something he did at Maryland DeathFest. Everyone was throwing Pentagram the devil horns and he insisted, "No, like this", and turn his hand palm towards us with the middle and index fingers showing, the peace symbol so universally touted in the 1960s."I'm a hippy", he explains. "Look, I like -- you know, I want peace, man. Who wants to fight people all the time, you know? I'll always vow I'm gonna die a hippy because of my age, you know. I grew up in that era. Everything was, you know, love talk. There was a lot of drugs involved of course but, you know, they didn't cause -riots- like they did in later years."It's here that the slip comes. I say that Pentagram came through a bunch of different bands, from Death Row and various other things. Big mistake."No, wait a minute. Death Row was a totally different offshoot. We'd been together ten years before that. Before I ever met Victor, Death Row was Victor's thing he was doing already."Having apologised, I find that the mistake has a pleasant upshot: Liebling explains how he joined Death Row. He doesn't put it that way, but that is what happened when he first hooked up with guitarist Victor Griffin, who was working with his friend and bassist Lee Abney and had recently hooked up with drummer Joe Hasselvander, who had been in the then last active Pentagram line-up. This was 1981. They later changed their name to Pentagram at Liebling's suggestion."So when he pitched up with, uh, the drummer of Pentagram, I was in the hospital. I was hittin'... you know, I was in bad shape like usual", he lets out a single bitter laugh, a 'hah', "And gettin' off a lot of heavy narcotics. He heard a record, you know, that we had done -- the single -- and was playing with the drummer [Hasselvander] and, um, he... he said he'd like to, you know, have me try out and do it, if I was interested in being the singer. I said to him I would and we did. We plugged at it, plugged at it, but we stayed in the DC area and there's no music scene and never has been. So we couldn't get far, you know?"This happens more than once in the history of Pentagram. Despite how influential the self-titled 1985 album and follow-up _Day of Reckoning_ have been -- and how brilliant they are -- after the latter Pentagram fell apart, both Griffin and Liebling taking too many drugs and not provoking healthy behaviours in each other. What brought them back together was the re-release of those two albums by the UK's Peaceville stable, whose owner Hammy loved the band."We recorded that first album in '82, actually. Originally", Bobby explains. "It was put out originally as the original Pentagram album, just self-titled, in '85, and eighty-six-seven was _Day of Reckoning_. Those went on Dutch East but then Hammy was a super-duper fan and he flew over here and he had me come to New York and had all these ideas and he wanted to sign us and stuff."I ask if this is a familiar motif over the history of Pentagram, people coming with big ideas and saying things are gonna happen. Liebling pauses before answering."Yuh", he says letting out a full 'ha ha ha' laugh. "That's the way the music business goes, though. Everybody promises the world and delivers nothing. You know, there's very few people who are legit and treat us fairly, where we can at least, you know, get by."But you've always picked yourself back up and got back into the music. It has always sort of been the constant. That is what the underinformed me says at the interview, and looked at in the long run, it is true."That's 'cause that's all I know how to do, that I feel adequate at. You know, I'm not sensational by any means, but I'm adequate at being a musician and I know music. I'm not a great singer. It took me a lot of years, you know, practicing to... to be able to be an average singer or anything like that. And... a lot of practice."But you're a mesmeric personality; you're a natural frontman."Well... It's something... You know, it's something I knew that I could do. You know, I mean d'ya wanna clean a toilet or you wanna be in a rock 'n' roll band? I guess that choice isn't too hard, you know? Or you could work in a gas station, or you could be in a rock 'n' roll band. You see the choices aren't too many, and I knew how to be in a rock 'n' roll band, I knew how to entertain people. My mother was an entertainer, my father was an entertainer. There are a lot of entertainers in my family history."Are your family from DC? "No, my family's from Brooklyn, New York."They're entertainers going way back?"Yuh. They were. My grandfather taught seven instruments in the Forties, you know. My mother was a cocktail lounge singer in the Korean War with Bob Hope, she traveled through Canada."He then speaks about his father and uncles some more, but he mumbles and the tape is muffled. It sounds like he says they were MCs in the Catskills in the '30s and '40s. However, what he fails to mention is that his father ended up as deputy assistant to the secretary of defense under Richard Nixon. This is touched upon in "Last Days Here". Joseph Liebling posits that his success and prestige in this role daunted and haunted the younger Liebling. It is perhaps why Bobby fails to mention it. I continue with the interview on the assumption that Liebling's family were struggling entertainers, managing to make ends meet between disparate gigs, and posit that through their example, he knew what the life would be."Well, I didn't know what the -life- would be, but I knew that... I knew that they did that."I start to explain that I meant the realities of a life like that -- where you have to do some things, like teach, to make ends meet and you have to do other things that you want to do for performing and that the break could come anytime and you just have to be ready for it. Just as I start I am having to raise my voice. The room now has the rest of the band in it and it's starting to get noisy. Liebling does a dramatic "Shhhhhhhh!", finger to mouth and everything, and the noise dies down to near nothing. With thanks, I put the above to him.You Prepare Yourself for Failure"Yeah. Well, I... I mean, I scrubbed floors and cleaned toilets and ran car washes and worked boiler rooms and managed phone solicitations. Every crummy job that most musicians end up doing."I think this is partly true. I'm sure at some point Bobby did do jobs like this. But again, as we see in "Last Days Here", he has also been supported by his parents for much of his life. My impression is that Bobby doesn't actively make things up as much as he gets carried away with telling his and Pentagram's story selectively, playing to what he feels the story should be, depending on the context, often confusing or conflating particular details. For example, it is interesting that he always uses "we" to talk about Pentagram when for certain periods the band was only him, or him and one other person. It's also interesting how he talks about the band being "together" for 40 years, when for at least 10 of those years they were anything but together, literally or figuratively.Whatever the ups and downs of that forty year history, and however badly the band's name was tarnished over the years, with Victor Griffin's help Pentagram have been thoroughly rejuvenated. Last year's _Last Rites_ may well be their single best record. As influential and awesome as the songs contained on the '80s records are and as much as there are classic cuts on 1994's _Be Forewarned_ and various excellent tracks re-recorded on later albums, _Last Rites_ is the first Pentagram album that sounds wholly amazing -- every instrument has its place and can be heard, Liebling's vocals are stunning. It also feels wholly cohesive, a feat no other record but _Day of Reckoning_ achieves. It has a rich, full-bodied production and a varied cast of songs; some are pounding stompers like the killer opener, "Treat Me Right", but there are also more subdued, reflective moments, like the stunning "Windmills and Chimes"._Last Rites_ captures Pentagram's bludgeoning heaviness but also reflects their soulful centre, reminding one wonderfully of the '70s tradition from which they descend. Griffin produced the record (credited first, alongside Liebling and Travis Wyrick) and also helped Liebling re-arrange some of the old songs and pen new ones, including two he worked up with his nephew, bassist Greg Turley. Like that 2009 HITS performance _Last Rites_ is literally incredible: no-one would have bet in advance on Pentagram still being able to get it this right; Victor Griffin himself would probably have hesitated to make a pre-order. Coming seven years after 2004's fragmented and unexciting _Show 'Em How_, _Last Rites_ may seem a grim statement from its title, but it is realistic. If it transpires that it is the last recorded offering from the band, they will have gone out on a high note.We're almost up to the point in the interview where Griffin enters, and thereafter we will talk about how he first got back into Pentagram. But before this I ask Liebling whether -- Griffin having come back and the band having played and filmed a stellar performance from Maryland's DeathFest in 2010 -- making another album was something he expected to happen, was part of he and Griffin's plan?"We hoped we'd get around to it but... we didn't know. We never know, not to speak of, you know. And we also had promised the moon in the past, and delivered nothin', so..."Liebling pauses. This seems another instance where his use of "we" actually refers to "he" as Pentagram, rather than to himself and Griffin together. I try to finish his sentence, saying "So you didn't wanna jinx it" but he doesn't hear me, carrying on his own thought."You prepare yourself for failure, okay? You prepare yourself for failure, or for not doing what we did. I mean, Jesus Christ man, I'd seen a few states my whole life, you know. I'm turning 55 now, I've seen 46 states and 35 countries, in three years. You know, it's a -liiddle- bit different."But it must feel good to have conquered that."Yeah, of course it does, you know. Except sometimes rock 'n' roll", he chuckles, "sometimes rock 'n' roll leaves room for screwing around a lot with a lot of things that people don't get to do in a normal workday, y'know, 'cause it's certainly not a normal workday, huh. But it's also gruelingly hard. People don't realise. They think we're coming here first class, getting put up in a fancy hotel and so on. I couldn't even turn the heater on in the place we were in today. You know, it's like", he trails off with a laugh and a smile, exasperated but not defeated. "It's really your conviction and your commitment. I believe, the key to success is definitely longevity."Here he trails off and mumbles some things, seemingly to himself, including the phrase "-somebody's- gonna say" before becoming reflective about his own answers. "You know, it's all the same answers. I've answered a thousand magazines. And it's the same questions. But I have to keep in mind, maybe this guy didn't read that one, and maybe that guy didn't read this one, and maybe this guy doesn't read Finnish and he doesn't read Italian. So yeah, I expect the same questions and the same things. My answers don't change."I acknowledge all of this, but then put one last thing to him: that he could have never done this. He could have got to his age and all the Pentagram stuff could have been behind him. He might have never had the chance to show Pentagram to people, adding that I think that's a beautiful thing to have done. "Yeah, I think that's cool. That's my spiritual release -- and my wife. I believe that's the truth, because without those two things, I don't think it would have been anything", he trails off. Listening back to the tape, it's clear that he has been finding it harder and harder over the past few minutes to keep himself focused, and the reason becomes clear. "I need a cigarette bad, let's do the other part of the interview over in the corner of the room over there, or outside the door. Can we do that?"That's up to you."I", he pauses. "Yeah, I just ate and I want to smoke a cigarette, very very much so. There's no problem."Even though he could have ended the interview right there or at least dictated his terms, Liebling is sincere, dedicated and sensitive to such a degree that he feels the need to make it clear that the cigarette isn't an excuse. It's humbling.Last RitesAs the recorder goes back on, I am in the middle of seeing if Bobby is comfortable with including Victor in the interview. He comments at Griffin, "You know what makes me tick, y'know? Or makes me not tick or whatever", before assenting to me putting questions to then both. The chemistry between the two is curious, they have a lot of respect, never trying to shout each other down, but also they stand their ground. You can see how a relationship which sundered twice in the past -- in the late '80s after _Day of Reckoning_ and then in the late '90s following _Be Forewarned_ -- when both were affected by horrific vices, has become supportive and friendly without becoming oversensitive. They know where each other stands and they call each other on things -- see Griffin's comment below concerning Marty Swaney, who played bass on the three previous albums Griffin and Liebling made together before _Last Rites_. It's also interesting how they at points save each other when answering a question has put them in a somewhat sticky position, as with the question of why Vance Bockis was not rehired as bass player when Griffin rejoined, having been a part of the band back in 1977. Though Liebling is obviously anxious at the thought of Griffin's imminent departure, he respects that the guitarist has other things he wants to work on -- that he cannot be there for Pentagram all the time. I begin by asking them both how they got reunited, whether it was something that brought back a lot of memories, something they wanted to do for a long time, or whether it just happened.Victor: "It just kinda happened."Bobby: "It happened."V: "It wasn't anything that, you know, we made a concentrated effort to do or something I dreamed of doing, I don't think."B: "We didn't think that the old lineup would come back together."V: "There were particular circumstances involved in us coming back together. It wasn't like a planned out thing."B: "There was no plan, of Pentagram as such, you know to be us guys in a band together."V: "I'd kinda been briefly in contact with Bobby again and, uh, when Russ kinda was in the process of, you know, leaving..."B: "Right before, six hours before tour."V: "Well, they played close to me. I live in Knoxville [Tennesse] and they played in Asheville, North Carolina which is just a few hours drive from me. And I hadn't seen Bobby for a long time, so I drove to see him a couple of times. But that was before I realised that there was any internal situation, you know with Russ and so forth. So that kinda put Bobby and myself back in contact and then, when Russ quit the band like the day before they were supposed to go on tour, Bobby and I had already been talking. And he wanted to know if I could do it, with like one day's notice. And it was impossible anyway because that's when we had already -- we were coming here for the Death Row tour, two weeks later. So it was impossible, and uh..."B: "It wasn't long... It was a pretty short time though, we pulled it back together."V: "Yeah, it was pretty short, and that was in, uh..."B: "April."V: "...like April."B: "'10, right?"V: "And then they had a tour in May, an American tour. So I told Bobby if he didn't have someone to replace Russ by the May tour, then I would come back and fill in for that."B: "And he also wanted Greg to come back too."V: "Right."B: "It was a conditional thing too, 'cause Victor likes playing with Greg. Greg's been in the band before too."Here Griffin interrupts Liebling.V: "But you had already mentioned the possibility of replacing Mark."B: "Yeah, well I didn't want Marty to do it, and..."V: "Well Marty wouldn'ta done it, anyway."B: "Marty wouldn'ta done it, no. Marty said he'd never play with me again, you know."V: "I don't really... I'm not even really certain I remember how... I do remember we didn't want..."B: "Vance! Vance was gonna do it!"V: "Vance was gonna do it, that's right."B: "Vance died a couple of months ago, unfortunately. But Vance was gonna do it. And Vance was always on standby to do -any- Pentagram. He wanted back in bad."V: "So anyway, uh, I'm a little foggy, actually, on how we worked the thing out with Greg. I was thinking it was - 'cause it wasn't like a condition that I would come back and do it if Greg does it. My only condition was..."B: "No, you said if you came back, you'd like Greg to play bass."V: "Yeah I said that." B: "'Cause there wasn't anybody..."V: "It wasn't really a condition, but..."B: "...who had been in the band, knew the songs, and we knew how he played, you know, it wasn't a family thing or..."V: "My only condition was that they drop all the Satanic symbolism, like Pentagrams and upside-down crosses and six-six-sixes and all that stuff."At this point I butt in. I wasn't well-read-up on all things Pentagram, but I was aware that both Liebling and Griffin are Christian, the former a convert a decade ago who was brought up Jewish, the latter born again in the late '90s. I had no personal beef with their spiritual direction and felt no need to make it an issue, but I wanted to know whether Griffin found such things offensive or just silly? V: "Both."Okay. Fair enough. V: "Yeah."And you're leaving... because?V: "Uhhh, just because I'm, uh, ready to sort of move on, working on some of my own stuff."Fair enough. You've been a working musician ever since?V: "Ever since when?"Ever since you left Pentagram -- or ever since ever since. Ever since _Be Foreward_, let's say.B: "Ever since Death Row"V: "Ever since Death Row."Right. But I mean, let's say after _Be Forewarned_, that's what you carried on doing?V: "Yeah, I took time out. I took two or three years off, like altogether from music in the late '90s. 'Cause, you know, I just had to get my personal life together, and..."B: "And that's also the time when I got -really-, really 'f'-ed up, you know."V: "Yeah."B: "I was in very bad shape then too. That's about the worst period of my life. And, uh, then after I shaped up I was with Hallie and I was ready to do a band."This is one of the points where Liebling somewhat loses the thread, jumping a decade from the late '90s without any warning - something his wife, sitting nearby, challenges him on.B: "I'm talking about two thousand -eight-, I started Pentagram and her and I had -met- and spent a few months together, split apart for about seven months, we didn't talk and then, uh, I finally had nowhere to turn except her and playing music to try and ease my mind, because I really love her and she's the focal point in my life, her and my son. So I had to start a band. So Russ and Gary and Mark Ammen said they'd do it, and then we did some stuff, fairly easily."Thus we find ourselves back at the beginning of our story, the rebirth of Pentagram. Liebling definitely has a time machine, he's just keeping it quiet. I'm joking of course. This provides a good juncture, however, to ask what the status of Liebling and Griffin's relationship was at this point, when Bobby had only just got himself clean once again and no-one was yet sure how long it would last. I ask if, at that point, the two were in contact at all?V: "No, I wasn't in contact. I mean the other thing too was that..."B: "He was in Place of Skulls."V: ...Whenever I was back in", Griffin trails off. I am certain that he was going to point out that previously, whenever he was back in Maryland -- where Liebling resided until moving in permanently with Hallie in Philladelphia, into the hundred year old house we heard mention of at the beginning of this piece -- he heard that Bobby was still doing drugs, and this kept him clear. It's conjecture, but I stand by it. He continues without a pause right after he trailed off, "Yeah I started Place of Skulls in 2000, and did that all the way up until 2010."B: "I sang a couple of guest spots with him."V: "Yeah."B: "That's it. For the whole of... You know, from 2000 until 2010."V: "For a time I'd been speaking to Bobby, before Russ quit, and he was telling me how he was, you know, he was making a, a you know concerted effort to... to get cleaned up and get it together."B: "Yeah, that's true."V: "Aaand yeah, you know, I just wanted to be an encouragement to him and if he needed help then I wanted to be able to do that -- as far as the band goes, but personally as well." Here there is a pause of fully four seconds. Liebling doesn't take the opportunity to jump in. Griffin perhaps turns over in his head whether he should say anymore. "I wouldn't have rejoined though, if Bobby was still like, you know", here Griffin says something that sounds like "buying some confession" and Liebling simultaneously says what sounds like "All fucked up", and just after Victor can be heard clearly, finishing his thought, "without putting forth any effort to make changes, you know?" I say that I understand, adding that Liebling's problems had led to the band's sundering the last time. This is briefly misunderstood to mean in 2010, but it is quickly cleared up: my reference was to when Griffin and Liebling last worked together, in the years following 1994's _Be Forewarned_ -- arguably the worst years in which to be an underground heavy metal band with the emphasis on heavy metal -- or what people like to refer to as 'old school'. The expression is particularly common and the difficulty of those years most pronounced in the United States. Asked if it was Liebling's drug abuse that got in the way then, Griffin doesn't take the bait, referring to a more general pattern which began to repeat itself of which drugs were only a part.V: "Nah, I mean the band was just kinda goin'... Well, we got back together in '93, recorded _Be Forewarned_ in '94, that came out", he pauses. "But it kinda went back to the same thing from '94 to, like, early '97 of playing around DC and Maryland and then..."B: "No gigs, dead city."V: "No gigs, no tours."B: "I started injecting drugs into my skin."V: "No management, no booking agent support whatsoever."B: "No one wanted shit to do with us. The band had a bad rep, I had a bad rep, you know..."V: "And then the band started falling apart again. Marty and Joe eventually quit -again-, and then we actually got Greg and Gary towards the end of that period, but it was still the same thing, you know, we'd play... Here we are, still doing this stupid little", he pauses and sighs, "tour around the Beltway."At this point Greg Turley makes his only comment, "Well, you know, Bobby wasn't focused in."V: "Bobby has just, you know, discovered crack, a couple of years earlier, so it was like", Griffin leaves things unsaid once again, laughing with the benefit of hindsight. Liebling counters saying that it was 20 to 25 years before that he discovered crack -- since that would put it in the early to mid '70s, I deem this to be yet another case where he has spoken without really thinking too hard. But again, Griffin doesn't make an issue of it, letting Liebling off the hook.V: "Yeah but it was, it was, uh, in the way."B: "Yeah, it was in the way real bad."V: "Yeah."B: "You know, I was..."Here I interrupt for a second time, with my comment that it was a terrible time to be a heavy metal band."It was bad", agrees Griffin. "It was bad timing for the whole thing. And you know, I was", he pauses. "I had some vices of my own and was trying to just, you know, keep everything together. You know I had four deaths in my family, within one year, around '96/'97. And for me it was just a time like, man, something's gotta change. And it's that whole thing, where you keep doing the same thing over and over and over expecting a different result."At this point I do the honourable thing. Bobby and Victor have been gents and their tour manager has kept quiet, but we still have photos to take and showtime is rapidly approaching. So, leaving the late '90s, I comment that this being their final tour together, tonight and the rest of this month in Europe will be some of the final shows Griffin plays with Pentagram. "This tour, yeah", says Griffin, with openness rather than finality. "And it's not like -- we were talking the other night, it's not like -final- is like I'm saying I will never play in Pentagram again.""Right", puts in Liebling, a hopeful quality to his tone. "We also have some gigs that are in '13 and we don't know what's gonna happen to those..." He pauses long enough for Victor to say "Well I just feel that", and, again, it's conjecture but I just feel that he needs not to be -the- guitarist in Pentagram but -a- guitarist for Pentagram to call on. As much as anything, so that it can keep working, as and when it might come together. Liebling finishes his sentence with, "...at this present moment."Pentagram are presently in the process of auditioning guitarists -- a call went out with the press release that accompanied this UK tour -- so it is certain that Griffin will not continue to be -the- guitarist in the band. I express my own opinion to Griffin: that there is nothing wrong with being away and coming back, that fans hang too much on this or that specific line-up of a band. I know, I've fallen into that trap too many times in the past, forgetting that people are human and need balance in their lives. That often holding onto something oh so tightly is actually the best way, in the end, to lose it -- to lose what was great about what you had. I finish by saying, "And, as you say, you can always..." and surprisingly it is Liebling who jumps in, takes the opportunity to show that he is being a grown up about the whole situation. It's beautiful. It would be so easy for him to use this opportunity to pressure Griffin. It wouldn't be a great idea, but I feel like the old him would have done it anyway."We can always get back together for one, if we want to -- and we can always, uh, hang and do our own things, too, if we want to", he says with no tone in his voice, implying nothing other than what he says."Yeah", agrees Griffin. "I just have some, you know I have some new material and, uh, I also like singing myself, too, you know."Yeah, I don't wanna be rude but I can see you kinda holding back when you play, onstage."It's gotten better now", retorts Griffin with a smile. "But when I first got back in Pentagram I hardly knew what to do with myself while the vocals were going on.""This guy's been -singing- for the last nine years solid", puts in Liebling with his trademark intensity, reflecting respect."Yeah. And suddenly I was just like, man what do I do with all this extra time, you know", Griffin laughs. "But um, it's cool, you know, I don't know what's going to happen. We've got some stuff lined up for next year and we'll see what goes on with that."(The Pentagram "we" is infectious. Griffin has caught it now.)"We've got a tour lined up in Europe", Liebling informs -- the dates are announced a few days after our return from Bristol, Pentagram are to play Desertfest in both the UK and Germany, over the same weekend. "We've got gigs lined up. I think the predominance of the year will be focused on going for just three and four days at a time, more often. Playing like two festivals, two clubs, come home. Two festivals, two clubs, come home. I'm doing this to support a family, and this is all I do. Um, Victor, of course, and Greg and Sean also have other careers to fall back on. I do, but I don't feel like cleaning toilets. Ha. You know, it's not as much fun. And I'm not as accomplished at cleaning toilets as I am writing songs for Pentagram. I could ride a bike if you wanted..."I think you're definitely better off in Pentagram is my final comment before I prompt the quote we opened with, by expressing the hope that all the band's friends and family are safe after the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy. Bobby, once again, hears nothing and carries on regardless. He's good at it and it works for him, most of the time."...maybe if I fall off I could get a little money for it, you know." "You could start riding a bicycle barefoot", Victor chips in. Bobby makes a crack about cracking his head open, getting cracked ribs and, after Liebling gets his laughs, Griffin gives him the signal to finish it up with a "yeah yeah". The two have shared some of the best and worst times of their lives and despite having split apart twice, they came back together and, together, finally put Pentagram on the map for good. I feel most privileged to have seen the band play three times with Griffin, but the important work has been done. For as long as Liebling has left, Pentagram will now be able to spread joy to the world through magical live shows. Go catch them as soon as you can, but don't panic. If Liebling has life left to light up a sweatbox like the Exchange as he does an hour after our chat concludes -- see review in our gigs section -- then he'll be about for a good few more years yet, even if it won't always be Griffin who is by his side.