Obsessive Progressive

Long Beach native Mike Portnoy is a regular Long Island guy. He also happens to be one of the most respected and revered drummers on the planet. As a founding member of the prog-metal machine Dream Theater (and a player in too many side projects to count), Portnoy has sold millions of records and toured the world dozens of times. Pulse writer Drew Moss recently caught up with Portnoy and the two got into a little rhythm.

Long Island Pulse: There’s you, Dom Famularo, Mickey Hart, Roy Haynes. Even Buddy Rich lived in Queens. What is it about Long Island and drummers?
Mike Portnoy: We [Dream Theater] all came from Long Island and it was the same for them as it was for me. I remember WBAB, Zebra… it’s such a Long Island thing. Long Island kids grew up playing instruments and becoming musicians, going to see concerts at Nassau Coliseum and seeing Twisted Sister in the clubs. That’s how it was for me in the 70s and 80s.

After a whole life in Dream Theater, you’re back to playing straight “four on the floor” rock music with The Winery Dogs again. How does it feel?
A big part of my background is a love for bands like Zeppelin, Van Halen, The Who and The Beatles. And I’m getting to explore that with the Winery Dogs. It’s a breath of fresh air.

Neil Young is waging war on compressed music files with his Pono technology. Dream Theater has lived through the transition from analog to digital. Where are you in the CD vs. vinyl debate?
I’m way into vinyl again. I was a huge vinyl collector as a kid. When CDs came out, I stupidly sold my vinyl records. Now, all these years later, I’m going back and buying them all again. I’ve even been on an 8-track kick.

What’s been the coolest moment you’ve had with another drummer?

The coolest thing has been my relationship with Neil Peart. I don’t like to talk about it publicly too much because he’s a very private person. We’ve become good friends over the years, which is crazy to me because he was my childhood drumming hero. He’s one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met.

What’s the creepiest moment you’ve ever had with a fan?
There was an asshole running around New York impersonating me. He was going to bars, loading up on free drinks and conning people. It became a real serious thing. We actually had the guy put away in jail for three years. When he got out, it just continued.

Ok, let’s have some fun. 2112 or Moving Pictures?
I think Moving Pictures is the better album overall. That is Rush’s classic album. But I think my favorite Rush album would be Permanent Waves or Hemispheres.

John or Paul?
Can I pick George? It changes from day-to-day.

Understood. Rubber Soul or Revolver?
Oh man! I just had this conversation with my daughter. She’s as much of a Beatles freak as I am and my dad was. That’s an impossible question. Here’s my out: I’ll take Rubber Soul for the songs, Revolver for the production.

Godfather or Godfather II?
I could do this all day long. I’d have to say Godfather II, only because it covers more ground. More character study and more storyline.

Clockwork Orange or Dr. Strangelove?
Oh easy, Clockwork Orange. To me the holy trinity is 2001, Clockwork, The Shining. I love everything Kubrick does but for some reason Dr. Strangelove eludes me. I have a Malcom MacDowell tattoo, so…

What’s your dream dinner roundtable? Three people who are no longer with us?
Jesus Christ on one side. Adolf Hitler on the other. Frank Zappa in the middle to mediate.

Where’s your favorite place to go when you come to Long Beach?
Hands down when I go to Long Beach the first stop is always Gino’s Pizza. We don’t get real pizza where I live in Pennsylvania. I grew up on Gino’s.

You’re a self-professed control freak with OCD tendencies. Are you formally diagnosed?
I have discussed it with doctors. But I’m just one of those perfectionists that have to have everything organized. I like to make lists and if I’m into something I just get obsessed with it. My house is filled with tens of thousands of DVDs, CDs, Blu-rays, books, magazines and drum sets. I don’t need to be professionally diagnosed to know there’s something going on there!

So is it a blessing or a curse?
It’s absolutely a blessing because I’ve used it to my advantage. I’ve been able to use that nature to nurture my career. It’s a curse in the sense that my bandmates have to deal with it, and my wife and family have to deal with it, but the people around me who know me and love me accept it and let me do my thing.

drew moss

Drew Moss is an SAT/ACT specialist, college advisor, journalist and filmmaker. He guest lectures at Adelphi University and lives in Long Beach with his wife and children. See his work at http://drewmoss.com.