Two years ago, garage-rock's royal couple, King Khan and Mark "BBQ" Sultan, were headed for a messy divorce. The way Khan, who likens the longtime friends/bandmates' partnership to an old married couple, tells it, the fights escalated from dirty-dishes spats to venomous neighbor-wakers.
"Everything just started falling apart," the real-life Arish Ahmad Khan rehashed over the phone from Berlin, where he's lived for years. "I was going crazy. Mentally, I was just losing my shit."
During the summer of 2010, the bickering boiled over while the punky doo-wop duo was touring through Australia and Asia supporting "Invisible Girl," their third LP as the King Khan & BBQ Show. After Khan's notoriously rowdy stage antics reportedly got the two bounced from a Lou Reed- and Laurie Anderson-curated festival at the Sydney Opera House and led to a pre-breakup blowout, Khan and Sultan tried to finish the tour. But another beef in South Korea put out the coals on the Show.
According to Khan, the split had a lot to do with his deteriorating mental health. "I had a total breakdown. I had to check into a mental hospital, basically, after that," the inveterate showman said with an uneasy chuckle. "It was more serious than funny. I mean, it was kind of funny. I basically lost my shit there in Australia and tried to start a Black Panthers group with Aboriginals [laughs]."
Khan's erratic behavior continued in Korea, where the flamboyant singer says he shaved his head and joined a monastery. "When I came back home I convinced myself I was going to become a Buddhist monk," he said. "It was intense. My family and everyone intervened and were like, 'Shit, you should get your head checked.' I'm glad that I'm back to normal."
Despite the tumult, it turns out the King Khan & BBQ divorce papers were never signed (these DIY dudes aren't the lawyer-up types, anyway). After a two-year separation, Khan and Sultan crossed paths in their native Montreal, and the revered garage vets played a few gigs together this summer, including one for which Khan cheekily dressed as a Hasidic Jew and Sultan as an Arab sheik. During a recent two-week trip to Berlin, Sultan and Khan had some "good family times," and the two are kicking off a nine-date reunion run this Saturday at St. Paul's Turf Club.
"Time heals all things," said Khan. "Since we were teenagers we've been doing stuff together, and for a while it got crazy with lots of drug abuse and that kind of shit. It's the natural way that rock 'n' roll always seems to go. There was a period of extreme chaos and it took a little time to cool our heels."
That chaos is intrinsic to the Khan/Sultan combo, though. Theirs is a combustible cocktail of good-time danger -- an unbridled rock blitz that arguably makes the volatile pair more relevant today than when they started in the early '00s.
"If you look at what's happening in the world now, things haven't changed very much in the past hundred years," Khan waxed. "It's always been the rich get richer, war everywhere. The purpose of a lot of art and music is to ease the suffering of people and ignite something. I think it's our responsibility as music makers to give that to the people -- give them feeling."