Friday, September 19, 2014

Potty Train the Chairman Mao

Well, it is talk like a Pirate day, and I suspect if Pirates were around in the 1980s, they'd have been Butthole Surfers fans - so - this month's (delayed) band of the month is the pride of Texas, the psychedelic freak show that was the Butthole Surfers.

I'm in danger of getting stuck in the 1980s on this series - Husker Du last month, Surfers this month - and I could keep doing this for a while. I can't say exactly that I listened to more music, or bought more music then than since - but I was immersed in music in the late 80s in ways I haven't been since. I saw all these bands (most of them) - some of them quite often. I went to clubs, read magazines and zines, paid attention. This period still feels like the base of my musical experience.

And so the Butthole Surfers. I saw them three times in the late 80s - they were very impressive. The first time was a particularly interesting experience - 1987... I must admit that I had consumed many ardent spirits that evening, and was in something of an ardent spirit myself - it was the end of a semester (I had turned in the last paper of the term that very afternoon), and was in a mood to blow off steam. The Surfers were good for that. I spent most of their show in the pit - which probably should have scared the hell out of me - my friend who was there said he saw a metal pipe being circulated; someone got stabbed later in the evening - but I didn't notice. I had a grand time. (Truth is, mosh pits usually struck me as fairly supportive places - everyone wants to thrash and bang around, all together - if anyone fell, the rest picked them up and went back to thrashing; maybe that depended on the show... it was true for the Surfers anyway.) I do remember the aftereffects of grad school though - I remember standing on the edge of the pit, watching the band and the mass of fans surging around - looking at the films (driver's ed films; surgery films; other stuff, maybe less cringe-worthy), the naked dancer, listening to the wash or racket they were making - thinking - Hey! This is as if Freud's Thanatos Syndrome and Eros Syndrome were combined into one thing! sex and death together! Even sober, that's not such a bad way to put it. Something too about surfing on the waves of sound and scatology - who knows. It was great fun, I can say that - and their particular brand of racket definitely felt like it took stupid well onto the clever side of the line...

So there. I still like them - they made a very satisfying kind of noise: funny (always funny), funny lyrics, funny music, funny (if rather daunting at times) stage show - but some pretty fine music as well. They could write real songs, in a couple different idioms; they did a better job than you might think of combining things - there's a bluesy vibe throughout heir stuff, that doesn't necessarily show up in a lot of the 80s era underground post punk scene; they brought psychedelia back, long jams, Black Sabbath riffs, a bit before that stuff was fashionable again, and they managed to do it in a way that was always funny and usually convincing as straight music. And, especially when they had the two stand up dreamers going, they always rocked like a motherfucker. So - there you go.

Top 10 Songs:

1. Moving to Florida
2. Rocky
3. Gary Floyd
4. Mexican Caravan
5. Pepper
6. Lady Sniff
7. John E. Smoke
8. Ricky
9. Cherub
10. The Lord is a Monkey

And some video: here's their video for Pepper - a "one hit wonder" someone said, which is extremely bizarre to think about, since they were around for ages before this came out, but - perspective, you know. What they were as an underground act in the 80s is almost completely unconnected to what they were as a nearly MTV sanctioned act in the 90s:

As for what they were: here's Psychedelic Jam, 1987, the first tour I saw - naked dancer, films - an experience, and convincing music even. Strange stuff, but the kind of thing that could convince you on the spot - did I mention up there that I had only heard of them before I saw them? had never heard their music, and knew very little except their reputation for being extremely strange and shocking? It's true - they won me on the spot, and that is more to do with the music than the act:

And here - live in 1984, a straightforward, well lit live set - the two stand up drummers, the wild Texas psychedelic squall - Gibby - god knows what he's up to, though it seems to involve several costume changes:

And this is live in Holland, 1985, a particular bit of bad chaos, featuring Moving to Florida, Lady Sniff, and others - Gibby in a dress, Kramer on bass, lots of staggering around in circles in the infernal roar:

And one more - a vintage performance of Cherub:

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