Tuesday, July 29, 2008

betahole surfers

While the Butthole Surfers --more than any other band I listened to in high school (meaning Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Cypress Hill, Fugazi, Guns'n'Roses, Led Zeppelin, the Jesus Lizard)-- were responsible for more brain cell evacuation than all of the others combined, I had basically forgotten about them since the 90's. (Though surely the two are related, no?) And crazily enough, their depravity and weirdness were folded into my listening habits enough so as to become seemingly normalized: dub, Stockhausen, doom-metal, Aphex Twin, Thai pop, Black Dice, all were made chewable like George Lucas's chocolate.

Part of my love for the band even predates loving their music. Both Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary are from my hometown of San Antonio and aside from Doug Sahm, they are the only act to ever break out of that goddamned city, so they were always a source of pride and ownership (sorry Athens, San Francisco, and Austin). Not that I could actually get all the way through Brown Reason to Live or PCPPEP. Punk though I was, this was some noisome, repulsive, juvenile shit.

It wasn't until a friend convinced me to buy Psychic, Powerless...Another Man's Sac that my friends and I got hooked. "Concubine" and "Cherub" are two of the heaviest songs I know (and Optimo dudes agree). I can still hear a long-departed friend recount dropping acid at the Texas Military Institute and listening to "Lady Sniff" on repeat in his bunk, making all the sound effects (kahk-too!) until he spilled his mental marbles everywhere. Another friend had a pleasant acid trip turn dark and traumatic at a Butthole Surfers show when he realized that he was watching a film about penis-reconstruction surgery. (I would just as soon send you to a review I wrote for Pitchfork about these early BH records and these anecdotes, but since PFK switched servers, their archives have gone to shit (shocker!) and nothing shows up on any search engines.)

The only instance I can think of where I took a road trip to go see a band was in 1992, when the Butthole Surfers played with Stone Temple Pilots and The Flaming Lips at some rodeo up in Dallas. Asides from accusing STP of being "cops," I can't remember much about the show, save that the Flaming Lips sounded like a Boeing 747 pulling into a hangar and that Gibby Haynes squirted lighter fluid on a crash cymbal and sprayed flames everywhere (a trick he had done since the band played a show in a friend's garage in 1983).

By the time of "Pepper," I was far enough out on my own that the Buttholes having a legitimate hit was so surreal so as to appear normal. I honestly hadn't given them much thought until the prospect of seeing them reform to play tonight in New York City. Somehow, I've parted ways with the Alternative Tentacles stuff and sold the Caso Raro! bootleg and both my LP and CD copies of Double Live, mostly as having people pay $80-100 for such items are at times too much to pass up.

To this day, I honestly don't know who/ what the fuck this is. Anyone?

That said, I did discover that I still own Locust Abortion Technician on vinyl and with great relish, I played it out on my DJ night. Downloading "Jimi," the first track on Hairway to Steven, I was alarmed by how fucking odd the band sounded some twenty years on. How did I just listen to this as par for the course way back when? And why does nothing sound this brain-destroying anymore? Maximized weirdness in every direction (those drums, the chopped'n' screwed butler, the Gibbytronix in all its majesty, those corrosive blasts of industrial noise, the "Don't touch my little peeeeeenis!" talk, the unhinged and epic guitar solo by Leary, the baby cries, the "What do you know about reality?" demon sermon, the..), it's futile to unpack the psychedelic pleasures to be had here, but it's also kin to picking up an open garbage bag of hot sick: getting a handle on it only means having that acid spill onto you.

And yet, I've gone back to Rembrandt Pussyhorse/ Cream Corn From the Socket of Davis the most. Yes, it's always been a given that the Buttholes were deranged, perverted, sick, filled with fart jokes, but what's astonishing is how twisted and beautiful and alien they could be for a punk band. Of all the bands in Our Band Could Be Your Life, who was opening with piano ballads or deploying violin and pipe organ much less devouring classic rock tripe like "American Woman" and pooping it back out whole? And for as unsettling as they already were, such bits of melody only made them that much more disquieting.

I cracked up when "Two Parter" came on, as I had forgotten that years ago I took that cassette to my guitar teacher, hoping that he would teach me how to play it. Needless to say, despite his ability to play transcriptions of Charlie Parker solos on guitar, he was taken aback (not by it's awesomeness, apparently) and wasn't much help. Apparently, Paul Leary never tuned his guitar but had really strong fingers to bend the strings. To this day, that song and the Buttholes at large (heh) remain similarly inscrutable. For all my joking about "cream corn from the socket of Davis," I basically had to re-remind myself that such a title references not female genitalia, but rather the glass eye of Sammy Davis Jr. How could I ever forget such a sight?