Monthly Archives: August 2010
Big news, weirdos: Today marks the one-year anniversary of The Weirdest Band in the World. And they said we wouldn’t last! Okay, actually, they didn’t really say anything, because they pretty much didn’t notice us when we first started this thing. Anyway, the point is, we’re still here. So thanks for reading.
To mark this special occasion, we felt we couldn’t blog about just any old band. So we went back into the vaults (read: Jake’s iTunes, the fruitful result of many a late-night Limewire bender) to see if there were any truly worthy “classic” weird bands that we had overlooked. And there it was, slapping us in the face like a Bootsy bassline: After a year of chronicling weird bands, we had yet to Give Up The Funk. Clearly, this situation had to be rectified at once. (Plus, P-Funk is frequently played at special occasions, like weddings, bar mitzvahs…and the anniversary parties of music blogs, probably. Right? We’ll try and let you know how it goes.)
We can’t really say much about George Clinton’s twin towers of funkitude that hasn’t already been said. We’ll just note, in the interest of establishing their TWBITW bona fides, that in its heyday, the Parliament-Funkadelic experience included the onstage arrival of a gigantic spaceship, out of which would emerge a dude in a white suit (Clinton) named Dr. Funkenstein, who would use his “Bop Gun” to vanquish his sworn enemy, Sir Nose D’voidoffunk, by getting him to dance to songs with titles like “Funkentelechy” and “Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop).” It’s fair to say that no band, funky or otherwise, ever went to greater lengths to develop their own elaborate mythology. And they were doing this at a time when the other stuff topping the R&B charts was crap like “Le Freak” and “Three Times a Lady.”
I had the privilege of going to a couple of P-Funk All-Stars concerts in the mid-’90s, when the band still featured many of its key members: I don’t think keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell was touring with the group, but bassist Bootsy Collins was there, as was the amazing guitarist Michael Hampton (his live lead on “Maggot Brain” could blow any rock band off the stage), as well as memorable characters like Robert “P-Nut” Johnson, Carlos “Sir Nose” McMurray, Clinton himself, and of course, the late great Garry “Diaperman” Shider, who passed away earlier this year. I want to say Maceo Parker was at one of the shows, too, but I could be making that up.
Those ’90s shows had no Mothership, but it hardly mattered—with Clinton and his cohorts crammed onstage, sometimes 20 or more at a time, and riding one space-age groove after another, it felt like we were witnessing an alien visitation. About a zillion artists have drawn from the P-Funk well at this point, from Afrika Bambaataa to Prince to Snoop Dogg to OutKast, but somehow, a P-Funk show remains a wholly unique experience.
Anyway, here’s a clip from one of those crazy ’70s Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership Connection tours—which, by the way, were the most expensive tours ever mounted by a black music act up to that time. So it wasn’t just the music and the sci-fi mythology that was groundbreaking.
Today’s TWBITW entry was suggested by a reader named John Collingswood (thanks, John!). Normally we’re not big fans of solo practitioners of so-called “outsider art”—any mildly schizophrenic creative type can hole himself up with an acoustic guitar and some art supplies and crank out all sorts of bizarre stuff that will inevitably find a small but cultish following and eventually score him a documentary and/or tribute album featuring at least one member of Radiohead. But something about Edward Barton and his convoluted backstory really appealed to us. He’s sort of Manchester, England’s answer to Daniel Johnston, complete with random connections to 808 State and the early U.K. rave scene. We had to find out more.
Barton got his start in the ’80s, recording minimalist, almost nursery-rhyme-like songs with his girlfriend at the time, Jane Lancaster. One of these songs, from an LP called Jane and Barton, was an a cappella track called “It’s a Fine Day” that became a minor hit in 1983 (according to Barton’s bio, it has the distinction of being the “highest ever chart placing of an unaccompanied poem” in U.K. history). The success garnered Barton, now a solo artist, a pair of appearances on a popular TV music show called The Tube, as well as opening slots for a number of touring bands from Manchester, although Barton has since said his popularity as an opening act was only because “I made bands look adventurous and/or compassionate for choosing me” and “I was willing to sleep outside the bands hotel in their van with an amplifier on my head.”
Also a visual artist, Barton directed the video for “Sit Down,” a 1989 single from James (the band that would later have that massive hit “Laid,” you know, the one with the yodeling chorus and the line, “She only comes when she’s on top”). He was also arrested for displaying an art installation called “Stolen,” which consisted of things he had shoplifted. In the early ’90s, he ran an exhibition space in Manchester called the Oblong Gallery, which was also eventually shut down—again, by the police, according to Barton’s bio, although it doesn’t go into specifics.
Barton had sort of an odd second career when he got involved in the nascent “Madchester” rave scene in the late ’80s/early ’90s. He co-wrote a very weird acid house track “Born in the North” with A Guy Called Gerald in 1988, and he hosted a popular Manchester club night called Hip Replacement which, according to Graham Massey of 808 State, featured such esoteric entertainments as “Ukrainian folk groups, life drawing classes [and] first aid demos,” as well as a “wardrobe orchestra” in which all the musicians performed inside different wardrobes (i.e. big pieces of furniture roughly the size and shape of a small closet). We’re not quite sure how that last one worked and no one seems to have provided a detailed account of it—so we’re guessing the concept never quite caught on.
His big claim to fame from this era came in 1992 when the house/techno band Opus III remade “It’s a Fine Day” as an uplifting club anthem, complete with a video that’s now so fantastically dated, it seems like a parody of early ’90s house music—but no, early ’90s house music was really just that ridiculous. The Ecstasy must’ve been really, really good back then.
After the success of Opus III’s “It’s a Fine Day” remake, Barton recorded a series of albums under the name Hush that consisted entirely of a cappella songs meant to be sampled by dance music producers. Hush samples did appear on half a dozen hit songs over the next several years, including “Happiness,” an early Norman Cook track released under the name Pizzaman, but none ever repeated the success of “It’s a Fine Day” or did much to boost Barton’s profile.
After the release of the last Hush album in 1995, Barton seems to have dropped off the radar a bit. Supposedly he worked on a project with Mark Day of the Happy Mondays called O.K. Cola, but we couldn’t verify this. He also released a record in 2000 under the name Pudding called “A Little Christmas Thieving,” which is still available on his website. But for the most part, he appears to have kept fairly quiet…until last year, when he finally resurfaced with a brand-new album called And a Panda. Based on the tracks available on his MySpace page, plus this YouTube video for a track called “Ginger Funk,” it’s by far the mostly elaborately arranged and accessible stuff Barton’s ever recorded–but it’s still pretty out there.
Despite his many accomplishments, Barton is probably still best-known in England for his first appearance on The Tube in the early ’80s. There, young fans who were perhaps expecting to see the lady with the pretty voice who sang “It’s a Fine Day” instead got treated to a spastic performance by a solo Barton, playing a battered acoustic guitar with a wooden spoon and declaiming a (for lack of a better term) song called “I’ve Got No Chicken But I’ve Got Five Wooden Chairs.” Here’s a clip of that immortal performance.
Let’s be straight up on this one. We would’ve blogged about ICP a long time ago, but we never got around to it because, frankly, we thought they sucked. Some third-rate Beastie Boys wannabes wearing KISS makeup and rapping about serial killers? No thanks. Oh, wait, they spray their audiences with shitty midwestern soda pop? Nope, still not buying it.
But this past weekend, something kind of awesome happened: Insane Clown Posse’s fans, the Juggalos (seriously, that’s what they call themselves…we’re not clever enough to make this shit up) drove Tila fucking Tequila off the stage under a hail of beer bottles, rocks, fire crackers and supposedly even a little human feces. And while we’re glad they didn’t, like, kill her or anything, we applaud the sentiment behind the attack, which seems to boil down to something like: If you are a talentless fame whore whose best move is to show the crowd your tits, we will take you down.
This incident, which has already been described ad naseum here, here, and also here, took place at the Gathering of the Juggalos, an annual ICP-led festival that’s been happening every year since 2000 and now pulls in some scary large number of fans—over 20,000, claims the festival’s Wikipedia page, which is a lot of beer bottles. Apparently, the Juggalos also threw shit at Method Man, which somewhat undermines our theory that the attack on Tila was actually a scathing critique of reality TV culture—unless they’re confused and thought that piece-of-shit sitcom Meth did with Redman a few years back was supposed to be real. Or maybe they’re just lashing out at all purveyors of crap television. Anyone know if Tom Green got his ass kicked at the Gathering, too?
Anyway, regardless of what we think of ICP’s music—or what ICP fans think of bisexual midgets named after alcoholic beverages—we have to give Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope props for doing whatever the hell it is they do for so long…20 years and counting, which is a helluva lot of Faygo (that’s the shitty midwestern soda pop they spray on their audiences—and believe us, they spray it like they own stock in it).
It’s tough to decide what the weirdest thing is about Insane Clown Posse. Is it their music, which we guess is called horrorcore, and sounds kinda like a cross between Korn, Kid Rock, Cypress Hill and Weird Al Yankovic (and you would think that would sound awesome, except it doesn’t)? Is it their fans, the Juggalos, who proudly flaunt their Faygo and clown makeup in all sorts of goofy homemade videos and endlessly debate what it means to be part of the “Juggalo family“? Is it the fact that they run their own wrestling league? Or their crazy, over the top Halloween shows, which almost put GWAR to shame? Maybe it’s just the fact that their ringleader is a fat white dude who wears clown makeup and calls himself Violent J. God knows we’ve stuck other bands on The Weird List for less.
Andy and I debated this one long and hard and finally came to this conclusion: Of all the crazy weird shit ICP is responsible for, nothing is weirder than the video they just released earlier this year for a song called “Miracles.” This really falls into the so-stupid-it’s-pure-genius category. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Be warned: It’ll shock your eyelids.
- Insane Clown Posse official site
- Insane Clown Posse on MySpace
- Psychopathic Records (ICP’s label)
- Gathering of the Juggalos official site
- JCW (Juggalo Championship Wrestling) official site
- JuggaloNews (fan site)
- Look At This Fucking Juggalo (not really sure what this site is, but it’s awesome)
- Violent J Is John Goodman (interesting theory/Photoshop exercise)
The world is full of gimmicky cover bands, and we suppose The Baseballs aren’t really all that different. But their gimmick is a pretty great one: Take the mainstreamiest of mainstream pop hits of the past few years and do them up greaser/rockabilly style, complete with Elvis-style hiccuppy vocals, upright bass and doo-wop harmonies. Add to all this the fact that they’re from Germany and bring a certain Teutonic stiffness to the whole thing, and you have the recipe for a fairly surreal but occasionally awesome listening experience.
The Baseballs have apparently been big in Europe for a couple years now, where their cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”–the best thing they’ve ever done, as far as we can tell–was a huge hit all over the continent. They’re just now starting to crack the UK and no doubt have their sights set on America next. Will U.S. audiences embrace a bunch of German dudes–named Sam, Digger, and Basti, we might add–who look and sound kinda like Sha Na Na and do really earnest versions of Snow Patrol and Katy Perry songs? Your guess is as good as ours. But we will boldly predict right now that they’ll probably make a cameo appearance on the next season of American Idol. The producers of that sinking battleship eat this kind of kitschy shit up with both hands.
The Baseballs’ original videos, which are all shot to look like grainy ’50s newsreel footage, are kind of entertaining, but they pale in comparison to the many clips floating around YouTube of the group’s appearances on various European TV shows. To give just one example: The Finnish version of Big Brother chose to have the band perform inside a glass box. Why? Were the producers afraid those Finnish Big Brother kids would rip Sam, Digger and Basti limb from limb in a rockabilly-induced frenzy? We’ll never know.
As great as that Big Brother clip is, to really get an idea of the Hasselhoffian awesomeness of these guys, we prefer this video that’s apparently taken from some Scandinavian version of Top of the Pops. (The Baseballs are huge in Scandinavia. In fact, you might say they should change their name up there to The Softballs. Boom! Sorry, we might be a little drunk right now.) The music is so inauthentic to begin with that somehow, the lip-syncing totally works.
Side note: The Baseballs call their sound “voc ‘n’ roll.” Suddenly, our Softball joke doesn’t sound so lame, does it?
So the other day this reader writes into us and goes, “You know who’s way weirder than all these bands? The Bloodhound Gang.” And we’re like, “You mean the guys who had that song about the Discovery Channel? What the fuck is weird about that?” And apparently, this guy thinks they’re, like, the weirdest band ever because they’ve been known to occasionally piss on each other and drink vomit onstage. Which at this point in rock history is not even that weird anymore. It’s so not weird that the other current band semi-famous for such things, The Black Lips, got bored with it and stopped doing it. It’s a post-”Jackass” world, people! Grossout stage antics just aren’t that interesting anymore…especially if the best you can provide for musical accompiment is shit like that Discovery Channel song.
But one positive did come out of the whole Bloodhound Gang thing…it reminded us that, holy shit! We haven’t written about GG Allin yet! What the fuck is wrong with us? Time to drop a little punk-rock history on you young’ns.
For those not familiar, GG Allin was a punk rock singer active in the ’80s and early ’90s whose entire shtick was basically to get naked, start fights with people in the audience, and spew various bodily fluids everywhere until someone called the cops, venue security hauled him off, or he passed out—whichever came first. Oh, he’d shit onstage, too. Although he was also known to take laxatives before each show, so very often his feces qualified as just another bodily fluid.
A little backstory: GG was born Jesus Christ Allin (no, really) in New Hampshire in 1956. His dad was apparently one of those wackjob Christian fundametalists who swore that Jesus came to him in a vision and told him his son would be the messiah. Dad skeedaddled while little J.C. Allin was still a toddler, and mom eventually changed his name to Kevin Michael, but the nickname GG—his brother’s mispronunciation of “Jesus”—stuck.
Apparently, so did dad’s messianic visions and mental health issues. As he got older, little GG fell in with various punk bands, first as drummer, eventually as a frontman. Pretty early on, by all accounts, he decided that he was the savior of rock ‘n’ roll—that rock was becoming safe and commercialized and he was going to bring it back to its rebellious roots. Eventually, he pretty much dropped the rock ‘n’ roll part and just decided that he was The Savior, period—come to rescue America’s youth from all that is boring and conformist. He would do this, apparently, by flinging poo at them when they came to his shows.
Not surprisingly, GG had a hard time keeping bands together and he churned through a bunch of them: The Jabbers, The Scumfucs, The Texas Nazis, Bulge, The AIDS Brigade, and his final and most famous outfit, The Murder Junkies, featuring his equally batshit older brother Merle on bass. The music was all pretty much the same, though: noisy three-chord punk rock with lyrics that sound like they were cribbed from some middle school boy’s bathroom. Sample song titles: “Bite It You Scum”, “I Wanna Fuck the Shit Out of You”, “Suck My Ass It Smells”…you get the idea. There were also a few more grandiose songs about things like penal code reform (“Legalize Murder”), pedophilia (“Expose Yourself to Kids”) and religion (“Jesus Over New York”). But mostly, it was all just so GG would have a soundtrack while he was writhing in his own filth and smacking a microphone against his head.
The best document of GG Allin’s antics is a documentary called Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, which came out literally three days before his death. Weirdly—or maybe not so weirdly—it was shot by the same guy who directed Old School and The Hangover, Todd Phillips. Back then he was a film school student at NYU. Wonder if it’s still on his reel? (You can watch most of the documentary online. Heads up: It’s what the squares call “not suitable for children.”)
Despite GG’s best efforts, he did not die onstage—after a pretty extraordinary life, his death was all too ordinary. He died of a heroin overdose in New York on June 28, 1993. His last show ended in a mini-riot that found GG running naked through the streets with his fans in pursuit—or at least that’s how one version of the story goes. In another account, by punk writer Mykel Board, the cops showed up and GG fled to avoid arrest. Who knows? Either way, he turned up dead the next morning.
Even GG Allin’s funeral, which was videotaped, turned into a piece of transgressive rock ‘n’ roll theater. It was an open casket service, with the rock messiah’s bloated, unwashed body in full view, clad in his trademark leather jacket and dirty jockstrap. People stuck bottles of booze in the casket and his brother put in a Walkman and stuck a pair of headphones on his head, playing some of Allin’s own music. His gravesite is routinely vandalized. Apparently, people really like pissing and shitting on it.
Fun little side note: You can still actually see the Murder Junkies, from time to time. Merle Allin and the band’s perpetually naked drummer, Dino Sex, have kept the group going as a GG Allin tribute band, with various fill-in singers and guitarists. Judging from this video, we think the group’s current lead singer, PP Duvee, doesn’t try to start fistfights with the audience, but we make no guarantees.
Second fun little side note: If there’s an aging punk rocker in your life who already owns GG’s greatest hits, and you’re too lazy to figure out the rest of his bewildering catalog…well, now you can just get the dude a GG Allin bobblehead doll for Christmas instead.
Listen, let’s be clear here: GG Allin was a delusional asshole. He wasn’t some punk DIY purist like Fugazi. He wasn’t above going on The Jerry Springer Show. If any major record label had the balls to give him a record contract, he probably would have taken it. Behind all his talk about putting the danger back in rock ‘n’ roll and calling out the hypocrisies of society was a violent sociopath with a severe messiah complex. He says he was building an army of followers who would do anything he asked of them, and he probably believed it. How could he not, when he saw how many of his fans actually enjoyed getting kicked and punched and even raped by their hero?
So we’re not trying to canonize this guy. But we are saying this: To all you would-be weird bands out there, how far are you willing to take it? “It” doesn’t have to be pissing on each other—in fact, we’d rather you try something else, because GG Allin pretty much took care of the whole pissing and shitting thing. That ship has sailed.
So what else you got? That was kind of the whole original purpose of this blog, actually—to find and single out bands that are doing something really, truly unique. It doesn’t have to be the kind of shit that lands you on Jerry Springer—but it should be the kind of thing where, when people see it, or hear it, or read about it for the first time, they go, “Wow—I wasn’t expecting that!”
We’ll leave you with that thought—and with this little
GG Allin highlight reel* highly NSFW live clip of a naked GG and the Junkies ripping through “Bite It You Scum” in 1991. Truly, the man was one of a kind. And we’re kinda glad we never made it to one of his shows.
*The highlight reel was removed from YouTube due to “multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement.” We believe that’s legalese for “Bite It You Scum.”