This week’s weird band was a tough call. You see, Los Angeles is home to not one, but two punk bands that dress up like Mormon missionaries. The Mormons did it first, forming back in 1998, and they take the extra step of wearing bicycle helmets to really complete the standard Mormon missionary look. Tartar Control came along much more recently, so normally, we’d give the nod to The Mormons. But Tartar Control has a robot, and when calculating any band’s weirdness quotient, robots beat originality every time. Plus, Tartar Control’s music videos rule.
So congrats, Tartar Control! You are officially the weirdest Mormon punk band not only here in L.A., but possibly anywhere in the world. Joseph Smith would be proud.
Tartar Control’s two human members, Sean and Robert, claim to be actual Mormons from Salt Lake City, who were sent to do their church mission in South Central Los Angeles. When and how they acquired their bassist/drummer robot, Robot, remains something of a mystery, unless you know how to read binary code.
Sean and Robert started out singing in the church choir, but somewhere along the way, they developed a taste for punk rock. They first caught our attention with the video for “Diabolical,” which is a delightful 83 seconds of gore, mayhem and goat-fucking:
Then we found the video for “Jesus Is Love,” which shows the band wreaking havoc in their native habitat, Anaheim punk club the Doll Hut:
Those songs are both from Tartar Control’s first album, 2012’s Holy Crap, as is their most recent video, “Smoking Crack,” which came out last year. We assume, since they’re Mormons and all, that “Smoking Crack” is a cautionary tale. Normally, I’m sure Robert, Sean and Robot all Just Say No.
Late last year, Tartar Control released their second album, We Forgive You. So far they haven’t made any videos for it, but they did release this fun little album teaser:
We haven’t had a chance to listen to all of We Forgive You yet, but so far, our favorite track by far is “My God’s Cock.” I didn’t know Mormons were so into talking about the magical powers of the Good Lord’s schlong, but they do wear magical underwear, so I guess crotch-related magic is a theme with them.
We’ll leave you with one of Tartar Control’s many helpful public service announcement songs (along with “Cramps Don’t Mean You’re Pregnant” and “Satanists Are Fucking Dicks”): “Brush Your Teeth.” Cleanliness is next to Godliness, kids, so brushing your teeth is like putting a little Jesus in your mouth.
[Warning: Graphic Holocaust imagery ahead. Which really has nothing to do with this week’s artist, but…well, you’ll see.]
This week’s weird act was suggested by reader jlrake, who wrote in with all sorts of worthy weirdo contenders. We’re going with Gary S. Paxton because he’s responsible for one of the most
popular overplayed Halloween songs of all time and a catchy little tune called “Vote Em Out Boogie,” both of which seemed pretty apropos for this week. If only he’d written a song about hurricanes, we’d be hitting the timeliness trifecta.
Throughout his 40-plus year career, Paxton has been a master of the novelty song. His very first hit, “Alley Oop,” was a Coasters-style R&B goof about a caveman from a popular comic strip, recorded with fellow nutjob Kim Fowley and a thrown-together group called The Hollywood Argyles. He followed that up with the revered/reviled Halloween party staple, “Monster Mash,” which he produced with singer Bobby “Boris” Pickett in 1962. But surprisingly, his music really took a turn for the weird after he converted to Christianity in 1970. His early Jesus stuff was fairly conventional, easy-listening ’70s gospel—like his most successful Christian song, the oft-covered “He Was There All the Time.” But his Amish-on-steroids facial hair was a clue that the dude behind “Alley Oop” and “Monster Mash” was, well, there all the time.
That dude—the Paxton who would eventually start wearing, y’know, gold boots and masks with his initials on them—really busted out on his second gospel album, More From the Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable Gary S. Paxton (a sequel, obviously, to The Astonishing, Outrageous, Amazing, Incredible, Unbelievable, Different World of Gary S. Paxton). Alongside more conventional Bible-belt fodder like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” were such immortal Paxton originals as “Jesus Is My Lawyer in Heaven,” “When the Meat Wagon Comes for You” and my personal favorite, “There Goes a Cigar Smoking a Man.” If Bible Camp had been more like this, I might have gone for more than one weekend.
Paxton’s next album, Terminally Weird/But Godly Right, further cemented his status as sort of a Christian cross (Jesus pun!) between Randy Newman and Wavy Gravy: a lovable but irascible old hippie writing catchy little songs that were easy to dismiss as silly but full of sly social satire to anyone who was paying attention. You can listen to excerpts of the whole thing on The Pax’s website. We recommend starting with “Fat, Fat Christians.”
A bizarre and tragic event nearly ended Paxton’s life in 1980. He was living in Nashville at the time and producing a lot of country artists. Depending on which version of the story you believe (Paxton’s, or that of his current wife, Vicki Sue Roberts), Paxton was shot three or five times by two hitmen hired to kill him over a contract dispute with a country singer he was working with. He survived, only to run into troubles with the IRS and develop a near-fatal case of hepatitis C. Oh, and he might have also had an affair with Tammy Faye Bakker. So the ’80s were a particularly odd time for The Paxman.
Since 1999, Paxton has lived in Branson, Missouri with Roberts, where he by all accounts (well, his and Vicki’s) keeps a fairly low profile. He can’t perform any more because of his health problems, but that hasn’t stopped him from churning out a steady stream of increasingly bizarre novelty songs, including “When I Die Just Bury Me at Wal-Mart” and “Frankenclone” (The Pax does house music!). He also does the occasional conservative wingnut screed, but he’s old and white and lives in Missouri, so we’ll let that slide.
So Happy Halloween and Happy Almost-Election Day, My Gary S. “Monster Mash/Obamascare” Paxton! We hope you’re still keeping it weird in Branson, even if we also hope “Vote ‘Em Out Boogie” only applies to the Tea Party and not our boy Barack. He’s not perfect, but Romney and Ryan scare the shit out of us.
Most of Paxton’s weirdest stuff sadly is unavailable on YouTube, but we did rather enjoy the zany lyrics (though not, it must be noted, the gratuitous use of gruesome Holocaust imagery—sorry about that part) of this little pro-gun ditty. You’re totally right, Gary, no handgun ever drove itself to a schoolyard. All inanimate objects are inherently harmless! C4 and hand grenades for everyone! And anyone who disagrees is Hitler.
Most people, when they think of Christian rock, probably think of the most bland, boring bands imaginable–groups like Jars of Clay or Casting Crowns or even (shudder) Creed. At best, they might try to claim that U2 qualifies as a Christian band, just because most of the members go to church and Bono mentions Jesus every once in awhile. But it turns out, there are actually a lot of interesting, creative and often downright wacky groups out there trying to spread the Good News through music. And none of them are more wacky or creative than Danielson.
Started by New Jersey kid Daniel Smith as a college thesis project, the group originally called Danielson Famile (pronounced and sometimes mispelled “Danielson Family”) first got some attention with their first album for Tooth & Nail Records in 1997. Called “Tell Another Joke on the Old Choppin’ Block,” the record stood out for its sunny, occasionally spastic, call-and-response chamber-pop, and Smith’s pipsqueak vocals, which kind of sounded like a cross between Tim DeLaughter (Polyphonic Spree) and Elmo (Sesame Street). Live, the band stood out even more: they usually performed in matching nurses uniforms (which, Smith explained, served as a “visual reminder of the healing taking place”). Later, under the name Br. Danielson, Smith took to appearing onstage in a nine-foot fruit tree costume. Apparently, there’s some Christian symbolism behind it, although it’s kind of lost on us godless heathens here at TWBITW, who just find it endlessly, awesomely hilarious.
It’s been a few years since Danielson released any new material, although they’ve kept busy with a two-CD retrospective and starring in their own documentary. They returned to the studio recently to record a new 7″ featuring a song called “Moment Soakers”; it’s due out November 17, but in the meantime, you can watch a making-of video on the band’s website.
This song and video aren’t Danielson’s weirdest by a long shot, but it gives you a pretty good sense of what they’re all about…and it’s too fantastic not to include.