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[whitespace] Butthole Surfers What's in a Name? With an infamous moniker, the Butthole Surfers continue to shock and intrigue.


Gabby Gibby

Butthole Surfers' frontman Gibby Haynes is never at a loss for words on 'Weird Revolution'

By Gina Arnold

GIBBY HAYNES, lead singer for the Butthole Surfers, is a man whose tongue is golden--that is, if a golden tongue can be said to drip with sarcasm and crass vulgarities. He's a sort of Rabelais with a Texas accent, 6-foot-something, gap-toothed and scary as hell.

Never has anyone known Haynes at a loss for the pointed remark, and the band's latest press release is no exception. On it, Haynes sums up his band's place in rock history perfectly: "We've been around so long, we're like Bill Haley in the age of the Sex Pistols," he says. "'Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.' Now I am become Sha Na Na ... at Woodstock."

Now, there's clarity for you. And yet, as apt as that observation is about countless other bands, it's not quite true of the Buttholes. The Surfers may not be as scary as they seemed in 1986, when just the rumor of their approach was enough to shut the Mabuhay Gardens down, and their live shows featured naked dancers, out-of-control fires, a bullhorn, a strobe light and background films of gory car accidents and even gorier sex-change operations. But they aren't quite Sha Na Na yet--even if their new LP, Weird Revolution (Surfdog/Hollywood), did undergo a severe editing (read: censoring) process on one track and features a duet with rock & roll clown prince, Kid Rock.

Weird Revolution is as commercial a product as one can possibly imagine the Butthole Surfers making--and it's brilliant. The record takes the Buttholes' finest qualities--those heard on the 1996 hit single "Pepper" and Ministry's collaboration with Haynes, "Jesus Built My Hotrod"--and elaborates on them.

THUS, WHERE THE BAND used to be noisy, chaotic and atonal, it is now noisy, chaotic and incredibly tuneful. From the first notes, you can tell this LP is a winner. The single, "The Shame of Life," is not only a great, catchy, summer headbanger, it's also riddled with conceptual double entendres, the likes of which aren't usually found in hard-rock environs.

Obviously, Kid Rock wrote the opening line, "I love the girls and the money and the shame of life," with a perfectly straight face. But Haynes wrote the denouement, reversing the song's meaning: "Get down to the level of the rest/where the people on the street put the metal to the test."

It's not the only song that digs deep into the twisted psyche of America in a way that, at bottom, is quite humane. Another song with a heavy subtext is "Jetfighter," which is about a guy who joins the Air Force, bombs Iraq, dies and is sent to hell. ("I been told that God is dead," sneers Gibby. "Jet fighters never die.")

On a lighter note, there's "Crazy," with its "Sweet Jane"-inspired riff and harmoniously philosophical chorus: "Oh no, we got to go/We're not gonna live forever/Why, why, we got to die?/You know that we'll be together."

And these songs are just a few of the gems on Weird Revolution. The record rocks hard, but it does so with a metaphysical edge that's rare in music and almost nonexistent in hard rock.

I love this record, and I love the Butthole Surfers, who were one of the few bands of my era truly to scare the crap out of me and my contemporaries. They were the soundtrack to some of my best memories, from spending a hot fragrant day with them in Driftwood, Texas, to seeing them shock the bourgeoisie at the very first Lollapalooza.

I've long thought that this millennium needs them, but they disappeared around 1997 in a welter of legal and other difficulties. Despite a big hit with 1996's Electric Larryland, the '90s weren't exactly kind to this wild but secretly pragmatic band.

Record companies folded on them at key moments. Band members melted down. And Haynes himself has been plagued by tragedy: one of the scariest facts about him is his (rumored) presence at or near the demise of his two close friends, River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain.

But be that as it may, something has occurred in the five years since the band first recorded this record for Capitol, and that something is all to the good. It is also surprisingly techno: just as Madonna's Music LP saw her going from pop to acid house in one easy step, so does Weird Revolution turn the Buttholes' oeuvre into dance-floor fodder.

That transformation may sound forced--like the time in the '70s when everyone from Rod Stewart and the Kinks tried to go disco--but it's not really that far a stretch for a band that, after all, began its career with two drummers churning out a horrendously hard beat.

In fact, the Butthole Surfers have long evinced a fascination with house music and techno. They had a side project called the Jack Officers that explored this angle, and it comes out here in the shape of massive, catchy backbeats on every song.

IF IT WEREN'T for Gibby's juicy, thick, white-trash accent and spoke-sung raps, you'd think the band was from England. Unlike white hip-hop/rock hybrids like Sugar Ray or Live and Tricky, however, the Buttholes deliver pure rock. With a frontman like Gibby, they can't do otherwise.

His attitude is capsulized on the track "The Weird Revolution," which paraphrases a speech made by Malcolm X in 1963, in which he preached separation of white and black cultures. The song was the key point in the delay of release of this LP: it had to be rewritten from the 1998 version because of copyright-infringement issues.

In the rewritten version, Haynes says, "I stand as a messenger of strangeness this evening, in order to impress upon, or at least to instruct, the honorable musicians as to the methods and motives of a truly bizarre reality: the weird revolution. Thomas Jefferson, co-founder and president of this morally corrupt nation, said, 'If God is truly just, I tremble for the fate of my country.' Secondly, there are some dynamics in play which I must familiarize you with. The so-called weirdos in this country stand as completely freaked-out by the normal man as the normal man is completely freaked-out by the weird masses' reaction to him."

Replace weird and normal with black and white, and you have quite a statement about race in America. Then try it with Democrat and Republican, or gay and straight. Even as it stands, it's a pretty cool concept, and one bound to appeal to alienated teenagers everywhere.

Indeed, Weird Revolution is that rarest of commodities, the intelligent slice of pop. Like The Simpsons and Nirvana, the Butthole Surfers can appeal to everyone, from Texas rednecks to elitist eggheads. The album is not for the faint of heart, but it's heartening for the faint, a sign that there's still intelligent life in the old genre yet.

Sha Na Na? My ass. That may be true of every other band but the Buttholes. To misquote the Bhagavadgita: Now they are become the Sex Pistols, in the age of Britney Spears. And that is not a bad thing, anyway you look at it.

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From the September 6-12, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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