Monday, June 15, 2009

Old Hat: Sasquatch, the rest of the Story. The Queer Spirit of Rock?

Spencer Moody and The Murder City Devils

So now for the backtracking to the two acts that impressed me the most: The Murder City Devils and Jane's Addiction. Sandwiched in between them was Nine Inch Nails. I've the greatest respect for Trent Reznor--he turns out a lot of music that people really enjoy and has many other talents as well (including acting as peacemaker between perpetually feuding JA bass player Eric Avery and frontman Perry Farrell on their current NIN-JA tour...get it?) From a strictly aesthetic point of view however, there is plenty of NIN that I just find boring as hell. I was glad to hear them play Hurt, my personal favorite song of theirs, and one that (if there's anyone who doesn't already know this) the Man in Black himself Johnny Cash thought so highly of that he covered it on one of his last releases before he died. (Here's a link to a high-quality video of Cash's cover. Worth checking out.) And of course they played Head Like a Hole, the first song that I (and I expect a good many others ) ever heard by them. The first time I ever heard the term 'industrial' used as a musical style descriptor was in reference to NIN and Ministry back in the late 80's.

What impressed me so much about about the Murder City Devils was not just the quality of the show--although they did rock, playing their dirty, alcoholic garage punk with just the right mixture of control and fuck-it-all abandon, despite the fact that lead singer Spencer Moody was drunk off his ass. I'm never sure whether or not MCD are actually together or whether they just reunite occasionally to play various shows; maybe it's some weird combination of the two.

Perry Farrell, god of rock 'n roll hedonism.

At any rate, right from the start Moody began challenging the audience. Moody and the rest of the band members have never been shy about their bisexuality; their album art has photos of them cannoodling in a decidedly non-platonic fashion, Moody has talked about it at length, about how people wonder if they're gay, straight, bi, whatever. On Saturday he immediately called out all the homophobes in the audience, asking them how they liked coming to a show with a bunch of faggots up on stage.

The Seattle Stranger has some direct quotes, like the one here: "A lot now, we play these shows in front of a lot of people, and I see a lot of gross, disgusting high school jocks in the audience. But what we do is for all the beautiful faggots, and the rest of you can all eat a big bowl of wet dicks."

Or there's this gem: "I may be stepping out of bounds, but all the heterosexuals in the audience, all the straights, can just turn around and face the other way. If you don't turn around, I'll accept that you're homos, just like all of us up on the stage."

Well I didn't turn around, I stared facing forward, not only because I love these guys and I love Moody's fearless- in-your-face confrontation, but also because I'm totally queer--I've been bisexual since...oh, about birth or so, so I strongly identify with bands like MCD (and JA) who openly embrace their queer sides.

Perry and Dave

I don't agree with the actuality of Moody's attempted segregation of the straights and the queers but he made an excellent point: it was exclusionism, an exclusionism that he foisted, or attempted to foist upon the audience. It immediately called to my mind, as hopefully it would any other thinking person, the current battle for marriage equality (a battle which by the way us queers and our allies ARE WINNING bit by bit and will continue to do so until our second-class status is a thing of the past nationwide. Get ready Fred Phelps , soon those faggots will be holding big queer weddings in Westboro, KS. OK; enough ranting. I'm planning on starting a NEW BLOG (the working title at this point is 'Random Crap') wherein I can give voice to my many non-musical thoughts.) By the simple act of telling the straights to turn around it was sort of like a 'lesson' in reverse-discrimination. Straights can get married, gays can't. Gays can continue enjoying our show, straights can't. A pretty simple, straightforward narrative.

Was it effective? Who knows. As far as I know none of the band members are totally gay, I don't even know if they are all bi. I don't expect that Moody really thought everyone who was still watching them was gay, nor do I think for a second he was trying to insult straight people for being who they are. Taunting and baiting the audience, challenging them mentally, intellectually, physically, is one of the oldest tricks in the punk rock playbook; direct audience involvement, a breakdown of that 'third wall.' It certainly was in homage to that punk rock tradition, but there was no doubt there was a larger point being made.

It got to the point where some audience members were actually getting up and leaving, as he repeatedly taunted jocks, straights and homophobes, asking them why they listened to faggot music. "Who the fuck does this guy think he is?" said the jockish-looking young kid in front of me who stood up in disgust and left with all his friends. It was fucking brilliant--I was cheering and hollering the whole time. All throughout the set, in between songs (he even jumped down from the stage and made out with a random guy in the audience, who blogged about the experience in the comments section of the above-referenced Seattle Stranger article) he cajoled, cursed, taunted and insulted, to the point that (probably for the best) his bandmates started playing over the top of his rants just to get the next song started. Good times; that's what I call some real rock 'n fucking roll.

(Just for fun, here's a link to some pictures of the hapless straight couple that got caught boning on top of the hill during the Decemberists. The Seattle Stranger links seem to always take some time to load but they're worth checking out.)

The festival headliners came later that evening: I've seldom been as excited about seeing any band as I was about seeing Jane's Addiction. To understand why, I feel like I must digress from my prepared remarks to talk a little about why THIS band means so much to me.

My history with Jane's Addiction is much deeper, much more profound and tied up emotionally, with my image of who I am, of from which tradition(s) of the pop-sub-culture jungle I hail. The first time I ever heard of them I must've been about 16. I had joined the Sony tape club...the kind where they sent you one tape a month and you had to pay for it no matter what? Well one of them that I picked was Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking, a band whom I'd never heard of before and knew nothing about. Still, the cover art was a picture of naked siamese twin chicks sitting on a bench with their hair on fire, so I figured 'what the hell.'

I got it and listened to it a time or two, and I think it was a little beyond me at that point. There are some other bands that I just didn't 'get' the first time I heard them (the Pixies come to mind immediately) but to whom I returned years later and became a passionate fan. I got into punk rock listening to dubbed tapes that I got from my friend Glen who was in 8th grade when I was in 9th, who in turn got them from his punk friends Max and Guy (with whom I became friends later.) By the time Nothing's Shocking arrived in my mail box and I'd determined it wasn't really quite for me (although the refrain of 'sex is violent, sex is violent, sex is violent' on Ted, Just Admit It was intriguing to my virgin ears) I traded it to Max for a copy of britpop band The Primitives Pure that I think was a little too tame for him but which was right up my alley (and which I still love.)

(NOTE: The next little bit is a big digression. Skip to the end for the short version of why I love Jane's Addiction so much.)

A few years later saw me beginning my life as a hard partier after abandoning the Jehovah's Witness religion of my youth. They 'disfellowshipped' (excommunicated) me shortly before my 21st birthday because of my remorselessly hedonistic ways: such as getting wasted all the time, smoking pot, throwing raging keggers at my house, sexual indiscretions, etc. I fell under the category of the 'unrepentant sinner.' (I'm still thinking about getting that tattooed somewhere someday...) One night I overheard some coworkers talking about Perry Farrell while they were giving me a ride home from work. I innocently asked 'who's Perry Farrell?' I still remember the chick looking at me (she was also the first person whom I personally knew as openly bisexual; 'I like the hotdog and the taco' she told me once. Well put.) with disdain in her eyes and saying, "Ever heard of a little band called Jane's Addiction?" I nodded yes. "Well he's the lead singer." 'Nuf said, I guess.

But when I really became a fan was shortly after that. The first time I ever took acid I didn't know what to expect. I took a hit, waited a couple hours, took another one. Went over to a friend's apartment and this girl we called Grim was decorating the walls with these glow-in-the-dark fingerpaints, and had the black light on. (Everyone seemed to have weird nicknames. I had two: 'Puker' and 'Fireball.' Fortunately for me neither of them stuck.) That's when I noticed that the insanely interesting shapes painted on the walls were resolving themselves into the visage of a kindly, bearded old man, and they were moving, sliding down the walls like an effervescent river of light. I went into the other room where the light was on and wondered why the hell my hands were changing colors, going from blue to green to red to yellow, and why the stuccoed ceiling above me was churning and frothing like a boiling pot of mud. I wondered why I was suddenly feeling ridiculously happy, more overjoyed for no reason than I had ever felt in my entire life. And that's when I noticed a simple guitar riff coming from the other room, accompanied by the bongos. My friends Haystack and Patterdale were playing the main riff from Jane Says over and over again. Or were they really? How many times did they play it? Who really knows. All I know is that the tune wrapped around me like a fuzzy blanket, calling to me like the calm burble of a river heard from far away.

After that Jane's Addiction became a staple of mine, and will forever be intimately entwined with the psychedelic phase of my life; I mean I was a real space cowboy for a few years there. Acid, mushrooms, plenty of weed, copious amounts of booze, pills, other drugs that I don't like to admit to; whatever came my way I took. Strange, strange times, days where unimaginable terror and inexpressible joy sometimes resided one right next to the other. I went for four months without wearing shoes once. Grateful Dead shows, Rainbow Gatherings, hemp fests, rock fests, lazy days of nothing, classes and work thrown in somewhere amongst all the partying.

There was this time when we drove over the hill (we lived in Bend) and took some strong acid (orange and pink blotter, if I recall correctly) before sneaking into the Cougar Hot Springs one night. It started to kick in real fast; by the time we were done staggering down the trail through the forest in pitch blackness I was very in-tune with the universe but couldn't seem to manage a coherent sentence. There were a bunch of Hindu hippies there, burning low-light torches so we would hopefully not get busted by the park rangers (now that would be a bummer)...I spent the evening feeling very sensual, surrounded by penises and breasts and asses and Eastern religion...there were chants and dances and the aligning of chakras...I felt all the atoms in all the stars in the universe as I took a handful of sand and, underwater, passed it over my legs and let it carress my skin, more intimate and pleasurable than the touch of any lover I had ever known...the trees above my exploding eyes rained a river of paisley down on my head, dripping onto my face like a melting soft-serve ice cream cone beneath the whirlpool stars..the smoke from the torches and steam from the waters swirled around us, dappling the torchlight into shadows that took forms as real as my own and then they disappeared slowly as the morning inexorably crept into our world...we took an empty bottle of Henry Weinhard's Boar's Head Red Ale and filled it with warm water, taking turns pouring it over one another's heads and beautiful, naked young bodies, still too high to feel any self-consciousness, passing a bowl of good ganja around as the long comedown began. 'The brethren of the the brethren of the pool!' was our motto, one of those ridiculous phrases that means nothing to anyone who wasn't there but summed up all of the feelings of that incredible, indescribable evening to those of us who were there, melded in mind and spirit and taking psychedelic voyages to the undiscovered, paradisaic tropical isles of the psyche.

Eric and Perry

And once again...Jane's Addiction was there. After the trek back to the main road, a trek which saw two random hippies riding on the trunk of my car, passing a steamroller of cannabis in and out of the window as we cruised down the road, we made our way back to Bend (sans random hippies, whom we dropped off at the main road to hitchhike to wherever they were going.) We all piled on an immense bed and ate fried egg sandwiches that Scotty made, and we watched JA's film Gift, a sad, strange, beautiful homage to heroin addiction, as the overworked synapses of our crusted brains finally shut down and we drifted off to sleep in a big pile, the late morning sun warming us like the benevolent smile of Apollo through filthy, cheap windows...

Other random connections that make JA important to me is the fact that my cousin Stacey used to hang out at Scream (a punk club in LA where Jane's Addiction got their start) and she's hung out with Dave Navarro (who she said was cool) and Perry Farrell (who she said was a dick) before they were big.

Back to the rock fest....

I saw Perry fronting his new project Satellite Party last year when the opened for Smashing Pumpkins. I was glad that they did a bunch of JA and Porno for Pyros tunes but it still was nothing like seeing JA, all of them together. Perry is the consumate showman, and knows his audience well. He uses phrases that endorse psychedelic exploration (long now a thing of the past for me) and the expanding of consciousness (something I'd like to think I continue doing without the use of chemicals) and the embrace of sensuality, of Bacchanalian hedonism. "Being here with you all is making my dick hard,' he said, without any trace of false modesty or rancor. He urged us to take out our cocks and play with them as we visited each other's tents, saying that it doesn't matter how big it is, but, he joked, it never hurts to be....

Ocean Size....

So they played lots of good tunes from Nothing's Shocking, Ritual de lo Habitual and of course the self-titled debut album (which we usually called 'Triple X' in honor of the record company that released it.) Nothing from Kettle Whistle, not even City, my favorite non-studio-produced JA tune.

It was the radical comparison between Spencer Moody and Perry Farrell's approach to the whole queer question that really struck me. I guess there's really no 'question'...some of us are queer, some aren't. 'It's just the way I'm wired,' my friend Scotty used to say, and that's a phrase that's stuck with me for a long time. It is, indeed, the way I'm wired.

As Spencer insulted, cajoled, challenged, so Perry incited, lured, enticed. There is a time for both, for fighting and loving, for....oh never mind. No need to rhapsodize. In the words of the immortal Forrest Gump, 'that's all I have to say about that.' I'm queer, so love me or leave me. I'm learning to do the former.

ENDNOTE: Props to Wikipedia; I directed all my links there as the lazy man's way out. Good info there, sometimes not enough, sometimes too much, other times erroneous or hagiographic. It's a good place to start if you're interested in something.

Blurry photos: better than nothing. It's hard to take good pictures after drinking for 16 hours.


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