Prince et al: While My Guitar ...
[purchase a documentary]
Time to really go for it here.
I first heard about GG Allin from the early Drive-By Truckers song “The Night GG Allin Came to Town.” As Patterson Hood tells the story, he and Mike Cooley were living in Memphis in 1991 as their first band, Adam’s House Cat, was disintegrating. They were poor, miserable and hated Memphis. GG Allin played the Antenna Club on November 16, and Hood and Cooley didn’t go—they were broke and weren’t fans. But the next morning, they were at a local restaurant, filled with an older crowd, just after church, and they overheard a couple, described in one version of the story as Thurston Howell III and Lovey, reading an article about the show in the local free paper, and being generally horrified. The lyrics to the song are pretty graphic, but here’s a transcription of the actual article at issue, and it is even better. For example:
To put it bluntly, Allen [sic] grossed out the audience at The Antenna Club. He defecated on the stage, then appeared to eat it and spit at the patrons. Allen, who is the lead singer, also beat his forehead bloody with a beer bottle and put a microphone up his rectum. The drummer performed naked.
My favorite line from the article is, though:
G.G. Allen will not be invited back to the Antenna Club, [club owner] McGehee said, although "people would pay for them to come back. He's got everyone talking.”
An excerpt from this very performance is the video above—it is offensive, but doesn’t include any of the feces-related material. (It also cuts off part way through—but if you aren’t satisfied, just Google him, and you will find many more videos not suitable for, well, pretty much anything.)
Allin was a pretty disgusting character. Literally born Jesus Christ Allin, to a spectacularly delusional and dysfunctional set of parents, Allin probably could have used someone to set a few boundaries. Instead, Allin described his childhood as “very chaotic. Full of chances and dangers. We sold drugs, stole, broke into houses, cars. Did whatever we wanted to for the most part – including all the bands we played in. People even hated us back then."
A drug addict and violent criminal, Allin served time for "assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder" on a female companion, and his psychological evaluation diagnosed him as having a “mixed personality disorder with narcissistic, borderline and masochistic features.” Before accepting a plea bargain, Allin claimed that the conduct at issue was consensual, and admitted to cutting the woman, burning her, and drinking her blood, but argued, in mitigation, that she did the same thing to him. So, that made it O.K.
After getting released from prison in March, 1991, Allin went on tour, which was documented in a film directed by Todd Phillips, who later directed the slightly less offensive, but substantially more successful Hangover movies.
In June, 1993, Allin was playing The Gas Station on the Lower East Side of New York, and something happened during the second song that angered Allin (accounts vary as to what that was, but it probably didn’t take much). Of, course, he trashed the club, then walked out, naked and covered in blood and feces, followed by his fans. He ended up at a friend’s apartment, continued to use drugs and overdosed. Allin died wearing a silver Nazi helmet. Here’s a first hand account of Allin’s last night, written by the legendary Legs McNeil, which differs in many details from the Wikipedia account. McNeil’s version is more fun to read, though, and better written.
Allmusic calls Allin “arguably the most degenerate and outrageous figure in rock history.” And based on my research, it seems like a pretty good argument.
Vomit Launch: Stillness
Choosing a band name should be a big deal. You would think that deciding how you are going to be known to the world makes a difference. Although I’ve never been in a band, lacking sufficient musical talent and all, I’ve always imagined deciding on a name is an important issue for the members to hash out and come to some sort of an agreement. Often, the name of the band sends a signal to what the music is going to sound like. I mean, Gentle Giant is going to be a prog rock band, Metallica, is, of course, metal and The Pure Prairie League will play country rock. For a while, in the 80s, you knew that if a band was called The [insert generic noun here], the likelihood of seeing a bunch of guys in skinny ties playing poppy new wave was pretty high.
Punk rock, though, by its very nature, wants to shock, and its emergence led to a bunch of bands that purposely chose names to offend. The Sex Pistols, of course, were not the first punk band, but they may have opened the door to a more widespread use of offensive names. I remember being told by the WPRB station manager that we couldn’t say the name of the Dickies, which to this day seems overly cautious, especially since he never seemed to have a problem with the Dead Kennedys. Bands that choose aggressively offensive names, mostly punk and metal acts that I won’t specifically mention because they might show up during this theme at some point (but here are a couple of good lists) did so to signal that they didn’t care about mainstream success and were thumbing their noses at major labels, big time radio and large venues. In some ways, it was a kind of reverse psychology—attracting people by being repulsive.
But, frankly, this strategy can backfire. If you make music that actually might be popular, is catchy and not at all offensive, choosing an off-putting name could essentially torpedo your career. And, it appears, that may have been what happened to Vomit Launch.
Vomit Launch was started in 1985 by a bunch of friends in Chico, California who decided to form a band. After a few rehearsals, they were offered a gig, and therefore needed a name. According to the band’s website, a couple of the band members “drank a bunch of wine and created a list of possible band names for future use. Unfortunately among these names were Truckload of Fuckers, Fuckload of Truckers and Vomit Launch. Needing a name with a ‘gig’ fast approaching, the band decided Vomit Launch would be a fantastic choice!”
I would suggest that they were wrong.
Although the band released a few albums, opened for some well-known acts, and even had a video that aired once—partially—on MTV, by the end of 1992, they were done. Like so many obscure bands, they still have their fans, who reminisce longingly about their short career, but I’d like to suggest that with a less offensive name, they might have been more successful.
I’m not exactly sure how I first heard of Vomit Launch. I’m pretty sure that it was as a result of my eMusic account. When I joined that service back in 2005, it was a quirky service focused on small, indie label acts and allowed an incredibly generous number of downloads a month for a low price. (Apparently, there was a period when it was essentially an all you could eat buffet, but I missed that). You overlooked the wonkiness of the website and its strange policies because it had lots of interesting music, cheap. And this allowed you to download stuff that you might not otherwise consider. Over time, eMusic has morphed into a service that has most, if not all, major label content. It is still somewhat valuable, but Its quirks are less charming now that it is competing directly with iTunes and Amazon. I think it is still worth it, especially at the low, grandfathered rate that I pay. But that’s another issue entirely.
My best recollection is that one of their songs was a free track, and admittedly amused by the name, I downloaded it and found that contrary to its name, it was a good, wholly inoffensive, new wave-ish song. I downloaded a second, similarly good song, and pretty much forgot about the band, until recently, when I got into a discussion somewhere (Facebook?) about bands with offensive names. Coincidentally, I wrote about a song by the Butthole Surfers on another site, and that all led to this theme.
I hope this didn’t offend anyone.
Tough assignment, boss! OK, could have been easy to wade into Wayne/Jayne County territory with some uber-punk swearies, but, on stripping away the counter-cultural and taboo-breaking schlock tactics, let's agree the music was, well, a little thin........ But during this same time period, roughly 77-80, punk rock year zero onward, is a golden one for unearthing golden little rotten apples of impurity, all being required is something of even just a little merit to fit our bill. (Whaaat? And this from the man who posts Chris de Burgh?!?) And then I remembered this!