Thursday, August 21, 2014

Offensive: Vomit Launch

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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


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!

Snuff was a film that relied more on hype than hope for it's trajectory towards any legendary status, purporting to be "genuine" footage of a murder, whereas it was merely an earlier dismal and dismally made slasher pic called "Slaughter". When this bombed on release, it lingered awhile in the vaults until some unrelated footage could be tackily  tacked on to the end, so as to cash in on the popular urban legend of snuff films, i.e. the filming of an actual slaying. With a rough cut and abrupt "finish", it was palmed off as being for real, with fake protesters being hired by the distributors to picket any performance, to drum up custom. This worked, to a degree, with the NYPD having to look into it and dismissing it as no more than conventional trick photography. The public were also told that the "dead" actress had contacted the Police, wishing to assure her fanbase she was still alive and in many fewer pieces than the film might otherwise suggest. (But as wiki says so often, this reference needs corroborating..........)

Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias were a comedy rock band from Manchester, UK, plugging away on the live circuit since 1972 and until a decade later. Actually very good musicians, they were a staple on the live circuit and at festivals between those years, with merciless lampooning of any number of their more earnest compatriots, from Lou Reed to Status Quo, accepting that you really had to be there, comedy and rock seldom cutting it away from the live experience.Come 1977, and arguably running out of targets, the idea of combining the punk ethos with snuff films came to them, whereby the band kill themselves on stage in the name of the ultimate anarchist expression. Every night. This actually began as a play, and was premiered at London's Royal Court Theatre, no less, with the Albertos playing all the parts and all the instruments, albeit with a more conventional "show" as their support act. And I was there, having been the recipient of a ticket as thanks for giving up my room to a pair of old chums, up in London for a week. As is the way, the original soundtrack recording became available as a record, albeit merely an EP (extended play, kiddos), 7 inches of vinyl with 2 tracks aside, something I still own with pride and play with pleasure. These were 3 parodies of the big 3 of the english punk movement, the Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Clash, along with the then, de rigeur, roots reggae association with punk. I heartily endorse you to seek this one out, this time my link being for real, rather than a sop to the digital download police as to my what me innocence around posting youtube links. See if you can guess which this one is:

A footnote: C.P. Lee, one of the key lynchpin members of the group, is now Senior Lecturer in Film Studies and has written a brace of worthy tomes about Bob Dylan, actually well worth reading.                                      

Monday, August 18, 2014

Offensive: Camarillo Brillo

Frank Zappa: Camarillo Brillo
[purchase: Camarillo Brillo]

The Wiki informs us that Camarillo is the location of a mental institution and that there were housed therein patients whose hairstyle was "frizzed out" as a result of electro-shocks. I had come to my own conclusion that his use of "Brillo" certainly referenced certain other human "curlies". Quite likely that both are possible: Zappa had a way of pushing societal limits, almost to the point of being offensive.

SMM has numerous other Zappa posts [], and most of them verge towards the offensive either in title or in content: Don't Eat the Yellow Snow, Stinkfoot, Dinah Moe Humm, I Am the Slime ...

Overnite Sensation is likely Zappa's most offensive oevre: the picture frame that surrounds the cover artwork is one step short of nasty. Kind of a modern Heironymus Bosch.

Camarillo Brillo is only one of several songs on the album that push the limits of the acceptable  - that is assuming that you are not among those who find rock 'n roll to be the devil's music to start with, of course. But this goes well beyond what the 1950's critics had in mind when they condemned rock. Just check it out:

She stripped away
Her rancid poncho
An' laid out naked by the door
We did it till we were un-concho
An' it was useless any more

For my part, back when this came out and I was in my impressionable 20s, I memorized every line of the lyrics. I can still more or less sing along the entirety of the album from memory - 40+ years later. It was/is Zappa's irreverence for societal norms that brought meaning to his music. Aside from his guitar chops: the YouTube live versions don't even approach the guitar skills of this, the studio version.