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Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Retro!  Five Bands Vol. 2 - Artists who are Batshit Insane

(updated from the original published post on

Real rock and roll has always been the music of the rebellious. As such, it has attracted artists who live their lives creatively and literally on the edge. For every “down to Earth” rock star like Dave Grohl, there are easily four more who would rather refer to themselves as “The Artist” and who want pink toilet paper in the hotel bathroom, not because they can get away with asking for it but because they truly believe it is partially responsible for the proper flow of their creative juices.

Now making outlandish demands and telling people to lower their eyes when talking to you does not necessarily make you “batshit insane”. That’s a title that is actually kind of hard to come by. It’s what sets apart the eccentric artist from the dangerous, “don’t leave him alone with live animals” artist. When I saw someone is batshit insane, I don’t mean they refuse to put an album out because they have self-confidence issues (Axl Rose). I mean there’s a distinct possibility that if the soundcheck doesn’t go right, they could literally take a hostage.

I love batshit insane people who play music. I don’t like actually being in bands with them, mind you. They’re really annoying to deal with on that level, but watching them from the sidelines is never less than entertaining. You go to any concert featuring a band member who's thinking is cock-eyed and while you’ll probably hear a less than stellar performance, there’s always the chance of a pubic hair fire and ranting about grasshoppers. 

Here, take my own personal experience.  You may walk up to the front of the club a little early to find some guy curled up on the ground in front of the door, soaking in his own urine and asking you for a “cigarette to chew” (which he promptly did when given one). Then you may see him a couple of hours later front a killer band onstage and afterwards, he may walk up to your date and talk with her lucidly and eloquently for 10 solid minutes about plays by Ibsen all the while smelling like piss and alcohol.

The band was Smoke. The singer was Benjamin. I’m pretty sure he’s dead now, but damn if he wasn’t electrifying on stage.

What follows is a list of five artists who definitely qualify as “batshit insane”.  Some of them don't necessarily deserve celebration.  However you can't make a list like this and leave these people off.  You may not agree with my picks and if so, feel free to let me know who you think I missed.

1. Lee “Scratch” Perry

Really, there is absolutely no denying that this man leads the pack of the batshit insane. He’s a total and complete lunatic who also happens to be a production genius and a pioneer musically. Perry once burned his own legendary Black Ark studio to the ground because he thought it was possessed by Satan himself. Think about that. He found gasoline and matches and burned the invading spirits out of his studio. Still don’t think he qualifies? What about the time he stayed in the US with a prominent record producer, rounded up all the televisions in the house and proceeded to bury them in the back yard? How about the times he baptized people on the street outside his studio with a garden hose?

That, folks, is what I mean by “batshit insane”. Now, he’s 79 years old and in a much more stable frame of mind. He lives in Switzerland with his wife and children and is still actively writing and performing.

2. Mayhem 

 Yeah, pretty much the entire band belongs on this list. At least their original lineup does. Mayhem were really the first band to bring Norwegian Black Metal to a wide audience and part o the reason their reputation spread was because they were such complete lunatics. All the members were obsessed with being the most evil band on the planet. In true “evil” fashion they turned on one another. The first victim was lead singer, Dead, who decided this world was too much for him. He shot himself in the head and when guitarist Euronymous found him, he didn’t call the police. No, instead he took some pictures, picked up some pieces of Dead’s skull and ate a small piece of Dead’s brain. He brought the skull pieces back to the band’s drummer, Hellhammer (no,I’m not making these names up), who fashioned some jewelry out of them and wears them still. That’s not all though. Because of the brain eating thing, Euronymous got quite the reputation as a bad ass, so in a fit of jealousy (”I want to be most evil!”) bass player Count Grishnackh stabbed him over 20 times. In fact, Grishnackh later testified that he counted the 20 times on purpose because he wanted to out do another Black Metaller who was on trial for stabbing a complete stranger repeatedly.

All this and much more can be found in a great book called Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind. As for their music, point your sights to De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas if you’re curious. Try not to kill anybody finding it.

3. Jaz Coleman 

This guy is one of my favorites. The lead singer/leader of Killing Joke, Jaz is one crazy son of a bitch. He’s one of these guys who is super smart, but is also subject to flights of weirdness and odd belief that will make your head spin. He moved to Iceland in the early 1980’s to await the end of the world. It didn’t come but he worked with the band that would eventually become the Sugarcubes so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Still, moving to another country to await the apocalypse wouldn’t seem so weird in itself, except that he was kind enough to leave us a full length album where he detailed his beliefs in black magic and why he thought the world would end soon. That was nice of him wasn’t it? It’s a Killing Joke album called The Courtauld Talks. It was recorded after his return and it consist of one continuous track where Coleman talks about demonology, the imminent return of The Elder Gods and why he things H.P. Lovecraft wasn’t writing fiction but was channeling a voice from beyond. During his talk, he’s backed by Killing Joke, although the music mostly consists of soft guitar and percussion. There’s a really incredible part where he talks about how by using musical chords constructed from numerological studies, we can help drive back the demons we’re unintentionally awaking through war and violence. He demonstrates… ‘nuff said.

For the record, insanity aside Killing Joke has made some of the best post-punk records in the history of the genre and their resurgence in the 2000’s has them hitting a new high mark. If that’s your kind of music, check out their 2003 self-titled comeback album or the unstoppable 2010 album Absolute Dissent. Meanwhile, have no fear. Coleman still believes Cthulu is coming any minute and I’m sure he’s praying to be eaten first.

4. G.G. Allin

This guy was a given for this list. Did you know his actual given name was Jesus Christ? See… crazy runs in the family. Allin made a name for himself by shocking audiences and critics. His act was banned from many a town across this great land of ours and each time he played, the word got out to a few more people who suddenly craved an opportunity to see him. Allin would take the stage in a jockstrap and proceed to urinate on audience members during the set. He’d been known to defecate in his hand and throw it at the audience. He even tried (unsuccessfully) to have sex with a dead cat during a performance. He was a pen pal of John Wayne Gacy (the notorious serial killer). He did the talk show circuit and once told Sally Jesse Raphael that he was the father of the girl who was accompanying him and that they practiced incest. It was completely fabricated (Allin had one daughter who “distanced herself from the family” for obvious reasons). I saw this episode and watching the audience and hosts reactions were hilarious.

Needless to say, Allin was bent on shocking people. That much is obvious, but the fact that he lived exactly like he performed qualifies him for true “batshit insane” status. This was not an act. He really was one of the most disturbed and disgusting performers in the history of rock and roll. Allin died of a drug overdose and was buried in New Hampshire wearing a jockstrap that said “Eat Me”.

If you want to experience G.G. Allin, then don’t look to CDs. Get the documentary Hated and you’ll get a great look at what this guy was like. As for music, stick with the compilation Expose Yourself: The Singles Collection 1977-1991. 

5. Captain Beefheart

Now the great thing about Captain Beefheart is that he wasn’t violent crazy like many of the people mentioned above. No, he was old-fashioned, out-of-his-gourd, eccentric to the nth level crazy. Case in point, while rehearsing for his famous Trout Mask Replica album (of which I have a near mint condition vinyl copy… just sayin’…) he surrounded himself with an accomplished band and literally locked them into a house for eight months. During that time, no one was allowed to leave. Food was brought in weekly. Beefheart would try to communicate the songs he was hearing in his head via humming or piano. Here’s the batshit insane part. He couldn’t play piano and when the musicians couldn’t properly interpret his vision, he would explode in fits of rage.

He was very strict about his vision, to the point of being a tyrant. The results though were never less than interesting and many times they were pure genius. He also made it a point to confuse the press and public as much as possible, once telling Rolling Stone that he himself taught two of the musicians on Trout Mask Replica how to play their instruments “from scratch”. In fact, they were both more than fluent when he hired them.

Beefheart was a hands down musical genius, but it’s my opinion that the insanity fed the genius in this case. He died in 2010 at the age of 69.

There are loads more artists I could list, but most of them seem to get their “crazy” from drugs or alcohol. These five seem to come by theirs naturally, so that’s why they’re featured. If you think I should add one, hit me up on the comments.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


FIVE BANDS - Vol. 1 - My Top 5 Favorite New Finds

Years ago, I wrote a column for a website called  It was called Five Bands and each post would feature five artists who fit some theme.  It was one of my favorite things to write about so I'm resurrecting it.   

When Mike sent my head spinning with that Bloodshot Records compilation, I came home and started digging deep into their catalog and for every artist I found on their label, I found two or sometimes three more connected to Bloodshot in some way but on another label. The result was a staggering amount of new (to me) artists that I’m still exploring.

For this inaugural Five Bands, let’s talk about the five artists who blew my mind more than any others over the last two years.

1. Lydia Loveless

More Like Them

Lydia Loveless does not sing modern country music. She does not sing traditional country music. She’s hard to define and that’s exactly why I love her. She has the voice of a seasoned country superstar packaged in the body of a punk rock loving teenager and the results are pure, unadulterated magic. That she writes her own material makes it even better. That she’ll cover a song like Elvis Costello’s “Alison” for her Record Store Day release ups the ante even more. Each new album has been five steps better than the last one but my personal favorite is Indestructible Machine.  I cannot wait to see where she ends up being in the pantheon of music in 20 years. Check out “More Like Them” to get a taste.  It's equal parts Neko Case and The Replacements, plus if you listen to the lyrics you’ll hear her examining her real life issue of social anxiety in a way that’s smart and even funny in places. 

2. Patty Griffin


Truth #2

This one is a much more traditional sound.  That voice of Lydia Loveless that I spoke about? Patty Griffin has it also but it’s packaged in the seasoned mind and body of an expert in her craft. She writes songs that tell stories in ways that I couldn’t tell if given 10,000 words. If you don’t believe me, just listen to “Chief” or “Making Pies” from the album 1000 Kisses. That it took me this long to discover her makes me sad, and the way I found her was so out of the ordinary it was pure luck. 

I’d heard a song by The Dixie Chicks called “Truth #2”. I went to look up the album it was from and found they didn’t write it. Who is this Patty Griffin person? So I go to look for the song on iTunes and it looks like she never recorded it. That’s odd because it’s an amazing song. I dig a little deeper and soon I find that this song is from a lost album she recorded for A&M and they shelved. So then I pull out the big freakin’ steam shovel and scoop down further to finally find a bootleg copy of the studio album. The rest is history and accounts for about sixty songs on my iPod. The good news is that album (Silver Bell) finally got an official release so you can find a much better mix on iTunes now. Check out “Truth #2” and tell me that chorus isn’t pure genius. Then check out any of her other fine albums. You won’t be disappointed. 

3. Findlay

Off & On

A freakin’ car commercial helped me discover this band. My family is an Olympics obsessed family. Every two years, we’re glued to the television and internet while the games are on and that means we can’t avoid the commercial. During the 2014 Winter Olympics, the song “Off & On” was played probably 5,000 times in a commercial for either BMW or Mercedes or something. That’s not important. I can’t endorse the car. What I can endorse is you finding their EP Off & On. It’s the only thing they’ve officially released so far and I love all four songs on it. The stop, slow, speed up, sprint pace of the title track is what sold me but there’s so much great stuff here. Also, for what it's worth this is the only band on this list that my daughter also endorses. 

4. Dave Alvin

Signal Hill

He was the guitar player in The Blasters and the writer of their biggest hit “Marie Marie”. That song has become iconic and has transcended musical styles and genres. He’s got a distinctive voice but what sets him apart in my mind is his songwriting. Like Patty Griffin he can tell a story musically that rivals the greatest novelists of all time. Plus his catalog goes all the way back to 1987 so there’s a ton here to explore. He wrote one of my favorite late-period X songs (”4th of July”) as well as one of my favorite Dwight Yoakam songs (”Long White Cadillac”). Check out “Signal Hill”, a bruiser of a song from the extended edition of the album Eleven Eleven.  It's about lost dreams and losers in a town my old band used to play regularly.

5. Bobby Bare Jr.

Let's Rock and Roll

And here’s the artist who sent me down that Bloodshot rabbit hole. The son of an iconic country artist, Bobby Bare Jr. defies description. His song “Let’s Rock and Roll” is equal parts nursery rhyme, noise fest and pop song. At the same time, it’s the most accurate portrayal of an unknown artist playing music on the road I’ve ever heard. His album Boo-Tay under the Bare Jr. moniker is alt-country awesome, while his solo albums defy labeling but are even better. Below is the video for the song that would not leave my head after watching that Bloodshot tribute. 

Thanks Mike and thank you also Bobby Bare Jr. Maybe someday I’ll be able to shake your hand and thank you in person.