Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Turbonegro

Wasn't this the cover of the Nerve Magazine once upon a time?


Okay, so... back before I listened to old timey and avant garde music, before I listened to free jazz, before I even knew who the Sex Pistols were and situated myself firmly on one side of the tribal division between punks and metalheads, I liked metal. At age 13 or so, you'd've found me with several AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, KISS, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest albums. I saw the latter two bands on the list live, as well as Krokus, Fastway, the Blue Oyster Cult, Van Halen with David Lee Roth, and the Ronnie James Dio incarnation of Black Sabbath; when I was 13, arena rock was what live music meant to me, since I couldn't get into bars. Though I retain a fondness for the Blue Oyster Cult (and am considering actually going to see them - with only two of their original five members - at the Red Robinson Show Theatre in Coquitlam, October 23rd), and own a few Motorhead and, um, Danzig albums, these count now as somewhat "guilty pleasures;" and there was a period where I disavowed the form completely, partially because the long-haired potsmoking classic rockers and metalheads in my high school were sometimes violent and abusive to punks, and partially because the lyrics started to seem, as I worked through my adolescence, kind of disgusting, when they weren't downright stupid. I mean, check out the words to AC/DC's "Squealer" sometime -- it's kind of what a female friend of mine at the time described as "rape-headed," innit? (I mean, you tell me: what does Bon mean with the "fixed'er good" line, the stuff about how she'll "never ball no more" now that he's done with her? Yikes). I began my 13-year undergraduate degree at a time when there was a fairly active and vocal feminist movement, and since there were women of this sort whom I kinda wanted to fuck, it seemed in my best interests if I distanced myself from such styles of being male; which was pretty easy to do, because that didn't seem like the kind of guy I wanted to be. And fuck, I mean, Jello Biafra's lyrics (or Gerry Hannah's or Mike Graham's or Brian Goble's or Joe Keithley's or Penny Rimbaud's or Chris D's or Will Shatter's or Danny Nowak's or...) were just a lot more interesting than what you generally encountered in the metal camp. I'd rather listen to Crass' Penis Envy - with the women of Crass stepping to the fore - than most of the metal bands on the above list ('cept maybe Motorhead). That was true when I was 19, and is still true today.
Pause. Do you know Turbonegro's song, "I Got Erection?" If not, acquaint yourself. Their most famous tune, it's passably amusing, one must admit - at least as much fun as Iggy and the Stooges "Cock in My Pocket," and certainly much wittier than anything AC/DC are likely to produce. Turbonegro embody a sort of horny nihilism in their music that is rather attractive and repulsive at the same time, like the flopping man-tits of decadent lead singer Hank Von Helvete. (I say this as someone possessed of man-tits of approximately the same size and hairiness; it was interesting to contemplate the spectacle of a chubby bearded guy posing and strutting shirtless on the Commodore stage, singing these sorts of songs, being a chubby bearded guy myself. I'm not sure I could do what he was doing, but I wonder if I'd get fellated more often if I did? Can y'all see me in leather pants?). There's a tongue-in-cheek quality to the band that makes it all fairly engaging - like they're simultaneously celebrating and satirizing their own grossness, turning themselves into one enormous dick joke. Their humour is perhaps my favourite aspect of their self-presentation: Hank taunted the audience between songs about being "mashed potatoes," offering them a special sort of "gravy," with a hip-level hand gesture -- then later got them singing along to a spoof "Canadian national anthem" ("Canada-da-da-da"), almost as if inviting them to expose their bovine enslavement to his patter. All of which I found amusing.
Somehow it was hard to really care, however. Their lyrics, after awhile, start to remind me of exactly what I didn't much like about the phallocentric metal of my youth - I mean, "We're Gonna Drop The Atom Bomb?" We need songs like this? Plus I suspect I would have enjoyed myself more if I knew exactly who or what Turbonegro likes to have sex with. It seems most likely to me that these are (at best) horny, debauched straight guys satirically posing as gays; such are my liberal politics at this point in my life that I think I'd prefer them if they really were gay, or, indeed pretty much anything "other" than straight white males -- necrophiliacs, skullfuckers, bestiality freaks, you name it. While their image fits, I suppose, with a certain glam tradition of gender-bending, and is inseparable from their "gross joke" appeal, there's also an assertion of straight white male privilige that comes from straight dudes donning sailor suits and so forth; by posing on the margin, they're reaffirming their security in the center of things. It's not so very interesting, ultimately - more adolescent than subversive; stuff for sniggering teenagers.
So as I stood observing my enthusiastic fellow-audience members bopping along to "Denim Demon" and singing along to "Rock Against Ass," I wondered: why do I want to wait around to watch this dude stick a lit firework in his arse and wave it back and forth, exactly? Because I personally think I would enjoy doing such a thing myself, and can get a cathartic thrill from seeing it done by someone else? Because he might cut wind and badly burn his ass cheeks and I'll feel like I've missed something for not having stuck around? Because he might do something even more rude and shocking and memorable that I will regret not having seen? ...Maybe he'll take out his cock and waggle it around?
On the other hand, I reasoned, I can go get a slice of pizza, lie in bed, and read this book of Bill Hicks routines I've picked up.
By the time the band got to "Fuck the World," the latter option won out. Never did get to see "I Got Erection" performed live, but there's always the Youtube clip. Good band, enthusiastic show; I'll still spin Ass Cobra and will probably pick up one or more of their other albums at some point. I just don't care enough to stand around at the Commodore while they play. High points of the night were talking before the show to Spores Danny and Sandy Beach (also in Aging Youth Gang!) and receiving an enthusiastic spiel from Anthony Walker, aka Tony Balony, about Art Bergmann. He's got a new solo album comin' out, under the name Anthony Walker. Think I'm gonna check it out.

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