This 1996 interview with the Butthole Surfers was one of the more enjoyable I can remember, mostly because all three members are equal parts smart and hilarious. Though they clearly enjoyed toying with the journalist, they just as clearly couldn’t help keeping their brains engaged with whatever the hell was going on around them. The bit where Gibby Haynes read the Park Police dude’s jacket backwards was when I realized I was having a good time. “Crap essilop” — I still say it to myself, sometimes.
We might as well start with the question Gibby Haynes asks at the beginning of “Birds,” the first song on the Butthole Surfers’ new album, Electric Larryland: “All right. What are we doing here?”
What Gibby, guitarist Paul Leary and drummer King Coffey are doing here, over lunch in an Austin restaurant, is alternately tolerating and annoying the interviewer. But what are they doing here, in 1996, with their second major-label release (and their who-the-hell-can-keep-count-anymore release, career-wise)? Why are they still recording? Why are we still listening? More importantly, why aren’t they dead?
Capitol Records hasn’t messed with their sound (well, sounds), but the moment a company with deep pockets singled them out as potential money-makers, a small portion of the Butthole’s danger and mystique evaporated. Hey — it’s a fair trade. Besides, their name is almost quaint, now that Detective Sipowicz gets to say “asshole” once a week on ABC. The band, which at one point included two drummers, a naked dancer, and a dog, is down to the three gentlemen at this table. They don’t look like Keith Richards just yet, but Paul’s got a healthy paunch happening, and King’s hair is disappearing. None of the above is really the band’s fault, but it might affect the way some folks listen to the new album. No matter how bizarre a thing you do, once you do it long enough it stops being fascinating and starts being merely admirable.
For a long moment in the 1980’s, the Butthole Surfers were as deep underground and as far over the top as rock bands get. They were grating. They were revelatory. They were frightening as fuck and funny to boot. Electric Larryland is many of these things, but time and circumstance will probably prevent it from becoming legendary. That’s just fine with me, since I’ll take good art over cool art any day. And we can assume it’s also fine with Gibby, Paul and King, since they’ve already got legends up their collective wazoo.
Most everyone has or has heard a Butthole Surfers story. Gibby fucked the naked dancer on stage. Gibby shared a room with Kurt in rehab. Or, my personal favorite, Gibby met Amy Carter and rubbed his dick on the handle of her suitcase minutes before Jimmy Carter himself lifted said suitcase by the newly-anointed handle. I’ve got a massive stack of Butthole press clippings beside me and, in general, the only writers who bother to mention their music are the ones who dismiss it as overrated. I figure this phenomenon is mostly due to journalists using the Buttholes as a convenient excuse to indulge their gonzo fantasies, until I try to interview the band myself.
They do everything they can to avoid talking about their music. They insist it’s just a bunch of worthless shit they made up cause they had nothing better to do and they needed money. Ask about a specific album, or song, and they feel honor bound to act like they hate it. That’s fine, if you’re talking about Independent Worm Saloon, their Capitol debut, which I happen to think is execrable. (They seem to agree, but I don’t believe half of anything they say, so who knows). But dammit, I like this new record, and funny as Paul’s stories about wacky shits his dog has taken are, I’d rather talk about the songs.
PAUL: The hit songs got recorded in Bearsville, with our big shot producer. And the stuff that sounds like it should be flushed was done in Austin.
RG: Which are the hit songs?
PAUL: I think the first single is gonna be “Pepper.” It’s the one that we forgot to put bass guitar on, so it figures that would be the one they pick for a single. The one song we’re not gonna be able to play live. We weren’t able to play it in the studio, so how are we gonna play it live?
GIBBY: We’d like to take any credit away, immediately, from Steve Thompson. An overpriced producer.
RG: What’d he get?
GIBBY: A hard time from me.
PAUL: Once we found out he worked on the Blues Traveler, well, that just clinched it.
KING: God, do I hate the Blues Traveler.
GIBBY: I was at a meeting at Capitol Records talking to video people and they were saying, “Gibby is the newscaster, Gibby is all this.” I was like, fuck that shit. Let’s just get the singer from Blues Traveler. Cuz they wouldn’t put him in his own video, so we’ll put him in ours.
KING: Suddenly, I like the Blues Traveler.
GIBBY: (watching a pair of Park Police in shorts sit down at a table across from us) Man, they shouldn’t give a fat twenty-three year old a gun to carry around in public.
RG: I want to talk to you guys about the music a lot. It just seems like there’s so much Surfers’ lore, that seems to overshadow the music. How do you guys feel about that?
PAUL: I don’t know. I don’t care. If we were making really good music, you know, then it might be kind of upsetting if they were concentrating on our scatological past. But since we’re making schlock like everyone else . . .
RG: You’re being self-deprecating, but since you’ve been doing it for fifteen years, I assume you take it somewhat seriously.
PAUL: I don’t know. We’re musicians, you know. We make records, tour, and that kind of crap. It all seems so cut and dry. It’s like digging a hole. You dig it, and then you fill it back up again.
KING: The whole music press, as far as what you’re getting at, it’s almost no win. If they talk about music it will bore us to tears, if you talk about the lore it will bore us to tears. The music press itself is a boring thing. It’s like the Ceramics Press. Who cares? Go home! Quit reading Raygun magazine. Just look at the pretty pictures.
PAUL: Wipe your ass with Raygun magazine.
KING: That’s right.
PAUL: Raygun magazine will probably be lucky if it makes it to my ass.
RG: But this is your guys lives.
KING: I know.
PAUL: Isn’t that pitiful?
GIBBY: It’s such a drag. It’s causing me so much anxiety. I completely had an anxiety attack at the dentist the other day. I fucking went nuts. I started twitching.
RG: Was that cuz of the dentist or cuz of your life?
GIBBY: Cuz of my fucking life.
KING: Capitol Records hasn’t coughed up the psychoanalysts yet.
PAUL: In fact, they’re holding back the psychoanalysts. Capitol has hired all their services until the group–
GIBBY: Fuck group therapy, man. You just end up fucking saying shit. Everybody sits around, waits for big juicy tidbits to roll out of your mouth. They don’t give shit away, you’re sitting there blubbering about your fucking father’s penis. I hate group therapy. It sucks.
RG: I take it you’ve been.
GIBBY: Who hasn’t?
RG: Tell me how a Butthole Surfers song gets written.
PAUL: Sometimes they’re written by kitchen appliances. Literally. Remember when the coffeepot wrote a song?
RG: Let’s start with Gibby. How do you write lyrics?
GIBBY: Man, I haven’t a clue, but I know it’s the easiest thing in the world. That’s why I do it.
RG: Do words come first, or do you write em to music, or do you all just get together and babble?
GIBBY: A mishmash of all those.
KING: All I know is that the producer presses play on the drum machine and somebody comes and takes my picture. It’s great.
RG: You get a full share for that?
KING: Oh yeah. You kidding?
GIBBY: A fool’s share?
PAUL: He gets a completely equal share of our massive debt to Capitol Records.
GIBBY: You know why they like us so much? I heard a bunch of people go, “Hey, man, be cool to these guys, they’re a recouped band.” I’ve heard ’em say that a bunch of times.
RG: What do you think of all the folks who’ve bought every single one of your records?
GIBBY: Oh, that’s a real touchy subject.
KING: Hide the sharp knives.
GIBBY: Those people, they come to the show and they’re so into it, man, they see a fly come flying across the stage and their girlfriend kind of nudges ’em, and he’s like, “Man, that’s what Gibby wanted, man. Gibby planned that. That’s what Gibby’s about. Gibby’s a survivor, man.”
KING: “So Gibby, where’d you get these flies?” “Were you into flies as a kid?” “I fly.”
PAUL: I was into flies as a kid.
I’m pretty good at detecting mock-humility from asshole musicians, so take my word: the Butthole Surfers are dead serious when they dismiss their own creations. And honestly, that just makes me like them more. The Butthole Surfers for me have always been one of those bands I’m glad exists but I don’t go buy their albums. I’m not a big fan of music that requires patience, or explanation. Which is why one of the questions I’ve written down on my little notepad is, “Ever listen to something you’ve done in the past and decided it was bullshit?” But Paul answers that one before I even get around to asking it.
PAUL: I went out and bought a copy of Cream Corn on vinyl since I don’t have any. I haven’t listened to that in fucking eight years. It cracked me up. I listened to “Moving to Florida.” It sounds so awful bad. It’s so fucking bad.
PAUL: Yeah, it is. It sounds bad enough to be good.
RG: I was wondering if you ever listen to old stuff you did and just shake your head and go, “That was bullshit!”
It’s enlightening to hear that Gibby and company don’t feel obligated to love or justify everything that comes out of them; they just feel obligated to let it happen. But you can still honor the creative process without willfully ignoring its results. Butthole songs are kind of like conspiracy theories: you can tack any explanation on them and it will sound plausible, but unlikely. Nonetheless, there are hints on Larryland‘s first six or seven songs that the boys are suddenly unsure of their mission. “Birds,” which is played fast and straight, apart from Gibby’s somewhat processed vocal, goes something like, “Wham bam/it’s a scam/garbled/garbled/we got nothing better to say,” and then sums up, “You can never do anything/that’s never been done before.”
So, maybe the pressure of being a freak show is getting to them. They all have options for outside lives: Paul’s been claiming to have no idea what he’s doing behind the soundboard for years now, but he’s an accomplished producer nonetheless. King’s running his own record company, Trance Syndicate. And Gibby had a brief stint last summer as a disc jockey on Austin’s new alternative station, which an article in the Austin Chronicle intimated was part of an overall effort on Haynes’ part to become a little more, ahem, responsible.
Now, I have no idea if Gibby’s stint in rehab took. I don’t ask, because a) I’m a WASP and it’s not polite; and b) I don’t care, I’m just glad he’s alive and hope he stays that way; he’s incredibly fun to talk to. But I am curious about a lot of the new lyrics. On most of those first several songs, the band seems content to sit back and describe weird stuff they’ve seen, whereas they used to fearlessly lead us into the depths. The arrangements are more standard than a lot of the Butthole’s back catalog, too, although I can’t decide if these are normal songs struggling to sound weird, or the other way around. “Pepper”‘s the strangest of the bunch, albeit in a radio-friendly way. A line like, “If you want to touch the sky/you must be prepared to die” would sound cool from almost any other band, but it’s maybe a little toothless coming from the folks who brought us, “There’s a time to shit and a time for God/the last shit I took was pretty fucking odd.” Larryland at times is almost more adult, although that might just mean the Butthole Surfers have stopped acting like five year olds and started acting like eight year olds. Again, none of that is bad. Just intriguing.
Die-hards shouldn’t be scared off, though. Each song on the disc manages to start off with a new reason not to keep listening. And side two (an arbitrary distinction these days, Gibby points out, but press folk work from advance cassettes) gets both strange and satisfying, as if the band spent the first side doing their best to be regular guys in a regular band, but just couldn’t fucking help themselves. The narrator of “My Brother’s Wife” tells us, “There was a time/when I thought/that no longer/am I a slave/to my mind,” before obsessing about his sister-in-law’s ass.
How much of that progression is intentional, or a figment of my imagination, or a product of heading into an Austin studio producerless to purge the bad taste in their mouths after working with Steve Thompson is open to debate, since the band don’t seem to know or care themselves. For what it’s worth, though, the only time I see the boys get animated about their music is when the discussion swings round to some of the selections on Larryland‘s second half.
RG: Back to the music. Gibby’s got some words. We’re not sure how they came up or what they’re written down on.
GIBBY: It’s all three of those ways you’re talking about. Blubbering, words first, music first.
RG: Give me an example. What was words first?
GIBBY: A horrible song that that happens on. That would be a “TV Star,” or a “Jingle of the Dog’s Collar” type song.
RG: So this was written down on a piece of paper somewhere?
GIBBY: No, in my head. That song was weird, cause I hummed the melody to Paul, and Paul kind of played along, tried to figure out what I was singing. It’s like different every time by very minute detunings, deliveries, different pitch. It has to be. No two tits are exactly the same size. Can’t be.
RG: Pick one that was music first.
PAUL: “Cough Syrup.” “Birds.” “Ulcer Breakout.” “Lord is a Monkey.”
GIBBY: They’re rare, to be words first.
KING: Then there’re some songs where the French government commissions us to come up with a song. Those are really special.
RG: Is there a story behind “Let’s Talk About Cars?”
GIBBY: That was a true group effort.
RG: Who’s speaking French on that one?
GIBBY: These friends of mine. This French couple. That song started out as me playing the keyboard, two notes, two chords. And then Paul and King started playing with it. And then Paul said it would be funny if we had a French guy talking, and then King suggested a French guy and a French girl, totally panned, talking back to each other.
PAUL: I get a little wood every time I hear that French female.
GIBBY: I really think that song could be huge in France.
RG: Did you tell them what to say, or did they just make it up?
GIBBY: I prompted them. Through various techniques. They start talking about violence and American football, and then they talk about Andy Warhol.
PAUL: My favorite was, “Why do your breasts taste like pub food?” How do you answer that question?
KING: “You heard me!”
PAUL: I wish someone would pay me to not do my own music. It would be like the farming subsidies, the government paying farmers to not grow. If someone could do that to me, I’ll fucking stop right now.
KING: I think parents would pay a lot more money for us to not make music than kids actually buy our music. Let’s look into that. Get parents to all chip in and make us not make music.
PAUL: That’s right. We will stop, for a price.
RG: So why do you keep doing it? Why do the Butthole Surfers still exist?
KING: For the kids, for the kids.
PAUL: Cause the mailman keeps bringing the damn bills.
GIBBY: Every month they come.
PAUL: My wife has credit cards.
KING: We have dogs to feed.
RG: I’m serious. If you at least have shots at outside lives, why do you keep doing this?
PAUL: We were serious. We need the fucking money.
RG: All right. You guys are gonna be touring, I assume.
PAUL: Yeah, next month. We go to Europe next month. Then come back. We’ll be shitting all over America.
RG: Who’s playing bass, or are you just gonna do “Pepper?”
PAUL: We’re gonna forget to have a bass player on this tour.
KING: Let’s give the kids what they want. Ninety minutes of “Pepper.” I’ll just press play on that drum machine.
RG: Tell me about “Pepper.”
KING: Kids dig it.
RG: What do you think of it?
KING: Kids dig it.
GIBBY: Seventy per cent of those surveyed.
KING: That’s right, according to market strategy, the kids dig it.
RG: Does Capitol really do market research like that?
ALL: Oh, yeah!
RG: And they tell you the results?
GIBBY: If they’re good. They have listening parties where they get a bunch of 18 to 30s together.
RG: What do you think of “Pepper,” Gibby?
GIBBY: You know what movie I saw the other night? That post-nuclear holocaust movie with that Downs syndrome kid. It’s like a tug of war at a leper colony.
PAUL: My favorite thing about “Pepper” is that Steve Thompson came up with a tempo for the song, and asked if he could have publishing for it. No, Steve, the speed of a song does not writing make. And so then he decided to claim that he wrote the guitar part, because he asked me to play guitar on it. “Paul, play something in G.” That’s all right. We ended up taking credit for the production.
RG: Is there any stuff on the record that was done exclusively down here?
PAUL: Yeah. “Birds,” “Cough Syrup,” “Ulcer Breakout,” that song with the French people . . .
GIBBY: “My Brother’s Wife.”
PAUL: Yeah, “My Brother’s Wife.” “Her car/Her ass/her ass/her ass.”
RG: I like that. You say, “her car” before you say, “her ass.” Do you have a brother, and does he have a wife?
GIBBY: No. These friends of mine had a friend that went to Fanfare in Nashville. The artists have their booths, and this one guy had a record he was selling, this country and western guy in Nashville, and the record was called My Brother’s Wife.
PAUL: “Her ass/her ass/her ass.”
RG: See? Now you’re talking about one of your songs like you like it.
KING: For that song, Paul came in with a Mondrian drawing. “Here’s this song I want us to do.” It was this Mondrian drawing, then he explained little blocks of stuff.
GIBBY: It was more like a Duchamp style piece. By the time you wrote down your idea, it was too late, because your idea was in fact the true art.
PAUL: That particular song has thirty-six drum kits all going at the same time. You hear this rumble, it’s like thirty-six drum kits all at the same time. I made King play this song over and over and over and over. I wouldn’t let him listen to any of his other tracks when he was doing it, so nothing’s in time. It’s all fucked up.
KING: That song, it wasn’t the music or lyrics that was done first, it was the graph.
RG: Do you have any plans for the show this time out?
PAUL: That reminds us. We’ve got to have a show.
GIBBY: Our light guy left us for Travis Tritt.
RG: Seriously, are you thinking about it at all?
PAUL: No. Seriously, no.
RG: I still haven’t found out. Who’s gonna play bass?
PAUL: We’re working on that. It’s gonna be the fat guy with the gun over there.
GIBBY: Crap. Crap Essilop. “Park Police” backwards.
RG: How long did that take you?
GIBBY: I just looked at his back and it came to my mind.
RG: There’s a line in “Birds.” “You can never do anything that’s never been done before.” Are you guys feeling that way these days?.
GIBBY: Oh, that’s a bunch of fucking AA jargon.
PAUL: Shut up. We’re gonna have to pay AA publishing. I finally got wind of this fucking concept. There’s cold hells and hot hells. There’s like six cold hells and eleven hot hells or something. Are you familiar with this?
KING: There’s six realms.
GIBBY: And then there’s the never-ending frozen dinner with Phyllis Diller. Now let’s mention the lunar eclipse. Did you see it? It was cool. I was a luna-tic.
RG: Boy, do you guys hate talking about what you do.
KING: No, we don’t. Well . . . what do we do? I don’t know. We’ve made a living by not thinking about what we do.
RG: So how long does it take to write and record a song?
PAUL: Sometimes five minutes, sometimes five years.
RG: If you don’t think about what you do, why does it take five years?
GIBBY: Try to get something done without thinking about it. (Satisfied laughter; he wins).
PAUL: But it’s the only credible way to do anything. People talk about writing songs and music. Man, there’s no writing, there’s no fucking stinking music. It’s one goddamn note with a bunch of crappy shit all over it. And that’s not us, it’s everybody. It’s fucking crap, it’s all a load of shit. I don’t listen to rock music. I think rock music stinks. You couldn’t pay me to listen to this shit.
RG: So how do you make a living as a producer?
PAUL: Well, I get paid. You do have to pay me to listen to it.
RG: What’d you get paid for Euripides Pants? (This is a jazz band Paul just finished producing, for free). They’re not rock, but you told me you hate jazz, too.
PAUL: Ok. Busted. I like Euripides Pants. But that’s the only thing I like.
RG: Is there anything out there you guys like?
GIBBY: The exact opposite of the bands we’re touring with.
RG: Who’re you touring with?
GIBBY: The exact opposite of the bands we’d like to tour with. It’d be cool to go out with Nick Cave, Type O Negative and the Chemical Brothers. That would be my dream tour.
PAUL: Man, I want a portrait of a horse.
RG: When and why did you change the album title?
GIBBY: Rodgers and Hammerstein — the people at the fucking record label freaked out cause they thought that Rodgers and Hammerstein were gonna sue us.
PAUL: Hey, wake up, they’re dead.
KING: Rodgers and Hammerstein would have let us use Flower Drum Song, cause that musical didn’t make ’em as much money as Oklahoma! When we went for Oklahoma! we went over the line. We even attempted to use the exclamation point. That really pissed ’em off.
GIBBY: Was Flower Drum Song an entire musical, or was that just something from–
KING: It’s a musical, goddammit.
GIBBY: It’s a whole musical?
KING: Uh-huh. Not as famous as South Pacific.
RG: He knows his show tunes, obviously.
KING: Yes, I went to drama. I was a drama student. There you go.
RG: What was your biggest role?
KING: Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank.
RG: How were you?
KING: I was brilliant. I had them weeping. They were crying. I was a good Jew.
PAUL: Man, I’m looking at that house over there, I could have sworn a minute ago it was over there. That really freaks me out. Did that house move?
PAUL: I swear.
RG: The universe is expanding.
PAUL: They’re not sure about that. There are entire galaxies that are moving in directions which are contradictory to the expanding universe theory.
RG: Man, what do you guys read? I thought I was up to date.
PAUL: That’s the whole business with the invisible dark matter that makes up ninety percent of the universe. The way most of our galaxy is does not correspond with the amount of mass that we relate to those galaxies. Everything is happening completely wrong.
GIBBY: I heard Mars be referred to as the fall guy for the solar system.
PAUL: NASA will not let you look at photos of Mars anymore, until they have edited them. There is civilizations on the moon and on Mars, there is bold conclusive evidence — you laugh, but I’m not fucking–
RG: I’m laughing at that one.
PAUL: There is a triangle on the moon in the middle of a crater that is always at the closest point to the earth. There is a perfect triangle. There is an entire fifteen mile high city of glass, the remains of a fifteen mile high city of glass. If you were on the moon, and you were gonna build a city, the silicates on the moon would be perfect to build a glass city. Fucking Apollo 11 almost crashed into the fucking glass city. It’s amazing we never lost moon missions because they crashed into the city of glass. And the angles that are on the structures on Mars — you know, the face, the pyramids, all that shit on Mars — if you look at all the angles and add it together it explains why there are hot spots on the earth, and hot spots on every planet in the solar system all at the same latitude. You know, thirty-three degrees? That’s why shit’s going down in the Philippines. It’s all explained on Mars.
KING: There’s a hot spot on my dog.
GIBBY: Yeah, there’s a hot spot on the base of my dog’s tail.
RG: Wow. I wish you would talk that passionately about your music.
PAUL: That is my music, man.
KING: We’re astronauts.
RG: In “TV Star,” there’s a line that goes, “Something else you oughta know too/did something weird,” and then it stops. It makes you wonder, what the fuck could be so weird that Gibby Haynes would not tell the world?
GIBBY: (cackles). Well, I wouldn’t tell you. The real line goes, “something weird in your bathroom.”
PAUL: Yeah, that’s right. That’s what it was.
RG: So why’d you take it out?
RG: “Oh! Don’t ask me about what I do!” It’s just an interview. (Talk turns to everybody’s dogs. Paul says that Mark Farner, the canine that was practically a member of the band, died on January 27th).
PAUL: My favorite memory of Mark Farner is when she went outside to take a shit. It was coming out, and it was pressing up against a piece of Johnson grass. The Johnson grass was straining from the weight of the log, and when it finished coming out, it released the pressure. The Johnson grass slung the turd like a little javelin. It was awesome.
Paul Leary has a talent for eventually bringing any topic of conversation around to shitting. It’s not surprising, since the Butthole Surfers have spent most of their career singing and talking about anything. Certainly the little guys in their heads who are supposed to censor man’s baser instincts were killed off long ago. Or maybe not killed, just bribed with booze and hallucinogens till they were won over to the other side. Now, instead of guarding the locked doors of their minds, those little men scurry around kicking them in and yelling, “Whoah! Look at the stuff I found in here!” Apart from one line about an Ivy League co-ed who cuts off Gibby’s balls and sews them to his head, however, Larryland is noticeably free of lyrical shocks. Temporary aberration or new dedication to being serious? Appropriately perverse, the Butthole Surfers insist they’ve never been particularly obscene.
KING: When it looked like there was a threat that they were gonna start putting ratings on records, we realized pretty early that we would be hurt. They’d put on like a G or PG rating on our records. The kids are buying Butthole Surfer records for shock value, even though there’s nothing particularly shocking in the words. If there’s a G rating on this rock record, no self-respecting kid is gonna buy it. The whole point of rock music is to offend your parents.
RG: But you sing and talk about shit quite a bit, which Bruce Springsteen doesn’t do.
KING: Is that true? Do you sing and talk about shit a lot?
KING: This New York boy is claiming you do.
PAUL: I think he sings like shit is what he meant.
KING: Let’s get a rope.
GIBBY: Give me an example.
RG: “The last shit I took was pretty fucking odd.”
KING: That was like twenty-five years ago.
GIBBY: I didn’t sing that.
PAUL: I said it. But Gibby told me to say it.
GIBBY: Next example.
RG: I said, “sing and talk about it.” We’ve been talking about it all day.
GIBBY: Yeah, I think that was early on. We got tired of body humor real early.
RG: “Chewin George Lucas’ Chocolate.”
GIBBY: That’s Paul’s.
RG: I didn’t say you, Gibby, I said you plural.
GIBBY: The band in general?
PAUL: You know, we put out fifteen records. If there’s two references to feces on fifteen records, that’s not a whole lot of feces.
RG: But you talk about it quite a bit.
RG: You want me to play the tape back?
PAUL: No! Did we talk about shit?
RG: The first thing you said to me.
PAUL: What did I say?
RG: Pointing out your car.
PAUL: OK. The bird took nine shits on my car. In a four inch space on my car. Nine shits.
KING: You’ve got to recognize that. That’s reality. That’s staring at you in the windshield.
PAUL: I mean, he must have eaten and come back and gone for some more.
KING: Paul would be highly disturbed if he didn’t mention that.
PAUL: Yeah, some people ignore that.
If their lyrics really are less vulgar than they appear, this doesn’t mean the Butthole Surfers have been misunderstood. It’s just an indication of how little travelling you actually have to do once you cross Decent Society’s borders. And further proof that their offstage capering is as much a part of the Butthole Surfers experience as their recordings — for the band as well as their audience. I’ll tell you the truth: the two hours I spend listening to the Butthole Surfers talk are more entertaining and enlightening than any one of their records, and they barely seem excited or inspired today. Gibby in particular plays with sentences like toys, picking them up and breaking them apart to see what else they can do. (When someone mentions a tar shack, Gibby goes, “Tar shack? That’s a good last name. Tarshack. That’s a basketball coach. Jim Tarshack.”) If they truly want nothing more than money, they can save a bundle on studio time by just releasing cerebral comedy records.
But comedy records suck, because you can only listen to them once, and then they’re simply dull. You get the impression the Butthole Surfers treat rock music the same way they treat their everyday lives: as comedy records they’ve already heard. It’s desperately boring material, but all they have to work with, so they’ll do everything they can with it to amuse themselves.
So what if they only manage to please themselves for seconds at a time? The rest of us get to go, “Wow.”