Tipper Gore and Susan Baker
YOU MUST BE WICKED UNDERGROUND IF YOU DINED WITH SETH PUTNAM
by Jeremy Kitchen
My dentist and I get along famously and she recently asked me if I had ever heard of the grindcore band Anal Cunt. I explained to her that not only I had seen AC (as they will be known here for the duration of this essay) twice, I had once taken them to a dinner party. I was sort of shocked that she liked AC because she is what I call a super progressive—someone who holds no bias toward any group of people, except groups of people who hold biases—and AC were the masters of morality-bashing parody. It would be ridiculous, however, to label them as a political band.
AC cannot be discussed without looking at frontman Seth Putnam. He made a career out of pissing people off. With song titles like, "Kill Women," "I Noticed That You're Gay," "You Look Divorced," "You're a Trendy Fucking Pussy," "Hitler Was a Sensitive Man," and "Windchimes are Gay," you can probably see why. He was an extremely prolific musician. He played in at least eighteen bands, including Adolf Satan, Full Blown AIDS, Cuntsaw, and a hate band called Vaginal Jesus.
One of my favorite shirts ever, which I wore until it fell apart, was this one:
I have heard of Putnam throwing folding chairs into the slam pit, attacking audience members, and pushing the envelope so far that eventually it really could not be pushed any further. He OD'd at one time on Xanax, heroin, and alcohol, possibly a suicide attempt depending on who you ask, and was rumored to suffer from severe depression. On return from his hospitalization, he wrote, "You're in a Coma." He used homophobic slurs without hesitation, and Vaginal Jesus was despicable. There is some debate as to whether Vaginal Jesus was a parody white power band, not an actual hate group. They were tossed off Resistance Records for "not being serious enough," but for the purposes of this essay, Putnam's pre-Vaginal Jesus days will be discussed. My evening with AC took place prior to Vaginal Jesus being formed.
In the 90s, music fans in the United States was still in a hangover from Tipper Gore and her crusade against rock music. People on the left were firmly anti-censorship (even offensive things were defended) and the PMRC was enemy number one. In 1985, Tipper, her husband Al (this is why I hesitantly voted for him), Susan Baker (wife of James Baker, treasury secretary under Reagan among other things), and some lesser politicians and their spouses. They formed the Parents Music Resource Center, well remembered during this time for their legislation to censor and label music. They released a list called the "Filthy Fifteen":
- "Darling Nikki" by Prince
- "Eat Me Alive" by Judas Priest
- "Strap on Robbie Baby" by Vanity
- "Bastard" by Motley Crue
- "Let Me Put My Love Into You" by AC/DC
- "Sugar Walls" by Sheena Easton
- "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister
- "Dress You Up" by Madonna
- "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast) by W.A.S.P.
- "High -n- Dry" by Def Leppard
- "Into the Coven" by Mercyful Fate
- "Trashed" by Black Sabbath
- "In My House" by Mary Jane Girls
- "Possessed" by Venom
- "She Bop" by Cyndi Lauper
I suppose you are wondering how in the fuck "She Bop" made it on there. Cyndi Lauper was like a lovable goofy aunt that lived in San Francisco. She wrote super catchy pop songs and dressed like Punky Brewster. Apparently, She-Bopping is synonymous with female masturbation. Who knew?
The goal of the PMRC was to rate and censor albums based on sexual content, violence, and drug use. There was also an expectation that labels would release a censored version or "clean" song. Rockers on the left and the right fought back, and they fought hard. The weirdest trinity ever of Dee Snider, Frank Zappa, and John fucking Denver spoke at the Senate hearings. Dee Snider absolutely crushed their arguments with gems like, "Ms. Gore claimed that one of my songs, 'Under the Blade,' had lyrics encouraging sadomasochism, bondage, and rape. The lyrics she quoted have absolutely nothing to do with these topics. On the contrary, the words in question are about surgery and the fear that it instills in people...I can say categorically that the only sadomasochism, bondage, and rape in this song is in the mind of Ms. Gore." This was obviously a stand against censorship, and this is what many people did during the Reagan era; they fought back, and any solid leftist could not imagine censoring anything. We had this unique ability to interpret things as tongue in cheek. In the same way that Nunslaughter does not actually slaughter nuns, AC does not really think the "Internet is Gay."
This seems to be lost on the Millenials who cannot stand anything or anyone that is not a hyper-left partisan. Tarantula, a suburban band based in Chicago, and whom I have discussed in another essay, was attacked by cowards with baseball bats and shovels for the crime of having a crudely drawn swastika on one of their 7" covers. Swastikas have been used widely in punk rock imagery for decades, and even in this political climate, one should contemplate on intention and meaning. Most rational people can discern art from hate. Here is an actual fascist. Most parody/troll bands are not. They are usually just goofy stoners. Do not confuse shock rockers with actual holocaust deniers.
If you can get a copy of AC's, "Staying Alive, Oi Version," do it. It is hilarious and banging at the same time. Some of their catalog is horrible, but "Everyone Should Be Killed" should be on heavy rotation. I am sure Seth would roll over in his grave at being called ironic, but check out these song titles: "When I Think of True Punk Rock Bands, I Think of Nirvana and the Melvins," and, "I'm Wicked Underground," which spit in the face of grunge and everything trendy at the time.
AC played at the Fireside Bowl, an all ages venue in Chicago that had shows every night and gave many bands a place to play that they would not have had otherwise. My memory is hazy, but I think they played with Charles Bronson (pretty boy suburbanites) or 7000 Dying Rats (Rodney Dangerfield grindcore), two bands with a sense of humor, but who could also be annoying with their "sassy" antics. I went to see AC expecting a violent, rage infested set, but it was pretty tame. There were some intense bands back then: The Candy Snatchers, Weaklings, My Lai, young Los Crudos, Hatewave, Silverfish, and others. Silverfish has always been neglected by the "alternative" press. Their singer did more for feminism than any Riot Grrrl trend and they were diverse before diversity was cool. I saw Silverfish open for the mediocre 7 Year Bitch and blow them off the stage. Riot Grrrl spawned from a place of great white privilege, Olympia, Washington, which is 84% white and 2% black. Silverfish came from the streets of Camden, a neighborhood in London known at the time as a violent working class enclave.
The 90s were a time of great fun and the only time I saw anyone disrupt a show was when a feminist band got on the bill with the Dwarves during a feminist music festival. A huge group of women stormed the stage when they were playing and it was uproariously chaotic, but I am pretty sure everyone on both sides had a good time. I remember lots of laughter and smiles and no hate inspired violence.
After AC's set, we went to my friend Dave's house for a party. It turned out to be a potluck. I got really stoned with the guitar player, and Seth was on his best behavior. He loved Motley Crue and we spent a good while discussing which Crue album was the best. My favorite was Shout at the Devil, and he was more of a Too Fast for Love kind of guy. We were both stoned off our asses. He told me about blowing coke with EyehateGod, and that they were "pussies." The funniest thing was how much Seth loved the Village People. I always thought the Village People had one album. It turns out they had nine. His favorite was Cruisin', which has the single "Y.M.C.A." on it. He had the CD in the tour van. We went out to the van and did a few more bong rips. He also gave me a Xanax. I was zapped when we got back inside, but we had a dance party anyway. Everyone but the drummer was dancing like fools. I think he might have been whacked out on pills. There was never any mention of homophobia or race hate. They went on their way that evening. I saw them one time after and Seth was trying to fight everyone in the crowd. One of the AC crew was a gay Jewish kid and was aware of the parody component of the band, and would restrain Seth when he went on a violent tirade.
Seth died in 2011 from a heart attack, possibly drug induced. Josh Martin, their guitar player, fell down an escalator and died this past year. I am not sure what happened to their drummer.
Many on the left back in the day could separate satire from hate. There are a lot of troll bands in history that were funny and parodic, but not hateful. I have seen Fang protested because of their song, "Destroy the Handicapped." I am sure anyone with a brain in their head could figure out that they were not serious. The Angry Samoans did not actually "Save Hitler's Cock," nor did the Meatmen really want Morrisey to die. Or maybe they did. I suppose a lot of people would agree with that. Tesco Vee is one of the nicest guys I have ever met. AC were pretty chill the night we had a potluck. Seth enjoyed the potato salad, went back for seconds.
Putnam has been under the lash of liberals even seven years after his death. One of the things I can never figure out about the extreme left is that they can forgive criminals (it was their upbringing or poverty) that are disenfranchised, but not those who are mentally ill or addicts (especially white males; white males can be disenfranchised, too—if you don't believe me, visit a VA hospital sometime).
Vaginal Jesus is disgusting, but is it also parody? We can forgive kids on death row, but not a mentally ill musician? What about R. Kelly? Ice Cube? Ice Cube was anti-Semitic and used anti-Asian slurs in the 90s. How about Farrakhan? He stood on stage at Aretha Franklin's funeral. There is a Holocaust denier running for Congress. Why were we able to tell the difference between hate and parody in the 90s? If someone has deplorable views, debate them, prove them wrong, and shut them down. Use facts and reliable sources, publish something. Stand up for truth and reality. Running around like Chomsky with baseball bats is not going to solve anything. Look outside your worldview, develop a sense of humor, listen to others, your way is not the only way.
And remember, "If You Don't Like the Village People, You Are Fucking Gay." Irony, get it?