Back to School With the Butthole Surfers

They're collaborating with teenagers now. Terrible idea. Wonderful idea.

Gibby Haynes is 50, but he's still off the wall like he was in the '80s, when he and the rest of his Butthole Surfers were passing off hallucinogenic-fueled performance-art shows as "music" for the likes of a young, impressionable Daniel Johnston and other Austin freaks looking to get their psych on outside of cosmic country.

"It's a big que sera, fuckin' Hallmark, fuckin' Valentine's Day, kinda fuzzy- feeling dealie," Haynes says over the phone about the Surfers' classic lineup—including guitarist Paul Leary, bassist Jeff Pinkus, and stand-up drummers King Coffey and Teresa "Nervosa" Taylor (the weirdo in Slacker who tries to pawn off the Madonna pap smear)—reuniting for the first time since their 2002 reincarnation at Japan's Fuji Festival, this time for a 14-date run with the Paul Green School of Rock Music All-Stars.

How ass-backwards. The Surfers are (or were, back in the day) totally X-rated. Among other acts of decadence, their shows featured a naked dancer named Kathleen Lynch, a/k/a "Ta-Da the Shit Lady," whom Haynes reportedly had sex with onstage while Leary punctured the club's speakers with a screwdriver. They used films of penis-reconstruction surgery and Faces of Death–type car wrecks as backdrops. And, of course, they got a real kick out of cross-dressing and arson, too. Meanwhile, the fact that the 2003 movie School of Rock is based on the grade-school bashers who receive tutelage at the Paul Green School of Rock Music chain (with Jack Black starring as a non-anal version of Paul himself) just about says it all. But this is of little consequence to Haynes, who insists that Surfers gigs are way tamer than in the olden days and that it's now more or less about the music.

"It's just really fun," he adds of the collaboration, facilitated by fellow shtick-rock band Ween. "I mean, they're kids, and some of 'em are really, really talented. You can see the ones who are gonna be totally fucked up when they're older."

Of the 20 or so All-Stars nationwide who've joined in on the stateside and European shows leading up to the Webster Hall finale, only two had a clue about the Surfers at the onset of the project: bassist Aaron Sheehan, 16, and bassist/guitarist Max Johnson, 18, both of New Jersey. "I'm always attracted to things that aren't put together totally," Sheehan says of the Surfers' music, which was passed down to him by older cousins. "There are a lot of different elements to it, and it's not all structured. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, I guess. And I like making noise, you know?"

Seminal Surfers albums like Psychic . . . Powerless . . . Another Man's Sac, their 1985 debut, with its innovative tape-looping up against Haynes's perverted, bullhorn- amplified, "Gibbytronix"-inflected gibberish, are indeed lessons in coordinated chaos lost in translation as noise. But in order to properly convey the older, borderline- improvisational hardcore-punk songs that constitute most of the Surfers' set lists on this tour, some live theatrics are essential. That's where Sheehan and Johnson strike again: The smoke machines, projectors, and strobe lights are part of their double-duty tour, thanks to their work in the same capacity during a string of Haynes solo shows in New York (where he relocated five years ago) that preceded this tour. "By now, we're into a groove on how to do that," says Johnson, who also plays in a band called the Will.

"Paul Green tells you how much smoke and when," Sheehan adds. "And if you do it wrong, you're hearing about it. But it's really simple stuff. A monkey could do it—you know, press a button, turn a knob."

Asked what his friends outside the Paul Green School think of his run with the infamous gutter punks—whose only real hit, "Pepper," came too late and wasn't at all representative of the fractured, insane style that influenced, at the very least, Kurt Cobain, Beavis, and Butt-head—Johnson says: "The ones who know the Butthole Surfers are more than amazed. But finding, you know, just normal kids who are huge Butthole Surfers fans in high school these days is not . . . it's not the biggest gene pool to pull from."

The Butthole Surfers play Webster Hall July 29

 
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