David Yow is known for his role as the lead singer of legendary pigfuck outfit the Jesus Lizard. Throughout much of the 1990’s, he terrorized dingy bar venues and major festival stages alike, using an unhinged and borderline demonic energy to command the crowd. Yow’s unrelenting showmanship often saw him strip naked and tackle audience members, crowdsurf through mazes of sweaty, grabby hands and withstand harsh bodily trauma on repeated occasions. He’s lauded for his vocal style, which is really nothing more than a terse bellow punctuated by shouts and screams that meld perfectly with the Jesus Lizard’s thunderous sound.
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Yow’s celebrity within the noise rock milieu is big enough for him to issue a coffee table book, but Copy Cat has nothing to do with his life or the deadly antics that made his stage presence so unforgettable. Copy Cat is an art book–an assortment of computer-based illustrations of various cats from Yow, each accompanied by a cat-centric pun. For cat lovers, Yow’s book is a hokey masterpiece that will proudly adorn bookshelves without shame. For many of Yow’s fans, the book might indicate that years on the road may have diminished his capacity for solid judgment.
Copy Cat isn’t worthy of some deeply probing analysis. The book should afford diehard Jesus Lizard fans a chuckle or two while they flip through silly pages full of ferral, googly-eyed kitty cats. But the most prominent thing at play here is Yow’s celebrity. Copy Cat wouldn’t exist without it.
That’s because, when you’re famous, whether you’re adored across the globe or embody a cult-figure in some weird niche community, you are given license to put your name on anything. The lanes open up. You are given opportunities you probably don’t deserve.
Celebrities of any kind — whether actors, musicians, reality “stars” or athlete — can venture outside their native craft, simply because they’ll get paid a little more money to do so. Think of Shaq’s rap album or former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s country record. Picture Katy Perry’s fragrance gracing the perfume counter at your local Macy’s, or Ice-T moonlighting as a detective on Law & Order for the better part of a decade. Mariah Carey has a fragrance too. And a drink. Jennifer Lopez went from being a dancer on a sketch comedy show to owning a TV station.
While Ice T’s acting and Shaq’s raps will always provide fodder for party jokes, they also indicate that our veneration of celebrities reached a critical mass here in the United States a long time ago. No news there, but society would benefit if a brave Hollywood executive sat the overly ambitious celebrity down and said: “Why can’t you just sing or play basketball or rap or paint pictures and not try your hand at every single one of them?”
This advisory may have been useful for the scores of entertainers who felt the need to morph into moguls after repeated success grew too tiresome and boring. It also may have proven useful for David Yow, whose status as rock and roll badass is still something to stand by, even though his new book is probably the least important thing he’s ever done.
David Yow is signing copies of Copy Cat tonight at Word in Brooklyn.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 5, 2014