Mean Man’s Dream


The newest and greatest tradition in Pasadena arrives every January 1 at precisely 9 a.m. For the last two years, rivaling even the Rose Bowl as blood-pumping spectacle, a B-2 out of the heavy bomb wing at Whiteman (that’s an air force base, folks, honest), Missouri, has made a target approach run down Colorado at 200 feet to send off the jolly Tournament of Roses celebration. Standing on the lawn, one can admiringly watch the giant black wing cruise by at 300 mph until it hits the intersection at Sierra Madre and banks north just before climbing out of view. Older men in gaily colored plastic mesh baseball caps—and some women too—salute and brandish glass bottles in jubilee from the roofs of recreational vehicles parked in lots off Route 66.

But this joyous civilian-military joint exercise has always wanted for a proper soundtrack—and psychologically, sequined marching bands and Jan and Dean don’t cut the mustard. Fear’s American Beer, however, sure could put the proper ordnance on the rack in the bomb bay. Guitars and bristling drums are the crump of 2000 lb. slicks for “What’s Best in Life,” wherein Lee Ving condenses national desire into a one-liner from a Conan the Barbarian movie: to crush enemies and “hear the lamentations of the women.” The White House is framed within a prism of yellow suds; the outline of Ving’s shining mug emerges from a Shroud of Turin-like blanket of bottle caps.

Fear purists wail for the 1982 days of The Record, but this sounds a great deal more maniacal. Hard salami substitutes for beef bologna, 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4. But genero-core punks still can’t usurp the music, because the changes and turnarounds aren’t mapped except when Mr. Ving says so. Women roll around on the floor and rip at each other’s panty hose, as told by guitarists trying to play metal-jazz badly. And liberals don’t drink enough Budweiser with their brothers, but—set to riffs signifying the crack of doom—”Beerheads” is not an endorsement the Busches can putsch.

For Fear, Christmas drives us to a tub in the kitchen for yet another can as we contemplate shopping, tax time, and the arrival of troublesome relatives. A queasy-sounding harmonica plays; fishing rods, guns, and guitars reside under the tree. These days, Lee Ving resembles Lenny Dawson’s evil twin. And he’s made the best—and maybe the only—nasty old white-man’s blooz record this year.