What monstrous crimes against common decency and human hearing haven’t the Butthole Surfers committed? I don’t know, but it’s a short list, and that’s what I love about them. The band from San Antonio, Texas spent much of its career producing an obscene caterwaul, causing irreparable damage to both the ears and the minds of those human beings—and I count myself one of them—who couldn’t wait to hear what outrage the Butthole Surfers would perpetrate next. Distortion, transgression, and a dedication to doing the next wrong thing—these are the qualities that set Gibby Haynes and Company apart from the competition, and made their acid-fried freak rock rodeo a must-listen, must-see for anybody interested in finding just how far a band would travel the road of outrage to reach the palace of infamy.
The band’s live shows are legendary, and their albums remain wonderfully unlistenable despite the passage of time. I put them on whenever I feel the need to remind myself that some musicians simply do not care whether you like their music or not. It’s a refreshing attitude, and one that left the band penniless for the longest time; they spent many a day foraging through trashcans for food, and collecting bottles for the deposits. And as most people know, founders Haynes (vocals, saxophone) and Paul Leary (guitar) could have had good jobs; Haynes walked away from a top-notch accounting firm to starve, and Leary was on the fast track to respectability and financial success as well. They remind me a bit of Manson Family killer Tex Watson, another bright Texas boy who took an unexpectedly permanent detour on his way to the American dream.
When it came to freaks on the 80s underground scene the Butthole Surfers had no equals; nobody even came close. It speaks multitudes, at least to me, that they traveled for a while—and I’m talking the entire band along with a female pit bull named Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad—in a tiny, Chevy Nova with “Ladykiller” painted on it and a roll of barbed wire on the front bumper. In the studio, according to Leary, the band was committed to making “the worst records possible,” and in one infamous case involving the song “Creep in the Cellar” discovered a backwards fiddle on the recording, which resulted from the studio simply taping over a country band that failed to pay its bill. The Surfers, delighted by the addition, said leave it in.