Graded on a Curve: Killdozer,
Twelve Point Buck

“They say write what you know,” Killdozer’s Michael Gerald told me in an e-mail interview a while back, “and what I knew were idiots.”

But Gerald didn’t stop there. Over the Madison, Wisconsin band’s 11-year career, he also wrote about murderous sociopaths, people outraged by poor customer service, America’s brutality in the Gulf War, a cop who turns out to be one cool dude, victims of horrible work-related accidents, cold-hearted capitalist exploiters and their hapless victims, and a socialist dog named Knuckles who in addition to other good deeds achieves martyrdom by throwing himself in front of an assassin’s bullet intended for the kindly crippled boy who saved him.

On Killdozer’s masterpiece, 1987’s Twelve Point Buck, Gerald utilizes his trademark stentorian “mouth that roared” vocals to tell a wide array of Wisconsin Gothic tales, each and every one of them designed to amuse and appall. Behind him the band (Gerald plays bass, and the brothers Bill and Dan Hobson play guitar and drums respectively) grinds away, as implacable and unrelenting as the modified bulldozer Marvin John Heemeyer used to wreak havoc in Gransby, Colorado in 2004. (In point of fact the band took their name not from Heemeyers’s weapon of jerry-rigged destruction, but from the 1944 sci-fi novella of the same name by Thomas Sturgeon).

Twelve Point Buck’s first track is “New Pants and Shirt,” which opens with one of the most despicable descriptions of motherly love ever written:

“Enter the forty-nine gates of uncleanliness
Said she, pushing up her skirt
I held my breath against her fetidness
As I gazed upon the swinish flirt.”

I like to compare these lines with Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles,” on which Marty Balin bequethes us the immoral lines, “I had a taste of the real world/When I went down on you.” The one posits oral sex as a labial gateway to reality; the other’s enough to put you off cunnilingus forever.

“Lupus” conflates the death of Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor and her short story “The Geranium, with Gerald punctuating his description of the story’s plot (old-school racist moves to New York and strokes out upon meeting friendly black man) with the chorus, “Lupus took the life of Flannery O’Connor/She wrote many books before death came upon her.” His critique has the makings of a pretty good doctoral thesis, but rarely do you come across a work of literary criticism that comes compete with Gerald’s “little man with big mouth” tonsil power. You’d think his ungodly screams would have permanently expelled from the halls of academe, but they didn’t prevent him from going on to become a tax attorney based in Los Angeles.

“Richard” is a blistering critique of rapacious bankers preying on the financial travails of small farmers, as told by one particularly ruthless example of the species named Richard (“You can call me dick”).”I am the one,” he sings,“who can raise the hairs on the necks of innocent men,” adding:

“Last week we took the farm of some deadbeat farmer
He killed off all of his cattle before we could auction them off
Let me tell you
That sort of thing really pisses me off.”

“Man Vs. Nature” is a celebration of the films of legendary master of disaster Irwin (The Poseidon Adventure) Allen, and the brilliant actors who starred in them; among Gerald’s plot synopses of Allen’s cinematic masterpieces include:

“On the TV, a building in flames
It was Towering Inferno by Irwin Allen
O. J. Simpson led the cast
In a man against nature
Fight for survival
It was awesome
And then it blew me away.”

Contrary to its title, the hilarious “Space 1999″ has nothing to do with the mid-seventies sci-fi television series of the same name–instead it’s a politically incorrect tribute to pussy as expressed by a crude dude and poet of sorts:

“But I got a feeling – makes me sing to the lord
When you put your velvety sheath around my glistening sword
My love for you will outlast eternity
So let me dip into your backdoor baby
And prove your love to me.”

Killdozer takes another stance on love in “Free Love in Amsterdam,” which begins with Gerald cooing “I’ve never felt this way before.” He lasciviously assures us Netherlands’s capitol city is “a place where the swingers go,” and invites fellow orgy partners to “come meet me with a flower in your hair.” But by the end of the song he’s screaming at the top of his lungs, presumably at the absurdity of the whole conceit.

On “Ted Key Beefs” Gerald makes comedy gold out of the mundane, to wit a guy who’s righteously pissed off by shitty customer service, and self-identifies as“the guy who’s never coming back”:

“It amuses me to see businesses spending so much money
Every year to get me back
When I was there in the first place
All they needed to do was give me some service
And extend a little courtesy
In fact, I was the most important person in the world to them
I was a customer.”

“Gates of Heaven” features one strategically placed belch and Gerald’s baritone horn, and tells the story of a fellow named after Jesus who wages a one-man war against the uncaring powers that be only to die “a William Holden death.” In the end he finds the gates of heaven “all locked up” and bearing a sign saying “the Lord would return at seven.” Seems God does not reward the just after all.

On “Pig Foot and Beer” Gerald tells us no one knows the trouble he’s seen, adding that sometimes he feels like a motherless child a long way from home. Walk a mile in his shoes, he informs us, and “you will get athlete’s foot,” and the only thing he wants out of existence is a pig foot and a bottle of beer. “Seven Thunders” is also about suds, but Gerald puts a sage spin on things: “It is a known fact that wise men gather at the waters of knowledge,” he sings, “And these same waters flow freely from long neck bottles.” The truth can be found at the bottom of a beer glass, so barroom philosphers rejoice!

Killdozer never received the acclaim they rightfully deserved for the simple reason that hardly anybody could stand ‘em, but they remain one of the most enigmatic bands in rock history. Behind the band that liked to return audience applause with a heartfelt “Fuck you very much!” lurked a commitment to social justice every bit as real as that of Woody Guthrie.

Michael Gerald took a stand for the victimized little man in his seemingly hopeless fight against rapacious capitalists intent on depriving him of his livelihood and crushing his spirit. But unlike your annoyingly earnest types (think Rage Against the Machine or Billy Bragg) he never came off as shrill or self-righteous. Instead he reaped scorn on the capitalist combine without forgetting to leaven his damning critiques with the blackest of comedy.“If America wasn’t a cesspool,” he once told an interviewer, “we couldn’t write songs. At least the songs we like.”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A+

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