Graded on a Curve: Killdozer,
The Last Waltz

In 2005 Killdozer played their farewell gig at The Unicorn in Milwaukee. But it was more than the Madison, Wisconsin noise rock band’s final show. Said band front man, bass player, and songwriter Michael Gerald to frequent rock documentary film-maker Martin Scorsese, “We wanted it to be more than a concert, we wanted it to be a celebration.” And then added, “We wanted some friends to show up and help us take it home.” These friends included Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Alice Nelson the maid in the Brady Bunch, the late Leon Trotsky, that comedian whose entire act consists of smashing watermelons, Neil Diamond, and Flipper, the dolphin not the band. None of them showed up.

Killdozer certainly had a lot to celebrate. The band that sounded quite a bit like the fortified bulldozer that muffler repair shop owner Marvin Heemeyer used to lay waste to the town of Gramby, Colorado in 2004—although the band was long defunct by the time Heemeyer went on his rampage, and actually took their name from a 1944 science fiction novella by William Sturgeon—had released seven albums and one EP and recorded numerous hilarious covers between 1984 and 1995, none of which won them more than a small but fanatical audience.

Gerald of the insane roar and socialist bent was (is, he’s a lawyer now who occasionally helps parents adopt children on a pro bono basis) a brilliant storyteller whose tastes ran towards the Midwest Gothic. His subject matter included a guy who kills a fry cook because in his words he “could make a better hamburger with my asshole,” another guy who burns a guy’s balls off because he calls his girl Lois a cunt, legendary low-cost car repainting and collision repair king Earl Scheib, the disaster films of Irwin Allen, and Walmart (which he immortalizes in “Enemy of the People”). And let us not forget “New Pants and Shirt,” which opens with the queasy-making lines, “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.” He’s singing, it should probably be added, about his mother.

But all things must pass, as that hairy hippie from The Beatles once said, and Killdozer went out like they came in—with an endearing caterwaul. The show opens with “Porky’s Dad,” a straightforward assault on rapacious real estate developers intent on forcing farmers off their land. “There comes a time in each man’s life,” sings Gerald in his trademark roar, “he must make a stand/For this ain’t real estate, this is fertile land.” Killdozer takes another shot at the ruthlessness of capitalism on “Richard,” about a banker whose job it is to foreclose on delinquent property owners. “I have a job to do, and I do it well,” sneers Richard (“but you can call me Dick”) in a tone of disgust, “Last week we took the farm off 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.” Killdozer, more than most participants I can think of, earned a spot at Farm Aid.

Gerald once told me, “You should write about what you know, and what I know best are idiots,” and one such idiot appears in “Man of Meat,” which Gerald introduces by ticking off the names of every type of sausage out there). Said idiot is a gun happy NRA member (“Well I got a cock and I got a gun/Which one’s bigger my number one”) who suffers an unfortunate late night gun mishap in bed after seeing (dream? Gerald doesn’t say) “A little man made of meat,” who “Tried to get me in my sleep.” The moron shoots the little bastard, only to discover that “it was not a man at all/I shot my own cock off instead.”

“I Have Seen Grown Men Cry” is one of the noisiest crawls through the slime of romantic heartbreak you’ll ever hear—before it explodes into a beyond-Sabbath din Gerald says, “We’ve got a little song here about Jesus,” then proceeds to roar, growl, scream, mumble, lay ominous emphasis on certain words, drag out others the way you might a corpse to the mud flats for disposal, and repeat the phrase “Do the do” until the band jacks up the tempo and the song degenerates into feedback-induced chaos.

And then there’s the demented carol “A X Mas Song,” in which Gerald spells out various Unhappy Holiday scenarios (kid chokes to death on piece of Christmas toy, guy’s faulty tree lights spark a fire that kills entire family, little girl dies when Christmas tree topples over and crushes her, etc.). The crankin’ monster “A Mother’s Road” features a self-pitying not-very-maternal type who delivers a bitter lament about her worthless and no-good offspring (“Tell me what did I ever do/To be cursed with children like you”) and closes in a pounding, high-speed cataclysm of neo-psychedelic guitar.

Gerald opens “Space: 1999″—the British science-fiction television program that ran from 1975 to 1977—with a hilarious discourse that goes, “This next song is a romantic song; I think you’ll enjoy the romance of this romantic song. It’s kinda like a slow dancin’ song… slooow and smoooth… like fine malt liquor… like a 40-ounce bottle of Crazy Horse.” He then commences to toss off lyrics along the lines of “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.” What this has to do with British science fiction television programming is beyond me, but then again I don’t know diddly about British science fiction television programming.

Similarly, the feedback-drenched “Cannonball III ‘97″ has little or nothing to do with Cannonball Run, the 1981 action comedy featuring the King of All Cinema Burt Reynolds. Its subject matter is rednecks in general and one in particular; sings Gerald (with a hillbilly lilt) “Down on the midway/At the county fair/While sittin’ on a bale of hay/I got pig shit in my hair.” Burt liked to portray good old boys, but this is one role I think he’d have passed on, although that kid with the banjo in Deliverance might have grabbed it. I wish I could tell you what “Mama’s Boy” (which opens with Gerald saying, “This next song Paul wrote for his mother… while smoking in bed”) is about, but the song moves along at a Camaro-fast clip and Gerald is so busy keeping up it’s virtually impossible to make out a word he’s saying. Michael was generally a stickler for enunciation—wouldn’t want you to miss the laugh lines—but it goes out the window on this one.

The classic “Knuckles the Dog (Who Helps People)” tells the story of a selfless and pacifistic greyhound (“Knuckles won’t hunt/He respects all forms of life,”) who martyrs himself by leaping in front of a bullet intended for his beloved master, a palsied, wheelchair-bound boy none of the other kids will play with. “Brought down by an assassin’s bullet?/That was meant for me,” sings Gerald, “Knuckles the dog who helps people/Now you are forever free.” It’s a real tearjerker and I’m being serious, although I’ll be the first to admit I’m a hopeless sentimentalist who sobs uncontrollably during movies where the dog is separated from his loving family even though I’m one hundred and ten percent certain the ending will be a happy one.

I’m not sure I’ve ever recovered from the break-up of Killdozer, but this un-star-studded affair (Carrot Top is said to have shown up, but gone unrecognized) is a worthy consolation prize. When Martin Scorsese, that shameless Rolling Stones ass licker, bowed out of the project (I’m assuming you know I’m just making this shit up) Michael Gerald is reported to have said, as he does at the beginning and end of the great “Hamburger Martyr,” “Fffffffuck you!” Although I’m betting that’s pure legend because Gerald seems like a very nice guy. Even if he does say to the soon-to-be-deceased fry cook in the aforementioned song, “You call this cuppa shit coffee? Well, I’d rather drink from the dick of a goat.”


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