Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis & Psychic .. Powerless .. Another Man’s Sac by the Butthole Surfers (Fundamental)

I KNOW I make it seem effortless, but pulling this shit together isn’t half as easy as it looks, y’know.

Yes, I could easily spend a couple of lazy days on the internet, max out the credit cards, order a mountain of vinyl and probably just about manage to get hold of every dusty old record that I’ve somehow conned myself into believing I need to buy again.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a bottomless bank account, and in any case buying music online doesn’t really float my boat. Compared to the thrills and spills of buying vinyl in the real world it’s a clinical, sanitised, altogether less satisfying experience. Where is the thrill of the chase?

There is no journey, no endeavour, no striving. No fun.

Having said all that, the journey, the endeavour and the striving can become tedious. Especially when you find yourself yet again looking through endless racks of punk, rock, psychedelia and US alternative tunes in search of the elusive category in which that particular shop has chosen to file the resolutely uncategorisable Butthole Surfers.

If Buttholes records do ever come into shops like Vinyl Exchange and King Bee, they seem to go out again very quickly.

I’ve been trying to get hold of some of the stuff I write about here for decades and okay, I’ll admit it, sometimes I waver in my bloody-minded if more or less entirely pointless off-line fundamentalism (well, pointless apart from keeping the people who work in record shops in employment that is).

It’s a mixture of fixation and compulsion and naked desire versus an abstract point of principle. And unfortunately, sometimes there’s a gap in your life that only a Buttholes Surfers record can fill. Maybe even two Butthole Surfers records. But you have to do it now. Immediately.

I had just such a moment a couple of weeks ago and the only way to sort it out right there and then was to do it online. Bingo. Instant gratification, supposedly, at a cost of £45.31 including P&P. I’m not proud of myself. I am a very bad vinyl nerd. And while you might think I have more money than sense, I don’t actually have that much money either.

Either way, for good or ill, copies of the Buttholes’ debut album, Psychic .. Powerless .. Another Man’s Sac, and the Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis EP are now winging their way to me, courtesy of Black Light Records in Aarhus, Denmark, via netsoundsmusic. Entirely justified national postal strike notwithstanding.

I first came across the Buttholes in 1985, when staying at the house of Noel and Jayne from northern noiseniks AC Temple in Sheffield’s Abbeydale Road student enclave. They’d been kind enough to offer me a bed after some gig somewhere or other.

I know this because I actually wrote in my fanzine a short while afterwards:

“Someone once described the essence of the Butthole Surfers as ‘DIRTY SEX’, well, add to that ‘AND DRUGS’ and you’re getting there.

“The first time I encountered the Butthole Surfers was through a sickly drug-haze in a feelthy northern sex and drugs hovel, surrounded by various members of a feelthy northern sex and drugs combo ..”

Could be wrong, but I think when the zine this was in came out was more or less the same time the AC Temple guys fell out with me. Well, they stopped getting in touch. Then again, I stopped getting in touch with them as well.

I was just messing about really, trying to find interesting ways to write, experimenting with different styles and all that. I was saying stuff for effect, essentially, playing with form because I didn’t have much in the way of content.

Noel and Jayne didn’t have a ‘feelthy’, dirty house at all, so you can see why they might have taken offence.

Then again, I could have done something I’m not even aware of. What’s the line? There are things we know we don’t know but there are also things we don’t even know that we don’t know. That’s about right. I think I might have been quite irritating in general at the time.

I was pretty drunk by the time we got to their place and we smoked about a million spliffs before Noel stuck on what turned out to be the Buttholes’ debut album, Psychic .. Powerless .. Another Man’s Sac. Up to that point, I’d heard of the Buttholes – well, I’d read about them in fanzines and the music press – but not actually heard their music.

The album completely changed my head.

Unhinged, dissonant and ever-changing, the Buttholes created a big, beautiful noise that drew as much from hardcore punk as it did stadium rock, as much from the blues as from psychedelia, but with occasional flashes of honest-to-goodness accessibility even at this early stage in their career – in fact the track that initially caught my addled attention wasn’t one of the album’s many mind-bending extended psyche-jams but the mellow, melodic pop of Negro Observer.

I actually asked someone, ‘is this the Cure?’ and was virtually laughed out of the room.

Later, and even more hilariously, my inhaler ran out of juice and what with all the excitement and the pot smoking and the jumping up and down and acting daft, I had a massive asthma attack in the middle of the night. Apparently medical students used to simulate the effect by sticking plastic bags over their heads. Well, it makes me feel better.

Noel, bless him, took me down to the local surgery to get a replacement Ventolin first thing next morning. It’s always just great having to make a big song and dance about that kind of stuff. The upside is that finally getting a hit of Ventolin after an asthma attack is the best high EVER.

You’d have to ask the Buttholes themselves whether they’re still searching for the ultimate high, but they’ve certainly put the research in over the years.

Gibson J Haynes (pictured) and Paul Leary met at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Haynes, an accountancy major, was captain of the school basketball team and, incredibly, president of a fraternity (the attraction was that he had a working cannon at his disposal), while Leary, a veteran of Tex-Mex metal bands like the Crowd Pleasers, planned to become a stockbroker.

“It’s a liberal arts institution,” Haynes told Forced Exposure in 1986. “Shitload of queers there. Shitload of drugs. Shitload of loose bitches. A lotta fellatio and cunnilingus. It’s a pretty hip place to sex down for a couple of years. Study up, sex down. Get some drinkin’ done, play a little ball, smoke a little pot, spend a little money, eat a little bad food.”

Although they formed the band that would become the Butthole Surfers in 1981, it was the bizarre fanzine Haynes and Leary put together which gave them their first break. Strange VD was made up of photos of strange and terrible medical conditions, accompanied by unrelated descriptions of utterly fictitious diseases put together by the deeply twisted pair.

A copy of Strange VD fell into the hands of Dead Kennedys singer and Alternative Tentacles label boss Jello Biafra. He remembers Strange VD as “still one of the weirdest homemade zines I’ve ever seen in my life” – and you have to imagine that Jello Biafra is a man who has seen an awful lot of weird homemade zines in his time.

Impressed by the Buttholes’ extraordinary live show – which was to grow into a full-on multi-media spectacle complete with strippers, back-projected full-colour footage of penis reconstruction surgery and a ton of strobe lights, but which at this stage consisted of handfuls of photocopied roaches, clothes pegs in Haynes’s hair and just a couple of strobe lights – Biafra offered them a deal.

Alternative Tentacles released two well-received EPs, A Brown Reason To Live and The Live PCPEP, but failed to pick up the long player the Buttholes – which now also included fake sister and brother drumming duo King Coffey and Teresa ‘Nervosa’ Taylor, and bassist Bill Jolly – had recorded. Psychic .. Powerless .. Another Man’s Sac was eventually released by Detroit’s Touch & Go Records at the end of 1984.

A few months later, their follow-up album Rembrandt Pussyhorse was recorded but Alternative Tentacles would sit on the album for a year before deciding to pass on it.

Frustrated by this delay, and by apparent problems with royalty payments for their first two releases, the Buttholes took the exhilarating To Parter and Tornadoes from the unreleased album, added the simply insane Moving To Florida and Comb and came up with the Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis EP (named in ‘honour’ of Sammy Davis Jnr, who lost an eye in a car crash in the Fifties). It was eventually released by Touch & Go a year after Psychic .. Powerless.

Jello Biafra says now of his time working with the Buttholes: “They’ve definitely got the Texas wildcatter mentality down.”

I bought Psychic .. Powerless a couple of weeks after I’d first heard it and the Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis EP (both released on Fundamental in the UK) pretty much as soon as it came out. The Buttholes were my new favourite band. While I’d dabbled before, I  became an enthusiastic and avid trip-head (picking the liberty caps that put the fun into fungi on my one-time school’s field, poetically enough) while listening to their music very loud indeed.

A couple of months after I’d bought Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis – and while I was still in the first flush of musical obsession – shroomed up and a little giggly, I went round to see a guy I’d just been introduced to, who still lived with his mum and dad in the village.

Rez’s mum, who I’d never met before, answered the door and fuck me if she wasn’t the spitting image of the woman on the EP’s cover. It was uncanny. And deeply disconcerting. I barely kept it together – especially when she insisted on me and Rez checking a video that someone had returned to the Spar where she worked with the addition of five minutes of hardcore porn taped over the end of the film. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Luckily, I have a metal head. But I swear to God I very nearly lost it when she opened that door.

With Rembrandt Pussyhorse and their later albums Hairway To Steven and Locust Abortion Technician, the Buttholes got better and better and more and more popular. They toured the UK a few more times and I interviewed them in 1987, although by the time they recorded Independent Worm Saloon with Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones a few years later, I’d been distracted by something equally intense and trippy but a million times more danceable in the shape of acid house.

They even had a real life US top 40 hit with Pepper in the mid-Nineties. Somehow, thanks to Beavis & Butthead and Lollapalooza and our dark Lord Beelzebub, the Buttholes almost became mainstream for a while. For instance, KLM’s in-flight magazine had this to say about them:

“Obscenities, perverse humour, chaos and bad taste are the ingredients for a live performance by this Texas band. Be sure to see them while in Amsterdam!”

Meanwhile, Haynes has commented: “We don’t know what the fuck we’re doing. I guaran-fucking-tee it”.

The rest of the Buttholes story will keep for another time. Their career trajectory may be haphazard and slightly random but somehow the Buttholes always seem to do the right thing, one way or the other. They have integrity. They seem to be honest about what they do. And more importantly, they produce the goods.

Suffice to say, a couple of weeks ago, while onstage in Austin playing the final date of their last tour, Haynes said, “We played our first show as the Butthole Surfers in Austin. And this may be our last.”

I’m glad I managed to see them when they toured the UK last year, that’s all I’m saying. Thank you Eddie.

My records finally arrived from Denmark last week. I’m delighted to find that both have the same cover designs as the copies I bought all those years ago. Rez’s mum is impassively staring back at you through those thick bi-focals once again while the out-of-focus doll heads on the cover of the Buttholes’ debut album continue to recall your worst nightmares.

Which one do I play first?

The familiar wobbly dual guitars which open the two-part To Parter weave their mentalist magic once more before the song moves up a gear, slams into a prog-rock anthem about “the white man who sold Quaaludes to the monkeys” and I’m fully immersed in the Buttholes’ own very particular kind of anarchy and chaos. It’s good to be back.

The other tracks on the EP – the frantic rock’n’roll of Tornadoes, the blues-gone-wrong of Moving To Florida, the musical gila monster that is Comb –  make me feel like I’m coming up on a trip. It’s not actually happening yet but it’s definitely in the post. No shit. Is this an almost-flashback to all those sports field mushrooms? It kinda feels like it. Blimey. More please soon.

Listening to the album reveals a disorientating maelstrom of fuzz pedal overload, feedback, distortion and insane guitar solos, unsteady, off-kilter drums, gigantic, predatory basslines and a seemingly non-stop stream of consciousness from Haynes as he recounts a series of strange and disturbing visions, often with the aid of a bullhorn.

Firing off jumbo licks like a man possessed, Paul Leary’s ability to wring out the very last drops of wonderment from a ridiculously long, freeform solo – extending it way beyond what would be sensible in the hands of any other guitarist, and still making it work, marvellously – remains unsurpassed today. The man is a latter day Hendrix.

Psychic .. Powerless .. Another’s Man’s Sac is an extraordinarily inventive and relentlessly weird album, a bit wrong and fucked-up but utterly compelling. Its woozy throb invokes the intricate, precise jazz chaos of Frank Zappa, the relentless sonic attack of Hawkwind, the absorbing repetition of Can and the Fall, the irony-free bombast of Black Sabbath and Led Zep – it makes me dizzy.

Negro Observer still sounds a bit like the Cure, but I never realised just how much Gibby Haynes sounds like Bryan Ferry before. The mutant blues of Lady Sniff is every bit as deranged as it ever was, the drum and bass repetition of Cherub still as deliciously hypnotic. Psychic .. Powerless is packed with really odd but fucking amazing tunes.

Hearing both records again after so long is a big rush. I want to play them again, immediately, even louder.

It feels like I’ve just had a long overdue hit of Ventolin.

[Invaluable help with this piece came from the brilliant Negro Observer Buttholes fansite as well as the band’s own official online organ. Thank you please.]

See also: How not to interview the Butthole Surfers parts One & Two

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12 Comments

Filed under hip replacement, post punk

12 responses to “Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis & Psychic .. Powerless .. Another Man’s Sac by the Butthole Surfers (Fundamental)

  1. linda

    You tempt me to give them a listen. I missed the thrill the first time around, not sure why.
    Good news too! I finally found a used record shop! Bad news? Two minutes after stepping inside the mold and dust got to me. Good news? The place is for sale. I’m tempted to get a ventilator and go to check out their goods. I saw a Velvet Underground record on display!

  2. undeleted

    I feel like I am leading you astray Linda. First Twitter and now the Buttholes? What next? Waving sharp bits of metal around your head?

    The Buttholes rule. To me, there are lots of ways in – the energy, the trippy drug shit, the musicianship, the production, the humour, all the various different styles of music they play and of course the actual songs themselves. They’re one of my most favourite bands, really. All time.

    Have a listen to To Parter and Negro Observer which are linked to in the piece. Both tracks are from relatively early in their career, they got a lot more sophisticated later on, kind of.

    I’d recommend the albums Hairway to Steven and Locust Abortion Technician as worthwhile primers.

    But oh no. Vinyl. Don’t do it Linda, it’s a slippery slope. What was the Velvets album? Actually, there are only two worth bothering with – Andy Warhol or White Light White Heat. I am the king of the sweeping statement. But am I right or am I right? How much were they asking?

    Are you an asthmatic too? Yay Team Wheezy!

  3. linda

    Yes, you are a very bad influence on me :) I actually am giving Twitter a miss for now until I find more time. I moderate 4 groups on ravelry ( a fiber artist social network) which can consume many free moments. Music on the other hand….well who can not have time for that?
    I asked about the price and the guy said, “make an offer”. I hate that. Should I say, “One dollar” Or “One million dollars”? Its a dive but I’d love a good chunk of the inventory-possibly. It was the Andy Warhol album, the one with the banana. I must go back some day.

    It was like being amongst thousands of musty books, really overwhelming and the owner was selling because he is “sick” he said. Well no wonder! I’m not asthmatic but I’ll join Team Wheezy! As a cheerleader. The kids had it but kicked it. I feel for you.

  4. undeleted

    Crikey, sounds like you have your hands full with moderating those fibre artists. Are they an unruly bunch?

    Unless the album had a peelable banana cover, I’d say you shouldn’t be paying much more than $5.00, if that. Great album but not remotely rare.

    The asthma isn’t such a big deal for me these days. I think I finally grew out of it. It’s funny, charity / junk shops have their own particular smell, which I always think of as old lady dust. I kinda like it.

  5. linda

    Well its not your grannies knitting on that forum, thats for sure. Most behave themselves. It just takes a few rotten apples…….it happens around the usual, politics and religion, not yarn or needle size though:)

    I know the banana didn’t peel off. If I go back I’ll take a closer look. Thanks for the price range too. Seriously the place needs to be power washed.
    Glad that you got over the asthma somewhat. It was very painful to watch the kids go through it and I can’t imagine how it feels.
    Old lady dust, huh? Do you know where that stuff comes from! (LMAO!)

  6. undeleted

    I’m sure you let them have a few ‘purls’ of wisdom when necessary. Dreadful pun for so early in the day, I am sorry Linda.

    That album is brilliant. On reflection, maybe you should stretch to $7.00 (not sure what the exchange rate is but I wouldn’t expect to pay more than a fiver or so in the UK).

  7. Oh yeah! Hell yeah! Just played a tune off that 12″ on resonance fm on saturday and thought of you ;-)

  8. undeleted

    Good grief, you didn’t play Comb did you? Uneasy listening set? I like the sound of that very much ..

  9. linda

    Hi
    Haven’t had time to go back there yet but I think that 7US might be okay….I’m hoping its the peelable banana one though……will let you know if it is!

  10. undeleted

    Ah, the peelable banana could potentially push the price above $7 but there’s no need to mention that to the guy if he doesn’t say anything, obviously.

    Happy hunting!

  11. Hi Mr Undeleted! Buttholes up at my place now with a link back here… no I played “Going down to Florida” and some Terminal Cheesecake and the like.

  12. undeleted

    On it, innit.

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