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Beavis & Butthead: Tastemakers

With Beavis and Butthead back on the air after nearly a decade-and-a-half hiatus, I thought I’d take a moment to offer my belated thanks to these two badly-drawn boys for turning me on to a couple of bands that otherwise would have escaped my attention. Even before MTV got out of the music video business, Beavis and Butthead were airing videos that would never have gotten any airplay via mainstream channels.

Presumably channeling Mike Judge’s musical tastes, Beavis and Butthead provided US viewers with the first glimpses of several well-below-the-radar bands including the Dead Milkmen, the Cramps, Daisy Chainsaw, the Plasmatics, Dread Zeppelin, Ethyl Meatplow, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Shonen Knife, the Dylans, Napalm Death, Circle Jerks, the Revolting Cocks, Pop Will Eat Itself, Fatima Mansions and Six Finger Satellite, just to name a few.

But for me, two never-before-seen groups stood out from the crowded pack of snot-nosed punks, industrial offshoots, cult favorites and metallic punishers.

Army of Lovers – Crucified

Army of Lovers may have been huge in Europe but they never had a chance over here in the US. It’s probably safe to say that Americans were never going to embrace a group that took ABBA’s disco tendencies and hitched their ultra-melodic fluff to an uber-camp mixture of gay and religious iconography. This particular Army was dedicated to taking music completely over the top, leaving any sort of subtlety behind for the Pet Shop Boys of the world.

“Over the top” is an understatement. It’s as if Army of Lovers reached the “top” they wished to climb over and found its lack of altitude disappointing. Setting up a base camp (emphasis on that last word) near the peak, the Lovers erected a new top, piling pirate shirts and eyeliner on top of crucifixes and torn hymnals, adding Eurovision vamping to the whole mess before clambering stylishly to the new top and planting a flag made of suddenly discarded clothing (mainly pants) at the pinnacle.

While Beavis and Butthead were clearly not the target demographic, they were won over by occasional member La Camilla’s top-heavy charm. And while that aspect of the video was clearly eye-catching, I was sucked in more by the gaudy sacrilege of Crucified, which echoed the Jesus and Mary Chain’s desire to “die just like Jesus Christ,” replacing the black hole nihilism with something that could possibly be classified as a religious swoon. The JAMC were looking for the end. The Army of Lovers had already died multiple times, “crucified like their savior.” Throwing in a bit of tossed-off French (I cry I pray mon dieu) doesnt’ hurt.

Having grown up in an ultra-religious Protestant household, I found the whole experience oddly fascinating: disco-fied Europop baiting our Lord and Savior with a devastating accuracy that a million black metal bands could never hope to duplicate. The music made the message “safe” and the high camp delivery system added another layer of sinfulness to the whole picture. Gays and God have never gotten along, at least according to a majority of God’s self-appointed earthly mouthpieces.

 Alien Sex Fiend – Now I’m Feeling Zombified

The second band which would have flown completely under my radar had Beavis and Butthead not rescued them from subjective obscurity is Alien Sex Fiend. ASF was a part of London’s influential Batcave scene, a breeding ground for dozens of goth rockers including Specimen, Bauhaus, Sex Gang Children, as well as non-goths like Robert Smith and Nick Cave.

Alien Sex Fiend’s epic Now I’m Feeling Zombified got the nod from B&B, primarily for its Alice Cooper-esque showmanship. Front man Nik Fiend’s aggressive use of eyeliner and pancake makeup made every contemporary hair metallist look even more ridiculous and the whole experience was not unlike stumbling into the wrong nightclub late at night and realizing that spending any length of time here might permanently alter your perspective on life/require use of unfamiliar drugs or “marital aids.” Disconcerting, but in an oh-fuck-let’s-see-where-this-is-going sort of way.

Alien Sex Fiend always stood out from the goth crowd with their use of spacy electronics and obvious love for barely double-entendre, AC/DC-level dirty jokes. (See also: Drive My Rocket, Stuff the Turkey, Burger Bar Baby) Despite traversing the same darkened alleys as Bauhaus, etc., ASF was equally influenced by the filthy psychobilly of the Cramps and the soaring, searing sounds of Hawkwind.

Now I’m Feeling Zombified is taken from Alien Sex Fiend’s glorious, sprawling, epic mess of an album, 1990’s Curse. Its opening track, the undeniably “goth” Katch 22 is a jackbooted epic (in four parts, no less) but it hardly sets the tone for the rest of the album, which veers from psychotic guitar rock (Eat! Eat! Eat!, I Think I) to murky psychedelia (Ain’t Got Time to Bleed) to tossed off dalliances (the 20-second promo Radio Jimi, Dali-isms) while still finding time to drop in goth epics like the track in question and other reminders that, yes, ASF is goth (Stress). They even find time for a cover of The Cramps’ Mystery Plane, recasting the original’s jangling blues shuffle as an expansive space rocker, emphasizing the timeslip of the “meanwhile the world slows/mad daddy drives a ufo” line.

So, after too many years, and entirely too many words, I’m making amends. Who knew a couple of moronic teenagers could open the door to new musical possibilities? Certainly they had no intention of helping anybody, but the end result is clear: Beavis and Butthead influenced my music tastes more than anything put into heavy rotation by their hosting network.

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