What does a band like the Butthole Surfers mean in the world? I’ve wondered for many years since the first time I experienced one of their shows.
I recently received a press copy of the visual history book Butthole Surfers: What Does Regret Mean?
The poster from the show I first saw is in the book (and pictured below) … the memories of that transformative experience came flooding back. I remember like some alternate dreamscape; It was in the Pine Street Theater back when the ceiling had many many dozens of chandeliers hanging. It was incredibly loud, there was otherworldly behavior from the opening Portland bands The Hellcows, then Smegma – there were some sort of animal heads on stands on stage that ended up being kicked around the pit by the end of their set – then came an overwhelming surrealist sensory cacophony when the Surfers took the stage with two drummers, re-contextualized educational and surgical films, Gibby singing through a megaphone, a bizarre trancelike dancer who had to be helped off the stage after the band finished playing.
I’ve seen the Butthole Surfers a number of times. I don’t recall how many. More than three and less than twelve. Many other great experiences, but I can’t say any were as deeply effecting. Though watching Gibby shoot blanks with a rifle pointed at the audience during the first Lollapalooza tour was very unnerving. People were dancing in the mud in Enumclaw and he was point a rifle at us taking shots.
I did an interview after they signed with Capitol Records. We published that in Plazm magazine, issue 6 (1994). That’s now online here.
The book itself is a trip down memory lane. A visual archive of old flyers, posters, photographs, artworks, and set lists. It also contains memories and quotes from many of the Butthole’s contemporaries. If I have one criticism, it’s that there is only one woman’s voice. Neko Case makes the case that the Buttholes blow past gender. I believe that, but the case would be better made if there were more women commenting. The limited edition book comes with a flexi disc of unreleased music. Remember flexi discs? Serious Surfer fans might want to get their hands on this.