The excellent tumblelog pre-durst, dedicated to videos from the era between 1990 and nu-metal, posted the video for the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” last week, and it reminded me that I have actually, technically, been to a Butthole Surfers concert. It was probably 1996, and it was at the local modern rock station’s summer “festival” (if 11 bands in the center of a horse racing track in central New York can be called a festival), the KRockathon. I knew them solely for “Pepper,” which got a lot of play that particular year, and while I assumed they might have some backstory, I was uninterested in pursuing it. I was, in other words, one of those people, the people that get into a band way past the point when they’re cool. But aren’t those people people too?
When you think of a Butthole Surfers show, you think of flashing lights, fire, naked women, pounding drums, debauchery, drugs, etc. This is not what I saw. I saw Gibby Hayes stand on a stage on a racetrack and play with effects knobs for about 40 minutes, which was annoying at the time, but in fairness we were a bunch of hicks, so his disdain was probably deserved. And really, it’s totally OK that there weren’t dancers and things set on fire. I’m pretty sure 16-year-old me would have been very uncomfortable at a golden age Buttholes show. It was right for me at the time, and though they didn’t seem interesting enough to explore their back catalogue, I was still aware that they were the real deal, somehow, or were at some point. (It helped that some of their graphics were done by folks associated with the Church of the Subgenius, which I was real, real into at the time. I wore my “Bob” shirt to the show, hoping to find other people who knew what it was, but when someone complimented me I was too scared to actually talk to them.)
When we read the history of bands, we mostly hear about their mythic origins and the people who were into them before they got big. Their early shows, we’re told, were the best, but once they hit a certain point, the people attending were just drawn by the hit, or by fashion, or by acclaim, or by vague interest. They were looky-loos, trend-hoppers, not real fans. I’ve been around through enough band cycles by now that I’m willing to agree that, generally, the early shows are the best, that there’s a magic that can’t be recaptured. But there is also a value to those looky-loos, who may simply be at a different stage in their music fandom. I can’t say I ever went down the Buttholes road, so to speak, but they were another blip in the musical universe that helped me connect the dots.
Do people ever get into a band later in their careers? R.E.M. is a good example, as they seemed to attract waves of new fans at different points in their discography, and those new fans were not always interested in the releases that predated their discovery of the band. And evergreen artists like Bruce Springsteen are constantly picking up a stream of new fans, although it’s unclear if they’re attracted by his new releases or drawn to the old ones in the same way they would for a band that doesn’t exist anymore like the Doors. Despite the scorn established fans (including me!) heap on those kinds of concertgoers, they serve their own particular purpose, too.
Butthole Surfers: “Pepper” [Pre-Durst]