from Sounds, 25th May 1985
If you’re going to understand this at all, take my hand and we’ll tango through the Time Tunnel. You know you want to. Just relax and step into a sixties warp. Oh sure, I know you’ve done a lot lately. But see, some of what you read here may sound spooky, and you may find your lips curling back in a stupid sort of smile. You might hear yourself snicker, although I warned you. Then, before you know what the heck is happening, you’re cringing back from a blood-gutted scream that’s gouging huge holes in your ears. And it’s coming from those very same lips you laughed with.
Let me present the Fuzztones. Psycho-rock and counting. Doors, Seeds, voodoo beads. New York punk (and you do know about that – the Cramps, the Fleshtones, Our Daughter’s Wedding) dating R&B junk. Hailing from the hinterlands of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the badlands that lie outside of American small-town wholesomeness, Rudi Protrudi (who tries to at every live show and is lead vocalist in more ways than one) and Deb O’Nair (Vox Jaguar organ) have minds which formed only a mile from the giant Harrisburg nuclear reactor. They tell me they left just before the place started leaking invisible death through the air in a well hushed-up accident some years ago. They need to talk about it.
“At the time I lived there, the reactor had no guards, no fence. I used to ride my bike around it.” Rudi looks at me without blinking through heavy-lidded eyes. “The bass player from Tina Peel, our previous band, began getting huge lumps growing all over his arms, had to get them repeatedly cut out. Now he has cancer.”
Deb butts in. “I also recently heard rumours that all the flies in the town have died. Yet people pretend it’s not happening. They go on with their lives.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, every little thing’s gonna be all right…” Bob Marley croons glibly in the background. The Fuzztones eyes glitter.
We’re a strange sight tonight. The five five band members are in black leather, with heavy black, almost Beatle-esque mops (except for Deb, who has thick, white-blonde hair down her back). They have bones around their necks. Large, irregular shaped ones. And, while the three New Yorkers – Michael ‘Brontosaurus Bass’ Jay, drummer Ira ‘The Magnet’ (because of his effect on girls) Elliot and Elan Portnoy (rhythm guitar) – observe and quip. Rudi and Deb fight it out for the role of main man, and try not to get too intense. They’re the ones who set up the band five years ago, and it looks like, for both of them, the music is a release for pent-up obsession. If black ivy fastening fly agaric and woody nightshade to your brain, and you can’t afford therapy, do it yourself.
The “ARRAY” of creatures”, as they like to call themselves, sitting together before me have been this way for two years. While Rudi has played professionally since 1967. Deb joined him seven years ago to form Tina Peel (get the joke?), a bubblegum punk band, if you can comprehend that, in hometown Harrisburg.
“We were the most hated band in America,” brags Rudi, “because we were sarcastic, but we were cute. We reacted to the Sex Pistols thing by looking like the Archies in pop art, singing punk beat with a surf edge. Songs? “Fifi Goes Pop”, about a poodle in a microwave, and “Penis Between Us”, and “There’s A Boy In That Bag”, about homosexual murders in Texas.”
Michael and Elan meanwhile, were playing together with The Monitors, an ‘”improvisatory British R&B styled band.” With influences such as the Troggs, the Who, the Kinks and the Pretty Things, they couldn’t locate a vocalist who cared in late-Seventies New York. A decision to visit the Psychedelic Weekend show where the ‘Tones were playing changed things. Michael’s eyes try not to bulge at the memory.
“It was a really wild show.”
Rudi laconically fills in. “Topless dancers were painted entirely in day-glo psychedelic shades. I painted some of ’em.”
So Michael and Elan changed gear, applied and Fuzzed up.
Deb: “And now Mickey plays Bronto bass – that’s big, and loud, and primitive. And Ira is primal throb.” She drawls out the word, lingering with it. “Feel it throbbing and pulsing within your inner self. The earliest feelings of mankind. Think of it. Ripping animals apart.”
Rudi: “While they’re alive. And then sucking the meat off their bones until all you have left is a nice little necklace.”
We stare at each other across the table. I thought you wore human bones? More chuckling and secretive American smiling.
Rudi: These I’m wearing now aren’t. I have had most of my human bones stolen from me, and it’s so hard to get replacements.”
Where do you get them?
“That,” (smirk, smirk) “I will not tell you.”
But I’d like to know.
Debs tells me how she’s wary of bleaching – let’s say ‘found’ – bones since she got bleach vapours in her throat a while back, and made it bleed. “And snake skulls are pretty fragile to work with. But dogs and cats are easy, and human bones, too.”
Tell me about how you grew up, Deb. I think we’d all like to know.
Picture a tiny, blonde-haired girl, living miles out in the sticks. “Well, I was pretty much alone, and my life was lived through the TV, watching monster movies all day. So, I grew up wanting to be a vampire, it was all I ever wanted. It was all I lived for.”
As her chuckle turns into a cackle, Rudi interrupts again. Ego on wheels?
“Our whole lives are what you see – we’re white trash, we’re proud of it. White scum. Let me tell you something. When I was a child my parents divorced, and I lived with my mother. And one night, I woke up because someone was pushing a pillow down on my face. All I know was that no-one was in the room, but I was being stifled. Someone was pushing, and I was pushing back and I was losing. Somehow, I got this thing off. And I know that what was trying to kill me was the ghost of my grandfather. He haunted our house.”
There is no way I can smile as this is being recounted. Whatever has or has not happened, Rudi believes it. He has also taken part in seances, and discusses with me the phenomenon of simulacre, Spirits and entities. Tales of telekinesis (dictionary definition: “the movement of a body without any apparent physical agency” – that is, I’m sitting a foot from the male equivalent of Carrie White). Things smash when Rudi’s around. I’m not about to test him on it.
“Lysergic Emmanations” the LP, is released in the UK ahead of America. What are we to make of the name?
“Look it up,” they say. I have. I want you to tell me (Lysergic acid is more commonly known as LSD).
“Well, you should try to visualise the songs on the album in your mind. What we’re saying is that we’re a mind-altering distortion.”
And tell me, how did the track “Ward 81” come about?
It begins with the recorded voice of the fanatical preacher at a Southern revivalist gospel meeting:
“Ah believe that thousands of people in psychiatric wards, in psychopathic wards, hear me! in inn-sane asylums have been driven there by the Devil! By demon spirits, whose dooty it is to towh-ment people. how many believe me?” A hundred superstitious Southern ladies and gennlemen howl back that they believe. It’s the most chilling thing on the LP.
Deb: “The song recalls the time when Rudi and I were playing in Tina Peel, and we were also working in a government funded project where we would be paid to perform in prisons, in mental institutions, and so on. One Hallowe’en, we played at a home for geriatrics who were there to die. So they brought all these vegetables out in wheelchairs, and they all had on Hallowe’en masks – monster masks, clown masks. We had to play to these people.”
Rudi: “It was just an observation song. I’ve never been put in a mental asylum. Yet.”
This is the band who treat their Vox guitars like Gods. This is the man who has two Vox Phantoms tattooed, crossed, below a skull on his biceps. And another thing. it may be of remote interest to you to know that, at the gig that evening, smiling to myself over Rudi’s voodoo knowledge, I suddenly felt a hand on my face and lost my vision for several seconds. No-one was there. And writing this up, the tape of the LP went completely blank when it reached the part where the preacher’s voice should have been. Of course, there are explanations for these things. But I think you should hear this white trash music. Now. It will move you as nothing else can do. It will invade your brain. And, in a music mixed from sex and voodoo, that can’t hurt, now can it?
By the way, is that your cat squealing?