When the history of 90’s music is written I can
that while obvious super groups like The Pixies and Nirvana will be
for not only their amazing songwriting abilities but their virtual
overnight erasure of the hair-rock malaise that led us out of the 80’,
lesser known bands that impacted and
continue to impact the fringe element of wayward music journeyers’
‘what’s next’ get their day at the parade. Groups like The Jesus Lizard
Butthole Surfers count in this vein I think, but they also have, by
so much of the bigger stuff that has come down the pipes since them,
maneuvered themselves into
their own special hall of fame. However there are quite a few other
amazing in their own rights, that history often overlooks despite
out great, blood-pumping and influential music during the era
before the affordable home recording technologies or the internet
boom changed the entire program.
Chief among these bands is ALICE DONUT.
I remember in the early nineties always seeing Alice Donut’s
records while shopping the local Record Swap for Alice in Chains rarities. The
band’s album covers, which chronicled a kinda frightening transvestite named Chet usually
dressed in rather revealing lingerie always caught my eye (how could they not?) but never enticed me
to take a chance with the piddley twenty-or-so dollars I routinely earned every
week cutting the grass or helping one or both of my parents with whatever work
might have needed to be done around the house that week. Again, this was before
the days of widespread internet and its album sampling, before even the advent of blockbuster music
and it’s ‘listening station’ idea. In 1992, when you walked into a record
store, you were either buying what you knew you wanted or taking a chance sight
unseen. Sometimes that worked well for me, as was the case with Corrosion of Conformities
‘BLIND’ album (which I bought specifically because it had a track entitled
‘VOTE WITH A BULLET’ on it) but it had also burned me once or twice, like with
relatively obscure Industrial band Circle of Dust (mundane). So as much as
serendipity seemed to be parading Alice Donut in front of me I remained
unenlightened for some time.
Eventually Alice in Chains drifted away and record stores
began to shrink their selections as the first tendrils of online shopping and
sampling began. Without it routinely in my peripheral I forgot all about Alice Donut.
Fast forward now to the mid-nineties, when my
band Schlitz Family Robinson started playing shows with another local Chicago group,
Celestial Crumb, who it turned out regularly augmented their already amazing
live set with cover versions of two Alice Donut songs: EVERYBODY’S ON SALE and
HANG THE DOG. These quickly became rabid crowd pleasers for the Crumb and the
more we got to know the three guys in the group the more we hung out and swapped music.
Alice Donut was one of the first and most appreciated donations Celestial Crumb
made to my record collection (besides their own catalogue).
While I have heard but do not own or intricately know
everything The Donut produced from their inception in 1986 I know a few of their
albums, none better than where I would recommend anybody begin with the band,
their masterpiece of deformed love gone awry, THE UNTIDY SUICIDES OF YOUR
Aside from presenting the two aforementioned songs I got to
know through Celestial Crumb, ‘Suicides’ as it is often abbreviated, contains 15
tracks of grimy, screeching, hard rock ecstasy, all with thought-provoking
titles such as, ‘THE SON OF A
DISGRUNTLED X-POSTAL WORKER REFLECTS ON HIS LIFE WHILE GETTING STONED IN THE
PARKING LOT OF A WINN DIXIE LISTENING TO METALLICA’ and all progressing an
ambitious if not severely disturbed concept portraying the fallout from a
guy who falls in love with a girl who has a octopod-like growth on her vagina
he refers to, not entirely without affection, as The Tingler*.
Sounds like fun, no?
Alice Donut was a hard touring band from the beginning, and
in the ten years of their initial lifespan (1986-1996, reforming in 2004 and
continuing, thankfully, to this day) released seven proper studio albums and
played 1000 live shows. They found a home early on at Jello Biafra’s Alternative
Tentacles record label and alternately created rabid fans and hateful
denouncers with their patented brand of musical mayhem, many of the latter victims of a limited acceptance ability for
vocalist Tomas Antona’s often bone-chilling screech. What these short-sighted
folks failed to see by not opening up to the naked aggression insulating every
one of Antona’s shrill shockers is no other vocal style could have better complimented the cynically
toxic lashings the musical material demanded. Material definitely owing more to the marginal, slimy part of existence than the happy, or even routinely melancholy rock music so often dealt with at this time in its history. The term gutter punk may best be
defined by scum such as gg allin but for those seeking some talent mixed in
with their gutter, The Donut is the first place to turn.
Musically Alice Donut is often associated with
‘Punk’, ‘Post-Punk’ and other derivations of similar nomenclature,
those of us who know the might of The Donut know calling them Punk is
calling The Butthole Surfers metal. The sheer instrumentation employed
on Donut albums would seem to force a retraction of such easily-arrived
classification. Tracks like ‘SHE LOVES YOU, SHE WANTS YOU IT’S AMAZING
HEAD WOUNDS BLEED’ and its slinky, sleazy Trombone riff, or
the recurring use of instruments such as Piano or Accordion, not just
background accents but as song-building staples, put The Donut on an
different level than other dirty, angry label mates such as Thrall or more media-friendly soul mates Nomeansno.
It’s no secret I’ve been on a 90’s kick lately, and it’s starting to annoy even me the way I end up referring to the entire decade’s music output by it’s possessive-number component. However, as a friend recently pointed out to me there was a common genome laced through A LOT of that decade’s music – something tying much of what was going on in many seemingly disparate corners of the music industry together at that time – a time that led directly into the clusterfuck zeitgeist we find ourselves in now. Where bands like Alice Donut used to deliver albums’ worth of material with titles like ‘My Life is a Mediocre Piece of Shit’ and manage to not only avoid sounding whiny about also still manage to kick listeners in the balls, today self-loathing is par for the course and about as dangerous or violent as Doogie Howser full of Placidyl. If the pre-packaged rebellion of groups like rise against is the new cocaine for the masses, Alice Donut remains the glue-smoking, Old Crow swilling old man down the street that lives in his dilapidated house with an inflatable woman for a wife.
Now wouldn’t you want to go visit that guy and hear his twisted stories? If the answer is yes go buy Suicides and bask in the filth.
* I have seen some stuff since this concept was
described to me by the Crumb that suggests the album is not a concept
album. At this point I am unclear yet also unwilling to investigate
further – I’d rather believe it is because in the years I’ve listened
to Suicides I’ve worked out a way it all fits together – and I’m not
about to give that up!!!