April 8, 2007

Shocked & Grossed


My old friend Grinch called the other night with some bad news. He’d just learned that Poppa Sneaky Spermshooter was dead.

     At first (believe it or not) I couldn’t place the name, but then Grinch reminded me that Sneaky had been one of several replacement bassists for The Mentors while Dr. Heathen Scum was away at college.

     So far as I can tell, Sneaky actually died of an overdose a few years ago, and even though neither Grinch nor I knew him, word of any Mentors’ passing—whenever you find out about it—is sad news.

     I was first introduced to the music of The Mentors the same way most Americans were—through the 1985 PMRC hearings about the dangers of naughty music. Specifically, most of us learned about The Mentors by way of a spoken word performance given by Tipper Gore, as she hesitantly read aloud the lyrics to “Golden Showers,” one of The Mentors more popular songs:

     Bend up and smell my anal vapors

     Your face is my toilet paper

     The Mentors, who would go on to become the world’s most notoriously offensive heavy metal band, formed in Seattle in 1978, with Dr. Heathen Scum on bass, Sickie Wifebeater on guitar, and the remarkable El Duce on drums and vocals. El Duce (aka Eldon Hoke), an obese, bearded, toad-faced man, also wrote the songs, which tended to focus upon anal sex, drugs, homophobia, rape and spousal abuse.

     With their executioner hoods, old school metal riffs, scatological lyrics and tendency to insult their audiences, The Mentors appealed to both metalheads and punks, gaining recognition within both scenes after moving south to L.A.

     After those PMRC hearings, though, their popularity exploded. It was soon after that I began collecting Mentors records (there weren’t many), and by the time we were in college, Grinch and I considered El Duce not just a role model, but a prophet of the highest order. He embodied everything rock and roll represented: he was crude, drunk, offensive and disgusting—but with a sense of humor. He was excess personified. The greatest honor ever bestowed upon our band, The Pain Amplifiers, was being able to open for The Mentors during the summer of 1986. It was an experience neither one of us will ever forget.

     Well, El Duce went on to appear on talk shows and in a few low-budget films, and remains the most interesting interviewee in the documentary Kurt and Courtney. (For those who haven’t seen it, El Duce claims that Courtney Love offered him $5000 to kill Kurt Cobain. It was a great story and he made the most of it, but I’ll tell you—if you were looking to get someone killed, you simply were not going to ask Duce to do it for you.)

     Then, in April of 1997, El Duce was struck and killed by a train near his home. The stories differ—some say it was a suicide, others that he was drunk and paused on the wrong set of tracks, still others say he was whacked for opening his big yap about Kurt Cobain. It doesn’t matter. What mattered was that he was gone.

     In the aftermath of his death, I was annoyed that most of the eulogies concentrated on his wild ways, his drunken antics, his ability to vomit straight up into the air like a geyser while lying on his back. But they all neglected, I felt, not only The Mentors’ musical legacy (the bass line from “Woman From Sodom” remains one of the greatest in rock history), but El Duce’s role as a Poet for the Ages.

     It was something Grinch and I had recognized 20 years ago, and now, as we approach the tenth anniversary of his passing, I think the time has come for a serious re-evaluation of Duce’s poetic output.

      After receiving word of Sneaky Spermshooter’s death, I went back and re-listened to those albums with a careful ear. I can honestly say they’ve lost none of their charm and wonder and grace. More importantly, El Duce’s poetics shine bright and sharp still, reminding me once again why I was attracted to them in the first place. His fundamental genius, I feel, lay in his ability to rhyme things that are so obvious that no poet in the centuries preceding him had ever bothered to put them together before.

     Take, for instance, this couplet from “Herpes Two,” a song on their You Axed for It album:

     She went to the store to buy some Slurpees

     Two weeks later she came home—with HERPES!

     Consider also the following couplet from “Peeping Tom”:

     I’m a peepin’—I’m a Peepin’ Tom

     I’m a-peepin’—I’m a-peepin’ on your mom!

     You see? Did Longfellow or Browning ever conceive of anything so brilliant? I think not. And the exclamation points at the end of each line only further drives the point home.

     Perhaps the finest example of El Duce’s genius in terms of obvious rhyming can be found in a song I’ve cited above and elsewhere, “Woman From Sodom.”

     As I have written in the past, poetry has been a basic expression of deep spiritual emotion for thousands of years, but all of that was only in preparation, a laying of the groundwork if you will, for El Duce to pen:

     My woman from Sodom

     Likes to take it up the bottom

     El Duce’s poetics, however, extend far beyond simple rhyming. Consider this verse from the song “Judgment Day”:

     All you les’bans with your leather and spikes

     All you are are lesbians and dykes

     Put on your combat boots and hike

     ‘Cause you’re just another dingbat dyke

     In this instance he further simplifies what he was doing in his previous compositions—much like Samuel Beckett, who in his later work scraped away all the clutter, all the unnecessary words and actions, leaving only the core of the human soul on the page.

     Notice how El Duce not only rhymes “dyke” with “dyke,” but also repeats both “lesbian” and “dyke” twice in four lines, as if to condense the pure thought, yet at the same time emphasize it.

     This technique might also be heard in much of El Duce’s onstage banter, in which he uses repetition to make a point. Perhaps the finest example of this might be heard on a live recording made at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles. By way of introducing the next song in the set, El Duce tells the story of how, one evening, he and the other Mentors went out, picked up a woman of loose morals, and returned with her to Duce’s home.

     “ . . . And when I was fuckin’ her,” El Duce tells the crowd, “my good buddies here went through her purse! So we decided we’d write a little song about it (heh, heh) . . . It’s called ‘We’re Goin’ Through Your Purse’!”

     Now, this example in turn opens up an entirely new door into El Duce’s use of self-referentiation throughout his poetry. It’s an almost inexhaustible subject, and one, unfortunately, which must wait for another day.


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