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Keith Morris Comes Full Circle with Midget Handjob

Midget Handjob finds Circle Jerks' Keith Morris shifting speeds

September 27, 2000 12:00 AM ET

"I've always been an equal opportunity offender," says one time punk rock curator Keith Morris of his partiality toward lewd band names and song titles. After all, the now forty-something former Circle Jerks vocalist has, in the past, brought forth such musical pleasantries as "World Up My Ass," "When The Shit Hits The Fan" and "Killing For Jesus."

For his new project, Morris, a resident of Los Angeles' artsy Silverlake section, has also chosen the similarly obscene moniker Midget Handjob. And while the names bear likeness, the audible differences between MHJ's just-dropped Midnight Snack Break At The Poodle Factory and the Jerks' works are considerable.

Plagued by diabetes, the Hermosa Beach-native has found himself minus the energy needed to sustain his former group. Although the disease forced Morris to abandon his forceful punk rock approach, he has refused to let it keep him from quitting music altogether. His seething wit makes no sacrifices, however, and is stronger than ever on new diatribes like "Jackhammer Floral Arrangement" and "Pornographic Scenes and Smiling Dreams."

"I had these flu-like symptoms that wouldn't go away," he says of his condition. "I went to a physician and found out I had diabetes. That was about a year and a half ago. Another thing that sucked was that I had to have my appendix removed around the same time and the recovery on that was really drawn out. It took me forever to get my strength back. With diabetes, every time you get sick, the recovery is at least twice as long as it would be for someone without it."

"I started mounting these ridiculous medical bills," the still-dreadlocked Morris continues, "because I didn't have health insurance when all this shit was going on. I still don't because it's so damn expensive. But I was really lucky last year when all these great bands did a benefit on my behalf. Maynard Keenan from Tool played with A Perfect Circle, Pennywise and Fishbone also played, and there was a jazzy Circle Jerks cover band. I still owe a lot of money, but it was really reaffirming to me that people cared."

With his health rebounding, the outspoken Circle Jerk began seeking a creative outlet. "I started out doing spoken word in L.A., kind of taking a cue from people like [Henry] Rollins and John Doe," says Morris. "The first time I did it, I had this unique opportunity placed before me where I had three hours to decide what I was going to say. I ended up reading from a Dr. Seuss book and people loved it. In Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, I always had a forum for thoughts, but this was a more literal, literary way of communicating."

Things were so encouraging, that Morris began to accentuate his verse with sound. "I brought this old crappy ghetto blaster along with these music collages I had made," he says. "I started using them to emphasize and heighten what I was doing. Adding live musicians was just an extension of that."

"The beauty of Midget Handjob," says Morris of his hand-picked seven-piece group, "is that we don't have a drummer, just percussionists playing on mop buckets and pots and pans. Because we've never had a proper drummer, we don't need all those trucks and vans that other bands use. We can all just climb in the car and go to the club. It should make touring, which we're planning to do this fall, much simpler. We're going to all the cities where the Circle Jerks used to draw a thousand people or more. Hopefully, there will be enough curiosity seekers to keep us going."

Morris' verbal blitz currently receives augmentation from Frenchman John LeBear (Saxophone) plus ex-members of Clawhammer (multi-instrumentalists Jon Wahl and Chris Bagarozzi), Lutefisk (percussionist Brandon "Quazar" Jay), the Geraldine Fibbers (percussionist/guitarist Kevin Fitzgerald) and Detox (guitarist Tony Malone), all of whom appeared on the album.

Recorded in the high desert of Southern California, in the studio at Rancho De La Luna with producer Tom Grimley, Poodle Factory almost didn't happen as the band encountered an earthquake. But Morris makes light of it. When the "tumbler" hit, he laughs, he didn't even get out of bed. "What the hell for?" he asks. "I've lived my whole life in California, so an earthquake is hardly a new experience for me. All these people were convening in the parking lot of the motel, freaking out because we had lost power."

The power came back, of course, and Poodle Factory was back on track. Recording it allowed Morris the opportunity to reconnect with why punk music means so much to him. "For a while I was a bit depressed and I had really had enough of punk," Morris admits, "but I can't deny something that I helped create. In the Seventies, I worked in a record store where the owner only wanted to play Fleetwood Mac or Joni Mitchell, boring records like that. So whenever he would go to the bank or to get his sandwich, I would put on Iggy and the Stooges and try to expose those sounds to whoever I could. Now that I'm exposed to a lot of the music put out by Epitaph, I've found out about a lot of groups. I especially like a band called the Explosion, on Jade Tree Records."

Pleased with the results of Midnight Snack Break at the Poodle Factory and grateful to have his health back, Morris reveals, "I'm hoping that this record does well enough that Epitaph allows me to do another one. [Epitaph owner and former Bad Religion member] Brett [Gurewitz] pretty much understands that it's important to keep me busy and this record was really inexpensive to make. Over the years, the Circle Jerks were really good to Bad Religion, so it looks like things are starting to come full circle, pun intended."

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