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Butthole Surfers: America’s Most Notorious Psycho-Delic Rock Band

On the road with Gibby Haynes and Co., featuring tales of great football games past, a police raid in Germany, confrontations with mortality, a punctured ear drum, a hit MTV video and various blunt objects hurled from a stage

American, rock band, Butthole Surfers, guitarist, Paul Leary, drummer, King Coffey, lead vocalist, keyboards, Gibby Haynes

The American rock band Butthole Surfers (L - R) guitarist Paul Leary, drummer King Coffey and lead vocalist/keyboards Gibby Haynes pose in New York City in 1996.

Bob Berg/Getty

The Lake Highlands Junior High School Wildcats, of Dallas, had a tradition of sending in the scrubs for one series of downs in the fourth quarter. So their third-string quarterback Gibby Haynes knew he had to make the most of it when he got in a game during the fall of 1970. And he did, marching his team the length of the field, completing six of seven passes, scoring a touchdown, running the bootleg for a two-point conversion. And what did Gibby get for this stellar performance? The coach immediately promoted the receivers to first-string and left Haynes on third-string.

It was an early indication that destiny, or attitude, would push Gibby toward becoming a Butthole Surfer and away from athletics. But still, you wonder what might have happened if he had been able to suck up to the coach and pick the road more traveled. Some years ago, I played touch football with the Buttholes in Austin, Texas, and found that Gibby could throw a football farther than anyone I’ve ever known. Maybe Brett Favre can throw farther — maybe — but I don’t know Brett Favre. I’d be running full speed for what seemed like days, and the ball would still sail over my head by 20 feet. Even when I was playing football in college, I never saw anything like it. On the few occasions when my trajectory actually caught up to that of the ball, it was like catching a concrete block dropped from an airplane. The ball exploded into my chest, popping capillaries, spraining pectoralis major muscles, stopping my heart, knocking me backward to the ground.

Gibby can throw accurately, too. When he was captain of the Trinity University basketball team, in San Antonio, from 1980 to 1981, he was famous for hitting almost all of his free throws. And when the Buttholes were on tour in the early ’90s, Gibby once threw a grape 40 feet into a toilet over a closed stall on the first try.

All of which is an oblique way of saying that I am not without sympathy for the guy who said he got nailed with a can of beer that Gibby hurled from the stage of Zenith, a cavernous club in an industrial section of Munich, Germany. I wouldn’t call him a pussy for going to the hospital. I wouldn’t even call the guy a pussy for summoning the Münchener Polizei, who, as the victim lay in the ambulance, measured the gash in his forehead at 2.5 centimeters. About 10 cops came charging across the parking lot, and then they … didn’t exactly storm the tour bus. Let’s say they searched it with vigor.

“I want to speak to the man who is the singer,” said a cop who had to settle for interrogating the tour manager. Which was a total surprise to me. I thought they were going to arrest the man who was the guitar player, Paul Leary.

The day started bad and got worse. On the bus ride to Zenith, posters advertising the show had New Model Army in very large letters and Butthole Surfers in very small letters, reminding everyone that after 15 years as a band, the Buttholes were still occasionally the opening act.

“This has to be the lowest point ever,” said Paul, unmollified that their single “Pepper” had reached No. 1 on the Modern Rock charts in the States; that their album Electriclarryland had gone gold when nothing else in their vast catalog had come close; that 117 commercial alternative radio stations had pushed them to No. 1 Most Spun over the summer after a career stuck on a de facto blacklist; and that MTV had kept “Pepper” in heavy rotation for seven weeks. “Opening for Nude Model Harvey,” Leary continued. “No support, no marketing, no money, bad press — why are we in Europe?”

” ‘So now you are old and you suck like Mick Jagger. How come it is like shit that I think that you are?’ ” said Gibby, imitating the German music press in an accent halfway between Colonel Klink and a bullfrog, suddenly making the mood more foul by pulling the scab off an old wound from the initial explosion of alternative: “Whose idea was it to open for Nirvana and Pearl Jam?”

“I don’t remember,” said Paul. “I think we make really successful bands feel good about themselves. They listen to us, and they hear the court jester.”

“The corporate jester,” said Gibby.

“Paying the 39 percent artists’ tax,” said Paul.

“I think we got around that this time,” said Gibby. “But we have to eat a lot of Wiener schnitzel.”

“We finally have a hit record, and everyone in the music business is taking credit for it,” said Paul. “Hundreds of guys going around saying, ‘If I can make a hit for the Butthole Surfers, I can make a hit for you.’ “

“I think it was Beavis and Butt-Head myself,” said Gibby. “Five years ago, you couldn’t say ‘Butthole Surfers’ on the radio. They made the world safe for the word ‘butthole.’ “

At the club, we were greeted by a woman who flew in from somewhere as a record-label representative. She bragged that Type O Negative’s album had opened at No. 5 on the German charts; had no information for the Buttholes, who were nowhere on the German charts; and then left long before the show, explaining that she had to go meet her boyfriend.

“Fuck you, bitch,” said Gibby five seconds after she departed from the dressing room. “What did she do — charge a trip to see her boyfriend on our account?”

“We’re at the wrong end of the music business, Gibby,” said Paul. “I wonder if her nose ring catches a lot of boogers on it.”

“Do you remember the time I called you up at 4 a.m. to say Type O Negative had the best Black Sabbath cover ever?” Gibby asked me. I did remember. Type O had covered “Black Sabbath” for Nativity in Black: A Tribute to Black Sabbath. Absolutely killer. I’d also nominate “Sweat Loaf,” the Buttholes’ demented version of “Sweet Leaf,” on their own album Locust Abortion Technician.

“OK, we’re dying in Germany,” said King Coffey, the Buttholes’ drummer. “But ‘Pepper’ is the No. 1 titty-bar song in Texas. They all sing along with the line ‘they were doin’ it in Texas.’ “

“They should carry the Titty Bar charts in Billboard,” said Gibby. “Nothing is more rewarding than the first time you hear your own song in a titty bar.”

” ‘Hey, mom, guess what?’ ” said King in the voice of an enthusiastic little boy.

Everyone laughed for a moment. Then Paul put his head in his hands, and it turned the color of a ripe tomato. The room got quiet, and he threw a bag of cookies out the window.

Zenith had an echo like the Grand Canyon. And it was only slightly smaller, so you could walk among the 3,000-odd attendees without getting jostled. People need compression for intimacy to feel like a crowd, to suspend the normal rules of inviolate body space and become a single, moshing organism. In the absence of compression, people just stared at the Buttholes, who, more than most bands, need a frenzied response to feed their frenzied playing.

Toward the end of the set, Gibby taunted the crowd and hocked a loogie, hitting some unsuspecting New Model Army fan on the ear. Gibby, in turn, got hit with some beer cups, after which he unfurled his long arms and let fly with 12 ounces of aluminum-encased beer. But it was Paul who got the most annoyed.

“Let me tell you one more thing, my fine German friends!” he screamed at the staring audience. “You can all suck a peanut out of my asshole!” The band exploded into “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave,” the first song from its first record, an eponymous EP from 1983 that most of the group’s fans in 1996 haven’t even heard. The song, usually the set closer, is an orgasmically cathartic piece of psychotic folk art that set the tone for the Buttholes’ whole career and is currently used to flip off the audience with lines like “There’s a time to shit and a time for God/The last shit I took was pretty fuckin’ odd.” Puffing great clouds of cigarette smoke, Paul howled an especially soulful rendition (it’s the only song he sings), insulting the crowd again at the end and playing a five-minute symphony of dissonance after the rest of the group had abandoned ship. Flinging his guitar down as he left the stage, Paul grabbed the promoter by the back of the head and gave him a long, searching kiss.

“I hate that,” said Paul in the dressing room, throwing a beer out the window. “They’re an hour late starting the show, and they tell me to cut it short. That Nazi turd. I Frenched him. Better send Ben [the tour manager] to get our money.”

“I feel sorry for our road crew after a show like that,” said Gibby, complaining that his arm was sore from not properly warming up before throwing his can of beer.

It was the wrong moment for the singer of New Model Army to start his vocal warm-up exercises. Paul’s face turned the color of a tomato again as he stepped into the hall and threw another beer, which detonated against a distant wall with a loud crack.

“Shut the fuck up!” Paul screamed.

The New Model Army singer kept singing his scales, so Paul threw another can of beer, this one landing with an ominous thud. “Shut the fuck up!” Paul screamed again, slamming the door.

Someone knocked on the door. Paul opened it.

“You haff hit me on the arm with a bier,” said an agitated German.

“Well, shut the fuck up!” said Paul.

Quickly perceiving that he had picked the wrong court for redress of his grievance, the German left, and the hall remained silent. “I hate this country,” said Paul. “They don’t know how to have fun.”

” ‘Tell me, Mr. Haynes, how is it that more than anyone you are sucking?’ ” said Gibby, once again imitating the Teutonic bullfrog journalist. ” ‘So your penises are small compared now to your music?’ “

Later, when the Münchener Polizei searched the Buttholes’ tour bus with vigor, they ran right by Gibby, who was standing in the parking lot, talking with some fans who spirited him away.

“I’ve never seen cops so mad,” said Robbie the bus driver as the police detained us for three hours. “I thought for sure it was a drug bust.”

“I hate this country,” Paul repeated. “They start a world war every 30 years, and then they get upset when someone hits them in the head with a can of beer.”

Gibby reappeared at the hotel the next morning and the police didn’t, so we drove to Strasbourg, France, for the Fort Louis Festival, one of those all-day European affairs that prefigured Lollapalooza. Paul watched the movie Patton on the bus’s video system for about the 10th time, chuckling as the American tank columns pulverized Germany, reciting his favorite lines from memory: “We’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel.”

On a good night, the Buttholes are the best psychedelic band since the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the Strasbourg show proves to be a good night. The first 20 feet of fans against the stage barrier carried on with sufficient enthusiasm that the proper energy loop between band and crowd was established. Nobody threw anything for all 23 songs of the Buttholes’ set, the preponderance of which came from the two albums they have recorded for Capitol, Independent Worm Saloon and Larryland, but which also drew on some of the best stuff from their decade on small independent labels. Now consisting of Gibby on vocals, Paul on lead guitar, King on drums with hired guns Kyle Ellison on rhythm guitar and Owen McMahon on bass, the Buttholes created the swirling, pagan exorcism for their French fans as only they can do it. The group doesn’t show the medical-school training films on its backdrop anymore (too many people vomited while watching surgery on a guy whose penis got mangled in some farm machinery), but that’s about all it has toned down over the years. If R.E.M. are the Voice of the Sensitive South, then the Buttholes are the Voice of the Insensitive South, and sometimes the Insensate South, slouching toward some Armageddon of absurdity, cutting a 110-decibel fart in the face of all meaning. They are the Anti-Stipe.

Early in the set, some guy in the crowd yelled, “Album! Album!” in a heavy accent when the Buttholes started “Pepper,” and Gibby cracked up. Normally he maintains a persona of intense rage that is unconnected to reality, sort of like a schizophrenic having an argument with a mailbox, as he creates unearthly yowls with his tape loops. But on this night he was laughing too hard, getting off on the light show that created a nifty “halo of stupidity” around Paul’s head during the guitar solos. And Paul was plainly enjoying what he calls “the full vein effect”; that is, closing his eyes during his demented guitar solos and watching the veins in his eyelids as the huge bank of strobe lights flashed.

“Album! Album!” Gibby repeated several times.

This year has been nothing but grief,” said Paul in an abandoned dressing room after the set. “My dog died; my mom died; I broke my hand; too many of the musicians I’ve produced got messed up on heroin; and I can’t pay my bills.”

A native of San Antonio, Paul met Gibby at Trinity University, where the two shared a taste for obnoxious underground music and weird art. Gibby was known for playing tennis nude on the courts in the center of campus during the big football game but paid enough attention to his studies that Paul’s father, an accounting professor, named him Accounting Student of the Year. Paul continued to work in a lumberyard after his graduation, in 1980, then went for his master’s in business. After a few classes he took his $7,000 student loan and bought amplifiers. Gibby took a job with an accounting firm after graduating, in ’81, and came to band practice every day in his suit, which he stripped off and left in a trail on the floor. He still likes to sing in his boxer shorts. Gibby retains not the slightest instinct for accounting, while Paul still has enough business acumen to see that he has no business doing business for the Buttholes.

“I don’t know why that is,” said Paul, slumped in a chair, his face drained of all tomato color. “I don’t have these problems when I’m a producer for other bands. I’m in charge, I can be the hardass. I can make big decisions with the budget. But when I’m a musician, I become a pathetic lump. Musicians don’t understand money. You’re an artist creating art, not a businessman creating product. Financially, you’re a sacrificial lamb, and if you can’t accept that, you’re fucked. The compensation isn’t money. It’s walking through a crowd and knowing everyone else is a schmuck. It’s like Patton said: At least you won’t have to tell your grandchildren you spent World War II shoveling shit in Louisiana.”

Paul’s dog, Farner, died in January, the day before the Super Bowl. Named for Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, Farner was a gentle, loyal pit bull that Paul rescued from the San Antonio pound, in 1982. She traveled with the Buttholes for several years, guarding their van when the musicians were off playing or eating, providing entertainment and an emotional anchor through the rigors of touring when alternative was underground. It wasn’t the easiest life, but it beat the gas chamber at the pound. Nobody ever loved a dog more than Paul loved Farner.

“She was my reason to keep going for a long time,” said Paul. “All I wanted was to make enough money so I could get her a house and backyard.”

It was modest house in Austin, with his grandmother’s china in a case by the door, paintings of space aliens on the wall and guitars stashed in every corner. Farner responded well to the orderly atmosphere, living several years longer than the average pit bull, expiring peacefully in her favorite sunny place in the backyard.

Four months after Farner was buried in the backyard, the Buttholes did a two-week warm-up tour of Europe. When Paul returned home, he discovered that his mother had gone to the hospital with what seemed to be food poisoning. It turned out to be complications from a painful case of pancreatitis a few years before. She had just a few weeks to live, and the Butthole Surfers had a tour scheduled to support the just-released Electriclarryland.

The first show was at the Austin Music Hall, in front of the Buttholes’ hometown crowd. They didn’t rehearse for two weeks because Paul needed to be at his mother’s bedside in San Antonio. And they had a new crew. Everything went wrong. They missed major cues; 75 percent of their usually awesome light show went down; the PA went out on the third song; the air conditioning didn’t work. Capitol had flown in a lot of press and radio people, and it was the worst show ever. After an encore that the crowd didn’t much call for, Paul stalked offstage, slamming his fist into a bathroom door.

“I didn’t give a shit about anything,” said Paul. “I was hoping to break my hand so we could end the tour right there. I laughed all the way to the hospital. I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew which bones to break.”

Well, sort of. He shattered the bones leading to the knuckles of the ring finger and pinkie of his right hand. If he’d truly wanted to end the tour and his career, he could have smashed his left hand, the one that forms the chords. All he got was a large cast and a whole lot of pain. Call it a gesture of cathartic ambivalence.

“My dad insisted I go on with the tour,” Paul recalled. ” ‘This is your 15-year investment. You’ve got to go,’ he said. But I sure didn’t want to. I just hate it when somebody congratulates me for having a No. 1 song on the Modern Rock charts or something. Just get me the fuck out of here. We all deal with dying parents, but this has been really tough.”

So the tour proceeded, with Paul flying home to San Antonio at every opportunity, until his mother finally died. In Houston, he took one too many painkillers and started the same song over and over throughout the set. In Corpus Christi, Texas, the band played a huge outdoor show that turned ugly when someone threw a Casio diving watch, sailing it like a Frisbee and hitting Gibby hard on the hand. Gibby demanded that the crowd exact retribution on his assailant. The crowd started chanting, “Fuck you! Fuck you!” Gibby told them, “We’ve already got your money. I don’t care if you buy our record, you white trash, scumbag pieces of shit.” He dared the guy who threw the watch to come backstage, and when the guy (or somebody) was dumb enough to show up snarling insults, Gibby punched him out. That show made USA Today twice. Ornery because of a recently punctured eardrum and a hernia operation, Gibby got in a huge mud fight with the audience at the Reading Festival, in England. In Vienna the band played a venue where it invented a new game: Name That Urine Smell.

The Buttholes played two shows that were more fondly remembered. On Aug. 8, they appeared for the first time on network television, playing a flawless version of “Pepper” on the Late Show With David Letterman. In San Antonio, Paul’s father attended his first Butthole Surfers concert.

“It was just after my mother died,” said Paul. “My dad came early, watched us set up. Everyone treated him like a king. Gibby and I both mentioned him from the stage. We played well, and he stayed the whole time, even partied and hung out afterward. He gave us business advice.”

In 1986, Paul showed me a letter from his father that asked, “Where would the Beatles be today if they had called themselves ‘Butthole Surfers’?” Was that still an issue now?

“No, I think my dad became genuinely proud. He was always supportive,” Paul said. “I feel bad that I was a disappointment for a while, but in the long run, I think I gained some respect [from his father] because I stuck with it. I think [his parents] got a kick out of the notoriety. When my mom was a substitute teacher at Mark Twain Middle School [in San Antonio], people found out I was her son. She got this new status, and I think she got a kick out of that. She was the kind of person who donated a lot of her time to helping people. She taught the deaf. She volunteered to spend time with Cambodian refugees to teach them English and how to get along. She spent hours tutoring people who needed it. She was a Republican from the Depression mold, meaning she hated waste.

“My parents were schoolteachers who were well-off because they never spent any of the money they made, and yet they were very generous,” Paul continued. “All my clothes came labeled “Irregular,” and my pant legs would be of different lengths. But my father bought me my first guitars.”

Had his mother ever seen him play? “No. My dad claimed she would have enjoyed it, but I don’t think she would.”

If Paul had his career to do over, would he consider his father’s question from 1986? Maybe try an easier route with a name that didn’t make television announcers wince? “No, I’m really glad we did it the way we did. But I couldn’t do it again.”

On the tour bus to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, King discussed the Buttholes’ financial situation. “After we paid the crew and all the equipment rentals, our profit for the two-week European tour we did in the spring was $18,” he said. “That was divided three ways among Paul, Gibby and me. For the whole summer, we’ll make maybe $2,000 apiece. That’s the way it’s always been. Any money we make we put back into the show.” (It turns out that after the tour was over, the accountants told King that the Buttholes didn’t even make $18 — they lost thousands.)

“You remember that house we rented in Georgia where you visited us 10 years ago?” King asked me. “You were so bummed because there wasn’t anything soft to sit on. Just amplifiers and equipment cases. Paul’s parents sent him a hundred bucks once, and he announced, ‘I’m going to town and get something that will improve our lives.’ I thought, ‘Oh, boy, he’s going to bring back a chair!’ And he came back with another guitar. ‘Just listen to this!’ he said. And I’m like, ‘That’s great, Paul.’ That aspect of the band has never changed.”

Texans with an artistic sensibility tend to migrate to Austin, and that is what King did, in 1983, when he joined the Buttholes and became half of a dual drumming team with his sister Teresa. Originally from Fort Worth, King developed a unique style, playing a vast array of floor toms with no bass drum. Teresa has since left the band, and King has added a bass and a chair to sit on, but he still has that tribal drive that lays the foundation for Paul’s guitar solos from Mars and Gibby’s absurdist ranting.

“In 1983, it was scream therapy, where anything could happen at any time,” King said. “Total mayhem that was beyond orchestration. Now we’re a big rock show, but I enjoy that, even if it means more pressure to perform well. I have to nail a particular drum fill because it’s leading to something else that has to be there. When we really hit it, I think we’re the best band on the planet. We picked up where Pink Floyd left off and added the wisdom of punk rock. We’re not performance art anymore, but we are visual art in a rock mode.”

Was King bothered that Gibby was drinking again? “Gibby is basically back with us,” King said. “There was a period when he was a walking zombie. Nobody’s a bad junkie for a long time. Either you get over it and live, or you overdose and die. It was my job to check on him every few days. I’d ring his doorbell and wait for a long time, fully expecting to find the aftermath of Kurt Cobain. But he always answered, and he’s kicked heroin. As for the alcohol, we’ve been drinking from the beginning. He’s full of ideas again; he’s lucid. He may not be the same person he was in ’83, but who is?”

If I throw something back at the audience, I let karma guide my missile,” said Gibby in his hotel room at about 2 a.m. that night. “I am the fucking right arm of karma, and it’s a fucking 80-mile-an-hour son of a bitch. I have survived full-on assassination attempts onstage. I’ve been physically attacked onstage. Wicked shit, man. It doesn’t ever disturb me that I might hit an innocent person. I mean, at Reading, people were throwing mud clods at us. If I shut my eyes for a second, I could get hit in the head in front of 20,000 people. What kind of shit is that? My only choice was to pick ’em up or catch ’em and throw ’em back. They even threw an apple that I caught and threw back. That toss was beyond reproach. I didn’t actually see who it hit, just the green-and-white plume of applesauce as it sailed into someone’s cranium. And it was a drag, too, ’cause they didn’t throw mud at anyone else. So I was like, ‘Fuck you, England.’ And fuck you, Munich, for having 10 people who came there to see us. I never want to play a place again where they don’t want us. I worry about some motherfucker coming up behind me and blowing my head off sometimes. It’s a bummer when you get your mail opened up and scattered on your lawn. You know what the ultimate curse is? Being famous without any money. The ultimate curse is [being] Richard Jewell [the guy the FBI investigated for the Olympics bombing in Atlanta]. We’re the Richard Jewell of rock & roll.”

One of a tiny minority of tall people in popular music, Gibby has been described as “the world’s ugliest sex symbol”; he’s described himself as “the world’s sexiest ugly symbol.” He dresses like a biker and has a hugely changeable face — demonic one second and friendly the next, and you appreciate the friendly all the more for the demonic. I was walking down the street with him once in New York, and he jostled this yuppie stockbroker in a suit. The guy clenched his fists and was ready to say something until he saw the skull and crossbones (actually a crossed crack pipe and syringe) tattooed on Gibby’s arm. The guy wilted. Life around Gibby is one long collection of those moments.

“I wish I was Neil Young,” said Gibby. “I’m not known for writing good songs. I’m known for putting my foot in my mouth and saying funny things. That’s cool, I guess. Maybe I should have been a stand-up comedian, ’cause they’re the only people who jump genres and go into acting and score big. They can also be talk-show hosts. I could have … uh, rotten excuse. I just wish I didn’t suck.”

Gibby has actually written a fantastic array of memorable songs. They don’t sound anything like Neil Young’s, but they do rearrange your brain synapses by playing with meaning and exploding clichés like nothing else in rock & roll. Unfortunately, most of the Buttholes’ catalog is spread out over various small labels that have operated at varying levels of homemade dysfunctionality. If the Buttholes ever settle their lawsuits over back royalties, they’ll be ripe for one of the great box sets of all time. On their first Capitol album, Independent Worm Saloon, they had a minor hit with “Who Was in My Room Last Night?” — a hit because it was catchy and got your heart pumping, minor because it was too demented for a pop audience, and Beavis and Butt-Head were not too far along in the process of desensitizing the American language. “Pepper” has hit a more universal chord with its barbiturate-slow tremolo and monotone rap about the surreal nature of high school.

“It kind of overglorifies that,” said Gibby. “It wallows in the self-pity of the whole I-had-the-weirdest-River’s Edge high school ever. But everybody has their wild-ass situation where there’s a car wreck and a house on fire, and a rape and the strange teacher, and the pedophilia with the wrestling coach. Everybody’s had that shit go down. What’s good about it? The melody? The chorus?”

The song hit a resonant theme. It’s been rare in the past when audiences have sung along with Butthole Surfers songs. Normally they just stare in awe and terror. “Obviously, there is something in that song that makes people want to hear it again,” Gibby said. “I think it’s pretty cold and clumsy. I wish we’d had more time to work with it.”

Capitol presented the band with a budget of $250,000 for the video of its next single, which at the time was to be “Jingle of a Dog’s Collar.” (It will instead be “TV Star.”) “Man, that is an ass load of money,” Gibby said. “That’s just outrageous. I don’t know how many records you’d have to sell to pay that back. If you could buy a killer video, I’d pay twice that, if that’s what it takes to buy the most plays on MTV for the year. But nothing buys that.”

For the Butthole Surfers, “Jingle” was an oddly quiet and mournful song, with Gibby repeating its chorus, “What do they know about love?” “It sounded good when I wrote it ’cause it was on an out-of-tune acoustic guitar,” said Gibby. “I couldn’t walk at the time. My leg was all stoved up.”

Stoved up?

“Elephantiasis,” Gibby said.

It was a response to Gibby’s stoved-up leg?

“Yeah, it was me and Mr. Cigar,” Gibby said.

Gibby’s dog, Mr. Cigar?

“Yeah,” Gibby said. “It was me and Mr. Cigar against the world. He’d come over and offer his condolences.” So the song was serious or ironic?

“I don’t know, man,” Gibby said. “You can take them any way you want. But what it’s really about is, waking up on the floor with a dog licking your face, in the bathroom with blood on the ceiling and the walls. Bathtub as a toilet. Fifty gnarly rigs lying everywhere. Dirty dope spoons taped to the wall, made into art pieces. I thought it was a joke. I got down, man.”

Was his state of mind that, when Gibby is in that position, only Mr. Cigar is capable of love?

“No, it’s the opposite,” Gibby said. “It is ironic, because it’s laughing about me, thinking I’m so pitiful that it’s come to this. It’s like me looking at someone else. I didn’t realize things were so wacko, out of control. It was business as usual, as far as I was concerned. All I had to do was get some weird junkie freaks to come over and clean my house and make things neat, and I thought things were cool. I was almost writing the song about the person who people thought I was, when in fact I was the person who people thought I was,” Gibby said with a laugh. “But I didn’t know it.”

Between Independent Worm Saloon and Electriclarryland, Gibby spent time in two rehabs, one in California and one in Florida: “The first one was where I saw Kurt Cobain. My counselor came to me and said, ‘I thought we’d put you together in the same room.’ I thought, ‘Cool, man, we’ll listen to some tunes together, eat some Valiums.’ But for some reason he didn’t want to be my roommate. Which was kind of a drag. But the day after he dezombified, we took a field trip in a van from the rehab with a bunch of people. We were laughing about a mutual friend who had been there and jumped over the wall in the recreation area to escape. I was saying it was funny, ’cause what you had to do was walk out the front door, call a cab from the pay phone and leave. And, sure enough, even though we’d been laughing about it, Kurt jumped over the wall, too.”

Gibby made it through the rehab but was using again after 10 days. Things got worse and worse with both heroin and cocaine, until he tried another rehab. Amazingly, he emerged focused enough to begin working as a DJ on KROX, in Austin, even winning a Billboard award for Best Air Personality in a small market. Since the last rehab, he’s stayed away from the harder drugs, though he has resumed drinking.

“I probably should stop again,” Gibby said. “I wish I was straight enough to take control of the entire situation that surrounds us. But I don’t think that would be possible. The best thing I can do now is deliver music. That’s my best focus, is to try to create art. Our most recent album isn’t that cool. It’s just a pretty good Butthole Surfers album. We really want to record another one soon, do a really great psychedelic, cool-as-shit album that grooves. I’d just really like to be part of the bridge from alternative to whatever’s next.”

If he could go back to the beginning of alternative, would he make it easier on the band by naming it something more palatable to Middle America?

“Yes,” said Gibby. “I would name the band: I’m Going to Shit in Your Mother’s Vagina.” 

In This Article: Butthole Surfers, Coverwall

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