Mike “Puffy” Bordin, the wiry drummer for Faith No More, is sitting on a curb outside New York City’s Ritz, chin supported by his fist, a dreadlocked version of Rodin’s Thinker. He squints up at a teenager who has spent the last ten minutes harassing him for free tickets to tonight’s show. Bordin, who’s been dragged around mercilessly by Faith No More’s publicist since nine this morning, is tired, hungry and especially cranky. Still, he’s making an effort to be polite.
“See that girl over there?” Bordin asks, waving a hand toward Faith No More’s tour bus. “She’s a good friend of ours. We’ve known her for seven years. Seven years! She doesn’t have tickets to the show, either.”
The fan hangs around for another few minutes, then disappears. Jim Martin, Faith No More’s guitarist, departs for the band’s hotel. The rest of the band members set out for a Chinese restaurant a few blocks away.
They’ve only taken a few steps when the same annoying cretin pops out from behind a lamppost. He lopes along behind the band for about a block, until it’s clear that no dinner invitation is forthcoming. Finally, he skulks off down a side street.
Once he’s out of earshot, Bordin sighs. “You know,” he says glumly, “it’s never been my nature to tell strangers to fuck off. Maybe I’d better learn how.”
* * *
Six months ago, any member of Faith No More could’ve walked down a busy street unrecognized. Today, corralled by sharp-eyed strangers in airports and shopping malls, waylaid by autograph seekers outside hotels and concert halls, they’re at that crossroads reached by countless other performers who weren’t careful what they wished for. Eight years and three albums after they first emerged in San Francisco, the members of Faith No More are faced with the unsettling possibility that the anonymity they strove for years to overcome wasn’t the curse they thought it was.
In early 1990, Faith No More was still trying to break out of cult status; the band’s third album, The Real Thing, released in June 1989, had already disappeared from the Billboard charts. But things started to change in late February. After the band received an attention-getting Grammy nomination for Best Heavy Metal Performance, The Real Thing reentered the charts at Number 188. Then, in March, when MTV began airing the arty video for the single “Epic,” The Real Thing began to move steadily. In late July, the album cracked the Top Twenty and was certified gold. It’s still climbing.
While the members of the band acknowledge the massive boost afforded them by MTV’s support, they’re quick to point out that the break was well deserved. “We’ve worked for a really long time,” says Roddy Bottum, the soft-spoken keyboardist. “We’ve earned what we’ve achieved — a little more than some record company all of a sudden giving us a lot of money.”
Bordin, Bottum and bassist Billy Gould formed Faith No More in 1982. They wrote together for a year before recruiting Jim Martin, who’d been kicking around the Bay Area in a band called Vicious Hatred, which also included the late Cliff Burton, Metallica’s original bassist. Unable to find a suitable vocalist, the quartet took to playing clubs with an open-mike policy, letting a member of the audience supply vocals each night. One volunteer, Chuck Mosely, a mohawked howler who was a friend of Gould’s, began turning up regularly to monopolize the microphone, and eventually he was inducted into the band. “We were kind of mismatched,” says Bordin. “But things were going well, and we wanted to see it develop.”
The band recorded two raw punk albums with Mosely — 1985’s We Care a Lot, on Mordam, and 1987’s Introduce Yourself, on Slash — both of which netted a fair amount of college airplay. But while Mosely’s snarling nonvocals and maniacal stage presence endeared him to Faith No More’s following, his volatility began to wear on his band mates, and after a spring 1988 tour of Europe — during which the British press had a field day chronicling the explosive personality clashes that were erupting between Mosely and the others onstage and off — he was given the boot.
In early 1989, with the music for The Real Thing already composed, the band was auditioning to replace Mosely when Mike Patton turned up at a Faith No More gig and presented Martin with a tape of his band, Mr. Bungle. Martin began pestering his band mates to call Patton for an audition. Shortly afterward, Patton was hired. In the space of a week, the twenty-one-year-old wrote the lyrics for The Real Thing.
Those lyrics, a marvel of musical role-playing, found Patton inhabiting the psyches of various characters — an infant, a vampire, a sleazy Casanova attempting to seduce a girl forty years his junior — and viewing the world through their eyes. Surprisingly introspective — considering how quickly they were written by someone as outwardly happy-go-lucky as Patton — the lyrics were perfectly suited to Faith No More’s sound, a moody meltdown of warring elements: crash-and-burn guitar tempered by lazy piano; sharp funk bass married to schizophrenic tribal rhythms.
While Mosely’s grating monotone proved limiting for Faith No More, Patton — as comfortable gritting out the teeth-rattling heavy metal favored by Martin as he is crooning rapturous soul over Bottum’s cabaret-style piano — allowed the band to play up its versatility. The difference, as evidenced on The Real Thing, is so drastic that some fans of the band’s earlier albums are shouting sellout — a theory the band views as hogwash. “We had a little more money and time in the studio,” says Gould, “and Mike can sing — he kind of elevates everything. If you’d heard this record with Chuck singing, it would have been along the same lines as Introduce Yourself.”
Faith No More has never been shy, however, about admitting to its hankering for a wider audience. “I don’t see the point of limiting accessibility out of stubbornness,” says Gould. “There’s always been this misconception that ‘commercial’ equals ‘stupid.’ Just because something is accepted by a lot of people, it doesn’t mean there isn’t some interesting thought behind it, you know? You can actually do a lot of damage on a mass scale.”
* * *
Patton, Bordin, Gould and Bottum have descended upon Kee-Wah-Yen, a dimly lighted Chinese restaurant in midtown Manhattan, with a clownish enthusiasm that belies their exhaustion. They have ruthlessly combed their menus for Chinese delicacies having names with goof value (an item called roast pork puff, inexplicably, sends them into peals of hysterical laughter), and they’ve ordered them all, just to see what they look like. In the past hour they’ve resorted to all manner of buffoonery, from systematically defaming the character of the absent Martin to mounting an intelligent debate on the merits of naked stage diving.
This is the side of Faith No More that emerges onstage. Indeed, the band’s live show, theater of the absurd at its finest, is fast becoming legend. Faith No More imbues its set with sly bits of popular culture; anything the members of the band read in the papers or pick up in casual conversation is potential fodder for tomfoolery. (Earlier today, Patton was eagerly scanning the New York Post‘s account of the search for Dart Man, a deranged New Yorker who has been stalking Manhattan women with a homemade blowgun. Tonight, Dart Man will snag a song dedication.) Television is also an inspiration. The Jeopardy theme is one Faith No More staple; another, the band’s camp pièce de résistance, is a syrupy, full-blown rendition of a Nestle’s commercial that finds a straight-faced Patton wailing, “Sweet dreams you can’t resist, N-E-S-T-L-E-S,” as if there were no tomorrow.
Unlikely cover versions are a band forte. Tonight, the members of Faith No More will preface their blistering version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with Madonna’s “Vogue” (complete with an onstage voguing contest) and follow it up with a near-perfect facsimile of the Commodores’ “Easy.” They’ll also plow through a few bars of “The Right Stuff,” by New Kids on the Block.
If the members of the band approach each show like they’re auditioning for the circus, Mike Patton is the indisputable King Mown. A bundle of uninhibited energy, Patton works the stage in a constant state of manic panic, lurching around with the spastic gait of a B-movie horror creature. He can be seen, on any given night, warbling through an entire number with a Hefty bag over his head, staging a beer-throwing contest or using an upended garbage can as an impromptu bongo drum. He is fond of stage diving and exaggerated pratfalls, and particularly fond of terrorizing his band mates. (Tonight, when he flings a steaming pizza to the audience and stray slices begin returning to the stage like gooey boomerangs, Patton will retrieve one, delightedly sneak up behind Martin and drape it over his head.)
To watch Faith No More on a stage is to risk sensory overload, and to suspect that the band members don’t take anything — least of all themselves — seriously. Yet when they are asked about the changes wrought by their new-found celebrity status, it’s clear that there is something this gang of pranksters doesn’t find very funny — namely, that they have yet to see any spoils. Their bankbooks are still barren, and at a time when, after years of steady touring, they should be able to kick back and take a breather, they find themselves working even harder.
“Our time isn’t that much our own anymore,” says Bordin. “It’s like living in jail, only they take us out to eat lunch at the Ritz. When you see your position on the chart, it’s terrific. But it’s like it’s happening somewhere else. It’s demoralizing when you’re supposedly doing really well, but in fact nothing has changed, and it’s just as fucked as ever.”
“And then people come up to you and say, ‘Hey, Axl Rose likes your record,’ ” says Patton.
“Yeah,” says Bordin. “It’s like, ‘Can Axl loan me twenty bucks?’ I mean, it’s cool that those people gave quotes to help us out, but it doesn’t change your life.” “They made up these posters in Europe,” says Gould. “It was so embarrassing, man. It was like, ‘Slash Says: Faith No More is Fucking Brilliant.'”
“That’s the worst,” agrees Patton. “When you drive into town and see that poster and you’re in your fucked-up van, you just want to get out and rip it down.”
* * *
“What are we gonna give this guy? Chicken Kung Pao?” Forty-five minutes later, the four, brandishing a shopping bag full of Chinese leftovers, approach a homeless man who’s crouched below an automatic-teller machine. The hypocrisy of carping about their poverty and then leaving a table still groaning with food was too much for them. They have decided to share the wealth. Bottum hands over some chicken to the man, who offers a dignified thank you. They come to another stop halfway down the block, where a young woman is huddled in a cardboard box. “No, thanks,” she says a tad snootily after they offer her a takeout container. “I have some pizza.”
“Wow, pizza,” says Patton as the group walks away. “She’s a stylin’ bum.”
In the next block, Patton (“I think I see one over here!”) makes a beeline for a sixtyish man who is slumped against the side of a building, obviously dead drunk.
“Excuse me,” says Patton. “Sir?”
The man doesn’t budge.
“Hey,” Patton continues, “you want some food?” Still no response.
“HEY!” yells Patton. The man starts, looking fairly irritated. “Are you hungry? You want some food?”
The man mumbles something, waving Patton away.
Another man passes on the sidewalk, and Patton, still holding the container of food, offers it to him. “Oh, no,” the man says, embarrassed. “I’m okay…I’m not…uh….”
“Thought you were one of ’em,” mutters Patton. “Sorry.” It takes fifteen minutes to distribute the last of the food — namely because Patton, who argues that it should go to someone completely empty-handed, starts disqualifying all the vagrants who are carrying shopping bags.
Finally, a suitable recipient is found, and the four head back to their hotel, looking pleased with themselves.
Bottum, however, can’t resist a parting shot “Listen,” he says conspiratorially, “if you write about this, can you say we spit in the food first?”