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.”