Under the suspicious gaze of Mr. Buzzcut, the day’s designated dispenser of dining-room discipline, I unpacked my tape recorder and notebook. The stainless-steel caldrons of generically boiled food, the long line of kids with haircuts that seemed to belong on somebody else’s head, the deathly pallor of human skin under fluorescent lighting, an ancient fear in the pit of my stomach — all bespoke two words: high school. In this case, Highland High School, an educational institution indistinguishable from thousands of others across the United States, except that this one happens to be educating America’s two most famous teen-agers, Beavis and Butt-head.
Sitting across from me at one of those long linoleum picnic tables on wheels, Butt-head attacked a couple of hot dogs with an appetite that indicated lunch was the first meal of his day. Emitting his familiar chuckle, Beavis pulled from under his tray a couple of extra milks he had stolen from the cooler in front of the cashier. A lot had changed in their lives since I’d interviewed them last summer (RS 663). In October, MTV had moved the earlier of their two daily half-hour episodes from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. — and Beavis had been miraculously cured of pyromania. (Despite the time change, they still draw three times the network’s average audience.) They’d published a best-selling book, This Book Sucks (written with the help of series writers Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil). Their album, The Beavis and Butt-head Experience, has gone platinum, boosted by a Butt-head and Cher video duet on “I Got You Babe.” Series creator Mike Judge recently began work on a screenplay for a full-length Beavis and Butt-head movie. And the pair been denounced by liberals and conservatives alike on talk shows, op-ed pages and the floor of Congress. If anything in all that changed them by a subatomic particle, I could not detect it. They appeared utterly unimpressed with themselves.
And yet, here they were: the most powerful critics in rock & roll, able to put lesser-known bands like White Zombie and Babes in Toyland on the map with a single word (cool) and destroy established acts with another (sucks). But they had never explained the logic behind their aesthetic judgments. Until now.
Like it or not, you guys have become authorities on current music. Some people have even called you the Siskel and Ebert of rock & roll.
Butt-head: That’s stupid! Those guys like all those wussy movies. They never say anything cool about movies that kick ass, like Killdozer.
Beavis: Yeah, but they liked Backdraft. That rules.
Anyway, we’re going to profile three acts you guys like — Danzig, Joan Jett and the Beastie Boys — and you ‘re going to explain why they ‘re cool.
So why are they cool?
Butt-head: Didn’t you, like, ask us this stuff last summer?
All you said was “We like bands that are cool” and “We don’t like bands that suck.” That’s not enough.
Butt-head: Why not? Huh-huh.
Because Kip Winger and Warrant haven’t had careers since you dissed them on your show. They have a right to know why.
Beavis: It’s not our fault they suck. Heh-heh, heh.
Butt-head: I think those guys are trying to kill us.
Really? You think you’re being followed by music-industry hit men? Is there any evidence you can cite?
Butt-head: Uh… well, like, one day I woke up, and there was, like, the head of a dead squirrel next to me.
Beavis: Oh, yeah, heh-heh! I put that there, dumb ass! Heh-heh, mm, heh-heh. That was cool.
Butt-head: Well, what about that time that somebody mailed me a Ziploc bag with a turd in it?
Beavis: That was pretty cool. I still have it in my basement.
Butt-head: I think it was from Warrant. It’s their next album.
OK, let’s get back to the point. What I’m trying to establish here is, why are Warrant shit, and why are the Beastie Boys cool?
Butt-head: Just look at ’em.
Beavis: Yeah, heh-heh, heh. Just look at ’em, butthole.
So you just look at a band and decide whether or not you like them? You don’t even have to hear their music?
Butt-head: Yeah, huh-huh. Sometimes we don’t even have to look at ’em. You can just tell they suck from their names.
Beavis: Yeah, heh-heh, mm. Like Blind Melon. Heh-heh.
So do you like the Beastie Boys’ music as well as the way they look?
Could you elaborate?
Butt-head: Uh… OK. [He farts.]
Butt-head and Beavis: Huh-huh, huh-huh, huh-huh.
Beavis: I just elaborated, too, but you couldn’t hear it. Heh-heh, mm, heh.
Now that we’ve cleared the air, which Beastie songs do you like?
Butt-head: The one where they fight for their right to party.
Beavis: Yeah! They fight for their right to party with chicks with big thingies!
Joan Jett doesn’t have big thingies, but you still like her. Why?
Butt-head: Uh… because she’d be a really good mother?
Beavis: Yeah. Heh-heh. She’d, like, take her kids on tour, and her kids would hang out backstage and party with Ozzy and stuff. And then, she’d, like, teach them about doing it, and she’d, like, show her thingies. That would be cool.
You guys weren’t even born when she started out. How much do you actually know about her?
Butt-head: Uh… she used to be in a band with Lita Ford called, like, the Sluts or something. But Lita, like, went and did a song with Ozzy. And, like, Joan got all jealous and stuff. Because she, like, wanted Ozzy. She, like, you know, wanted to do it.