Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Drunks With Guns

Released 1992 on Behemoth
Reviewed by attic demonstration, 14/01/2010ce

The first time I encountered the name Drunks With Guns was in an NME feature entitled "The A-Z Of Grunge", written by Keith Cameron, back in 1992. The then-recent success of Nirvana had inspired a slew of articles such as this, but Cameron's seemed more informed than most. He acknowledged that 'grunge' had an impressively ignoble history, one that wasn't simply manacled to a certain Starbucks-hawking city. As an impressionable 14 year old, reading my first copy of the NME, this feature made a great impact. It proved Nirvana had not existed in a vacuum, and sent me scurrying off to my local Our Price to seek out some of the other weirdos and misfits Cameron had listed. Or rather, it didn't. At least, not at first. For one thing, Our Price stocked only a handful of the bands he'd discussed. And the truth is, my initial response to this music was one of revulsion. Or possibly fear. So by the time I'd overcome my trepidation and grown to like, even love, this music, I'd misplaced the article and all but forgotten about Drunks With Guns.

Perhaps that's how it should've remained. Cameron's dismissive description of them ("Milwaukee [sic]-based losers. Name painfully apt") had been enough to deter me. Far better to gorge myself on "Goat" (The Jesus Lizard) or "Eggnog" (Melvins) than to have a Gun waved about in my face. But the deeper into the noise-mire I sank, the more appealing they became. In short, I was becoming an underground music snob. The more subterranean a band seemed, the weirder the racket they made, the better. And they came no weirder or more subterranean than these guys. Procuring their records was a near-impossible task. A simple enquiry made to someone 'in the know' was often met with a look of bewilderment or despair. Upon finally locating one of their singles in the musty import racks of a Bristol record shop, I truly felt what it meant to be alone for the first time in my life. It felt great.

By this time I had unearthed a few more 'facts' (I use the word only in the loosest, non-factual sense) about them. They might have been formed in St. Louis in 1984. Stan Seitrich, Mike Deleon and Mike (Myk) Doskocil might have featured among their ranks. They might have split acrimoniously in the late '80s, with Doskocil and the duo of Seitrich/Deleon both claiming the Drunks With Guns moniker as their own. The only thing stated with any certainty was that, post-split, neither of the rival factions had produced anything of worth. Unfortunate for me, as I held in my hand a double seven-inch EP by the early 90s Seitrich/ Deleon incarnation.

Fervour undimmed, I took it home and put it on. Surely it's not meant to be at 45, the vocals are way too helium-addled. No, wait, it is supposed to sound like that. Somehow, somewhere along the line they'd recruited a twelve-year-old female vocalist named Melissa. She shrieked out inane lyrics about zombies and shredded meat over sluggish riffs and eternal return drumming. This was noise not even a mother could love. I couldn't get enough. "This shouldn't be allowed to exist", I muttered, grinning and shaking my head in disbelief. The highlight for me, then and now, was "Car Ride", almost the equal to PiL's "Poptones" in its evocation of hollowness and dread. OK, more a destitute sibling than an equal. A blood relative, nonetheless. Melissa's howl of terror echoes throughout the piece, as menacing guitars drive the song ever-forward into the encroaching darkness.

The challenge of listening to something as vile as this EP, the flat-out wrong-ness of it all, has led me over the years to question many things. First, is this record just a knowing smirk shared between jaded intellectuals, or are these people genuinely disturbed? And what of my own participation in their scum-wallowing sickness? Can I simply wash off the shit they smear over my face, and do I even want to? And why do I listen to it at all? For pleasure? I recall in an interview, Jerry Dammers of The Specials imagining a time when people can no longer draw a distinction between 'good' and 'bad' music, a time when taste and judgement dissolve and we're all left as gibbering, drooling imbeciles. Drunks With Guns will provide the soundtrack.

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