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When you walk through the front doors of Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room on Halloween night, you quickly realize that fans of local goth-rock act the Wicked Screaming Squirts take this holiday quite seriously. The first person you see is a topless girl who looks barely 16 years old. She is wearing a pair of angel wings, and black-tape Xs cover the nipples of her underdeveloped breasts. Another girl has her head shaved except for a fringe of blue bangs. Her face is quilted with fake, bleeding lacerations. The two girls are the first oddities that catch your eye as you enter the dark rock club on the southwest corner of Oakland Park Boulevard and Federal Highway, but all too soon you realize that the Culture Room is loaded tonight with scores of equally odd and unusual denizens.
For roughly the last five years, the Squirts have been attracting this type of crowd with their ghoulish, performance-art concerts. For the band -- as sinister, disturbing, and misunderstood as its fans -- every night is Halloween. It would only stand to reason that, for the holiday itself, the Squirts would go the extra mile with their presentation, and they have. As usual Wicked Queenie, the band's lead singer and mastermind, will have blood poured over her as she writhes about within an inflatable kiddie pool. But beyond that, tonight's performance promises to be a truly demented, mind-bending feast for the senses: a three-dimensional, black-lit extravaganza, replete with nerdy 3-D glasses for everyone in attendance.
You don't understand any of this. Never have. The whole goth thing. Though you've always admired the moody, complex tones of such prototypical goth bands as the Cure and Bauhaus, you've never comprehended the rest -- the black clothing, the white makeup, all that vampire stuff. What is it about resembling something dead that could possibly make people feel better about themselves?
Before the gig you talk to Wicked Queenie herself to see if maybe she can help you make sense of it. She sits cross-legged on the sidewalk with you, discussing her life while bathed in the womb-colored neon light of a nearby storefront. She wears a beaded headdress, nuclear-green eye shadow, and lipstick red enough to make you think she's just kissed something bloody. You can't really get a good look at her outfit because it's barely there and you don't want to get caught peeping where you shouldn't. But you do notice puffed sleeves and knee-length, high-heeled boots, which she keeps pulling up.
She tells you her real name is Nicky Lee, age 31. She grew up in Fort Lauderdale. She has three older brothers and one younger sister, all of them, like her, adopted. When she was 12 years old, her adoptive father was killed in a motorcycle accident. She recalls the incident as a turning point in her life. "I remember walking into the house," she says, "and everybody's sitting in a semicircle in the living room. I'm, like, 'What the hell's going on?'" She looks down and lowers her voice. "It freaked me out."
With her mother subsequently forced to provide for the family, young Nicky was free to explore things previously forbidden. She began listening to Kiss, Alice Cooper, Slayer, the Beatles. She stayed up late at night watching horror movies, the plots of which commonly involved people suffering painful, bloody deaths. Though she became interested in art and theater, her main passion was singing. She briefly tried taking lessons but felt stifled by their rigid formality. "My teachers thought I should have a country voice," Queenie says. She sticks her finger down her throat and pretends to vomit.
She met her husband, Divad Iren -- now her lead guitarist -- a decade ago when both were playing in a local rock band called Headway. When Headway dissolved four years later, Nicky and Divad joined the hard-edged alternative act Paraside. A year passed with Paraside before Nicky grew dissatisfied with the band's direction and split. Soon after that she found herself alone in a room with her keyboard. Deciding that she had no one to impress but herself, she wrote what would become the first Wicked Screaming Squirts song, "Obsessive Expressions of Love." She says that the song is about a woman who kills for love. The woman's actions, Queenie explains, are hard to empathize with, but her motives are pure.
As for the band's name, it's a random word splice she took from a late-night, channel-flipping session. Like her own assumed moniker -- Wicked Queenie -- Wicked Screaming Squirts was just something that sounded weird and compelling. Finding herself with the perfect name for a band but no band to speak of, she invited her husband as well as the old drummer from Paraside to work with her. Next she found a bassist, and the original lineup was complete.
The fascinating theatrics of a Squirts show -- on-stage airbrushing of women's bodies, alien teleportation pods, near-naked dancers, random bondage, and simulated audience-member strangulations -- quickly garnered the band a substantial following. In 1996 the Squirts attracted the attention of an independent label called Voodoo Highway. Unfortunately the label's financial backing fell through before the band could cut a deal. Queenie claims she's not bothered by the near miss. The thrill of playing live and putting on an exciting show is enough for her. "It took me a while, but I'm very comfortable with who I am," she says. "I'm not perfect. I'm soooo fucked up. But basically I get all my frustrations out lyrically through my songs."