A Bloody Tale of Gothic Proportions
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."
But why the morbid act? Is it all about appreciating life by embracing death? Is it merely the expression of an unfulfilled ego? You still don't understand. However, before you can nab an explanation, Queenie excuses herself and stands. She has to get the kiddie pool ready.
Inside, a blond zombie in a tight, red dress meanders through the crowd, distributing 3-D glasses. As the black stage curtain slides back, the first guttural chords of the Squirts' song "Frightened" begins. Wicked Queenie, having changed into a rose-print dress, enters from stage left, moving like a belly dancer on acid. To her right Divad is splotched from head to toe with red and green fluorescent paint. Bassist Tom Kedrierski wears a skeletal body suit, while drummer Greg Cox is barely visible beneath the backdrop of a gigantic 3-D spider web. (Apart from the spider web, nothing else in the show -- even with the glasses -- appears to be in 3-D that isn't that way naturally.)
Later the band is joined on stage by what can be described only as an armadillo-porcupine man on a short set of stilts. For much of the set, the strange creature bobs to the music, walks around, and that's about all. Elsewhere on stage two girls dance in slow motion around a large, transparent, plastic canister, which resembles a sort of space-age phone booth. One of the dancers is dressed in a stringy, sadomasochistic outfit while the other, who's bald, wears a silver, glittery body suit with an ax-blade-shape collar. Occasionally both girls enter the canister together, where their dancing turns homoerotic.
The Squirts' music is hard to describe, especially when there's so much distracting you from it. Their sound is sort of like Concrete Blonde meets Gwar. After the show Queenie will proudly point out that her music is hard to classify because her own tastes are so diverse. For her, acceptable music has to meet one simple criterion: "The way I judge whether a song is good or not," she tells you, "is if you can fuck to it." Admittedly it's hard to imagine fucking to the music of the Wicked Screaming Squirts unless, of course, your idea of sex is decidedly dark and violent.
Toward the end of the show, Queenie appears on a raised platform near the stage. Wearing a white dress, she lies in a kiddie pool, singing, "I sit alone at night/Ponder your existence/All alone in the dark you cry out/While I wipe away my resistance." Eleven-year-old Robert Pierce appears on the platform. Pierce is a somewhat unusual boy. A few years ago, he shaved his hair into a Mohawk in Marilyn Manson's "Lunchbox" video. The kid is reportedly hardcore goth all the way. For this show Pierce gained the privilege of pouring blood onto Queenie by winning a Squirts-sponsored contest. His moment of glory is at hand. He tips a small porcelain pitcher, tentatively at first. Then with the guidance of one of the dancers, he lets the blood pour. It drips so thick and slow you could swear that the "blood" is actually maple syrup. It looks way stickier than it should. The show concludes with Wicked Queenie, drenched in blood -- or whatever it is -- pulling the stage curtain closed.
If anything the show has given you a different perspective on why so many people are drawn to such macabre events. The Squirts' performance was imaginative, different, and fun. Perhaps their fans love them because a Squirts show is one of the few events they can attend where people who are imaginative and different are considered fun.
Wicked Queenie offers you a deeper analysis. "The world is not an easy place to live in," she says. "These are not happy days. Sometimes the negative things overflow. And I'm just a reflection of what's going on."
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