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Cheers for Queers

Joe "Queer" King is a Toys R Us kid: He never grows up. The band he fronts, the Queers, has now been around for 20 years, and yet its junior-high-school sense of humor has continued unabated for all that time.

"I just hang out with retards, and it helps me," King says of his ability to maintain a youthful outlook. "Like these guys I'm traveling in the band with now."

Although founded in New Hampshire in 1982, the Queers did little throughout the 1980s, essentially gigging through the decade without a thought for recording, except for a few contributions to compilations. Nearly the entirety of the band's 1980s oeuvre is included on 1995's A Day Late and a Dollar Short. But the Queers began taking life more seriously (for them, anyway) in the 1990s and opened up the decade with their first full-length album, fittingly titled Grow Up.

"We were lucky. We got on Lookout Records when it was happening," King says. "Before, you could never hope to be any better than do a tour. Now, you can tour all the time and make money."

The album began a string of releases that continued throughout the decade, each just as snottily good-humored as the last. Most album titles were meant to be said along with the band name, so that along with the Queers Grow Up, you have the Queers Beat Off, the Queers Move Back Home, and so on. Taking a great deal from 1950s rock 'n' roll and surf music and blending it with punk rock, the band comes off sounding like the Ramones -- which King takes as a compliment.

"That doesn't bother me at all," he says. "All these ska, West Coast, so-called punk bands, that's what's wrong."

Several song titles on the Queers' latest release, this year's Pleasant Screams (note the similarity to the Ramones' 1981 album, Pleasant Dreams), look as if they could be on the back cover of an album from da bruthers and no one would even notice. But in defense of the Queers, the band manages to update the sound for the modern world. Also on the plus side, kudos have to be dished out to King for keeping his dream alive, even in the face of tragedy. The only other longtime member of the band, drummer Hugh O'Neill, died January 21, 1999, after a long, ugly battle with brain cancer.

"I talked to him, and he said, 'You should keep going. What the fuck -- it's your band anyway,'" King says. "So I hooked up with people we knew in the scene, so basically it was just the Queers with new people. I just wanted to keep doing what I know. If I wasn't doing this, I'd be bagging groceries or 'Welcome to McDonald's, can I take your order?' or something."

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Dan Sweeney
Contact: Dan Sweeney

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