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The Queers Are Here

What's in a name? W`hen it comes to punk rock, not much. The Dead Kennedys aren't dead, nor are they Kennedys. The Damned were most likely never actually damned. None of the members of the Ramones has a surname that's even remotely similar to Ramone. And guess what? The Queers aren't.

So, what's with the name? Well, if punk rock is about anything, it's about giving a big "fuck you" to the status quo. So the very idea of naming a band full of guys with unblemished records of staunch heterosexuality "the Queers" flies in the face of all that's logical while at the same time aiming a big middle finger in the face of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. It's a dastardly ruse so cunningly punk that one can only imagine its hatching was coupled with the complementary wringing of hands, a sinister laugh, and a Mr. Burns-esque "Excellent!" But while a clever name may get you a chuckle and a spot way down at the bottom of a show's lineup, it's been the Queers' hard-hitting combination of sophomoric humor, ability to mesh sounds as diverse as the Beach Boys and the Ramones, and longevity that has delivered them a cult following and a lofty perch atop the pantheon of punk.

Inspired by the Ramones, Joe King, known universally as Joe Queer, first formed the band during the early '80s in his native Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This original incarnation had the staying power of five whole shows before King split for the West Coast. After bouncing around California and Hawaii for a few years, King found himself back in Portsmouth, and in 1990, along with drummer Hugh O'Neill Jr. and young bassist Chris "B-Face" Barnard (whom they met at a Social Distortion show), restarted the band. Their first effort, Grow Up, was launched in 1990 on tiny English label Shakin' Street, which hardly had time to crack a celebratory six-pack before going belly up.

Luckily for punks everywhere, one of the 1,000 albums they managed to press found its way to the desk of Maximumrocknroll columnist Ben Weasel, who pushed them toward a reluctant Larry Livermore of Lookout Records. After some coercion, Livermore relented and threw the Queers into an Indiana studio. After 19 hours and plenty of brew, the band wrapped the album, Love Songs for the Retarded, which was released in 1993. It was an instant classic, and from there, the legend was born. Now, after more than a dozen records, tours that have crisscrossed the nation, a regularly changing lineup, and the passing of long-time drummer O'Neill, the Queers are still on the road. The band's bare-bones punk energy, juvenile antics, and just-for-fun approach make for a can't-miss show.

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Paul A. Leone

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