When Michigan's punk-rock juggernauts the Meatmen formed in 1980, they crashed their way into the serious hardcore scene and turned it into a party. While other bands were pontificating smugly about society's woes, the Meatmen were sinning for a living while singer Tesco Vee was having an "Orgy of One."
The band even managed to recruit a couple of members from Minor Threat to moonlight with Tesco Vee in the flame-spitting fun. Vee's lyrics are intended to be hilariously offensive, and his stage antics are often compared to Rip Taylor's. Like a bad guy in the wrestling ring, he's as interested in getting the crowd's blood boiling as he is in spraying them with silly string.
As one of the founders of Touch and Go, the fanzine turned label that would eventually become home to the Jesus Lizard and Butthole Surfers, he fervently documented the emerging hardcore scene of the early '80s while mocking it openly with his band. His recently released book, Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine '79-'83, is loaded with postpunk fun facts and truth nuggets.
Prior to the Meatmen's orgiastic visit to Respectable Street on Thursday, County Grind spoke to Tesco Vee over the phone, and here's how it went:
County Grind: The Meatmen weren't a band for 12 years. Why did you start doing it again?
Tesco Vee: When my son was 21, he said, "Come on, Pop!" So, I did a quickie show with guys from Negative Approach in Detroit. I dug out the old snakeskin suit and started hopping around like a Tallahassee fairy. It felt pretty good shaking my postpunk booty. When we quit, I was thinking that people don't want to see a 40-year-old punk rocker. Now I'm 56 and having more fun than ever.
Did you hang on to the suit during the time off?
I got rid of most of my props in '96, so I had to grab some new ones. My wife, Gerta, helped me assemble a whole new assortment of gags and novelty items -- you know, phony penises and confetti guns. It's all about the show!
Are there fans that don't get that you guys are kidding in your songs? You're just kidding, right?
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Some people don't get it; that's fine. I've always gone for maximum reaction -- try to get a rise out of people and some laughs or get mad or pissed. With the Crippled Children Suck thing, that was a concerted effort to get people's attention. Obviously, I don't really think that. No target is immune; everyone is fair game. I'm actually a left-wing Democrat in real life; I just believe that nothing is scared. The PC police are out there. I like to say the Meatmen are like Curb Your Enthusiasm with a punk-rock beat.
The Meatheads get it; my fans are a loyal bunch. Plus, it's fun to play all-ages shows, crossing generations.
Well, yeah, we've heard "punk's dead" a million times, and here you guys are, touring again...
Punk is sort of an overused term. I don't know if we're punk; we're punk-metal-flamenco-comedy. We're anything we want to be; we're not limited to any sound or style. Anything goes.
Has a Meathead ever thought you actually were the guy you are onstage?
Like, I'm the G.G. [Allin type of] guy? Biting on women's ankles? Of course. I've had guys get disappointed because I wouldn't burn them with cigarettes. I'm not saying I'm faking it; I'm saying Tesco Vee is a character I crawl into when I get onstage. If I lived like that 24/7, I'd either be in prison or dead.
How do you separate the character from yourself?
I got a regular old job, so I can't act like a lunatic all the time. I played a show [at home], and a lot of the guys from work were at the show. I come walking in the next day looking like Joe Normal and they kind of wink at me. It's definitely worlds colliding. I'm not a school teacher anymore, thank God! I'm just a telephone man now.
Did kids that you taught ever go to your shows?
When I was promoting the Touch and Go book, a couple of my students came up to me; they'd bought the book and had already figured out that Mr. Bob was actually Tesco Vee. It was cool. They're all grown up now and into punk rock.
Once, back in the day, I was doing a show with my pants down and my butt cheeks out, on the roof of a barn somewhere. It wasn't too far from where I was teaching school. I thought someone had to see me; they never did.
Should we be worried about anything at your show? Do we need to protect ourselves?
You might get doused with confetti. I have this big gun called "the wind demon." It fires T-shirts or marshmallows or thumbtacks.
No thumbtacks, I promise. No worries. It's all fun.
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Conversely, I do think punk is missing an element of danger these days. I think the best shows are always the ones where there's that anger in the air, that uncertainty. We bring that when we play.
Youth Brigade, the Meatmen. With To Be Hated. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 27, at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $12 in advance, $14 at the door. Click here.