w/Amulett CQ, DJs Lacey Panties & Ruby Knuckles
Tues Oct 7, Graceland, 9 pm, $12.
Through sore, squinted eyes I can make out the carnage that has befallen my hotel room--glasses, bottles, and cans lining the table, a broken chair overturned, and a filth-trodden carpet. I stagger forlornly to the bathroom, where whispers of the cheap, nasty amphetamine given us by a nameless Turbojugend (Hells Angel-esque fans of Turbonegro) who followed us back to the hotel from the club are clouding the porcelain. A quick glance in the mirror reveals my once-cherubic face still polka-dotted with burst blood vessels from vomiting so profusely minutes earlier.
Last night, Turbonegro well and truly fucked me up.
Where did it begin? Oh yeah, Polar Studios, once owned by ABBA themselves, in the heart of Stockholm, Sweden. In front of an ornate bookcase-cum-music box that played "Thank You for the Music," Happy-Tom and Euroboy--Turbonegro's lipsticked, sailor-suited bassist and eyelinered, Gestapo-uniformed guitarist--greeted me for a playback of their comeback album, Scandinavian Leather.
"We were offered silly amounts of money to tour again last year," explains Tom, handing over a six-pack of lager I'm instructed to shotgun as the batshit glam-metal hardcore-rock ("death- punk" is Tom's own description) of Scandinavian Leather blares sluttishly. "But what truly mattered was how the shows went, if we felt we could record again. It was obvious, we couldn't let Turbonegro die."
You can forgive the members of Norway's most nefarious rock 'n' roll band for perhaps wanting to kill their own legend. As the recently re-released Turbonegro: The Movie attests, by their final tour in 1998--when their cultish infamy threatened to break into the big time--they were losing their minds and souls in a surfeit of heroin and madness, an end their "legend" seemed to predict through its very outrageousness.
"A lot of Norwegian bands, back in the day, were black-metallers, burning churches and murdering people," smiles Tom, in a nearby Thai restaurant where we will, cleverly, eat not a morsel, but sup heavily on whiskey.
Tom exudes an eerie calm at all times, as if, with all he's seen, there's very little that can shock him anymore. "The only thing that scared them was homosexuality, so we started to adopt a 'gay' look. Uniforms. Mustaches."
"I couldn't grow a mustache," adds the still-elfin Euroboy, "so I started wearing makeup!"
"The straight-edgers hated us because we took so many drugs, the heavy-rockers hated us because we were fags," grins Tom, who admits riling people is part of Turbo's essence. "It was perfect."
Indeed it was. This incarnation of Turbonegro recorded two masterfully offensive albums--the nosebleed-velocity Ass Cobra, featuring such classics as "The Midnight NAMBLA" and "I Got Erection," and the classic-rawk Apocalypse Dudes, featuring "Good Head" and "Rendezvous with Anus"--slam-dance party albums that rocked like Black Flag jamming with Alice Cooper. They won fans in Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age, the Supersuckers, Frank Kozik, and Jello Biafra (who describes them as "Europe's most important band"). And then things went terribly, terribly wrong.
"Hank was the only person who had a problem," winces Tom, of their singer, absent that night. "The rest of us knew our limits, how much we could take and when to stop. Hank never did."
"I was fucked up on heroin; I became psychotic," says Hank Von Helvete, resting in his apartment in Oslo, Norway, a few weeks later. "Life was more important. We could have continued, but we would've had to put heroin on the tour budget. And I would have died within a couple of years."
The choice was this stark when Hank--a man given to placing fireworks down his underpants while onstage, a trick he christened the Ass Rocket--volunteered himself to a mental institution at the end of that tour. Several years of recuperation in the wilderness would follow. "When I tried to sober up, that was the most punk I've been," he offers.
"I was out of the music world, working at the local museum, reading a lot. Mellow stuff," he remembers. "The first year, I didn't think much about the band. Then I came to a point in rehab where I had to think really hard about my identity. The conclusion I came to was, above everything, I am an artist. A rock artist. I had to fulfill my career with Turbonegro.
"I thought we were forgotten, I'd made my peace with that," offers the man whose new album contains such gems as "Wipe It Till It Bleeds" and "Train of Flesh."
"You're a difficult band to forget," I say, wincing at the memory of that night in Stockholm.
"Rock 'n' roll shouldn't be easily forgotten! We've made lots of really weird decisions. We're the first band that deliberately dress up like homos, and use 'Negro' in our name," he concludes, with the grin of the turbulently righteous upon him, "and it's all worked for us, somehow."