CREAM OF THE CRAP
From Meatbreath to Meatskid, finding the Worst Band in America just wasn't as easy as we had imagined. Mark Blackwell explains.
Hell is full of musical amateurs: Music is the brandy of the damned. - George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
IT WAS THE BIGGEST STORM TO HIT MANHATTAN IN DECADES. Subways flooded. Bridges closed. Scuba divers were deployed to rescue motorists on the FDR freeway. Yet a lone soul braved the torrential rains, stumbling up Sixth Avenue with a massive garbage bag stuffed with packages. That soul was me and that bag was the fourth load of crap sent in by hundreds of bands, each of which swore it sucked worse than the rest. I painfully plunged from Spin to the residence of our ad departments Fred McIntyre for yet another dreary listening session.
It started quite innocently, with a contest under the headline "Do You Suck?": "So you and some other losers got together and tried to start a band? None of you can play your instruments, carry a tune, or write a decent song even if your lives depend upon it? ... Well, congratulations! You win!" The constant barrage of material from pathetic excuses for bands that record companies are forever hawking had sparked the idea: If this stuff is marketable entertainment, i.e. good music, just think what the bad stuff out there must sound like.
The rats come out of the woodwork for the $500 prize. Everyone seemed to have a terrible band, and those who didn't rushed to start one. By the deadline, we amassed six large trash bags of submissions. In the next two days, the mail filled yet another bag. (Late entries weren't disqualified. Any true Worst Band wouldn't;t necessarily be punctual.)
Fred and I convened to begin judgment. The first candidate was Meatbreath's metallic failure, Givin' Grandma the Sausage. Next came Iron Dog's not-so-aptly titled We Know How To Rock. Then Headwound, Rectal Pizza, Uncouth Bastards, Choking Victim, and Up the Horses Ass. It became increasingly clear this wasn't going to be a pleasant experience. Finally Fred lost it. As we listened to entry 68, the Inbreeders from Hazelwood, Missouri, he jerked he repulsive tape from the stereo and began stomping it to pieces. We called it a day.
Every wretched band was eventually given the spotlight. The social calendar of Contributing Editor Jonathan Bernstein, the third prospective juror, suddenly became unusually full, but he managed to show up for a few of the sessions. The "system" became more and more informal. The first day everything was indexed in computer files. That soon degenerated into notebook scribbles for only the worst. Anything that upset Fred's roommates dog Pogue was given special consideration. We lost official count at around 300. It was a mess. It took forever.
"What are you looking for?" people asked. "What makes a band really suck?" Massachusetts contender Mess put it perfectly: "Any garage band that can play out of tune and puke on stage (at least we can). But to truly suck, you have to be a complete disappointment." Very good point. (Mess was disqualified for being too smart.) Musically (to use the term loosely), most of the stuff was poorly recorded, sloppy punk rock -- not much worse than the stuff SPIN's Assistant Research Editor Daniel Fidler can frequently be found enjoying. Anything we figured he'd listen to was disqualified as being too "good." Another large percentage ran the gamut from goofy rock in the Ween vein to pure jokey-novelty stuff. This included bands that simply changed the words to popular hits. (Ohio's Martha McMillan pushed the cover version category to the extreme with her stirring vocal-only renditions of two entire Siouzse and the Banshees albums.) Rap, country, metal -- you name it, we got it, and it was bad.
The dominant trend thematically was , to put it bluntly, shit. Several bands, including Steaming Pile, wrote their bios on toilet paper. Somewhere around the 200 package, there surfaced an odorous entry that included much more than writing on it's roll. We weren't amused. The members of New Hampshire's Flux set out to disgust with a video showcasing themselves throwing up. The wannabe punk pukers were also documented shoplifting and setting dead animals on fire. Sex was a popular theme, but less popular than disease.
Perks were plentiful. Men w/out Underwear sent a "promotional quiche lorraine." Condoms, home-made shirts, soap, chalk, and cigarettes were popular promo items. The Electric Sex Hens mailed the largest package, which included many "bribes" such as a broken watch, cheap sunglasses, and more useless toys.
We somehow narrowed it down to three finalists: Oklahoma's Wood Pussy, California's Sheriffs [sic] of the Apocalypse [sic], and Florida's Scraping Teeth.
Wood Pussy specializes in loud noise rock performed in the nude. Its video included a less-than-lovely segment in which a beer bottle was employed by one of the band's female members in a manner that makes Madonna's mineral water bottle scene look like Sesame Street. Wood Pussy, however, was much more a performance art group than a band.
Interestingly enough, the Sheriffs of the Apocalypse were signed to Indiana's UGCO, a fine label we uncovered, which caters expressly to really terrible music. The Sheriffs were indeed bad enough to be separated from the pack, but upon close examination they weren't much worse than groups on certain metal labels. Finally, after much debate, we settled on Scraping Teeth.
The Teeth are bad. They're painfully boring. They try to shock. They fail. They try to frighten. They fail. They're sort of like what you'd get if you took one of those "scary" monotonous bands such as Skinny Puppy or Swans, and got rid of everything remotely interesting and clever. Tiresome, effects-ridden guitar and weak vocals from Rat Bastard. Flat, plodding bass and weak vocals from Fishfungus. Out-of-sync, sloppy drums and weak screaming from Dimthingshine. And, unlike many of the entrants, they're a real band, not a joke -- three years old and still suck. Congratulations, Scraping Teeth. You're the Worst Band in America.
Those of you who were just too damn good to win, don't despair. Keep not practicing and watch for the next Worst Band in America contest. Not here, of course. You think we'd go through this again?
AND THE LOSER IS ... SCRAPING TEETH
All that young James Rite knew was that the cover of the first King Crimson album -- the big, red face caught in a silent scream -- "looked really cool." He had no notion thhat one day he'd give voice to that scream. Soon he started listening to experimental jazz, then a little Stockhausen, and it all began falling into place. Now he drums and yells under the nom de plume Dimthingshine with the Miami-based trio, Scraping Teeth, whose repertoire of one long dissonant, atonal, relentless ache. Sure, the set list purports to feature individual tunes such as "Blow Me While I Shit" and "Mary Had a Fucking Goat," but this is a journey beyond the pain threshold, where there are no stops and the driver is some sort of Nazi dentist who won't stop screaming!
So James, you are in the Worst Band in America. How do you feel? "I feel like I just won something on The Dating Game," he gushes, breathlessly. "I hope my screams had something to do with it."
The accolade occurred at a juncture in the Teeth's career when the members were rather despondent about the band's local standing. "Other bands hate to open for us or follow us," says Rite. "They get scared. They don't want to talk to me after they've seen me screaming." And the audiences? "There have been a couple of incidents. People try to start fights.
However, this belated recognition has imbued the trio -- Rite, bassist Isaac "Fishfungus" Ersoff, and guitarist Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra -- with new optimism: "We went into the studio the other night 'cause this got us excited. It's pretty much the same. I say to the guys, 'Let's sit down and work out a tune,' but nobody wants to. We never practice. Anything we do, we make up on the spot." (At press time, Scraping Teeth had gone on something of a hiatus. Apparently, someone just stole James Rite's drums from the back of his car. His luck just never ends.) JONATHAN BERNSTEIN
May 1993 issue.
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