Endless Loop: The Wooden Song

buttholesurfersHave you ever had one of those songs that gets stuck in your head for days…weeks…years? Sure you have. These are the songs that always make the cut. The songs on repeat. We all have them. I have a ton. Welcome back to Endless Loop.

“The Wooden Song” by The Butthole Surfers

There was this point in the early 90’s, due to the success of Nirvana and the burgeoning punk and alt-rock scenes in the Pacific Northwest, when the major record labels commenced a signing free-for-all, gobbling up all the weird little fringe bands around the nation in the hopes of capitalizing on the next big, alternative hit. Suddenly, bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, The Flaming Lips, and more were thrust into the mainstream, these dissonant, eclectic, and peculiar acts getting the kind of attention they never could have imagined while touring the country in shitty vans to play to small rooms of fans. I can’t think of any other time like that within the music industry. And sure, there was many an artist who was chewed up and subsequently spat out by these same major labels, but it also introduced so much good and weird music into the cultural lexicon…which is why your dad knows that there’s a band called The Butthole Surfers.

So, thank you for that record industry.

The fact that a band like The Butthole Surfers, one of the most absurd, noisiest, drug-fueled, and chaotic acts to ever grace our radios, televisions, and performance halls, ended up on Capital Records with a hit song, boggles the mind. These guys spent years in the underground shattering eardrums, torching stages, and ingesting copious amounts of booze, hallucinogens, and narcotics, reveling in this kind of punk rock Dionysian performance art. And then they got signed, and then they worked with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, and then they had a hit single, and then they were referenced on The Simpsons. When an asshole like Don King says “Only in America,” the prevalence of The Butthole Surfers in the 90’s is what comes to my mind.

buttholesurfers2It could be a strange and wonderful time.

The band’s 1993 record, Independent Worm Saloon, which I’ve written about before here, an album of shredding guitar hooks, bombast, and juvenile delinquent antics, also produced an absolute audio gem for the band, the majestic and Spaghetti Western-indebted “The Wooden Song.” Beginning simply enough with a gently strummed acoustic guitar and plain, sing-songy vocals, the song sways like a minstrel’s ditty, albeit one that’s been dragged through the dust, overexposed, and sunburned, like some psych-tinged Americana for the slacker set. But as the song progresses, the Western elements begin to seep in, blasts of Morricone-inspired surf rock guitars and ominous bell chimes soundtracking some tense showdown or gunfight, a Mexican standoff that no one survives. It’s fantastic. And I’ve never been able to turn it off.

Amid all of the smoke and noise, the nudity and drugs, and the absurdity and mayhem, people sometimes forget that The Butthole Surfers were always capable of creating something more conventionally (but still uniquely) beautiful. And “The Wooden Song” exemplifies that. It is my favorite among an entire career full of favorites, the ugly, catchy, alluring, repulsive, dissonant, cacophonous, and glorious sonic tomes purveyed by a band of Texas weirdos and maniacs.

And all of this happened on a major record label. For a brief moment in time in the 90’s, anything seemed possible.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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