It used to take years to become redundant in American cultural life. If your last movie bombed you could wander around television until you got your chops back, and if things got really dire, an extended stint on Hollywood Squares or The Love Boat could slow your depressing slide from the red carpet to an affordable split-level out near Redondo Beach.
But in today’s music biz, yesterday’s Bloodhound Gang is tomorrow’s Blink-182, and you’re over in a week. Glory fades, baby: When you get dropped there are 10 more who look just like you waiting outside the door. And they’re all younger and hungrier than you.
Bringing us, by way of helpful object lesson for aspiring punks, to Joe Queer.
“You go to these meetings with labels,” Queer says, “and the danger is you start to believe all the bullshit: ‘You’re a genius!’ Man, fuck that. If I was a genius, I’d be off discovering a cure for cancer. If you start to believe that shit, you’re done. I was talking to Frank Black a while ago — the Pixies used to play a lot of the same places we do in the Northeast. And he mentioned how for all the noise about the Pixies’ musical genius, the point of the band was mostly to drink beer and get laid.”
For 23 years — that’s twenty-three years — Joe Queer, né Joe King, has manned the helm of the gleefully dumb, wickedly smart New Hampshire power-punk trio the Queers. Over some 14 albums and split releases, all for minor labels like Lookout! and Hopeless, the Queers have reveled, some might say wallowed, in rock’s twin imperatives of booze and sex.
Loud, fast, irrepressibly horny, King’s deliberately immature but basically good-natured songs mine territory similar to that of their spiritual godfathers, the Ramones. In cold type the track lists look pretty raw — “Teenage Bonehead,” “Fagtown,” “Ursula Finally Has Tits,” “I Only Drink Bud” — but at the center of even the Queers’ most calculatedly offensive lyrics is what’s lacking in a lot of next-gen shock-rockers, a self-effacing humor that somehow makes the whole thing downright charming, as on the pro-gay song (wait for it) “Homo”: “The girls’re always giving him shit/’cause he like da banana split/Life’s not fair, are you aware?/Be proud of who you are and don’t be scared.”
Like most of their minor-label brethren, the Queers are, and have always been, a road band. “It’s like any other job,” Queer says from the road near Columbia, S.C. “When it’s good, it’s good, and when it’s bad, it sucks. But the good stuff is really good; even when we leave the country to tour, we wind up working with a lot of the same places, the same promoters. I’ll walk into a club in Spain and the manager walks up and yells, ‘Hola, Joe!’ That’s stuff I’d never have gotten to do in any other job.
“Or, like last night, I’m wandering around the club, and this girl comes up and says, ‘Hey, Joe, what’s going on?’ And I said, ‘Nothing, what’s up?’ And she says, ‘You wanna fuck?’
“Hah!” he says. “Shit!”
Get the tone right: Queer, who laughs like a jackass after he gets to the punch line, digs the story not for its salacious content, but for its textbook absurdity. He sounds like a giddy kid, but here’s a guy a full generation older than anybody in Good Charlotte — somebody who, according to the pop industry time clock, should be out to pasture about now — and Joe Queer’s still having the time of his life.
There’s a lesson here, maybe. Or maybe it’s just this:
“A lot of bands worry about signing million-dollar contracts. But really, what other job does this kind of thing happen in? Guys stomping around the club, girls whipping off their shirts? Shit, man! Where else do you get to see all that? Hah!”
Friday, April 8, at Alvin’s (5756 Cass, Detroit; 313-831-4577) with River City Rebels and the Black Halos. Eric Waggoner is a freelance writer. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org