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The Liquid Tongue, 1988-1992
In it's brief existence, the Liquid Tongue, known as "The Tongue" to its devoted fans, became one of the most influential and respected bands of its time, helping create the Alternative Music explosion of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"It should have been them, not us," Kurt Cobain once said about his favorite band. "It makes me feel so unworthy to know that we were the ones who broke through when they were so much better than us, especially since all they really wanted to be were rock stars."
Billy Corrigan, head Smashing Pumpkin, agreed, saying that it was the Tongue who inspired him to succeed in the music business. "They let it all hang out and were never afraid of being themselves. They weren't bothered by their reputation; they showed us exactly what not to do."
The Tongue's legendary 1988-89 Living Rooms and Parking Lots tour, performed at exclusively non-Ticketmaster venues, later became an inspiration for Pearl Jam's fight with the ticketing agency.
"They put the rest of us to shame," Eddie Vedder once told a reporter, "we're all sell-outs compared to them."
Leading innovators of the so-called Living Room Punk movement, the Tongue was a swirling cacophony of noise, feedback, and more noise. The "Loudest Band In Isla Vista" (their hometown) combined the guitar pyrotechnics of Jimi Hendrix with the feedback anarchy of Sonic Youth and the freestyle improvisational aesthetic of the Butthole Surfers. Their signature song, "Bolero," could be either a feedback-induced noise orgy, a loose, rockin' jam, or both, and it could last five minutes or a half an hour, depending on the band's mood and level of sobriety.
Living Room Punk never quite caught on as a musical movement and is now considered by popular culture historians to be a vestigial branch of the Grunge genre. When informed of their place in the Rock and Roll genealogy, surly bassist Zuete Bahn Jaqui bellowed "I'd rather be a neanderthal than a punk-ass Blowfish."
As Thurston Moore observed, paraphrasing Brian Eno's quote about the Velvet Underground, "not many people bought their albums or saw them play, but those who did, got really fucked up and experienced the joy of self-made musical carnage. If they could go up and play in front of people, anyone could and I mean anyone."
The Tongue was formed in the frenetic summer of 1988. It was a time of acid washed jeans, feathered mullets, and glam rock. Lead guitarist Captain Leisure and Zuete, seeking a medium in which to display their chemically fueled creativity, struck upon the idea of forming a band which could play the kind of music missing from the contemporary scene.
That fall, with the return of rhythm guitarist Jon "The Dog" Shurkin from his first stint at the Pete Townsend Rehabilitation Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania, the nucleus of what would later become the Tongue was formed. At the time, the band, originally dubbed Chalky Tongue, was an all instrumental band. As the three original members began to fine-tune their skills, a distinct sound emerged from the murky depths of their musical backgrounds.
The band was not without role models. It was a fertile time to be a part of the IV music scene and the Tongue spent countless nights crawling the streets of IV with their ears (and often their entire bodies) to the pavement listening to the prevailing winds. Bands like the Burning Couches, Coyote Ugly, the Hillbox Band, Garden Party, the Oxymorons, PMS, Black Clothes and Pointy Shoes, and Collage of I inspired the wide-eyed Tongues to experiment with sound and form.
With the string section in place, Chalky Tongue began putting together a complete band. During one magical practice session, Zuete's roommate SC the Kind gathered a collection of Foster's Oil Cans and some pots and pans and began pounding out a rhythmic backbeat with a couple of unsharpened pencils. Captured on tape, the sound was described by future Tongue manager and publicist Ian V. as "an epileptic monkey on ludes trying to fuck a typewriter." It was a perfect fit for the Tongue's original sound.
Feeling that it had grown stale within its Chalky Tongue persona, the band changed its name to Liquid Tongue and Shurkin and made its first foray into the recording industry. This effort, Live at the Crystal Palace, debuted in September 1988, and while it went largely unnoticed in domestic stores, the album was a hit in some sectors. It received huge air play in Panama as the U.S. Army played it over and over at top volume in an effort to chase Manuel Noriega from his barricaded stronghold. The band was even asked to do a live performance in Panama City but declined when told they would have to perform a duet of "Freebird" with fellow rising stars Winger.
"Those dicks didn't even smoke pot" Captain Leisure complained to Rolling Stone in a 1991 interview.
Later that Fall, in another stroke of blind luck, the band discovered lead singer Deemer during a recording session in their living room. Deemer had been hanging around the IV band scene for years waiting for his break and made quite an impression on the Tongue.
"I was just jamming on 'Midnight Hour' with my eyes closed, feeling the Colt 45 and the last bowl kicking in when suddenly I heard this smoking harmonica blues riff," a bleery Shurkin remembered for a 1990 Big ‘Uns article, "I looked up and there was Deemer rewiring a set of walkman headphones into Captain Leisure's Alamo amp for a microphone. Next thing I know he's doing some wacked out Cab Calloway sounding half-vocals, half harmonica solo. After that we couldn't get the microphone away from him."
For the next three years, the Tongue blazed new trails in music and earned its title as "the world's greatest living room band." It was this configuration that produced the classic albums Tongue Lix and their triple album magnum opus The Tongue.
The years were not smooth, however. Despite Eddie Vedder's love and admiration, the band was heckled by their peers. One reason was the band's insistence on low-tech equipment and their staunch refusal to learn how to play their instruments "properly." The resulting sound was one that concurrently sent shock waves through the music industry and alienated a lot of people who insisted that tone, tune and harmony should be important musical considerations.
"Feedback is the wave of the future," Captain Leisure declared at the 1989 I.V.y Awards show in Dog Shit Park. His words proved prophetic in the following years and the Tongue's pioneering efforts in feedback inspired bands like Sonic Youth to commercialize the Tongue's underground sound.
Shurkin was more succinct. "Plug in, turn up, and trip out, or fuck off," he bellowed just before running naked into Carnegie Hall during the Preparation H 1991 Light Rock Music Awards. "The Dog" was later arrested after security guards found him urinating on Michael Bolton's formal hair weave.
The music was pure and the attitude was raw, but things began to deteriorate for the band due to their antisocial and unpredictable behavior. During the infamous 1989 Blatz Beer summer tour the band was a no-show for their entire 3-day concert series at Bakersfield Community College. The band was finally located at Larry Flynt's Hustler Mansion in Los Angeles. They were unapologetic.
"I can count the number of true Tongue fans on one fucking finger, so anybody that's got a problem with us can fucking bite me," Deemer responded in a hastily organized press conference. Deemer's declaration coupled with the fact that two of the band members were unconscious and propped up between topless Hustler centerfolds during the televised press conference spelled the beginning of the end for the Tongue.
Despite numerous arrests for narcotics possession and public obscenity, the band continued to press on. Their 1990 Bite Me or Buy Me tour was a mammoth 17-show, 62-day whirlwind through southern Santa Barbara, northern Ventura and western Kern counties. Though it marked the high point in the band's musical intensity, it was a commercial failure. The grind of so many performances with such a limited songlist coupled with mounting social pressure from the Moral Majority and the Barry McCafferey Society for Uninformed Middle America took its toll on the once invincible band.
Deemer was the first to leave, citing personal reasons. Rumors abounded in pulp tabloids like Raunch and The Beater that the band's classic encore song, "Love Chicken" was inspired by some of Deemer's personal problems. Deemer adamantly denied the allegations, but was later arrested for soliciting an undercover Rhode Island Red hen in downtown Redwood City (charges were later dropped due to the inability of a witness to pick Deemer out of a police cock lineup).
SC the Kind was the next to go, another victim of rock and roll's tragic dance with addiction.
"He couldn't quit his habit," Shurkin said about The Kind's departure, "no matter how hard he fought it, he couldn't quit listening to the Grateful Dead. He even went to the Betty Ford clinic once to try to get cured, but it was to no avail. At his worst, he had a ten-tape-a-week habit. Sound boards even, he just had to get the best stuff."
"We were all doing similar stuff," Zuete recalled, "chicks, drugs, hackie-sack, but you can only hear Bob Weir singing ‘Good Lovin' so many times. It wore us down. The Dead was our Yoko."
After SC the Kind's departure, the Tongue was dealt a crippling blow when Isla Vista, under pressure from landlords claiming the Tongue was single-handedly bringing down property values, banned them from performing within a twenty-mile radius of the oceanfront community.
Undaunted, the band quickly regrouped, picking up legendary Isla Vista musician Big Al. Big Al was a grizzled veteran of the IV music scene and had either played or partied with most of the major Isla Vista bands. The band had found a soul mate and Big Al easily stepped into the void left by The Kind's departure. Though he played an actual complete drum kit, Big Al had never played drums before. It was a perfect fit for the band.
Zuete summed up the band's attitude, "I didn't even know he couldn't play the drums, it didn't matter, the guy knew how to party, and in the grand scheme of things, that's all we cared about."
The band quickly went into the studio and recorded their tour d'force Metallic Behemoth. It was this album that featured the Tongue's two biggest underground hits, "Virgin Vampyre Lover" and "You Blow My Mind," singles that according to the band's publicist and erstwhile manager Ian V., were "well liked by the few people who heard them."
Deciding to attempt another tour to support their latest album, the Tongue launched their notorious Mescaline and Ecstasy tour, which featured now legendary performances at venues like Chez Sara, the Underground Garage, and Tony's Albanian Cafeteria.
It was during this tour that the band reached its pinnacle of rock and roll excess. On September 23, 1990, the Tongue was scheduled to play a secret twin-kegger ‘homecoming' gig at the famous Palacio de Camino Pescadero in IV. Foreshadowing the rave party formats popularized later in the 1990's, the Tongue kept the time and location of the gig secret from the media and law enforcement officials in order to avoid prosecution related to the lifetime performance ban meted out by the Isla Vista Proprietary Council in June of that year.
But word spread quickly through the party town and by the time the Tongue took the stage the place was packed with rowdy Tonguers. As spotlights whirled and sirens wailed the Tongue mustered the full extent of its musical power and took the stage primed to blow some minds.
As with most Tongue endeavors, their best laid plans quickly went awry. The Tongue had decided on a groundbreaking intoxication strategy. Starting with Olde English 800's around noon, the band graduated to Jaeger shots and vodka jello cubes during the course of the afternoon and as the sun set on Del Playa they were ready for the final level of preparation. Captain Leisure and Big Al took several strong muscle relaxants while Zuete and The Dog stoked their musical furnaces with some Blue Woodstock acid.
The intention of such an illicit formula was to create a powerful dichotomy of power chords and mysticism. Fueled by the meth cut acid, The Dog and Zuete were playing in 12/4 time while the partially sedated Captain Leisure and Big Al were quite content to feel the beauty of 1/4 time. It worked great, for a while.
The Tongue started with their staple concert starter, "Pick
The crowd went wild and started rocking the stage uncontrollably.
Big Al would later recall that between the Percodan and all the bare
in the crowd he could barely remember to keep drumming. No one
As the band kicked into their second song, "Justine," all pieces of the puzzle were coming together.
"That version of 'Justine' was the most ass-kicking music the Tongue ever played, we just fucking rocked," Captain Leisure reminisced in a recent interview for an E! exclusive "Where are they now?" segment.
Suddenly, the place was swarming with cops, in a scene reminiscent of Chicago '68.
"People were screaming and throwing things and booing and there were bodies flying everywhere and it was total fucking chaos," Zuete recalls, "I remember thinking, 'damn, we're good'."
That night, 16 people were injured and 47 arrested as the IV Nazis on Bikes special community police patrol, acting on a tip from Jehovah's Witness secret informants, waded into the sea of bodies wielding blackjacks, nightsticks, pepper spray, and recordings of Roseanne's "Star-Spangled Banner."
After an hour of head bashing and rib kicking, the crowd was dispersed and the stage torn apart. The band, badly shaken and heavily tripped out, decided that it was the will of Jerry that they should play that night and set about looking for an alternative venue.
Hearing that Black Clothes and Pointy Shoes was playing a farewell concert in the coveted Center Courtyard of Chez Sara, the band was wisked away in their stretch bicycles after instructing their roadies to bring what was left of their equipment.
"You have to remember that by the time we got to Chez Sara we were tripping really hard. What with the drugs, the music, the pepper spray and the Jaeger, we were pretty much out of our heads," the Dog explained from his plush San Francisco penthouse. "Then, we get there and Black Clothes is not even trying to play music, they were just destroying a bunch of old musical instruments. The sound was incredible and the sight of them beating a helpless violin with a trombone slide just blew us away."
The band quickly set up their instruments and played some lackluster versions of "Bolero" and "Virgin Vampyre Lover," but the energy was gone.
"I remember not even knowing what song we were playing. My mind was fried and I was as much a spectator as anyone else there. During "Bolero" I just tripped out on the all the pretty lights dancing off the faceplate of my bass," Zuete mused, "I was so wasted, in all respects."
Fortunately, pieces of this concert were recorded on tape and released as Tongue Over I.V., an album Rolling Stone said "should of been the grunge Framptom Comes Alive, but nobody in the world bought it, or even knew it existed." The album has also become one rock's greatest legends due to the fact that half of the performance was lost when the band forgot to flip over the tape that they were using to record their performance.
After the tour, the band, burned out from the constant touring and high decibel levels took the next several years off. In the summer of '92, they finally regrouped and recorded their farewell album, "Bleeding Into Ancient Evenings," which featured the band's bring-out-the-lighter epic "Bleeding."
The band toured once again, but it would be for the last time. Deciding that it was better to quit before they actually learned to play their instruments, the Tongue declared their wild ride over in the fall of 1992.
"We didn't want to become just one of those bands out there who
actually play their instruments," The Dog told MTV's Kurt Loder when
decision was announced, "everyone else can do that shit, but that's
sets us apart. Actually learning how to play would have been
the original spirit of the band, and we'd rather die then sell out."