Let’s Go to Hell: Scattered Memories of the Butthole Surfers By James Burns, 504 pgs.

The Butthole Surfers are perhaps the band that holds the record for staying longest on my “I gotta check this band out” list. The fact that their album Electric Larryland seems required by law to be in every used CD bargain bin (along with Sisqó’s Unleash the Dragon) probably played a part in my hesitancy to dive in. Reading Let’s Go to Hell was a full-immersion course in correcting my fifteen or so years neglecting the Butthole legacy beyond the songs “Pepper” and “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave.” This book is a passionate love letter to the band, if not at times borderline cult-like in proselytizing for the Butthole’s importance.

The Butthole Surfers’ story is cobbled together from interviews author James Burns has compiled over the years, archival materials such as zine columns, and a healthy dose of conjecture. The biographical narrative of the book could have benefited from some judicious editing; quite often, enthusiasm gets the better of the author. The stories told of the band’s many incarnations, though, are a fascinating portrait of the Butthole Surfers’ intentions to push the musical and artistic boundaries of punk—and often of good taste in general. The—admittedly shaky—recollections of the band’s ultra hardscrabble rise from destitute Texas cult band in the ‘80s to legitimate hitmakers in the ‘90s alternative boom is a fascinating trajectory. (I’m not sure how to feel about them suing Touch And Go Records, though.)

Perhaps the book’s biggest weakness is that in its eagerness to spread the gospel of the Butthole Surfers’ importance as punk’s kings of weirdness and one of Texas’s hardest working bands, the writing often tips over into purple prose and grandiose moments of navel gazing. Every member change, tour, album release, and label signing becomes an odyssey necessitating grand-scale heavy introspection on what the chosen particular moment meant—not only for the Butthole Surfers, but punk rock and society as a whole. Stepping back for a couple meditative reflections on a band’s place in the world is acceptable. The dozens of times that pensive asides happen got to be a slog. Yes, the story of how Gibby Haynes put his penis on a suitcase Jimmy Carter touched is interesting and funny. No, it probably was not a moment that influenced and shaped international policy.

That said, the 160 or so pages of annotated info on the Butthole Surfers’ discography and live performances at the end of the book is a marvel to behold in its obsessive detail. –Adrian Salas (Cheap Drugs, notsaved1401@gmail.com)