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

Jan 19, 2017

I have been waiting for this book for a long time. Finally, the weird, untold legend of the Butthole Surfers will be known! Celebration in Weirdoville. It was the Butthole Surfers who first taught me that punk rock wasn’t just about uniform chords and how fast you could play. They were also my introduction to the microcosm of Texas punk which still obsesses me to this day. It all came about at my friend Glen’s house back in 1987 when he lent me his brother’s copy of Psychic… Powerless… Another Man’s Sac. It really changed my fourteen-year-old viewpoint.

From there I tracked down everything I could about these drugged-out Texans with their freak out live show—and their dog named Mark Farner—but the information was scant and stayed that way for decades. Now almost thirty years later, the story is being told.

The book is massive! Almost daunting, but once I got in, I found it easy to read with its narrative interspersed with quotes and stories from band members and those around them. Sadly, lead weirdo Gibby Haynes declined to be interviewed for the book, but the rest of the long cast of characters came out in droves and it still works. I know it would have been that much better with Gibby involved, but while reading I honestly didn’t notice it.

The book covers the early days of Texas punk rock, where weird was king, hitting the road on an endless tour that encompassed the ‘80s, somehow beating all odds by getting first on a major label, then having a Top 40 hit, then their fade away in light of label hi-jinks and lawsuits.

The book’s coverage of the band’s lawsuit with long-time indie label Touch And Go was particularly interesting. At the time, the band was universally lambasted by the punk rock/alternative community for suing their former label, painting them as money-hungry corporate rockers. In the book, we hear it from the band’s side, and it is safe to say that there was fault on both sides of the situation.

Perhaps the craziest part of the book is the discography. For a band that has never provided one shred of production information on any of their releases, the author has meticulously pieced together a comprehensive discography of who played what, on what recording, and what date each song premiered live. There is also a subsection of unreleased songs, demos, and live recordings. It is hard to imagine the work that would go into this for a band that had all of their information available, let alone the most legendarily-cagey-about-details band to walk the earth. Add in an abundance of great color and black and white photos from all eras, and I’d call this one of the most comprehensive band bios I have ever read. My only complaint is that you just gotta put the umlauts in Hüsker Dü. It’s just wrong otherwise. –Ty Stranglehold (Cheap Drugs Publishing, outskirtspress.com)