Saturday, December 24, 2005

Killdozer: Burl EP & Little Baby Buntin'

Touch and Go Records, 1986-1987

"Ballad singing has been going on ever since people sang at all. It comes up like an underground stream and then goes back again. But it always exists."
- Burl Ives.

"If America wasn't a cesspool we couldn't write songs. At least not the songs we write."
- Michael Gerald, Killdozer, 1994, Stumpy Fanzine
I bet Burl Ives didn't have Killdozer in mind when he waxed on about ballad singing but for that brief period they were one of the few bands practicing the art.

Like the 70's TV movie that they took their inspiration from, Killdozer wrote bluesy guttural and vulgar songs about an industrial world out of control and the working class freaks and losers that populate that bleak landscape. There were no Springsteenian heroes here promising redemption beneath a dirty hood of a Chevrolet or Dylanish troubadours reading the words written by Italian poets from the thirteenth century by candlelight. Instead we have short order fry cooks who seem on the verge of a killing spree, a man so lonely that he imagines the cyst on his neck has come alive and a man who gets a "bubblegum face" from an industrial accident but still brags that with a hood on his head he's a "sexual beast."

The thing that sticks with you about Killdozer is undoubtedly Michael Gerald's raspy put-on voice that sounds like Froggy from Our Gang might have sounded at 65 after a lifetime of whisky and cigars. He's been criticized for never deviating from 'the voice" and at times it can get annoying (example: the cartoonish "Hi There" or his monotone delivery in the "I'm Not Lisa" cover). But if you listen closely, he does vary it at times - compare the almost soft delivery of "Slackjaw" with the balls-out singing on "Hamburger Martyr" for example. And it's not like put-on voices aren't part of a proud tradition. Check out Dylan or Springsteen, the most prominent balladeers of the previous two decades, for instance. The band has also been criticized for being too derivative of Flipper which is a bogus argument given the fact that these are ballads with song structure and story while Flipper were mainly one or two lines sung over and over again until your ears started to bleed. You could make the point that they are derivative of Birthday Party but again you go back to the songs and where Birthday Party were more influenced by Southern Gothic novels while Killdozer drew from a folk tradition stemming from Depression-era dustbowl music. Burl Ives may be somewhat sarcastically cited here but give the guy his due, he helped popularize Woody Guthrie and tons of other balladeers in the 30's even if he's best known as the holly-jolly snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Ives' signature song (before "Silver and Gold") was "Wayfarin' Stranger," which like much of Killdozer's work is sung in the first person.

It's a shame these two records were never reissued together since they seem to be a perfect match. Burl, released in 1986, was their first work in a 24 track studio and the sound is bigger and more experimental. It lays the groundwork for Little Baby Buntin' where the band sounds even more uninhibited. And it can't go without mention that uber-producer Butch Vig cut his teeth with Killdozer even if he later became the drummer for Garbage.

  • Bill Hobson: Guitars
  • Dan Hobson: Drums
  • Michael Gerald: Bass, vocals
  • Butch Vig: piano (on Burl)

  • "Puppy" - Little Baby Buntin'

This song is about a true incident - here's Michael Gerald telling the story in his own words:
SP: If there's one line I may never get out of my head (much as I want to) it'’s the one that goes something like "When I lit Sonny'’s balls on fire/You didn't even blink." Where did that come from?
MG: There was a biker gang outside of Madison, WI, called Satan'’s Dragons, that didnĂ‚’t even own motorcycles. They were in the news because one of their initiates had been found dead and naked in a field, castrated and with his dick stuffed into his mouth. They were caught when one of them reported to the police the theft of his Harley Davison ring, which had been found underneath the head of the dead initiate. The dudes referred to their initiates as "puppies." I naturally imagined them being the type who would set a dog'’s balls on fire...
[From Snap! Pop Interview by Comely Mike Montana, 2000]

Michael's interpretation of the chorus's line: "I Am, I said / to no one there / and no one heard at all / not even the chair" is simultaneously absurd and poignant. Excuse me while I cry into my hanky but this is their best cover ever - and this is a band that did LOTS of covers.

Besides being a great way to open up Burl, this is a clever reference to The Venus Hottentot, a shameful incident in Western history where an African woman was brought to England and put on display because she had a big ass. "Hottentot" doesn't have any references to this beyond the title but instead reflects a common theme in Killdozer songs - that is the sons and daughters not heeding history and repeating the sins of their fathers. A fat man plans some sort of despicable act against a little girl for criticizing him for his "enormous size".

Saved Round:

In an example of life imitating art, a man angry with his local government armored a bulldozer and attempted to destroy a small Colorado town. He ended up destroying 13 buildings. The local media nicknamed the bulldozer Killdozer.

When the bulldozer broke down, the man shot himself and the armor cover had to be removed by a crane in order to get to his body. The quote below from Mr. Dailey sounds like it could have been written by Michael Gerald.

Undersheriff Glen Trainor said the dozer's armor plates consisted of two sheets of half-inch steel with a layer of concrete between them.

Grand County Commissioner Duane Dailey said Heemeyer apparently used a video camera and two monitors found inside to guide the dozer. Two guns were mounted in front and aimed through portals. Other portals were cut in the back. It was unclear how many guns Heemeyer had in the dozer.

Authorities speculated Heemeyer may have used a homemade crane found in his garage to lower the armor hull over the dozer and himself.

"Once he tipped that lid shut, he knew he wasn't getting out," Dailey said.



Seb said...

Wow. Given my affinity for both Touch N Go and the Birthday Party, I have no idea why I've slept on this band for so long. Cheers! And Merry Christmas!

W/S said...

One of the best bands ever. One of the saving graces of punk rock through the late 80s. One of the reasons T&G gets a pass on all the crap they release today. Thanks!

scot said...

Awesome post. I miss these guys.

comely mike said...

I adore these guys. I'm the fellow, by the way, who did the Snap Pop interview with MG you quote above. I love your blog and am glad to see Killdozer getting some of the kudos they so richly deserve.

Jim H said...

YEs, and thanks for commenting, comely mike, since I realized that I didn't provide attribution for that quote. I got the interview off the Killdozer fansite but forgot to note that it was done by Stumpy. I'll update the posting later today.

comely mike said...

No biggie, really. Just wanted to tell you I love yr blog, friend. And K-Dozer, natch.

Anonymous said...

Actually, this is the most recent Michael Gerald interview: