By Gilbert Garcia
In the early '90s, Gibby Haynes sat next to Huey Lewis on a South By Southwest musicians panel. As the panel discussion began, the cynical people in the room - and that constituted just about everyone in attendance - settled in and waited for some serious nastiness.
After all, Haynes - lead singer for the Butthole Surfers, the band that brought us such classics as Rembrandt Pussyhorse - and Lewis - the white-bread jock who tried to convince us it was hip to be square - were like oil and water, Bill O' Reilly and Al Franken, Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff. Seating them together had to be someone's idea of a perverse joke. But Haynes and Lewis formed a quick mutual admiration society, sharing jokes and discussing the possibility of playing golf together.
It shouldn't have been a surprise. Over the years, Haynes has jammed with Johnny Depp, hung out with Ellen Barkin, recorded under the supervision of Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, and covertly rubbed his genitalia against former first daughter Amy Carter's luggage. The man knows how to mingle in a wide range of social settings.
For all of Haynes' glorious debauchery over the years, this is still the same guy who graduated with honors from Trinity University, with degrees in accounting and economics, while playing on the basketball team and serving as a fraternity president. It was during this period that he also met Paul Leary, a guitarist who helped him form the foundation of the Butthole Surfers.
With a new album, Gibby Haynes & His Problem, set for release in August, and an imminent gig at the Contemporary Art Month Kickoff Party Fundraiser, Haynes reflects on his college years in San Antonio. Speaking in a gruff twang, with awkward pauses followed by excited bursts of thought, Haynes effortlessly moves from shock-value fabrications to sincere remembrances.
"I had to be about three or four years into the band before I got de-virginized. I was like 30," he says. When the veracity of this claim is questioned, he offers an alternate account: "At Trinity, my girlfriend finally spread her legs and I fucking came in like 30 seconds and she said, 'Is that all?' And then I got a hard-on again and she wouldn't fuck."
Despite repeated attempts, Haynes and Leary had little success on the early '80s SA music scene with their initial incarnations of the Butthole Surfers.
"Every band in San Antonio was copying someone else," he recalls. "No one had an original idea. Even back then, in that age of 'the music on the radio sucks, so you can do anything you want,' everybody in San Antonio wanted to be in a band like somebody. My favorites were the San Antonio new romantics. It was basically an outlet for Hispanic drag queens to get down."
Eventually, the group settled in Austin and developed a fanatical underground cult for their warped, post-punk psychedelia, and scatological horror show gigs. Like many indie bands, by the early '90s, they found the wheel of pop culture fortune spinning in their direction. In 1991, they participated in the epochal, maiden Lollapalooza tour. Later, that year, Haynes contributed one of his distinctive, bullhorn vocals to Ministry's MTV hit "Jesus Built My Hotrod." In 1993, the Buttholes even made the jump to the majors, releasing an eponymously titled album for Capitol Records.
These days, the group has regained its place on the cultural fringes, albeit with enough elder-statesman cachet to get some imposing offers.
"We're going to play in Taiwan," he says. "We think it's a setup, they're offering us so much money. It's scary. I'm praying to God, or to Allah, that this is a private party, so the public isn't invited. We would be just the most expendable form of Western culture. It's probably the CIA that's behind this. We're like an offering, a burnt offering.
"If Ray Charles got fucked out of his funeral, I hate to see what they do to the Butthole Surfers. Poor Ray Charles, he got Reaganed. What a drag. It's hard to tell who had a greater influence over America, Ray Charles or Ronald Reagan, but it's easy to tell who had a more positive one."
For Gibby Haynes & His Problem, Haynes worked with a band that included guitarist Kyle Ellison, bassist Nathan Calhoun, and drummer Shandon Sahm (Doug Sahm's son). Sahm connected Haynes with Texas keyboard legend Augie Meyers, who guests on the album. "Augie's fucking cool as shit," Haynes says. "He just came in, smiled, sat down, didn't smoke any weed with us."
Haynes recently moved to New York's Lower East Side, and he proudly talks about how he's taken up biking, getting himself a fixed-gear bike with no brakes because that's what bike messengers use.
He reveals that the bike purchase was inspired by a "leisurely Saturday morning" spent with his girlfriend watching the Kevin Bacon movie Quicksilver on TV. "I was like, 'Wow, man, I love that bike. I've got to get one.' I was mesmerized by the movie. It's funny, because it was supposed to be in New York, but it looks kind of like a Canadian version of San Francisco."
A few days later, he attended a voter-registration fundraiser at the Apollo Theater, and saw Kevin Bacon there. "That's when I decided to get a bike. If I see Kevin Bacon, I will tell him. I have the confidence now."
His move to New York hasn't diminished Haynes' commitment to the Butthole Surfers. He says that he can't foresee a day when the group won't be making music together.
"The less attention we get, the better," he says. "The more obscure we become, the better. I'm looking forward to a completely obscure future." •
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