I love a good musical mystery as much as anyone here at WFMU. One of my favorites involves a song I heard on my local college radio station almost 15 years ago, driving home at 4 in the morning, and then shivering in my idling car for 10 extra minutes so I could hear the most-likely-stoned DJ back announce the set and add the song to my ever-growing list of potential aural conquests. I'd bet you a thousand bucks that any of my WFMU compadres could share their experience about a song like that, but since I got here first, we're going to talk about west coast kiddie-kore greats, The Rolling Scabs.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Sort of. It was sometime around 1991 and I'd heard this ridiculous song played by what sounded like a couple of snot brained pre-teens who'd maybe heard a Flipper record, and then picked up instruments for the first time. They didn't have a guitar player -- at least not in the band's theme song, (MP3) which was now locked sturdily in my cranium (thanks to the obviously heisted bassline from "Now I Wanna be Your Dog" by Iggy and the Stooges) -- and it seemed like they were making up the lyrics on the spot. Since there was no such thing as instant musical gratification (i.e. the internet) in those days, I got my first copy of the song the old fashioned way: I poised my finger on the record button on my home stereo and with my free dialing finger, I annoyed the shit out of the local DJ until s/he played it.
Fast forward about 8 years. I am in California visiting friends who live in the the Mission District (pictured below... no it's not usually that sunny there) and am harboring a record shopping jones that won't quit. If you've never been there, San Francisco is kind of like dying and going to record shopping heaven. In addition to Amoeba Records and the innumerable smaller shops that speckle the left coast paradise, records are often also on sale in delis, coffee shops, launderettes, and bars. I can't remember where I was when I finally found the Rolling Scabs record, but I'm sure my heart skipped a beat when I saw that wonderful goldenrod nightmare staring me at me squarely from the dusty bin for a measly $2.50.
Owning the record began answering questions that my cruddy radio-tape version of "We're the Scabs" hadn't even begun to ask. Not only were the Rolling Scabs a pair of 12 year olds being backed up by musicians with names like Tony Fag and Susan California, but the record had been recorded live at the famed Gilman Street Project punk dive, and perhaps most shockingly, it had been dedicated to "the living memory" of lead vocalist Giuliano "The Scab" Bourbon, 1975-1990.
Huh?? One of the little kids sporting the MDC t-shirts was dead? This quote from the liners revealed the shocking details:
"...last summer, word filtered out that Giuliano "The Scab" Bourbon was really dead. His live for the moment philosophy played itself out in a tragic accident of which the details are still sketchy. Apparently, the boy genius had rigged up a way to hitch rides hanging from a rickety elevator in the Connecticut mansion he was living in. Well, on this fateful day, Giuliano would not make it all the way down. His natural curiosity would get the best of him and his short life on this earth was brought to a confusing finish."
Hmmm, anyone smell an elaborate music scene in-joke unfurling here? Was this whole Rolling Scabs legend/death story some sort of complex hoax? Maybe, maybe not... But the fact that the above liners were credited to one "N. Tufnel, retired musician and noted rock historian" didn't lend a whole lotta credibility to the story, since everybody knows that "N. Tufnel" is short for "Nigel Tufnel" of Spinal Tap -- the greatest, most elaborate musical hoax of all time.
True or not, the rest of the record was just as good as the one song I'd already heard. To wit, the Rolling Scabs draw a line in the sand, and then dare others to cross it in the epic "My Mom Smokes Pot" (MP3). Consider the lyrical questions raised in the following passages:
"My mom smokes pot! All she ever does is sitting on that bed (sic), coughing off her big fat head! Yeaoaaah! Looking at the mirror watching her warts!... Marijuana has a first name, it's W-E-E-D! Marijuana has a second name it's J-O-I-N-T! And we smoke it every day blaehehahea! Marijuana has a way of fucking up the U.S.A. Today!"
Then there's the tribute to the never-realized Rolling Scabs world tour, "Around the World in 80 Seconds" (MP3) which confuses various Asian cultures with one another in a classic, ignorant-twelve-year-old kind of way.
"We're gonna go to China, buy some chopsticks, eat some rice. Sumo wrestling, find an oriental girl, do everything I wanna do in China... Eat some sushi in Japan, visit the Great Wall..."
Truly, the stuff of legend... But as is so often the case with many great things, my copy of the Rolling Scabs 45 fell behind the stereo (in the cosmic sense, that is) and was entirely forgotten about until I took it upon myself to unearth a true diamond in the rough for this blog. In the hopes that the internet had caught up with the band's considerable legend, I googled them before creating this post and came up with the usual results... a few radio playlist pages from freeform pals KALX and WPRB, but one curiously well-informed post regarding the band, written in a similarly ambiguous manner as the above-quoted liners... Could this guy be holding out on us? What's he hiding? Could he somehow be involved in a coverup? The world may never know, but in the cultural DMZ that you and I know as 2005, it's clear enough to me that hoax or not, the Rolling Scabs were just too good to last.