TOOLIN’ FOR A WARM MEMORY…..
Among the top 10 rock moments of my life was the first time I saw THE DWARVES
in 1988 at San Francisco’s Covered Wagon Saloon. The band was in full bloom from their transition from horror-splashed 60s-inspired garage band to raging hardcore-inspired 30-seconds-flat punk rock band, but I didn’t know that yet. Expecting a heavy dose of angry, keyboard-driven psychedelia, I instead got a ballistic six song, five minute set with so much crazed misanthropic energy that the small crowd was driven into the nether regions of the club, fleeing singer Blag Jesus
with a mixture of terror and shit-eating glee. Jesus would announce the song title (“This one’s called “Motherfucker”, or “This one’s called “Fuckhead”), and it was 1,2,3, panic
for the next forty-five seconds. The whole band was totally nuts, but from this day forward my favorite Dwarve – nay, my favorite rock and roller
– was bassist Salt Peter
, who affected the most ridiculous bad-ass leather-jacketed rock poses you could imagine, a combination of the exceptionally effeminate and the Hell’s Angel-style ugly. I can’t do it justice in words, but the memories are strong. Needless to say, I was more than hooked, and I proceeded to attend pretty much every show they played in SF up until about 1991 or so, when they had convincingly passed into mediocrity and self-parody.
The band’s whole blood/sex/violence shtick was, I maintain, just that: a shtick. Sure, they might have been violent, hateful losers in real life as well, but there was a real tongue-in-cheek spirit and hidden intelligence there that was hard to locate on the surface. When I wrote the band a fan letter the next month, politely enquiring as to where I could find their “Lucifer’s Crank”
cassette, I received a very friendly, conversational handwritten note back from Blag, patiently explaining their discography and thanking me profusely for my fandom. He then signed off with a “PS – Go Fuck Yourself”. The next year that amazing “Toolin’ For a Warm Teabag”
12”EP came out, still an absolute high-water mark for screaming, socket-bursting, in the red punk rock music. It approximates that first live show I saw quite well: 6 tracks, about 6 minutes, and every last one of them a killer. Soon thereafter the rest of the world began to find out. When Mudhoney came to town in 1990, a drunken Mark Arm couldn’t stop shouting “The Dwarves! The Dwarves! Fuck you up and get high!”
to the crowd throughout his own band’s set – seems The Dwarves had made their Seattle debut a few days earlier, and secured their Sub Pop deal in the process. They also were playing their best new song since “Let’s Get Pregnant” or “Sit On My Face” – the masterwerk
, the uber
-genius, the supremely rarified “Fuck You Up and Get High”. Unlike so many of the fake-“dangerous” bands of the era (COWS, HELMET, HOLE, BASTARDS
etc.), the 1987-1991 Dwarves stand up tall even today. I’ll advance the proposition that they successfully took punk rock as far as it had been taken up to that point, and subsequent blaze-punk bands like the Zodiac Killers
are only basking in the mid-period Dwarves’ considerable shadow (good as they are). For reference, I wholeheartedly suggest the 39-track “Free Cocaine”
retrospective CD; the out of print “Toolin’ For Lucifer’s Crank”
CD, and the incredible (and incredibly rare) “Lick It / Nothing”
45, a thrilling encapsulation of their psych-to-punk transition that finds them right smack in the middle of the operation.