By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Shocking is four human-loaded jetliners hijacked on a late summer morning. Shocking is two of these jets slicing into the tallest buildings in Manhattan. Shocking is watching those buildings implode all the way down to their foundations. Shocking is the video footage that TV stations run in an endless loop—almost to the point that it's not really shocking anymore. Shocking is Ann Coulter writing in the New York Daily News, "This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in this particular terrorist attack. . . . We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Shocking is Jerry Falwell blaming it all on "pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians."
Suddenly, bands like WASP—once deemed "shocking"—seem wholesome and mainstream.
Listen up, kids: a long, long time ago, shocking used to be about exploding codpieces and knifing the abdomens of mannequins made up to look like pregnant nuns and giving albums titles like Kill Fuck Die and single-picture sleeves of songs called "Fuck Like a Beast" depicting a table saw blade protruding from a man's crotch—make-'em-famous tricks WASP used to, well, make themselves famous.
But no more. Until the whole globe witnessed those scenes from a bad Bruce Willis flick played out in real time, you'd have thought the old Jane's Addiction album title had been fulfilled: nothing is shocking.
"Understand that what we've done, I was never intending to shock for shock's sake," explains Blackie Lawless, WASP's main scourge. The man born Steve Duren—but Blackie Lawless just sounds so much more, you know, shocking—insists the band has "always been about making a social comment or being satirical. Our shock always has a point to it. At the same time, though, I understand: you gotta get people to pay attention."
And nothing says, "Hey! Lookee here!" quite like putting live rats in a meat grinder. 'Round about the mid-'80s, just a few years after WASP formed, stunts like that got the band noticed by a group of well-connected Washington housewives, one of whom was Tipper Gore, wife of then-Senator Al, who took offense that her impressionable young children could just walk into any record store and buy an album—without ID, even!—with lyrics like "I lick my chops, and you're tasting good/I do whatever I want to ya/I'll nail your ass to the sheets/A pelvic thrust, and the sweat starts to sting ya/I fuck like a beast." Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) went after WASP, among other bands, during an infamous slate of Senate hearings that centered on "obscene" lyrics and art in rock & roll. She even branded poor, put-upon Blackie himself "sick."
Huh! Had she failed to grasp what a giver Blackie was? That WASP once had a Red Cross trailer put outside a club they were playing, and anybody who gave a pint of blood got in for half-price? No! Or that the letters in WASP stood for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants and not We Are Sexual Perverts (or was that the other way around?)?
No matter: the resulting press fury sure helped WASP get rich. "What better way to get attention than to go after an attention-getter," Blackie reflects, some 15 years later. "When all that started happening, we admit that we thought it would sell us more records. We were already getting attention, but when the PMRC made us the focus of national politics, it also made us a household word."
But the PMRC eventually shriveled as the nation moved on to Gulf Wars, Drug Wars and America's War, and WASP returned to its shrieky, darker-hued hair metal, even as the genre died a slow commercial death.
Now WASP are a hit again on the club circuit—but that doesn't mean the band's fundamentalist enemies no longer view them as a threat. Take last year in Texas, when a Houston sheriff was so afraid of WASP playing his town—WASP being a gateway drug for everything from child sacrifice to poodle-screwing to girls wearing skirts that hit above their knees, y'understand—that he got the gig moved from his county to another, presumably more WASP-friendly one. Then there was the in-store the band did—also in Texas—at which some irate gentleman was caught trying to sneak in a gun.
"That's why we won't do in-stores anymore without security," Blackie says. "Someone is gonna use their constitutional rights to censor someone else, and that can be scary—like, if they get rid of you, the world will be a better place."
He's a hunted man, this Lawless—or, shall we say, Osama bin Blackie? Well, they both sure seem to know a lot about religion. Blackie's big goal, though, is not jihad, but that his disciples might discern the distinction between messenger and message. "If you know anything about the Koran, Muslims are told that suicide is a death sentence," Blackie says, speaking about the recent spate of suicide bombers. "It's a one-way ticket to hell. And Christianity has been conflicted for years. I mean, where does it say in the Bible that you should bomb abortion clinics? How do you get 1,300 versions of Christianity to agree on the same thing? I'm not bashing faith, but what happens when you have someone who claims to be a leader in any faith? The next thing you hear is that they have some sort of manifesto, and they're standing on the street corner with that manifesto and beating on your door with it at midnight. Some may think that's extreme, but we're supposed to be this Christian nation, and look at where we started—we got our roots from the U.K., and look at what's gone on between the English and the Irish for 500 years."
The name of the new WASP album? Unholy Terror, an apropos title for unsettling times. More interesting, though, are lyric snippets in which Lawless refers to specific people or events: the Spanish Inquisition, Nazis, Nostradamus, Karl Marx, Dick Nixon, Napoleon, the Pope, manifest destiny, Mao and Satan. Actually, you know what's shocking? An old metal dude, like Blackie, who's thoughtful, literate, articulate and generally up on his history. That's shocking.WASP perform with Pissing Razors and Fifi Larue at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Wed., 8 p.m. $20. All ages.