Weird Is the Word

Punk As a Doornail and the strippers and the pizza and the shitstick and the bicycle and the just intonation and the 43-tone octave and, one day, if theyre lucky, the ass kicking

"Yeah, when Cary lit the skatar on fire and put it on my head. Yeah . . . It was pretty nutty. And I don't know who brought the handcuffs."

"No, no," says Cary. "I brought the handcuffs."

And then they all laugh. A lot. You might be a little skeptical. But then they show you the skatar, currently broken from Keith's riding it around. There's a huge dark scar across its belly.

"Blood . . . and ash?" you ask.

"Yep," smiles Keith. Later, they show you a video of their most recent performance. It's pretty much just as they told it: there's Jaime riding around on a flat-tired bicycle; Keith bleeding all over his nice white pants; Marshal in a lab coat ranting about how the concept of bodily health is bullshit and strolling into the audience to cadge drinks and cigarettes; Cary and Marshal wrestling; Keith riding the skatar, which, to borrow a term from Keith, is "squeening" like a gut-stabbed piggy; strippers from Captain Creem's creeping by; and everything collapsing noisily in on itself for the grand finale. A lot of people look scared. The rest clap. Keith wipes some blood on Marshal. The end.

"The last show we had was great," Marshal says later.

"Yeah, we changed modes from just entertaining ourselves to entertaining ourselves and others," says Keith. "When I first formed the band, I wanted the skatar to be the band—it didn't really matter who played it. I wanted it so I could be as belligerent as possible and still be in tune with myself."

He built the skatar, Doornail's signature instrument, out of an old skateboard deck, two guitar strings and a bass string. You play it with a Hennessey gin bottle—always a Hennessey gin bottle. And you tune it to whatever it wants, which is usually an A sharp, Keith says.

"I can't believe he knows this," says Marshal.

"Ever hear of 'just intonation'?" Keith asks hopefully.

We haven't.

"It's a way you tune things?"

[. . .]

"It's how the Pythagoreans used to tune things, using mathematical ratios?"

[. . .]

"Take someone who just understands music way too well and is bored with it—well, not necessarily bored with it, but wants to make it different—and there you go," grins Marshal.

"Okay: Harry Partch. Ever hear of him?" Keith tries again. "He was probably the most interesting classical composer ever. He was from the 1940s, and he was trippier than anything in the '60s—people always think everything trippy goes back to the '60s, but not Harry Partch. It sounds like if you had a classical orchestra and they wanted to be Sonic Youth. Instead of 12 tones to an octave, he had 43."

And was it just a few seconds before that Keith was remembering how the official color scheme of Punk As a Doornail was supposed to be white, black and blood? Because this is how Punk As a Doornail works: Keith can cogently explain the 2,000 years of music theory that went into his making a guitar out of half an orange plastic Union 76 ball and then cackle enthusiastically when he remembers smashing it to bits—with a baseball bat that was also a stringed instrument. From weird broken shit, their sound was born; to weird broken shit it shall return. If they're making noise, it's classical noise, Keith says—noise into which they put a lot of thought.

"The most fun we have with this band is the endless array of ideas that issue forth from all of us," says Marshal. They've basically got one song, one shtick, they explain—"Play a skateboard, blah, blah, blah," says Keith—but they reinvent it every single time. And that's why the strippers and the pizza and the shitstick and the bicycle and the just intonation and the 43-tone octave and, one day, if they're lucky, the ass kicking. Marshal gets very excited when he talks about the ass kicking, as excited as Keith is when he talks about Harry Partch. And right there is Punk As a Doornail: art you can kick ass to.

"I would love to piss off someone in the audience so much that they get up to fight me," Marshal says. "And the funniest part would be if they got up and kicked my ass. Because when I'm beaten down and bloody on the ground, I would look up at this guy and say, 'Dude, you are punk rock. Punk rock lives.'"

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