Stupid, Shitty, Retarded

The special genius of the Spits

Photo by Todd TaylorThe world has many questions for the Spits: Are you stupid? Are you insane? Are you aware that mohawks and mustaches mesh about as well as toothpaste and orange juice? And seriously: Are you stupid and insane?

But the Spits care not for this world—as of press time, even their label can't find them. And so it's up to us to give the world—or just make up—the answers.

First: the Spits are the only good Ramones rip-off there ever was, with the possible exception of the Shitdogs, Helen Love and two songs by the Normals. Save your breath if you're gonna mention Screeching Anything because only the Spits reincarnate that special blend of idiocy, faux naiveté and insanity that made the Ramones so much more than just a post-salad-fork-lobotomy redux of the Sweet.

Even better: the Spits aren't the cuddly, cartoony I-wanna-be-in-wuv-wiv-you Ramones, the way every poor, little, rich band with matching leather jackets and a set of Cons wants to be. They're the creepy home-alone Ramones, with songs about freaks, serial killers, scary old Nazis, huffing solvents and sucking off liver-spotted old men for dope cash—you know, the stuff you can relate to.

And then they add this sickly, sad-sounding keyboard, a sort of Galaga-after-huffing-gas effect. They dress the keyboard player up like a robot. The rest of them put on ski masks or mohawks and mustaches or whatever and do a hunchback shuffle through lo-fi 4/4 punk. You can see, perhaps, why people may feel they're stupid or insane. But much the same things were said about the Ramones—can we learn something from that?

Of course, the Spits are older than the Ramones were when they started out. And they're 28 years too late for the trend. They're on their 10th keyboard robot, and it took them eight goddamn years just to organize a split seven-inch with pogo darlings the Briefs. But now they've hit—for them—something kind of spectacular. They've got two full-lengths out on two different labels. Each is self-titled (recommended: referring to Spits 1 on Nickel and Dime and Spits 2 on Slovenly, as if you were discussing Led Zeppelin). Each has nine songs and finishes in 17 minutes. Each has cover art best described as middle-school surreal: a robot skateboarder and a naked girl—that is a girl, right?—smoking a cigarette; a wheelchair-bound amputee with a robot arm and a skateboard; the seven-inch features the Pope amid a swarm of UFOs, as cogent a meditation on Catholicism as anything. Each gets reviews that sound like a fight at the back of the playground: "Stupid!" "Shitty!" "Retarded!" "Retarded retards!"

And each, of course, is genius in the highest order.

It takes years of discipline to get this artfully D-U-M-B: "It was the year of '78/I filled my bed with masturbate," they drone—the Spits don't sing so much as emit, dribbling out warped, caveman-subtle lyrics through some kind of low-tech signal processor like Hal 9000 slurring through "Daisy"—on a Spits 2 song called "Bring Down," apparently about murdering prostitutes. ("That's it?" someone asks them during an interview. "Fuck, that sucks!") Or "Little Suzy's mother sold her when she was only three/Now it hurts when little Suzy has to go pee" from "Die Die Die." Or "Get home, jack off, take a little nap/Nothing on the TV but shit and crap/It's Monday night and people suck" from "Tired and Lonely" (the Spits wisely minimize their syllable count whenever possible). On paper, maybe it does come off as stupid/shitty/retarded. But you sang along to "Fourth rule is 'Eat kosher salami!'" and loved it. The Spits can make you do the same.

It's all in the delivery: four guys, four chords, four poorly matching outfits (except for the robot keyboard player, probably), and for 2003, it's the closest you can get to that Ramones-y Spirit of '76 without a shovel, crowbar or Ouija board. If they're stupid, they're stupid for all the right reasons: huffing solvents, watching too much bad TV, listening to way too many punk records. And if they're insane, they're just insane because the alternative is so boring. The mohawks and moustaches no one can explain, but the Spits are a punk band more fun than a visit to the monkey house—and when they're not screeching, flinging shit or masturbating, you might almost think they're trying to tell you something.

The Spits perform with Rocket From the Crypt at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067. Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. $13. All ages.
 
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