The Angry Samoans are good shit to skate to, seethe at your parents to, or just roil around in the testosterone-addled throes of puberty to. We're all agreed on that. But don't start thinking about them. Keep telling yourself that they're just another dumb—very dumb—old punk band. And if you're a music writer, don't start writing about them. Because they set booby traps. Scissor and scalpel your way through all the sneering and juvenilia, through the wall-of-fuzz guitars and that marching-band stomp-stomp drumbeat, through 20 years of breakups and breakdowns and legends gone totally sour, and what do you find? Not a streets-of-Hollywood punk, not a skate rat gone bad, not a slumming rich boy . . . no, worse than that: you find another music writer just like you, pointing up from the abyss and laughing his ass off.
Because maybe you don't know this about the Angry Samoans. If you're a big Angry Samoans fan, if you hate everything they did after the Back From Samoa LP (and rightfully so) but still drag yourself out to see the resurrected Metal Mike and the Angry Samoan Jamboroo every couple of months or so, maybe you don't know who these guys were. Because they weren't really yours. They weren't disaffected teens articulating their all-consuming, adolescent alienation the only gosh-darn way they knew how. They were ours. Rock writers. Music journalists. Critics. Outsiders. Parasites. Scum. Just like me. If there's a darker secret to the band, I can't imagine it.
So first there was VOM, the egregiously contrived pre-Samoan outfit: future Samoans and current/previous music critics Metal Mike Saunders on guitar/vocals and Gregg Turner on guitar. (Bill Vockeroth remains on drums.) Mike's curriculum vitae: started out with unpaid record reviews in Rolling Stone at 16, may have coined the term “heavy metal” during college stints for Creem, dropped out of rock journalism in 1973, and ended up in LA in punk rock 1978 as a 26-year-old accountant or something. Turner apparently wrote for the same esteemed publications but never granted an interview with RockCritics.com like Mr. Mike, so his past remains comfortably dim. The important thing is that these guys came to punk already bleary with experience, unlike the Neanderthals that lurched out of most suburban garages.
And speaking of lurching, VOM's most notorious member was übercritic Richard Meltzer—I don't know exactly why he was notorious; I was about, um, zero years old at the time—and under his gentle hand, VOM was supposed to be a snotty goose to the ass to snooty LA punk. Problem was they were so funny (“I got my fingers in you, babe, but I wish they were in your mom!”) everyone forgot to laugh. Why make a punk band to make fun of punk bands, asked ever-astute Slash magazine writer Claude Bessy, when every punk band by definition already made fun of itself? Why parody self-parody? Well, post-punk, it was the last forbidden territory—biting the hand that feedbacks you—and nothing's as finger-lickin' good as forbidden territory. When VOM whimpered out, Saunders, Turner and the new Angry Samoans dove into this heart of darkness face first. It's hard to tell if it killed them or made them stronger.
See, this was living life deep behind the irony curtain. Joke doesn't do it justice: the Angry Samoans were characters (and by characters I mean total assholes), slinging around “fag” and “queer” and bullshit like that so vociferously (most crucially in reference to poor old Catholic-schoolgirl-lovin' KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer) that people like fucking Lee Ving were sitting them down and giving them stern talkings-to. All the uptight trendy punkers are pissed—mission accomplished, right? Because they didn't really mean it, right? They were just being, you know, “punk,” right?
But then all these crazy kids from the suburbs started taking it really seriously—coming up to Rodney and monotoning, “In the name of the Angry Samoans, I'm going to kill you!” They'd play their song “Lights Out,” and—as per lyrics—fans would mock-stab themselves in the eyes with plastic forks. Where's the joke now? On them? On the kids? On us? And then they made a classic record (the aforementioned Back From Samoa), but did they mean to? Most vitally, when and how does faking fake become real?
Fuck, as they say, if I know. I try not to think about it. Personality crises aside, it probably helped break up the band: these music-critic nerds were swept up in a pimple-faced, suburban, rock tornado of their own ill-advised making, and eventually maybe even they couldn't tell if it was a joke anymore. But everyone kept laughing anyway. Now that Mike has put together a new version of the Angry Samoans, it's even more convoluted. I hate to resort to critic-speak—believe me, I'm punching myself in the face right now as I type one-handed—but the Angry Samoans are a postmodern shitstorm from hell. Lies, truth, image, pose, substance, spectacle, impenetrable pundits like Lacan and our own Derrida—it's all a morass and a half. So don't try to think about them, and just let the music kill your brain. They still sound pretty good, and they play all the old stuff. It's just like the real thing. I think.
The Angry Samoans perform with the Dave Brockie Experience and Channel 3 at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Sat., 8 p.m. $13.50. All ages.