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October 26, 2011

PUBLIC NOISE PRIVATE NOISE

Welcome, fiends. I’m terribly happy to celebrate Halloween with you. This is my favorite season. The smell of sweet decay in the air, the sad scratching of withered hands on mausoleum walls, never to be opened again … and all the candy! This holiday brings out a crazed streak of creativity that really helps people and allows us to express some ancient and purifying impulse (without going full “Wicker Man”). Many of my favorite memories of family and friends involve fake knives in the head and blasting spooky sound effects out the front window. In some ways, Halloween publicly condones dreams, nightmares and catharsis … even confronting our darkest fears.

Which makes me think of Michele Bachmann. With all due respect, dear readers, Bachmann denounces and attacks people so often it scares me. Like her 2004 speech warning educators to avoid Elton John’s soundtrack for “The Lion King” because it could lead to “normalization (of gayness) through desensitization.” She’s also urged audiences away from such corrupting influences as “Sex and the City,” “Aladdin” and Melissa Etheridge.

What about Rick Perry? Ted Nugent recently told Billboard magazine: “As dear a friend as I consider Gov. Rick Perry, I won’t be surprised — and he and I have talked intensively — if I’m not given an authorized position in the campaign because I’m too divisive.” He later clarified, “If I scare them away … then I’m being counterproductive … (but) on a rock ’n’ roll stage, I can tell Hillary Clinton to straddle my machine gun.”

To make some attempt at balance, here’s another political horror story, squarely in the Democrats’ camp. With a year of historic and deadly weather changes, President Obama is debating the Keystone XL pipeline, proposed to transport synthetic crude oil and bitumen from Alberta, Canada, across the Midwest to the Gulf Coast. Rolling Stone reported, “The pipeline wraps up every kind of environmental devastation in one 1,700 mile-long disaster … If you do the calculations, explains James Hansen … it would mean ‘it’s essentially game over’ for the climate.”

Environmentalists have launched a sustained “reminder” to President Obama, recalling his words from 2008, when he promised to free future generations from “the tyranny of oil.” In August, more than 1,000 concerned citizens gathered for a massive act of civil disobedience in Washington, D.C., one of the largest since the 1980s nuclear test protests.

Which brings us, finally, to Skinny Puppy. In the 1980s, I sought out music and “Swamp Thing” comics to help me evolve. The Reagan-Thatcher era was heavy on nuclear winters and dreaded communism. I looked for an alternate viewpoint on cassettes and scratchy vinyl (played on my “Clarinette 90” Radio Shack stereo, via huge Koss headphones). Many bands arrived at my tenuous time of metamorphosis (see Cronenberg’s “The Fly” or “Altered States”), but few had the acerbic power of Skinny Puppy. Emerging from a music scene that would eventually be caulled (ahem) “industrial music,” the sounds were a mash-up of screaming, horror movie samples, keyboards, anti-vivisection speeches and punishing drum machines. Skinny Puppy collaborated with Ministry, Severed Heads, some or all of Throbbing Gristle, Nine Inch Nails, Pigface, Tool and many more around tumultuous break-ups and reformations. I wore out my LP of Remission and the tape of Bites — and Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse still rules my teenage heart.

With loving titles like “God’s Gift (Maggot)” and “Dig It” (less on bellbottoms, more like shovel), I found an escape to whatever mental terrors, doubts and awkward self-hate that would (mostly) be conquered. I recently requested that my friend The Soft Pink Truth remix the track “Love,” showcasing amazing dialogue from the 1973 “Legend of Hell House.” Skinny Puppy became more politicized and experimental, commenting on chemical warfare attacks in Iraq and animal abuse, while straddling a grotesque stage show fusing real and fake violence (inspiring a 1988 disorderly conduct arrest in Cincinnati for “assaulting” a fake dog/prop). They also led me to Big Black, Public Image Limited and Public Enemy, all of which shared static-y late-night video shows or were suggested by the incredible people at local record stores. It’s truly fitting that their new album, HanDover, is released (exhumed?) this hallowed week — when creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorize y’alls neighborhood.

For Andy M.