Butt Runneth Over
Gloritone drummer Scott Hessel is an avid sports fan. A regular at Phoenix Suns games and an avowed ESPN junkie, Hessel is familiar with the old notion of "taking one for the team." And it's fortunate, because that's exactly what the trapsman did last Friday during an unbelievably outlandish appearance on the nationally syndicated Howard Stern Show.
While most bands have difficulty getting their drummers even to put up fliers for a gig, Hessel took it upon himself to travel to New York City and do what most would find unthinkable -- specifically, eat a banana split out of another man's ass -- in an effort to get one of the group's songs played on the shock jock's popular radio program. And if the stunt itself sounds bizarre, the response to it has been even more surreal.
It's late afternoon on Monday when Scott Hessel answers the phone. He returned to the Valley on a cross-country red eye the previous night, and you can hear the tumult, triumph and fatigue of the past three days in his craggy voice.
The musician's unusual escapade began innocently enough. As part of a planned trip to the Big Apple, a mutual friend of Hessel and Stern producer Gary Dell'Abate arranged for a tour of the show's offices. While there had been no mention of an appearance on the program, in his mind Hessel was already scheming. A longtime devotee of the controversial and highly rated morning talk fest, Hessel was well aware of the impact a single airing of Gloritone's music on the show -- a favorite of music biz movers and shakers -- could have on its career.
"It was always in the back of my mind that I should somehow try and get on and get our music played. Of course, when I first thought that, I never imagined it would go this far," he says.
Hessel and his friend sat down and brainstormed, trying to figure out exactly what kind of outrageous stunt it might take to get on with Stern. Hessel's suggestion that he eat a worm or cockroach ("Survivor-style," as he puts it) was quickly dismissed by Dell'Abate.
"He was like, 'Oh, we're well beyond that.' So we started compiling a list of even weirder stuff that I could do," says Hessel. "I don't know who stuck it on there, but the very last thing on the list read, 'Eat a banana split out of someone's butt.'"
The idea immediately struck Dell'Abate as worthy, and the producer arranged for show intern Benji Bronk to serve as the guinea pig; when Bronk balked at the stunt, Stern regular Lee "Crazy Cabbie" Mroszak -- a corpulent Desert Storm veteran and nighttime radio producer -- volunteered.
Confirming the appearance on Thursday afternoon, Dell'Abate made no guarantees to Hessel about how long the song would get played or what the reaction to it would be like. The appearance would be a definite risk for Gloritone, a band that had only recently parted ways with its RCA-affiliated imprint, Kneeling Elephant. If things turned out disastrous -- as is often the case with Stern and unknown musical hopefuls -- it might have been a death knell for the band's future career prospects.
With this in mind, Hessel flew to NYC Thursday night and made his way to the WXRK studios in Manhattan, the Stern show's flagship station, the next morning.
After spending a few nervous hours in the green room, Hessel was quickly ushered into the studio just after 9:30 a.m., where he was greeted by a ready and waiting Crazy Cabbie, half naked and lying on a plastic mat on the floor.
"So I get in there, and the guy was big and kind of hairy, and he's already dropped his pants. It was a disturbing, disturbing scenario. Then, all of a sudden, the reality of the situation starts to hit me and I'm thinking, 'What am I doing here? What the hell have I gotten into?'"
Despite the last-minute panic attack, Hessel somehow managed to survive the next few torturous minutes, focusing instead on the ultimate purpose of his visit.
"I wasn't going to go in there and mince around. I was trying to do a couple things. One, I wanted to get the song played. And two, I wanted to make it so outrageous and so funny that it would get on the TV show as well. Since then I've had second thoughts about that," he says, breaking into a coarse laugh. "But at the time it was like, 'Man, I just gotta play this to the hilt.'"
With the stage set and the human confection ready to be devoured, it was Hessel's turn to ante up.
"So I lean down, and it's absolutely disgusting," he recalls. "This was not like a banana split that you see at Baskin-Robbins. It's like some sliced bananas on top of his upper butt crack area, some ice cream that they'd thrown that had slid down his butt crack and gone through his pants. I was just ill, thinking, 'I can't believe I'm doing this.'
"All I can remember is taking two bites of the banana and making it look as obscene as possible and then just getting really sick," he adds, still a touch squeamish at the memory.
Hessel's momentary nausea was clearly evident (and thoroughly hilarious) on the broadcast, which, by now, had become awash with laughter and howling from Stern's cast and crew. "Even though it seemed like an hour, the whole thing lasted less than 10 seconds," remembers Hessel, "and then it was over, thank God."
With Stern and his cronies in hysterics and the phone lines lit up, Hessel had to endure a few more minutes of punishment as the incident was played and replayed on the studio's video monitor.
"Yeah, um, uh, it looked really bad," admits Hessel sheepishly.
Now it was time to face the music, literally, as Stern cued up "Swan Dive," the first cut off Gloritone's self-released demo EP Before the Paint Had Dried. Though the band had gone into Mesa's Saltmine studios earlier in the week to remaster the cut, this was essentially a home recording done on an eight-track at the band's practice space, not exactly high dollar production by anyone's standards.
Stern -- whose own musical tastes run mostly toward Nu Metal and rap-rock -- seemed ready to tear the song apart. "Hey, dude," intoned Stern, "this better be good after what you just did."
For his part, Hessel was confident. "I knew as soon as they kicked that song off that they were gonna like it. I've been a fan of the show for years. I know the show and I know [Stern's] tastes. So, the song starts and immediately I'm watching him and his reaction, and sure enough, he was sold."
So, too, were the rest of the usually merciless cast, who voiced their approval repeatedly, as Stern played the song all the way through, not once, but twice.
"Stuttering John walked in," says Hessel. "And he was like, 'Man, that's really good.' There wasn't a single person in that room who wasn't sold on the song."
Before the track had even finished, Stern took an on-air call from John Titta, Senior VP of Creative Services for Warner/Chappell, one of the world's leading music publishers, who urged Hessel to have the band's representatives call him. Titta would be just the first of several music-industry types to contact the show in an effort to get in touch with the band.
"I really didn't know what to expect. You can't go in there and think, 'Okay, we're gonna do this and then be deluged by calls from music people,'" says Hessel. "I thought, at best, maybe this could mean some good press, or some interesting press, I should say."
After the segment was over, Hessel was quickly ushered out of the studio and returned to his hotel just a couple of blocks from the station.
"I went back to my room and disinfected very thoroughly, then I walked around Central Park for the next hour going, 'What just happened?'"
Meanwhile, Stern was so enamored of the track that he played the song a third time at the end of the program, before reportedly calling Warner/Chappell's Titta himself after the show and offering up further praise for the band.
"As crazy as the stunt was, I felt like that validated it. That's what I would tell somebody who asked me why I did it," says Hessel. "There's so many good bands, and we're one of them; somehow you have to set yourself apart. I mean, we still have to go out and be a good band, but it's definitely opened the door."
By the time the day ended, Gloritone manager Charlie Levy had fielded half a dozen calls from interested labels, including Atlantic Records, Tommy Boy and Ozzy Osbourne's new imprint, Divine Entertainment. Radio stations across the country -- including FM powerhouses in San Diego, St. Louis and Kansas City -- asked to have singles of the song shipped out.
Over the weekend, the band's Web site (www.gloritone.com) logged several thousand hits, sold more than a hundred discs and received some 200 e-mails, of which an overwhelming number were positive. "Most of them were along the lines of, 'Yeah, that was really disgusting, but, boy, you guys rock,'" says Levy.
And it doesn't appear as if Gloritone's 15 minutes are going to end anytime soon. On Monday, Stern again played "Swan Dive" while recounting Friday's events. By Tuesday, Stern's show was being inundated with calls from bands across the country offering to do anything -- including severing body parts -- for a similar chance to be heard.
In response to one musician's request to appear, Stern began playing "Swan Dive," noting: "Look, this guy came in with his song, and lo and behold, it was great. It sounded like Perry Farrell. This is the first time I've ever heard a guy come in with a good song. The chances of that happening again are a billion to one." By the time the track reached its chorus, Stern sidekick Robin Quivers was even singing along.
As to whether Hessel's appearance will make it to one of the Stern TV shows -- the program airs nightly on the E! cable network and weekly on CBS -- it seems unlikely, given the graphic nature of the footage.
"If they do show it, it would be heavily pixelated or whatever. Which would be more than fine with me. I say pixelate the whole damn thing," says Hessel, laughing.
The great irony, of course, is that all the effort Gloritone put into writing, recording and touring behind its 1998 debut, Cup Runneth Over, didn't garner as much attention as one outrageous stunt on national radio.
"It shows you how tough the music industry is," muses Levy, who expects to parlay the attention into a recording and publishing deal. "It's tough to make it, regardless how good you are, unless you get the exposure. I try not to think about it logically, because in this business nothing makes sense."
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