Most people, especially those of you who just gawked at the photo on the right, wouldn't disagree with the assessment that glam rock is dead. Few, however, might agree on what exactly is glam rock and when the bedecked patient actually stopped breathing.
To some, it died when the New York Dolls let Malcolm McLaren talk them out of rouge and into commie flags. For others, it died when Gene Simmons shed a tear at the end of the "World Without Heroes" video, knowing all too well that the once-empowering makeup would have to come off if record sales didn't improve and he'd be left there with his tongue sticking out, looking for all the world like some schmo ready to lick a stamp.
To others, glam died more recently, when horrendous bands like Warrant and Winger pushed the power-ballad button one too many times, leaving audiences wary of anyone with overly conditioned hair who might also be packing no-smudge eyeliner.
But who's to say Poison wouldn't still be selling truckloads of CDs if it hadn't panicked at the first sight of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, changed its sound and traded in its hair extensions for goatees? Once you waver in your own superficiality, the power of the pomp wears off and you deserve to be shown the door on both sides. Poison noticeably flinched, the fans saw the shivers and rightfully sent its transitional Native Tongue album into the crapper.
Those fans include Eddie, Tim, Mykel and Eric, who make up (and I do mean make up) Phoenix's lone glam holdout band Psycho Gypsy. They've been the only keepers of the flickering flame since 1992, when MTV dropped Headbangers Ball and glam bands began dying at a rate of two per minute. Eddie believes that glam's demise was preplanned by the industry, but that the industry's ongoing abhorrence of it is fueling its gradual reemergence.
"The reason we're starting to see a glam comeback is that people are being told they cannot like it. Anytime you're told you can't do something, you wanna fucking do it," Eddie hypothesizes while cracking open another beer.
With his head safely encased inside a baseball cap and his Psycho Gypsy tresses tucked away in some top dresser drawer, Eddie is as far removed from his swishy stage persona as Liberace in a warm-up suit. But rest assured, if he and his glittering pals ever decided to go to Home Depot and buy some rivets in their festive Psycho Gypsy garb, they'd be nailed to the nearest piece of standing lumber.
"The same two things keep getting recycled over and over again. Music gets very glamorous, it becomes very image-oriented, and then it becomes very anti-image. And it keeps going back and forth," he says, laughing. Five years ago, Eddie urged his bandmates to wait out the grunge cycle, and, except for one sudden lapse of faith, he's never stopped believing that some of glam's residue pixie dust could fall on Psycho Gypsy's members and make them stars, too.
Back in the late '80s (around the Dr. Feelgood era of Mstley CrYe, for those of you following the glam time line), 17-year-old Eddie formed his first band, a self-described "cheesy power trio" called Widow with Tim (no one in the band uses last names, preferring to keep the Gypsy shrouded in mystery). Back then Eddie left the house daily looking like a "Cyborg Nikki Sixx," while Tim was a platinum blond who modeled himself after Tammi Downs of Faster Pussycat. Except for the scarves he borrowed from his mom, that is.
"We didn't have jobs or anything," Tim says. "We were just a couple of dropout losers who'd wake up, throw on our lipstick and go out. We'd wear makeup 24 hours a day. My mom was convinced that her son went over to 'the other side.' But I'd turn on MTV and show her, 'Those guys aren't homosexuals, see? They get plenty of girls.'"
Widow petered out after six months, and Tim and Eddie lost touch until both ran into each other again at the state fair. Tim had just quit the group he was in, and Eddie was still trying to find someone else in Arizona who wanted to be in a glam band. Psycho Gypsy was formed just as the last few remaining glam bands were going alternative.
"We didn't want to go grunge," says Tim disdainfully. "To me, most grunge vocalists sound like a cross between Al Jolson, Ethel Merman and a drunken Indian doing a rain dance. You have to do what's from your heart. If we sat down and tried to write a thrash-metal tune, it'd sound forced, fake. So it took about two years to find two other people crazy enough to do what we wanted to do."
Tim and Eddie eventually got a drummer and a guitarist who came as a package and subsequently left as one, too. "We always had to keep selling our own drummer on the whole concept of Psycho Gypsy," says Eddie, reciting his customary "this is cool, let's stick with it, no one else is doing it" spiel. "But he'd fight us on it. 'Maybe we should tone this down, maybe it's a little too much.' I hated those words: 'tone down.'"
Eddie almost considered toning down completely when the Gin Blossoms, who were about as far from glam as a bowling shoe, suddenly became huge. "I had to watch my cousin, Jesse Valenzuela, make it big and be jealous of that. That's the only time I started to doubt what we were doing. I freaked out on the change. Maybe people just don't want this anymore, y'know? But then I turned around, and every single band started sounding like the Gin Blossoms. I thought, 'I'm not going to ride that claim to fame. I'm going to do what I want to do,' and we decided to stay like that."
To the horror of many, he might add. Boston's, the site of the band's first gig, could hardly have been less receptive if it ran the band out of town on a rail.
"People just want a reason to hate us," Eddie giggles. "Boston's hated us, which is weird because they were one of the prime glam-rock clubs when they were called Zeros. They just greeted us with closed arms. And [Mason Jar owner] Franco just hated us. He used to call us the Fuckin' Hippie Gyppies and chase us out of his club. Now he really likes us."
At that first Jar show, Tim remembers, "We had somebody at the door asking, 'Who are you here to see?' and they'd say, 'I dunno, I just heard there was a glam band playing tonight.'" The band managed to pull some 200 people.
And of course, no Psycho Gypsy show would be complete without one or two hecklers in that head count. "Which is a good thing 'cause we just tear those people apart," snickers Tim. "When we play a show, very rarely is somebody playing pool or watching TV at the bar. It doesn't matter if people are liking or hating us. As long as it's one of the two. That night, there were these two guys that our drum tech brought in from the Ligori Lounge. They didn't even know what they were going in to see and started screaming 'Fag!', pointing at Eddie and screaming, 'It's Boy George.' About the second or third song, one of them yelled 'poseur,' and Eddie looked at him and said, 'Suck my poseur fucking dick.'"
"And after that they were my best friends," laughs Eddie with a goofy grin. "'You guys sound like W.A.S.P.'"
"That's the misinterpretation people get when they first see us, that we'll sound like Poison and we're going to get up and play 27 ballads," says Tim. "But most of our music is really aggressive."
The band got aggressive with its business dealings in 1996, and it signaled a big change in the Gypsy's fortunes. "When we had other people doing our bookings, we were the opening band on Tuesday night. Once we took over, we were headlining on the weekends," states Mykel, who was the previous drummer's tech before joining. "We headlined our first show at the Electric Ballroom on the main stage, just because we convinced the club owner that we were the shit."
Gone are the days when you could see Psycho Gypsy playing a sports bar like Rally Cat, where the PA is one grade above something Fisher-Price might manufacture and the stage is just a section of undisturbed floor so minuscule that Tim got his lanky hair caught in the tuning pegs of Eddie's guitar.
The band does everything bigger than life and even employs its own clothing designer named Adelle. "She's the coolest chick in the whole wide world," Eddie says. "Whatever our fantasy is, we draw it up and she reproduces it to the tee. She's Vietnamese and hardly speaks any English." Drummer Mykel, however, gets his costumes at Smoking Lingerie, a porno shop on Rural and Miller. "It's like a belt and a codpiece," Tim assesses. "There's just enough material and studs on it so that he wouldn't get arrested."
Although Mykel freely exposes himself, the band limits the number of shows it does so that its well-earned draw won't dwindle. With better salesmanship, Psycho Gypsy soon found itself opening for national headliners. Some, like Pretty Boy Floyd, would become friends. Others like Slaughter would become sworn enemies. Mark Slaughter was said to have called the Electric Ballroom personally to make sure that Psycho Gypsy never opened for the band again. This antagonism helped make it the best show Psycho Gypsy ever played, in its estimation.
"Slaughter was really mean to us. When we went on, they saw us setting up our smoke machine and they told us we couldn't use half the house lights or play our intro tape. Slaughter believes when you're the opening band, you're just that, and the headlining band should look noticeably bigger," snickers Eddie.
Tim starts getting a little snippy here, not unlike his sometimes arrogant onstage alter ego. "I don't really care what Slaughter believes. What Psycho Gypsy believes is that we're not going to downsize our show for anybody. Those people came here to see a show, and that's exactly what they got. Slaughter's management tried to sabotage our show, but our light man can be a real cock. He used twice as many lights and twice as much smoke and blasted that intro tape really loud. Before that, we were setting up our equipment the same time as Slaughter and Mark Slaughter turns around, hands Eddie his little bag and said, 'Hold this.' And Eddie told him, 'I'm not your fuckin' roadie,' and dropped the bag on the stage."
Around this time, the band's flair for self-promotion landed it a guest spot on The Charles Perez Show, when Eddie got the brilliant idea of lying that Tim and he were shagging the same groupie so they could be on a "My Girlfriend Is Screwing My Best Friend" show. The show's producers flew the tarty twosome and a female friend to New York, gave them cushy hotel accommodations and encouraged them to get into a fistfight during taping.
Sadly, that episode never aired, but the band's public-access show did air, on Monday nights for much of 1996. "It was something we did for fun and for free advertising," says Tim, laughing. "We'd do stuff like dress up in drag and go to the grocery store at two o'clock in the morning and film people's reaction. Eddie would black out his teeth and Mykel had his hair in pigtails. And I had lipstick that made my lips look three times bigger than they really were."
The band is in the process of getting the show back on Phoenix access with better production values, and hopes to release a full-length CD in the spring with new songs like "Faded and Sedated," "Mr. Mephisto" and "Lisa Shot Her Family." The band is eager to pitch these songs to Delinquent Records, a label that's actually looking for glam rock. "Their theory is that there's a glam-rock band in every state, except L.A. and New York where there are many glam-rock bands," states Eddie. "They want to concentrate on bands playing glam in unlikely places like Arizona or Kentucky, someplace weird like that."
The band credits its changing sound to newest addition Eric, whom the members spotted in the audience at a dead Electric Ballroom gig banging his head on the guardrail and banging his fists on the stage to their music. Since Eric's notions about what Psycho Gypsy's sound is are not yet set in stone, he's able to come at the new material from a less formulaic angle.
Yet in many ways the band hasn't changed all that much from the fun-lovin' hooligans of 1994, playing an Atomic Cafe open-mike night. Psycho Gypsy had a massive sense of self even at that embryonic stage. If you couldn't be in awe of the members' loop-de-loop hair choreography, you had to admire their cheek for taking a piece of rock's recently discarded past out of the Dumpster and parading it for all the awe and majesty it was worth. The song intros said it all.
"This isn't Lawrence Welk--this is about something we believe in--the power of rock 'n' roll!"
"This next song is about your dad locking you in your room because he doesn't like the way you look. And it's called 'In a Darkened Room!'"
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The difference between the audience reaction now and then is worth mentioning. Back then, if people wondered if Psycho Gypsy was for real, it was meant as a putdown. Now it's as if your 4-year-old wants the real skinny on Santa. They wanna believe in the power of something.
Sure it's cheese, but the band's serving it up on Ritz crackers. Gleefully. And that's the attraction in what it's doing. The members are having fun, fun you probably wish you were having.
"I can look down from the stage, see people tapping their foot and tell they want to do more but they're waiting for someone else to," says Tim. "You kind of have to use psychology on them and make them feel they're stupid if they don't scream. I used to have to say, 'It's okay to jump up, scream and yell and have fun. You shouldn't worry about what the person next to you is thinking.'
"Look at us. Do we look like we care what people are thinking?