By somehow sidestepping cheap Wendy O. Williams connect-the-dot punk-rock jive, the black electrical tape over the shouter's nipples worked. The trashy and busted-up way in which she carried herself across the stage, too, lurking, at once stiff and sinuous, was equal parts Iggy, peepshow barker and Nazi femme dom. Her lithesome form, a physical manifestation of a tweaked yet unspecified sexuality, had those in possession of penises boning up front and center, happy to be recipients of her random mizzles of spit and sweat. All the while, she was spouting lyrics like, "It's not that hard to get on S.S.I. if you're someone like me," with enough vinegar piss to make L7 look like warm and fuzzy koala cubs.
By the end of the set, two small strips of electrical tape and sheets of glossy sweat were all the singer had on. And yes, she was pale, tatted and pierced as well -- as per rock 'n' roll -- but without all the self-adoring carefulness too common on pop star badasses like, say, Courtney Love. And as shoddy with three chords as the band was, it had an unstudied grace, hinting at the same kind of lifelong obsession that makes early Iggy or pre-flab Ramones so damn fascinating.
That was the first time I saw Texas Terri and the Stiff Ones. This was a few years ago at Bar Deluxe, a small, low-culture dig in Hollywood. The guttural five-piece band played in the woozy, smoked-filled room upstairs. It was too cramped, so you couldn't move. The collective motion of the mostly male ex-surfer-boy/punk throng was making the floor heave like lazy tremors.
Here's a band that understood rock 'n' roll down to its essentials, where meaning is unclouded by things like major-label jackboot or Lilith Fair moralizing or specious rap by white boys who rage bad metal. The Stiff Ones -- two guitars, bass, drummer -- are considerably bigger than their simple arrangement of chords and volume, posturing and venues, bigger than any show propped up with truckloads of staging gear, pomp and groupie-schtupping roadies. When a band gets it right, you can always tell. There's that purpose, that point, that mayhem and humor that inspire open-mouthed gazes and hasty exits from the uninitiated, and stares of fanatical fondness from the fans.
So writing Texas Terri off as just another dye-job chick fronting a SoCal yawny punk band would have been as misguided as a presumption that Fred Durst is a lean, dynamic performer and a skilled lyricist. I am glad I stuck around and got drunk. By the end of the night, I figured Texas Terri was as close to the rock 'n' roll Real Deal as I was gonna get, at least that night.
Over the phone from her home in Hollywood where she just rose from a nap, Texas Terri Laird sounds suitably tired. I've seen her band a half-dozen times over the past few years, so I half expected her at any moment to say something like, "That 30-day speed jag was nothin', dude. It was just them fuckers in county that did me in, man."
Hardly. Laird and her band had just returned the night before from a mini-tour of the Northwest. And given that her work as a confrontational front person of a loud punk-rock band is one that takes a brutal physical toll, of course the girl is beat.
"I'm pretty exhausted, sorry," she says, sliding slowly into semi-alert mode. "It's all so fucking hard, at times. I don't like being in a band anymore when you gotta come home and work and stuff."
She's not the least bit enthused about the idea of muscling up some work, particularly after this recent string of tour dates that were separated by drives of endless distances in a cramped van with a bunch of punk-rock dudes. So to cover her ass when not gigging, touring or dealing with all band matters, Laird is an able hairdresser, and offers bargain haircuts from the cozy chair in the middle of her kitchen. She's also an applied actress, showing up in bit parts on television and in movies.
Laird just completed a TV commercial for a Georgia company that manufactures a gizmo that ensures kids a Disneylike cleanliness when surfing the Net. Her character in the commercial differed little from her parts in the past, not surprising given her reedy appearance and alarming panic-red hair.
"I played a ticket person at one of those triple-X moviehouses," she cackles. "So it was about hookers and junkies and strippers and all these bad elements. But I totally agree with that. When I was a kid, I had to actually look hard for smut, and I am kinda glad that the stuff wasn't on my fingertips." She pauses and adds, laughing, "It's really just keeping children away from people like me."
But day labor is a compulsory subplot for any band member whose records have nothing to do with one of eight colossal corporations. Generally, cash advances for living expenses are reserved for bands that can sate market research, showing commensurate product sales potential with rapacious teens in far-off lands known as Ohio. In other words, if you are a band or songwriter in want of large fiscal return, then on your knees 'cause you are at the mercy of rich unyielding teenagers. That is, unless you are on an indie label. In which case, go look for a job.
But there's a temporary up side to this current multimedia consumerist inferno: The independent labels and mom-and-pop organizations are as authorized as anybody else to work the -- and I loathe the word Internet -- "new" technology. But that doesn't mean good music will get to the right set of ears. And no matter how big the "Net" explosion is, it certainly won't alter the arithmetic of the record racket.
"I'm just happy that all the big labels are having so many problems," Laird says, laughing. "I just think it's hilarious. So why be signed to a major if you're gonna be hanging?"
Since moving to L.A. from Austin 16 years ago, Laird has lived in the same legendary Hollywood apartment building that distinguished debaucher Joseph Kennedy built for Gloria Swanson seven decades ago. In later years, the residence was known throughout Hollywood for its legendary parties. It's the exact site where, in 1988, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Hillel Slovak OD'ed. On the night of his death, Laird was the one who called for help. She's the one who broke the news.
With this comes an understanding that rock 'n' roll -- ironic or not -- was/is all about celebration, not dumb disregard. A notion Laird handily grasps as much as anybody can. During the '80s, Laird's exploits as a drunk were semi-legendary in some Hollywood circles. As was her appetite for speed. She says she went from being a fun and amusing drunk to one of annoyance and, ultimately, plain pathetic. For the last nine years, Laird has been sober.
"I wanted to remember my life. I wasn't remembering what I was doing too much of the time. I loved alcohol, especially whiskey. Without being drunk, it's hard to deal with the really big drunks, because I think drunks are really fun in general. Then there's always that couple that act like I used to when I was drunk that are really annoying. And you just wanna go, 'Ya know what? The evening would have been perfect if it wasn't for these two drunks that wanted to dominate my time.' I wanna just slug them. But nobody slugged me then, so I guess I can't slug them."
Before the Stiff Ones -- the band name is lifted from the title of a porn novel whose plot involves a debased undertaker operating a morgue and seducing widows of the deceased -- Laird fronted the Killer Crows, a band that garnered a big word-of-mouth buzz in Hollywood. Later came Baby Bird, which morphed into the Stiff Ones. Together for nearly five years, the Stiff Ones -- its constants being its two writers, Laird and guitarist El Don Hubbard -- have seen veritable graduating classes of Hollywood underground elite come and go through the band's ranks.
After pitiless gigging and overcoming struggles just to stay together, TT and the Stiff Ones landed a deal with the microscopic Burning Tree Records. Last year saw the release of the band's debut, a disc aptly dubbed Eat Shit. The record is a tree-shredding slab of twin-guitar shout-alongs that falls short of what the group is capable of live, yet is miles better than whatever crapshoot you lay your paws on at the local store. The songs trade on the idea of personal ruin/salvation exchanging leather-pant-wearing sentiments and bolstered with plenty of '77 nods. A rousing cover of the Dictators' swell "Baby Let's Twist" gives the disc a hearty thumbs up at the tail.
It's not shocking that Laird is comfortably in touch with her male side as a singer. James Brown and the Stones are what blow her skirt up. It should be predictable that Iggy be noted as well.
"I never went to see Iggy until the last few years. Went I finally went to see him, I understood that feeling of it just coming from your guts. That's what I feel like. And the way Jagger always worked off of Keith Richards. Keith has always been like my favorite. Really, the ones that I am attracted to are the ones that throw their whole fucking heart and soul into it. I'm not crazy about front people that don't look at the audience."
And the band's all-age shows are not without scrums of teen boys trying to figure stodgy ways to cop cheap feels off Laird. Describing one such incident in Maximum RnR, Laird said, "I had all kinds of teenage jailbait fingers up my poon. They put me down and I screamed, 'You little fuckers. I am going to get you after the show.'"
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Yet being a rock star seems the furthest thing from this woman's mind. For her where it's at is summed up in the adage coined by a DJ more than 40 years ago; he said, "You gotta take the music to the kids."
"We're like a trash-rock band and we're just gonna keep going. Touring our asses off as much as we can. And ya know, in a way we are like blackest of the black sheep, because of the shit we do. We have to work our asses off for anything."
Texas Terri and the Stiff Ones are scheduled to perform on Saturday, November 20, for Jeff Dahl's Desert Trash Blast 3 at the Green Room in Tempe, with Gwen Mars, Jeff Dahl, and the Peeps. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
Contact Brian Smith at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org