In short, Green Jello sucks.
"The thing is, we really do suck," says a spirited Bill Manspeaker, front man for the Hollywood-based band. "At our live shows, before we go on stage, our audiences will be chanting, 'Green Jello Sucks!', and we love it. Sometimes, we have to start the chanting ourselves. We get up there and tell em, 'We're gonna suck, so just get over it and have a good time.'"
For Manspeaker, having a good time includes dressing himself and his ten-member Green Jello entourage in ridiculous, homemade costumes and performing the band's songs in a goofball, Rocky Horror mode.
"We kind of disguise our talent with props," Manspeaker explains. "We try to get people so busy watching everything on stage that they don't realize how bad the music is."
As such, an evening with Green Jello means watching mutant, foam-headed Flintstones replicas bouncing around to an otherwise pedestrian take of "Anarchy in the U.K." It means watching a little ditty called "Cereal Killer," a Green Jello original that features an absurdly costumed "Toucan, Son of Sam" on a bloody rampage, taking out the likes of the Lucky Charms leprechaun and the Trix rabbit, along with a curiously sympathetic wasting of Snap, Crackle and Pop.
And then there's perhaps the highlight of any Green Jello show. It's the dramatic portrayal of a nuclear-power-plant janitor who stumbles into a vat of radioactive waste. When the title character emerges from the nuclear stew, he is, for some reason, tragically transformed into . . . "Shitman." "Yeah, that's me," Manspeaker says of the role. To portray the odious Shitman, Manspeaker dons a costume that, oddly enough, makes him look like a big hunk of excrement. "I once read in the paper that a person did actually slip into a vat of manure," Manspeaker says, adding, "That guy drowned, though."
Such strained silliness has been a part of Manspeaker's makeup since his younger days in Buffalo, New York. As a child, Manspeaker grew up thinking his uncle was Elvis Presley. And for good reason: his uncle was an Elvis impersonator. Manspeaker says his King kin was a popular fixture on the Buffalo club circuit in the early 70s. "He started when he was 17 years old," Manspeaker says. "He's 45 now, and he's still doing it. I got to run the lights on a tour with him once. He used to stuff this oversized sock down his pants, real silly looking, and I was responsible for making sure a little spotlight would be aimed down there. I worked the penis light."
His career in entertainment under way, Manspeaker went on to form Green Jello with some high school pals. The band's genesis was less than inspired.
"You ever heard of winter?" Manspeaker asks, rhetorically. "It's winter most of the time in Buffalo, and you get tired of board games. So we decided to form a band."
Manspeaker adds that the initial decision to play music was easy. But the other stuff that goes with such a plan was comparatively hard.
"We realized right away that we had no talent," he says. "We were going to be a punk-rock cover band, but we couldn't even do that. So we got all these props and foam heads and things to hide behind. And we were still horrible. We finally decided that since we suck, anyway, we might as well have a good time doing it."
The Green Jello experience took hold in Buffalo, but not enough to keep Manspeaker and most of the other members in town. The core of the performance group wound up in Hollywood, "working for record stores like every other musician who moves out here." During one music-store gig, Manspeaker found a fellow employee who enjoyed hearing about Green Jello's wacky, madcap days back East. "He was the only guy who really paid any attention to me," Manspeaker says of his bin-stocking buddy. "His goal was to work for a record company, and he always said that if he ever got a job, he'd sign us. Five years later, he did."
Indeed, Manspeaker's contact came through last Halloween by signing Green Jello to the Zoo Entertainment label. It was a novel deal. Green Jello was signed as the "world's first video-only band." As such, Green Jello debuted last month with a 60-minute videocassette unavailable on audiotape or CD.
The video is titled Cereal Killer, and it's truly terrible. The Green Jello ensemble--which fluctuates between 15 and 50 full- and part-time players--is presented in a series of self-produced, taped shorts that manage to combine the excess of public-access cable with the very worst elements of Chili Peppered, funk-metal noise.
Cereal Killer starts off with "The Three Little Pigs," an animated rendition of the old fairy tale complete with a claymation Rambo gunning down the Big Bad Wolf. There's a song titled "Seattle Guys," which follows the trendy exploits of Joe Subpoppy and Cold Chillypepper. And, of course, Shitman makes an appearance, plunging the tape's prepubescent potty humor to new depths.
The whole thing really does suck.
"When people tell us how bad we are, we just laugh and say, 'We know,'" Manspeaker chuckles over the telephone. "People who don't get the humor just don't get it. But we're for people who don't take things so seriously. They're the ones who have a good time with this."
The press reaction to Green Jello's shtick has been surprisingly supportive. Most accept the band for what it is--and, especially, for what it isn't. But there was a slight media glitch last month after a hometown showcase at the Palace Theatre. "The record company invited everybody," Manspeaker says, "and about three people in the press went looking for too much." One of the intrepid critics, says Manspeaker, was from the Los Angeles Times. Another was from the Hollywood Reporter.
"That one from the Reporter was brutal," Manspeaker says, recalling the write-up. "They used words we never even heard of. Things like 'anthropomorphic.' I still have no idea what that means."
But in the true punk tradition of egging on all comers, Green Jello enthusiastically agrees with its detractors--at least the ones it understands. After all, the Green Jello motto is, "We Suck." The Green Jello epilogue: "Anybody can do anything if they don't have anything else to do." All of which makes you wonder about Zoo Entertainment. Do the folks at the record company know what they've gotten themselves into? Do they really think that a really bad band making really bad videos is gonna be the next big thing?
"They love us," Manspeaker says of the band's benefactors. "We did the videos entirely ourselves and they never once checked up on us. And when we handed the tape in, they didn't change a thing."
Indeed, Manspeaker says Green Jello seems to be the flavor of the month among Zoo's corporate types.
"The president of the record company just loves Shitman," Manspeaker says. "He really does. He once closed his door and actually got in the Shitman costume. He comes out of his office and starts walking around all over the place, saying, 'Hi, I'm Shitman.' He was wearing the costume all day. We couldn't get him out of the thing.