Chapter 23 Setting the Klok
On the evening of the concert of Klok Mortuary and the Gadarene Swine, the crowd from Third Tracs bounced along the rutted red road-cut to the theater in a six-by driven by Beans Lopez. The endless traffic mixed with jet exhaust, producing a thick yellow light that almost seemed to stick to the mellowing landscape. Mama-sans with shoulder poles humpty-humped through the murk in coolie hats, looking like withered proletarian mushrooms. Small kids chased each other while their bigger brothers prepared to go out into the night to shoot marines. Another day in the war ground to a close.
“It says here, it says,” Hearn orated, reading the flyer from Special Services, ‘The United States Marine Corps and General J. Walter Grommett III are happy to present—they’re happy, got that? I care deeply whether they’re happy—Klok Mortuary and the Gadarene Swine, a musical group noted for….”
He whistled, took a deep breath, and continued.
“…noted for—Holy God—their patriotic rhythms and support for the … huh? … war effort.”
“Shee-it,” said Larry, unbelieving. The mere presence of the Swine was inexplicable, but…patriotism?
“They’ve frigging gone nuts. That’s the only explanation. The sun’s hot here, and maybe they ran out of hats,” said Larry.
“Hoo!” hollered. Anesthesia. “Dem same ole Swine fum back in de wurl? If de Swine be pater-otic, I be Lyndon Brains Johnson. Man, dem Swine muhfuhs doan be wantin’ to kill nobody. How dey be pater-otic?”
The sun sank slowly behind Monkey Mountain. Dust stirred up by traffic stuck to sweaty faces and made teeth gritty. Anesthesia was well on the road to inebriation, having conned Hearn out of a bottle of Jim Beam that Mike Feinstein had provided in return for more details on invisible airplanes. The undrunk half of the bottle sloshed in Anesthesia’s canteen.
“Naw,” said Larry. “Uh-uh. That’s absa-fuggen-lutely wrong. Hearn’s pulling our chain. Read it again, troop, and read it right. It can’t say that. Must be somebody else named the same thing.”
“Yeah,” said Hearn. “Plenty of people are named Klok Mortuary. Hundreds, maybe thousands. Think of the confusion.”
“Well, that’s more likely than hearing the Swine sing a patriotic song.”
“You’ve got a point.”
What had happened was no more than a lapse of attention, and the tiniest bit of malice. Months earlier Special Services had received instructions to compile a list of entertainment suitable for the troops. By suitable was meant music that would not stimulate the libido or question American values, meaning General Grommett’s values. The resulting list included the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Pat Boone, several barber-shop quartets, and Dolly Parton provided that she wore a loose blouse. Some unsung clerk, thinking the list unnecessarily bleak, had typed in the Swine. The major in charge of Special Services was an infantryman on temporary duty and had never heard of any of the groups. He signed the list without reading it and went back to the field. The Swine were in the Marine Corps system.
Which turned out to be unfortunate from General Grommett’s point of view. The Gadarene Swine—like such ground-breakers as the Fugs, Alice Cooper, as well as Billy Death and His Internal Organs—were practitioners of what was coming to be called Shock Rock. These pioneers asserted the artist’s independence of the restraining bourgeois influence of melody, rhythm, and tonality, which they called capitalist, like, you know, crap. Klok Mortuary, one of the major theoreticians, had expressed it neatly: “Like who needs all them, you know, notes and shit? Just get it on.”
Early on in the movement, Billy Death and His Internal Organs had electrified the musical world by inaugurating the art of the deed, which usually meant smashing amplifiers and loudspeakers on stage with axes. This, they said when the amphetamines wore off, showed superiority to Mere Things.
Youthful audiences, always seeking new artistic horizons, had called for yet more creativity. Soon Klok was executing chickens on stage while groping at his genitals, again defying dull middle-class prejudices. Then the Swine began experimenting with the musical possibilities of werewolf masks, codpieces, and various animals. Once, in a frenzy of inspiration and psilocybin, Klok had urinated on the microphone and gotten a jolt that put him in intensive care for a week. This had established his musical reputation for all time.
The movement, flourished. The result was a cultural renaissance. Of sorts.