Summer, 1991 - I attend a Mr Bungle show at The Palace - a club located in Hollywood, California. Enjoying the spectacle with me is an individual named Bo Vibe - henceforth known as "The Person With The Coolest Name Ever." (Though the "Vibe" was pronounced "Vee-bay") In the pit, a large Samoan slams into me, causing me to slide across the smooth concrete floor.
Winter, 1993 - I travel down to Olympia, Washington to watch a friend's band open for experimental guitarist, Helios Creed. Later that night, I awake in the van to hear strains of the strangest and most haunting classical music I've ever heard. I discover it is Mr. Bungle's self titled debut album - a cd I'd heard numerous times before, yet somehow it seemed completely new.
Summer, 1998 - I'm hanging out at a Seattle goth bar called the Voodoo Lounge. At midnight the DJ spins Mr. Bungle's "Girls of Porn." A friend informs me that the DJ always plays this song at 12:00. "Cool!" I reply.
Spring, 2002 - Jennifer Love Hewitt lies naked on the hood of of my red Subaru, shivering slightly. "Willlll..." she moans. "Come pleasure me again!"
"I can't, honey," I reply, unwrapping a package of Smarties. "Six times in one night is enough."
"Oh God..." she sniffles. "After you, I will never be satisfied by another man. My celebrity boyfriend John Mayer can't hold a candle to you. Especially when his candle is only four inches high."
"Yep, he's pretty queer," I absentmindedly reply. Mr. Bungle plays in the background.
There's no doubt about it: Mr. Bungle have played a big part in my life.
And there's no doubt that Mr. Bungle's self titled 1991 debut is a Motherfucking Masterpiece.
What is Mr. Bungle? Mr. Bungle is life. Mr. Bungle is death. Mr. Bungle is all your previous concepts of sound jizzed back in your face. Mr. Bungle is crazy wild beast disguised as music.
To really get a feel for Mr. Bungle, let's hop into the official Acid Logic Time Machine and travel back to the early nineties. Look, what do you see? Grunge stars. Gangsta rappers. The New Leave It To Beaver. This sucks. Let's go back to the future - we can discuss Mr. Bungle there.
The early nineties were, in my opinion, where music went wrong. In the late eighties we had genuine rock and roll like Guns and Roses and Jason and the Scorchers. Underground music was where it should be: underground. Even pop music was relatively painless. Then the nineties hit and it was all over. Suddenly we had to listen to Kurt Cobain whine about his cat leaving leaving him. A no-talent like Eddie Vedder was viewed as rock god. Things became serious, and fun took a back seat to self loathing and multiple layers of jaded irony. (If you're a recurring reader of my writings, you'll notice that I never miss an opportunity to slag off grunge.)
But for a brief moment, things looked like they could turn out allright. Three bands appeared that were new, but didn't suck. Three bands with new sounds, and new 'tudes. (Unfortunately, none of them really panned out on their promise.)
These bands were: Primus, The Melvins, and Mr. Bungle.
Primus had an undeniable eclectic sound powered by Les Claypool's heavy bass riffing. The Melvin's slowed down Black Sabbath to 17 rpm, and did it with a smile. And Mr. Bungle...
What the fuck did Mr. Bungle do?
Even now, it's hard to describe. The whole experience seems like a dream. But when the album "Mr. Bungle" hit my world, all bets were off. The shit hit the fan. The hippopotamus ate the cake.
The music on that album is chaotic. Crazy. Disturbed. (Much more so than the band, Disturbed.) Arresting. Repulsive. Distracting. (So distracting, in fact, that I can't listen to them and write this article. Instead I'm listening to "The Naked Dutch Painter" by Stew, lead singer of The Negro Problem.)
Not to say that it didn't have it's roots. All the members of the band had gotten their start in the burgeoning genre of Death Metal. They melded that influence with the warped meter and tempo changes of Zappa (who'd gotten them from composer Edgard Varece.) Then the cartoon melodies of the Bugs Bunny Show were thrown into the pot. A dash of the upbeat funk/ska feel that had been pioneered by Fishbone. And it was finished off with the sheen of avant garde composer/improviser John Zorn (who co-produced the album.)
But wait! There was one more indelible influence on "Mr. Bungle." Clowns. Lots of clowns. Clowns on the album cover. Singing Clowns. Clown music. And need it be said, Mr. Bungle were clearly a bunch of clowns.
Who was Mr. Bungle? The band had gone through several iterations by the time they were signed to Warner Brothers Records, via the strength of lead singer, Mike Patton's, connections as a result of his membership in the mega-group, Faith No More. At the time of recording, the group was: Mike Patton (vocals), Trey Spruance (guitar), Danny Heifetz (drums), Bär McKinnon (keyboards), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Theo Lengyel (various.)
To be honest, I can't remember if I saw the band before I bought the album or vice versa, but I do recall that summer eve in '91 when the Person With Coolest name Ever and I set out to the Palace and caught the Bungle show. The opening band was a grating rock act called "Grotus." (They went on to some minimal success.) Then Bungle took the stage. Every member was wearing masks and they launched into a warped montage of essentially unclassifiable music. Part rock, part funk, part jazz -each added element seemed to negate the previous, so that the audience was left with an oozing, screeching musical demon convulsing in its eternal death throes on stage. (A few years later, my good friend, Neslo, and I were discussing the concept of "tension and release" in music. "With Mr. Bungle," he said, "The release comes when you turn it off!")
I was a heavy listener to Bungle over the course of the next couple years. On the national stage, Warrant was getting kicked out and Pearl Jam getting brought in, but Bungle seemed to totally bypass the issues of "Is this punk? or "Is this hip?" that the grunge rebellion was mired in. Instead of telling you how innovative they were, or how rebellious there were, or how unique they were, Bungle had simply laid down one of the most individualistic selections of music of all time. It fit in well with the Forbis agenda, which was to feel quietly superior to all the hipsters around me, while conversely jealous of their accomplishments. (An agenda still in effect, I might add.) Sure, maybe the Nirvana quoting indie-elitists were getting the chicks, the glow of the fawning rock press, and genuine concern for their facade of self loathing, but at least I had Bungle. The fools! They'd never understand!
But Bungle were more than musical rebels - they were lyrical iconoclasts as well. Mike Patton, who was fucking up Faith No More's shit at the same time, was completely rancid in his subject matter for Bungle tunes like "Squeeze me Macaroni," "Carousal," and "My Ass is On Fire." Sex played a big part. So did vomit.. Midgets came into play. Dog's butts. The circus. Masturbation. You get the picture.
If this album were to have a hit, of sorts, it would be track 8 - "The Girls of Porn." Starting off with an audio dub from a stag flick, the music kicks on on some musical accents highlighting the phrase "Six... Six... Six!" (As in the number of the beast.) We're then immediately transported into a funk/metal riff that is then supplanted by the verse - a funk guitar riff right out of Earth, Wind and Fire. Atop all this, Patton sings about... well, about porn basically.
The urge is too much to take
Looking back, I notice that I keep referring to Mr. Bungle in past tense. That's somewhat disingenuous, as they are, technically, still around. They have a couple other albums under their belt - the highly experimental "Disco Volante" (1995) and the Beach Boys mellow "California" (1999). (If you're hardcore, you can try and track down their early demos: "The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny," "Bowel of Chiley," "Goddamit, Love America," and "OU818") But the band is, for the most part, disbanded as the members work on individual projects - many have become respected players in the jazz/avant-garde community. And I don't think any of their other projects had quite the impact of the album "Mr. Bungle." Like a hyperactive Velvet Underground, Mr. Bungle's presence probably won't really be felt on music 'til decades after it's release. (Unlike the Velvet Underground, Mr. Bungle don't suck monkey penises.)
As usual, I'm coming up dry for an ending. All I can say is that if you want fuck/metal/carousal music topped of with lyrics discussing a variety of body juices and John Travolta, you can't go wrong with "Mr. Bungle."
Wil Forbis is the pen named shared by such noted authors as James Ellroy, Katie Roiphe, and Jim Thompson. E-mail him, I mean, them, at firstname.lastname@example.org
View Wil's Acid Logic web log, a stirring endorsement of sex with pandas!