Do we offend you, yeah?
As Holy F*ck and The F*ck Buttons tune up for gigs in Ireland (both well worth seeing, by the way), Kevin Courtney asks why so many bands are including “rude words” in their names
HOLY Fuck! Has it really come to this? Are we so jaded by the whole rock’n’roll rigmarole that a band has to put the F-word in its name to get some attention? Has rock music lost all sense of decency, or have we just lost all our capacity to be shocked?
Canada’s latest music sensation is an electro-indie band called Holy Fuck. You know it’s the end of civilisation when a band called Holy Fuck are tipped to be the next Arcade Fire. What’s next – dogs and cats doing it in the street? Cliff Richard covering Nick Cave’s No Pussy Blues?
Holy Fuck’s attention-grabbing monicker has already bagged the band mucho column inches in the media (as you may have noticed, we rock journos love a story where we can write “fuck” with impunity), and gained them notoriety in the music biz – not all of it positive. Though Holy Fuck’s music is a largely inoffensive mishmash of crunchy indie guitars and bleepy Casio sounds, their name has already been bleeped out of some of the more polite publications. One journalist, reviewing Holy Fuck’s support slot with Super Furry Animals, referred to them as “a Canadian quartet with an unprintable name”.
The band have also had gigs cancelled by jittery promoters afraid to fling such a filthy word at their pop kids. The Coachella festival in the US turned them away, even though they’d already played there before, while the organisers of a Canada Day concert in London’s Trafalgar Square cancelled their appearance at the last minute because the show was due to be broadcast before the watershed. Phew, the morals of Britain’s teenagers were saved just in time.
So, what’s with rock music and swear words? Why do rock stars have to cuss all the time, and why do they have to think up disgusting names for their bands, which are guaranteed to sabotage their chances of mainstream success? Basically, why are rockers so damn puerile?
Because that’s their job – it’s in the contract. We want our bands to be shocking, rude and outrageous; that way our parents are guaranteed not to like it. And if our parents hate it, then it must be good. Trouble is, it’s getting harder to shock these days, so bands have to dig a little deeper in the gutter to come up with something that’ll get up the noses of our self-appointed moral guardians.
It was all so much easier to shock back in more innocent days. All Elvis had to do was wiggle his hips on telly, and all The Beatles had to do was claim to be bigger than Jesus, and suddenly the world and his granny were rushing out to toss their albums on the bonfire. The raunchiest name around was probably Gary Lewis & the Playboys. When bands discovered drugs, though, they started to dream up more interesting – and offensive – names.
Those 1960s stoners The Fucks knew they couldn’t get a gig with that name, so they changed it to The Fugs and became a popular draw on the hippy circuit. Despite the bongwatered-down name, The Fugs still managed to push the boundaries of decency and good taste when they played live.
In an era when using the word “high” in a song lyric was deemed indecent, few bands dared to adopt outright obscene names. Some clever clogses, however, came up with double-meaning monickers which sounded innocent enough to the casual ear, but which fans knew meant something very naughty.
If any radio DJs copped on that a Steely Dan was a type of metal dildo featured in William Burroughs’s novel The Naked Lunch, they weren’t about to tell their station boss. Same goes for 10CC and The Lovin’ Spoonful, both of which refer to the average amount of sperm a man ejaculates.
Another way to cover up the true nature of your name is to use an acronym: WASP stands for We Are Sex Perverts, while Irish funk band PAMF was jive talk for Pussy-Assed Motherfuckers.
The explosion of punk saw bands scrabbling to think up ever more unsavoury names and The Sex Pistols took full advantage of the shock value, reaching the status of Public Enemy No 1 on the strength of their name, the title of their debut album, and their very un-patriotic rants against Her Majesty. Concert posters, fanzines and John Peel’s radio show soon were packed with bands named The Slits, Alien Sex Fiend, Buzzcocks, Revolting Cocks, The Vibrators, Nipple Erectors and The Snivelling Shits.
In the 1980s, a slew of US hardcore bands began delving into the profanisaurus in search of a perfectly horrid monicker. Circle Jerks were named after a game popular among adolescent boys, while Butthole Surfers came from a derogatory term for homosexuals.
But while having a profane name might help you reach your hardcore fanbase, it’s not much use if you want to become megastars, earn a guest slot on Parky, or collect your OBE at Buckingham Palace. Johnny and The Self-Abusers realised this and so changed their name to the more mainstream-friendly Simple Minds.
Today, no one bats an eyelid at the likes of Shit Disco, Crazy Penis (also known as “Crazy P”) and Jackie O Motherfucker, so what’s a band to do if they want to shock, annoy and offend? Simple: they just break the last taboo in print and broadcast media and put the c-word in their name.
A few years ago, the UK music press got in a lather about a band named Anal C***. They weren’t exactly a three-star band, and they had little more than cult appeal, but their name could go down in history as one of the most offensive in pop.
Meanwhile, let’s hope Holy Fuck don’t make the big crossover to the mainstream, because then we’d have to listen to our parents and work colleagues saying things like: “I really dig those Holy Fuck cats the most!” Now that would really be the end of civilisation.
Holy Fuck: some jittery promoters cancelled gigs