John Lydon is one of my personal heroes. As the singer for the Sex Pistols in the 70s, he redefined what music could be. Now that he’s older and has weird warts on his face, he’s able to cash in on his youthful fame and continues to be blunt, irreverent and keenly intelligent underneath the leering eyeballs. Back in the 70s, he trolled the shit out of the media before anyone knew what a troll was. He would vacillate between dodgy and frank – in some interviews he would smirk and avoid giving direct answers, and in others he would make very glib observations about politics and the media that people found shocking as hell. When he formed Public Image Limited, the band itself was a troll-y statement on pop music – we’re not a music band, we’re a business that sells image and nothing else. He has always been difficult towards TV interviewers – bumming smokes off of Larry King during interviews, cussing out the guy from Much Music and walking out of the room. He’s never shy about turning the camera back on the media and calling bullshit when he sees it.
Jello Biafra was another musical revolutionary, but his heyday came in the 80s with the Dead Kennedys, railing against Reagan. While Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols had a more nihilistic political view, Jello and the Dead Kennedys tended towards social activism. Jello is still fighting the good fight, encouraging his audience to question authority and stand against corporate tyranny.
I was looking on YouTube for some Meatmen videos and found some recent interviews with Tesco Vee, who was the frontman for that band. He’s in his 50s now, and looks more the part of the Michigan school teacher than the Dutch Hercules. The Meatmen never really revolutionised anything, but Tesco Vee did start up the Touch and Go record label and lived an insane double life in the 80s.
Joe Keithley is basically the only reason I would ever want to move to B.C. I would move out there to vote Joey Shithead into Canadian government. Jello ran for mayor of San Francisco, Joe Keithley ran for MPP of the Coquitlam – Burke Mountain riding as a New Democratic Party candidate. The D.O.A. motto of Talk – Action = 0 became part of his political platform.
Of course, you can’t talk about punk rawk frontmen without mentioning Henry Rollins. Even if you don’t really want to. For me, Johnny Rotten and Jello Biafra and Joey Shithead got way more interesting as they got older. Henry just got more popular and vocal. It’s cool that this crazy dude who used to beat the shit out of asshole audience members has all this big media respect now, but instead of activism, he’s doing a celebrity talk show where guests can use slightly rougher language than they could on Leno or Letterman. He does his spoken word stuff at colleges and whatnot, too, and that’s a good thing. He’s still got that angry intellect.
From what I can tell from YouTube interviews, they all hate Glenn Danzig. Tesco Vee seems to have a grudge against everyone but Ian Mackaye. Mackaye maintains a friendship with both Henry Rollins and Tesco Vee – I can only imagine what a strain that must put on a person. Mackaye is a guy who maintained his youthful activism well into adulthood, but I was never much of a fan of Minor Threat and never listened to Fugazi at all. Respect for the man and the music, though.
Tesco Vee probably doesn’t seem to belong on this list. The Meatmen never revolutionized music or engaged in political protest, and Tesco Vee is not an elder statesman advocating this or that. He’s a guy who said things in his youth just to provoke a reaction – TSOL are sissies, crippled children suck, et cetera. But it’s because I know these things that he’s another of my personal heroes. Like Johnny Rotten, he’s basically one of your first Internet trolls, before there was an internet. And the Meatmen were frickin’ awesome.