Carla Bozulich can't seem to get a break. As loved and critically acclaimed as her band The Geraldine Fibbers, may be, she is continually confronted with misleading representations of herself and the band, making her wonder just how much attention reporters pay to the bands they're supposedly touting. First, there's that irksome label ("all-lesbian country band") that they got slapped with--even though three of the Fibbers are male. Then there's the repeated mythology (started by Option, thank you very much) calling her a former dominatrix (she isn't), most often in references to her former band Ethyl Meatplow, which had the uncanny ability to make the Carpenter's "Close To You" seem like a death threat.
"I find it pretty annoying," she said. "I think people ought to be a little more careful about their craft and factcheck. That Option piece burned me up to no end. The guy who wrote that took lines from (intensely personal) things I'd written in (the zine) Ben Is Dead and put quotes around them, as if they were things I had told him in confidence. That's unethical, if not illegal. 'And Carla replied...' When I wrote those things I never expected that I was going to get any national recognition at all, nor was I looking for it. I was just writing. I didn't think I was going to be doing anything in music; Ethyl Meatplow wasn't going anywhere."
Now, of course, that may change if the rumor mill has its way with the news of an Ethyl Meatplow reunion. "I heard that singer John Napier said that he was going to do that," Bozulich said. "But that's funny. Let's just say that's hilarious. What do you think about a band where you had a trio, and one of the members decides to re-form the band without talking to the other two members?"
Bozulich said she might be staking her claim to the Ethyl Meatplow name by issuing previously unreleased Meatplow tunes on Long Beach's Sympathy For the Record Industry (which put out some of the Fibbers' first vinyl releases) "It's the usual," she said. "You know, dance songs about fucking. It is Ethyl Meatplow."
Bozulich certainly was Ethyl Meatplow, making mantras out of lyrics like "Get out from under the bed, take off my goddamn nightgown and give me that gun... Get it together or get the hell out" ("Devil's Johnson"). Though just as uncompromising lyrically the Fibbers go down a bit easier, with a less blatant sense of danger and eroticism, shrouding it in symbolism and metaphor. And instead of Ethyl Meatplow's art-damaged industrial-dance beats the Fibbers inject a primordial sense of country into their punk, though maybe their latest, Butch, has less honky-tonk (maybe that's why violinist Jessy Greene recently ditched the Fibbers to join The Jayhawks). Guitarist Daniel Keenan (who had guested on Ethyl Meatplow's 'Suck' and had prodded Bozulich to join the Fibbers in the first place) also left the Fibbers after having been diagnosed with tendonitis. Enter prolific experimental noise-monger guitarist Nels Cline, whom Bozulich met while jamming with Mike Watt on his last solo album. (Cline just worked on Watt's recently finished second solo record, a soon-to-be released rock opera about his father.)
You might think from its title that Butch plays off the 'lesbian country' tag the Los Angeles Reader so graciously gave then but Bozulich says no, that's not it at all ("That is our favorite joke though"). Maybe a better reading would be to look at all the so-called feminine imagery and see how it's used in unexpected ways (like washing pills down with perfume in "I Killed The Cuckoo", for one). "California Tuffy" (whose video Bozulich directed to "lovingly make fun of the genre of videomaking") and "Toy Box" employ fruit and flowers as metaphors for sexuality. Nothing new there, right? Those are traditional symbols, since flowers are a plant's sex organs, right? Except that when people usually symbolize sexuality in that manner, they do so to romanticize it. And though Bozulich has a talent for making almost everything seem pretty, she's purposefully using the image to invert it (her husky voice comes in handy). "Pick the flower and it will wilt/ To die in bliss/ For a greedy lover's kiss" she sings in "California Tuffy", only to tell us soon after that "You will never get my heart." Perhaps the clue lies in how she spits out the word "kiss" as if it were poison.
"Toy Box" is harsher and more explicit, liking images of puberty, gynecological exams, menstruation and possibly incest, somehow tying it into fruit, which here seems hardly delectable ("I fucked my first fruit today/Lousy lay"). The songs narrator, searching through the canned fruit aisle for something to make her father stop crying, also links blood and tears, which may mean that fruit juice here is a substitute for another bodily fluid. And "peaches" in "Swim Back To Me" carry the same gender correlation as Face/Off.
Like the Fibbers debut, Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home, Butch sandwiches euphoria and despair, so sticky that you can't separate them anymore, depending on hallucination and surrealism to seem real. Bozulich's tales are filled with desperate characters who drift days away on the back porch and in drug hospitals. ("In the dark she is rocking/ Not to records but to voices in her head," she sings on Lost's "Lillybelle," whereas "Marmalade" gets inside that head "Drugs make me want to sit next to you/Doctors floating to and fro/ Silverfish is on the go"). Consequently you can't read Fibbers songs as linear narratives. Symbolism is everything here. Maybe that's why Bozulich is so sensitive to every word that's said about her: she reads so deeply into it all. Both infuriated and saddened by the latest round of rumors, she said with a sigh: "But what can you do? You put out your own album; that's what you do."
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