4/1/98, THE EAST VILLAGE, NYC: Welcome with us the newest member of the Home Office Records corpo musicale -- those unsung heroes of underground song, those ghosts in the Orgasmatron, those spry and musical sprites of Beat bacchanalia, those strong right hands of the Gulf of Onan: never mind the Bollocks, it's Pornshop, Downtown alterna-rocksters with a big difference. How big? In vast deference to visitors to this page who are only watching at 600x480, we'll leave it to your imagination (scrolling across is such a drag, after all).
We're walking with Pornshop lead singer Hefty Baggage through the unseasonable weather in the East Village. He's humming the chorus from the band's first single, "Norwegian Wouldn't (but the German Girl Did)," released by now-defunct Crotch Shot Records. His distinctive eyewear, the sought after Groucho-by-Gucci frames with olfactory prosthesis, give him an eerie rock star look, simultaneously calling to mind Elvis Costello, Ray Charles and a sort of maniacal Ernie muppet with shades. Think Marilyn Manson without the makeup, and shorter, with glasses and a gym membership, and nothing like Marilyn Manson after all. That's Hefty: a man all his own.
It's not a joke -- he really is from Intercourse, Pennsylvania, and the name is a legal moniker. Born John Smith, he changed his name after a wanton tour with an earlier musical project, Big Sausage and the Wads. "You try it," he says. "You try checking into a hotel as John Smith from Intercourse, PA. It's not worth the hassle."
Hefty has been in and out of the Business for over a decade, dabbling in garage punk (as the mouth-harp player in What Juice), art-rock (as the mouth-harp player in That Juice), heavy metal (mouth-harp in Dribble Juice) and nuevo-country (slide Dobro mouth-harp in Juice Newton and the Thermodynamics, a band briefly renowned for their honky-tonk explorations of the Principia Mathematica). Pornshop was formed after a tragic concert accident during the final tour of Some Juice, the last of Hefty's Pennsylvania bands. "We weren't together long enough to really have a sound," he recalls. "Some Juice was sort of a blend of the Juices, with all-natural flavors and no sugar added. We were very concentrated." Baggage was playing rhythm mouth-harp on the band's uptempo cover of "Pinball Wizard" when his lips and the mouth-harp abruptly interpenetrated, a pain recalled in the masterful Pornshop tune "Our Lips Are Sealed," which was originally written by the Go-Go's. ("It's a good song," he confides. "It can be written more than once.")
With his original instrument no longer an option, Hefty moved to New York, aflame with inspiration. "After Intercourse, I was smoking," he says. The "something old, something new, something borrowed, something outright stolen" Pornshop sound grew quickly in the melting pot of East Village clubs. He met bass player Skylark "Doc" Duquesne while auditioning sidemen for an interim project, the Zounds of Silence, which took its influences from the photographs of Man Ray. Skylark impressed Hefty immediately by not actually bringing a bass with him for his rendition of the original quantum reductivist mime tone-poem, "Marcel Marceau in Schrödinger's Box," which he either played or didn't. Hefty drafted Skylark into the band on the spot.
Later, over many pints of Madrid Mines Linusator Double Bock (still Pornshop's beverage of choice), the two shared the observation that there actually was no music whatsoever to be heard in Ray's photography. Over the next months they devoted themselves to following in the footsteps first of Ray and then of Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams and, most influentially, of Richard Avedon's "Nastassja with Serpent."
Taking their cue from the silent, masterful images of the pioneers of photography-as-art, Zounds did not play at most of the finest music clubs in Manhattan and up and down the Coast. One night, while not performing their semi-eponymous Simon & Garfunkel signature tune anywhere near the Knitting Factory, Hefty suddenly broke his hush and sang the chorus. "It sounded a lot more together than what we'd been doing up til then," Skylark remembers. "It was like dawn opening up like a door in, like, the wall of a silence like night, or at least as dark as that." And so, haltingly, Pornshop was born.
By then their avid interest in photography had narrowed to a critical cross-cultural study of unique contortions of the human form, most intriguingly in combinations of three or more, often in juxtaposition with phallic representations of modern technological society as mass-produced in plastic and rubber. The rest of the group (Benny "The Palm" Excellent on drums, and Jacko "Whacko" Pud on the haunting and erotic mouth-harp) was drawn from the Show World house band, when that late lamented Times Square establishment closed its doors under the grinding pressure of New York City mayor "Squeaky" Giuliani.
What followed is soon to be history. The debut Pornshop album, tentatively titled "Great Balls on Fire," is now being recorded at studios that don't require a deposit all over New York City. Restez Tuned for the sweet recycled strains of Pornshop unbound, featuring tomorrow's hits "Hairway to Heaven," "Sex and More Sex and Some Candy," "Shakin' (Them) All Over" and the inspirational suite "Wild Rose (Naked)," "Wild Rose (Naked Again, A Different Night)" and "Wild Rose (Naked, With The Drummer This Time, Cool)."
Coming soon to a Wal-Mart near you!