Territorial Pissings: Seven Weirdest Moments In Grunge
06. TAD VS. HILLBILLY GIRL AND PEPSI
Among the major-label signing frenzy that followed the success of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, more than a few bands got lost in the sauce. One of the best were Tad, whose distorted and whirly garage rock made them one of the only groups in the scene that actually deserved the title “grunge.”
Fronted by 300-pound former butcher Tad Doyle, Tad were one of the first bands signed to Sub Pop Records. Initially, they were considered the best hope for a commercial breakout band in late-Eighties Seattle. When Tad toured England in 1989 with Nirvana—Doyle’s girth was part of the reason that tour was nicknamed “heavier than heaven”—many thought Tad outplayed Nirvana.
But fate played a number of sad tricks on Tad, a band with bad luck at every turn. First, Pepsi-Cola sued them over their 1990 single “Jack Pepsi.” The record sleeve featured the soft-drink logo in its design, with the name “Tad” substituted for the cola maker’s. Pepsi claimed that its trademark had been infringed, and the single was pulled.
A few bands have survived a single image copyright controversy—think Vampire Weekend’s most recent album—but Tad had three. Following the “Jack Pepsi” episode, they released their 1991 album, 8-Way Santa (named after a kind of blotter acid), the cover of which featured a thrift store photo of a hillbilly guy grabbing his girlfriend’s boob. The woman in the photo saw the cover and filed suit. While these controversies gained Tad media attention, having their record pulled out of shops was a deterrent to sales. “We just had some really bad, bad luck,” Tad bassist Kurt Danielson once told me.
That wasn’t the end of Tad’s bad luck (all of which is covered in the excellent 2008 documentary Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears). When they finally were signed to a major label in 1993 and went on the road with Soundgarden, another graphic design scuttled their big break. To promote their album Inhaler, the band issued a poster featuring Bill Clinton smoking a joint and saying, “It’s heavy shit.” It was one thing to take on hillbillies and Pepsi, but a sitting president was another matter. Their label dropped Tad, and the group was history.
If there was any solace for the members of Tad, each of whom went to other bands and play in Seattle to this day, it might have come in the infamy they played in Kurt Cobain’s songwriting. Tad Doyle’s diarrhea during that 1989 European tour inspired Kurt to write the song “Immodium” (renamed “Breed”) about Doyle’s gastrointestinal problems. Indeed, it seems that Tad had some heavy shit.
07. THE GRUNGE STAR WITH THE STRONGEST BALLS
Tad named one of their albums God’s Balls, but the biggest balls in Seattle during the grunge years belonged to a fellow by the name of the Amazing Mr. Lifto. Lifto could hoist a hundred-pound weight off the ground using only a cord attached to his testicles.
Lifto was part of a touring act from Seattle in the Nineties that did blockbuster business all over the world, and even played at Lollapalooza. It was called the Jim Rose Circus, and while the performers weren’t musicians, the troupe did tour with Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Korn and Godsmack.
The Jim Rose Circus was unlike any circus before or since. Leader Rose would have audience members stand on his head after he stuck it in a crate full of glass shards; Bebe the Circus Queen would crawl into a giant plastic bag, whereupon all the air would be sucked out until she began to suffocate; the Torture King would eat broken light bulbs; and the Enigma showed off his full-body tattoo, which covered his face with puzzle pieces. One of my friends went to high school with the Enigma and says he is always the life of any reunion party.
For a few years, the Jim Rose Circus was as famous as any band from Seattle. The troupe was featured on an episode of The X-Files and on The Simpsons, and it briefly had its own show on the Travel Channel. The circus’ home video became a best seller.
And it was during the Jim Rose Circus Lollapalooza tour that the troupe earned its place in history, and with it, the honor of being part of the single sickest moment of the grunge era. Tad Doyle could have inspired it, but instead it involved the even bigger marquee names of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.
One of the Circus performers was Matt “the Tube” Crowley, who would stick a length of plastic tubing into his throat until it ended up in his stomach. Next, he’d use a hand pump to expel his own stomach bile into a container. As his finale, he would drink the bile onstage.
At one of the Lollapalooza shows, both Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell joined the Jim Rose Circus onstage, and it was in that moment when the history of grunge experienced its one stomach-turning nadir. After Crowley had pumped out his stomach bile, but before he’d swallowed it again, both Vedder and Cornell sampled the disgusting liquid. It was memorable, it was sick, it was stranger than fiction, and in that way it was a lot like the rest of grunge.
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