When the inane comedy-noise-schlock duo the ZIP CODE RAPISTS started booking gigs around San Francisco around 1992, I was thankfully already a big fan of Gregg Turkington’s absurd body of work – a body that only amplified & enlarged in the years to follow. He was one of the prime movers behind “Breakfast Without Meat” fanzine in the 80s, along with Derek Bostrom from the Meat Puppets, yet he really became a personal hero of mine with the 1992 “GREAT PHONE CALLS” LP, a prank phone call album that’s still one of the all-time high-water marks for puzzling, incredibly funny misanthropy I’ve ever heard. I listened to that thing to the point where I could recite virtually every gag on it, and when I’d play it for friends, half of them just loved it, and the other half couldn’t understand why I thought it was so funny. Mind you, this was the time of “The Jerky Boys”, who were another solid (and far more popular) prank phone call outfit, but one whose jokes could be understood & appreciated by even the lowest common denominator. Turkington, on the other hand, would get on the phone with someone who barely spoke English at a Chinese restaurant, loudly request a “sausage-pepperoni-Chinese pizza”, and before they could answer, start babbling all sorts of non-sequiters: “I’m on television right now, turn to Channel 2”, followed by, “I’m lonely here, I’m dying – you got to help me here, I’m dying” etc. It was also the place that the “Neil Hamburger” character got his start. The record totally holds up. Look for it on CD.
Turkington was good friends with some folks I sorta knew in the whole WORLD OF POOH/THINKING FELLERS universe, and since I went to all those shows back then, it got out pretty quickly that he & John Singer from their previous band THE EASY GOINGS were putting together a “new thing” called the ZIP CODE RAPISTS. I went to some pretty early shows by them, and they were a total blast. Again, Turkington’s humor is “anti-”, as they say, sort of like the shtick that guys like David Cross and others would do later in the 90s, but far more uncaring & far less seeking of external validation or attention. The music, which was atrocious and pretty much a total afterthought, took a complete backstage to whatever Turkington was ranting about stream-of-consciousness style onstage, or whatever cockamamie lyrics the guy had cooked up on the spot. I saw them at the Covered Wagon early on with maybe 10 other people, and they did this song, an original called “Ranch Style Beans” – the lyrics were pretty normal at first, until they just veered out of control: “I’ve got them in my ears / Ranch style beans! / You’re all a bunch of queers! / Ranch style beans!”, and then the song just sputtered out into feedback and chaos. Then they’d do a stupid Doors cover, or some horrible analog synth thing, then a tender take on “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”, with improvisational spoken lyrics tacked on like, “He’s got the whole world / In his hands / He’s got the whole world / In his parched, bloody, fucked-up hands – and they’re covered with semen!!!”. Please download and listen to the 1993 live version of this song below – in one song, it gives you the ZCR live experience in the proverbial nutshell.
I always was bummed when the drunken audience (a drunken audience that naturally included me) would hoot so loud at the band that I couldn’t hear what Turkington was saying. If you listen to the live songs on the band’s atrocious first record, “SING AND PLAY THE THREE DOCTORS AND OTHER SONGS OF TODAY”, the crowd is totally whipped into a frenzy by the comedic shitstorm on stage. Hear the woman yelling at the band between every song? I know that voice. That is the woman who became Dame Darcy, a then-San Francisco resident, budding animator, CAROLINER member and scene denizen who added her own soundtrack to many a live show during that time. I bought that first album just because it looked so ridiculous, and outside of a couple of tracks (“Presidents Song”, which I’m posting for you today; maybe one more), I could barely get through the thing. The next two records, a 10-song 7”EP and a 12”EP, were arguably worse. Toward the end of the band’s life, they’d get on stage like the time at the Nightbreak (maybe it was called The Thirsty Swede then?) with mirrored shades on like Alan Vega & Martin Rev and just play synthesizers and moan into the microphones for 20 minutes. At least that’s how I remember it. I do know it was often painful.
Perhaps the best part was the “break up” of the ZIP CODE RAPISTS. One of the most hilarious pieces of avant-theater I’ve ever seen was their carefully-orchestrated feud, where John went and formed the pedestrian “Therapist John's Zip Code Revue” and in retaliation, Gregg formed the awful 70s boogie band “The Three Doctors Band”, and then they’d fight about who was better in the pages of fanzines. Both even recorded LPs to prove the point. (Nobody won, if you ask me). If anyone has the a scan from the issue of SNIPE HUNT magazine where they gave dueling interviews about the circumstances that led to their dissolution, because of course they weren’t on speaking terms, I’d love to see it again.
The other day I received a comprehensive overview of the band’s oeuvre in the mail, a new CD put out by Eabla Records. Loads of extra tracks and a cool booklet with lots of photos – and even a temporary tattoo! You see what happened? It got those memories just floodin’ back. Turkington now is making his mark as NEIL HAMBURGER, the worst standup comedian of all time, and he’s finally found the audience he was denied during the ZCR years. Meanwhile, you can dip into the refracted glory by listening to and/or downloading a few tracks from the CD below – and better yet, ordering the CD here.
Postscript – I’ve been corrected by both the record label and a member of the band: there were never any synthesizers or keyboards on stage during a ZCR show. I maintain that I saw them, and the whole show at the Nightbreak where they at least sort of dressed up like SUICIDE & played droning synth “music” wasn’t a complete hallucination, but I guess these guys would know better than I would. What would make me remember things so differently? Oh wait – I know.
Play The Zip Code Rapists, “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”
Download THE ZIP CODE RAPISTS – “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”
Download THE ZIP CODE RAPISTS – “Darn It Duck”
Download THE ZIP CODE RAPISTS – “Presidents Song”