Zip Code Rapists

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Reuniting tomorrow night at the Hemlock. Ticket prices are $15 (!!!)

On the offensive

Did onetime Bay Area-based musical subversives the Zip Code Rapists truly make "the worst record of all time"?

NOT SINCE THE Eagles' 1994 "Hell Freezes Over" reunion tour has there been a rock reunion of such magnitude. OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but for some of us, the Zip Code Rapists' improbable 10th anniversary reunion in their old hometown is a momentous occasion.

On the rock history radar, ZCR are a blip, of course, but their live shows are legendary, at least among locals who saw them and got the joke. Even if you didn't get to see the duo during their brief life span from 1992 to '95, their live recordings – scattered across the albums 94124 and Sing and Play the Three Doctors and Other Sounds of Today (1992 and 1995, respectively, on Amarillo) and documented more fully on the recently released Here at Last: Zip Code Rapists Live (Freedom From) – tell the story well. This was a one-of-a-kind combo, with a natural entertainer and comedian in vocalist Gregg Turkington and a remarkably flexible and tolerant straight man in guitarist John Singer.

"We had the latitude to do anything," Singer explains over the phone from Vermont, where he now lives. "A lot of it had to do with the push and pull between the audience and the band. Some shows would turn into confrontations, with stuff being thrown; other shows would turn into sing-alongs." For one of their shows at the now-defunct Chameleon, they brought along a Stephen Foster songbook and performed a set consisting entirely of patriotic songs like "The Old Folks at Home," Turkington remembers. The versatile talent is also the mastermind behind Amarillo Records, Faxed Head, nationally known comedian Neil Hamburger and the Great Phone Calls prank calls CD, reissued by Ipecac several years ago.

At another show, they served the audience ranch-style beans on plates made out of trade magazines from their jobs at a local chemical company. And at the record-release party for Sing and Play, they simply sat in the audience and watched as impersonators from Caroliner and Mr. Bungle took care of their set for them.

Sometimes they even played original songs, but more often than not, they opted for covers. As amusing and odd as their song choices were – Tony Orlando's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree" and lots of late-period Who stinkers – they ultimately served as jumping-off points for the band's extra-musical antics, not as destinations. On their live recordings, Turkington seldom makes it past the first chorus without breaking something or launching into a foul-mouthed tirade against some unlucky audience member. He took other creative liberties as well: There's video footage of him smashing Pablo Cruise records over his head, wielding a blowtorch onstage, and breaking down in tears while hugging a giant teddy bear during a cover of the Bee Gees' "I Started a Joke."

The bears were a favorite stage prop, along with other inexplicable items, such as golf trophies, nonworking telephones, and a giant inflatable cigarette that they used for about a year. Hearing Turkington casually list these items brings to mind the eternal question about just about everything ZCR did: "Why?" And why, with no punch line in sight, was it so funny?

"I've said this in an interview before," Singer confesses, "but the closest I've come to wetting my pants as an adult was being onstage and seeing some of the stuff that Gregg would do." Still, what made the group tick is the dynamic between Turkington and his ambivalent foil, Singer. "I think that's really the key to the group," Turkington agrees, on the phone from LA. "Half the time he thinks it's really great, and half the time he's really disgusted with the whole thing. To this day, I really don't think he's made up his mind."

As a musical group, ZCR's reputation was poor – unfairly so. "The worst record of all time? It's definitely up there," Greg Prato wrote in his review of Sing and Play. This was sometimes a sore point with Singer, a skilled musician who's worked in many different genres and lineups over the years, including Klaus Flouride's Jumbo Shrimp, a black gospel group in Oakland, and his own solo singer-songwriter projects. The duo's recordings were actually quite diverse, encompassing everything from weepy C&W ballads to an acoustic folk song about the presidents, with plenty of odd little interludes and relatively little of the shrieking guitar-and-vocal-only mayhem for which they're best known.

Alas, the reunion show doesn't mean the Zip Code Rapists are back together as a functional band, but, self-professed show-biz hacks that they are, they're not above another reunion. After all, aren't the Eagles touring again this year? "The whole band was sort of predicated on the idea of making fools of yourselves and seeing what happens," Singer says. "There's no reason we can't do that when we get old."

gygax! (gygax!), Thursday, 28 July 2005 23:16 (fifteen years ago) link


plain ol' jaxon (jaxon), Thursday, 28 July 2005 23:24 (fifteen years ago) link

gygax! (gygax!), Thursday, 28 July 2005 23:30 (fifteen years ago) link

PHOIOEI (blastocyst), Thursday, 28 July 2005 23:47 (fifteen years ago) link

so was it good?

hstencil (hstencil), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 01:26 (fifteen years ago) link

No idea, I went out with some old friends instead and got a weird voicemail from JW around 3:30am EST about him watching porn on HBO and that I'm an old man.

gygax! (gygax!), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 14:52 (fifteen years ago) link

that's a shame.

hstencil (hstencil), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 16:02 (fifteen years ago) link

"old friends"

Dr. Glen Y. Abreu (dr g), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 16:31 (fifteen years ago) link

I don't think it's a shame. I saw them during their heyday and enjoyed it. There's always a time and place and mine was certainly not for $15 a pop last Friday night at the Hemlock.

gygax! (gygax!), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 17:52 (fifteen years ago) link

hrm, ok. outta curiousity, why'd you start the thread?

hstencil (hstencil), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 18:44 (fifteen years ago) link

I started this thread because:

#1) They were a funny NOIZE band and there was an article about them in the locally alt-weekly.

#2) If you look very carefully at the first sentence of the thread, I expressed mild outrage at the ticket prices in the form of three exclamation points in parentheses.

I would have been there in the event I had no other plans (which I eventually did). Now if they'd reunite the original lineup of Caroliner instead of the Caroliner Rainbow Revisited shlock that keeps resurfacing every so often I might make more of an effort.

gygax! (gygax!), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 19:01 (fifteen years ago) link

ah i see. cool, thanks gygax!.

hstencil (hstencil), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 19:09 (fifteen years ago) link

Reuniting tomorrow night at the Hemlock. Ticket prices are $15 (!!!)

I read this as excitement.

Dr. Glen Y. Abreu (dr g), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 19:09 (fifteen years ago) link

I wanted to go, but was terrified of the thought of a friday at the Hemlock after it was written up with full page articles in both free weeklies

went to Fursaxa / Spires That In The Sunset Rise show instead -- mistake

milton parker (Jon L), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 19:13 (fifteen years ago) link

I will be remember that night as the first time I heard someone describe an act as being a "line6 kinda band"

milton parker (Jon L), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 19:17 (fifteen years ago) link

typo coffee time

btw can anyone YSI the intact Marissa radio self-interview?

milton parker (Jon L), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 19:18 (fifteen years ago) link

milton parker (Jon L), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 19:48 (fifteen years ago) link

I hope the doctor tells me it's chicken

milton parker (Jon L), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 19:53 (fifteen years ago) link


Dr. Glen Y. Abreu (dr g), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 19:59 (fifteen years ago) link

"line6 kinda band"

ha. "pod-heavy." "podded-out"

ghetty green (eman), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 20:52 (fifteen years ago) link


ghetty green (eman), Wednesday, 3 August 2005 20:54 (fifteen years ago) link

two months pass...
they were a better band than, led zeppelin, for example

terry lennox. (gareth), Saturday, 15 October 2005 20:23 (fourteen years ago) link

Reuniting tomorrow night at the Hemlock. Ticket prices are $15 (!!!)

I read this as excitement.

-- Dr. Glen Y. Abreu (dr_...), August 3rd, 2005 1:09 PM. (dr g)

well, i guess not compared to $3 @ The Chameleon (RIP) in 1994.

gygax! (gygax!), Saturday, 15 October 2005 21:04 (fourteen years ago) link

Dude, I paid two cents to see them in 1892.

I was CRYING when Huell Howser's head exploded in a local feed store (dr g), Saturday, 15 October 2005 21:12 (fourteen years ago) link

i saw them for nothing, on this thread

terry lennox. (gareth), Saturday, 15 October 2005 21:21 (fourteen years ago) link

thirteen years pass...

reunion show in RI

kurt schwitterz, Thursday, 30 May 2019 21:43 (one year ago) link

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