The Barbarians (Moulty on the left)
Listen – The Barbarians – Are You a Boy Or Are You a Girl – MP3
Friday is here, and as always, it’s fine time to head back to the old school.
In a strange twist, I was aware of the Barbarians years before I heard their music, or had developed a taste for all things Nuggets-y.
Back in my teen years, the local record store was a Music Den at the Steinbachs Mall. If you wanted something to listen to, it was either that, or a trip to the flea market on the weekend.
I was conflicted in my feeling about this store for two basic reasons.
First, about half their stock consisted of cut outs and remainders, so there was always something interesting and cheap to be had when the coffers were almost empty.
Second, the clerks (20 something deadbeats to the last) always gave me the stink-eye when I was browsing, terrified that I was filling the pockets of my overcoat with purloined merchandise.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who digs for records that when I go into stores like that – to this very day in fact – I rarely have something specific in mind, other than the extremely general idea of “something/anything” music. I do the same thing in book stores, i.e. wandering the aisles waiting for something interesting to catch my eye.
Unfortunately, when you’re a long-haired teenager walking around in an Aqualung-ish overcoat (inherited from my grandfather), covered in rock badges and a fake sheriff’s star (I was nothing if not a fashion plate), wandering aimlessly in a record store sets off all kinds of alarms in regard to potential thievery (something I assure you I never engaged in, unlike some people who shall remain nameless…ahem..).
Anyway, I only drag you down this back alley of Memory Lane because one of the prominent features of the cut out bun at Music Den in those days (say 1978/79-ish) was a compilation (German I think…) of a band called the Barbarians, one member of which sported a hook-like appendage where his hand ought to have been. I probably browsed past this particular record a hundred times, completely unaware of the gold hidden in its grooves.
This was after all the 70s, an era in which record companies were so deep into cocaine consciousness that they would literally release ANYTHING (like countless solo albums by the various and sundry keyboard players from Yes and the Moody Blues), with an elaborate gatefold/die cut package.
I can’t say for sure, but it’s likely that I saw that one-handed gent on the album cover and assumed that it was just another insane late-70s gimmick.
Little did I know.
It was probably another five or six years before I realized who the Barbarians were, and then regretted not having purchased that record while Music Den was still open (instead of Steve Miller’s Greatest Hits and at least two copies of the ‘All This and WW2’ soundtrack boxed set).
The Barbarians rolled out of Cape Cod in Massaschusetts in 1964 with their be-hooked drummer (?!?) Moulty, armed (no pun intended) with a taste for the grittier side of the British Invasion.
The story goes that Moulty (Victor Moulton) had become separated from part of his arm during a fireworks accident (pay attention kids!!). Fortunately his handicap did not prevent him from learning how to abuse a drum set, and the Barbarians crafted a couple of very tasty proto-garage 45s like ‘Hey Little Bird’ (which they performed at the T.A.M.I. Show) and today’s selection, the heartwarming tale of anti-rocker prejudice, ‘Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl’.
The tune is something of a missing link in the cranky old bluesman > UK R&Beat > US Garage Punk continuum, with the Barbarians borrowing liberally from their T.A.M.I. show castmates the Rolling Stones (referencing ‘Off the Hook’ rather liberally). The whole fuzztone, screamo, sexual confusion of prime 1966 garage punk has yet to fully form, with Moulty and his pals keeping one foot securely on Eel Pie Island and the other on the curb on Snot Street (never committing completely to either side).
When you come down to brass tacks the sound of this record isn’t even its most important aspect, that being the lyrics in which the preternaturally hairy Barbarians (their locks approaching Dave Davies/Pretty Things levels of 1965 social unsuitability) are taunted by an unnamed source in what is clearly preamble to a fist fight, during which they are compared to monkeys and Beatles. Of course the whole thing comes off as a primitive treatise on homophobia, especially when the taunters take extreme notice of the Barbs “skin tight paaaaaaaannnnnntttttts”, which is, I mean REALLY.
It all makes me wonder if the Shades of Knight’s snotty, extremely defensive garage punk classic ‘Fluctuation’ wasn’t an “answer record” of some kind, picking up the gauntlet and descending into a frenzy of hyper-masculine chest thumping.
No matter. The history of garage punk – American and otherwise – is riddled with juxtapositions of wailing music, over which packs of just post-teenaged goons roll their eyes and pronounce themselves the baddest, razor toting, hard loving thing since Muddy Waters combed a handful of Dixie Peach into his mighty conk. In the end that’s kind of what makes garage punk so groovy, with countless aficionados (and imitators) of the sound missing out on the joke by a country mile. No matter how ridiculous the “artists” were, if they didn’t mean it, the music wouldn’t be half as interesting, with the whole genre (at least in its original form) being some kind of postmodern excercise, i.e. artifice and posing taken to the extreme.
The best garage punk records are the musical equivalent of great junk food. Not really good for you in any meaningful way, but delicious and packing a sugar rush will leave you with both a splitting headache and a lust for more of the same.
In that spirit, think of the Barbarians as a kind of UR, proto-Yodel (or Ring Ding, or Ho Ho or whatever…).
That said. Have a fuzzed out boner of a weekend, and I’ll be back on Monday to field the hate mail and whip something on you from out of left field.