Nirvana's Kurt Cobain graces the cover of the April 16 issue of Rolling Stone, in his carefully frayed jeans and his way-cool shades and his oh-so-defiant "CORPORATE MAGAZINES STILL SUCK" T-shirt, desperately trying not to look like a millionaire rock star with a babe-o-rama trophy wife. Cobain is this year's Angry Young Man, and his band Nirvana have, if you believe everything you read, single-handedly made the world safe for alternative rock. Stone goes so far as to compare Cobain to John Lennon - favorably. Hey, I liked "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as much as the next guy the first 63,000 times I heard it, but I can't avoid thinking that comparing Cobain to Lennon at this stage of the game is, in betting parlance, a reach.
I know, I know: It's not Cobain's fault. He didn't write the damn article, he merely acquiesced to Rolling Stone's demands for an interview. You can't blame the dude for taking the bimbo or the bucks. To refuse would be un-American. It's just a shame that Nirvana and Cobain continue to garner so much press when they obviously don't want or need the attention, while a deserving outfit like Miami's own Holy Terrors can't get within spitting distance of the holy grail.
The Holy Terrors are not necessarily the area's most polished original rock band, but they are certainly one of the most promising. They're a quartet of energetic, dynamic rockers who write enigmatic songs that shift gears more often than Steve McQueen in Bullitt. You could light up CocoWalk for a year with the electricity they generate in one of their live shows, and it's probably a lock that they're the only area rock band who cite Franz Kafka as a strong lyrical influence. Off-stage they tend to be, in their own words, "pretty boring." Says drummer Sam Fogarino, "After a show, we're gone. We don't hang around a lot."
The biggest knock against the band is that they haven't got a huge backlog of material. Says Fogarino, "Most of the feedback we've gotten from industry people is along the lines of, `We like these. Let's hear more'."
At a recent showcase for Island Records, hosted by Washington Square, the Terrors shared a bill with the Wait and the Goods. The crowd was enthusiastic, but by most accounts the band didn't peak until the last song or two of their set, by which time Island honcho Chris Blackwell was already on a plane to some exotic location in another corner of the globe.
Vocalist Rob Elba's delivery favors passion over perfect pitch, and is therefore unpredictable, a quality fans seem to love and A&R people loathe. It is hard to scream your guts out continuously for 45 minutes on-key, and a good scream is an integral part of much of the Terrors' oeuvre. Nearly everyone surveyed after the showcase would have liked to have seen the band jump into their up-tempo stuff sooner, and save some of their moodier, more atmospheric tunes for a longer set. But the overall audience response was positive. The Holy Terrors know there will be other showcases, especially with a calling card like their eye-opening new single, "Cigaretello."
The tune, which Elba likes to introduce as "...a song about a guy, a girl, a chair, and a cigarette," reeks of nervous tension from the beginning, blows through a half-dozen or so shifts in melody and tempo, and then explodes into a paroxysm of bloodcurdling screams as the narrator, bound to a chair, burns to death. It is jarring stuff, by turns reminiscent of Elvis Costello, the Clash, the Pixies, and the Smithereens, among others.
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In a perfect world, "Cigaretello" would be the kind of song capable of getting a band signed all by itself, just like the Goods' "I'm Not Average," or Charlie Pickett's "If This Is Love, Can I Have My Money Back" should have. Ironically, prior to the release of "Cigaretello," the Holy Terrors were victims of the same syndrome that plagued the Goods until the release of 1990's Too True to Be Good - a killer live rep with precious little recorded material to back it up. The Terrors' previous release, an eponymous EP, showed promise with songs such as "Shine," which goes through more changes than Madonna's wardrobe, and "Spirit," a feedback-drenched, punk-noir raver that features raw-throated, out-of-control vocals and a jolting, desperate, Cult-like chorus. But "Cigaretello" is the monster song, a best-seller at Yesterday & Today and a staple on WVUM and on WSHE's local-music show. To hear the song for the first time on VUM while cruising blithely down South Dixie Highway (as did a certain music writer, who shall remain nameless) is a jolt; the mind races to figure out which major artist is responsible; the song sounds both fresh and familiar at the same time. When you find out it's the Holy Terrors, a local band, you almost rear-end a Metrobus. "Cigaretello" should carry a Surgeon General's warning.
Rumor has it that the Seattle scene really took off when Sub Pop, a tiny, independent record label that hit the jackpot with Nirvana and Soundgarden and is now exploring the possibility of buying out Sony, flew a Melody Maker writer over from London, the only city in the world with a drearier climate than Seattle's, got him all liquored up, and immersed him in Seattle music. It was a bold ploy, and it worked perfectly. Soon Seattle bands and their sound, dubbed "grunge rock," became all the rage with the English musical press as writers for other Brit magazines angled for a free trip across the pond. Being the imaginative, musical pioneers the American A&R people are, they followed the Brits' lead and descended upon Seattle, blank contracts and bulging wallets in hand.
Far be it from me to advocate lawless behavior, but Seattle's success started me thinking that perhaps it's time for somebody here in Miami to make a bold move, like kidnapping one of those major-label fungi currently infesting the Seattle music scene and transporting him here. We could tie him to a chair at the Square and make him sit through the next Thon in its entirety. Before you know it, Miami would be the next original-music mecca, and every kid with long hair and a guitar would have a six-figure deal. The Holy Terrors would be Rolling Stone cover boys, desperately trying not to look like millionaire rock stars.