The Wire


New book tells the story of The Butthole Surfers

Let's Go To Hell: Scattered Memories Of The Butthole Surfers published by James Burns of The Anal Obsession website

A new book lifts the lid on life inside The Butthole Surfers, one of the most chaotic yet original rock groups of the 1980s. James Burns’s Let's Go To Hell: Scattered Memories Of The Butthole Surfers is the culmination of over two decades of gathering information on the Texan band, much of which was originally collated on Burns’s The Anal Obsession website. The book is now available in a new paperback edition, which follows Burn’s self-published first version of last year.

“Music journalist Charles M Young had the idea for the book a long time ago,” Burns recounts. “But being friends with the band meant they would endlessly lead him on wild goose chases about their origins, making up fake bands that supposedly existed in the early San Antonio ‘scene’.” Burns, a New Yorker, picked up on the band years after their records were released. “I am probably the only person who was able to get any factual information,” he argues. “By actually not knowing the band, being so far removed, that is the only way I was able to write.”

The problem with documenting the career of The Butthole Surfers, a group who soaked up psychedelic drugs and cultivated their reputation as merry pranksters, is separating fact and fiction. They were notorious for bizarre interviews, notably conducting one in bed surrounded by beer and pizza while seemingly tripping on acid. “The Anal Obsession web page documents nearly all of their concerts, so I had the frame of reference of where they were and when,” Burns says. “I had been in contact with many of their friends and former band members, and often heard similar stories, so I pieced them together in to some semblance of the truth.”

In the 1990s The Butthole Surfers were hailed as precursors of grunge. “There were a few years between, say, 1987–91, if it wasn’t for The Butthole Surfers filling that void, I am not sure what would have happened,” says Burns. The Surfers' use of tape editing, loops and vocal manipulation has also exerted a strong influence on noise music, as well as psychedelic explorers of various shades, in the decades that followed.

The group never officially split up, but its members have followed separate paths in recent years. “I had been asking questions via their online forum, and Paul [Leary] and King [Coffey] were answering questions like that,” Burns explains. “We chatted at length... Jeff [Pinkus] and Teresa [Nervosa] too… as well as all the members of past incarnations. They all hate talking about the band. It’s the one thing they all have in common.”

The notable absence from the book is Gibby Haynes, perhaps the main driving force of the group. “They have been misrepresented in the press so often, it was understandable they were a bit squeamish about the idea of a book,” Burns concedes. “Gibby never did agree to speak to me, but I completely understand where he was coming from. Paul Leary, however, really is a genius when it comes to equipment and recording and production techniques. The last half of the book goes into their discography and I was able to finally get the sleevenotes missing from their albums... Here’s a scoop: the Ibanez DM1100 digital delay holds many of the secrets.”

The Butthole Surfers’ last studio album was released in 2001, but a live album Live At The Forum London emerged in 2008. “The band will never be ‘broken up’,” states Burns. “There is a bond much stronger than just friendship. We may get an another studio album one day, another tour is much less likely, but who knows for sure? One thing I can say after all these years of following them is to never try to predict what they might do next.”

Let's Go to Hell: Scattered Memories Of The Butthole Surfers is out now. More information is available at The Anal Obsession website.