Turbonegro arose to rule the world silently as the premier exporters of catchy melodies wrapped around fourth-grade toilet humor as lyrics. You would think they were a young American punk group, with their latrine wit that knows no boundaries, but they're really from Oslo, Norway. While the quaint, icy country might have been responsible for the sparkling, provisional pop of
A-ha, it was also the birthplace of Mayhem, a disturbed ensemble with enough sordid memories for a whole 'nother column.
The Turbo sound is a combination of angry punk rock ala Poison Idea, Alice Cooper, and Spinal Tap rock theatre. The lyrics touch on tender themes. like: "Hi ridin' daddy-o, spur-hump hey ho let's go, fornicator of the lasso, sperminator of the asshole, prince of the rodeo."
Can't these lyrics alienate potential fans in a big way?
"My parents are so fucking liberal that they were actually disappointed when they found out I wasn't a fag after all and that Turbo was not a homo-band" said drummer Chris Summers. Turbonegro has always gone over the heads of
people insecure in their own sexuality, especially when their homoerotic imagery hit American shores. The sexual Revolution taught the U.S. nothing about sexual tolerance. They go against the grain in other cities too, where
people might not know a gay joke isn't laughing necessarily at gay people, it's laughing at the people who laugh at gay people. "In San Francisco we saw some flyers outside a show: 'Boycott Turbonegro! They are racist, fascist and homophobic!' Shit, you'd think that radical activists in the USA had somewhat more crucial issues to attend to than a bunch of sexy
Norwegian men in bulging denim," said their bassist Happy Tom.
How do you suppose a band like Turbonegro has stayed obscure? Good question. Usually when a friend will tell me he's 'really been into (blank) lately', I just figure they're crap. This time however, I pored through piles of rock
guides hoping to find the name 'Turbonegro' somewhere -- get a little
history on the band, see where they've been, what happened, etc.
I didn't know too much about them myself, so maybe I studied those music books a little too closely. But the Trouser Press Record guides are
supposed to be the most comprehensive modern music bibles available, and I've got several editions leading back to the time when they were still interested in the careers of Joan Armatrading, Blessed Virgins, Curtiss A, and Morris day. It wasn't just The Trouser Press that had been sleeping though since Turbo had also slithered on by without the notice of the All Music Guide, The Rough Guide to Rock, the Guinness Rockopedia, Spin Magazine's otherwise
brilliant Alternative Rock guide, Rolling Stone's own Encyclopedia, Virgin Record's Indie and New Wave handbook, Robert Christgau's great Consumer
Guide to Albums of The Nineties, Irvin Stambler's Encyclopedia of Pop Rock & Soul (oops, that one was published in 1974), Colin Larkin's All Time
Top 1000 Albums, Chris Ingham's Book of Metal, Extreme Metal by Joel McIver, The Worst Rock n Roll Records of All Time by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell, The Secret History of Rock by Roni Sarig, or The Rough Guide to Drum 'n' Bass by Peter Shapiro (double duh)...and...Phew! My paper-cuts have paper-cuts.
Who would have a better account than the actual band members? Happy Tom said "Turbonegro was born in the darkness on the edge of Oslo. (There were) many changes in personnel, many daily hassles. Always two years too fast for the
trends. Broken mirrors. No fans. Many enemies. A philandering millionaire...an older fellow actually, giving the band large amounts of money for services rendered. Man versus matter, swimming underwater in a pool filled with black Vaseline. Gunboats in the horizon. The faint sounds of anti-aircraft shells in the distance. Suburbia in implosion."
Hmm. I caught (and well understand) the part about them being misunderstood. A band like that has but to break up to suddenly influence a generation. So that's what happened: Turbonegro released the deathpunk masterpiece Apocalypse Dude, but everything ended in a mental institution when singer Hank Von Helvette (forefront of picture) had a breakdown.
Luckily the lads' new record label (Burning Heart) was very helpful in sorting out the information deficit, and I was keen to learn just how many other bands have drawn notable, quotable inspiration from the band, including Queens of the Stone Age, Nashville Pussy, Zeke, Supersuckers, Hot Water Music, and dozens of others around the world who remade songs like "Get It On," "Denim Demon," "Hobbit Motherfuckers," "Turbonegro Hates The Kids,"
"Rock Against Ass," "Zonked Out on Hashish," and "I Got Erection," as their own. If black metal helped put Oslo on the map, Turbonegro is undoubtedly keeping The Norwegian Sound in our ears.
As you read this, their long-awaited comeback album Scandanavian Leather will hit the racks at your local music shop, where it will
compete for your attention while surrounded by so much other music by artists who did so much less with more.