By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"It's just really strange how we came together," Sparks says. "James Henderson, for instance, I used to live with him, and he would be at our shows, and I never thought he would be interested in coming in. He just asked one night, and he just started, and he's totally, totally into it now."
Cunningham--best known as Corn Mo, he of the glamorous blond poodle locks and the Kevin Von Erich arena-rocker homage "Shine On, Golden Warrior"--joined in 1994, without knowing much about the band and its history and intentions. Cunningham, who had grown up in Kentucky and San Antonio adoring Kenny Rogers and Christian metal band Stryper and the likes of Van Halen and Mstley CrYe, had simply heard the band was looking for an accordion player; having since split from his partner, Mauve Oed, Cunningham was free to sign up. Had he not joined the Dooms, Cunningham says, he might well have turned into "Tiny Tim looking like Tommy Shaw."
"I didn't really know them that well," Cunningham says. "John was melting a plastic spoon outside Bruce Hall [on the University of North Texas campus], and I thought, 'That guy's fucking weird.' He was hosting a Bruce Hall jam, playing by himself, and he said, 'Who likes Stryper and Rush? Raise your hand.' I did, and then I realized he was making fun of me. I had heard about him through the girl I was dating. I saw one Dooms show, but I was real drunk when I saw it."
Now, Freeman and Cunningham are almost inseparable; you can't think of one without the other--both tap dance on the line separating the bizarre from the genius. Both men refer to the Dooms as something more than just a mere band: Freeman calls it a "secret society"; Cunningham, a "collective." Both mention wanting to make more than albums. They talk of the desire to make films, of writing a rock opera based on the life of Howard Hughes (it would be titled Goosed!), of staging elaborate pranks. The Dooms is more than a band--it's a lifestyle, a scheme, an ongoing performance that takes place no matter the setting. Live, they're the funniest band in town--but also one of the finest, pretending the smallest club in Denton is the largest stadium in the world. Rare is the night when Freeman doesn't don a costume, bite into a blood tablet, and rock your world as the Dark Messiah.
Perhaps, in the end, that's what separates the Dooms from any other band in town: They have a mission beyond playing some shithole on a Saturday night for free drink tickets and a few lousy bucks. The band's members have created a whole fake history for Dooms U.K. revealed in the Freeman-penned liner notes inside Greasy Listening and expanded upon in Art-Rock Explosion!. According to this history, the Dooms are a "rock band" in name and deed only; they're actually a "splinter faction of the Freemasons" who greet each other with a secret handshake and hand signals (including the MONKEY-CHUM). "The members' true strength lies in the usual secret society activities of controlling world governments, political assassinations, and putting on really bad-ass puppet shows. Go watch the 'rock group' and scoff if you will. But if you see the 'MONKEY-CHUM' on stage tonight, don't be surprised if the price of gas goes up in the morning."
"I think the eventual goal is this power group--not a band--of people at the controls of pop culture," Cunningham says. "I would like us to do movies together, and there's one idea where we're all superheroes and D.J. Geeky C has five arms. We want to do the teenage romp movie, which would be a total tribute to the movies with the blond asshole with the sweater around his neck. We want to go as far as we can with as much financing as we can. It's not limited at all. It's sort of Mason-like."
That said, Art Rock Explosion!--which was recorded over a four-year period yet sounds as though it was done in one take--is also a brilliant record. It's a bigger, badder, leaner, and ultimately better album than Greasy Listening. There's more music on this record than in most record stores' bins, and trying to describe Art Rock is like trying to count the grains of sand in a Coke bottle. It's a genre unto itself, each song starting out as one thing and ending up as 15 other things; and always, Freeman sings in that squeaky-high voice of his, sounding like Geddy Lee on helium. "Going Steady" might well be a catchy pop song, but its chorus devolves into a montage of keyboard tweaks and car-crash explosions; "(I'm a) God Walkin'" does metal-rap with more savvy than anything Korn could ever imagine; "Skyscraper 3-D" is a talking lounge ("the sun cut through me like a hot knife through a warm bowl o' chutney"); "Golden Shower" might be the damnedest power ballad ever recorded; and the closer, "Melody and Harmony," kind of sums up the entire record as a sort of Meco-meets-The-Who disco-ambient-trash wrap-up.