The Butthole Surfers Are Older, But Not Necessarily Wiser

Classic lineup is back together, and that's about all that remains the same

At 50 years old, Gibby Haynes, the man whose acid-fueled on- and off-stage exploits are the stuff of 1980s weirdo-rock legend, has settled into playing the familiar Butthole Surfers oldies. And, yes, he's toured with the adolescent overachievers of Paul Green's School of Rock.

But, perhaps most surprising, despite an enthusiastic description of a typical trip on the hallucinogen DMT, he says he's not doing drugs anymore, even as he tours with the Buttholes' mid-'80s heyday lineup of King Coffey, Paul Leary, Jeff Pinkus and Teresa [Nervosa] Taylor.

Still, that doesn't mean Haynes is above creating a little mayhem.

They might not look or dress like this anymore, but the Surfers are still pretty out there.
Kirk R. Tuck
They might not look or dress like this anymore, but the Surfers are still pretty out there.

"I got a bunch of new noisemakers recently, a bunch of modular synths and stuff," Haynes says. "A lot of tweaked-out, digitally distorted, circuit-bent stuff. Every time I play these patches over the phone for friends of mine, [the noises] hang up the phone. I haven't tried it on the landline, but it turns my Blackberry off when I play that shit. At first I thought I was positioning it wrong and it was pressing the disconnect button. But no, man, it fucking turns it off. It says goodbye.

"I've told a couple people about it that have technical minds, and they all go, 'Like, whoa, dude!' I'd like to take a really powerful P.A. downtown to, like, midtown Manhattan during lunch hour and hang up on everybody walking down the street with a cell phone in their hand."

You'd think the temptation to use this kind of noise onstage would be overwhelming. Imagine the panic it could induce in a theater full of Twittering, texting, thumbcasting spectators busily uploading their memories of the show.

Alas, the world will have to wait for that moment.

"I got [the equipment] too recently," Haynes says. "Maybe, eventually, if I get some practice time with it. I've mainly been working with headphones, and I'm not sure what bitcrushing does, in terms of a live monitor. Like, it might just make it feed back like a motherfucker. I'm not really fucking around with pregain overdrive and stuff that tends to be real feedback-y, but I do have a resonant filter that'll self-modulate, so that would be gnarly live."

Gnarly live shows were what put the Buttholes on the map during the '80s: strobe lights, fire, shotguns, gruesome medical footage, nudity and, according to Surfer lore, Haynes indulging in onstage sex with official nude dancer Ta-Da the Shit Lady.

This time around, though, the band isn't packing lighter fluid. ("The flame effects sort of died in Rhode Island," Haynes says.) They're still assaulting audiences with psychedelic projections and strobe lights, though. But don't expect the berserk mayhem and outlandish costumes of the past.

"It's more of a rock concert than performance art," Haynes says. "It's just kind of weird to be a 50-year-old man wearing 10 dresses. I looked a lot better in boxer shorts when I was 30 years old than I do now."

What's surprising, though, given Haynes' near-heroic drug stories, chemicals weren't what lubricated Haynes' at-times bizarre onstage persona. That was more of an after-show treat, Haynes says.

"It's pretty hard to play music when you're really, really tripping on whatever," he says. "We were probably more prone to take LSD to keep us up at night when we were trying to drive from New York to Los Angeles in four days.

"Have you ever tried DMT? Oh, my fucking God. Jesus Christ. You absolutely experience death. You get to a point where everything just shatters into a gazillion rearranged pieces, and then everything just slowly comes back into this bizarrely pixilated landscape, where you're completely levitating and you don't know what the fuck. It is terrifying. And as soon as you're through, you're like, 'Hmm, let's do that again.' You totally ought to wear diapers when you're doing it. Have a bucket."

That's not the kind of advice you'd expect to come from the son of Jerry Haynes, aka Texas kiddie-TV legend Mr. Peppermint. But that ironic contrast between the elder and younger Haynes is part of Surfers mythology. As is Gibby's past as Trinity University basketball captain, fraternity president and "Accounting Student of the Year" winner.

The change from this seemingly straight-laced past isn't as drastic as it seems, Haynes says. He was a self-described "stoner jock," always into rock and weird art. And, at "an extremely liberal-arts private school for rich ne'er-do-wells," the San Antonio college wasn't exactly conservative like, say, Texas A&M.

That doesn't mean he didn't manage to get in trouble from time to time, though. Haynes claims to have been the last president his Thetas would have, thanks to a series of incidents.

"I remember branding myself," he says. "There was one ceremony where the older guys branded the younger guys on the butt with a brand, like a big gigantic scar on your ass. All the older guys got drunk and didn't show up for the ceremony, so I branded myself. They did it with dry ice on the branding iron, but it's the same fucking thing. It burns just like a flame. My coach would bring in coaches from other teams in the shower and show them my ass."

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