Being the son of Mr. Peppermint has always figured into Gibby Haynes' myth, as has a past that includes being an "A" student and basketball star at Lake Highlands High School and an accounting/economics major at Trinity University in San Antonio. Almost from the get-go, Gibby has been asked about his old man in interviews--"He's, like, the coolest guy in Dallas," he says on this particular occasion--and, in turn, Jerry has become something of a cult figure among Butthole fans who still find the images of father and son so much at odds.
Gibby was headed for the straight life till he and guitarist Paul Leary steered the van down the crooked path in 1981, formed a partnership that would eventually lead to the Butthole Surfers, and played a San Antonio art-gallery gig where surely they were embraced as the avant-garde: Nail Gibby to the wall and call it "art." But how Gibby got from one place to another is a story seldom explored and rarely told.
In the end, it couldn't be easy being the son of Jerry Haynes, watching your old man frolic on the TV screen every day with speech-impaired hand puppets. But at the same time, there was surely some pride and delight to be had in knowing your old man was famous while the other kids' dads toiled away in middle-class obscurity. Then there was the small twinge of enlightenment watching his father make an ass out of himself and become a celebrity in the process.
"Gibby--despite all of his, you know, stances--is really kind of naive and is extremely sensitive," Jerry says, "and I believe that he bought the Peppermint package hook, line, and sinker. He was just so proud, I think, and if you see your parent doing something, you think, 'Why not me? If they can do it, I can do it.' It becomes where you don't have to climb that wall because it's already been climbed for you. You just have to go out there and do it.
"I remember when he first got started in the Buttholes, he said one time there were a lot of kids out there who depended on him. He was serious in his music and what he did, and now he's not talking to his peers. His peers like his music, but who buys the Butthole Surfers records? The kids. And it takes guts for him to do that stuff. Maybe not so much anymore, but the first time I did 'I'm a little teapot short and stout' in front of the TV camera, Jesus, I might as well have been high. To me it was the right thing to do, and Gibby was never afraid to try something. He was adventuresome and not afraid to try something, and that's what his music was."
Gibby is Jerry's kid in every respect, as much a children's entertainer as his old man, as much a teacher as Mr. Peppermint--except Dad espouses education and morals, and Gibby catechizes about the finer points of belching into a microphone, watching a body decompose, and careening behind the wheel of a hot rod. Gibby's the smartest guy in the room, the prodigy masquerading as asshole redneck.
Father and son are different sides of the same coin--good and evil, light and dark, kindness and cock rings, what the kids should know vs. what they want to hear more about during recess. Jerry tells the children not to smoke and to do their homework, and Gibby's handing out joints and syringes behind the gymnasium when the bell rings; Jerry tells the kids to love each other, and Gibby's out back teaching the words to the Buttholes' "Kuntz."
"I guess there isn't much of a difference between what we do," Jerry says after contemplating this theory for a few minutes. "Only when I go in front of an audience, I don't say, 'Welcome to Dallas fucking Texas.'"
Jerry Haynes is probably the world's biggest and best Butthole Surfers scholar; he can recall the lyrics to most of the band's songs ("It took me three or four times, no more than that, to memorize the damn thing," he says of the Buttholes' surprise hit single "Pepper") and is able to expound, at length, about the function and purpose of his son's little rock-and-roll band. ("It's as much performance art as music," he says.) He can recount the band's career album by album, point to moments of evolution and maturity, act as both loving father and detached rock critic:
"The first time I heard them," he says, sitting in his Peppermint Place office, "my reaction was, 'Well, he's my son and I love him, but I don't know what the hell's going on here.' Then, when I could hear bits and pieces of the lyrics, I thought it was pretty good. I thought 'Moving to Florida' was funny...[and] they are getting better. They haven't sacrificed too much I don't think. Their mayhem has more meaning. It's like I'm a little better at Mr. Peppermint today than I was a few years ago."
The Surfers began as a great rock-and-roll joke--the sound of a guy coughing up cigarette phlegm in the middle of a guitar riot. There was poetry to the noise, a certain order to the madness, a laugh to be had once you cut through the sludge and mayhem, but most of it was just a goof performed by musicians who had the technical prowess of one-armed men. On their earliest records (1983's debut EP, 1985's Psychic...Powerless...Another Man's Sac, 1986's Rembrandt Pussyhorse) the Surfers rolled around in the slop and coughed up some nasty, brilliant psychedelic-colored mucus: "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave," "The Revenge of Anus Presley," "Moving to Florida."
If they weren't exactly ditching noise for melody's sake by the time they got to Locust Abortion Technician and Hairway to Steven, then at least it was becoming more apparent these guys knew how to plug in their instruments without help. But until the new Electric Larryland--which is either the straightest rock record the Buttholes have ever recorded, or time and too many mediocre Jesus Lizard records in a row have just rendered their brand of psychedelic-core more tenable--it seemed the Butthole Surfers had become exhausted, tired of their own shtick. Piouhgd, released in 1991, was a self-contained laugh, a joke funny only to its tellers; and 1993's Independent Worm Saloon was a decent enough attempt to light old farts.
The band would then take three years off while its members went off and did their own things: Drummer King Coffey started the label Trance Syndicate in Austin (home to the likes of Bedhead, Roky Erickson, Sixteen Deluxe, and Starfish), while guitarist Paul Leary took up producing (the Meat Puppets, the Toadies). Gibby left Austin for Los Angeles to sit at the Viper Room bar with Johnny Depp (his "bandmate" in the side project P) and live as the revered Rock Star he'd never be at home, where Gibby's revolving-door trips to rehab have rendered him as something of mythological fuck-up past his prime.
Till he was fired a few months ago, Gibby appeared on an Austin radio station as a nighttime jock spinning Top 40 alterna-pop hits and other assorted selected punk dementia; he would ramble on and on about drugs, refer to female callers as "mommy" then hint he'd like to screw them, go off on some stream-of-conscious tangent that sounded like the bullshit of a genius. Gibby is not only a Butthole Surfer, but a frontman in the truest sense--a guy who waves his genitals in public then acts shocked when he gets busted for indecent exposure.
"What are you talking about--Gibby the man or Gibby the myth?" Gibby says. "Yeah. Poor Marlon Brando. Uhhhh...it's kind of cool. It's really cool. I like it. I don't see why anybody would mind attention. Just at least listen to the music. That's what it's ultimately about. I mean, it just didn't happen. I mean, one day people didn't just decide that I was a fucking freak. I have done certain things."
All of which Jerry Haynes knows about all too well, though he is quick to forgive the antics and outrage that swirl around his son. That's what happens when the son grows up and becomes an adult: The dad must recognize the son as an equal, especially when they pass each other on the show-business ladder. Though they had their time when they seldom communicated--like most parents and their children--Gibby, for his part, now speaks kindly of his father, and though there has long existed the perception that Jerry has kept himself at a distance from Gibby, Jerry will indeed be in attendance June 14 when the Surfers share a stage at Artist Square with the Toadies, Reverend Horton Heat, and the Supersuckers.
"My old man ought to run for fucking mayor of Dallas," Gibby insists. "He would be so hot. He ought to run on some really fucking out-there asinine platform, too, like legalize dope in Texas churches. Repeal the penal code."
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On July 1, Jerry Haynes will hand in his red-and-white stripped jacket and pants, hang up his straw hat, store Muffin in a shoebox coffin, and say farewell to his old friend Mr. Peppermint. The gray suits at WFAA-TV Channel 8 have told Haynes his services are no longer needed after some three decades as the children's-show host, and so they have given him a pink slip and a handshake. With Good Morning, Texas now taking up most of the old Peppermint Place studio space, there's simply no more room for Mr. P.
That, and Mr. Peppermint is something of an unnecessary anachronism these days. Where Jerry Haynes' character used to be revered around these parts, he has long been replaced on the kiddie-TV food chain. Once he fought off the advances of the Lamb Chops and Bozos--Jerry was never, as he says, "a clown or a comic," just a kindly middle-aged man who seemed to be putting on his modest little show from the bottom of his basement--but he didn't have the juice to beat the likes of Thomas the Tank Engine and Barney, so Mr. Peppermint goes the way of all the greats past their primes: The team owners retire his number, and he signs autographs for the rest of his life.
But as Jerry eases gracefully out of his uniform and time slot, he now watches as his son Gibson reaps the benefits of 15 years spent showing his pecker in public. Mr. Peppermint is no more, but "Pepper" is going to make a star out of Gibby Haynes and the Butthole Surfers, and it's going to make the old man very proud.
The Butthole Surfers perform June 14 at Artist Square with the Toadies, Reverend Horton Heat, and the Supersuckers.