My Life Into, and Inside, Flipper

Your mother won’t like proto-grunge.

I first heard punk-rock music in 1979. Seattle’s KZOK had a Sunday-night radio program called Your Mother Won’t Like It. The show featured music from listeners who served as guest DJs. One evening the guest hosts brought in a ton of punk rock! Music from the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Weirdos, along with a whole assortment of first-wave punk. I recorded most of that show on a cassette that wore out from overplay.

For various reasons, my next dose of punk was about three years later through the American hardcore movement. Buzz Osborne, a new friend from nearby Montesano, loaned me some of his hardcore records. Buzz was also in a band called the Melvins.

One group that stood out were Bay Area avant-punkers Flipper and their album Generic. I really didn’t know what to think on first listen. The sound was dark, and the lo-fi production, with loose playing, almost sounded live. It was on the third listen that I had an epiphany. The music drew me into a universe where bleak was beautiful. I realized the work was as heavy and transcendent as anything in the rock echelon. Mainstream convention was shattered. Flipper were too weird and dangerous for the world. And if the world didn’t get it, that was just another loss for humanity.

Flipper were proto-grungers. Their sound was slow and sludgy: a big influence on many Seattle bands of the late 80’s–early 90’s. Kurt Cobain wore a Flipper shirt on Saturday Night Live. I remember seeing a Flipper sticker on Soundgarden’s Chevy van.

Their song structure was very basic. Each tune had only one or two parts. A typical arrangement included a strong bass line, steady drums, and dissonant guitar. The lyrics were about personal alienation, anti-authoritarianism, or both. And there was a sense of humor too! They made four records in the 1980’s, including the seminal Generic and Gone Fishin’.

This band was really on the edge—for better or worse. In December 1987, co-vocalist and bass player Will Shatter overdosed and died. Guitarist Ted Falconi, drummer Stephen DePace, and vocalist/bassist Bruce Loose parted for a while. They emerged in 1993 with a new album, American Grafishy. Tragically, in 1995 bassist John Dougherty met the same fate as Shatter, and Flipper slipped into an extended hiatus.

Loose, DePace, and Falconi reunited in 2005 with bassist Bruno DeSmartass to headline a benefit for CBGB in New York City. After a handful of shows, Bruno left the band to work on his business. (Thus breaking any notion of some kind of bass-player curse.) In 2006 Flipper were asked by Thurston Moore to play the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the U.K. That’s when yours truly was invited to play bass.

We followed the gig with a tour of the U.K. and Ireland opening for the Melvins. It was a lot of fun. After the tour, I wanted to keep playing with the fellows, but I didn’t have the desire to be in a nostalgia band. So we started playing new material. There was a spark of inspiration within our group. What can I say, except that the songs sound like… Flipper. Who would have thought there would be a new Flipper record in 2008? And furthermore, I never thought I’d be playing on it. Jack Endino recorded us, and we’re now in the process of mixing. You can say that the new work will be a grunge record for the 21st century. And if you don’t like it, who cares? Flipper still rules, OK!!!