Punk as folk

The Queers are sensitive boys, you motherfuc. . . .


Graceland, 381-3094, $10 adv. 6 p.m. Sat., June 8 (all ages)

NOW INTO HIS 20th year of making music, Joe King, a.k.a. Joe Queer, is taking this occasion to school the youngsters. It seems that some folks, well intentioned or not, have been jumping in his business about the song “Homo” from the Queers’ latest, Pleasant Screams.

“The problem with a lot of people,” King explains, “hell, the whole problem with the punk scene, is that everybody is so damned humorless. It’s unbelievably p.c. Twenty years ago, you could give your band a name like the Dead Kennedys; I thought that was funny as hell. I mean, how can you even take a band called the Queers seriously?”

“Homo” is pretty forthright in its sympathies—”Be proud of who you are/ And don’t be scared,” runs the chorus—but King’s still had to explain it to people.

“It seems like these days—I don’t know, it’s probably just being sensitive and taking it too far—everybody looks for racism, sexism, or whatever, and they’re all superquick to get offended. You know, ‘Oh, how could you write a song called “Homo?”‘ To me, it’s like the same mentality of people who want to ban Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer from school libraries. You have to consider the reasons why that language, specifically, is being used. I can understand how it could be uncomfortable to read words you don’t like, but there’s more to it than the words by themselves. There’s also the message that the person’s trying to get across.”

This sounds like mighty astute speechifying for a band whose playlist includes such titles as “Ursula Finally Has Tits,” “I’m OK, You’re Fucked,” “I Want Cunt,” “We’d Have a Riot Doing Heroin,” and, of course, the radio-friendly “I Can’t Stop Farting.” But the Queers have come a long way from their snotty-whelp New Hampshire beginnings, and Pleasant Screams finds them, if not exactly growing up, at least less inclined to go for the easy shock.

The Queers aren’t kids anymore, and neither are their contemporaries from the ’80s punk scene. If their new effort returns to familiar territory—Ramones-schooled power-punk with heavy debts to surf melodies and girl-group harmonies— the Queers are also sounding a great deal more confident and happier than they have in recent years.

Of course, it’s been a long half-decade or thereabouts for King and his constantly rotating cast of compatriots. A long creative association with Lookout! Records fell apart in the mid-’90s. Founding drummer Hugh O’Neill died in 1999 after a protracted bout with brain cancer. Friend and inspiration Joey Ramone died two years later; one of the projects Ramone was working on at the time was a collaboration with King (“I Wanna Be Happy,” which, happily, appears on Pleasant Screams).

But when it came time to go back into the studio, the Queers ended up laying down a relentlessly positive set.

“It felt kind of strange not to be playing with Hugh at first,” says King. “But it wasn’t debilitating. I’d been in touch with him while he was sick, and at one point he said, ‘You know, fuck it. It’s your band. Go play.’ So I felt like I kind of had his blessing. And it wasn’t long before it got to be really fun. Well, we always have fun putting records together, but this one was a lot of fun.”

Pleasant Screams is also something of a reunion album, the Queers’ first record for Lookout! in six years. To put it together, King recruited a bonzo team including Ben Weasel (Screeching Weasel), Phillip Hill (Teen Idols), and Mass Giorgini (Squirtgun). The result is a fast, loud, funny, occasionally wistful album that still scores snotty points with songs like “See Ya Later Fuckface” and the hilarious “Get a Life & Live It.”

And as always, the Queers have chosen their cover material wisely: Donovan’s “You Just Gotta Blow My Mind,” garage rockers the Choir’s 1967 hit “It’s Cold Outside,” and the Fantastic Baggys’ “Debbie Be True” all provide standout moments.

But perhaps the most remarkable track is the 14-minute sound collage “Molly Neuman,” a tongue-in-cheek ode to their longtime friend and Bratmobile drummer, whose lyrics read, in their entirety: “Molly Neuman, she don’t wanna talk to me/ Molly Neuman won’t return my calls/ Molly Neuman manages the Donnas.”

As to this sprawling song’s inspiration, King reports that it came from a post- gig conversation with a luckless punker whose demo hadn’t received the ecstatic response he’d hoped for.

“He kept asking me, ‘Dude, what’s the matter with that Molly Neuman? She won’t even return my calls,'” King laughs. “But I told Molly, fuck, if anybody asks, just tell them I wrote it because I’m in love with you.”