Queer Power

Joe Queer makes punk that's built to last.

Joe Queer, leader of the Queers, is a veteran of the punk-rock wars, but that doesn't mean he's stopped making enemies. A recent example involves Converse, the sneaker giant, which slapped the Queers with a cease-and-desist order after the band appropriated the company's corporate logo for a series of T-shirts. "We have to be getting bigger if Converse is coming after us," he says, cackling.

In fact, the Queers are getting bigger, but they are doing so at an incremental pace. Although the group was founded during Ronald Reagan's first administration, it has continued to attract new fans while remaining true to its original mission, which was, Queer divulges, to "piss your mom off and be able to drink beer and hang with your buddies."

New Hampshire, where the Queers sprang to life, doesn't have a reputation as a punk breeding ground, but perhaps it should: The state also spawned G.G. Allin, the late punk crazy who made his reputation by shitting on stages across America. The Queers weren't quite as extreme as Allin, but Queer concedes that the act's moniker was chosen specifically to antagonize the more conservative elements in the fishing communities in which they resided.

Inspired by the Ramones, their first major influence, guitarist Queer, bassist/vocalist Tulu and drummer Wimpy bowed with a self-produced seven-inch, "Love Me." According to Queer, the song sounds "a lot more punk" than the outfit's later work, largely because of a spontaneous bare-bones approach to recording and a guest appearance by their neighbor, Pappy. "He was this country-and-Western-type dude," Queer recalls. "We would drink beer with him all the time." When it came time to record, "he came in with two bottles of Thunderbird and said, 'What do you want me to sing, Joefus?'" The musicians responded by improvising a three-chord buzzsaw stomp over which Pappy, employing his best Merle Haggard drawl, belted out politically incorrect lines ("Beat me, whip me, fuck me and come all over my tits" and "Love me and get the fuck out of here" among them) that he read off a T-shirt someone had worn to the session.

In 1984 the threesome followed up this triumph with "Kicked Out of the Webelos," a hilarious romp that provided the name for a Queers EP. (On it, Wimpy handled vocals and Tulu settled into the drum chair.) Other tracks from this era, including "I Want Cunt" and "Gay Boy," joyously reveled in rudeness for rudeness's sake--and Queer never saw a need to apologize for such excesses. In his liner notes to A Day Late and a Dollar Too Short, a compilation of early Queers salvos, he wrote, "We have full confidence that our fans know the difference between obviously tongue-in-cheek satirical punk songs and a skinhead white-power band singing about beating up 'fags'--so all you insecure PC types can fuck off and whine somewhere else. We're too busy having fun and laughing at each other to care."

These activities also prevented the trio from making very much music. The original Queers stayed together for only a few months, although Queer thinks that a reunion is in the cards. "I just saw Tulu and Wimpy last week," he remarks. "In fact, we're hooking up to do some recording--but we're thinking of not doing it as the Queers, because all the people who know the Queers now know it with me singing, and it's more melodic. So I think we're going to change the name."

The most familiar Queers lineup, in which Queer performs alongside drummer Hugh O'Neill and bassist B-Face, cohered following the appearance of Grow Up, a full-length that included Queer, O'Neill, guitarist J.J. Rassler and a couple of bass players. But even though personnel changes followed its arrival, the album, which sports favorites like "Boobarella" and "I Met Her at the Rat," marks the blooming of the Queers' signature style--a blend of Angry Samoans punk with Beach Boys harmonies and chord progressions culled from Fifties/Sixties pop hits.

Grow Up's tunefulness garnered attention in New England and beyond, and steady touring caused the Queers' fan base to expand even further. Queer wasn't surprised by the acclaim they received. "Kids can relate to the songs," he says. "We don't speak down to the audience. We speak to them."

Ben Weasel, a member of Screeching Weasel (another Ramones-infatuated band), was one of those who were listening. He became an early fan and touted the Queers to his label, Lookout Records. Impressed, company head Lawrence Livermore reissued Grow Up and added the Queers to a roster of acts on the brink of national prominence led by Operation Ivy and Green Day.

The Lookout deal resulted in the release of some of the Queers' best work: Between 1993 and 1996, they churned out Love Songs for the Retarded, Beat Off, Move Back Home and Don't Back Down, all of which celebrate perpetual adolescence in a very entertaining way. In the meantime, Green Day was snapped up by Warner Bros., and its popularity caused a run on kooky pop-punk acts and an intrusion of mainstream values into what previously had been a countercultural scene. The result was the rise of third-rate imitators in virtually every market in the country. "A lot of these bands wanted to achieve the success that Green Day and Rancid did," Queer says. "They didn't just want to play music to have fun. All of a sudden, it was like a career move. So many of these bands are just formulaic; they don't play from the heart. It's like punk-rock elevator music."

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