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Fast, Vicious and Arty

[whitespace] Nashville Pussy
Michael McClure

If Rock Is Dead, They Want Credit: The members of Nashville Pussy sneer at old-fashioned rock & roll virtues.

Nashville Pussy's sexy Southern act resurrects guitar rock only to subvert it

By Gina Arnold

WHILE BROWSING through the hip young clothing chain Urban Outfitters recently, I was appalled to see cute French-cut T-shirts in attractive teenaged colors, all emblazoned with the image of a gun. "I'd never let my kid wear that," I commented sanctimoniously to a friend who actually is a parent, and he laughed. "Oh, it's just the latest taboo to break. That and smoking."

And it's true. These days, kids must look to heavy-handed imagery to jolt their parents out of their open-minded complacency--and even then, the gimmick doesn't always work, because parents today are just too smart.

Look at Marilyn Manson. The guy has aped the tired old shock tactics of every previous era of rock--nudity, Satan worship and so on--and tried to reinvest them with a new kind of vigor for the current generation. But thus far, his attempts have failed, because even the dumbest parent still remembers Alice Cooper and just how silly he was at heart.

Nashville Pussy--a new heavy-metal band that has just scored the much-coveted opening slot on Manson's U.S. tour--is another matter entirely. The space came vacant last week when Hole, another shock-rock outfit that's having trouble connecting with today's blasé youth market, dropped off the tour, citing "production" (read: financial) problems. After much lobbying by its band managers, Nashville Pussy got the nod, and the group begins its stint with the "Rock Is Dead" tour on April 1.

But because Nashville Pussy's particular shock tactics are far more loaded than Manson's, the band's show at the Edge in Palo Alto last Wednesday could well be one of its last ever in a small club. (Nashville Pussy played the Catalyst in Santa Cruz the next day, before ending its club tour in Portland and switching over to arenas.)

Nashville Pussy is the latest in a long line of cartoon rock bands like KISS, Alice Cooper, White Zombie and the Cramps. Its members dress up like exaggerated stereotypes of scary, hairy, leather-clad bikers, and they sing stupid songs with ingeniously dumb titles like "Five Minutes to Life" and "Go Motherfucker Go."

You're supposed to imagine the whole crew of crazies driving around town in a huge hot rod with a gun rack on top. Think Black Oak Arkansas by way of the Plasmatics--not for nothing did the group take its porny name from a line in a Ted Nugent song.

The band consists of two seriously ugly men--vocalist and rhythm guitarist Blaine Cartwright and drummer Jeremy Thompson--and two gorgeous women, guitarist Ruyter Suys and bassist Corey Parks. What they play is pure Southern boogie rock, much like that of Foghat or Lynyrd Skynyrd, only supercharged with punk-rock overtones, speed-metal tempos and survivalist sentiments like "shoot first, then run like hell."

They also do covers of songs by Mitch Ryder, the Flaming Groovies and Smokey Robinson ("First, I Look at the Purse") and the old blues standard "Milk Cow Blues." Instrumentally, Suys and Parks rival speed-metal heroes like Metallica's Kirk Hammett and Megadeth's Dave Mustaine in their antics, only with this crucial difference: they have large breasts, which they are not shy about flashing constantly.

As you can imagine, this act goes down rather well with people who like metal music. Nashville Pussy could sing light opera or gospel, and the fans would be out in force. Suys, who is the wife of guitarist Cartwright, plays incredibly fast, vicious guitar licks, and dresses in vinyl pants and a skimpy leopard-print bra, her breasts bulging over her instrument.

But Parks, who resembles a supermodel covered in hideous tattoos (a large one on her belly reads "Eat Me"), is even more striking. The sister of NBA star Cherokee Parks, she supposedly stands about 6 feet 4, but at the Edge she looked more like she was 6 feet 10. Either she had on high heels--I couldn't see--or Suys and Cartwright are abnormally short. The two ladies trade loud, mean, fast, Motorhead-like licks when they're not busy French kissing.

IN SHORT, Nashville Pussy is totally high concept--very much the gun on the T-shirt of rock & roll right now. Much about the group is meant to offend--like the Confederate flag backdrop draped behind the stage--but only in a kind of jokey, intentional way.

Nevertheless, Nashville Pussy is superior to Manson, because its act doesn't depend on props and production values, like feathers, smoke and costumes, but is embedded in the bandmembers' very being. Just their walking on stage is a visual jolt, as is the femininity of the lead instrumentalists. Feminists have long wanted to infiltrate rock & roll's boys' club, and frankly Parks and Suys' attempt, lesbian licks and all, is a hell of a lot more convincing than Courtney Love's effort at playing movie-star-cum-rebel.

In fact, when it comes to what we used to call subverting the dominant paradigm, Nashville Pussy would be a great idea if only it could write a song. Even without a legitimate song, the band is quite a success story in this year of bleak prospects for guitar groups.

That the band is essentially an art project is apparent when one realizes that (A) it hails from Athens, Ga., performance-art capital of the Deep South, and (B) it began life on Amphetamine Reptile (Am-Rep) Records, out of Minneapolis, the grunge label responsible for the early records of bands like Helmet, Chokebore and the Cows. (Cartwright hails from a band called Nine Pound Hammer.)

Nashville Pussy's debut, inevitably called Let Them Eat Pussy, was released by Am-Rep in 1998. It was then licensed and rereleased on Mercury. Constant touring has turned the record gold. The band even got nominated for a Grammy for best metal performance for the song "Fried Chicken and Coffee."

What Nashville Pussy's incipient popularity says about the current state of rock, however, is nonetheless disheartening. Between the Confederate flag (which was particularly disturbing, given that the show took place on the night we began bombing Yugoslavia in retaliation for the Serbs' policy of ethnic cleansing) and the big breasts, Nashville Pussy actually makes more of a case for rock being dead--as Manson ironically posits--than not.

Rock is so dead that only bizarre freak shows can capture the attention of the public. The Belrays, for example, who opened for Nashville Pussy at the Edge, are another high-concept act, described by fans as "The MC5 meets Etta James" or "The Stooges as fronted by Tina Turner." What's next, AC/DC as fronted by Leann Rimes? Such a spectacle wouldn't surprise me, as rock gets less and less sincere and more and more like a sleazy sideshow at some fun but slightly sick-making circus.

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From the April 1-7, 1999 issue of Metro.

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