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State-of-the-Art Ghouls

White Zombie holds its own with the metal-heads and the punks alike

For the life of him, Yuenger can't figure out how people draw the line between art and sin -- why some see White Zombie as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and yet are able to make more sophisticated appraisals of other forms of expression. "I don't understand why the whole focus of the band has to be either [that] it's totally serious -- they're Satanic and they sign contracts in blood -- or [that] it's a big joke, like Gwar. It's neither. I wish people would view it like a horror movie. Can't you look at it as the same thing as a scary book? It's about something scary; it's not a joke, but it's not serious."

Maybe the reason people have trouble connecting White Zombie to its literary or filmic cousins is because you rarely have thousands of hormone-addled kids rumbling in the same room for Stephen King or Halloween's hockey-masked murderer Michael Myers. In fact, so many kids are showing up now that Yuenger says he can't even identify the band's core audience now.

"There isn't one anymore, really. I mean once you get at a certain level of popularity, it just starts being regular kids," he says. "If you look at musical subcultures, there's definitely a good cross section. You have a Nine Inch Nails kid in black lipstick next to a skater-type kid in a Beastie Boys T-shirt next to a metal kid in a Slayer shirt.

"It definitely seems to cross some boundaries. Not that that kind of boundary is so firmly drawn anymore. Nowadays, people have access to everything, so they tend to like everything."

That, come to think of it, sounds a little like a consumerist gloss on what critic/musician Robert Palmer recalls of rock and roll's early years, when the state of the art leapfrogged almost daily. Palmer writes, in Rock and Roll: An Unruly History, of "what a contemporary music critic might call the astonishing eclecticism of our musical offering. There we were, stirring Dixieland and surf music, rockabilly and R&B, pseudojazz and honky-tonk country and western into a big gumbo. We had no idea we were breaking down barriers and cross-fertilizing genres. In those days, the definitions are not so firmly fixed."

These days, of course, the definitions are firmly fixed, at the encouragement of sales departments and record stores and radio stations and journalists. And it's T-shirts, not musical style, that draw the lines of allegiance. That's because the early days of rock and roll are a long time gone; we've taken it seriously, though we ought to know better by now. All this self-awareness contributes to the making of White Zombie.

"If anything, it brings back some of the outlaw aspect of music," says Yuenger, summing up the whole Johnson City debacle. "And I can't think of any way that that's bad."

White Zombie performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, February 18, at The Summit. Tickets are $22.50 and $25. Filter and Wicker Man open. For info, call 629-3700.

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