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Truth in Advertising

Oh, is Poor Dumb Bastards just the band's name?

"I never actually stuck anything up my ass," Byron Dean says. "I would just squeeze it a little bit in my cheeks."

At the moment, Dean, lead singer for Houston's Poor Dumb Bastards, is addressing a rather intimate question regarding the beer bottle that, among habitues of the band's live shows, has gained a semi-apocryphal infamy. Dean would like to clarify something.

"That's just something that happened one time," he says. "And now everybody says, 'Ah, the beer bottle! That's that guy that sticks bottles up his ass!' " Once, he notes with a certain awe, "I mooned the crowd and this girl jammed a bottle, and it almost went in. That hurt."

Since, Dean adds, "I've tried not to moon the crowd anymore."
Among the avenues by which one might approach an explanation of Poor Dumb Bastards, there are few likely to be more offensive to more people than a little ass play. At the same time, there are almost none considered acceptable in polite company. But to be fair to the Bastards and their ethos, this is rock and roll, so screw the lot of you.

"All our songs have evolved into drinking and partying and sex," Dean says. " 'Old Fat and Drunk' is [one of our songs]; 'Nazi Love Puppet' is a song about sex; 'Gun Room' is a song about suicide -- so, you know, we cover the spectrum of emotions."

Dean leaves out of his list such Bastard notables as "Miss My X" ("But my aim's getting better"); "Brown Eye" ("About what we envisioned would happen when Jim Bakker went to jail"); and "Mama Was a Dump Truck Drivin' Man" -- all of which are sung to the sort of straightforward, hard and fast rock you'd expect from five guys who grew up in the immediate shadow of punk.

"There's some explicit lyrics and stuff," Dean admits. "But there's also ... well ... I guess there's not really any wholesome family fun at all, is there? Hmm."

If you're looking for high seriousness, or even low seriousness, check your head elsewhere.

PDB began in 1991, when Dean and high school buddy Mike Porterfield took a throwaway phrase and tagged it on their new band, one they'd conceived as little more than a joke. Six years, scattered compilation appearances and no less than 26 former band members later, they've finally released their first recorded product, the eponymous Poor Dumb Bastards. In true PDB fashion, even that achievement has a sad-sack qualifier attached: When Dean and I spoke, only 100 CDs were in circulation. Apparently, a manufacturing middle-person had ripped off a bunch of the band's money and disappeared.

"We're trying to act like we limited the release," Dean says, "but we actually didn't."

That's more or less the story of PDB's career. Aside from scattered gigs in Austin and Dallas, the band leaves Houston so rarely that they can list playing Beaumont as an ambition. They've also tried for a slot at South by Southwest, but, says Dean, "We never even get denied. We don't get anything. They don't even call us and say no."

A joke band is a joke band, but a joke band that lasts for six years and then puts out a record that rocks and offends in equally high measure is something else altogether. So what's the deal?

"Basically, shit happens," Dean says. "We keep recording stuff and either don't have the money to put it out when we finish because it took so long, or we don't like it, or whatever. It's never been that important. We don't have ambitions for a worldwide tour or to play Saturday Night Live. As far as any of us trying to make a living at this, no one's that stupid. Anybody [who] takes us too seriously [has] gotta be silly."

Still, if there's one place PDB does have it together, it's live. After the band's third-ever show (opening for -- dig this -- Smashing Pumpkins at Emo's), Dean realized that a good antidote to a bored crowd might be to strip down and perform the last half of the set in nothing but body hair. It worked. Or at least people watched, and since then the act has expanded into the duct-tape-couture and beer-bottle-excess that it's known for.

"Yeah, I've had people that were offended and basically had to tell them to fuck off -- that it's a joke, and if you don't get it, you take yourself too seriously and go away, you bother me," Dean admits.

If that seems unreasonably stubborn, then you discount PDB's hard work in hewing to the low road. It's a tough dedication to maintain, especially when everyone in the band -- which also includes drummer Glennbo Harper, bassist Steve Scholtes and new guitarist Ruben Dominguez -- is over 30. According to Dean, the band has wavered before, and it almost killed them.

"There was about a six-month period when we took ourselves seriously and tried to be a serious band, and it was a joke," he recalls. "It was a big disaster. We were trying to do the metal thing, lots of effects on the guitar. Right then, we knew it was the end. So we broke up for about six months, and we got back together. Now all our songs are just stupid. There's not a serious bone in any of our bodies."

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