Growing Up's For Suckers

They're crude. They're crass. They're scatological. And Houston's art crowd loves them. Have Slump's Keith Reynolds and Cathy Power discovered the secret to success -- childish behavior?

The panorama, from right to left: A Frosty the Snowman impersonator announcing "Happy birthday!" from inside a basketball-size head outfitted with a corncob pipe and a button nose; four audience members playing "Hands on a Headless Fox," a taxidermied version of Hands on a Hardbody with prizes that include a butt plug, a porn tape and, for the winner, $20; and two elves that grunt like monkeys, clamoring away in their cage in a futile attempt to produce Furbies. In front of the three-ring circus are its creators, Keith Reynolds and Cathy Power, dressed as Santa and a gogo-booted Mrs. Claus.

With Keith squeezing an accordion and Cathy strumming a couple of chords on the guitar, they launch into a set of songs about women, men, drugs, divorce, yeast infections, a leprechaun who hates Louis Farrakhan and a slacker who's okay with the fact that his girlfriend left him for a beer because he's now free to pee in the sink. Cathy sings an anti-anal-sex ballad that rhymes anus with heinous, and proclaims, "I'm not your three-holer, baby / I'm not your bowling ball." Keith poses as a stalker who asks sweetly, "Why does The Man have to stand between a man and a woman?" They both approximate the sound of birds boo-hooing for a cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry."

Keith thrashes around violently. Cathy sucks suggestively on a big candy cane. A deadpan elf strips to his saggy underwear. Audience plants break out into WCW-style wrestling. And the twenty- to thirtysomethings packed into the upstairs of Rudyard's sing along like drunken sailors and line up to pay $2 for a Polaroid pose on Santa's lap.

Keith Reynolds, "a throwback to a wilder type of person."
Deron Neblett
Keith Reynolds, "a throwback to a wilder type of person."

Part band, part anti-band, part absurdist theater, part vaudeville, part improvisational comedy, part childish tantrum, all obscenity, together Keith and Cathy are Slump, and this is the Slump Christmas Show. "I ate Jesus on a wafer," twangs Cathy in honor of the upcoming holiday, "and then I washed him down with a cup of his blood."

The uninitiated titter nervously. Is it okay to laugh at this stuff? Slump's message is a loud yes, and this message is much appreciated by the scruffy underground art-scene types who constitute the bulk of the band's cult following. These two misfits have managed to tap into the collective unconscious of the artsy intelligentsia, the part of this crowd that celebrates the disgusting rather than the divine, the silly rather than the serious. They play to the 13-year-old inside the 30-year-old, who secretly still likes to tell dick jokes and light farts. And they do it without pretense or irony or sarcasm or satire. For the audience, the freedom that comes with reveling in imperfection, impropriety and an overall lack of importance is intoxicating. Slump is playtime for grown-ups.

Keith Reynolds has always looked at the world a little bit cockeyed. As soon as he learned to tie his shoes in the conventional manner, he preferred to tie them under the soles instead. In elementary school, his clay sculptures included penises, no matter what their gender. And for his high school yearbook picture, he painted his sport coat with pictures of sperm disguised as paisley. His parents just laughed and praised his ingenuity.

"He doesn't take himself seriously at all, and he has very few, if any, inhibitions, and he loves to break taboos," says Keith's father, George. "If it's forbidden or inappropriate, he will always challenge it and test the limits."

Donna Reynolds, Keith's mother, ran a day care out of their Connecticut home when Keith was growing up. Keith knew how to keep it clean around the children; he shocks only people who can take it. "He's one of the warmest, most generous kids you're ever going to find, so whenever he does something shocking, it's not to hurt people or cause harm," says George. "It's just to wake people up to a different way of looking at the world."

Instead of shocking the kids, Keith was their pied piper, leading them around the house singing songs and playing child-size drums and symbols. "The little kids loved Keith because he was just full of fun," says his father. "He could relate to them at their level, yet he was tested early on at a genius IQ."

The fact that Keith's genius is expressed even today in rather juvenile form is perhaps the result of old-fashioned sibling rivalry: Keith's older brother, Graham, is also creative and musically talented, but in every other way, the brothers are opposites. Keith weighs 290 pounds, has messy strawberry-blond hair and looks a little like Chris Farley. Graham is rail-thin, vegan and doesn't drink. Graham writes symphonies and leads the acclaimed Austin avant-garde jazz band Golden Arm Trio. Reviewing Graham's performance on the band's second CD, the Austin Chronicle gushed, "Is there anything this man can't do?" Friends say that Keith has similar musical chops, particularly on the piano, yet chooses to perform simplistic songs that go, "Sucka, fucka, sucka, fuck my cock-a-doodle-doo."

Their parents chalk it up to genetics: Keith takes after his father, who says he's been "kind of wacko a good portion of my life." Graham takes after his mother's side of the family, which is "more pragmatic and determined and perseverant." The Reynoldses took great pains to support their sons equally over the years, attending both Slump shows and Golden Arm Trio shows and buying them each the exact same number of Christmas presents. "I'm really proud of them both," says George. "They're both really happy."

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