Rock and Roll Bestiary
When it comes to naming bands, "wolf" is the new black. No fewer than eight wolf bands played at last month's potentially career-making CMJ Music Marathon in New York. Three of them -- AIDS Wolf, their Sub Pop labelmates Wolf Eyes (at Fat Cat's Thursday, see Playbill) and the much-ballyhooed Wolf Parade -- are from Montreal alone. Other lupine bands currently on the roam -- if not at CMJ -- include the Australian bands Wolf Mother and Wolf and Cub, the Will Oldham/Matt Sweeney supergroup Superwolf, Japanese garage punks Guitar Wolf and hip-hop MC Peanut Butter Wolf (in town December 17 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). Yet another band from Montreal is called We Are Wolves, while Washington, D.C., is home to We're Wolves.
But wait, there's more: Other current acts in the pack include Fuckwolf and Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Los Lobos (whose sung query "Will the Wolf Survive" now has an obvious answer) and yet another French-Canadian by the name of Jean Le Loup. Closer to home, Houston is home to Wolfeblitzer, while Wolf Pup, Wolfcookie, Wolf Van Styles, Wolf Powder and Wolfenriz roam other parts of Texas. And we won't even go into Steppenwolf, Peter Wolf or either of the two blues Howlin' Wolfs -- the famous one from Mississippi or the obscure older one from Fort Worth.
Chuck Klosterman examined the phenomenon through a sociological prism in a recent issue of Spin. His conclusion was no more nor less than this: A bunch of indie rockers have simultaneously decided that the word "wolf" is cool. But a closer examination of the facts reveals that it's not so much that musicians have decided that the word "wolf" is cool as it is that music critics, record labels and hypemeisters have all decided that wolf bands are cool. Wolf bands are no more plentiful right now than bands named after other critters.
Take tiger bands, for example. There seem to be even more of them out there right now than wolf bands, only most of them -- outside of Le Tigre and Los Tigres del Norte -- aren't playing packed shows or basking in the glory of a glowing Pitchfork review (again, outside of Le Tigre, if not Los Tigres in this case). And yet on Pollstar and MySpace you can still find plenty of working tiger indie rock bands such as Actual Tigers, Alaska the Tiger, When Tigers Fight, Oh No and the Tiger Pit, Tiger Saw, Tigers & Monkeys, So So Many White Tigers, Kissing Tigers, Tiger Love Kiss and Tiger vs. Crane, to say nothing of non-indie rockers like Selby Tigers.
Then there's lions. Here, outside of the famous example of Pedro the Lion, we find a beast more favored by other subcultures. The King of the Beasts has devotees ranging from hair metal (White Lion) to reggae (many, all riffing off "the Lion of Judah" Rasta motif) to Houston's own trip-hopper deluxe Lion 808 and local indie rockers Eyes Like Lions. Indie rock does represent, though: There are groups like Lions Eat Girls, Lion Fever, Lions and Tigers, and Lions of Thunder as well.
(An aside: Why is there no band yet called Liger vs. Wholphin? You could get four animals in your band name for the price of two, engage in the ever-popular trend of pitting two humorous beasts against each other, and reference Napoleon Dynamite in one snappy band name.)
Getting back on track: What of goats, you say? Outside of John Darnielle's Mountain Goats, fuhgeddaboutit. Dude, goats belong to death metal bands like Goatwhore, Goatslaughter, Goatfucker and Goathammer Abortion. End of story. (Well, not quite. There is a Christian death metal band called Goat of Moses. Really.)
But sharks and bears are another story. Kids, here is where the future lies. This Thursday, Minus the Bear plays at Walter's on Washington (right across the street from Wolf Eyes at Fat Cat's), and there are also active touring bands called Bear vs. Shark (at Fat Cat's October 19), which is not to be confused with Shark and Bear, Squirrel vs. Bear, We Versus the Shark or Houston supergroup Sharks and Sailors. Also, Sugar Land is the lair of Bear Claw TX, while Bear and the Essentials, Bears Talk About TV and the double whammy animal totem du jour Bearwolf also find native habitat in Texas.
"Bearwolf? Geez Louise," you say. "I guess next some band will be calling themselves Tiger Bear Wolf." Well, that's already happened. North Carolina's Tiger Bear Wolf played this year's CMJ with the rest of the wolf pack. And yes, there is already a band in California called Lions and Tigers and Bears and yet another in the same state called Lions Tigers and Bears and two more (one in Deer Park) called Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My. Oh my, indeed!
But no doubt about it, the wolf pack is the one that's getting the buzz this year. Maybe the wolf bands are just better than the lion, tiger, bear, shark and goat bands, I don't know. But I don't think that there are any more of them, that's for sure. What's more, I think Klosterman may have erred in using so prosaic a research tool as sociology to arrive at this thesis. Clearly, a series of convergences of this magnitude requires a discipline that allows for a little more mystery and mysticism.
Something like Jungian psychology, which has a lot to say about the matter of animal totems and archetypes. I called a practitioner of that discipline, who didn't want his name used, and here's what the Jungian had to say: "The use of animal names is an effort to associate with the qualities often associated with those animals -- in some cases aggression, as in lions and tigers; in some cases perspicacity, long-seeing vision, as with Eagles and so forth. So it's a rather general set of associations with the instinctual qualities of those animals."
I e-mailed his theory on What It All Means and some other questions to several dozen bands with tiger, wolf, bear, shark and lion names. Characteristically, the tiger bands pounced first. The very next day, I had replies from four out of six of them, but not a peep from the wolves, lions*, sharks or bears. (And of the Tiger bands that didn't reply, one was Tiger Bear Wolf and the other was Tigerbot Hesh, both of which are tigers adulterated by other animals or robotics.)
(*One lion band -- Cypress's Lions in Paris -- did respond, but we might print their response later.)
Tigers and Monkeys, New York, New York, www.tigersandmonkeys.com
Question fielded by front woman Shonali Bhowmik, formerly of Ultrababyfat. "I was in a bind. I called a comedian friend of mine for guidance and he asked me, 'What are your two favorite animals?' The response 'tigers and monkeys' just flowed from my lips.
"No other band names were considered. There are no dissenters either. In fact, I am sure that my other bandmates are in the band precisely because we are called Tigers and Monkeys. Seriously, after naming the band, I found out that our guitar player has a tiger tattoo and a beautiful ape belt buckle he wears all the time. At each of our performances -- depending on how we feel, each one of us takes on the characteristics of the animals; some of us are Tigers, some of us are Monkeys, and then there are those of us that are a little bit Tiger and a little bit Monkey. I noticed [percussionist] Antonia Santangelo's teeth are getting a bit more fang-like these days and [keyboardist-drummer] Jason Sheinkopf has definitely been swinging a bit more from the rafters at our shows.
"In terms of attitude, perhaps we are conveying our appreciation of the playfulness and majestic qualities that both our music and these animals share. Honestly, I sing about animals in many of our songs. They are often given human characteristics and then their characteristics are often given to inanimate objects or ideas. It is somewhat therapeutic to view animals as people. It is comforting. I am sure there are things that humans will never be able to comprehend. Oh, hippie drippy stuff, huh?
"Have you checked out the Chinese horoscopes? Apparently, tigers do not make good lovers for monkeys. Which works out well for my band, no romantic dramas within the band."
Tiger in the Grass, Charleston/Columbia, South Carolina, www.gallowaymusic.com
Question fielded by Adam Seven, a.k.a. Tiger One: "Tiger in the Grass is from a children's book my mother read to me when I was young. It references a housecat that is 'play stalking' in the grass, trying to connect with its primal former self.
"We used to be in a band called 'Living Continues in Galloway, Nearer to God's Earth through these Weathers, through which Life Pulses Processionally as the Moods of the Earth Flank Across the Skies Endlessly.' We were called Galloway but this is the right name for the right time.
"We're trying to convey a sense of the loss of nature and the exotic, and our domestic selves dealing with the loss. We are not aggressive [like tigers], so I don't think that particular quality was reflected in our band's sound. We were reaching for exoticism and a feeling of nearing extinction. The rarity of the tiger in the grass.
Tiger Cried Beef, New York, New York, www.tigercriedbeef.com
Question fielded by guitarist Keith Parkins: "I was at a Thai restaurant with a friend and we saw that one of the dishes was Tiger Cried Beef. I thought that it must be a typo, which is why I liked it, but then later found out that it was indeed a tasty dish.
"The band was originally called 'Tiger Cried Beef Performs the Bill Shatner Martial Arts Experience,' which could be shortened to TCB performs the BS MAX. We still bill ourselves that way occasionally.
"I just wanted a name that said, 'Freaks are welcome here' I searched for our name on the Web and didn't come up with anything other than a handful of Thai restaurants, which was another factor in me liking it. When I saw that there was another Tiger band I winced. I knew there must be some out there but still hated confronting that reality."
Tiger Mouth, Gainesville, Florida, www.keithwelsh.com
Question answered by Keith Welsh, the sole member of this one-man project: "I actually was just flipping through a book and said, 'Wow, "tiger moth" is a cool name for a band.' The person next to me said, 'Did you say Tiger Mouth?'
"For the last nine years I've released music and played under the name Keith Welsh. It served me well but I wanted to start over. I wanted the idea to be that I am a little tiger with very sharp teeth, and I can lick my own anus."
ROCK AND ROLL ZODIAC
Noted for lying around fucking, fighting and farting (males); hunting down prey, giving birth, raising young, generally doing all the work around here (females). Reigning over the Serengeti (both).
Bands include Pedro the Lion, Mad Lion, Jah Lion, White Lion, Roaring Lion, Willie "the Lion" Smith, Lionsheart, Doleful Lions, Leo Sayer, Lionel Richie, Lionel Hampton, Los Leones del Norte, Los Leones de Durango.
Songs include "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," "The Lion and the Lamb," The Lion King soundtrack.
Most favored by Christians, Jamaicans, British metal groups, and norteño conjuntos.
Noted for stalking prey, running around in circles until they turn into butter, enjoying swimming.
Bands include Le Tigre, Los Tigres del Norte, Actual Tigers, Growling Tiger and several other calypso artists, Alaska the Tiger, When Tigers Fight, Oh No and the Tiger Pit, Tiger B. Smith, Tiger Saw, Tigers and Monkeys, Glass Tiger, So So Many White Tigers, Kissing Tigers, Tiger Love Kiss, Tiger vs. Crane, Selby Tigers, Tiger Mouth, Tiger Cried Beef, the Tigerlillies.
Songs include "Eye of the Tiger," "Tiger Rag," "Tiger by the Tail," "Ride the Tiger," "Tiger in Your Tank," "I'm a Tiger," "Tiger Beat."
Most favored by cutesy-pie American indie rockers, calypso legends and Muddy Waters.
Noted for looking fiercer and slower than they are, immense strength, liking honey, eating less meat than you might think, fishing for salmon in rushing creeks, sleeping a lot.
Bands include Minus the Bear, Shark and Bear, Bear vs. Shark, Tiger Bear Wolf, the Bears (Adrian Belew's old band), Squirrel vs. Bear, DJ Bear Who?
Songs include "Running Bear," "Teddy Bear," "Jack the Bear," "Bear Cat," "B.J. and the Bear" (who was really a chimp), "Teddy Bear's Picnic," "Bear Skin Rug."
Most favored by 1950s rockabilly artists.
Noted for eating people, never getting cancer, having no bones except teeth, seeking revenge in a long series of movie sequels, being really dumb.
Bands include Bear vs. Shark, We Versus the Shark, Sharks and Sailors, Shark and Bear, Shark Attack (from Galveston, by the way), the Sharks, Sharkbait, Great White, Feargal Sharkey.
Songs include the theme from Jaws and nothing else to speak of.
Most favored by Florida reggae bands full of old white dudes who "party" and Sam's Boat-type cover bands when "shark" is used alone. However, as with bears, when the shark is pitted against something in combat, it's gonna be an indie rock band.
Noted for stamina, team spirit, spirit of freedom, cleverness, embodying evil in numerous fables, being from Montreal.
Bands include (see above) or AIDS Wolf, Wolf Eyes, Wolf Parade, Fuckwolf, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Wolf Mother, Wolf and Cub, Superwolf, Guitar Wolf, MC Peanut Butter Wolf, We Are Wolves, We're Wolves, Los Lobos, Jean Le Loup, Wolfeblitzer, Wolf Pup, Wolfcookie, Wolf Van Styles, Tiger Bear Wolf, Wolf Powder, Wolfenriz, Steppenwolf, Peter Wolf, Howlin' Wolf and many more.
Songs include "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Will the Wolf Survive," "The Leader of the Pack."
Noted for sociability, eating bananas, using tools, using sign language/talking, slumming it in TV commercials, masturbating publicly and shit-flinging.
Bands include the Monkees, Bling Kong, Chango Jackson, Monkey Boy, Monkey Mafia, DJ Monkey.
Songs include "Brass Monkey," "Space Monkey," "Monkey Man" (Rolling Stones), "Monkey Man" (Toots and the Maytals/the Specials), "Shock the Monkey."
Most favored by DJs/electronica dudes.
Noted for eating everything from grass to rusted-out tractors, fainting humorously, kicking/butting things, symbolizing Satan.
Bands include Goat, the Mountain Goats, Goatsblood, Goatwhore, Goatslaughter, Goatfucker, Goathammer Abortion and Goat of Moses.
Songs include "The Goat," by Sonny Boy Williamson.
Most favored by metal dudes with fake blood oozing from their mouths and razor-blade codpieces who keep a copy of the Necronomicon under their lice-ridden pillows. Them, and John Darnielle, who really loves death metal, believe it or not.
Noted for cuddliness, vegetarianism, stealing carrots from Farmer McGregor, being wascally, like Bugs Bunny and Brer Rabbit.
Bands include Bunny Brains, Bunny Wailer (and numerous other Jamaican artists), Eddie Rabbit, Bun E. Carlos, Rabbit in the Moon, Gram Rabbit, Nuclear Rabbit.
Songs include "White Rabbit," "Rabbit Run," "Jack Rabbit," "Run Rabbit Run"
Favored by Jamaicans and bands with scary psychedelic overtones.
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