Hey cool kids! Want the rub on some great new music? Then please click elsewhere because the following words are about Green Jellÿ, the worst fucking band in the world. On the other hand, if you’re someone who’s keen to remember Green Jellÿ as that freaky speck in the crud-mosaic of a childhood that you sucked out of the brightly flashing televised slush of 1990s corporate sponsored child hypnosis, then you might realize, like I did last month in Bushwick, that a raging bald man in his underwear and an army of shitty neon puppet costumes might actually blow your mind.
For those of you who don’t remember Green Jellÿ, let’s set the stage. In 1993, America was getting ready for the Hootie jock rock tidal wave of 1994, and spent the year accordingly, listening to lots of that mumbly Spin Doctors song that goes “A doo doo, a-rightcha wnna mayyybe, just roll ahead now.” Somehow, in the midst of that widespread leveling and banality in rock, veteran Bufallo punk outfit Green Jellÿ coaxed BMG subsidiary Zoo Entertainment to front them $50,000 to create an “all video” album tastefully titled Cereal Killer. Despite blowing most of the money on parties, Green Jellÿ managed to scrape together some videos. Among them was a claymation rendition of “Three Little Pigs,” a jokey heavy metal take on the ubiquitous folk tale. In 1992, Seattle radio station KXRX played “Three Little Pigs” as a joke and shortly thereafter the song became a regional hit, later invading “The Box” (a late night pay-per-play cable TV network), and finally landing on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, at which point it got lodged in the public consciousness through the summer of 1993.
But it would be a discredit to contain Green Jellÿ to that flash of mainstream fame. The band was originally formed in Buffalo, NY in 1981 by head honcho Bill Manspeaker as an attempt to create the world’s worst band (their name was inspired by the worst possible flavor of Jello). Early on, the band earned a reputation for throwing rowdy shows, destroying venues, and generally soiling audiences with ice cream sandwich food fights. Their quest to be the worst was highly successful. It prompted a superlative testimonial from Joey Ramone, who, after a 1984 show at Buffalo State College in which fans slathered the stage with trash bags full of green Jello and whipped cream, called Green Jellÿ the worst (and messiest) band that ever opened for The Ramones. They also got their first shot at national exposure when they appeared on The Gong Show, and managed to get gonged seconds after a pumpkin masked Manspeaker started writhing and singing.
The journey of the world’s worst band got even freakier when it was injected with the dump truck full of money they made from Cereal Killer. From his Hollywood bunker, Manspeaker set out to build an underground arts colony that housed, “some of the greatest musical talent, and graffiti artists that Hollywood had to offer.” The buzz of the hive ultimately led him to get involved in the underground rave scene of the mid ’90s. Of that story and its road back to Jellÿ-dom, Manspeaker says in his ALL CAPS myspace bio/manifesto:
“THIS IS WHEN I DISCOVERED THE ELECTRONIC MUSIC SCENE…THIS WAS A EASY WAY OF PRODUCING MONEY DOING UNDERGROUND RAVE EVENTS…..LIKE LEMMINGS THEY CAME TO HEAR PEOPLE PLAY RECORD THAT SEEMED JUST TO SKIP OVER AND OVER AGAIN…THIS LED ME TO OPEN MY OWN 20,000 SQ FT 1500 PERSON RAVE CLUB CALLED QTOPIA HOLLYWOOD….OH BOY….SEX DRUGS AND RAVE N ROLL WAS RIGHT…THAT SOON GOT OUT OF CONTROL AS YOU COULD IMAGINE…AND THEN ONE DAY I WOKE UP WITH A HANG OVER AND SEVERAL NAKED GIRLS KISSING AND I SAID TO MYSELF…DUH SILLY MONKEY DONT YOU REMEMBER THAT YOU PUT ON SILLY PUPPET COSTUMES AND SHITTY ALBUMS FOR A LIVING!”
To tie it all together, here are some other weird and less narrative factoids about Green Jellÿ:
Shortly before the release of Cereal Killer the lineup of Green Jellÿ included drummer Danny Carey and vocalist James Maynard Keenan, who later formed the band Tool. Both are present on “Three Little Pigs,” Carey on Drums and Maynard as the voice of the pigs.
The multi-million dollar Hollywood studio that Manspeaker opened with the money he made from Cereal Killer produced videos for Spike Jonze, Tim Burton, Kiss, 2pac, Marlyn Manson, Hulk Hogan and Richard Simmons.
The bands latest album, Musick To Insult Your Intelligence By, was originally supposed to be released by Michael Jackson. However, shortly before the release, the Santa Barbara DA raided Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, and the ensuing remorse prompted him to shut down his label, MJJ records
Green Jelly was sued by three major entities in the ’90s. First by Kraft Foods for trademark infringement of its Jello Food Snack product line (thus the name change to Green Jellÿ, though the band claim the umlaut changes the pronunciation back to Jello). Next, they were sued by the Kellogg Company, also for trademark infringement, because their satirical character “Toucan Son of Sam,” a cereal killer who spends his time killing other cereal characters, borrowed too heavily from Kellogg’s Fruit Loops spokes-bird Toucan Sam. Finally, in 1993 they were sued—in a foreshadowing of annoying litigation to come—by Metallica, for the partial use of “Enter Sandman” in the song “Electric Harley House (Of Love).”
Flash forward to the present: I agreed to do a write up of the Green Jellÿ show for Bushwick Daily before I had a sense of what became of the band. I was researching shows at The Paper Box and was honestly shocked to see Green Jellÿ listed. I did a search to make sure it was the band I thought, a fact that was pretty instantly confirmed by the aforementioned manifesto, which was pasted in the show description. Perhaps I was inspired by the potential for oddity, or perhaps by my own childhood self, sitting in front of the TV waiting for the the Pigs video to come on so I could play air guitar and bang my little head.
By the time I get to The Paper Box that night I’m pretty stoned and thus exceptionally hypnotized by the newness of the room, and by the bassy warmth of The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Under the Bridge” pumping out over the speakers. There’s a nostalgic atmosphere, and I feel like I’m at a reunion for the 1990s, as if it were some school that I’d attended with the handful of other people in the room. Behind the white “sort of nice” lights of the bar at The Paper Box was a classic American looking blonde girl. She’d just put up a sign that said, “Jello Shots $2.” Green, of course. Feeling a bit like a creepy Green Jellÿ fan boy, I quickly slurped down a couple of the gooey shots, and the edges of my perception melt away.
Before the set begins, Manspeaker takes the stage by himself to deliver a salty soliloquy. He looks like Mr. Clean with thick rimmed glasses, and he has a cadence like Henry Rollins, speaking in a voice that somehow translates all speech into yelling. Plus he’s got a heckler’s soul, like he spent some time as a State Fair insult clown, and as he warms up the slightly populated audience he pulls a handful of people out of the crowd and dresses them up in a myriad of (disgusting?) multicolored puppet heads.
In moments, the music starts and I’m transported. I live in Bushwick and it’s 2013 so I don’t hear music like this very often. Punky, thrash metal riffs make for good puppet head banging. By the second song, “Obey The Cowgod,” for which Manspeaker dons a full cow costume with demonic, light up eyeballs, I’m pretty fucking stoked to be where I am. We’re a long way from having enough people who are down for a mosh pit, though one of the long haired, leather jacketed crust nerds is starting to jostle around with some teens who probably came to see the opening band.
Maybe it was the steady stream of jello shots I stuffed in my gut, but everything about the show, the puppets, the lights, the headbanger riffs, all start to create a carnival atmosphere. In the shadow of Manspeaker’s enthusiasm, the band fades. The music becomes secondary to the constant flow of people he pulls on and off the stage, to the harsh rants, friendly insults, and ever present audience chanting at his lead “Green Jello SUCKS! Green Jello SUCKS!” (even the worst band in the world needs reassurance, apparently).
Some time around “Three Little Pigs” the realization hits. Manspeaker is in his underwear. He’s standing on a stool, flanked by a wall of psychedelic puppets, backed by a band of kids he probably picked up in his Pranksters bus on the way here. There is a moment when it becomes clear to me that the hit song the unmonitored cash advance the drug-fueled Hollywood art collective the Merry Pranksters style tour bus the “cereal killers” the crappy costumes the ’90s the cow god MTV market collapse Three Little Pigs Green Jellÿ and everything that it implies is one hilarious and highly fucking successful joke whose punchline is basically “Don’t we live in a crappy world that makes shit like this possible?” and your only real reaction is to laugh or cry or maybe both in light of the unmentionable truth.
In Bushwick, a neighborhood where over the years I have seen hundreds of shows with better bands, and better costumes, I’m having a moment of textbook catharsis, classical greek performer/audience reflection of the tragicomedy of the times. And the inspiration is some crappy foam puppets and some boozy green jello.
Pistols loaded; Bottoms up!