Don’t put your son on the stage, Mrs Chaos. Not unless you want him to form the most vile, heathen, nihilistic, hedonistic rock ‘n’ roll band ever… Amen
SOMETIMES you stumble across a band so hardcore, so savage, so relentless, so colourful, so committed, so intelligent, so fucked-up and so irresistibly in-fucking-tense that you have to watch your mouth. You should never say, “I love you.” Unless you really mean it, right?
Casey Chaos is doubled over in the corner of the dressing room, gasping for breath. His left arm is lacerated and dripping blood. Thirty minutes ago his band, Amen, burst onto the Detroit stage like the flaming undead screaming out of their burning coffins in Diary Of A Vampire. It was mental. Casey leapt around like a deranged grasshopper. Guitarist Sonny Mayo went through three instruments in the first 30 seconds. Drummer Shannon Larkin flailed the air with sticks the size of tyrannosaurus toothpicks. Microphones, mic stands and bits of battered kit flew in all directions. Before the gig, Larkin said to the NME snapper camped by the side of the stage: “Can you shoot with both eyes open? You’re gonna need both eyes, dude. I’m not fuckin’ kidding.”
Four songs in and one of the fat, shaven-headed and savagely moshing WWF lookalikes in the crowd collapsed. Casey stopped the show until the kid was revived. Five minutes later, while the road crew tried desperately to reassemble the once again smashed-to-fuck drumkit, Casey crouched by the side of the stage, feverishly slashing his arm with a wrecked microphone.
“I think it’s having you English c—s around that brings out the worst in me, you fucking tossers!” says Casey, still dripping with sweat. And blood. “Today I woke up and I couldn’t breathe. At all. I didn’t feel good at all. I’m sitting here trying to be a pharmacist. So sometimes I don’t think and I don’t feel like I’m giving enough. I feel inadequate in the body I’m in… HIIIIIIIK! PHOEEEEE!” he hawks up a phlegm ball from his fucked lungs.
“I’ve broke my nose seven times, I can’t breathe through my nose. So sometimes I don’t really think and the mic broke in my hand and I got so fucking pissed off, every time we play something gets broken and I hate it.”
You can hardly make out a word he’s saying. On the stage above us a scarred and battered refugee from the Jim Rose Circus is ritually mutilating himself to the appreciative roars of 3,000 punk-pumped GWAR fans. Which is a tad ironic.
“I try to rationalise it sometimes, I try to justify it. When I was a kid I had my arm strapped to my body for six months and I used to cut myself a lot when I was doing a lot of drugs and it relieved a lot of pain. I don’t know why but when I do it I feel, ‘Aaaaaaaah!’ It’s like something’s let out. It’s an orgasm, y’know? It’s a fucking orgasm. It’s just too much. When you feel too much. I just want to give everything. I’m trying to get in touch with humanity. I’m trying to reach the people and yank the fucking cocks out of their fucking mouths. It’s honest, y’know. It’s me. It’s like going in front of a board of doctors and showing them your diseased cock.”
Earlier, sitting in the back of the “luxury” tourbus that still gets on his guilt-tripped punk rock tits, Casey stared into space and said: “Onstage, I don’t think. It’s a big blur of a slow, drawn-out car crash. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I remember walking on and walking off and the rest of it’s just a blur. It’s like skateboarding when you’re pushing yourself as hard as you can to make your trick sicker and sicker, higher and higher, more and more and you’re constantly eating shit the entire time. It just becomes this big fucking crash.”
“Drums are very hard, metal objects with sharp edges and shit,” points out Larkin, who spends the first few hours after most shows grimacing in agony and holding ice to his knees.
When we first meet Casey he’s sat on the bus watching the rough-cut video for the new single, ‘The Price Of Reality’. And that’s when the mindfuck starts.
The images rain down on you like the fists of an epileptic drunk. Catholic chicks with axes. Catholic chicks with Uzis. Catholic chicks go-go line-dancing with axes. And Uzis. A sneeringly ginger Hitler Youth-style boy scout drenched in blood. Catholic schoolgirl swinging past the band on a wrecking ball. A boy priest tossing cartoon-style bombs. A milk-drinking, Cliff Richard-clean white Christian nuclear family smile at the camera and — BLOOP! — get drowned in hot, glutinous human plasma. Blood orgy and fucking madness, Casey lip-syncs framed by a distended cow carcass and two 400lb S&M models carrying a savagely flapping black vulture. Screaming, “IT’SAHOLIDAY4UUUUUUUUUUUU!”
Larkin staggers in semi-naked from his bunk, clutching a bottle of soap subverted with an Amen “Hippies Suck” sticker. And a tube of Statue Of Liberty With A Hitler Moustache toothpaste. That’s five minutes in the Church Of Amen and counting. Fuck. You could spend a lifetime with most bands and not have this much fun.
Where does all this shit come from? From the mind of Casey Chaos. He lives in LA (“which is the fucking darkest fucking, fucking SHIT on the planet!”) where he sometimes hangs out with “Harry The Dog and Shaun Ryder down The Cat & Fiddle”. He looks like a “strategically shaved Furby”. He can’t dance for shit and he’s prone to making comments like “rap is the end of humanity” and claiming that a certain Hollywood rap/movie star is “a murderer, worse than Charles Manson”. He reads Nietzsche. He started doing coke aged ten, which led to his lungs being diagnosed as “fucked beyond belief” aged 15. Which is when he started taking smack. So there he is, a 16-year-old smack’n’gak addicted ex pro-skateboarder, diagnosed with a coke-retarded dodgy lung which means that today he has to take a chemical cocktail composed of various mind-bending and spine-twisting legally prescribed drugs 24/7 for ever and ever, amen. Which is kinda ironic. And now he lives, breathes, writes, screams and fights for Amen as if every day might be his last on the planet. Those last two facts might not be entirely unrelated.
And he says he’s already achieved his ambition in life. “I fist-fucked two girls at once as I pushed them up against a mirrored wall.”
Hey, no-one’s saying he’s nice. Just that he’s some sort of fucking genius. And — oh yeah — he’s a direct male descendant of Dante. As in Dante’s Inferno. For real.
You should pay attention. Why? Because Amen’s visuals effortlessly co-opt anti-Nazi collagist John Heartfield, Dead Kennedys’ house artist Winston Smith, Sex Pistols graphics guru Jamie Reid and iconic feelgood ’50s Americana painter Norman Rockwell.
Add to that the band’s predilection for Pete Best/Shaft/Gestapo leather jackets festooned with safety-pinned skull’n’bones patches and gurly name-bracelets that read “c—”.
And add to that the fact that when Casey babbles excitedly about the bands that have inspired him (as he does often and at great length) he ass-kisses the Stooges, can’t-play-won’t-play ’77 Anglopunker one-hit-album wonders The Adverts and stripped-down minimalist Molotov Leeds art-school post-punk geniuses Gang Of Four. But he doesn’t give The Smiths or The Stone Roses so much as a fucking sniff.
And add to that the fact that they never perform for more than half-an-hour, never re-tune onstage and treat every screaming, gasping, flailing fucking gig as their last few seconds alive — and only one conclusion is possible — we are in the presence of raw, primal, undiluted, pure and unadulterated and utterly fucked-up rock’n’roll. The spearhead of the gang of bands that includes Queens Of The Stone Age, Trail Of Dead and At The Drive-In — the children of Make-Up and Rocket From The Crypt, the grandkids of Nirvana and the direct descendants of Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys and, of course, the great King Iggy himself. The bands that are going to bury the flyblown and incontinent walking corpse of “sports metal” in its own stinking cesspit. YAY!
But there’s more.
Casey’s in the recording studio. He go bonkers. He go crazy. He’s living in a tiny room with a bass cabinet, a pile of blankets and a pillow. And he’s covered the walls with pornography. And serial killer shrine-style scrawlings and pentagrams done in his own blood. And shit, snot, and semen. So in walks Ross Robinson, the band’s producer, and goes, “OH MY GOD!”and rushes out and comes back with a video camera. And the next thing Casey knows the creme de la creme of the LA art scene are beating a path to his door, gasping in awe and declaring him some sort of demented genius. Which he is. Sort of. And Casey’s going, “What are you talking about? Fuck off! Hey! Where the fuck are you taking that? This is just a bunch of pornography with my blood and my cum and my shit on it!” Which is also true. Sort of.
Casey identifies with the barely trained Japanese kamikazes who flung their flaming coffin-planes onto the decks of American aircraft carriers in 1945. And he has few plans for the future: “I don’t know if I’ll be around in five days, never mind five years. I mean, take a look in here and you can see what my life consists of.”
He hauls open a large bag, crammed with medication. “You see this? That’s where I’m at today. And tomorrow? I wake up sometimes in the morning and I can’t breathe so sometimes I have to take twice as much medication, which creates side effects, and then I have to take medication to counter the side effects. I don’t live a normal life, I never have, I used to go to my friends’ houses and see that their parents wouldn’t be screaming at each other. My parents communicated by just completely fucking yelling at each other. Just like, insanity. ‘Hey man, your parents don’t scream at each other!?’
“I dunno, I never even expected to be 18. I’ll never… I probably… I’ll never ever kill myself. I’m not that kind of a person. I don’t think.”
“When we get really drunk,” says Larkin, “Casey says, ‘I’m just trying to enjoy this while I can because I’m going to die soon.’ And I say, ‘Don’t say that! What the fuck are you talking about?’ And in the morning I’ll go, ‘Dude, you were talking about dying again last night! Quit it, OK?'”
Larkin used to drum for Ugly Kid Joe and Wrathchild America. Who are not to be confused with the European Wrathchild who were, says Larkin, “a bunch of fags”. Larkin looks like a closely observed caricature of an archetypal permanently wasted English pop combo lead guitarist circa 1967. He’s as smart as a whip and as thin as a whippet and he talks like a lobotomised surfer on Quaaludes. He makes the word “dude” sound like it’s got six syllables. Shit, the doo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oode is so cool he’s almost comatose. But behind his drumkit…. FUCK ME! He makes Keith Moon look like a switched-off drum machine.
Larkin, guitarists Paul Fig and Sonny Mayo (formerly of Snot — I kid you not) and crustily dreadlocked bassist John “Tumor” Fahnestock were assembled by Casey after years of gruelling auditions.
“I went through about 100 drummers in a year,” says Casey. “And I was like, ‘You know what? I quit! Fuck this!’ And then, no more than a week later, Larkin calls me through Ross. Fifteen seconds into the first song I stopped… and like this guy’s had offers from John Cougar Mellencamp!”
And then came the process of breaking the fuckers down, teaching them to forget how to be musicians. “It’s like, ‘Do everything you’re not supposed to do,'” explains Casey. “‘Use your guitar as a tool, not something to tool around with.’ Tumor’s sometimes worried that he’s breaking too many strings. I’m like, ‘Man, you’re not breaking enough strings.'”
And the result is a band that like strafing fighter bombers dumping napalm on screaming peasant villagers.
And then, suddenly, Casey’s off on one of his favourite rants. The one entitled Why America Is Fucked.
“Why is America the murder capital of the world? Why do we have so many serial killers? Because this is their home. This is the murderers’ homeland. This is where they belong. This country is a giant prison. It’s fucking mass hysteria. It’s just insanity. Culturally, we’re just bred to fucking murder. And everyone’s going, ‘Oh, where are we gonna go? We’re not going to go anywhere. It’s going to get worse. This fucking country!
“When I was a kid, growing up in Florida, I just wanted to fucking murder everybody. Every single fucking person. The American press has the fucking audacity to interview these fucking hunk of shit jocks at Columbine and these hunk of shit little cheerleading whores. The kids who shot people at Columbine, they weren’t the problem. The problem was the cheerleaders and the jocks — they created it.”
Two nights ago, in Cincinnati, Larkin was standing outside the venue making a phone call to his wife and he saw someone get shot. “It was in a neighbourhood not half as bad as this one we’re in now. In this neighbourhood you wouldn’t even want to walk down to McDonald’s.”
So are we looking forward to tonight’s show? You betcha! Stand still long enough anywhere in America and the madness will come and find you. It does tonight.
After the gig. We’re in a dressing room which smells like nine generations of rockers have used its filthy corners as urinals. They sure have tonight.
So there’s NME and Casey. Him sweating and bleeding and coughing up phlegm and occasionally re-adjusting his jaw with a loud kriiiik. NME sat there, shell-shocked and holding out the mic into which, over the next four hours, Casey pretty much pours out his entire demented and painful life story.
When Casey was a kid he moved to Florida from New York. Some big boys put him in hospital. When he got out he hunted them all down and, one by one, beat the shit out of them. Thanks to his permanent black eyes, his nickname for a while was Raccoon Boy.
“Fucking retards and inbreds. Fucking three-eyed mutant monsters and redneck fucking retard kids with brick-shaped heads abusing me for ‘talking funny’. Fuck!”
Aged ten, he was a pro-skateboarder, sat watching TV with a blanket over his head in the corner of a hotel room while the rest of the team pigged out on groupies on the king-size bed. And every time Casey got close to making it big in skateboarding, he fucked up, broke a limb. Four times he did that. And around this time some scumbag started feeding him coke. Fuck this, this is soooo depressing. Fast forward through the straight-edge years, through the punk-rock epiphany, past being arselicked by a former Sex Pistol, and past going onstage in Reading and — shit — being adored.
Now Casey has three doctors. One for his lungs. One to facilitate the rock’n’roll lifestyle. And another to remind him that if he carries on the way he’s going he’ll die. At the end of this year he’s going into hospital in an attempt to come off all the medications he’s become addicted to. And the future?
AD 2040. A Florida theme park built on the bones of the last alligator, whooping crane and Seminole Indian. We’re just in time for the noon day parade. “We are the Casey Chaos fan club!/Little boys and girls.”
Blood-drenched boy scouts, bomb-tossing baby priests, Catholic schoolgirls clutching axes and Uzis and… at last! It’s Casey Chaos! YAY! Nine-feet tall, clutching a gigantic metal microphone and riding an enormous skateboard, the king-sized Chaos robo-effigy screams, “ITSAHOLIDAY4UU UUUUUU!” and stuntskates like a mutha. WHAM! CRUNCH! The left arm smashes into the kerb and snaps with a sickening CRACK! Fuck! Casey goes crazy, battering the ground with the shattered mic and then slashing at his uninjured forearm with the jagged remains and then spraying the open-mouthed crowd with arterial gore. And the crowd clap and cheer and whoop and holler.
Be warned. This article is informed and distorted by love, lust and gratuitous hyperbole. Remember, Amen are just a band. Keep telling yourself that. They’re just a band! Sort of.
© Steven Wells, New Musical Express, 18 November 2000