By Ian S. Port
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Part comedy act, part psychodrama, the Zip Code Rapists were a volatile, often antagonistic duo who wreaked havoc on San Francisco's underground during the first half of the '90s. You never knew quite what to expect from guitarist John Singer and vocalist Gregg Turkington, but they always challenged the conventions of what a band "should" be.
Live shows were often haphazard, anguished debacles made up largely of aberrant covers of hoary chestnuts and classic rock tunes, e.g., "Touch Me" by the Doors. Turkington would frequently taunt the audience and smash thrift-store records on his forehead, and projectiles ranging from stuffed animals to bar furniture were known to fly in both directions between the band and those in attendance.
"There was a lot of garbage being thrown around," Turkington recalls from his home in Los Angeles. "We did this show in Oakland at the Heinz Club, where we dragged all this cardboard in from the street, and we were just kinda throwing it all over the club, and the owner actually chased us out of the room. But John had a little amp attached to his belt, so we kept playing as we were being driven out of the place."
Yet ZCR wasn't just about chaos and confrontation. At times, the pair could be the good-times party band they oft-ironically claimed to be. In an e-mail from his residence in Vermont, Singer writes: "After a particularly messy show at Klub Komotion [on 16th Street], we were booked in to the Thirsty Swede [in the Upper Haight]. I threatened to stop doing shows unless Gregg found [a] more pleasant stage demeanor. He spent the entire show wearing white gloves, waving and smiling at the audience, and leading sing-alongs of 'The Bear Went Over the Mountain.' That's entertainment!"
ZCR put out some fairly perplexing records, too. There were, of course, the many odd covers, such as the radical reinterpretations -- some would say butcherings -- of songs by Liz Phair and Pavement on the four-track EP Sing and Play the Matador Records Catalog(Ecstatic Piss), and the rendition of a Ford truck commercial on the group's first album, Sing and Play the Three Doctors and Other Songs of Today(released by Turkington's infamous Amarillo label). But the band recorded plenty of twisted originals as well, such as the faux-British children's show theme "Darn It Duck." (Chorus: "He's a helluva fuck, that Darn It Duck.") Many songs revolved around the members' oddball obsessions, from Ranch Style Beans to banal '70s act Pablo Cruise and the insanely awful John Belushi bio-film Wired.
Around late 1994, the duo perpetrated a well-orchestrated parody of band dynamics, in which the members of ZCR had an acrimonious falling out and splintered into two competing outfits. Singer put together a relatively straightforward rock band called Zip Code Revue, while Turkington kept the weirdness rolling with the Three Doctors Band, whose initial album, Back to Basics -- "Live"(Amarillo), was eight-ninths covers, including a hilariously off-key rendition of Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach."
While keeping the feud charade alive locally, the Zip Code Rapists continued to play gigs out of town in 1995. The band's last show was in Osaka, Japan, in November of that year, and now the two have decided to commemorate that nearly decade-old event with a one-off reunion gig at the Hemlock Tavern. "The idea of a group like ZCR becoming a nostalgia/oldies act is so completely absurd," Turkington says. "Yet the audience for this show will most likely be fans from way back when, looking for a chance to bring back cherished memories of the Zip Code Rapists being complete assholes and putting on a lousy show.
"The popularity of this new TV show [H1t Me Baby One More Time] has convinced me that human beings have an innate need to see their formerly young rock heroes at their fattest and grayest, with voices and inspiration in tatters. Having suffered through many such shows myself, it's exciting to be on the other side of the equation. At least we have all our original members."
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