It's been punk to be cute ever since the early days of riot grrrl, when movement members appropriated girly-girl styles to spoof and critique conventional gender roles. But as indie rock erupted into a sea of Hello Kitty paraphernalia, what was once a political statement softened into an escapist wallow in infantilism. Cuddle-rockers named Cub or Poo-Poo purport to reclaim their pre-adolescence for empowerment purposes but mostly just mirror mainstream culture's fetishization of childhood (especially girlhood) innocence. Album covers look like family photo albums these days, with even hard-rockers plastering them with baby photos and childhood drawings.
In this context, the quintessentially cuddly Stinky Puffs are something of an anomaly. For one thing, frontman Simon Fair Timony really is a kute kid. Only 11 years old, he's already an indie rock O.G., having founded the Stinky Puffs (at age 4) before moppet-rocker Ben Lee learned long division or Beck could even shave. Born in S.F. to former Ralph Records executive Sheenah Fair (and once the stepson of Half Japanese's Jad Fair), Simon can discuss the finer points of CBGB's, has toured with Nirvana, and, as he says with a hint of b-boy swagger, “gets to stay up until 1 or 2 sometimes.”
“I wouldn't say it's normal,” Simon says of his rock 'n' roll lifestyle, “and I wouldn't say it's abnormal.” But how many sixth-graders list the Residents as their favorite band?
A Stinky Puff, as Simon recounts with gusto, is a fart. “No one ever guesses it,” he muses. On the fun punk-poppy A little tiny smelly little bit of … The Stinky Puffs EP (T.E.C. Tones), the all-star lineup includes Simon's mom, Sheenah, 9-year-old Cody Linn Ranaldo (son of Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo), Jad Fair, Eric Eble, and Don Fleming (Gumball). On Side 2, four songs are reprised by the Super Stinky Puffs Band (featuring Nirvana's Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic and Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan), recorded live at last year's Yo-Yo a Go Go music fest in Olympia.
But this is really Simon's show. In the a-little-child-shall-lead-them vein, his lyrics prove himself a kiddie sage (“Buddies aren't butts”), a Dirty Harry of justice (“The Menendez killed their parents/ For the $14 mill/ And if I ever met them/ I would have to KILL!”), and the heir to the Johnny Rotten mantle (“I am gross!/ I am gross! [insert fart noise]/ I proved it!”). “I'll Love You Anyway,” the best song, is about his friend Kurt Cobain, whose suicide hit Simon hard. He vents his anger about broken promises, then forgives Cobain and tries to remember the good times (“I'm happy we got to hug/ I'm happy I smashed a guitar with you”). “After I sang it a few times, I felt better,” Simon says.
Simon recently faced another loss: Jad, his stepfather, split. “He abandoned us in a really horrible way,” Simon says, which also inspired the upcoming Songs and Advice for Kids Who Have Been Left Behind, dedicated to Frances Bean Cobain. His cuddle-rock elders may be playing in lunch-box paradise, but Simon makes it clear that childhood is anything but pure fun and games. Of course, the Stinky Puffs are no downer: Live, Simon and Cody are all sweet punk charm, with the band attired in Stinky Puffs uniforms. “We all look the same, but we're not the same, so it's great,” Simon explains. “This is a good job.” Yeah, keeps him off the streets.
The Stinky Puffs play Sat, July 15, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.