Sloppy; unhinged; psychedelic; atonal noise; the epitome of what it means to be “underground.” The music of Texas’ Butthole Surfers is not without its fair share of superlatives and polarizing opinions. From their eyebrow-raising name on down, theirs is an aesthetic built on provocation and controversy. Listening to their albums now, some 30 years after they first began crisscrossing the country for years at a time, they sound unlike much else that has come before or since. Frontman Gibby Haynes’ carnival barker on acid vocal shouts and screams still prove just as disorienting as they must have seemed to unsuspecting club-goers who would find themselves in the midst of an on-stage orgy disguised as a Butthole Surfers show or a genuine freak-out the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the height of the psychedelic ‘60s.

When viewed in the context of Michael Azerrad’s excellent study of a handful of prominent 1980s underground bands, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Underground 1981-1991, the Butthole Surfers come across as certifiably insane road warriors dedicated to creating as much artistic chaos and confusion as possible. Yet this all kept with the general spirit of the underground, DIY aesthetic that would ultimately give rise to the likes of Nirvana and the above-ground appeal of many of the underground acts chronicled in the book – the Butthole Surfers included.

Given appropriate social and political contextualization, while still decidedly out there, the Butthole Surfers begin to make a bit more sense: young punks looking to express themselves in the wake of a generation rift caused by the rumblings out of 1977 London. Adopting a longstanding Texas tradition of musical oddities (13th Floor Elevators, et. al.), the pair of Haynes and Paul Leary set off on a path that would take them about as far away as possible from the the relatively conventional careers for which they’d studied together at Trinity University in San Antonio.

This is approximately where James Burns’ exhaustive Let’s Go to Hell: Scattered Memories of the Butthole Surfers begins. And, like the band he seeks to chronicle in decidedly hagiographic fashion, Let’s Go to Hell is a sloppy mess of a book. From its lack of proper editing – see the ten million superfluous commas, random words, typos and other errors for which the book’s editor should be fired – to Burns’ own rambling tendencies, Let’s Go to Hell comes up short in nearly every way. Which is too bad as the band’s story is fascinating and highly relatable to any young road warrior acts who spent the better part of their post-adolescence traveling across the country in a van full of fellow weirdos hell-bent on creating their own brand of art.

Instead, Let’s Go to Hell is an overlong, tedious read that lacks the visceral impact of the band’s music itself. Their story may well be one of the more interesting to come out of the 1980s underground – something largely confirmed by Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life – but here it’s a painful slog through intermittently interesting anecdotes and asides. With a fair amount of copy editing and editorial objectivity in the overall length department, Let’s Go to Hell could well be the written account the band deserves. Until then, stick with the albums and acid-stained memories of those who were there in the first place.

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