“Cars and sex are two things we stay away from.”
“Yeah, like songs about your girlfriend or rock 'n ’roll all night." The words are twisted with contempt. “We write the stuff that makes you think."
There are four of them. Four members of the heavy metal band Psychotic Waltz. They are seated around a living room coffee table in the heart of El Cajon. The house is part residence, part delicatessen. The drummer’s parents own the building and run the deli. Leggio’s Market, but now live elsewhere, bestowing the house as a sort of band headquarters.
The living room has been subject to heavy use. Its floor is an obstacle course of furled socks, fallen barbell weights, savaged comic books, dry beer bottles. On the wall, paneled with simulated wood, hangs a drum head autographed by Pete Best, the Beatles’ first drummer.
Long hair, jeans. T-shirts; the band’s presentation is without pretense, betraying no unified push toward a coherent style. Dan Rock, guitarist, 22 years old, leans back in a love seal, feet on table edge. He is producing weapon sounds — rockets, bombs, machine guns —with a hand-held electronic toy. Ward Evans, bassist, 20, slouches low in a pocked armchair left of Dan. At a right angle to Dan and Ward, Brian McAlpin, guitarist, 22, faces the table in his wheelchair. (He is paralyzed below the waist from a 1984 auto accident.) Norm Leggio. drummer, 21, sits parallel to Brian on a white vinyl couch. Buddy Lackey, singer, lyricist, and fifth member, is at work.
Table lamps supplement late-afternoon light. The room glows yellow.
“We’re real meticulous songwriters.” Norm wears shorts and a Batman T-shirt. “We’re tryin’ to put every type of feel into a metal groove, you know — if it’s a funk feel, if it’s a jazz feel — we even got like a samba feel in one of our songs. And waltzes.’’
“Hence the name," says shirtless Brian.
“Yeah,” says Norm, “hence the name. We also do eerie melodies.”
“The basic person hears it. they’ll think we're just real heavy,” says Brian. "But anyone who watches Bugs Bunny will like us. Do you notice how the music is written just perfectly with what Bugs Bunny is doin’? If he’s like runnin' up the stairs, they got this whole tone scale goin’ do de de de de de deep! Then Yosemite Sam will come following, and they got a diminished scale: de do do do. And each note goes with each little footstep.”
Norm speaks. "When we first started, we were, like, pretty much, you know, bums. All we did was practice. I took drum lessons, and I was playing eight hours a day and going to high school. I had toy drums all through growin’ up and toy guitars, and every time I’d listen to music. I’d get that emotion,” Norm’s hand becomes a fist, “those goose bumps, you know, filling out. I think that’s a lot of why our music's so heavy, ’cause all of us through growin’ up have, you know, felt the music." He pounds fist into chest. “We felt it."
“We’re out to achieve goose bumps,” Ward says. His baseball cap rides backwards over streaming blond hair.
“It’s a heavy feeling," says Brian.
"Or just full-on joy.” says Ward.
“I think creative people are very, you know, emotional,” Norm proposes.
“What separates creative people" Dan begins, putting down the toy, “is that — ”
Norm interrupts. "I mean, it’s not easy being — ”
“Let Dan talk.” says Ward.
“Yeah,” Dan looks at Norm, “don’t cut me off, dick-nose ”
"I diden mean to, Dan. Go ahead.”
"What separates creative people,” Dan resumes. “It’s kinda like some people are born with ESP, and you can’t really say, well, what is it that separates you, why you have ESP and why, like, I don’t."
“Evolution," Ward suggests.
“Yeah," says Norm, “maybe in our past lives we played together in rad orchestras"
Ward: Some things are just so weird, it’s hard to explain them.
Brian: I like to read my horoscopes.
Norm: Once in a while.
Dan: I got a Time/Life book on powers of the unknown.
Ward: We like to watch In Search Of.
Norm: Yeah, everything of the occult, or something eerie ...
Ward: Something heavy.
Brian: That there’s no explanation for.
Norm: ... for some reason always appealed to me.
Ward: Just things that are, like, heavy and unexplainable.
Brian: Like Stonehenge.
Ward: Yeah. Stonehenge. It’s real captivating to your mind.
Dan says. “It has worked for us a couple times, what we call a cosmic unawareness, a mild form of ESP. Say I would write something like Hanging on a String.' which is our eighth song. I wrote this one part, and Brian wrote this one part totally separate. We got together one day, and it's like, wow, they kinda sound like they were meant to be part of one thing."
"A lot of our songs have mythological type things to 'em,” says Norm. “The average Joes might not appreciate what we're doin', ’cause we’re outsmarting ’em.”
“Well,” says Dan. ’’you have to work to listen to it, as opposed to watchin’ TV: you’re doin’ nothing but letting a box entertain you and killing conversation.”
"Yeah,” says Norm, “ours is the kind of thing you can lie down in your bedroom, and put the headphones on, and roll a big fat one, and absorb it. People that trip out to it, they go, “You know, man, I was listening to the tape and blah, blah, blah,’ and they go ... ‘That’s heavy.’ The goose bumps, you know? ‘Wow, I wonder if this means this, and blah, blah. Blah… What a heavy concept.’ And, you know, we do the same thing to our favorite artist, Mike. He does artwork for the band.”
“You can read different things into his art,” Dan says. “You can see like different — ” “Yeah, you can see so many different things." says Norm. “But it’s like really weird.” Brian: But it’s things that —
“It’s like,” Ward pauses, considers, “saying a lot of things, but not any one specific thing.” Norm concludes, “It’s whatever your mind wants it to be: it’s creative.”
“It’s got a theme and like a lesson,” says Brian. “You can see the point, but it’s so... weird. Like the way the world is being eaten by all this kinda techno stuff ... ” “Uh-huh.”
”... and smog.”
Dan: Sometimes we look at the crowd and go, “Wow, there’s a lot of people thriving on us.” Sometimes I think, “Hmm, I wonder what I’m thinking.”
Norm: Sometimes you’re lookin’ at your own self. “Wow, I wonder if I look stupid.”
Dan: I think about how warm I’m getting, 'cause I got a real bad circulation.
Brian: I can see it as a religious experience. “But I find fun in rappelling, too," says Dan. “and I don’t think rappelling is God.”
Brian: Yeah, that’s the way I am about deep-sea fishing.
“But see.” Dan elaborates, “out of all the people in the world, this many percent rappel, but of all those people that rappel, how many also do this? It’s a cool thing, but ‘religious’? I wouldn't say.”
Norm beams. “When I’m — I’m just — ahh! I love it when I’m playin’ a fast — like the first song we open up with, and I get to go diddle-a diddle-a diddle-a” He mimes energetic drumming.
Dan: It’s better than sex.
Norm: And ya sweat more than sex.
“It’s like, if I’m sittin’ there. I’d go, “Gee. would I rather be havin’ sex right now or on the stage?’” Dan pauses for effect. “The choice is obvious.”
Norm: That’s the greatest feeling, when —
Ward: When you’re sincere about it.
Brian: And feeling it.
“Ya feel it.” Norm wags his head. “It’s just like. Arghhh! After a show, we’re a buncha animals.”
Brian: When your twin powers activate.
Norm: That’s the raddest feeling.
“One time we had a feeling of anger at the El Cajon Mice Department.” says Dan. “so we wrote a semi-aggressive song.”
Ward: And we have a Santee sheriff Nazi dickhead.
Dan: Oh yeah, Santee. How could I forget. Ward: We wrote a song about him called “The Fourth Reich.’
“That goes again, what makes us different.” Norm says. “We’re fully against, you know, like... ” He needs the right word.
Ward supplies it. “Oh, we question authority.”
“Yeah, authority, " says Norm. “Too much — I’ve noticed too much — not enough people in this world are really happy and doing what they wanna do and — and being themselves. Like we went to the beach, and neon green is everywhere!”
Brian: But we play unsafe music.
“You know,” Norm continues, “I don’t like politicians whatsoever, and I think our government’s fully screwed, and I got a feeling one of these years there’s gonna be a revolution in America, and China’s gonna be the big country.” “We’re supposed to be good guys,” Dan says, “but we’ll like kill somebody and then like turn like this” — he swivels his torso — “like we didn’t do it. Like a false ... prophet."
Norm: The same politicians that are on TV say in’, “Oh, you know, you guys shoulden do drugs” — they’re havin’ a drink 11 o’clock in the morning that's a double and making cash off letting endless people bring the coke in.
Dan: The revolution could happen, if —
Norm: Well, right now. we’re — we’re oppressed.
Dan: Yeah, like they’re demanding smog laws here. Other states don’t have it — why do some states have this, some states don’t, you know?
Ward: They have all this gun-control shit...
Brian: Also the PMRC.
Ward: ... like in Nazi Germany.
Brian: Parents’ Music Resource Center.
“Yeah, we’re defenseless now,” says Dan.
“It’s just, I think, more oppression," Norm concludes. “And another stupid law is the noise law.”
Dan: We can’t play loud after 5:30.
“Yeah," says Norm, "we got one asshole across the street. One guy is able to call the cops on us. We got kicked out of this room. Out of my own place. This is my dad’s place. And, you know something? That ain’t fair. That’s communism right there!"
“My parents own this deli out front, Leggio’s Market, and I was offered to take over a nice business — they’re about ready to retire.” Norm speaks quietly. “I’ve been working here part-time all my life, you know. In high school I diden work for ’em; I got paid for goin’ to school. I just practiced and got good grades.” Suppressed laughter from Ward. "But, uh — I got good grades.” Norm’s voice rises. “I got — yeah, fuck yeah, I did.”
“I never saw any of his report cards," says Brian.
“I did,” says Dan.
Norm is ready. “Which one? You saw that one — ”
“That yellow one that was over there.” Norm can explain. “That was in ninth grade, man.”
“Fs, Ds. A in PE.”
“That was in ninth grade.”
"You got Gs, man."
“Oh, yeah, right.”
‘”All beyond F.”
“Well, you took all easy classes.”
“Your little Fs!"
“Aw, shit, fuck you.” Norm turns away, shakes off the affront. “Nah, but if I diden have this band. I probley woulda took over this business, and I probley woulda been stuck here in El Cajon all my life."
Dan: Bein’ the jolly wop.
“Yeah, bein’ the jolly wop. But if I wasn’t a musician and I diden take over the deli, I probley woulda became a Superhero. I probley woulda been Batman. I probley woulda just dedicated my life to getting really buff and learning how to make a utility belt ”
Ward: Kill people like Craig Beyer.
“Yeah, I’d go after criminals and stuff, and go against the law and even go against crooked cops especially, and I’d like to have the law after me and always go, ‘Yeah, this Batman character is, you know, killing everybody,’ and they would say that I'm a bad guy, and I'm really doing good, so I’d be against the system. I’d probley do that but, uh. I'm a pretty small dude, and I — realistically, I don’t think I could be a very good Batman.”
Brian: Norman loses it and quits the band every once in a while.
“Yeah, I get mentally depressed and disturbed."
Dan mimics Norm in a moronic voice: “ ‘Fuck you guys, man.’ ”
“But, you know,” Norm says, “John Bonham did that all the time, too, though.”
Brian: Sometimes doubt comes in, like —
Norm: Doubt, yeah, a lotta times. “Our thing’s based on public opinion," Ward says. “Is the public ready for us? If they’re not, we’re gonna just rot here."
Norm: So many other bands that were the big thing — like Victim and Bible Black — all those guys have stopped playing; and they’re either living at home with their parents still, without a band, are 28, or managing a music store, and —
Brian: Which isn’t —
Norm: Which isn’t bad.
Brian: Yeah, which it’s not bad.
“But we get worried,” Norm says. “Is that gonna happen to us? Sometimes our parents, they go, ‘You know how long ya been playin'. Norm? Ya been playin' for over 11 years now, and, uh. what’s, you know, what's happening?' And it’s like, ‘Well — ’ ’’
Brian: “Ya makin’ any money yet?”
Norm: Yeah, you know, and —
Brian: “Where’s the cake?”
Norm: That’s the one thing. Yeah, we do get depressed.
Brian: Yeah, definitely.
Norm: Definitely, yeah.
“It’s an upstream battle,” says Brian. “I wonder if the trout or the salmon that go upstream to spawn get depressed."
“You know,” says Norm, “the job I'm doing at this deli — there's this big counter, and all these people come up, and ya gotta take their order and make their sandwich or make their spaghetti and make their lasagna, and they're all giving you dirty looks, like you're some stupid idiot longhair makin’ minimum wage.”
“Rumor has it we’re all depressing people anyway,” says Dan.
Brian: Our music is not gonna uplift you. "But some people are naturally rude,” Norm says. “Being in El Cajon here, everyone’s a crystal fiend, except for us. Every day we deal with weirdos and sketchers comin’ up that we can't stand. Or the locals that have seen me grown up, and they go” — in a low bellow — “‘Oh, what have you been doin’?’ And they know I diden take over the business, and they go, ‘Oh, why diden you take it over?’ ‘Well, I play in a band.’ And a lotta people think, ‘Oh, look at this dumb loser. He’s hopin’ that his band's gonna get signed, and he’s here takin my order.’ That’s why I lose it, ’cause I’ve been in El Cajon — you know how many times,” Norm’s eyes widen, “I’ve drove down this street and came to this building? Of course I lose it!” He stops, thinks. “But, you know, I just take a deep breath and keep on doin’ it.”
Brian: Our main goal is to progress, not regress.
“We tell jokes that are really hard to understand,” says Brian.
“Yeah," says Norm, “we’ve had chicks here, and we’re just talkin’ about ’em right to their faces, sayin’, like Monty Python, sayin’ ” — Norm bends forward, attempts an English accent — “ ‘Does she go. eh? Nudge nudge, wink wink. Say no mo’. ’ ”
Ward 's turn: Or stuff like, “So ya ever had penis and beer? You know. Planter’s penis?" Chicks don’t know what to think.
Norm: Some of ’em don’t know we’re making fun of ’em.
Ward: They just laugh ’cause we’re all laughin’.
Norm: Some of ’em like it.
Brian: Some chicks are just really, really airheaded.
“Seriously,” says Norm. “Or, like Brian will be talkin' to a chick, and I'll be with a drumstick right behind her, doin’ like this.” Phantom drumstick between spread legs. Norm's hips undulate on the couch, round and round, slowly, lewdly.
Dan gets up. “I gotta bail now, man. I'm gonna check out a band at Rio’s.” Dan and Ward slap hands, lock thumbs, wiggle fingers.
“Who you going with?" Brian asks.
“Yo’ mama.’’ says Dan, walking to the door.
“Going with your ghee?” asks Brian, teasing.
“No, your mama ” Dan exits.
“He’s going with his ghee,” says Brian, smugly.
“Our practice room wall is just pure entertainment.” Norm explains: “We have a hocker contest — you know, we spit mucous and stuff on the wall. Our wall is covered with hockers. Whoever can make the longest and biggest one.”
Ward: Longest lasting.
“Or we do a nose-flinger,” says Norm, “and then we rate ’em and see who’s king hocker. It dries up. and they’re all crossed over our drawings. So we tell people. ‘Don’t lean on our walls. Ya might get a fresh one.’ ”
Ward: There’s one that — we got strawberry fruit pie filling — since January — we put the date on it.
Norm: It’s dried and molded.
Ward: But same exact color and texture it had in January.
Brian says. “One time we left a Whopper in our room to watch it cultivate. For a couple o’ months.”
“Smelled like a decayed carcass,” says Ward.
“We had a Circle K hot dog in our other jam room for a few months.”
Brian: Oh. that thing, man, had so much food preservatives in it.
Norm: That thing dried, man, like beef jerky.
Brian: Took it three months before it grew any mold.
Ward: We spit on it to get the germs activated, and it still wouldn't culture anything.
“One time that toilet in there.” Brian nods toward a nearby bathroom, “was plugged up, and nobody would bother to unplug it.”
“Three weeks.” says Norm, “we had this bathroom covered with shit. Shit water. I open the lid, and these gnats came fly in' out — you know, shit flies. So I go, ‘Fuck.’ I ended up doin’ it anyway"
Ward: There’s still a ring around the side.
Brian: Then we’d let chicks use it.
“I mean." says Norm, “we do a lot of fuckin’ shit like that — but, hey, it’s entertainment, you know? So why not?"
“Dan saves all his toenails in a paper cup." Brian says. “Also, he started collecting lint from his belly button — you know, after you wear a T-shirt?"
“And you know the hair balls that come at the end of the shower." asks Norm, “when you get your hair out of the drain? Yeah, he saves all his hair balls."
“He thinks someday he’ll go bald." Ward says, “and he’ll have his own hair to replace it with."
The measurements have to be 36-24-36." says Norm, “with real long, long hair. They gotta, gotta have a good pair on ’em."
Brian, Norm, and Ward have assembled in the band’s practice room adjoining the house. Norm’s extensive drum kit crowds the small space. The others' equipment — guitars, racks, amplifiers — must hug the walls.
The walls were once white. They are now a patchwork of posters; pages tom from tabloids; obscene, hand written limericks; gouge marks of assorted origin; enigmatic stains; and finally, highly pornographic sketches in black marking pen, with captions below,
Poor lighting (dim overhead bulb) and absence of windows establish a subterranean ambience. Near the door. Norm and Ward stand on layers of carpet, facing Brian in his wheelchair.
Norm: Kim Basinger.
Brian: No, Paulina with bigger tits.
Bells ring for Norm. “Oh, yeah! Um, what was that blond chick in Playboy?"
“I don’t know,’’ Brian says, “but they gotta have ... long blond hair, big tits. They definitely ”
“And a pooper,” Norm adds.
“Yeah, a good pooper.” says Brian, in summary. He turns a shoulder, points to a tabloid page fixed to the wall. “There’s a chick with 40-pound tits that killed a guy.”
“I don’t wanna chick with tits that big,” Norm says. “Maybe half that big.”
“Not even half that big,” says Brian. “They weigh 20 pounds each.”
“Yeah, that’s too big.” Norm cups hands at chest. “Size 34. At least that big, man.”
Brian: I don’t even wanna chick with five-pound tits.
“That could be too much titty.”
Brian insists, “I don’t even wanna chick with one-pound tits. That's like a girl goin’ out with a guy that has a seven-pound — you know.” “A man with three legs,” says Ward.
Norm walks to the far wall. In the darkness his silhouette is obscure. “Over here we drew three different types of penises: uncircumcised, a regular American circumcised one, and the way Europeans circumcise their penises. See, I went to Europe, and I was takin’ a piss with my friend in Europe, and his dick was uncircumcised compared to mine, and I was like. ‘Wow, man, they do it that way?’ ”
Norm: Someone who’d do anything for ya.
Brian: Someone that genuinely cares about you as a person, not just fulfilling her own selfish needs.
“And will wait for you loyally.” says Norm, “to come off the tour. Who will always understand that you’re a musician, you live this way, and understand what ya gotta do.”
“Not so wrapped up in what I’m doin’ that she crowds my space.” says Brian. “Someone that makes me feel secure but able to turn me on every time I look at her.”
“Yeah,” Norm says. “Lotta times when they’re jealous, or they ’re bitchin’, it’s like. ‘Hey. you know, you’re not here to bitch at me. I don’t — hey, you’re wastin’ my time. I could be practicing or something.’ I don’t dig that whatsoever. She has to understand that the guys in the band — we gotta hang out together as friends and go rage.”
At Ward’s suggestion, the trio decides to reenter the living room. Walking back. Norm says. “You know. I go out weekends, when I’m bored and stuff, go see other bands, have a drink, see what meat’s hangin’ around; and, um. I get really frustrated. A lotta chicks are real shallow mentally.”
“Most of ’em.” says Ward.
“It’s just really sad,” says Norm. In the living room he eases back into his couch. Hands behind neck, elbows up. he lifts his long black curls, moving hands out till the last strand falls away. “I kinda would like to meet a girl who’s never heard our type of music, who would like me just because I’m something different and she’s never experienced anything like me. I don’t know — I wouldn't mind meetin’ a European chick, someone from Europe, or a....” His voice fades a moment. “I mean, even a nice-look in’ black woman I wouldn’t mind takin' out. A real nice-lookin’ black girl that just — ”
“LaToya,” says Brian.
Norm chuckles. “Yeah, like LaToya. Someone like an artist or a musician, who’s into a totally different scene. But then again, I wouldn’t want her to be one of those people that wait in line, like at a club to go dancing. Not like one of those type.”
Norm: That’s the greatest feeling; right after the gig, when ya see some chick that looks real good, and you’re like, mmmmm, you know, and ya can.
Brian: Maybe they’re turned on by the bad-boy type of — you know, the doobauchery-type style that you do.
“I think girls are real attractive to it,” says Norm.
“We’re not a bad-boy image or nothing.” Brian says, “but we are dark and mysteriously heavy.”
“You know,” Norm says, “there are actually some really nice-lookin’ girls that don’t get dogged by different bands every week.”
Ward: They’re not all sluts.
Brian: You know the bad slut when you see one.
“But still.” says Norm, “any chick that I’d dog now, I'd definitely wear a wetsuit. These guys know, 'cause they found ’em on the practice room floor.”
Brian: Norm’s a porker.
“But I’m thinkin’,” Norm goes on, “what if I'm blue-balled for six months, and it’s my night, and I meet a cool chick, and I wanna go dog’er, and I forget to put a rubber in my back pocket, and there’s no gas stations open. What are ya gonna do? It’s like, ‘Uh, can I ask for a hand job, honey?’ Well, then you wait and maybe dog ’em another day.
“But don’t get me wrong; some of the girls that come to the shows — ahh! I mean. I’d love to get nasty with ’em. But also, every time I look at one. I see a little skull and crossbones on their foreheads, sayin’, ‘It will explode if ya stick it in!’ ”
“Yeah,” Ward says, “like this one chick gave our friend a case of pus dick.”
“Fuckin' hurts, man,” says Norm. “It kills. One of our old roadies who got it — he diden know what it was, and his dick swelled up like sh — I mean, like a fuckin' cucumber! So he couldn't even touch his prick or walk! It was so fuckin’ hurled.”
It's dark outside. The street is quiet but for a passing car. The deli is closed. Norm has a majestic vision, for himself, for his band.
“We were gonna meet this person at this club that we were gonna talk to, and it turns out they had a dress code, and they made us wait outside. Right off the bat, there’s some little short-haired jock, wearin’ white shorts and a pink Izod shirt, sayin’ he's dressed better than me 'cause I’m wearin’ purple Levis and a Batman T-shirt.
“Wherever we go, people look at us weird, and they just don't understand. ‘Why do you have your hair this way? How come you aren’t getting married at 25. and working hard all day. and buying your own house?’
“The whole thing is — if we get signed, and we make albums, and we do really well — after we’re gone, we’re still on this earth. John Lennon’s still here. That’s what I want. It’s more than becoming just an average person. After you’re gone, that’s history. But if you’re signed, and you influence an era, and you made a lot of people feel good, and they came to see you— that’s special. That's really special “If we get signed, we’re gonna be here for eternity, till this place blows up. Someone’s gonna have our record, 30 or 40 years down the line, just like the Beatles.
“If we do do this goal, we can go to the next step. We’re this much closer to bein’ a deity and comin’ back and goin’ through the whole process again. That’s what I wanna do. I — I wanna be immortal.”