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House of Tudor 

Party like it's 1984, and the swamp rock-turned-street punk of Throw Rag

Wednesday, Jun 25 2003
Eric Arthur Blair was born on June 25, 1903, in Motihari, India, where his father was employed as a civil servant, but he was raised and educated in England by his mother, gratitude for which he expressed by shuffling off to Burma as soon as he could get out of Eton to join the Indian Imperial Police. This was followed by a period of self-imposed poverty, during which he cast about England and France, looking for something to do and, just as important, something to drink. The result was Down and Out in Paris and London and the birth of George Orwell. Orwell was a complicated, and some would say cantankerous, figure, a middle-class intellectual who liked to play at being a man of the people so that he might better scorn his own kind, but there can be no doubt of his legacy and his leanings. A defender of language and liberty, he put one in the service of the other to defend against the perils facing both. Animal Farm and 1984 remain two of the most elegant indictments against autocrats (left and right) in history, and both hold up as stark but riveting good tales. To celebrate what would have been Orwell's 100th birthday -- if he had not succumbed to TB at the ripe old age of 46 -- three nights of Orwellian cogitation have been planned by the Ministry of Truth. Beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday, the first night is an introduction to Orwell's canon hosted by Alan Black and includes readings of excerpts from various essays and novels and a screening of a short biography on the man. Thursday night explores the bugbear that most offended Orwell's sensibilities: propaganda. Hosted by Professor James Forsher, a national expert and archivist of government "newspeak," this is a film clip show that begins at 8 p.m. and is followed by a short documentary on the Spanish Civil War, which shaped and defined Orwell's political principles forevermore. Finally, the "Big Brother's Party" on Saturday promises newspeak, pornosec, ingsoc, telescreens, thoughtpolice, and free victory gin for all, with readings from 1984, prole vids and sounds, and a live performance by the "Godfather of Weird," Phantom Patient. The 100-year birthday of George Orwell will be celebrated June 25, 26, and 28 at the Edinburgh Castle. Those who attend the opening night, which is gratis, will receive free tickets to the next two nights; Thursday is $6, Saturday is $7. Call 885-4074.

Imperial County isn't the sort of place you come from; it's the sort of place you end up. Located in the desert hundreds of miles below sea level, it is the poorest county in California despite a 365-day growing season and a lake the size of Delaware that once boasted yacht clubs, hotels, and golf courses along its shore. The lake, which promised to be Imperial County's redemption, is now the daily resting spot for 3 million migratory birds and a runoff ditch for one of the world's largest irrigation systems. Estimated to be 25 percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean, it is aptly named the Salton Sea, and it reeks. Petrified fish and rotting birds carpet the shoreline and a putrid odor caused by an overabundance of brown algae rises from the water itself, which some claim can be detected by its vaguely shitty stench at a 40-mile distance. Salt crystals cake the land surrounding the Sea and temperatures often reach 110 in the shade. It's a strange bit of land and it draws a strange bit of humanity: RV-wielding snowbirds, meth-cooking trailer trash, outsider artists, illegal immigrants, Holy Rollers, ex-cons, fugitives, anarchists, poets, ingrates, and Throw Rag. Tee-Tot, the first record by Throw Rag, sounded exactly as I dreamed it would, like six fellas who spent their youth gacked out on bathtub residue, sitting in a dusky junkyard at the edge of the world, watching the sun set over the Salton Sea behind a forest of half-submerged telephone poles while listening to bootlegs of Hasil Adkins, the Cramps, and Social Distortion. It opened with a rousing jaw harp jig by Jacko, the band's full-time washboard player, and segued into a swamp-boogie freakout with Sleezo's warbling howl kicking off a rousing chorus of "hoo walla walla walla hoo hay." Then it got weird. Horror-movie surf guitar, ground-thumping upright bass, chicken clucking, cowbell clanking, desert-drag drumming, and that lunatic on the mike, whom I could easily picture as a skinny, sweaty, and nearly naked man stomping around in bikini briefs and white cowboy boots, singing like Elvis with his hair on fire at the end of a five-day run. I liked it. And so, apparently, did a lot of folks. The group has been touring relentlessly, gaining a dogged fan base willing to endure headlining bands -- Supersuckers, the Damned, Motörhead, Toilet Boys, Dick Dale, Willie Nelson, Wesley Willis, and on and on -- just to get a little more Throw Rag grit between their teeth. With such a busy touring schedule, it's unlikely the sextet often sits on the shores of its noxious beach anymore (unless Huntington Beach counts); consequently, the new album, Desert Shores, is decidedly more urban, one might even say worldly, given its British punk inflections. While the washboard, bugle, and jaw harp are still in effect (including a pretty fabulous washboard solo on "Mission's Message"), the days of feeling like you just stumbled onto a campfire in The Hills Have Eyes are long gone. This is more traditional street punk, paved street punk; and even if the maniac in bikini briefs (this time, a photograph has been provided) is singing about UFO probes, autoerotic asphyxiation, government conspiracies, illegitimate babies, cyanide teeth, evil Hollywood hipsters, salty casino whores, dusty frontier towns, and tamarisk trees, I still pine for the good ol' days when Throw Rag's punk had more potholes. Throw Rag supports Supersuckers on Friday and Saturday, June 27-28, at Slim's with the Bronx opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15; call 522-0333. They return next month with the Vans Warped Tour on Saturday, July 12, at Pier 30/32 ($28, 974-0634); and with Reverend Horton Heat and Southern Culture on the Skids Thursday through Saturday, July 24-26, at Bimbo's 365 Club ($22-24, 474-0365), the Great American Music Hall ($22, 885-0750), and Slim's ($22, 522-0333), respectively. Call for show times.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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