The cartoon nihilism proffered by this first-wave Southern California (Reseda, to be exact) punk quartet was so over-the-top that most folks didn’t notice that Fear could play circles around the vast majority of its pogo-friendly peers. (And those who did were generally too caught up in frontman Lee Ving’s facetiously contemptuous buffoonery to tell the difference anyway.) Ving, whose second-tier acting career has had its prosperous moments over the years, has made a livelihood of putting forth an anti-woman, anti-homosexual persona that, even at its most shocking, is more akin to Don Rickles than it is to David Duke.
The Record could well be the fiercest, most scabrous spawn of LA’s original punk scene, thanks in large part to the human-being lawnmower scree loosed by guitarist Philo Cramer. For his part, Ving barks through a litany of misanthropic one-liners that heap abuse on…well, just about everything: “Let’s Have a War” suggests mass conflagration as a means for population control (as a self-consciously provincial West Coaster, the Philadelphia-born singer insists New Jersey would make an ideal ground zero); “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones” makes a hilarious supremacist case for the cultural superiority of Fear’s hometown; “I Don’t Care About You” spews vitriol on anyone who doesn’t happen to be in one of the myriad special-interest groups who get theirs on the rest of the album. Truly inspired stuff. (The 1991 CD issue adds Fear’s typically merry seasonal contribution, the 44-second “Fuck Christmas.”)
Fear shifted gears entirely on More Beer, performing acoustic renditions of songs drawn from the Pete Seeger catalogue. Yeah, right! Songs like “Bomb the Russians” and “The Mouth Don’t Stop (The Trouble With Women Is)” belch forth a hops-drenched worldview that could only offend the most humorless knee-jerk liberal — plenty of whom had infiltrated the hardcore movement by the time of the album’s release. Properly chastised, Fear took its leave from the scene — but not before bequeathing a whole new interpretation of the phrase “scat-rock” to future generations. (A 1992 CD adds both tracks from the band’s first 45, “I Love Living in the City” b/w “Now You’re Dead.”)
Live…for the Record took more than five years to get from a radio broadcast to the record racks, but the posthumous document gives a hint how stupid fresh (or maybe just stupid) Fear’s concert shtick could be — complete with half-finished jokes, flagrant belching and side- splitting mid-song moodswings. Backed by a thoroughly plugged Cramer and drummer Spit Stix (original bassist Derf Scratch, coiner of the immortal phrase “Eat my fuck!” in The Decline of Western Civilization, the film in which Ving raises audience baiting to a sidesplitting art, had already departed), Ving bellows through nineteen songs drawn from the first two albums — notably a wild rendition of “Camarillo,” an ode to California’s largest state-run mental hospital — as well as an FCC-defying rendition of “Fuck Christmas” with a wrath that borders on the rhapsodic.
After several years in limbo, Ving re-formed Fear — without any other original members — from his adopted Texas home base, and recorded Have Another Beer With Fear. The change of scenery seems to have had an uplifting effect, since rather than waste energy waylaying random targets, Ving concentrates on life’s truly important things — beer and…er, beer. Orgiastic numbers like “I Believe I’ll Have Another Beer” and “Beerfight” set the tone, while “Legalize Drugs” and “Public Hangings” reaffirm that old right-wing/libertarian political subtext. Although none of his new mates can muster the fluidity of the originals, Ving still woofs with gusto; heck, he’s even picked up a little local color, as evidenced by the hooting “Fuck You Let’s Rodeo.”
Derf Scratch, whose real name was Frederick Milner III, died in July 2010.