Imagine the smelly kid who spent seventh grade with his hand down his pants, saved his boogers in a jar and told girls in a deadly serious tone that he was going to get them pregnant. Now imagine four of those kids in a band. Sockeye came farting and ejaculating out of Kent, Ohio, in 1987, releasing homemade tapes of tasteless, horribly amateurish and delightfully ridiculous music that spawned a punk subgenre called tardcore (singer Food Fortunata runs Wheelchair Full of Old Men Records, the genre’s flagship label). Devotion to silliness and extreme incivility endeared them to a small but devoted cadre of fans, most of whom apparently weren’t offended by “Tittyfuck a Coalminer” or “Little Boy Penis,” probably because Sockeye shredded all notions of decency with a harmless nerdy underachiever appeal. (Concertgoers took enough offense to attack Fortunata onstage on two separate occasions, however.) By flagellating nearly every taboo topic to the breaking point, these lads inspired bands with names like Colon on the Cob and may well be the most obscure group to provoke a tribute album (We Suck Worse: A Tribute to Sockeye). The best Sockeye songs are not simply gross-out contests; they are cartoon monkeys flinging poo at the orthodoxy of mainstream society. Those who don’t see humor in the lyric “Let a bunch of retards fuck your mom / And beat your dad to death with a pillowcase full of squirrels” (“Destroy Everything”) don’t get Sockeye, and they probably won’t like the music, an artless mix of metal, punk and classic rock (a gleefully wretched, horribly recorded live cover of .38 Special’s “Hold on Loosely” appears on Grand Wizards of Your Parents’ Sex Lives).
Many of the early cassette-only songs were re-recorded for vinyl and CD releases, and the cassettes themselves are nearly impossible to obtain, since they were mostly sold via mailorder from ads in the backs of punk fanzines. The band didn’t even bother to officially duplicate or distribute Red Salmon. However, Poop on Your Dad’s Tit helpfully anthologizes the formative years, when a rotating membership included bassists Puzzleteeth, Copie and Czuk, as well as drummers Czet and Szcot. Those who don’t unthread the tape in disgust after hearing Sockeye laugh at juvenile cancer victims (“Cancer”) will enjoy hearing them take the piss out of a punk icon (“Jello Biafra”), old people (“The Elderly Love Grilled Cheese”) and INXS (a cover of “Devil Inside”). Surely such forebears as Captain Beefheart, Pee-wee Herman, the Shaggs and the kid who taught everyone in school how to swear would be appalled (and snickering in spite of themselves) at their twisted progeny.
Sockeye’s core lineup of Fortunata, guitarist Kicky Game, drummer Yum Yums and bassist Poopy Gonzales solidified before the split single with That Cheezy Sensation, which features a more instrumentally competent group. The music — which is secondary to the lyrics on any Sockeye release — is a palatable punkish rock stomp. The quartet takes sloppy aim at straightedge punks, vegetarians and, on “2000 Lawns,” retarded children (“He’s overpraised / His eyes are stupid and glazed”). “Fuckin’ Shit” is a lousy-job diatribe that is the ill-tempered mental patient cousin of “Take This Job and Shove It” (the chorus is “It’s all just fuckin’ fuckin’ fuckin’ fuckin’ shit,” of course).
The Coprophagia e.p. is notable for its cover of a toilet neatly adorned with a napkin, fork, spoon and knife (har dee har har). The music is no less crude, a loosely played and poorly recorded bed for idiocy like “Cervix Blues,” “Your City Sucks” and the oddly compelling “Chant,” the a cappella chant being “Funeral’s over, let’s eat!” (One side of Coprophagia was repressed on the Volkswhale split EP.) The split EP with Eeyore Prayer Tool is as lo as lo-fi can get without being unlistenable, but then again, songs like “Incest Rules” don’t exactly call for a Steve Lillywhite production sheen.
There’s a very thin line between inspired dementia and stupid crap, and Grand Wizards of Your Parents’ Sex Lives crosses it on “Mushroom Gravy,” taking more than three minutes to discuss pouring the titular foodstuff over the singer’s you-know-what. “Blind” is a somewhat catchy folk song, redeeming the EP a bit despite the intentionally bad vocal and cruel mockery (“Your world consists of nothing but black / And you couldn’t fend off an unarmed attack”).
If Sockeye are the Beatles of this sort of shit, Retards Hiss Past My Window is its Sgt. Pepper’s. No other band can hold a candle (or lit farts) to the opprobrious lunacy of “Your Boob’s Poop,” the fist-pumping, catchy “Boy With the Breast Implants” and “Steve Albini Fucked Pac-Man” (which remains funny after more than one listen, even though the only lyric is “Steve Albini fucked Pac-Man / na-ner-ni-na-ni-noo” sung in a taunting whine). The music is a sometimes-ably played mix of bludgeoning punk and raw dunderheaded rock, with Fortunata affecting the occasional death metal growl (see “Buttfuque Your Own Face,” one of a number of previously released tracks re-recorded for Retards and vastly improved as a result). A semblance of recording quality (this might have involved an actual studio) and an attempt at musical acuity bring Sockeye’s absurd world into sharper focus, revealing a warped tunefulness rendered more effective by luring the listener into humming songs like “Your Muff Has Tusks” and “Wang Boutinneire.” Most albums like this are only good for one or two listens, but Retards holds disarming appeal if you aren’t completely put off by songs about graphic sex with former vice president Al Gore (“Al Gore I,” “Al Gore II”) and are amused by the surreal stories in “Pizza w/Ulysses S. Grant on It.” The Mortville reissue adds 10 unreleased songs, a track from a rare compilation and what is possibly the most ridiculous band interview of all time.
The split single with Ross Daily continues Sockeye’s stab at instrumental competency, in a Zappa-meets-Dead Milkmen way. Listening repeatedly before mingling with polite company is inadvisable, since some folks might pointedly shun anyone mindlessly singing “Little Dummy Cripple” or “Two Homosexual Baby Dogs.” Sockeye’s side of the Bunny Brains single is less musically or lyrically inspired, though “Iron Maiden Tribute Album” (which has nothing to do with Iron Maiden) might tickle fans of creative torture methods (“I’m gonna open your scrotum and put a colony of wasps in and sew it back up”).
On Butts Taking Craps, Sockeye stretches scatology to the breaking point and regresses musically to the equivalent of basement tapes made by a paint-huffing sixth grader who just discovered the power of the f-word. The titles are often more entertaining than the songs (“Canadian Money Looks Stupid,” “Booger Covered Bowling Pin”), but Sockeye manages to spew another strangely infectious tune (“Hubble Telescope,” in which they sing “The Hubble Telescope!” repeatedly, like a college fight song) and perhaps the most sacrilegious musical screed of all-time (“More Songs About Jesus & Dildos”).
Barf on a Globe, a posthumous singles and compilation tracks collection, is indispensable to ardent fans, since most Sockeye vinyl was pressed in very limited runs, but it’s difficult to endure all 41 tracks in one sitting. The four or five songs on each single are trying enough. However, there’s still more to be had: Teeth for Dinner and Unruly King and I both offer rarities and outtakes.
Toughskins is a Sockeye side project whose sole goal is to poke fun at tough-guy punks. Bloody Fuckin’ Oi! Oi! , which combines Oier Than You and Sockeye’s share of the 4-Band Comp tape, is essentially one joke repeated 34 times in the form of a poorly recorded cookie-cutter punk song, usually with the word “Oi” in the title. (Making that funnier, an actual tough-guy oi band called the Toughskins formed a few years later, becoming the first band to be parodied before it even existed.)
Sockeye hasn’t recorded any new material since 1998, though songs continue to appear on compilations and split releases, like Self-Titled, shared with Punku Boi and available for free online. The group’s last hurrah came at a 2002 reunion show, though Fortunata continues to fly the tardcore flag in bands like The Poops and Fossil Fuel, and Gonzales does the same with Doktor Bitch.