Bar-B-Q Killers - Comely
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Hi-fidelity grails have a penchant for mincing the teenage psyche with a sinister alacrity. There have been many, but Athens’ Bar-B-Q Killers’ first and only recording, Comely, was easily the worst: a sweaty, unfortunate longing as marginally laughable as it was perverse, finally falling into my hands after an arid five-year search. I’d heard single songs on Georgia Tech’s radio station, WREK, and had even managed to record the track “Weird Shit” onto an endlessly recycled cassette. My knowledge of the remainder of the LP was imaginatively assembled into an unknown land comprised of wanton leather and hyperbolic anger; spontaneous destruction, music, and lyrics delivered in a frothing, wretched paroxysm of Southern-fried smut.
The Bar-B-Q Killers likely invaded homes for the first time via Tony Gayton’s 1987 documentary Athens, GA: Inside/Out. A warbling snapshot of a ludicrously active music scene, Gayton’s film was half whimsical filler, half flickering muse. Largely incongruous and admittedly silly, the Bar-B-Q Killers’ performance of “His and Hearse” vindicates the viewer, remaining one of the only celluloid captures of this extraordinary band.
Three-quarters of the group resembled awkward drug store clerks or career babysitters: well groomed and non-descript. Athens, GA: Inside/Out picks up in the middle of things: the band sitting around the bar at Walter’s Barbecue in blank slate clothes. They argue about the band name origin: Who came up with it first? What did it refer to? Bar-B-Q Killers’ vocalist/guitarist Laura Carter berates her band members, claiming the name as well as its volatile animus. “Smoke pot, drink beer, take LSD: hell, yeah,” says Carter, her voice gruff, boyish.
The Bar-B-Q Killers ambled; they sauntered. The rhythm section stepped on six-strings’ feet, poking, prodding—often pushing. Guitars as malfunctioning lawn equipment; buzz saw notes scrapped bullshit posturing; Carter lasciviously bucked into the blade, straddling it—her lyrics a mélange of truck-stop sex, Dadaist nonsense, and pure unintelligible noise. The soundtrack LP even boasted Carter’s “face,” an overgrown “devil lock” skater-do enveloping her cheekbones.
“His and Hearse” received non-stop play on my turntable; I’d secured a second Bar-B-Q Killers track on a Samizdat compilation cassette picked up at Decatur’s Wuxtry Records. These songs alternated endlessly for full-length in absentia.
Eventually, stilted conversations with too cool record store clerks added up, spilled over and sent me running. Carter had allegedly taken to the mic for Athens’ Jack O’ Nuts; I left with their 7” single, a P.O. Box address on the reverse. I’d learned even more: the full-length existed: it was on Atlanta’s Twilight Records and was released nearly simultaneously with Gayton’s documentary. My first and only fan letter—assembled quickly and self-consciously—was mailed the next day: c/o Laura Carter.
The response was timely, written on Howard Johnson’s stationary in garnet ink. Alas, Carter herself did not even have a copy of Comely; some “dickwad faggot” had the remaining copies in a Covington warehouse, gathering dust. She was doing well; was enjoying Jack O’ Nuts and had bought a meat grinder. I read it four times through before I folded it up and stuck it into a paperback.
Comely was mine months later. A major victory celebrated with much cheap fucking beer, throat ripping pipe bouts and wide-open ears. The cover itself a marvel: A bird tearing a rodent in two, band logo disembodied at the top. The reverse showed the song titles, rancid bursts of verbiage: “Her Shit on His Dick,” “Fistula,” “Dookie Tingue.” The war stories worked in the head while the music ripped out of the woofers. Carter performed entire sets with her palms down her pants; she pulled beads from her bush; Jack knocked back and beer in the air, she baited crowds, threatened a few, spat on stages all over Georgia.
Were they all true? Probably not, but the music didn’t claim otherwise. Predating David Yow’s Jesus Lizard by several years, Carter catcalled, spat, and shrieked over remarkably inventive guitar work. The South has not seen a front person the likes of Carter since The Killer himself. Yet, Carter was larger, despite her compact and boyish body, which was usually garbed in a faded AC/DC t-shirt and loose blue jeans. Hair would shield and shake around her face, a scowl smoothing into a smile under dirty bangs as she rode along with the rhythm.
Comely’s songs move wholly under Carter’s control, a master-and-slave condition whisky tempered and slap happy, sliding into changes with a muddy slickness and coming clean in waterfalls of gut-heaving viscera. Iggy Pop may have stomped stages into dust decades prior, but Carter worked twice as hard to make up for lost time, slinging shots and salivating over the mic as the band fashioned blues into barbed wire bear traps, obstreperous steel mouths snapping shut as her body flailed and whipped, flew, and fell.
She did more of the same with Jack O’ Nuts: a singer in soft focus, slurring forth songs until the show set into a humid, roiling mess. A long night at Atlanta’s Clermont Lounge with the Jack O’ Nuts was one for the memoirs; I sheepishly bought Carter a Jack on the rocks for every beer I drank. By the end of the night she was tugging on her Foxy Lady T-shirt, hands hooked into her jeans, stumbling from left to right like an anesthetized alley cat. She gave me a Jack O’ Nuts T-shirt before my friends and I cabbed it back. It was black ink on a white tee, a naked guitar player hoisting his Flying-V into the air while his flaccid member pointed earthward. I think I thanked her; she called me “faggot.”
Jack O’ Nuts stayed around longer than expected, touring a bit, putting out a slew of singles, an EP, and a full-length. They even played a bill with Sebadoh; Carter creeping out on stage to join a goofily stoned Lou Barlow for the self-deprecating anthem “Gimmie Indie Rock.” Jack O’ Nuts would dissolve a short while later. Carter moved off to the U.S. Virgin Islands with family; had a child, worked, and likely established more normalcy than she’d enjoyed in years.
I lost touch of her whereabouts. Underground music was changing at remarkable speed; suddenly bands all began to sound as one, local stations acquiesced by playing more of the same while the local scene sputtered on, aware and oblivious of its death sentence. There was talk of Carter recording again. And then she died. She was 37.
Her friend David Barbe eulogized her in Flagpole; Chunklet dedicated an issue to her; Creative Loafing sang her praises. The cause of death was asphyxiation; I still don’t know what the circumstances were and don’t care to know. In a time of mass mimesis, Carter refused status quo, indulged her most scatological fantasies and shat all over the overtly emotive, flannel garbed crowd. The music lives on, some might say, as provocative as it was in smoke choked dive bars years ago. But that’s cheap bullshit and so is waking Carter with a whole lot of hand wringing what-could-have-beens. Homage is best paid with the ears, but you'll have to do some digging; it could take some time and it would be only Goddamn fair if it did.