The Trouble With Trubee
by Matt Groening
from the L.A. Reader, May 1983 (also published in the New Musical Express)

The world is full of weird and wonderful things. The Fugs' It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest. Yma Sumac's Legend Of The Jivaro. Zap Comix #4. Always Elvis white wine. Gorshon Legman's Rationale Of The Dirty Joke. The World Weekly News [sic] (recent headline: "Bigfoot Stole My Wife"). Byron Werner's Famous Potatoes magazine. Foxy Boxing. Parasite In 3-D. Dinky Donutz breakfast cereal.

And now there's John Van Zelm Trubee's smash single, "A Blind Man's Penis."

Local nocturnal club troglodytes are already aware of the anguish and humor of poet and bassist John Van Zelm Trubee, who has performed unsteadily over the last few years at various neighborhood dives, both as a solo snarler with a fistful of loose pages crinkled in his hand, and as peripatetic bassist with such obnoxious pop combos as Zoogz Rift and His Amazing Shitheads, Debt of Nature, and his own Van Zelm and the Geeks. Trubee is an original, a weirdo, a guy who goes too far -- but unlike most of the several hundred other affected flinch-boys who bemoan their travails in this town, Trubee and his troubles are transformed from typical frustrations to an internally consistent worldview, and his resulting outpourings can be riotously funny in their painfully self-conscious adolescent agony (an agony most of us have buried but still can remember.)

"The reasons I do what I do are eternal personal and business frustrations and outrage at a sick, demonic, war-mongering world of pain which constantly decrees to us: Submit or die," explains Trubee with little, if any, prompting. These frustrations and outrage manifest themselves in the form of poems with titles like "Sexual Intercourse Is the Most Obscene Thing Imaginable," "Criminal Ants from Outer Space," "Melange of Copulating Stooges," "You Fucking Self-Indulgent Sons of Bitches," "I Have Always Hated Adults," "Jamboree of the Pinheads," "The World Is Run by Fat Ugly Businessmen," "Squids From Another Galaxy," "Girls Wanna Dance, Guys Wanna Fuck," "Goddamn Society!," and "I, a Sensitive Young Poet."

Trubee cites neither Auden nor Frost as an influence.

In fact, he doesn't even call it poetry: "I call it pseudopoetry, because even calling myself a poet is presumptuous. My ego is very tiny, so I'll call myself a pseudopoet, or a pseudo this and that, until I actually make a living doing it. I'm now just a clerk, a measly little clerk."

But Trubee hasn't always been a measly little clerk. In 1976, he worked the night shift cash register at a food store. "It was horribly depressing to go from years of school, doing my best to get good grades, and then not be able to get work, and finally getting stuck in this shitty dead-end job," Trubee says. "But instead of getting drunk or getting into drugs or acting -- well, acting crazy -- I started writing about how alienated I was, how fucked up a lot of social training is."

The result? "A lot of it came out in berserkness."

Such as "A Blind Man's Penis." That particular masterpiece came about after Trubee read a small ad in the back pages of the National Enquirer that said, Send Your Lyrics to Nashville and Earn $20,000 in Royalties. "And I thought, this has gotta be some sort of scam," Trubee recalls.

But what the hell: "I typed up the most obnoxious lyrics I could think of off the top of my head, full of drug reference. I wanted to give the appearance of being some fucked-up hippie to alienate these people."

The poem, then titled "Peace and Love," contained such passages as, "I got high last night on LSD / My mind was beautiful, and I was free / Warts loved my nipples because they are pink / Vomit on me, baby / Yeah yeah yeah," and "Let make love under the stars / And watch for UFOs / And if little baby Martians / Come out of the UFOs / You can fuck them / Yeah yeah yeah."

Instead of getting an angry reply, telling him he was sick or crazy -- "I love getting unusual things in the mail" -- Nashville wrote back that Trubee's lyrics were "very worthy of being made into a record, complete with trained singer and rhythm section." Trubee promptly remitted $79.95 for "the full production."

In return he got a mono acetate and a stereo tape, with a guy drawling such Trubee gems as "the zebra's spilled its plastinia on bemis / And the gelatin oozed electric marbles" on one channel and the simpiest prerecorded country & western backup on the other. The only thing that was altered was the phrase "Stevie Wonder's penis," which came back crooned repeatedly as "a blind man's penis."

For years, Trubee was merely content to play the tape for friends' amusement, but last summer he gave a copy of it to Ron Stringer of the Fibonaccis, who in turn passed it along to producer Craig Leon, who helped Trubee get it mastered and pressed in an edition of 200. The record quickly became a cult item amon item cultists, even getting airply (by Cassandra Peterson) on KROQ-FM, as well as astonished reviews on both coasts. Now the single has been re-pressed and is available in the kind of record stores that stocks ephemeral stuff (Rhino, Aron's, Moby Disc), as well as by mail.

And if that isn't enough Trubee for you, catch him in person this Friday at the Anti-Club, where he will deliver several of his poems while quivering amusingly. Or send $7 to Party Sound Tapes for both Trubee's Electric Love Nudity Supreme (a comprehensive bizarre sample of music, poetry, and recorded phone calls), which comes complete with The Communists Are Coming to Kill Us, a sixty-page booklet. Or you can write to Trubee himself for miscellaneous surprises.

But don't expect hearts and flowers. Trubee isn't that kind of guy. "One of the things I've always hated is the way pop music always talks about love and romance and 'Baby I want you so bad' and all this neurotic bullshit," he says. "There's so many things happening in the world -- there's wars, there's people getting their eyes jabbed out, there's psychedelic frenzies, there's dead rats in the gutter, there's amazing things -- but it's always 'Baby we can get it together, yaw yaw yaw.'

"To be honest, I don't relate to love lyrics very much."

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