Play That Funky Music, Fat Boy

Us fat guys are a downtrodden, disadvantaged lot, exiled to the most untouchable caste in this NordicRider society that binds and constricts us like a pair of 32W Levi's. But there's one field in which my calorically-challenged fraternity matches, nay, exceeds the achievements of our underfed oppressors. And that, my friends, is good old rock n' roll.

Need I remind anyone that the greatest performer in the history of rock -- its king, if you will -- was a big sweaty fat guy? Were it not for his untimely passing some years ago, this meaty maestro of musical manteca would no doubt today be reaching unspeakable new heights of grease-guzzling, guitar-grinding genius that we are left only to imagine. Of course, I'm speaking of the late, great, overweight D. Boon.

In one of my life's more piquant ironies, I was first exposed to the Minutemen via MTV. Back in 1984, when my cable system first got connected to MTV, they used to run a promo of new bands you can catch on MTV, which spotlighted the Minutemen along with the likes of Kajagoogoo and Haircut 100. I was awestruck at the sight of this big fat guy, in his goatee and sweat-stained white T-shirt, pounding his guitar in a junkyard and hollering "This ain't no PIC-nic!" along with his skinny bass-player buddy. These guys, I thought, looked pretty cool. And the rest is history.

Just like a movie with De Niro in it, or a porn flick starring Peter North, a fat guy is practically your Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the band he plays in will probably be pretty cool. Just consider the weight of the evidence. Since D. Boon and Elvis are no longer with us, the greatest fat band of today is Screaming Trees. The Conner brothers, Lee and Van, man their guitars with a lugubrious power that no one under 300 lbs. could muster. Among Top-40 bands, there is none fatter than Blues Traveler. Whether you care for their hit singles or not, you've gotta admit John Popper is a good singer and the greatest harmonica player since Charlie McCoy. Then there's Meat Loaf. I'll decline to comment on the worth of his "comeback" material, but the original Bat Out of Hell is a Wagnerian masterpiece, a milestone in the annals of fat rock. And although he's slimmed down in his old age, let us not forget Ozzy. Is it any coincidence that his early days with Black Sabbath was his prime creative period as well as his most hefty?

To round out the honor roll of lard rockers: Bob Mould of Husker Du and Sugar; Dennis Diken and Jim Babjak of The Smithereens; David Thomas of Pere Ubu; Buster "Fatty" Bloodvessel of Bad Manners; the father-and-son duo of the Spanic Boys; most of the guys in Crowbar (a metal band whom Beavis and Butt-Head have praised as performing "music that makes you want to sit around and get fat!"); and, it should go without saying, The Fat Boys.

Unfortunately I can't pass a proclamation that all bands with fat guys are cool. For instance: Tears For Fears, Culture Club, The Cure, Phil Collins. But these exceptions, you'll note, are all British. Could it be that all American bands with fat guys are cool? Well, probably not. There's Frank Black, whom I'm not too fond of, and several lame metal bands with fat guys; but I think we can take it as a reasonable rule of thumb. (Incidentally, the rule does not apply well to fat chicks in bands, primarily because that's something that all too rarely occurs in nature. While I adored the chunky Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go's era, I must say that Wilson Phillips, Alison Moyet and Romeo Void suck. Most of the scarce fat girls of rock are '70s burnouts who used to be skinny, e.g. Stevie Nicks, Ann Wilson of Heart, Linda Ronstadt, etc.)

Now, what explanation for this phenomenon can there be? Here are my theories:

1) Just as the finest opera singers are fat, rock singers attain richer, more soulful vocal ranges with every additional pound of flab.

2) A fat guitarist's vibrating body mass transforms him into a human tuning fork, able to instinctively maintain perfect pitch. Also, the cushiony warmness of his cellulite fingers on the strings and frets produces the most sonically pure chords possible.

3) Shitty Top-40 bands are practically required to be telegenic and supermodel-like. If a fat guy manages to land a record contract, odds are he's legitimately talented. (True story: when Screaming Trees left SST and went shopping for a major label deal, one label offered to sign them but only if they would "lose one of the fat guys.") There are really only three roads to celebrity open to the husky gentleman: comedy, politics or music. Yes, that first one is my only prayer.

4) Or it could be this is not so much a universal rule of thumb as it is an indication of my personal fatocentric world view. It stands to reason: I am sexually attracted to fat women, and I think fat guys in bands and on TV and stuff are cool.

Yeah, that's probably the most plausible hypothesis. Still... I defy any of you thinophiles to come over and look at my videotapes of D. Boon pogoing around the stage like a damn buffalo, then look me in the eye and tell me how Special K and a Thighmaster could possibly have made him any cooler than that.

(Originally published in The Lard Letter, January 1996.)

D. Trull