Pinpointing the model for most rock performers' styles is usually easy, be it the classic sex 'n' swagger of Elvis Presley, the intellectual attack of Bob Dylan, the histrionics of Jimi Hendrix or some combination of all three.
But with the Hags, one of Orange County's most outrageous underground bands, it's necessary to look outside the boundaries of rock 'n' roll, for lead singer Mark Dead is perhaps best described as a paisley-shirted, mohawk-coiffed version of acid-tongued comedian Don Rickles.
Need proof? Listen to Dead's description of his own fans:
"I laugh at them--they're pathetic," Dead, 21, said in a recent interview in the group's Laguna Canyon rehearsal studio, dubbed "The Inferno." As he sat on an old couch in front of a television set tuned to a "Father Knows Best" rerun, Dead explained, "We don't represent anything good or strong. I think if you are going to worship someone, you ought to get something good out of it. Our music brings you down."
The Hags, which will play Sunday at Spatz in Huntington Harbour with Tupelo Chain Sex, also includes bassist Matt Ferry, lead guitarist Boris Comfort, rhythm guitarist Mahiti Anoux and drummer David Fungus. But the group's chief attraction clearly is its flamboyant lead singer.
Like Rickles, Dead devotes much of his time on stage to verbal abuse of the audience, and he admits that the group has been known to transcend the boundaries of good taste. In fact, Hags' concerts are such unpredictable events that they should come with a warning sticker, like those Disneyland rides that caution the fainthearted not to take part. At the group's performance last Saturday at Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach, for example, Dead dismembered a plastic doll on stage and hurled the parts at members of the audience.
With a stage persona that incorporates the sexual ambiguity of David Bowie, the vitriolic antics of Johnny Rotten and the monotonic sing-talk delivery of Lou Reed, Dead divides Hags' audiences into two camps: those who enjoy his act as a lampoon of all rock rebels and those who don't see the humor and take offense at his insults.
Yet Dead defends the sometimes shocking behavior of the Hags as a legitimate attempt to jolt audiences that he feels are too jaded.
If that means that the group's music sometimes takes a back seat to theatrics, Dead doesn't mind. "I hate bands that just stand there and play," he said. "If I'm just going to watch a band, I can listen to the record at home and get the same thing."
That philosophy is also reflected in the group's music, which combines post-punk gloom, heavy metal raunch and the raw energy of proto-punk groups like Iggy Pop & the Stooges and the New York Dolls.
"Our music is about failure," Dead said. "We are not political, we don't sing about teen-age problems. We sing about frustration, failure, depression and misery--the four themes that affect youth today. Those are the only significant factors of life in the '80s. You'll never hear a love song out of us. Never. The concept of love itself is sickening. Love is just a convenient way for people to use each other. I firmly believe that."
If that makes Dead sound like a disciple of Johnny Rotten, a.k.a. John Lydon, don't be fooled. He even has harsh words for the former kingpin of punk.
"Lydon is absolutely pathetic. He and Wally George are the same--they are both tools of the commercial rock scene. Lydon was just a commercial bubble gum rocker who took everything he could get from the punk scene and then abandoned it. I resent him in every way and form."
Dead's reference to Wally George stems from his appearance, with fellow band member Ferry on George's infamous "Hot Seat" show on KDOC Channel 56 last fall. The two were guests on a program in which George attacked the current music scene.
"If people believe that Wally George represents what is true and right in America, then we've got a society of idiots," Dead said.
By summer, Dead said, the Hags will have a single ready, and by fall he hopes to have an album out. In the meantime, the Hags' recently released self-titled cassette album is available at several local independent record stores and by mail order (from The Bone Society, 24272 Mimosa, Laguna Niguel, Calif., 92677).
The Bone Society is a loosely knit organization formed by Dead and a few other musicians that promotes concerts and homemade cassettes for its member bands. The society includes the Hags, the Necrobeasties (of which Dead is a member), Sincere Fibers, Dead Ego Society, Toymakers and A.T.G., groups that are often found on the same marquee lineup.
The Hags, with its outrageous approach, might find it easier to win audiences in more artistically liberal areas such as New York or San Francisco. But Dead prefers working in Orange County.
"Orange County is better because it's tougher to do things here and that makes the music better," Dead said. "The areas of the most oppression always produce the best art."
ATOMIC BLASTOFF: The opening of a record store in Orange County is hardly a rarity, but C.P. Welch hopes to make his Atomic Records in Huntington Beach more than just another record store.
Welch, who for several years has written about Orange County music for various publications, plans to establish the shop's offbeat tone with a grand opening party Saturday.
In keeping with the store's nuclear moniker, the emcee will be Albert (E=MC2) Einstein. (Obviously, it won't be the real Einstein, who died in 1955, but, according to Welch, "an incredible simulation.") He also plans to have members of several local rock bands appear.
Using a tongue-in-cheek approach, Welch hopes to make the store the retail equivalent of a cult band.
"How do cult bands get their cult status? It's an attitude," Welch said during a recent interview in his small storefront shop at 210 Main St., a stone's throw from the Huntington Beach pier. "They have an irreverence that fans pick up on. I want to appeal to those same fans who are irreverent and intelligent at the same time."
Welch said he is opening the store because he felt a void in Orange County music, one he hopes to fill by aggressively promoting independently produced local records, tapes and videos.
"I can't compete with a sale of an entire label for $5.99, like at Tower Records. So I'll get in and sell independent music. I think there's a whole different market that hasn't been appreciated or focused on by other stores, certainly not in an aggressive way. I'm going to try to do that."
Atomic Records prominently features records by acts ranging from punk (Tupelo Chain Sex, T.S.O.L.) to heavy metal (Leatherwolf, Slayer) to the truly esoteric (Bonemen of Barumba). His goal is to stock as many independently produced records as he can find.
But Welch, whose own musical tastes are eclectic, isn't limiting himself to rock. He also stocks a limited number of hard-to-find jazz titles and reggae albums as well as the current hits by Wham! and Prince. Rounding out the store's selection of merchandise are a large number of alternative magazines and periodicals, T-shirts and videos by the likes of Black Flag, Alien Sex Fiend and Toy Dolls.
"I'm interested in college-age people, 21 to 35, who have wide-ranging tastes. People who can appreciate the Beat Farmers can also appreciate Cab Calloway and Count Basie," Welch said.
"There's a lot of potential in the Orange County scene. I want to focus that, even if it's small; even if it's not as aggressive and hyped up as the L.A. scene. There's a naivete (in Los Angeles) about the quality of music played and produced in Orange County. There's an attitude not only that L.A. music is better, but that the fans are more educated, more enlightened and more informed. That's a bunch of bunk.
"My reason for opening this store," he added, "is to show that all music fans are created equal, regardless of where they live."
LIVE ACTION: Rock 'n' roll legend Bo Diddley will play the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach on Thursday . . . . Agent Orange will perform March 22 in Cal State Fullerton's Pub . . . . Blue Trapeze returns to Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach March 23 . . . . Din will be at Spatz March 27. . . . The Gyromatics will play the Sunset Pub in Sunset Beach March 28-30.