My favorite Sub Pop band is Dickless, an all-female group with only seven brief songs in their discography.
I could go on much further about how I feel about Sub Pop, Grunge, and the mainstream co-optation of underground culture. But, maybe that should be another post later.
Dickless was a Seattle-based grunge rock band signed to Sub Pop records in 1990. Dickless is notable for their unique growling shrieking vocal style. Kelly Canary, the original vocalist, had a distinct growling scream that lead the quartet through short (approximately 20 minutes) and loud live performances. During their first few years, their loud and abrasive sound was new and unusual for an all-female music group. Simultaneously, their short discography included song titles and a song cover, “I’m a Man” by Bo Diddley, that were blatantly ironic given their abrasive sound and female members. The band name itself is meant to be satire. The group’s period of activity coincided with the emerging “Riot grrrl” music culture.
The original lineup consisted of Lisa Buckner (drums), Kelly Canary (vocals), Jana McCall (bass), Kerry Green (guitar). Lisa Buckner was soon replaced by Lisa Smith from Atomic 61 on drums. After a few years, Kelly Canary quit to form the Teen Angels. Lisa Smith would also join the Teen Angels later. Sub Pop employee Megan Jasper became the new vocalist after Kelly Canary’s last show. Jennie Trower eventually replaced Jana McCall on bass.
The group had a relatively short discography during their sporadic nine year existence. Their entire discography was seven short songs (most songs were between 1:00 to 2:00 minutes) spread across seven different releases (not counting the planned, but never released Anthology album).
Their release as Thee Dickless All Stars included Mark Arm of Mudhoney on vocals and Duane Bodenheimer of Derelicts on guitar. Their song Lumber Jack again included Mark Arm of Mudhoney on vocals.
Megan Jasper, it should be noted, was also responsible for a hilarious prank played on The New York Times.
Grunge speak was a hoax created by Megan Jasper, receptionist for Sub Pop Records. Under pressure from a reporter for The New York Times who wanted to know if grunge fans had their own slang, Jasper, 25 at the time, told the reporter a set of slang terms that she claimed were associated with the Seattle grunge scene in the early 1990s, but which she had in fact invented on the spot. The information given by Jasper appeared in the sidebar of a November 15, 1992, feature article of the New York Times. The sidebar, titled “Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code,” mistakenly said that Jasper was working for Caroline Records.
In truth, there was no particular slang language used in the Seattle grunge scene. Many [who?] had in fact resented the assumption by the Times that they even had a slang, as well as the claim that it was “coming soon to a high school or mall near you.”
Thomas Frank of The Baffler, a journal of cultural criticism, demonstrated that the list was a hoax. He revealed that Jasper had purposely misled the Times as well as the British magazine SKY magazine as a prank. Jasper had been sick of the attention that reporters were paying to people involved in the Seattle grunge scene, and thus pulled the prank to get back at them for their relentless fascination.
The Times demanded that Frank fax over an apology for claiming it had printed false information, believing that it was Frank who was the hoaxer. Frank instead sent a letter standing by the story. “When The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg,” he wrote, “we think that’s funny.” Frank considered the article to be part of an attempt by mainstream culture to co-opt the grunge scene and felt that the Times had gotten what it deserved.
Shortly after the release of The Baffler‘s story, some people in Seattle began selling and wearing t-shirts with the words “lamestain” and “harsh realm” printed in the same font as the famous banner of the Times. The words themselves never caught on as actual slang within the grunge scene (though “score” and “dish” are in use elsewhere). One of the terms, “harsh realm”, was used as the title of a science-fiction comic book and a short-lived 1999 television series based on it, and was used by characters in The Dirty Pair comics written and drawn by Adam Warren as part of their futuristic slang (where it had the same definition as the one Jasper created for the term). The events of Jasper’s prank would be documented in the 1996 film Hype!, a documentary about the grunge scene of the early 1990s.
Grunge speak words
During the interview, Jasper made up the following terms and their definitions:
- bloated, big bag of bloatation – drunk
- bound-and-hagged – staying home on Friday or Saturday night
- cob nobbler – loser
- dish – desirable guy
- fuzz – heavy wool sweaters
- harsh realm – bummer
- kickers – heavy boots
- lamestain – uncool person
- plats – platform shoes
- rock on – a happy goodbye
- score – great
- swingin’ on the flippity-flop – hanging out
- tom-tom club – uncool outsiders
- wack slacks – old ripped jeans