Communism is great in theory, but then you end up living in a co-op where nobody cleans up the broken eggs on the floor, or you have a long meeting where it's decided that peeling a banana in the dining room is sexual harassment. Both of these things happened, incidentally, in Madison, Wisconsin--my hometown and the birthplace of university speech codes. But for some reason, I always imagined communism as hotter and happier in Austin, Texas. In 1991, Richard Linklater's cult movie Slacker seemed like Madison without hang-ups. And when I met my first real-life Austinite not long afterward, at a co-op conference in Ann Arbor, I spent the night sharing a sleeping bag with her, the two of us surrounded by a basement full of easygoing Texans, all dutifully pretending to be asleep as we tried to keep quiet. Communism works, sometimes.
What Austinites accept, and Madisonians can't, is that anarchism is pure anarchy. Recognizing that fact might not save political democracy, or even group housing. But it could save punk rock, and the idea clearly propels the best Minneapolis band made up primarily of former Austin, Texas, residents. Heads and Bodies, who perform at the Triple Rock Social Club on Sunday, make a full and equal voice of the clarinet--a first in punk history. They sound like Fugazi playing Captain Beefheart at a Bar Mitzvah ("hardcore circus music," says one fan, local noise musician Benji Gross). But as much as the clarinet remains distinct in the roar--a goose holding its own in a dogfight--the noise never gives listeners an easy in.
Heads and Bodies are so anarchist, they even resist hierarchy in their hooks.
One evening in May, at a party in the communally run Seward Café in Minneapolis, a little girl scampers through the forest of legs to snatch up one of the discarded broken drumsticks on the floor of the dining room. It belongs to Merle Newberg, who is pounding Heads and Bodies through a violent but funkily precise twilight set for friends and fellow punks. The band's cultural affiliation is given away mainly by tattoos and grime: Guitarist Paulie Glatt, "lead" bassist Jake Malmberg, "rhythm" bassist Sean Stewart, and reed player Carissa Payne exude what might kindly be called greasy beauty. (Their proud unkemptness makes it even funnier that the owner of Big V's calls them Heads and Shoulders.)
Glatt and Stewart do most of the screaming, but Payne chimes in, too, and you get the feeling each band member would rather share the mic than steal the show. "I'm uncomfortable onstage," Glatt says later. "I like being right up against people and kind of on the same level as people."
The band took their name from the 1999 Fugazi documentary Instrument, in which Ian MacKay says he doesn't want to feel like he's just playing to a bunch of "heads and bodies" or "consumers": "I want to play for people." That same commitment keeps Heads and Bodies doing all-ages gigs despite their obvious affection for beer. Their DIY ethos is rooted in politics: Stewart has spent time in Chiapas, and the group has done benefits for Anti-Racist Action. When Stewart lived in Texas with Glatt, playing together in Foilin' the Works (a band named for a homemade explosive), they often performed at a local free school, where Zapatista solidarity benefits were held.
The two friends moved to Austin from Minneapolis in 1998, intending to stay only three months. They ended up living there for three years, renting a flop at first, and then getting sucked into the city's economically self-sustaining hedonism.
"A hard day was waking up at noon and having an ice-cold Lone Star for breakfast, then having a barbecue, then taking a nap before going to work at the bar, which you only needed to do three days a week, anyway" says Stewart. He's sitting on a patio picnic table outside the Seward Café, relaxing before the show with the other Bodies. "If you get hooked into bar culture there, you drink for free everywhere you go."
"So why are you here?" I ask.
"Because I wanted to get something fucking done."
Heads and Bodies have managed that, without releasing much in the way of recordings--a split single and compilation tracks thus far, with a five-song EP, Ground to Join the Dust, scheduled for release next month by a pal of theirs who has the money to do it. Still, they've gained a fierce live rep over the past six months, and now usually headline. The lineup is two years old: After Glatt brought Payne back with him from Austin (she had moved there from Indiana), both coaxed Stewart to move here and form a new band with Malmberg playing a second bass (two basses was always a wish). Then they recruited Newberg, who had played Austin with the Minneapolis band Book of Dead Names, and soon, Heads and Bodies were performing their first show on October 28, 2001 at the Lab, opening for Grotto.
"It was right before Halloween," says Stewart, "and one of us had the ingenious idea: 'Let's all wear pumpkins on our heads.'"