Ladies and Gentlemen, Tenacious D … Flushing Beauty

Ladies and Gentlemen, Tenacious D

Woooooosh! Glug-glug-glug-glug.

The rushing gurgle of a fully loaded commode warbled over the phone line from Los Angeles. Jack Black and Kyle Gass, the self-proclaimed “hot, young, sexy, rocking geniuses” who make up the heavy metal-folk duo known as Tenacious D (and who will be performing “back-to-back cardiac” shows at the Bowery Ballroom on April 18 and 19), were comparing weights. For the second time in an hour, Jack had flushed the toilet.

“Ky-uhl,” said Jack.

“Jesus, see a doctor, dude,” said Kyle.

This wasn’t just potty talk. This was big. After eking out an existence on the fringes of rockdom and Hollywood since 1989, Messrs. Black and Gass, comedic actors by trade, have recently experienced an accelerated stretch of good fortune: Their shortlived HBO series, Tenacious D , chronicling the exploits of two guitar-slinging open-mic-night losers (i.e. them), achieved cult-status with only three half-hour episodes in spring 1999. Then Jack hit it big playing Barry, John Cusack’s rageaholic assistant record store clerk in High Fidelity, and signed a million-dollar deal to star in the comedy Saving Silverman later this year. And Kyle snagged a small but memorable role in Stillwater , Cameron Crowe’s upcoming film about the 70’s rock scene. They’re even scheming a Tenacious D movie. But in the D cosmology, a far more historic moment had just transpired.

“Holy shit, Kage, I’m 218!” screamed Jack.

“What? Way to go!” replied Kyle.

“Given, I just took a steamy dumpages. But I’m also holding the phone.”

“I was 216 this morning,” said Kyle.

“Ohhhh, you got me, you bastard,” Jack said. He actually sounded dejected. “Kyle recently overtook me in the battle of the bulge.”

So, what is it about fat guys and humor?

“Well, there’s a connection there because fat people are filling a void, and that void is also fed by people laughing at them,” said Jack. “So, why are they funny often? Because people are pointing and laughing at them from a very early age, saying, ‘Look at the fat-ty.’ And the only way they can turn that into a plus is to say, ‘Yeah man, look at how fuckin’ crazy fatty I am, though!'” Pause. “And you can fuckin’ print that in your fuckin’ psychological journal.”

This is what you get when you encounter Tenacious D: raw honesty. Emphasis on the raw. In person, on TV, or on the phone, Kyle Gass and Jack Black–a.k.a. K.G. and J.B., a.k.a. Kage and Jables–do not front. Jack, the explosive half of the pair, vacillates between a calm stoner drone and the volatile ravings of man who has lost his Thorazine prescription. Kyle is the straight man, calm and subtle. They satirize everything: the rock industry, the “alternative” scene, heavy metal anthems and cheesy folk balladry from the 70’s, Hollywood, television and themselves. They write complex songs full of intricate melodies and harmonies, not just three-chord bashfests, and they thrive on imbecilic humor. Does it ever get confusing?

“Pretty much all the time,” Kyle said.

“I don’t know what the hell we are,” Jack said.

Last year, the D played the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas as part of a concert series called the Miller Genuine Draft Blind Date Contest. They’d performed in Vegas before, opening for Beck, so they weren’t fazed. But now they were opening for Stone Temple Pilots in front of a crowd of about 1,500 drunk and horny post-adolescents.

Jack: “Obviously, these people are going, [switches to moron voice], ‘Man. Haw . I won the fuckin’ contest! Who’s it gonna be? Dude, I bet it’s gonna be Korn. Maybe it’ll be Limp Bizkit.’ [Switches back.] Or whoever they’re hopin’ for. Who knows? None of them are hoping it’s the D. All of ‘em are expecting someone huge. And, um, before the curtains were done opening, there was a chorus of boos. A chorus! So loud, the booing, I could hardly hear myself singing. And then the shower of beer started. They were throwing beer. And then cups. And then ice . And then it was like: You know what? We can’t stop .”

Kyle said he tried to scope out anyone who might be “down with the D” in the throng. He found one guy, but it turned out he was just making weird hand gestures and calling them fags.

“There were people on shoulders screaming at us about how much they hated us and how lame we were,” Jack said. “And people were getting thrown out for being too mean, even though it really seemed as if it was all planned so they could have fun hating someone . We finished. And we were fired.”

Still, they soldier on. They refer to their upcoming Bowery Ballroom appearances as a “fiery hoop” they have to jump through to get the attention of the record industry. And, as always, they seem to get their inspiration to “reign supreme”–another major tenet of the D cosmology–from their own asses. The world revolves around Tenacious D’s collective ass.

“It’s like, the song literally plops out of our asses,” Jack said.

“Not often,” said Kyle. “Certainly not often enough.”

“No, usually it’s a stinky shit,” Jack admitted. “But once in a while, a golden egg plops out, and it’s like: ‘I can’t believe this came out our asses.'”

“As much as I think there’s maybe some craft involved,” said Kyle, “no, apparently not. I’m wrong. There is no craft. Poop it out.”

–Jay Stow e

Flushing Beauty

It was 9:46 P.M., April 17, in the middle of the sixth. Shea Stadium was as quiet and gloomy as a hospital. Sure, the Mets were up 2-1, but the sky was black, the wind was cold and the baseball was perfunctory. On the concrete ramp outside section 7 in the upper deck, four fans gathered to smoke cigarettes. One of them hocked a loogie onto the roof of the ticket office below. A crumpled brown plastic Cracker Jacks bag blew end over end, down the ramp. In one way, there beneath the blue rampway lights, the Cracker Jacks bag attained the kind of transcendence of that damn white plastic bag in American Beauty . But then again, in another, more accurate way, it didn’t.

For the four smokers, and for the 27,787 other souls who had bothered to show up, the electric nights of last fall’s playoff run seemed like something out of another century–which of course they are.

This Mets team is off to a horrible start. The other day they lost to the Phillies- the Phillies –the team with the previously more horrible start than even their own. The pitching is erratic, the hitting is nonexistent. Rickey Henderson is pissed off, free agent compromise Todd Zeile is flailing over at first base, and outfielder Darryl Hamilton is already on injured reserve, mulling retirement. Something must have happened to the team over there in Japan: they became the same old Mets again.

Back at Shea, it was the bottom of the sixth and Met shortstop Rey Ordonez had just struck out. The boos welled up from the crowd. Two batters later, Jon Nunnally, acquired from the Boston Red Sox over the summer, struck out, too, and another surge of boos filled the upper deck.

Geez, it’s only April, and it already feels like Milwaukee around here. The apple in the outfield is dented. What you have in Flushing in April is an average team playing in a lousy stadium on cold night after cold night.

But what the hell, let’s go Mets.

–William Berlind