When Jonathan Kiefer, Ed Dunn and Emily Page all worked at the Sacramento News & Review, we decided to unload all our stupid band photos and headshots from the file cabinet and make a story out of them. Of course, readers wrote in to complain about how unoriginal and how mean we were, but like I always say, “Fuck readers.” It’s true, readers don’t know anything. They can barely even read.
Jon Kiefer narrates.
When encountering an image like this one, of Citrus Heights’ Boyz Nite Out, it’s hard to know what to say. And just how would your band look if left to the mercy of a sheltered, junior-level style director and a hasty spree in the men’s casual section, eh? Well, right, you would never call your band Boyz Nite Out, for fuck’s sake, so it’s a moot point. That said, Ed’s suggested caption, “The Wal-Mart Boyz,” gives a good, needed ribbing, and remains sportsmanlike. Emily goes there, too, and a little further, with “Boyz II Men Who Still Look Like Boyz.” But caption writing isn’t about making friends, so Josh pushes forward with “They put the melody in Megan’s Law.” Because, honestly, how can you go wrong with halfway libelous sex-offender humor?
Don’t answer that. Here’s a grabber from Trabant. These jaunty electronica rockers from Reykjavik, having apparently named themselves after an endearingly dinky Eastern Bloc automobile, decided to call their last album Emotional, and put this image on its cover. So they’ve asked for it: “The Republican National Convention’s Who needs women, anyway? tour,” from Josh; “Remember, if you don’t make eye contact, it’s not really sex,” from Ed; and the striking, unabashedly interpretive “Trabant is an ancient translation for ‘cluster-fuck Mark Wahlberg,’” from Emily. Yes, look again
OK, here we have a pouty, tousled Jackie Greene, Sacramento’s great white hope of Dylan-derivative rootsicana. Depicted in archly artful black and white, his smoldering eyes obscured behind some photographer’s masturbatory gimmick, young Jackie is, perhaps unwittingly, asking for trouble. Like most publicity materials, the image is gratingly emphatic, its tone unduly earnest. Hence Emily’s good suggestion: “Jackie Greene is serious, guys. Seriously.” Well, it’s obviously true, isn’t it? I’m also partial to Ed’s nimble “Hey, Jackie, Ric Ocasek called. No, actually, he doesn’t want his look back.” That reversal is a nice touch, for its extra meanness and surprise. Josh anticipates reader (and editor) exhaustion, and steers straight into it, with “This is what it takes to appear in the SN&R 1,363,500 times.”
The local metal shred monsters known collectively as KnifeThruHead obviously understand that a band photo needn’t be boring. Sometimes that makes a caption harder to dream up. Emily keeps her cool, with a wryly informational tone: “KnifeThruHead bring their unique post-Rio Linda pervert-core to Sacramento.” In Josh’s estimation, one of these performers—it’s up to us to determine which—has been captured in the throes of an inner monologue: “If this doesn’t work, I’m convinced there is no such thing as a ‘vagina.’” Blunt, yes, but also—paradoxically—understated in its way, and variously interpretable. Wait, you say. What does that mean? And then you realize that you’re searching for meaning in a picture of some pasty, skuzzy, half-naked dudes spazzing out in an alley in Midtown (or wherever). Then it’s Ed to the rescue with the winning “ThongThruCrack.”
You probably wouldn’t believe that Immortal here is a Lawrence Welk-era AM-radio folk duo. Which is why it might be fun to suggest as much in a photo caption. Otherwise, everybody seems to want to put words into these guys’ mouths, maybe because you probably wouldn’t believe they can speak, either. Consider the nuances of characterization. Emily: “Auuuggghhh, my spiked jock strap itches!” Josh: “Just 10 years ago, these pants were huge on me. Must be all that decayed Christian carcass—goes straight to the hips. I had to let my belt out by three bullets. Three bullets!” And finally, Ed: “Me make big poops!!!”
This hot flash of vapid sleeze from Susanna and the Magical Orchestra has real possibilities: The woman, like an animated waif from some Tim Burton movie, slightly mussed and standing almost pigeon-toed; the guy, like—uh, whatever it is that he’s like. It’s no wonder the photo-caption brain trust yields variations on a certain single theme. “There’s nothing like a ferocious quickie right before a photo shoot,” posits Ed, coming close to Emily’s “After-sex hair speaks louder than words, and we’re not so sure we want to listen.” And by now you’re probably prepared for Josh’s politically, sexually and culturally insensitive zinger of imagined quotation: “You like woman? I trade her for small boy and healthy goat.”
We don’t neglect the major stars, by the way. On the contrary, the enormity of their publicity machines only sharpens our appetites for rebuke. For example, what to make of this Diddy ditty? “Chair: The Remix,” offers Josh; “You should see his matching Frank Gehry toilet brush and plunger,” says Ed; and Emily takes that concept to where it really needs to go, with “Mo’ money, mo’ hemorrhoids.”
With only this hotel-hallway snapshot to go on, we’re not sure if Out of Place is actually a band or just some lacrosse players who meant to send it to the editor of their prep-school yearbook. No matter. Ed’s suggestion, “Out of Interest,” makes efficient use of the pun-on-band’s-dumb-name technique—concisely annotating the lads’ expressions and our response to them in one fell swoop. Emily’s “From right to left: One musician’s journey through a sex-change operation,” on the other hand, is a marvel of catty charm, refusing any kind of surrender to the picture’s oppressive banality. But Josh, picking up on the claustrophobic anonymity of the locale, the menacing air of trust-fund entitlement and underachievement, really nails it with “Date rape, anyone?” Back we go to uneasy, aggressive sexuality. Which is pretty much the foundation of modern popular music, anyway, so it all works out. It usually does.
This story inspired us to take our own band photo. So we dressed up like assholes, grabbed our photographer and did this: