Live Cable Access Show, San Francisco, CA 1-26-1983. Part 3.They came, they saw, and they conquered â sort of. Never topping the charts, nor possessing a huge following, San Francisco’s Flipper, even in the ’90s alt-rock sweepstakes, would still be considered a fringe act. But, in 1982, they were the toast of rock critics across the country with their post-hardcore punk masterpiece “Sex Bomb.” Clocking in at over seven minutes, possessing one riff played over and over (and sloppier and sloppier), with vocalist Will Shatter screaming rather than singing (total lyrics: “She’s a sex bomb/My baby/yeah”), it was a remarkable record: loud, proud, defiantly obnoxious, and relentlessly dumb. But in it’s own gleeful and intentionally moronic way it was (and remains) a perfect record.
With “Sex Bomb” providing the impetus, Shatter and fellow Flippers, vocalist/bassist Bruce Loose, drummer Steve DePace, and guitarist Ted Falconi, emerged from the fractious muck of the California hardcore punk scene (Shatter and DePace played in the Bay Area hardcore band Negative Trend in the late ’70s) with a crushingly loud, slowed-down sound that resembled the Stooges at their most drug-addled (see “We Will Fall” from the first Stooges LP). Flipper didn’t care if you loved or loathed them (most everyone loathed them), they simply played until you couldn’t stand it anymore. There was something wonderfully uncomplicated about this attitude, which is probably the reason that Flipper, despite being seen as a one-shot band, had a career that lasted longer than 15 minutes.
Their debut album, Album â Generic Flipper, included “Sex Bomb” along with a handful of good-to-great songs about anonymity and desperation that were not all-bleak, nor without moments of humor. In fact, Flipper may have been the first hardcore/post-hardcore band to essay life-affirming messages on its album (no matter how tongue-in-cheek it might sound). So, although there’s a track called “Life Is Cheap,” there is also “Life” which offers the sentiment: “I too have sung death’s praises/But I’m not gonna sing that song anymore.” Adding the oft-stated sentiment, “Life is the only thing worth living for.” Hmmm. How, uh, un-punk.
With much of the rock press singing their praises (and deservedly so), Flipper went on to demi-celebrity status as the reigning kings of American underground rock, for a few years. They never released anything as mind-blowingly good as Album, but until they split up in 1987, the music was usually very good. Precipitating their breakup was Shatter’s death from a heroin overdose, with the remaining members spending the next half-dozen years stepping in-and-out of music. In 1992, Flipper fan and American Recordings label honcho Rick Rubin encouraged the remaining members to record a new album. The subsequent effort, American Grafishy, only hinted at their greatness. Their comeback attempt notwithstanding, Flipper’s greatness lies in their ability to say “let’s rock our way.”