Further Reading: The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin

Cades Cove Methodist Church

PILTDOWNLAD No. 8.5 – The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin

Even though “The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin” is part of a much larger work, that is, the novel A Masque of Infamy, I am loath to label this zine as an excerpt. Those who have read A Masque of Infamy may feel turned off by this zine because of the potential regurgitated material, but there are additional passages, rewritten parts and anecdotes that were painfully cut from the novel. Despite my impractical, I am often told, desire to publish that entire novel as a series of typewritten zines that truly represent what I was trying to accomplish with the novel, this version of “The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin” is the complete tale of how I lost religion, discovered punk and made true friends after moving to a small town in Alabama. It is a story of teenage rebellion, resisting high school conformity and conformity in general as well as subverting the dominant paradigm. It’s about how a seed was planted in fertile soil, a seed that continues to mature to this day.

Available for $2 through etsy.

Cades Cove Methodist Church

My Ax – An Excerpt

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My ax wasn’t much, a black imitation Strat the old man bought me from Toys-R-Us. It originally came with a speaker built into the body, but I removed it, covered the hole with electrical tape and plugged into a Kalamazoo amp. I made a royal racket. Except that’s all I could do, since I didn’t know how to make chords or even tune the damn thing. I just positioned my fingers on the fretboard based on pictures in rock mags and went to town.

I was supposed to take guitar lessons when I was around ten. My mother even let me use an old acoustic from her beatnik days. But on the day of my first lesson, when we got to the place where the classes were to be held, they told us the building had burned down the day before.

Disappointed, I told my next door neighbor, a guy slightly older than me who played the guitar pretty good. He offered to give me lessons. Except, instead of teaching me the chords to “Iron Man” like I wanted, he made me watch him jerk off and then gave me the change in his brother’s dresser. Even though I made out with a buck fifty, which was a nice chunk of change, I never went back there for another lesson.

After that, I fiddled around with my mom’s acoustic until she got pissed off at me one day and broke it over my head.

I never stopped dreaming about being in a band and being a rock star though. But I didn’t really see myself as a lead guitar player or a singer. I wanted to be more like Malcolm Young, the rhythm guitar player for AC/DC, who stayed in the background, doing his thing, while Angus got all the attention.

A Southern Girl – An Excerpt

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Since Casey seemed to know everybody at Saks High, I figured he could give me the lowdown on this girl Missy before I called her that evening.

“Missy Walker? Oh, she’s a slut,” he told me while we hung out in my backyard listening to Dead Milkmen on his boombox.

“But she’s only, like, what, fourteen?” I asked. “How could she be a slut already?”

“Hey, that’s just what they say. She’s easy. Been around the block. Known to go where most girls never dare.”

I looked at him dubiously.

“I don’t know from personal experience or anything. But this guy Mark Shelby said he did it with her.”

“One guy and she’s a slut?”

“Yeah, but then, the next week she made out with Gary Durham in the parking lot of the skating rink.”

“So she’s been around the block.” I tried to play it off. “Who hasn’t? In LA, this stuff is no big deal.”

“I don’t know how they do things in LA, but, in Alabama, if a girl gives it up wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, she’s a slut.” Casey flipped the tape over and hit play. “Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. Missy’s got great tits.” He flashed a lascivious smile and sang along to the tape: “My girl has a pet duck, and my girl is a heck of a fuuuuuu-riend.”

(read the rest of “A Southern Girl,” here.)

Prisoner of Time – An Excerpt

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After a few minutes, Dave said, “I think we need to start getting serious.” He reached into a briefcase and placed three spiral notebooks on the table with band names and logos scrawled into the covers.

“Hey, my notebooks!” I’d forgotten them in the rush to get out the door when the social workers picked us up.

Dave spread them out on the table and flipped through the pages. “What were you trying to express in this song, ‘Fade to Black’?”

“That’s a Metallica song.”

“Yes, I see you have that written underneath. You have a whole section devoted to what you call your favorite rockers: ‘Mommy’s Little Monster,’ ‘Suicide’s An Alternative,’ ‘Annihilate This Week.’ What is it about these songs that made you want to write them out in your notebook?”

“I wanna be a songwriter, so I write out lyrics as practice. I study how the verses, bridges and choruses work together. Most of the songs in there I wrote.”

“I see that…” Dave flipped through the pages. “This is one of yours: ‘If telling you would kill you, to realize would be suicide.’ What did you mean by that?”

“It just, you know, sounded cool.”

Dave turned the page. “Here you have, ‘One of these days when I have the guts, I’m gonna jump right in front of a pick-up truck.’ Another one goes, ‘Sometimes I just wanna blow it all away. Light a fuse and watch the world go up in flames.’ That one you titled ‘Hate Bomb’.”

“They’re just songs,” I said with an awkward chuckle. “They aren’t supposed to mean anything.”

“What kind of songwriter would you be if you wrote songs that had no meaning?”

“I mean, yeah, sure… they have some meaning. But you’re reading them all wrong. I’m just trying to come up with songs that rock, you know?”

“You don’t think this subject matter reflects your true feelings?”

“No. I’m not afraid to say what I want.” I laughed to show how good-natured I was. “Look, you’re totally judging these songs based on the words. But that’s only part of it. My songs are about the music as much as the lyrics. These are just words on paper, so you have to imagine the rest of the song… the power of the music.” I reached for one of the notebooks and flipped to a particular page. “Take this song right here, ‘Prisoner of Time.’ This one I just wrote. It starts out real mellow, almost a ballad—but once the verses start, it gets fast, but not too fast. It’s still slowly building up to the bridge. Then it’s like—” I replicated the sounds of the instruments with my mouth, blowing out air rapidly through parsed lips: “Dun dundun! Dun dundun! Dun dundun! Dun dundun! Then it goes back into the verses again. But after the second bridge it keeps building to the chorus where the guitars go, Chuga chuga chuga chuga. Chuga chuga chuga chuga. The double bass kicks in and it’s getting faster…” I tapped my feet rapidly against the floor. “Then the lead guitar starts to wail.” I pantomimed playing a guitar. “Right, and then it’s like, ‘I’m a prisoner! Prisoner! Prisoner of time! And the walls! The walls! They’re all in my mind!’” I covered my mouth to replicate the background vocals. “Then it just goes totally insane, the drumbeat is all over the place as the bass follows the lead guitar: ‘Prisoner! Prisoner! Break free!’” I leaned back in the chair and folded my arms across my chest. “So you see, that song’s really about freedom, you know? I wasn’t trying to be negative or anything.”

Dave smiled at my performance. “I can see you are very enthusiastic about your music.”

Just when I thought we were getting somewhere and Dave would realize I didn’t need his help, he pushed the notebook with the plain green cover across the table. “What about this one?”

The green notebook was my journal. My mind raced as I tried to remember all the crazy stuff I’d written. I knew there were detailed descriptions of my trysts with Missy, commemorated in case I forgot any of the details. But there were also death fantasies, the pros and cons of suicide

As Dave stared at me, I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there, trying to not look crazy.

“I think we need to start talking about why you’re here,” Dave finally said.

Sid Was A True Anarchist – An Excerpt

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During lunch, the Cult of Teddy Ruxpin sat at our table in the cafeteria and discussed the important matters of the day, like which Sex Pistol was more of an anarchist.

“Sid was a true anarchist,” Vic argued.

“But Johnny Rotten wrote all the lyrics,” Brett pointed out.

“Johnny was only a fashionista with a reggae bent. Fuck PIL! Sid was the real rebel in the group.”

“But Sid couldn’t even play his instrument.”

“Exactly! That’s a true anarchist. Sid was the spirit of the band. Johnny Rotten was just the voice. The message was all Sid’s, even before he joined the band. Without him there would never have been—” Vic stopped short.

Four burly jocks in letterman jackets walked up to our table.

“Well, well, well… what do we have here?” one of the guys said. “You the ones been writing all that Teddy Ruxpin Rules crap around school?”

We snickered at the way he said Teddy Ruxpin with such disdain in his country drawl.

“What y’all doing is blasphemy,” he added. “The only one that rules is God.”

Vic and I smirked while Brett laughed out loud.

“You think that’s funny, freak?” He got in Brett’s face. “Is God funny to you?”

“It’s kind of funny, yeah,” Brett said.

“I think we need to have a little chat.” The guy grabbed Brett by the collar and pulled him through a side door.

The other jocks stood over Vic and me in case we tried to make a move.

“What’s your problem?” Vic demanded.

“You’re my problem, loser.”

“You shouldn’t be mixed up with these two space-cases,” one of the jocks told me. “We thought you were smarter than that.”

I was surprised they had noticed me. A little flattered even. But I said, “I guess I’m not that smart after all.”

In the corner of my eye, obscured in the small frosted glass of the door, I saw a flurry of movement outside.

A few seconds later, Brett came back in, his face drawn up. He walked past us without saying a word.

“Hey!” Vic and I ran after him. “Slow down, man. What happened?”

“The fucker punched me!” Brett said over his shoulder and kept moving.

“That’s fucked up!” I told Vic. “We should do something.”

“What’s the point? It’s not going to change anything.”

I looked back at the jocks, high-fiving each other.
“Motherfuckers,” I said under my breath.

From that day on, I became the self-appointed Minister of Propaganda for the Cult of Teddy Ruxpin. I spent most of my class time coming up with new slogans like, “Teddy Ruxpin Died for Your Sins,” “Praise Be To Teddy Ruxpin” and “If I Were A Stuffed Bear I Would Be Teddy Ruxpin.”

Within a week, Teddy Ruxpin related graffiti around campus quadrupled.

(Read more about “The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin” here.)

Another State of Mind – An Excerpt

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In 1987, Saks, Alabama, was an electromagnetic wasteland, too remote to pick up a signal on the TV without cable. For the first time in my life, I had access to MTV’s 120 Minutes and Headbanger’s Ball, as well as shows like Night Flight and Up All Night. On the weekends, I scoured the dial for videos, weird movies or anything with a little T&A. I was flipping through the channels late one Friday when I stumbled on a show with punks sporting mohawks and studded leather jackets. I watched transfixed as the story unfolded. It was some kind of documentary about two punk bands from LA touring across the US and Canada in a school bus covered with anarchic graffiti. At each stop, they played shows in dingy clubs and warehouses, featured in the concert footage with a detailed demonstration on the techniques of slam dancing. There were interviews with kids all across the country. Kids with spiked hair, buzz cuts, mohawks, pierced noses and tons of make-up discussed their local scenes and what it was like to be a punk when the world around them refused to accept their music, their style and their way of life. The movie covered all kinds of punks, from the drunk rowdy types to the straight edge movement in DC. There were even Christian punks. While they were in Canada, the bands stayed at a place called the Calgary Manor, where a bunch of punks lived together. They talked about running away from abusive parents and broken homes to form their own community centered around punk rock. In the backyard was a half-pipe. Bands played in the living room. They made meals and ate together, like one giant family. A family of outcasts… This was the life for me, I thought, immediately overcome with the realization that something else existed out there. A punk rock life was everything I ever wanted: freedom, chaos, style and an aggressive soundtrack.

Inspired my the movie, I amped up my freak style and began to modify my wardrobe. With a marker, I drew an anarchy symbol on a ripped piece of t-shirt. Underneath that, I wrote “F.T.W.” and safety-pinned it to the back of my jean jacket. I drew crazy designs on my arms with a black PaperMate. I painted my fingernails black. I died my hair green with food coloring. I pierced my right ear a second time and inserted a long teardrop pearl earring.

As my transformation continued, I started getting dirty looks in the hallways of Saks High. People averted their eyes. I heard snide comments behind my back.

I was loving every minute of it.

The Record Bar Punk – An Excerpt

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THE RECORD BAR PUNK

At the Record Bar in the Oxford Mall, Clint and I shuffled through the racks of cassettes and whispered over the clicking of plastic. From the moment we entered the store, we were furtively eyeballing the vaguely punk looking clerk behind the counter with a Clash button on his black employee vest.

“I swear, that’s one of the guys I was telling you about,” Clint said. “The band that played at the skating rink a couple weeks ago.”

Before I went back to Birmingham, I was stuck at the Sheltons for a few more days, going out of my skull with boredom. So I decided to give Clint a call. He was psyched to hear from me. His first response was, “b-b-b-b-b-butane!” We had a good laugh remembering the fun we’d had that summer. He suggested we drive down to Oxford and check out the music store at the mall. I had twenty dollars burning a hole in my pocket. All the way there, he told me about a punk band he’d seen perform at the skating rink. They were the most amazing band he had ever seen up close. “In between songs, the band members alternated positions,” Clint said. “Switching from one instrument to the next.”

Now that we were mere feet away from one of the members, I suggested we go talk to him.

Slowly, we crept up behind the guy and stood there for several seconds before Clint cleared his throat and said, “Hey.”

The guy turned around nonchalantly. “How y’all doing?”

“Didn’t I see your band play at the Oxford skating rink?” Clint asked.

“Yeah, that was us. My name’s Brian.” He pointed at his nametag.

We introduced ourselves and shook hands.

“That was an awesome show, man.”

“I can’t believe they let you guys play punk.”

“My friend Dave works at the skating rink,” Brian said. “That’s how we got in. But we were playing Dead Kennedys songs and insulting people, so Dave pulls me over to the side and says we gotta tone down the profanity. Well, the next song we play is ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off!’”

We all laughed.

“Man, after that, we were shut right the fuck down! The crowd was yelling, ‘You suck!’ We grabbed our shit and took off.”

“That’s so awesome!” Clint and I enthused.

“I don’t think they’re gonna invite us back.”

“What’s the name of your band?” I asked.

“That night we were The Whales. We change our name every time we play a show. Not that there are many places to play.”

“I know. Nothing’s going on in this shitass town.”

“You guys always play punk?”

“We do a variety of tunes, some punk, some ska, a little rockabilly. Sometimes all within the same song.”

“Cool. I listen mostly to punk.” I showed him the tapes I’d found, stoked beyond belief to finally have albums by Social Distortion and Minor Threat. I held them tightly in my hand like trophies. “I’ve been dying to find these,” I told the guy. “Every since I saw that movie Another State of Mind. Do you know that one?”

“Yeah. That’s a cool flick. I just ordered those tapes a few weeks ago. I was hoping somebody would find them.”

We talked about punk bands for a while. He recommended some albums, making me swear I’d check out Plastic Surgery Disasters by Dead Kennedys as soon as I had the money. He said it was their most musical album. A classic. I memorized every word he said.

After we’d made our purchases, Clint and I walked down to the Orange Julius. He wanted to know what it was like being in a mental hospital.

“Being locked up… man, it’s all a big joke. They didn’t know what else to do with me, and I guess if they didn’t know what to do with you, they lock you up.”

“When my dad found out what happened to y’all, he was rearing to go beat your dad up and that other guy. I ain’t never seen my dad so pissed off.”

“Everybody knows about it now, huh?”

“Well, yeah. It was in the paper.”

“Crazy.”

“So are you coming back to Anniston before you leave for LA?”

“Maybe for Christmas. I don’t know what’s happening yet, where I’m going to end up…”

“We should hang out if you’re in town. And hey, man… tell your brother…” Clint paused. “Tell him I said what’s up. Okay?”

“For sure.”