Pinpointing the model for most rock performers' styles is usually easy, be it the classic sex 'n' swagger of Elvis Presley, the intellectual attack of Bob Dylan, the histrionics of Jimi Hendrix or some combination of all three.
But with the Hags, one of Orange County's most outrageous underground bands, it's necessary to look outside the boundaries of rock 'n' roll, for lead singer Mark Dead is perhaps best described as a paisley-shirted, mohawk-coiffed version of acid-tongued comedian Don Rickles.
Need proof? Listen to Dead's description of his own fans:
"I laugh at them--they're pathetic," Dead, 21, said in a recent interview in the group's Laguna Canyon rehearsal studio, dubbed "The Inferno." As he sat on an old couch in front of a television set tuned to a "Father Knows Best" rerun, Dead explained, "We don't represent anything good or strong. I think if you are going to worship someone, you ought to get something good out of it. Our music brings you down."
The Hags, which will play Sunday at Spatz in Huntington Harbour with Tupelo Chain Sex, also includes bassist Matt Ferry, lead guitarist Boris Comfort, rhythm guitarist Mahiti Anoux and drummer David Fungus. But the group's chief attraction clearly is its flamboyant lead singer.
Like Rickles, Dead devotes much of his time on stage to verbal abuse of the audience, and he admits that the group has been known to transcend the boundaries of good taste. In fact, Hags' concerts are such unpredictable events that they should come with a warning sticker, like those Disneyland rides that caution the fainthearted not to take part. At the group's performance last Saturday at Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach, for example, Dead dismembered a plastic doll on stage and hurled the parts at members of the audience.
With a stage persona that incorporates the sexual ambiguity of David Bowie, the vitriolic antics of Johnny Rotten and the monotonic sing-talk delivery of Lou Reed, Dead divides Hags' audiences into two camps: those who enjoy his act as a lampoon of all rock rebels and those who don't see the humor and take offense at his insults.
Yet Dead defends the sometimes shocking behavior of the Hags as a legitimate attempt to jolt audiences that he feels are too jaded.
If that means that the group's music sometimes takes a back seat to theatrics, Dead doesn't mind. "I hate bands that just stand there and play," he said. "If I'm just going to watch a band, I can listen to the record at home and get the same thing."
That philosophy is also reflected in the group's music, which combines post-punk gloom, heavy metal raunch and the raw energy of proto-punk groups like Iggy Pop & the Stooges and the New York Dolls.
"Our music is about failure," Dead said. "We are not political, we don't sing about teen-age problems. We sing about frustration, failure, depression and misery--the four themes that affect youth today. Those are the only significant factors of life in the '80s. You'll never hear a love song out of us. Never. The concept of love itself is sickening. Love is just a convenient way for people to use each other. I firmly believe that."
If that makes Dead sound like a disciple of Johnny Rotten, a.k.a. John Lydon, don't be fooled. He even has harsh words for the former kingpin of punk.
"Lydon is absolutely pathetic. He and Wally George are the same--they are both tools of the commercial rock scene. Lydon was just a commercial bubble gum rocker who took everything he could get from the punk scene and then abandoned it. I resent him in every way and form."
Dead's reference to Wally George stems from his appearance, with fellow band member Ferry on George's infamous "Hot Seat" show on KDOC Channel 56 last fall. The two were guests on a program in which George attacked the current music scene.
"If people believe that Wally George represents what is true and right in America, then we've got a society of idiots," Dead said.
By summer, Dead said, the Hags will have a single ready, and by fall he hopes to have an album out. In the meantime, the Hags' recently released self-titled cassette album is available at several local independent record stores and by mail order (from The Bone Society, 24272 Mimosa, Laguna Niguel, Calif., 92677).
The Bone Society is a loosely knit organization formed by Dead and a few other musicians that promotes concerts and homemade cassettes for its member bands. The society includes the Hags, the Necrobeasties (of which Dead is a member), Sincere Fibers, Dead Ego Society, Toymakers and A.T.G., groups that are often found on the same marquee lineup.
The Hags, with its outrageous approach, might find it easier to win audiences in more artistically liberal areas such as New York or San Francisco. But Dead prefers working in Orange County.
"Orange County is better because it's tougher to do things here and that makes the music better," Dead said. "The areas of the most oppression always produce the best art."