It's been 10 years and seemingly three times as many members who've passed through their ranks. They're slutty that way-as indiscriminate as Elizabeth Taylor's love life, though undoubtedly more exciting. But no matter how many of their chairs have gone musical, Austin's Asylum Street Spankers are as much an institution as U2 or the Rolling Stones.
On the micro-level, sure. But macro, micro, velcro, whatever-in the Texas city that pompously proclaims itself as the "Live Music Capitol of the World," the Spankers serve as vice president-slash-court jester, second in command only to folk icon Alejandro Escovedo (Stevie Ray Vaughn's incumbency incinerated in helicopter wreckage in 1990).
ASS (yeah, great acronym, too) has survived and thrived because they're more than just a band with songs. Bands with songs are nice, but unless they're a band with beer and songs (Guided by Voices), they're still just a band with songs.
The live ASS experience is vaudevillian theater, a risqué send-up of bluegrass, punk, alt-rock, country, folk, swing, cabaret-hell, anything these pint-size pseudo-hicks feel at the time.
More accurately, it's Hee Haw for hipsters, respectfully roasting the breastfed-by-heifers bumpkin experience. Hee Haw was only on the air for three years (1969-71), although it was syndicated for the next 22 years. That says something about our strange, deep-seated need to make fun of rednecks, or coddle our own inner overalls.
In ASS, the role of Buck Owens is played by a dude named Wammo, a demented, hard-partying comedic wordsmith who's been one of the icons of the spoken-word scene in America. He's an all-American longhaired Hessian, half truck driver, half man with a bitchin' Camaro.
For the role of Minnie Pearl, you have Christina Marrs, a short, squat, strangely sexy gal with a glass-rattling whinny of a voice, as beautiful as something that nasal and high-pitched could possibly be. She sings sweet like a Southern belle, only she's talking about how you really oughta fuck her better.
But redneck jokes alone get boring faster than dick jokes. Where Wammo, Marrs and ASS appeal to hipsters is their very vinyl-friendly knowledge of the alternative underground, whether it's a cabaret cover of Black Flag or a reference buried in song lyrics. On Wammo's 2002 solo album, Faster than the Speed of Suck, he shows off this acumen in the chorus to the song "Antifreeze": "And Jesus Lizard's much too mellow/ for my auntie.... And Sonic Youth is much too poppy/ for my auntie/ and auntie doesn't like/ the Daniel Johnston songs/ that we play around the house."
While wearing a campy cowboy shirt or Wrangler's newest line is an acceptable tact in "the indie scene," seamless blending of CBGB spirit and a life of ham-fisted hickery established a niche so deep that ASS's appeal will only wane if a fascist dictator takes over the United States and burns all the back copies of Bonanza and Desperado.
For our silly fascination with our cowboy and cowgirl roots will always remain. We'll always be the people who raped and pillaged the Indians, rode our wagons over sacred burial grounds, manifested and destinied all over this here land and then romanticized it with cool spaghetti westerns and advertisements for steak, salsa and every beer we ever brewed.
And as long as we continue to laud our inner hick, a band as talented and hip as ASS will always be a rich experience. And Hee Haw will probably go for another run on Nick at Night.
The Asylum Street Spankers play with the Hacienda Brothers at the Casbah, at 9 p.m. on Dec. 12. $10. 619-232-HELL.