In the mid to late 90s, I took a day trip from the suburbs with two guy friends into downtown Toronto. Since they were your typical aspiring rock musicians, the guys wanted to make a stop into Steve's Music on Queen West. I lost interest after five minutes and went outside to smoke. Staring blankly into space and at the slowly falling snow, a fellow sidewalk smoker sought my attention.
My guard immediately went up. This was the kind of "hey" that teenage girls quickly learn to become suspicious of particularly when, as in this case, the hey-er was a somewhat sketchy-looking older man (older than I was at the time, at least). But this interaction took a different turn:
We make eye contact.
"Got a tape player?"
"Do you like......music?"
Man looks around furtively.
And with that he handed over a cassette. There was no case, from what I recall, but the cassette itself was professionally printed with the pertinent information:
Artist name: JohNNy SiZZle
Album title: This One's for the KidzZz
And then the per-side track info, which I didn't really take in at the time.
"Make sure you listen to it."
Exactly what happened after that is blurry. If we spoke any further, I don't remember what was said. All I know for sure is that myself and the mysterious tape-distributing stranger parted ways and the rest of the day trip wrapped up uneventfully.
Later that night and back in the 'burbs, different two friends came over to my house. I tell them the story of tape, almost forgotten from earlier in the day. We put it on and confused, even gobsmacked, looks ensue, interspersed with riotous laughter. What the hell was this? Caterwaulling, weird voices, deranged lyrics, spazzy guitar playing...jesus, cacophony didn't begin to describe it. The final track sent us over the edge, absolute laugh-until-you-cry-and-your-sides-ache hysteria. It was a cover of "I Fought the Law," which Mr. Sizzle had re-styled as "I Fucked the Law (and the Law Cummed)." And fucking he most certainly did in that song. If that guitar sounded like it was being subjected to a touch of perverse treatment in the previous songs, this one consummated the experience.
But this is only how I remember it at 15-or-so years distance. I kept that tape for a long time, but I've lost track of it now. It would be amazing if I could dig up and hear it again. How would it measure up to my recollection? Was Johnny Sizzle a paragon of outsider art? A misunderstood artist whose craft was lost on a bunch of punk-ass teenagers? Maybe he was a gifted, if unconventional, songwriter.
Of course, with the Internet, everything resurfaces, especially when a musician has persisted, even with a hiatus or two, like Johnny. Indeed, with the not small amount of information I could find today, it would seem that Johnny IS a paragon of outsider art, even, I would say, a link in the chain of explicitly sexual rock music, somewhere between Peaches and Karen Finley in just how far he'll go in addressing taboo subjects. Yet there's often a tongue-in-cheek element, too. Or at least I'm imagining audiences laughing along with the joke at performances like this, even if some might be a little weirded out too:
He launched into a self-penned tune about beastiality – the crowning line which has glued itself into the passages of my brain – “I want to cum on a turtle.” Johnny sang with incredible passion, swivelling his bright bald head on his neck, screeching and bellowing from the depths of his soul about each subsequent topic of abnormality. He preceeded [sic] each song with a five minute story and then would lash into his nylon strings with such ferocity, conjuring otherwordly sounds with his voice that sounded halfway between the creature in a monster movie and the stuff you might hear in the darkest pockets of your own nightmares. (Source)
His song titles indicate that, when not exploring topics of sexual perversion, Sizzle plays around with other absurd themes ("Hitler's Hair Really Sucks"; "Drunk Drunk Stink Love") or he simply ruminates on the punk rock/street lifestyle ("Oh Happy Happy Hardcore", "Welfare Wednesday"; he's been homeless off and on and lived in various cities across North America; read more biographical info here and here).
But what does he sound like now, what he calls "nerd rock" or "acoustic hardcore"? Listening to the tracks available on his Myspace page, he sounds a lot better than I remember -- influences of Johnny Rotten (Sex Pistols) mixed with Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) and the guitar playing is more controlled. There's still the caterwaulling, and some heavy-handed guitar thrashing, but it works -- the different vocal affectations both heighten the comedy, deflect from the taboo matter, and add complexity to otherwise simple songs. However, it doesn't look like any of the Myspace songs were on This One's for the Kidz. They're mostly from later albums. A little YouTube digging, though, and - viola! - "I Fucked the Law"!!:
A live version over a decade later isn't the same as hearing the original recording (I remember the tape version being far more nasal), but close enough!
Other random stuff/links about Johnny Sizzle:
His Facebook page.
"I'm a Nerd", Johnny's biggest hit (read what he said about it in this interview):
And, finally, a video of Johnny talking about his sperm art and pissing in his mother's fridge:
The site is one year old today! Did you know that Warner Chappell claims that "Happy Birthday to You" is under copyright in the United States -- until 2030?! Well, here in Canada, "Happy Birthday" is in the public domain, so let's publicly perform/communicate said work with impunity!*
Show'em how it's done, Kiki:
*I know, I know, where I am is not necessarily the same location as where my site is hosted and thus different laws may apply. But if we're to bring up technicalities, I've got some too: Kiki here has sufficiently transformed the original work by means of her own creative efforts. She's altered pitches, changed the rhythm, and added punctuating clicks. She's also a bird...