by Dude Witherspoon. Originally published in Pshaw! Magazine
Stefan Grove, known as “Grunk” to his fans, was never one for routine. The lead vocalist and cash register player in the Montreal-based neu-noise ensemble FUCKFUCKFUCK has veered through a byzantine myriad of aesthetic and life choices – from burning his community college diploma, to eating glass on stage, to his 2005 “decision” to include “air quotes” in every sentence he would ever speak from then on, to his air-quoted dismissal of the same in “2006”. But this local legend shows no signs of being pigeonholed by mainstream critics, his dedicated following, and most recently and tellingly, his new wife Elise.
“All my friends said ‘Don’t do it, Elise!’, but I told them, ‘You don’t know him like I do’,” said Elise in an interview last week. “They were worried he would drag me down into a world of tour vans and intermittent heroin use. I was worried he’d do the same, but I was also thrilled by the menace of it all – little old me, being vanned across the country by this cool, denim-y music man.” She exhaled as a beaming relaxation welled up in her. “In the end, he took me completely by surprise.”
As if on cue, Grunk emerged from the kitchen, a tray of scones and assorted jams held aloft. “Wild jams – all hand picked. Try the blueberry – the thorns stung, but the reward was worth it. Right, hon?” A peck on the cheek of his contentedly startled wife tore open the afternoon – as well as this critic’s expectation of the man who only two months before had shot his bass player in the chest for accidentally playing the riff from “Ramble On” during a show.
Grunk sat down to explain himself somewhat. “Well of course, it’s a change of pace. But I don’t think anyone can call themselves a real fan if they didn’t see this coming.” As Elise got up to go to the bathroom, where she would be met by His, Hers and Yours hand towels, Grunk leaned in and whispered, “I put orange peels in the potpourri – let’s see if she notices”. Rest assured, this stalwart Midwestern bride did.
This new, domestic Grunk is nowhere more evident than in “Simon Says”, his latest contribution to FUCKFUCKFUCK. This 9 minute, 11 second aluminum assault of feedback, bandsaws and Argento clips played at inaudible frequencies is not only based loosely on the 1910 Fruitgum Company song of the same name, but is, as the opening diatribe says, “dedicated to my lovely blushing bride, Elise.” While the coupling of military marching sounds with the phrase “Simon says I love you” has won over this critic, many fans feel brutally betrayed.
“You can’t be betrayed by a love song,” complained one audience member. “I paid ten fucking dollars to be punished for entering into the capitalistic, rapine relationship of performer and audience. I wore pants that threaten to render me a cripple. I’ve done everything I can to bleed the mindless obeisance of ‘listening’ and ‘dancing’ out of me. And fucking Grunk shows up all smiles and sunshine, then plays a fucking love song? I don’t care how many Argento clips he’s got – the stink of sentimental bullshit is all over this fucking shit!” After a few more minutes of fuming, he grew quiet, then conceded that while his expectations about the music were ultimately betrayed (as he’d hoped), they were betrayed in the wrong way.
But this Grunk follower is not alone in his uncertainty about Grunk’s new direction. “I honestly don’t know what to think,” says Elise, back from the bathroom in her and Grunk’s starter bungalow. “Deep down, I’d sort of planned on this marriage being a failed attempt to straddle the youth/adult barrier – ‘married’ on one side, ‘to a noise guy’ on the other. But Grunk’s been really sweet – did you know he’s gone vegetarian for me? I mean, he’d been vegan for ten years – that’s not a light commitment to break.”
When asked if she thought this sea change was a façade, if she’d seen any momentary cracks in the armour, or if he sometimes let slip a spurt of irony, her answer was too slow out the gate to avoid being interrupted by Grunk. “The only irony around here is used to take wrinkly-winklies out of my shirtsy-wirtsies!” A series of giggles and responses of “oh you” ensued from the both of them – if he wasn’t watertight, she was still plugging for him. Coming from the man who, only three months ago, shot his bass player in the chest for submitting a ‘forsaken/foreskin’ pun as a lyric, this horrifying display was almost too hypocritical and sudden a change for even a frontman to pull off. Almost.
This suspicion has helped FUCKFUCKFUCK immensely. Concerts are selling out well in advance, people are more intently focusing on the act to see if their beloved Grunk really has changed, and Montreal’s alt rumour mill has been grinding away without pause. “Grunk’s latest about-face is his most daring,” says The Weekly Whatever in its assessment of his newest angle. “If he has crossed over into normativity while maintaining a presence in the noise rock scene, he has paved the way for the gradual selling-out and homogenization of the once-primal scene – the ultimate audience betrayal, and undoubtedly the greatest piece of performance in the history of music, subculture, and Montreal’s historic noise scene.”
But is it truly the elusion of expectations it seems? By once again leaping the tiger pit of predictability, he may have inadvertently pigeonholed himself as an unpigeonholeable chameleon. The only way to avoid such a label is to take away any pretense of pretense on his part – i.e., to appear as though he has lost the meta-projection ability that made him a zine darling in the first place. In short, to avoid being pigeonholed as an anti-pigeonholer, he must pigeonhole himself as pigeonholed, albeit in a way not pigeonholeable in his previous pigeonhole.
“What the heckaroonie are you talking about,” replied the master when the accusation was leveled at him. “We don’t get many pigeons out here – more raccoons and seasonal deer. Oh, and one time – remember it honey? – wild turkeys. I don’t care what they say, those are majestic birds.” He and Elise then, after a short discussion, agreed to break vegetarianism “just for Thanksgiving,” considering the treatment of turkeys to place second in importance to the treatment of a wonderful meal.
I tried to press the pigeonhole issue further, but met with a picket-fence stonewall. Dinner plans were bandied about over top of my protests, and I was ultimately expelled from the living room in favour of a syndicated episode of The Wonder Years starring Fred Savage.
As the frosted glass door closed in my face, I heard the faintest snippet of Joe Cocker singing “what would you do if I sang out of tune?” – in the quiet house of the man who once wrote “Krystall-Cocked Twatgun”; on whose Ikea desk I spied what looked like a lyric sheet containing the phrases “Ogopogo A-Gogo” and “Banana Boats and Root Beer Floats”; and in whose unpredictable control lay the future of the end of music that is not.