Why pre-internet beef was the best beef: HICKEY v. VOODOO GLOW SKULLS

by Brent Eyestone

It occurred to me lately that the internet of things has made beef completely boring, predictable, and unimaginative. A couple of years ago, we were booked to play a hardcore festival at the Nile Theatre in Mesa, Arizona. The Friday night lineup was pretty nuts, capped off by CRUDOS and and INFEST. We drew the Saturday card lineup, which was to be headlined by CHOKEHOLD featuring Scott Beiben with a lab coat and.. a trumpet? Needless to say, it was a rather steep climb to make draw-wise versus the previous night's firepower. Adding a layer of difficulty, CHOKEHOLD’s guitar player Jeff Beckman gave a rant about “All Lives Matter” at a VFW show that ended in him punching a trans person who called him a “racist grandpa" just a couple of nights before the gig with us. 

Common sense dictated that the right move in this case would be to apologize to person that was struck and maybe offer at least some clarification on the “All Lives Matter” take via some sort of online statement. This simply didn’t happen and, as we began the several-hour drive to Mesa from San Diego, I became more and more agitated at the stupidity involved and exemplified via Beckman. Messages were coming in from friends saying they weren’t going to go because they didn’t want a dime going to CHOKEHOLD at that point, people were asking us to drop off and not play with them, Black Lives Matter advocates were organizing a protest, and it felt like we were driving into a complete bust because of one guy’s extremely fragile ego. 

Like a typical 2017 middle-aged American, I expressed that frustration via a post on Facebook on my personal account. Naturally, Beckman screen-shot it and posted it on his Instagram, replete with a bunch of low-intellect drivel and misspellings. As these things go now, once we got there, dude wouldn’t even make eye contact or say anything, even after walking into the bar across the street he had holed up in and sitting in plain sight of him. Annoyed by the avoidance, I started the set with some clear, direct words about/for Beckman and closed with “…so lets’s see: aging white male hanging out at a VFW and screaming ‘All Lives Matter’ before punching a smaller person… sounds like a racist grandpa to me!” 

Even with that, nothing happened. No retaliation. No obese meathead in a hockey jersey getting in my face or so much as throwing something at me while we played. It was the most boring and pathetic beef I could ever have tried to manifest. It all felt so… “internet.” 

(As an aside, a few months went by and Beckman turned into a full-blown alt-right, pro-Trump dipshit via the same Instagram account. All the people that “good dude, backed hard” him over the incidents before suddenly tried to pretend that they had my back in real time.)

  The author performing at the Nile Theatre in Mesa, Arizona in 2015

The author performing at the Nile Theatre in Mesa, Arizona in 2015

By stark contrast, twenty years prior and in the same venue, a DIY punk band from San Francisco called HICKEY was in a similar role opening for an Orange County band on Epitaph called VOODOO GLOW SKULLS. Like myself, the singer for HICKEY, Matty Luv (RIP), was simply not feeling the headliner. This was not too long after Epitaph crossed over into the mainstream via the OFFSPRING and had the budgets to market punk on the same level as the majors of the time. There was a tour bus parked in front of the venue, meat trays backstage, and just an overall air to the VOODOO GLOW SKULLS that simply wasn’t present at other punk shows HICKEY was playing at the time. So Matty took to the mic and buried VGS from the stage in a speech decrying the commercialization of punk and the VGS as garbage people.

This wasn’t too uncommon for the time. I remember letting THE PROMISE RING bring their AT&T-sponsored tour to the venue I booked on campus during my time at college. I also remember turning a blind eye when the local punks kept running into the fuse closet and cutting the breakers every time a song was about to hit its peak. Sometimes I just like watching spectacles and shit-shows unfold (if not partially encouraging such things out of pure boredom at shows I'm not feeling). 

Stories vary, but it all boils down to the VOODOO GLOW SKULLS eventually informing the promoter that they would not take the stage or perform until HICKEY was kicked out of the building without pay. HICKEY obliged and, in the process of loading out, intentionally stole the trumpet essential to VOODOO GLOW SKULLS’ ska-punk sound. You can imagine how that night went for VGS, as one does not typically travel with a backup trumpet and the Nile Theatre certainly isn’t the kind of venue that would have a spare trumpet lying around with the backline. 

In and of itself, this was a hilarious move by all accounts. Just thinking of VGS's "trumpet guy" throwing a tantrum in the middle of the desert makes me laugh uncontrollably. 

And yet, the story merely begins here.

  Voodoo Glow Skulls

Voodoo Glow Skulls

In the following months, the members of VOODOO GLOW SKULLS of course got increasingly pissed at HICKEY to the point where they began calling the house where at least some of the HICKEY guys crashed in San Francisco. They left threatening, homophobic, and dare I say Beckman-level commentary on the answering machine. We’re talking drivel like: 

"If you have any money right now, you better invest in a fuckin' bar of soap and wash your ass because... y'know, your ass is gonna have to be clean when I fuckin' stick my dick up your ass, you fuckin' cocksucker, faggot motherfucker.

HICKEY stayed silent and just collected a bank of these answering machine messages.

And then, one day, they hit the recording studio with their gear, the VGS trumpet, and the answering machine tape.

A couple of months later, VOODOO GLOW SKULLS & HICKEY “Split” 7”s started showing up everywhere, all seemingly released as a split release on Probe Records (HICKEY's label) and Epitaph Records (the logo was on the back of the sleeve, after all).

  Back cover of the "Split"

Back cover of the "Split"

What purchasers found on the record itself is nothing short of genius. The A-side kicks off with a legitimate HICKEY song called “Food Stamps and Drink Tickets.” At this point, if the purchaser hadn’t checked out the 28-page zine inside just yet, the record’s authenticity, while unexpected, still seems entirely plausible.

Things go completely off the rails once the HICKEY song draws to a close and the VGS “song” (titled “Me and My Homies”) begins. It turns out the what comes next is, in fact, Matty and his band taking turns trying to play the VGS trumpet over an edited montage of the voicemail messages left by VGS... about 8 minutes of it. 

To top it off, once the record was out and circulating, HICKEY decided to finally "give in" to the threats and demands from VGS and affiliates by agreeing to send the instrument back via registered post.

Eventually, VOODOO GLOW SKULLS got their trumpet back…

…and the trumpet was filled entirely with chocolate pudding.

You can hear the entirety of the VOODOO GLOW SKULLS/HICKEY “Split” here (the "VOODOO GLOW SKULLS" side starts at 1:45):