The Top [Some] Scariest Bands

I need clarification 7/19/2009 

I will probably forget to go back and edit the title to reflect however many entries are in the list.

So as a young, violin-playing nerdlinger growing up, I didn't know much about rock music, and what I did know scared the shit out of me. It wasn't that I was scared of Gene Simmons or had nightmares about Alice Cooper - what got me was the images of rock stars half-cloaked in darkness onstage, a visual representation of the essential truth about the appeal of rock music - that it is a world accessible and appreciated by a select few, while the rest of us could only try to catch glimpses of it between the endless stream of pop music we otherwise filled our ears with. My mom's office was next door to Tom Petty's drummer's dad's office (KIND OF a big deal), and he had the Heartbreakers album covers up on his walls. I'd stare at them and try to imagine what it was like to understand what was going on there - the cover of Long After Dark is simple enough, but it's all red and Tom is holding his guitar upside-down. For someone only passingly familiar with rock iconography, that was weird and off somehow.

That's the feeling all good rock music strives for - the idea that understanding and inclusion is just around the corner if you try hard enough and listen to the right music at the right time. The flip side of that is abject fear of the unknown, of course. A lot of people channel that fear into learning the minutiae of rock history and current events as closely as the most dedicated Trekkie (I did this in high school and college to make up for lost time), but that simply cements your position on the outside - you've stopped loving rock music, instead determined to prove that if you just know EVERYTHING about it, you'll be in by default.

I'm off-track a bit, let's go.

Frank Black
Frank Black

The Pixies/Frank Black

I'm famous for loving the Pixies and Frank. But when I first started listening to their albums I was petrified. Screaming about space aliens, whores, mutilation, monkeys going to heaven, while this little girl's voice chimed in on the choruses. Not seeing them live helped, maybe, but I'm not sure. I think this would still have been a lot for me to handle:

Interestingly, Nirvana never scared me at all despite their best attempts, but I can't tell if it's because the lyrics were so accessible or because I saw the Teen Spirit video before I'd heard the album, so I already knew they were kind of a goof. Would I feel the same way about the Pixies if their videos weren't also kind of creepy?

When I finally did see the Pixies during the reunion tour a couple of years ago, they were really just a bunch of fat and/or bald middle-aged guys (and girl) who still played the shit out of their song but didn't really scare anyone anymore. Still good, though. Frank solo is still scary, though. You get the feeling he's on a tightrope of some sort, like any minute he's going to smash his acoustic guitar on my head and storm off the stage.

The Clash
The Clash

The Clash

Did any rock music movement market itself as well as punk? They almost did too good a job, not just scaring the parents and stiffs, but also a lot of music fans who probably would like the simple chord progressions and accessible lyrics if they could just get past the mohawks and spikes. But it only takes one guy killing his girlfriend and then himself to make you suspect that maybe none of them were kidding around, and that WKRP episode in which the punk band got into a fistfight with Johnny, Andy, and Venus didn't help things with me, either.

Ironically the Clash were probably threatening only to each other, but I kept my distance, just loving the hits they played on the radio until I was much older and could listen to a whole album and realize they were more interested in stopping violence than starting it. But so what? Still scary, guys!

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

I know, this is ridiculous! I ought to be ashamed of myself. But this was before I really heard any of their music beyond Born to Run, and just knew album titles like "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "Nebraska," albums that sounded like they were about serial killers or something. But mostly it was about the look of the band, some sort of cross between a bunch of homeless veterans and pimps:

In a million years I couldn't have figured out what was going on in that picture at that age. What kind of music are they even playing? Why is there a black guy there? And what's with four hour concerts I keep hearing about? This was also my first touch with fanatics, long before the Born in the USA hit. That's essential, as I said earlier: what was the big deal about this band that I was missing?! Unknown!

TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio

Frightening! I heard "Wolf Like Me" on the radio in my car and knew I was way out of my league. Somewhere there were people who not only knew these guys but probably hung out with them in artsy parties in the Bronx! All I knew was the barely-heard lyric fragments, talking about gutting fish and transforming into werewolves! I thought maybe if I just saw them live things would be better, but no:

Maybe the greatest live performance on TV since whatever the last greatest live performance was, and still terrifying. The rhythm guitarist alone is enough, never mind the lead singer. And let's not get started on the bass player. These guys are awesome.

Runners-up/honorable mentions:

Wendy O. Williams

Leon Redbone

Vic Chesnutt

Which musicians scare you, Caltrops readers?

I need clarification