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Cover Story: Touch And Go 3

| August 29, 2006 | 0 Comments

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Independent Worms

The Butthole Surfers, who left Touch And Go in 1991, found themselves with a sizable radio hit, “Pepper,” in 1996. As Ian MacKaye puts it, “Unfortunately bad people have a way of perverting good ideas. That’s the way it is. I’m not trying to say The Butthole Surfers are bad people, but I am saying the industry, that approach, the fact music has become an industry, that that outlook has perverted a very good idea. I think it creates confusion that unfortunately lands in places like courts.”

Touch And Go has always paid a 50-percent royalty share, approximately four times the going industry rate, but the band felt Rusk was no longer earning his share by simply keeping their back catalog available. The publicity afforded them by “Pepper,” they felt, meant they should be the ones controlling the records. So in 1996, they sued to reclaim their six albums, entering a legal battle that would threaten the business models of countless labels. The Butthole Surfers eventually won the case, though in reality Touch And Go came out on top. Rusk gladly destroyed all of his stock — effectively leaving the band to find a home for their now out-of-print catalog — and the Surfers’ reputation has been sullied beyond repair.

“I was never frightened by it,” MacKaye says. “I did an interview with the Chicago Reader, the guy who was writing the piece [Josh Goldfein] — as I remember — he was sort of on the Butthole Surfers’ side. He kind of felt like, ‘You can’t do things without contracts.’ I used a sort of analogy, which I think is a good analogy for people to think about: If you like taking a walk in the park, every day you take a walk in the park. But one day you’re in the park, and some people jump out from behind a bush or a rock and they beat you and take your money. Does that mean it’s not good to take a walk in the park? No, it means you got robbed.”

Rusk wasn’t so easily convinced. “For maybe a year after that I was depressed and thinking, ‘Do I want to keep doing this or should I change the way I’m doing things? Has the world changed too much and I can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them?’ All those sorts of thoughts. In the end I looked at them from a different perspective and said, ‘Nothing’s going to change; it is what it is.’ Instead of worrying that the way we’re doing things won’t work anymore, why don’t I just look at it like we’ve done things this way for 20 years and in 20 years we’ve only had one bad issue like this.”


“I guess I think about it just because I’m getting older,” Rusk responds when asked about the label’s future, whether there’s an endpoint. “Once you have friends die, I guess you realize you’re not superhuman and you will die too. That makes you think about those sorts of things. But I certainly don’t have an answer about what would happen if I got hit by a bus tomorrow. I like to think that we have a pretty good structure in place. Every job that needs doing there’s a person doing it.”

That was a good plan, because while Touch And Go/Quarterstick has thrived since the Surfers saga ended in 1999, the institution was almost decapitated two years later. Rusk very nearly lost his life in a motorcycle race. Told he would not survive — he was thrown from his bike and then run over — he did; told he would not walk again, he does. Rejuvenated, remarried, Rusk and company soldier on.

“I spent the majority of 2001 in the hospital. Only did a fraction of the work I would do in any given year. Yet the company survived and the records still came out.”

And now there’s the matter of this party going down September 8th, 9th, and 10th at The Hideout. Twenty-five bands from Touch And Go’s 25 years spread over three days.

“From the very beginning they told us it would. not. work,” MacKaye boasts, cause for celebration. “It was not functional, it wasn’t pragmatic, it wasn’t realistic, especially. Now in terms of the 25th anniversary stuff, I don’t give a fuck about that. I always thought if you stop too long to mark what you did, then you might not be doing. Get back to work!”

Hideout owner Tim Tuten, who’s hosting the festival, disagrees. “They’ve been doing this 25 years — let’s have a freaking blow-out party!”

Rusk says, “I was working 20-hour days for years. There was no time to have thought about other endeavors even if maybe I had a desire to do so. I was focused on making Touch And Go work.”

Then a party it is. Happy anniversary.

Click here to continue to our festival preview.

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