In the late early mid-90s, I, along with a girl name Charlie, my friend Claire, an artist named Mike, our young mascot, Nads, and a couple other ne’er-do-well rebellious young teens, put out an anonymous zine at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School called “Butyraceous,” a funky-sounding name meaning “having the salubrious qualities of butter.” Witty, eh?
We filled our little rag with cartoons and insults making our teachers look like they were smoking crack or saying naughty sex stuff, and were on the cusp of suspension for about a year. But really, for me, it was less an excuse to be rebellious and more a chance to write about whatever I wanted and have a vehicle to get people reading it. There’s nothing quite like shock value, secrecy, and thumbing one’s nose at authority to get other teens interested in what you have to say.
And I said more than a few things in Butyraceous about Marta Estirado and the Lepers. Today would be Marta’s 35th birthday, and I really wish she’d have made it this far: she never got to see the movie she wrote be shown as a completed film, and I would have liked to have her visit me again in L.A.; the only show I think we got to see when she visited me the one time was a Misfits tribute band (albeit with Bobb Bruno in the band).
By the end of her life, she looked and acted a bit like a burnout, and it was sad: sad for her, but also sad to my many friends who seemed to have forgotten the gleam in her eye and the raw wit she brought to Tulsa’s newly thriving punk scene in the 90s. In the role of band leader “Dina Leprosy,” she played possibly the most artistic role in any punk band in Tulsa at the time, a role that no one has, to my knowledge, ever taken upon themselves to imitate.
And that’s a shame, because in a town full of hardcore and noise, plus some ill-fated ska sounds, the Lepers were on a whole ‘nuther level. They weren’t afraid to go there with costumes, makeup, melodies, and a kind of comedy that the Kids Who Never Learned to Color Inside the Lines just weren’t clever enough to imitate—sure, the Kids had funny lyrics, but the Lepers had oddball backwards-masked words, and a little self-referential love for National Enquirer headlines, and even a love for throwing strange Jell-o concoctions on their audiences. It was almost psychedelic, but darker and Gothier in a way that the actual Goths in town didn’t exactly recognize: here was Alien Sex Fiend and Siouxsie Sioux and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark recycled into something that, to this day, over twice as old now as I was then, I still recognize as genius (and this link is to one of their least creative songs, sadly the only one on YouTube).
And fuck, I wish I had more than just old memories to enjoy from Marta’s grand life oeuvre. Here’s my contribution to her brief but potent scrapbook: a review of the Lepers’ show at Ikon on April 22, 1995, which I wrote for Butyraceous under an assumed name. If I have the dates right, I was 18, and a very immature 18 at that! Marta got a chance to read this, many years ago; if somehow I’m wrong on the whole atheism thing, and she’s floating around the cosmos or flitting about in the wiring of walls and short-circuits of cellphone batteries, I hope she takes the time to read this again, youthful grammar mistakes and all.
The Lepers’ Show: Big Pussy
I knew the April 22 Lepers show at Ikon was gonna be good right from the start, when singer and bassist Dina Leprosy confided to me “My drummer’s drunk as hell, my guitarist’s had a few beers, and I’m whacked out on Mini-Thins. We’re gonna suck!” After handing Dina some Welch’s Grape Jelly I’d managed to sneak in, I was practically licking my lips in anticipation of the upcoming show.
The Lepers came on stage looking like their music sounds: they wore bright make-up, carefully Vaselined hair, plastic trashbags, and facial scabs. They did their repertoire amidst the booing and jeering of the several, somewhat-trendy, young punksters in the pit, who seemed to be having a thoroughly good time. The Lepers, of course, responded between and in the middle of their songs, with several witty insults and comebacks (excluding the unwitty drummer Matt Taylor, who kept chanting “Big Pussy!” all night for no apparent reason).
My favorite part of the show was near the end, when I started getting really sick. Perhaps the grape jelly that Dina/Marta had thrown all over the floor, the punkers, and my face was making me nauseous. Anyway, I was being jostled around by all these mohawked young urchins, and I got the urge to vomit. I was going to try and suppress this urge, when I remembered these two Grateful Preps standing by the front of the stage. These guys had forced me out of my spot by the front and weren’t even watching the band, so I felt they deserved whatever they would get. I held my bile until I got near the closest Yagaboy and then heaved as hard as I could. I got his shirt and shoes, and the two preppies left the club. Success!
To wrap this review up, a Lepers show lives up to the hype of ’76 punk. Without sounding like the Sex Pistols or the Clash, the Lepers follow the original punk credo of experimentalism, originality, learning in public, and creative musical destruction. They probably don’t care as much about these things, however, as they do about expressing their emotions and generating manic fun. A Lepers show is both a musical and energetic event that just has to be experienced to be explained. So, to all those out there who like punk or profess to liking it, you want to check out the Lepers. For those of you who don’t like punk, go see a Lepers show, or shut the fuck up!