In place of the DM talkshow this week, here is a music video for an enigmatic cult band called The Beme Seed that I co-directed in 1989. The Beme Seed were fronted by Kathleen Lynch, the utterly psychotic go-go dancer whose distinctly dada take on the art of burlesque made Butthole Surfers’ concerts so demonically powerful in the 1980s. Although never an official member of the group, she was a major, major part of their reputation for legendary live shows (along with the pyrotechnic cymbals, Gibby’s flaming hand, the films of dental and penis reconstructive surgery, etcetera, etcetera). Kathleen’s inspired go-go dancing was as surreal as it was pagan. At one late 80s New York show I saw (held at The Ritz nightclub, now Webster Hall), she went from sporting a huge afro wig and an extremely hairy “merkin” to being completely naked (and shaved) and then back again, as violent strobe lights provided cover—in other words, it happened in such a way that it seemed like a special effect to the audience—stunning, I tell you. Later in the show, she came out nude, painted gold and wearing tennis rackets on her feet.
For someone who has made an entire career of seeking out oddballs, I’d have to say that Kathleen Lynch, truly, is one of the weirdest people I’ve ever met. But in a good way! There was nothing negative or mentally unstable about her, she was just fuckin’ odd. But cheerfully weird. Her weirdness was organic, not forced, let’s just say. I’d call her a hippie, but she was too punk rock for that. She was a most singular creature, Kathleen, fitting no easy categories.
Above, Kathleen Lynch on the cover the Butthole Surfer’s Double Live album.
Here are a few statements made about Kathleen Lynch by the Butthole Surfers themselves:
Paul Leary - “The whole band got scabies once, and we had to hold Kathleen down and get her medicated. She had decided she didn’t want to kill the scabies because they were her friends.”
Gibby Haynes - We’d roll into a town, I was booking the shows, we didn’t know where the clubs were. We’d literally pull over somebody and say, “Hey, where do the queers hang out? Where’s the college area?” Just follow the queers to the club. We played the Celebrity Club in Atlanta when RuPaul, Lady Bunny, and all the other drag queens were hanging out there before they all moved to New York. It was this weird, artsy, funky, disco crowd in Atlanta that for some reason liked us. Kathleen was friends with this friend of ours from Atlanta.
Teresa Taylor (AKA Teresa Nervosa) - Later we met Kathleen again in New York. She was working for Sex World in Times Square. She was known as Ta Da the Shit Lady, she could really control her shit. We took her on the road as our dancer and started building the whole package. She was kind of into her spiritual thing; she stopped speaking for a year, and I asked her why, and she wrote down that God had told her to take a vow and stop speaking. She loved the human body, smells of the human body, dirty socks, urine, things of the body were really beautiful to her, b.o. was beautiful, and we had a hard time making her bathe. I remember once we pretty much had to hold her down and do her laundry, and she was yelling, “no, no!”
Paul Leary - We were at a house and we watched Kathleen perfectly pee a spoonful of urine without spilling a drop, she put that teaspoon of urine into a pot of old dried macaroni and cheese, and that’s when this drag queen came in and started eating the dried macaroni and cheese with that spoon and we were like, Felicia, didn’t you just see Kathleen putting her pee in that pan? She said, “I’m eating on the side.”
Jeff Pinkus - We all went down to Key Largo—it was one of our first vacations that we actually took as a band. We decided to go snorkeling, but Ta Da stayed on the boat with the captain. We come back and the captain of the ship was just looking at us like we were all crazy, and we couldn’t figure out what was going on, he wouldn’t talk to us. Later we found out that when we were in the water Ta Da had thrown up and had diarrhea at the same time. She had the diarrhea in her hand and she threw up into the water. She said she was feeding the fish.
Paul Leary - “What’s my resume going to say? For the past 12 years I’ve been touring with someone who shits in their hand and feeds it to the fish in front of a bunch of people?”
Okay, I think you must get the picture by now. (So, she was a little eccentric. Haven’t we all shit in our hands and fed the fishies at least once in our lives? No?)
When I met Kathleen, I think she was paying the bills by being a professional dog walker, but she’d been a “live nude girl” at Sex World in Times Square. That’s where she got her evocative nickname. Since I’m sure this has already been told elsewhere (and because it’s so damed funny) here’s the gist of it: She was working, had eaten some Chinese take-out and gotten food poisoning. While with a customer, she had an “accident,” which caused the poor guy to run out of the booth, exclaiming what had happened. The octogenarian woman who owned and ran the place—one of old skool 42nd St’s more memorable characters—could be seen there daily wearing a mic around her neck the way Bob Dylan wears his harmonica, hawking her live nude girls over the PA system. Without missing a beat, she started hyping, “Step right up guys, ta-da, it’s the shit lady!”
I heard that story directly from Kathleen, herself. I recall being in tears from laughing so hard the way she told it.
So the Beme Seed. I don’t know much about the actual band. I think they were actually broken up at the time we made the video and may have reformed with different members later. The music of Beme Seed was psychically disturbing and featured a lot of chanting and quasi-formless guitar feedback. They sounded really evil and their live show was like a LOUD seance. (The closest comparison I can think of is the early Virgin Prunes). They made three albums for the Blast First! record label, who also distributed Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Afghan Whigs and Big Black and disbanded for good in 1992.
The entire budget for the “God Inside” video was around $60 bucks. It was co-directed with a friend of mine named Alan Henderson, who was also the editor. Although it may seem very “so what?” by today’s standards, the digital layering on this video had only recently made possible, due to the introduction of what was then a brand new digital video compositing computer known as the Abacas A-62 (which cost $160,000 at the time—Alan and I were both working in a high tech digital video post-production facility and used their expensive equipment off-hours). What Alan did was to feed an signal through the device and then he could control the level of feedback via an analog video switcher while he controlled the output. (Such was the level of technological advancement 21 years ago. Now, of course, After Effects is a million times better than anything available then for a fraction of the price).
We considered the “God Inside” video an homage to Kenneth Anger, albeit one with tiny, tiny budget. Kathleen herself, initially at least, was not down with this treatment for the song, but she also didn’t want to turn down a professionally produced music video, something she knew she’d never be able to afford otherwise, so she went with it. (Her idea, which surprised me when she told me about it, was to use all found footage and archival films of people doing nice things for each other—a nurse helping a patient, someone pushing an elderly lady in a wheelchair, uniformed school crossing-guards with children—and I was like “What?” She also told me that the song was about the female orgasm and masturbating, so the “happy people” concept was a real disconnect for me).
The costume, as such, consisted of Kathleen painting her naked body white, wrapping tin foil around her teeth and cutting a lock of hair from her head and gluing it to her chin. She also had these yellow, almost glow in the dark, strands of fake Halloween costume hair which she glued to her arms. The overall effect, I think you’ll agree, was striking. I also had something I really wanted to shoot for this and that was Kathleen emerging from water like some sort of sea creature. To get this shot, we got up at 4:30AM and hightailed it up to Central Park for sunrise and hoped no one would be around. Kathleen was wrapped only in a sheet. There were a few joggers, but we got the shot.
In the studio, we shot take after take, especially of the lip-sync. I wanted her to do the speaking in tongues part at the end and really go to town on that, but each take was too subdued. She complained that we were working her too hard, but I insisted. Finally, I think she was so mad at me, that she let loose and did what I wanted and you can see this in the final video. As soon as that was in the can, we turned off the camera and went home.
When the video was finished, I showed it to Kathleen and she cried tears of joy. Then she asked me if I could leave the room and she watched it several more times alone. She really loved it. However, later that night when I showed it to the young woman I was living with at the time, she was so freaked out that she asked me—I’m not kidding—to remove it from our apartment! (Turn it up loud, so it seems extra infernal!)
Needless to say, a music video featuring full frontal nudity was never going to be shown on MTV or anywhere else for that matter. The “God Inside” video, made 21 years ago, for all intents and purposes (a few crappy YouTube versions aside) is being premiered here now. I hope you enjoy it, if that’s the right word…
Beme Seed (The Book of Seth’ at Julian Copes’ Head Heritage)
Beme Seed MySpace page
How Did It Come to This? An Oral History of May 3, 1987: The Day The Butthole Surfers Came to Trenton, New Jersey (The Rumpus)
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Bongwater: The Power of Pussy