Slipknot: Something Wicked This Way Rocks

Published in Alternative Press magazine

“You keep a baboon caged up for 24 years and then let him out upon the world, he’s got some shit to work out.” —Joey Jordison

Joey’s just told me that Fred Durst “might fuckin’ die” for calling Slipknot fans “fat and ugly”—because, Fred, there are two things you don’t mess with: 1) Joey’s friends, and 2) Joey’s fans.

But then Shawn, the clown, has just told me that the only two things I need to know about Slipknot fans are these: 1) They hit themselves in the face, and 2) the band calls ‘em “maggots.”

Aside from the fact that these guys like numbers and lists (they go by numbers 0 through 8 for stage names, after all, and Joey Jordison is No. 1), I’m wondering why it’s okay to call people maggots but not okay to call them fat and ugly. The answer will become clear over the next few days here in Slipknot’s crib—the small, eerily pleasant town of Des Moines, Iowa.

First things first: Slipknot is a musical war machine bent on world domination, and possessing the weapons to achieve it: a brutal command of high-BPM drum & bass, death metal, hardcore punk, as well as vocals that could flay the chrome off a trailer hitch. Plus three percussionists, not one of which is a polite, conservative Charlie Watts-style player. They’ve got a turntablist described by one Brit scribe as the “the hardest fuckin’ DJ in the world, bar none,” a noise-obsessed sampler who refuses to speak to me, and a Panzer-heavy guitar and bass onslaught that sounds like Slayer cubed. Add a stunning debut album on Roadrunner that threatens to pump angry young blood into the old “new metal” carcass, and you’ve got two choices, folks: 1) Punch yourself in the face with the rest of the maggots, or 2): Cower in your basement with the new Oasis record while a grinning death clown sniffs you out, scythe in hand.

Driving me around Des Moines, the clown (aka No. 6, percussionist Shawn Crahan) lays down some more numbers for me. “There are 17 rules in this band,” he says. “Rule No. 1: First of all, no. Rule No. 2: Fuck space. Rule No. 3: Fuck Egypt . But Egypt and space, they’re the same thing.” A few other, more banal rules, pop up too: Stay off sidewalk gratings, and if you’re constipated just eat more food. There’s another gastrointestinal edict: “If you can’t read it, don’t eat it.” This one was coined too recently to have its own number, and involved a hungry bass player, a wager, and a jar of what appeared to be Saudi Arabian pickles. (That’s all the detail you need, trust me.)

The clown drives me to the ancient Slipknot incubator—a basement practice pad so tiny that No. 5 (aka Craig Jones, the non-speaking sampler) had to jam with the band from another room. And it smelled like urine back then because they insulated the ceiling with old carpet from a pet store, once the domain of puppies with bladder-control problems. And the band wore tight latex masks that were hot and uncomfortable. And it was loud. And they were in Des Moines. And they were pissed.

But it was here, in this dank, suburban dungeon that the band’s maverick then-manager, Sophia John, lured nu-metal chieftain Ross Robinson to a private Slipknot viewing. He shat himself promptly, then signed the band to his label. Fast-forward a dozen months or so, and the little website the clown had set up on his computer jumped from 200 hits a month to 35,000 a day. And now, as Slipknot attacks the Billboard charts, the band’s self-professed desire for planetary control seems to be nothing but a matter of time.

Oh, how the embattled Slipknot gang contrast with the swank Des Moines Marriott lounge as they file inside; one guy’s got an eye-patch covering a nasty corneal abrasion, another has a big scar on his forehead and 3-inch, beet-red gash on his hand, still another limps noticeably. A war-damaged crew to be sure.

“My back’s about to kill me as we speak,” says No. 7 (aka hockey-masked guitarist Mick Thomson). “I’ve been doing this shit for years. I’m always sore. But two weeks ago finally something went pop. Now I’m fucked. You should’ve see me earlier, just trying to get some milk out of the fridge for a bowl of cereal. And I never really hurt. You could hit me with a baseball bat and I’d laugh at you—but right now my back is bringing me to my fuckin’ knees.”

And No. 0, who’s been lighting himself on fire lately and has singed off all his hair, “pubic hair and everything,” according to No. 2 (aka pig-masked bassist Paul Gray), is also nursing bruised ribs, as is the clown. In fact, the clown’s recent injury list alone is noteworthy:

1) Split head open twice during 2000 Ozzfest tour; 39 total stitches

2) Bruised pelvis from failed back-flip attempts

3) Several slipped vertebrae (see entry 2)

4) Split collarbones (see entry 2)

5) Fractured knuckles from punching drum kegs, fans, self

6) Dislocated shoulder from hurling self into drum set

7) Concussion from slamming head into drum keg

8) Partially severed finger from onstage mishap with angle grinder

9) Wide array of general tissue degeneration

“It’s sick, man,” he admits. “And we all fuck ourselves up daily. To the point of wondering why we’re even doing this anymore. I mean, literally being like, ‘I’m destroying my life.’”

Quickly, No. 8 (aka leatherface-masked vocalist Corey Taylor) puts in, “After a show you never feel so beaten up in your life—but at the same time you never feel so good. I float for a couple of hours, just an odd drifting feeling. You’ve got extreme adrenaline plus exhaustion, it’s the weirdest.”

“You’re so amped after a show,” somebody else blurts from across the table, “there have been times that I’ve pulled the mask off and just started vomiting uncontrollably.”

If sado-masochism can be defined as the act of receiving pleasure through the experience of pain, well, Slipknot fits the bill nicely, especially given those grotesque, physically constraining masks [see sidebar]. But No. 8′s lyrics are definitely not sado-masochistic—they are about messing up the other guy (or girl, as the case may be; he jokes that the album is all love songs “about killing my ex”).

Sample 1: “Fuck it all! Fuck this world! Fuck everything you stand for! Don’t belong! Don’t exist! Don’t give a shit! Don’t ever judge me!” (from “Surfacing”).

Sample 2: “Save this! My rage is bliss! I’m takin’ names and gettin’ pissed!” (from “No Life”).

Sample 3: “Who the fuck are you? Fuck you! Better suck it up cuz you bled through! Better get away from me! Stay the fuck away from me!” (from “Eyeless”).

Had enough? Well, puzzle over this: No. 8 bristles when I describe the lyrics as “nihilistic.”

“I don’t think of it as nihilism, I think it’s more contemplative,” he says. “It’s working out stuff I’ve had to deal with. Everybody’s had their fair share of shit. I just have a productive way of venting it—it’s either this or open fire on a McDonald’s. You just cannot do music this powerful and not give yourself to it. So you get as personal as you can. I think if people look at it a little closer, they can see past the anger and they can relate to a lot of it, that for whatever reason we’ve had to go through the same shit in life.”

And what shit is that exactly?

“I don’t wanna get into it—just like I don’t wanna get into when I was caught at the rendering plant naked,” he chuckles. “Everything is interpretation, so for me to lay down anything would take away from that. All I want is people to take away something from the music. Whatever that is, it’s fine with me.” No. 8 pauses, feeling the heavy vibe, then adds, “I don’t think the clown’s told you about his passion for urinal cakes.”

While the question has been successfully deflected, the clown is not pleased. Yet there is a stickier issue at stake than urinal cakes: These guys are white, middle class males living in Iowa —just what are they so angry about? After all, even the skankiest sections of Des Moines are not exactly Compton. Maybe that’s the problem.

The clown takes me to Hairy Mary’s II, a rock club in the suburbs where Slipknot played its first gig (April 28, 1996) and began, in the clown’s words, to “let our sickness develop.” Right now, scads of young people mull around in rock T-shirts, the mating foreplay is in full swing, the bar bustles with activity, a guitar band sets up on stage—the scene is typical of any rock club in the country. Except that it’s 4 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon here.

Lest we forget, this is the heart of heartland America—an area that spawned John Wayne, the World Pork Expo, and the career of Ronald Reagan. It has “more churches than porno shops” according to No. 8, and boasts one of the country’s largest populations of folks over 75 years old. In short, this is Republican territory, and there simply aren’t a lot of options for kids beyond “scooping the loop,” a pointless activity that involves cruising back and forth on the main drag in search of the opposite sex. There’s that, TV, masturbation, and rebellion, says No. 2.

“Everyone’s so straight-laced about not wanting to let the ‘bad’ element come into effect,” concurs No. 1, “because when something like that happens in a city this small—and this is the capital of Iowa —then it spreads like a disease. All of us were so used to having the middle finger thrown at us, that when we threw it back, we did so with 10 times the venom.”

The up side to life in a small town? There’s nothing to do, so you’ve got a lot of time for band practice.

“Any way you cut it, this band would not be where it’s at if we were not from where we are,” the clown says. “If this was a New York or L.A. band, it’d already be broken up. Not all of us like it here—I mean, come on, snow? Snow can go fuck itself right off. But we learned to appreciate every art form there is because we were so starved for it here. When our favorite bands waltzed through, we were there and did nothing but analyze, indulge, and just love it. So Iowa ‘s a hell of an inspiration. But we probably won’t be here forever. Because, like I said, the snow—it’s started to take its toll on the brain. I’m getting so angry with the snow that I hurt myself. One of these days I’m gonna hurt myself too much to recover.”

Aside from Iowa and boredom, the group’s inspirations vary widely depending on what number you ask: Hendrix for 7; Lenny Bruce for 8; numbers (surprise) for 6; Slayer for 1; George Carlin for 8; Slipknot for 3; Al Jourgensen for 6; shapes for 6. Though they don’t list these, through sheer conversational repetition, this stuff seems to be on the Slipknot collective unconscious: Egypt (seven mentions); being hit with a baseball bat (four mentions); scooping the loop (six mentions); Barney the purple dinosaur (three mentions); postimpressionist painter Cezanne (two mentions). Non-Durst things that certain band members can merrily exist without: laxatives, No. 8′s hat, snow, sports and wrestling (they aredistinct), Trixter, TV, and jeans ads. Jeans ads? Well, just when rock bands are involved.

“When you’re modeling jeans next to like Brooke Shields in a magazine it’s completely fucked, in my opinion. I’ve never met the guy, he’s probably a pretty cool guy,” says No. 1, alluding to Korn drummer David Silveria, the subject of a recent Calvin Klein campaign. “But I will say on record that if that ever happens to me, I would literally give myself to a flock of fans to beat me silly with a baseball bat.”

The clown’s taken me to his modest, semi-Victorian house in the suburbs. It’s well-stocked with an attractive wife and three ubiquitous kids, at least one of whom has a penchant for drawing crayon pictures of the devil, I notice. The clown hasn’t seen his family in nearly three months because of touring, and it would have been longer if Canadian customs officials hadn’t been so uptight about certain issues, which are only explained in the most vague terms to me. So I do appreciate the clown taking all this time with me, given his love for the family. But I really shouldn’t be surprised, I learn, because the clown’s devotion to Slipknot’s success is downright pathological, and probably one of the main reasons for that success.

“The bands that we all were in before, it was so easy to blow things off, be lazy,” he says. “But speaking for myself, I’d promised my wife that after she gave birth to our third child that I would take a week off, not do any band stuff. This is six months before she had the baby, and the whole time she’s explaining it to me, I’m thinking, ‘It’s not gonna happen.’ ‘Yes, honey, yep, I’ll take the whole week off. Yeah, I told the guys.’ But the day after she gave birth I was at practice. I love my wife and family unconditionally, but there is a higher cause for this band.”

The other numbers echo the sentiment.

“It’s just a connection none of us had in the previous bands,” says No. 2. “We’ve had other members in this band and you wouldn’t feel it the same way as it is with everybody here now. Like when Sid [Wilson, aka No. 0] got in the band we felt it right away, it’s like ‘Shit, who needs a stupid-ass DJ?’ But then he comes in and you feel it.”

Number 0, the DJ in question, just smirks, adding, “I’m gonna end up in a wheelchair or something from this band. But it’s okay, it’s venting something I’ve needed to let go of for years and years. I belong with this band, with these people. It’s like I was waiting to meet these people, you know? Shawn [the clown] knew I was coming. He said he was just waiting for another person, he knew they were coming someday, some time. And I showed up one day.”

As strong as the camaraderie is between these nine guys, rounded out by Nos. 3 and 4 (percussionist Chris Fehn—the long-nosed one, and white-devil-masked guitarist Jim Root, respectively), their rapport with the fans displays an equally profound kinship. These kids, when not being referred to as maggots, are spoken of in near-sanctimonious language. Hell, they’re worth felling Fred Durst for, after all.

Says the clown, “It’s so cool to see the kids coming to shows fully equipped with their own homemade screenprints and stencils—elaborate work they’ve spent hours of their own day doing, all these crazy-ass concoctions and masks. Those kids got two things that they do that I notice more than anything. One, they sing all the words. They scream ‘em! Corey’s got this part in the song ‘Eyeless’ about his father—it’s kind of a line that helps him deal—and at the end he says the word ‘Nothing!’, and you can tell, man, he’s pissed off that he doesn’t know his father. He said that he tries to forget he’s on stage and just hones in on the whole place yelling ‘Nothing!’ with him. And it just breaks him, almost makes him want to cry. Because everybody out there has a nothing—whether it’s their job, their parents, their girlfriend, their wife, their kids—everybody’s got a nothing. Now instead of slamming, I look up and see hundreds of kids just scream that word, ‘Nothing.’ And they fucking mean it…

“And the other they do is hit themselves,” he continues. “And I got kids up front there who are entirely pissed off if I don’t hit myself. And I’m like, ‘My fucking brain feels like it’s bouncing in my head. If I hit myself right now, it’s gonna blow.’ And then I do it and they’re ecstatic. I try to look at that every day that we play—we have this opportunity to be responsible and go out there and give them something and influence them as hard and as brutally and, most importantly, as honestly as possible. And we are gonna see a big difference in our world. We never set out to have MTV or Alternative Press or Rolling Stone or Conan O’Brien say that we’ve started a musical genre—alternative, or hip hop, trip hop, drum & bass. No, we’re doing this to set a way of life. If we do that, then we can exist in this forever. The fans will be there.”

Still, “maggots”?

“They like it!” the clown blurts. “We call them maggots because they feed off us, and we think that’s a beautiful thing.”

And in this band’s sordid world, a maggot is not such a bad thing anyway. The clown even speaks of Slipknot in entomological terms.

“It’s like every day you go outside your door, and there’s a violent world going on around you, under your feet, and you pay no attention to it,” he says. “You’re off doing your cattle thing—your 9-to-5 deal, meeting your deadlines, going to lunch, meeting your girl—and you don’t understand what’s going on under your feet. And Slipknot is the same thing, but we’re not gonna let you walk by us anymore. We’re gonna stop you. And we’re gonna make you pay attention.”

It may be a tad unorthodox to liken one’s band to violent insects, but one thing the boys tell me over and over: They’d sooner disembowel the status quo and leave it hanging upside-down on a cornfield cross than snuggle up it. The bar code on the back of each Slipknot member’s uniform is a direct middle finger to the music industry machine, to the way art—and lifestyle—is manufactured, prepackaged and culturally enforced in the USA. And these Iowa bugs want no part of it.

“We’re not gonna use this dream—this reality—that we’re involved with to just follow some formula that the label or the industry and all these people who think they know what the fuck is going on,” the clown says emphatically. “We’re focused on trying to make all the right decisions right now, because we know they determine our future. And we’re fine with the ways things are going: Slow and positive. We don’t want to be in-and-out; we’re here for world domination. And I think within the next decade people are going to understand what that means. Because it’s going to get mental, and it’s going to get sicker, and it’s going to get more violent. It’s going to get harder, and heavier, and faster.”

He pauses, then adds with a grin, “Everything you could ever ask for.”

SIDEBAR ONE: Slipknot Unmasked

Why would a band whose record is kicking ass amongst critics, skaters and maggots alike take to wearing gear from a Wes Craven cough-syrup hallucination? Don’t they know it’s a setup for easy slags? Why the costumes?

Shawn “The Clown” Crahan:

[If you wore them] you would wonder why we play in them. You would because, dude, the snot and the spit and the veins and the redness and the anger, you can see it and you can feel it. Come and watch us, you’ll have a different impression about latex the rest of your life. You never knew it could be so much.

Joey “Kabuki-mask” Jordison:

We’ve never been about the names or the faces or what I look like or my name up in lights. It’s about the music and we keep all that fucking ego shit hidden with the masks to shield ourselves so that egos don’t blossom in the name of clothing endorsements and poster-boy bullshit.

Corey “Leatherface” Taylor:

I think “costume” is the wrong word for it. These pop bands that put on the glitter and the glitz, that’s more a costume than anything. I mean, to us this is like a uniform. When we go onstage, we’re individuals-but we’re also like one complete monster that just wants to destroy everything.

Mick “Hockey-mask” Thomson:

First and foremost we’re musicians. I’m sure there’s people seeing pictures of us and knocking us for this image, and hey, I’d probably be in the same boat, like, “They look like whatever, they’re hiding behind that cuz they got no music.” That’s not the case for us. But fuck it, people reading this will see the pictures and make up their own minds. But please, listen to the CD before you say a word.

SIDEBAR TWO: The Extreme Write

The members of Slipknot may seem sick and twisted, but what does an expert think? AP submitted handwriting samples to certified handwriting analyst Merle V. Shamash for character assessment.

Joey “No. 1” Jordison [handwriting sample]

Poised, personable, and optimistic, he makes a big, bold statement. Writing exhibits strong and active imagination, creativity, sensuousness, decisiveness and determination. Can become restless unless stimulated by constant change. Broadminded, tolerant, and extroverted, but can be uncommunicative and taciturn. He is a slow, careful thinker.

Chris “No. 3” Fehn [handwriting sample]

The writer can be warm, personable, and optimistic, but he has a quick temper that tends to erupt quite frequently although he tries to curb or restrain it. He likes to acquire things, but is not wasteful. He may be frugal with his money or time. He can be quite the diplomat and is able to connect things in unconventional, unusual, or creative ways.

James “No. 4” Root [handwriting sample]

A multifaceted, versatile individual showing keen intelligence, exploratory and analytical thinking, and creative or structural abilities. He can be warm but is often guided by self-interest and self-absorption and may be overly affected by past experiences. He is a fluid thinker, culturally inclined with literary tendencies or leanings. The writer is discriminating, artistic with good color appreciation, and has a flair for showmanship. Forceful, decisive, and dynamic with a strong will, he is also tenacious and acquisitive. With his array of talents and drives, he has the potential to reach his goals, but he needs to stay centered and focused as there is some scattering of energies.

Mick “No. 7” Thompson [handwriting sample]

Poised, personable, modest, and generous. Mechanical aptitude, investigative ability, rhythm and timing show up in his writing. Definitely an optimist, he is curious and expansive and likes to see the big picture, leaving the day-to-day mundane details to others.

Corey “No. 8” Taylor [handwriting sample]

This is an individual who is level-headed and at the same time warm and emotionally responsive. He is creative and imaginative and shows intuition and musical aptitude, making him a fine interpretive artist. The qualities of frankness, honesty, broadmindedness, and tolerance are present in the writing. He definitely needs a stimulating environment, and there is a strong desire for variety and change. The writer is dependable and takes pride in his work and accomplishment. Pride is sometimes excessive, bordering on vanity.

All of the writers show poise, stage presence, some degree of sensuousness, creativity, color appreciation, and strong drives. Energy, directness, and intense feelings are evident also.