- Texas Terri: Just one of the guys.
"Everybody went so wild," Texas Terri recalls. "I just stood there like a retard and made faces." She has since incorporated a topless segment into her show, although she now wears strategically placed electrical tape to ensure that she's not breaking any obscenity laws.
"When I take my shirt off, it's because I'm one of the guys. I don't need to show my tits. I do it to see how easily amused people are and for shock value. It's just fun to watch people's faces."
Baring her breasts isn't even the most extreme thing that the singer, who lives in Los Angeles and has fronted numerous punk bands for nearly two decades, has done while on stage.
"I used to shove Gummi worms up my pussy -- Marilyn Manson gave me this idea -- and pulled them out, one at a time, to feed to the punk boys at the front of the stage," she says. "That's where you separate the real people from the poseurs. There was no shortage of punk boys up there in the front row with their mouths open, waiting for worms."
Even in the midst of Austin, Texas's South by Southwest, a music festival that has drawn thousands of band members and industry representatives, Texas Terri stands out. Wearing tight leather pants and a pink and black striped sweater, Terri, with her bright red hair, assorted tattoos, and chipped front tooth, oozes evidence of the rough life she's led. The battle scars also give her an air of resilience. She won't reveal her age, but says that the years she spent in her hometown of Austin were tumultuous ones, partly because of the lifestyle she led and partly because she just never fit in.
"I was way too hyper for this town," she says. "People who moved here from New York thought I was from New York. I was like 'Where the hell is New York?' I didn't know anything but Texas. Back then my life was all about drugs and alcohol and music."
She played in a number of punk bands, but it was only after a fellow musician moved from Austin to Los Angeles that she considered pulling up stakes and heading to Hollywood. She packed up her cat, Stud, and some dead creatures she calls pickled pigs (she keeps them in a jar in the refrigerator) and moved west. When she got to L.A. in 1983, she formed a band called the Eunuchs that was short-lived, in part because of its prolific use of drugs and alcohol.
"One of the guys in the band sees The Rose on TV, and he calls me up freaking out," Terri recalls. "He's going, 'I just saw Bette Midler in The Rose, and I can't be in a band with you anymore, because you're gonna end up like that.' I'm like 'What is the story about?' He tells me, and I say, 'I can't believe you're trying to call the kettle black here.' I figured great, I drive all the way out here, and I'm living in an apartment I can't afford."
Life in Los Angeles was rocky at first for Terri. On her first night there, she went to a death-metal club, and it put her in such an unstable frame of mind that she took her anxiety out on her date.
"I walk in ready to party, and everyone is just sitting there," she says. "I said, 'Fuck this shit. I'm getting the fuck out of here.'" Her date took her home, but then he wouldn't leave. "The guy I was with would not leave me alone. I said, 'That's it.' I took out this switchblade and started stabbing myself, slicing my stomach open and slicing my throat. Then I took the pigs out and put them in this mud puddle out in the yard and started playing with them. He finally went home, but the next day, the Russian landlord came over and told me to leave. The guy wanted me to stay, because he was an old pervert, but his wife wanted me to go. I had to move into these people's house, and they made me put a scarf around my neck to hide my sliced throat. But I was very proud of it."
Texas Terri went on to play in numerous punk bands; by the mid-'90s, she had formed the Stiff Ones, which released its debut, Eat Shit, three years ago. That record has recently been reissued by the Long Beach, California-based label Junk Records, and Terri's tour in support of the album includes stops in many cities where she's never played before (including Cleveland). She's trying to recruit Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, Patti Smith, New York Dolls) to produce her next album and has already cut a three-song demo with him.
While Terri's been sober for 10 years, she still takes her shirt off when she plays live; even with her top on, she often douses herself with water so that her nipples show through. She admits that some women might be turned off, because her performances appear to be more suited to a strip club than a rock venue. But she maintains that women like her, too, because she's visceral in a way that women in rock usually aren't.
"Look at me. Am I one of those little frilly girls?" she asks. "People think Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop were cool because they [took their clothes off]. It wasn't a sexual thing. I'm not into women's issues, but I guess this has become one.
"I sometimes wish I wouldn't wear my heart on my sleeve so much. I'm like an open book, but if you're an open book, a lot of people don't understand where you're coming from."