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xmag.com : November 2001:Bowling Balls of Terrorism

The decisive sound of bowling balls smashing through pins echoes through a nearly empty bowling alley in Portland's Hollywood district.

It's a lazy, crisp Fall afternoon tinged with the melancholy which autumn implies. Outside the cavernous bowling alley, people are waving those American flags like good-luck charms, like an incantation to ward off evil. Americans are scared for the first time in their lives, and those flags have more to do with fear than with freedom.

The Fireballs of Freedom have affixed a small American flag decal to the driver's-side window of their tour van. The van
has a quintessentially post-college communal-living alternative-lifestyle touring-rock-band feel to it, with smashed greasy potato products on the carpet and the band's "piss bottle" (a used Gatorade container filled with Fireball urine) sloshing around on the floor. I'm guessing that the flag decal straddles
a delicate line between postmodern irony and old-fashioned sincerity, a muted gesture which states that freedom would be nice, even though it's impossible to achieve.

It is perhaps important to note that none of the Fireballs of Freedom are practicing Muslims, nor do any of the members admit to being terrorists, nor of cooperating with international terrorist rings. But one never knows for sure, eh? As we roll through two cordial games of bowling, I decide that they're just a bunch of nice guys, although American in a way that might not last much longer.

We don't talk about music. I'm tired of goddamned music. There is no more useless entity in the world than a rock critic. I'm a man with a lingering hatred of almost all rock music recorded after 1963. I can't believe we're in the 2000s already and rock 'n' roll still EXISTS, much less chugs along unaware of its irrelevance. I'm a guy who'd be happy if all vestiges of rock music were purged from the earth. It simply doesn't
matter to me.

With all that said, I will note that the Fireballs of Freedom are a very good band with an iron grip on the hazy metallic desperation indigenous to the flat, lonely, exasperating Midwest.

The original Fireballs lineup congealed in a fit of bored urgency about ten years ago in North Dakota, land of Giant Buffalo Statues. Kelly Gately, amiable Fireball guitarist/vocalist and sometime pizza chef at Dante's who bears a passing resemblance to Mickey "Monkee" Dolenz, explains that in North Dakota, there's "Nothing to do but pretend you're going to
college, ingest drugs and music...constant music. It keeps you alive up there."

A few years ago the Fireballs relocated to Missoula and forged a reputation as Montana's finest psychedelic hardcore band before re-relocating to the relative urbanity of misty Portland town.

Live, the band smashes up things with an intensity one might not expect from such fine, well-mannered gents. They're a buncha wiggly worms up there on stage, melting down all resistance with a rock-'em sock-'em bronco-bustin' energy
and herky-jerky jazzlike rhythms. Experiencing them live is frightfully intense blast of solar heat...almost like the feeling one gets when you, say, stupidly snuff out your cigarette in a flashpot onstage and melt off half the skin on your hand. They're that powerful.

They've just released a new CD (Welcome to the Octagon, which follows on the heels of the subtly titled Total Fucking Blowout) and are looking forward to their first Japanese tour, even though heightened security interests have
made it harder for American rock bands to map out
overseas itineraries.

This girl I've been seeing recently dragged me off to see the much-ballyhooed Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and I thought the Fireballs were much better live, not that anyone was asking.

Rather than comparing them to other bands or using clumsy metaphors to describe their sound, I'll quote the immortal words of balding alleged woman-beating singer-songwriter James Taylor. The Fireballs of Freedom are "a cement mixer...A churning urn of burning funk...A demolition derby (yeah)...A hefty hunk of steaming junk...A napalm bomb, baby...guaranteed to blow your mind."

On their web page at www.estrus.com, they describe themselves as "four supersonic power-blasters ready to destroy the constructs of the pharaoh-sonic dildoic age... frequency warriors...sound manipulators for a new generation." I have no idea what any of this means, either, but I thought I'd pass the information along to you.

As we bowl, the band talks about how Portland girls are too fucked-up in the head; how Missoula girls are hot and fun; and how the ones in North Dakota just want to have babies and cruise the mall.

I bowl pathetically during the first game, limply tossing gutter balls left and right, and wind up scoring a measly 70...the worst score of anyone. I feel embarrassed for both myself and my country. I finally find my groove and lead the pack for most of the second game until Kelly edges past me by one point on the last frame, 122-121.

We return our psychedelic bowling shoes and repair to the band's hit-by-a-bomb, cat-piss-stenchy house, where a doobie is rolled and passed around.

But even as we smoke, the world is shifting beneath our feet. Rock 'n' roll, like bowling, is a wholly American pastime.

Things are getting weird out there in the real world. There is no such thing as musical or literary terrorism anymore. I mean, it all pales in the face of current events. The world will change, and rock music will be a quaint reminder of an America that was once safe and isolated. When the shit finally goes down...and it will...lazy afternoons such as this will no longer be possible.

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