In the bad old days of the '80s and '90s – when the internet was only for nerds and the military – there were desperately few ways to discover subversive culture. Music magazines and newspapers weren't the most illuminating sources of information for anything beyond than the gentle fields of “alternative” music. Occasionally these publications would throw readers a bone – usually the music editor's ossified funny-bone – and obscure bands would be mentioned, then ridiculed into irrelevance. The alternative press – Maximum Rocknroll, ANSWER Me!, Your Flesh and Rollerderby, among others – were the more likely sources of enlightenment, wrapped in grubby newsprint and intrigue as they often were.
Little in print, however, could surpass the power of word-of-mouth. Seth Putnam, the voice and mind behind seminal – so to speak – Massachusetts grindcore band Anal Cunt, died of a heart attack on Saturday, June 11. He was 43.
In death, as in life, Putnam remains controversial; calls for respect and mourning were roundly spat on by posters in online forums. The band's name alone invited expressions of bodily fluids – the spit from a half-shocked, half-revolted laugh (the aural equivalent of seeing Goatse for the first time or the sweat rising on the skin of those who would fight over it.
People heard more stories about about Anal Cunt than their actual records. The time Putnam kicked the guy in the nuts during an Anal Cunt show. Copious drug use. The time he – not a small guy – stage-dived and everyone got out of the way, narrowly escaping the dust cloud that ballooned up on impact. Anal Cunt song titles were beyond offensive: “I Sent Concentration Camp Footage to America's Funniest Home Videos,” “I Snuck a Retard into a Sperm Bank,” “Easy E Got AIDS from Freddie Mercury” and “I'm Really Excited About the Upcoming David Buskin Concert.”
Chances are, if you knew about Anal Cunt, you probably knew about other patron saints of garbage culture like Suckdog, The Mentors, G.G. Allin, and Psycodrama. But it wasn't as though you could simply go to the front counter of a record store and ask for some Anal Cunt. You'd have had an easier time going to a newsstand and asking for a copy of Orgasm.
Anal Cunt were, in their day, the focus of the same kind of controversy that now plagues Odd Future: casual use of various slurs landing somewhere between the adolescent and the sophomoric. Everything is “gay.” Everything sucks. It's the language of little brothers everywhere. Anal Cunt were links in a chain of nonconformity and ridicule that stretches back to the jesters of the courts of the king. It's the same spirit of defiance that, by its nature, incites outrage and ostracization.
And yet looking at last year's interview with Putnam late in his life, one cannot help but pity him. He obviously has a difficult time speaking, the soft click at the back of the palate suggesting major damage wreaked by raising several kinds of hell over two decades or more. His death was not without warning shots: he slipped into a coma in October 2004 after overdosing on 60 days' worth of Ambien. It was so severe that his family considered taking him off life support due to the medical prognosis of a persistent vegetative state. Ever the contrarian, he woke up two months later.
Anal Cunt's most recent album, “Fuckin A,” was released last September on PATAC Records. How will Putnam be remembered? Jonathan Canady of industrial/metal band Dead World: “In my experience Seth was always friendly, self-deprecating and fucking hilarious. Am I surprised he's dead? Only that it took this long for it to happen. He was also a good guy to me who made some great noise that I continue to enjoy.”
Looking over the instant reactions to Putnam's death online – in an era in which everyone gets the last word – it's only natural that a few failures get confused with total failure. There may be some small comfort to those who knew and loved Seth Putnam that the words that last are ultimately his – even if those words are completely provocative, evocative and obscene.
— David Cotner