The events of late 1994 triggered a catharsis, from which the band ultimately emerged with a harder, tougher presence. Everyone had time to ponder what the Shrunken Headbangers ought to be doing. Dawg brought the issue to the surface in late February 1995 by questioning whether he wanted to go on performing novelty tunes, and this led to an explicit debate a few months later over what material should the band should perform. There was a general agreement that the Headbangers would focus more on their live act and be less concerned with doing outrageous songs for their shock value just to get airplay. The transformation was gradual, but the band moved toward a faster, harder sound reminiscent of their "Hothead!" roots.

On March 3, 1995 the Headbangers performed live at the Grog and Tankard, a small but popular Washington DC nightclub. In the days leading up to this gig, the band's longtime supporter Kathryn Lauren played two songs from Speculum on WHFS, "Wo Woe Whoa Wough" and "Selling Body Organs," and at least a few people were drawn to the show on the strength of this airplay. However, this was a happy hour show, beginning at the unusually early time of 6:00 PM and attracting a mostly suit-and-tie crowd. Still playing a lot of their old material, the Headbangers struggled to hear themselves on a tiny, crowded stage with a bad layout. Their performance was uneven, yet the band got positive reactions, especially to their newest material, which included the rollicking "Fat Person on An Airplane" and "the Shrunken Headbangers," the band's new Nirvana-esque thrash theme song. Club management was impressed enough to immediately ask the Headbangers to play there again, which the band was in no hurry to do given the difficult stage conditions.

In the spring, the band launched its eMail newsgroup, the Shrunken Headbangers' 'Lectric On-Line Network Group (SHLONG) and created a band Internet address. The Headbangers used this as a forum for general pro-band propaganda and notifying fans about upcoming gigs. In keeping with their harder new image, bandmembers also took on new and rougher stage names: Mickey became Ratko Serin (after Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb responsible for many atrocities in Bosnia, and the toxic substance serin, which was released in the Tokyo subway by terrorists); Skippy became Caligula, Green Lunger took on the appellation "Akira, the Death Merchant," and Dawg became "The Chicken Wing," the name of a homeless man harassed by Montgomery County (Maryland) police.

The Headbangers were invited to play at an outdoor pagan party in Keedysville, Maryland sponsored by the White House Hash Club. In anticipation of this event, the band formulated the song "Incubus," an Iron-Butterfly-inspired semi-psychedelic Gothic jam featuring extended solos for all four musicians and lyrics which somehow managed to have both medieval and sexual overtones. At the show itself on June 17, 1995, the Headbangers played very well and were a big success with the crowd, most of whom had never seen or even heard of the band before. "Incubus" was well-received by the pagan-costumed party-goers, who danced around an enormous bonfire, performed a ritual virgin sacrifice, and formally adopted the Shrunken Headbangers as "the official band of the White House Hash Club" at the end of the evening. It was one of the Headbangers' best live shows, and a perfect forum for the band's eccentric mix of music and impudent on-stage humor. Parts of the show were captured on home video.

The band spent much of the summer intermittently recording and practicing. Their next live show was back at Twist and Shout in Bethesda, Maryland on August 12, 1995. The Headbangers pared their play list down to just the hardest-hitting tunes for this gig, played well from start to finish, and kept an enthusiastic crowd on its feet all night long. That show was closely followed by the band's heavily-solicited return to the Grog and Tankard, on August 25, 1995. Again, the Headbangers were uncomfortable with the small stage and poor acoustics, but the band still got a good crowd response. The Headbangers had progressed to the point of being able to deliver a decent show despite adverse conditions. Club management remained enthusiastic and asked the Shrunken Headbangers to become a house band, with a regular monthly gig. The band respectfully declined, but did agree to perform two more shows in the fall. Unfortunately, these shows had to be cancelled later due to time conflicts with Dawg's impending wedding.

Sometime in August 1995, a Little Rock, Arkansas TV station broadcast a Christian News program with a segment about the rise of Satanism in America. The program aired scenes of the June 17 pagan party, including footage of the Shrunken Headbangers performing, with an implication that the party was an actual Satanic event. The Headbangers milked this event for all it was worth, releasing a statement full of mock indignation on the SHLONG while playing up the psuedo-Satanic aspects of "Incubus" in the sixteen minute long studio recording.

After a flurry of recording activity in the fall and winter, the Shrunken Headbangers released their third album, Stink, in January 1996. The album featured the hard-rocking, uptempo tunes that had become the essence of the band's live show. In addition to "Incubus," "Fat Person," and "The Shrunken Headbangers," Stink contained the peppy "Unrequited Love Song," a completely new and fast-paced recording of "Paté All Night Long" (identified as "the Spicy Cajun Mix"), the anti-love song "Fungible Lover," and a zippy modern rock song about an actual incident of bodies being switched at a funeral home called "That's Not Gladys!" Akira took up guitar bass for a faux gangsta rap tune called "Reptile Love." Stink was recorded digitally using as many as fourteen channels and was easily the band's most professional recording to date. However, while the quality of the music on Stink was quite high, these songs generally lacked the harsh lyrical edge that had characterized the Headbangers' first two studio recordings.

On January 6, 1996 the band performed at another Hash Club event, this time at the Forest Glen Ballroom in Silver Spring, Maryland. The band promoted this event as an album release party for Stink. The venue was fabulous: a cathedral-like ballroom with 100 foot high ceilings, three tiers of balcony seats, and a wide, spacious stage just the perfect size for the Headbangers' set up. The band played well, the crowd reacted quite favorably, and sales of Shrunken Headbanger T-shirts and tapes were brisk. But it began to snow heavily during the show (ultimately, three feet of snow fell in the greatest Washington DC blizzard in 60 years), and many people headed for home early. By the time the Headbangers closed out their third set with marathon versions of "Incubus" and "Fifty Ways/Freebird," few people were left to hear it.

Suddenly, the band began drifting apart. Sales of Stink were slow, and the band failed to market the album actively. Ratko left to visit Australia for several weeks. When the Shrunken Headbangers reconvened in March for their first practice in two months, they had trouble agreeing on what new material they should learn. Another two months went by without a single practice. In April, Akira took a new job in a different department from Ratko and Caligula, which meant fewer opportunities for the band to discuss new songs together at the office, which had historically been the cradle of Headbanger creativity. Ratko announced that he was getting married in the summer. The Chicken Wing bought a new house farther away from the band's practice facility. In early July, Ratko also started a new job. It seemed like nobody had time for the band. With all four bandmembers living and working in different places, the Headbangers might now go for weeks without even seeing each other. Band activity dwindled.

But the Shrunken Headbangers weren't finished quite yet. The ever-supportive Hashers booked the band for an outdoor rock festival on July 13, 1996 dubbed "Hashstock." The Chicken Wing couldn't attend because of a scheduling conflict, but the band prepared two hours' of pre-recorded drum tracks to play along with, mixing in some additional instruments and backing vocals to produce a fuller sound than the band was normally capable of in live performance. The Headbangers played well, but the show itself was more memorable for the crowd's antics than for the music. Chaos reigned while the band played. After dark, people ran around the perimeter of the field naked. Drunken women came up on stage and rubbed their bodies against the bandmembers and their equipment. As Ratko put it when explaining some of his mistakes, a girl called High Beams "attempted to impale herself on my whammy bar." The Shrunken Headbangers were in their element, and pretty much everyone had a good time.

The Headbangers' next live appearance wasn't until November 2, 1996 at the RhodeSide Grill in Arlington, Virginia. The band was a bit rusty after the long layoff, but they sprinkled the show with some new material, including several dancible cover songs. On the surface, this show probably came across more like the performance of a conventional bar band than a typical madhouse Headbanger gig, but the band still included many of their sauciest original songs in the repetoire and made enough irreverent comments to give the show a distinctive feel. In any case, the crowd gave the band a very favorable reaction. But this successful gig was followed by more inertia, continuing the Headbangers' disturbing trend toward long periods of inactivity. For seven months the band failed to perform, developed absolutely no new original material, and practiced very little. Caligula embarked on unrelated recording projects with Jack Schitt, an old friend and reknown studio musician who had played a cameo guitar lead on the studio recording of "Incubus," while the rest of band did little or nothing musically.

After such a long respite, everyone was enthusiastically ready to play when the Hashers offered the Headbangers another pagan party gig at the Keedysville farm. The band had several focused practices and learned a couple of new cover songs for the show, held June 21, 1997. It was the summer solstice, a stiflingly hot day when the heat index reached 110°. The band was also hot. The Shrunken Headbangers played brilliantly and aroused the crowd from a heat-induced torpor into an after-dark frenzy. In a scene best described as pandemonium, scantily clad women shared the stage with the Headbangers, some singing, others performing sultry dances against Akira's and Ratko's sweaty bodies. The band announced a dance contest, offering as the grand prize a disposable enema, which the winner promptly poured all over himself. After finishing their regular set, by popular demand the band played an extended jam lasting until long after midnight. At one point, several women got on their knees in front of the band some baring their breasts and butt cheeks and begged the band to play more. It was pure sleaze, another signature moment in the long and colorful history of the Shrunken Headbangers, and everybody loved every trashy minute of it.

In Frederick, Maryland on July 19, 1997, Caligula and the Chicken Wing performed a two-man show that included some Shrunken Headbangers material, but the full band didn't get back into action until September 6. This show was another outdoor event sponsored by the Hash, the highlight of a party weekend involving clubs from all around Virginia and Hashers from as far away as Trinidad and Okinawa. The gig was held at a campground in rural Virginia on a cool autumn night. Playing conditions were tough: the ground was uneven, important pieces of equipment were forgotten or malfunctioned, slippery dew coated the instruments, and slugs crawled across the band's equipment. With these distractions, the Headbangers didn't play particularly well, but their performance hardly mattered. The mixture of alcohol, Hashers, and Headbangers produced a decadent spectacle of dancing, delirium, and considerable nudity. The energetically enthusiastic crowd slam-danced all night long on a dusty volleyball-court-turned-mosh-pit in front of the band. Someone exploded fireworks overhead during one song; "Bodyart Girl" induced at least eight women to partially disrobe and reveal their piercings and tattoos to the band and the audience; between sets several men and women stuck their naked butts into the air and had beer poured on them. Caligula summed up the night: "We pretty much sucked musically, but it was a great show." On the way home in the wee hours of the morning, Caligula drove two miles down the wrong side of a divided highway with a truck full of band equipment.

In the fall of 1997, the Shrunken Headbangers displayed a collective commitment to the band that had been missing for a while. The band recorded a new demo tape, filling out some of the drum tracks that Chicken Wing had recorded for the drummer-less gig the previous summer. The demo included covers of the Foo Fighters' hit "I'll Stick Around" and the B-52s' dance song "Good Stuff" plus an all-new version of "Club Nancy Kerrigan" dubbed the "Hyper-Extended Dance Mix." The Headbangers also began working on their first new original material in nearly two years, in anticipation of releasing their fourth album, Spew, in 1998 or 1999. The first two songs written for Spew, both enthusiastically embraced by the band, were "Martian Blues," a pompously overblown blues/classic-rock jam in the Zeppelin/Hendrix tradition that decried the shortcomings of women across the galaxy, and the uptempo power-pop "Car Song." In response to the excessive outpouring of public and media attention paid to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the band also recorded "Reasons Di Died," in which a list of absurd theories regarding Diana's fatal September 1997 car accident was ennumerated over a driving minimalist punk beat derived from the Jim Carroll song "People Who Died.".

On November 22, 1997 the Shrunken Headbangers performed at the RhodeSide Grill again, at an event to benefit the 1997 Help the Homeless campaign that was heavily sponsored by the company for which Caligula, Ratko, and Akira worked. This event was linked with other corporate activities and promoted within the company, so the band was forced to clean up its act for the show. The Headbangers avoided their most offensive original material, substituting several innocuous covers instead. The resulting playlist was a jumble of songs in a hodgepodge of styles, generally leaning toward high-energy alternative rock. Over 150 people turned out to see the band play passably well, even though there was none of the nudity, moshing, and general chaos that had typified recent Headbanger gigs, and Caligula's voice deteriorated badly during the course of the evening. All three new original songs were well-received, especially "Martian Blues." Packaging their remaining politically incorrect songs as 'celebrations of diversity,' the Headbangers offered several contests, including a prize for the person who found Washington DC mayor Marion Barry's infamous quote "Goddamn bitch set me up" hidden among the lyrics of "Martian Blues."

The band's next next live show was a return appearance at the wonderful Forest Glen Ballroom on January 17, 1998 for the WH4 holiday party. With its Gothic cathedral-like ceiling and a spacious stage, this grandiose building was the perfect forum for the Headbangers. The band turned in one of its best performances, and the audience was extremely enthusiastic, dancing on the ballroom floor to every song from start to finish as the band's sounds reverberated around the cavernous room. The crowd got progressively more outrageous as the evening unfolded. A passel of drunken Hashers came on stage to sing with the band. During "Pate All Night Long," several women disrobed Akira and the Chicken Wing. Dancers weaved through the band on stage, people mooned each other, and one naked fan repeatedly dove off the stage into the crowd. Somehow, the Headbangers kept it all together throughout the show.

The Shrunken Headbangers received an unexpected treat in March 1998. Five months after the band first released "Reasons Di Died" for airplay, new WHFS morning DJ Lou Brutus began playing the song on his morning show. The song was a paragon of tastelessness, and predictably it generated a flood of phone calls to the station, although surprisingly most were supportive. It was the Shrunken Headbangers' first radio airplay in three years, a hiatus closely related to the fact that the band had recorded scarcely any new material during that time. At the end of April, Ratko left on a six month tour of North America in his 1978 Chevy conversion van. The band tried to put a humorous spin on this predicament by marketing his disappearance as an abduction by aliens, but the extended departure of the band's guitar player was a real issue. The Headbangers were invited to perform at the Closing Night party of the D.C. Film Festival, to be held at Chelsea's in Georgetown, but, without a guitarist, the band had to turn down this offer.

Yet things continued to happen for the Shrunken Headbangers, despite Ratko's absence. WHFS continued to air "Reasons Di Died" periodically for several months, and midday DJ Kathryn Lauren approached the band and asked them to prepare a series of parody songs about food topics for airplay during a new lunchtime segment the station was planning to unveil. Always willing to prostitute themselves for airplay, the Headbangers immediately suspended the recording of Spew to work on these Lunch Songs, as the project was quickly dubbed. Ratko had recorded some guitar tracks before he left, and legendary local studio musician Jack Schitt filled in as a highly capable replacement on many others. In the midst of all this, the Headbangers fulfilled a commitment they had made many months earlier to play for the White House Hash on June 13, 1998. The band auditioned two different guitar players to substitute for Ratko, but both backed out before the show, so the Headbangers performed as a threesome. Playing outdoors on a soggy night, this performance was musically forgettable. But the band used this opportunity to try out some new material, experiment with onstage special effects, and even let the Chicken Wing sing into a live microphone for the first time.

The Headbangers then headed back into the studio for the rest of the summer to wrap up the Lunch Songs project. By late summer, the band had assembled a dozen songs, covering subject matter that ranged from lighthearted praise for mundane products to intensely visceral descriptions of culinery disasters. As usual, the Shrunken Headbangers traveled all over the musical map: Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" became "Vanilla," the B-52's "Good Stuff" was transformed into a song about a famine relief effort called "Foodstuffs" (local prodigy Alexa was recruited to sing the female vocal parts), and the band even threw together a highly stylized recording of the childhood classic "Gopher Guts." The overall level of professionalism on these Lunch Songs, already remarkable by Shrunken Headbangers' standards, was further enhanced by a trip to Omega Studios in Rockville, Maryland on August 23, where the band put the finishing touches on a batch of ten songs. The band had actually prepared more material than this, but the additional songs were deemed not to be ready for public consumption. The Shrunken Headbangers' Lunch Songs made their on-air debut on September 21, 1998 and were played at noon on weekdays for months afterwards. Nine of these ten Lunch Songs received airplay; however, WHFS decided not to play "McSandwich" for fear of offending one of their sponsors. WHFS had requested songs "with an edge," but apparently references to being served by "an impudent McBitch," slapping a McWench, and supersizing a McDeadRat were too much for commercial radio.

On September 26, Dave Nuttycombe of the Washington City Paper sent an email to the band asking the Shrunken Headbangers to complete a "Pop Quiz" full of assorted ridiculous questions about the band. The Headbangers replied with a series of terse, self-deprecating, and mildly amusing responses, which were published in the Washington City Paper's online edition on November 13, 1998. Ratko got back from his sojourn just in time for the Shrunken Headbangers' next live gig, held on Halloween at Fort Hunt Park in Alexandria, Virginia. Considering that he had exactly one opportunity to practice with the band over the previous six months, Ratko did a commendable job on guitar in his return appearance. But this show was most notable for the public debut of the Shrunken Headbangermobile, Akira's old 1985 Ford LTD painted black and plastered with the band's logo. The band parked the car directly in front of the stage, where it drew much admiration. This appearance was not publicized, so the show was sparsely attended, but it felt good to have the full band back in action.

With all bandmembers back in town and daily airplay on WHFS, the Shrunken Headbangers appeared poised for another burst of fun and fame, but it was not to be. In fact, as it turned out, the next several months put an effective end to the band. After a practice on November 18, 1998, the Headbangers suddenly began having great difficulty getting together for practices and recording sessions. One bandmember after another seemed to have a personal or work conflict each time a band event was scheduled. Then, on January 19, 1999, Caligula suffered a mild heart attack. There was no permanent damage to his heart, but this definitely stopped the band from practicing or performing live for a while. In March and April, the Chicken Wing and Ratko, respectively, both became first-time daddies. It was, in all, quite a series of life-changing events for bandmembers, and it contributed to a climate that wasn't conducive to band activities. Parenthood, health problems, and long hours at work were not compatible with rock and roll stardom.

What the band could do was finish recording the long-delayed Spew album. This proceeded very sporadically, but by September 1999 Spew was ready for distribution. The Shrunken Headbangers' fourth studio album featured the band's most technically proficient recordings ever, with an overall sound quality at the same high level of professionalism as the 1998 Lunch Songs. Indeed, one of the nine tracks on Spew was "Vanilla," which was one of those Lunch Songs. In addition to the aforementioned "Reasons Di Died," "Club Nancy Kerrigan (the Hyper-Extended Dance Mix)," "Martian Blues," and "Car Song," Spew contained a peppy pop song called "Leader of the Free World," based on the ridiculous sexual escapades of President Bill Clinton. The band had recorded this tune in March 1998 and tried to push it as its next hit following the success of "Reasons Di Died," but inexplicably no radio station gave the song airplay. Spew also included an extended Euro-style dance track called "Plate Tectonics" and a new recording of one of the band's old favorites, "Dead Rock Stars '98," which included an additional verse updated to reflect the latest rock star deaths since the Headbangers originally recorded the song in 1994 for Speculum. Rounding out the album was the band's latest pseudo-Satanic offering, a hardcore Gothic tune titled "Hell." Only the Shrunken Headbangers could make eternal damnation sound so fun.

SnapPop! magazine published a review of a pre-distribution copy of Spew in its August 1999 issue. Among other positive comments, SnapPop! said "The Shrunken Headbangers have come up with a live one. Treading a very thin line between funny and crass... this tape is a hoot." Yet amid the acclaim for Spew, by late summer 1999, it had become clear that the band wasn't going to perform live again. The Headbangers decided to go out in a blaze of glory and entered the Shrunken Headbangermobile in a demolition derby. Held on September 12, 1999 at the Hagerstown (Maryland) Speedway, this foray into demented auto sports represented yet another performance medium for the band. The Headbangermobile, car number 666, was the clear crowd favorite, drew the most applause, and was mentioned repeatedly by the track announcer. A small but enthusiastic group of Headbangers fans was on hand to cheer The Chicken Wing, who drove the car himself. Unfortunately, after brief early success, the Headbangermobile's right front bumper became hopelessly locked and the car became a sitting duck. The band's final public appearance consisted of the foursome jumping up and down on the battered hulk of the car which bore their name and logo. The band which started as a recipe ended as a car wreck.

The Shrunken Headbangers were always creative, usually funny, occasionally brilliant, and never boring. But what is the legacy of this self-proclaimed "band with no shame?" Is it proving that in popular music, talent doesn't really matter? Is is proving that anyone can get a lot of attention and notoriety simply by shamelessly capitalizing on other people's foibles and misfortunes, or sucking up to the media? Or is it proving that it's more important to have fun than to be good? Maybe the Shrunken Headbangers said it best themselves in the chorus of "Play For Food:"

"We have little talent, but good attitudes."

And the rest is history.

Click here for the first half of the History of the Shrunken Headbangers, part 1 (1992-1994).


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