“And now, I’m happy to say that if you have a naked coffee table in need of a book, the Buttholes have you covered there too.”

-Derrick Bostrom (Meat Puppets)

It would be nice to imagine a world where every coffee table came complete with What Does Regret Mean?, the 304-page, career-spanning ode to the Butthole Surfers. But it’s possible that time has, perversely, past.

There was a moment in history where, against any odds, any bookmaker might have taken, you couldn’t turn on the radio or MTV and hear “Pepper,” the tale of ten people whose only commonalities were “they’re all in love dying they were doin’ it in Texas.” The juxtaposed spoken word, skronky guitar, and thought-proving chorus were all the rage among the Lollalooza set and alternative DJs giggling when they said the band’s name. It was the number one Alternative Song of 1996 according to Billboard. It even had a cassingle.

What Does Regret Mean? is a chronological document of the band’s entire history. It naturally includes the period of unlikely alt-rock stardom: posters of co-headlining bills with Stone Temple Pilots and pictures from their appearance on The Larry Sanders show. But it’s way more fun to go back to 1981 when leader Gibby Haynes had his band—when it didn’t even have a permanent name yet—doing performance pieces in a San Antonio Art Gallery.

An early feature on the Buttholes is presented not as a contemporaneous story but as art. It is displayed diagonally with a picture of Haynes performing, his face obscured by clothespins that hang grotesquely from his hair. The piece is cut off, which is aesthetically interesting, but also a shame; it sure would be fun to know how the nameless writer continued the thought, “Now for the review: Different, but it seems to me to be different just for the sake of being different. Their music seems just as calculated as say Journey…”

It surely was the only time the Butthole Surfers were compared to the band that penned “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

The point of the book is not the text, though a veritable who’s-who of 90s indie rock intelligentsia provide first-hand tales of band-leader Gibby Haynes’ exploits and how, at their peak, the Butthole Surfers were literally the best live band that ever existed.

“I stood in front of the Washington Monument on the 4th of July on acid with helicopters circling overhead while Gibby screamed, “KILL THE PRESIDENT,” through his megaphone while his body was completely on fire once, and that wasn’t even the 20th best gig I ever saw them play,” gushes Ween’s Mickey Melchiondo in the introduction.

The rest of the comments are less verbose, ranging from single-sentence blurbs to a few paragraphs. Aaron Tanner, the author of What Does Regret Mean?, is primarily a visual artist (he previously was credited as an illustrator for A Visual History, Volume I, the 2014 book on Pixies; both books were released on his own Melodic Virtue imprint). The quotes are there to augment the brilliant live photos and especially the wide array of show flyers and other artwork that made the Butthole Surfers so enigmatic and indelible.

The book also contains a flexi disc called “Locust Abortion Technician Medley” that was intended as the B-Side of a “Human Cannonball” single that wound up being shelved.

What stands out most with What Does Regret Mean? is how so much of it is similar as you thumb through the many, many pages spanning over a third of a century. Whether they were just getting started, releasing underground classics such as Hairway to Steven or having John Paul Jones, the guy who played on the song that album title lampooned, produce their major label debut Independent Worm Saloon, the band’s visual representation remained unique and uniquely Butthole throughout. It proves that the mainstream for a brief, flickering parcel of time, came to them, and never the other way around.

Purchase the book through Melodic Virtue. It is also available in a Deluxe Edition that is limited to 500 numbered copies, is autographed by the author, and includes two art prints and the Butthole Surfers: 30 Years of Posters book, all housed in a cockroach print slipcase.

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