Album #44: “The Completion Backward Principle” — The Tubes (1981)
Curious timing for this entry, as I was originally supposed to spend this weekend with the high school friends who introduced me to The Tubes. Unfortunately, I missed the gathering because of a family funeral, so will have to make due with this poor homage…
What I remember is a couple of friends chattering excitedly in the back of homeroom one morning about a band they had just seen, The Tubes. Paul Carroll in particular couldn’t stop talking about them — and if you knew anything about their burlesque-like live shows, complete with seminude women, you’d understand why.
With the satirical bite of Frank Zappa and the performance art theatrics of Devo, The Tubes blasted out of San Francisco in the early ’70s practically doomed to cult status from the start. Although they opened for, at various times, Iggy Pop, Frank Zappa, and Led Zeppelin (!) and played with both Cher and Dolly Parton (at least according to Wikipedia), The Tubes never quite fit in anywhere. Not quite punk, not quite New Wave, their songs were mostly satirical attacks on consumer culture and its many excesses, with more than a few thrown in about sex and drugs, while their performances put those predilections on display in a phantasmagoric explosion of carnival excess—particularly in their signature song “White Punks on Dope,” where it was not uncommon to see a cast of characters on stilts, in S&M gear, in animal costumes or topless, all cavorting about on stage in a softcore orgy.
We, however, had come to The Tubes late, and had learned of them at the pinnacle of their quirky career.
Between the outrageous inanity of “White Punks on Dope” and their sole Top 40 hit —1983’s smash “She’s a Beauty” — The Tubes managed to craft their single best album, “The Completion Backward Principle,” where their satirical and theatrical senses came together in an ironic convergence. Trading in the porn and drugs for suits and ties, The Tubes donned an arch business look and presented their record, in what is arguably one of the best album cover designs of all time, as a mock corporate training tool.
(And in one of the great misheard lyrics of all time, many listeners, including myself, thought the narrator on the opening track said “If you can possibly manage the time, please play both sides at one meaning” when it was actually “please play both sides at one meeting.” … somehow the former, though incorrect, fits the mood of the album better in its non-sequitur-ness.)
What I know for sure is that, by the time I graduated, “The Completion Backward Principle” defined my senior year. Hell, it WAS my senior year, right down to one song describing in exact detail the girl I was dating at the time, and a perfect metaphor for the whole relationship.
Yes, Carly Simon, I do think this song is about me.
I finally saw the band a few years later on the tour for their next-to-last album (alas, “Love Bomb” bombed), just before their last label dropped them, just before they could no longer support the elaborate stage shows, just before they officially became a One Hit Wonder. They’ve broken up and reformed a couple of times since then, but time has not been kind to The Tubes, and now they just play the songs, when they can get a gig, without the faux orgies. Which is sad. But not as sad as seeing a 60+year-old Fee Waybill wail about in a leather thong.
None of which takes away a thing from their faux-corporate epic, The Completion Backwards Principle:
*Yes, I know the lyric is wrong. I like my version better.