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Big Fucking Whoopie

A Floyd Fan's Intro to TISM

"I think we all should be gentle, and caring, and shake each other's hand and give each other a big cuddle. Because we're all going to die."
-- "Saturday Night Palsy", 1988

When I was asked to do this issue's Floyd Fan's Intro column, I was a little hesitant about doing it on TISM--because, frankly, I don't really find them offensive at all. Funny, yes, but not really offensive. (Then again, I find Nickelback offensive, so maybe my tastes are a little skewed.) On the other hand, TISM have been banned, censored and recalled more than enough times to qualify as offensive. Besides, most of the world has no idea who they are, or, more to the point, what they're missing. So who are TISM?

TISM goes out of its way to offend.

TISM (which actually stands for "This Is Serious, Mum") are a band from Australia, who started about twenty years ago in Melbourne. They're sort of a novelty act--but again, they're not. They're a seven-piece ensemble (two vocalists, guitar, bass, sequencer/keyboards and two dancers... yes, dancers) and they've all concealed their identities from the public. More on that later. For now, all you need to know is that they've all taken on silly assumed names and they always appear publicly in balaclavas. Slipknot comparisons can go here, if you like.

Other TISM quirks include a fully choreographed live show (those dancers, again, though all the members participate in the stage moves), complete with matching costumes. They've been known to play gigs with a professional production of a Shakespeare classic going on behind them. They once gave an interview where, at TISM's insistence, the band stood on one end of an Australian Football League field, and the interviewer stood on the other, shouting their questions across the stadium. And more than once members have jumped into the crowd at gigs, only to have their professionally tailored costumes ripped to shreds, forcing them to return to the stage and perform the remainder of the set stark naked--except, of course for the balaclava, which remains firmly in place.

TISM Discography

Form And Meaning Reach Ultimate Communion (1986)
Great Truckin' Songs Of The Renaissance (1988)
Hot Dogma (1990)
Gentlemen, Start Your Egos (1991)
Beasts Of Suburban (1992)
Censored Due To Legal Advice (1993)
Machiavelli And The Four Seasons (1995)
Machines Against The Rage (1996)
www.tism.wanker.com (1998)
De RegeurMortis (2001)
Bestoff: Retrospective Works (2002)

For all intents and purposes, they're an alternative rock band, although about halfway through their career they took a left turn and added a big dance/techno influence to their music, undeterred by the fact that the band vehemently detest techno as a genre. But the music is basically irrelevant--the tunes are just vehicles for the words (although, true to form, the members of TISM are almost certainly better musicians than a lot of other bands who take their music seriously).

And it's those words that have gained them such notoriety. Hearing TISM for the first time can be something of a shock--crude language in abundance, openly touching on issues such as racism, drug addiction, the cult of celebrity and corporate mentality. "So what", you might say; today's music climate is full of hip-hop types who think they're taking on tough issues just because they wrote a song about how they fucked their mother. But one thing that sets TISM apart from other shock rockers is their sense of fun--there are no upper-middle class kids casting themselves as misunderstood victims here. In fact, the whole 'world owes me' rock star ego trip is one of many recurring themes that TISM have mercilessly taken the piss out of over the years.

Other topics for discussion include Satanism, hip hop culture, music industry marketing, the 9 to 5 treadmill, manufactured pop music, extreme sports, Jim Morrison, Martin Scorsese and Britney Spears--not to mention Hitler, TS Eliot and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Which brings us to the other thing that sets TISM apart from other shock bands--TISM are actually quite intelligent and impeccably well-read, which means that, between all the frat humour and dick jokes, their songs are full of obscure literary references and philosophical musings. Vocalist Ron Hitler Barassi performs a spoken-word diatribe at every TISM gig--he writes better than most of the people I studied in school, and gives better performances than most of the hacks in Hollywood.

TISM live and in concert. These ain't no Chili Peppers!

So what is he doing in some undergrad rock band? Well, this is where the 'secret identity' thing comes in, as TISM is basically a part-time pursuit. They record and tour in three- or four-year cycles, and hold 'real jobs' in between. Touring only happens during school holidays, which suggests that at least one of them may be a schoolteacher. Other members are rumoured to be barristers, lawyers, session musicians (of the classical variety, no less), actors, stand-up comics, musicians from other well-known bands, novelists and TV personalities--though no one knows for sure, do they? (Well actually, I do know for sure about a couple of them, but who am I to spoil the fun?)

Whatever they're doing between albums, they've made a lot of connections doing it. They regularly promote their works on big national TV and radio shows--despite the fact that they've never had a hit and have spent most of their career on small, independent labels. This leads to more fun, as often the programs in question have no idea what they're letting themselves in for. Most amusingly, TISM managed to snag an appearance hosting the upperclass arts show 'Review'. Once they were on they proceeded to lambaste the show's audience, accusing them of being snooty, private school elitists. Then they showed some hardcore porn. The show disappeared from TV a week later.

Perhaps even more entertaining is the Australia the Lucky Cunt debacle. In 1993, TISM released an EP by that title, which featured cover art 'in the style of' artist Ken Done. In particular, it depicted Done's trademark koala sucking on a syringe and smiling in opiate bliss. Within days of its release, a retailer carrying the CD was raided by police, who had deemed the EP "too offensive". Then Ken Done's lawyers asked that the EP be recalled completely due to the cover artwork. Dutifully, TISM came up with a new cover, which was mainly blank, but with a 'torn' corner showing part of the original artwork underneath.

TISM vocalist Ron Hitler Barassi performing one of his trademark diatribes.

Again, Done's lawyers asked for a recall, saying that the new cover still alluded to the old cover. TISM finally re-released the EP with the title Censored Due To Legal Advice and a new cover depicting Sinead O' Connor ripping up a TISM logo. They refuse to speculate on how much money the whole incident cost, but vocalist Humphrey B. Flaubert said it was "comparable to the amount of money Radiohead spend buying friends."

If you find any of the above amusing, you should probably check these guys out. An ever-growing fanbase can't be wrong. Unlike most novelty acts, TISM hold up to repeated listenings because their sentiments still ring true even after the jokes have worn thin. Of course, as with many bands, they only way to really appreciate them is to see them live, but unless you're based in Australia, that's not a viable option.

If you're looking to get into them, they released a 'greatest hits' album earlier this year called Bestoff. Unfortunately, it's fairly skimpy. A better bet would be to track down 1996's Machines Against The Rage, if you can find it. It's a 2CD set; the first CD is 1995's Machiavelli And The Four Seasons, TISM's most successful album, and one of their better ones despite misgivings from hardcore fans. The second CD is a live show featuring a lot of older stuff, and is a better alternative to the compilation album.

Finally, you should check out 1988's Great Truckin' Songs Of The Renaissance. Originally a double LP, it's now available on a single CD, and it's generally considered by fans to be the band's best.

And what if TISM's undergraduate political musings and gutter humour don't appeal to you? Well, to quote Humphrey B. Flaubert, "You come up with something better. Fuckface."

Chris Hogan is a staff writer for Spare Bricks. Much more information about TISM can be found at their official website or this fan site.