When Too Much Joy frontman Tim Quirk played Riverfest in the early-1990s, things didn’t go well. Mother Nature unleashed a shitstorm of epic proportions, so after a long delay, the gig was relocated to a club downtown. Adam Sandler, the opener, was the first to face the out-of-control audience.
“He went onstage,” Quirk recalls, “and the crowd, which had been drinking since morning and waiting several hours for the show finally to start, was just vicious—booing, hurling beers. They drove him off the stage.” Quirk assumed it was because Sandler sucked.
“I can’t recall any of the jokes, but I do remember not laughing much. But then we took the stage, and the same damn thing happened.” Nevertheless, Too Much Joy embraced the abuse and completed their set. “Now I get to tell people that Adam Sandler opened for me once. And bombed.” Much to Quirk’s chagrin, this sort of incident is the kind of thing that Too Much Joy is best remembered for—rather than their undeniably catchy punk-pop songs. Though he will never be the subject of a VH1 Behind the Music episode, his colorful escapades in the music world are the stuff of legend.
After Florida police officers arrested a record store clerk in 1990 for selling an album by 2 Live Crew—a foul-mouthed rap group that was also busted for obscenity after performing live—Too Much Joy jumped into the fray. To protest this censorship, later that year they played a set of 2 Live Crew covers in the same Florida club where the rap group was arrested, along with their version of the Clash’s “I Fought the Law,” and a few other songs. Sure enough, they were arrested. By the time Too Much Joy arrived at jail, the holding pen’s television had already broadcast news coverage of the concert and subsequent arrest. Quirk tells me that the room full of 2 Live Crew fans greeted them like heroes (though one particularly intimidating inmate did steal a band member’s milk).
Too Much Joy grew up on both punk rock and hip hop, and they loved both. After LL Cool J’s debut album Radio came out in 1985, they began covering the rapper’s “That’s a Lie.” It appeared on their second album, Son of Sam I Am, and LL Cool J did a cameo for their music video. “Though we had a decent amount of money for the video,” Quirk recalls, “there was only enough for one trailer, so when LL arrived we all got booted onto the sidewalk.” On a related note, legendary rapper KRS-One did a guest verse on their song “Good Kill.” Unfortunately, Too Much Joy’s thunder was stolen because he also guested on R.E.M.’s “Radio Song,” which was released on the exact same day. (“Stuff like that was constantly happening to us,” Quirk says, “which is why our next album had the lyric, ‘I’m ahead of my time/but only by a week.’”)
“That’s a Lie” became a concert staple, and Quirk began telling a site-specific fib during the song’s false stop. In the mid-1990s, they played a Washington D.C. club that was swarming with Secret Service agents—who were rumored to be protecting Chelsea Clinton, or the Gore girls, or some diplomat from Bolivia. “So when we got to the false stop I did a little riff about them. I was improvising, which is maybe not the wisest idea when ridiculing cops.” Quirk figured that, while it is illegal to threaten the life of the President, making jokes is protected by the first amendment. He thought it would be obvious he was kidding when the band shouted “That’s a Lie!” after his rant. “Except that in the midst of babbling all that, I apparently said that I wanted to slap Bill Clinton and then choke him until he died, so when we got off stage there was a Secret Service guy waiting for me, and he interviewed me for an hour or more to confirm I was not in fact a hazard to the President. Good times.”
Dealing with Secret Service agents was one thing, but Bozo the Clown was even scarier. Too Much Joy sampled him in the intro to their song “Clowns,” which was about “how parents seem to think clowns are harmless even though all kids know that clowns are weird and evil,” Quirk says. While recording the song, the band found a Bozo record with a creepy sound bite: “I found something in one of my pockets, it was about as big as your shoe, but it was shaped like a rocket!” After the record was released, they received a cease and desist notice—complete with a maniacal Bozo smiling in the letterhead. (Incidentally, while I was writing this, my two-year-old son told me that Bozo looked like a monster; Alasdair now calls him “Bozo the Monster Clown.”)
Too Much Joy had to contend with evil clowns, secret service agents, Florida courts and, last but not least, major labels. My favorite Tim Quirk war story involved getting into a drunken debate with Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth at a music industry event. While they were arguing, Weymouth snapped and said he wasn’t a real artist. “Later on she apologized by hugging me for an uncomfortably long time,” Quirk recalls, “and whispered the following in my ear—and I’m not making this up—‘You are an artist. And you know what it’s like on a major label. It’s like they stick an umbrella up your ass. And then they open it. And you just have to walk down the street like nothing’s wrong.’” Chris Frantz, Weymouth’s husband and fellow member of Talking Heads, just stood by, smiling.
Kembrew McLeod recently filed a FOIA request to see his FBI file, and was disappointed to find out that he and RoboProfessor have no record.