with Chrome Sparks, Feelings
Cat’s Cradle
Friday, Sept. 27, 9 p.m.

No single moment can truly be called the watershed usage of the word “fuck” as a band name, but you can at least trace the trend 20 years, when Fuck formed in Oakland, Calif. By naming themselves as such in 1993, the quartet “resign[ed] themselves to a career of obscurity,” at least according to All Music Guide.

But hang on. By the time they went public as Fuck, the word was moving past its ability to shock. Two years later, for instance, Alanis Morrissette dropped an F-bomb in the lead single from that year’s biggest-selling record. Isn’t that ironic?

What if this shift had happened 20 years earlier? Imagine a bizarro world where the Fab Four debuted with Meet the Fuckin’ Beatles, where “I Saw Her Standing There” kicked off with a clearly enunciated “One, two, three, FUCK.” The Stones, of course, would have felt compelled to out-filth their rivals, changing their name to the Rolling Fucks, or what they should have been called all along.

This is all ridiculous conjecture. The Beatles never uttered a single fuck (unless you count Lennon’s barely audible “fuckin’ hell” in “Hey Jude”). Even Jim Morrison, the biggest transgressor of the day’s polite mores, held himself in check, subverting the operative word in his verb-deficient reading of “The End” and turning his Oedipal intentions into wordless screams. But what if he’d gone there? Could it have saved us from our current glut of bands called fuck?

In 1973, roughly a decade after the Stones formed and immediately after their meatiest stretch of albums, they were almost ready for the sixth letter of the alphabet. However, the head of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, insisted that the final song on Goats Head Soup be listed as “Star Star,” not “Starfucker,” the word repeated 12 times in each of the song’s three choruses. Rock ‘n’ roll’s bad boys acquiesced.

Even now, as Cee-Lo’s “Forget You” proved, releasing a single with the word fuck front-and-center can still be problematic. “Star Star” was no single, so maybe we’re talking foul-mouthed apples and oranges here. But even on the leading edge, limits of acceptability applied. The Sex Pistols was a provocative name, sure, but it wasn’t the Sic Fucksan actual but obscure band formed in New York in the late’70s.

Having an F-named band is a different proposition altogether, of course. It’s an ongoing stance of confrontation, like a face tattoo. Or at least it was. The critically acclaimed Canadian punk band Fucked Up, which formed in 2001, shouldn’t have had a chance at fame. But with their explosive visual power and sound to match, the name just works, and they’ve broken indie rock’s veil toward mainstream popularity. Their frontman is a guest on Fox News. They’ve got friends, too: Holy Fuck, Fuck Buttons, Fuck Knights, Religious as Fuck, the local Fuck the Biters …

This week, Starfucker comes to town. When a non-confrontational dance-pop outfit decides to enhance its image with such a name, the word has little juice left. The F-named band has become not the face tattoo of band names but instead the trucker’s cap of band names, a kind of ham-fisted attempt to leverage one word’s power to cut through the clutter of animal-named acts and strange punctuation.

Rock ‘n’ roll music takes its name from a locution that basically means to fuck, so the fuck has always been implicit. Starfucker, though, underlines just how much of the word’s power has been drained. Songs about fucking are fine, but bands that just want to bait us with the word but no real danger? Time to give it a friggin’ break.

This article appeared in print with the headline “F-bombed.”