The prevailing wisdom posits D.C. as a capital of punk music embraced heartily by its citizen-scenesters. But in the punk-centric late ’70s, in the shadow of Ledo Pizza parlor, a group of P.G. County wiseacres decided that the spiked-hair-and-safety-pin set was a bit hard to take and—in true punk fashion—formed their own band to mock the movement, calling themselves the Original Fetish.
And, in true Behind the Music fashion, the band re-formed a quarter of a century later, releasing a “best-of” CD, Pink on the Inside: Rare Cuts 1978– 80, and triumphantly returning to the stage on Aug. 20 at Chick Hall’s Surf Club in Bladensburg. A live recording of that show may also be released.
When plans to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Fetish’s first gig in 1978 went awry, the band decided to commemorate its breakup instead. “We were only together for two years, so we had a two-year window,” says Fetish frontman Oxie Scrubb. The revised reunion date also narrowly missed another anniversary—that of Elvis Presley’s death. The band’s initial gig was on the first anniversary of the King’s demise, at which it played one of its signature tunes, “I’m Glad That Elvis Is Dead.”
Oxie Scrubb is a nom de rock, of course. The 53-year-old now works for the Montgomery County school system and prefers to keep his Fetishistic past on the down low. “Actually, at one point I thought, That would be a good article: ‘Oxie Scrubb Raises Your Children,’” he says. “When we started, we all had pseudonyms. Mine is the only one that has stood the test of time.”
Despite writing songs with such era-appropriate titles as “New Wave Baby” and “Ultraviolence Is Fun,” the band actually stuck close to rock’s traditional blues-based form. Indeed, the Fetish was similar in style and antics to another D.C. rock anarchist of the Carter era, Root Boy Slim, with whom the band shared the stage at the Outrageous Music Festival at the Warner Theater in 1979.
Scrubb says now that he didn’t hate punks. “It was more their ultraseriousness.” He also notes that the Fetish gave onetime opener Black Market Baby its start.
“Black Market Baby originally were calling themselves Loose Screws, but my manager misunderstood them. When he put out the flier, he put it down as ‘Loose Shoes,’” Scrubb laughs. Also appreciating the gaffe was BMB lead singer Boyd Farrell, who arrived at the gig with a bag of shoes from his recently deceased father. “And I took a pair of them and was actually married in them,” says Scrubb. “I always thought a great song I never wrote was ‘I Got Married in a Dead Man’s Shoes.’”
“So we did have connections with certain punkers,” says Scrubb. “We didn’t call ourselves punk. But other people were calling us punk and then the punks were saying, ‘Well, you’re not punk.’ I mean, I still had shoulder-length hair, which was about as nonpunk as you get.”
At the Anacostia club El Brookman’s, which hosted D.C.’s stand-up hopefuls during the late-’70s comedy boom, the Original Fetish played the bar every Friday for six months. During that period, features on the band appeared in the Washington Star and on Channel 9 TV.
The instant notoriety led to more gigs, recording sessions, airplay on then-progressive WHFS-FM—and also some animosity from other local bands, whose names the Fetish childishly mocked in its print ads and fliers.
“We were just always kinda jokesters,” says Scrubb. “We kinda looked at it that we were satirizing rock music, using the format to satirize it. And it worked well.” —Dave Nuttycombe
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery.