Butthole Surfers' Pepper.
There are a ton of songs about or inspired by Dallas, and they say a lot about who we are. So each week, in this space, we'll take a closer week at one of these songs — and we'll try to determine what, exactly, they say about this great city of ours
After 15 years of traveling the country, ever so slowly building a legendary reputation in the post-punk underground for the shocking nature of their sex-, drugs- and fire-filled psychedelic rock shows and brief flirtations with major labels, the Butthole Surfers scored their biggest mainstream success with their 1996 album Electriclarryland. The album, of course, featured their biggest single to date, “Pepper,” which made it to No. 1 on Billboard's modern rock charts.
The title of the song has seemingly very little to do with a batch of lyrics about wreckless youth facing death with an air of acceptance and/or peace. Looking at several sites that attempt to discuss the meaning of the song, none really made the connection that most Dallas residents familiar with the Surfers would deem pretty obvious.
The Butthole Surfers' notorious mastermind, Gibby Haynes, is, of course, the son of longtime Dallas television personality, Jerry “Mr. Peppermint” Haynes. A Woodrow Wilson High School and SMU graduate, the senior Haynes spent 35 years playing the Mr. Peppermint role on local television. With his candy-striped hat and coat, Mr. Peppermint and his puppet pals, like the beloved Muffin, taught Dallas youth everything from the difference between right and wrong to basic French. Aside from his duties producing WFAA's longest-running locally-produced program, Haynes also hosted a local version of Dick Clark's American Bandstand, appeared in several locally-filmed movies (including Robocop and Bonnie and Clyde) and some episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger.
The biggest moment of his career, however, occurred largely by happenstance. Because Haynes was a direct eyewitness to the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963, he was able to run the four blocks from Dealey Plaza back to the television station where he became the first person to describe the scene to North Texas viewers.
While all of the characters in the Surfers' “Pepper” were “in love with dying” and each of them were “doing it in Texas,” the only specific place mentioned was the city of Dallas.
It's here, of course, where the Tommy character lost his leg while dancing with a train. It's probably safe to assume that other characters were from Big D, though. Take, for instance, “that ever-present football-player rapist,” who the song does specify as from Texas. The same year “Pepper” was released, Dallas Cowboys teammates Michael Irvin and Erik Williams were arrested after allegedly videotaping themselves sexually assaulting a woman named Nina Shahravan at gunpoint.
Though the allegations were later proven false, the whole incident was just one of many run-ins with the law faced by Cowboys players during that era. Irvin's troubles, however, were most prominent. Being one of the best players in the league at the time will draw that kind of attention, of course.
In 1995, Irvin set an NFL record with 11 straight games with over 100 yards receiving. Besides the sexual assault incident in 1996, Irvin also faced the biggest public trial of his career after a cocaine arrest. Later in 1998, he made news again after allegedly stabbing teammate Everett McIver in the neck with a pair of scissors during training camp.
As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones felt pressure to improve upon the team's image nationally, their record, in turn, began to suffer as a result. The most notable example of this was in 1998, when Jones opted not to draft wide receiver Randy Moss because of his off-field reputation.
Irvin, in fact, felt so responsible for Moss being passed over by the team he grew up rooting for that he personally called Moss after the draft to apologize.
Could the Butthole Surfers have possibly known that, despite being a year removed from winning their third Super Bowl in four years, the Cowboys would be so hampered by organizational decisions they would go another decade before scoring another playoff victory Tough to say. You never know just how you look through other people's eyes.