CULTURE
Butthole Surfer Turned YA Author: An Interview with Gibby Haynes
The frontman of the legendary psych-punk band talks about his tripped-out kid lit book, “Me and Mr. Cigar," and dishes on why alcohol is more dangerous than a pile of heroin.
Published on January 16, 2020

Images courtesy of Gibby Haynes and Soho Press

From their first anthemic blast of insanity, Texas freak-rockers the Butthole Surfers dosed the wild abandon of punk with uncut lysergic madness to create a psychedelic firestorm of simultaneous terror, joy, and ecstatic menace. Instantly, the group made drug music history — and then kept on making it.

Leading the Buttholes’ charge was front-maniac Gibby Haynes, a six-foot-five former college basketball star and the son of an Austin kiddie show host named “Mr. Peppermint.” As both a songwriter and (especially) as a live showman, Gibby bombarded music the way a tsunami of psilocybin would bombard a human brain.

Throughout the Buttholes’ skyward surge from grimy art-spaces to playing arenas and actually scoring a pop radio hit (“Pepper”), every one of the group’s live performances became a thing of mind-melting legend. 

Butthole shows combined the players’ limitless sonic imagination with multi-media onslaughts that ranged from penile surgery films and seizure-inducing strobe-lights to raining thousands of tiny cockroach pictures down on the crowd. Masterminding it all — and occasionally firing blanks from a shotgun into the panicked audience — was Gibby himself, the very embodiment of acidic chaos. 

That was then. Now, in 2020, the Butthole Surfers have been on hold for years, and Gibby Haynes is a married dad. Ever the cosmic prankster and cultural table-flipper, though, Gibby has channeled his wicked genius into a format nobody — no matter how high they were — could have seen coming. He has written a young adult novel, Me and Mr. Cigar.

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It’s the story of a Texas teenager named Oscar and his dog, Mr. Cigar, a Jack Russell terrier who died and dug himself out of his grave, returning to life with supernatural powers and an odd, flying companion. Along with his best friend Lytle, Oscar runs drug-fueled raves until his sister in New York summons him for help. From there, the two boys and their dog embark on a cross-country road trip while being pursued by a dirty cop and a crazed military officer named Colonel Sanders. As weird as that is, Me and Mr. Cigar truly takes off after Oscar accidentally downs a Red Bull loaded with LSD and MDMA. 

Yes, this is a book for kids (the publisher recommends age 14 and up). It’s also pure Gibby, which means it’s hallucinatory, hilarious, heartfelt, jarring, taboo-busting, and bizarrely inspirational. Just as countless teens in the past came to realize life’s larger, louder possibilities the first time they heard the Butthole Surfers, Me and Mr. Cigar ensures that Gibby is continuing to positively subvert the youth well into the 21st century. 

Gibby took some time to talk to MERRY JANE about Me and Mr. Cigar and, well, a lot of other things. 

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MERRY JANE: Hey, Gibby! You ready to talk to MERRY JANE?

Gibby Haynes: Oh, yeah! This is Snoop Dogg’s site! Wicked! Does that mean I can smoke weed now?

You don’t need my permission! And you know what Snoop would say.

Yes, I do! [Laughs, makes a deep inhaling sound]

So, first things first: How did Gibby Haynes come to write a young adult novel?

A couple of years ago, a publisher was putting together a book of children’s stories written by musicians and illustrated by cool artists. I wrote a story for that project, which turned out to be the prologue for Me and Mr. Cigar. Then, at a party, this writer named Galaxy Craze told me I should write a whole book. 

That idea was out there, then, and this editor Daneil Ehrenhaft at Soho Press started really hounding me to write a book. That went on for two years until finally, I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll look this guy up.” So, I googled him and read, “Daniel Ehrenhaft lives in Brooklyn with a dog named Gibby.” I just had to laugh — only after two years did I find out the guy was a Gibby-phile!

Did he specifically want you to write a young adult (YA) novel?

Yeah. He sent me examples of what’s possible now in YA. These books had scary kidnappings and murder — like actual kids committing murder! — and language like the word “cunt” and the n-word, real bad, with the hard-r. Stuff I couldn’t believe! Sometimes there was redemption in the books, sometimes consequences, and sometimes not. After that, I knew I’d be able to write something harder-edged.

The matter-of-fact presence of drugs in Me and Mr. Cigar might surprise a lot of people. 

Well, it’s something I know about. It’s also something kids have to deal with. All kids. I wrote this book to be the type of thing I would have wanted to about when I was 13. 

I first got high when I was 11-years-old. I literally did acid in the ’60s! My first trip happened during Christmas break of 1969. I was 12. So, I can pinpoint the exact moment of my arrested development, emotionally. It was right then. 

I also wrote the book sort of like a movie, and, you know, in a movie they always have that first scene that has to grab you. I wanted to get into the action really fast, and I just had this image in my head of a dog walking down the street with a shit-ton of dope in his mouth. 

There are also consequences attached to the drugs, because kids have to deal with that, too. I don’t glorify it. I didn’t want to write an instruction manual. 

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What books did you read when you were a kid?

A lot of bios of sports figures. Rascal [by Sterling North], which is about a kid who raises a baby raccoon. My Side of the Mountain [by Jean George], which is about a kid who runs away to go live off the land in the woods. 

I can see how those plots might have planted some seeds for Me and Mr. Cigar

Yeah, I don’t know. I read a lot of books written by adults who were trying to impart some kind of lesson. I wrote my book in three parts — a prologue written in the third person, the main story told by Oscar, and then an epilogue which seems to be coming from someone who’s older. I also started with a letter to the reader to explain that I hoped to write something kind of funny, kind of trippy, and kind of dangerous. 

The dog in the book is named Mr. Cigar. Is he directly based on the real-life dog Mr. Cigar that famously toured with the Butthole Surfers?

The Mr. Cigar in the book is actually sort of a combination of that Mr. Cigar and another dog. The title came from a Rolling Stone article written when I was in the depths of heroin addiction. I talked about being completely isolated in this terrible shit-hole with just the dog. I said, “Me and Mr. Cigar,” and the publisher liked that for the title. 

I got the first Mr. Cigar from a blind girl. Somebody told me there was a litter of puppies, and I went over to get one. The girl said, “Which one do you want?” And I pointed to Mr. Cigar and said, “That one.” And she was like, “Which one? I’m blind!” And I said, “The black-and-white one,” and that went on for a little bit [laughs].

It seems like dogs have always been a part of the Butthole Surfers’ story.

Yeah, but the first Mr. Cigar was a cat! He belonged to Buttholes guitarist, Paul Leary. There’s this thing where sometimes a cat will come and bite your toe when you’re sleeping, and that’s what Mr. Cigar would do to Paul’s father, who was called Big Paul. Mr. Cigar would sneak up on Big Paul when he was asleep and nip his toe and then run away. Big Paul would always get up and chase him down the hall, but he could never catch him! We liked that spirit, like, “You go, Mr. Cigar!”

The dog in the book is inspired by a true story. There was a dog in Texas named Jimmy who had a head injury, and they thought he was dead, and then the next day, he was scratching at the back door! He dug himself up and came home.

Wow, that’s the dream of every kid who ever had a dog die. 

It is. I really wanted to convey that in the story, how insufferable it is when a dog dies, especially when you’re a kid. We only have them for such a short time, and they mean so much. 

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Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers with the band's other dog, Mark Farner (via)

Have you heard from any kids who’ve read the book yet?

No! I really want to. I can’t wait. I occasionally perform with the kids from School of Rock. We did three gigs and have another one coming up. There are 19 kids. After the last one, we all got on the bus, and I gave each one of them a signed copy of the book. Afterward, I asked [School of Rock founder] Paul Green, “Do kids even read books?” He said, “I don’t know.” So, I’m taking that to be a big, fat no! [Laughs]

What reviews have you seen?

I was really worried about getting skewered. Texas librarians, for some reason, are really important in the world of YA books, so I sent it to a lot of Texas librarians. One of them wrote back, “It’s kind of druggy, but I think it’s good.” 

Perfect cover blurb! With that in mind, what do you think will be the effect of legalized weed on teenagers?

Wow! That is a great question! I think we have to look at it like alcohol, and I think parents have to take responsibility. Treat weed like alcohol. This is a question we have to ask, and I don’t know what the answer is going to be. I don’t think it’s going to be the Mitch McConnell answer.

I also don’t think we’re going to have sad stories about some kid getting high and getting in a car and killing a whole family. I just don’t. It keeps coming back to parents and alcohol, because alcohol is the worst motherfucker of a drug there is. 

Physiologically, if you ask a doctor what’s more damaging, a pile of heroin or a bottle of whiskey, it’s the whiskey. Not that I’m advocating for legalizing heroin, but, damn, alcohol is a motherfucker — and that’s legal! 

Since MERRY JANE is Snoop Dogg’s site, our position is pretty clear. 

Yeah. I love Snoop. I’m so excited to be doing this interview. Do you know him?

No. Sadly, I haven’t met him yet. 

Me neither. I got all excited to meet Snoop once when he was on tour with the Chili Peppers in San Antonio. He had a whole live band with him. I had two joints on me and I was like, “Yeah! I’m getting high with Snoop!”

Then, I went backstage and asked the Chili Peppers to introduce me and they were like, “Yeah, we don’t really talk to Snoop.” I couldn’t believe it! Normally, when you go on tour with a band, you end up being best friends. 

By the end of the first Lollapalooza [1991], which included the Butthole Surfers, it seemed like everybody on that bill was actually fucking. I remember, at one point, Budgie, the drummer from Siouxsie and the Banshees, came up to me and said [imitates a high-class British accent], “Are you fucking my wife?” [Laughs] That really was a fun time. 

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Mike McPadden
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Mike McPadden is the author of "Heavy Metal Movies" and the upcoming "Last American Virgins." He writes about movies, music, and crime in Chicago. Twitter @mcbeardo
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