Loco Hero 

After hitching to stardom with Faith No More, singer Mike Patton rode his twisted genius in all directions, not letting rock, fame, or even truth stand in his way.

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Among the CDs Patton has picked out, one can't help but notice, is a Melissa Etheridge album. What gives? "I like the cover art on this," he says unapologetically, holding up its silver cover with the singer peeking through a cut-out keyhole. He ends up actually buying it. See? Weird.

"He's a different personality," says Denison, the ex-Jesus Lizard guitarist and current Tomahawk bandmate. "Vocalists are always different from instrumentalists. Whether it's David Yow or Mike Patton, they're just different. He's interesting. He's got some eccentricities. He collects artifacts, shrunken heads, bondage gear. He also likes to have great big meals in nice restaurants before he plays. He can have a gigantic meal: soup, steak, lobster. ... And then he just walks out and plays. I could never do that."

The third thing Patton doesn't let get in his way is truth. Perhaps it goes hand in hand with the fame thing, but the singer seems to view his life in print as part of a grand prank, and is fond of making up stories or having friends do it for him. Distinguishing between the real Patton and the fabrication is often challenging. "The more misconceptions, the better," he quips.

Wandering through the African music section, a Positive Black Soul CD reminds Patton of a harrowing tour experience. "We actually opened up for these guys in France," he says. "Now there's a story." The Fantomas, he explains, were playing the Eurockéennes Festival in France last year, and Patton and his cohorts were side-stage, watching the rap group finish its set. "The whole time a woman had been climbing up the lighting rig," he says. "When she got to the top, she tied some cords around the bars, made a noose, and hung herself."

The woman dangled, suspended and jerking, he recalls, until the crew climbed up and cut her down just in time to save her. Patton says he was horrified, especially since the festival promoter was so nonchalant about it. The promoter told him that the woman, an employee, was unstable and did stuff like that all the time. "I said, 'Aren't you going to take her to the hospital, to see if she's okay?' He was like, 'Sure, sure, don't worry. It's nothing.' He totally shrugged it off. I was stunned. Then the guy says, 'Hey, by the way, I like your stuff with Mr. Bungle way better than Fantomas.'"

Get acquainted with Patton, and it's not hard to understand why he chose the name Fantomas. The masked protagonist -- from a series of pre-World War I French novellas -- is a cleverly sick prankster who causes death and dismemberment just for the hell of it, replacing perfume with sulfuric acid, poisoning people with tainted bouquets, and spreading the plague with diseased rats. He's the perfect antihero for anyone who cheered the Penguin and the Riddler instead of boring old Batman and Robin.

Patton isn't exactly an evil mastermind -- though fellow bandmate and Melvins' guitarist Buzz Osbourne likens him to "a constantly menstruating Hitler"-- but the singer has a straight-up devilish grin and is a fan of the arcane and the unexpected, two things embodied in the old French thrillers. And the man behind Faith No More's line "It's always fun until someone gets hurt/And then it's just hilarious" would have to have a warped sense of humor.

Ask Buzz to describe his weirdest experience with the singer, and he's apt to come up with something about Mexico and copious cerveza. "One time I was in Tijuana with Mike," he says over the phone from backstage at a show in Cleveland. "It's the most incredible story, but it doesn't involve donkeys. We were down there, you know, doing the Tijuana thing, and we kicked the shit out of a transvestite down there. Mike was tripping on acid, too. Fortunately I wasn't, and I walked him back across the border."

"We have a deal, Buzz and I," explains Patton. "We each talk as much shit as we can about the other to the press."

It's not merely fake stories that have entertained and perplexed gullible journalists, but Patton's reputation for avoiding the press at all costs. A piece about Lovage on MTV's Web site describes him as the "reclusive Patton, speaking from his San Francisco home in a rare interview ..." Patton says that he does any and all interviews he can, and he's by no means Salingeresque. One need only go online to find tons of Q&As with him, most from fans who simply walked up to him before or after a show with a tape recorder in hand. "I don't avoid the media at all," he says, laughing. "They just don't want to write about me."The seeds of Mr. Bungle were sown in Arcata, home to Humboldt State University and a town that has played host to California's biggest industries: gold, timber, and marijuana. If Patton has one word for Arcata, it would be this: "Lame." His father was a football coach, and pushed his son toward athletics. It didn't stick. "My dad was like a jock," he says. "I tried that for a few years and it didn't work out. I was just doing my own thing. I was a geek, kind of on my own."

Born in 1968, Patton grew up in the '70s, when Saturday morning cartoons and After School Specials were being etched into the minds of Gen-Xers, the guys from Mr. Bungle especially. The band formed when he was sixteen, with Patton on vocals, and schoolmates Trevor Dunn, Trey Spruance, and Jed Watts playing the instruments.

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