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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It was an anticlique of sorts: guys with above-average intelligence and keen senses of humor who weren't nerdy enough for D&D, but were way too cynical for homecoming games and school dances. Instead, they stayed home and listened to Fishbone and death metal. Those early Bungle recordings sound like Venom or Celtic Frost if Monty Python had gotten to them. "The first record we did was kind of cornball, goofy, tongue-in-cheek, inside-joke crap," says Patton. "And that's exactly what it is: Crap. After a few years of doing that you start realizing, wait a minute, this is my life. I guess I'm a joke, then."

Somewhere between goofing around with his band and not being the athlete his dad wanted him to be, Patton had realized he wanted to do music, and not just to be funny or ironic.

As his sensibilities expanded, so too did Bungle's. The band's lineup had evolved to include Danny Heifetz on drums and Clinton "Bar" McKinnon on horns and keys, and instead of simply being flat-out-obnoxious low-brow, the music was an amalgam of experimental composition and flat-out-obnoxious low-brow. The band's detractors varied from those who called them a watered-down version of Japanese experimental-punk pioneers the Boredoms to those who just plain didn't get it -- something Patton has heard a lot of people say about his music. On many an occasion the band played to resounding rooms full of "Boooooooooo!" which the musicians in turn soaked up like fuel for the noise machine -- infuriating the audience even more. "I love being booed," Patton laughs.

The singer's stage antics with Bungle are legendary, most notably the night he peed in his shoe and drank it. "I was there," says Werckman, who is one of Patton's best friends. "It was New Year's Eve with Primus. After he did that, he smacked his head on a microphone. It was bleeding really bad, and he had to go to the hospital with pee on his breath."

Truth or fiction?

As wacky as Bungle seemed to some, the band was deadly serious about its approach, which helps to explain its devoted fan base. There are at least ten Web sites devoted solely to Mr. Bungle, and the current crop of so-called "nu metal" bands often give the group props. Bungle's music was a crazy quilt of metal, pop, AM radio schmaltz, noise, and the absurd -- precisely the ticket for bored teenagers attempting to eschew the obvious. It was with Mr. Bungle that Patton began honing his writing skills, initially creating lyrics that were chains of made-up words and noises, then filling in with real words as the songs became more fleshed out. "Mike definitely writes from more of an aural standpoint," writes bandmate Spruance on a Canadian fan site called Bungle to Fantomas. "He comes up with syllables and nonsensical verses. It's amazing watching some of his lyrics take shape, because they don't sound a whole lot different than those noises he was making." Patton also had a special gift: He could create whole melodies and songs in his head, and remember every part with the efficiency of a computer.

It was while recording the first Bungle record in the late '80s that he first worked with the legendary experimental musician John Zorn, and much of his subsequent creative direction has borne the imprint of the avant-garde New Yorker. "Zorn had a profound influence on Mike," says Winant. Indeed, most of Patton's collaborations outside of his own bands have involved Zorn in some way.

Patton was 21 in 1989 when the members of Faith No More asked him to join, rejecting a host of other hopefuls including Courtney Love. The band had already reached underground prominence for its song, "We Care A Lot," a typically ironic '80s political-punk anthem. Patton's main reason for joining the band was to get out of Arcata, but he also liked the challenge of being in a band that wasn't Bungle. "It was music that I'd never made before," he says. "I used to kind of laugh, you know ... what am I gonna do, sing that song?"

So no one was more surprised than Patton when Faith No More became a platinum seller with its hit "Epic." It's something he looks back on with bemusement. Ask him about his most embarrassing moment on stage -- and this is a guy with a lot of idiotic moments on stage -- and Patton will say it was opening for Guns N' Roses. He was an anti-rock-star rock star who, instead of blowing his head off like Kurt Cobain, just mocked the absurdity of it all. "Fame is like going to Las Vegas," he says. "That's it. And if you can't laugh first and foremost at yourself, then you are fucked. And when you are going through that, it's hilarious."

If that sounds disingenuous -- come on, who wouldn't want to be a rock star? -- consider that Patton refused to quit Mr. Bungle when he was in Faith No More, despite pressure from his new bandmates to do so. His high-school band continued to play together back home, and for some strange reason even got signed to Warner Brothers, releasing three albums, none of them successful by major-label standards.

Rumor has it that Patton joined Faith No More to get Bungle signed, but he denies it. "We were signed to Warner for all the wrong reasons," the singer told the Web site Night Times in January. "To be frank, it was because they were trying to keep me happy. I threatened to quit Faith No More if they wouldn't let me play in Mr. Bungle." But Patton's first band did begin wearing masks on stage so "that guy in Faith No More" wouldn't be the center of attention for all the MTV-watchin' goombahs that were starting to show up at the shows.


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