It's not every day a self-professed "rape rock" band comes to Portland. And according to the man known as "Heathen Scum," it's not every day Portland gets mad about it, either.
Scum is the stage name of Steve Broy, whose band, the Mentors, comes to Rock Hard PDX in deep Southeast this week. Broy, 59, seems genuinely surprised at the outrage around a scheduled show by his band, which formed in Seattle in 1976 and is probably best known for fighting Tipper Gore's attempts to censor rock music alongside GWAR and Twisted Sister in the '80s.
The Mentors are notorious for their shocking and misogynist lyrics. But Broy insists it's meant in jest.
"[The music] is not from a mean-spirited place," he says. "Generally speaking, people enjoy it, and have a good time. There's no fighting going on."
Broy says the band has played Portland many times over the years, and he says each show went without incident. But when the band was scheduled to play Rock Hard's Sickness in September festival, as part of their "Anti-Antifa Tour," Portland progressives got angry.
In Other Words, the feminist bookstore on North Killingsworth Street made nationally famous via Portlandia, posted a Facebook event calling for a protest of the concert, alleging that the Mentors advocate for racism and violence against women. The protest now has over 600 people interested in attending.
The uproar is the latest incident in a new era in cultural discourse, where right-wingers stake claims as free-speech fundamentalists while left-wingers seek to shut down controversial speakers and artists. The Mentors have been around so long they've managed to antagonize both conservatives and liberals.
Broy, who formed the Mentors with high school classmates, says backlash "goes with the territory." Onstage, band members wear blackened executioner-like hoods and perform songs like "Sex Education," which depicts the sexual exploits between a young teenager and an older man. A lyrical highlight: "She´s into sex education/And I am the biggest pervert teacher in the nation/Your daughter, she´s mine/So fresh off the vine."
Past members included "El Rapo" and "Moosedick."
Broy says he was surprised that the fiercest reaction to his current tour came from Portland, a city that historically has treated the band well. One commenter on the show's Facebook event page called them "pro-rape racists."
"It's not unprecedented for us to get blowback," he says. "But it's a little annoying to have people accuse me of stuff like that, which is blatantly not true."
Broy calls himself "against violence in general" and a "turn-the-other-cheek guy," and says he follows the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He balks at the term "provocative" when used to describe his music. "I don't think we're provoking people," he says. "I think [people] are just there, enjoying our shitty comedy and our shitty music."
But opponents of the Mentors argue that their brand of "comedy" can cause real-world harm.
"Their lyrics are a call to action for violence against women," says Lauren Watson, a participant in the protest. "Anyone who is already considering being violent toward a woman, or anyone questioning the immorality of such behavior, would be emboldened in their hate and violent intent."
While plenty of other artists have depicted abuse against women in lyrics—including acclaimed acts such as Nick Cave and Big Black—critics say the difference with the Mentors is precisely because it's played for laughs.
"I find the Mentors to be different because they're literally saying that raping and murdering women is funny," says comedian Andie Main. "There comes a point when an edgy little punk kid who likes shock-schlock and pissing people off for fun has to grow up and realize that art, actions and words have consequences. But these dudes are like 60 and they can't even score a gig inside Portland proper."
Defenders online call the controversy "much ado about nothing," and cite the Mentors' long history of fighting against censorship. The band's mainstream notoriety reached its peak with a series of congressional hearings in 1985 courtesy of Tipper Gore's Parent Music Resource Center. The purpose of the hearings—attended by Frank Zappa, John Denver and others—was to debate a potential new ratings system for music.
It culminated in Pastor John Ling's reading of lyrics from "Golden Shower," a Mentors song that depicts exactly what you'd expect. On that day, the term "anal vapor" was heard in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress.
But the band's public appearances—including one standoff with a rape survivor on The Jerry Springer Show in 1997—do not seem to have prepared Broy for the anger from today's protests. According to Rock Hard manager Derek Smith, some protesters have called the venue and left threatening messages and emails. Others called the venue's employees racist or homophobic. (In Other Words, who are organizing a formal protest of the Sickness in September festival, did not respond to requests for comment.)
"You understand there will be hell if they play," reads one email. "Antifa and Resist groups will be out in force."
The Mentors' tour is entitled "Anti-Antifa," which Broy calls a joke that went too far.
Smith insists the accusations of racism against him and the venue are baseless.
"There's nobody in that building that's racist. There's nobody in that building that's a homophobe," he says. "My security guy is married to a beautiful black woman with five black children. Everyone's ethnicity is mixed in the club."
When it comes to the criticism he's received, Smith says that "people are just running their mouth."
Broy says he's ready for confrontation.
"You wanna protest our band, be my guest," he says. "I'd be happy to buy you a drink, shake your hand, debate you. That's all good."
SEE (OR PROTEST) IT: The Mentors play Rock Hard PDX, 13639 SE Powell Blvd., on Friday, Sept. 8. 2 pm. $15. 21+.