Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
by James M. Manheim
Satire that slashes and burns sometimes seems to be a dying art, so it's noteworthy when a song like "Right Wing Roundup" comes along. It's a collection of skewered conservative attitudes cast in the form of square dance calls:
All join hands and circle to the right,
'Specially if you're rich and white.
"Swing way . . . to the right," intones the six-foot-five-inch, heavily tattooed Reverend Billy C. Wirtz of the First House of Polyester Worship. "All join hands and . . . block the clinic!" Between verses, Wirtz takes on the persona of an NRA member flirting with the wearer of an Operation Rescue charm bracelet. "What do you say we introduce a little motion into the chambers?" he asks.
A native of South Carolina and a resident of St. Augustine, Florida ("It's not too far from Whorelando," he says), Wirtz offers a brand of southern satire that's more outrageous than most anything originating up here. "Right Wing Roundup" is one of his signatures, and in general his musical comedy grew from a certain glasnost that came to southern culture in the 1990s, but most of his songs aren't overtly political. Instead he writes, often hilariously, of the grotesque.
Imagine a southern Howard Stern who happens to be an excellent honky-tonk piano player (Wirtz did a long apprenticeship with Chicago bluesman Sunnyland Slim), and you've got a pretty good idea. Another Wirtz standard is "Roberta," an eight-minute slow blues jam about being in bed with a 375-pound woman. From what I've heard of Wirtz's live shows, I'd say a raunch warning is appropriate, but rude as he may be, Wirtz is never lacking in wit. "She'd look up with her one good eye, take her false teeth out of the Bicentennial ashtray," says Wirtz in describing the preliminaries that unroll in a little mobile home in a town called Chromosome, North Carolina.
Wirtz did a stint as a professional wrestling manager, and many of
his songs refer to this art form that dates back to the Middle Ages. He tells of falling in love with the dwarf wrestler Teenie Weenie Meanie, who "looked like Tammy Wynette left too long in my dryer." And then there's "Grandma versus the Crusher," a memoir of Wirtz's own grandmother and her enthusiastic responses to wrestling on TV. "Folks just love that song," says Wirtz. And they tell him their own Grandma-and-pro-wrestling stories.
So bring yours, if you've got 'em, to Wirtz's concert at the Ark on Friday, May 30. The Reverend says he does best in cities with high rates of violent crime, but I'm betting we've got enough unconventional souls here to get him cooking.
[Originally published in May, 2003.]