Unless you are a true connoisseur of outsider music and musicians, the first time your came across someone – or something – called Buckethead was during the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. As part of the surprise finale to the festivities, a be-braided Axl Rose arrived, looking freshly minted from some major cosmetic surgery, and introduced the latest line-up of Guns and Roses to an enthusiastic, if quasi-perplexed, audience. It wasn't just the botoxed bad-boy from a decade before that had the crowd confused. Standing on stage, in a yellow slicker, ghostly 'shape' mask, with an upside down KFC container on his head, was a blazing guitarist, as adept an axe man as exists in the modern music scene. Yet very few would have recognized the sonic savant with the virtuoso skills, and all anonymity aside, Buckethead is an ass-kicking metal maniac. Sadly, he has done very little to embrace the mainstream, and the latest DVD release from the reclusive artist will do very little to change that – no matter how provocative the final product is.
Unfortunately, the Secret Recipe DVD really won't change anyone's perception of the perturbing player. More or less a sonic scrapbook of everything the enigmatic entertainer has done over the last 13 years, all without a lick of context to clarify just what it all means, we get multi-faceted menus (with Buckethead buddy Bootsy Collins doing the voice over vaudeville) that lead us to a treasure trove of tainted goodies. There's old home video footage, demos, bootleg performances, music videos, an exhaustive, illustrated discography, galleries loaded with oddball art, instructions for Buckethead's signature guitar/nunchaku combat, press clippings, and lots of man's mystifying mythology. There are even a couple of concert appearances to round out the offering. It's a lot to take in all at once, since most of the material here is provided to showcase Buckethead's peerless musicianship. As a matter of fact, one does get the distinct impression of walking in on one's own private conversation with themselves without a program or substance score sheet to fill us in on all the details. During the homemade movies, we learn that, as a baby, Buckethead was (supposedly) injured by pecking chickens. So serious were his wounds that he had to be disguised. Thus the nod to the Colonel, his 11 herbs and spices, and the entire phony façade. But since this is obviously a joke, the humor is hidden in a non-ironic sense of seriousness.
After experiencing everything this package has to offer, the first thing you notice about the world of Buckethead is that it is very specific in its pop culture clutter. If The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (in all its variables) is referenced once, it appears dozens of times – in clips, in sound bites, in movie memorabilia and musical homages. So do Halloween, The Exorcist, and any other manner of motion picture macabre. As for the before referenced robots, we see a lot of a gray statue that looks like a combination of Ultraman and the ancient Hebrew monster the Golem. There's also a little round automaton named Herbie that appears to be a combination sidekick and logo for the artist. Along with a severed head prop that 'speaks', a fairly decent grasp of both martial arts and the 80s dance craze of body rockin'/poppin', and the everpresent fast food container on his head (sometimes festooned with a bright red band that reads "FUNERAL"), there seems to be some manner of social underpinning to Buckethead's bravado. It could be a comment on the cross-pollination of cultures that's occurred both before and after the millennium. Or maybe it's just an adolescent admiration for all things 'cool' and 'wicked'. Whatever the case, it gives Buckethead's efforts more depth and resonance than, perhaps, they really deserve.
Perhaps the most startling of these incidents occur when Buckethead halts his non-stop stream of lightning fast leads to break into a direct riff lift from Disney attractions like The Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World and, most remarkably, The Main Street Electrical Parade. The House of Mouse is routinely referenced by artists as being a bastion of micromanaged meanness, a one time entertainment giant that got a little too big for its founder's family-friendly focus, only to end up destroying the company's creative edge and public goodwill. But for Buckethead, there is still a sense of awe and wonder in the works of Uncle Walt, a purity of presence that comes across the minute he breaks into those memorable melodies. During the collection of live clips we see throughout the DVD (including two long form shows in Boston and New York) Buckethead will thread the Haunted Mansion's theme all throughout his performance (even playing along to the attraction's narrative at one point) and he usually closes his shows with a mash-up of that famed Main Street song with any number of self-styled solos. The overall effect is interesting. For many, Buckethead's musical ability often blurs his ability to connect with the crowd. Yet the minute we hear the familiar strains of that buccaneer sea shanty, we are ready to "Yo Ho" right along with the enthusiastic crowd.
This may indeed be Buckethead's raison d'etra all along. Since he is so superior in his skill – a kind of Stephen Hawking of hard rock, if you will – he knows he needs ways to link up with those who love his gift of guitar. Such prodigious talent can have difficulty translating to those without the skill, so the nods to monster movies, robots, and various cultural lynchpins provide the correlation that the playing can't provide. Indeed, a lot of what is on these two DVDs is designed to fill in gaps and give backstory and foundation to what Buckethead is all about. For the most part, it works. The videos are fun, the homemade movies equally hilarious and hideous, and the consistency of the concept so exacting that you have to give the man credit for never once swaying from his own demented design. Will hardcore fans want more in-concert material? Absolutely. Will newcomers still feel lost after watching a collection of clips that represent 13 years in the life of Buckethead? Definitely. If Secret Recipe was meant to disclose anything, it would have to be how safe and secure this artist is in his own self-crafted skin. Maybe one day, KISS-like, he will drop the drag and let us see his true face. Then again, Secret Recipe may already be that mirror into the mangled, mutilated and multi-talented world of one seriously fudged up freakazoid.