Paska "Who wants to buy poor old Bruce Springsteen?" asked the shaven-headed, potbellied foreigner who'd been shouting his lungs out, groping the audience and bouncing off the walls in the basement of Bar XVI. Between his completely a cappella renditions of Motörhead's "Ace of Spades" and Madonna's "Like a Prayer," the bug-eyed fellow was catching his breath, displaying a Tower Records ad that he'd torn from a periodical. "Look!" he exclaimed in a thick Northern European accent, his beer breath potent at 20 paces. "It says right here: 'Bruce Springsteen on sale for $11.99.' Cheap, huh?"
This week, Paska (born Ari Peltonen) triumphantly returns to NYC. On Sun., March 12, he'll fluster the emo kids at CBGB during the New York Underground Film Festival's Jade Tree Records night. On the 14th, he'll wreak havoc at Tonic, joining Japanese psych masters High Rise and the American band Major Stars. Additional guerrilla-style gigs will no doubt materialize during the Finn's two-week stay in the city.
Arguably Helsinki's least favorite son, Paska poignantly exaggerates and cheerfully disembowels rock 'n' roll's machismo, its charlatanism, its shallow political statements, its excess, its stale sexiness and, above all, its juvenile posturing. A smart-ass brat?esthetically, an evil cross between Falco, Diamanda Galas, Johnny Rotten and a bad-mood Bobby McFerrin?he froths at the mouth, growling guitar imitations and shredding as he trashes an array of well-chosen punk and Top 40 covers; he also composes such captivating originals as "I'm Shit," "Bullshit," "Sex Is Shit" and "The Creation and Destruction of the Universe" (his epic). Paska has slit pop's bloated underbelly using the chutzpah of a freakshow. Ask anyone who's seen him attack a visibly uncomfortable onlooker, wrestle her/him to crotch-level and serenade them with a guttural version of "Love Me Tender." Meanwhile, Peltonen?whose novelty success ignited his adjacent careers as a globetrotting radio personality, author and tv star?routinely terrorizes his homeland's media and challenges its obscenity laws.
It's difficult to tell if Paska is a conceptual genius or just a drunk. His first gig took pace in 1985, in Riihimäki, a small town near the sleepy, middle-class burg in which he was born. Using his pseudonym at the jesting suggestion of a friend, the 17-year-old Paska played solo at a local battle of the bands, where he narrowly escaped being beaten by angry bumpkins. Three years later, by which time he had moved to Helsinki, Peltonen took the stage again, landing a date at Tavastia, Finland's most prestigious club and hangout. The show went surprisingly well. Paska rode his notoriety into Scandinavia's biggest venues and largest outdoor festivals; he blathered at 25,000 people at the gigantic Kaivopuisto bash. He even dumbfounded a concert hall in Soviet-era Siberia, where he confused 3000 suit-and-tie-clad residents of Yekaterinburg (then called Sverdlovsk), the birthplace of Boris Yeltsin.
In 1989, Finland's premier noise label, Bad Vugum, released Paska's debut 7-inch EP, Superdoublemegamaxihits!. The Baltic punk imprint Gaga Goodies rushed to issue a follow-up, the now-deleted "Buy Play Throw Away" single. The following year, after Paska had "broken up" over musical differences, Peltonen took a DJ job at Radiomafia, a popular youth-oriented station. He had first appeared on the local airwaves singing the entirety of Finland's Top 10 singles chart. The astute mimic devised various broadcast personae, among them Anssi (later known as Aristoteles), a talk show host who swore excessively, hung up on callers and asked unlucky ladies if they wanted to "lick my hard cock." The character was an instant hit, a punk Howard Stern, only faster, louder and ruder.
Finland's principal tv network aired a high-visibility special that criticized Anssi's antisocial behavior, forcing Peltonen into a censorship war that made the front pages of the country's tabloids and the top of its television news. Parliament discussed banning the radio nuisance; he was rescued by Finland's minister of culture, a known musician, writer and free-speech advocate. Radiomafia wasn't as lenient: the company temporarily suspended Anssi, which only stirred up more hype. He hired himself out as a party DJ, raking in enough cash to travel around the world?all while Radiomafia compensated him with layoff pay. Even today, Peltonen faces occasional legal threats, though none of them have ever gone to court. His boss continues to debate barring him from live, censor-free broadcasting.
In the early 90s, several "ex-members" of Paska, the one-man band, went "solo." Peltonen whimsically assumed the roles of Jeesus, a vocalist who howled spiritual songs in English; Johnny Blue, a muzak-crazed "organist"; and Jorma (translation: Dick), a "bassist" who grumbled lewd Finnish fare. Tavastia hosted several sold-out "multi-artist" expos at which Peltonen's various identities were the sole participants. In 1992, the venue gave away the seasonal Raluhatonta Joula ("Unhappy Christmas"), a limited-edition 45 of one such gig. Soon after, a "reunited" Paska began booking sporadic comebacks.
Peltonen, now 32, knows the value of a good joke, refusing to saturate the market. These days, he only unleashes Paska once or twice a year, usually outside Finland. He devotes most of his time to DJ work, exotic vacations and his most recent passion, writing. His first tome, titled !, criticizes educational institutions. His second effort dissects sex, love and relationships. Like Books, Finland's largest independent publisher, printed the former in 1993 and plans to release the latter in the fall.
At present, Paska most frequently performs in Germany, though he has played roughly 50 international shows. In 1997, Berlin's Human Wreckords convinced him to lay down a fourth vinyl EP, Heterosapiens. Late that year, Peltonen made his North American debut, in San Francisco. Returning to the States the following autumn, he tore through California, New Orleans and a chunk of the Northeast, delighting New York with a five-night, CMJ-related stand that included bills at the Knitting Factory, the Continental and the CBGB Digital Hardcore showcase.
At the latter gig, Peltonen somehow endeared himself to the several hundred techno toddlers who had arrived expecting distorted beats and political slogans. Girls in baggy rave-wear and their serious, scenemaking boyfriends fell under Paska's absurd spell, pumping their fists in the air and chanting "Pain! Ass! Pain! Ass!," the ridiculous coda of "Pain in the Ass," one of Mr. Shit's recent standards. Just goes to show you that everyone loves a clown.
Paska plays CBGB on Sun., March 12 (315 Bowery at Bleecker St.), 982-4052; and Tonic on Tues., March 14 (107 Norfolk St., betw. Delancey & Rivington Sts.), 358-7503.