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All for Naught

Having intrigued St. Louis motorists with a mysterious poster, the members of Nothinghead come clean about what it means and who they are


Sam I Am had trouble with the county police over a "post no bills" ordinance. When the cops came to his door in Fenton, Sam I Am wasn't home. So they showed Sam's mom the 8-by-10-inch signs -- one featuring Uncle Sam warning, "The System Is Screwing You"; another with socialist rhetoric from a booklet called "War on the Poor." The signs, and bumper stickers, that are showing up around town -- on ATMs, highway overpasses and telephone poles -- sport the Nothinghead logo, a stylized "N" in a circle with slashes at all four points of the compass.

"That symbol scares people," Sam I Am says. "They think it's militant, some kind of hate group. Screw that! Nothing wrong with the letter 'N' -- if there is, Sesame Street's out of business."

The cops may not have understood Nothinghead propaganda, just that it looked radical, seditious and not exactly in the same league as lost-dog and yard-sale posters: You tell Junior to take every one of these things down, or we'll put him in jail.

The incident at least proves to the Nothingheads that someone's finally taking notice.

The Nothingheads -- Sam I Am (Dwayne Rhoden), Rev. John (John Dudash), Roy Batty (Joel Emery) and Nate (Nathan Kibett) -- have been trying to tell the world that they are a band with a political edge. These guys would rather stir up dissent than draw people out to the dance floor.

"Our music isn't just music," says Sam I Am, 25. "There's a stage show with lots of visuals involved -- animation, film clips. We have a message we're trying to get across." That message seems to be a mix of leftist philosophy, vegetarianism, Eastern mysticism and scattered concepts from sci-fi works such as Dune. The band's name derives from a 1968 short story by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., "Welcome to the Monkey House," which chronicles the exploits of one Billy the Poet and tells us that "a Nothinghead was a person who refused to take his ethical birth-control three times a day."

In the Nothinghead world, "people are enslaved," consigned to a dreary workaday existence where "they turn the wheels, grease the gears, and push machines for the rich."

Sam I Am fits the Nothinghead mold. He is emphatically down on practically everything, including marriage, commercial art, political contests and especially the fat cats in charge: "Shelter is expensive for no reason. Food is expensive, man. I want to change everything!" That may prove difficult for this rebel, who by his own account was "kicked off the wrestling team at Lindbergh High for refusing to remove the anarchist symbol" (the letter "A" in a circle) that he had drawn on the heels of his sneakers. Bob Herd, Lindbergh's wrestling coach at the time, now retired, says he cannot recall the incident and isn't quite sure he remembers a student named Dwayne Rhoden.

Digging into the No. 2 platter at the Parkmoor recently, the former doorman at the Hi-Pointe Cafe ("I still don't know why they fired me") was in fine form, spouting invective between mouthfuls of hash browns. In appearance, Sam I Am resembles one of the nasties in The Road Warrior, the postapocalyptic motion picture released in 1982, but he pontificates like a young Leon Trotsky.

"What we live in is slavery, we're just well taken care of," he fumes. Politically, fellow Nothingheads are on the same page, Sam I Am says. They loathe "the ruling rich" and preach redistribution of wealth. "When somebody dies, the most they can give to each relative is $200,000," according to Nothinghead public policy. "The rest gets doled out to the public."

Sounds like a plan, but how are you gonna sell it to the college crowd, trying -- on weekends, anyway -- to purge their minds of Poli Sci 101?

Meanwhile, Sam I Am plots rebellion while living under his mother's roof. He and his confederates continue to plaster the signs around town and keep a watchful eye on the local constabulary. Sam I Am hopes to head them off in the event they do come a-calling. "Last time," he rumbles, "they scared the shit out of my mom."

The Nothingheads, who rehearse in a derelict building in Benton Park, played their first real gigs this spring at Pop's, an often rowdy East Side saloon, and the Galaxy, on Washington Avenue. The upshot? They didn't win the Battle of the Bands at Galaxy, but at least they didn't get pelted with longnecks at Pop's.

For more on the Nothingheads, check their Web site,

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