Origin: Long Beach, California
Genre: Post punk
Years active: 1978–1983
Su Tissue (Sue McLane) – vocals/keyboards
Frankie Ennui (Richard Whitney) – guitar
John Gleur (John McBurney) – guitar
Vex Billingsgate (William Ranson) – bass
Chuck Roast (Charles Rodriguez) – drums
Suburban Lawns were a post-punk band formed in Long Beach, California in 1978 by CalArts students William “Vex Billingsgate” Ranson and Sue “Su Tissue” McLane. They later recruited Richard “Frankie Ennui” Whitney, Charles “Chuck Roast” Rodriguez, and John “John Gleur” McBurney.
The 1979 debut single “Gidget Goes to Hell” (released on their own Suburban Industrial label) gained the band notoriety when its Jonathan Demme-directed music video was shown on Saturday Night Live.
Their sole album, Suburban Lawns, produced and engineered by EJ Emmons and Troy Mathisen, was released in 1981 on I.R.S. Records, featuring new wave radio favorite “Janitor.”
It has been said that the lyrics of “Janitor” were derived from a real-life conversation between Sue “Su Tissue” McLane and friend Brian Smith. According to Smith, the two were conversing in a loud room when they first met:
She asked me what I did for a living. I said “I’m a janitor,” and she thought I said “Oh my genitals.” [Richard “Frankie Ennui” Whitney] overheard this and wrote the song.
According to Richard Whitney, this story is somewhat backwards; the music and all of the lyrics apart from “Oh, my genitals! I’m a janitor!” were already written when Sue McLane added them herself:
Su was definitely more of a poet than I have ever dreamed of being. The lyrics, except for Su’s contribution, are pretty straightforward science-nerd stuff about all things explosive. Su’s addition, whatever the source (and I have no reason to doubt what Brian Smith has apparently written about how Su came up with that addition), gave the song a poetical spin that added the dimension it needed to make it interesting. That’s exactly why, in my opinion, our best songs were those that were written collaboratively.
Gleur departed during the recording of the Richard Mazda-produced 5-song EP Baby, released in 1983, and the band folded shortly afterward. After the split, Whitney and Ranson formed a new, short-lived band called The Lawns, while McLane attended Berklee College of Music, where she studied piano.
In 1982 McLane recorded a solo album, Salon de Musique. She also played the role of Peggy Dillman in Demme’s 1986 comedy movie Something Wild opposite Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels, and Ray Liotta.