These days, everything’s viral. Seriously, you can’t even have a good, old-fashioned shouting match with your significant other without running the risk that the whole thing — or snippets conveniently edited to portray you in the worst possible light — end up on YouTube. If it sounds like I speak from personal experience, I can happily report that I don’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t live in a permanent state of fear that it could happen, though.

In the late ’80s, though, that wasn’t the case. The average person had a degree of privacy — or better yet, the even-more-preferable-yet- now-even-more-alien concept of anonymity — that one has to go actively out of their way to achieve these days. Basically, if you wanted to get the level of notoriety that so many instant internet sensations either have thrust upon them or, more perversely, go out of their way to cultivate in this day and age, you had to seriously piss somebody off.

Enter San-Franciscans-by-way-of-Wisconsin Mitchell D (real name Mitch Deprey) and Eddie Lee Sausage (real name who the fuck knows) and their two (well, three if you count Tony, but more on him later) elderly, alcoholic neighbors, Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman. Little did Eddie n’ Mitch know when they moved into the notch-above-skid-row apartment that they less-than-affectionately dubbed the “Pepto-Bismol palace” in late 1987 (due to its nauseating pasty-pink paint job) that the old-timers in the unit next door would keep them up all night with their knock-down,drag-out, verbally (and occasionally physically) violent inebriated uber-arguments.

Given that Haskett, a flamboyant homosexual, and Huffman, a raving homophobe (talk about a truly odd couple), were both long-term welfare recipients, they didn’t have jobs to get up and head for in the morning, so the very concept of time seemed downright lost on them and the fact that their brains were both pickled from countless decades of alcohol abuse didn’t help matters much, either. After a few weeks, our intrepid midwestern transplants decided they’d had enough, and set about recording the nightly wars-of-words next door through the apartment’s paper-thin walls when a first attempt at asking them nicely to tone things down resulted in death threats.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Mitch was into recording mixed tapes for his friends and would often include choice segments of Peter and Raymond’s — uhhhmmm — “dialogues” in between songs for a laugh. As time went by and their recording of the less-than-dynamic duo next door became more blatantly obvious (and you won’t believe how blatantly obvious until you see the film), they eventually started putting together 60-minute cassettes of nothing but Monsieurs Haskett and Huffman raving at each other. Their friends would pass the tapes on to their friends, who would pass them on to their friends, who would pass them on to their friends — and eventually the phenomenon known as “Shut Up, Little Man!,” the title taken from Peter’s favorite expressive command directed (several times per day, apparently) at Raymond was born.

And so was a semi-profitable, if non-copyrighted, mail-order business. When Mitch and Eddie left the cozy confines of the “Pepto-Bismol palace” and returned to the midwest (Mitch to Ohio, Eddie back to Wisconsin), they began selling tapes of the “best” of Pete n’ Ray. The tapes begat CDs. The CDs begat comic books. The comic books begat a stage play. The stage play begat movie production deals (no less than three at one time, although only one had involvement from Senors D and Sausage themselves —for the record none of them went anywhere due to the obvious legal implications of semi-surreptitiously recording these guys in the first place). And by the time our intrepid audio engineers decided to get off the fence and actually copyright this material, the whole thing was out of their hands.

Australian director Matthew Bate’s new documentary (well, new on DVD at any rate — it played the film-festival circuit last year and is now available for home viewing from New Video as part of the Tribeca Film Festival DVD series (sponsored, as they prominently remind you all the goddamn time all over the disc’s start-up and extras menus, by American Express) — it’s presented in 5.1 surround sound with a widescreen picture and extras include re-creations of some of Pete and Ray’s more memorable arguments by a couple of actors, a return visit to the freshly-painted “Pept-Bismol palace” by Eddie and Mitch, and an extended interview with Ivan Brunetti (who we’ll get to in a second), for those of you who keep track of such things when weighing a potential purchase or rental), Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, is frankly more about the convoluted twists and turns of all these divergent projects spun off from the original “Shut Up, Little Man!” recordings took than it is about any of the principles themselves, with “celebrity” (of a sort, at any rate) fans like comic artists Daniel Clowes and Ivan Brunetti and Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO offering their takes on the genuinely underground phenomenon, but at its heart it does return to the question all of us dedicated fans of SULM! have had over the years, namely — just what was the nature of the relationship between Raymond and Peter and why the hell did they keep living together all those years if they obviously hated each other so much?

Enter Tony, the third wheel on the Haskett-Huffman insanity wagon, a redneck drifter with a violent streak who occasionally crashed out at Pete and Ray’s place and is the only surviving member of the trio, Raymond having passed away back in 1992 with Peter joining him in the afterlife in 1995. There have been as many theories about just who the hell Tony was (were he and Peter lovers? was he just a drinking buddy?) as there have been about why Ray and Pete stayed together (was Raymond a self-loathing homosexual who was secretly in love with Peter but covered for it with his foaming-at-the-mouth anti-gay diatribes? were they a couple at one point in the past?) over the years. Fortunately, for all of us who have wondered about this crap since we first heard the “Shut Up,Little Man!” recordings (my own first exposure came courtesy of noticing the CD in the racks at the late, lamented Let It Be Records in downtown Minneapolis sometime in the mid-1990s and thinking to myself “this looks like something I absolutely must buy!”), Tony agreed (eventually, after much prodding) to talk with Eddie and set the record straight about everything. The answers are both more simple, and infinitely more complex, than we could ever have imagined.

Those answers, along with Mitch and Eddie’s reunion after many years to talk about how the whole experience quite accidentally changed their lives for both better and worse, along with some jaw-droppingly juicy anecdotes in regards to some of the crazy shit that went down amongst the principal players trying to get a “Shut Up, Little Man!” movie production deal off the ground,  give this documentary more humanity than any long-time fan of SULM! probably had any right to expect — but truth be told, if you’re not already familiar with the audio exploits of Haskett and Huffman, there’s not necessarily a lot here for you grab onto and you may feel like everybody’s speaking in a language you don’t quite understand. There’s frankly just not enough given by way of example of the original “Shut Up, Little Man!” recordings to draw in casual viewers on anything but the most cursory level. All of which is probably quite understandable given that the two people this whole things started with are dead and lead lives they could barely remember even when they were around, anyway.

For those already on the wavelength, though, Bate’s Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure is pure gold. As Ray himself might say, go watch it right the fuck now you poor little  goddamn lying piece of shit queer cocksucker.

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