please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Stars, our Destination

I keep on having the conversation of late, how our megastars are so much more likely these days to implode before having done anything of any real worth. I mean, maybe we'd care a little more about Britney there if she'd actually done something interesting first. All she did was what most of us do: grow older and start fucking up.
And me? I don't care. People like me are paid to literally clean up the messes of those types. Well, no: to be accurate, people like me are paid to set the stage for their further failure, and pull the stage out from under them when they are done humiliating themselves, and have left for their next gig, blessedly elsewhere.

One of the many fantastic perks of doing what I do, in fact, is that so many of us are required for a fun evening of this sort, we tend to be issued color-coded t-shirts, aiding in the proper marshalling of our man-power. Y'get to keep 'em: in someone's decidedly over-hopeful view, I'll be all walkin' tall in my brand new orange t, sporting a little pride in both brand and city. Because now I've helped Dancing With The Stars, The Travelling Show, do whatever it is that they do.
Yep. To be fair about it, I had no idea that a show of this type could have any chance of going on the road, especially at Christmas time, when most things are of the Singing Christmas Tree/Yuletide Extravaganza variety. Aside from a sickly misplaced sense of hope, I fail to see where this show fits in with the holiday spirit.

The thing is, the damn thing did have an audience. I didn't go into the Garden while the magic was happening, mind you, but I know a few people who did, so I asked about the demographic makeup. White, middle-aged, female, it turns out. Okay, so why didn't they just stay at home and watch it for free on television? Uh...The dancing was pretty good, uh...
The scheme was a squad of professional dancers (or Disney animatronic puppets sprung horribly into corporeal form: I saw one. She was perhaps four feet tall and orange.) backing a bunch of has-beens, also-rans and never-weres who have been called by Terpsichore herself to dance, goddammit. Had I heard the announcer, it probably would have ran something like this:
"Pita will be dancing to 'A Theme From A Summer Place' with the Third Blonde Chick from 'Three's Company'!" or,
"Performing the 'Dancing Without Moving Your Feet' number from Bob Fosse's "Dancin'!" will be Miaow and the dude from 'Cop Rock'!"

This was only the third stop on the tour, and the road crew was already fucking crispy. Their wiring is exposed, was how I kept putting it. There was a great deal of unnecessary yelling, oftentide contradictory, while we were standing there holding an enormous stair unit, say. I'm imagining that by the time Christmas night rolls around and they're in Calgary or somewhere similar, the mood will be full on mutiny.
And I don't blame them. They're being paid well to do what should not be done at all, to borrow a line from the nice Mr. Vidal, but somewhere there is always that nagging voice: oh what have you done to yourself? For this you got a degree in stage-a-matronics? Yes, well, there's always the free bagels.

There maybe was some greater point regarding stardom-ship I was going to make here, but I haven't really slept much, and the next forty-eight hours promises a lot of the same.
The end of the year tends to include a great deal of list-making on the part of critics (like me!), but I tend to be retrograde in my tastes. The newest album I currently own (Low's The Great Destroyer) is from last year, which ain't bad for me. But let's make a list of what I suspect are the Funniest Albums Ever Made, Ever.

Bloody Nonsense
, by The Jazz Butcher. I don't think this album ever was released in the United States, and I was just lucky enough to find the damn thing on tape. Some of the jokes haven't aged well (turns out Maggie Thatcher was indeed a product of her time), or are just too British to translate, but the boys play superbly, and are clearly having such a wonderful time, you gotta stand there and chuckle.

Pure Guava, by Ween. All of their early albums are amazing, right up until The Mollusk, but this one was the most fully-realized and cohesive example of how one might go about making fun of everything that popular music is and has been, coming from a place of severe intoxication , populated entirely by one's own inside jokes. The trying-to-sound-entirely-serious while singing a song called 'Flies On My Dick' experiment is only one way this sort of world-building is achieved.

My Daughter the Broad, by The Frogs. This largely-unremembered Matador records outfit was two gay gentlemen who also were brothers (unlike the Ween boys who claimed to be brothers). These two have also been inhabiting a world of their own making since childhood, clearly, and that's why completely insane little ditties like 'I'm Evil, Jack' and 'Which One of You Gave My Daughter the Dope?' work as well as they do. One of them is shrill as the day is long, and the other sounds like a doddering old pervert. It sometimes goes on way too long for the jokes to sustain themselves, but there also is a pretty noticeable amount of making-this-up-as-we-go stuff here, too, resulting in songs like 'April Fools' where they are describing someone in increasingly hideous terms, finally resulting in a picture of something that couldn't exist at all. Not in this world.

Wormed By Leonard, by Thinking Fellers' Union Local 282. All of their albums had funny moments, but this one's king. 'Squidder Boy' is the private thoughts of an elderly gentleman who sees only threats, everywhere he looks. Especially that darn purple squidder boy down there in that phone booth full of machine guns. You know, I thought that looked a bit questionable..."Oh, I'm not in for his game, no...This guy's got a big, fat pasty woman upstairs to pass the time with. But I'm keepin' a lookout and these hipboots are stayin' on. 'Cause if that guy tries to get me, there's gonna be blood on my boots and slime in the air!" It just goes on like that. From the gentle acoustic folk of 'Hell Rules' to the stuck-in-a-groove, 'hey the cd's skipping again' feel of 'Scraping Skin Off My Shoulder', it all works pretty damn well. The music's fantastic, too.

Helter Stupid, by Negativland. There's almost too much to say here. All of their albums are screamingly funny-while-thought-provoking, but this one is also a media prank spun badly out of control. An actual murder in Minnesota (or North Dakota?) caused the Negativ boys to hold a press conference claiming that 'Federal Official Dick Jordan' had told them not to tour, as their song "Christianity Is Stupid" might have played a role in the case. This was patently bullshit, and the journalists utterly failed to find out who Federal Official Dick Jordan was (he didn't exist, natch). But the media frenzy had begun, and the story takes on a life of its own. Told through their usual sonic collage, they start to ask why exactly it's so easy to lie to the media, whether or not they were way out of line in using an actual tragedy to make a point, and voices from history start to intrude (Manson shows up several times, as does Lennon, who says, "And we are humorous people...Because Martin Luther King, and Gandhi, Kennedy and serious people like that, all got shot.") The other side of the album is titled 'Moribund Music of the Seventies', and proposes to be an exploration of "a slow and indiscriminate culture sauntering its way through the final phases of The American Dream Era" hosted by "Cali award winner, Dick Vaughn". Priceless.

The Power of Pussy, by Bongwater. Of the four albums they made, this one is the funniest and most cohesive. Ann Magnuson's dreams put to Kramer's music, with a great deal of gender critique as practiced by people who have listened to far too much gender critique in their lifetimes. "Is it politically correct to even be here, I ask myself? Then I think, oh what the hell, I'm horny. I throw caution to the wind and peel off my girdle..." And the final tune, 'Folk Song', manages that most difficult trick of makin' you laugh, cry and kiss ten bucks goodbye ever so splendidly.

In compiling this list, sadly incomplete, I tried to exclude those who were exclusively non-musical comics (though Steve Martin's brilliant first albums certainly have a great deal of banjo on them, of course), but they bear mention.
Let's Get Small by Steve Martin. I had most of this album committed to memory, as a kid, and still do, for the most part.
The Future Lies Ahead by Mort Sahl. His hyperkinetic delivery and open neurosis make for fantastic oral history and has somehow managed to influence my own speaking style.
Dear Friends by The Firesign Theater. The fake commercials alone make this thing a document for the ages, as well as a fantastic example of what happens when a bunch of stoners have a professional recording studio to play with.
Occupation: Foole by George Carlin. Jerry Seinfeld, look upon the mighty observational comedy of this great man, and despair.

I have also excluded albums from this list that are unintentionally hilarious. That's for another day.



Blogger rich bachelor said...

Y'know, I really can't believe that I left out:
"Casserole" by The Tinklers and
"Stereopathetic Soul Manure" by Beck.
Plus "En Garde, Civilization!" by Eugene Mirman.
All right. This is the last night my favorite bar will be open, and I must go. Let's talk tomorrow, 'kay?

9:16 PM  

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