Thursday, September 29, 2005

Godfrey: the sickly, unemployed, amateur children's magician.

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, the SJ-R’s Arts and Entertainment section is one of the paper’s most consistently strong features and has been for some time. The expansion of the section to a supplement allows for a much more diverse look at the arts scene at both a local and national level.

What impresses me most about Nick Rogers and the A & E staff is their willingness to step outside the mainstream with some of their content, while still covering the chart-toppers, box office busters, and rating champions. A look at the music coverage this week provides a good example of this diversity.

Included in this week is a syndicated article on the upcoming reunion tour of the New York Dolls, the seminal punk/glam band who released two albums in the seventies but whose influence carries on to this day. The band’s hey day preceded my interest in punk and alternative music, the lure of New York’s underground rock scene didn’t extend to the music program at St. Aloysius School. My closest connection to the band is a song guitarist Johnny Thunders recorded, an achingly beautiful song titled “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” that is currently in regular rotation on my iPod.

The latest Springfield visit by Chicago songwriter Robbie Fulks is the subject of another article. In it, Fulks somewhat bemoans the fact, although not to the point of whining, that his instinctive ability to write funny songs sometimes interferes with the listener’s ability to appreciate his more serious tunes. I can see how this might be disillusioning for an artist, but my two favorite Fulks songs are really funny.

“That Bangle Girl” is a tribute to the eternally cute but marginally talented Susannah Hoff, she of the sidelong come hither glance. The song features the subtle yet deadly line about Hoff’s attempt at an acting career: “I love the way she sings and I … sat through her movie.”

The other song is on a children’s album that Bloodshot Records released a few years ago. Fulk’s contribution is “Godfrey”: the sickly unemployed amateur children’s magician. It’s not the stuff of Barney, in fact it’s rather twisted with Godfrey being put away for a while by song’s end, but it is delightfully catchy with a sing-along chorus.

Flowing in on the mainstream, an article on an upcoming show by a Jimmy Buffet tribute band is promoted. I have two problems with this. Not the Rogers-penned article itself, but with Jimmy Buffet tribute bands in general.

First, I’ve never been a Buffet fan and no amount of alcohol can ever change that. There is just something so corporate about his whole act, very Madison Avenue-y if you will. It’s almost as if the tequila industry or the Key West Chamber of Commerce contracted with an advertising agency to create a fictional character who would sell the laidback beachcomber lifestyle to a bevy of corn-fed, pasty-skinned Midwesterners. Even his songs sound as if they were written to promote some product or tourist locale. Margaritas. Cheeseburgers. Shark-infested waters. Okay, maybe not all of them.

If Buffet is the lovechild of a marketer’s profit-driven imagination, then job well done. Because you know that an act has thoroughly entrenched itself in the marketplace when it starts to spawn tribute bands.

This leads to my second problem. I’ve never gotten the appeal of the tribute band. They’re part karaoke, part Madame Tussaud, with a little Rich Little thrown in to boot. I’ll listen to a band covering other people’s songs, but don’t ask me to play along with some failed artist’s psychotic delusions that he’s a musical superstar and charge me $20 for the honor. We’ve all imagined what it would be like to be a famous person, but when such reveries begin to seem like a viable career path, then a day of reckoning with reality should come down upon you with the force of a thousand Elvis impersonators descending upon a Las Vegas buffet.

The CD reviews this week are disappointing in that they stick to well-known artists, although they are usually more adventurous with their selections. Earlier this year, they earned my utmost respect when they included a review of Aimee Mann’s latest release. For those who don’t know, Aimee is one of the most literate and sincere songwriters of this generation. Her Oscar loss to Phil Collins for best song in 2000 isn't indicative of her talent but rather the Academy’s preference for vacuous exercises in maudlinity over true craft.

Maybe the best thing about the A & E section is that it is free from the bad news that often inhabits the front page and the contentious debate that is rife on the editorial page. It's a nice escape from the hard news and serves as my last connection to the high drama world of professional wrestling.


Monkey Boy said...

Did you include Jimmy Buffet just so I would chime in? Well it worked.

My take on the whole "Parrot Head" thing is this; losers. Yes, there may be a few true Jimmy Buffet fans that listened to his music back in the 70's and liked it enough to follow his tour around and give him mass quantities of their money. To them I give a pass. However, I find the vast majority of "Parrot Heads" to be middle-aged, unhappy people desperately looking for something to identify (or, "glom onto") with in order to ease the pain of their pathetic little lives. It is a sickening rip-off of the whole "Dead Head" life-style. It's like "Dead Head - Lite" but not nearly as cool, and that is not saying much because the "Dead Head" thing is stupid in it's own right.

Is that what you were hoping to evoke?

Now I must disagree with you on the tribute band idea. How else can a 17-year-old fan of Led Zeppelin, or The Beatles connect with them in a live music setting? The Beatles tribute bands that play at the Summer Serenades are very good in my estimation (although a little tiresome at this point) and worth seeing if for no other reason than to enjoy some quality live music.

As far as the members of the tribute bands are concerned I say good for them. If I had any musical talent at all I would be on a stage belting it out for anyone who wanted to hear it until eventually no one showed up. Especially if I could make a decent living at it.

Nick Rogers said...


Thanks for the kind words about the section. It's my regret to say that, beginning next week, Jason Piscia's pro-wrestling column is going on temporary hiatus. But it hasn't gotten the finishing move. Much like when The Rock leaves to shoot a movie, Jason has his re-entry strategy mapped out - hopefully some time early next year.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you on Buffet, especially the "5 o'clock somewhere" duet with Alan Jackson. There's just something about a devout Southern Baptist doing a party tune like that that rings a little hollow.

Also, enough beverage alcohol can make anything palatable. You just haven't tried hard enough, rook. I once ate lambs kidneys in a restaurant and enjoyed them. Given the amount of red wine that I drank that night, it could've been anything and I would've enjoyed it.

Also I think you should give Illinois Times their props for a pretty good entertainment section.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

To anon 3:57

You're right that the IT does a good job of covering the local entertainment scene and I have mentioned in past posts.

I stand by my statement that no amount of alchol could alter my brain enough to make Buffet tolerable.

Will you be feasting on lamb kidney again tonight?

Anonymous said...

no and I quit drinking 20 yrs ago

funny Jimmy Buffet story one of our local elected public officials tells about himself at a concert in St Louis --Buffet called him up on stage and gave him a guitar when (we'll say his name is)Joe purported himself to be a guitar picker--Buffet said "AWWWWWWWWWWWWright then ,gimme an A chord!!!!"

Joe gave him, the band, and 20,000 people a dumb look.

Ah, youth

JeromeProphet said...

Tribute bands play a role, they really do!

I'll always remember taking my daughter who was around six or seven to watch a Beatles tribute band in downtown Springfield.

Suddenly the gap was bridged - she had seen the Beatles, and was a fan!

For years I could keep a Beatles tune on the radio and she'd smile in recognition.

Of course today is a different story - she'd never listen to a Beatles tune as the whole mop top image isn't self destructive enough to soothe those teenage ears.

Still, I can't see the harm in it.

There's also a special thrill in being able to ID an Elvis impersonator at the grocery store - and watch in amusement as he shakes the hip just a tad, and throws the hand up in Elvis style just because you called him Elvis in public.

Of course all those other shoppers, and bag boys might suspect you're insane but it's still a thrill!