Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A tiny puppy, knowing only joy and trust

Today I would like to conduct a sort of poll, after a long introduction which, you will find, essentially constitutes the entire post. Another thread running through the entire post is links to various songs; all of these are available for free listening online. I recommend you check ’em out. Should be appropriate for work (except perhaps “Radio,” with its refrain of “fuckin’ good, fuckin’ good”), provided your employers are not alien overlords or overly sensitive to references to Christopher Walken.

On Wednesday night, I went with friends to a Jonathan Coulton and Paul & Storm concert. Don’t know if you know these dudes, but they’re pretty silly, to put it delicately. Paul & Storm’s “Your Love Is” basically made me laugh ’til I cried the first time I heard it. (Let me state for the record that I respect—and expect—that your taste may not be the same as mine.) I also find Jonathan Coulton’s “Skullcrusher Mountain” completely hilarious even after repeated relistens. (And by "repeated relistens," I mostly mean that once I bought someone a stuffed pony and for a week I had this song stuck in my head constantly.) Anyway, while on occasion JoCo at least will do something semi-serious, both bands are essentially humorists. Their live shows are quite an experience. Imagine the biggest crowd of nerds you possibly can, multiply that image by 50% and then envision all of those cool dudes being asked to “Arrrrr” like a pirate periodically (“Dejected arrrr!” “Hopeful arrrr!”) by a couple of funny-looking fellows on stage. At this point you will begin to get the idea. P&S especially have the audience lovefest thing down; their pirate song takes about 15 minutes because the audience keeps calling out things and P&S keep making jokes at the expense of absolutely everyone. They are the only opening band I know who perform for an hour and get as many cheers as the headliner. (For the record, I think I prefer them to JoCo, at least live.) On top of all the running gag madness, after JoCo’s set, P&S announced it was his birthday and brought out (reduced-price, turkey-shaped) ice cream cakes so the whole audience could join in the celebration.

But it’s a funny thing. (No pun intended. This time only.) Listening to “Chiron Beta Prime” at work the other day was not without its charms. Nothing says happy holidays like “[message redacted].” But the experience of a live performance is something else. Everyone comes together in this strangely warm-and-fuzzy-beyond-the-sum-of-its-parts way. Hearing one of the songs on a computer, or walking around with it on an ipod, is not the same at all. At the show, I’m convinced I must buy the songs—all of them!—but the next day the magic wears off and I’m content to stick with “Your Love Is.”

I have had a similar experience with They Might Be Giants, also talented musicians and comedians; also totally off their rockers. A live show is a fun place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. In fact, I think I prefer the above-mentioned artists in some ways, ’cause I would argue they’re more purely funny and good for the moment; TMBG are more musically innovative but don’t transcend my label of “silly music.”

The nonpareil of this genre for me is One Ring Zero. I got to know them because one of my employers published a book-and-cd set with them which totally blew me away. The songs by the authors are hilarious (check out “Radio,” penned by one Daniel Handler—a.k.a. Lemony Snickett) and the performers are totally endearing. The first time I saw ORZo, they won me over enough to buy one of their CDs (something I rarely do anymore) with their somewhat plaintive, “We also write our own stuff!” after the riotous applause for Margaret Atwood’s “Frankenstein Monster Song.” Plus, their home venue is the awesome Barbès, an atmospheric little bar/performance space in Park Slope. I try to see an ORZo show whenever I can, no matter that the songs don’t change that often; there’s something infectious about the live performance, something raw and delighted and accordiony and thereminy that I’ve never found at any other concert. ORZo also occasionally stray into serious songs (even on their album about mannequins—inspired, I was pleased to learn, by the ones at 826), and their members have various side projects including much more classically-inspired pieces in addition to some pretty nutty things (check out myspace.com/joshuacampmusic for the former; michaelhearst.com for the latter). ORZo are one of the things in life that genuinely always make me feel better when I encounter them.

And so I ask you, dear readers—all π of you—would you be caught dead listening to silly music? When you’re drunk? Only to commemorate a festive occasion? Never? I am curious because of my own mixed feelings. Maybe I should call this blog “Mixed Feelings.” Then again, maybe not…


  1. Was asked somewhat recently to name the most embarrassing songs in my iTunes library and, on the brink of admitting to a few Savage Garden tracks, some Spice Girls, and Cher, I decided, rather defiantly, that I wasn't embarrassed of anything at all. Because music that makes you happy is only embarrassing if you value the opinion of those who would rather you be unhappy than listen to subjectively inferior music. Or something. But maybe I only said this to avoid explaining my recent accumulation of electronic dance pop.

    (Of course, I have also recently discovered I will permanently shun a person for refusing to dance and/or sing along to 'Like A Prayer'...)

  2. Oh, you know how I feel about all of those above mentioned. Silly music makes up a significant portion of my music collection, and I like it that way. I like a lot of music that many people go "huh?" to at first. Often they go "oh! fun!" after a few listens.

    Also, this post sparked a youtube exploration of P&S.


  3. S., I too have Savage Garden and the Spice Girls. And I agree with you wholeheartedly about "Like a Prayer."

    Zoom, I am glad you youtubed P&S. Also, that sign-language "Skullcrusher Mountain" is amazing.