June 25, 2003

suckers with stars in their eyes

Looking for info. about John Trubee, I stumbled on to The American Song-Poem Music Archives, an entire site devoted to the "song-poem" genre.

There's a full explanation on the site, but in brief, what they call "song-poems" are what results when suckers with stars in their eyes respond to ads like this:


Then, in return for a fee, they get a "professional" recording of their words set to music, with the never-fulfilled promise of "promotion," royalties, etc. It's like a sound recording vanity press. (Just like this whole innernut publishing thing, as Ken would probably say.)

John Trubee's "Peace and Love" (more popularly known as "Blind Man's Penis") is beyond question the most famous song-poem there is, and is one of pop music's most demented treasures. It never fails to make me giggle, even having lost the vital element of surprise due to literally hundreds of listens. Here's Trubee's own version of the well-known story behind the song, if you haven't heard it.

"Peace and Love" is, I'd imagine, the high-water mark of what can result when a conscious ironist joins forces, so to speak, with the "straight" confidence men of a vanity publishing outfit. Part of the boundless appeal of this recording is the tension arising from the question of who's been conning who. You can hear it in the bemused voice of the singer Ramsey Kearny, whose deadpan delivery cannot mask the pathos of a professional performer, presumably with the hopes, dreams, regrets, and bitterness of all show-biz aspirants, having come to such a pass that he must mutter "warts love my nipples because they are pink" into a microphone as part of a comic-book swindle in order to pay the rent. And, of course, this pathos is a kind of mirror of that of the song-poem sucker who sees the comic book ad as a door to a bright future in the music business. In "Peace and Love," we're in on the joke, while the singer isn't, or doesn't appear to be. It's funny-funny, it's strange-funny, but it's also just a bit sad-funny.

Such intentional post-modern table-turning notwithstanding, the sad-funny part of most song-poems issues entirely from the user end. (So to speak.) Some are silly enough that you can laugh with few qualms, but others aren't quite so uncomplicated. There is an unarticulated "back-story" to each one of them, with no John Trubee to explain that it was all a big joke. You imagine the eyes of such a poet (say, the author of "I'm Just the Other Woman" or "How can a Man Overcome his Heartbroken Pain") alighting on the ad in Popular Mechanics; pausing to allow hope to do battle with skepticism; carefully typing out the lyrics, and perhaps a polite cover letter as well; addressing the envelope to Nashville, licking the stamps, the envelope flap; jumping for joy, and phoning up friends, upon receiving the "acceptance" letter; eagerly inscribing a check for $79.95, perhaps kissing it before sliding it into another Nashville-bound envelope; and so forth. Like all songs perhaps, but in a way all their own, such songs can be a sort of window into a sad, beautiful life. Sometimes I almost feel guilty for enjoying them. But I do enjoy them.

Anyway, the site lists several compilations of song-poems (complete with sample mp3s) in addition to the recent one on Bar None (which is the only one I'd heard of.) Now I know what I want for Christmas.

Posted by Dr. Frank at June 25, 2003 05:58 PM | TrackBack

These kinds of "get published!" offers make me kinda sad, too, but, you know, sitting here listening to them...

I think I'm addicted.

Posted by: Holly at June 26, 2003 11:52 PM

Yeah, me too. And in a weird, oblique way, these songs touch on the very thing that makes songs and songwriting such a big deal for me in the first place. A window into a real life, more or less artlessly depicted.

I get the same kind of feeling from certain George Jones songs where I know, or can imagine, the backstory. i should never have read I Lived to Tell it All. (Well, it's not exactly the same, as he's a genius. But similar enough to make you wonder how important genius actually is...)

Posted by: Dr. Frank at June 27, 2003 12:20 AM

I too have fallen victim to the addictive quality of these songs. Ive probably listened to that bigwood and brush album 100 times. some songs are really good and some are really bad, but I think its the variety in the types of music that keeps it interesting for me (along with the bizarre lyrics)
Ironically, I was gonna write to the MTX and ask if they knew about song poems when I found this posting. If any band could do an excellent cover of any of these songs it would be MTX.

Posted by: bobnash at April 28, 2004 11:10 PM

There are two sides to any coin. The obvious, or "Heads", side is "Listen to what this idiot wrote, and have a good laugh".

But the flip side is the cool side... when you stop laughing you have to remember that these writers lived their dream. They had the courage to be laughed at if that's all you understand of their art! What if Grandma Moses had been a songpoet? Or the reclusive Emily Dickenson had had her poems set to music? Art is an odd thing. Are Cynthia Plaster Caster's moldings art? They are to me! Those who laugh just don't get it. It's not sad either. Were the same people saddened when their mother hung their "pathetic grade school art" on her refrigerator? Think of songpoems as refrigerator art in a way... The saddness and laughs come from those ignorant souls who just don't understand pop culture and kich.
As Penn Gillette said "Watch how you laugh".

Posted by: Gary Forney at May 24, 2005 12:23 PM
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