Do Bee Do Bee Do

I’ve been a busy Do Bee this week.

The weekend passed in a blur of editing and mixing so that I could release my latest song as soon as possible. It’s about the election, so I knew its shelf-life would be extremely limited. Housework piled up, the cats forgot who I was, and Wendi patiently waited for me to work the song out of my system.

It’s titled “Rochambeau”, and it’s a raucous lefty protest against some of the most inflammatory remarks made by politicians on the right this election season. As it’s based entirely on carefully selected statements and partisan hyperbole I have no delusions about its popular appeal, so consider yourself warned. 🙂

If you’d like to listen to it, read the lyrics, or find out why it’s called “Rochambeau”; all of this can be found on my Bandcamp site.

I felt relieved after releasing my political anthem and braced myself to catch up on chores. Then the week started, and it seemed pissed off. Two of my friends were checked into hospitals. Both were released, one with significantly better news than the other I fear. I don’t want to reveal any more than that, other than to say that I’ve not been happy with people I care about having medical surprises.

My emotional investment in following the health updates left me tired, so when A Very Bad Thing happened at work the late nights and early mornings spent analyzing and correcting left me — well, I got stupid tired. A fix has been designed and is currently being tested, and my involvement appears to be over now. The less said about it the better, really. I only mention it to emphasize that my household responsibilities have continued to back up.

Tonight is going to be my first chance to get back on top of things, and it feels like I’ve battled through monsters to reach the level boss. I’m going to need to find a save point, because I’m not sure I can finish this fight before the Veep debate tonight. No way am I missing that; I need the laughs.

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The Spider Bombs – “Nudie Cutie”

Some of you may be aware that I have a band. Well, a one-nerd band. It’s called The Spider Bombs, and it’s your basic ukulele, mandolin, rockabilly act.

I’ll likely write more about it at some point. For now, I want to let you know about my new release.

“Nudie Cutie” is about finding love in an exceptionally unlikely place: the sex-kitten lab of Dr. Breedlove. It’s a space-a-riffic visit to the world of the nudie cutie classic “Kiss Me, Quick”.

Please give it a listen.

Stopping a Thought Train

I’ve had Train’s “Soul Sister” stuck in my head for weeks. It’s especially aggravating because they are such lazy lyricists, simply stringing along rhymes without building anything out of them.

Last night we watched anime with George and saw several episodes of “Soul Eater”. In the shower this morning my brain conflated the two, and I wound up humming something less awful (though still not very good).

Hey, Soul Eater!
With Maka, your meister
And your witch cat, Blair
White, spiky hair
The move Witch Hunter’s just not fair

The tune is still stuck in my head, but at least I’ve got new words for it.

Scatting in the Rain

When audiences first saw Disney’s “Pinocchio”, most people recognized the voice of Jiminy Cricket: singer Cliff Edwards, aka Ukelele Ike. (‘Ukelele’ was a common spelling of the day.) Edwards was a big star, appearing in dozens of films from the 1930s through the 1950s. He even briefly hosted his own TV program.

I listened to a collection of his recordings on my drive in to work this morning. I’d known that Edwards had been the singer on the original version of “Singing in the Rain”, and finally hearing him mouth-trumpeting through a verse of it delighted me.

For those who’ve never heard Edwards outside of crooning as a cricket, I’ll explain. There’s a vocal technique known as scat singing that, crudely put, involves using nonsense instead of words. The purpose is to use the voice as an instrument for improvisation. Done well, by a vocalist like Ella Fitzgerald, it’s a beautiful technique. Done by Shooby Taylor, it verges on the unintentionally humorous.

Cliff Edwards liked to scat, and the variation he used went beyond making up words. He pitched his voice high and tweedled like a trumpet. Sometimes he even used his hands as a mute. The first time I heard him do this, it startled me. I didn’t know what to make of it. It seemed silly and jarring. Now I think it’s a weird little nugget of joy. I just can’t be anything but happy when Edwards imitates a trumpet solo!

So I was overjoyed to discover that Cliff Edwards had mouth-trumpeted through a verse of “Singing in the Rain”, a song that always puts a smile on my face anyway.

Monkees Do

I’ve been listening to The Monkees since Davy Jones died at the end of February, and I am sad to report that I generally didn’t care for the songs on which he sang lead. Most of the songs that everyone’s mentioned over the last few weeks were sung by Micky Dolenz: “I’m a Believer”, “Last Train To Clarksville”, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”.

A lot of celebrities die every year; talented people whose work has touched lives. Mere weeks before Jones’s death, Whitney Houston died tragically young. People remember their work and what it meant to them, and they mourn publicly — sometimes extravagantly, as mourning is a jagged emotion. Some people make juvenile remarks to prove how little they’re affected.

Mostly I feel sorrow for those left behind, and I return to the pressing concerns of my life. If I remember the celebrity fondly, I make a mental note to revisit their work. If the celebrity helped me see life differently, I actually do pull their output out of my stash and give it another watch, read, or listen.

I’ve been listening to The Monkees.

The nature of the band, and their musical frustrations, are well-documented. Thrown together and told what instruments to play despite their actual proficiencies, being allowed only to sing on their own recordings at first, having no input on the track lists: they were a band held at the will of their handlers.

That this treatment was typical of the music industry at large is beside the current point. What matters to me is how The Monkees reacted to the aggravation and absurdity of their situation; and while my natural proclivities tend toward the rebellion most often associated with Mike Nesmith or even Peter Tork (the first to actually leave the group), I aspire to the sort of irrationality judo exemplified by Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz in “Gonna Buy Me A Dog”.

Arguably the stupidest song ever foisted on the band, “Gonna Buy Me A Dog” tells the supposedly amusing tale of a man seeking to replace his lost love with a dog. The lyrics take this clunky conceit straight to the scrapyard with verses like “She used to bring me my newspaper / ‘Cause she knew where it was at / She used to keep me so contented / But I can teach a dog to do that”. Either the singer is extremely easy to please or his plans for the dog verge on the unspeakable.

I don’t know the story of the recording of this travesty, but over the years I’ve built up a story to explain the outcome of the session.

The Entirely Fictitious and Not At All True History of “Gonna Buy Me A Dog”

It starts with Micky Dolenz being steered into the recording booth with the lyrics to a stupid, stupid song. He can’t take it seriously, and every take shows less life than its predecessor until they’re finally dead on arrival.

The producers panic. They need this song! (This part of my invented history is unsettled. I often decide that the producers’ families are held hostage by the songwriters, but as the song was both written and produced by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart that seems really strange. Maybe they each held the other’s family so neither could relent.) Something needs to be done to generate a usable vocal track.

An assistant engineer is sent to the hallway. He breaks the glass on a little cubby where Davy Jones is kept for just such emergencies. Davy is hurriedly deployed to the booth, and the door is locked. Micky eyes Davy warily as the tambourine man picks up the lyric sheet. Davy reads it thoughtful, then sets it down gently.

“It’s not so bad,” he lies. “Let’s give it a try.”

Micky emits a sound that’s two parts scream, and one part defeat. Then he takes a deep breath and nods.

“Yeah. Okay, Davy.”

They put on their headphones, and the music starts. Micky begins to sing, and while he makes two false starts it’s better than before. Then Davy starts in, cracking stupid jokes, making faces — doing his best to make Micky lose it. The mood shifts. Suddenly they’re having fun trying to just get through the take. Micky loses his place, jokes fall flat, their timing is shot to hell, and it’s wonderful. All of the frustration and exhaustion pours out into this ridiculous mess of a song, and the humanity behind the pre-fabricated band stands revealed. Boyce and Hart congratulate themselves and let our boys out of the recording booth. Order has been restored.

Then Davy’s put back in his little room to await the next crisis.

That’s not even remotely what happened, of course. There’s evidence within the song itself that many of the jokes and silly business were planned, just as it’s clear that Micky and Davy flubbed the majority of them. With a band that was partly fictional to begin with, perception is reality; the reality is that a terrible song became a silly track that made fun of itself.

The Monkees had some brilliant songs, but the greatness of the group lies in “Gonna Buy Me A Dog”. They were able to do the job, despite everything, with liveliness and determination. To me, Davy Jones embodied that spirit — the willingness to soldier through.

I think of the scene in Head where Davy enters an empty soundstage and starts performing in the midst of cavernous silence. It didn’t matter if there was no audience; there was a stage, and that demanded he give his all.

That’s a professional. That’s who we lost. The fact that it was all for show is exactly the point.