Thursday, June 01, 2006

Why I'm Pro-Gimmick

A random email from a former colleague led me to an NPR Jazz Fest story that I'd completely missed. The piece concerned a guy named Bobby Lounge, someone I'd never heard of. But I was immediately interested when I heard the sound clip from the start of one his performances.

Apparently Lounge gets brought on stage by women dressed as nurses, while stuffed into some kind of silver contraption that he tells the audience is iron lung: "I'm confined to an iron lung most of the time," he tells the crowd in a slow drawl. "Not so much by medical necessity ... as by personal choice." His manager explain that he only performs under certain conditions: He only plays on real pianos; he only plays on Saturdays; and he only plays in the key of C.

Of course it's all gimmickry -- but what gimmickry! Turns out he's a Mississippi art teacher who is kind of an underground/outsider legend in the South. It also turns out that our pal Cynthia Joyce was interviewed by NPR for their piece. This in turn led me to the very belated discovery that she'd written this very fine Gambit Weekly article about Lounge earlier this year. That piece explains the whole deal with Lounge and the man behind Lounge and the reasons the man behind Lounge hasn't really pursued music stardom, including this: "I would have felt like an idiot, acting like I was the musician around all these people who have studied music, who know everything about theory. ... I can only play by ear. I'm an art teacher. Nobody at school even knew I played music."

Lounge plays a honky-tonkish piano style that people compare to Jerry Lee Lewis. (Reminds me of Terry Allen a little bit, too.) He's better than he lets on, from what I've listened to. But never mind his musical ability: I want to explicitly praise his gimmicks. I have long maintained that gimmickry is really, really important in pop music (defined very broadly), and I am all for a good gimmick. Half the reason I like the White Stripes is that their gimmickry is so strong. Blatant theatricality matters, weather it's the Ramones in the leather jackets, or the synchronized moves of Prince and the Revolution back in the old days, or whatever. It matters at least as much as musicianship. So I am all for Bobby Lounge. Here's his site.


Anonymous Marco said...

Rob, I had read the article in the Gambit. This guy's a trip with a great gimmick and he's good. If you're good and have a great gimmick, I'm all for it. If it's only gimmick well... I wonder if he wears the iron lung in the summer without air conditoning?

9:06 AM  
Blogger rw said...

It's true: Gimmicks aren't enough. Even in this case, I wasn't moved to actually buy Lounge's records. I would DEFINITELY see him him live though. Gimmicks may matter more, now that I think about it, in the live context. E & I once went to see a band called Mike Hunt (heh heh) whose shows are always song-by-song cover performances of a specific Rolling Stones album. Tammy Faye Starlight is the singer. Good gimmick. But would I want a recording? Would I see them again? Well ... no.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Frolic (aka Todd A. Price) said...

Rob, you're missing out if you don't buy the album. Hell, buy both. They're both outrageously funny and full of great tunes.

It may not have come across in the NPR clips, but Lounge is one hell of a piano player. It's also amazing how a guy who almost never plays gigs can be a natural performer.

I just discovered your blog this morning. Last night, I watched the Hot 8 documentary, which Cynthia Joyce had loaned to me. I had a few bourbons and wrote her a long tirade about how much I disliked it. She directed me to your own comments on the film.

After some sober reflection, I think you were too easy on the documentary. It was a really bad piece of work. Beautiful to look at, but sloppy and dishonest.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Director said...

Bobby really only plays in the Key of C. Really. I know him. Show business is gimmicks I think. SHOW business. Everyone wants to see a show. Bobby lyrics are not for everyone and comparing him to Tom Waits and Randy Newman are not out of line. On his last CD, Ten Foot Woman, he plays an old gospel hymn straight, no funny business. It is dedicated to Katrina people. It is pure and very thoughfull. So Bobby throws something else into the mix.

9:15 AM  

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