Bar/None Records, God bless 'em, are doing their part to make my pal's mission obsolete. On The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know the Difference Between Big Wood and Brush, they've collected 28 examples of one of waxdom's oddest beasts, the mail-order vanity record.

You may remember seeing ads in the back of cheap magazines with come-ons along the lines of "Set your poems to music! Let your songs make money for you!" A handful of companies took submissions from wannabe Dylans and homemaking Willie Nelsons, had a team of pseudonymed studio musicians whip together a melody, and (for a price) would ship out freshly-pressed vinyl editions of the new songs. As this comp's producer says, it's "the only scam that produces a unique work of art with each transaction."

As you might expect, there's a lot of ridiculous stuff here. Horrible, rambling free verse and hackneyed arrangements abound, but so do celestial convergences in which an earnest little conviction meets an appropriate voice: In one quasi-soul tune with a social message, the singer cries "Can our government / be competent? / Jimmy Carter says 'Yes!' / Can our government / be honest? / Jimmy Carter says 'Yes!' / Jimmy Carter says 'Yes!'" `Personal to M.H.: I'm sure one of these companies would love to record your latest Ode to Dubya ... and I'd love to hear it.`

There are also the audio equivalents of Ed Wood films, in which a writer unwittingly creates a surreal masterpiece (okay, "masterpiece" is a wee exaggeration) like "Human Breakdown of Absurdity." There are moral crusades like the anti-pornography "All You Need Is A Fertile Mind," and beatnik mindbenders like "Beat of the Traps." You have to wonder who was worse off: the dreamers who wrote these things, or the hacks who had to spend their weeks recording them? It would be wrong to suggest that anyone who buys this record will listen to it every day - but boy, will you get a lot of mileage out of it at parties.

Moving on to intentional comedy: We have Bush in the White House and a war brewing in Iraq ... why is it that some of the most biting commentary about current events is coming from a man who was buried in 1994? It's a shame that Bill Hicks isn't around to rip into Bush, The Sequel, but Rykodisc at least has given a couple of new doses of the man's eviscerating stand-up routine on LoveLaughterAndTruth and Flying Saucer Tour, Vol. 1. Most of the bitter jokes here will be familiar to those who bought the first round of Hicks discs, but there are two reasons to check these out. First, there's no music on them: While I believe that the comedian really did intend for Arizona Bay to have those instrumental interludes, I've always thought they derailed things a bit. Second, Flying Saucer Tour shows a side of Bill that up 'til now was only seen on bootlegs: He's playing to a crowd that he's sure isn't getting him - they're laughing, but not enough for his taste. Early on, the comedian tells them they're the worst audience ever, and throughout the show he interrupts his regularly scheduled venom to direct barbs at specific audience members, whines that they're not on his wavelength, and begs for a nuclear holocaust to end his set.

Hell, if he'd stuck around another ten years, George Bush and North Korea might have conspired to grant his wishes. •

More by John DeFore



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