Bald

Bald is a song that is contemporary with Bright Yellow Can, because I remember performing both of them in an open mic night at a coffee house in Jackson Hole in the summer of 1996, along with The Ballad of Stallion Cornell. It was probably written sometime before Bright Yellow Can, if I really think about it. I think that was the first time I altered the “Ballad of SC” lyrics, because there was an overweight friend of mine who was listening, so I had to soften the blow.

I know I didn’t soften the blow on Bald, though, because a local singer/songwriter took offense to the performance, he not having any hair himself. That was ironic, because he then performed a song called “My Town,” which decried the fact that all the “groovy people” in Jackson were being run out on a rail by the Mormons.  I haven’t been back to Jackson in over a decade, but the last time I was there, the tension between the Mos and the NoMos was pretty heated, which never fails to surprise me. It was Salt Lake City in microcosm. People outside of Utah think of Salt Lake as the Mormon Mecca, filled with nothing but Tea Party teetotalers. There is that element to the city, of course, but there’s also an equal and opposite reaction. SLC city government is run by wild-eyed liberals, and the backlash against the church is as fervent as the zealousness of the Mormons.

The only thing the two sides can come together on is love for the Utah Jazz.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with Bald, and I’m probably stalling for time here, because I don’t have anything to say about this song, really. I can’t remember writing it, and I had never recorded it until late last night. I think I came up with it while I was trying to pluck out the melody for “Dust in the Wind,” and you can see the influence right away on the first listen. (Overall, I don’t like the song “Dust in the Wind” with it nihilistic faux profundity, but the guitar work is lovely.)

The song mocks bald people, although it’s very tongue in cheek. I’ve always loved the line “No one’s going to like you if you lose your hair,” because it’s so ridiculous on its face.

It’s not a bad song, really, and I perform it live and get a great response. I don’t know why I’ve never bothered to record it. It just doesn’t grab me, I guess. It’s written along the same pattern as Color Your Dreams and The Ballad of Stallion Cornell – three stories, on per each verse, and a throwaway bridge. The whole song feels like a throwaway to me, actually. I also think the verse about the cat is way too labored – The line “Yesterday, Kitty combusted” is a tortured meter and it embarrasses me every time I sing it.

So, with that glowing recommendation…

Here is Bald.

Bright Yellow Can: The Starmaker Version

I’ve already written a lengthy post about the genesis of this particular song, but it’s all part of the history of the Stallion repertoire, so I have more to share, if that’s all right with you.

Bright Yellow Can (The Mustard Song) was written in early 1996, a full six years after “His Hand In Mine” and “Javelin Man.” That may seem like an unforgivably long time between tunes, but there were, in fact, several other ditties written during that span, but none have survived in their entirety. I vaguely remember one about a lawn that bleeds during the mowing process, and I seem to recall snippets of a goofy song called “When the World Was Young,” written in my newlywed apartment in DC, which contained the non sequitur line “bat pickles dancing in a fire of salt.” I could probably resurrect that one if I tried, but the world is a much better place without it.

Again, my previous post describes the creative process in sufficient detail, but it provide neither the context for this song’s creation nor its noble legacy. Indeed, The Mustard Song is probably my most popular tune, and it’s the first number I call on whenever I’m asked to perform. It’s a great opener, because it messes with the audience’s expectations when it abruptly shifts gears from sappy love song to snappy condiment ode.

The song was written in preparation for a Kids of the Century reunion concert. Such concerts were held annually, and now they’re held sporadically, with a 30th anniversary concert supposedly in the offing sometime later this year. I joined Kids of the Century (KOTC) at the age of 11 when it was the staid, conservative L.A. Children’s Choir, but it soon branched out into performing more contemporary, dance-oriented pop numbers. It’s now known as Kids of Rock Theatre, which more appropriately describes the fusion of rock music and musical theatre that is the group’s distinctive style.

As for myself, I appreciated the transition from baroque choral rounds to all things Michael Jackson, but I wasn’t particularly suited for the dance-oriented heavy lifting that the group required. Not only was I a clumsy dancer, I was 6 foot 4 inches tall, which meant that I was about a foot and a half taller than any potential dance partners. Consequently, my role in dance numbers was to act as living scenery, or the all-purpose background tree.

Finding no way to either ignore or eliminate me, the director wisely chose to make me the KOTC Master of Ceremonies, which suited me just fine. I would usually introduce the number and then watch from backstage as my more nimble friends would proceed to boogie.

But that wasn’t all I did. I still sang in the more sedentary numbers and even played the piano for a tune or two, most notably the traditional KOTC closing anthem, “Starmaker.”

(It seems like I’m on a tangent, but I’m not. Just trust me.)

“Starmaker,” like much of the KOTC setlist, was lifted from the songbook of the TV spinoff of the original Fame movie. It was performed in an early episode in the first season, but thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can watch it right this very minute. (Embedding is disabled.)

At first blush, it’s a truly lovely melody with evocative lyrics, although on closer inspection you discover it’s a love song to Satan. (I’m not kidding. Review the lyrics if you don’t believe me.) Still, you can see why a group of teen superstar wannabes would like it – it’s emotional and profound in a junior-high-promish way. Plus everyone gets a solo; there’s lots of swaying and hugging, and people who are more interested in weeping than singing have ample cover to sob through the chorus.

“Starmaker” closed every show and even now, decades later, it closes every reunion concert. And everyone except me cries their eyes out. I find the whole experience mawkish, but I don’t mind it much, since I’m always parked behind the piano, safely away from all the show biz hugging.

My Esteemed Colleague, on the other hand, loathes “Starmaker.”

I can’t blame him. He has a very low tolerance threshold for inauthenticity, and self-serving sentiment makes him physically ill. Usually, he just avoids coming on stage altogether, but my favorite “Starmaker” memories are the ones where My Esteemed Colleague goes out of his way to skewer the experience. I clearly remember the time he came onstage with a two-liter bottle of Pepsi and joined in the swaying, maintaining a solemn face as he cradled his sacred beverage and dramatically raised it up above his head for the final chorus. It was deliciously strange, and it pissed off all the right people. Even better, it was a reference to an inside joke that only the two of us understood – a joke that would take too long to explain here.

“Bright Yellow Can” was an attempt to return the favor.

Listen to the last chorus. You can mainly hear me screaming, but beneath that you can hear me singing the main tune – and something else. The chord structure of “Bright Yellow Can” is similar to “Yankee Doodle,” so in the end, there I am singing “Yankee Doodle” for no other reason than I thought it was silly fun to include it. But originally, I designed it so that you could sing the verses of “Starmaker” at the end.

So, when I performed this song for the first time at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in ’96, I was backed by My Esteemed Colleague, who launched into “Here, as I watch the ships go by…” as I was singing ‘Bright! Bright Yellow Can!” It got a great laugh, and it’s my favorite memory of this song. I didn’t record it that way when I finally committed this to digital memory in 2001, because I didn’t think anyone else would get the joke.

But given my memory of the Pepsi bottle, maybe I should have.

His Hand In Mine

(I’m pretending I haven’t taken a month or two off. Roll with me here.)

My songwriting career took a two-year break, along with everything else, circa 1987 as I gallivanted off to Scotland on a two-year proselytizing spree on behalf of the Mormons. The only song I composed between 1987 and 1989 was a parody of The Lonely Man theme from the Bill Bixbyized Incredible Hulk, which included the following lyrics to the familiar, heart-rending melody:

He’s ripped his jeans
He’s loud and mean
To top it off
His skin is green

He’s mad!
And when he’s really mad,
He’s bad!

Incredible!
That hulk’s incredible!
His greenness is incurable!
And that’s why he’s incredible-y
Sad.

My companion sent a letter home to his mother and told her to imagine listening to this theme while picturing Olive Oil breaking up with Charlie Brown. He had illustrations and everything. His mother wrote back and said she didn’t get the joke. I’m not sure I do, either, but it still makes me laugh.

Mission life pounded out many of my creative instincts, but, ironically, it was the Church that restored them when, in 1990, I was called to serve as the Ward Roadshow Director. Mormon culture involves periodic production of seven-to-ten-minute skits performed for an appreciative audience. Most of them are really, really stupid, although I thought mine was a cut above really stupid and was just somewhat stupid.

That’s where Javelin Man was born – I wrote the song as part of a 1990 roadshow entitled “I’m Wild About Boys, Girls, and Javelins.” I’ve performed that song more than any other in my repertoire, and it was filmed for a video roadshow almost two decades later. I’ve pimped out that song and video more than any other on this blog, and while I will once again provide a link for the uninitiated below…

… I also want to focus on another song that made its debut in that show and which had never been recorded until last Tuesday night.

The song is called “His Hand In Mine,” and it’s the standard sort of goofy love song that you’ve come to expect from Maureen McGovern or Peter Cetera or some other singing crapmeister. I hate songs like this one, but I quite like this specific ditty, because it’s a sweet, gentle parody of such songs, at least in my own mind. I can only write legit sorts of songs like this if I have a character in mind – in this case, a goofy, lovestruck teenage girl. If I try to sit down and write a real love song, at least one from me, I simply can’t take the sentiment seriously, so people start dying and heads start to explode. What I love about this song is that the ultimate expression of love is entirely chaste – she fantasizes she’ll “hold his hand until the end of time.” I don’t know about the singer, but I’m betting the guy she’s dating is going to want to let go after a couple of eons.

There are three verses in the original, but I’ve incorporated this number into my latest roadshow, which will debut in October with only two verses and revised lyrics. That’s the version you’ll hear on this very rough demo, recorded via iPhone. I’ve been waiting to update this blog until I recorded this song, and it’s taken far too long to make it happen. So, without further ado, here’s a truncated, poorly recorded version of “His Hand In Mine,” with my co-director of the roadshow on lead vocals, and me on piano and doo-wops.

Enjoy.