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

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