THE NATIVES ARE RESTLESS Harry Shearer

The acclaimed
satirist/actor/musician administers a spinal tap to Dubya.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

 

The shelf-life for satire/parody albums can be perilously
brief; either the topics becomes hackneyed or out of date, or the jokes simply
aren’t all that funny anymore. And regarding the performers themselves, for
every “Weird Al” Yankovic, there’s probably a dozen acts like Richard Cheese
& Lounge Against The Machine (who?). Ultra-topical parodies probably take
it on the chin worse than others; as great as those National Lampoon comedy albums from the ‘70s were at the time, most
of them, such as 1974’s Watergate dissection The Missing White House Tapes, sound pretty dated now. (One notable
exception: Woodstock
sendup Lemmings, which posited that
the so-called counterculture was “a mighty mass of furry little mindless
animals.” Tinker slightly with characters, locales and music, and it could
easily be updated to apply to the Pitchfork generation of hoodie-clad, laptop-rocking hipsters.)

 

Harry Shearer certainly has a few NatLamp LPs in his collection. And in 2008, he just might be one of
the few individuals on the planet who has not only the long-lens perspective
but also the comedic chops to pull off a satire aimed at a very, very specific
target. On his latest album Songs of the
Bushmen
(Courgette; www.courgetterecords.com)
the esteemed actor/author/radio host/Simpsons voice/Spinal Tap bassist brings a killer shark-like instinct for his subjects’
weaknesses, circling various current and former denizens of the White House as
they flounder helplessly in the waning waters of the Bush administration’s
final days.

 

The musical impeachment kicks off with a number “dedicated
to the ensemble,” a takeoff on the classic coal miners’ song “16 Tons” done up Howlin’
Wolf-styled blues, right down to Shearer’s Wolf/Beefheart/Waits lead growl. The
singer posits that “a think tank did the counting/ the number still could rise/
totaled what we were told before the war/ 935 lies/ 935 falsehoods/ told by our
leading guys” and how “in a year and a half we swallowed” those lies whole.

 

From there Shearer, armed to the teeth with more impressions
than Rich Little, steers his Humvee past 1600 Pennsylvania for a series of drive-bys impressive
even by Tupac or Biggie standards. Among the fatalities:

 

  • Former
    Secretary of State Colin Powell (“Smooth Moves”), who in an interior
    monologue, against a backdrop of ersatz lite-pop-jazz (waitaminnit,
    Shearer got Tom Scott to play those hokey sax lines, it IS
    lite-pop-jazz!), bemoans how he was marginalized by Dubya – “I played with
    the grownups / and it wasn’t the same/ they snapped a big towel/  at the doctrine of Powell” – but vows, in
    a silky-smooth, playa voice, to “keep on rollin'” just the same. L’il Pow,
    hangin’ with his homies from the ‘hood, yo.
  • Current
    Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (“Gym Buds”), awesomely portrayed  by Shearer’s spouse Judith Owen as a showtune/opera
    diva with a Beethoven fetish, reciting a woeful yarn of unrequited love: Just
    when she thought she’d earned Bush’s ear for good, “the very next thing
    that I knew, it all fell through/ very true/ Cheney’s folks surrounded
    him/ worked their whim.”
  • Former
    Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (“The Head of Alberto Gonzales”), who gets
    a proper Mariachi sendoff – Calexico should consider covering this – as he
    reflects, in a pinched, nasally tone, on his brief White House tenure:
    detainees, Gitmo, the fired prosecutors scandal, the subsequent hearings
    (“I gave an example of what total lack of recall is/ There’s no memory in
    the head of Alberto Gonzalez”), etc. It’s not often one gets to hear
    “recall is” and “solace” rhyming
    with “Gonzalez” but somehow Shearer makes it sound as easy as falling out
    of bed.
  • Weasel-in-Chief
    Karl Rove (“Turd Blossom Special”), showing his heretofore Appalachian
    roots in a kind of fiddle-and-banjo hoedown, as he, too, gazes longingly
    over his shoulder. “He called me turd blossom, that’s what he liked to do/
    I called him the boss, and that amused him too/ We built a majority that
    would last for years to come/ But the war refused to end, and the man who
    was the boss/ soon became the bum.” (Who knew that it was possible to
    channel Rove, Johnny Cash and Jed Clampett all at once?)

 

 

Musically speaking, at least for all you rock fans out there
– and mindful of what makes a parody especially effective – the album’s high
point just might be “Who Is Yoo?” a Weird Al-worthy recasting of, you guessed
it, the Who’s “Who Are You?”

 

John Choon Yoo, in case anyone has forgotten, was the Cali law professor who
helped draft sections of the Patriot Act and penned assorted memos for the
White House in which he advocated the use of torture in interrogations and how
so-called “enemy combatants” could legally be denied Geneva Convention
protections. Sample of Shearer’s lyrics: “You got you some detainees/ you don’t
know what to do/ do you read them their Miranda rights/ or cover them with
poo?” We’ll take “poo,” Alex, for $100! Dig that signature chugging synth riff! Those power chords! Those “hoo-ooo, ooo-hoo”
backing vocals! (Trivia note: Brian Wilson’s collaborator Jeffrey Foskett
helped arranged the song and pitched in with Shearer on those vocals, while
legendary guitarist Skunk Baxter provided the Townshendesque axe riffs.) Okay,
I lied; I’m not sure how often I actually want to hear this song, and I might
need to fling some ‘oo poo at Shearer if I do hear it too often, because it’s pretty damn catchy, and to paraphrase pop
philosopher David St. Hubbins, it’s such a fine line between catchy and
annoying. But I digress.

 

Like many of us, sometime during the past eight years Shearer
realized that the “axis of evil” didn’t point towards Iran, Iraq or North Korea
– it could be found right in our backyard, in Washington, DC. Ever fancy seeing
what Rove, Rummy, Powell, Cheney, Dubya, John Bolton, et al might look like being dragged out of shark-infested waters with
only bloody stumps where limbs previously were? Shearer’s got eleven snapshots
from his summer vacation he wants to share with you.

 

Shearer knows, of course, that in another eight years Songs of the Bushmen may be regarded
with the same quaint but fading affection that an earlier generation held for
the NatLamp Watergate album. But
that’s beside the point. Good satire and parody’s supposed to make you laugh –
and think – now, not after the fact. Apparently
the album struck a nerve even before it
was widely available; Clear Channel refused to take any Bushmen ads for its outdoor digital ad boards because of the cover
depiction of President Bush. (Some bloggers took exception too: “Imagine if
Shearer had a photo of Obama with a bone through his nose,” sniffed one uptight
web pundit.) Speaking to the New York
Post
in June, Shearer observed, “Their tone turned from genial salesperson
to angry schoolmarm – ‘This is unacceptable.’ And it’s not like this is a
dangerous time to criticize George Bush.” Later, in an interview for the New York Times Magazine, Shearer
reflected on the image, softening his tone towards the President and musing, “It
looks like it could be a tibia. I would say it is a leg bone, but I am not a
doctor… He looks like the bone is very comfortably fitted in there.”

 

At any rate here’s hoping people don’t forget too soon, because we’re going to be
living with the nightmarish damage George W. Bush did to our nation for a long
fucking time.

 

 

[Note to consumers:
although physical promotional copies
of the Shearer CD were pressed up – try eBay – the album is currently available
commercially via digital retailers such as Amazon and iTunes
]

 

 

VIDEO: HARRY SHEARER DOES “935 LIES” ON MY DAMN CHANNEL

 

 

 

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