Rainy season down here in the southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica is usually full of beautiful mornings, birds singing, spectacular plants blooming, clear streams babbling away, and unless it’s been relentlessly raining for weeks, it is a very pleasant time to be here. If you do find it a bit overwhelming this time of year, then find some goofy old movies or cartoons with a musical sound track and watch them on your TV or computer! Before talkies, the movie studios flagrantly stole from great classical and symphonic works for the sound tracks to their animated films. Wily E. Coyote freefalling off a cliff to the strains of Beethoven. Baby chimps settling down to bed in their jungle cradles, to the sound of a Brahms lullaby. The characters didn’t find their voices for a while, so the early cartoons were all about interpreting the music. The artists would painstakingly draw frame after frame to fit the musical selections as much as the story line. I remember seeing an ancient cartoon that had a bunch of barnyard animals playing Dixieland music, and many of us were permanently disturbed by Disney’s scary interpretation of Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky, in his epic animated film Fantasia. Disney could be very funny—he could also be dark and frightening and his characters raw evil.
At the same time that movie soundtracks were getting popular, music theatre was evolving from burlesque, and attempting to kind of upgrade the slapstick style that they had been using. Much of it is kind of silly and certainly unrealistic—navy guys dancing and singing on the deck of their ship, pool-playing shysters leading a parade, aristocrats singing in the kitchen with the help. Often the lyrics to a song wouldn’t have anything to do with the story line, but would merely be clever or humorous rhymes.
As the audiences became more discerning and the performers wanted more substance, serious composers like Leonard Bernstein brought their formidable musical skills into their writing of ‘light’ music theatre. His 1957 masterpiece of urban gang alienation, West Side Story, is still exciting and relevant, and will probably be playing somewhere till the end of time. It dealt with serious issues, but I always liked the smart-alecky song Dear Officer Krupke, where the gang kid is telling the cop why he acts the way he does. “My father is a bastard, my ma’s a S.O.B., my grandpa’s always plastered, my grandma pushes tea. My sister wears a moustache, my brother wears a dress—goodness gracious, that’s why I’m a mess!” I see no reason why well-crafted music shouldn’t be funny—in fact it has to be to be funny! Well-crafted I mean…funny ain’t easy!
Unlike rock music, which tends to take itself too seriously, country music has always revered and respected humorous writers. Here are a few song titles to prove my point: Fax Me a Beer (Hank Williams Jr.), How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away? (Dan Hicks), I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home (David Frizzell). Or how about I Want a Beer as Cold as My Ex-Wife’s Heart or I Know I’m Not Your Number One so Number Two on You. Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn did a duet years ago called You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly. Ya’ gotta love that! Roger Miller had a long career writing cornball funny songs for his somewhat un-sophisticated audience—songs like Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight or Trailer For Sale or Rent. And for those who love comedy with their rock and roll, literally the funniest and most profound movie EVER about rock music or musicians is the mockumentary Spinal Tap. My favorite song from ‘Tap’ is the showstopper Big Bottoms—My Baby’s Got ‘Em.
When Kim Carson is in town and we are performing as the “Tipsy Chicks”, the most requested song for us is one called Tequila Makes My Clothes Fall Off. We learned that one from a wonderful sick puppy named Rusty McHugh, who played many gigs around the Gulf coast area in the states—aka the Redneck Riviera. He has some other sensitive songs like Daddy Was a Working Girl, She Put a Louisiana Liplock on my Alabama Porkchop, My Baby is a Seafood Platter, She’s got DW Eyes, and the always popular Daddy’s Drunk and Naked On the Water Slide. Rusty is up there in that celestial band now, but his hilarious lyrics about everyday people named Bubba will live on.
We have quite a few funny and relevant songwriters around here. The incredibly prolific Ken Nickells from Ojochol writes about the joys of family life and about burnt out hookers and drinking Chili Guaro. I am going to pick his brain and write about him in the next issue—he has folks all over the world singing along to his hit song Fresh Batch of Brownies and a Cold Imperial.
Ben Orton, of Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers fame, has several pretty darn funny songs to his credit, and you tourists would be well-advised to follow his advice. His song Sell Your Stuff and Move to Costa Rica explains how you can easily get rid of all that winter crap and get some flip-flops and sunglasses and hang out on the beach. But he also cautions us not to sit under the coconut tree in case one decides to fall. “Living the life vida loca, smoking some good creepy mota, sneeze on a pile of the cola…” He’s got a nice song called I Like Rain where he asks the question tourists should have asked before their trip, “Why come here this time of year, wasn’t it clear this is the rainy season?”
Maybe my favorite songwriter of all time is John Prine, who has had a great career with a huge body of work writing about the funny side of life as well as the sad and serious stuff. His new album, Tree of Forgiveness, covers a lot of territory and has put him back at the top of the charts and in peoples’ hearts again. He seems surprised by all the hoopla—he’s just doing what he’s always done, and he still manages to make even death somehow funny.
Or “Sometimes my old heart is like a washing machine. It bounces around ‘til my soul comes clean. And when I’m clean and hung out to dry, I’m gonna make you laugh until you cry.”
“Dear Abby dear Abby my fountain pen leaks. My wife hollers at me and my kids are all freaks. Every side I get up on is the wrong side of bed—if it weren’t so expensive I’d wish I were dead!”
“Lonesome friends of science say the world will end most any day. Well, if it does, then that’s okay, ‘cause I don’t live here anyway. I live deep down inside my head, long ago I made my bed.”
Here’s my favorite from his new cd—you should have this recording and listen to it daily!
“When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand. Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand. Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock and roll band—check into a swell hotel—ain’t the afterlife grand? And then I’m gonna get a cocktail—vodka and ginger ale. Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long. I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl, ‘cause this old man is goin’ to town!”
To the nice folks who come out in the rain to support our local musicians and music venues—Thanks! There are many good and professional players and songwriters around here who are just dyin’ to make ya’ll happy! There are several music venues here in Dysfunction Junction (Dominical), so come on south and have some fun with us!
I ain’t good at being careful—I just say what’s on my mind. Like my idea of heaven is to burn one with John Prine. Kacey Musgraves
Don’t take yourself too seriously, kid! My dear old daddy, Robert P. Buchan
To achieve great things, two things are needed: A plan and not quite enough time. Leonard Bernstein
I always seemed to be in the right place at the wrong time. Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack