Back when I was more of a Ween fan, I’d search YouTube for live performances since they seemed to pull those off well. Ween’s lyrics and imagery are typically either surreal or juvenile but they’re great musicians and they have done some very witty genre deconstructions. The early seventies glam rock decon of Captain Fantasy and Beacon Light, the country decon of 12 Golden Country Greats and the prog decon of The Mollusk all come to mind.
And they’ve been known to do some killer live shows. So I was browsing YouTube for Ween concert footage and I stumbled upon a cover version of the song Birthday Boy by someone called Mary Lou Lord.
The original Birthday Boy has the stonerisms turned up to eleven. It starts with a groggy and exasperated voice saying “Jesus Christ…pain…take one!” before some electric guitar strumming kicks in. One of the two Weens (either Dean or Gene) then starts caterwauling as warbly and discordantly as he can, dragging out vowels at the end as his voice cracks to add an extra touch of insanity.
The guitar riff, the subject matter and specific word choices suggest that this is a deconstruction / parody of a country song. The lyrics are deliberately repetitive and simplistic and the crazed vocal delivery clearly is poking fun at the earnestness of a country break-up song. To add to the stoneresque weirdness the song ends with a voicemail containing someone singing the Happy Birthday song. I can actually imagine the original version of Birthday Boy fitting in just fine in an Earthworm Jim game, honestly.
So I find the Mary Lou Lord cover and she plays it completely straight. The riff is slowed way down, almost like grunge, even though the country influence is still noticeable. And I couldn’t believe it- it totally worked. The self-effacing humor of the barebones lyric construction actually seemed to lend it some non-ironic feeling. And I was actually really into it.
But while there was some Mary Lou Lord material on the digital market, that particular cover of Birthday Boy was nowhere to be found. After some googling I found out it was credited to an album called Jabberjaw…Pure Sweet Hell. The album art seemed to even mesh with some of the imagery from the video on YouTube.
So after awhile the inevitable happened and I decided that I needed to have it. Sooo a few months and a few bucks later:
As the track listing tells us, it does in fact have Mary Lou Lord covering Birthday Boy, among many other things.
Go! by Brainiac is a lovely, crunchy little lo-fi piece that makes me feel the same bouncy energy I used to feel while drinking cheap booze to get fucked up as quickly as possible when I was twenty-two or playing 16-bit beat’em up games when I was seven. The Charm by Steel Pole Bathtub and Shine by Laughing Hyenas are precisely the kind of dark, growling 90’s alternative that I love.
Speaking of the kind of transformative re-imagining that Mary Lou Lord pulled off with Birthday Boy, Star Lust by Redd Kross seems to invite something similar. It just has a really strong, sturdy and simple pop-rock structure. It’s simplicity serves it so well that I can easily imagine this song being re-recorded as a stripped down acoustic song or something resembling a 60’s or 70’s singer-songwriter track.
Low and Everclear do covers as well. Low has a stripped down, shoegazey version of I Started A Joke that’s relentlessly melancholy. Not tears in beer so much as tears in vodka. I can imagine it being used in a movie in a scene where someone commits suicide or goes on a depressed killing spree. The Suicide Squad rendition of that song for Harley and the Joker doesn’t even come close to this level of darkness.
Everclear’s cover of How Soon Is Now is believably energetic, but whether or not I enjoy it depends on my current mood. It follows Go! by Brainiac, which works in its favor. But unless I’m listening to the album from beginning to end, I don’t normally wish to hear it the way I wish to hear Go!, Birthday Boy, Star Lust, The Charm, Shine or I Started A Joke. I also can’t stop comparing it to another post-punk Smiths cover, the rendition of This Night Has Opened My Eyes recorded by At The Drive-In, which I much prefer. Everclear’s How Soon Is Now also reminds me a little bit of Filter….but after doing a bit of research, the odds are more in favor of the relationship being the other way around.
Jabberjaw, actually, was the name of a Los Angeles music venue that became famous among the post-punk underground and later, to the dismay of those that cherished its comfortable obscurity, achieved fame among the established grunge and alternative bands. The CD I had hunted down is actually one of a few different anthology albums of the venue’s regulars.
A Vice article with Brian Ray Turcotte, a contemporary of Jabberjaw founders Gary Dent and Michelle Carr, discusses the intentions and circumstances of the self-proclaimed “coffee house” wherein brown-bag alcohol was often welcome. Jabberjaw was founded by music lovers who simply wanted a place to listen to their favorite bands and be around others like themselves.
It’s a nice read (link below) and actually made me a little nostalgic. In my hometown, I have a few friends in local bands and I often went to house parties and bars to hear them perform. I even humiliated myself a few times as a teen by going to open-mic nights to read excerpts of a fantasy novel I started at fourteen and finished at eighteen. Which got me laughed at by very polite people who tried very hard to contain their laughter before losing control. Early experiences of suffering for my art and making connections with others who did so as well helped make me the woman I am now. That, and I don’t think I’ll ever encounter another punk-R&B fusion band with the lyrics “I wanna make love to your asshole.”