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“Crazy Lanie” and the Fuller-Brush man

Red Skelton as The Fuller Brush Man

“Crazy Lanie,” written and first recorded as a demo in 1997, is the mostly-true story of my maternal grandmother, Elaine Simon. She was a narcissist, and her tale sets the tone for the theme of addiction that ties together the many narrative threads of my album SURVIVING THE JONESES, for a narcissist is addicted to attention. Her story, though, is presented in a humorous manner, which is how the first half of the album unfolds (humorously, at least gallows humor), before it turns truly dark.

At the time I was listening to a lot of Ben Folds, and I think the chord structures within the song (and the attempt to highlight the piano in the current 2018 recording, which is, technically, still a demo but which I had to release in order to secure and make publicly available the copyright for songwriter Peter John to then release the cover version he is working on; the demo version is part of the Ce N’est Pas Un Album: Hoards of Slaughter Sheep collection). The drum sample I used for the demo comes from Rusted Root’s “Drum Trip.” Hopefully, when I uploaded the song to CD Baby and credited the band’s songwriter for a percentage of ownership, I did that properly!

At the time, I was also listening to a lot of world music and wanted SURVIVING THE JONESES to employ world rhythms (or world rhythm-inspired drums) for percussion. After all, the wordplay of the album title suggests both addiction AND the idea of keeping up with the joneses taken to a Mad Max Thunderdome extreme, a savagery that belies our species’s sheen of culture and civility. So I wanted the idea of what Western listeners might perceive as a “primitive” drum beat versus something “modern.” (Of course, for my money, a polyrhythmic African drum beat is far more complex and evolved than a simple four-on-the-floor club beat, but that is neither here nor there). That idea, of course, is one I borrowed from Joni Mitchell’s use of the Burundi drums in “The Jungle Line” from The Hissing of Summer Lawns. I still hope that Paul, when we have him lay down drum tracks for the final version, will keep that philosophy in mind. (Of course, I wouldn’t mind hearing a bit of Bowie’s “Scary Monsters” bleed into the percussion either.) And of course, once we do record that version, it will become the lead track on the playlist and bump the demo version to the back end.

Vocally, you can hear the layered harmonies that I’ve been influenced by (The Beatles, The Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac), and a certain Stephen Sondheimesque Broadway quality to the narrative itself. What can I say? I am a consummate hybrid.

Beyond that, I’ve no tale to tell yet about the recording of the song, since this is just a demo, and everything on it is either a sample or simply me.

But I can talk about the songs in the playlist (which you can visit here).

After “Crazy Lanie” itself, we hear a lot of world rhythms coming from Rusted Root (“Drum Trip” and “Ecstasy”), Joni Mitchell (“The Tenth World“ and “Dreamland”), Lindsey Buckingham (“Bwana”), The Talking Heads (“Psycho Killer”), Oliver Mutkudzi (“Neria”), Cyndi Lauper (“That’s What I Think” from her HAT FULL OF STARS album, which began her exploration of exotic sounds), and The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones (“Where’d You Go?” — yes, it’s a silly pop/ska number, but I loved their sound).

From there the songs veer into lyrical territory that deals with minds that aren’t quite right (or are at least suffering from mental anguish or obsessive behavior): Ben Folds’s “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” Elvis Costello’s “Veronica,” Green Day’s “Basket Case,” The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” Gang of Four’s “Ivanka (Things You Can’t Have),” Cyndi Lauper’s “Dear John,” Neil Finn’s “Souvenir,” Tears for Fears’s “Mad World,” Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”, Aimee Mann’s “Crazytown,” Elvis Costello’s “Less Than Zero,” David Bowie’s “All The Madmen,” XTC’s “Respectable Street,” Peter Gabriel’s “Family Snapshot,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” Scissor Sisters “Take Your Mama,” Aimee Mann’s “How Am I Different?”, Laurie Anderson’s “One White Whale“ and “The Island Where i Come From,” Arcade Fire’s “Joan of Arc,” Eurythmics’ “Savage,” Pet Shop Boys’ “Suburbia,” and M83’s “Steve McQueen.”

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