One of the biggest influences in my listening, but one that I barely ever think about anymore, is The Bobs.
Right alongside Huey Lewis, the Pointer Sisters and Paul Carrack (yes, really), the Bobs serenaded my sisters and I on many a long family car trip on the Blaupunkt stereo—and live at the Luther Burbank Center. If you’ve never heard them, above is some vintage footage of “Art for Art’s Sake,” one of their more accessible tunes; most of their stuff, both lyrics and music, was far sillier. Imagine if Captain Beefheart and Monty Python started a band with no instruments, and titles like “Mopping, Mopping, Mopping” and “Bus Plunge.”
Lead madman Gunnar Madsen was the first to leave the band, and we Melines were a depressed lot over it. I’d hear about Madsen’s solo CDs from my Dad, who kept the Bobs torch aflame while the rest of us moved on, but I was about as interested in a solo CD from Gunnar Madsen as I’d have been in, say, a solo Dorothy Wiggin LP after she left the Shaggs.
So imagine my surprise when I’m reading today’s NYT review of The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, a new off-Broadway musical production about the greatest horrible group from the 1960s, and there it is, fourth paragraph: “Music by Gunnar Madsen.”
It’s doubtful that a major record company will release the soundtrack to the Shaggs musical anytime soon, but my imagination can vouch for its importance. My curiosity, meanwhile, can vouch for Madsen sharing the Meline ennui upon leaving the Bobs. In his official bio, he outlines the era: “Life after The Bobs was miserable. I’d grown quite used to having hundreds of fans making me feel good one out of every three nights, and I had nothing to replace it. . . Life was not empty, but it felt like it. I was depressed and couldn’t find a way out. Things were dark.”
Ouch! Even in the seemingly carefree world of goofy a capella, the crush of despair hovers menacingly. Anyway, Gunnar Madsen, if you’ve got a Google Alert on your name, know that you’re not forgotten for enlivening the years 1985-1989, and glad you made it out of the dark pit. Congratulations on the Shaggs job, too—my ability to appreciate Philosophy of the World was likely planted, in one way or another, by your work with the Bobs in the first place.