Self-delusion is the American dream. Bobby Conn has given us songs for The Homeland and The Golden Age; King for a Day is Bobbys ode to self-delusion. It is the definitive Bobby Conn record. And it’s all based on true stories.
A Q&A with Bobby Conn: What’s the new record about? It’s about my desperate attempt to lose myself in a candy-colored fantasyland of freaks and fairies. It’s an urge that I think lots of us share, especially these days as the real world is getting increasingly grim. This record is kind of my “Don Quixote.”
I conceived the whole record as a soundtrack for grainy, blurry movie along the lines of Kenneth Anger or Jodorovsky (or perhaps a bad VHS tape dub of these films). The album starts with an 8-minute epic with strings, a choir singing in Latin, a blinding, atonal guitar solo and birds singing before the dawn. There are psychedelic interludes and instrumental passages between more conventional “pop” songs, and the album ends with a triumphant/tragic piano ballad. I see the poppier songs as movie musical numbers, and the others as incidental music for ritual and montage, and soon the record will be the soundtrack to it’s own movie.
What’s all this about a movie? I am producing a full-length song-by-song video to accompany the record. The look of the video is inspired by 70’s era soap operas; we are using a very old tube video camera and shooting everything on very simple theatrical sets. It’s directed by Usama Alshaibi, an Iraqi-American filmmaker who has just completed Nice Bombs, a documentary about his return to Iraq in 2004 during the U.S. occupation and the beginnings of the civil war there. But most of his work isn’t so topical or political; he is more of an experimental filmmaker who focuses on sexuality. He made the video for “Angels” from The Golden Age, and even with some editing and blocking, it was still too raw and spicy for most broadcasts.
We are making multiple versions of each song. Three videos will be included as a bonus feature on the King for a Day CD, and others will be made available in serial fashion on a monthly basis on the internet (YouTube, MySpace, www.bobbyconn.com, etc.).
Are the stories all taken from your personal experience? No, not all of them. I’m also interested in how the desire for fantasy and drama plays out in the media and our culture at large. The song “Anybody” is written from the perspective of a well-known celebrity who follows a bizarre, science fiction based religion and is celebrating the pregnancy of his partner publicly in tandem with the promotion of a multi-million dollar movie. As Monica BouBou and I were expecting our second child at the same time, I felt some kinship with this particular story and wrote a song about how weird it is when the most personal aspects of your life are amplified by the media, and what kind of personality problems it leads to. I pushed it to a tasteless extreme, naturally.
The title track (“King For A Day”) deals with some events from our last tour of the UK. We played a show in Manchester that ended with several of the band getting shrimped (toe-sucking) by members of the audience. It wasn’t particularly sexy or glamorous in that we were in a filthy, foul smelling basement at the time, but it was a very special moment of connection between strangers; all of us looking to escape somehow. And the fact that we got on a plane back to the USA and our ordinary lives the next day just seemed ridiculous. But there’s a real satisfaction in being able to lead a double life; it’s actually a relief not having to choose between one and the other. So I wrote a nice little bossa nova number to tell the story and my thoughts on the subject.
Is “shrimping” part of the American dream, then? Probably not for everyone, but having your
cake and eating it too certainly is.
Do you think of yourself as a celebrity? I’m more of a celebrity impersonator. I enjoy acting out all the personal dramas; the cults, the paranoia, the addiction and recovery stories, the public confessions, the sexual dysfunctions, etc. I’m fascinated at how our culture both despises and rewards creatures like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I respect their courage, actually, if not their talent.
What about the recording? How did the sessions go? This was the most fun I’ve ever had making a record, even though it started with a small tragedy. Last October, my left thumb was crushed at work, pulverizing the bone into tiny bits. As a result my hand and arm was in a cast for 2 months and I couldn’t play or rehearse the new tunes with the band. But I recuperated by making really detailed demos of all the songs on my lap-top, playing all the parts with one hand on keyboard. So by the time we were ready to go into the studio, I was really prepared with all the arrangements and that allowed us to focus on the sounds and the performances.
We did a month of shows at a residency in a small club in Chicago, trying to get a feel for how the record worked in front of a live audience. And then we went into Key Club Studios in Benton Harbor, MI to record. Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffin have an amazing place with bunk beds and a kitchen, so all 9 musicians stayed there for a week during a blizzard and just banged it out. They have Sly Stone’s old mixing desk from 1970 there as well as lots of other dusty, crackly stuff that smells funny. We watched lots of Dark Shadows (a vampire soap opera that ran on ABC from 1966 – 1973) and the whole record has kind of a thick, dark, supernatural vibe.
Who plays on King for a Day? It’s the most amazing collection of musicians I’ve ever assembled; the key members of the old Bobby Conn touring band The Glass Gypsies (Colby Starck, drums; Sledd, impossible guitar parts; Monica BouBou, violin and vocals) along with a new group of players from a brilliant band called The Detholz! Jim “Dallas” Cooper joined us on bass for our last bit of touring, and now we’ve got two of his bandmates in as well, Jonny Steinmeier on keyboards and Karl Doerfer on guitar. All three are products of the evangelical Christian movement and they’ve added extra insight my thinking on faith as well as their impeccable musicianship. And from another band I love, Mahjonng, I’ve got Josh Johanpeter, who is a drum monster. He and Colby trade off on drums as well as play simultaneously, a la Allman Bros. (not really). And finally we have Alek Perkolup playing his fretless bass on all the heavy numbers; if you can imagine Lemmy playing fretless, then you’ve got an idea of what he’s about.
There are guest appearances by a few of my favorite session people as well; John Ridenour for his fingerpicked and soul guitar, Michael Zerang on percussion and middle eastern hand drums, Nick Macri playing acoustic bass, Josh Berman doing double duty on cornet copping both Miles and Herb Alpert in the same session, and even John McEntire makes an appearance playing synth on a tune.
When’s the tour? We will tour the east coast at the end of February, Europe in March and on the west coast in April. I don’t think I will be bringing all 9 musicians, but we are going to try and incorporate video projections and performances from the production as we travel and make each show a special event.
Old Q&A Questions, Comments, Concerns?
Wasn’t he supposed to be the Anti-Christ or something?
No, of course not. That’s a silly question.
Is Bobby Conn his real name?
No. Bobby is a nickname he’s had since childhood, because he’s so cute and cuddly. His real name is Robert Robert Conn. Why two Roberts? Apparently both of his grandfathers were named Robert and his parents wanted to ho
nor them equally.
How old is Bobby?
Sometimes he looks pretty young, but up close he’s all weird and creepy. Bobby was born on June 13th, 1967. Since 1998, Bobby has resorted to dramatic make-up and fanciful costumes to distract audiences from his fading youth. The ravages of time may have pitted and cracked his once boyish appearance, but there’s still a kindly twinkle in his eye, just like Santa Claus.
Is Bobby an American citizen? I’ve heard rumors that he’s from South America or an Isreali.
Yes. Bobby is as American as apple-pie. He was born in New York City, but moved continuously throughout his childhood, spending several formative early years in Argentina and Brazil, where his parents helped further the interests of powerful multi-national corporations. Most of his adolescence was spent in several different suburbs of Chicago, IL, where Bobby lives even today. He has never traveled to the Middle East.
How tall is Bobby? My friend says an average person could pick him up and drown him in a teacup.
Tell your friend to be careful, because Bobby has taught himself how to swim and certainly wouldn’t flounder in a mere teacup. But he is smaller than the average hulking, obese, hormone-dazed American male. He is a compact 5’4", seeming slightly larger on stage with the aid of special shoes, customized miniature instruments, and the specially trained midget session musicians who accompany him.
Does Bobby have a criminal record?
No. Absolutely not. His social security number is available upon request to nosy journalists. Check him out; he is as clean as the freshly driven snow. He doesn’t even have any traffic violations anymore. He’s totally straight. End of discussion.
What’s Bobby’s ethnicity?
He’s 110% pure entertainer, with all the rich cultural heritage that implies.
What are Bobby’s hobbies?
Right now, he is just crazy about helicopters. He has many toy "choppers" and subscribes to many rotary wing aviation magazines. He is convinced that once he owns one, he will achieve personal freedom and mobility on an almost spiritual level. He spends much of his time designing helipads and heliports for his home. He is also an excellent cook, and enjoys tending his roses.
What’s Bobby’s favorite color?
Butter, or more specifically, the color of butter colored leather upholstery.
Is Bobby nice? Does he act all freaky?
No, in person he has the demeanor of a shy professional golfer. He tends to stand in the corner of a room until no one notices him, and then he’ll get on his hands and knees and scurry around between your legs like a large cockroach. He can be very kind, especially to animals and children. He has an elaborate series of hand signals he uses around strangers to communicate. But he’s easily ignored. He’s basically harmless.
What about Bobby’s love life? Is he seeing anyone?
Naturally, very few people are curious about the personal life of a star of Bobby’s magnitude. Once enough people do ask (and we are still waiting for the first inquiry), we may publish a small pamphlet we have prepared entitled "A Beginner’s Guide To Romance: Bobby Conn." Until then, mind your own business.
What about politics? Does Bobby support any causes or charities?
Bobby understands very deeply how important celebrities, whether they are big and tall or very small, are as role models. He knows that many look to him to set an example for their own lifestyles and beliefs. He truly considers himself, "America’s conscience," and judging from the amount of personal involvement most Americans have in civic life, he’s had quite an impact on the status quo.
Does Bobby do drugs? He seems kind of druggy on stage, and I’ve seen him stumble a lot. Not really. Bobby is, however, very suggestible and will tend to eat or smoke anything he is given. Generally, he is cold sober on stage, because he feels drugs "make me sleepy and cranky." His awkwardness results from damage to his inner ear, which confuses his brain into thinking he is upside down. He can be a dangerous driver.
Is Bobby just a "man in the suit", like Johnny Bravo or George W. Bush, or does he actually know what he’s doing?
Don’t worry; Bobby is in control at all times. Bobby’s unique management style allows him to delegate many responsibilities to other talented professionals who are attracted to Bobby’s own professional talent. I myself, for instance, was an undergraduate communications major at the University of Illinois when I saw a listing for a "public relations intern" on the job board. And when school starts back up in the fall, I’ll never have to write another fucking word about Bobby Conn. He’s a perfectionist. He was docking my pay $5.00 for each misspelling until I pointed out that I’m not actually even getting paid. He said I could just owe him then. Fucking prick.
But his persona seems so ironic and archly calculated, and yet live he comes off as desperately sincere. Is he "for real?"
It’s hard to say. The little fella is just a good actor, I guess. Either that or he’s terribly deluded.