Monday, February 13, 2012

Advanced Demonology Book Club

This week's selection!

Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth
Edited by Kim Cooper
Feral House

Although the mellowing of age and the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia have thoroughly scrubbed the ill-will from my brain, I still remember the heady days of the early-to-mid 70's when Bubblegum Pop was as much of a curse on the culture as, say, dubstep or Kim  Kardashian is now. And our favorite singers were even less real than she is. They were literally cartoons. In the early 70's, the sugar sweetened breakfast cereal pop of the Archies, the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Goddamn Partridge Family were everywhere, merging music into prepubescent commerce, and affixing permanent doped-up smiles on the faces of a populace that had absolutely nothing to be happy about. There was a war going on, you know, there was tension on the streets so thick it hurt your neck just trying to hold up your head. I was practically a baby at the time, and I could still detect the wild ugliness seeping into our daily lives. "C'mon, get Happy? " What the fuck kind of madness is this?

And nobody could escape it, because bubblegum came in many shapes and forms, constantly mutating into virulent new strains. My first two records were by KISS and the Runaways. KISS (covered in this book) were, of course, the Archies in Kabuki make-up, with a smattering of blood and fire to reel in the hipper kids, and the Runaways were Josie and the Pussycats, complete with their own version of Alexander, the bumbling manager- uber creep Kim Fowley. Thank God for Black Sabbath, the anti-bubble saviors, because without them, we'd all still be trapped in the genre's sticky sweet embrace, much like Kim Cooper and the other poor bastards that contribute to Bubblegum is the Naked Truth.

I actually expected the terrible true tale to unfold with plenty of mysteries and scandals, slit throats and black balling, maybe a church burning or two to pepper things up- this is a Feral House publication, after all-but Naked Truth is actually just a careful construction of the events as they happened, as evil twins Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, bounty hunter producers and songwriters for hire, cook up a scheme to rob eight year olds of their allowance money, feeding bands like the Ohio Express songs that were all hooks and candy talk. It worked, of course, and the bubbly little movement stretched itself out to positively vulgar proportions, culminating in a series of Archies and Jackson 5 singles that were actually printed on the backs of cereal boxes. And when it was over, everyone just slinked back into anonymous session work, no blood on their hands, but a legacy of cartoon rock that still fascinates to this day.

The kicks to be found in this book involve quietly obsessive pop historians like Cooper, trying in vain to unearth a sinister sub-text in the throwaway lyrics of bubble faves like The Fruitgum Company. "This one ('Let's Do It Again') was apparently intended as a singalong - or, on second thought, perhaps the line '9, 10, let's do it again, join in everyone!' Is meant to inspire an orgy rather than a group sing", he writes. "The notion of a sexual Utopia, lorded over by a benign Hefneresque figure is raised in this lyric from '1910 Cotton Candy Castle": "Here comes the Lollipop Man in his goody ship Lollipop/All aboard for the lollipop land where the lovin' never stops." Mm-hmmmm, mister, this thing tastes good !" Elsewhere, he suggests that the Archies ode to their lazy cartoon hound 'Hot Dog' is actually a bestiality anthem. Well, those girls on the 'Horny Farm Girls' website had to learn it from somewhere.

Obviously, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth is all about harmless fun and shameless nostalgia, and nobody has more fun than Neat Stuff /Hate Comics creator Peter Bagge. In one of the last chapters in the book, he dives head first into the 'new' Bubblegum- Spice Girls, Hanson, you know them all, even if you don't want to admit it- by way of his ten year old daughter, the two of them gleefully tearing into the next teenybopper anthem with no fear of hipster-cred reprisals.

As you could imagine from a book written by record collector types, there are many comprehensive guides to the people and products that made up the 60's and 70's bubblegum craze scattered throughout the book, treading that fine line between fandom and obsession. It's all pretty fuckin' lovely, to be honest.

As a side note, I have to mention that after a couple of days reading Bubblegum is the Naked Truth, the cover seemed to be falling apart in my hands. I didn't realize until I sat down to review it that the book is actually covered in plastic. It has to be unwrapped, you see, just like...well, I'm sure you get it.

- Ken 

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