All I can think of while listening to this book / record is that my friend Tom, from college, would love this CD. You see, Tom is a fan of what he dubbed `smart-ass’ music. They Might Be Giants, Ween, and the Violent Femmes were great examples of this genre. Some of the most popular single `smart-ass’ songs are Beck’s “Loser” and Weezer’s “Undone (the Sweater Song)”. The music is quirky, almost as a rule, and the lyrics are just too damn clever for their own good. It has often been said that great lyrics are like poetry, but why not prose? Many lyricists have gone on to write poetry, most unfortunately Jim Morrison and Henry Rollins, and more recently, Jeff Tweedy. Some musicians and songwriters have also gone on to write novels, most notably Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. But what about the novelist becoming a songwriter?
The only real example of the previous is the band called The Rock Bottom Remainders, made up of Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Stephen King, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount, Jr., Matt Groening, and Greg Iles. Now there is another. One Ring Zero is really two men, Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp. The two play odd instruments that they got while working at a Hohner warehouse and became McSweeney’s (Dave Eggers’ publishing house) house band after moving to New York. With this partnership, they had access to numerous authors and thus asked them to collaborate on a project by writing song lyrics to which ORZ would then write music. The result is As Smart as We Are.
The first song on the CD is written by Paul Auster. I have to say that I was disappointed at first. I am a HUGE Paul Auster fan, and the song just seemed silly. I couldn’t tell whether it was due to the lyrics, or due to the backing music. ORZ is very much a cross between They Might Be Giants and Fountains of Wayne. The second song, written by Daniel Handler, is much better. Handler has written a couple of adult novels and far more as his alter-ego, Lemony Snicket. Kids beware, his song has profanity! But his lyrics are just as clever as the Unfortunate Events series of kids books:
“If I had a ceiling fan for every time you made a plan,
Then told me you had plans and couldn’t go,
The hurricane would wreck my bed and leave my shingled roof for dead,
And my broken heart would scatter to and fro.”
Two of the best songs on the CD are Clay MacLeod Chapman’s “Half and Half”, which could be a rip-off of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, and Jonathan Lethem’s ode to cockroaches, “Water.” Other noted authors who contributed are Rick Moody, Darin Strauss, Dave Eggers, Margaret Atwood (embodying Frankenstein for her song), Denis Johnson, Neil Gaiman, Myla Goldberg (who plays flute for her song), and A.M. Homes.
This album is at worst a novelty, and at best an open door to future exercises in lit-rock. I can’t say that As Smart as We Are is a great CD, but it IS fun and interesting. For those of us who love both books and music, especially `smart-ass’ music, it is a great addition to the collection. For those of you who might be asking, “What about music for those of us who don’t read or aren’t that smart, is there something on there for us?” Well, no. Go back to listening to Toby Keith.
They Might Be Giants- John Henry
Fountains of Wayne- Utopia Parkway
Closed on Account of Rabies