Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Rudy Schwartz Project

Back in the day Mixed Meters had a sidebar feature called "David's Favorite Music".  This listed all the posts I had written about music and musicians I particularly enjoy.  The list was short, eclectic and incomplete.  Eventually I removed it to simplify the blog layout.   You can still read all those posts via this link.

The top three omissions from the list - in no particular order - are Astor Piazzolla, Glenn Gould and The Rudy Schwartz Project.  Astor and Glenn have stopped performing these days so they won't mind waiting for their articles.   Meanwhile the RSP is more active than ever.  There are new albums, YouTube videos and even a Facebook page.

Here's a Rudy Schwartz Project tune I really like  - Stumpy (from the album Delicious Ass Frenzy).  It's about a bad-ass monkey with no ass.  I like the cool mistuned piano vamp.

Today's wonderful world of social media has brought me into contact with the fecund brain behind The Rudy Schwartz Project, the mysterious, talented, uber-creative Joe Newman.  Joe recently volunteered to remix a recent piece of mine, Not A Happy Camper.  (Listen to the improved version here.)  I'm finally writing this post as a feeble thank you to him for the excellent work he did on that project.  Maybe this extra publicity will get all the Mixed Meters readers to buy an RSP album.  That would be three more albums sold.

First, however, I think you must have questions you want to ask.

Your first question, I bet, is "Who is Rudy Schwartz?"

Answer: I don't know, but the Project named after him began in Austin Texas sometime in the 80s.  That was a time when independently produced, not particularly commercial music was distributed via the high-tech medium of cassette tapes.  I had several of my own tapes about that time and I suspect Joe and I must have traded.  How else could I have gotten my copy of Don't Get Charred, Get Puffy on cassette?  It's dated 1991.

Listen to one of my favorite RSP tunes ever: An Orange Is Nothing But A Juicy Pumpkin.  You can also listen to The Creation Science Polka.

Read an interview with Joe Newman discussing early period Rudy Schwartz.

Your next question, I bet, is "What happened after the early period?"

Answer: After the early years, Rudy and Joe disappeared for a long time.  There were no more Rudy Schwartz Project albums.  Then, suddenly, I think in the mid 2000's, Joe reappeared, living in Montreal.  He began releasing new albums fairly regularly.  The most recent is called Full Frontal Klugman.  Highly recommended.  Here's a fine tune from FFK entitled "You're Not Rondo Hatton"  (Rondo Hatton was an actor with a strange face and an apparently unintentionally musical name.)

Time for your last question. I bet you want to ask "Why do you like this music?"

Good question.  Here are some reasons:

1) The music of The Rudy Schwartz Project is politically topical.  It takes on some of the most destructive forces in American politics point blank using both outrageous humor and forthright anger.  Early RSP called out demagogues like Ronald Reagan, Phyllis Schlafly and Jimmy Swaggart.  Recent tunes excoriate George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin Pussy Juice:

Carry Me Back To the USA:

2) Joe Newman has an incredible talent for musical parody.  From popular music of the 1930's, or 50's rock 'n roll or 70's pop tunes.  He's covered John Denver and Bruce Springsteen tunes and the most off-the-wall version of Georgy Girl ever.  There are probably a bunch more covers he has done that I don't even recognize.

Road Trippin' With Waldo:  (Waldo Hamm is the RSP's mascot - a sock puppet reindeer.)

3) There is a keen element of cultural commentary.  Besides Rondo Hatton, there have been RSP tunes about Ernest Borgnine, Bob Eubanks, Nancy Kulp, Don Knotts, Doodles Weaver, Florence Henderson and the Dallas Cowboys, to name but a few.  Some of these are even complimentary.  The cultural reference aspect of Joe's work has been expanded by his move into video - as any of these examples in this post should easily prove.

Here's a redone television commercial called Colgate Clean:

Theme from "Sweet Movie":

4) Most importantly, Joe Newman is a creative, clever and curious composer who writes interesting, inventive and intriguing music. Aside from the subject matter he chooses or the pop cultural references he makes or the lyrics he sings, his music itself is a delight. Composers who use unexpected harmonies, sound collages, abrupt melodic turns and unpredictable changes in orchestration ought to be more common than they are these days.  When music gets pretty far out, I tend to like it.  I like this music.

A Nice Selection of Hasps:

In many ways I'm jealous of Joe Newman's talents as a composer.  He has combined cultural commentary and creative music making in a way that I would love to do myself, but find I don't have the necessary talents.

Finally, I have a question for you.

Can you name another composer who has combined these same elements: politics, parody, cultural commentary and cutting edge music?

Yes, the correct answer is Frank Zappa.  Many people have commented on Joe's debt to Zappa, even Joe himself.  The aspects of cultural parody, political commentary and cutting edge music which are well accepted in Zappa's music have not found many adherents in popular music since his death.  Those characteristics have been preserved and uniquely extended in Joe Newman's music.  I think he should get more recognition for it.  Any Zappa fan ought to really check out The Rudy Schwartz Project.  You'll be glad you did.


Waldo Hamm Tags: . . .

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