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I Say Grapefruit, You Say Pomplamoose

March 17, 2011

THE TWILIGHT ZONE – A LOST EPISODE, “Time Machine.”

The unmistakable voice of Rod Serling, “In a small town somewhere in America a man finds a used item. He can’t help himself, he has to buy it, because it’s what’s he’s always wanted – a time machine. And the price can’t be beat. But maybe he should have listened to the what the man says on the commercial, “You get what you pay for.”

He sets it up in the middle of his living room, straps himself in, clanks the door shut. It goes rumpa-bumpa rattle BOOM! Then silence.
The man steps out, relieved to be alive, smoke still curling off the machine. Sun’s still shining through the same window, but now someone’s sitting in a chair with his back turned. The time traveler walks over, peers over the person’s shoulder – it’s a guy – with this funny gizmo sitting on their lap, like a little TV, hooked up to a squashed down typewriter keyboard. He looks into the screen and….

Wowie zowie! This is it, the future! And this gizmo is like magic! Words on the screen, and little movies in boxes, in living color. The fingers tap on the keyboard thingie and the channel changes, instantly, silently, without that big click his TV makes. There’s a silly cat staring out at him, with the words “Can haz cheezburger…” My, looks like these future folks have forgotten how to spell. The whole thing is very weird. But what does he expect, it’s the future.
Tap, tap and what’s this? The New York Times. Tap, tap and there’s some…cartoon, silly characters running around as though the tapping fingers are controlling them. Impossible. All the time the gizmo’s going, “ Bleep Bleep bing bang.” Some ridiculous…music? More tapping and hubba hubba, what are those girls doing, this is a dirty magazine, no, a stag movie! In color! More tapping and now there’s something called so-and-so’s blog, a couple paragraphs of utter nonsense followed by “comments” and it’s like some sick dialog, people just screaming at each other, calling each other names, none he’s ever heard of before, though they’re not nice. “Libturd.” Rebublicant.” “Get your head out of…” Ooh, more filthy stuff. Somebody’s talking about a coming Civil War – didn’t we have that already, a hundred years ago? Now the Tea Party…he gives a fearful look around – did that cheap machine somehow get some of the past mixed up in the future?

Some final tapping and there’s a new channel, this thing is called Open Salon…

He’s seen enough. This thing isn’t magic, but sorcery. He stumbles away from the person in the chair, sweat dripping down his forehead from his crew cut. He looks around the room…where’s his typewriter, where’s his phone???
He hears on odd muffled tinkling, not unlike that music in the crazy cartoon, and the person in the chair fishes out of their pocket a smaller gizmo, with buttons on it, puts it to their ear and barks, “Yo!”

That’s it. He runs towards the time machine, which is still smoking, and it smells bad, like a radio on fire. He grabs the handle and shakes it but the door won’t budge, and he thinks, I’m never getting home. He looks back to the person in the chair, shudders at that awful thing, at this terrible cheap-shit future, but hey, as Rod now explains as he walks onto the set, “You get what you pay for…”. Those unforgettable three notes start playing, over and over. “You’ve entered the Twilight Zone….” Rod is always big on the moral of the story. The moral of this one: buy a bargain basement time machine and you get a bargain basement future.
————–
We, on the other hand are, as the man would say, happy as clams, happy as bugs in a rug to be stuck in this future. We tap and look and LOL and ROFL, jump into the crazy dialog with our own “comments,” like we’ve been doing it our whole lives, as if people have always done it “Let’s go surfin now, everybody’s learning how, come on and Safari with…” We’re happily surfing our lives away, riding the innertubes….

I’m having a blast along with everyone else. But occasionally I find stuff that makes me wonder if this future we’ve inherited isn’t a bit threadbare.
Around New Year’s I’m lurking over at the blog Sadly, No. It’s a cruel place where bloggers and commenters alike regularly take apart blathering fools, usual of the political persuasion. But this time it’s a music video the Sadlynaughts (as they call themselves) are merrily eviscerating:

I find it…too cute for words. But I’ll try.

“My Favorite Things,” has never been one of my favorite songs, not even when the estimable John Coltrane covered it. But here some daffy chick’s singing it, and she plays the bass! The nebbishy guy accompanying her plays guitar! and drums! and xylophone, and accordian! He looks like he’s working very hard.
Curious, I go to YouTube, and this girl is singing an old song by Earth, Wind and Fire, never my very favorite band, but not my least either. Hat’s off to them on this one, “September”. A fine song, sung and played like they really mean it. After watching this, I think I’ll keep my hat on:

Pomplamoose. What is this – more bad spelling. They mean pamplemouse, the French word for grapefruit. Come to think of it, that chick’s head with that hairdo does resemble a grapefruit.

But I think I get it with this video – they’re a comedy duo. He’s mugging around like a five year old, she’s eating cereal, there’s Grandma dancing! What our friend from the time machine calls a laff riot. But what’s wrong with me -I’m not ROFLing, not LOLing. Not even a chuckle.

I look at their YouTube stats. Holy crap, 7,500,000 views! I read about these (Pomplami? Pomlamice?) and they’ve made enough money to buy a house in Sonoma. Hyundai just bought them each cars as tokens of appreciation for some commercials they apparently did around Christmas.

Now I’m getting a little steamed, thinking – I want a house in Sonoma! But I can’t afford one. It’s not fair. All modesty aside, when it comes to musical talent, I can play and write circles around Mr. Funny guy. And so BTW can at least 200 musicians I’ve known. And most of them are struggling these days just to eat.

I keep thinking about these Pamplomites, (blogging don’t pay diddly, but one perk is getting to mangle the language, specially after someone else has given you a start), this viral thing, this phenom, and my curiosity grows. Whatever can be the appeal of watching people make bad home recordings? Over at Sadly, No, the prevailing theory seems to be that without the cute chick, who they think is stoned, it would never fly. I don’t know if she’s exactly stoned, but I agree about the cute part.

No, I don’t think she’s necessarily stoned. Her goofy smile says the same thing as the guy does when he beats on those skins mock-rocker like he’s got hair down to his butt and arms like a wrestler like in some Heavy Metal band instead of being the skinny bearded twerp he is. They’re being (groan) ironic. They’re young people, and it’s kind of like the old joke about young folks acting like they discovered sex for the first time. Only this isn’t sex, it’s irony they look like they’re discovering anew, as if we haven’t all been drowning in it the last 20 years.

Here’s one of their originals:

When she sings the tag, “If you think you need some lovin’…that’s fine” it’s with less passion than she would answering the dentist asking her, does she want to take home some free floss. “That’s fine.” She’s of course smirking with self-awareness as she delivers this deadpan line. But as Kurt Vonnnegut wisely said, “We must be careful what we pretend to be.” Pretend to have no passion, and soon you won’t.

Being a musician, what I first saw in Pomplamoose’s “videosongs” as they call them, was the minimal competence on display. He plays his various instruments almost well enough to sub in a wedding band if someone unexpectedly died. ( I’m not ragging on wedding bands, some of my best friends play in them. Heck, I’ve played a few weddings.) Her voice is of the quality of that friend who gets up to do Karaoke, and you look at the other friend sitting with you who says, “Hey, she’s not quite as bad as I expected.” You say, “No, she’s not exactly terrible…” Once you get past the crummy singing, playing, recording, mixing, not to speak of the video stuff they do themselves, the salient quality of Pamplomoose is the utter lack of the quality that makes music music, that makes art art, that makes any life plain livable, and on the bad days semi-tolerable: emotion.

There ain’t none there. I don’t mind when they butcher Lady Gaga, or even Earth, Wind and Fire. But when she dares to sing La Vie en Rose –with less feeling than if she’s blowing her nose – she’s committing a musical felony.
Mrs. Muse says she read somewhere about how our culture is tolerating less and less affect – i.e. expression of feeling. (Except for the comments on blogs, which tend to come in one flavor, enraged.) Could be.

The P’s act wouldn’t work without her daffy cuteness. And it wouldn’t work if they weren’t young. Thinking the whole business might be a generational thing, I call my son in Boston. He agrees that it’s lame, but says the appeal is the DIY aspect, the fact that they proudly have no record company, do all their own recording and video. DIY is huge now. I understand well the allure of it –what am I doing right now, writing and publishing myself? And I’m fine with them doing without managers and record companies. No loss there. In truth I’ve made my own modest living as a composer doing it myself. But that’s out of economic necessity. Whenever I can afford a professional engineer or players, I hire them.

There’s no question, DIY is fun. But is watching someone else do it themselves fun? Perhaps, if they’re brilliant, like Nerina Pallot. She makes videos of herself at home and they’re just fine. The problem with Pomplamoose is, to quote what many an honest man or woman has confessed to me, sadly shaking their heads, as they explain why they gave up music – they “don’t have the talent.”
My son tells me that skinny guy is actually the epitome of male sex appeal today, and Mrs. Muse and I shudder. It must be a generational thing.

THE SEQUEL

Time to hop in that old time machine again. I see little pomplami crawling around in a Videosong, being truly cute as babies are, singing their first words for the world to see…now that’s a horrible future to imagine.

Press the button, 20 years pass, and Pamplomoose seem to be gone. They must have fallen with the littlest thud onto the trash heap of popular culture, joining that “Wassup” guy from ten years ago, and pet rocks, and countless phenoms stretching back past the time of the Twilight Zone.

But what’s this? On the outskirts of Vegas – yes there’s still a Vegas, there’ll always be a Vegas –past the big hotels, all of them new, past cyborg stripper clubs and Wayne Newton’s grandkid’s act, past female Elvis impersonators, because like Vegas there will always be Elvis impersonators, in a dusty bar in an ancient casino…

Pomplamoose. They’re old. She’s lost that daffy grin, and his beard is gray. Not an ounce of cute left in either of them. They’re still DIY, still doing it themselves, doing their gig, except now they’re competing with the clanging of slot machines, playing for a couple of really old drunks. He taps start on the drum machine, strums his guitar and she launches into “September” when some dazed guy in a crew cut, who looks like he stepped out of the late 1950’s, stumbles up. He’s not exactly drunk, more looks shell-shocked. He leans over her shoulder and whispers, “Play Misty for me?”

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11 Comments
  1. Awesome! You’ve really hit an annoying nail on the head here with great humor and insight. This is a real coming of age story. Ours! Having a 27 year old son, a RISD grad, I know from whence you come here! Although he’s way more grounded now (out of a little thing called necessity.) He’s actually going to be an Art teacher…well…we hope. If there are any Art teachers left in the USA in a year, let alone teachers. (The bulls- eye’s on them for sure!)
    Pomp. (and circumstance?) is so much like his RISD friends. Annoyingly t-shirted, metro, rail thin, gangly but scraggly bearded, with annoyingly cute girl friends. This one here is very cute, which, I believe might add to the reason why there are 7 million hits, if you want to know the truth.

    Do you think they wen through all the proper channels to give Earth Wind and Fire, and all their other chosen artists their royalty due, or is that not necessary in the videomusic world? So, aside from soap t-shirts and other stuff, how are they making their gazillions? (OK, Hyundai picked them)

    Actually the muppet on the kick drum pedal is…genius! ..and the videos are-fun. But a little goes a long way. They are enough to make an almost 59 year old guitar player grab another beer! But I digress. What happened to real men-like Country Joe and his Fish?!

    • Fine commentary, Andrew. I think they make their money from itunes? One thing to watch this stuff, but to just listen to it?

      I certainly hope the writers on those songs are getting royalties, though I hear that the rate for YouTubes is abysmally low.

  2. Marvelous. SNL wishes they had you for a writer.
    Your review of “If you think you need some lovin’’ is what I was looking for in Rolling Stone in ’72. But I think you were too easy on them. Me, I think those lyrics are some of the worst I ever heard. As The Mavericks song goes, “It’s a Cryin’ Shame”.

    I’m gonna quibble with one word of this masterpiece of a post — you see emotion as essential, I would use the word soul. This post has more soul than the law allows. The P’s have “less than zero” soul.

    Oh, and she ain’t stoned, just dizzy.

    Thanks LM for making my day.

    • J Manchester permalink

      Oh Paco, what it kind comment. It has made my day.

    • I similar to the treasured info you produce in your own articles.I will bookmark your blogging site and test once again right here re8dlteeay.I&#p217;m somewhat confident I will know a whole lot of recent things correct here! Really good luck for the upcoming!

  3. The reason I’ve taken so long to comment on this is because I’ve had to think long and hard about it. There’s no doubt that you have hit the proverbial nail with a very large hammer indeed…but…but…the trouble is – I kinda like homemade.

    Several of my all-time fav albums are the likes of ‘McCartney’, ‘Nebraska’ and Siouxsie’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ and they are all what I’d call ‘homemade’ in that they are a motley collection of bits and pieces usually made without help or big production values on less than industrial quality equipment. And they are all fabulous. Similarly, I admired the ‘punk’ ethic of the late seventies where even less-than-competent musicians could still produce something worthwhile.

    But I think the difference here is that the examples above all have a musical soul with the intention of making music. The subject of your post has a commercial soul with the intention of making money either directly of indirectly via ‘celebrity’ status. And that’s where I get a bit nervous. OK, we live in a capitalist society so making money is a way of living but personally I like my music to come from a source that wouldn’t actually care if they weren’t millionaires by next Wednesday.

    But then perhaps I’m weird.

    • J Manchester permalink

      Martin,

      In the heat of my indignation at Pomplamoose I have boiled down some rather complicated issues. As I said, I’ve been guilty of homemade myself (by necessity.) And it doesn’t need to be said that there’s a world of difference between the efforts of these kids and Sir Paul – the dif being in the amount of talent they possess.

      But there’s another thing I didn’t address. With so many composers and bands practicing DIY, professional studios are almost extinct, and arrangers are completely gone. Live instruments outside of guitars and drums are rare, replaced by samples. That means that in any given recording room there’s just a lot less talent, and it shows in the music.

  4. You don’t get what they’re doing at all, and “that’s fine.”

    😉

  5. piafsghost permalink

    Pomplamoose deserve all the success they have made for themselves and you can suck a daffy dick. LOL LOL ROFL LOL. Oh, the irony. Oh, the self aware irony. And oh, the future’s beautiful. It’s noone else’s fault that all you can see of it is internet pop culture. So take out the last of your diservedly small life savings, purchase your own second rate time machine and go see what the past really looks like. Wherever you end up, I hope Vegas finds you there. I hope she shows you all the passion you so desperately seek. Most of all, I hope you swallow. For your own sake.

  6. I for one know what the past looks like and it was mighty fine. Filled with amazing talent born from the ashes of WWII and later burnt on Vietnam. That music will stand the test of time if not for only one element-It’s PURE UNADULTERATED SOUL AND FIRE. Pomplamoose, like fashion, an infantile beautiful vision, possesses none of that. I do not begrudge them their money. I never said, nor did John, that they aren’t smart. They are very crafty and wicked clever. I applaud their ability to weasel it out of you.

    BTW, We “Boomers” and Vegas are not simpatico, We love 50’s Elvis. It ended there. You, will never understand so go to sleep.

  7. Home-made isn’t the Issue. DIY, minimal production is great if you know what you’re doing. McCartney and Nebraska-two GREATalbums. Now everyone has those tools at their disposal, and they resort to using samples and loops because they can’t really play their instruments. Sadly because it takes too much time. I for one can’t fathom what it must be like to even want to record your own “music” without learning and loving an instrument that makes it.

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