Tuesday, September 07, 2010

album of the day: Greatest Hits of Biff Nerfurpleberger

[Image not yet available.]

Like lots of kids, I spent time with a tape recorder making up fake media programming. Unlike lots of kids, I kept doing it through college, and continued to write fake media (in various forms) through grad school, and, well, my whole life. Which means I'm either incredibly immature, or continue to have an active imaginatio. These are not mutually exclusive.

Biff Nerfurpleberger is a character I invented in order to write a spoof of TV advertisements for music compilations by various oldy moldies. It was only meant to be an ad for Biff's compilation, variously identified in the ad as his Greatest Hits, Big Hits, and Golden Greats (in fact, even his name changed at the end of the ad). The album was, according to the ad copy, available in a tremendous array of formats, including LP, cassette, 8-track, or, surreally, hairstyle.

I recorded the ad with my friend Doug one autumn afternoon at my parents' house in Matthews, NC. We'd made up a list of song titles allegedly on the album: "I Didn't Know She Could Do That With Her Nose," "My Dog Is Covered In Lichen," "They Just Pulled My Mailbox Out Of The Ground And Put In A New One" (based on a true story: while we wrote the list, a crew did exactly that, to replace my father's installed mailbox, which failed to meet specifications of the absurdly fascistic home-owners association), "Grease The Cat, Charlie, I'm Coming Home" (one of Doug's, and subsequently also a catch-phrase of our gang of pals at UNC-Charlotte), and "My Ears Are So Flexible." This list excludes many other titles too ridiculous or obscene to be named here.

The main point was to come up with the least likely song titles ever to be hits, by an artist with the least likely name of someone ever to have had any hits, and the least likely music - we played a backing track in the ad of ourselves banging away on guitar and piano. We later played the backing track to a girl who was trying - ultimately successfully - to get into Doug's pants, and convinced her that it was our actual band.

(We also played the ad to a friend of ours in my dorm room, mainly in order to agitate my roommate - the ad was included in our lengthy, thoroughly obscene, completely blasphemous parody of Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker's PTL Club "religious" program, which we called "Praise The Money." It worked. He was so enraged, in fact, that the residence adviser on our floor intervened, and eventually pulled strings to get me and Doug both moved out of our present situations and into a room together, where we'd presumably cause less trouble. It was shortly after that that we put the "God is Dead" sign in our 3rd story window and began receiving hatemail.)

(I had a marvelous and frequently illegal time in college. But back to our story.)

I have no idea why this, of all things, should have remained indelible in my memory. And I really haven't a clue why I took up Biff Nerfurpleberger as an alter ego and started writing and recording his "songs" last summer. The first one I wrote for our friend Christina. We planned a trip out to Berkeley to celebrate, and she somehow received two large ice cream cakes. These were the central themes in Biff's first "song," "Xina's Birfday," and to the plaintively bellowed refrain, "Too much cake!" In what's become a Biff tradition, I conceived, wrote and recorded the song, including several lead tracks, in an afternoon. "Xina's Birfday" includes a very bad electric piano solo.

Biff followed with "End Of The Year," written for New Year's and based roughly, not to say crudely, on the changes to "Auld Lang Syne," which is quoted at the beginning and end. Lauren played harmonica and provided slap percussion, but in the album she isn't credited for this performance.

Then there's "New Place!" written to commemorate Christina and Guerin moving. Then, I think, "Sad," which advises listeners, "Don't be sad. It'll make you feel bad. That would be sad. Which would make you feel bad."

Somewhere in there, I wrote "Monkey" for Guerin. The lyric is "Monkey." The entire song is played in only one chord, E major, because a bottle of wine we bought for Guerin had a cork on which was printed "Let the monkey out! EEE EEE EEE". Lauren sings the "EEE" parts, and adds a couple extra "monkey"s as well, and is listed in the song credits as "Typhoid Lulu."

More recently, I've done the endless, worthless, experimental "My Ears Are So Flexible," the only song of Biff's to have a title based on the original ad copy. It's terrible. The last one I've done is actually very clever. It's a parody of "I Am The Walrus" that I wrote last Saturday when I suddenly realized that Biff believes he used to be in the Beatles.

For me, the most fun about all this is that Biff's "songs" have a logic to them, as well as recurring themes and musical elements. He almost always botches a rhyme in a "song," the joke here being that he's obviously written the thing, but still seems unable to come up with the simplest and most obvious rhymes, and is sometimes surprised when he can find a rhyme. The solos usually include very surprising instrumentation, and do not work. They are often in the wrong key. He can be relied upon to scream a lyric. The lyrics, when they make any sense at all, inevitably somewhere fail. I think the "songs" actually stand up to some scrutiny as bits of amusement, and some of them even stand up to some scrutiny as music - though not much scrutiny.

There's one more song to record, and then I plan to offer free copies of The Greatest Hits of Biff Nerfurpleberger to my Facebook friends. Several of my friends will receive copies whether they want them or not. You know who you are.

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