Show announcement: Sept. 26, 2015 at The Coffee House in Milwaukee


Though it’s hard to believe, The Viper & His Famous Orchestra will be playing our first full-length show of the calendar year on Saturday, September 26, at The Coffee House in Milwaukee (1905 West Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53233 | (414) 534-4612). Opening will be singer, wry songwriter, and clawhammerer of banjos, Bob Druker (see a clip of him playing below).

The Coffee House is a venerable venue just west of the Marquette University campus: a borrowed stage space in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, and the home of “Acoustic music and poetry since 1967.” The last time we played there, Jamie Lee Rake wrote this perspicacious and funny review for the Dec. 13, 2014, Shepherd Express, calling attention to our “mélange of pre-1940s U.S. pop incorporating various retro-futuristic elements,” played “(mostly) acoustically with scads of cleverness, giving even their most politically vehement numbers a dose of humor. One could call them the Rage Against The Machine for sophisticated Hoosier Hot Shots or Spike Jones fans.”

Rag against the machine we do, indeed. Read it and weep. And then come see us play!

Bob Druker and Lileah Kroening perform “The Days Are Brief”

Viper Holiday Playlist

I have no gift to bring, except the gift of a history of Viper holiday recordings of heterogeneous provenance & widely varying sonic quality.

If you’re a “lay back” consumer of mass culture, then just click on the playlist above and let the sounds carry you off on their Valkyrie wings, like you’re listening to a Maxell cassette tape. Or just crank up the following YouTube playlist for a somewhat abridged version of this list.

But if you’re a “lean in” listener, then lean in, Macduff, and read about, listen to, and (if you like) download the songs in the rest of this post.

The Yodeler’s Christmas

Still something that the band considers a “new” song — and I guess it is, given the geological timeframe in which The Viper & His Famous Orchestra lives and breathes — this song actually had debuted at Nino’s Steak & Seafood, on December 21, 2010, at a solo gig that my Mom booked for me playing at the annual Christmas luncheon of the American Association of Retired Persons, Sheboygan (Chapter 338).

The video above is a rehearsal track recorded at the Viper’s home in November 2013, and the audio track below is from our February 2014 appearance on Milwaukee radio station WMSE’s Local/Live program (entire show can be listened to here, with my textual transcript of the first half here).

download mp3 of “The Yodeler’s Christmas”

Feliz Meriton

Written by my daughter, then 6, in a language more or less of her own invention (“Feliz” excepted), this song has been performed live maybe only once: at the same AARP luncheon noted above, where I attempted to lead a sing-along — always best attempted with a song no one has heard before in a language that nobody knows.

But the audio below is the real deal: triple-tracked Irene Vipersdottir in a nicely spooky round with herself.

download mp3 of “Feliz Meriton”

Christmas Time Is Here

The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s theme music from A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). The video above and audio below are both the same December 2010 performance from my lower flat rental on Hi Mount Blvd. in Milwaukee, but the audio version is juiced up with interface effects that seemed like a good idea at the time. Hope you like your Christmas music melancholy, because that’s what yer gettin’.

download mp3 of “Christmas Time Is Here”

Heyse Latke Kalte Latke

Play along with the bouncing music — right there on the screen! — in the video above, or just listen to The Viper & His Famous Orchestra playing this Hanukkah answer to the old-time classic “Hot Corn Cold Corn” live at Mike N’ Molly’s in Champaign, IL, in August of 2009 (recorded by Nick Hennies). The bowed bass solo is Riley Broach, the trombone is Rob Henn, and while the Viper plays cümbüş, he’s doubled on electric mandolin by Kip Rainey.

download mp3 of “Heyse Latke Kalte Latke”

The Christmas Waltz

Maybe my favorite Christmas song (by Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne), the video and audio were both recorded on probably the same day with the same banjo ukulele on the same staircase in the same rental house on 59th Street, right off Milwaukee’s great Vliet Street. I interpolate a little bit of the Pogues’ “Christmas in New York,” because my motto is: if it ain’t broke, break it!

download mp3 of “The Christmas Waltz”

The Hanlon Christmas Song

Every year in December, or November if it’s taking too long, my in-laws all get together to exchange gifts. Each adult is only responsible for one other adult, which is somewhat a necessity since my spouse is the oldest of 7. Last year, I drew the name of her brother Johnny, himself the father of an exceedingly large group of Hanlons. My gift was a song that I imagined as a Christmas song that the Hanlons might all get together and sing, called “The Hanlon Christmas Song.” It goes like this:

download mp3 of “The Hanlon Christmas Song”

Linus and Lucy

The other Vince Guaraldi song you probably know, also from the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas special. But you’ve probably not heard it played on a thumb piano hacked to allow for a flatted 7th. Until now.

download mp3 of “Linus and Lucy”

Christmas Time Is Here (v. 2)

There are some songs you just can never get enough of. And then there’s The Viper’s versions of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” this time done in High German Schroeder-style on a toy piano.

download mp3 of “Christmastime Is Here”

Hermie Wants to Be a Dentist

Though unknown to The Viper at the time, he and His Famous Orchestra were recording this homage to elf individuation for a holiday compilation that Edward Burch pulled together called “Santa Is Real,” featuring a number of Champaign-Urbana resident or affiliated bands and musicians. It’s a cover of a John Papageorge-penned tune from my undergraduate Madison, WI band, Kissyfish. Here’s both versions.

download mp3 of The Viper & His Famous Orchestra playing “Hermie Wants to Be a Dentist”

download mp3 of Kissyfish playing “Hermie Wants to Be a Dentist”

Save Me a Krampus (For the Holiday)

One of the two songs for which I’ve created a piano/vocal/ukulele sheet music arrangement (available here), this song tells the tender tale of the St. Nicholas fellow traveler who stuffs naughty children into a sack and steals their oranges.

download mp3 of “Save Me A Krampus (For The Holiday)”

Jingle Bells

I wrote this song. Or I wish I did, since people seem to really like to sing it. And here’s Irene Vipersdottir doing it in her inimitable style at age 5. The “Chocolate Rain”-like thing you’ll see her doing with her fingers is measuring the distance I’d told her to keep between her mouth and the microphone.

download mp3 of “Jingle Bells”

And that’s it – happy holidays!

I’m Here to Steal Your Song

While you slept the sleep of the dead and contented, I used the cover of last night’s darkness to steal another song from the void/cultural commons and to register it for my own use with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Socialize the work; privatize the profit — that’s always been my motto.

The song is called “I’m Here to Steal Your Song” (ASCAP work id# 887682747).

Here’s what it sounds like:

And here’s what it looks like (download it if you’d like):I'm Here to Steal Your Song  p1

I'm Here to Steal Your Song  p2

While I was at it, I also registered “Dopamine” (aka “Let the Dopamine Be,” work id# 887682868). I also took the opportunity to register Riley Broach’s new composition, “By Your Lonesome (It’s Time to Jam)” (work id# 887684085), because 1) it was just that easy, and 2) because Riley wouldn’t return my e-mail for the interview about his new song that was SUPPOSED to occupy this spot on the Viper blog.

Shh! Don’t tell Riley! Or do tell him. See if I care!

We’ll be playing both songs tonight at our 8:00 show at Anodyne in Walker’s Point, Milwaukee (with Mississippi Sawyer).

Viper, where’ve you been so long?

Announcing two upcoming Milwaukee shows for the season, which, shameful to say, will be the first honest-to-cripe Orchestra shows since this past July and our first Milwaukee shows since February.

February! Viper come home!

  • Friday, October 24, 2014, Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co.
  • Saturday, December 13, 2014, The Coffee House

On Friday, October 24, 2014:

We’ll be at the Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co., Walker’s Point Roastery (224 W. Bruce Street, Milwaukee, WI 53204 | (414) 276-8081 | from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m.

The Roastery is masterpiece of restoration and reclaimed wood, a great place to see a show, sip some site-roasted coffee, or have a featured beer on tap from the Milwaukee Brewing Company just down the block.

And we’ll have Mississippi Sawyer as our special guests, an inspired three-piece who, by virtue of appearing, will double our usual on-stage suitcase count.  As they’ll tell you on their Facebook page, Mississippi Sawyer plays old time songs, traditional and original music with members playing homemade instruments and household items as musical instruments. (Who’d want to do that?)

When they’re not letting every hour represent itself at farmers markets or festivals in and around Milwaukee, you might find them, as here, featured on “The Dig Sessions,” playing “Ella Speed.” Sing it to your sweetheart!

This double bill has been a long time in the making, and it’s something not to be missed. $7.00 cover.

Then on Saturday, December 13, 2014:

We’ll be playing at The Coffee House (1905 West Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53233 | (414) 534-4612), a Milwaukee institution that has been hosting acoustic music poetry since 1967.

More details on this show will follow, but we’ll be playing on the second floor auditorium that this venerable organizations has managed to infiltrate in this, its 48th season, and we’ll be onstage between 8:00 and 10:30. The date is 12/13/14 — the last number-sequential date you’ll see until January 2, 2034. We see this as part of our commitment to numerologically significant shows dates, like the show we did on 11/11/11, and the Fibonacci sequence-themed show we’re playing for November 23, 2058 (11/23/58).

Viper vice

It is hard living down the tempers we are born with. We all begin well, for in our youth there is nothing we are more intolerant of than our own sins writ large in others and we fight them fiercely in ourselves ; but we grow old and we see that these are sins are of all sins the really harmless ones to one, nay that they give a charm to any character, and so our struggle with them dies away.

— Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans

Sunday seems like a good day for some self-reflection and auditing, and specifically a good chance to take stock of those sins we might see writ large in others tomorrow evening, Monday, September 8 as The Viper and His Own Sins Writ Large in Others play on the Mickey’s Tavern patio in Madison, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

In no particular order, here is that inventory.

  • Late-night snacking
  • Generalized misanthrophy
  • Unearned morbidity and an inflated sense of existential injustice
  • Unnecessary car errands
  • Cold-blooded murder
  • Exaggeration of my vices
  • Phone phobia
  • Wrath
  • Pretending sleep to avoid dog-walking
  • Pretending to nerd status I haven’t earned
  • Ungenerous assumptions about the private lives of other a**holes on the road
  • Treating ibuprofen as a basic food group
  • Bleach stains on shirts/pants
  • Secret glove-compartment stash of M&Ms
  • Cultural co-optation
  • Making of vice lists on company time

That’s a start, anyway.

Detail of coloring contest page
Detail of coloring contest page

the kind of music your great-great-grandparents warned your great-grandparents about


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