Milwaukee moon

From Milwaukee St. in Madison, to Madison St. in Milwaukee, The Viper & His Famous Orchestra bring you Michael McKean’s “Milwaukee Moon.”

If you would like, you are free to download the full mp4 file from our Google Drive at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1z6qKBhdywH3jB_y5WjIqSMJUeZTNiutV/view?usp=sharing

In the depth of the 2020 pandemic, and at what may have been the nadir of American political life, The Viper & His Famous Orchestra — dormant for nearly a year — were interpellated into an event that helped us find our way, find our selves, and maybe even find one another once again.

Yup!

This is a LONG post about that experience, presented in the form of a highly edited and artificial oral history. Is it worth it?

Nope!

Was I compelled by the forces of history and the internalized engines of my own demons to write it? Yes!

So read on at your own risk.

The Viper & His Famous Orchestra were invited to participate in a project organized by Kia Karlen that would be, sure, a fundraiser for the Madison Children’s Museum (ultimately premiering at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday night, February 19, 2021. 8:00). But it was also an occasion for many, many performers to declare their aesthetic and cultural allegiance to the aesthetic that had been laid out decades before by Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, et. all the frickin’ al, as part of the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational Christopher Guest televisual and cinematic multiverse. (Puppetational elements added later.)

You can see the full hour of performances here or here. And you won’t be disappointed. This is a who’s who of Madison sweetness and strangeness. Sort of a Midwest Night Flight on steroids. And, if you like it, you can donate to the Madison Children’s Museum here. (Note: sock puppets appear courtesy of SPAG, the Sock Puppet Actors Guild, and Seamsters Local Union No. 144.)

Our performance (see video above) tackled an earlier number by Michael McKean that first appeared in “Bus Stop,” episode 18 of season 3 of Laverne & Shirley, and was sung by the main cast at the end of a hot day on the stoop of the apartment building at 730 Knapp Street in Milwaukee. A really charming song and performance in and of itself; but the episode is notable not only for featuring McKean as Lenny Kosnowski, but also for its appearances by the other two members of Spinal Tap and the Folksmen: Harry Shearer and Christoper Guest. (Indeed, Guest would be credited as Nigel Tufnel for his guitar work on the Lenny & the Squigtones album released in 1979.) [Ed. note: my boldfacing in this post is feeling a little Jackie Harvey to me.]

Our version borrowed the pass-the-tune-around approach from the original clip.

Below, we’ll try to give a sense of the sights, the sounds, the smells of how it all came together for us. But enough of my yakkin’. Let’s hear from the Orchestra itself, in the form of this heavily re-constructed conversation I’ve pulled together from our various e-mail conversations over the course of the project.

Milwaukee Moon, Creepin ‘Cross the Sky

THE VIPER (ukulele, toy accordion, eyeball): Okay, Famous Orchestra. I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you all together here today. Well, why don’t we go around and say a little bit about how we each got involved in this project? Or, more to the point: why did you agree to do it?

ROB HENN (trombone, the phone): My friend Kia Karlen wrote on Facebook that she was interested in doing this project, and wondered if people would want to contribute.

RILEY BROACH (bass, violin, progeny): Rob sent us a message about the potential project.

TV: Here’s a bit of that message:

I just invited you to a Facebook group called “A Mighty TapWind.” What’s the deal? My friend Kia wants to assemble an online show with Madison talent, that would also have a virtual tipjar for the Madison Children’s Museum (which, like lots of places during the pandemic, has suffered big income loss). The theme? Covers of Christopher Guest movie songs. She would collect videos from the artists by early December, and then stitch them together into a longer video talent show that would be released around the holidays.

TV: Rob sent this out on October 30, 2020 so you can see we took our time with it. I, of course, was thrilled. Both for the relationship we’d built up with the Madison Children’s Museum, and with Kia in particular. But also because I’m 53 years old and a musician. Which means I know every line of Spinal Tap by heart. Even the throwaway lines: [Boston’s] not a big college town; We shan’t work together again; Bloody airplane, didn’t I? You know, you know! Oh, thank God: civilization!

RB: We tossed around some video editing ideas including replicating the style of the Democratic National Convention.

TV: That’s going to sound very strange to anyone reading that, but I promise we’ll circle back to it later!

RB: I loved the idea that we could create something even though we can’t actually see each other during this stupid pandemic. We should create more videos!

TV: And what about you, John?

JOHN PEACOCK (toy piano, stylophone, birthday muffins): Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] asked. It had been a while.

TV: For all of us! The last Viper event was a December 2019 rehearsal that got canceled. We were going to shoot a holiday special, and we were going to help Riley find his way back to his home planet!

JP: Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] made it sound easy. And to some extent it was. I think I was called in pretty late in the project development, so I tried to have my parts done within 24 hours of getting the final details and succeeded(?). I think in the end I was the first one in the group to have my work completed. I’ll be sure to drag my feet more next time.

TV: Shade. So we talked about a lot of songs, didn’t we?

RH: Many years ago “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” [from Spinal Tap] was a TV&HFO staple during shows — it was a favorite of mine because the trombone got to do the rockin’ guitar line, and I personally got to sing “you’re sweet, but you’re just four feet, and you still got your baby teeth…” So I thought we’d be a great fit, and could easily revive that number if we wanted. I talked to The Viper about it, and he got intrigued and started thinking about other songs — more obscure — in this world, and how we could do them.

JP: I remember seeing Waiting for Guffman at the 3 Penny Cinema in Chicago back when it came out in the mid 90’s. I didn’t really know who Christopher Guest was at that point, but I thought “Nothing Ever Happens on Mars” was hilarious.

TV: Riley (a middle school Orchestra teacher), had suggested “Teacher’s Pet,” from Waiting for Guffman. And Edward suggested “One More Time” from A Mighty Wind.

But I suppose the Milwaukee in me was really pulling for one of the songs from the era of Lenny and the Squigtones. You’ll find out if you watch their appearance on American Bandstand that they were first discovered playing outside of Milwaukee in a club called Peepers, just outside of Pewaukee. And this was the band that introduced the world to Nigel Tufnel (about 40 seconds into this clip from American Bandstand).

So the Squigtones were already experimenting with this improvised blurring of fake and real bandness, premised on some well-laid-out backstory worked out beforehand. And Spinal Tap would (not much) later take this to 11.

David Lander – who passed away during the time we were making this project – is such a master of the banter in this clip: I love how he talks about Penny Marshalls and Cindy William. It cracks me up.

David Lander as Squiggy and Michael McKean as Lenny: here’s a big Hello!

And such great songs across the seasons: the Shangri-Las-esque “Star-Crossed,” “Night After Night” (“a song about two nights in a row”), “The Look” — this is a really great song! — “If I Only Had Listened to Mama” — and… well, Rob, you tell ’em about the next one.

RH: There’s too many great ones. But while thinking about our options we uncovered another gem that I still hope we get back to. “You Gotta Strike While the Union is Hot” from the episode “Lonely at the Middle” proves that Laverne & Shirley was always great proletarian agitprop. I even wrote my first brief Twitter thread about the episode here, on the occasion of Squiggy actor David Lander’s death (though the Google link for the episode has since changed…):

TV: Great episode, and great song, with some solid Folksmen-style guitar work! Season 2, Episode 22, “Lonely at the Middle.” Here’s a clip:

“Strike While the Union Is Hot”

But the Milwaukee-est song of them all was “Milwaukee Moon.”

JP: Great song. Never heard it before, but it played through my head non-stop after first practicing my parts and stayed there for a good month. Though in my head, it often morphs into a medley with “Take the A-train” or the Viper’s own “Winnebago Bay.”

RB: Nope, I’ve never heard the song. Or if I did, I was probably just a baby as it first aired in 1978 – my birth year! Yeah, it’s a sweet song about love and Milwaukee, a perfect combo for a Viper song. As far as it fitting into the Guest universe, of course, Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] wanted to pull out some obscure reference for our participation.

RH: I didn’t know this one before The Viper introduced it to me, but as soon as I heard it my first thought was, “Of course! It’s a Viper tune already: sweet-hearted love song, check; Wisconsin themes, check. What’s not to like?”

Irene Jerving (violin, Vipersdottir): At first I thought you wrote it…

TV: Aw!

IJ: …until we watched the Laverne & Shirley episode right before the premiere.

TV: I wrote the following to John after bringing him into the project in January:

It’s a good one – I suspect it’s a very early (maybe even pre-Left Banke) Michael McKean tune written as a singing cowboy song about some other location’s moon, that he repurposes for Laverne & Shirley as Milwaukee. He has some good writing on his web site about growing up with early television and the various cowboy shows he liked, many of which featured singing cowboys.

Here’s a link to that — it’s really worth a read! I hope he writes a memoir. And here’s McKean playing Milwaukee Moon in 2016, when he appeared on the very-entertaining “Employee of the Month” program:


I’ve Been Such a Lonely Guy

The Viper: So now that we had the song, there was the question of how we were going to do it, pandemic challenges and all. We weren’t going to be able to get together and film it live, which is probably the default way we would have done it. And trying to do it remotely presented it’s own challenges: some of us had decent recording/filming equipment; some of us just had our phones. We considered Acapella style apps, or even trying it live through something like Zoom. But on November 24, 2020, I wrote to the band:

Ryan e-mail: I’VE GOT IT!

Rob e-mail: Is it catching? Because we’ve got enough of that shit going around.

Ryan e-mail: It’s catching like democracy! I realized our approach could be something like the roll call of States at the 2020 Democratic National Convention…

Told you we’d come back to it.

… we don’t attempt to pretend we’re all playing in the same place, at the same time, or with any attempt at visual or even sonic consistency. But instead, emphasize our mutual remoteness and situations and we each represent ourselves in whatever way we think will be interesting and different. Come for the traditional festival dress of the Northern Mariana Islands, stay for the Rhode Island calamari!

It could be mostly vocal performed against a backing track I’ll provide. Indoor, outdoor; close-up, longshot; created mise-en-scene, digital backgrounds, or just the living room couch or in the kitchen stirring up a pot of stew, wandering pets and kids in the shot welcome!

Here’s the full 34-minute of version of the DNC thing I’m talking about, and the full version is really fun if you haven’t seen it before

Band, what did you think about the way we decided to approach this?

Riley Broach: It shows that despite a pandemic, we can still make something meaningful.

John Peacock: I came into the project after the tone had already been set which I loved. It’s nothing like how I would have done it, which I found very liberating. Silly. Off the cuff. Imperfect, but with a vision. I embraced the vision.

TV: And stuff came in all kinds of ways: landscape, portrait, good quality sound, terrible quality sound, location shots, living room shots, etc. And I really thought something about each of our personalities came through. It was like that scene in the Spice Girls movie where you see each of their areas of the tour bus.

And as stuff came in, I slotted it into a basic visual storyboard we had going: everyone knew what lines of the song they had, so those were laid out with intertitle placeholders like this until I got their material.

Intertitle placeholder for visual storyboard for “Milwaukee Moon,” planning nervously for its own obsolescence.

So at later stages, we could kind of see what the rest of us were doing, especially after I started posting “daily rushes” where I slotted the footage I had into the places it was supposed to go. But at the beginning, it was more a case of: here’s the mic, do what you like. So what’cha like?

RB: Being home all the time with my kids, all the time, I knew it had to include them. Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] said something early on about how our parts should capture our world and really the only thing on my mind lately includes things like: What am I going to feed my kids now? What doll do I get to pretend to be this hour? Is it warm enough to go outside? How many times can my youngest daughter run up and down the stairs?

Rob Henn: I honestly didn’t know what to do at first, and when I told a friend about the project she volunteered a My Little Pony outfit she had. (A “Rainbow Dash” outfit specifically, for all you fans.) I tried it on, it fit well enough, and I decided it would be a fun, ridiculous visual — along with the use of my bright red plastic trombone. From there I thought it would be nice to underscore the lyric content of the song, and so I filmed my main vocal part under a “Milwaukee Street” sign in Madison. The trombone part takes place at the Madison Children’s Museum, as an homage to this great Madison institution — and a reminder to all to fill that tip jar!

TV: Here it is again: thanks Rob! https://10059a.blackbaudhosting.com/10059a/Online-Gift—Thank-you

Rob warms up the Capitol Square area of Madison with a little street ponying. That’s a plastic trombone! The costume hood disguises his headphones.

RB: For the video on the floor with Lyra (4yo), I was singing the lines over and over for about 5 minutes prior while both Lyra and Hilde (22mo) were dancing with me. They began singing along so I seized the moment. I tried to get the whole family (Liz [spouse of Riley Broach] too) to lay down to look up at the camera and sing the lines, but Hilde ran off at the last minute with Liz chasing her. Luckily, Lyra stuck around to sing the lines with me. I had a hidden headphone in one of my ears listening and lining up to the scratch track Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] provided.

Riley and Lyra sing about the moon.

JP: After seeing the early cut with many of the segments, I went to bed brainstorming various scenes that I could do for my designated parts. I had a hard time sleeping because my brain was working with so many ideas (and thus my singing voice was a bit “tired” as I cut my parts the next day). I wanted each scene to have a purpose and didn’t really want to duplicate things Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] and others had already shot. I essentially came up with quick little scenes (like getting ready to go out – all dressed up) or blowing out a candle on a birthday cake (it was recorded a day or two before my birthday, but I didn’t have any cake and ended up using a muffin – perhaps funnier?), much like someone might see in a sitcom theme song montage. I also wanted to keep things simple and be able to record everything in my house with ease.

TV: Okay – that first bridge bit! I couldn’t tell what you were folding, but with the sharp tie & coat, it kind of looked like you were doing something to get rid of a body, which means I loved it!

JP: I was going more for looking like I was drying my hands in a bathroom before fixing my tie. But I like that the story is in the eye of the beholder.

John sings more about the moon.

TV: You created an amazing character in a few short sharp shots. I kind of felt like John and I were dopplegangers: my character was his after the bottom fell out. In sort of a Killing Joke way, I’m essentially John after having experienced one really bad day.

RB: For the short clip with Lyra & Hilde on my lap, I had not planned on that video making as I don’t think I was showered, I had on some dingy shirt, etc. But I had to strike it while the iron was hot! I was singing the short line over and over trying desperately for both girls to sing along, but all Hilde would do was continually say “no!” after each line. So that one stuck.

Hilde will NOT sing any more about the moon.

JP: Singing to the mannequin was inspired by the actual lyrics of the song and a recent Christmas gift my wife had received from her sister of 3 mannequin heads. “Jessica’s” hair covered her eyes, which made her the perfect partner for that verse.

I want to meet the archaeologist who has to explain this image in 500 years.

TV: I’m kind of interested in the technology you all used, since, again, we all sort of had to figure out on our own how we were going to do this. We all started with a backing track to listen to, but I’m interested in how you synched your efforts to it while still making interesting visual shots. In other words, I want to help Michael McKean answer this question he posted, really, the day after we’d completed the video:

JP: I used an iphone 8 mounted on a tripod for all of my parts, except for my first part, which has the phone mounted to the bathroom mirror with duct tape.

TV: The pan shot!

JP: The bathroom and living room had nice lighting as is, and I used some circle lighting that I have for online meetings via a webcam that I used for the close-up on the stylophone. In order to get the camera up close to the stylophone, my playing hand was precariously placed between the legs of the tripod. Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] pointed out that there was a weird lighting effect at the end of my stylophone solo, perhaps the camera was readjusting the color temperature or something due to an autofocus.

John’s stylophone is visited by a mysterious and unearthly glow.

I did some test shots with the candle scene near the end of the song. Actually for that one I just propped the camera up with a piece of wood. I had to do multiple takes of that to position the camera so that I didn’t blow directly into the camera microphone creating unwanted noise.

No edits, and no other humans involved.

TV: My own technology, for the more involved shots found me using an old unused phone I still had around as a monitor: no service, but in the house I could still use WiFi to access the backing track we stored on our Google Drive account (and outside the house, could download the track onto the device), which I kept in my shirt or jacket pocket and listened to through headphones while I filmed using my current Android phone. I also have a decent tripod with a phone holder thingy, so I could set up shots and test the framing ahead of shooting. So my trick shot where I come in through two separate doors and sing to myself took advantage of that: I set up the shot and left it rolling for both halves, and it was pretty easy to just layer the two shots on top of the other afterwards.

Schlemiel? Meet Schlimazel!

As the process went on, I found I only really needed one phone: I’d listen to the track for the part I was about to record to get the key and tempo in my head, and then use the same phone to record my part without listening to anything and hope for the best! It’s why my shots get shorter as the video goes on — it’s easier to keep a half of a line in tune and in rhythm than a whole verse. Like John, I pretty much did this all on my lonesome.

RB: Well, what I intended never really found fruition. I wanted to use my laptop to listen to the backing tracks Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] created while recording the video from my phone while setting up a microphone into my old MBox connected to my desktop. But this never happened. Instead, I made a few scratch tracks and I believe Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] said, “good enough!”

TV: I had you re-do the bass for the backing track sound to get the mic closer so there was less room noise. Videographers out there: turn off your external hard drives and, if you can, your computers! I found out the hard way how much hum I tune out in my daily life when I went back and listened to my first takes of my ukulele and suitcase tracks. Also: if you turn the forced air heat off in December/January to reduce noise, remember to turn it back on when you’re done or the rest of your family will get crabby.

Riley, what about your “mirror image” shot?

RB: For the duo violin, I really hoped to play a quartet (violin, violin, bass, bass) but turned in the duo to Ryan as an example of what I was thinking. I didn’t even intend for that recording to be the final one as I used my basic webcam for the video. I also forgot to change the mic input to the webcam, so what you hear is being picked up from my headset hanging about 3 feet away from me playing. It’s not the greatest sound, but Ryan thought, “Good enough!”

RB (afterthoughts): Was thinking more about my answers. Didn’t mean to wholly imply you said everything was good enough. I thought the takes captured each moment magically and anything else might not have.

TV: Good save, Riley! I have receipts: here’s what I actually said (e-mail from December 9, 2020. We were so young! Were we ever so young?)

Love the “Milwaukee Moon / No” footage. Perfect! Print it! It’s a wrap!

But all seriousness aside (this is a Guest universe reference, if anyone can guess(t) it), I thought it was really cool that stuff was coming in with a range of visual/audio quality as well as different looks, sounds, etc. Like, I love the way it goes from John’s intimate Henry James-like interior vocalizing to the epic theater Brechtian outdoor shouting of Rob swinging around the street sign. And then how we get to see Riley a la familia but also studiously gazing into his screen for his violin duet, with his Tolstoy beard and everything. At some point, we’d talked about trying to connect the shots, so that I’d throw my ukulele offscreen at the end of my shot and then Riley would catch his instrument at the beginning of his. I’m glad we didn’t do that — I’m a fan of the non-continuity cuts we ended up making.

And just for anyone who want to try something similar, all the pre- and post-production stuff I did using free and open source software: the backing track was put together using Audacity, the still images were created/edited using Gimp, the motion screen grab scene was done using OBS Studio, the lead sheets for the band and my organ/glockenspiel “solo” were created using MuseScore, and the whole thing was put together using OpenShot Video Editor! Some of these have a larger learning curve than others, but OpenShot is a pretty good program for putting together a relatively simple video like this: it allows you to build up and layer sound tracks, still images, and video clips; it’s pretty easy to move parts around and swap one thing for another; and because it works (until the point of rendering) by pointing to a file path rather than importing the file itself into the project, it meant that I could continue to edit the backing track and the title cards and the changes would just show up the next time I went to edit the video.

OpenShot storyboard for OBS Studio screen capture shot of solo orchestrated with MuseScore, layered over backing track audio created with Audacity.

But I Could Spend This Moonlit Night With You

The Viper: Any thoughts on the final process, results, watch party, or all that?

Rob Henn: We were each given free rein over our own shots, and none of us knew what the other was doing — so I was SHOCKED by how well our different visions gelled together. It ended up being the perfect mix of witty, sweet, and ridiculous. And somehow a portrait of life during the pandemic, too: Riley’s indoor shots with family, Ryan’s outdoor hike shots, and the feelings of being maybe just a little lonely and stir-crazy that permeate Ryan, John, and I’s contributions. A varied but coherent mix that speaks to the zeitgeist.

Riley Broach: I loved getting mini-updates every few days. It really kept the project in my mind and, not to seem cheesy or anything, it connected us during this shitty covid time. It was fun to see someone create an update every few days. It was like a window into each other’s lives. Of course, my kids liked the constant updates too.

RH: Every time I saw the updates, I got more excited. But I WANT SCREEN CREDIT AS “THE PHONE.” [Ed. note: see Rob’s first introduction near the start of this post.]

TV: People should know, that is, in fact, Rob whistling over my landline phone, recorded with my non-landline phone. We were talking about the project, had an idea for an insert, and did it! In tribute to the footage he had sent in by that point, it’s filmed in portrait so I could put the relevant ukulele chord charts on the wings. And it is, in fact, his phone number. Give him a call, ladies, gents, and circus elephants. It’s a pandemic!

Doxxed!

As a kind of home movie of socially distanced life during the interregnum, I was really happy about any happy accidents that showed up in the shots: in mine, I like that there’s at least one USPS mail truck and some good Kettle Moraine footage of what was really the first snowy day I experienced on the Ice Age Trail, on which I’ve spent a LOT of pandemic time.

Any happy accidents, unexpected obstacles, interactions with passersby, etc., that you all ran into?

RH: The day I took the main vocal shot, twirling around a street sign in a Rainbow Dash outfit, I got a LOT of attention from passersby. One was an aggressive sexual offer that I can’t repeat on this family-friendly blog. Another guy asked me if I had lost a bet, to which I replied, “No man, I won a bet. I’m out here living my best life!”

John Peacock: I did a bad job of not setting up the downbeat of my takes with a clap or something. Usually I was too busy closing mirrors or dancing with mannequins at the beginning of each shot. So an early edit had the stylophone solo in an entirely different beat placement (half a beat later if I remember correctly).

TV: It actually worked that way, too, though it would have driven you crazy until the end of time. And maybe beyond.

JP: The one time I did remember to tap a count-in to help with the sync was before my toy piano solo, which ended up being used as an intro to the entire performance.

TV: One of my favorite bits of this is that the video sets up your toy piano in the first shot, but it’s not until about two minutes in that we get the one-bar payoff. And, incidentally, that one bar of toy piano is probably the single thing I spent the most time on in editing. Because it has such a sharp attack and quick decay, the toy piano was giving the “smart” editing software the fits in terms of balancing the sound out without clipping, so we were getting these weird crackles on the video every time I rendered it (and that meant it was, like, 15 minutes going by before I realized that, once again, it didn’t work). I felt like Gene Hackmann at the end of The Conversation (which, incidentally, co-starred Laverne & Shirley’s Cindy Williams.)

The payoff for John’s toy piano – and just look at those lovely Milwaukee built-ins!

However, turns out, the real problem is that I am dumb and was using the wrong file path name – so everything I did to edit the sound wasn’t coming through, because I was setting myself up to fail. Story of my life! But as a great Milwaukee songwriter, Peter Stampfel, once wrote: life is short, art is long. So I was really satisfied when I finally vanquished that crackle and there was victory for the forces of democratic freedom. Ne me quitte pas!

JP: I didn’t reshoot anything, but I really miss Ryan’s original take of the first line of his verse, where he must have been singing without headphones, and thus was hilariously behind the beat. I would have kept it.

TV: My first two shots were just meant to be placeholders, to “see what this kind of thing would look like,” so any sound I recorded was pretty much accidental. I did keep my second shot of me running down the stairs, but this is one of two spots in the video where the original sound is overdubbed. Can you spot the second?

RB: I’m glad we cut [sic] the eyeball scene.

TV: This was the closest we came to an actual disagreement on this whole project! I was out shooting what was going to be some b-roll footage of the Allen-Bradley clock in Walker’s Point (AKA the “Polish Moon”), but singing the last line for fun (ended up using it). I realized the close-up of my eyeball when I turned myself to face me reminded me of the famous scene from Luis Buñuel and  Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou where you see a close-up of an eyeball with someone holding a razor to it, then a cut to a shot of a thin cloud moving across a full moon, then back to the razor “actually” slicing the eyeball. When I got home, I found the clip and added a little bit, including the actual cutting. It was two weeks before anyone noticed! And objected! Épater la bourgeoisie!

The shot that shocked a nation – or that one guy in Highland Park.

Here’s Riley’s real-time reaction:

1/12/2021 – 12:23 a.m. – Yeah, that eye-cutting scene freaks me out. Funny in a way, but you don’t think it steals some of the show? It’s all I’m thinking about now.

1/12/2021 – 10:52 a.m. – Not to be a Debby Downer but with that scene I feel a little weird showing the video to my kids (and potentially students) now. It seems a little too morbid.

Am I over reacting here?

TV: Anyway, I took out the gross part, though the cloud/moon is still in there as a little inside joke.

RB: I’m still not sure I believe Ryan [Ed. note: The Viper] when he said it was “just a joke to see if we were paying attention.”

TV: (shyly shrugs)

RB: What was it Ann [The Viper’s spouse] said when she saw it?

TV: She hated it and walked out of the room.

RB: I agree! Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

RH: The Buñuel bit made me laugh a bit, in a dorky, eyerolling [sic] kinda way.

TV: You know me too well.

And how did we enjoy the watch party? We had our own pre-party, where we synch-watched and live-texted the L&S “Bus Stop” episode, and then later reconvened to watch the Waiting for Spinal Wind event itself. Some of us even stuck around for the Zoom afterparty! We kept up a pretty active commentary, both on the event’s Facebook page, and on our own text thread.

RB: The whole family loved watching Laverne & Shirley together. Lyra was totally into it.

TV: Penny Marshall(s) and Cindy William(s) are an axiom of television.

RB: Hilde mostly got up and down from the couch about 84 times and played with a tiny Robin (Kermit the Frog’s nephew) figurine. She likes to put tiny pink shoes on him. And then take them off. Then put them back on. We liked the texting history lesson you provided Ryan.

TV: (I sent actual pictures of the Pfister Hotel and 730 Knapp Street.)

JP: Hip Hop Vader [Darth Presley] and “Smells Like Soup” Guy [Andy Moore] were awesome.

Darth Presley, “The Good Book Song”

RH: I’m biased because I’m friends with him, to be sure. But though I knew he was a great musician, I had no idea Andy Moore could also act and be so freaking hilarious. I’ve watched his “Smells Like Soup” maybe three times now and can’t stop laughing:

Andy Moore, “Smells Like Soup”

TV: I was cracking up everytime he gestured at us with his head to “come on, enjoy some soup!”

RH: More bias again, but my friends and bandmates Cat Capellaro and Andrew Rohn turned in this rocking, lascivious cover of “Big Bottom” that somehow, miraculously turns Spinal Tap’s original into a feminist anthem:

Catherine Capellaro, Andrew Rohn, and Matthew Sanborn, “Big Bottom”

RB: As far as the after party, it was like as close to I’ve been to a real party in over a year! It was great to see and chat with real human beings.

TV: Sounds like an ending. Fin.

AND NOW THE BONUS

The Viper: You’ve been with us so long in this post. So here’s how each of us says the word “Milwaukee” in this video:

THE VIPER: Mill-wah-kee (surprisingly, since in conversation I’m closer to Muh-wah-kee)
RILEY: Mell-waw-kee; Mill-waw-kee
LYRA: ( )-aw-kee; Muh-waw-kee
JOHN: Mill-wah-kee; Mill-wah-kay
ROB: We never get to find out!

Treading the fine line between clever

UPDATE 2/14/21: The Sockrates Sock Puppet Facebook page has posted a premiere announcement that you can set to send you reminders of the event. Throw your day planner away. Again, that link is https://www.facebook.com/SockratesPuppets/


Announcing our first performance in more than a year, The Viper & His Famous Orchestra can be seen as part of Waiting for Spinal Wind, a vast, sprawling multi-performer event, streaming @ https://www.facebook.com/SockratesPuppets/ for the first time on Friday, February 19, 2021 starting at 8:00 p.m (CST).

Hosted by the Sockrates Sock Puppet Carnival of Morals and Logic, the performances mine five decades of gold from the Christopher Guest multiverse. You know, puppet show AND Spinal Tap.

The stream is free, with a virtual tip jar to benefit the Madison Children’s Museum. Come see what we’ve been up to during quarantine!

Here’s some detail from the Sockrates press release:

Madison, Wis.— Sockrates Sock Puppet Carnival of Morals and Logic presents a locally sourced Valentine’s mixtape, with Cupid’s arrow taking direct aim at the hearts of fans of the Christopher Guest canon. Two dozen musicians and actors with Madison ties have joined forces at a distance to present a virtual variety show featuring music and vignettes from the beloved mockumentary films This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind. Bonus tracks include a shout-out to Schitt’s Creek and an early pre-Tap collaboration, taking the viewer on a musical tour spanning five decades, from the late 1970s through the 2010s.

It only took a year-long global pandemic and a major caesura in the live performance sector to bring this multitalented lineup together on a bill. Contributing artists represent a panoply of bands in the Madison music scene, including Yid Vicious, Disaster Passport, V05, Madison Opera, Hirt Alpert, The Gomers, The Drain, Furious Bongos, Steely Dane, Über Alice, Loving Cup, and many more.

Hey! We’re many more!

And here’s a list of performers. Any you like?

  • Amateur Mixtape: Hayseed Rick and Bad Sister Heidi
  • Andrew Rohn
  • Andy Moore
  • Catherine Capellaro
  • Dani Luckett
  • Dave Adler
  • Darth Presley
  • The Disposable Art Ensemble: David Bohn, James Bohn, Geoff Brady, David Spies
  • Geoff Brady
  • James Bohn
  • Kia Karlen
  • Matthew Sanborn
  • Nature’s Colors: Jeff Burkhart and Eva Shiffrin
  • Robin Kurzer
  • Scott Gendel
  • Sockrates Sock Puppet Carnival of Morals and Logic. Sock puppets appear courtesy of SPAG, the Sock Puppet Actors Guild, and Seamsters Local Union No. 144
  • The Viper and His Famous Orchestra: Ryan Jerving, Riley Broach, Rob Henn, John Peacock
  • Jonathan Zarov
Rob Henn gives a big “Hello!” to an old friend at the Madison Children’s Museum, July 25, 2014

The Greatest War – Sneak Peek

On November 11, 2019, The Viper & His Famous Orchestra will be in Madison to perform as part of The Greatest War: a multi-band, multi-media, multi-mood exploration of the legacy for Wisconsin and the world of the first World War and it’s subsequent, uneasy Armistice that also features The Kissers and The November Criminals.

The Greatest War: World War One, Wisconsin, and Why It Still Matters | Monday, November 11, 2019 7:30 PM | Shannon Hall, 800 Langdon Street, Madison, WI | https://thegreatestwar.org/

Here’s a taste of what to expect — from us at least — based on what we did at last year’s first, centenary edition of this event.

We’re lucky: we get to cover both the beginnings and endings of everything. The first shots fired happen somewhere between the closing notes of “It’s A Long Way To A World War” (to the tune of “Tipperary” with some new lyrics by show organizer Ken Fitzsimmons and The Viper)…

It’s A Long Way To A World War
Live! Nov. 11, 2018

…and the first banjo-string-flams on a bit of wishful thinking from the 1914 pen of Alf “Paddy” Ellerton called “Belgium Put The Kibosh On The Kaiser.” (Fans of Richard Attenborough’s 1969 musical Oh! What a Lovely War will recognize this song.)

Belgium Put The Kibosh On The Kaiser
Live! Nov. 11, 2018

Then it’s all about Paris 1919, as the Midwest welcomes back some young fellers who may have learned a thing or two overseas in “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?”

How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm
(After They’ve Seen Paree)?
Live! Nov. 11, 2018

And we wonder whether there might be any long term consequences to the way Mr. Weelson and the other world powers gathered in Versailles, Sèvres , and Lausanne to divvy up places like, oh, say, Iraq, Palestine, or Kurdistan as we wrap up our set with “They All Made Peace (What Is Peace).”

They All Made Peace (What Is Peace)
Live! Nov. 11, 2018

On all of these recordings, the performers are The Viper, Rob “Rose Brass Bell” Henn, and Riley “Riley” Broach. But this year, we’ll up the ante with guest Irene “Vipersdottir” Jerving on the violin for the second set. If you listen closely, you can almost hear her wistful grace notes now…

So listen in, enjoy, and then come out and see the show!

Upcoming shows: Fall 2019

People of earth, we have two shows to announce for the Fall 2019 season that find us back among some favorite places and friends in Madison, Wisconsin. They’re both kind of event-y, meaning you get a lot more than just The Viper and His Famous Orchestra. Can you handle it? Are you ready for this jelly?

On Friday, September 20, 2019, we play as part of the bi-monthly Adult Swim event at the Madison Children’s Museum (100 N Hamilton St #100, Madison, WI 53703 | (608) 256-6445). Because grown-ups are people too, you know! There we are in those pictures above from the last time we did this, sailing over a cardboard sea.

This time around, the theme is Downtown Abbey (yes, the movie opens that night as well). And between 6:00 – 10:00 p.m., The Viper & His Famous Orchestra join a cast of scores for “a special aristo-radical themed twist! General admission includes access to museum exhibits, live music, games, plenty of arts and crafts, and a little bit of friendly upstairs-downstairs competition.” $15 cheap ($12.75 advance).

Then, on Monday, November 11, 2019, we return for more of The Greatest War: a multi-media look back at WWI and its impact on Wisconsin and elsewhere, organized and led by The Kissers, and featuring music, photographs, and readings by us, Sean Michael Dargan, John Wedge, The November Criminals, and others. https://thegreatestwar.org/

This is a command repeat performance of the one staged at the Barrymore Theatre to a sold-out crowd on the November 11, 2018 centenary of the War’s armistice. And I don’t know if everyone who was involved in last year’s show is returning, or who might be joining the fray anew, but the show was spectacular and moving and really quite an experience and might be even more so in this year’s location at the Memorial Union’s Shannon Hall (800 Langdon Street, Madison, WI 53706 | (608) 265-3000). Just look at this press from last year!

The title for this video is a little ominous, no?

Just About 41

Saturday, June 29, 2019 (5:00 p.m.)
The Viper and His Famous Orchestra
Riley Broach’s Backyard (right next to the air conditioner)
Highland Park, IL 60035

Were you, were you, in Highland Park, IL, this past Saturday , June 29 to witness The Viper & His Olds Orchestra celebrate the 41st anniversary of a birth of a very special bassist known as Mr. Broach? “The older I get, the younger I feel,” didn’t say Riley Broach as he adjusted his age-appropriate flip-flops. Meanwhile, Rob Henn wore “ironic” dark socks and the Viper’s $7 glasses from Zenni helped him nail this C major chord.

Meanwhile, a new generation of Bermuda-shorted bass players said “put me in, coach.” And put him in, we did. And we were reassured that there was, still (and despite any tariff impacts), a farmer in the dell.

riley-birthday

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