A recent request for a recording of “Das Kapital” from an intrepid ex-colleague of mine from grad school in Champaign-Urbana (thanks Becky) got me thinking about why I’ve made it so hard to find and order the CDs recorded by The Viper and His Famous Orchestra: Everything for Everyone and A Song for All Seasons. Every couple months or so I get a request, but right now you pretty much have to hire a private dick to figure out a) who I am and b) how to reach me.
So as a start on smoothing the flows of the aforementioned capital, I’ve updated the “About the Viper and His Famous Orchestra” page to give my contact information and pricing information on the two recordings. (Soon, I hope to make it even easier to get these without anyone having to deal with me personally at all!)
Those efforts jump-started some other long overdue efforts to give more bio and personnel information for the Orchestra, and to finally scan in some of the fantastic CD cover art that Edward Burch designed. Some of this you are seeing at the top of this entry.
Specifically, feast your eyes on the front cover art for A Song for all Seasons, the 5-song live EP of covers recorded at the Highdive and Mike & Molly’s in Champaign, Illinois, in April of 1999 and February of 2000. Burch, the Orchestra’s suitcase player, is third from left on the cover. His design lovingly recreates the cover art of the 1960s LP of the same title by harpist Robert Maxwell (Decca DL-74609), along with some other borrowed elements (e.g., the “360 Stereo” tag) typical of the era.
The individual photographs were taken by our friend Rachel Leibowitz in a basement classroom of the Music Building at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Despite appearances, they were all taken in the same season, on a snow-covered winter day. Pictured, left to right, is bassist Riley Broach, Ryan Jerving (the Viper), Burch, and trombonist Rob Henn. Riley and Ed provided their own costumes, but I’ll have you know that the top half of Rob’s costume came from my wardrobe and is STILL basically the outfit I’ll wear the first day of class in Fall semesters.
HOMEGROWN COFFEE HOUSE, ACCOKEEK, MARYLAND. February 3, 2003. My first real show in quite a long time, and with two full sets clocking in at a whopping two hours of wall-to-wall Viper. You can see the full set list here.
The show was most notable for the rocking-the-mic debut of my daughter, Irene, now just a few weeks over three years old, who handled herself with remarkable aplomb and a stage presence well beyond her years as she shouted out the “Interjections!” in the Lynn Ahrens song of that name.
The covers I played all dated from 1968-1974 and included songs by Norman Greenbaum, Harry Nilsson, Melanie Safka, Badfinger, Tom Lehrer, a number of Joe Raposo’s songs for The Electric Company, and one song from each of Tiny Tim’s first three records. Aside from the songs having in common a historical overlap with my first six, formative years on this mortal coil, they all share a post-Beatles rock aesthetic played against the use of pre-rock – and even pre-swing – pop song forms and arrangements (or is it vice versa?) joined to a Gertrude-Steinian interest in imploding language, melody, and harmony at their simplest, morphemic level. Well, you knew that.
This show also featured a number of newly-completed songs from The Viper’s work-in-progress House Un-American Activies Committee musical, Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been…Blue?, including the eponymous love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name duet intended for Roy Cohn and Langston Hughes; a new barbershop ballad titled “Sing a Song of Texas” to be sung by first HUAC chair Martin Dies; the Sterling Hayden showcase, “My Seafaring Lassie”; and at least one song yet to be placed, the embarassingly folk revivally “Time of the Leaving.” Oh, and my own Schoolhouse Rock-type bid at mnemonic education, the song that promises to teach you the names of the Hollywood 10, “And Sometimes Dmytryk.”
HOMEGROWN COFFEE HOUSE, ACCOKEEK, MARYLAND
February 3, 2007
- “The Viper’s Theme”
- “Winnebago Bay”
- “The Viper’s Blue Yodel No. 6.02 x 10 to the 23rd”
- “Interjections!” (Lynn Ahrens, as perf. by Essra Mohawk for Grammar Rock, 1973)
- “Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been…Blue?”*
- “The Barley Farmer’s Bar” (Joe Raposo & Elaine Laron, as perf. by Judy Graubart and Skip Hinnant for The Electric Company, 1971)
- “Think about Your Troubles” (Harry Nilsson, from The Point!, 1971)
- “We Love It” (as perf. by Tiny Tim on Tiny Tim’s Second Album, 1969)
- “They’re Knocking Down Our Home” (Pete Ham, as perf. by Badfinger on Magic Christian Music, 1970)
- “Brand New Key” (Melanie Safka, 1972)
- “Everyone Has a Pain” (Joe Raposo & Tom Dunsmuir, as perf. by Morgan Freeman, Lee Chamberlain, and Skip Hinnant for The Electric Company, [year?])
- “The Day the Well Went Dry” (Norman Greenbaum, 1972)
- “My Seafaring Lassie”*
- “…And Sometimes Dmytryk”*
- “Then I’d Be Satisfied” (George M. Cohan, as perf. by Tiny Tim on God Bless Tiny Tim, 1968)
- “Sing a Song of Texas”*
- “I Love a Girl in Moscow”*
- “The Time of the Leaving”*
- “L-Y” (Tom Lehrer, for The Electric Company, [1975?])
- “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” (as perf. by Tiny Tim on For All My Little Friends, 1969)
* = from The Viper’s work-in-progress HUAC documentary musical, Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been… Blue?
That is to say, The Viper, after several years of living in exile after abdication (to crib a line from Mo Tucker), is again at least semi-active as a performer and/or writer. Or at least we’ll see.
I’m currently imagining this space less as a public blog than as a way to collect notes and keep track of my progress toward completing several bits of unfinishing recording, writing, and performing business.