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Feature Thu Feb 15 2007

Bobby Conn's King for a Day

It's been three years since Bobby Conn's last studio release, Homeland, which was born out of contempt and fascination for this country's politics and popular culture. And now he, the Glass Gypsies, and guests from Detholz! and Mahjongg, among others, are responsible for King for a Day, a self-described Don Quixote that straddles and blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Even just a quick glance at the entirety of the album's artwork can give listeners a good idea of what they're in for throughout this concept album.

connalbum.jpg

"Vanitas" kicks off King for a Day with a hodgepodge of musical influences, such as prog-rock, psychedelia, and even a little jazz, along with a reorganization of the first chapter of Ecclesiastes sung in Latin. Its peaks and valleys are a rather appropriate way to open an album that seamlessly jumps from prog to pop with no hesitation. (Then again, Bobby Conn's compositions have never stuck within any genre. This is, by the way, a man who once said he loved the idea of a kid picking up his album in a thrift store and saying, "What was this guy fucking thinking? This record doesn't make any sense at all. It's the weirdest thing I've ever heard.") Of course, opening a piece of music chanting "all is [meaningless]" is also a pretty bold move in its own right.

Even though many songs push the notion of a fantasy world, some may actually be based on reality. According to Conn, the single and title track is based on a show in England where people in the audience shrimped (um, that's toe-sucking) band members. Whether you want to believe it or not is up to you. Bobby Conn's an entertainer, which means the press is sometimes fed wild stories. What is true, though, is the song being about how a person can switch from star on stage to regular joe within a matter of hours. Implementing some bossa nova sounds, Conn sings about life on the road ('Then to the hotel we return'), the joy that comes from performing ('I'm king for a day, temporarily saved'), and how it doesn't last ('I'm back at my job every Monday morning'). It can appeal to nearly everyone who makes music - the elation of playing something you've created for strangers and being on top of the world because of it only to return to the reality that's not being able to make enough to live off of it. That's show business. The presumed inverse to "King for a Day" is "(I'm Through With) My Ego" where Conn becomes the superstar. He now has luxuries like free phone calls, silk dragons in the bathroom, and a range of grooming accessories. But it's tearing him apart and it's no way to continue, so he retreats into the dark of a popular Chicago neighborhood.

Taking a page from the Jarvis Cocker chapter on writing songs like Serge Gainsbourg, "Twenty-one" trails a young beauty from reading novels to yearning for older men to therapy to dancing at presumably a strip club. At each stage, loneliness and an overwhelming desire to be actually loved come across. It's perhaps the darkest song in this fantasy. Conn follows it with a lighter track - a parody of a pay-as-you-go church's beliefs on immortality and omniscience ('Rewards are in this lifetime. How long do we live - 70, 80, 90 years? That's wrong. Try 70 million years'). Next is another jab, but instead at the popularity of one of the church's most public members and how news of he and his now-wife's impending child was splattered all over magazines while Conn and violinist Monica BouBou were expecting a child too.

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Bobby Conn (photo by Jim Newberry)

"Mr. Lucky" and "Things" wrap up the fantasy with a bright outlook. There's a serious sense of finality as "Mr. Lucky" opens with 'Take a bow before you leave the stage, you can't come back for an encore' and Monica BouBou taking the lead before Conn returns midway through. It's reflective, almost as if they're packing it all up ('Box them up for someone else's Salvation Army thrift store victory') to make room for something new. On "Things", Conn lets go of the fantasy to return to reality for a while ('Going back to Chicago... and I'll be there until next year'). At the end, this is one of Bobby Conn's strongest efforts yet. The play is tight, songs are well-crafted, and the concept stays fresh throughout. Only the popular culture topics that will inevitably become timed in some years bring it down a few notches, but even those songs will most likely become appropriate toward other figures eventually.

In collaboration with the album, a full-length musical is in development. Each song will come to life in video form. And some songs may even have multiple videos. Directing the project is Usama Alshaibi, whose Nice Bombs won Best Documentary at last year's Chicago Underground Film Festival. In the past, he's been at the helm for Conn's videos for "Angels", "Home Sweet Home", and "You've Come a Long Way." So far, videos for the "King for a Day" have been available through MySpace and YouTube as teasers for the full-length. (They're also available on the enhanced CD.) It'll be shot with tube video cameras to capture a vintage aesthetic that'll no doubt remind us of 1970s amateur pornography. Be on the lookout.
-James Ziegenfus

Bobby Conn will celebrate his CD release party this Saturday, the 17th at the Empty Bottle. Tickets are $10 in advance ($12 door) and music starts at 10pm. Bird Names opens.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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