Issue #47 Mar. '03
(In 1970 Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, without enough backing money to produce a play they wished to open on Broadway, took what money they had, went into the studio and recorded the soundtrack to their Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar. The subsequent best-selling double LP raised enough money for the pair to realize their dream).
Whirligig by John Michael Hersey is a CD which should be a Broadway play. For this is a Pop Musical soundtrack. The storyline focuses on a lost generation musical artist who, because of his age, is overlooked by the mainstream pop culture. Yet it is his song writing sensibilities, crafted from years of exposure to the sounds of Brill Building pop and Motown soul, that takes us on an insightful journey as we glimpse the world that revolves around him. Using a childs toy, a whirligig (pinwheel, if you will) as the symbolic reference here The artist transfixed into the center spins both his craft and tales as he too spins along with the different aspects of his world, like the individual fan blades whirling about in the wind. For the wind that causes these individuals to orbit around the artists axis is the passing of each days time.
The curtain lifts with a drum hook leaping at us, the organ slides
Turning quickly were thrust headlong into the artists anthem; Dont Trust Me laments a world where last generation pure pop creative songwriters are not only not fashionable, but expendable to the point where pre-programmed Corporate entertainment Anarchy makes money/In the land of milk and honey/Thats showbiz/What did you expect? is packaged and sold back to the unsuspecting masses.
As the curtain sweeps in to end the 1st act we understand that we are to sit back and let this pop musical of an over 30-artist spring to life before us. For, when broken down, one of the better definitions of a Pop song is that it creates a stage for a grand and glorious musical A three to four minute piece that can suck you in, and place you in the middle of its action the acting out of these small musical vignettes is the power, when the music can make the scene come alive the original music video.
We are transported to a passionate tale of forbidden love and heartbreak detailing secret rendezvous that end too soon. While Stealing Kisses is part of the game, the emptiness and unfulfillment is the driving wedge of this masterful Pop gem. It is a song with every element to make it a Top 40 smash (in the most deserving way) from the plinking of the piano echoing along a stringent rhythm beat, to the accompanying picking of the complimenting plinkety guitar solo (that brings to mind Bob Dylan in all its understated glory). This heartfelt ballad is as classic a Brill Building homage as we will ever hear.
The set changes, the mood shifts, we have a jaunting bounce of a fairytale world where a killer progression of sound reminiscent of early Rascals roars out of the speakers. With backing harmony vocals providing depth to the overall production we know that this is what everyday as Saturday actually feels like (Saturday), and we bounce around with the two main characters. Another set change and now were downtown, way downtown and Sidewalk Penny with all its West Side Story flavor gives us a lyric that makes the best use of the double entendre this side of Elvis Costello. It is a story of a down and out on her luck female that draws its power from the lyrical wit of her name and the intense, driving, swirling, in your face musical blanket (dare I say wall of sound?) until it breaks down with a flamenco drop in the center bridge and tell me you just dont want to snap your fingers in a choreographed musical street scene a la` the Jets and Sharks.
Act 2 concludes with a dreamy melodic landscape of lost love: Only So Long brings to mind such worthy ballads as those of Joni Mitchell and Carol King - Lush, beautiful grand piano stylings, tender guitar strumming accent, mellow vocals that carry the emotion over the top until the lowering of the lights
Intermission and time to meet the band:
On Vocals & Guitars: John Michael Hersey (Who also wrote all the songs, and draws comparisons to the afore mentioned Elvis Costello as well as East Side Story era Chris Difford/Glenn Tilbrook, Robyn Hitchcock, Ron Sexsmith with balls, and mid-70s troubadour Bob Dylan to name a few). Drums & Percussion: John DiGiulio. Bass: Bob DesJardins. And, Keyboards: Jim Wacker (Whose use of many different style keyboards from Grand to Upright Honky Tonk to electric, toy and everything in-between is what sets each piece. You can see and feel the scenery, as well as the mood and emotion spewing forth from each set as the keyboards bounce, twinkle, tickle, glide, plink, strut swoon, hedge, and nudge as needed). Its no surprise theyre based out of New York, but the sound they produce here is all over the Pop map.
Oh, theres the lights. Lets head back in for the last two acts
Shes A Cat captures the attention of every female. A musical kick that is as seductive as the title character. With biting wry lyrical twists such as She purrs and she teases and shows you her claws, Have you seen her prowling/through the alleys of your mind/Did you wake up and find/Theres a Tiger in your bed, Elvis Costello with his affection for feline tormentors would love to cover this song.
The next four pieces relay more tales of the daily life that constantly revolve around the narrator/us. Making use of old time Jerry Lee Lewis piano chops and Elvis Presley swivel-hipping vocals (Twisting In The Wind), and Steely Dan meets lounge music paying respect to the middle ground between Van Morrison and Boz Scaggs as much as it does Tony Bennet (and that is said with true affection) (What It Means) we find that each song does indeed cast us into the whirligig of the artists (and to some extent, our) everyday life.
The show concludes with a final two-song set. The first finds our narrator/artist still in character and in the setting of the school of love. Place the spotlight center stage as the old sage teaches us a very important lesson in Heartbreak 101. Cue the back-up singers, feel the irresistible crunch of the guitar, the snap of the backbeat, the simplistic guitar solo thatll have you weeping and jammin along to the subliminal funky Bowie-esque vibe. Let me show you how its done/Here at the school/Where the golden rule/Is to do unto others and run. Almost a fitting conclusion to this cycle of events, and certainly a good spot to bring down the curtain, but John Michael Hersey decides to get back out of character and end the show as the Artist who introduced it
Chairman Of The Bored with its Latin style mambo lifts us above the solemn subject matter of a lost love. But, it is this loss that has given the artist the time to absorb everything else that is going on about him, even though he thinks his time is wasted pining away his days waiting for her return, it is actually his boredom that ultimately forces him to take out that whirligig/pinwheel and not only play with it, but observe it for what it really is. His life has not been reduced to boredom as evidenced by the Pop Musical he has just staged for us. So, while he begs for our sympathy, he also reaches out and shows us why he isnt in need of it, for the life that revolves around him and the stories and tales they relate can be as entertaining and fulfilling as the joy a child can experience from a simple toy and a warm breeze on a summer day.
And, as you file up the aisle, dont forget to pick up your own Whirligig on the way out.
by John Michael Hersey
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