Off The Charts
May 10, 2011 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Off The Charts: "In his wildest satirical dreams, not even Christopher Guest could top Off the Charts for sheer folk-art eccentricity. And yet, the creator of A Mighty Wind would find comedic inspiration in Jamie Meltzer's hilarious and sincerely affectionate tribute to the subcultural phenomenon known as the song poem. For over 50 years, a small, strictly amateur music industry has thrived on the fine-print ads that appear in alternative newspapers and music-industry magazines, inviting would-be songsmiths to send in their lyrics (and perhaps even "earn royalties") when their songs--and we use that term loosely--are set to music, recorded by seasoned musicians, and returned to their creators as a kind of one-shot fantasy fulfillment of dreams that will never come true. What drives Meltzer's film is a uniquely American combination of pathos, fringe-dwelling ambition, and free expression by assorted misfits and "regular folk" who seek elusive immortality by turning their lyrical musings into trash-art that's simultaneously fascinating and pathetic. But despite the end-credit claim that not a single hit has resulted from the estimated 200,000 song poems that have been recorded over the decades, Meltzer's not out to ridicule these wonderfully ungifted artists. Instead, Off the Charts gives a memorable spin to the flipside of the American dream. --Jeff Shannon" (PBS, 54mins.)
posted by puny human (15 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
if you are not hooked by the first 5 minutes, this is probably not for you.
posted by puny human at 3:02 PM on May 10, 2011

"Thank Jehovah for Kung Fu Bicycles and Priscilla Presley". -- Caglar Juan Singletary
posted by likeso at 3:10 PM on May 10, 2011

posted by estuardo at 3:17 PM on May 10, 2011

I stumbled across the American Song-Poem Archive back when the MP3 link led somewhere, and was actually listening to them as normal songs for a while. What a long strange trip that was. Rodd Keith was a genius, kind of.
posted by Grangousier at 3:20 PM on May 10, 2011

Yeah, years ago I was linked to Trubee's song poems (I always assumed it was from Metafilter, but it was probably via a Mefite instead) and still have "A Blind Man's Penis" in my iTunes playlist. My friends sort of universally love it.
posted by annathea at 3:24 PM on May 10, 2011

I saw either this or a longer documentary on song-poems. They're pretty neat. I love the idea that somewhere in there is a hidden gem.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:27 PM on May 10, 2011

Surprising, given Trubee's cantankerous artistic persona, that he leaves out a crucial detail in the story of "A Blind Man's Penis." Originally he wrote "Stevie Wonder's penis is erect because he's blind." The words were changed without apology or explanation on record he received in return.

Proud to say I own a vinyl copy.
posted by Greenie at 3:33 PM on May 10, 2011

Great movie. If you like song poems, be sure to check out Bob Purse's excellent blog.
posted by dhammond at 3:48 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yay, thanks for the reminder— been meaning to pop this DVD back into the player. Loves me some song poems. Rod Keith and all those earnest songwriters are like the spiritual grandparents of Rebecca Black.
posted by carsonb at 4:00 PM on May 10, 2011

Also, re this post? Jimmy Carter says YES.
posted by carsonb at 4:18 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fantastic. Thanks for posting it.
posted by semmi at 4:52 PM on May 10, 2011

From Annathea's link:

You, too, Mister Composer/Musician, can put out records if you bother to go to the trouble of sending obscene lyrics and suicide notes through the U.S. Postal Service, as I did. The obsolete and reactionary machinery of the music industry needs the irreverent pranks of ugly outsiders if it's to survive its rapidly calcifying descent into hermetically sealed grayness and keep alive a spark of that rebellious, independent, antiestablishment spirit of rock 'n' roll!

I love it.

Rodd Keith was a genius, kind of.

Rodd Keith was a genius, period. A frustrated, dispirited genius. A friend of mine put out a CD of his work a few years ago and is releasing another soon-ish.

He has an impressive collection of work by others as well, and in a recent interview articulated their appeal very well.

Most of the records are unremarkable, but every now and then, that combination of a rank amateur lyricist and a group of jaded studio professionals yields gold. The most famous ones are the inadvertently funny howlers that make you shake your head in wonder at their utter wrongness, but sometimes you come across a deeply personal song in which the unpolished awkwardness of the expression winds up being more moving than a more talented wordsmith could pull off.

Some of them are really good songs, just not "good" in the conventional sense of the word. Some of them are just so honest - there's a kind of purity that's irresistible.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:05 PM on May 10, 2011

Just finished watching this, it's awesome.
posted by snofoam at 8:08 PM on May 10, 2011

Martial arts, ladies, and religion. And science-fiction, too!
posted by steef at 4:24 AM on May 11, 2011

Wow. I loved it. There was a bit on This American Life about song poems a while back. The session musicians working these up into actual songs are massively skilled, and it's touching to see the huge amount of heart some of the writers have, even if they're lacking in craft.
posted by RokkitNite at 5:45 AM on May 11, 2011

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