Soul Coughing


All comics I produced from 2006-2008 were written and drawn during the production of my movie, John’s Arm: Armageddon. I jumped the gun by putting a “release date” on my shirt in the opening panel. Here’s why.

One of these days, you’ll wake up, and think to yourself “my god, every single piece of entertainment in my life is co-opted by corporations. That scrappy, let’s-put-on-a-show feeling is long gone, locked out of the limelight by rich people playing dress-up. What happened to the crazy moviemakers?” Simple. The pharmaceutical industry cured them.

Legitimately crazy movie people can’t be insured, so they’re replaced with film-school naifs who have photographic knowledge of the work of crazy people. Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, and Animal House cannot happen; too many employees are afraid of losing their precious jobs. This is why you get safe-as-milk movies like Insidious, and The Hangover. Dangerous films made by outsiders still happen, you just never read about them in the paper.

The solitary method by which I could get JA:A made was to animate every frame myself. If I knew the rule that a page equals a minute, I must have forgotten it. Immediately following a complete nervous breakdown, I began penning what would become a 186-page script. I trusted my girlfriend, a handful of buddies, and nobody else. My rejection letter from Adult Swim became the spur.

For the better part of two years, I animated from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed. The first sequence I completed was the Skullfuckers 5000 bit… back in 2005. I couldn’t preview any of the movie before its premiere, without possibly “spoiling” the jokes or the story. This is why I put the first few minutes on YouTube, because I was paranoid about accusations of making “vaporware”. In reality, no one had a clue what the fuck my problem was.

Many of the BIUL strips from this period are weirder than usual, and came out tardy. I would unintentionally wait until the very last second to write them, after long periods of animating or editing, and sometimes this was more obvious. However, one of the main foci of the strip’s first decade is overtly referenced here: the Ohrwurm.

Many, many songs have been destroyed by my Ohrwurm. The reason I become belligerent when I’m forced to hear music I hate is simple: I’m afraid I’ll hear it for the rest of my life, in my head. I don’t even have to hear it more than once. I can describe the music from the commercial bumpers for The Deliberate Stranger, a 1986 TV-movie with Mark Harmon as Ted Bundy. I’m obsessed with a tune I heard 30 years ago on a PBS show called Alive From Off Center, which accompanied “Nine Person Precision Ball Passing“, and can sing it a cappella. I can call to mind the theme from Saturday Supercade faster than you can YouTube it.

This is a serious issue, folks. It’s a kind of Hell. There have existed advertising jingles that I have had to concentrate to keep from driving me to madness. Women never understand this. They always think I’m overreacting. Read these words carefully:

I have been alone with my own thoughts. 

Okay? Maybe, just maybe, when I’m alone with my thoughts, I don’t want to waste psychic energy trying to get a fucking tune out of my head. 

hate song parodies for this reason. “Weird” Al Yankovic is more or less grandfathered in, but everyone else is piggybacking their corny jokes on a well-known tune. I would rather passionately fellate a hissing cobra than experience Famous Rap Battles. When and why did that shit become accepted? When nerds did?

In 2008, the strip was ten, and I planned a collection in a book that never happened. The whole “ohrwurm” thing was completely in my head, of course, which is less appealing to readers than themes with which they personally identify. Thus, the Ohrwurm was demoted not long after I did a test cover, with a nice ugly watermark thanks to some asshole who ran Mike The Pod.

Note Saturday Supercade album.

Note Saturday Supercade album. Fun fun fun.

That nonsense from panel three of the SC strip is legitimate, from the maw of the Worm itself. While enjoying some Freddie Hubbard, my mind cued up black and white footage of Mary Tyler Moore from The Dick Van Dyke Show, dancing awkwardly in Capri pants. This won’t happen to you, because your brain doesn’t have a broken actuator arm, like mine does. Correct, human?

Mike Doughty, the wonderful lead singer of Soul Coughing, sounds almost exactly like Stanard Ridgway (Wall Of Voodoo), whom I kinda worship. You may not know this, but DEVO conceived the song “Beautiful World” with Ridgway in mind as the singer. Gerry Casale even sings like him, in an affectionate tribute:

(Note: That is the best music video editing in the history of the medium.)

Doughty is also a talented oddball poet, which makes Soul Coughing lyrics as sticky as the music. The Ohrwurm’s ultimate form is “Bus To Beelzebub”, which features a loop based on Raymond Scott’s classic cartoon theme “Powerhouse”. After you’ve listened to it, you can replay it in your mind using one of two key phrases: “yellow #5” and “VOULEZ-VOUS THE BUS.”

That’s from Ruby Vroom, their excellent 1994 outing. I wasn’t crazy about the next one, Irresistible Bliss, but I really went for 1998’s El Oso (the one with the Jim Woodring art). My absolute favorite SC song is “$300”, with the perfectly-looped Chris Rock sample. The loop hits the same beats as the rhythm guitar:

How much?/She said/For 300 dollars, I‘ll do anything

Before you know it, that hook is in your ears. OHRWURM! GOOSEBUMPS!

The opening track of the album is diamond-solid. It got a lot of play on Cartoon Network around 2000, accompanying different reels of old ‘toons. If “$300” was a hard act to follow, this one is impossible. Doughty’s buzzing vocals are amplified by crazy toy mikes, to terrific effect. What a spectacular fucking song this is.

(The lyric is “Hey Norm, there was a throw with a broken arm”. I don’t know what it means either. It sounds good.)

If you like Jim Woodring, his art graces many of Bill Frisell’s solo albums. The combination of these two masters in one package is pretty darn exhilarating.

Highly recommended. IT HOPPERED!

Highly recommended. IT HOPPERED!

The “Can You Hear Me Now?” Guy recently left one telecommunications company for another, as noted in their commercials. I guess work is work, even if your very face becomes a lie. Like I said; I was overwhelmed and subsumed in animation production, so I was straining the concept a touch. At least I admit it.

Can you hear me now?

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