Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Have Moicy!

"You wear my beret and I'll use your bidet, cherie/I'll be clean you'll be free," goes Peter Stampfel's frenetic bluegrass gloss on Con Conrad's and Herb Magidson's 1935 "Midnight in Paris," setting theme and mood for this cute, fatalistic musical head comik about the pleasures, sorrows, and mundane irritations of bohemian life, country hippie division. Cut in two days in 1975 for around $1500, the album assembled a loose confederation of folkie misfits who were having trouble trusting each other as they passed 30. Breaking it down, you could call Greenwich Village stalwart Stampfel dionysian, Oregon pickup songwriter Jeffrey Frederick sardonic, and Vermont-based lazybones Michael Hurley downhome. Only that's dionysian as in throwing a party, sardonic as in plumb mean, and downhome as in blowing bubbles underwater, as in where's the salt, as in who'll do the dishes, as in "We fill up our guts/Then they turn it into shit/Then we get rid of it." And it doesn't come close to suggesting the mesh this bunch of Sixties casualties fall into. The emotion and execution are so consistent that you enjoy the acoustic arrangements--a relaxed development of the Holy Modal Rounders' irreverent traditionalism plus crucial (although not loud) input from Hurley's pet drummer, Frog--without registering their easy variety. Except when Stampfel exercises his tonsils, you never think about who's singing, either--don't even notice when cocomposer Paul Presti takes the lead on "Jealous Daddy's Death Song": "And if any of you punks try to misbehave/I'll haunt your asses to an early grave/I'm telling you telling you telling you boys/Don't you monkey with my widow when I'm gone." I bet none of them does.

Details, 1995 (unpublished)