Songs Of The Day 8/13/2015: 4 from Schlong's "Punk Side Story"


Quarterly Covers Report – Last week I wrote a bit in Treble about Schlong’s Punk Side Story, which sounds like a terrible idea hatched in a Pabst-fueled environment by uncontrollable inebriates who’d just returned from slashing the glee club’s tires. Co-opting the score of one of Broadway’s most venerated musicals – the masterwork from one of the 20th century’s most prodigious geniuses and musical theatre’s greatest composer-lyricist of all time – for punk purposes sounded like it would be a spectacular insult to the original, a crusty skidmark left by the brattiest elements of the fringe and a middle finger to ambition. Coming from Hopeless Records immediately after punk had been reformatted for public consumption by the Offspring and their like, Punk Side Story in concept felt like it would be too late, too flippant and too convoluted to work. It sounded like a really stupid idea.

Except it wasn’t. Turns out Punk Side Story was a really, really good idea, and one of my favorite albums of 1995. Schlong simply turned the crazy all the way up, to the point where it stretched beyond punk. If you took the vocals off this album it’d sound like something from John Zorn or Elliott Sharp. Schlong also assembled a great cast of singers who embraced the nihilism while staying in character. They also pivoted off punk when they had to, employing other “people’s music” like bluegrass and polka when the situation dictated.

Finally, most importantly, they stuck pretty religiously to the musical progression of the original. Flip off traditionalist theatre all you want – the fact that Schlong knew West Side Story deeply enough to extrapolate it as faithfully as they did proves that, whether they said so or not, they actually liked it. According to guitarist Gavin MacArthur, Leonard Bernstein’s daughter got a copy of Punk Side Story from her lawyer, and expressed surprise that “someone of our generation knew her father’s score so well – and said she wouldn’t sue us.”

I was only going to feature three of Punk Side Story’s most memorable etudes – “I Feel Pretty,” “America” and “Gee, Officer Krupke!” – today, but upon listening to the instrumental “Dance at the Gym” again I knew I had to throw that one up as well. It’s a brash piece of silliness with gratuitous square-dancing until about mid-point: MacArthur and a piano player suddenly turn everything down and do a sensitive rendition of the piece’s “Maria” motif. It’s almost like praying, or at least not choking on backwash.



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