Some might find me borderline attractive from afar
But afar is not where I can stay and there you are—-Sparks, Johnny Delusional
There are so many thousands of streaming choices, yet it is so hard to find something to watch.
For some reason I chose the documentary The Sparks Brothers on Netflix. The title is a joke, of course, there are no Sparks Brothers. There are brothers – Russel (the good-looking heartthrob singer) and Ron (the odd-looking genius songwriter and keyboardist) Mael – and there is Sparks – a long running (25 albums and counting) and very odd band… but there are no Sparks Brothers nor Brothers Spark.
I have a little history of Sparks fandom. I missed their early years – we forget in this internet age how difficult it was to track oddball musical groups from Kansas and Nicaragua – no matter how interesting and good they were. I do think I saw them on Don Kersher’s Rock Concert in 1974 – but other than Ron’s Hitler mustache and strange demeanor – I didn’t remember much.
A decade later they re-invented themselves to fit in with the MTV generation and they had a hit song, Cool Places:
I hat a bit of a crush on Jane Wiedlen (at any rate, she was my favorite Go-Go) and I became a Sparks fan. My roommate was also a fan (and a more accomplished student of popular music than I) and we actually went to a concert at Tango – on lower Greenville – here in Dallas – probably in 1983 or 4. I remember the show and really enjoyed it – but Tango was my favorite spot in the world at the time (I was in my mid-to-late 20’s) and any concert there was a blast.
Not long after that I was married then with kids and any attempts at keeping up with alternative music was drowned out in a three decade long tsunami of art projects, soccer practice, and working my ass off to pay for everything.
Now, from watching the documentary, I discovered that the two brothers went through a number of dry spells – but kept reinventing their music and getting the occasional hit in the occasional country and have survived until this day. I think I’ll dial them up on Spotify and make up a playlist.
The fun thing about these documentaries that follow a band for decades is how you can watch and relate what the band was doing to your own life at that time. It actually manages to give a little more perspective on your time in this world of strife and pain.
I learned a few interesting things about the band. One, I had never appreciated their lyrics. Ron writes from the heart – and though the songs are often funny and quirky – they had a dark heart. I think I’ll copy some over, there might be something to learn, some inspiration in there somewhere. There sure are a lot of them.
Another tidbit is a live project they did – in 2007… at that time they had 20 albums out and were about to release their 21st… they performed all their albums in order, one per night, for 20 nights – culminating with their new album on the 21st. Think of how hard this would be – hundreds of songs – they rehearsed for months – how would you remember the songs from the 1st album while you were working on number 20?
Finally, I learned that Russell Mael had a brief affair with Jane Wiedlen back in the day. Lucky dog.
Here’s my current favorite Sparks song: