The premise is clearly ridiculous right? Neil is a struggling z-grade comedian playing all manner of dives, meeting an assortment of lunatics and weirdos as he ekes out a thankless existence on the fringes of show business. It stars Greg Turkington in his alter ego Neil Hamburger, who, at least for this writer is the antidote to the neediness of modern comedians, as he gave up years ago and no longer has any expectation of audience approval. Then again didn’t he play the Melbourne Comedy Festival recently?
The film was written by Turkington, Tim Heidecker (Tim and Eric) and Rick Alverson (who also directed) and it also stars John C Reilly. But of course I haven’t seen the film, so what we’re left with is a collection of disparate songs and our imagination about how they will be used.
What makes this soundtrack so interesting is that most, if not all of it comes from the private collection of Greg Turkington. Turkington has forever been associated with rock and rollers, performing with everyone from Mr Bungle to Frenzal Rhomb as Neil Hamburger, however there are near mythical rumours of crank calls with Mike Patton, vocals with the Secret Chiefs 3 on aggressive Christmas carols, singles with the Hard-Ons, a strange relaxation record which is meant to make your internal organs shut down, and a bizarre association with the death metal suicide pact band Faxed Head. All of which suggests that he likes the music just a little.
Eventually if you harassed him enough during interviews Neil Hamburger might just break character, lapse into Turkington and discuss his love of Frank Sinatra Jr, who he believes is remarkably talented but forever cursed to be viewed as a cash in and walk in the shadow of his father.
And yes Frank Sinatra Jr does appear here and the song Black Night is a rousing if not commanding blend of folk, brass, jazz vocal and yep crooning. Sinatra’s control of his voice is simply astounding, reminiscent of you know who, and the song too runs the gamut of dynamic range, and is simply jaw dropping. Apparently Turkington was telling the truth.
The other jaw on the floor moment comes from Pompeo Stillo & The Companions, with a heavily accented anti war folk tune. He Was a Guitar Player and Now Plays Machine Gun in Vietnam is like nothing you have ever heard before. When Pompeo, scat-like starts sounding out the machine gun sounds you suddenly realise that you need to re evaluate your understanding of what genius could be.
Devora Clemmons has a remarkable ability to sing in an unwavering pitch that just happens to be incredibly high. Her phrases are long and she doesn’t breathe between them. You keep expecting her to run out of air, yet she never does. She is the consummate professional, incredibly strange, incredibly idiosyncratic in much the same way YMA Sumac marches to the beat of her own voice. No one else can do what she does. Her song Animals in the Zoo, is simultaneously haunting and ridiculous. Let’s hope the film is too.
The remainder of the soundtrack is made up of oddballs and weirdness, such as Bill Moss, who’s refrain “You ought to be a man or you might as well be dead” from Number One is marginally better than the next verse “because you were put down here to be number one,” betraying the kind of sexist pride every father should have. There’s depressing soul, west coast psychedelic folk, outsider cabaret on crack singing a concerning ode to Los Angeles, and sad sad folk songs. This is all interspersed by terrifying, often bleak grabs of dialogue from the film itself, offering a very very odd tapestry of sound that creates a slightly unnerving quite ridiculous ambience.
What this collection does do however is betray how safe and boring most soundtracks are. When film soundtracks are viewed as alternative revenue sources then art suffers. But imagine if the film sound could tell as story too, and have a relationship with the onscreen action that transcends simple mood music for characters to strut along to. This is an incredible collection of outsider rants, private press obscurities and never been heroes all raw and heartfelt operating on the fringes of the music industry – talented eccentrics who never really got their shot, not unlike our hero Neil.