In Essential Albums our favourite artists dig up five records that they consider “Essential” by any definition. This week, pioneering alternative comic Andy Kindler discusses five records that make him lose his trademark scowl.
Andy Kindler is revered by stand-up junkies and practitioners for his acerbic deconstructions of comedy, whether it's his own, another comics, or the tastes of the field at large. This is how he gives new dimension to the label "a comic's comic:" he's built to bristle his very audience.
Imagine, at your office's next conference, the guy who had been there the longest stood up for an hour and told you everything that sucked about your chosen field, and probably how you're operating in it as well. That's Kindler's annual "State of the Industry "address at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal. Not quite a roast or an intervention, his free-form, stammering analysis is blind to stature; two years ago he dared to speak the obvious on Louis C.K. and last month delivered a withering and vital takedown of Anthony Cumia, the white supremacist with a lot of fans who think he's a comedian. Two decades of addresses and dozens of bruised egos later, Andy Kindler endures because the comedy is purely his. It isn't carried by - nor does it dumbly rail against - the fickle currents of contemporary politics. And if your set is, he's coming for you.Another one of his traditions is The Alternative Show at Toronto's JFL42 (which starts tonight). Comedians ranging from the stadium fillers he lambasts to local gems all jockey for a spot at his sell-out Comedy Bar showcase. This year it runs every night at 11pm from September 23 to September 26 at Comedy Bar.
"You know, there's that classic thing, comics want to be musicians and musicians want to be comics," says Kindler. "They are both. There's such a strong connection between comedy and music."
So really, what better comic to name some records with unimpeached expression? Kindler grew up with music, with a violin as a child then graduating to dreams of rock stardom. "When I came out to L.A. that was my initial [path]," he says. "'Cause my whole family’s funny, but we kind of took it for granted. It’s kind of a lesson about life, the thing that you’re meant to do you may not see it." Comedy won out, but music stays with him, especially these five records.
Bob Dylan, Blood On The Tracks (1975)
To me Dylan is really the king. When I went to college in upstate New York, Blood On The Tracks came out. I would say in a lot of ways that’s my favourite album, but you could also go with Blonde On Blonde, Highway 61, but Blood On The Tracks really affected me. There’s so many songs on that album that are so seminal. “Idiot Wind,” it’s almost like he’s having a discussion with a person or the world. It almost cheapens it to say he writes great lyrics.
I love his voice. I would actually get into fights with people [and] the reason why is it feeds into my own insecurities. People have made fun of my voice my whole life. I’m confident about my ability to be funny - I’m not always confident it’s going to work or that I’m always going to feel it - but I never had that same confidence with music. So I just loved that Dylan had this kind of “Anti-Pavarotti” thing.
It’s like a cliché now, but when he went electric, the bravery it took... The fact that he went with his heart and went down this route, that to me defines an artist. You’re not doing it because it’s popular, and you’re not going to be dissuaded. Thank God there wasn’t any Twitter back then. He’d just get harassed [today.]
Randy Newman, Good Old Boys (1974)
He has tremendous stage fright. I went to go see him in concert and he cancelled. He wasn’t famous for that, but he could do it. [But] there’s no one funnier to me than Randy Newman. When you see him perform, he’s just funny off-the-cuff. He just has the rhythm.
The thing about Randy Newman that was so revolutionary was that the voice in the songs is not him. I had never heard that before. [Good Old Boys] is written from the point of view of the south. There’s a song on it that I don’t even think you could release today called “Rednecks.” The chorus goes “We're rednecks, rednecks/And we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground/We're rednecks, we're rednecks/And we're keeping the niggers down.” It was a takedown of the South, but it’s just devastating satire.
He’s always tongue-in-cheek with what he’s doing. But even though he’s being satirical, there’s something devastating about [Good Old Boys]. It’s not just “These people are bad and I’m going to write a song about it.” He’s also celebrating the music and that part of the country. It’s just amazing and so hard to do.
David Bowie, Hunky Dory (1971)
I keep going back to that album. It sounds literally timeless. A lot of things run through [my selections], like when Dylan would say “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” when he’s talking about how when you’re young you think you know everything. Then on “Changes,” Bowie goes “And these children that you spit on / as they try to change their worlds / are immune to your consultations / they’re quite aware of what they’re going through” The combination of words are from the soul. I don’t even know where he came up with it.
It’s almost hard to tell where he’s coming from with these songs. “Song For Bob Dylan,” sometimes I listen to it and I feel like he’s making a comment about what Dylan has turned into, but I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s what people expected from him. The song "Andy Warhol" is the same. Then there’s the song “Oh You Pretty Things.” There’s a difference between Bowie looking androgynous and then cutting to REO Speedwagon with long hair.
Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection (1970)
One of the first albums I had. A lot of what I loved was the country side. Not the big hair country, but like Hank Williams. I was a big Grateful Dead fan, which is embarrassing to say but I still am, but the way they embraced Hank Williams and celebrated this country sound. Then of course Dylan did his stuff with Cash on Nashville Skyline.
What about country resonates with you?
I don’t know exactly why, but I’m attracted to the rawness of it, the soul of it, the lack of polish of it some of the time. There’s a lot of our society that sees tribal dancing and goes “oh, they’re primitives.” That’s one of the things we’ve really lost. Because we see the shortcomings in organized religion, we’ve turned our back [on it.] And with comedy, or meditation, or having drug experiences or dancing, you’re just getting into a different frame of mind. Country music, it’s so easy for northerners to discount it. But the way they sang was pure heaven for me.
Chris Gaffney, Mi Vida Loca (1992)
It’s country but from California. It’s in the Steve Earle/Lucinda Williams vein. He’s very influenced by soul, but it’s also straight country and still sounds like nothing I've heard. If you listen to this song “Artesia,” it’s all about the way Los Angeles was many many years ago. I’m from New York and I moved out [to L.A.] so when I hear them it’s always bittersweet. Gaffney might be my favourite singer. It really changed the way I listened to music.
Have you always been a lyrics guy?
I’m a big fan of this woman Karen Armstrong. She writes about religion and God and stuff like that. Her whole thing is that before they used to try and make a scientific argument for or against God, religion used to be something you’d do, not something you talked about. It’s like meditation. So I can listen to songs 20 or 30 times, like the classics are Beatles. I don’t know what the words are half the time. And I thank God in a way that when I listen to music I don’t listen literally to the words. But then I listen more, and I’ve probably listened to Hunky Dory like 200 times. More and more, I get a strong sense of the words, and as I listen I get into the words. Because I’m a comedian I love words, but it’s not my first way in.
One of the reasons I have a problem with angry atheists is not everything in the world is figured out with your head. I don’t need a double-blind experiment to meditate. There’s some things you have to get with your heart. Music, comedy, art, it’s an exploration to get in touch with that. Doesn’t discount the lyrics, but it means they’re all one thing, and you can’t separate it. Some people try to listen to music or comedy analytically, but if you try to analyze why your favourite comedians are your favourites, you could probably describe it, but it doesn’t substitute actually listening to it.