March, 1998

Little Jack Melody

All the Young Turks

"The first time I heard the word ‘cynical’ in junior high school, I asked my sister what it meant," recalls Little Jack Melody. "She explained it, and I said ‘Wow, that’s what I want to be!’ It was like seeing the Beach Boys on TV in third grade, I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do.’"

Melody got his wish, sort of. Denton, Texas (pop. 70,000) is no Surf City, but cynicism does run rampant. It’s a kind of Area 51 for strange musical occurrences, festivals like Edstock and Tinypalooza (as in Mr. Ed and Tiny Tim) which showcase local heroes like Brave Combo and Little Jack Melody & His Young Turks. On my charmed life (Carpe Diem/ADA), Melody comes across as a young Sinatra battling terminal ennui while driving his drunken oompah band through the world’s first gray-flannel samba ("Samba Ordinaire") and more songs about anthropomorphized landscapes ("Mr. Horizon," who gets fired after the narrator’s ship finally comes in).

A former composition major who barely survived his years as bassist in a quirky cover band ("Once you’ve played the second side of Abbey Road to an audience," cautions Melody, "that same audience cannot see you again without requesting the second side of Abbey Road"), Little Jack put together his tuba, banjo, and harmonium-driven outfit as a kind of Luddite response to the reigning Fairlight and Emulator aesthetic. "I was listening to the Threepenny Opera way too much, and it occurred to me that it might be nice to have instrumentation that was necessarily very limited," says Melody, who chose equally eccentric song subjects (Vegas as Garden of Eden, invading Switzer-land, fear of calliopes, etc.)

Eight years and three albums later, the Young Turks continue to present Kurt Weill and klezmer under the same circus tent, but my charmed life also includes a sobering Kerouac lament ("Gone in October") and a sentimental ode to Melody’s wife ("Maggie, with green eyes"). Is the life-long cynic finally getting in touch with his inner romantic?

"A romantic is someone who sees eternity in a grain of sand, or eternity in a can of pork and beans, which is where Blake meets Bukowski," offers Melody. "And that’s probably why romantics sometimes don’t last too long. If romantics and cynics are just working opposite sides of the same street, you know, one thing leads to another, and there goes your liver."

- Bill Forma















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