Tuesday, 15 January 2008


Ever had a really shit breif? Ever been passed a really clunky piece of creative and been told to sodomise it with an incongruous, unworkable concept?

Then let me tell you the story of one Thomas J. Guygax Sr.
But first...
A few years back now, I developed a rather unhealthy obsession for the little-known cultural phenomenon known as the "Song-Poem;" a vast, uncharted body of vanity recordings made by unscrupulous music industry "pioneers" keen to exploit the aspirations of the general public, long before Simon Cowell had the idea of doing it on television.

Here's how it worked:

It's America. It's some time in 50's, 60's or 70's. You open any number of tabloid papers and magazines and you see adverts like the one above. Maybe you're an aspiring poet. Maybe you're an aspiring singer-songwriter. More than likely you're a hapless, feeble-minded dolt without a glimmer of talent. But spurred on by the possibilty of fame, you scribble down whatever old shit comes to mind and hastily send it off for "appraisal." Then, whadya know! Within days you receive a commissioning letter. You got talent, kid! But we need $200-$400 to press the disc. And miss your chance of stardom!? No way! Here! Just take the money! Meanwhile, backstage, a sweat-shop of session musicians have already set your naive, incoherent bilge to music. It's in the can man, and these guys can do 5 or 6 of these a day. But by now the cheque's in the bank, so here's a copy of your record. We did try to get it on the radio but you know, it's just not right for now. By all means though, feel free to try again.

It's hard to underestimate the sheer numbers of these recordings. Literally hundreds of thousands of song-poems are out there, most of them lost to mists of time. But a good proportion remain, leaking out into thrift shops and garage sales around the world, and are now highly sought after by pseudish, sniggering postmodernists like myself. To tell the full story of the song-poem requires a website in itself - Phil Milstein's stupendous American Song-Poem Music Archives is a great place to start.

My personal favourite song-poem ever was found on the internet after a day of battling with Google: the truly unbelievable "My Husband, Lover, Friend." It's a chilling account of domestic violence, callously set to a jaunty, upbeat country and western tune:

My husband, lover, friend,
On him I can always depend,
The bruises on my eyes and nose,
They go right down to my toes (wo-ho-hoes!)

Maybe that's a bit too hardcore to begin with though?
Whilst the joy of discovering a song-poem for yourself can't be beaten, there's a good handful of commercially available compilation discs out there with enough madness on them to keep you going for a good while (there's even a song-poem Christmas album!) The classic "Blind Man's Penis" is one of the few song-poems to be written as an outright piss-take, and should be mandatory listening for everyone.

But what of Thomas J. Guygax Sr. then?

Well, Thomas Guygax is one of the most prolific of all the known song-poets. Whatismore, he's also one of the weirdest. Check out this completely typical submission, entitled "At The Time":

Although by the also to have differed with yearly and all known dearly
Throughout and among, we use preferred
By the also of having choicefully

Three times a day, as the average, we use of thee among of our foods
Along by our knowledge of the well-kept adage by the more of all helpin' with the all of coulds
Towards being among our masters and the also by our intelligence while the passin' of time
Decides our manners by the also collectively to being with the tense

Throughout and among, we use preferred
By the also of having choicefully
Three times a day ...

Or how about the downright spooky "During Evening":

It will be nice and noticing
Our reflections helping you to show
And about tomorrow and all of our rice
There all the time is at the also about now

Governments we all are acquainted
And of course that's all of our public knowing
With all of the tomorrow
And all of the well-fed
By all of our working and also our growing
All along with much of our everyday
We all of course know why
With all of our work and all of our everyday
With all of ourselves and you and I
All along with much of our everyday
We all of course know why
With all of our work and all of our everyday
With all of ourselves and you and I

So, the next time someone gives you an impossible breif, just think of poor, deluded Thomas J. Guygax Sr. and the men and women he challenged to make sense of his work. In fact, next time a designer gives you some cruddy piece of creative to work on, why not just say "I can't do it man. You've given me a total fucking Guygax!"

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