These days there are more nerd rock bands than you can shake an Atari joystick at. From nerdcore to geek rock, it’s clear that the geek vibe has infiltrated the music scene as well as the movie and literary scenes.
But it wasn’t always that way. When I was in high school in the mid-90s, still rather unaware that I was a geek exactly, there were precious bands to choose from. I would argue that the roots of geek rock, though, start with many of the groups I initially listened to: after all, the Beatles wrote about weird, secondary worlds and yellow submarines, and Zeppelin sang about Middle Earth before it was chic (and I’d certainly argue that Styx has extremely geeky tendencies… Mr. Roboto, anyone?).
My first geek rock experience was, perhaps predictably, They Might Be Giants. Before I’d heard any of their music, I saw them in concert. And I was never the same after that. Sure, TMBG is probably the crown jewel of geek rock, pioneering the subgenre and making it okay to sing about worms with PhDs, floating horrific scarecrows, and the chemistry of the sun, but you’d be missing out on a lot if you stopped there.
There was one group that — short-lived as they were — you really should look up if you haven’t before. Moxy Früvous was a group from Toronto Canada, whose geeky topics and insane talent eclipse many of the groups so popular today. Unfortunately, they are often shadowed by that other geeky rock band that came from Canada around the same time.
If you haven’t listened to Früvous before, you’re seriously missing out. I find that Früvous fans are particularly fervent, and when we find each other, we have a language of music like no others.
The band started off busking in Toronto, singing a capella. And their music incorporates gorgeous harmonies, clever lyrics, and often charged political statements. (Note: if you’re conservative-leaning, you might get a little itchy with some of their stuff.) To this day, I’ve not heard a band of such talent incorporate geekiness so effortlessly, always leaving room for social critique, fun, and haunting lyrics and harmonies. Their members were Jian Ghomeshi, Murray Foster, Dave Matheson, and Mike Ford. And I’m of the opinion that their voices combined created an otherwordly alchemy for pure magic.
So, for those of you on the lookout for some geek music, retro style, here’s a few choice songs to set you in the right direction.
- My Baby Loves A Bunch of Authors – Bargainville – I’m a literary geek. The first time I heard this song I was giggling like a mad woman. The setup of this song is simple: a man’s girlfriend is far more interested in “hanging out” with authors–i.e. reading books–than spending time with her own boyfriend. What ensues is a musical party, dropping some of the best names in literature, including: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William S. Burroughs, Mario Puzo, Margaret Atwood, and Doris Lessing. Infectious and funny.
- Video Bargainville – Bargainville – See, I told you this was retro geek music. So, before .mp3s and digital videos were all the rage, one of the geek strongholds was the video store. This clever, if somewhat critical, song takes us on a tour of one of these video bargainvilles, where media is at your fingertips in any flavor you want. I’d love to hear what Früvous would have made of Netflix. Netflix Bargainville? (Not that they didn’t see it coming: And soon there will be program-your-own TVs, so they ask you to heed this final plead/ before it’s all dead, you should rent more, and enjoy video bargains galore.)
- Spiderman – Bargainville – Moxy Früvous, in their heyday, were kings of cover songs. In fact, they used to play the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA (where I grew up), often filling an entire night with cover songs. Their cover of the iconic Spiderman theme song, however, has got to be my favorite. It’s totally a capella, too. Save for the shaker. Check out their live versions of the song, too, as they riff on the end. Hilarious.
- I Love My Boss – The ‘b’ Album – Before Jonathan Coulton was critiquing the corporate world with zombie songs, Moxy Früvous cut right to the chase with the delightfully sarcastic and pitch perfect “I Love My Boss.” Choice lyrics:
Bosses through the ages prove
They’re the ones who make it move
Bewitched would have an empty plate
If it weren’t for Larry Tate
Clark Kent reached the highest height
With the help of Perry White
And if we may be retrograde
Speak the name Reuben Kincaid
- You Will Go To the Moon/Laika – You Will Go To The Moon/Bargainville – One of the most interesting differences I always found between Früvous and TMBG, is their perceptions of the space program. While TMBG always celebrated it, nowhere more obvious than on Apollo 18, Moxy Früvous was definitely critical. Laika is a heartbreaking song about the first animal to orbit the earth of the same name. She did not survive the trip. You Will Go To The Moon challenges the idealism of space travel, with an ironic wink: It’s been our most abiding dream/ and a dream is an easy sell/ and when the tourists come in droves/ You’ll be the big cheese on that orbiting rondelle.
- Fell In Love – Bargainville – This has to be one of my favorite love songs of all time. Not just for the a capella beauty of it, but the lyrical quality. Not your typical star-crossed lovers tale, the song is told in a way only Früvous could:
All her ideas were like smoke rings, I had to know things
She was a tangle of questions
How many eggs make up a pound?
How many ears of corn in a niblet?
I was a person who would censor Pee Wee’s Adventure
She was exceedingly liberal
And that’s just a random sampling. The beauty of Moxy Früvous is that they are word nerds, music nerds, and culture nerds. I highly recommend their live album, Live Noise, to get an idea of the kind of electricity their live performances had. Alas, they have gone the way of the Dodo. But what’s so remarkable is that, even over a decade later, their music still speaks to geeks and, indeed, the world at large. With themes as broad as broken hearts, consumerism, saving the environment, Kings of Spain, and more, it’s a music catalog that holds up remarkably well (though, Jian’s hairstyle certainly didn’t… hah!).
Are you a Früvous fan? Did any songs of theirs set you on a geeky path? Or are there any other bands from your past you think deserve mention in the geek rock history books?