Back to Music

Skirting musical chaos

The Squirrels are legendary Seattle mavericks of pop subversion

The Squirrels have returned to subvert pop and add their own weird flair. Photo credit: Horatio Vaspuisvich

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

It is my feeling that there's nothing sacred in music. I repeat: nothing. If anything, a little bit of subversion is always welcome, and if a band wants to punch up at some iconic band, song or style, I'm all for it. In my time working as a karaoke host, I've been delighted by the social experiment of singing Smash Mouth's "All-Star" over the melody of John Lennon's "Imagine," and gauging the range of audience reactions. Mostly, the younger audience members are into it, while some others become viscerally distressed - as if the silly party trick of mashing up those songs could somehow touch Lennon's legacy. Similarly, I like playing a mash-up of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Rockin' Robin" at parties and looking for how many people move to change it.

The thing is, taking an existing property and poking fun at it, satirizing it, mutating it into something unrecognizable, or otherwise taking the piss out of said property or person, has always been a valuable factor of pop music. Artists can't properly soar without dissent, and upstarts tend to get their footholds on the heels of giants. "Weird Al" Yankovic - years before he would finely tune his craft - began his career playing a decidedly lo-fi parody of Queen on Dr. Demento's radio show. Was it a finely tuned masterwork of comedically upending a rock legend? No. Did it let some of the steam out of what can sometimes be a suffocating experience of ingesting mainstream entertainment? Yes.

Groundbreaking musical movements like punk, New Wave, and the early oughts' embrace of garage rock, were all about tearing down established norms. In this way, these bands were thumbing their noses at giants in the same way that mashing up Smash Mouth and John Lennon assaults the senses of mainstream music fans. In a grander, more exhaustive way, the Squirrels have been doing their part to undermine musical sanctity since the early ‘80s. Formed by Rob Morgan, this rough group of musical anarchists went through several names - including Ernest Anyway and the Mighty, Mighty Squirrels, which gets points for its lack of brevity - but always kept a joy for mixing and matching pop music to approach something just skirting the edge of chaos.

The Squirrels are a huge point of pride for the Puget Sound music scene, with Morgan having formed the band in the early ‘80s in Seattle. Speaking of punk's aversion to mainstream rock's stranglehold over the airwaves, the Squirrels did their level best to subvert one of punk rockers' biggest enemies: Pink Floyd. After years of doing covers of popular songs, and warping them to fit their needs, the Squirrels finally came out with Not-So-Bright Side of the Moon in 2000, a full-length take-down of Dark Side of the Moon. Years after the Flaming Lips confronted punk rock's aversion to Pink Floyd by covering their songs in the late ‘80s, the Squirrels restarted the war on prog-rock bloat with an entire album that reinvents Dark Side of the Moon as a journey through lounge, weirdo-punk, bluegrass, and absurd funk.

In 2009, the Squirrels disbanded, but 2017 finds them reuniting for a good cause: they are currently on their "Squirrels Trump Hate" tour. Lord knows what that could be related to, but hate is something that is always due with a squashing. While wonderful people may take to the streets to oppose our country being overtaken in fire and flagrant bigotry, it is also important to remember those artists, like the Squirrels, that can shine a bit of levity onto a terrible situation. If any time in this country could use some comedic chaos, that time is now.

The Squirrels, w/ Trees and Timber, the Nards, DJ Melodica, 8 p.m., Saturday, May 20, $10-$15, Jazzbones, 2803 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253.396.9169

Read next close

Arts

Nicholas Nyland partners at Matter

comments powered by Disqus