Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Shining Brute

One of my very favorite people in the world, Brute Force is performing this Saturday night at 10 p.m. at Otto's Shrunken Head, a tiki bar at 538 E. 14th St. between A and B, otherwise known as A Funky Dive Way the Heck Out in the East Village. I believe admission is free.

Brute has a fascinating history. He was a member of the Tokens during the mid-1960s and wrote songs for the likes of the Chiffons (the pre-psychedelic "Nobody Knows What's Going On in My Mind But Me"—hear it on, Del Shannon, the Cyrkle, and the Creation. In 1967, he released Confections of Love on Columbia, produced by the formidable John Simon, which contained such surrealist pop gems as "To Sit on a Sandwich." Just last week, walking home after a long day at work, I found myself absently singing, "Oh, to go roaming through the cole slaw/Who cares what for, anymore!/Oh, to skip and frolic through the pickles! Where the Big Sandwich Maker himself/Sits high on his Elysian shelf/And giggles/And prepares for the wurst"—

Excuse me.

After Confections of Love, Brute recorded a lovely little song called "The King of Fuh," all about a beautiful land where there was a king and everyone called him the—well, you know. It's a good illustration of Titus 1:15. The Beatles released it on Apple and it was instantly banned by the BBC, making it the rarest 45 ever released on the label. (If you're not at work and the kids are out of the room, you can hear it by clicking the "MP3" button on entry #038 of the "365 Days" music page.) Brute's subsequent album, Extemporaneous was likewise removed quickly from the market; an original copy now sells for over $1,500.

Following the commercial failure of "King of Fuh" and Extemporaneous, Brute left the music business for a while to do things that were less stressful—like swimming the Bering Strait. The photo above is of him greeting Eskimo children during his 1969 attempt to swim that body of water, which was written up in Life. He also writes poems—one of his best is his one on the death of Terri Schiavo.

In recent years, Brute's taken to playing downtown New York clubs, often backed by a group of young hipsters (as he will be this Saturday). I saw him for the first time last year, doing a solo show, and it was one of the best performances I've ever seen—pure joy. He's an actor, a mimic, a great singer and keyboardist, and most of all, a showman. Picture Al Jolson crossed with Jonathan Winters, performing songs that would make They Might Be Giants green with envy.

Saturday also happens to be my birthday, so if you're up for seeing Brute, wish me a happy 37th. I can't think of a better way to spend it than going out with a dear friend and listening to Brute Force. It even beats sitting on a sandwich.