Bobby Bare Jr. – Look what the old man made me do
“God, this beer’s good,” says Bobby Bare Jr., shaking his tousle-topped head after another sip of domestic, marveling at the cold glass in his hand and the tiny, aftertaste-less, alcohol-fortified ice crystals melting instantly on his tongue.
Bobby’s dad, longtime country music singer, songwriter and celebrity Bobby Bare, was best at wise. On now-classic recordings such as “The Streets Of Baltimore” and “Detroit City”, his voice conveyed a been-there-and-lived-to-tell-the-story kind of astuteness. The son — even now in his late 30s — is better at wonder, whether it’s wonder at beer or at favorite bands like Ministry or the Silver Jews, or, most often in song, at his own stupidity.
“I show my ass to everyone/As if that’s never been done before/In case you missed it the first time,” he sang in “Naked Albino”, from his 1998 Boo-Tay debut album with the raucous rock band he called Bare Jr. These days, he’s recording as Bobby Bare Jr.’s Young Criminals’ Starvation League, and though the sonics have changed from wailing rock ‘n’ roll to something equally wailing but more stripped-down, the self-flagellation has remained constant. From The End Of Your Leash (released June 22 on Bloodshot) finds him advising “Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost)” and bemoaning, “I don’t want to be that motherfucker/Who can make you so blue you become mean/When the devil needs help, why does he always call me?”
Mike Grimes, a former Bare Jr. member and a frequent participant in Young Criminals shows and recordings, is among Bare’s best pals. “The self-loathing lyrics that are the fabric of a lot of his songs don’t manifest themselves, at least to me, to be in his real life,” Grimes said. “Maybe he feels like that inside, I don’t know. Lyrically, they’re a lot more desperate than the man that I see and hang around with. I don’t think he hates himself.”
This is not an article about whether Bobby Bare Jr. hates himself or not. Odds are, he doesn’t. Either way, he laces his songs with enough humor to take a little of the edge off the “peer into my soul” stuff, and to add some bite to the otherwise innocuous stuff. Either way, he’s an unusually powerful voice in an unusually punchless Nashville time. Either way, he makes music worth hearing. Either way, he rocks and he snarls and he wonders.
“Insult me ruthlessly, oh you’re the best/You blew me off/It turned me on!” he shouted in the song that helped him to almost-one-hit-wonder status. People chuckled at that song, a reaction Bare didn’t mind a bit.
“‘You Blew Me Off’ was written from an intensely sad spot,” he said, chasing the beer with a soda, because he finds that to be the best method for avoiding a hangover. “If I can take these horrifying feelings and get a roomful of people to laugh along with me, it brings it into perspective a little.”
Trouble is, Bare’s current situation leaves little room for intensely sad spots. Days after his No Depression interview, he married the former Megan Stembridge, who was pregnant with his child.
“We dated off and on for five years,” he said. “I bought her a ring, and was waiting for the right moment. She was cooking bacon and said, ‘Oh, I’m pregnant. Here’s my third positive pregnancy test.’ Luckily, I had the ring in my pocket, so I got on my knees and said, ‘Darling, I want to be married to you.’ So, it worked out. She’s by far the prettiest girl I’ve ever got to kiss, and she wants to have my kids and be around me forever. I got lucky. I can’t wait. I’m so tired of chasing girls, man. It’s a waste of time, and none of them are prettier than her.”
Marriage, offspring and luck can be wondrous developments, but they don’t do much for the ol’ Hank Williams complex. If internal conflict is a muse, and the muse helps pay the bills and justify the publishing deal, then happiness can be a curse.
“Oh, but I’ve got enough backlog to last me a long time,” Bare assures. “Not songs, but drama. I can pull up journals and stuff, and old letters and stuff that are filled up enough with drama, and real feelings, that I can look at and taste immediately.”
Stardom was predicted early on for Bobby Bare Jr. Early, and on the record. The record in question was the Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends And Lies double-album, one of a quartet of brilliantly loose, eminently literate, like-minded works to emerge from a 1973 Nashville world that was considerably more open-minded than today’s Music Row. (The others being Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie, Waylon Jennings’ Honky-Tonk Heroes and Tom T. Hall’s The Rhymer And Other Five And Dimers.) While Honky-Tonk Heroes focused on the songs of Billy Joe Shaver, Papa Bare chose to record fourteen songs written by off-kilter poet Shel Silverstein, because Shel was a top dog songsmith and Bare was looking for a hit. Fourteen songs seemed a better bet than one or two.
It turned out that Silverstein wrote Bare a couple of hits, the chart-topping bizarre witch tale “Marie Laveau” and a sweet little duet with sweet little 5-year-old Bobby Bare Jr. Called “Daddy What If”. The latter rose to #2 on the country charts and was nominated for a Grammy for best country vocal performance by a duo or group. The Bare men earned the rare pleasure of being beaten out by the Pointer Sisters. (Yes, the Pointer Sisters. For a country Grammy. Remember “Fairytale”? Uh-uh.)
Anyway, the elder Bare’s voice began the song by announcing, “I’d like to introduce you to the next superstar. Twenty years from now, he’s gonna be so ashamed of what he has done on this record, that he’s probably gonna sue me. And he and all of his friends are gonna be sittin’ around stoned, and he’ll say, ‘Look what the old man made me do.'”