THE FUNNIES relies heavily on knowledge of the various interpretations, in-jokes, and running gags relating to the comic strips covered that can be found in the community at The Comics Curmudgeon. While the music is hopefully good enough to appreciate on its own, people unfamiliar with the CC side of things might find themselves wondering about what the deal is with the different songs. I'm going to try to explain as best as I can; I don't know if this will help non-CC regulars appreciate the album more, but for the record, here is what the songs are about.
1. MARY WORTH TOLD ME TO
The official explanation of Mary Worth is that it is about "a well-spoken gentlewoman with a knack for quoting proverbs and surrounding herself with interesting people whose lives reflect the daily concerns of society." Mary is the wise elderly neighbor to the various residents of her seaside condominium, a source of sound advice in their various struggles. Except for that time she sort of advised one girl to get involved with a married man - but only as friends, of course. And that time she dragged a man away from charity work in another country against his will - but it was because he got a little sick, so that's okay, right? And she does seem to solve a lot of marital problems by pressuring people into having children, which isn't something that tends to alleviate strains on a relationship...but she's just kind of old-fashioned, okay? She doesn't mean any harm by it. And...say, whatever happened to that Aldo guy who was chasing her pantsuit-clad tuckus? He died, you say? Drove off a cliff?
The simple fact is, Mary Worth is a whole lot more than she appears to be. Far from being a gentle, grandmotherly sort looking out for the well-being of her friends, she is a sinister, manipulative puppet-master with a thirst for interpersonal drama that simply cannot be slaked, and powers the depths of which we cannot truly comprehend. It seems like every time one trouble is taken care of, another springs up just when she's looking for something to pay attention to...and of course everybody pays heed to her advice in the matter. Except when they don't, and when that happens...well, who knows what lengths someone will go to in order to avoid that fate?
2. FUNKY DIRGE
Word is that there used to be a comic titled Funky Winkerbean, back in the day, which was an occasionally serious but mostly humorous look at the trials and travails of high-school life. There's also a comic by that title in modern newspapers, but it's clearly not the same one; everybody's aging, balding, shabby, and sagging, the skies are always a dingy grey, and the only thing approaching humor to be found is the weary half-smirk that the characters wear at the end of every other strip.
Only the thing is, this is the same Funky Winkerbean. Except it's twenty years later, and the ravages of time (and cancer) have taken their toll on the cast. Worries about term papers and angry jocks have been replaced by worries about the failing economy and who your daughter's been hanging around (and cancer.) And somehow, fate always seems to hit someone where it hurts the most - the band teacher loses his hearing, the musical prodigy loses her arm, the former lonely geek loses his wife (to cancer.) And did we mention cancer?
This is music from the depths of a darker Ohio than the world has ever known. Welcome to Westview; enjoy your stay.
3. BALLET FOR A GIRL IN BELGIUM
9 Chickweed Lane was always rather high-minded, quick to remind the audience of its author's roots at the prestigious Juilliard School, and prone to being obtuse for the sake of geeking out in regards to classical music, classic cinema, or classic literature. These traits became even more pronounced as the strip went on; however, from November of 2008 to January of 2009, 9 Chickweed Lane achieved an epic combination of infuriating pretentiousness and jaw-dropping stupidity that may never be topped.
In this series, protagonist Edda Burber and on-again-off-again love interest Amos van Hoesen went to Brussels for a cello competition; Amos was the competitor, Edda his accompanist. The two had been having some difficulties in their relationship, and after dealing with the unresolved sexual tension and coming to terms with their feelings for each other, the two consumated their relationship. Multiple times. As communicated to the audience via several days of strips depicting hands in creative positions. During one particular bout of intercourse, Amos and Edda were filmed "rampant on a Bösendorfer" in their high-rise practice room by a group of passing balloonists, who proceeded to post the video on the Internet, where it became an international TV phenomenon.
I am not making this up.
After way, way, way too much of this, the competition took place, with Amos facing off against a woman whose appearance indicated that the only person of Asian descent Brooke McEldowney has ever seen is Yoko Ono. Amos and Edda, energized by their interminable genital-mashing sessions, gave an apparently magical performance that inspired passionate arousal in all who heard it. The competition initially went to Amos, but his opponent contested the judgement, on the grounds that the popularity of the Amos/Edda sex tape may have influenced the judging.
I am still not making this up.
A rematch was held. Amos won. The readers lost.
(It is apparently important enough that it was a Bösendorfer to warrant multiple specific mentions. Presumably the Bösendorfer is a cultured piano, unlike the poseur Steinway or the proletarian Kimball. In the interest of full disclosure, the piano featured on "Ballet For A Girl In Belgium" is not a Bösendorfer; it is a Yamaha electric. I have said the requisite one hundred Hail Marys. Also, no sex was involved in the recording process.)
4. THIS WEEK, IN JUDGE PARKER (PART ONE)
5. THIS WEEK, IN JUDGE PARKER (PART TWO)
i. Sam Dullard
Judge Parker, like Mary Worth, is a long-running soap strip. In the years since its inception, the focus and protagonist status have shifted from the titular judge to his assistant, Sam Driver, a
lawyer professional rich twit who is so wooden and bland as to make John Agar seem expressive and charismatic, and his wife Abbey, an independently wealthy and incredibly shapely woman who is at the very least much more interesting than her husband. A variety of enjoyable and interesting characters parade into and out of the Drivers' lives each storyline, never to be heard from again.
I'll Deny You, Missy!
Randy Parker, son of the titular but retiring Alan Parker, runs for the county judicial seat against Reggie Black, a disreputable sort who has somehow managed to sell himself as a "family values" candidate, as opposed to Randy, whom he implies is "not the marrying kind," wink wink, nudge nudge. The only problem is that Reggie's sole claim to "family values" is the fact that he is married - to Celeste, a fat drunken loudmouth with a bad temper. During a press conference, in a turn of events that Sam insists he had nothing to do with, no sirree, Celeste is pestered by a reporter about her time in detox, flies off the handle, and attempts to assault her with a microphone, uttering one of the most memorable lines in Judge Parker history.
iii. Cedric The Combat Butler
Abbey flies to Paris with her adopted daughter Neddy, to enroll her in a private school there (despite the fact that apparently neither of them speak French) and purchase an apartment for her from an old acquaintance. While taking in the evening air, Abbey and Neddy are accosted by two thugs, and flee to an abandoned building. They find a flamethrower laying around, but before they can put it to use, they are rescued by Cedric, Abbey's friend's butler, who is more or less Clark Kent playing a Canadian James Bond, and whom Neddy has been mooning after. After beating up the thugs, he leaves them tied up on the floor, in their underwear, and escorts Abbey and Neddy to safety.
iv. Edible Bottles?
i. Edible Bottles!
As a coda to a storyline involving a shady developer wanting to purchase a winery owned by Sam and Abbey for the purposes of (*gasp*) (*shock*) developing the land, we are treated to two weeks of a sermon by nerdy Sophie, the Drivers' other adopted daughter, on the wastefulness of bottled water packaging, despite the fact that she and her vaguely-described computer models have run the numbers and decided that it would be a good idea to use the winery's large aquifer to open a bottled-water plant. It is suggested, in all seriousness, that water bottles should be made of something edible - say, chocolate. Really.
ii. Howard Hughes, Po
ult ry Farmer
Abbey visits the Dickenses, an elderly couple with whom she is acquainted, to ask the husband to stop buzzing the Drivers' horse pasture in his antique biplane. While there, she observes suspicious activity in their farm's chicken barn, but heads home, where the brownies she had with Mrs. Dickens cause her to act goofy and uninhibited; however, in typical Judge Parker fashion, the effects wear off before anything really interesting can happen. The next morning she investigates a little further but gives up, only to have the police come knocking on her door - it seems that Biff and Elvira Dickens have been raising marijuana to pay their debts after their chicken farm was decimated by a virus. The Dickenses go to jail, Sam is once more the only dope in Abbey's life, and we never find out what happened to the biplane.
iii. The Ballad Of Dixie Julep
In what is widely considered the most memorable Judge Parker storyline ever, Sam flies to Arizona to discuss business with Dewey Cheatham, a publisher. While talking out on the golf course, Dewey is shot and killed by a sniper for reasons unknown. As Sam is wont to do, he worms himself into the investigation after giving his testimony to Detective Heidi Roberts, and meets Dixie Julep, Dewey's exotic-dancer girlfriend. As the investigation proceeds, we learn that Dixie (real name Kathleen Harris, with a history of mental illness) had recently been dumped by Cheatham, who insisted on keeping Snowflake, a dog she had grown attached to. Sam pieces together that she killed Dewey over Snowflake, and follows her to her hotel room, where she begins to suffer a breakdown, exhibiting signs of dissociative identity disorder before the police arrive. In a truly epic scene, Dixie flees - right through the hotel-room window. After a futile attempt to escape into the desert, she returns to the hotel parking lot, where she is tragically gunned down by the police. Essentially, it's an episode of Castle with all the wit and charm of Nathan Fillion shifted to the murderer.
iv. Sam Dullard (Reprise)
And in the end, it all comes back to Sam. Despite the fact that every single guest character in every single storyline is a thousand times more interesting and fun to watch, we are stuck with him as our protagonist. No matter how many times we get acquainted with colorful, interesting people in Judge Parker, the fun is all fleeting - only the dullard remains.
6. ROCKIN' THE ARMORY
The town of Milford is located on the edge of the Uncanny Valley, in a world where triangles don't always add up to 180° and parallel lines frequently intersect. The inhabitants likewise behave in a way that is on a different wavelength than normal human behavior; there are moments of synchronicity with real-world human beings, but they serve only to make the differences stand out even more. This song, with its different parts all playing in different times yet somehow remaining in sync, is music from the world of Gil Thorp.
7. APARTMENT 3-G
Apartment 3-G is about three roommates in a New York apartment. Unlike most soap strips, the storylines in the comic are not particularily memorable; rather, it's the characters that grab our attention. As such, "Apartment 3-G" is a set of three character portraits.
i. Lu Ann
Lu Ann lives in a world of rainbows, puppies, and ice cream. She is so oblivious to the bad things in life that her perpetual cheer is almost unflappable, save for the occasional mildly upset head-bobble; even being haunted by the ghost of painter Albert Pinkham Ryder barely fazes her.
Calling Tommie dull is like calling the ocean damp. She is so profoundly uninteresting that even she acknowledges how boring she is. Tommie sucks the life out of every scene she appears in, except when she is being hilariously abused by...
The most fascinating and entertaining character in the strip, Margo is a foul-tempered, acid-tongued marvel. Despite the fact that she is unbelievably self-absorbed and regularily delivers scathing verbal abuse of her roommates, making only the most amusingly tiny attempts to convey remorse (or any other of the softer human emotions,) Margo is absolutely captivating to everyone who reads the strip. Just don't get on her bad side. (Like you can help it.)