Read Hard’s Pop Punk Picks #23: Dr. Frank- Show Business is My Life

Posted: July 17, 2015 in Read Hard's Classic Pop Punk Picks

After Ben Weasel and Dan Vapid, Dr. Frank (From the Mr. T Experience) is the second (or third) artist that will get a double dip Pop Punk Pick with his first solo album Show Business is My Life. The first Dr. Frank pick was MTX’s Revenge Is Sweet and So Are You. After that album, MTX went in a different direction with the album Alcatraz in an Alternative Rock and more Psychedelic 60’s path. After that, Dr. Frank put out his first solo album, that I’m going to talk about in this pick! His second solo record Eight Little Songs was released in 2003; the MTX EP “The Miracle of Shame” was released in the middle of the solo records. A lot of the songs on Eight Little Songs were also included on the last MTX album Yesterday Rules. The songs were a bit more folk-y than his previous records and Yesterday Rules is definitely underrated. A lot of Dr. Frank’s other solo stuff are songs accompanying his literary works, like the songs from King Dork (“I Wanna Ramone You”, the song “King Dork” was released before the book), Andromeda Klein (“Andromeda Klein”) and the most recent King Dork Approximately(“King Dork Approximately”; I love Bob Dylan references!). His books are really good and I read the latter earlier this year and I highly recommend it for those that likes Dr. Frank’s music and enjoyed the first one. Sam Hellerman is a genius.

Show Business Is My Life was released on May 4, 1999 (May the fourth be with you!) on Lookout records. The album cover is red with the title and artist written in two different white fonts. The cover also features Frank with a somewhat weird look on his face. Dr. Frank is on the album backed by the San Francisco Rock n’ roll band The Hi-fives and it gives the album a Garage Rock feel to it as well as the acoustic or experimental only Dr. Frank songs. I didn’t really hear the album before 2012 and it quickly became a favorite of mine and I think it’s one of his strongest works lyrically. Something I will try to do is to narrate songs that aren’t really narrated by Frank or the protagonist.

1. “She Turned Out to Be Crazy”: The first song on the album is a really Garage rock-y track called “She Turned Out to Be Crazy”. The song is three stories of three ladies that the narrator claims are crazy. Each lady gets a different verse. The first verse is about Justine (who was seventeen): this verse describes a high school romance where the two get drunk before her next class. She is crazy because she calls him and follows him; her dad is also police officer. The last line of the first chorus is “She turned out to be crazy, I turned out to be mad”. The second verse is about Marie (who is twenty-three, according to her) and she wants the narrator to buy her friends beer. This ends in the two getting married (the narrator and Marie), unfortunately for the narrator “now she owns half my ass”. The narrator regrets the marriage and think it would’ve been better to have gotten tattooed. The last line of the chorus is “She turned out to be crazy, I turned out to be screwed”. The last verse is about Eleanor (who is 34) who is married to a husband she wants the narrator to kill or punch out. I guess out of all the ladies in this song, she is the most obviously crazy. The narrator tries to do it, but he doesn’t seem like the hardest hitter and they end up back together and her husband presses charges against the narrator. The last line of the song is “She turned out to be crazy, I turned out to be stuck”.

2. “I Made You So I Can Break You”: The second song is Frank alone with an electric guitar. This is music at his finest. One could say Frank isn’t the best singer, but the falsetto in “I Made You so I Can Break You” is beautiful. I’ve always found the music in this song so wonderful that I never thought much of the lyrics. Lately, I’ve realized that the lyrics are great too! The expression “first comes knowledge, then comes doubt” always gives me chills down my spine. The song is about promises, the “you” in the title is the promise. If you’ve made the promise, you can break it!

3. “Knock Knock (Please Let Me In): The third song is basically a “knock knock Joke” in song form, with verses describing someone who wants to be let back into the house by their Ex. The song is in more of a Pop/Rock style. The first verse/joke the person is “Ivan” and after the “Ivan who?” and continues: “I’ve been thinking about the way it was before you kicked me out”, the next “Yuri”: and continues: “You remember all the screwy people that we used to know”, the next “Dwayne” and continues: “The rain is falling down on me”. The next is “Sandy” and continues “San Diego and Los Angeles could fall into the sea”. There’s also a “Blonde joke” in there: “How many blondes does it take/to make me recall all that’s at stake?/two: one to remind me of you, /two to remind me of you, too.» This could be a reference to beer. The bridge goes: “A ball and chain can be such a crutch/Who would’ve thought I would miss it that much?” which reminds me of Masked intruder’s “25 to Life” as well as Bob Dylan’s “Ballad in Plain D”, that it could be inspired by, because they all associate love with prison. I think this is my least favorite song on the album.

4. “Suicide Watch”: Is a more Folk-y song than the others. The song is about the obvious: someone being on suicide watch and the protagonist is their suicide watcher who is in love with the suicidal person and it’s most likely their significant other. The second verse starts: “I’ve been here before/It’s the only time I ever see you anymore”. The song uses the rhyme “I can see your shifty eyes/your 51/50 eyes”, 51/50 is police code for crazy. There’s something completely vulnerable about the “ah na na na na na”’s. This is maybe the first really depressing song by Dr. Frank.

5. “Bitter Homes and Gardens”: The next song is maybe even more depressing. The song describes break-up and heartache like most songs written in the world. It’s still the same punny and clever Doctor, but in this song you can almost feel sadness in his singing. The song seems to be about a post-break up loneliness. I feel like every line in the song is significant and irreplaceable, but the best one is maybe “It’s not the wishing I was dead that’s killing me” or “Now I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall/In this gloomy dream that used to seem so beautiful”. The song title is a pun on the American home magazine “Better Homes and Gardens”, this also creates a contrast, not only between the two adjectives, but also between the emotion the song expresses. I just recently came aware of the magazine, so I never got the title before now. Still, it has always struck a chord in me. The music is somewhat ballad-y, it’s a slow song even if it’s backed by the band. The Hard Day’s Night era Beatles solo is great too!

6. “She All Right”: Is a short little song. And to be such a cute, short little song, it’s got hell of a lot of words. The song is another acoustic track, but way more upbeat than “Suicide Watch”. It’s almost like a children’s song, even if it’s filled with sexual innuendos. And even if it’s pretty straight forward, it’s still maybe the most subtle song on the album yet. Best line: “Here she comes ain’t she cute? All dressed up like a prostitute”

7. “Ask Beth”: Another Garage rock number is “Ask Beth”: it sounds like a song straight out of American 60’s suburbia with its organ. It also sounds a bit like that Caesars’ “Jerk it Out”(weird name for a song), even if it came out two or three years later. I think the song is based on Elisabeth Winship’s column in The Boston Globe called “Ask Beth”. “Ask Beth” was an advice column for teenagers from 1963 to 2007. I think the song could be seen in one way, that the protagonist wants his Ex -girlfriend to ask “Ask Beth” for advice on why their relationship failed, or Beth is his girl and everyone else should ask her why their relationship failed and the reference to the column is just a clever Dr. Frankism. The bridge might be my favorite part:

“These are the best years of our lives
and if one of us survives
he or she will refer to how wonderful they were
but for now I just don’t know”

8 “Population Us”: The eight song “Population Us” is a beautiful little love song. It starts off with the line “It’s a great big world, but all I want is you”. There is both an acoustic and an electric guitar in the song. There’s a chord playing acoustic guitar and a Billy Bragg-style electric guitar in the background. The song expresses discontent with the world at large, and the protagonist wants to be completely alone with their mate. The choruses are all nouns ending with the suffix “-tion” and usually rhymes with “Population”. The protagonist wants total privacy with their significant other and other people will just be the third wheel or there to bring the lovebirds their tea, but the protagonist declares: “I’d do without, that’s what love is all about”. My favorite line is:

“there’s only one way I can see (oh yeah)
how to get from A to B (oh yeah)
it’s true you gotta start with A
but baby B’s not far away (oh yeah)”

My favorite song on the album! One of Dr. Frank’s best ever.

9. “Thinking of You”: Is another short track. It’s played with a guitar effect that makes it sound like a toy-instruments and this song is only Frank as well. Lyrically, the song is about thinking of someone, obviously. The narrator has gone from a place where thinking of the other person has gone from being the only thing that got them by into the mess they’ve become in this song, staring into space, cursing everyone and holding their beer glass too tight. I feel like it’s a nice little transition from “Population Us” to “I’m in Love with What’s-Her-Name”.

10. “I’m in Love with What’s-Her-Name”: “Ask Beth” and “She Turned out to Be Crazy” sure as hell weren’t the only Garage rock songs on the album! And good is that, because “I’m in Love with What’s-Her-Name” is a great one too! It’s a classic love story, two people in love. We never get to know the protagonist name like usual, but we don’t get to hear what his lady’s name is either, she’s just “What’s-Her-Name”, and this was before the Green day song. What’s-His-Name claims he is burning like a Duraflame (a fire log, apparently) and that he is in love with What’s-Her-Name. What’s-Her-Name and What’s-His-Name are now a married couple that sees the world as theirs to confuse and they spend hours “cultivating controversial views”, and isn’t that romantic? The end seems a lot more sexual and dedicated to their genital organs. Organs are important for humans! And also for this song. Organs are essential for the Garage numbers on this album! Now I can’t even tell if there’s an organ on this song, maybe I’ve been wrong all along… I just wanted to make that organ pun!

11. “Two Martinis From Now”: This lovely little song tells the story of someone drinking! Presumably, the same person drinking in “Thinking of You”. The first verse is at 1 o’clock; it’s not said whether it is AM or PM, but PM would maybe make the song a bit more depressing. The person is drinking because of a failed relationship and can’t remember who left who or when it happened. The first drink that’s being had is beer, it seems and then there’s coming up Gin and Tonic and a Blue Hawaiian. When it’s two a clock the person can’t handle another Gimlet, which I found out is Gin and Juice, but a Whiskey and Rye is fine! Heartbreak and drunkenness is kicking in, now the only thing to do is pray! But that’s after half a Manhattan and after that the person is praying the Lord’s prayer and gets a Bloody Mary. I think this is a pun on “Hail Mary”. Then there’s always a fifth of Bourbon. When it’s three o’ clock the person wonders how many teardrops it will be before they collapse and have forgotten the person they are thinking of. The person drinking is now four White Russians behind and feels a Jim Bean shining! The music is kind of relaxed catchy Pop music and it has a guitar solo, which before Dr. Frank yells: “Watch me now!” The cheery tone to the otherwise depressing song is a strange blend. This is also one of the songs on the album with female back-up vocals. I’m not sure how things are going to go, all I know, is the person in the song will probably feel like hell the next morning.

12. “Sad, Sad Shadow”: Is a type of song we don’t hear much from the Doctor. The song does not have that many words in it. The title of the song is pretty much depressing, but the sadness doesn’t stop there. The song doesn’t even have the self-deprecating humor, classic puns and hope in the end of the tunnel that we’re used to in Frank’s saddest songs. The melody and the lyrics are just really sad, and I must say I like it! From the man who gave us “Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend”:

“It’s not the way it’s supposed to be I guess
but I can’t imagine otherwise I must confess
tell me why I’m so full of emptiness
and sad, sad shadow”

13. “This Isn’t About You Anymore”: The last song on the album is also quite different than the rest of Mr. Portman’s catalogue, musically. The song has a Boss nova feel to it and the drums in the chorus sound electric. When I first heard the song I was somewhat baffled about what I was listening, but I also liked it a lot and at that time, it was my favorite song on the album. Lyrically, the Doctor is back to being the Doctor. The puns and cleverness is back. In a lot of ways I think the song’s lyric and melody echoes “I Don’t Need You Now” from Revenge Is Sweet as it is about getting over someone that broke your heart. The first verse the protagonist is over the person who broke their heart, but there’s still a big fat hole in their heart, but “I don’t intend to make it a trend”. The second verse someone else seems to have broken the protagonist heart and this heartbreak is echoed by the heartbreaker in the first verse, but this person has gone down on the heartbreak hierarchy. This also could be seen in “I Don’t Need You” (“You’re moving to the bottom of a pretty long list”). In “This Isn’t About You Anymore” the heartbreaker has become a “footnote to somebody else’s footnote, in a book no one ever wrote” and “out of print”. In the last chorus, the protagonist declares that the heartbreaker will always be a part of them and their legacy won’t fade, but still it’s not about them anymore.

I love this album and I find it hard to find a way to describe the whole album as one. I can’t find a chronology in it like in Revenge Is Sweet, but still the underlying theme is failed relationships, like in most of Doctor Frank’s songs. One thing I’ve noticed though is that about every other song is Dr. Frank solo and the others are with the full band and the album explores several different genres while still keeping the Doctor Frank ethos to some degree. The next Pop Punk Pick is Teen idols’ Full Leather Jacket.


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