It's that time of the year again, when sidewalk buskers feel the humidity wane and the nights dry and crispen, so they all grab their beat-up woodentops, park their asses on a street corner, open their guitar cases, and play for tips.
OK, so hardly anyone actually does that. Tourists aren't likely to cotton to acoustic soloists unless they're playing "Margaritaville," and local police tend to take a dim view of anyone having too much fun in public. Yet Hollywood's notoriously idiosyncratic Mr. Entertainment remains one of the only local acts who'll still set up shop outdoors, often with his band, the Latter Day Pookie Smackers, in tow.
One place Mr. E won't be turning up as frequently will be South Florida's public school system, where his silly, elliptical songs used to delight kids stuck in stuffy classrooms on a regular basis.
"How do you tell them, 'Oh yeah, I've got a new CD called Recreational Drug Usage and Cookie Consumption'?" he guffaws. In actuality, the newest release from Mr. Entertainment (Steve Toth) and the Latter Day Pookie Smackers contains no lyrics about dope smoking or the resultant munchies, though some of its material ("Donna Do You Wanna?" in particular) may come across as a tad bawdy for the cubbyholed-desk set. Yet the title (spun from something Toth said to his wife, Tina, when she asked him when he was coming to bed one night) is likely indicative of the conditions under which the disc was produced.
The first Mr. E and the PS recording, 1926 Funstown Street, collected zany four-track creations in a cartoon-themed gatefold greeting card. With one foot in Spike Jones' comedic quicksand, another in Dr. Demento land, and a third peg-leg in surreal, psychedelic hillbilly-rock, Funstown Street was endearingly ambitious yet crude when judged by modern recording standards. Live, the band could be casually off-kilter or lapse into downright sloppiness -- all in the name of art, of course. But for Recreational Drug Usage, Toth decided to do it up right. Given his DIY ethic, however, he never thought he'd waste time and money making a legitimate record.
"But in the end, I realized I probably wouldn't waste money, and I really liked going to a studio," he says. So he and the 'Smackers (Kris Pissedofferson, guitar; Neil Peartcocet, drums; Sexual Harassment Ford, bass; Captain Johnson, baritone sax) did the unthinkable: They spent nearly six months rehearsing the 12 tunes on Drug Usage.
"Sometimes we even did two practices in a single week!" he says with disbelief. The uninitiated won't notice anything amiss, but for those who've followed Mr. E's exploits, the new album sounds... well... awfully professional. That's because the group traveled to Atlanta's Zero Return Studios (owned by Man or Astroman? members) and spent a marathon, three-day "lost weekend" using a 16-track board.
"We recorded 14 hours a day," Toth recalls. Engineer Jim Marrer, he continues, "made us jump higher than we ever could. He put eight mikes on the drums!" The band was blown away by the results. "He turned to me and said, 'Never heard a stereo mix on the drums before, huh, boy?'"
Yet the key to the successful session, reports Mr. Entertainment, may have been the $125 worth of "band fuel" listed in the liner notes -- otherwise known as "one quarter-ounce of high-test dope."
"That made the recording a lot easier, and that helped with the title," he chuckles.
Before, Mr. Entertainment (who first smacked the scene in a band called One-Eyed Kings) could be construed as a wacky vanity project of little interest to those not versed in Beefheartian humor, but now, he admits, "This is the first time ever I feel like I'm in a band and not a traveling circus, you know?" With delicately nuanced guitar patterns, heavenly vocal harmonies, and Captain Johnson's frenetic honking throughout, Drug Usage gems like "Elvis Monroe Dickens" and the lonely lament of "Otis the Frogboy" could be attributed to the intertwined ghosts of Morphine and the Hollies. "I have to admit, I like this," says the usually modest Mr. E. "This is as good a record as anybody's."
But maybe the biggest story of Recreational Drug Usage and Cookie Consumption is its novel packaging. Each disc is tucked into the inner cover of an old hardback book, which has been doctored Crispin Glover/Marcel Duchamp/Purvis Young-style with random illustrations, crayon, and pennies. It takes Toth a couple of hours and about $5 to $10 to assemble each one.
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"I've got a process now," he explains. "Coffee, weed, glue stick. "I'm up to 85, and I'll go to 100 and stop there. I'm giving 'em all away. I didn't collect any money for the 500 copies of 1926 Funstown Street, and I'm not gonna collect money from these either. I've always had a hard time selling my stuff, and it made me more comfortable giving them away." He took a copy of 1926 Funstown Street to North Miami Beach's venerable Blue Note Records. "It took five months, and no one ever bought one. So I wrote on it 'free,' and it was gone in a day. I'd rather someone listen to it than it sit there and collect dust. It's not doing me any good. I love playing music, it's my job right now, but it's not about making money. Who am I kidding?"
You can order your own personalized copy of Drug Usage by contacting Mr. Entertainment at 954-926-7457 or email@example.com. Providing the book of your choice and an Abe Lincoln would help, he says, "but I'll do it for free if they just ask. I don't know how to take money back from 'em. I'll take a beer. Or something else."
Those hankering for the lower-fidelity exploits of Mr. E can beg for a copy of the new jewel-boxed four-track collection Mr. E Pee's Mr. E's Pee, which contains rough versions of five Drug Usage tracks.
Additionally, you can catch Mr. Entertainment and the Pookie Smackers (including the last appearance from Pissedofferson -- more on this development next week) at the City Link music festival, Friday, December 13, at Try My Thai in Hollywood.