Little by little by little we are all getting older…
An obsession with death runs through the work of Patrick Tape Fleming but that doesn’t mean he’s sad. Just the opposite! I mean this is a guy who for years was most notorious in the city of Des Moines for hanging upside down from a chandelier. Same guy who’s been single-handedly keeping denim retailers afloat by ripping a hole in his pants while doing the splits. Same guy whose band’s logo is a synonym for “sadness” written on an item used at children’s birthday parties.
Vaudeville Mews in downtown Des Moines is hosting a weekly residency with all-time Iowa music great Patrick Tape Fleming (in his Gloom Balloon mode) for the rest of this month starting tonight (May 12).
Now, I don’t want to give any impression of journalistic objectivity here: Patrick is my friend and I also consider him one of the most influential musicians to me that I’ve ever known personally. But lists aren’t about objectivity, they are about putting a bunch of shit in a list for fun! So, in honor of Patrick’s residency here’s a list of the 15 greatest songs he’s written between the legendary powerpop band the Poison Control Center and his current band Gloom Balloon. The residency shows are free and all ages and run every Thursday at 5:30 from now until the end of May.
1. Magic Circle Symphony — This is a no-brainer. A magnum opus whose refrain captures Patrick’s death-obsession as well as it’s transcendence: “Love, love is the answer, until you get cancer, then you’re lying, dying, dead. Oh please sing what I just said!” If you’ve been to a PCC show since 2007 you’ve indeed sung what he just said and it’s amazing how cathartic it is to mosh while chanting about dying.
2. Pacific Sunrise — This is a rocking standout from their amazing 2010 record “Sad Sour Future” and it has such a lovely melody and theme (enhanced by Joe Terry’s memorable trumpet hook). The song is about driving to a mountaintop vista with your lover and it builds to a thrilling release that mirrors the feeling of finally arriving at that summit.
3. Jennifer & Ryan — This is an early song from his catalog that really touches the heart with a sweet and funny vignette of a young couple that has the wide-eyed feeling of a Jonathan Richman song but with just a touch of punk thanks to Pat’s goofy early nasal singing style. This occasionally popped up in PCC acoustic sets for years, always at the request of some young fan who probably felt they were the only one who remembered this deep cut from “Kennedy”. Pat’s songs give you that feeling of discovery over and over again.
4. When the World Sleeps — One of the most dynamic, powerful, and also kinda gross songs in the PCC catalog. It’s about loving someone so much that you’d be willing to be covered in their period blood. The way that Pat screams “NOOOOO” right before the band explodes gives an air of desperation to what, sonically, comes off at first as a late-night under-the-covers romantic moment.
5. Driving — The opening track on “Collage of Impressions” brings us into Pat’s world, a world where near car-crashes give way to fantasies of telling your family how much you really love them. The sound and feeling of the crash is just as present as the serenity of the love it inspires.
6. Thousand Colors — A technicolor banger from “Stranger Ballet” that deserves a place in the powerpop pantheon with it’s elemental chord structure, group-singing reprise, and general insane catchiness.
7. She Was the One That Got Away — Gloom Balloon finds Pat in a wide variety of modes (from avant composer to aspiring soul singer to lo-fi pop outcast) but one of my favorites is his grooving, heavy-beat, fourth Beastie Boy kinda mode that he brings out on this track and a few others. His bandmate Chris Ford (of Christopher the Conquered) holds down the hooky chorus as Patrick dad-raps about library books and ex-boyfriend memories. And, goddammit, it actually kicks ass.
8. Make a List of All the People That Inspires You Before You Kill Yourself — This is the single strangest song Patrick ever wrote for PCC. And it’s one of the best, too. The lyrics are a flowing and dream-logical first person rant from the mind of a suicidal maniac who intends to make the list referred to in the song’s title but ends up getting sidetracked by thinking of his obsession with Jackie Onassis. But the monologue ends with the line “I hope someone misses me” and turns the maniac into a sad little boy all of a sudden, with devastating results.
9. The Face — This tender love song kicks off Gloom Balloon’s debut LP on a gorgeously intimate note that creates a sincere and sentimental setting for the wave of swirling sounds that are coming.
10. Ruggers — This is just a big, loud, rollicking fight song from the PCC’s long-lost rock opera that has a place in the canon because, believe me, Patrick’s ability to pull off novelty songs and turn them into fist-pumping rockers is NOT easy or simple at all.
11. Start the Revolution — We’re all getting older. PCC started out with teenage enthusiasm that the band managed to sustain into adulthood and when they turned their attention to adulthood itself the result, in songs like this one, was beautiful. Turned out Patrick can embrace life with as much joy as he embraces death.
12. It’s a Surprise — This is an underrated single that has a really fun music video too. One of the catchiest chord progressions that Patrick ever conceived is married to his eternal theme of treating the contemplation of death as a reason to dance.
13. Shabami! — The PCC’s early concept album “The Go-Go Music Show” is a daring and still-ingenious record that is presented as a children’s radio program, complete with commercials, announcements, special segments, etc. “Shabami!” is another great example – like “Ruggers” — of Patrick’s ability to conceive and execute a perfect little novelty song.
14. Grow Up and Marry Your Best Friend — This is one of Patrick’s early love songs that really hits the mark, a melody and message that are totally timeless and selfless. It feels like a song that was channeled rather than written.
15. Ropeless — Patrick released a set of Gloom Balloon B-sides under the name “Songs That Couldn’t Swim” but thank god he didn’t let this little guy drown because it’s a blurry, 4-track fragment that recalls the unfinished (but oddly well-rounded) feeling of GBV’s “Alien Lanes.”