First of all, let me say the album’s title is total bullshit. My late father- in-law, rest his goddamn cigar-stained soul, was a devotee of the Jaliscan musical arts, and many were the nights he kept members of his extended family hostage on one seaside balcon or another, while we listened to endless renditions of the mawkish upbeat ditties that comprise Mariachi’s classic repertoire. Having heard my share (and yours) of Mari-fuckin-achi, I feel qualified to tell you that this album has not one whiff of that particular southern wind. Which, typically enough, makes the Sun City Girls a bunch of liars. Again.
It has been said that Charlie Gocher, the diminutive French percussionist of the Sun City Girls, left the planet inside a flame-filled orb in February, 2007. A bitter dandy, with a lisp, a limp and a reputation as one of the Pac 10’s premier chubby chasers, Gocher told his bandmates he required a toothpick and stepped into the night air. Several hours later, his orb was photographed by United Airline’s Capt. Jack Chesterton, passing by the cockpit of Chesterton’s Boeing 747 at 35,000 feet. These are the facts, ma’am. But ask either of the Bishop Brothers (Bub or Gil) about Gocher’s absence and they will say only, “He who is gone can never really go,” or some such other happy horseshit. They cannot bear to speak the truth – they are both bachelors left naked at the altar, uncooked chicken mottling in the sun and the wind. There is a stink afoot, thus they declare it a funeral. As a way of confusing matters further, they decide to call the funeral Mexican. What apes!
In the three-plus years since Gocher shed his chains, the Bishop Brothers have worked themselves into frenzies of activity. Gil has recorded as Gilvarious B, but has spent most of his time producing erotic (some would say, pornographic) puppet plays based on the repressed limericks of Peter Schumann, as viewed through a Manichean keyhole. Bub has toured cigar clubs nationwide under the name Sir Bub Bishop, has released a string of cleverly-fingered albums, and joined a Mahavishnu-oriented trio with fellow devotees Sri Chasny and Devadip Corsano. They are called Rangda, after the Egyptian goddess of stringed animals. The pair has also hosted a few children’s television shows, heavily made up and employing thick Middle Eastern accents, although the names of these shows escape me right now.
“Funeral Mariachi is the Sun City Girls’ ultimate studio expression. Barring some very odd incident, this is it – the terminal post from Planet Boomerang.”
But back to the matter at hand, Funeral Mariachi is the Sun City Girls’ ultimate studio expression. Barring some very odd incident, this is it – the terminal post from Planet Boomerang. Begun many years ago, whilst Gocher was still ensnared by his ongoing situation, the album was recently completed by the dab hands of Bub and long-time co-conspirator, Scott Colburn. Broken into eleven pieces, it is tempting to try and create a meta-narrative for the album, but this eventually appears to be what Gocher might have called “a rube’s toot”. Meaning we are best advised to abandon linear cohesion and approach the album as a randomized sequence of instances, about which we can infer dick. And so that’s what we do.
The eleven pieces of Mariachi present a wide assortment of tropes the band resorted to over its 27 year history. There are also guest appearances by a few familiars – Eyvind Kang, Jessika Kenney and David Carter – but the bulk of the heavy lifting, such as it is, is accomplished by the core trio, naked as jaybirds.
The first track, “Ben’s Radio”, takes its name from an incident where Bub – who served as one of Ben Affleck’s stunt doubles during the filming of Gigli – was accused by Jennifer Lopez of stealing one of her co-star’s transistorized props. The piece imagines what it would be like to crawl under Lopez’s wig and spin her knobs, flashing randomly between stations, during a cruise to the Philippines. Surely a dream we’ve all had at one time or another. “Ben’s Radio” reminds us the Girls initially had a certain similarity to The Residents in concept and approach. Makes you laugh now, doesn’t it?
“Funeral Mariachi is proof – as if any was needed – that it takes more than just a trumpet to swing like a bunch of portly Jaliscans in tight pants and big hats.”
“The Imam” is a searing attack on recent attempts by certain Islamic leaders to horde cinnamon, keeping this lovely element – so important to the musical culture of the Arabian Peninsula – to themselves. The forged Call to Prayer near the apex of the song is a particularly scathing critique. Man the battlements.
“Black Orchid” was initially begun by Gocher, on commission to create the theme song for a new television show based on a DC Comics heroine. Charlie had initially envisioned a lilting French-style composition in the style of Francis Lai. He worked on this for a while, until Matt Damon (the proposed show’s producer) decided to drop the project. Gocher sued Damon for a small fortune. He settled out of court and decided to recycle the initial work. Here it is reimagined by Gil as an Iranian “horse ballad”.
“This Is My Name” is a sly tribute to Jim Baker, the California health nut who became known as Father Yod, using text drawn from Baker’s self-published book, Liberation. According to knowledgeable sources, the long mellotron solo was designed as an invocation of the internal soundtrack to Baker’s finale – a hang-gliding accident that deprived the world of a tough-ass spiritual leader.
“Vine Street Piano (Orchestral)” is a sentimental instrumental track, named after one of the streets on the British Monopoly board (one of Gocher’s obsessions while on tour). When Charlie would succeed in controlling this bit of real estate, he would always pull out his accordion (which he called his “piano orchestra”) and play one of the many Ennio Morricone themes he had memorized during his youth. Lovely!
“Blue West” is another commercial venture. It was done as the background music for a promotional film for a small couples-only spa in a suburb of Seattle. The visuals – with Gil running around in a wig, sticking his keister into various occupied hot tubs – are really worth seeing. But even without them, one can conjure up a whiff of the majesty involved in the operation.
“Mineral Wells” is about a small town in northeast Texas where it was rumored that a family of Okies had succeeded in drilling a well that spouted diamonds. This is an episode that reportedly occurred during the latter days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and Pink Floyd also used the song as the basis for “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (Syd Barrett rumors to the contrary). The whole story was laid out in a Roger Waters interview in Q that made quite an impression on Bub. Indeed, he kept the thing pasted to wall of his bathroom for almost a year.
I’m almost embarrassed to write about “El Solo” since its message is so clear. Let’s just parse the elements – a television appearance by the Ray Coniff Singers, a jar of Vasoline, and a young teenage boy who found music thrilling. ‘Nuff said.
“Come Maddalena” is a cover of a piece Morricone originally wrote for Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s 1971 film, Maddalena. But this version draws more heavily from the ’78 disco version, which was a favorite with Bub and Gil during their dance school days.
“Funeral Mariachi” is proof – as if any was needed – that it takes more than just a trumpet to swing like a bunch of portly Jaliscans in tight pants and big hats. But the piece is a darkly burning meditation on the impermanence of life on this planet. Is there life elsewhere? Don’t fuckin’ ask me. But if you happen to be looking through a portfolio of Hubble shots, and you see a flaming orb kinda poking around the edges of some galaxy or another, the chances are pretty good that there’s some life force right there, inside that little ball of whatsis. ‘Cause I don’t know exactly where Gocher ended up, but wherever it was, the place is in a state of constant explosion. That’s just the way it is.
Fuck Mariachis. Fuck Funerals. Fuck Death.
—Byron Coley, Sept. 2010