Much like fans of the Star Wars Universe often have a battered copy of the Holiday Special propped up against the vintage Millennium Falcon on the top of the bookcase, and Marvel zombies will–long past ever having a VCR–keep a tape of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four in all its Xerox-packaged glory, Enthusiasts hold close to their hearts something that the outside world might find ludicrous and embarrassing.
We have Bobby’s 1984 promotional video for I Want to Live in America.
The genius behind Lost Live Dead has chronicled Bobby’s attempts to strike out on his own far better than I ever could on another of his sites, Hooterollin’ Around, and I shall pass off several of opinions as my own during this post.
Bobby had put out Ace under his own name, but except for Dave Torbert on bass for a few tracks, it’s a Grateful Dead record. (One of the best, in fact.) He showed the same lack of interest in a solo career as everyone else in the band (except Garcia, obviously) until the Hiatus, when he put together Kingfish.
To usher in the 80’s, Bobby introduced a new band called Bobby & the Midnites (we’ll get to the name later) and, for lack of a better term, tried his Bobbiest to become a serious rock star all on his own. Was he thinking about a future post-Garcia already?
Bobby & the Midnites weren’t one of Billy’s bar bands or Phil’s family jamborees: the Midnites were serious motherfuckers. Billy Cobham is such a good drummer that he’s the black Billy Cobham. (Seriously: if you don’t know the man, then check out Spectrum, his 1973 album. Alphonso Johnson, the original bass player, was in Weather Report and Kenny Gradney, the guy who replaced him, was in Little Feat. Those are player’s bands. Bless his junkie’s heart, Dee Dee Ramone wasn’t getting past the first audition.
So, the band is made of serious cats (earning serious money) and two big-time record companies (Arista and Columbia) put out two records full of (mostly) new material. They’re touring their asses off in between Dead tours, releasing singles, making videos: all the stuff you do when you’re trying to break a band in the music business, not when you’re just a group to make some cash in between Dead shows.
Bobby saw the charts in 1984 and knew he could compete with Steve Perry. Fuck, besides: Billy Idol, Glenn Frey? They started as guys in bands, too. Now, they were solo acts. That’s the way it worked. Bobby reasoned. It’s Bobby’s time now, fuckers.
But it wasn’t Bobby’s time. Solo stardom, as we know, eluded him and forced him to stick with us, and us with him.
Before returning to the fold in complete spirit and mind, Bobby did manage to produce a promotional video for the song I Want to Live in America. It isn’t excellent.
In all matters, humanity has proven to be just smart enough to do some real damage and disposing of nuclear waste is no exception. It’s not enough to bury it, or shove it up a mountain’s ass: you need to warn the future how badly the past fucked up and to go no further. How, right? What language would you use to tell people a hundred years from now to run away? A thousand? Ten thousand?
The trick is devising something that means “danger” in a more universal language than languages or even symbols: the architecture is designed to repel visitors, even injure them. (This will of course not dissuade anyone in the slightest. As Terry Pratchett wrote “If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying ‘End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.”)
This video might be the solution. Run it on a loop outside the mountain and for as long as humanity exists, legend will tell of the Cave of Sadness and Bob. Children will dare each other to watch the whole video, but no one will be able to finish it. No mater your culture, religion, language: any human being would recognize that this video was a warning.
We open on Bobby. He is casually sauntering. That is the eighteenth take. For the first seven, he froze at his starting position. It was like you had asked a centipede whether it walked with opposing steps or left, right, left. Just complete shutdown.
On the eleventh take, Bobby fell in the water. There was an hour break in filming while the wardrobe mistress dried out Bobby’s shirt, which is one of the first signs that Bobby is fucking up his shot at solo stardom. As any Enthusiast can tell you, that’s shirt is heavy in the 80’s rotation. If you’re going to have a career separate from the Dead, you have to at least get some new clothes.
You can get new clothes in America. (We are in America.)
Bobby & the Midnites are now the Beatles, playing atop a roof in Brooklyn. The director has instructed the musicians to run at his camera for added energy. Of note if the bass player, who makes “running to his spot” and “doing his rock move” two discrete actions.
The quick-eyed among you will notice two buildings in the background which no longer exist. Hopefully, that’ll be the last of that.
Not that Billy Cobham looks like Bubba Smith in the Police Academy movies, and not the keyboardist looks like Al from Home Improvement, and certainly not Disco Borat back there, whom we will get to, no doubt about it.
But: where’s Bobby? The group’s called Bobby & the Midnites. Bobby should be on camera the whole time so we can watch him sing.
We are. The guy in the jacket is also Bobby. Bobby Cochran.
You mean Bobby managed to fuck up the whole Blank and the Things naming convention?
Well, they were both kinda the front guy.
Okay, fine, whatever. Why is he singing?
Because he sings this song.
In a group with Bobby Weir of the Grateful goddamned Dead, some dude named Bobby Cochran is singing the lead single from the album?
According to the historical records, yes.
I’m gonna lie down for a while. You do the next one.
The action now switches to California for no apparent reason; there are cars. Fun fact: that little boy grew up to be killed in Vietnam.
Okay. No more with you.
That was fun!
We’re back in Brooklyn for the chorus, which Bobby, Al, and Shitty Bobby lip sync. At the word “America,” Bobby throws up in his mouth.
And then along comes Funky.
It’s this scene, though, that confuses me the most. Bobby goes to Chinatown to look at all the “fugitives” and watch them eat ice cream in exceedingly foreign ways. The band isn’t with him. This means camera equipment and teamsters and other expensive shit had to be lugged to Chinatown for this shot, and the editor instructed to create a subplot for Bobby.
Bobby wrote the song! It’s terrible, but he wrote it, along with John Perry Barlow and Shitty Bobby and Gerrit Graham, who was a Star Trek actor because of course that’s what happened. It’s not like he’s jumping in on someone else’s tune.
Let Bob sing.
Bobby now watches Chinese guys play basketball. If there was any thematic intention behind this scene, it may be the assimilation story: immigrants to this great land learning our ways. I doubt this on two levels. First, these kids aren’t immigrants. They probably went to Stuyvesant: the one kid keeps his hands up on D. That’s years of being yelled at by coaches; those are American kids.
Second, I truly don’t believe there was intention behind this scene, at all. They had the cameras and the talent for another six hours, the light was good, and when the light went down there would be dinner, and Chinatown is an excellent place for dinner.
Action switches to a beach. Are we in California? Jones Beach? Wherever it is, it’s an American beach. (That’s true: Bobby maintains an area of sovereignty one hundred yards in diameter around his person. He’s like an embassy or an aircraft carrier.)
Billy Cobham has taken his shirt off.
“Hey, how are ya?”
Why are you standing behind the sax player? Or in long shots?
“It’s a band, man.”
Then why didn’t the whole band go on the Chinatown adventure? That was just you. Nobody else had anything to do.
“I can relate to the immigrant thing, y’know?”
No. Plus, once again, you’re the Bobby of the group.
“I’m one of two Bobbies, actually.”
The metaphorical Bobby. You’re playing the Bobby role. The rest of the band looks like a crowd scene from The Hills Have Eyes.
“I can see where you’re coming from.”
You wanna be a star, buddy, you gotta put yourself out there. And you need a hit song. This one ain’t cutting it.
It’s not even the best song written by a Star Trek actor.
“You live, you learn. Nothing to regret. Hell, at least it can’t get any worse.”
You don’t like to see that.
“Oh, hey. You’re both here. Awesome. I–oh, hey, I did not remember that shot being in there.”
Takes you by surprise a little.
“Your breath away, right.”
“Hey, man. Been a while.
Yeah. Been nuts at work.
“So…that whole thing with the Towers is a bit of a boner-killer, huh?”
I’m not sure I’d phrase it that way.
Jesus, even I wouldn’t phrase it that way.
I like the way bobby said it. Hey, Bobby.
You shut up. Shut up, you.
You barely have a job here as it is. Don’t help.
“You owe me forty bucks, man.”
Are you borrowing money from fictional characters?
To do what with?
Invest in BitCoin.
All of you need to get back to work.
The band then appears behind a sand dune for some reason, possibly directorial insanity, possibly a lack of pants on the part of the group. It is a poor angle; Billy Cobham remains shirtless; Funky is going to rock out directly the fuck at you every chance he is given.
The album made it to #166. No bullet.
Bobby had failed to grasp stardom outside the Dead. He soon hooked up with Rob Wasserman and later Ratdog and made mostly good music for people who were happy to be in the same room as a Grateful Dead.