Wednesday, October 3, 2012

$5 ROCK: The New Outsider Art?

Almost sixteen years ago, The Beast heard a remarkable NPR broadcast of This American Life where Ira Glass & Co. profiled New York creative-jazz saxophonist Ellery Eskelin. It turns out Eskelin’s father (whom he never actually met BTW) was an obscure cult composer named Rodd Keith who despite being (like his offspring) a prodigious and mercurial musical talent found himself in the absolute dregs of the music industry: The world of American “song poems.” This is where non-professional outsiders set their strange lyrics to prerecorded music advertised in the backs of scandal rags and comic books (alongside the ads for X-Ray Specs, Psychic Healers and Sea Monkey Farms) for a nominal fee – basically, the equivalent of what “self-publishing” was about twenty years ago. Bottom o' the bottom of the barrel.

Ellery Eskelin with daddy Rodd Keith (1960)

Song-poems are “music” in only the most fundamental sense; there are tens of thousands of them, the fruit of 100 years of pulp magazine wheeler-dealers peddling their bottom-barrel wares on what one writer called “the human misery ghetto.” Of course, much “song-poem” music is awful. “This music has everything going against it,” Eskelin told Gross, who had proof of its toll through his father’s tragic suicide in 1974. But thanks to the Web bringing forth all sorts of minutiae-combers, stacks-archaeologists and hipster-lovers of weird outsider subgenres, “song poems” and even unacknowledged, tormented auteur Rodd Keith -- the Brian Wilson of Song Poemin' -- have been exhumed for the fascinating/dismaying nets of human expression they capture. (Keith now has his own compilation, and Eskelin recorded songs based on some of his father’s compositions.)

Quite possibly this tradition has been rebooted/reloaded/recast for the 21st century, just jumped forward in its evolution and has fused with the D.I.Y. aspect of Internet culture in the form of the online "global marketplace" Fiverr. Fiverr sprung up nearly two years ago amidst the dregs of the Economic Meltdown, the result, according to the Wall St. Journal, of "what you get when you mix unemployment, frugal consumers and Internet boredom."

Fiverr has a “Custom Song” page with the following tantalizing offers. And like the song-poems of yore, they cover every possible angle:

I will sing a original song of yours or cover version of a song for $5
I will compose a 30 seconds instrumental music track for $5
I will write you a poem or jingle for $5
I will mix you a live DJ set with the songs of your choice for $5
I will professionally cover a song of your choice on guitar for $5

I will create a pattern, song, solo, or play along to your song with bongo drums, a shaker or triangle...for $5
I will make you a Custom Reggaeton Style Beat for $5
I will make an exclusive instrumental blues, metal or acoustic jam for you for $5
I will create original electronic tracks for video games or movies for $5

Very Specific
I will make you a 10 second original dubstep ringtone for $5

Too Specific
I will play three royalty free songs for you that you pick from a list with background styles that you choose... for $5

Not Specific Enough
I will write and record a twenty second song for you about anything you want for $5

Somewhat Egotistical
I will make a custom rap song with a custom video for your loved ones just like my gig vid for $5
I will produce you any kind of beat for 45 min and complete it for $5
I will mail you a copy of my new audio cd for $5

I will play you a song on my mandolin for $5
I will play happy birthday for you on the violin for $5
I will sing your child to sleep with a personalized lullaby...for $5
I will make an uplifting morning playlist for $5
I will sing a nice song for you for $5

I will write a ukulele short on a given subject for $5

I will play guitar like Angus Young for $5
I will dress in DRAG and sing you Happy Birthday or any other song for $5
I will perform your favorite Rockband song for $5

I will record outstanding professional drum tracks for $5
I will sing any song with my UNIQUE voice to promote your product, service, business, website or blog for $5
I will make a professional recording of my saxophone on your pop song for $5

I will make up a free flow song while singing like a diva for $5
I will sing your song in Classical/Pop/Rock/Jazz/Musicals styles for $5
I will construct you a song with your choice of any 4 live instruments for $5

I will produce a backtrack for a your poetry/sonnet for $5
I will compose a slam poem on a topic of your choice for $5

I will sell you my ten dollar custom original music CD for $5
I will sell an instrumental beat I own, all yours for 2 gigs for $5

I will write and perform a personalized song about you for $5

I will sing the Happy Birthday Song in Yoruba for $5
I will create and compose a song on Piano for your Lyric or Poem in FARSI for $5
I will sing happy birthday to you with Arabic, French, and/or English for $5
I will perform a Russian song on guitar via skype for $5

I will create a chipmunk version of any song for $5

I will scream anything that you ask Greetings, Vows, Songs, Breakups, etc, i can do it very quickly as... for $5

I will sudden death karaoke any song acapella with a banana mic for $5

I will provide you with instrumentals, just add vocals and make your own hit music for $5

I will suggest you and provide you best songs of some alternative rock bands which are not so popular for $5
I will give you relax/sleeping/meditation music track for $5

Potentially Libelous
I will sing a cover of any song you choose while inserting specific names or any personal info you wish for $5
I will write you a customized pop song parody great revenge for $5
 I will sing a bob marley song in a jamaican accent for $5
I will karaoke Rap Baby Got Back over photos of your friends for $5

Gangnam Style
I will write English lyrics for a Korean Pop Song for $5

I will take a song request paired with a topic of your choice and write a parody of that song on that topic for $5
I will write you an ORIGINAL Beatles parody song to promote your website or your loved ones birthday or... for $5

Song Poems!
I will write a great song/poem for you or whoever you want for $5
I will write your own song lyrics/poem with your specified details, subject matter etc for $5
I will write a song using any random words you choose and play it for you for $5

Now, the strings are where they should be: out of the hands of the natty-dressed moneymen and chiseling, cigar-chomping music publishers and into the hands of the people. And for five bucks a pop, this might prove to be the next strange outsider-music obsession that future hipsters will be blogging about forty years from now. Browsing the site, we found this cat, and he just might be the Rodd Keith of Fiverr (hopefully sans the sticky ending):

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