October 30, 2013
When I was a kid the Bobs used to rehearse next to my bedroom. I am the same age as the Bobs (32, in case you’re wondering), and the house that my parents bought in Berkeley when I was a toddler turned out to be the de facto Bobs practice space. There would be that rhythm of a typical rehearsal coming through my wall – the sound of them running through songs, punctuated by loud bursts of laughter (because no one finds the Bobs more funny than themselves). I’m sure there was a level of seriousness to the proceedings, but as a child a Bobs rehearsal seemed like the most fun in the world. Looking back on it now I’m sure that all that a cappella seeping through the walls had some effect on shaping my personality, although I can’t tell you whether it was for better or for worse. Well, I’m sure it wasn’t for the worse….
The truth is a cappella gave me a magical childhood, although with the misunderstandings of being the only child in an adult world. I am an only child and none of the other Bobs had children until I was a teenager, so it was always just me hanging out with my dad….and Matthew, Gunnar, Janie, Joe…basically Bobs et al. As you can imagine most of the conversation was not aimed at a 8 year-old , and thank god for it. I’m sure most of the back and forth flew right over my head, but I sure felt damn special to get at least fifty percent of it. And of course there are the Bobs songs. There was a year or two when I went to college when I would listen to a Bobs lyric and have a “duh” moment – as in, “duh, that’s what they meant by that!” (Hippies versus stockbrokers really has no relevance when you’re 5. And banana love? Thank god I had no idea.) It was great to figure out that these songs I knew by heart had adult meanings, and completely clever adult meanings to boot!
So the early years with the Bobs were pretty damn good, for all of us I think. The Bobs did a fundraiser for my elementary school when I was in 2nd grade, and all of my friends could not stop talking about what a cool job my dad had. Plus there was the fact that often I and my mom got to go on tour with him during the summer, which was always massively exciting for me. I got to sit through a million sound checks, count the seats in various theaters throughout the country, sample various backstage snack spreads…total adventure for a kid. But as a became a teenager things started to change. Even though I secretly felt the same thrill at every soundcheck and cheese plate sampler, I had to play it cool. Cause that’s what teenagers do. And I became less willing to announce “my dad’s in an a cappella band”, and even began to become disdainful of a cappella in general. And yes, when it came time to apply for college I would often announce “I’m going to the school with the least a cappella groups on campus!” (A line which my dad somehow managed to steal and make a joke out of.) Of course I would still go to every Bobs show and enjoy the hell out of myself (unfortunately, I may actually be more amused by the Bobs than they are of themselves). But a cappella was….well, so uncool. And it’s plight wasn’t being helped by all the dorky white freshman choir kids at my college trying to cover “smells like teen spirit” with only voices. (I’m sorry, but I grew up with the best.! I’m a tough critic!) When friends asked what my dad did I would say, “he’s a musician……..”, and then just let the mystery hang in the air for awhile. (Which led to a rumor in college that my dad was Neil Young….a rumor I probably could have done more to correct.)
But then one night a few years later, living by myself in Brooklyn, randomly ploughing through youtube videos, I decided to search for the Bobs. I watched an early video of them performing “art for art’s sake” on PBS, and was absolutely floored. This was fucking brilliant! I had always thought the Bobs were good because… well because I kind of had to, but Jesus Christ, they really were good! Suddenly my adult self was able to recognize all the subtlety of the music, the singing, the arrangements, even the over the top (and yet totally brilliant) eighties fashion. After that night I started going back through all my old Bobs records, re-listening to everything with a new, more adult ear. Although I enjoyed the comfort of the intense nostalgia all those songs gave me, I even more enjoyed their lyrical and musical brilliance. Although I had always been a Bobs fan by blood, it was then that I truly became a real Bobs fan.
So now my life with the Bobs is great. I try to make new converts of worthy friends once in awhile, which often works (although making guests sit down and watch early performances of your dad’s a cappella group is not something I would advise). I get first pick at dug up old t shirts or posters or records, and I even get to have input on their new material. I have the Bobs (every single one of them, although mostly my dad) to thank for my sarcastic wit, and my ability to get in some hilarious asides at a dinner party. And of course for the music.
And because of that I give you (in the spirit of High Fidelity), my top 5 Bobs desert island tracks:
Santa Ana Woman
Art For Art’s Sake
ITHOTMOA (mostly chosen to make my Dad roll his eyes…..)