Any guy who performs certified far-left folk-rock parodies in a Texas bar – and survives, yet (see sidebar) – has more stones than most. And you have to have a thick skin if you’re taking on right-wing flash points like gay marriage and creation science. But Roy Zimmerman is far, far more than a provocateur. Let’s just start off and say we love the guy (our Web guy has been Zimmerman’s devoted Webmaster for several years), but we also feel pretty sure that our fondness is justified.
Zimmerman, a soft-spoken guy who doesn’t come across as a fighter, lives in the San Francisco Bay area, so his liberal credentials are rock-solid. But our take is that his work is about far more than liberal vs. conservative – he’s really more interested praising the thoughtful and skewering the foolish, regardless of what political label you might put on them. (Of course, as another famous parodist puts it, the truth does have a liberal bias…)
And he does it amazingly well. After all, how many folk rockers get reviews like these:
Tom Lehrer says, “I congratulate Roy Zimmerman on reintroducing literacy to comedy songs. And the rhymes actually rhyme, they don’t just ‘rhyne.'”
Joni Mitchell says, “Roy’s lyrics move beyond poetry and achieve perfection.”
Pissing off the right has made up much of the career of Roy Zimmerman, a master political parodist with a gift for juggling words that would make W.S. Gilbert nod approvingly. Dig the bridge of “Defenders of Marriage”:
One summer evening when my woman was doing laundry
I shared a six-pack with an old John Bircher
And oh so wisely he imparted
an ancient quandary
to ponder, he
said, “It’s nature versus…legislature.”
Notice the barrage of internal rhymes – Roy’s competition isn’t Weird Al, it’s Stephen Sondheim. Oh, and for a gentle and moving take on the same topic, treat yourself to “Summer of Loving,” a pro-gay-marriage anthem which compares the gay marriage struggle to that of interracial spouses Richard and Mildred Loving.
Early in his career, Zimmerman made his mark with his folkie-era parody group The Foremen, which he ran from 1988 through 1996. Though the group grabbed enough attention to win Warner-Reprise contracts for two albums, they were dropped after that. (Zimmerman puts it simply: “We didn’t sell enough records.”) And hey, who would expect a big label to understand the artistry of a band with Tom Lehrer’s biting wit, the political fluency of The Capitol Steps and a self-parodying musical sound which died 30-odd years before the act hit the stage?
Today, under the moniker of his indie label Metaphor Records, Roy Zimmerman has played clubs across the country, and shared the stage with George Carlin, Bill Maher, Kate Clinton, Dennis Miller, Sandra Tsing Loh, kd lang, Andy Borowitz and Paul Krassner, and he’s done several shows with The Pixies’ Frank Black. His up-to-the-moment topical songs are featured on American Public Media’s syndicated broadcast “Weekend America” and Sirius Radio’s “West Coast Live.”
But it’s still a tough haul business-wise for Zimmerman, who, like most indie performers, must write his own ticket on a daily basis. As with any indie performer, it’s all about getting himself out there, one way or another. Hell, he recently toured the entire 48 continental United States — twice — as much as a challenge to himself as to make money, and had some adventures we hope he’ll share on these pages at some point.
In the mean time, please, please do yourself a favor and check out Zimmerman’s wide range of talents. Buy some records, why not? And hey, don’t miss the anger-laced wit of “California Couldn’t Pay Our Education,” describing the fate of impoverished, illiterate Cali students: Now we’ve got great jobs / I stock the salad bar at Bob’s / And I polish knobs at Union Station / And I practice law… la la la la la la la/ California couldn’t pay our education.” Heck, don’t miss anything on royzimmerman.com or youtube.com/royzimmerman. We wouldn’t steer you wrong, we swear.
FROM THE REMIXED ARCHIVES – 2010