Songs I Love – The Bobs, “The Deprogrammer” (1983)

Okay, so it’s time to leave the world of jangly pop (and sympathetic string arrangements), get flung through the air at almost 737 speed, and hit the ground with a plop! only to discover you are in a strange, foreign land where no one speaks the language you speak, no one wants your money, and your food looks back at you.

I think that describes The Bobs.

They billed themselves as “acapella new wave,” and perhaps that explains things. It is certainly very unique music, made by nothing but the mouths of the four original Bobs — Gunnar “Bob” Madsen, Matthew “Bob” Stull, Janie “Bob” Scott , and Richard “Bob” Greene. I listened to this record a lot after I bought it in in late 1985. It was amusing and the humor was dark (what else is there to say about a song called “Bus Plunge”?). But as funny as I found this record, there was an “I dunno” factor for me. So, I didn’t get their 1987 follow-up, My, I’m Large, even as Franklin Bruno told me told me the song “Please Let Me Be Your Third World Country” was a title of the kind of song he thought I would write. (And I kinda did a little later…) There was just something so one-note about this band, and that’s why I didn’t invest in them. I know, I know, this is hard to justify, since it is so subjective.

At any rate, I do like this album. I especially like the final cut off the original LP/cassette, “The Deprogrammer.” It’s the story of a man whose profession is to kidnap young adults who’ve joined “cults,” deprogram their cult indoctrination, and give them back to their families. Only it’s not working in the song.

How to explain this? In the dark days of the 1970s and very early 1980s, suburban middle class parents all across America were terrified that their kids would would leave the rational and reasonable religions they were raised in — Catholicism, Episcopalianism, Lutheranism, Judaism, so forth — for the siren call of the charismatic cult leader with the strange name, shave their heads, chant mantras, eat bear survival rations of lima beans while living and working collectively on some farm, and in their spare time, hand out literature at airports. Middle-class Americans must always be afraid of something, I guess, and for a time, it was strange and charismatic religious leaders — often grounded in strange and exotic “Eastern” religions — enticing their teenage and mostly grown-up children away. The Unification Church (“Moonies”) and the Krishna Consciousness Movement were the two biggest examples that come to mind (I remember being solicited by Moonies at San Francisco State, eager as they were to say hello to anyone looking vaguely down or alone), but there were others. (I myself took the Scientology personality test — the one with no good answers — on a lark in late 1985, and then had a wee bit of fun with an auditor and an e-meter.)

Parents looking to “get their kids back” would hire a “deprogrammer,” who would kidnap the person (often times an adult), sequester them (often times in a cheap hotel room), and work ’em over. And hopefully, at some point, deliver a child free of the pernicious influence of the evil religious people.

This meme was wandering about in the culture enough so that a group of literate musicians could have some fun with it. Which is what The Bobs did.

I like this song for two reasons. First, it has that vaguely eastern sound to it (I have an unfinished version of this song I recorded a few years ago using a bunch of the Indian instrument sounds in GarageBand), but mostly, I love the refrain, and I think I’ve made it my Facebook status a time or two:

The mindless words you are repeating,
We are the light of a beautiful world!
Logical thoughts are self-defeating!
We are the light of a beautiful world!

Here’s the only video of the song I could find on YouTube, and I find myself wondering: WTF? Stuffed dog puppets? What bizarre cult made this? And made this so badly? (Clearly, one under the influence of lima beans and airport literature.) I’m puzzled, and not in a good way. But it’s what there is. It doesn’t linger quite as long as it should, but you get the general idea here.

For other wonderful Bob-ishness, I invite you to see the original line-up live, doing “Bus Plunge” and another of my personal favorites, “Art for Art’s Sake.” And dig those 1980s clothes!

Apparently, in the early 1980s, The Bobs were most famous for their acapella version of “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads.  But I was never that enamored of the Talking Heads, and so I really don’t find The Bobs’ version that impressive. Their take on “Helter Skelter” is another thing entirely…