Song of the Day #53: ‘Comikbuchland’ – The Negro Problem

In a just world, Stew would be a superstar.

But in the world we live in, he’s barely on the map. He doesn’t even have the sort of fame Elvis Costello enjoys, where he’s never in danger of selling a million records but he shows up on TV and his albums are easy to find on Best Buy’s shelves. I’ve had to buy all Stew’s albums online, and his Negro Problem CDs aren’t even in print anymore. Very discouraging.

I first learned about Stew from Alex, who heard him interviewed on NPR. He played a sweet song about his daughter (‘The Sun I Always Wanted’) and made enough of an impression on her that I ordered the CD cold. I was won over immediately, though she never really jumped on the bandwagon, and I now own all seven of his releases (three solo albums and three recorded with a band under the moniker The Negro Problem, plus the soundtrack to his recent Broadway musical called Passing Strange).

One of the coolest things I’ve stumbled upon on the Web is a blog by Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz in which he spends thousands of words singing the praises of Stew. Now I’m prone to hyperbole, but Duritz puts me to shame in that department.

Here’s what he wrote about ‘Comikbuchland,’ today’s Song of the Day:

Two songs later, after the deliciously funky soul of “Sea of Heat”, the album segues into “Comikbuchland”, which (and I hate comparisons like this) comes the closest anyone’s ever come to re-creating “Penny Lane”, except this “Penny Lane” is set in a Los Angeles bohemian ghetto (check out Heidi Roedenwald’s perfect Paul McCartney/Brian Wilson bass playing on the song).

At least I think it does. I have to be honest, I never think about what Stew means in his songs. I’m so entranced by the wordplay and the unearthly hook-heaven of the music that I never have the concentration to really ponder them, although I do think the whole thing is worth the price of admission just for the otherworldly lyric cleverness of:

   Tell me again what constitutes good hair
   And tell me how the guns and bums
   Unbraided your deep dread of reason in Comikbuchland

“Unbraided your deep dread of reason”? C’mon. I would kill to have written that. Now that is some seriously funky metaphorical double-meaning shit right there. THAT…is not for beginners.

I keep coming back to The Beatles but, once again, that’s exactly the same way I feel about them. I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about and I don’t really care at all. I DO know this. The Beatles were brilliant lyricists and so is Stew. I’m not gonna lie to you, and let me get this out of the way right here at the top of this article, he is flat-out unquestionably no doubt in my mind whatsoever the finest songwriter working today. He is so far and above my favorite that I can’t even think of anyone working in the same stratosphere as him, at least not off the top of my head. The six albums I’m going to talk about here are some of the best albums anyone’s made over the past decade. Ever since Joys and Concerns, whenever Stew released an album, as far as I was concerned it was hands down the best album of that year.

Yeah, I’d say he’s a fan. Everybody should be.

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #53: ‘Comikbuchland’ – The Negro Problem

  1. Amy says:

    Adam Duritz is a wonderful songwriter, passionate singer and fabulous blogger. That said, I once read one of his overwhelmingly enthusiastic blogs about a Mandy Moore cover album and felt the need to buy it immediately. I listened to it a few times, while reading his blog, determined to see in it what was making him so excited. I don’t know if I still own that album, but, if so, I haven’t listened to it since that time. Another blog entry he wrote that I absolutely adore was on the film In the Land of Women. He writes of his attempts to complete watching this film that had grabbed him so completely in the first hour he was able to watch on an airplane. Needless to say, as much as I enjoyed reading the thousands of words he devoted to writing about the film, I haven’t rushed out to rent it.

    Which is not to say that Stew is not a great artist, or that this isn’t a good song. It’s just to say that your critique is more meaningful to me than that of Adam Duritz. 🙂
    And I do like this song, as I’m listening to it now and noticing the new clever way you’ve decided to market the blog. And I can vouch for how difficult it is to find since I went on the quest a couple of years ago when you had this album on a “wish list.” I wonder why it hasn’t gotten more mainstream attention. I, for one, would like to hear more.

  2. Clay says:

    I guess those breathless testimonials hold more weight when you actually agree with them. 🙂

    I can say in this case that I think he’s spot-on in his praise. Not sure what I’d think of Mandy Moore or In the Land of Women.

  3. Dana says:

    I enjoyed one of the Stew albums you gave me at some point, although it didn’t quite hook me in the way other artists have. One impression I had of him was that his lyrics, at least on that album, were, at times, too literal. It seemed like stuff that would work well in a musical on Broadway, so it seems natrual that he would venture into that sphere.

    This song is, to quote the current Democratic nominee, “likeable enough.” It ain’t no Penny Lane (though I can see why it draws some lineage from it) And Stew, at least from what I can tell, ain’t no Beatles, John Lennon, Elvis Costello, etc.. Still, I can see why there is enough there to draw the interest of you and Durwitz. It kinda reminds me of my passion long ago for Don Dixon, who wrote some incredible pop songs and produced artists like REM. I remember listening to his album “Most of the Girls Like to Dance (But Only Some of the Boys Do) with the standout song “Renaissance Eyes” and being completely perplexed why the entire world did not know this man’s work as much as they knew the work he produced. That album has long since been out of print, though I recently noticed a “Greatest Hits” at Borders (which I found ironic of course).

    So, keep supporting Stew, Clay, and keep shamelessly marketing this blog, so that our brilliant insights can be googled and found all over the world:)

  4. Clay says:

    I’ll have to check out Don Dixon. I know the name but I’m not sure I’ve heard any of his music.

    Not sure what you mean by “too literal.” One of the things I love about Stew is that his lyrics are Costello-esque in the way he twists words around and turns cliches on their head.

    Besides, why is literal a bad thing? “That’s right, you’re not from Texas” “You can have my girl, but don’t touch my hat” “Find me two Italians in the world more tight-assed than the ones we got” … I love literal!

  5. Dana says:

    Perhaps literal was the wrong word. It is whatever describes a Broadway-ish type narrative. Also, there is a certain arrogence or elitism that came across to me, but again, I probably have to listen to more.

    And I have a feeling that if he were truly aspiring for commercial success, he might have rethought the name of his band:)

  6. Matth Jenks says:

    Stew aspires to greatness, not commercial success. It was the ballsy band name that first got me listening.

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