In mass media, which came first: the next big star, or producers trying to make the next big star? Did Elvis become an international sex symbol by himself? Buddy Holly? Frank Sinatra never needed Twitter or a dirty sexting scandal to puff up his image, and ELO made great music without being a band of fashion models before “street cred” was a commodity. So what happens to those bands and musicians, those artists whose skill in their craft exceeds their charisma, who don’t have the elusive “it” quality, and for whom the life of a cult figure is just dandy?
#65 “Sugarcube” by Yo La Tengo. By the mid 90’s Yo La Tengo was already an established act from the 80’s with several record releases in their repertoire (including an eerily prophetic album named “Fakebook”). The band was always a critical darling, and their eclectic and experimental styles garnered them much acclaim, but unfortunately most Americans don’t like what they don’t understand, especially in music, so they never reached broad appeal.
In 1997, on their album “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One” they released a single, “Sugarcube” along with a video. Perhaps the years had toughened them up, because their evolved sense of humor created one of the cleverest, funniest, and most thoughtful parodies inspired by their lot in the music biz.
With help from David Cross and his “Mr. Show” crew, the members of Yo La Tengo venture through a rocking educational adventure fraught with references to past rock bands, nefarious clarineting in the bathroom, vandalism, flirty glam rock teachers, burned out KISS fans stuck in the rut of teaching rock ethics, and story time with Rush lyrics in the park. I’m not kidding.
The Shakespearean lyrics to “Sugarcube” echo the theme throughout when not occluded by the talky-talk of the video, which is not a bad thing since everything plays out like the trailer for a film never released. Quirky and eclectic, two qualities Yo La Tengo has in great supply, and also features of a great song from the 90’s that seems like it’s from yesterday.