May 22, 2019
by Robert Feuer
Roy Zimmerman, a San Francisco native, speaks by phone from Madison, Wisconsin, where he’s performing. Though they live in Lake County, he and his wife, Melanie Harby, spend two-thirds of the year traveling to shows together, which he has called “entertaining the troops.”
Talking in terms of a current “national nightmare,” he says he meets many people around the country who are dealing with it. “We always stress the laughter, but encourage people to come away from the show empowered, not just entertained.”
“It’s a whole new political landscape, unfortunately it’s a Jackson Pollack.”
Zimmerman’s early influences were Tom Lehrer and Phil Ochs, admiring these artists’ “attitude” and their “ability to question authority.” Coming from a conservative family, he calls these musical experiences “guilty pleasures.”
He began writing funny, topical songs in junior high, going on to form “cabaret-style acts,” in the 1980’s and ‘90s, while performing in San Francisco comedy clubs.
These groups included the Reagan Brothers and the Foremen (consisting of four men.) There was also the Twang, a humorous country-rock band with his wife.
Zimmerman’s career spans over 30 years. All songs have been written by himself or, these days, co-written with Harby. His brand-new release RiZe- Up, (note his initials in there), his tenth as a solo artist, includes a number of song parodies for the first time. “People get the joke right away and they’re right into it,” he says. He refers to this CD as the best work he and his wife have ever done.
His writing process begins with “a hook,” which he calls “an ironic statement, a little snatch of lyric and melody which encapsulates the song. It’s the memorable part you’re going to go away humming.”
Harby once worked as a guitar tech for Joni Mitchell, while also researching and editing liner notes for two of her albums in 1996. Mitchell once said of Zimmerman, "Roy's lyrics move beyond poetry and achieve perfection." Lehrer said, "I congratulate Roy Zimmerman on reintroducing literacy to comedy songs.”
One of Zimmerman’s many brilliant and hilarious songs says – “Abstain with me, baby, all night long.” This changes variously to “refrain with me, baby,” “feel the strain with me, baby,” and “be in excruciating pain with me, baby.” He says this was a reference to Bush-era official doctrine. “It’s an absurdity. As a satirist, you’re taking the exact opposite viewpoint, and you’re stating it with such clarity and vehemence that the absurdity becomes obvious.”
Asked about incidents with hecklers, he says “occasionally I get heckled, but more often I hear, ‘I disagreed with everything you sang, but I laughed anyway.’”
The Occidental Center for the Arts, which has evolved into one of the county’s premier venues, presents Zimmerman’s show on June 7 at 7 p.m. “It’s just me and my guitar,” he says, and will include a good mix of Zimmerman classics with songs from his new CD. It promises to bring the house down.
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