Gang Of Seven: a Group Review

There once was an experiment called Gang of Seven. It was a tiny little record label that put out twelve recordings, then disappeared. What made it unusual was that they were spoken word recordings. They ranged from good to excellent.

Two collections were released, First Words and The Naturalists. A Wallace Shawn recording was announced, but as far as I know never released.

I wish that the experiment had been more successful. This was the best spoken word series of the 1990s.

Lynda Barry, The Lynda Barry Experience

From funky answering machine messages to stories of friendship and beyond, La Barry dives into the world behind her comics - her life. Or is it her life? Whatever it is, it's dynamite. Some of her classic stories are here - "The Lesbo Story", for example. She's not afraid to tackle racism, divorce, social cliques, and the personal devastation of war, and she does it with humor and empathy. One of the standout recordings of this series. Highly recommended.

Tom Bodett, Exploded

Yes, that Tom Bodett. When I bought this, I had no idea who he was, but everybody else kept recognizing his voice. ("Isn't that...?") The first CD has four pieces, of which the highlight is "The Decent Thing To Do", a meditation on living with others. The second is the piece-in-parts "Exploded", about Bodett's electrocution and recovery. If you like Bodett's voice, then this will be the cat's meow.

Andrei Codrescu, No Tacos for Saddam

I'm not sure what the point of most of the stories here are. Whatever they are, they really don't speak to me.

Spalding Gray, Terrors of Pleasure

Possibly the most pointless of Gray's monologues, Terrors of Pleasure recounts his experiences buying a cabin in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York. It was known as "the little house that cried", and with good reason. There's no moral to extract from this; it ends up being a shaggy dog story. For completists only.

Spalding Gray, Monster in a Box

A much better outing finds Mr. Gray trying to write a novel. Along the way he gets arrested in the Hermitage ("for impersonating royalty"), deals with Oedipus, interviews a walk-in, survives an earthquake, plays the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's Our Town, has serious hypochondria followed by psychoanalysis, and visits Nicaragua. Great anecdotes with an interesting framing device make for one of his best monologues, second only to Swimming to Cambodia.

[This CD was also my introduction to jewel boxes that held 2 CDs in the space of a one. $21 seemed a lot for a single CD. No, wait, it's two - oh, that's why.]

Kevin Kling, Home and Away

The Quilted Squirrel! Lightning! The didgeridoo! Kevin Kling's stories are infectious. Not without sentiment, these are well balanced with laconic absurdity. Recommended.

Barry Morrow, Bill for Short

Goat and I listened to this once, and we were both crying by the end. It's about a man named Bill who was confined for most of his life to a mental institution, though he might not have needed it. Barry Morrow tells the story of their friendship. It's wrenching. I haven't listened to it since, because I'm afraid of hearing someone bare their souls so deeply. If I listen again, I want to share that with Goat.

Rick Reynolds, Only the Truth is Funny

This is another album I quote from all the time. Rick Reynolds tells the truth of his life - some of it hilarious, some sad, some scary. It's autobiography, but it's universal truth. Good stuff. Keep your eyes open for his more recent 2 CD set All Grown Up... and no place to go.

Hugh Brown Shü, Bomb the Womb

If you're a friend of mine, I must have played this for you by now. From the man who wrote the most famous college entrance essay in the last few decades, Bomb the Womb is a smorgasbord of disaffected youth. After "You've Got a Friend in Pennsylvania", I was literally on the floor gasping for breath. Go on, don't be afraid to learn the truth about Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Kojak, and Tony Robbins. Highly recommended.

Last updated 5 May 2003
All contents ©1998-2002 Mark L. Irons