By Jeremy Hallock
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By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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1. His first Dallas gig found him opening for Jon "Corn Mo" Cunningham, a somewhat like-minded singer-songwriter who is often not taken very seriously himself, as the result of his propensity for writing songs about the ill-fated Von Erich wrestling dynasty and bologna and playing these and others on accordion. The connection has followed Michener, painting him with the same joke-band brush. "I don't like being pigeonholed as that type of stuff," he admits. "I love that kind of stuff, but...for one thing, I have a more serious side than that. And Corn Mo has a serious side that people don't see. And also, he's so good. I don't think I'm that caliber."
2. He writes songs about robots and his "4-Legged Car" and a special pair of pants, and is occasionally backed by a guy called Sweatpants on kazoo. Most people will allow you to do one or the other, but not both.
3. He has done all of the above under the name Fishboy. This needs no further elaboration, though Michener adds, "Plenty of bands have terrible names." And besides, he didn't come up with it: He was stuck with it during a middle-school garage band and has stuck by it ever since.
All of these things are true, but they don't really matter, especially if you are lucky enough to stumble upon Fishboy's third album, Zipbangboom. Which is, more than likely, the first Fishboy disc you might actually come across if you aren't seeking it out specifically; the previous two, 2000's Tim Fly's Cause He's Having Fun and last year's The American Friends of Carlos Velez, were pretty much only available at shows. Zipbangboom is being released by Business Deal, an Austin-based label run by friends of Michener's older brother Dirk. "We're just now becoming an official business," Michener says.
It's a maturing process that comes across on Zipbangboom. Michener recorded the disc at home, but it has a cleaner sound, thanks to the mastering work of Darrell "Deedle" LaCour at his Deedle's Room studio. But the studio scrubbing doesn't matter as much as Michener's songs, which, frankly, could be recorded on an answering machine and it wouldn't matter. Like Jonathan Richman and Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, he steadily walks the line between wide-eyed whimsy and cold-eyed clarity, which result in children's songs that aren't about kid stuff. "My car runs on gas," he sings at one point, "but I run on you."
Zipbangboom's highlight is "Saving Lincoln," which might be the prototypical Fishboy jam. Michener begins with an interesting cure for boredom--"And when I'm lonely I will build a robot cousin made of engine parts, and he will play with me all day"--and somehow ends up jumping in a time machine headed for 1865 so he can "keep alive Abraham Lincoln." It sounds like a high-concept joke, but it's far from it; Michener's voice cracks with emotion rather than cracking a smile. The moral comes at the end, after he makes the robot cousin jump off a bridge because he's angry: "If only I could take back some things I said." It's called a metaphor, people. Look it up.
And after you do that, check out Fishboy at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios on August 22. The show, the official CD-release shindig for Zipbangboom, also features the always lovely Cordelane and Cavedweller, Dirk Michener's own very fine band.
One mistake in our cover story on Deep Ellum crime last week ("Cruising for a Bruising"): John "Beard" Brewer hasn't been working at Club Dada "off and on" for 16 years as we said. He's been there the whole time. Just "on." No "off." All apologies.