Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel is celebrating its 40th Anniversary, and that iconic conglom of dadalicious social punditry – you can call ’em the Young Adults – reunite again. Be at The Met tonight for a rare view of the singular chemistry that’s generated when Rudy Cheeks and Sport Fisher share a stage. Here’s a Providence Phoenix profile I put together when they did it a few years ago.
The shorter gent – one Rudy Cheeks – was balding, hirsute, and on the plump side. While bellowing lyrics about Broderick Crawford’s machismo and the joys of being a carnivore, he occasionally wore a “brain hat” (spinal cord, medulla oblongata, the works) and was dolled up in a form-fitting muumuu. A saxophone and/or cigar could often be found in his hand. The taller guy (who was also a drummer) was a tad more conventional. He had an array of lovely necklaces (zombie babies, alphabet blocks, barbed wire, and tambourine) and his teased hair looked fab when it caught a gleam of light bouncing off of his cellophane shirt. He called himself Sport Fisher. They were the singers for the Young Adults, and if I had a dollar for every guffaw they generated during their 1970-’80s heyday, I could be lounging in Boca right now.
The Adults — who will reunite for the first time in two decades this weekend for three shows at the Met — were once a very big deal around here. Emerging from a renegade RISD arts scene that dedicated itself to absurdity, the band earned its sizable acclaim by blending silliness and satire to create one of rock’s daffiest songbooks. Several members, including Rudy and Sport, spent a chunk of the early ’70s working under the name the Fabulous Motels (the late comedian/actor Charles Rocket was part of that seminal crew). They wrote songs such as “Your Mother Is a Fish” and “Nixon’s Underwear.” Those who truly know their Adults history might even recognize a Motels ditty called “Everybody Should Like Butter.” Cheeks (aka Bruce McCrae), a longtime Phoenix columnist and “the most avant-garde oriented” member of the band, wrote its choppy rhythms on a banjo-uke. He says the Adults’ bedrock influences were Dadaism and Surrealism. The wilder things got, the better the group liked it.
“We had no idea — or interest — in knowing what audiences wanted,” Cheeks recalled during a recent chat. “It was all about what amused us. On stage our whole game plan was to make each other laugh. Only the most outré stuff would get Charlie, because he’d seen it all. One of us had an applause machine, and if the audience was standing there with their mouths agape, we’d just hit that button and say, ‘Thank you, thank you very much.’ “
“We were basically making fun of things,” offered Fisher (aka David Hansen) on the phone from his home in New York. “We kind of wanted to piss people off, but have ’em like us as well.”
NATURE BOYS The band huddle around the subject of “I Married a Tree.”
Taking cues from the Bonzo Dog Band, the Mothers of Invention, and the Fugs, the Adults — which also featured keyboardist Jeff Shore, guitarist Thom Enright (both back in action this weekend, with bassist Marty Ballou and drummer Marty Richards), drummer Tommy DeQuattro, guitarist Ed Vallee, and a scad of others, if you include those who were active during the equally luminous Motels era — packed local watering holes such as the Jail and Lupo’s with the kind of fans who liked to be soaked by a tidal wave of wit.
Here they are clowning on that aforementioned carnivore trip: “Meet me at the Met/And I’ll bring some meat/We will eat until we get/soooo aggressive/then we’ll drink, dance, and sweat/wearing clothes of leatherette/maybe tear apart a pet/we’ll get arrested/I like steak, you know I’d like to bake it/Chicken? That white meat just don’t make it/Liver? I think that’s what I’ll give her/Beef? Makes me act like Eastwood or Van Cleef/take me off this stage/put me back in my cage/I’m on a meat rampage!” At the song’s breakdown section, Cheeks wails “Funky Pot Roast!” and the band lights off for syncopationville. It seldom failed to turn the room upside down. And lyrically, redundancy was also a forte. Fisher is revered for this string of nonsense: “The other day I met a girl/and then I met another girl/a little while later I saw a girl/I met her/Today I met a girl/and then I met another girl/whenever I see a girl I really want to meet her/nothing wrong with that/nothing wrong with meeting girls.” He also has several fans who enjoy his tale of the way flatulence can ruin a romance.
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS The Adults in the ’70s.
Being smart at playing dumb wasn’t the band’s only attraction, however. If you took in an Adults show, it’s likely some visual aspect of it remains stuck in your mind. Cheeks and Fisher made a wonderfully theatrical team, and numbers like “A Power Tool Is Not a Toy” and “Kill Yourself” found them pantomiming the lyrics. In the latter, a mess of unpayable bills and social maladjustments prompted Rudy to chug an over-sized bottle of sleeping pills. The music was not only catchy, but deftly nuanced to suit its variety of moods. The music hall glee of “Christmas In Japan In July” might be followed by the forlorn reggae of “Occupation Drifter.” From hard rock (“Can I Live”) to blues (“I’m From Maine”), the Adults milked a load of genres.
“It makes for a better show when every song is different than the one before it,” says Fisher. “You can really put together some great set lists when you do it that way.”
“We recently found a tape of another reggae tune we had, ‘Rasta Houseparty,’ ” says Cheeks. “It’s about worshipping Art Linkletter as a god. I think it was from a Cambridge show, and you know what, it was really tight; we were really jamming.”
A good chunk of the Adults’ songbook was written in a former lemonade stand on Richmond Street in downtown Providence dubbed the Microwave Lounge. It was there that Shore, Cheeks, and Fisher spent almost a year cranking out the craziness and assuring that each lyric was bolstered by an addictive melody and some clever arrangements. Shore, who knew a bit about classical piano, was the quality assurance boss when it came to the musical architecture. He even managed to work some Mozart into the prelude of “Meat Rampage.”
“Lots of credit should go to Jeff,” says Cheeks. “He was the primary arranger. A song wasn’t finished until it went through his meat grinder. He’s got this perfectionist streak, thank God. In lots of ways, he’s the invisible hero of this band.”
“He’s the glue,” concurs Fisher. “And he also has this under-the-radar humor — he’s funny, but in a non-exhibitionist way.”
In the larger sense, it was a community writing process. The two singers would generate a specific idea, but others were always invited to contribute. Sometimes, though, they wrote full songs on their own. Fisher penned “Christmas in Japan” after hearing John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s holiday hit, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” “I just wanted to do something ridiculous with it,” he says.
Cheeks is proud of the way some tunes were drawn from real life. “Nixon’s Underwear” references Congressman Jerry Voorhees. “New Deal” cops a Chuck Berry theme to drive a tale of Roosevelt’s commitment to the working class. “It says, ‘When from a marble cabin in Albany,’ ” explains the singer, “and Roosevelt had just been the governor of New York, which like Rhode Island has a marble statehouse. I wanted it to paraphrase ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ but include some stuff that only history Ph.Ds would know. Let’s face it, there aren’t that many songs that invoke Rexford Tugwell.”
But it certainly wasn’t all egghead adventures. “Beer” offered a punk ferociousness while explaining the pleasures of sudsy self-medication. “I Married a Tree” (“My name is Rudy/her name was Eucalyptus”) took a nonsensical premise and ran for a touchdown. When they did the occasional cover, it too was warped. You don’t often hear “Eve Of Destruction” given a disco spin. “Wooly Bully” was just bizarre enough on its own to get a somewhat straight reading. Cheeks says they proudly made a point to drop “a pile of stupidity” on everyone’s doorstep. Fisher says they had no idea their chemistry would work. They just wanted to have “the craziest band possible.”
“LET’S JUST DO SOMETHING FUN” The Adults rehearsing in their secluded mansion.
Such giddy inspiration earned them regular trips to New York. Throughout their run, the Adults played the Mercer Arts Center, Hurrah, and Trax. In 1988 they threw all this nutsiness on an album titled Helping Others (will someone please digitize that thing?). A year later it also placed them in the middle of Jim Wolpaw’s Complex World, an indie feature about a bomb being placed inside of a local bar (yes, Lupo’s). The film was named after one of the band’s most popular songs. “Sometimes I feel like a ch-ch-ch-chimpanzee,” goes the refrain. To some degree, a sage slant on cluckishness drove the group from the start.
“Dave said it the other night,” muses Cheeks. “The real spirit of the band was, ‘Hey, let’s do something.’ That was the credo. Let’s just do something fun. That notion reaches all the way back to the Motels. In the RISD days, Charlie and Dan Gosch would dress as Captain Packard and Lobo, put on tights and superhero costumes and show up uninvited at Kentucky Fried Chicken openings with a film crew just to disrupt the whole thing. Another time Charlie and I were the great healers from the East and West, Mahah Rudy Cheeks and Anal Roberts. My character would wear a diaper and turban, and talk about ‘waves continuing in the flow of life .
The reunion, which was partially motivated by superb guitarist Thom Enright’s artistic resurgence after a recent battle with cancer, will be the first time the group has united since the opening of the second Lupo’s location in 1993. After a handful of inspiring rehearsals, the pending event has made Fisher philosophical.
“We somehow made people feel good about themselves,” he says. “Think about it. Some guy has had a shitty week. His girlfriend is mad at him, his boss is an asshole, maybe he’s got a little car trouble. He goes out and sees the Young Adults and says, ‘Hey, at least I’m cooler than those guys.’ Yes, we poked fun, but we didn’t look down on the audience. We didn’t tell anyone what to do. If we ever had anything that could be called charm, I think that’s partly where it came from.”