Sticky like Houston in July, by Gilbert Garcia, 10/06/2005
The history of pop’s most cloying art form, told in film, music, and memorabilia
Bubblegum music gets its name from the inherently sugary, bubbly quality of its youth-oriented confections. But the name is fitting for another, unintended reason: Year after year, this form of music stubbornly sticks to the bottom of pop-culture’s shoe, earning derision and annoyance for its refusal to go away.
Because it appeals to a pre-teen audience that quickly outgrows its none-too-subtle charms, bubblegum has a short shelf life. But as demonstrated by Bubblegum Is The Naked Truth!, a renegade documentary by Kier-La Janisse (based on a pop anthology of the same name), nearly everyone has his or her bubblegum phase, the only question is which era snagged you. If you were a fourth-grader in 1970, you probably still hold a soft spot for the Partridge Family. If you were born five years later, you likely pull out your old Bay City Rollers LPs whenever you get drunkenly nostalgic.
If you’re even younger, you might cling to your Menudo memories, or defend the Spice Girls as subversive pop feminists. While the documentary’s title might seem ironic, it’s actually an accurate description of a musical form that brazenly aims for your pleasure centers, and makes no bones about its love for the lowest common denominator.
Naked Truth! works as both a history lesson and a guilty-pleasure pigout at the trough of pre-fabrication. With obvious and proudly confessed disregard for copyright law, the film offers home-recorded treasures from bubblegum history: a Kellog’s Rice Krispies commercial by the Monkees, a BBC performance by manufactured band Edison Lighthouse, an animated, singing-canine duo called the Beagles, the brilliant idiocy of the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s hit “Simon Says,” and most strangely, a Jetsons-inspired, Saturday-morning cartoon called Partridge Family 2200 A.D.
With its erratic picture quality, Naked Truth! often looks like a bootleg, but in a strange way that suits the disreputable nature of this material. The film never fails to strike the necessary balance between affection and irreverence. For instance, it credits the Poppy Family with capturing the bummed-out spirit of the early ’70s while noting that guitarist Terry Jacks’ “lumberback obsessions made [his wife] Susan decide to hit the road running while she still had her health and looks.” And it accurately labels the Archies “the creme da la creampuff,” a fictional band responsible for leading a generation of American youth to expect instant gratification.
It’s easy to be a connoisseur of respected American art forms such as Delta blues or Dixieland jazz, but it takes a special kind of dedication to reclaim the likes of the Poppy Family or the Lemon Pipers from the toxic-waste dump of history. Janisse and her many writing collaborators deserve credit for their recycling efforts.
Naked Truth! will screen at Salon Mijangos on Saturday, October 8. The doc will be preceded by an exhibit of rare bubblegum records and other memorabilia, and followed by a performance from SA synth-pop duo Hyperbubble, another group that knows its way around a hooky chorus. •
Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, 8pm Sat, Oct 8 Free
Salon Mijangos, 1906 S. Flores, San Antonio TX, phone 271-9592
[for other screening dates and locations, click here]
By Gilbert Garcia ©San Antonio Current 2005