Album Review: Ariel Pink, “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson”
by Julian Hernandez
Bobby Jameson was a singer and songwriter in the early 1960’s who found some initial success. Jameson recorded various singles under his name and even managed to open up for big acts such as The Beach Boys. Bobby Jameson should have been a superstar, at least according to his one-time manager Tony Alamo, who marketed Bobby Jameson as “The Star of this Century” and “The World’s Next Phenomenon.” That never came to be, and Bobby Jameson drifted into obscurity and became a mythic tale that was filled with rumors of his death, mental breakdowns, and attempts of suicide. For nearly 20 years there was no communication from Bobby Jameson to the outside world until Steve Stanley tracked him down for an article in Mojo Magazine in 2003. In the article, Bobby Jameson speaks of his attempted suicides and what he believes was his mistreatment by Tony Alamo and the music industry.
Before Bobby Jameson passed away in 2015 he spent the last few years working on a biography and cataloging his life experiences on a blog. After reading the hundreds of posts that make up Jameson’s blog, Ariel Pink, born Ariel Rosenberg, was so moved that he decided to dedicate his newest album to Jameson. On Ariel Pink’s Bandcamp he writes, “His book and life resonated with me to such a degree that I felt a need to dedicate my latest record to him.”
Perhaps Pink’s own struggle with succeeding in the music industry, and what that success should look like, is what ultimately drew Pink to Jameson’s life. We first heard of Pink in the early 2000’s when he somehow managed to get a CD of his lo-fi, indie pop music to Animal Collective. Animal Collective eventually did a re-release of an earlier Pink album on their own record label, Paw Tracks.
Since those early days of Ariel Pink’s initial success and entrance into the music mainstream, despite having the industry struggle on how to market Pink and how to categorize his music, Pink has never ceased to struggle with the fear of loss and sliding back into obscurity. Dedicated to Bobby Jameson wrestles out those fears of obscurity, the heartaches of love, the loner in life sentiments, all into a strangely reassuring place. Yet prevalent throughout Dedicated to Bobby Jameson Pink is questioning the idea of being assured of anything.
With “Time to Meet Your God” we enter the album with a meditation and an invitation to consider life, particularly at the moment we face death and “meet our maker.” It’s a note that we will be looking back on a life, much in the way Pink did with Bobby Jameson’s life. Alongside the synth we are transported from one point on to the next; we can hear our movement in space like a car speeding by on the track
In “Feels Like Heaven” we are taken to the last memory before the death entrance. Pink has been down this road before, announcing, “There I go again/ Falling in love again.” But despite having had experience of this sort Pink still ignores the signs, because nothing is assured, not even heartbreak over a lover. The highs of it all are worth the risk: “I’ll be your dreamboat lover and roll the dice.”
The first three tracks have death references in their titles, “Time to Meet Your God,” “Feels Like Heaven,” and with “Death Patrol” it follows that theme. You immediately pick up on the musical references happening here in this song, with thick basslines and the guitar reminiscent of theme songs for 80s police detective dramas. Pink sings of the death patrol and the detective finding the missing puzzle to the crime. “He’s our man,” Pink repeats multiple times in the chorus. Pink flexes his cultural ear and shows how well trained he is in instilling a sense of nostalgia within his listeners. With “Santa’s In the Closet” Pink shows his trademark grotesque comedy lyricism with a portraiture of a Santa.
The title track of the album is a song about the mythic quality of Bobby Jameson’s life, unsure what’s what. Conflicting narratives appear on the track. Pink references Jameson’s 1971 suicidal episode where he nearly jumped off the 11th floor of the Continental Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. “My own mind/ me, myself, and I/ trying not to die,” as if we’re out there on the ledge with Bobby Jameson.
In “Time to Live” Pink is chanting a mantra to himself, a warning not to get killed, not to be forgotten, to be thrown into obscurity. What’s interesting is also the tune of the song. When the verse is sung, it’s almost a sort of a demonic inverse of the famous “Video Killed the Radio Star” tune, the music video which signaled the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Ariel Pink also spends time allowing his pop musings to shine through, such as in the songs “Bubblegum Dreams” and “Dreamdate Narcissist.”
The shining moment of the album has to be in “Another Weekend.” It is Ariel Pink in his most intimate form. With a simple composition of acoustic guitar and keys carrying the song, we hear Pink lament his misgivings. “Another weekend out of my life/ is gonna get me in trouble” and “Another weekend I can’t rewind/ another day not working for me” drives home the pain and frustrations Pink experiences. The transient nature of life confuses Pink – “Log me in and out of my life.”
The music video for Ariel Pink’s song “Another Weekend”
Is that what Bobby Jameson felt when he jumped back forth between wandering away from Los Angeles and returning to the city that he felt robbed him of his ambition? In which side was Jameson “logged in” to his own life, and when was he “logged off?” Is he logging back in when began his series of youtube videos and blog posts? It’s all a matter of perspective according to Ariel Pink.
Ariel Pink will be performing at Crescent Ballroom on November 14th.