Goodbye Bunny, Hello Dr. Hook

by Tim Cahill

MILT VALLEY, CALIFORNIA--Dennis Locorriere has a long beard, a pleasant wife, Mary Ann, and a four-year-old son named Jesse James Locorriere who wants to grow up quickly so he can legally change his name to "Spider Boy." Jesse James wants to change his name to Spider Boy because, he calculates, the appellation will enable him to spin webs from his fingertips. Having mastered this esoteric art, Jesse James will be invulnerable. When his father yells at him, he says, the old man will suddenly find himself helplessly fouled in unbreakable webbing.

The plan is okay with Dennis. He knows how to deal with these matters. The kid wants to change his name to Spider Boy? Dennis will change his name to Spider Man. Nahhh.

Such is the nature of the conversation and the quality of the logic over dinner this evening at Ray Sawyer's house. Ray and Dennis are the lead singers and front men for Dr. Hook, a truly strange band composed of truly strange individuals who hail from Alabama by way of Union City, New Jersey and Marian County, California. The dinner is in partial celebration of the release of Bankrupt, the new Hook album, their first on Capitol. The label change is significant in that Capitol will likely push a bit harder to break a single for a new band on their roster than Columbia might have done for an older band on theirs.

Given a healthy promotional shove, the band's single, "The Millionaire," an astringent blend of comedy and country rock, will likely follow the pattern set by the band with "Sylvia's Mother" and "The Cover of the Rolling Stone." That pattern, as Top 40 afficionados know, is that the record shoots up the charts, is played and overplayed for months at a time until people are sick unto death of it.

So the plan is to play the record now, while it is still fresh and funny, and to regard it with proprietary affection. But first, interspersed with Irish whiskey and beer and less traditional refreshments, there is the dinner. There are collard greens with bacon bits, black eyed peas, fried chicken and corn bread. Ray, who cooks with a certain genius, burned his hand earlier on grease from some exploding chicken giblets. They have become, since the explosion, organs of extreme disgust.

The conversation ricochets off chicken giblets to gooseflesh. Ray says that certain songs, mostly country laments, can, in certain moods, raise the flesh along his spine and leave him misty-eyed. Dennis says the same thing happens to him and that he remembers the very first time. It was when he was very young, certainly before kindergarten. He was playing with a toy truck and a toy bunny rabbit. The truck and the bunny were having a perfectly rational conversation until an instrumental version of "Ebb Tide" came on the radio. Somehow all the weeping violins in the song gave Dennis the idea that it was time for the bunny to say goodbye to the truck. The two were the best of friends; now they were saying goodbye. "Ebb Tide" swelled in the background. It was tragic.

"Goodbye, truck," the bunny rabbit said from Dennis's mouth.

"Goodbye, rabbit," the truck said. The truck was crying. The bunny rabbit was crying. "Ebb Tide" wept softly in the background. Dennis's mother found him sitting alone in the room, blubbering uncontrollably about trucks and bunnies. "But you know," Dennis says, "in the back of my mind, I knew I was lying. It was the song that really made me cry."

This lachrymose saga of trucks and bunnies provides an insight--a unifying Principal, if you wil--to the Hook stage show, a good-timey amalgam in which: Dennis dresses and acts much like a Times Square wino and yet manages to sing a number of country tearjerkers with total conviction; Ray manages to knock over at least two microphones per set withouth ever missing a note; George Cummings, a brooding steel guitarist, an ex-footbal player and Marine drill sargeant at Parris Island, menaces the audience as a direct descendant of the 1958 muscle pose school of rock. The band as a whole so accurately mimics blues, boogie, psychedelic and revue styles that it was possible for them to recently appear as their own opening act in Copenhagen. Dressed in satin and glitter, they played an entire set, took an encore, retired to their dressing room, reappeared as Dr. Hook and played another set, their ruse unrecognized until stage hands came out and started glittering up Ray on the last few songs.

Such theatrics--when employed by people who can actually sing and play their instruments--may possibly be psychic equivalent of trucks and bunnies: a clever ruse adopted by talented men to disguise the fact that they are moved, sometimes to tears, by their own music.

Ray finds this analysis almost as loathsome as chicken giblets. What he would like just now, rather than a whole lot of turgid psychology, is another shot of Irish whiskey, the better to enjoy Dinah Show on his big color television. For some inexplicable reason, Ray really likes Dinah Shore. But what he likes even better--and more inexplicably--are the commercials, clearly produced by someone with $30, in which a yokel car salesman offers to eat a worm if he can't sell you a car.

"That's what we ought to do," Dennis says. "If 'The Millionaire' doesn't get to be Number One, we should eat a worm."

Ray considers the proposition in thoughtful silence. "Maybe we should eat a worm if it does become Number One."

"That's a better idea," Dennis decides. "If 'The Millionaire' gets to Number One, I'll eat a worm."

Plans were made for another festive dinner: corn bread, ribs, grits, okra and for Dennis, one fat, juicy worm of celebration to be washed down with liberal amounts of Irish whiskey.