David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 260: Mark Mulcahy (What If I Go Off With Bob?)

June 15, 2023

What kind of musical wacko sings about a "Dear John" telegram . . . in 2019? Only a wacko like the brilliantly quirky Mark Mulcahy.

First off, any song capturing a "Dear John"-type moment, especially when it is the singer playing the role of "John," is not easy to pull off. The tendency to go maudlin or weepy or schmaltzy must be really difficult to avoid. That's why you've got to love the guys who can do it with humor -- country singers. Within rock and pop songs, Ben Folds Five's "Song For The Dumped" (see Day 172), manages to be funny, but darkly funny as the lyric reveals bitter anger. 

Mulcahy, singer and primary songwriter for the little-known 80s band Miracle Legion (see Day 96 for a post on their fantastic "The Backyard"), delves into the comical kiss-off with "What If I Go Off With Bob?" The song, from his 2019 CD, The Gus, centers on our narrator receiving a Dear John telegram on a Friday and then covers the weekend of his distress concerning what the telegram means. Doesn't sound very funny, though, does it?

Do I need to repeat that it is a "Dear John" telegram . . . in 2019? I hope not. Beyond the concept, the song starts with a fairly gentle echoing of "Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob" sung over a single guitar chord (in his video for the song, the guitar is an Ephiphane, which seems so wonderfully poetic also). The telegram doesn't say much, maybe two lines, most significantly, "what if I go off with Bob?" What do you expect? Stop. Telegrams are pretty pricy. Stop. From such a brief message, his weekend becomes consumed by the "trippily cryptic" message. 

Even in its brevity, the telegram can both tease and taunt, as Bob apparently "provides the sugar that I need."  Damn! Sugar? Stop. "Love" might be an o.k. word, but "sugar?" That's not a line intended to let the guy down easy; none of that "it isn't you, it's me" crap. Or, how about saying that Bob just makes me feel good about myself? No. In the end, it's "sugar" that can be provided. Stop.

The personal hell ruins the weekend, "I woke up very, very, very early on Saturday morning," he tells us in the second stanza, the repetitiveness of the "very" telling in itself. His day is ruined as it's spent finishing the "decipher" he says he managed while not sleeping, including why the message had to be delivered to his eyes and not his ears (the lack of courtesy to tell him face to face). On Sunday, he laments that he has lost his day of rest to this stupid "one question test," the question of Bob delving so deeply into his psyche that the day is ruined.

After telling us three times that on Sunday "you need your rest," the maniacal "Bob/Bob/Bob/Bob/Bob" chant that opened the song rather softly has now been ratcheted up in volume and depth, multiple voices, as if the ghosts of the relationship, chiming, "BOB/BOB/BOB/BOB/BOB." Who the f*ck is Bob? There doesn't seem to be any capacity for our narrator to drum up any possible Bob, a brilliant nod at something missing from our narrator's life. Who among us doesn't know one, two, three, freaking four hundred Bobs, that could be taking our girl?

In the end he frets that two people lost their weekend (or just Sunday?), the "one making problems and the one having problems." We might be getting an indication about why Bob's sugar is a little more affirming than our narrator's. Get mad, dude! Nowhere does he seem to ask the real question: Am I being blown off or not? The question is posed directly: "What if I go off with Bob?" It was never a statement, "I am going off with Bob." Is there a chance to win her back? Dude, grow a pair and go after her.

Meanwhile, in a world of Johns and Bobs, Mulcahy brings in a little Joe, via musician/friend J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., J. short for Joseph, to play the blistering, feedback-laden additional guitar for the song. Dinosaur Jr. is one of many alternative acts that supported Mulcahy after the death of his wife, with a cover version of "The Backyard" for Ciao My Shining Star, a compilation of covers of Miracle Legion and Mulcahy solo songs, that show just how beloved the man is in many circles, artists like Dinosaur Jr., joining Michael Stipe, Thom Yorke, Black Francis of The Pixies, and Juliana Hatfield showing they are more willing to hang with Mark than go off with Bob.

In the end, I don't know if I should laugh or cry after hearing "What If I Go Off With Bob?" There's often a wisp of loss buried in a Mulcahy song. Maybe the surprise here is that it is elevated so much to the forefront. The song (and the album) ends with the more perfunctory, "what if I do?" Not very comforting to those of us who need our sense of closure.

Mulcahy, Mark. "What If I Go Off With Bob?" The Gus. Mezzotint, 2019. Link here.

Day 259: Carly Simon "Anticipation"

Day 261: Buffalo Springfield "For What It's Worth"

See complete list here.