Although many may consider it a less important symbol than the dollar sign, never underestimate the power of the asterisk. Jon Glaser certainly doesn’t.
After being estranged for years, Glaser was going through his father’s belongings following his death when he stumbled across rock and roll history.* He learned his father was a member of an early incarnation of ZZ Top.* The senior Glaser didn’t make a mark on the music world, though, because he was the keyboard player who urged the band abandon the name ZZ Top and to become “Houston’s biggest soul fusion quartet.”* Yet the revelation his father was in ZZ Top led Glaser on a mission to uncover the hidden history of rock and roll, culminating in My Dead Dad Was in ZZ Top: 100% Real,* Never Before Seen Documents from the World of Rock and Roll.
But why is the asterisk important enough to end up in the subtitle? Because the bottom right hand corner of the book’s cover bears the legend “(*100% Fake)”. That’s right. Glaser wasn’t estranged from his father, his father isn’t dead and his father was never a member of ZZ Top (although I can’t vouch for whether he played keyboards in a soul-fusion band). The material in the book is all the product of Glaser’s imagination, one tinged with an attention to detail that may border on minutiae. Yet it’s the detail that lends the artifice a layer of authenticity. And some of the humor has a biting edge. Given how the music of rock icons such as Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers now seem omnipresent in television commercials, Glaser’s section on songs these artists wrote to advertise local establishments is more biting than blasphemous. Likewise, his chapter on Jay Leno’s efforts to replace Kevin Eubanks as The Tonight Show band leader has far more edge when you take into account Glaser wrote for and played various characters on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
A lot of the humor is more basic. Did you know Van Halen was the second choice for the band’s name, once Eddie found out his real family name, Bran Fralen, was the name of a two-man jazz combo in St. Paul? There’s Mick Fleetwood’s suggestion McDonald’s create a Fleetwood Mac Big Mac with “several slices of Lindsey Bucking-ham, white cheddar cheese that represents the cocaine Stevie Nicks is addicted to, Mick Fleet-wood smoked bacon, and John and Christine McVie-al (veal).” Glaser does all this through documentary evidence. There’s a copy of Ringo Starr’s letter to the other Beatles — on Apple letterhead no less — about his plans to start a Beatles tribute band. Glaser uncovered the classified documents showing the Butthole Surfers got their name from a classified Navy SEALs program. He also explains the truth behind a nasty Rod Stewart rumor and reveals a secret Keith Richards and Mick Jagger have kept since before The Rolling Stones did their first show.
As imaginative and as detail-oriented as the contents may be, the problem Glaser can’t quite overcome is that the concept isn’t deep enough to sustain itself for long. It isn’t so much a flaw in execution as much as the book is a one trick pony where the pony shows up for each show in different tack. It more likely reflects the fact that it is spun off from a stand-up routine Glaser did a number of years ago. Both explain whey the book is short enough that it can be read in an hour or so. This also is not knee-slapping humor. At times it is obvious and perhaps smirk-inducing. Other times it is a bit more subtle. Then there’s some material that just doesn’t pan out, something that may be influenced by the reader’s familiarity with the particular artist.
As far as spoofs go, My Dead Dad Was in ZZ Top succeeds a couple times. Ultimately, though, it may be as good at pointing out the significance of the asterisk as it is earning a place on the music or humor fan’s bookshelf.
Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull played me a flute solo in his living room that was so beautiful and moving that I dry-heaved pure emotion for about an hour afterward.
Jon Glaser, My Dead Dad Was in ZZ Top