“All White People Look Alike” is a 20-minute extended song form. It is a musical manifesto on race, conformity and (pre-internet) mass culture. It opens cinematically in a cotton field and travels through a series of feels and styles (an African hoedown, an acapella choral tongue-twister, a Fred Frith-like metrical breakdown) each transforming seamlessly into the next. It culminates at a stand-up comedy club in a diatribe on “skin colored” Band-Aids, the origin of Valley Girls, the supposed twenty-seven Eskimo words for snow (“snow, snow, snow, snow”) and “why when you move and go to a new elementary school, all the kids look the same at first.” Along the way, Woodbury, backed up two female singers and a highly percussive score of drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, saxophones and violin, makes reference to Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron & Steve Reich’s “Come Out.” It was first performed to tape accompaniment by Mr. Woodbury at Project Artaud in San Francisco in 1984.
On the CD it is paired with “Harangue,” a theatrical song cycle. The theme seems to be the inadequacy of economics as an explanation for human endeavor. It features a fake opera recitative (“I can tell the time of day”); poly-metric rap (“I’m Just the Kind of Guy That I Like”); the haunting/ridiculous aria “The Birds Don’t Owe” (“The bell can’t owe its ding-dong”); Schumann-esque choral music (“Our Sin”); exquisite industrial noise (“The Work Ethic”) and show biz Gospel (“Who Says?”). It was first performed at New Langton Arts in San Francisco in 1986.
History of the LP: The title cut and “I’m Just the Kind of Guy” received extensive airplay on college stations in 1988-1990, making several best-of lists. Subsequently, the title cut “All White People Look Alike” curiously ended up as side 4 of a Jane’s Addiction bootleg double LP, “The Mephisto Demos.” Somehow the rumor arose that the song was what got Jane’s Addiction signed to Warner Brothers; and further, that the representatives who signed Jane’s Addiction thought they were more like the band They Might Be Giants, because of this song. With this release, we can at last set the record straight.
The recording was reissued on CD in 2004.
Note: The original “Harangue” side contained “My Favorite Things,” a duet (“mash-up”) of John Coltrane & Julie Andrews. The rights to the original recordings were unobtainable, so, alas, it is not included on the CD.
Though erroneously attributed to Jane’s Addiction on a bootleg entitled The Mephisto Demos (and distinguished as the song that got the band signed to Warner Brothers, despite the fact that it bears absolutely zero similarity to their sound), “All White People Look Alike” was in fact first released on a limited-press LP of the same title in 1987 by gonzo musician Brian Woodbury and his crew. The epic, twenty-minute-plus title track bounces feverishly from one musical genre to another, grounded to its theme by an hysterical spoken-word observation on racial politics and other societal absurdities. This side-length rant could stand alongside the best of George Carlin and Bill Hicks in its ruthless attack on consumer culture, which makes Woodbury’s relative cultural insignificance a shame. Though not designed for mass appeal, this album (rounded out by a string of instrumental blocks and the remnants of a Woodbury theater piece entitled “Harangue”) deserves to have a wider audience.
Michael Allen, CD Baby
Timely re-issue of Woodbury’s classic 1987 song rant, previously released in a small scarce vinyl edition. There are song blocks, ranting blocks, interesting arrangement blocks – all adding up to an impressive and quite unique 20 minute wind up. Don’t drink coffee before putting this on. Followed by Harangue – a cycle of 11 songs of varying lengths (0.54 – 3.18) and each following completely different genre rules, until you don’t know what sort of a record you’re on any more. And funny. When it wants to be.