Jerry Paper Toon Time Raw!

[Bayonet; 2016]

Styles: toon theory/therapy, animism, Speaking of Animals
Others: Van Dyke Parks, Frank Zappa, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

The gumshoe grips the steering wheel, feels the salt-water welling in the pores of his palms. He’s in a black Humpback that he pinched from a couple of weasels, a Humpback that’s making too-good time in the long Oreo-black of the tunnel. An indiscernible and impossible distance from him and the Humpback is a red curtain, drawn, and behind the curtain a whole lot of who knows. There’s the massive heat of the red on his face, the gravity-free needling in his gut, and he’s closer, closer, about to ram the curtains. But of course he doesn’t; they split at the center. The detective clamps his eyes shut, shields them from the brilliant glow and endless motion in the world behind the curtains. And through his closed-eyes, he hears the sound of a cartoon sun and an infinity of elastic citizens singing “SMILE DARN YA SMILE/ YA KNOW THIS WHOLE WORLD IS A GREAT WORLD AFTER ALL/ SMILE DARN YA SMILE.” Eddie Valiant drives through the painted cel landscape, letting his thoughts drift to all the headlines he read that morning. “SMILE DARN YA SMILE!” It makes him want to stop and sob.

Why doesn’t Eddie Valiant want to go to Toontown? What happens when you stuff a body full of trauma into an unreal frame?

It’s the thesis lyric, the first sound you get from Jerry Paper on Toon Time Raw!: what are “the quotidian aches and pains of being a Being?”

The Beings are animals, duh, anthropomorphized and stretched until they’re woozy, half-familiar joke shades of us (“facsimile dreams,” J-Papes croons on “Kill the Dream”). Toons live, they joke, and maybe they don’t die, but they hurt. “Ginger and Ruth” gives us a couple circling each other, trading quips, looking for some meaning (“Ginger fears death/ But Ruth says life’s where the pain’s at”). Ruth is a bear. Ginger’s a brat. When the pair finally head back to bed by the end of the song, their cosmic conclusion is the same as their initial hypothesis: “All the small things — they’re something/ The bric-a-brac euphoria.”

This focus on the smallness of meaning and the weight of the nothings gets spread around the whole cast of animations. A Jerry Paper record exercises a space in tension: the computer game art-heart of Big Pop For Chameleon World, the farty-fake synths on Carousel that mask and then excavate personal/existential freakouts. Toon Time Raw! builds an even more complete world, presents even more tension. Toons are more than us, but didn’t we make them in our image? Toons want to laugh, but don’t they have to cry too? There’s a duck who eats almonds on “Zoom Out” and when he’s shot dead by a hunter, he muses, “This stinks/ Always knew I’d die one day/ Just not today.” Suzy the Cow pines for Llama Lamar on “Comma For a Cow,” even though “She’s been fucking some goateed shark.”

Toon Time Raw!, like the best of Jerry Paper, is songs stuffed with meaning and stabbed with laughter. Like: “She’s been fucking some goateed shark,” which is, duh, superfunny, ridiculous, but also supersad. Jerry Paper’s a joke, a character (fictional and also real — a toon?). But he’s also focused on execution, invested and attuned to what makes cartoon and real life so happy-sad. Suzy the Cow loves Llama Lamar and they’re both cartoon animals and it is sad: “She wants this to be a comma/ A little ripple of nasty drama/ Just hope there’s not much trauma.”

Toons live with that tension. They’re beings that live for laughter (Roger Rabbit: “Toons are supposed to make people laugh!”), but live in a world where bad stuff happens. No happy without sad. No cartoons without humans. Who Framed Roger Rabbit presents toons as autonomous entities, beings on the fringes of human economic systems, trying to make a living in those systems, grappling with their desires and their meanings. Toons sound like a lot like us. So does “Shouldn’t You Be Laughing”: “Now Frank, lemme tell ya if life is a joke/ Shouldn’t you be laughing? Don’t be a mope.”

How do we live with the aches and pains? We bounce. Eisenstein, writing on Disney shorts, references their “plasmaticness,” the ability of the line to stretch and bend. “Poly-formic capabilities,” that’s what toons have, he said, and Jerry Paper suggests transformation as solution to despair. There are lots of human sounds on Toon Time Raw!, a faceless jazz combo called Easy Feelings Limited that supplies lips for real brass and hands to hit the drum kit. Lounge-jazz smacks into the old Jerry Paper synths, honking and a little mocking, and when Jerry Paper slips in that poly-formic voice, the one that animates every syllable, it’s an exercise in unsettled world. It’s watching Bob Hoskins and an animated rabbit share a space. Toons are the stand-in: we get to see our problems through them, get a little closer to clarity. But toons are also the solution: they are boundless, they laugh. Behind the curtain, Eddie Valiant gets to live like a toon, which is what he is anyway. And when the steamroller gobsmacks us, when we’re forced to see what makes us cry and what makes us laugh, we emerge transformed and deformed, a little banged up and a little more willing to dance.

Links: Jerry Paper - Bayonet

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