Uncle Bonsai marches in ‘The Grim Parade’Written by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The cover of Uncle Bonsai’s new disc is a brightly colored illustration of a couple dogs, two cats, a bunny, a turtle, a chick, three mice and a hamster walking toward a pink house. How cute!
But then you notice the CD title, “The Grim Parade,” and see the smoke from the chimney forming a skull, not to mention a vulture perched in a gnarly tree and the spilled fish bowl and fresh grave.
That artwork captures the biting humor of the folk-pop trio that sings: “And so the years went on and on/ Another cat, another dog/ Another marker on a lawn that’s getting crowded …/ We were the picture-perfect people to come home to/ We were loving and we loved them all to death.”
“A few years ago I was reading the book ‘Marley and Me,’ and my daughter who was 6 or 7 then asked me if it was a sad book, and I said, ‘Well, all pet stories end the same way,’ ” said Andrew Ratshin. “And the family in this song, they’re not trying to kill pets but for some reason the animals come in the front door and go out the back, if you know what I mean.”
The singer-songwriter-guitarist quickly added: “These are just the jokes, as long as you don’t take it personally.”
Ratshin and vocalist Arni Adler formed Uncle Bonsai in 1981; singer Patrice O’Neill joined them in 2007.
“We’ve gone through 300 or 400 songs. We’ve sung about pretty much everything,” Ratshin said during a call from his Seattle home.
He’s not kidding. Consider the names of these tracks: “Penis Envy,” “Cheerleaders on Drugs,” “Olivia Newton-John,” “A Lonely Grain of Corn,” “Then God Made Malls,” “Julie Andrews,” “K-Mart,” “Old People on Ice,” “Precious Mime,” “Womb for Rent.”
“I don’t think there’s anything taboo subject-wise,” he said. “We’re not trying to pass out a big world message. We’re entertaining, we’re interesting, we’re thought-provoking in a non-hugely hit-you-over-the-head kind of way. It’s just music.”
Uncle Bonsai will celebrate its latest disc, “The Grim Parade,” at 8 p.m. April 30 at the Ark in Ann Arbor. Tickets are $20. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re learning a song I wrote for this show because I wanted to have a new song for Ann Arbor,” Ratshin said. “It’s called ‘Go to Sleep.’ It’s a lullaby, but it took a turn.
“The running joke of all these songs is that Arni and I got together and thought, hey, maybe we ought to write a children’s record; let’s try to write some children’s songs. And things like ‘The Fish is in the Freezer,’ ‘The Grim Parade’ and ‘The Baby’s Head,’ that’s what came out. We started writing children’s songs, but somewhere they took a turn.”