One evening in 1979 I was watching the First Annual Disco Awards (which, alas, also happened to be the Last Annual Disco Awards), and while I have forgotten most of the awards, presenters, nominees, and winners, I will never forget the moment when the prestigious "Disco Life-Style Award" was announced. The winner was the late Sammy Davis Jr., and as he accepted the DL-SA, he shook his head in disbelief and said, "You know, man... you cats are too much. I have won... a LOT of awards... in my time... but THIS... [shakes his head again] ...is SOMETHING ELSE."

Never did I suspect that someday... a mere 24 years later... I would experience those same emotions that gripped Sammy. But last week I was awakened by a phone call from Jodi Epstein of Independent Television Services and informed that I was the winner of the ITVS/PBS SONG-POEM CONTEST for my song-poem "Rubber Martian Song."

You’re probably wondering: How did I do it? Where did I get my inspiration? What is a song-poem? What am I talking about? What did I do with the remote?

Well, the remote is in the bathroom. I was trying to turn up the volume from in there so I could shave and listen to The Simpsons at the same time but it didn’t work. A song poem is...

I wrote a column about song-poems about two years ago. As my favorite author said then:

"If you've spent as much time as I have scrutinizing the ads in the back of comic books, you've come across advertisements that say "WANTED: YOUR POEMS" and invite you to send in your lyrics for a 'free appraisal.' If you do, you'll get a letter back telling you that your stuff has real hit potential, and for around 200 bucks, a demo with the full studio treatment will be made and distributed. This ‘industry' thrived for decades, and needless to say not one of these potential hit songs (hundreds of thousands? millions?) came within a mile of hitting a radio station playlist, but the songs actually were set to music and recorded though distribution was pretty much limited to the folks who paid for the full studio treatment."

And yes, the average song-poem is every bit as bad as you probably suspect. After all, these things are called ‘song-poems’ because the companies believe, as American Song Poem Archive founder Phil Milstein put it, "...their typical customer is too dumb to grasp the meaning of the simple English word ‘lyric.’"

But if the average song-poem is trite and forgettable, the UN-average song-poem is weird in ways that PROFESSIONAL weirdos seldom approach. It’s a uniquely American weirdness, too, which may be why President Bush declared February 11th 2003 "American Song-Poem Day." To coincide with the official festivities, a compilation of 28 really amazing song-poems was released for public consumption, and a song-poem documentary, "Off the Charts," premiered on PBS.

This is where I come in.

I didn’t watch the documentary because I wasn’t home when it was on and I accidentally microwaved my VCR instructions, but I did visit the website, where I learned there was... a SONG POEM CONTEST. The winning song-poem would be set to music and recorded by an ACTUAL SONG POEM COMPANY. In fact, this would be done by Art Kaufman, who has been doing this for 25 years and whose r鳵m頩ncludes the music for such song poems as "Non-Violent Taekwondo Troopers," and "Masakay Demoken." (I’m pretty sure there should be some "SIC"s in there, but once you start inserting "SIC"s into song-poem titles, there’s just no end to it).

I don’t generally enter contests but an opportunity like this was just too good to pass up. So I set out to write a song-poem. At first I thought about writing about those sneakers you always see tied together and hanging over power lines. But once I had the first lines ("We’ll probably never find out why / People take a couple of old sneakers and tie / The laces together and, bolo-like, chuck / Them over the power lines where they dangle, forever stuck") I realized I had said pretty much all I had to say on the subject. In the end, I went into my trunk and dug out a brief lyric I’d written a few years ago about those little rubber Martian toys that you squeeze and the ears pop out. And, to make a short story even shorter, I won! As thrilled as I was, I was even more impressed with myself when I learned that there had been OTHER contestants. Possibly several. But in the end, "Rubber Martian Song" took top honors, and as I type, an actual CD-R with the * ahem * full studio treatment is winging its way to me.

But enough about me. How can YOU enjoy my song poem?

Well, as a matter of fact, you probably can’t. I haven’t heard it yet, but even Art Kaufman can only do so much with lyrics like "Rubber eyes on rubber stalks / Filled with rubber scented air /Eyes that dance like Fred & Ginger / (Fred the Martian-- not Astaire)."

But you can listen to it if you go to THIS PLACE. (Note to the ladies: there’s a PICTURE of me there, too!)

I hope this will inspire future generations of song-poets. And not just song-poets, either, but untalented people of EVERY stripe.

It just goes to show, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish, as long as it’s pretty easy to do and it’s okay if it stinks.

THIS will take you to my latest column...
AND THIS will bring you to a huge website about song poems...