Uncle Bonsai is a quirky, irreverent contemporary folk trio from Seattle, Washington. The original members were acoustic guitarist/vocalist Andrew Ratshin and vocalists Arni Adler and Ashley O'Keefe, who was replaced in 2007 by singer/songwriter Patrice O'Neill of the Mel Cooleys. The band has been recording and performing since 1981, with a hiatus from '89-'98.
Though perhaps best known for their cheerfully cynical, often vindictive comedic songs such as "Suzy", "Boys Want Sex in the Morning", and "Cheerleaders on Drugs", much of their music tackles serious and even somber subjects with tearjerking artistry. They also produced a Concept Album titled Doug in 2000, in collaboration with the Mel Cooleys.
Their latest album, The Family Feast: The Study of the Human Condition, First World Problems, and the Lasting Physiological and Psychological Effects of Eating Our Young, is available on iTunes.
Don't Put These Tropes in Your Mouth:
- Added Alliterative Appeal:I see them kissing in a corner
And I wonder should I warn them
- All Men Are Perverts: "Boys Want Sex in the Morning"
- Ambiguous Disorder: The woman in "A Lonely Grain of Corn", who believes . . . well . . .'Cause I'm the only grain of corn
In my family.
- Anti-Christmas Song:
- "Parcel Post" involves a woman receiving a package that she's not to open till Christmas—which clearly contains her obsessive ex-boyfriend.
- "Seasonal Work" is about oppressed and bitter snowmen vowing revenge against the happy holiday families who made them.
- Anti-Love Song:
- "Kill the Competition (A Love Song)".
- "Too Many Creeps", about disappointment with a series of bad hookups.
- "Charlie and Me", while not dark, is a deconstruction of the Silly Love Song.And Charlie will never realize the sting of his tireless smile
The string of the broken promises that cling to him like a child,
But, Charlie, I love your faces when I say that I think you're strange
Charlie, I hope that you never change.
- Appeal to Worse Problems: From "Don't Put It in Your Mouth":If you don't want to eat
We'll find someone who will
Starving kids in India will love it.
- Badass Baritone: Parodied. Andrew prefaces "To Market, to Market" by saying how much he wanted a low voice as a child, and how that just . . . didn't happen. Then launches into the "folk number" at the bottom of his high tenor range.
- Based on a True Story: Andy and Arni frequently draw from their own—purported—experiences in writing the songs.
- Arni claims to have failed cheerleading tryouts in eighth grade, causing both the bitterness and the impressive retention of cheer lyrics that became "Cheerleaders on Drugs".
- "I Like Girls", in which Andy comes out as straight, seems to be based on a real interaction he had with a man at a bar.
- Because I Said So: There's a lot of this in "Don't Put It in Your Mouth".What is best for you is best for me
Don't ask why or how, just go.
- Blues: "Ashley's Little Blues" and "Heartache".
- Bookends: The first and last verses of "Charlie and Me" begin with "Charlie comes up from downtown".
- Break-Up Song: "Ashley's Little Blues".
- Celebrity Song:
- The Cheerleader: "Cheerleaders on Drugs" is, unsurprisingly, a humorous deconstruction of this archetype.It seems like they must be
On drugs or just stupid;
They're bouyant and busty
And just plain dumb.
- Chronic Pet Killer: "The Grim Parade" is about a family of these.You should have seen when you came in
We were the killing kind of kin—
This is where the end if you begins.
- Double Entendre: "Don't Put It in Your Mouth" is a long string of these—on the surface, it's perfectly innocuous advice from a mother to her young child, but . . .Don't take it from the ground
Or from a strange old man
Other kids have vanished when they did it.
- Driven to Suicide: In "Isaac's Lament", a man kills himself when he hears his favorite TV show has been cancelled.
- Everyone Hates Mimes: Inverted. "Precious Mime" is a Silly Love Song to a mime.
- Face on a Milk Carton: Mentioned in "Where's the Milk?":... Limping towards the produce past the dairy case and wondering
If I would see your face upon the milk carton someday.
- First World Problems: Discussed in "Problems in the First World".
- Folk Music: One acoustic guitar, three high vocalists, 100% awesome.
- Food Songs Are Funny: "Chubby Wanna Sundae?", which actually gets pretty dark.
- Freud Was Right: "Penis Envy", in which Ashley and Arni discuss the various advantages of having a penis, as well as all the things they would stick it in if they had one.
- Genre Roulette: Invoked. They try to do a song (parody) of every genre.
- Green-Eyed Monster: "Anne" is a Sanity Slippage Song sung by someone, probably a rival mother, who is is insanely jealous of perfect homemaker Anne.
- Grief Song: "Silent Night" is sung by a college student whose father has just died.
- Homage: "Big Chihuahua" to The Cockroach Sisters. Subverted by Arnie's insistence that they're only doing it as part of the Bandwagon Motif—the Cockroach Sisters have, after all, been signed to a record label.
- Human Mail: A man in "Parcel Post" ships himself to his ex-girlfriend.
- Incredibly Long Note: Andy at the end of "I Like Girls". As well as some clearly looped "ooo"-ing in the beginning of "Go to Sleep".
- Inkblot Test: "Bat" is about a very obviously guilty person trying to avoid giving themself away while answering one of these.
- In the Style of...: "The Star-Spangled Banner" as Doo Wop?? Eine Kleine Nachtmusik A Cappella???
- Ironic Name: Invoked. When Andrew performs solo, he bills himself and his acoustic guitar as "The Electric Bonsai Band"."It's not electric, and it's not a band!"
- Location Song: "Send My Body Home" cycles through several of the states the band visited on their infamous RV tour—which were all terrible.I don't like Alabama.
I was there when it was raining.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Many of their songs are upbeat and jaunty and fun to sing along to—even when they're about suicide, cannibalism, or schizophrenia.
- "The Monster in the Closet" starts off fairly creepy, but after the first stanza, it launches into a jaunty banjo tune.
- Lyric Swap: Many of their choruses are slightly different with each iteration.
- Mid Word Rhyme: Especially frequent in "Splitting the Genes" and "Another Fat Song".
- Misandry Song: "I Want a Man".Andy: I want a woman who—
Ashley: Shut up.
Arni: Sit down.
Andy: Yes dear, here dear, right away.
- Mistaken for Gay: "I Like Girls" is about how Andrew is frequently this.
- Mood Whiplash: from "Isaac's Lament":He walks over to the window,
And without a hesitation
He goes out.
I run over to the window
And I see him hit the sidewalk
Like a trout.
- They like to joke about their "bandwagon motif"—desperately jumping on every musical trend that comes their way in the hopes of piquing a record label.
- They also have a "wild women motif", which includes "Lois Lane" and "Suzy".
- Dead pets are a recurring theme throughout The Grim Parade.
- "The Grim Parade" is about a family of Chronic Pet Killers.
- "The Fish Is in the Freezer" is a Grief Song from a child to its newly departed fish.
- In "Anne", the first admirable trait listed is "Anne can keep the fish alive."
- In "Heaven on Earth", God mentions there's "no dog or fish in sight" in Heaven.
- From "Half of the People":And half of the people in the world
Think they're going straight to Heaven
With all of their pets and with no questions asked
- Ode to Intoxication: As part of the bandwagon motif, the Drunken Song "Meet Me Under the Table".You got to fight for the truth,
You got to stand up and cheer
For better brands of Vermouth
And higher potency beer.
- The One That Got Away: "Where's the Milk?" features a woman whose husband walked out on her while out to buy milk ten years ago. And his sudden return.
- One-Woman Song: "Suzy", "Lois Lane", "Julie Andrews", and "Olivia Newton John".
- Parent Never Came Back from the Store: The premise of "Where's the Milk?"Saturday you headed out for milk
Then Sunday came
And Monday came
And Tuesday came
And then the next and so it goes.
- Parody: "A Day Old Whale" of reggae music.
- The Phoenix: From "Skin Deep":And like a phoenix I will crash and burn again
But I will rise.
- Phrase Salad Lyrics: "The Devil You Know" seems to be this.We are lost in something toothless in the night.
We are waiting for the darkness to implode.
We are tored of looking frozen in the lights
While we're waltzing in the middle of the road.
- Protest Song: "Women with a 'Y' (Womyn)". A half-parodistic, half-sincere feminist rant.
- Punny Title: Played for drama with "Skin Deep", a take on the adage "Beauty is only skin deep." The song is about cutting.
- Running Gag: "This is a true love song."
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Anne"—complete with insane laughter.
- Self-Demonstrating Song: "Folk Song", which doubles as Heavy Meta for the genre.Take and E chord
Then an A chord
Then an E chord
Then a B (with a seventh) ...
- Self-Harm: "Skin Deep" seems to be about cutting.
- Something Blues: "Ashley's Little Blues".
- Stepford Suburbia: "Billboard Love" pokes fun at the kind of all-American suburban life touted by the advertising industry.
- Take That!: most of their songs, honestly
- "Cheerleaders on Drugs", to the insipid squad that rejected Arni in eighth grade.
- "Johnny It's Downhill from Here" to all those perfect people who are gonna be eating out of trash cans in ten years. We wish.
- "Half of the People" to religious folks.
- "Me and Mrs. Middle America" to middle-Americans.
- "Rich Kids" to . . . shaddup.
- Theme Naming: The original trio: Andy, Arni, and Ashley.
- Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: "The Monster in the Closet" is all about this. It's a pair of parents emotionally manipulating their child by "lovingly" warning them about the many monsters lurking in the house.The monster in the bathroom brings you water
But that's the oldest monster trick in sight
'Cause the monster underneath your bed knows you could never hold it in all night.
- This Is My Side: "There Is a Line".There is a line across the room.
It runs right through the coffee table
I don't see it anymore
'Cause it's been there so long.
- Title Track: "Boys Want Sex in the Morning", "A Lonely Grain of Corn", and "The Grim Parade". Myn ynd Wymyn contains both "Men and Women" and "Women with a 'Y' (Womyn)".
- Vocal Tag Team: Most of their music features all three singing, with each taking turns soloing particular songs.
- World of Snark: Both Andrew and Arni, the primary songwriters, are incredibly cynical and dry-witted, which is clearly telegraphed by the music.
Tropes Appearing in the Doug Cycle:
- Age-Progression Song: Parodied in the second chorus of "Doug's First Date".First you're born.
Then you walk.
Then you boy-scout.
Then you drive.
Then you drink.
Then you leave.
Then you marry.
Then you die.
- Album Title Drop: In the second chorus of "Doug's Birthday Song":And he shall be (and he shall be)
And he shall be (and he shall be)
And he shall be (and he shall be)
And he shall be (he shall be) Doug!
- And Now For Something Completely Different: The final song in the canon, "Heaven on Earth (Doug's Ressurrection: Part Two)", has nothing to do with Doug or his story—it's from God's perspective.
- Anti-Christmas Song: "Doug's Greatest Christmas Ever", in which he's the only one keeping the office running through Christmas because he's "the company Jew."
- Bitter Wedding Speech:The mother of the bride said she was ready to go home,
Although her daughter hadn't cut the cake.
She offered up a bridal toast in perfect monotone
And said that it was all a big mistake.
- And again invoked in "I Never Learned How To Waltz":Here's a toast to calmer seas, to less inclement weather,
A toast that you'll remember me when you're not still together.
- And again invoked in "I Never Learned How To Waltz":
- Break-Up Song: Both parts of "Doug's Divorce" from Delilah.
- Continuity Snarl: Some of the later Doug songs (a few of which were released on other albums) don't work so well together. Did Doug literally explode, as in "Doug at Home (So Typical)"? Did he survive, as suggested by "Doug at His Mom's"? Did he commit suicide only to be resuscitated, ala "Where's My Puppy (Doug's Ressurrection: Part One)"? And where the heck does "Doug at the Gates if Hell" fit in?note
- Face on the Cover: Well, half of his face, anyway.note
- God Is Flawed: Apparently "God" started the Earth as some sort of science experiment and never meant it to go this far.I set the thing in motion,
But then I had to quit
I thought that I had heard my mother calling.
I never had the notion
A single cell could spilt.
Imagine my surprise to see you crawling!
- "The Hero Sucks" Song: "Doug at Home (So Typical)" and both parts of "Doug's Divorce".
- "I Am Great!" Song: "Doug's Birthday Song" and "Doug's First Job (The Crossing Guard)" are "Doug is great" songs from Doug's dangerously delusional mother.
- Jazz: With the addition of the Mel Cooleys, the album took on a much jazxier vibe than previous works.
- Karma Houdini:
- Doug's mother never receives any comeuppance for her damaging parenting.
- Invoked by Doug, who makes sure to straighten things out with the Rabbi before committing suicide to ensure he'll get to heaven.
- Manchild: Doug's mother treats him like a kid when he comes back home for the holidays. The fact that he watches TV all day while his wife is the major breadwinner suggests that she might not be remiss in that assessment."Come set the table, Doug," his mother yells for all to hear
Go find a tie to wear and
Why don't you cut your hair and
So tell us Douglas will you ever find a real career?
- My Beloved Smother: Doug's mom is wildly overprotective and controlling.
- Oh, Crap!: When Doug realizes he is not, in fact, in Heaven.Those aren't angels, are they?
- Parental Love Song: "Doug's Birthday Song".
- Emergency Multifaith Prayer: In "Doug at the Gates of Hell", Doug requests that his family perform some non-Jewish rites for him "Just in case I wasn't chosen / And the Catholics were right."Here lies a man who will believe
When it's convenient to believe.
- POV Sequel Song: Immediately after "Doug Gets Married", which is from Doug's Mom's perspective, comes "Delilah Gets Married (I Never Learned How to Waltz)", which explored the bride's experience of the wedding.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Downplayed. Doug isn't enraged by his treatment in the afterlife, just miffed that there isn't any bacon.Let's hear some angels singing!
- Rock Opera: Technically more of a Rock Opera than a Concept Album, since it does tell the story of one life—it's just a really boring one.
- Second Coming: Discussed/parodied when Doug's mom starts going a little overboard in her adoration of her new son.This could be the greatest child
Ever to be born.
Never mind the baby bonnet—
Where's the crown of thorns?
(Doug!) Is this the second son?
- Shout-Out: "Doug's Divorce: Part 2, The TV" is riddled with them.
- Switching P.O.V.: There are songs from the perspective of Doug, his mom, Delilah, Doug's dog, God, Delilah's mom, and a third-person narrator.
- Wanderlust Song: Parodied. Young Doug wants to go to town, but his mother imposes so many ridiculous restrictions on the trip (including not crossing the street) that he sadly concludes, "I think I'm staying home".
- "When I'm Gone" Song:
And let my epitaph be something
- In "Doug's Divorce: Preamble", Delilah (who is leaving Doug) encourages him to move on once she's out of his life—even though she'll still give him alimony.
- In "Doug at the Gates of Hell", Doug makes a series of requests of his loved ones from the afterlife.
That my children will receive:
'Here lies a man who will believe
When it's convenient to believe.'