Off The Charts: The Song-Poem Story

Various Artists

Shout Factory/Sony, 2004

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Wow. Talk about not knowing where to start…

First off, let's define song-poems. From the back of the DVD: "In this little known sub-culture, 'ordinary' people send in their heartfelt, but often bizarre, poems to companies that -- for a fee -- turn them into full-fledged musical productions. Advertising in the back of magazines, these companies lure the would-be songwriters with promises of fame and fortune." It goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway -- fame and fortune rarely materializes, and in fact many song-poem publishers are pyramid-scheme snake oil salesmen, adding new costs on the basic recording fee like Chico Marx gone haywire.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So why make a DVD about it? Well, there's a couple of reasons. First off, many of these songs are damned funny -- whether funny in their odd combination of ineptness and earnestness or in their utter lack of reference to reality. Second, some of the song-poem artists interviewed in Off The Charts, the debut documentary from Jamie Meltzer, are…um…unique individuals?

We have Caglar Juan Singletary, the author of "Nonviolent Tae Kwon Do Troopers", and his loving grandmother. We have the unique song stylings of Nilson V. Ortiz. We have Gene Merlino, the fastest vocalist in the West, who once (or so he says) recorded 80 songs in four hours. We have a touching tribute to Rodd Keith, the man whose contemporaries called him the greatest song-poem artist of all time.

In short, ladies and gents, we have a veritable cornucopia of Americana weirdness, all set to the some of the most gawd-awful atrocious -- yet strangely fascinating -- music you've ever heard. Meltzer makes the trivial seem utterly important, yet still maintains a light touch with his direction; you end up caring about this stuff, and go from laughing at it to laughing with it. Rarely does crass, money-grubbing mercantilism turn into an art form. Off The Charts documents the process with an unblinking eye, and you end up having fun watching it.

Is this for everyone? Well, maybe not; one of the folks who watched it with me actually thought it was a Christopher Guest movie for the first fifteen minutes, and by the end we decided it should be a Christopher Guest movie. But if Mitch and Mickey can appear at the Oscars, why not care about song-poems? Off The Charts is a funny, funny DVD.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2004 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Shout Factory/Sony, and is used for informational purposes only.