Not for Tots: Paul Melancon Animates His Toon Tunes

Tots today are totally missing out on the whole Saturday morning cartoon experience. And when I say totally, I mean totally. Saturday morning cartoons are extinct. You might occasionally run across some old reruns on a minor/specialty cable channel, and thanks to the success of The Simpsons, Family Guy and King of the Hill there are far too many “adult” cartoons nowadays, but there hasn’t been any first-run animated programming made for the pre-teen/early-teen demographic for that neglected weekend morning timeslot in a long while now. That whole weekly ritual of rocketing out of bed at the crack of dawn every Saturday, dumping half a box of sugary cereal into an overflowing bowl and plopping down in front of the teevee, still in pajamas, for three to four hours of cheaply-made, psychedelic sensory junk-food has been terminated, the victim of educational programming advocates, Mothers Against Consumerist Culture (I just made up that lobbying group on the spot, but it probably exists in some form), cable and streaming alternatives, production costs, the rise of video gaming and numerous other factors. It’s all just nostalgia now for Boomers and Gen-Xers.

Power pop’s sorta the musical equivalent of Saturday morning cartoons. It’s arguably doing better, because every now and then some younger oddballs will still cobble together a nerdy/punky power pop band and play a few shows at the local rock club or scenesters hangout. Certain power pop acts, old and new, can still attain a minimal level of coolness with the right crowd. But by and large, it’s a nostalgic music format by and for middle-aged-and-older guys (almost always guys) who long for the fun, familiar, meaningful sounds of their youth. There have always been similarities and associations between power pop (along with its younger cousin, bubblegum) and kid’s TV programming. The music’s generally bouncy and simple and upbeat, the lyrical storylines usually aren’t too complex, and certain bands (some fictional) were even the stars of their own cartoons during the colorful Saturday morning heyday of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s: The Archies, The Osmonds, Josie & the Pussycats, The Jackson Five, even The Beatles had their own cartoon for a bit. I’d go so far as to toss in prime-time live action equivalents from the same era, like The Monkees and The Partridge Family, for they were often just as silly and cartoonish. Why, sometimes there’d even be a free flexi record you could cut out from the cardboard box of the Super Sugar Crisp you were gobbling down while watching your favorites.

Atlanta power pop devotee Paul Melancon knows this well, as he grew up during a time when some of those shows were still on television and power pop bands would still get played on the radio. And he fashioned his new CD as a sort of tribute to those Saturday morning cartoon bands. Titled The Get Gos Action Hour!, it boasts vibrant cover artwork that portrays the imaginary quartet, The Get Gos, as hand-drawn contemporaries of The Archies and Josie, along with some mystical villains that look like they escaped from the Scooby-Doo rogues’ gallery. There’s even a peppy 40-second theme song for the band’s show that kicks off the CD.

From there, though, things get thornier and more complicated. Melancon presents the song cycle as a “power-popera” in two parts telling the story of the band and its singer, Arthur St. Cyril, who (like Melancon) suffers from clinical depression – lost, without purpose, his world collapsing around him. Okay, so right there half the ten-year-olds watching just switched the channel, and the rest are gonna jump ship once “This Shaky Lullaby” drags us down its mopey, slow-spinning whirlpool. It turns out the Hanna-Barbera cartoon angle is just an exercise for Melancon to air his personal issues through a made-up one-dimensional avatar, one that conveniently takes 40 pounds and 20 years off him based on the drawings. So while the premise doesn’t necessarily hold together from song to song, if you just take it as a plain ol’ batch of open-wound, bare-the-warts, catchy power-pop-rooted-rock-and-roll-with-flashes-of-psych-and-prog from a deeply troubled soul, it’s pretty great. It’s certainly the fullest, most expressive, expansive and affecting work from Melancon that I can remember, both lyrically and musically. And his (real-life) band, The New Insecurities, is top shelf: guitarist Jonny Daly, bassist Lee Kennedy, drummer Pete McDade and keyboardist Debra Tala, all alumni of that whole Themestock gang and numerous other local endeavors great and small.

Melancon’s track “Hyperventilate” from Action Hour! has been made into an animated music video starring The Get Gos. But why didn’t poor Jonny D get a cartoon version like the other members? Or is he the little green creep they can never outrun? Maybe we’ll find out in season two…