Dennis and Jimmy Flemion are the two most twisted music-making brothers in the world. Their band is The Frogs, and they're one of my favorites. Dennis plays drums, Jimmy plays guitar, they both sing, and a lot of other people, including Jay Tiller, Kelley Deal, Brian "Beezer" Hill, and King Roesser play bass. They started playing live around Milwaukee since 1980. In 1983, Jimmy started wearing huge-assed wings on stage. Although they didn't release anything for years, they were home-taping practicioners, and they finally issued a self-titled compilation in 1988. Now it had some pretty bizarre songs, but nothing in comparison to the second collection they released in 1989.

Gerard Cosloy helmed up the compilation of It's Only Right and Natural for Homestead Records, which I think was actually one of his last projects for them that he did before he left to start Matador Records. The album was a suite of tunes mockingly preaching gay supremacy. Of course a lot of people were infuriated for various reasons, but then a lot of people were also instant fans of the group.

Their next album that was set to come out was Racially Yours, where the brothers took turns with white and black supremacy stereotypes in the same vein of their last collection. It didn't get released for some 7 years due to label bankruptcy and chickenshittedness by any label considering a release of it, since it would probably polarize people a lot more heavily than the last album.

So the brothers released tapes of songs to mailing lists, and generally got talked about and name-dropped by a lot of bands that enjoyed success during the Alternative Nation days. Loudest of their cheerleaders was Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam who had a habit of playing It's only Right and Natural for stadium crowds, some of whom I'm sure were totally confused with what they were hearing, that is if they were sober enough to understand. He also pimped them heavily on his radio broadcast specials, where he was taking time trying to be America's very own John Peel.

In 1994 Cosloy (now at Matador) got back to them again, to release a limited edition single from the Racially Yours sessions called "Now You Know You're Black", and then in 1996 the label released a compilation of songs from the mailing list tapes called My Daughter The Broad.

In 1997 they moved to Scratchie Records and issued the Starjob EP, which was produced by Billy Corgan. The EP was more-or-less an examination of a 90's alternative rock star, with a number of sly Kurt Cobain references thrown in for comparison-drawing nuts out there. In 1999 the band released an album of new material called Bananimals on Four Alarm Records, and in 2000 Four Alarm finally issued the Racially Yours album. Their next new album tenatively comes out Spring 2001 on Scratchie.


Wesley Willis wrote a song about the Frogs. He played it with the Fiasco, and it was on a split 7" that came out a few years back on Sympathy for the Record Industry, it's also on Greatest Hits Volume 2 on Alternative Tentacles.

This band played at the Empty Bottle
About 200 people were at the show
The Jam Session Was awesome!
It whupped a pony's ass!

The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs
The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs

The band played it on
The band got down like a Magikist
The crowd roared like a lion
The jam session whupped a horses' ass!

The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs
The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs

The rock show was over at last
A lot of people met the band
The jam session was awe-some!
It whipped a jackass with a belt
It was a jam session!

I like them!
I love them!
They're my favorite band in the whole wide world!
They're smart dressers!
They're nice guys!
They're on this record on the other side!

The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs
The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs
The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs
The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs, The Frogs

Rock over london, rock on chicago!
Arby's, different is good!

Rock saddam hussein's ass!

Comedy by Aristophanes (Batrachoi), produced in the year 405 B.C., towards the end of the Peloponnesian War, shortly after the death of Euripides.

Dionysus (in whose honor the tragedies were nominally held; there's a quick joke about looking over the theatre and seeing himself (his statue)) complains that there are no good writers left in Greece, and goes with his slave, Xanthias, down to the underworld to fetch one back. After crossing the river Styx with Charon, during which he argues with the chorus of frogs swimming in the mud, he realizes that both Aeschylus and Euripides are down there. Since he can only bring back one, he holds a competition in which the two compose short verses, mocking the other. Aeschylus mocks Euripides for his incompetent verse and flippant metre and language, Euripides Aeschylus for his bloated and heavy handed style.

In the end, Aeschylus wins by a small margin, since his noble poetry is better suited to the needs of the Athenian people at the end of the war.

The play was produced in 405 BCE, when Athens was on the brink of total defeat by Sparta, and had suffered coups and tyranny, as the Peloponnesian War dragged on for decades. Three great poets (playwrights) Euripides, Sophocles, and Agathon had recently died. In this ruined air, Aristophanes created his brilliantly funny play about Dionysus' search for a poet to take back out of Hades to save Athens. The Frogs not only won first prize, it was awarded the extraordinary honour of a repeat performance.

Dionysus was the god at whose festivals plays were performed. So when there are no more good poets left to write them, he becomes desperate. He decides to disguise himself as the great hero Heracles to cover up the fact of being a coward, and go to Hades to seek them. He turns up at the real Heracles' house to ask his advice.

The play opens with Dionysus and his servant Xanthias, who is heavily burdened, and is a typical comic servant in complaining about his load. They begin by surveying the audience and discussing the complaining-servant jokes they could start with; Xanthias offers a few, but Dionysus is sick of hearing them all from bad playwrights.

Heracles tells them of the routes down into the underworld. Then a funeral procession conveniently passes by, and Dionysus stops the corpse to ask whether he could hitch a lift. The corpse says that'll be two drachmas, cash. Dionysus counts his change and says he can offer nine obols. The disgusted corpse says "I'd rather live!" (Anabioiên nun palin) and leaves. Xanthias tut-tuts at this and says "He'll come to a bad end".

So they continue walking in the stygian gloom and get to the lake, where Charon arrives and takes Dionysus on board. By the way, Tom Stoppard in his The Invention of Love trades on this scene, and has a similarly comic cab-driver of a Charon say to A.E. Housman, "I had that Dionysus in the back of my boat". Charon orders Dionysus to take the oars, and Dionysus struggles with great difficulty through a marsh, full of the chorus, now revealed...the frogs.

Brekekekex, koax, koax,
Koax, koax, koax!

Oh we are the musical Frogs!
We live in the marshes and bogs!
Sweet, sweet is the hymn
That we sing as we swim,
And our voices are known
For their beautiful tone

Translation by David Barrett, 1964, Penguin

The frogs and Dionysus alternate verses, they singing how none can surpass them for harmony and tone, he moaning about the blisters on his bum, all interlarded with the famous croaking brekekekex koax koax.

Arriving on the other side, they proceed with increasing terror. There is some farce because he is still dressed as Heracles, who got into trouble with the mistress but was very friendly indeed with the maid. Swapping costumes with Xanthias leads to further confusion and arrest, and Dionysus insists that he is a god and Xanthias his mortal slave. Xanthias proposes whipping them both to see who cracks first.

In the palace of Pluto and Persephone there is a throne of honour for the greatest tragedian. For fifty years Aeschylus has occupied it, but the newly-dead Euripides has now claimed it, and Dionysus is brought in to judge the issue. (This involves complicated measuring apparatus.) Aeschylus, old-fashioned, portentous, moral, and grandiose, says that in the matter of quoting texts he is at a disadvantage because all his have outlived him so he doesn't have them to hand. Euripides is realistic, subtle, colloquial, and a-moral. They quote their lines at each other and argue about them, including parodying each other's style. Aeschylus says Euripides' is just jingly, and shows this by adding "lost his bottle of oil" to any grand line Euripides begins.

The play ends with a plea for the return from exile of the brilliant and untrustworthy Alcibiades, probably the only commander who could save Athens. Dionysus chooses Aeschylus to return with him and the chorus sing

Spirits of the darkness,
Speed him on his way,
Safely may he journey
To the light of day.

To the City's counsels
May he wisdom lend;
Then of war and suffering
There shall be an end.

A musical comedy written by Stephen Sondheim, for Burt Shrevelove's adaptation of the Aristophanes original, first performed by the Yale Repertory Theater in 1974. It is written to be staged in an indoor pool, something which ultimately detracts from the acoustics of the piece if the negotiations can be pulled off. The soundtrack is avaliable for purchase on an album which includes the songs from an even lesser-known Sondheim production: a musical made for TV titled Evening Primrose. The original production had a number of Yale students who went on to highly successful careers, including Larry Blyden(who played Dionysus), Christopher Durang, Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver.

Sondheim's play is written to deliberately mimic the classical Greek comedy style. The stage opens with Dionysus and Xanthias("It means 'yellow' in Corinthian,") his slave, who begin the play with an exhortation to the audience to obey the rules of the theater, and take care not to distract the actors. After a sign of impatience from the other gods in the theater, Dionysus gets the action going by explaining to Xanthias that nobody on Earth really gets excited about anything, and since he is a god of drama, he is going to wake them up by bringing George Bernard Shaw back to life to give the populace a tongue-lashing.

In order to get into Hades, Dionysus needs to trade on more than his own reputation, and visits Herakles to get some advice and some help. He talks Herakles into letting him borrow his lionskin and club, the marks of the hero. Thus armed, he heads to the river Styx. Charon is willing to give a ride to Herakles, but not to Xanthias, who is forced to go the long way around. On the Styx, they meet a company of frogs who attempt to upset the boat, and once they reach the far shore, Dionysus is obligated to pay two obols to secure his return journey. Dionysus and Xanthias are reunited, and meet the Dionysians, a group of revelers who engage in wild dancing and drinking of wine. From these Dionysus learns that Shaw will be dining with Pluto that evening, and he'll be able to get an interview if he can get into the palace.

He reaches the palace gate and demands that it open in the name of Herakles. It does, but instead of Pluto, he gets Aeakos, the warden and keeper of the keys. This wouldn't be so bad if Aeakos didn't have a grudge against Herakles for killing Cerebus, the three-headed dog that used to guard the gates of Hades. He runs off to get the guards, leaving Dionysus to hastily convince Xanthias, who has been off staring at the Dionysians, to assume the mantle of Herakles for the time being. Xanthias is happy to do so, and even happier when a nymph serving Persephone appears and invites him to return and dally with her and her sisters. He cannot follow up on the invitation, though, because once she leaves Dionysus orders him to give up the mantle. Intending to leave and carry on the dalliance himself, Dionysus is interrupted by another woman--this one an Amazon. At first friendly, she soon assaults Dionysus-as-Herakles and demands that he return the girdle of Ares to Hippolyte. Once she leaves, Dionysus is even more determined to get rid of the lionskin and club. He and Xanthias argue over possession, or lack thereof, until Aeakos returns with the guards.

Surrounded by guards, one holding the club and one holding the lionskin, Dionysus and Xanthias hear out their punishment: since Herakles cannot be punished, being the son of Zeus, his slave will be whipped instead. Since Aeakos is a little hard of hearing, sight, and brains, he cannot tell which is Herakles and which is the slave. So, in order to clear up the situation, he orders the guards to whip them both, on the theory that Herakles would never cry out from pain. After several lashes, and several inventive strategies to keep the guards from seeing how much pain they are in, Dionysus and Xanthias are saved from further punishment by the arrival of Pluto, who recognizes them immediately as being decidedly not Herakles.

After introductions, Pluto is more than happy to invite Dionysus to dinner. When the meal is concluded, Dionysus re-enters talking with George Bernard Shaw, who describes his disgust at the happy, peaceful, inconsequential afterlife he finds himself in. He'd much rather be in a place of substance, even if he has to deal with fools. Their walk brings them to a grove filled with Dionysians, who are listening to William Shakespeare. Shaw is disgusted, but Dionysus is intrigued, and requests a monologue. After Shaw has cut in several times, Dionysus is struck with the idea of a contest between the two, with the winner to ascend with him back to Earth.

Quickly, the books are brought forth, and Dionysus explains the rules: he will say a concept or theme, and the two playwrights are to quote from their works on the subject. Shaw at first wins points for his pointed satire, but after a few subjects, it is clear that his acid prose and pechant for picking the nastiest pieces on a subject are losing him friends, while Shakespeare's choice of thoughtful words meaningful to the human condition makes Dionysus think he's backing the wrong candidate. Since the god wants Shaw to win, he calls for a break and suggests that Shaw use a real knockout--Joan of Arc's famous speech from 'St. Joan.' When he calls "life and death", Shaw reaches for the text, and delivers the speech terrifically, but leaves Shakespeare the rebuttal. Shakespeare delivers two monologues and the song 'Fear No More' from Cymbeline, winning the contest. Pluto, who was more than happy to get rid of Shaw, is a little more hesitant about letting Dionysus take Shakespeare, and Will is a bit leery of leaving. But an impassioned speech from Dionysus convinces them both, and with Pluto's blessing, Charon rows them back across the river.

The play touches on several themes relevant to the modern playgoing audience, but the strongest conflict in the final stages is that between social commentary and social acceptance. Sondheim's final conclusion is that poetry is necessary for the message to get across, that Shakespeare's lyricism is more conductive to making people listen and take action than a direct attack on their values.

Several of the songs from the musical made their way, in whole or in part, into other Sondheim productions; there are recurrent themes in the "Invocation to the Gods and Instructions to the Audience" and the opening number "Comedy Tonight" from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," and the "Instructions" was updated and put into "Putting it Together."


Songs from the show:

  1. Prologos: Invocation to the Gods and Instructions to the Audience
  2. Parados: The Frogs
  3. Hymnos: Dionysos
  4. Parabasis: It's Only a Play
  5. Paen: Evoe for the Dead
  6. Exodus: The Sound of Poets
  7. Fear No More
  8. Travel Music

On a personal note, this noder would like to mention that when she performed this musical at Reed College in 2003, from an original score, the song "Evoe for the Dead" was not included.


More information can be found on Sondheim's official website, for The Frogs: http://www.sondheim.com/shows/the_frogs/

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