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Nervous Laughter—Andy Gullahorn’s “Reinventing the Wheel”

Andy Gullahorn is funny, but he’s also one of the more serious lyricists I’ve come to enjoy in a while. Listening to Reinventing the Wheel, you come to understand that he is more than a good songwriter. He is a craftsman. He knows what he’s doing, where he’s going, and where he’s taking his hearers.But as I said, people say Andy Gullahorn is funny. They say that, I think, because he makes them laugh. But as for me, I’m calling it nervous laughter.

Recently I was at a concert where Andy played a song I had heard before—one that presents itself as funny—”Holy Flakes” from his previous record, Room to Breathe. The song is about the Christianization of breakfast cereal. But I had heard the song already, and I knew in the end it was not funny. It was serious business, ending with these words:

The Holy Flakes sold so well, they couldn’t keep them on the shelfSo they diversifiedSoon there were sacred chips, and Virgin Mary chicken stripsAnd Prince of Peace apple pieIt don’t matter if it has no taste, cause it’s all in the nameSoon they had a one brand town with pantries all the sameAnd it left them with no appetite for stuff that broke the moldAnd a faith that was as shallow as the milk left in the bowl Of Holy Flakes

So naturally I felt a bit sorry for the guy behind me hearing it for the first time, laughing along. I thought to myself, “Laugh it up, Chuckles, but this is about to get unfunny in a hurry.”Well, I just acquired Andy’s new CD, Reinventing the Wheel, and there’s a track called “More of a Man”, where he talks about how he killed a deer and rubbed its blood on his face when he was in second grade, but now he watches Dora the Explorer in the morning, and he wonders if he was more of a man back then.

And I think to myself, “No way I’m falling for it. This ain’t my first rodeo.”Then he talks of how he used to watch Jean Claude Van Damme on th silver screen, but now he watches Gilmore Girls on DVD. Still, I’m holding my ground, not laughing. See, I’ve been down this road before. He’s going to pull the rug out from under us all and get serious. And guess what? I was so right. He ends this way:

So I suck in my protruding gut On our monthly dinner nightYou’re saying something about the kids As I watch these young men pass me byI remember I was just like themI was lonely but I called it independentAnd if lonesome is what manly isBaby, I was more of a man back then

Reinventing the Wheel is a rich record. One song that took my breath away is called “How Precious Life Is.” I don’t know the story behind it, buy I take it to include either a miscarriage or something like it. He sings:

I thought I knew what pain was, but I really had no proofUntil the hope was disappearingThere was nothing we could doI was too tired to shout in anger, too scared to run and hideI just stared there at your motherThanked God she was aliveWe couldn’t see it til now, you were teaching us then How precious life is.

And as sober as this is, he also sings a brilliant and hilarious ode to Andrew Osenga’s toe, which he lost to a lawn mower a couple years back. It’s called “Roast Beef,” and if you think about it, you’ll not only figure out what that title has to do with Andy’s toe, you’ll also figure out which toe it was that he lost. (And especially funny is that Osenga provides percussion for the track by tapping his foot.)

I am glad, truly glad, to have come upon the fine work of Andy Gullahorn this year.


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