Roy Zimmerman sings satirical songs - original songs about class warfare, creationism, same-sex marriage, guns, marijuana, abstinence, Republicans (a lot of songs about Republicans), ignorance, war and greed.
There's a decidedly Lefty slant to his lyrics. "We used to have a name for Right Wing satire," he says. "We called it 'cruelty.'"
The Los Angeles Times says, "Zimmerman displays a lacerating wit and keen awareness of society's foibles that bring to mind a latter-day Tom Lehrer."
Tom Lehrer himself says, "I congratulate Roy Zimmerman on reintroducing literacy to comedy songs. And the rhymes actually rhyme, they don't just 'rhyne.'"
Joni Mitchell says, "Roy's lyrics move beyond poetry and achieve perfection."
In twelve albums over twenty years and on stages, screens and airwaves across America, Roy has brought the sting of satire to the struggle for Peace and Social Justice. His songs have been heard on HBO and Showtime. He has recorded for Warner/Reprise Records. He's a featured blogger for the Huffington Post. And everywhere Zimmerman goes, the Starving Ear goes with him.
The Starving Ear is Zimmerman's homage to San Francisco's legendary nightclub the hungry i. In the late 50's and early 60's the hungry i was a flashpoint for such talents as Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Phyllis Diller, Maya Angelou, the Kingston Trio, and a melting pot of music, comedy and social message.
Zimmerman's stage show "Live From the Starving Ear" is ninety minutes of original satirical songs, many of them co-written with his wife, Melanie Harby. There are political targets, of course: a post-hypnotic suggestion to "Vote Republican," an exhuberant paean to "Real America," a love song to Citizens United. There are Social targets: a lesson in "Creation Science 101," a lambasting of the "Defenders of Marriage" who oppose same-sex unions, a "Sing-Along Second Amendment."
And there are unabashed progressive anthems. "Hope, Struggle and Change" adds one important word to Obama's slogan, and serves as a populist call to action.
"I Approve This Message" is a campaign theme song for the Occupy Movement, folding its many messages into the unifying theme of Economic Justice.
In this election year, Zimmerman has made a "campaign promise" to perform in all fifty states before the Republican National Convention. He'll be posting a new Song of the Week every week until November 6, just to savor the delicate and perishable absurdities of the political season.
Zimmerman has shared stages with George Carlin, Bill Maher, Kate Clinton, Bill Clinton, John Oliver, Dennis Miller, Sandra Tsing Loh, kd lang, Andy Borowitz and Paul Krassner. He's done several shows with The Pixies' Frank Black, swapping songs in a solo acoustic setting.
Roy's songs are often played on progressive radio by Thom Hartmann, Stephanie Miller, Bill Press and others. His up-to-the-moment topical songs are spun regularly by folk music DJ's across the country and he's a frequent guest on Sirius Radio's syndicated show "West Coast Live."
Roy's performance of his song "I'm Fired" is featured in the Showtime film "Fired!" And he sings his song "Ted Haggard is Completely Heterosexual" in Alexandra Pelosi's HBO documentary "The Trials of Ted Haggard." Mr. Haggard himself said of the song, "It's really bad -- I mean, it's poorly done -- but it's funny." "Firing the Surgeon General," Zimmerman's song full of blue euphemisms, was used in MTV's "Sex in the Nineties" documentary. In 2005, Roy wrote the opening number for the 37th Annual Writers Guild Awards show in Hollywood, a song appropriately titled, "I Wrote That."
Roy has brought The Starving Ear to YouTube where his videos have garnered nearly seven million views, and tens of thousands of comments, many of them coherent. The Starving Ear on YouTube features Roy's songs and commentary, but also "Ear to Ear" conversations, Roy's interviews with artists, authors and activists whose work engages the world and changes it for the better.
Zimmerman founded and wrote all the material for the comedy folk quartet The Foremen, who recorded four albums, two of them for Warner/Reprise Records. The Foremen toured extensively, playing the nation's major folk venues, a lot of fancy Progressive benefits, Pete Seeger's Clearwater Festival (under an overpass in the rain) and CBGB. Zimmerman wrote over five hours of satire for the group. "We never did it all at once," he reports, "but we kept it ready in case we had to filibuster."
The Foremen were featured on NPR's "All Things Considered," and many other syndicated talk radio shows. They shared the air with Al Franken on NPR's "Talk of the Nation." They got to sing Zimmerman's lampoon of Oliver North, "Ollie Ollie Off Scot Free" directly to the colonel himself on North's own syndicated show. "Friends," said North, "this is a very weird group."
Roy's satirical revues "Yup!" and "Up the Yup!" written and performed for The San Jose Repertory Company in the 1980s, became the longest-running shows in San Jose history. Later, Roy rode the Comedy Boom as a member of the duo, the Reagan Brothers. His partner, Stevie Coyle is now a major light on the folk circuit.
Steeped in musical theatre, Roy was fascinated at an early age with the ingenious economy of Irving Berlin, the witty innuendo of Cole Porter and the high-wire rhyme and reason of Stephen Sondheim. You can hear The Beatles and The Beach Boys in there, but folk influences loom large as well: Phil Ochs' unapologetic blend of humor and politics, Pete Seeger's unflagging commitment to social justice, The Roches' eccentric soulfulness.
So come in from the fog. Climb down the narrow staircase into the dimly lit brick-walled basement where the air is cool and filled with espresso and conversation. Take a seat at the tiny round table near the stage. Woody Guthrie famously emblazoned his guitar with the words, "This Machine Kills Fascists." Pete Seeger adapted the phrase for his banjo to "This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender." Now, it's lights up, and a singer takes the stage in a white shirt and tie - "Bobby Kennedy meets Bobby Dylan" - strumming for all he's worth and singing, "This Machine drives neocon, jingoistic, war-mongering, xenophobic crypto-fascists from the room!"
This is Roy Zimmerman, Live from the Starving Ear!
"Roy Zimmerman lifted the evening with his song 'Chickenhawk' ridiculing the military policies of Bush administration officials who didn't serve in the armed forces. Zimmerman's squawking and clucking conveyed his scorn with contagious irreverence."
-- The New York Times
"Zimmerman is a guy on the left skewering folks on the right with rapier-sharp lyrics ... underneath the caustic satire is a man who is surprisingly optimistic."
-- Sing Out!
"It was great to hear all those old Foremen songs again, and to be reminded of your lyrical brilliance. Just excellent."
-- "Weird Al" Yankovic
"...this was no ordinary man. This was Roy Zimmerman, a unique type of superhero who possesses the power to nearly coax urine from the unwilling bladders of his audience members (via laughter). He delivered some of the smartest satirical songs that I'd ever heard."
-- Jeff Penalty, lead singer of The Dead Kennedys
"Roy Zimmerman has a rare gift for songwriting
-- San Francisco Chronicle
"Bobby Kennedy meets Bobby Dylan"
-- The Marin Independent Journal
"You're brilliant. Just brilliant!"
-- Terry Jones, Monty Python
Zimmerman lives in Northern California with his wife and frequent co-writer Melanie Harby.