It’s strange but not all that shocking to see the kingdoms of punk rock and kiddie television meet: Most of the greatest punks have been fueled by the adolescent instinct to be silly and annoying, so it’s only natural that these two worlds should find themselves on the same stage in Chicago’s demented cable access show Chic-a-go-go. Cohosted for nearly 200 episodes now by a straight-edge rat puppet named Ratso (complete with Magic Markered x‘s on his hands) and a bubbly Korean American twentysomething named Miss Mia, the show is a panracial hip-shaking pageant of toddlers, preteens, grandparents, and bright-eyed bad-dye-job hipsters. The half-hour singing-and-dancing spectacle takes its cues as much from America’s Funniest Home Videos as from Soul Train or American Bandstand—except we unfortunately never get to see Dad take a shot to the balls with a Wiffle-ball bat.
What we do get is many lost—if ever found in the first place—’60s and ’70s soul singers rambling playfully through some of the least convincing lip-synching ever captured on film. But who likes to watch good lip-synching anyway? Other big-name guests range from the Cramps to Shonen Knife to Everlast to Hanson to Vanilla Ice, but most of the performers are unremarkable lo-fi garage groups, or lesser-knowns like the heartbreakingly earnest Peorian cowboy Alan Gillett, whose energetic, eerily Kermit the Frog-ish live rendition of Lloyd Price’s New Orleans classic “Personality” captures the show’s freewheeling charm. On Chic-a-go-go‘s soundtrack, possibly the first for a cable access show, some tracks are child-friendly goofy, like Kelly Hogan’s theatrical “The Great Titanic”; some are kitsch-wretched (Cynthia Plaster Caster’s lady-and-rat duet “Bedazzled”); and many are simply about the politics of dancing.
So the album’s first number—the Goblins’ Chic-a-go-go theme, featuring the pronouncement “We’re dancing and we’re laughing and it’s fun”—is Jackson 5-ish indie-rock crooner Bobby Conn’s inspirational Leftism 101 “Special All Ages Version” of “Never Get Ahead,” a self-designated “valuable lesson in life” describing “who to say no to—that’s The Man.” The all-ages sentiment gets shaky, though, when Bobby falsettos about how “when I’m up on a hustle, I often play the punk, I don’t got to move a muscle, cuz I’m a little drunk.”
The gleefully idiot-dance-provoking songs are interspersed with snippets of rodent-conducted interviews with luminaries such as the Donnas, the Shirelles, and the Monks. “Always wipe your nose when it’s snotty,” the latter say. Ratso’s always soliciting advice “for the young people out there.” From Motörhead’s recalcitrant, very sweaty Lemmy: “Don’t talk to fucking puppets.”