Fans of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s cult classic Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! get a chance on Saturday to see one of the show’s breakout stars in person. David Liebe Hart is a puppeteer and musician, and he’ll be at New World Brewery supporting his new album, Astronaut (you can preview it at his website).
But if you’re not in on the big joke of Tim and Eric, Liebe Hart might be a little tough to grok. His songs are performed over simple, clumsy, sometimes slightly grating keyboard backing. They range from nakedly confessional and pretty sad chronicles of how unloved he is (“Will You Be My Girlfriend?”), to fantastic tales of outer space, to good-natured but skewed attempts at making uplifting and educational tunes for kids (“I Eat My Veggies”).
It’s all simple and upbeat, but so naïve that it becomes fundamentally deeply weird — and it’s never entirely clear whether Liebe Hart knows that he’s a weirdo.
Awesome Show was inspired by the anti-humor created by people with more ambition than refinement, drawing its aesthetic of sloppy cuts, awkward silences, and bad takes from local news and cable access shows (remember those?). The creators also used a lot of performers who were the real deal – outsiders who really didn’t fit into the entertainment world, but kept on plugging nonetheless.
Liebe Hart has been the most persistent in building his own career since Awesome Show ended in 2010. He’s a bit of a hipster touchstone, just as extreme outsiders like Wesley Willis, Jandek, and Daniel Johnston were before him.
But that list gets at the problem represented by someone like David Liebe Hart, who seems to have an unusual relationship with reality, and an uncertain awareness of exactly how his audience perceives him.
The worst example of how this can go was probably Wesley Willis, a diagnosed schizophrenic who became a cult figure in the 1990s. Music was therapeutic for Willis, and he performed enthusiastically, but onlookers seemed more fascinated by watching insanity on display, than on appreciating his music for itself. A luckier instance has been Daniel Johnston, another schizophrenic who, unlike Willis, is also a certifiable musical genius. The musical community has, arguably, been key to Johnston’s continued survival.
David Liebe Hart falls into a somewhat different realm. His delusions about aliens and his own past seem to verge on mental illness, and he’s clearly a very strange person, and certainly psychologically vulnerable. His music is often interesting in ways he doesn't entirely intend, but because we get to watch the strange turns his mind takes when trying to get to something normal. That doesn’t mean he’s not creating real art, or that he shouldn’t be enjoyed, but there is almost inevitably a touch of the freak show.
But Liebe Hart does also genuinely tapped into some part of the zeitgeist of our time. We’re just less cynical than we were when Willis got mileage out of dozens of songs about sucking cheetah’s dicks, and Hart's naivete and optimism suits that. We've also gotten a lot more understanding about difference and weirdness, hopefully making it a safer time to be an outsider, or a fan of one.
So, if you decide to go check out Liebe Hart, do it — but please do it with all the positivity and generosity of the man himself.