I walked into the Wikiup Cafe one night in May not knowing what to expect. My dad, the not-so-famous Nicky Fabian, was getting ready for his gig. The Wikiup Cafe is a coffeehouse-art gallery on Park Boulevard in University Heights that has plenty of room for a band. At first not many people were there, and the band members still had their street clothes on. But soon Idols & Idiots put on their performers’ identities that, together with their clothes of a ’70s sort of style, turned them into lounge lizards of times past.
At the opening of the show, a band member promised we would see the group either as idols or idiots. Nicky Fabian seemed to me not necessarily an idol, but, because he’s my dad, I can’t really call him an idiot either.
He wore sunglasses the whole time onstage, jeans, tuxedo shirt open at the collar, an untied bow tie, and an unbuttoned black formal jacket. He played a bass guitar and didn’t sing except one backup vocal. I think that I expected too much of him. I came there hoping to see Nicky Fabian in a moment of glory, but instead he seemed to be mainly taking up space that could have been filled by anyone else. My old man was more of a background figure, because the vocalists stole the show.
Maybe my dad was trying to impress me by going up on the stage. He might be trying to show that he is successful and get me to love him for that. But it is exciting when a member of your family performs in front of an audience of strangers. And it is wonderful that my dad showed his musical talent, because not just anyone would do this, and it takes a special motivation to do it.
With so many performers in Idols & Idiots, only a few truly made up the show: a husband-and-wife folk team called Hanna’s Parents, the Troy Dante Quintet (one bearded guy with a guitar), Dino Volare (the leisure-suited lounge lizard from Vegas), Tipsy Holiday, Buddy Pastel, Nicky Fabian, Axl Hose (“the Hose”), San Diego Phil Harmonic, the late Kurt Cocaine, Guy Tubuzzi, the Legendary Miff Laracy, and Jose Sinatra.
Nicky Fabian tried his hardest to be stoic and motionless onstage and to make the audience believe he was bored with all this and would rather be doing something else. But every once in a while he could no longer hold in his laughter, and he would turn his head away from the audience and crack up. And another revealing flaw in the Fabian character came when he would sway in rhythm to certain songs, like when the band sang the Carpenters’“Close to You” to the tune of Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
To get a better idea of who Nicky Fabian might be, I asked my dad to tell a little about this character.
“I think you’re a natural-born music critic, Geoff. Before you were born, the first time your mother felt you kick was in the middle of my guitar solo in Max’s Kansas City, to the tune of ‘Bad Boy’ by the Beatles. You kicked as if you were protesting, your mom said. When I tried to get you to sleep, play lullabies for you, you would only start crying louder every time I played. Then when I stopped playing, you’d get quiet and go to sleep. But as soon as you were old enough to walk, you would waddle over and, every time I played guitar, put your hands on the strings to deaden them. So I figure you’re a natural-born music critic.
“I retired from the music business the year you were born. This is my big comeback, you might say. I wasn’t making any money at it, so I turned to something even stupider: writing.”
Who are the members of Idols & Idiots?
“Jose Sinatra, Dino Volare, Troy Dante, myself, the singer Tipsy Holiday, Buddy Pastel on drums, San Diego Phil Harmonic and Miff on keyboards and sax.”
What type of material does your band use, and how do you use it?
“People either laugh hysterically at us — Jose’s material and the Troy Dante Quintet — or else they just don’t get it and they think we’re just being ridiculous, which of course we are. A lot of the material we’re making fun of goes back to the ’60s and ’70s. For example, we do the chords and the music for ‘The Sounds of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel and sing the words to ‘You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog’ over it. And we do the music to ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ and the Hose sings the lyrics, ‘The lips of Michael Jackson have slowly disappeared/ They seem so anorexic as they nurse upon his rear...’ and something about bathing in tubs of Clorox and 16 plastic surgeons.
“When Jose came on with his David Crosby mask, we sang to the tune of ‘Teach Your Children Well,’ an old hippie Crosby, Stills, and Nash song. But what Jose, as Crosby, and Hanna’s Parents actually sing is, ‘Teach your children well, they’ll never tell you’re Michael Jackson/ And take them in your hand/ in Never Land there’s always action/ Who needs monkeys in your bed when there’s little boys instead...’ and it gets worse from there.”
What type of audience goes to your shows?
“There’s kids that show up, although sometimes we play in bars where you have to be 18 or 21 to get in. But sometimes kids will show up at parties or street fairs and gigs like at coffee shops, like when we played at the Cafe Cinema and the Wikiup. For the most part you have to be over 30, at least, to get a lot of this stuff. You have to have grown up in the ’70s. I don’t know, I could be wrong.”
Where did you get the idea for your character Nicky Fabian?
“We made up these names, of course; we all have real names, as you know. My character Nicky Fabian is just a guy.... When I grew up in Chicago and I started playing music, there used to be this circuit of gigs, bars, hotels, and lounges and things. We called it the Crushed Velvet Circuit. That’s because all the musicians tended to wear matching velvet jackets, usually crushed velvet because it was cheaper. And everybody seemed to be Italian. They all seemed to have vague mob connections too, or wanted you to think they had. Like the Buckinghams was a group that came out of that scene. Even if these guys weren’t Italian, they had stage names like Nicky Fabian, Dino Volare, Jose Sinatra. We’re just exaggerating it.”
What kind of guy would Nicky Fabian be?
“I figure Nicky Fabian is the kind of guy who’s got some tuxedo shirts and bow ties from the old days, and he’s just a burnt-out, beat- to-shit, middle-aged lounge musician fallen on hard times and working with a guy like Jose Sinatra who has never really made it — but thinks he has, in his head. Nicky Fabian is a union musician, and he can play anything, but none of it very well. Nicky Fabian is a sideman, a professional side- man, but he’s over the hill.”
You wonder what it would be like for one of your parents to be famous. I’ll never know, based on Idols & Idiots, but I was proud that my dad had the nerve to walk up to that stage and show the world what he could do. Although he might not have been that important to the theatrics as a whole, he demonstrated all the skills that he has accumulated in a lifetime of playing music.
I think that my father wanted to make me proud of his ability to stand in the gaze of the audience and show off what he could do. Anyway, I am already proud of him because of his writing talent. I know that he is a good musician too. It takes courage to perform in front of an audience, and the fact that I knew he was nervous made his performance even more amazing. It gives me a glimpse of another side of him that I don’t see often. But if he was trying to impress me, it didn’t work, because I was already impressed.
I also think it’s great that my dad is in this band because of the idea of getting together with your friends to play music. They take this one step further by adding humor, which makes it even more enjoyable.
Other musicians do this sort of thing, like “Weird Al” Yankovic, who takes modern songs and makes fun of them. But Idols & Idiots take songs from the ’60s and ’70s and put in whole lyrics from other songs or make up their own lyrics, making fun of past and present celebrities. The effect of this more original idea can be heard in the audience’s hysterical laughter.
Although most of the performance at the Wikiup was entertaining, some parts were not really so great. Hanna’s Parents sang songs from the ’60s and ’70s with no comedic twist to them, which wasn’t too exciting if you were born in the late ’70s and couldn’t connect with them.
One highly entertaining aspect was the interaction between the different characters, like egomaniacs Jose Sinatra and Dino Volare and San Diego Phil Harmonic struggling to outdo each other at every turn. But the performance lasted about three hours, which was way too long. The audience started leaving about two hours into the show.
After all this, had I seen idols or idiots? Perhaps they were idols for playing what the idols of the past played. But if those superstars from the past weren’t your idols, I guess that would make them idiots. Call them idols for trying something new or idiots for trying something new that has no guarantee of becoming popular. I believe it is a little bit of both, depending on the type of person you are. One man’s idol is another man’s idiot.
As for my dad, Nicky Fabian, I would say that he is an idiot for being only a background character and not interacting with those around him. But good musicians are necessary to a good band; the bass guitar is as important as the vocalist. And I idolize him not just for making the group as a whole better, but because he is my dad.