Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sandra Bernhard – "Manic Superstar" (1991)

I know what I want
But I just don't know
How to get it

Sandra Bernhard's "Manic Superstar" is a mashup of "Everything's Alright" (from Jesus Christ Superstar) and the great Jimi Hendrix song, "Manic Depression."

The late Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix was left-handed.  I am also left-handed.  Other than that, we have about as much in common as the two very dissimilar halves of "Manic Superstar."

For example, Hendrix was black, while I am white.

Hendrix was a fabulous guitarist, while I am a fabulous pianist.

Another difference between us is that JIMI HENDRIX IS DEAD.  I am not dead.

And there's this: Jimi Hendrix knew what he wanted but didn't know how to get it, while I don't really know what I want.

The Board of Selectmen of Orleans, Massachusetts, knew what they wanted when it came to the hundreds of cormorants that were roosting on the power lines that spanned Cedar Pond – they wanted to get rid of them.

Roosting cormorants at Cedar Pond
And the selectmen thought they knew how to get what they wanted.  But it turns out that they couldn't have been wronger.

Why were the town officials trying to get rid of the cormorants?  Because they were pooping in the 15-acre pond.  That resulted in an increase in the pond's nitrogen and phosphorous content, which resulted in the pond becoming covered with algae.

The town wants the local electric utility to put the power lines underground.  The estimated cost of doing that is $1.1 million, which would be passed on to ratepayers.  (It's so easy to spend other people's money, isn't it?)

In the meantime, the geniuses on the Board of Selectman decided to pay the U.S. Department of Agriculture $6500 to scare the cormorants away by shooting fireworks at them.

A double-crested cormorant
I feel a little sheepish admitting that even though I've lived in Our Nation's Capital for my entire adult life, I didn't know that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is who you call when you need someone to go after pooping birds with pyrotechnics.

The USDA went after the fish-eating cormorants with "screamers" which they fired from kayaks.  ($6500 to shoot fancy bottle rockets at birds from kayaks?  I guarantee you that it wouldn't have taken more than ten minutes to find a dozen teenaged boys who would have been thrilled to do the job for free.)

Here's a short video featuring screamers:

Unfortunately, things quickly went awry the first night the fireworks were used.

The Cape Cod Times reported that a local resident who was driving nearby when the USDA began blasting the birds posted on Facebook that his truck was hit by the fireworks:

“[S]everal sky rockets struck the side of my truck, including the glass of the passenger's window,” the person wrote.  “If I'd had the windows down like I normally do the rockets would've gotten inside and I'm pretty sure I'd have totalled my truck.”

It's hard to believe that something went wrong with this well-thought-out plan.  After all, according to the Cape Cod Times, "[t]hree USDA officials were on the scene, including one who was specifically there to make sure nothing went wrong."

The following evening, the USDA resumed the bombardment of the poor cormorants, which did appear to put a serious dent in the number of birds roosting on the power lines.

USDA headquarters in Washington, DC
But the effect of the screamers was short-lived.  According to a woman described by the Times as an "Orleans resident and bird-counter," there were some 150 birds back on the wire a week after the fireworks assault. 

USDA launched its kayaks and lit off another salvo of screamers the next night, which reduced the population of Cedar Pond cormorants significantly.  Unfortunately, observers said that the number of birds roosting on a power line over nearby Little Depot Pond had increased by a like amount.  (As my late grandmother used to say, "Six of one, a half-dozen of the other.")  

The Cape Cod Rail Trail goes right by Little Depot Pond.  When I rode my bike past the pond, there were a fair number of cormorants sitting on the power lines over that pond:  

Roosting cormorants at Little Depot Pond
One local resident complained to the Times that the fireworks were terrifying her pet dog.  "He just trembles and tries to hide," she told a reporter.  

The disgruntled pet owner was skeptical of the whole fireworks idea.  "The birds aren't really stupid.  They're just going to move to another pond," she said.  "It just seems crackers to me."

Sandra Bernhard (circa 1990)
Sandra Bernhard is kind of crackers herself.  She was brilliantly weird in the brilliantly weird Martin Scorsese movie, King of Comedy (which starred Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis), and I'll never forget her fabulous 1990 movie, Without You I'm Nothing (based on her one-woman off-Broadway show). 

DeNiro and Bernhard in "King of Comedy"
Bernhard proved once and for all that a female comedian could be as dirty and funny as any male comedian.  One-trick-pony female comedians like Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, and Amy Schumer may match Sandra Bernhard when it comes to talking dirty, but Bernhard was a much more interesting and multifaceted performer than her wannabes.

"Manic Superstar" was released on Bernhard's 1991 album, Excuses for Bad Behavior (Part One).  

Click below to buy "Without You I'm Nothing":

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