"My goal was to get myself in a position as a pop musician where I could move into politics, but I’m really behind schedule as far as record sales go," says Conn in a phone conversation from Chicago.
"I think I kind of misjudged the market a little bit," fathomed the man who mixes Alice Cooper’s theatrical lyricism, Chick Tract conspiracy theories and the poker-faced delivery of Andy Kaufman.
Conn started his solo career a couple of years back with a sketchy synthesis of religion and get-rich-quick schemes, set to a sleazy-listening sound track. Since then his persona has surfed the tides of millennial dread, arriving at the proto-apocalyptic place he now occupies. With his over-the-top rock opera Rise Up, Conn mixes catchy ’70s pop, funk, disco, glam and even some experimental flourishes that hint at the avant-garde roots of many of his cohorts — for example, Rise Up producer Jim O’Rourke.
Contrasting with the occasional bombast of his recorded vision, Conn’s live shows are exercises in economy, using much less to give the audience more. Last time Conn was in town, his only accompaniment was the rubber-suited Monica BouBou, his constant companion on violin, and LeDeuce, the Chicago DJ and electronic sound wizard. Even with such minimal means and a meager audience, Conn performed on the tiny stage of Livonia’s Record Collector with the vision and power of any Andrew Lloyd Webber production at the Fisher Theatre. Conn explains, "I think, actually, that some of the most successful stuff I’ve done as far as rendering the albums has been when I’ve been doing it in the most minimal way, which is Karaoke-style. It’s super-minimal, but the actual song becomes apparent because it’s so stripped down.
"No matter how you cut it, my first goal is as an entertainer," he continues, citing Sammy Davis Jr. and Richard Harris as two sources of his showmanship inspiration. "Even as a prophet or Antichrist or doomsayer, I think I need to entertain people. Otherwise they won’t listen. So regardless of whether or not people take me seriously, they should have a good time, because there’s so little time left."
Rise Up won’t be the last we hear of Bobby Conn, however. There’s still enough time for an EP of love songs, including the Nilsson hit "Without You" and at least one final album. "Before my time is over, which would be June 13th of the year 2000 (his 33rd birthday), I hope to have a big, full-length record out ... I’ve been listening to lots of Mozart. I’m trying to see if I can top his Requiem," he says.
Though his visions may be grandiose, Conn displays a self-deprecating humor. As he explains, "If I’m not the Antichrist, then I think I’ll owe the world an apology. I’m a long-term planner. I have a contingency plan for not being the Antichrist, which will probably be a folk album titled I’ve Made a Terrible Mistake. Greg Baise gets electric in the Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org