HAR MAR SUPERSTAR
With The Gossip. Thu, Dec 12. Lee's Palace, 529 Bloor W. $10 from Rotate This, Soundscapes, CD Replay.
I didn't mean to say "mock," honest -- it just sort of slipped out. I was going for something less loaded -- "parody" or "satire," maybe even "taking the piss" -- though who knows if any of those words would have made Har Mar Superstar any less upset.
Just because he bears a striking resemblance to porn star Ron Jeremy, breakdances in his tighty-whities and sings party jams about the bulge in his pants and "tap-worthy healthy round asses," doesn't mean he's not dead serious about his R&B.
"I'm not mocking it at all," he barks. "I don't understand why people fucking think that. Because I'm white? Everyone has this perception that I'm mocking it because I perform and I do it with a straight face, but that's because I fucking love it. If you're going to laugh at it, fine, but buy my fucking record. The whole mockery issue really pisses me off, I think it's really retarded. If you put Usher's face on the cover nobody would know the difference, and I can sing better than that motherfucker."
Har Mar Superstar is the stage name of Harold Martin Tillman, the fictional "adopted brother" of Sean Tillman, better known by his indie-pop alias Sean Na Na. For a while after releasing his 2000 debut as Har Mar, Sean maintained the façade, much to the consternation of confused journalists. But since his disguise consisted primarily of a porno moustache, he eventually gave up.
While Tillman's loverman routine is supremely silly -- he stuffs his large briefs with every over-the-top R&B trope around -- the electro-soul beats are sublime, alternatingly retro and progressive but always funky. More importantly, Tillman's apparently panty-moistening voice is one of the best in contemporary R&B, though one may wonder how he can hit such notes with tongue so firmly in cheek.
But that's because while he has a sense of humour about himself and R&B clichés, Tillman -- like Andrew WK or Peaches -- never makes fun of his beloved genre itself.
"It's the drama, the fun, the heartbreak all in one song and you can sit through it and grind on somebody and that's the allure," he says. "I like R&B a lot better than other forms of music -- it doesn't get caught up, it's not in fashion. It's just something that everybody loves and will always love because it's got the most soul of any kind of music."
His genuine adoration, along with a killer sense of songcraft, has allowed his latest platter, You Can Feel Me, to escape the sincerity problems that plagued Beck's R&B detour Midnite Vultures and has won him a superstar fan base.
Tillman has become buddies with Kelly Osbourne (not surprising, given their shared affection for profanity), showing up on her album and accompanying her to the MTV Video Music Awards. He was even asked to write a song for the new Jennifer Lopez album, though she balked at recording it.
"I don't even know what happened to it," he says. "If they don't buy it for the next record then I'm gonna pull it back from them and sell it to somebody else. A lot of people ask me to write songs for them now, so I don't have any spare time to be writing these fucking charity tracks for people I didn't even think are that good. You have to write a melody that contains three notes because the person can't sing more than that. I couldn't care less. It's funny that people are asking me to write for J. Lo and Eve."
But Tillman's also a hit among the rock intelligentsia, opening for The Hives, The Strokes and Incubus -- the latter, unfortunately, attracting crowds less amenable to his mini-disc-assisted performances. During a recent show in Oklahoma, Tillman's response to unappreciative fans got him tossed in the slammer.
"I grabbed my crotch and told somebody to eat my pussy, and [the cop] thought it was lewd," Tillman says. "He made me sit there for a half-hour in my underwear when it was supercold, with no towel. I had to hire a private attorney and might have to go to court. It's really stupid, backwards, fucking god-fearing and whatever."
But it will also make a nice tangent for his eventual Behind the Music special. The cynical may consider Tillman's Superstar moniker akin to Michael Jackson calling himself "King of Pop" until everyone else did too, except Tillman deserves the promotion. Dude may not be a superstar yet, but it's just a matter of time.