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There are times when a soul needs to escape from over-produced music. Whether it's Cher's vocoded vocal trills, Madonna's airbrushed yelping, or the dread inclusion of a children's choir on the new Ricky Martin L.P., sometimes the ear just needs a break. While there's certainly a time and place for Metallica performing with a symphony orchestra, whatever happened to making simple, honest ditties with a hummable melody and fun lyrics?

Welcome to B.J. Snowden.

I was introduced to the musical mastery of Ms. Bertha Jean Snowden at a dinner party a few years back. A friend threw on B.J.'s brilliant signature song "In Canada," and a new world opened up to me. I was transformed by her music. No, really!

After listening to B.J. Snowden's album, "Life in the U.S.A. and Canada," one is able to discern all the overproduced hullabaloo in most modern music. If Mariah Carey is such a damn good singer, why do they put reverb on her voice? Who's bright idea was the synthesized hand-clap, and why does such a cheesy sound wind up on every other pop hit? What's more inorganic than a fade-out at the end of a song? Are we supposed to believe the band is heroically walking into the sunset, playing their instruments quieter and quieter as they trudge off? Get real, folks!

Okay, to be fair, if B.J. Snowden had the resources to apply studio wizardry to her music, she probably would have done so. Thankfully, this never happened, and her music is refreshingly naive, disarmingly innocent, and insanely catchy.

Upon my first few listens to La Snowden, I wrote her off as a wacky novelty act - awkward voice, kooky instrumentation, who could take this stuff seriously? But the more I compared her music to the stuff that costs a billion dollars per guitar solo, I realized nobody makes the music she does. She keeps it simple, but she also keeps it entertaining. Her music isn't rock, it isn't R&B, it isn't "easy listening", it isn't....well, it isn't really ANYTHING but pure, 100% BERTHA JEAN.

As my obsession grew, I realized I had to spread the word of The Snowden. As friends' birthdays popped up, I would make a trip to Venus Records on St. Marks Place for a gift copy of B.J.'s album - a gift that keeps on giving. I even made a copy of her album to give to John Waters at a book-signing event! He accepted the tape, saying that he lives for fan-made mix tapes because they make airplane trips go faster. SO, if you should hear Ms. Snowden's "Happy Beat" in the next Waters trash epic, there's no need to thank me.

The high point of my Berthaphilia occurred when she performed live at Brownie's on Avenue A, as part of a double bill with the superfab hip-hop sensation Princess Superstar. I often tell people this was the best concert experience of my life, because...well, it WAS.

Before the show started, Bertha Jean showed up with her entourage - a few relatives and her son Andres, who plays guitar at her gigs. After she placed her Casio keyboard near the stage, B.J. made a point to go around the club and personally HUG AND KISS everyone present for the show!

I was ready for the diva. I brought my copy of "Life in the U.S.A. and Canada," and after getting my precious Bertha Jean bear hug and sloppy kiss, I asked her to autograph my CD cover. She did just that, smudging her thistley handwriting as she wrote. "Handwriting wasn't my specialty in school," she said.

We talked about her album for a few minutes, and, still holding a felt tip pen, she made little checks on my liner notes as she talked about each song. At first I wanted to say, "hey, you're marking all over my album!" but then, I realized, how cool is it that B.J. Snowden is defacing her own product? I'll treasure those checkmarks forever!

The performance was fabulous. Bertha Jean rocked the house, stomping and gyrating behind her Casio like a funky weeble. Her son Andres, clearly an Eddie Van Halen fan, accompanied her on guitar - let's just say the talent runs in the family. I love mother-son musical acts (Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon's "Rising" album gets me misty every time), so B.J. & Andres were a charming double threat. She even performed an extra-long version of "In Canada," complete with a call-and-response section and dramatic ad-libbing! I didn't want the show to end. I felt like Carrie White at the prom, pre-pig's blood.

B.J. Snowden hanging out with Fred Schneider of the B52s
B.J.'s stellar appearance at Brownie's would prove to coincide with the all-too-modest high-point of her musical career, which was a televised guest shot on the short-lived MTV show "Oddsville." A video for "In Canada" was produced for the occasion, which depicted B.J. and her Casio superimposed against footage of elks grazing. It was fantastic. David Lynch couldn't have made a better video.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and it seems as if the career of Bertha Jean Snowden has reached an empasse. She lost her job as an elementary school music teacher because the school board thought her part-time job as pop music semi-celebrity was turning her classroom into a circus. Venus Records, the music store that distributed B.J.'s album (and maintained a charming Snowden shrine in their shop), has gone out of business. Her album? Out of print. Now, sadly, she is living with her mother and allegedly putting her music on the shelf.

ALL IS NOT LOST. According to outsider musicologist Irwin Chusid, B.J. could really use the support of her fans right now. For those Snowdenites resourceful enough to find her mailing address or phone number, a few words (and dollars) of support could lead to new B.J. masterpieces in the mailbox! Also, the classic "In Canada" is available on Chusid's outsider music compilation, "Songs in the Key of Z." He also wrote a book by the same title, available at all fine bookstores, with an entire chapter devoted to our favorite chuckling chanteuse!

Whether or not B.J. Snowden is ever able to release a second album, I can say without hesitation that I have yet to tire of "Life in the U.S.A. and Canada." I listen to it at LEAST twice a week, and new friends are dutifully subjected to her music before allowed in my inner circle. Of all the expensive imports, ultra-rare indie releases and artistic wonders in my music collection, it is B.J. Snowden's work that I would choose for a desert island.

No, really!

UPDATE: Anxiety Obscura recently learned that Venus Records is indeed alive and well, and has an abundance of B.J. Snowden's "Life In The U.S.A. and Canada" albums to share with the world via their website - oh, happy day! SO: If you don't go to RIGHT NOW and order at least TWO copies of this masterpiece...well, what can I're just a damn fool.

No. Really.


Venus Record's B.J. Snowden Site
The closest thing to an "official" Snowden site on the web.
Songs In The Key Of Z
Site for Irwin Chusid's outsider music project. His book includes info on Bertha Jean, and the companion CD includes "In Canada."

I've Had Enough