You Can’t Touch This

Nathan Hall

Hell has officially frozen over. Everything you know is wrong. Hawaii Show, the lip-synching side project of ex-Lifter Puller guitarist Steve Barone, recently opened for Nickelback. Now Har Mar Superstar, the white boy R&B side project of Sean Na Na frontman Sean Tillman, just got off a tour with Incubus. Everything feels slightly upside down, sort of like an M.C. Escher painting coming to life while you are asleep. Next thing you know, Snoop Doggy Dogg will quit smoking weed, become a born-again Christian family man and host a cheesy television show. Oh, wait. Never mind.

Life is truly stranger than fiction for Har Mar Superstar these days. Despite resembling an unholy cross between hideous porn star Ron Jeremy and leering character actor Jack Black, Har Mar jumped quickly from the fiercely independent Kill Rock Stars label to Warner Brothers, a division of the biggest corporate media conglomerate ever. Tillman has accompanied current it-girl Kelly Osbourne to the Video Music Awards and warmed up several Strokes gigs, and the video for his hit single “Power Lunch” is still lurking in regular rotation on MTV. The beats, courtesy of local indie-pop act Busy Signals and Nebraska goth act The Faint, are the toast of the discothèques.

Nevertheless, the life of an international sex symbol parody is, alas, not always a bed of roses. The Superstar’s bawdy striptease got him banned from the Teen Stage at the Minnesota State Fair, and he was arrested for indecent exposure in Oklahoma City. Perhaps mainstream America is not quite ready for a mini-disc playing, assless-chaps-wearing, beer-gut-sporting, hairline-receding short soul man after all.

Much ink has been spilled celebrating Har Mar’s paunch and penchant for tighty-whities, portraying him as a working-class hero gleefully rebelling against unrealistic, unattainable and vaguely inhuman concepts of beauty – or so the pseudo-feminists who run Jane magazine seem to believe.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Har Mar is simply the lucky owner of a slew of hilarious one-liners who just wants to put food on the table while doing it for the fat people. Three nagging, elusive questions remain: Has he told the joke so many times that he now somehow believes it? Why does he have to have his fun at blacks’ expense? And perhaps most important, is everyone just taking him way too seriously?

It is important to remember how incredibly easy it is to be completely snowed over by this man. He convinced the Metroplex for nigh on a year that Har Mar was Sean Tillman’s younger brother Harold, and you can never be sure whether this natural practical joker is serious when he says he wants to work with Mary J. Blige and Stevie Wonder. And while it might technically be true that he wrote a song for Jennifer Lopez with the help of local indie rockers Arson Welles and pop-punkers from the defunct Selby Tigers, that does not mean Ms. Lo is actually going to use it on her next record. During recent interviews, Har Mar’s demeanor seems to switch constantly from the guilty kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar to the dead-on serious crooner of love-god shtick.

Let’s dispense with some of the hype and rationalizations: Har Mar is not merely satirizing Usher, B2K and their ilk; he is poking fun at black-themed music and making a tidy profit off it. That’s not to say that R. Kelly and others don’t deserve a good ribbing or three, but let’s just say we won’t be seeing Har Mar on “Soul Train” anytime soon. You can almost see it in the nervous smiles of the crowd. “He’s exorcising my suburban white-bread fears!” It might be difficult to perceive at first, but sure enough, the aural equivalent of Jerry Springer begins to rear its ugly head. Daytime talk shows and Har Mar share a common love of social norm beat-downs that keep minorities in their place by way of abject ridicule. Rising levels of fatherless households, incarceration and chronic drug addiction are not funny in and of themselves, but what if a half-naked white fellow mentions it in a clever rhyme?

It could be of course that Har Mar Superstar’s shtick has been blown way out of proportion. After all, this is the same person whose alter ego, named in homage to a Roseville shopping mall, mentioned in his press pack that journalists should keep in mind that he is “in no way opposed to returning your favors sexually.” Suggesting that Har Mar is running a modern-day minstrel show implies some degree of malicious intent. Har Mar would appear to be too darn Minnesota-nice for that sort of demagoguery. Besides, no one is taking Justin Timberlake to task for stealing Michael Jackson’s old dance moves.

Critics are notorious for sucking the fun out of any social occasion, much like a malfunctioning Red Devil stuck on high. Isn’t the beautiful absurdity of our country perfectly illustrated when a late-night-and-alcohol-fueled running joke can transport you overnight, albeit briefly, to a nihilistic world full of martini-sipping supermodels?

In the end, Har Mar leaves us as confused and bewildered as ever. Who knows? Perhaps that was his evil plan all along. Either way, a local boy made good fronting in a limo beats humorless pretty boys like D’Angelo and Babyface any day of the week.

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]