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Umberto Eco and the Bunnymen





Umberto Eco and the Bunnymen was an '80s New Wave band during the heyday of Italian New Wave. That there never was a hey day for Italian New Wave did not stop Umberto Eco and the Bunnymen (known to their fans as U Eat B) from actually trying to attract a domestic and international audience for their signature synth pop stylings, best represented by songs like "Foucault's Killing Moon" and "Bring On The Dancing Polymaths".


U Eat B was comprised of a group of semiotic majors led by Umberto Eco (on drum machines), Giuseppe "Stompin' G" Vanelli (on synth guitar), Aquinas Stefani (synth accordion), and DJ Phat Ice Epicurus (jam master, catering). Eco also did lead vocals, with help from his vocoder. Vanelli, Stafani, and Epicurus comprised the backing Bunnymen.


U Eat B began in the early '80s at the University of Bologna. They were as much a product of their times as leaders of the Italian New Wave movement, which I repeat never actually existed. In the late '70s, the traditionally quiet basement gnocchi houses surrounding Italy's universities became hot beds for leftist political agitators, leftist artists, leftist writers, leftist poets, and of course accordion players who played with the left hand. It was at the Mama Makes It Better But This Will Do Until I Move Home And Then Find A Wife When I'm 38 Gnocchi House that a group of semiotician PhD candidates would get together and talk about Italy's withdrawal from NATO, American blues music, girls and their legs, religion, why momma's gnocchis are necessarily better, computers, Italy's withdrawal from Europe, and, of course, Star Trek.


It was over a rather fierce debate regarding the notion that computers were also religions and whether the Apple II was "Catholic" and the Commodore 64 was "Protestant" that the band took fruition. Eco maintained that the Apple II was Catholic, because you could easily pirate the hardware and the C64 was Protestant because Eco didn't like either the C64 or Protestants. Giuseppe "Stompin' G" Vanelli maintained Eco should get a life but noted the C64's SID chip offered certain exciting possibilities vis--vis musical applications and, granting Eco's arguments for a moment that computers can map onto religious notions, Vanelli would admit that maybe the C64 was Mormon, in a Mormon Tabernacle Choir sense, and therefore the C64 was kind of a protestant faith although no protestant in America would think of Mormons as a protestant scion. Aquinas Stefani interjected by noting he knew some Italian Mormons once and regardless what their whack ball religion was all about, they sure did seem like nice people.


Everyone, except for Phil Standish (an American expat who later took the stage name DJ Phat Ice Epicurus), eventually agreed the C64's SID chip was pretty nifty. After achieving agreement, Italian men did what Italian men do when there are no women around. They wondered how to make money in the underground Italian economy. That's when the future Epicurus announced he owned a TI-99. He claimed he knew how to load this one BASIC game called Oregon Trail with his tape drive and beyond that computers didn't interest him. Epicurus, being American and having no knowledge of how to do things in the Italian underground economy, broached the idea of forming a band, because the American thing was no longer working for him in getting chicks. And so it came to pass. Eco, Vanelli, and Stefani agreed that when it came to getting chicks, rock stars did way, way better than semioticians. Way better.


Early Career

U Eat B started to play the gnocchi house open mike circuit. Their heavy use of computers, synthesizers, and their increasingly stylish, gender bending costumes, and lyrics which managed to find no less than 33 rhymes for "Knights Templar" attracted a somewhat curious following at first. The band might have broken up, unable to find a 34th rhyme for "Knights Templar", when Vanelli answered an ad in the back of Bologna's Vermicelli Voice weekly and got the group an audition with Italy's RAI broadcasting giant.


RAI noticed that most of its shows were children shows, which featured sweaty old male hosts and leggy, big breasted models in low-cut top and miniskirts. Despite that these were children's shows, and that children were to be found some place on the stage some place demographic research revealed these children shows were heavily watched by teenage boys and married men in their 40s. RAI decided to create a show explicitly for teenage boys. And what do teenage boys like? Certainly not big breasted, leggy models. That was traditional children's fare. Teens liked rock bands, of course. The call went out and U Eat B answered. They aced the RAI audition.


Unfortunately, as it turns out, they did not so much ace the audition because of their musical talent but because Epicurus had a better idea. Cheeky American. He suggested that a show about a rock band might work better if it featured leggy models. The producers might have simply thrown out the members of U Eat B, assuming they were from Sicily, but Epicurus was so obviously American they gave U Eat B a chance, realizing Americans simply didn't understand Italian ways and how leggy models only appeared on children's shows in Italy. Adult Italian shows usually featured a man in a bee costume shouting "pronto!" Epicurus suggested the formula could be modified. What if the show featured women in tight gold lame hot pants, roller skates, and wore very, very tight black-and-yellow stripped t-shirts and sometimes appeared out of nowhere doing a seductive dance number to an Italian cover of an Olivia Newton John song? They could be called "Fly Girls".


The producers thought a moment. That would mean having to interview hundreds of leggy models in tight t-shirts and the dozen or fifty selected to be on the show would need someone to put fruit plates in their dressing room, at inopportune times. Worked for them.


The show was dubbed Bandolino on the Run and featured Eco and the boys as a happy go lucky Italian synth pop band that lived in an old firehouse and spent most of the show running from leggy women on roller-skates and the Red Brigade. Eco wore a toque on the show.


Fame and Famine

Bandolino on the Run was a disaster, mostly because an urban legend quickly circulated that none of the band members could play their own instruments or sing. In an attempt to dispel these rumors, U Eat B signed up for LiveAid. Before an international audience they would sing live and dispel all doubts about their musical talents.


Unfortunately, Bono went long, singing an extended, extended version of U2's "Bad". U Eat B was bumped for some quick shot of starving Ethiopian kids and the conspicuous absence of any pictures of the camera men handing the starving kids a sandwich.


All of Italy was outraged. Over 90% of the population had woken up before noon to tune in to see U Eat B only to find pictures of Ethiopians. Ethiopians! The Craxi government immediately fell, replaced by a government led by Prime Minister Fanfani. Duran Duran took the stage and sung some clap from Arena, although their most optimistic fans were hoping Simon would belt out a more relevant rendition of "Planet Earth". Prime Minister Fanfani quickly dissolved parliament by the end of "Union of the Snake". Craxi regained control of Italian parliament and ordered the immediate invasion of Ethiopia. The Italian army never did make it to Ethiopia. They invaded Greece instead, their generals claiming the beaches were better. However, the Italian army had to quickly mounted a disastrous forced retreat when faced by an old woman waving olive tree pruning sheers. The retreating Italian army was last seen in Norway sometime in 1989.


In the face of mounting political instability, calls to use mustard gas on Bono, and a plunging Italian Lira which saw a record devaluation where one American dollar was equal to the yearly economic output of Milan, U Eat B was legislated out of existence, returning Italy to normal. More or less.



Licensed to Illuminate


A 1980 self published demo cassette later made into an EP. It featured the band's anti-NATO campus radio hit "99 Martin Luthers Go By".


Song list:


"99 Martin Luthers Go By".

"St. Vitus Safety Dance"

"Anti-Clericalism Killed the Radio Star"

"Another Brick In The Intertextuality"






As Pedantic As They Wanna Be


1981 album that presaged the metal/funk fusion embodied by groups like Faith No More. It featured the cut "(Party like it's) 1666" and "Foucault's Killing Moon" (which was voted RAI's Song of the Year). However the LP's B side song "Girls just want to have funiculi funicula" was condemned by the Pope for its obscene lyrics and band from airplay on Radio Vatican Two.



Song list:


"(Party like it's) 1666"

"Foucault's Killing Moon"

"Girls just want to have funiculi funicula"

"Our Gnocchi House"

"Pour Some Histrionics On Me"

"Valley of Death Girl"

"Like A Virgin Due To A Mistranslation Of The Original Greek Text"




Fear of an Italian Planet


In 1982 hubris was made vinyl with the release of the double LP Fear of an Italian Planet. Each LP side featured a mother of one U Eat B's band members ranting why her son should marry and move out of her home but he should only do so when he meets a good Italian girl and should he even think about marrying an Albanian dog woman he should know she'd sleep between her son and his wife to prevent any children being born with tails.


In the words of the Vermicelli Voice's music editor Vespasian Funacello: "Cornuto! Stronzo! Bambino di un putana! Porcini mushrooms! Fiat!" (Which translates roughly as "Listening to four Italian mothers rage about their lazy sons for two hours makes Metal Machine Music seem like pop artistry. Fix it again, Tony."


Song list:


Disk 1, Side 1

Maria Eco expounds "Umberto, he's too skinny. He needs a good wife who will fatten him up."

Disk 1, Side 2

Wanda "Stuoia Del Portello" Vanelli complains "Always with the Swiss girls! Bah! They only want him for his money! My son, he is a stupid head!"

Disk 2, Side 1

Pia Stefani carps on "I carried him 9 months in my womb, cleaning the underwear of German officers who commandeered our villa, to put gnocchi and olive oil on the table so he can go on TV and be a pazzesco ragazzo? Bah! His father is turning in his grave."

Disk 2, Side 2

Maxine Epicurus (nee Standish nee Schwartz) waxes philosophically "Wow, my no talent son makes it big in Italy, you say? He sent me a check for 100,000 lira. Is that a lot of money?"



Rum, Sabellianism Heresy, and the Lash


Released in 1984. A printer error left the final song "Logical Train of Thought in Vain" off the album's song list. U Eat B's record company considered "Logical Train of Thought in Vain" the album's strongest song in terms of radio play appeal, given its perky R&B beat and lyrics which outlined the most sensible plan ever devised for the reform of the Italian Lira. The record company was devastated the printer forgot to list the song on the dust jacket and the record label. The company initially considered retribution against the printer in the form of "one phone call" to the A&R guy's cousin's godfather in Sicily. A horse was quickly deprived of its head and shipped to Bologna for insertion into the printing company owner's bed. However, purchasers of the album did not realize there was a printer error and were surprised to find an additional "hidden" song. They were also surprised the band would "hide" such an excellent song with commercial potential. Many considered this was U Eat B's nod to its gnocchi house roots. If they had to go mainstream, they'd do it with style and on their own terms.


U Eat B gained considerable currency among fans and the Italian music press who up until then considered U Eat B just another chest hair and electric accordion band strutting its stuff.


The printer, for his fortuitous mistake, was only kneecapped with a lead pipe.


Song list:


"Bella Lucrezia Borgia's Dead"

"She Blinded Me With Epistemology"

"Minimalism On The Beach"

"Bring on the Dancing Polymaths"

"Bizarre Love Trinity"

"The Treaty of St. Clair-sur-Epte of 911 a.d. is a Joke!"

"Walk Like An Alexandrian"

"Say You - Say Metaphysics"

"We Built This Eternal City (On Rock 'n' Roll)"

"A Short Ride in a Fast Deus Ex Machina"

"Logical Train of Thought in Vain"





Start Making Sense


The sound track version of U Eat B's 1985 concert movie of the same name. Many Italian critics considered Start Making Sense one of the most brilliant post-war films ever made in Italy. Sales have picked up recently (2004) when an urban legend emerged that it was a secret soundtrack to the Bicycle Thief. If you start the album in synch with the opening scene the lyrics, ostensibly, match what's appearing on screen.


Why "Start Making Sense"?
Why a movie? Why no tour dates in Albania?
Why do the musicians come out not wearing pants?
What will the band do next?
Where do the odd movements come from? Is it the espresso?
Are live concerts better or worse than records? Do you have to ask?
Why no ontological arguments in the movie?
Why a big suit and a big silver espresso cup?







Gnocchi Jacket Required


A 1986 U Eat B tribute album to Genesis (that is The Book Of... and not the British band Genesis).


Song list:


"Adam Music"

"Dancing Queen of Sheba"

"She Don't like Cane"

"Frankie Goes to Sodom"

"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of Angels Going Up and Down A Ladder)"

"Everybody Wants To Rule The Land of Goshen"

"Sabbath Bloody Sabbath"

"Hey Yahweh"

"Gopher Wood (This Dove Has Flown and Come Back)"

"Philistine Yell"





Pelagianism Candy


An ill-fated 1989 comeback album. U Eat B amped up the electric accordion with a lot of distortion and feedback. One song "We Are Not Men, We Are Deconstructionists" made a minor splash on the Italian pop charts (reaching #6 in the summer of '89).


Song list:


"We Are Not Men, We Are Deconstructionists"

"Ca Hyperreality Plane Pour Moi"

"Crazy Little Thing Called Rhetorical Tropes"

"Rock Me Erasmus"

"Life During Siege Time"

"Kids in Amerigo Vespucci"

"Dancing With Metatextuality"

"It's Hard To Say I'm An Apologist"

"Wake Me Up Before You Go Poststructuralist"

"Dancing On The Ceiling Of The Sistine Chapel"

"Take on Mimesis"

"We Are The Post-Hellenic World"  



Meat is Postmodernism


A 1994 Best of U Eat B compilation album, released 5 years after their official breakup. The surviving members of U Eat B (DJ Phat Epicurious was killed after he enlisted in the American military and bought it during Desert Storm) went back into the studio to do a remix of their hit "99 Martin Luthers Go By" (re-titled "99 Martin Luthers Go By 1994"). The lyrics were re-written to express the growing skepticism among the gnocchi house crowd regarding EU membership.


Song list:


"99 Martin Luthers Go By 1994"

"Bella Lucrezia Borgia's Dead"

"Bring on the Dancing Polymaths"

"Anti-Clericalism Killed the Radio Star"

"A Short Ride in a Fast Deus Ex Machina"

"(Party like it's) 1666"

"Foucault's Killing Moon"

"Girls just want to have funiculi funicula"





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Copyright 2005 Karl Mamer

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