The devil can’t stand mockery, as the adage goes, but fans of Fish Karma know humor can be used to overcome all manner of hardship. This is truer than ever on the longtime Tucson musician/comedian's latest album, The Moving Finger, which tackles modern woes both internal and external.
The Moving Finger is a follow-up to Fish Karma’s 2018 album Time To Say Goodbye, and covers similar gripes across a more eclectic and colorful sound palette. Over its one-hour runtime, The Moving Finger discusses pollution, shareholders, the Second Amendment, social media and the Border Patrol's detention facilities. While this is obvious from the cover art depicting a child behind bars and wreathed in barbed wire (created by former TW designer Kay Sather!), the contents of The Moving Finger are more multifaceted and upbeat than the image implies.
“Being lectured to is always tedious, so I wanted to find other ways to express outrage, indignation or sadness,” said Karma (who goes by Terry Owen in what passes for real life these days). “Humor is always an aspect of the human condition, it just sort of happens. I don’t have to force it, this is the way it comes out… This is my natural response. It’s best to latch onto certain broad themes that will still be true a year from now, or ten years ago.”
According to Karma, this album marks the first time the music on a Fish Karma record was written before the lyrics. Dave Roads, who played with Al Perry and the Cattle, wrote much of the music for the album. The album is credited as a collaboration between “Fish Karma and/or The Derailleurs" (Roads on guitar and keyboards, Dante Perna on drums and Rev. Jim Hartley on bass).
“Dave wrote almost every note of music for this. He’s just been madly inspired lately, and his blossoming as a writer and guitar player has been quite fun to watch,” Karma said. “I don’t think he gets enough credit. He’s a mad musical genius.”
The track "Apotheosis of the Shareholders" serves as a great summation of the album: jaunty melodies in a rock template with Karma's lyrics balancing somewhere between satirical and apocalyptic, all with gorgeous production courtesy of Waterworks Recording. While the first half of the track features a more typical structure, the end progresses into a looser jam with soaring vocals by Lindsey McHugh and shifting synthesizers rising through the mix.
The album was mastered by Jim Blackwood who, in the words of Karma, “knows exactly what he’s going for.” The Moving Finger is also spiced up with jazz and blues flairs from guest musicians Jim Nyby on saxophone and keyboards, and Christopher Munoz on harmonica.
Karma gathered general observations when Time To Say Goodbye released to form the narrative for The Moving Finger.
“I walk all the time and ride my bike, and once I saw somebody in a humvee looking happy as can be, like nothing was wrong in the world. I saw that image shortly before I heard Dave’s music, and it just seemed like a natural association for that character to be expressing obliviousness about life,” Karma said.
And while many of the rapidfire criticisms can be understood on a national or even global level, Karma leaves plenty for the Tucson listeners: mattress stores, desert sights, Tombstone and cactus wrens.
“The landscape almost always appears in one way or another. From the first cassettes I did with Al Perry back in the early ’80s, Tucson has been a character in these songs,” Karma said.
Fish Karma and/or The Derailleurs recorded the bulk of the album in late 2019, meaning that for an album so bitingly contemporary, there aren’t any references to pandemic. But Karma says that just gives him plenty of content for the next project.
“There’s definitely lots of material to work with. The trick is to make a song that addresses the issues but doesn’t pound people over the head with them. There’s plenty of horrifying things going on, but how do you filter that in a way that somebody might find entertaining?” Karma said. “Once we can convene again safely, we’ll definitely keep going.”