Big Cheese

Valley export Mark Davis plots to kill his lounge-pimp alter ego, Richard Cheese

Number 3: Cheese likes to stroll onstage carrying a huge martini glass, and gives the audience periodic updates on how inebriated he's becoming, in the hopes that they'll join him there. In reality, Davis is drinking bottled water that he only pretends is gin or vodka, and actually loathes the standard house practice of telling the crowd to drink up. "It's all about getting the audience to spend lots of money on drinks -- which I get none of," he says, somewhat bitterly. "So I'm an idiot, I guess."

Number 2: Before intermission, Richard Cheese typically informs the audience he'll be taking a 15-minute break to receive some, ahem, manual stimulation from a female fan (he offers girls a two-dollar discount on his CD as incentive). Davis, by contrast, is likely to seek more common relief during that time, a matter he takes into his own hands. "It's hard singing for 45 minutes straight without even a break to go to the restroom," he explains. "Not that I'm that incontinent."

And finally, number 1: While Richard Cheese sings the current rock and rap hits as if he has only the Vegas idea of what any of these songs are actually about, Mark Davis is a keen fan of alternative rock who believes, sometimes, he's giving new depth to what seem the shallowest songs.

An early publicity shot: “What I’m doing is basically very silly,” Davis says.
Arden Ash
An early publicity shot: “What I’m doing is basically very silly,” Davis says.


To listen to Richard Cheese's music, click here.

"Some of the songs we do, we do them in a lounge style to make them sound ridiculous," Davis admits. "But some of the songs we do as a genuine homage."

Davis cites Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" and Radiohead's "Creep" as examples of classically well-crafted songs that beg for the same kind of respectful arrangement Nelson Riddle might have framed around a Harold Arlen melody for Sinatra. And indeed, on Richard Cheese's versions, a surprising tunefulness often emerges that's buried in the original rock mix. That's particularly true with the rap tunes, where Davis and his band manage to extract a winning melody from the limited loops and samples on the original tracks.

"The comic premise for this -- to take the new songs and do them in a traditional jazz style as 'tomorrow's standards today' -- turned into the serious result," Davis says. "The truth is, there are some songs that are still waiting for the right style. 'Self Esteem' by The Offspring has one of the best lyrics I've ever heard. It's right up there with Rodgers and Hart's or Cole Porter's best love songs. And I think a lounge treatment of that song will make it even better."

Richard Cheese might say those same words in his wheedling way and sound hilariously dense. Mark Davis makes it all sound insidiously brilliant.

If doing swing versions of Snoop Dogg and Slipknot sounds like an amusing way to make a living, imagine having to discuss the lyrics to "People Equals Shit" around the dinner table with your 75-year-old parents.

Bev and Sol Davis have occupied the same house in north central Phoenix since 1973. Even when the couple lived in California for a couple of years, they held on to the Phoenix house, which today remains furnished with tasteful heirloom keepsakes and framed Hebrew blessings (a sign by the front door translates into "May the LORD bless you and give thee peace"; a tea rack announces simply, "Shalom").

This is the house Mark Davis lived in from age 8, when the Davises first transferred from New York City, to age 23, when he finally moved into his own apartment in Mesa, to be closer to his job at KZZP (he moved to Los Angeles at 25). When he visits, he sleeps in a guest room just down the hall from his childhood bedroom, which Bev has now converted into her "messy office."

Talking to the folks about what he does as Richard Cheese can be "excruciating," Davis says. There are times he admits he wishes he worked a job that was easier to explain, "like actuary accountant."

"When I first started doing this, my father heard my cover of the Nirvana song 'Rape Me,' and he said, 'Why do you have a song telling people to rape you? That's horrible!'"

Bev Davis recalls she had problems with that song as well. "Why are you singing, 'Rape me! Rape me!'?" she remembers asking Mark. "I have many friends who are moral, caring parents, and they reacted badly to that 'Rape Me' song."

It's easy to imagine a mortified Mark slumped over the dinner table during such conversations, like Seinfeld's George Costanza enduring his mother's shock over catching her son treating his body like an amusement park.

The Davises maintain they're proud of their son, whom Bev boasts was dubbed a gifted child in elementary school and, interestingly, an introvert by a child psychologist they once brought him to see ("He's a very complicated person," she says).

Still, they, too, often wish he had a job that was easier to explain to their friends. "It's very hard for me to describe what he does, except to use the old phrase, 'He works with blue material,'" Bev says slowly. "My generation understands that."

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