[adult swim] Star David Liebe Hart's Outsider Music Pulls Our Heartstrings

David Liebe Hart: outsider artist, puppeteer, musician, TV star.
David Liebe Hart: outsider artist, puppeteer, musician, TV star. Courtesy of David Liebe Hart
"If there’s a woman for me, I don’t know who she is,” David Liebe Hart laments on “No Sex Since ’94.” It’s one of the oldest musical tropes in rock — whether it’s Jagger crooning about not getting any satisfaction or Nick Cave howling about the “No Pussy Blues,” that potent cocktail of frustration, self-loathing, and anger has inspired countless songs. It’s hard to think of any song, though, that treats the subject as honestly and uncomfortably as Hart does on his song. It’s a laundry list of personal failure, with him going into detail about all the women who reject him and how he won’t sleep with prostitutes because he’s afraid of catching a disease — just like Black Francis back in 1987, squeaking out “losing my penis to a whore with disease” when asked about his greatest fear.

“No Sex Since ‘94” encapsulates what makes Hart such a singular figure. He approaches the familiar from an unusual angle. He sings about aliens like he’s singing a love song, and he sings about love like he’s singing about aliens. Like all great outsider artists, he doesn’t have a filter that tells him to spare his ego and keep his dry spell to himself. It’s that level of blunt, searing honesty and his willingness to talk about whatever’s on his mind that makes Hart such a fascinating figure.

For any [adult swim] fan, Hart’s bespectacled face is a familiar sight. He’s been a recurring player on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, and he’s also set to star in his own show on [adult swim] this fall.

But Hart had been plugging along long before he carved out a niche for himself on late-night absurdist TV. He first made a name for himself as part of the long-running public access show Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Show. He’s been around since the ’70s, long enough to have adopted old Hollywood legends like Walter Brennan and Doris Day as role models. “I have to be like Doris Day,” Hart said in a past interview. “I can’t take in the negativity of the people that say I’m worthless.”

Worthless is a harsh and untrue assessment of Hart’s work, but it’s hard to deny that his work isn’t user-friendly. Hart the singer sounds like a crank on the bus, rambling more than actually singing. The production on his songs can range from spare instrumentation to ’50s sci-fi movie soundtracks thanks to the efforts of past collaborator Adam Papagan and current musical partner Jonah Mociun. And the subject matter can be just plain bizarre, ranging from Hart’s sexual frustration and conflicted feelings about rap music (he likes the way it sounds but hates the language) to his fascination with railroads and UFOs.

Listening to Hart, I sometimes feel a trepidation that’s similar to what I experience listening to Syd Barrett, Roky Erickson, and even Smile-era Brian Wilson. I worry about whether I’m listening to the music or I’m listening to the sad story behind the music. Is this a triumph of the human spirit, overcoming the obstacles of mental problems or traumatic histories, or something more voyeuristic? Would Daniel Johnston warbling “True love will find you in the end” be as moving if he wasn’t mentally ill? Is this appreciating something that is both weird and good, or just weird for weird’s sake?

Whatever weirdness or guilt one feels at times for listening to Hart moan about his sex life or space aliens, that’s got nothing to do with the man himself. He’s just out here making the most of his art and life. We should all be so lucky.

David Liebe Hart. 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, at The Trunk Space, 1124 North Third Street; Tickets are $12 via Brown Paper Tickets.
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Ashley Naftule