Reflecting On: Jim Norton – Trinkets I Own Made From Gorilla Hands

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During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies, unless you’re an O&A fan, in which case I expect it to be fucking brutal. Enjoy!

There’s a very real possibility this is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever written. ‘It’s All Dead’ is a play on the idea of the incredibly annoying negative outlook on the music scene, but if there is one art form that is truly being hunted, it’s comedy. The constant bombardment of attacks on language and philosophy from every angle of the political spectrum is a nightmare for artists who live in clever wordplay and sentence structure. I’m a fanatic for stand-up comedy, and one of the best and most prolific is New York’s Jim Norton.

Trinkets I Own Made From Gorilla Hands is an odd CD. I’m not sure when it even really came out (‘Wookipedia’ lists it as simply ‘April 2005’) and I discovered it a couple of years after release. It’s not even his best CD in my opinion. What’s important about it though, and why I look up to it so much, is that it’s a time capsule and a base for what would grow from it.

I found Trinkets around 2009, years after release. By that time, it was already dated (“The Blackout of ’03”) and involved news stories I had forgotten about (the D.C. snipers in “Gay Snipers”). But it was brutal. The CD was honest, despicable and disgusting but I loved every moment of it. At the time, most of the stand-up I was listening to was the Comedy Central Records brand comedians (Dane Cook, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Birbiglia). They were funny, but there was a charm to them that didn’t delve into the depth that I saw in Norton. He was the first comedian to really display concepts that, at the time, I would think too rooted in sex (“A Shot in the Eye”) and partially under thought (“Legless Old Lady”). But, there is a very keen insight to self-deprecation that he uses to catch himself in mistakes as much as he does anyone else, such as stopping his set mid-sentence during the track “Mean-Spirited Christopher Reeve Jokes” to quiz the audience, “Did you just hear me say the ‘Hodeson’ river? I SUCK”.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that this was as real and raw as comedy gets. The subject material is brutal, dark and enviously honest. With a basis in sex and dark humor, Trinkets builds off his original CD, Yellow Discipline and sets up the masterful sets recorded on Despicable and No Baby For You! Chances are good you’ve never heard of any of these albums, and chances are higher that they aren’t to your taste. I don’t have any friends that listen to Jim Norton, and I’ve pushed him on everyone I know.

Trinkets was recorded over ten years ago, but that doesn’t make it any less funny. The jokes are a perspective of the times they were written in but most importantly the ideas set up the next phase of his career. I’ve been an avid listener of the Opie & Anthony Show for several years (now The Anthony Cumia Show and whatever the hell the actual title of ‘Opie with Jim Norton’ should be), and a large part of that has to do with Jim Norton. The incredibly, and uncomfortably, honest opinions he has on political and sociological situations have been a trademark of his radio career for years.

Views outside of the mainstream for sociological ideology is a difficult thing to defend at times, and harder to joke about with how uncomfortable it seems to make people (“Understandable Racism”). Today, Jim Norton is such an honest commentator of events in the news and politics that most news reporters should be ashamed of the story not dissenting from the views of their networks as opposed to the discussion at hand coupled with absurd observation. Whenever a major news story breaks, Norton’s take on it is something that I want to hear as soon as possible because whatever my take on it may be, I am acutely aware that he’ll give me something to think about.

Trinkets I Own Made From Gorilla Hands is an album that I hold to a higher regard than it perhaps deserves. If you want a truly great comedy CD, this is most likely not it. But what makes it special is the idea that comedy is an ever evolving art form. Bands can sound the same for decades on end as long as they are catchy, but comedians must constantly grow and push new ideas to stay relevant for more than an month. It’s one thing to bounce around an array of subjects and dark humor in an attempt to stay relevant, but it’s another to use it as a tool to create unique points of view on every day news that challenges the thought of the listener and fight against common ideology.

All things considered, Trinkets is a good album. Do I think Norton could have done better? Yes. Do I think it was the right CD for the time? Yes. Do I think I explained myself well enough in all of this? Eh. But what I take away from it is so much more than the actual subject material. It’s a reminder that, as ‘blue’ or childishly absurd the subject material is, behind it is a thought challenging expectation and advancing beyond the mainstream. It gives me hope that I can do the same while laughing at someone who has fallen down the stairs into a “puddle of AIDS”.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and truly believes the O&A crew has created some of the best content in the history of radio. Your mom’s box.

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