Jim Schoenfeld

According to a physicist named Alan Guth, who works at MIT and therefore has forgotten much more than I will ever know about things like this, it’s entirely possible that our universe is but one of infinite parallel universes, all subject to the same laws of physics. Others (like, say, the entire writing staff at DC Comics) have extrapolated from Guth’s theory to daydream about the possible existence of Earths similar to, yet thoroughly unlike, our own — Earths where Walter Mondale won the 1984 election, or Jim Belushi was the original Blues Brother, or Twinkies are good for you. That kind of thing.

If Guth’s theory is correct, and if we really are floating in a vast primordial sea of variations on the human experience, I suppose it’s possible that somewhere, there exists an Earth where only former Buffalo Sabre Jim Schoenfeld is allowed to record music, and therefore rocketed to pop stardom after releasing his debut album, Schony. But even on that Earth, Schoenfeld’s songs are only loved because they have no competition, and even on that Earth, Dave Lifton — who gave me my copy of Schony — is a giant douche.

Schony is recalled fondly in a pat-on-the-head, outsider art sort of way by people who remember his days as a king of the New York sports world. He remains a legend, and as of this writing is the assistant general manager for the Rangers, but his Schoniness probably reached its apex during the 1988 Stanley Cup, when NHL ref Don Koharski accused Schoenfeld of shoving him and Schony responded by screaming “You fell, you fat pig! Have another donut! Have another donut!

It’s a quintessentially New York sports moment, one of those incidents that lets NYC fans think of their players as blue-collar roughnecks and everyone else as Dese Guys or Bums. It was hugely entertaining, and it remains one thousand percent more awesome than anything on Schony. Recorded in what I hope was the space of an afternoon, with assistance from John Valby, the undisputed East Coast kingpin of obscene ragtime piano ditties, it finds Schoenfeld running through 10 tracks in an admirably brief 30 minutes.

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As a musical performer, Schoenfeld was blessed with enthusiasm and what sounds like a thorough lack of self-awareness, but that’s about all you can say for him. Looking at the track list is enough to make a rock ‘n’ roll fan go pale: “All Along the Watchtower,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Chain Gang.” And those are just the first four songs on the record — after pausing for the mawkish, reverb-swaddled “Before,” during which Schony muses about what the world must have been like before people, greed, and hunger, he eagerly mauls “You Can’t Do That” and “You Always Hurt the One You Love.” Indeed.

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As a vocalist, Schony vacillated between alarming gulps and fluttery, queasy goosebump-inducing crooning; he sounds like what might have happened if the understudy in The Buddy Holly Story were called upon at the last minute to step in for the singer of a Doors tribute band. Valby dealt with his limitations with a combination of generous reverb and liberally applied multitracking, but at best (like on Schony‘s straightforward reading of “Chain Gang”), it’s inoffensive; at worst — like on the stunningly fey interpretation of “Great Balls of Fire,” which includes what I think was a spoken word interlude, but I’m not going back to check — the album sounds like a horrible fever dream, something you can’t believe you’re hearing.

I don’t blame Schony. He’s entertained millions, sacrificing his body along the way, and he’s apparently rightfully embarrassed by his musical past. I only blame Dave Lifton, who waited patiently for me to unfold the yawning horror of Schony, and who, I am convinced, felt my psychic trauma from thousands of miles away, drinking it in like the gout-addled vampire he truly is. To him I say: Ask not for whom the Schony tolls, you son of a bitch, but check your inbox for the next round in our never-ending war. Bastard.