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Barnes & Barnes

Cheerful practitioners of bad-taste comedy rock, Barnes & Barnes were also, as one of them put it, "The original 'Two friends with a 4 track' artists," finding an enduring bit of fame for their lo-fi single "Fish Heads," which became a staple of Dr. Demento's radio show and an early hit on MTV. The duo's dirty little secret was that they were both professional musicians who worked with well-regarded soft rock bands while cranking out purposefully weird albums like 1980's Voobaha and 1981's Spazchow for fun during their downtime. While they never scored another semi-success like "Fish Heads," they continued to release albums like 2019 Holidaze in Lumania and 2021's Pancake Dream until the death of co-founder Artie Barnes closed the book on the duo in 2023. Barnes & Barnes was the creation of Billy Mumy and Robert Haimer, who had been friends since childhood. Mumy had been a successful child actor who made his debut on the TV show Wire Service when he was three. In 1961, he made a memorable appearance on The Twilight Zone in the episode "It's a Good Life," in which he played Anthony, an insufferable young boy who has the power to make anything he imagines happen with the adults around him living in fear of his whims. He landed his best-known role when he was cast as Will Robinson on the sci-fi drama series Lost in Space, which ran from 1965 to 1968 and was in reruns for decades to come. When he wasn't busy with acting, Mumy liked to make music, becoming proficient on guitar and keyboards, and making amateur movies with his best friend Haimer, who also developed impressive skills as an instrumentalist and songwriter. Mumy and Haimer liked to call their Super-8 productions "Art Films," and took on the pseudonyms Art Barnes (Mumy) and Artie Barnes (Haimer) for their movies. In 1970, when Mumy and Haimer were 16, the former bought some recording equipment and the two began writing and recording oddball songs for their own amusement. Mumy and Haimer had been cutting increasingly elaborate homemade recordings with no intention of releasing them when the latter thought they should submit some of their material to the Dr. Demento Show, a weekly radio broadcast devoted to comedy and novelty music that was popular in California and syndicated around the United States. Graduating from a two-track to a four-track tape machine, Mumy and Haimer cut somewhat more refined versions of "Fish Heads" and "Boogie Woogie Amputee," and sent them to Barret Hansen, the man behind the Dr. Demento persona. Hansen began regularly airing "Fish Heads" in 1978, and it became the most requested song in the history of his show; later the same year, Barnes & Barnes released a single of "Fish Heads" b/w "High School Gym" on their own Lumania Records imprint. They produced a low-budget video for "Fish Heads," directed by actor Bill Paxton (who also appeared on screen), and when MTV debuted in 1981, the video went into rotation and the eccentric humor, combined with the song's curious catchiness, made it a minor hit. A second single, "Something's in the Bag" b/w "Boogie Woogie Amputee," appeared on Lumania in 1979, as did a collaborative single with Damaskas (aka Damaskas Hollodan), "A Day in the Life of Green Acres," in which they fit the lyrics to the theme song of the cult-favorite sitcom Green Acres to the music of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." The Beatles/Green Acres mashup became another staple on the Dr. Demento Show. With Barnes & Barnes enjoying far more success than Mumy and Haimer could ever have imagined, they struck a deal with Rhino Records, noted fanciers of offbeat comedy records, and released their first full-length album, Voobaha, in 1980. At the same time all this was happening, Mumy was starting to make some headway into the mainstream music industry; he co-wrote songs that were recorded by Peggy Lee and Shaun Cassidy, and in 1981, the album View from the Ground by soft rock heroes America included three songs co-written by Mumy, two of which also featured contributions from Haimer. For the next two decades, Mumy and Haimer would work regularly with America, in the studio and on-stage, with few aware that the group was harboring the guys who made "Fish Heads." A second Barnes & Barnes album, Spazchow, came out in 1981 and showed Art & Artie were developing a stronger command in the recording studio. Barnes & Barnes also produced two albums for surreal street singer Wild Man Fischer, 1981's Pronounced Normal and 1984's Nothing Scary, and in 1989 they produced The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be, an LP by actor, author, and noted eccentric Crispin Glover. In 1982, Rhino released Fish Heads: Barnes & Barnes Greatest Hits, a five-song EP released in a picture disc edition cut into the shape of, of course, a fish head, and the label would issue four more B&B albums between 1984 and 1993, including The Dinosaur Album, a children's record that saw Mumy and Haimer keeping it clean, though the label opted not to put the artists' name on the cover. (Lumania reissued it in 2008.) Between Mumy and Haimer's commitments with America and other artists, their on and off solo careers, and Mumy's work in film and television (he worked regularly as a voice actor in the '90s and 2000s, was a regular on the sci-fi series Babylon 5, and made a cameo appearance on the 2018 Netflix reboot of Lost in Space), Barnes & Barnes were not heard from much after the release of The Dinosaur Album in 1993, releasing Kodovoner in 2005 and Opbopachop in 2009. However, Mumy and Haimer revived Barnes & Barnes in 2019, releasing their first seasonal album, Holidaze in Lumania on Demented Punk Records, and they returned in 2021 with Pancake Dream. It would prove to be the final Barnes & Barnes album, as Robert Haimer (and Artie Barnes) died following a long illness on March 4, 2023, at the age of 69.
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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