The Crawling Ear column: All Hail Tay Zonday

James is looking to YouTube for the Next Big Thing in music. Or at least in entertainment...

Another sign I’m getting old/losing touch/out to lunch: I’m just finding out about Internet phenomenon Tay Zonday and his frightening, hypnotic “Chocolate Rain” video. It’s been up on YouTube for a year now, mesmerizing the human race with its spidery keyboard riff and Tay’s impossibly deep Robeson-esque vocals. The song’s nonsensical lyrics (“Chocolate rain/history quickly crashing through your veins”) only add to the bizarre spectacle of watching this constipated youth croaking his little heart out into the microphone.

If you’re like I was last week and have no idea what in Benny Hill’s good name I’m talking about, hit this link and be born anew as a Tayhead.

So infectious are Zonday’s grooves they’ve landed him on “Lily Allen and Friends,” “VH-1’s Best Week Ever,” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The young singer’s already pimped his viral hit out to Dr. Pepper and Comedy Central. Last week, “Chocolate Rain” won a 2007 YouTube Award, the Internet version of the People’s Choice, beating out such stiff competition in the music category as “Harmonica Beatbox: Final Cut” and “Vegetable Orchestra” (the latter being exactly what you think it is). All this attention and praise just goes to show no matter how far our civilization comes, we will always have a soft spot for strange, bespectacled musicians with uber-weird voices. Buddy Holly, Randy Newman, Paul Williams – the list is as long as “Chocolate Rain” is creepy.

But I come to praise Tay Zonday, not to mock him. I’ve always been a proponent of outsider music, and this tangled mess of wires and tubes we call the Internet has leveled the playing field for every Jandek, Moondog, and Einstein’s Creation lurking just below the surface out there in the darkest corners of cyberspace. The evil entertainment brain trust behind wax dummies like Madonna and Britney can try their hardest to keep the music industry slicker than two eels fuckin’ in a bucket of snot, but as long as sites like YouTube and are going strong, the suits cannot suppress wonderful diamonds in the rough like Zonday.

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Lest you think Tay (real name Adam Nyerere Bahner) is a one trick pony, this kid has an entire album’s worth of songs posted on YouTube. All are centered around that startling voice of his positioned on top a bed of neo-sex funk. Poke around and ye shall find “Internet Dreams,” a tune that celebrates the joy of staying up all night and reading Wikipedia (complete with spoken word breaks); “Too Big For You,” which details the various activities Tay has scheduled for the future and the cities he plans to do them in; and the immortal “Crash Into Weird,” addressing all the haters who question Tay’s authenticity in the way you’d completely expect Tay to address all the haters (read: with sock puppets and boxer shorts on his head).

Here’s lookin’ at you, Tay. You’re an American original gone worldwide, a cultural touchstone people will be talking about for many years to come. Granted, I speak of people who own “Disco Duck” on vinyl and have been to multiple “Weird Al” fan conventions, but we’re millions strong, Tay, and we’ll never desert you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must renew my vigilant watch for the next living room superstar.

James’s Crawling Ear column appears every Wednesday at Den of Geek. Read last week’s column here.