What would happen if you found a bunch of slides from a 1977 McDonald's corporate-marketing meeting and, in a flash of inspiration, turned them into a goofy song? What if you performed the song on a 1981 Casio keyboard, with your nine-year-old daughter on drums and your spouse showing the slides with a projector in time to the music? What if you wore matching costumes?
Something bizarre and wonderful happens when the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players perform. Dad Jason, mom Tina and daughter Rachel buy slides from estate sales and write rock-song narratives to go with them. "Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959," "Eggs" and that previously mentioned obscurity from McDonald's HQ, "OPNAD Contribution Study Committee Report, June 1977," take on new life when the family Trachtenburg celebrates their banality (in fact, the McDonald's ditty, says Jason, is now technically a "six-song rock opera.") Don't forget their hit travelogue "Fondue Friends in Switzerland" (it's cheesy).
The TFSP have toured with They Might Be Giants, and listeners have described Jason's music and vocals as reminiscent of those of that other quirky comedy-rock act. TMBG, of course, has no slide projector. The group also lacks the "Rachel factor," as Jason puts it: an adorable nine-year-old in pigtails, keeping time on the skins and singing backup. Tina, whose hair is dyed a frightening shade of red, operates the carousel slide projector and keeps the images and words in sync. Jason has been described by a New Yorker scribe as "looking and acting like Rick Moranis at his most frenetic," and in conversation he does come across as a sort of Walter Mitty on crystal meth.
"As far as the slide-show thing," he avers, "it just happened completely by accident and we realized that it worked." Jason was a long-suffering singer/songwriter, warbling bons mots and non sequiturs at Seattle coffeehouses and, he says, waiting for his ship to come in. Integrating the slides and the rest of his family was a lark that magically turned into a cash cow. Last July Jason and Tina closed up their dog-walking business (the Dog Squad) and moved to New York City to make a living solely from their performances. They play two gigs a week (one in Manhattan, the other in the trendoid Williamsburg section of Brooklyn), they recently played Late Night With Conan O'Brien and Comedy Central has a TFSP shrine on its Web site, complete with animations and paper-doll downloads. During our phone interview with Jason, a call from a National Enquirer reporter came in on the other line.
Watching the TFSP do their thing, you feel you've been admitted into a cute little family that enacts some off-the-wall yet strangely touching rituals. They will bring a goofy grin to your face, and, says Jason, you won't feel any of the guilt that comes with sellout rock: "With a lot of other acts, there's often some sort of corrupt influence behind it, like some sort of money thing going on, or cocaine, right? But with us it's genuine artistic integrity because we're not in the machine."
The wisecracking paterfamilias adds that he's "guaranteed three rim shots a performance from Rachel. We worked that out in the contract."