Zimmerman’s Travels

Live at McCabe’s - July 23, 2017~ 8:00pm

Center for Inquiry ~Steve Allen Theatre - July 23, 2017~ 11:00am

By Ross Altman, PhD

Roy ZimmermanGod’s gift to topical songwriters President Trump accepted White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s resignation last Friday, prompting Roy Zimmerman to say, “He’s got the 2nd hardest job in Washington, next to (fired FBI Director) James Comey’s food taster—and Robert Mueller’s car starter.” Spicer timed his departure for Zimmerman’s new ReZist Tour. Roy Zimmerman is America’s Songwriter in Chief. He is transcendently, mercilessly funny, as when he refers to the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love as “the Jefferson Facelift Tour.” He opens the morning Atheists United show with his satirical

My T.V.:

You can steal my TV

You can watch my TV

But it’s still my TV.

where TV is a metaphor for the US presidency. Yet he starts the McCabe’s show on a note of hope—

Hope, Struggle and Change.

This satirist is no cynic; he’s an optimist.

Roy Zimmerman could have sat out the second game of his double-header today, and still hit .400 for the season~ but like Ted Williams in 1941 he refused to get there by a statistical rounding off of .39955 and insisted on hitting at McCabe’s this evening~ where he went 6 for 8 and wound up the season with .406—the last .400 hitter in major league songwriting. As a matter of record, September 28, 1941 when Williams accomplished this unmatched feat, was also a Sunday. You may remember Roy started the season back on Sunday January 22 and hit it out of the park at this same morning venue. See my review of that Opening Day of his ReZist Tour. Like today, it was a day to remember.

The first thing to note about Roy’s artistry as a songwriter is that—unlike Capitol Steps and Mark Russell—he is no equal opportunity offender. He doesn’t jump from a song to satirize Republicans to a song satirizing Democrats—Roy has an unvarnished political and artistic point of view—he is deep blue all the way through. That’s why his tour is called “ReZist!” He is a one-man reZistance to Trump and All the President’s Men—starting with Attorney General Jeff Se(ce)ssion(s)—who he notes is “bilingual”—“he speaks Confederate.” For him he does a great parody of Dan Emmett’s (whose Bicentennial was last year) classic Dixie, Pixie Man, with parody lines for Dixieland like “Look away Pixie man,” and finally “Tricksy man”—a throwback to both the plantation south and Tricky Dick—in reference to having been part of Trump’s Saturday Night Massacre, the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

To Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s most recent thrice-failed attempts to “repeal and replace Obamacare” Roy dedicated his reworking of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Old Man River into Old Man Fibber. His brilliant closing refrain mines the rhyming dictionary for “Old Man ad-libber” “glibber,” and finally “gibber-ish.” But as always with Roy Zimmerman’s occasional parodies he does complete justice to the original music—with a beautiful guitar arrangement to Jerome Kern’s complex melody. That’s what makes Roy’s comic versions of such songs so magical—the brilliant new lyrics on top of the magnificent old tunes—he never skimps on the music for the sake of a topical joke. On this score (you’ll pardon the pun) he is the equal of America’s other great parodist, “Weird Al” Yankovic. You always recognize the source of Roy Zimmerman’s parodies from the musical introduction alone. What separates them is that for “Weird Al” it’s all in fun; whereas for Roy it’s “funny songs about ignorance, war and greed” to—in Joe Hill’s indelible phrase—“fan the flames of discontent.”

Zimmerman’s fall tour kicks off in September and takes him (and his wife and co-songwriter Melanie Harby) into red states as well—for his “Blue Dot Tour,” where he finds small groups of left-leaning voters looking for his enlightenment message of hope and progressive values. And by the way he doesn’t accept the view that he is “preaching to the choir.” He is disarmingly charming; and says that he is “entertaining the troops.”

Roy is both entertainer and activist and his live shows are like a mini-conference as well as a concert. His McCabe’s show last November 6 was perfectly timed to help Hillary sail into the White House with an encouraging soundtrack behind her—including his election song My Vote, My Voice, My Right about voter suppression laws in red states that should be on every progressive’s playlist. My seatmate and friend Ellen Sway remarks, “This is an entirely new show from the one I saw last year!” Or as Roy put it, “I have been trying to keep up with the current political landscape, (which he goes on to describe as “A Jackson Pollack”) and as fast as it changes, that’s not easy.” To that end he and Melanie put up a new song every week on their Facebook page, like their hilarious parody of Psycho Killer, Psycho Tweeter.

The most moving of the new songs this evening is his great celebration of the Loving v. Virginia case—which Roy mentions is the best-named Supreme Court case ever—and which he also points out perfectly coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love from 1967—thus becoming in his extraordinary take on it the Summer of Loving v. Virginia. It’s a wonderful Roy Zimmerman song on behalf of the high court’s decision on the interracial couple’s behalf—which had become the cause célèbre for standing up to Virginia’s miscegenation law a half century ago. It is now a feature film currently playing on cable movie channels, which Ellen tells me she has just seen

The performer’s proudest moment on stage last night occurred in company with his other great song on marriage equality—Defenders of Marriage—his Swiftian take down of those who purported to be defending marriage whilst actually condemning gays and lesbians to lives of solitude and irreparable exclusion from a normal life of companionship. Zimmerman recounted in his introduction that if you wonder whether songs can make a difference he now has personal experience to support his belief that they do. He got a letter from a documentary filmmaker in New Zealand about the suicides of two of his friends who were unable to marry due to the so-called “DOMA”—Defense of Marriage Act—which last year was finally overturned by the Supreme Court after a long uphill fight to establish equal rights for gays and lesbians (and bi-sexual and transgender) people to marry whom they love. Zimmerman’s confidante in New Zealand wanted him to know that “Your song saved my life.” For the first time, he said, he felt like he wasn’t alone. What an astonishing tribute to the power of song to make a difference in ordinary people’s lives. Bravo, Roy!—for writing it. That also demonstrates what is actually at stake in our elections—for the Supreme Court is what makes these decisions—and the president fills its vacant seats, for years to come. Is it churlish to point out as well that Democratic President Bill Clinton was in full support of DOMA, and did nothing to lead the way in its demise? It was only grassroots activists—those Blue Dots that Roy Zimmerman sings for across the country—who made the difference in bringing cases that brought the issue before the bar of justice—led by two attorneys who had last engaged each other as adversaries in the Gore v. Bush Florida election case of 2000. This time Ted Olson and David Boies brought the case as compatriots (and patriots) who prevailed before the Supreme Court and established marriage equality at last.

Songs have been a part of such struggles “to form a more perfect union” since the Negro spirituals of slavery times, through the labor movement, civil rights movement, antiwar movement and beyond. Roy Zimmerman is a leading part of the soundtrack for a progressive, secular and humane America today; as in I’m Free to Practice My Religion and You’re Free to Practice Mine, a song about the so-called “Religious Freedom Act” our current Vice-President signed as Governor of Indiana that enshrined prejudice against gays, lesbians and transgender people into law—before their own supreme court overturned it—who also continues to prove that laughter is the best medicine. His songs are not just intellectually funny—they are gut-wrenchingly funny—as the rolling laughter throughout both his McCabe’s evening show and the morning show for Atheists United at the Center for Inquiry in the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood attests to.

There is a satirical comedy film classic called Sullivan’s Travels (after Jonathan Swift’s satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels), written and directed by Preston Sturges in 1941 that supports this view. Joel McCrae stars as a film director who becomes disenchanted with his film comedies and decides he needs to make something “more important,” which leads to a series of misadventures until he accidentally happens on a theatre unexpectedly showing one of his old movies. When he hears the theatre filled with the real humanity of roaring laughter he realizes that he hasn’t wasted his life—anything but! He becomes committed to making the movies he does best—inspired by the knowledge that the audience values them beyond the self-important ideas he had been flirting with instead.

Roy Zimmerman’s songs have that kind of staying power, and remind us that in their full humanity they offer a saving grace denied us now by the powers that be. In keeping with the old adage, he left us laughing—at the end of his second encore—with the hysterically funny song he wrote to answer the question What If the Beatles Were Irish? Our standing ovation must have been music to his ears. He shared his final thought: “If you have had half as much fun listening to these songs as I have had singing them, then I have had twice as much fun as you.” Then, with a gleeful pause, he adds, “That’s math.” His tour de farce song in praise of science Let’s Bring Down the Hubble was written to bring science and math back into the public discussion, introduced by his encomium to young students today who in fact are leading the way towards essential scientific discoveries—kids who belie their own seriousness with humorous habits Roy recounts: “Where are you going?” ‘Out.’ “Who are you going with?” ‘Friends.’ “When will you be back?” ‘Later.’” “Those are the kids who are now working on a cure for cancer”—and for once he is not kidding—as he describes a prize-winning entry in a Maine science fair.

Here are three other miscellaneous highlights from both morning and evening shows:

Roy’s great anti-gun song: To the Victims We Send Our Thoughts and Prayers (While refusing to do anything to stop, license, regulate or control guns—the stock press conference response of politicians in the pocket of the NRA); two, an unusually dark song for Roy (which elicited the response “Heavy” from Ellen) about the nationwide epidemic of police shootings of unarmed black men—from the point of view of the police who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—in which all of the police actions were self-justified by saying “You were Black” (driving while black, walking while black, living while black, putting your hands up while black, running away with your back to me while black, and so forth; a powerful indictment of racially motivated police violence; and three, his powerful song for grassroots activists I Approve This Message.

As partisan as most of his songs may be, however, Roy delights in finding those cultural moments that transcend the political divide, where it is still fair to say “E Pluribus Unum.” He leads up to this show-stopping song late in the second set at McCabe’s by saying, “I do weddings.” After the raise-the-roof laughter that accompanies it, he adds “I’m not against selling out—I just don’t get many opportunities.” Then he mentions that he and his wife Melanie—whom he met when they were both performing on the same bill in Silicon Valley—“are now empty-nesters. We have two grown-up sons—25 and 27.” It is a mark of his comic reputation that he gets an immediate laugh even with this matter-of-fact information. The audience instinctively knows that the story is just beginning, and so they laugh in anticipation. Then the set-up: “That’s not their names…” Another laugh in response—and then the Mark Twain-timed pause before the punch-line: “Their names are 6 and 9.” And that brings down the house. Call Roy “Stand-up Folk.”

Only then does he introduce the next song: “We write commercial jingles too; but for some reason this one didn’t sell.” And then he launches into the killer satire of United Airlines—just the name United fills the room with joy, as he recounts the now-famous tale of them physically throwing a paid passenger—and a doctor to boot—off the plane to make room for a United employee. If you want an example of a story that “goes viral,” look no further. Roy’s version of the story, however, has a larger point to make than the treachery of one corporation whose brand is built on their ad “Friendly Skies”—his moral is that it did bring the country together—we were all “United” against them.

It was a brilliant example of humor that reaches across party lines and finds common ground. In a concert filled with laser-like barbs at one’s political adversaries it raised the entire show to another level—where one doctor’s misfortune led McCabe’s lucky audience to recognize our common humanity with—as Roy put it in his closing verse—“gay and straight, white and black, young and old, Republican and Democrat.” That truly is good news and a reason not to give up hope. How fortunate we are to have Roy Zimmerman in our midst, singing in the spirit of that old Republican Abraham Lincoln—for the better angels of our nature. We need Roy now more than ever; keep on traveling!

Roy Zimmerman’s website is Here is the link to his new YouTube video—which he saved for his first encore at McCabe’s:


Junior (T-R-E-A-S-O-N) - A Roy Zimmerman Song Parody

Original Words and Music by Alex Call and Jim Keller "867-5309 (Jenny)"

parody lyrics by Roy Zimmerman and Melanie Harby Published on Jul 12, 2017

Thanks to Ellen Sway for alerting me to the concert and inviting me to see it; thanks to McCabe’s Concert Director Lincoln Meyerson for the press pass; and thanks to Frank Dorrel for helping to publicize Roy’s Southern California Tour; Gracias to you all~

Sunday evening August 20, 7:00pm Ross Altman, Lee Boek and Mitch Greenhill present Remembering Rosalie Sorrels, at Beckman Auditorium at Cal Tech in Pasadena.

Sunday morning September 3, 10:15am “Labor Day Sunday” Ross Altman makes his 36th annual appearance at Church in Ocean Park to sing labor classics and new topical songs from his own pen; 235 Hill Street, Ocean Park. 310-399-1631

Ross Altman has a PhD in Modern Literature from SUNY-Binghamton; he belongs to Local 47 (AFM); you may reach Ross at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.