Video Premiere: Bear from Tim O’Brien

Anyone who’s followed the career of Tim O’Brien knows that he has a terrific sense of humor. From the earliest days of Hot Rize, when most of us first encountered Tim, we were treated to his extra dry wit, both as himself on stage, and in the guise of his alter ego, Red Knuckles.

But like all great cutups, there is a cleverness behind the japes, some wisdom in the jokes. What made the whole Red Knuckles & The Trailblazers routine so effective in the ’80s was that while they were playing cartoonish characters, the music was real and well executed, as was their obvious love for the genre they lampooned so joyfully.

We see that same sort of whimsy in Tim’s new music video, the last single before next month’s release of his latest album, Cup of Sugar. Bear is one O’Brien has written, with something of a silly premise, though revealing some basic truths in its wake.

Tim shared a bit about it all came about…

“The songs for Cup of Sugar started with Bear. It was December of 2021, and the news was all about Russia and would Putin invade Ukraine. I had just read a book on the history of dancing bears. White Nationalism was a prominent topic, the flip side being Black Lives Matter. Trump had lost the election but was ramping up his spoiled brat act. I could imagine the gripes Putin, Trump, and the White Nationalists had, even if I didn’t agree.

I’d also reread some of a favorite book by Rafi Zabor: The Bear Goes Home. In the plot this guy in NYC wins a dancing bear in a card game, and after he gets busted trying to busk with it, he leaves the bear in his flat during work. One day he comes home and the bear’s talking and playing clarinet. The bear becomes a jazz sensation but he’s also the ultimate outsider.

So I was thinking about all that. I think the bear represents anyone or any social group that feels their world has changed too much while they weren’t looking. The bear comes out of his cave in spring and all the trees are cut down. He’s just pissed off. ‘I’m a bear,’ he cries, ‘but damn it, I’m more than that.’

I can identify with the bear because I’m old. I don’t relate to a lot of new stuff and while I do fairly well in spite of all the changes, sometimes I’ll swear at them.”

The video mixes images and clips as Tim sings in the voice of the titular ursine character. O’Brien is on guitar and lead vocal, with support from Richie Stearns on banjo, Dennis Crouch on bass, and Paul Burch on drums. Tim and Jan Fabricius provide harmony vocals.

Have a look/listen…

Bear will available as a single on May 12 from popular download and streaming services online. Radio programmers will find the track now at AirPlay Direct.

Cup of Sugar is set for wide release on June 16 from Howdy Skies Records.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.