Tales from MVT: “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo (I Ain’t Got Nobody)” by David Lee Roth

Tales from MVT is a regularly-occurring series of blog posts where I choose one of the videos from our Music Video Theatre sessions and write about it. Music Video Theatre has become one of the most fun and enriching experiences of my current life, and for a multitude of reasons, has sparked abundant creativity. It serves as the inspiration for this series of silly little blog posts.

Song: “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo (I Ain’t Got Nobody)”
Artist: David Lee Roth
Director: Pete Angelus & David Lee Roth (for both videos)
Appeared in: MVT Vol. 4
Chosen by: Me and Jeff (respectively)


Music Video Theatre creates a bit of hive mind phenomenon. Multiple times a night watching some video either never before seen or long since forgotten will trigger one of us to frantically break out our phone and type something in our Notes app. 99 times out of 100, that note furiously punched into our digital remembering device is a music video added to the next list. Oh shit, THIS video! We GOTTA watch this other one next time! is more or less how it goes.

It literally took until only Volume 3 for the same song to get selected by two participants. Kristin and Jeff had both selected “Freedom! ‘90” by George Michael, a long ass video that features the leather jacket, the guitar, the jukebox and the other iconic elements from the “Faith” video blown up. I’ve read that George was extremely resentful of the box he felt like he was placed in after that video, and this opus was his literal and metaphorical destruction of that box. What led both Kristin and Jeff to choose it for that session, I’ll never know (or have since forgotten), but it was a fun moment.

Even weirder was the very next MVT when somehow both Jeff and I had selected Mr. Crazy from the Heat himself, Diamond Dave, David Lee Roth. Nothing from Vol. 3 would seem to point to two of us totally independent of one another arriving at this unhinged, lascivious cartoon wolf of a man together, but with different songs. The only tiny thread I can even tug at is when I chose Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” to kick off Vol. 3 and announced, “You know, one decade of music videos has been underrepresented so far, the 1980s, and I begin to rectify that right now with my own personal choice of this one.” But that’s reeeeaaaaalllly stretching it.

“California Girls” takes FOREVER to get going. A collection of grotesque 80s freaks rides one of those Universal Studios style tour trams with Diamond Dave serving as guide while some guy doing a cheap Rod Serling impression does voiceover as we take a full minute and a half to finally get to the goddamn beach. And then Dave sings a weirdly earnest and straight down Main Street rendition of this Beach Boys’ classic while mugging like a carnival barker in front of a bunch of bikini-clad women with breast implants who all stand around for some reason. It’s like a 1980s Coors Light commercial for middle-aged Boomers who can’t wait to divorce their first wives.

I love it so much.  And not because it’s good (it isn’t – although it’s plenty fun while high), but because it’s a time capsule of a sensibility that’s long since evolved. I’m sure someone, somewhere from the Moral Majority was scandalized by this video and by Diamond Dave in general, but now this video looks like it could be on Sesame Street compared to something like the video for “W.A.P.”

“Just a Gigolo (I Ain’t Got Nobody)” opens with Dave asleep at a news desk as the video for “California Girls” plays behind him on the chroma key. When I received everyone’s videos, I knew I had to put these back-to-back. You can’t play David Lee Roth, have everyone think that’s it, and then have him reappear. That’d be like having a dinner guest you like, but who’s way too overbearing, show up at your party, charm everyone for a bit, go to jail for some reason, and then return when no one’s ready for it. Dave’s A LOT. You gotta get it all out in one dose.

Anyway, he wakes up, and then another gaggle of freaks mugs directly into camera – we the viewer are seeing this from Dave’s perspective in this sequence – and the people look not unlike the ugly puppets in that dreadful video for Genesis’s “Land of Confusion.” Again, it takes a good minute and a half for the song to begin. Dave then gallivants through the studio showing up at a talk show, parading through the backstage area where there are Vegas showgirls, astronauts, pimps, pirates, monsters, cheerleaders, Hare Krishnas, and a dozen other costume store classic archetypes before getting to what I take to be the meat of the video.

Parodying videos from Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol, Richard Simmons’s “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” videos, Willie Nelson, Boy George, and some others I don’t recognize, Dave dutifully participates in their videos before ultimately turning into a Bugs Bunny style character and wrecks them. I don’t understand the point here, but I’m sure it’s stupid.

It’s about here that we need to talk about this song. Did you know this song was originally written in 1929? I sure as fuck didn’t!

Here’s what Wikipedia says about it: “The original version is a poetic vision of the social collapse experienced in Austria after World War I, represented by the figure of a former hussar who remembers himself parading in his uniform, while now he has to get by as a lonely hired dancer. The music features a simple melodic sequence, but nonetheless has a clever harmonic construction that highlights the mixed emotions in the lyrics, adding a nostalgic, bittersweet effect.”

Uh, yeah. I totally figured this song to reflect the social collapse of Austria after World War I. My very first thought, actually. Yep!

The best known version is probably performed by Louis Prima in 1956. You can hear that version here. Give it a listen. It’s fun! And Louis Prima’s face on that album cover looks like someone told him the funniest racist joke of 1956. In Dave’s raspy, morning radio DJ barf of a vocal style, he sounds like he’s soundtracking a TGI Friday’s ad for popcorn shrimp.

Even weirder, Wikipedia lists 51 versions of this fucking song. I figured Dave’s would be the worst, but then I saw the likes of Lou Bega (the Mambo No. 5 guy), Tiny Tim, The Village People, and Bing Crosby have all recorded their own versions. There are Spanish versions, Hebrew versions, Swedish versions, Italian versions, and more. Amidst that clown orgy of styles, no way could Dave’s be the bottom of the barrel, but I’ll bet his is the most garish.

Dave hasn’t been on the list since, and I can’t imagine he’ll appear again. But for one magical list, Dave threw everything he had at us, and for two songs over 11 glorious minutes, we absorbed it all.

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