Henry “Hank” Card ’77 and Conrad Deisler ’78 admit that the songs of their satirical country/folk/bluegrass band, the Austin Lounge Lizards, aren’t for everyone.
When they played a bluegrass festival a few years back, for example, “We thought we heard applause but it was the sound of chairs being folded up,” joked Card, who sings and plays rhythm guitar and is an administrative-law judge by day. Deisler, a vocalist who plays lead guitar and mandolin, earned a law degree with Card at the University of Texas but today is a full-time musician.
After 28 years, the band still hasn’t had a breakout hit, but it has built a loyal following with tunes like “Jesus Loves Me (But He Can’t Stand You).” That’s why the history majors who played country music gigs at college were surprised several years ago when Consumers Union, the nonprofit advocacy organization, commissioned them to pen political parodies poking fun at such consumer hazards as pharmaceutical profiteering, credit-card debt, and big oil. The first tune they wrote, “The Drugs I Need,” skewered pharmaceutical ad campaigns for pushing dubious drugs for questionable conditions, with lyrics like, “They’ve spent billions to convince me, so now I realize Progenitorovox beats diets and exercise.” Since then they have lampooned health-insurance industry practices and made a mockery of oil companies. Writing the songs isn’t a stretch, Deisler says, adding, “We’re actually giving a voice to the things we believe in.”
The advocacy sideline hasn’t changed the band. Its concerts still mix the same silly songs about subjects ranging from Texas braggadocio (“Stupid Texas Song”) to infidelity (“Going to Hell in Your Heavenly Arms”). As odd as it sounds, the group’s goofy lyrics show the influence of a Princeton education, with sly literary references thrown in for good measure. In “Highway Café of the Damned,” for example, they cry, “Waitress, waitress, bring me some Kafka.”
“We’ve been described as literate and witty,” says Card, who would have chosen another phrase to describe the band: “Overeducated.”
David Volk is a writer based in Seattle, Wash.
Pictured: Hank Card ’77, front left, and Conrad Deisler ’78, back right, of the bluegrass band the Austin Lounge Lizards, have penned parodies poking fun at pharmaceutical profiteering and big oil companies. (Courtesy Austin Lounge Lizards)