Cult video premiere, party at AVAM

Museum benefit will show 'Ham,' filmed in Baltimore

April 04, 2010|By Sam Sessa | sam.sessa@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

Have you heard the one about the woman with the ham in the grocery store?

It goes like this: A portly woman wearing an overcoat is walking down a supermarket aisle when a full-size ham falls out of her coat and lands on the floor. Fearing she'd be caught shoplifting, the woman looks around and yells, "Who threw that ham at me?"

The story, which has gone around for years, was the basis for the new single by B-52s frontman Fred Schneider. Schneider filmed the music video for the song "Who Threw That Ham At Me?" in Baltimore in November. On Friday, Schneider and his band, the Mastergators, will present the video's debut and perform at the American Visionary Art Museum. Proceeds from the night will benefit the museum.

"It's going to be a dance party," Schneider said. "It's not going to be 'Love Shack.' It's going to be wilder."

In the video, which Scheider and his Baltimore-based friend Allen Shepherd co-produced, a skinny fellow in a long coat re-enacts the infamous shoplifting scene at the Eddie's market in Mount Vernon. It cuts away to a mini- disco party at the museum, where a couple of dozen folks are dancing to the song.

Schneider even invented a new dance for the song, called the Disco Garbage Can.

Every once in a while in the song, Schneider says, "OK, Disco Garbage Can. Yeah, lift your lid." To do the dance, people kick their feet out diagonally from their bodies while raising an imaginary lid off the tops of their heads.

Where did Schneider get the idea for the dance?

"A couple glasses of wine," he said. "When they asked me to put lyrics to [the song], I came up with it off the top of my head. Because it was disco music, it was the first thing that came to my head. It's very free-form."

The more people Schneider talked to about the story of the ham and the shoplifter, the more he was surprised at how far and wide the tale had spread.

"So many people have heard it, it's ridiculous," he said. "You know what? I believe it."

When the song was finished, Schneider didn't think it would go anywhere. It was too bizarre, even for him, he thought.

"I thought it was hysterical, but I figured, 'Who else is going to like it except us?' " he said. "I'm glad I was proved wrong. Get ready."

During the video shoot, museum spokesman Pete Hilsee had to hear "Who Threw That Ham At Me" dozens of times, he said.

"I have to say, through all that, I still find it catchy," Hilsee said. "Truly, when I think about it, it could not have been filmed anywhere else other than Baltimore. It's got just the right camp factor."

Shepherd called around to a few nightclubs, looking for potential shooting locations, but none called him back. That's when he turned to the museum, which was happy to host the taping. Same goes for Eddie's, which was the only grocery store to return Shepherd's calls.

He's amazed with the response the video has gotten, he said.

"It set out to be kind of kooky and campy, and thanks to the people that worked on it, it delivered," Shepherd said. "There are definitely John Waters influences in there. We're really happy with it."

Schneider assembled the Mastergators, which features Shepherd on rhythm guitar, former Scissor Sister Paddy Boom on drums, lead guitarist Mike Waddell, percussionist Megan Owens and keyboardist Sean Marquand of the Phenomenal Hand Clap Band, specifically for this show. DJs PJ DeBoy and Paul Dawson will also spin.

"Who Threw That Ham at Me?" is the first wave in a mini-Schneider renaissance: He plans to release a Halloween album in the fall, a Christmas album and a new studio album next year.

None has a name yet, but Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, will make a guest appearance on the Halloween album, Schneider said.

"Who does Halloween records anymore, except Elvira?" he said. "I wrote for her, too. She's coming back, so why not? She said she'll be on the record. With that seal of approval, we're excited."

Compared with the rest of Schneider's solo work, "Who Threw That Ham At Me?" stands alone, he said.

"This is different from my solo stuff," Schneider said. "This is even more out there. I've done some really crazy stuff. ... There's nothing like nonsense."

If you go
Fred Schneider and the Mastergators perform 7 p.m.-midnight Friday at the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Call 410-244-1900 or go to avam.org.

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