Wednesday, January 14, 2015

TMFW 71 - Creed (Not THAT Creed) Made Good Music

Sometimes when I have an idea for a TMFW subject, I will bounce it off my wife to test whether it is as interesting as I think it is or to see if it is something everybody already knows.  When I mentioned today's subject, I said "what if I wrote about Creed's history in rock music?"  She answered "Creed? Those guys suck."  
My wife is right.  Creed - the "Arms Wide Open," (Can You Take Me) "Higher" guys - does suck.  But today's TMFW is about a different Creed. 
"Creed Bratton" was a character on the American version of The Office, which ran for 9 seasons on NBC.  As this incredibly detailed timeline of the character describes, Creed "is a mysterious figure who is prone to saying bizarre or confusing statements on a regular basis."  The show's ongoing gag with Creed was that he is unknowable and chaotic: his past is shadowy, details about his life outside of the workplace are ridiculous and strange, and nobody (including him) seems to understand what his job at the company even is.  YouTube features two good "Best of Creed" fan compilations - one, two - which illustrate these traits nicely. 
As the show wended (and wended and wended) its way through nine seasons, Creed's biography emerged to include the following:
**  He was left on a doorstep as a baby, and adopted by a Chinese family.  They bound his feet as a child and it caused him to lose a toe.  He now has only four toes on each foot (various episodes feature Creed offering to show this off).
**  He spent some time in an iron lung as a teenager (for unknown reasons).
**  He toured with the band The Grass Roots in the 1960s as their guitar player.
**  He was a radio DJ in the 1970s who went by the moniker "Wacky Weed Creed."
**  He has been a member of a number of cults, both as leader and follower.  (He notes that he prefers to be a follower but the pay is better as a leader.)
**  He lives in Toronto three days a week to take advantage of the Canadian welfare system.
**  He faked his own death and pretended to be his own widow to collect life insurance.
In real life, "Creed Bratton" was played by an actor named, well, Creed Bratton.  While most of the character Creed's backstory was (obviously) fabricated, the show had some fun with the "Creed Bratton plays Creed Bratton" idea by including one big real-life fact from his history.  As it turns out, Bratton really was a member of The Grass Roots.  
Bratton was a founding member of the group - well, sort of: see Bonus Fact 1 on the interesting origin of the band - and played guitar from 1967 to 1969.  That window covers the two biggest hits of the band's career: "Let's Live For Today," which peaked at #8 in the summer of 1967 and "Midnight Confessions," which reached #5 in 1968.  While a part of the group, Bratton played on bills with The Doors and The Beach Boys, and the group was a part of the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival during the "Summer of Love" in 1967.  
Bratton would perhaps have been around longer, but tension started to develop between him and the band's management.  Bratton was unhappy because the band had little control over the music that they recorded and played (and in fact much of the studio work was done by session musicians rather than the band members themselves).  Management was unhappy because Bratton was occasionally difficult to control.  In a 2011 interview with Goldmine magazine, Bratton recalls an early 1969 gig at San Fransisco's famous venue the Fillmore West, where he dropped acid and ended up pantsless on stage:  
Somebody gave me some acid and I tried it. I didn’t think it was going to be much stronger than pot. Boy, was I wrong. We were onstage and it just hit me. So I played a chord and I saw these color vortexes in the palms of my hands throbbing. And I hit another chord and looked over to the speakers. Out of the speakers in my mind’s eye comes musical staff paper with the notes written on it. The notes fall off the lines and break on the floor. My bandmates told me I walked over and was trying to pick up the notes on the floor and put them back in my hands...That’s how far out I was, I was just gone!...I had a Nehru Chinese shirt on and dropped my pants - I never wore underwear - and I let that pony dance out in the breeze.
Shortly after that "performance" at the Fillmore, Bratton and the band parted ways. 
So the next time you hear "Live for Today" or "Midnight Confessions," marvel that the weird old guy from The Office toured behind those songs almost 50 years ago (and imagine him, tripping and pantsless, on stage at the Fillmore West).
BONUS FACT:  The origin story of The Grass Roots is a fascinating reminder of how the pop music industry used to work.  The name "The Grass Roots" was first chosen by producers for Dunhill Records in 1965.  The producers had no band but were for some reason convinced that the name was a winner.  So they made a demo of the song "Where Were You When I Needed You" with a group of session musicians, put the name "The Grass Roots" on it, and sent it around to several San Francisco radio stations.  When the demo attracted some interest, the producers found an existing San Francisco band called The Bedouins and renamed them to The Grass Roots.  That band recut the demo and recorded a Bob Dylan cover at the producers' direction.  Both of those songs (billed as "The Grass Roots") got airplay, but the band demanded to record their own stuff rather than play other peoples' songs.  In response, the producers fired them and required that they cease using the name "The Grass Roots."  Hoping to keep some momentum behind "The Grass Roots," the producers offered the name and a record contract to a Wisconsin band called The Robbs, but that group turned them down.  Finally, the producers offered the name and a record contract to Bratton's group, which was then called The 13th Floor.  They agreed, and became the third completely-new incarnation of The Grass Roots in three years.  That's how they did it in those days.
BONUS FACT 1.5:  "Where Were You When I Needed You" appears on The Grass Roots' greatest hits album, even though it was recorded and released by a completely different set of musicians than the band eventually became.
BONUS FACT 2:  At 0:30 in the first "best of Creed on The Office" links above, Creed boasts of transferring his debt to "William Charles Schneider" and flashes a (ostensibly forged) passport.  But William Charles Schneider is in fact Creed's real name, and the passport reflects his actual picture, birthdate, and place of birth.  Bratton (the actor) used his real live passport for that gag.  That's a fun little easter egg.  
BONUS FACT 3:  So how did William Charles Schneider become known as Creed Bratton, you ask?  Bratton tells the strange, amusing story in a 2009 interview with
That's a very good story. My father died when I was two in World War II. After that, this guy adopted me -- actually he didn't, I thought he did; he didn't really adopt me -- when he married my mom. [H]is last name was Ertmoed. I found out when I went to Europe after college that I wasn't actually legally adopted -- but I was this Ertmoed, Chuck Ertmoed, horrible name. I mean, it was the worst. It's probably one of the reasons I have a great sense of humor because I had to learn to deal with that horrible negative. People made fun of me, they'd put their finger down my throat and say, "Hey, it's ErtMOAD ErtMOAD." No joking, that's truly what they did. Guys are cruel, you know?
So, I'm in Europe. I've been there about a year and a half; traveled all over North Africa and the Middle East. I just had an affair with this director's daughter -- in a movie I did in Israel -- and we went to the Greek Islands. She took off to go back to the United States and I'm by myself in Athens.
I meet this couple from Oregon, English teachers -- they were going to Crete to teach English to the Cretans. So we are sitting there and I always had this image of me being very successful in my mind's eye, as an actor and as a musician. So I said that I was going to go back and I'm going to make it as a musician and, eventually, acting. They said, "What's your name?" I said, "Chuck Ertmoad." And they said, "That's an unfortunate name." I said, "You know, it's not even my real name. It's William Charles Schneider" -- which they said, "That's not that great either. You need a rock star name!"
Cut to a night of drinking ouzo. The next morning I wake up and it looked like a bomb went off in the place and my tongue is bigger than my head. I look over and on the floor next to my [ruck] sack is a table cloth that I obviously took from the place we were drinking at. All these names are on there and they're all crossed out except one name is circled... it's Creed Bratton. I thought, "Oh, that's obviously an omen."
I get back to L.A. ... The Grass Roots are just starting and I was just going to sign my name to the contract. I was going through the closet and saw my [ruck] sack. I pulled it out and the table cloth comes out and I see the name. I go to sign the contract and signed it Creed Bratton. Our manager said, "You're Chuck Ertmoad, Chuck, what's going on?" and I said, "Well, that's my new name, now."

The dude can spin a yarn.
BONUS FACT 4:  The history of The Grass Roots' first big hit "Let's Live for Today" is even crazier than the history of the band's name.  The song started in 1966 as an Italian pop song called "Piangi Con Me" (that means "Cry With Me;" the link is a cover of the song), which was written and recorded by a British band called The Rokes and was a hit in Italy.  Later that year, a Dutch band called Skope recorded a version of the song, with lyrics they composed in English, called "Be Mine Again."  Meanwhile, The Rokes decided to create their own English lyrics version of the song - totally separate from "Be Mine Again" - called "Let's Live for Today".  
After The Rokes wrote the song but before they could release it, a different English band called Living Daylights covered "Let's Live for Today".  Undeterred, The Rokes put out their own version shortly thereafter.  Neither release made the UK charts, but a copy of one of the records made it to Dunhill Records and to The Grass Roots producers.  They urged the band to record it, and within a month of its release their version had sold over a million records and was in the top 10.  Amazingly, The Grass Roots' version of the song was the third version of that precise song to be released that year, and it was the fifth recording with that melody and structure in only 2 years.  That's how they did it in those days.
BONUS FACT 5: This fact was already a bonus fact all the way back in TMFW 28, but in the wake of "Midnight Confessions," Jimmy "The Mouth of the South" Hart's band The Gentrys released "Why Should I Cry" in 1969.  The two songs are so close in sound as to be almost interchangeable.
BONUS FACT 6:  The other Creed (the band, not the guy) was definitely a product of its time: that late 90s, early aughts  period of "post-grunge" where a vaguely Vedderesque rasp and some distorted-but-simultaneously-polished power chords put you in the top-10.  But holy crap: they have sold 25 million records!  Each of their first three records were at least 6x platinum; their biggest was 11x.  Their two biggest records were number 1 in the US and top-5 in four countries (US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand).  That blew my mind.  (Begrudging) respect to Creed.


  1. I loved this post, despite being morally and ethically opposed to anything of or relating to the American "version" of the BBC Office. I still have not watched an episode. However, I did watch the Creed Bratton highlight videos. Outstanding. He is actually one of the few 'original' characters not based on a BBC character.

  2. I also love that there is someone else in the world who is not Greek and drinks ouzo. I can speak from experience it DOES lead to thinking your tongue is bigger than your head.

  3. Bonus fact 7. Remember that scene in Uncle Buck, where John Candy goes into that party looking for Tia, and the kid steals his hat? In that scene, Uncle Buck comments on the tunes, saying, "Hey, nice music.
    Who is that, the Grass Roots? I'm kidding. I know my music."

    UB knows his music, but not as well as TMFW.