Tommy Boy, Chris Farley and David Spade’s 1995 comedy, is beloved by a certain generation, with the likes of “holy schnikes,” “brothers gotta hug,” and “fat guy in a little coat” having infiltrated the lexicon like so many Simpsons quotes. Upon hearing someone recorded a full-length album devoted to the movie, one might understandably expect it to be built around the bits, with songs about t-bone steaks, butcher’s asses, killer bees, and thin candy shells sitting alongside some hokey ode to The Carpenters’ “Superstar.”
Instead, Nashville-based rock critic and musician Dave Paulson has crafted his Sandusky, Ohio as a tight, surprisingly moving retelling of the story that posits itself, first and foremost, as an exploration of Tommy’s emotional journey. On “My Old Man,” for example, Paulson channels that melancholy montage in the wake of Big Tom’s death, singing from Tommy’s perspective: “Now I need to be alone / On the sand, skipping stones / Simple things set me free/ On the shores of Lake Erie.”
Of course, this approach speaks to what truly distinguishes Tommy Boy from its ‘90s comedy contemporaries, which is the warm, fuzzy heart at the center of the thing. Deep down, the movie’s really about a privileged ne’er-do-well and his bitter colleague finding purpose and friendship in the aftermath of a monumental loss.
Sounding like a spritely cross between Ben Folds Five, Randy Newman, and the radio rock of the mid-’90s, Paulson sings of Tommy and Richard’s troubled road trip (“Don’t let it get you down, we got another town”), the duo’s scrap outside Prehistoric Forest (“Turn off the car and take a swing / You leave a mark, I feel the sting”), Rob Lowe’s nefarious subterfuge (“Signals get crossed and lost on the way / I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been betrayed”), and Ray Zalinsky (“You’ve been on the screen selling us a dream / But back behind the scenes you tear us down now”).
The best track, however, is “Golden Child,” which gets inside Richard’s head and anger towards Tommy (“I’ve seen you slacking off since second grade / ‘Cause your daddy paid your way”) before revealing the layers beneath Tommy’s buffoonery (“My mother passed when I was 17 / Dad stayed busy at the factory”). The end of the song, which finds Tommy celebrating his new step-mom and step-brother, is genuinely moving in its enthusiasm and what we know about their true intentions.
In an interview with MEL Magazine, Paulson breaks down why he pursued the project:
My music has always been autobiographical. But I also was never super comfortable at baring my soul in a very plain way that a listener could really access what I was talking about. It was always pretty cryptic, lots of imagery, impressionist. I’ve heard a lot over the years: “Yeah, I just … I don’t know what you’re singing about.”
So I thought, What if I did the opposite—something that’s not abstract and not at all intimidating to a listener? And pretty quickly I arrived at an album about Tommy Boy.
Also, I always wanted to do something ludicrous.
He also asserts that while it’s not a “deathly serious, capital-A art project,” that he views it as “an attempt to draw some emotion and inspiration out of an unlikely source.”
Believe it or not, he did it. Revisit the Tommy Boy trailer below, and listen to Paulson’s full album via Spotify above.