Clear and linear storytelling has never been Benjy Ferree’s greatest strength; he’s more of an idea guy. To wit, the D.C. singer/songwriter’s sophomore record, Come Back to the Five and Dime Bobby Dee Bobby Dee, has a pretty good hook—it’s a concept album dedicated to fallen child actor Bobby Driscoll—but it doesn’t pay as much attention to detail.
Ferree is no biographer, but if it’s facts about Driscoll you’re after, there’s always the Internet. And Bobby Dee, with its doo-wop vocals, glam riffs, and bizzaro cartoon creepiness, is at least interesting enough to get you Googling.
Driscoll was one of Disney’s first major child stars, appearing in live action films such as Song of the South and voicing the animated title character in 1953’s Peter Pan. But a severe case of acne, acquired during puberty, eventually got him booted out of the Magic Kingdom. From there, Driscoll took a surreal and tragic spin—he fell into heroin addiction, drifted on the periphery of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, and was eventually found dead in an abandoned New York City tenement at the age of 31.
Ferree attempts to channel Driscoll, miring himself in the actor’s bad vibes and Neverland separation anxiety, and succeeds in capturing the mood of his tale, if not the particulars.
“There were footsteps on the roof/But there is no proof/Or reason not to hide,” he sings on “Fear,” a comic, spiritual-tinged exploration of paranoia and dread that’s at least as frightening as the pink elephant scene in Dumbo.
For the most part, the music on Bobby Dee—blues-and-gospel-inflected rock with intentionally over-the-top vocal arrangements—sounds kind of like Marc Bolan sitting in with the Country Bear Jamboree. The strange juxtaposition between Merrie Melodies and shattered innocence actually suits the subject matter perfectly (See: “Pisstopher Chrisstopher” and “Tired of Being Good”).
Eventually, Ferree even manages to get specific and squeeze in some esoteric detail. “Drink all the water/What was a lake is now a crater,” Ferree sings on “What Would Pecos Do?” referencing the 1948 short film “Pecos Bill,” in which Driscoll appeared. It’s a nice detail, but ultimately unimportant. It’s the bigger human tragedy that really matters here, and Ferree gets the larger point across just fine.