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Sleazy to Soulful

The first time Har Mar Superstar entered my life, he was in tighty whities, flawlessly crooning Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” surrounded by beautiful women in matching frilly pink pajamas. For 2003, this was damn good television—think Ron Jeremy’s body and Otis Redding’s vocal chords, a pudgy balding white boy from Minnesota with sexual prowess and [...]
Danny Hamen

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The first time Har Mar Superstar entered my life, he was in tighty whities, flawlessly crooning Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” surrounded by beautiful women in matching frilly pink pajamas. For 2003, this was damn good television—think Ron Jeremy’s body and Otis Redding’s vocal chords, a pudgy balding white boy from Minnesota with sexual prowess and gold-plated pipes.

I remember being oddly mesmerized by his seductive performance, but ultimately shrugged it off as an ironic novelty act, destined to fade into cultural obscurity alongside Neil Hamburger and Tony Clifton. And to be fair, it sort of did.

Starting in the early 2000s, Sean Matthew Tillmann, mastermind behind the indie guitar pop oddity Sean Na Na, released albums under an imaginary alter ego claiming to be his twin brother, Harold Martin Tillman, aka Har Mar Superstar.

“I was putting out so many records with all of my other projects, I didn’t want people to get sick of me, you know?” Tillmann said with an uneasy laugh. “People really believed it. But then, things started taking off overseas, and then I just kind of got bored of living the lie, so I just stopped.”

Har Mar’s initial albums ushered in a fleeting pseudo-celebrity status for Tillmann, gaining him attention for turning classic soul tropes into bizarre arrangements of synthy glitz pop and sultry stripteases. Yeah, the boy could sing, and was sure as hell entertaining onstage, but no one actually took him seriously.

“At first, I don’t think people would have accepted it unless I was real tongue-in-cheek about it, you know, and just over the years it has become a real deal.”

That real deal moment came for me when he dropped his 2013 Motown-inspired doo-wop record Bye Bye 17. The explosive, horn-driven opener “Baby You Shot Me” straightaway sets the tone of the album, progressing from a dejected heartbreak wail into a self-assured strut, exposing Tillmann as something more than just a sardonic comedy routine, but a genuine soul singer with something to say.

Tillmann, born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, was surrounded by music at an early age, playing piano since he was five, eventually turning his attention to guitar. His influences include the ostentatious performers of his time.

“I was listening to a lot of Prince, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner from when I was really, really little. I’ve always been a fan of pop or R&B, and one day I just started doing it. I knew I could sing like that, so I did.”

Considering his early musical authorities, it is no wonder why Tillmann demands stage presence. His aura oozes confidence, glamour, and an exposed, glittered beer belly, all held together by a skin-tight golden thong. Clearly, Tillman is a performance artist just as much as he is a musician.

“I write songs thinking about how I am gonna play them live. They all start in the same creative category. Once the song is written, for me, it is all about how I perform them live.”

Tillmann’s newest album, Best Summer Ever, poses as a faux Greatest Hits compilation from 1950 to 1985, a meta contribution to the legacy of Har Mar Superstar.

“The album is kind of all over the place. There a lot of, you know, ’80s synthy pop, there’s some soul stuff, Motown-esque stuff. It’s really sort of like a grab bag.”

Julian Casablancas of The Strokes produced the album and even wrote one of the singles, “Youth Without Love,” a soft, synth-based, love song that musters the ethos of the early Har Mar days, albeit with a tad more self-control.

“Working with Julian is always super fun—you just never know what you are going to get. I just went into the studio and recorded all the tracks rock band-style. Then at the end, Julian brought a lot of fun and interesting sounds to the table. We just kind of went wild.”

The album features guest vocals from Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, generating a hype and legitimacy typically unknown to Har Mar’s unreleased LPs. If it is anything like his last one, it will most likely be played at full volume in the confines of my bedroom, next to my favorite girl, with the lights turned way down low.


The album’s official release date is April 18, the same day Har Mar Superstar takes the stage in Columbus at Rumba Café. For more, visit harmarsuperstar.com.

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What’s Open: Venues slowly start to roll out live music

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When it was announced in mid-May that wedding venues and banquet halls would reopen at the beginning of June, the next question became: When will music venues be next?

Although the rollout has been slow and will be gradual, Columbus venues and attractions that regularly house live music are making their comeback. When the high-spirited, good-feeling cover band Popgun graced the Natalie’s Music Hall & Kitchen on May 27, many people’s greatest fears of being robbed of live music for the rest of the year were eased maybe a little.

The only way for us to get currently get down to live music is to sit down, which is a fair trade-off given the times.

Check out a few Columbus venues that are set to reopen or have reopened under strict coronavirus guidelines.

  • The Forum Columbus -- The Forum welcomed back live music on May 29 with a tabled RSVP DJ showcase. For this event, guests were required to come in groups of no more than 10, be seated six feet apart from other groups, and remain seated unless you have to use the restroom. There are no future events planned as of this publishing.
  • Otherworld  -- The immersive art installation that took Columbus by storm in 2019 is set to return on June 11, according to the venue’s webpage. Otherworld will be operating at a capacity of one visitor per 160 square feet, or around 20 percent of the regular admittance. It’s unclear when the next time Otherworld will host live music, but this is a giant step in the right direction in terms of venue re-openings.
  • South Drive-In -- It’s not a venue in Columbus that traditionally holds music, but it’s become one and may stay one for the time being. Viral DJ Marc Rebillet will be bringing his sold-out drive-in show to the South Drive-In on June 14. With these types of performances popping up all around the country and the South Drive-In owner getting plenty of event requests, we will hopefully be seeing more shows of this nature in the warmer months.
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Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause

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To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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