Junk Food Junkie by Larry Groce (Peaceable/ Warner Bros, 1976)

Junk Food Junkie is an excellent artifact of the 70s because it brings up two discussions.

One is the fact that novelty records and novelty record makers are very scarce these days. It seems as though any parodies or songs of humor are left to “morning zoo” DJs, ambitious YouTubers, and Weird Al Yankovic. In fact, Weird Al cornered the market, either because everyone else dropped out. Or it’s because he put a face to these songs by virtue of coming out in the video age. Although with only 3 album releases in the last 12 years, even Al is looking towards other work, such as video directing Ben Folds & the Black Crowes. The music industry has reduced its humor to promoting folks such as Lady GaGa. Are you laughing yet?

But back in the 70s, everyone was looking to shake off the serious sixties, a war-torn country, and a failing economy. That is one of the reasons why Junk Food Junkie hit the Top 10 in 1976. The song was recorded live at McCabe’s at a bar in Santa Monica, CA. It sounds as if it’s the first time most of that audience has heard the song, and their spontaneous laughter reflects that, especially after the 2nd verse, which causes Larry to hold on a bit before launching into the chorus. It’s just Larry and his guitar, probably sitting on a stool telling a funny story about a health nut who’s secretly sneaking junk food. It leads me to my other discussion…

…That the storyline and Larry’s lyrics paint an interesting picture of our eating habits and what we ate in 1976 compared to now. The actual joke is that Larry is making fun of those holier-than-thou types who “jumped on the bandwagon’ of organic food back in the late 60s/early 70s. Of course, we know that we are slowly (and legally) being poisoned by our primary food, so it doesn’t seem silly now, only a matter of survival. But back then, Larry was making fun of the person more than the food. He imagined a hypercritical snob, who puts on one face only to wear another in private, and he used food as the device.

What he unwittingly did was really blow the lid on what was being considered junk food. Sure, none of us were going to McDonald’s back then to get healthy. But also no one was talking about it like it was garbage either. Or that it was even bad for you. In fact, fast-food restaurants such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s gained newfound popularity in the 80s as a convenient way for two-income households to feed their families. But we definitely started to wonder, maybe for the first time, if we were indeed eating garbage.

Ding-Dongs & Twinkies…sure. Pringles…you bet. Back then, those were a treat, weren’t they? Wasn’t it something that we bought once in a while, just like soda. Now soda has its own aisle as well as chips & cookies in our local supermarkets. In fact, natural sodas get more space now in a mainstream market shelf. So do gluten-free options. We labeled in junk food in 1976, then it became part of the fabric of what we eat to the point that we’re starting to take ourselves on macrobiotic trips (whatever that means) and friend Euell Gibbons on Facebook (no page listed). This is really a more extended conversation and probably much better dealt with by documentarians.

We were looking for the next high all through the decade of me. After drugs, we turned to food. After we OD’d on that, we sought comfort from religious groups. When that failed, we started jogging to a runner’s high. And on & on & on. It was never enough. So we laughed at ourselves for how ridiculous we are, for a brief moment, or at least how Mr. Natural was, and we took pity on him.

By the way, if you are scratching your head wondering why Larry Groce’s name seems so familiar, it’s because he started Mountain Stage, a regular feature broadcast on NPR. That’s right. Larry is helping to bring live concerts to all those folks who probably keep their brown rice in a John Keats autographed Grecian urn.