Red Toupee


. . . from the Al Stewart Chronicles, No. 6, 1988.

David Dasch: Let's go to one of the most whimsical and engaging things you've ever done: "Red Toupee"

Al Stewart: Well, the lyrics are very weird, and I can tell you the origin of that song which is even weirder. I was 'round at Peter White's demo studio and he had this really catchy riff. He doesn't write many in major keys so I thought we better grab this. As he was mumbling something about what the tune was called ,and airplane flew by, and I thought what he said was "Red Toupee." I told him to put a backing track down and in the three minutes it took him, I wrote most of these lyrics. Sometime I write lyrics very quickly making them up as I go along, just so I don't lose the tune. I was rhyming the first things that came into my mind, so I wasn't being whimsical. I have no idea where the fishing boat came from. We played the demo to Chiccarelli and he loved it. I told him I'd go write the lyrics and he said something like "What are you talking about? These are the lyrics." He insisted "I love it, I love it." I had wanted to call it "Pink Cafe." I like the idea of using the girls and Robin Lamble to echo me.

DD: That was Robin?

AS: And Tori Amos, and another girl.

DD: I love the line about the "cartwheel in the shopping mall."

AS: I had to make up a story as to what it was about. I decided it took place in the year 2005 and Henry Cisneros, now the mayor of San Antonio, is then the President. The ozone has gotten markedly worse and everyone's hair has fallen out, which gives way to a fashion fad for brightly colored toupees. Everyone has them in different colors, this character happens to be wearing his red one. Another consequence of the greenhouse effect is that the jellyfish on the West Coast of America have grown to about 600 yards across, and they eat everything that's put out to sea, including atomic submarines. So it's an act of great bravery to set off in a fishing boat for Catalina Island. The guy falls through a time warp back into 1988 and arrives in his red toupee, which becomes a shock to all these people with hair. For the first time in his life he's actually ahead of his time--by an entire generation. It made him feel important so he went around doing cartwheels in shopping malls. This is the story I made out of the song, after writing the song.

DD: And of course when he fell into 1988 he invested in sheep ranches so he'd have plenty of wool and when the toupee fad came around he'd become rich and be able to buy a boat called Henry Cisneros.

AS: Exactly, also appearing, at the very end is my buzz word for the album--I always try to fit a buzz word onto every album--which was cormorant. I had written it into "Don't Panic" in one of the sets of lyrics I didn't use. We were coming down to the wire and still no cormorant, so I thought I'd have one just fly by. but the moment of pure magic in that song, which wasn't planned, came when I was laying down my vocal after the background vocals had already been done. I said "A cormorant just flew by" and it just happened that it sounds as if the background voices complete the sentence by singing "In a red toupee."

DD: If the background was done before your lead vocal, how did Robin and the girls know to sing "Turquoise toupee" as a question?

AS: I had a guide vocal on the track.

DD: It all came out very well.