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POP BEAT

Will There Always Be Room for Jello--Uh, Er . . . Jelly?

April 17, 1993|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bill Manspeaker never dreamed that the band he fronts, Green Jello, would draw the attention of a conglomerate like General Foods. But the recent success of the band led the corporation, which owns the Jell-O trademark, to ask the group to change its name. It's now officially known as Green Jelly.

But then, Manspeaker never thought his group--founded as a joke band in Buffalo 10 years ago--would ever draw the attention of anyone .

"We know we're silly; we know the songs are dumb," Manspeaker, 29, said of the band's cartoonish spoof-rock. "Every show beforehand I sit there and explain that we know it's really stupid and the songs are bad. We say that we suck in all honesty."

It was amazing enough, Manspeaker said, that he was able to coax Zoo Entertainment to give the band $60,000 to make an 11-video collection, "Cereal Killer," which was released last year with the intent of making Green Jello the world's first "video-only" band. If the band didn't have any musical value, at least it had visuals. With foam and papier-mache costumes and props, Manspeaker plays such characters as the bovine deity the Cowgod and a punk Fred Flintstone in a goofy revue that's sort of a low-rent update of the Tubes.

But eventually, a few radio deejays started playing the metal music from the "Three Little Pigs" video, and the demand soon inspired Zoo executives to release a "soundtrack" CD of the video collection.

"For some reason people wanted to buy the music, and we couldn't figure it out. We're one bunch of confused people," Manspeaker said during a phone interview from an Omaha bowling alley, where the band would be performing on its current U.S. tour. (The band is tentatively planning an L.A. homecoming show in June, at the end of the tour.)

Confused but ecstatic. Just a month after its release, the "Cereal Killer" album is at No. 47 on the Billboard pop album chart and is poised to be the first gold album (sales of 500,000) in Zoo's four-year history, while "Three Little Pigs" has cracked the pop singles Top 40--a thought that Manspeaker says horrifies him.

"Casey Kasem should never have to say, 'Coming in at 33 this week, a band called Green Jello,' " he said. "We're all numb from this. I figured out that if you took all our album, single and video sales and added them up, it means that American kids have stolen $4.2 million from their parents to buy our crappy music."

Not bad for something the band didn't even want released.

"When Zoo first suggested we release a soundtrack CD, we were like, 'The music is worthless. Who's gonna buy it?' " he said. "But they said, 'We can put you guys on a monthly salary if you release it.' We went, 'Sure! Do whatever you want. Just don't make us go back to our day jobs.' "

Not that there was anything wrong with the day jobs. Among the respectable occupations of the band: Manspeaker was a cameraman for the E! entertainment cable channel; drummer Roy Staley was the director of KCAL-TV's evening news; percussionist Kym O'Donnell was the studio manager of a recording studio, and singer-puppeteer Gary Helsinger was a talent scout for Chrysalis Music Publishing.

But Manspeaker, knowing that the shelf-life of a novelty act is pretty short, says that the band members are prepared to return to their day jobs in the not-too-distant future, though it's using its earnings to invest in video and sound equipment so that Green Jelly can perhaps turn into a video production service for other acts if its own pop career sputters--something Manspeaker views as inevitable, even as the band's popularity has reached the point that it is in discussions about developing a Saturday morning kids show.

For now, though, he and his bandmates are having the times of their lives.

"We won the record company lottery, that's all it is," he said. "If this is a two-year field trip or something, well, we learned that all you have to do is dress up funny and you can see America. I can't tell you how fun it is to dress up like Fred Flintstone with a punk Mohawk and have people slam dancing and have Barney Rubble as a skinhead dive off the stage next to you."

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