SAYS LES MISERABLES: “THEY KEPT ON ASKING FOR ‘FRENCHY’ SONGS!”
As a child growing up in Marlboro Heights, Nevada, Les Miserables was very comfortable with his name. “My great, great-grand-daddy, Moe Miserables, actually founded the town, along with his wife and brothers and sisters. Back then, the place was just barren. The miners used it as a camp. My ancestors came and provided all the essential goods and services they could need: a funeral home, a whorehouse, a bar and, eventually, casinos. To be one of the Miserables was considered an honor.”
Then, while living in his mother’s basement, at the age of 33, he felt the call of wanderlust. “I used to write songs in the basement and sing them to my Mom’s cat, Spitty. She seemed to like them enough but I wanted more.”
By that time, Les had a good career going; a janitorial engineer at the local IHOP. “It was a decent, gig,” he recalls, “and it gave me inspiration for some of my early songs. For instance, one night, I’m working the late shift and I see this druggy customer just pick up his stack of pancakes and rub ‘em all over his face while making ‘neemy-neemy-neemy’ noises. After work, I went home and wrote ‘Last Night, I Thought of You and Ate A Pancake.’”
It proved a local hit. “Golly,” he recalls, “they were even playing it at the carwash.”
At that point, the then-thirty-four-year-old musician decided to risk it all and pursue his dream of being a full-time musician and moved to Nashville. “I was lucky to find a bar that needed a janitorial engineer. It was inspiring. I moved from writing songs about pancakes to writing songs about depression, despair, dead-ended lives and cirrhosis of the liver. A local manager heard my songs and told me that, if I got a band together, he’d send me on tour. So, I started up Les Miserables and His Morose Marauders; sort of a play on words, there.”
“There were a lot of taunts, but I survived them.”
All the while, he grappled with his name. “There were a lot of taunts, but I survived them. You know, ‘Are you THAT miserable?’ ‘No, I’m the OTHER one.’ ‘What makes you so miserable?’ ‘Listening to you.’ That sort of stuff.”
Still, his manager liked his style. “Awww, shucks,” Les recalls, “I was just stealing from the greats: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Edith Piaf.”
The band was sent out on the cage circuit, a series of bars wherein the thug patrons were totally wasted before they arrived, and got totally insane shortly thereafter. “The band would be in a cage and the audience would throw everything at us, beer bottles, chairs, tables and the occasional dwarf. It inspired me to write ‘Piss-off, Neanderthals.’ It went to #1 in Kentucky.”
After the death of their manager, the boys were scooped up by New York agent Piers Lumplow. “I had never heard them,” Piers confesses. “I just saw the name ‘Les Miserables’ and had them immediately booked in elite supper clubs around the nation. My bad.”
Says Les, “We played the first gig and there were all these fancy-dancy people in the audience. After we played ‘You Broke My Heart, So I Busted Your Jaw,’ you could see there was something going wrong. A couple more tunes and these well-dressed geeks started throwing their cocktail glasses at us.
“I mean, beer bottles you can see coming. Cocktail glasses just smash everywhere. I almost lost my eye to an olive! And we weren’t in a cage!
“And they started yelling out requests. Play ‘I Dreamed A Dream!’ Play ‘Do You Hear the People Sing!’ I had no idea what they were yelling about. They were yelling for all these ‘Frenchy songs’ I’d never heard of.”
“When told of the show ‘Les Miserables,’ he thought to himself ‘What a stupid story.’”
After their disastrous debut, Les called his manager. Lumplow apologized and told him that the audience was expecting songs from the Broadway show ‘Les Miserables.’ “ It was the first I’d ever heard of that. He explained to me what the story was about, a guy stealing bread and being pursued for life by a nutty cop, sort of like ‘The Fugitive’ but with crust. I thought to myself: what a stupid story. But, he advised me to buy the record and learn some of the songs. And that’s what we did.
“We were helped by the fact that our bass player, Jizz, was kicked in the nuts by a mule when he was sixteen. As a result, he has a stunning soprano voice. I asked him, once, how it happened. He said it was personal. Good enough for me.”
So, the band continued touring, alternating songs like “Broken Bottle In My Face” with “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “Face-Sitting Boogie” with “I Dreamed A Dream.” “Jizz just owned those Fantine songs,” says Les. “So you had these well-dressed people weeping and singing as well as boogying. Then, the coronavirus hit and we left the road.”
Les reflects. “To be honest? The whole Broadway thing just wasn’t me. I just wanted to sing my songs to regular folks. Regular folks who’ll never get to see a play. Who’ll never be able to afford a trip to a big city. Who’ll never get out of their hometowns; who are monitored by ankle bracelets. Those are my folks.”
TIME FOR A CHANGE
In an attempt to toss off the stigma of being named “Les Miserables,” Les has taken legal action to change his name and get into the heartland.
“I am now, officially, Tom Miserables,” he beams. “And as soon as this pandemic is over? I’ve lined up a tour with a great act to open for us, led by my buddy Marky DeSade. Sounds solid to me.”