Na Na: Give Me a B-Side
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: Feb. 6, 2002
Sean Na Na
15th & Farnam
Tillmann, a.k.a., Har Mar Superstar, a.k.a. Sean Na Na bellowed
into his in-then-out-of-range cell phone as he barreled down I-35
between his Minneapolis home and Ames, Iowa.
For this mid-January
gig on the campus of Iowa State University, Tillmann would don the
sexy, skin-tight costume of his porno-star, funk-powered alter ego,
Har Mar Superstar. It's a character that was about to reach a much
larger audience than Tillmann's more mainstream alter-ego, Sean
Na Na, as Har Mar was about to open two weeks of dates for the NYC-based
Lou Reed/Velvets rip-off band The Strokes. The current flavor-of-the-month
with the critics and the crush-groove TRL-set, The Strokes have
the drawing power to make Har Mar a household Name, at least in
homes that tune to MTV.
"They had seen me
play before and wanted me on their tour," Tillmann said about
his "stroke" of good fortune. "It should be cool."
Har Mar? Sean Na Na?
Tillmann? Are you getting confused? Here's the skinny: Minneapolis-based
singer-songwriter Sean Tillmann makes a living performing both as
the light-hearted funkster Har Mar Superstar and the more serious,
introspective Sean Na Na (though he's been known to tell the press
that Har Mar really is his brother, Harold Martin Tillmann). It's
the introspective one, not the sex-fiend, who's slated to take the
stage at The Junction Feb. 13. For Tillmann and his Sean Na Na fans,
it's a welcome return to a character that's been dormant for more
than a year while Tillmann galvanized his Andy Kaufman-as-Tony Clifton-style
Har Mar persoNality on the minds of an unsavory world.
try to keep the Har Mar thing totally separate from the Sean Na
Na thing," Tillmann said between static-blares on his cell
phone. "I've toured Har Mar so much for the last year that
people are coming up to me asking when Sean Na Na is coming back."
You might think fans
could get confused, but Tillmann knows listeners are smart enough
to figure it out. "The live show sets the two acts apart,"
he said. "Har Mar is in-your-face debauchery, while Sean Na
Na is like a clubhouse-type vibe -- four friends playing around.
"Some people take
both personalities seriously," he added, "but anyone who
knows me knows I'm more well-rounded than Har Mar. When I was on
tour with The Faint in Houston, a couple meatheads in the crowd
didn't get it and yelled 'fuck you' and threw cigarettes at me."
If Har Mar is Tillmann's
personal tribute to egocentric rock-star sexism, Sean Na Na is his
take on sensitive singer-songwriters with an edge, playing simple
rock ballads about double-dates with groupies, shallow party people
and the eternal search for a "sugar mommy."
Sean Na Na began in '96
as a side project to Tillmann's AmRep noise project Calvin Krime,
but gained credibility after drawing raves for the 2000 full-length
folk-rock masterpiece Dance 'til Your Baby is a Man on Troubleman.
Now with My Majesty, his latest full-length to be released
Feb. 22 on New York's Frenchkiss Records (home of Les Savy Fav,
among others), Tillmann and Sean Na Na are pushing their credibility
more well-rounded than Har Mar. When I was on tour with The
Faint in Houston, a couple meatheads in the crowd didn't get
it and yelled 'fuck you' and threw cigarettes at me."
not going to whine about it, but my parents haven't always
been supportive and I've been looked down upon by my peers
from an outside perspective."
over three months with producer Bryan Hanna (Waxwing, Papas Fritas),
My Majesty slightly reinvents Sean Na Na's folk-ish acoustic
sound with a healthy injection of good ol' rock and roll on songs
that seem even more personal than those on his last full-length.
The straight-on Boz Skaggs-style
"Give Me a B-side" for example, is a two-and-a-half-minute
plea for the life of a loved one crippled by age or disease. The
song is deceptively dark despite its jumpy melody, thanks to sobering
lyrics like, "The Easter bunny came this year and brought
no eggs / Just a heavy curtain and took away your legs."
"That song's about
my grandma," Tillmann said. "It's one of those songs inspired
by a shitty situation, but with a theme that's pretty universal.
Whenever you lose somebody it's kind of hard."
Then there's the anthemic
"Grew Into My Body." Rocking like something off The Who's
Tommy, Tillmann makes a carpe diem-esque argument for self-realization
by rising above those who yearn to keep you down, with the opening
lines: "Listen all my children / Can't you hear a falling
sound? / The short life of a butterfly ending in the ground / Like
the people you know and love to watch sinking down / They're stuck
in a hole for now."
"It's about not
letting others dictate what you're doing with your life," he
said. "It's more of a reaction to the way people feel they
need to go to college and get a job and have a real life. That attitude
works for a lot of people, but inhibits a lot of people, too. I'm
not going to whine about it, but my parents haven't always been
supportive and I've been looked down upon by my peers from an outside
Tillmann says after the
Sean Na Na tour ends in late March, he'll begin working on yet another
Har Mar record, and then hit the road all over again, trying desperately
to tour every city possible. "I tour all the time," he
said. "I get real anxious at home and like to travel all over
And with that, his cell
phone finally gave out. Good luck, Sean or Har Mar; we love you
whoever you are.
Published in The Omaha Weekly Feb. 6, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim
McMahan. All rights reserved.