THE METER outside the Mercury office is running. My heart is racing. The clock is ticking past the scheduled start time for my interview with David Liebe Hart and I still haven't made contact with him. He has three phones—a landline and two cells—none of which he is answering. When he finally picks up cell number one, he appears to have no idea where he is or who I am or why I'm calling, as if he has just awoken from a century-long cryostasis.
Hart is a peerless railroad buff, in addition to a renowned song-and-dance man and pro bono evangelist, and fittingly, he speaks to me from a moving train, going from LA to Oakland, where his manager Jonah will pick him up and caddy him and his equipment. "I want Jonah to come and get me, because it'd be a hassle to bring my keyboard and all my instruments on the [BART]," says Hart in hilarious earnestness, setting the mood for the rest of our conversation.
The 60-year-old musician and puppeteer has been a cult figure in Los Angeles for years, earning a reputation as a cast member on the LA-based public access show Junior Christian Teaching Bible Lesson Program and as something of a more endearing, 21st-century Wild Man Fischer, performing regularly in public spaces like the entrances to the Hollywood Bowl and La Brea Tar Pits. He claims to have been abducted as a child by a race of aliens called Korendians, an experience that makes its way into his songs. Hart's big break, however, came when he became a beloved regular on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, where his B-rate ventriloquist shtick epitomized the comedy duo's post-cultural marriage of the mind-numbingly normal with the horrifyingly surreal.
Since that show ended, life has been a little bumpy for Hart. "My rent is so expensive in Los Angeles that I have to tour out of the area to make enough money," he says. He feels slighted by everyone—Tim and Eric, ASCAP, the Screen Actors Guild, and so on, all of which could be credibly described as exploitative entities, although some of it is probably just Hart's overdeveloped imagination. He levels most of his frustration at women, though, and we spend a chunky portion of the interview discussing relationships. It's what his best songs are about, specifically "Fabian," a ditty about a "beautiful French girl" which Pitchfork would probably describe as "incendiary" and "unflinchingly personal" had it been written by Christopher Owens.
Our discussion somehow awkwardly segues into rap and race before I overhear an Amtrak employee telling Hart to "please calm down," much to my relief. "I'm on a train, so I have to keep it clean," he says. His obsession and identification with aliens suddenly makes sense; like most true eccentrics, Hart is brimming with too much raw humanity for this self-conscious, disinterested world. Two more things before he hangs up, he says: He's pissed at the Hollywood Reporter and Oprah, for reasons not worth explaining. We bid each other salame. It means "goodbye" in Korendian.