Song-Poem Contest


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S. Durrenberger

I was blown away. This is too bizarre to NOT be real! Your film shows with gentle brush strokes, the lengths to which people without the wherewithal to realize their most over-blown dreams, will go, in hopes of being recognized and heard. I like that you were compassionate and didn't ridicule these people. While it does feel like a scam, there are people out there who will be lifted up by simply receiving a "professionally" recorded copy of their lyrics. To the song-poets, I say keep on writing. A foolish dream is really only foolish to the cynic who prefers to judge others for being courageous enough to try when they themselves haven't ever been out of their comfort zone!

William J. Felchner
Staunton, Illinois USA

Regarding your comment on songwriter Chaw Mank. His real name was Charles Mank Jr. He acquired his nickname because his little sister Gloria couldn't pronounce Charles, hence it came out "Chaw-Chaw," or "Chaw."

Chaw Mank (1902-1985) was more than a songwriter. He could also legitimately claim the following titles: book author, newspaper columnist, sheet music publisher, record label owner, radio personality, silent movie theater organist, music teacher, Hollywood fan club pioneer, inveterate collector and pen pal. It wasn't unusual for Chaw to receive more than 10,000 letters annually.

My feature "Chaw Mank and the World of Entertainment" -- published in now-defunct Illinois Magazine -- profiled the Staunton, Illinois, native. I purchased the remainder of Chaw's estate in the 1990s and it was loaded with memorabilia spanning an array of celebrities from the world of motion pictures, radio, television and music.

Chaw was heavily involved in the song-poet business, but he also penned or co-penned songs recorded by such country music artists as Lloyd "Cowboy" Copas and The Country Gentlemen. Chaw was definitely one-of-a-kind!

Alexandria, Virginia
WOW. What a great documentary into another aspect of the music industry. Everyone can realize their songs as they want - using the expertise and experience of the musicians and composers that are involved in making their dreams happen. The thing I think about when viewing this documentary is . . . what goes on with these musicians and composers that make other peoples dreams come true? What about these people (the musicians and composers) that put countless hours into learning their art, their instruments, learning music theory, and then making these songs come to life for the clients?? The documentary trivializes their role, and even demonizes their participation in making other peoples dreams realized. If you watch the end of the film you'll see that the musicians that make the whole thing come together are marginalized and abused. If you were screamed at or cursed at work, most would say that it was abuse - but if you are a musician, then you are doing your job. This documentary graphically illustates this reality.

Matt Nasso
I watched the song poem story a little while ago for my first time. At first I though it was a joke and the writers were just out to get a good laugh. Although a laugh is very common in the movie, after watching it more and more i started to become inspired by these people. They are all creative in their own way but they don't have the resources to make their dreams come true. They make the best of what they have and I find that their dignity is unbelieveable. The song poem story inspired me to write a few myself. The companies responded with the outmost kindness and respect and I thought it was very professional. Even if these songs don't become a hit the pride you get in knowing you wrote a song is undescribable. I just want to thank them for making a dream become a great reality for me. Thank You.

Roberta Carlson
Knoxville Tennessee
I've watched "Off The Charts" five times now and am watching it again tonight. I love it that the average person has a chance to do something creative. This movie is an inspiration to all of us who have theat creative spark but don't know what to do with it.

Especially is inspiring is the story of Gary Forney and his Iowa Mountain Tour. I've visited his website and am so happy to see his has managed to build a career on his dreams. He has inspired me to follow my dreams as well. He is an incredible man.

I am so happy that the filmmakers treated their subject with diginity reather than humor. I was expecting cruelty, but the film is sincere, uplifting and poignant.

gary war
Los Angeles, CA
Its sweet dudes that like Gary Forney and David Fox that keep me blasting away on my 8-track. **** Irony and kitch, listen closely to the brilliant hoser (as i call it in reference to logical chord progressions) efficiency in "The Thing" or the circular riffing in "three eyed-boy" to see what I mean.

I have rented this film from Netflix several times this year and have taken it on 3 different tours. It has become the hit of the bus. As a musician, I have a lot of respect for these men and women. Some of it is bizarre, but creative as hell! Great job on this film. Keep up the great work.

Ben Dover
Jubilee, NC
I went to the Chicago song poem event sponsered by this movie! What a great event! The first ever full blown song poem concert!

Gene Schubert
Green Bay, WI
Yes!! I just found out the soundtrack is available! Finally, something interesting to buy....outstanding work!!

Jamie Geier
Oakland, CA
I absolutely loved this documentary! I was telling all my friends about it too. I'm so happy to know that the world is full of such interesting and talented folks! I noticed some people were wondering where they could purchase the "Off the Charts" DVD and I wanted to let you all know that it's available at I just got a copy myself.

Thanks for a great show...

Dan Beck
Minneapolis, MN
This is the American Dream - for the writers and the producers. $200 - $400? A small price to pay for turning a writer's dream into reality. Crank out 30 of these a day, and the hard-working folks on the production side are making a living in the music biz. Everybody wins.

Alameda Dianna Plenger
Moorpark, CA
Thank you. I was doing a web search for my uncle Elmer Plenger and did the search by his stage name, Dick Castle, I have just discovered through your website my uncle's many other stage name. I believe my uncle being a song-poet has allowed him to fufill his dreams.

lancaster cal
comercial music can be a scam ,but true music is like math .1+1=2 ,Music is just that sure . music is apart of the force that which turns the earth ,The cicle of life excest only with certin ingredince .to lack one and whier no longer!!!!!!! Music is one of the many ingredince needed, Even if thier not lesting ,music is always heard

Santa Barbara, CA
"Off The Charts" is literaly the best thing I've seen on TV in many years. Extremely well done. I've shown my recording to many friends, and it's become an instant classic. Well done and thank you! "Jimmy Carter says YES" and so do I!

Austin Wiggins
Triad, NC
I have known many musicians in bands who were signed to labels, had to change their name, change their music, and then pay back the label for production costs. Now that's a scam! So, in the end, the song-poem industry is not that different from the record industry in general. Of course, the irony is that song-poem music is usually more entertaining than "real" hits.

Bakersfield, Ca
For many years I have been dealing with a studio..who have given me false hopes..How sad your Poem song story made me. A mock before family and friends And humileating. What a rip off. and what about the Poetry Swap records listed over the web of past writers that are full of dreams. Still this is an underhanded way of taking peoples' money-preying on their hopes and dreams. It quashes the spirt of so many writers, this was hurtful to me in a way.. I will take courage to reveal my love for words of Language elsewhere. iam finally through with the studio Ive dealed with for 20 years or more.

Richard Tur
Astoria, NY
I saw the documentary Off The Charts on PBS and loved it. I viewed it a few times on my PVR and liked the music (when I like a song, it plays in my mind). I went on the net and downloaded some song-poem MP3s that I could find to hear some more. Most of them were kitchy and funny until I heard Rodd Keith's 'Ecstacy To Frenzy'. I wasn't laughing anymore. I was amazed by how truly great that song is and the artist who made it. This genre of music is not a joke and I hope to find more great music like it. My compliments to the filmmaker and PBS for putting this excellent documentary on TV.

Gary Forney
laPorte City,Iowa
VAN DEE GARNER: Van Garner is a long time friend of mine. His wife is currently in the hospital for hip surgery. Several people have expressed interest in Van and his music. I will not give his phone or address here, but anyone concerned may contact me and I will give the information. Van, himself, is not in the best of health. I value Van as an old friend. His songs "Night Time Whispers" etc along with his poetry are very special to me! I am proud to know several of the people involved in "Off The Charts" personally. Van, Jamie, Art/David. A hidden reward of all this madness are dear friends. Please contact Van through me, I will relay your letters.

Victor Acker
Boston, MA
Deliciously creepy. Superb film making!

Oxford, Michigan
I recently saw the documentary Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story on PBS. I thought it was amazing. I didn't see the whole thing though, I saw from the part about the kung-fu bicycles guy until the end. Some of the people were so sad. I felt torn between hating the song-poem guys for praying on the innocent and respecting them for kind-of providing a service for alot of people who need to feel like they have a chance of accomplishing something. I also couldn't help but laugh at some of the songs. My personal favorites were The Thing, Non-Violent Tae Kwon Do Troopers, and Chicken Insurrection. I told my brothers about it and I can't wait until they can see it.

Rachel Harris
West Los Angeles, CA
Great job again, PBS!! Your knack for (and grasp of) quality programming never ceases to amaze. I think the musician/arrangers on the production end of these song-poems are providing a terrific service by helping a lot of people, with something to say, feel good about getting up in the morning... and the more off-beat, the better!! If more people had a positive, creative outlet for their self-expression, we'd all be a lot better thank-you to these folks for making it happen...and Arthur Kaufman (aka "David Fox") really is a fox!! And what a voice! THANK YOU PBS!

Aaron Ross
San Francisco CA
Oh. My. God. Thank you for revealing a whole new world of insanity. I run an Internet radio station, and after seeing "Off the Charts," I realize that I have a lot of work to do. I've started by ordering Phil Milstein's compilation "Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush."
Thanks again,
Aaron Ross

Mike Cook
Ithaca, NY
THANK YOU a million times for this great film. Like the Ed Wood Jr. movie a few years back, it's one of those things I never thought I'd live to see made into a film. I hope this puts the name Rodd Keith in the pantheon of musical geniuses where he belongs.

The genre of Song Poem music is the only truly avant garde folk music left in America. It's sincere, strange, funny and beautiful, all at once - what more could you ask for?

How can I get recordings of Van Garner's songs, he is absolutely wonderful! There should be spoken word recordings of him, too, he has the greatest voice. His kindness and warmth as a human being came through so vividly in the film. I want to know how to send fan mail to some of these people, they deserve encouragement and support, especially someone as talented as Mr. Garner. Caglar was fantastic, too, I'd like to get ahold of recordings of his songs - but how?

Jon Jackson
Tappahannock, VA
This is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating programs I have ever seen on PBS. I know and have known so many people who could have and may have taken advantage of an opportunity like this. As a former radio announcer and disc jockey, I became very familiar with many types of popular music, good and bad. The individuals depicted in this program are living at least a part of their dreams to the best of their abilities. To the extent that each of them deserves and earns some degree of deep personal satisfaction, these businesses are helpful.

Paula Puffer
Cypress TX
This has to be absolutely the most fascinating thing I have ever seen. I laughed and was totally amazed at the microcosm of life that were the subjects of this film. I told all my friends about it and even learned where Avoca Iowa was since I grew up in Iowa and had never heard of it. I'm adding this to my list of must sees on my website

Charlie Langton
Decorah, IA
I started watching "Charts" slightlity after it started and spent a great deal of time trying to figure out if it was a brilliant spoof, ala "Spinal Tap," but in the end it was just plain brilliant. It reminded me of Morris's "Gates of Heaven," but with even more punch. Films like this show us how there is nothing weirder, or more wonderful, than just plain folks.

Jordana Barnes
Portland, Oregon
I stumbled onto watching "Off The Charts" purely by chance, and was so glad I did! As a record collector, watching the film made me ecstatic. There are gems out there - earnest songs written by earnest people and the effect is dizzying for some of these songs are hilarious, and some are truly gorgeous. All of them come from a very sincere place, and watching some of the collectors play their favorites and the musicians reminisce made me misty with record geek pride. It's a beautiful film filled with treasures which I can't wait to explore as soon as I get my hands on the compilations. Thanks to the filmmaker and PBS.

Shaker Heights, OH
This was brilliant. That tiny, fascinating snippet of "Little Rug Bug" pretty much convinced me that the late composer Rodd Keith deserves a whole documentary of his own. If you're the kind of music lover who'd rather take a chance on some obscure thrift shop 45s than subject yourself to the boy-band-du-jour, this well-done film opens up a whole new field of collecting and listening...and maybe a creative outlet for your least-commercial impulses, too. (In a perfect world, that "Annie Oakley" tune would be right beside Beck and the Bugaloos on my admittedly warped CD shelf. Please release a soundtrack!)

I must know how I can get my hands on a copy of "Off the Charts". It was the most brilliant thing I've seen in ages and I haven't been able to get the songs, the singers, and the perfect pitch of the piece out of my head.The kindness with which the subjects were treated made them all so real and wonderful.

Please let me know how I might get a copy to show to all those sick to death of hearing me hum "Non-Violent Taekwondo Troopers" and gushing about "that gem of a documentary I watched Friday night".
Thanks ever so.

Truly an inspirational film. If those people can make it in the music industry, so can I! I am rushing to send my poems in the mail TODAY!!

Thank you for bringing this unheard force of nautre to light!!!

Amy M. J. Elz
St. Louis, Missouri
The dreamers who make their dream a reality are anything but foolish. Thank you for giving us an inside look into a world populated by people with a vision.

Jon Moshier
Detroit, MI
Loved it!! Great job! As Music Coordinator for Detroit Public radio, I can't wait to get a video copy and make all of my co-workers watch!

L.A., Ca.
Seriously the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. I've been telling friends about it all day. It really left me wanting more. Thanks!

Sally Brady
Santa Monica, CA
After an all-too strenuous, commercialized Valentine's Day, I was so pleased to come home and turn on a show that really did speak to the human heart (...and, might I add, feline, canine, monkey and cockatiel!!) I've always looked to PBS as one of the last signs of intelligent life on TV, but this documentary was truly extraordinary! The "song-producers" were so keenly tuned into their clients' lyrics/desires-- it was almost uncanny...I especially liked the Magic Key production of "Annie Oakley", and, if that was Mr. Kaufman ("David Fox") singing-- here's to a warm and engaging voice!! And the filmaker,Mr. Meltzer, was so astute in what he captured...I hope we hear more from him too!! THANK YOU PBS/KCET!!

I was only half paying attention to the tv when suddenly I realized what a great film I was missing. Fascinating and wonderfully bizarre. I am a musician and know many people who would love this film also...I must have it! If anyone knows if it's available on video or DVD please let me know.

toledo OH
love the documentary...most importantly, i believe someone could stand to make a lot of money by coming up with the ingenious idea of compiling a boxed set of some of the best [or worst for that matter] of these recordings!


Gary Forney
Wow. I am still being amazed by all this. The next great film to watch for is "The Great Unknowns". How long can all this go on? Jamie Meltzer is to be thanked for the first light shown into the Shadow World of Songpoems. He should be a bust in the hall of fame. LOL. See you in St. Louis! ( My next concert date is there in June. Email me for details. )
-Gary Forney-

Thomas Nash
Ridgefield CT
The sign of a well-done documentary is one that contains a minimum of sentiment and shows respect for the subject. Varied and plentiful material and clean editing made this an outstanding documentary. Some people I talked to were touched by the ambition of the subjects; others were amused at the absurdity of their vision of themselves. Great work all around.

I can't imagine the content of this documentary (the interviews, "characters", stories, etc.) being more entertaining or provocative. The mantra I kept repeating over and over again as I sat in my living room watching this film was, "you couldn't write this shit"! At the risk of offending the filmmakers, "Off The Charts" looked like what would happen if Todd Solondz and Michael Moore teamed up to make a new reality show for FOX (of course, since there is intelligence behind it, FOX would have to cancel it immediately). Kudos especially to whomever did the research...once again, "you couldn't write that shit". Thanks!

San Francisco
I too would be interested in a soundtrack CD. I have a copy of "Beat of the Traps" from a friend and have loved these tunes for a while. Thank you so much for documenting these free spirits. Caglar ROCKS!!!! I'd rather listen to these people's unique, unpredictable tunes than any dull slick boring crap by Celine Dion or Justin Timberwhatever, especially as we watch "American Idol" try to find more Britneys and Justins--as if one weren't enough. There is too much Christina Aguilera and not enuf Annie Oakley on the radio!!

Check out the The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood and Brush from Bar-None Records

Jarrod name is Jarrod Gollihare. I'm quite interested in purchasing a copy of the documentary "Off the Charts." I saw it while half asleep at 2:30am on my local PBS affiliate and it blew my mind. Really funny...and poignant...and weird...all at once. (Quite a lot to take in at that time of night.) Is it for sale? If so, how can I get it?

Michael Kenney
I have never laughed so hard at a TV program in my entire life, and I watch a LOT of TV. So much, in fact, it is getting in the way of my devoting my life to Jesus. Thanks

Chad Cleveland
Missoula, MT
A great documentary. What a gem. Keep up the good work.

Keith Keller
Tomball, TX
I had never heard of song poems until february 11th when I stumbled across the "Off the Charts" program. I was absolutely mesmerized! I was speachless. As i watched i was torn between feelings of being embarrased and yet being somewhat jealous of the raw, inonocent, simplicity of the writers. how awesome it must feel to hear your words made legitimate in a recorded song.

E. Wells
The "Off the Charts" special inspired me to investigate the prospects of creating a web-based song-poem radio station. I would like to know if anyone else is interested (as either a co-creator or listener). email:

your film is really incredible! i enjoyed your loving approach to these fascinating people and the situations you were ableto capture. wish i could see more! here's to the inherent beauty of "eccentricity" or thinking different from the norm. thanks and congratulations!

Mark Weiss
Palo Alto, California
I really enjoyed Off The Charts and am really glad I got to see it. I produced a concert series in my hometown and got submissions from hundreds of bands and artists who wanted to advance their careers through my little project. I definitely felt a continuum between the emerging artists I've dealt with and those featured in the film. I would say, however, that many of the song-poem artists appear to have no idea of the distinction between the production houses they deal with and actual music publishers and labels; they seem to have no idea about how far from commercial viability they are. To me the whole scene speaks to the power of technology: our words and musical ideas seem validated or enhanced by hearing them reproduced mechanically. That affect may be as true for Brittney Spears as for Gary Hormey. (in her case, we equate ubiquity with value, but it may be the power of the mass marketing we are reacting to as much as the art; the medium is the message).

H Clark
I was frustrated and chagrinned to find out that someone else had already had the idea of writing a song about 'Ginseng Digger'. I had that idea too and was composing a song of my own. It was very similar to the one presented in the film. My next song will be about about my favorite cereal, 'Crispy Hexagrains'. Peace to Caglar

Todd Robinson
Portland OR
I turned on PBS about twenty minutes into the film, so I missed the initial set-up, but I couldn't take my eyes off the screen for the rest of it. I am a filmmaker, and I especially love documentaries, particularly those that focus on an obscure subject rich with character. I was laughing so hard during a couple of scenes, that my girlfriend came down to see what was going on, and watched the rest of the film with me. We both are excited about seeing it from the beginning at its next airing. Great film, Jamie!

queens, ny
God bless these song-poets and this film! These compositions are a wonderful testament to the na�ve splendor of the American heart. To my mind, the only thing that could have improved this broadcast was if Angela Basset had performed an impromptu song-poem instead of delivering a stale reading of her cue card.

Wow! This was a great feature! Well done.

I was floored by this show. It made me smile, it made me cringe, yet as a songwriter, I felt empathy for every well intentioned stab at stardom, modest as it was, on the part of every person in the film. It is a brilliant and intimate look at a cultural slice that has (in some cases, fortunately) flown under the radar of modern culture. I would love to buy a copy of this film when it becomes available. Nice work.

Sir Caglar Juan Singletary  <>
Elmira, New York

I am signaturing this website and praise ELOHIM to all my fans and ELOHIM troopers equally loving Jehovah,bikes,ladies.Praise to Angeloria and karate I fly my sky-bike higher to find JESUS THE JUSTONE.


Robb Bledsoe  <>
Cahokia, IL

Gary Forney told me about this film. I can't wait to see it. Having worked with Gary on a few projects, and being a singer for a "song shark" company, I am waiting with baited breath to see how the industry is promoted.

Gary Forney  <>
LaPorte City, Iowa

How very nice of Sheryl Clapton to say she is former backup singer. Sheryl is very talented.
A sound track album would be cool. I think that it might take a dozen CD's though as there is a ton of this music. I, also, have heard that several people were all thinking of "companion" CD's..etc.
I have rights to my own songs and am thinking of just a little CD of my own stuff. Anyone interested can Email me. ( I am only in this songpoem stuff for the fame,money,women, etc. He said before rolling on floor laughing )
But, hey! It is cool that Songpoems are moving into the light. Who knows. Jamie told me he didn't think his film would change the world... He might be wrong!

katrina polaney  <>
los angeles, california

i got a copy of this film pre-broadcast and it is literally the most amazing thing i have ever seen. i have heard a little bit about the whole song poem phenomenon, but this is the first time i have ever been exposed to its inner workings. i laughed my ass off, i cried a little bit, and i will watch it again when it appears on pbs. thank you so much, mister meltzer, whoever you are, and itvs for making this contribution to popular culture.
is there a soundtrack available by any chance? i would pay hard cash for some of those songs.

Sheryl Clapton  <>

Very glad to see original people on the TV screen, as a past back up singer for Gary, I have expierenced his music as informative, insightfull and refreshing. He speaks for Love and Free Will,


John K. Fitzpatrick  <>
Grand Rapids, MI

I am psyched for the upcoming Song-Poem special ! On my website and companion CDr "The Oddball Auditorium" are featured some song-poems not heard elsewhere, from my own collection.
Enjoy. - John

Gary Forney  <>
LaPorte City, Iowa

I am proud to have taken part in Jamie Meltzer's film.
I do live in the shadow world of the songpeom industry! But, think "Off The Charts" will shed some light into that world.
SongPoems have existed for over 100 years. I surprised that no one other than Jamie Meltzer thought to explore the people and "songs". Well worth watching!

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