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Manic Larceny

Another side of Creed Bratton comes to Sweetwater

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TIMELESS AMERICAN SHAME Creed Bratton's 'real-life' songs come from kids' birthdays and unemployment lines.
  • TIMELESS AMERICAN SHAME Creed Bratton's 'real-life' songs come from kids' birthdays and unemployment lines.

They're both tall and balding, with the kind of devilish good looks made for Hollywood or an Old West wanted ad.

But Creed Bratton is not Creed Bratton.

One is a mild-mannered actor and guitarist, performing his musical autobiography at Sweetwater Music Hall on Sept. 27. The other is a quality assurance manager on The Office— a former cult leader who sprouts mung beans in his desk drawer at Dunder Mifflin, steals cash from condolence cards and knows all the best soup kitchens in town.

As the actor tells me during a recent phone interview, "If I were really Creed Bratton, I'd be in jail."

Probably so. After all, the fictional Creed Bratton is a former homeless man who once took a photo of a woman using a breast pump and then made it his workplace screensaver.

But the real Creed Bratton is much less deviant. He's done his share of LSD, sure, but he also writes heart-wrenching songs about love and unemployment with lyrical gems like "there's parts of my life in every pawn shop in town." A former member of '60s chart-toppers the Grass Roots, Bratton has released six solo albums to complement his acting career; the latest is a personal medley called Tell Me About It, which rehashes his life in three meditative acts.

"People know me as a funny guy from The Office," he says. "I tell them right away: this is not just a comedy show. It's lighthearted and amusing but bittersweet."

There's "Unemployment Line," a lilting Dustbowl anthem saturated with timeless American shame. Written in his 40s, after he'd left the Grass Roots, Bratton says the song was inspired when he was out of work, waiting in a line to collect benefits, and saw a woman who looked like an ex. After a moment of panic, he realized it wasn't her, but the song was born. "I can't look in the people's eyes," Bratton sings to acoustic strumming, "there might be someone here I know."

And although Tell Me About It explores themes that are both heavy and self-aware, the fingerprints of that other Creed Bratton—the manic larcenist with a fondness for snorting coffee grounds—are visible too.

For the song "Move to Win," Bratton made a video in which he crashes a kid's birthday party dressed like a lunatic mime in an oversized bowtie: he throws a small child in a swimming pool, elopes with a housemaid on a scooter, tosses a piñata on the grill and laughs while he watches it burn.

Except it might not actually be him. "Creed saw an ad that a band was needed for this party, and it turned out to be a kid's birthday party," Bratton explains to me on the phone. "It seemed like something he would do."

Though the folk master has garnered a new following of "mostly college kids," thanks to that other Creed, the show in Mill Valley will be a bluesy rumination on lost love that amps-up now and then to channel the Who. It won't be a live incarnation of the free-lovin' ex-con who hates cartwheels and asks of life, forlornly: "If I can't scuba, then what's this all been about?"

But maybe, just maybe, he'll make an appearance, too.

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