If you’ve had enough, if you’re just sick and tired of being cooped up, if you just need a laugh at this virus’ expense, have no fear: Milo Bobbins is here to save the day.
What’s that? You’ve never heard of Milo Bobbins?
Perhaps you’re more familiar with his work, such as the uber catchy “Barroom Cathedral,” or his seminal hit, “Condoms for Christmas,” which made an appearance in the 1997 “blockbuster” hit “Burn Hollywood Burn” starring Ryan O’Neal, Coolio, Sandra Bernhard and Richard Jeni.
Or maybe you’re into game shows, or blondes (or both — hey, no judgment here). In that case you’ve no doubt heard “Va-va-va Vanna.”
In any case, you’ll be glad to know Milo Bobbins, AKA Pete Steiner (of local radio fame) is back with another song: “The COVID-19 Blues.”
“Disinfectant wipes, please, I said as I did ease
My way into the grocery store;
I had hopes they’d re-issue some new toilet tissue,
Newsprint’s makin’ my cheeks kinda sore.”
(We won’t hold that newsprint line against him; we know Pete, er, Milo is a fan.)
Bobbins is sort of an alter ego for Steiner. In the video that’s been making the rounds, Steiner is seen in a pair of Zubaz pants, shades and a fedora. Strumming a guitar and striking a bluesey chord, “COVID-19 Blues” sounds like his next big hit.
So why did Steiner bring his alter ego out of retirement?
“We’re just all in such a strange state,” he said. “I hope people get a couple of laughs out of it. That’s what’s been helping me and other people through this, I think. We have to kind of laugh at the situation to keep from going crazy.”
The Milo Bobbins character, while he may not be a great marketer, certainly has an interesting past.
Steiner began his radio career at a country music station in Mankato. After spinning country records for a while, Steiner had a thought.
“I said, ‘Hey, I can write country songs,’” he said. So he wrote one. A few months later when Steiner and his patient wife Jeanne took their annual vacation, they made their way to Nashville where Steiner pitched “Barroom Cathedral” to anyone who would listen.
A few listened … but that was about it. The best response he got, he said, was from a man who told him “Barroom Cathedral” was a good song, but it’ll never sell in the Bible belt.
So Steiner pivoted. Instead of earnest country songs, he tried his hand at humor.
This was the late 1980s, a time when the “Wheel of Fortune” game show was at its peak. Steiner, knowing the nation had a crush on letter turner Vanna White, penned a song called “Va-va-va Vanna White.”
You know I’d love to be your man-na
Just smile and say I can-na
I’m so in love with va-Vanna.”
The song actually did pretty well. Twin Cities radio stations KQRS and WCCO gave the song a few spins. Steiner was finally finding some of the success that eluded him in Nashville.
But his biggest hit was yet to come.
One weekend, while working as a deejay for a weekend reunion, Steiner noticed some of the attendees were wearing name tags fashioned out of condoms. Like a mad scientist having a “EUREKA!” moment, a light bulb flashed over his head and “Condoms for Christmas” was born.
“As the shopping days ‘til Christmas
Dwindled to a precious few
I’d made my list and checked it twice
And still I wasn’t through.
Then suddenly it hit me
As the carolers did sing,
I’d found the perfect present
For the man with everything.
I’m giving condoms for Christmas
Pretty ones, red yellow and blue.
Gifts that tuck neatly in a stocking
Safe sex for me, and for you.
It was a clever song. It was a witty song. But it wasn’t the kind of song a man with a professional job and bills to pay wanted to put his name on.
“Yeah, you don’t want to put ‘Pete Steiner’ on that,” he said. “So I came up with Milo Bobbins.”
Steiner and others had recorded the song in Dave Pengra’s basement. And when it was ready, just like he did with “Va-va-va Vanna,” he sent it off to regional radio stations, certain they rush it onto the airwaves during a time when “safe sex” was kind of a mantra for the socially conscious.
But then … crickets. No one would play it.
In a last ditch effort to get the song some traction, Steiner sent the song to Barry Hansen — better known as Dr. Demento — who compiles an annual list of the best novelty songs. And it was there that “Condoms for Christmas” got the recognition it so obviously deserved.
“In Christmas of 1992, on Dr. Dementos’s list, I was number three,” Steiner said. “Weird Al was number two, Stan Freeberg was number one.”
A couple of years later, while reading Variety magazine, Steiner noticed that all-star screenplay writer Joe Ezsterhas was looking to add some irreverent songs to his next film. Steiner sent him “Condoms for Christmas.” That led to a call from someone offering him $1,000 to use the song in the film, which would be called “Burn Hollywood Burn.”
“Milo’s really a terrible marketer,” Steiner said. “But I got a few royalty checks out of that.”
Since then, Steiner said, Milo Bobbins comes out sparingly. He’ll show up at The Coffee Hag on occasion and play a few songs from his vast catalog of humorous ditties, such as “Just Enough Money For Beer,” “Please Come Home from Baltimore,” and “The Holstein Blues” (which Steiner says gave him the melody for “COVID-19 Blues”).
These days, his creative energies are more likely to be put to his monthly column in Mankato Magazine. But as this pandemic dragged on, Steiner says people were wondering if it was time for Milo’s return.
Eventually he obliged, creating a self-produced, low-budget and precious recording of the kind of songwriting that has attracted the attention of fans far and wide.
“Wash your hands one more time, try to find one more rhyme,
What else is there to do today?
Yeah, I’m bidin’ my time, not earnin’ a dime — DANG!
RENT was due yesterday!
Wear pajamas all day, my wife says, that’s OK
There’s nowhere to show your style:
Who needs Prada or Gucci? Give me Dr. Fauci!
Seems a cure is gonna take a while.”