Category Archives: Music

Johnny Virgil’s timeline in “The Shaming Of The True”

So, I was listening to Kevin Gilbert‘s brilliant rock opera “The Shaming Of The True” for about the 500th time, and had an idea — I should write down the IRL timeline of the main character, Johnny Virgil. I figured it would be a very short blurb of text to share out to Facebook or something, but it wound up becoming  rather long and involved, so it migrated to my blog. This is purely based upon my own experiences, growing up during the same period as Kevin (his birthday is just a couple of months after mine).

Feel free to add and corrections or comments down below.
Enjoy my ramblings…

Johnny Virgil’s estimated timeline.


Assume that this tale is semi-autobiographical. So, based upon Kevin’s birthday (11-20-1966), Johnny would be in high school in the early 1980s.
Assuming this is Johnny in his early teens (high school), probably around 1981-82. Full of bravado, honing his guitar chops, and listening to some iconic artists to work on his song craft. Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, and The Who were still fairly popular at this time, but perhaps his tastes leaned a bit older or towards that songwriting style more.
The City of the Sun
This chapter in our hero’s story has him leaving his home (probably not literally Kansas, but most certainly the classic tale of mid-westerner heading west for fame and fortune). Assume he completed high school first, this would put the year at 1984 or 1985. “City of the Sun” most certainly refers to Los Angeles/Hollywood. Driving into town for the first time, gassing up at a Texaco (still a popular gas station at that time), and running into one of the many musicians who was ground up and spit out by the big machine.
It also appears that Johnny starts busking on the sidewalks, performing in some questionable bars, and starting to attract attention. Still in possession of his originality/uniqueness, but everyone who “knows better” is offering their advice on how he can “make it” to the next step.
Suit Fugue (Dance of the A&R Men)
Johnny has now been noticed by the record execs, looking to sign the next “big thing”. He has probably been working hard, playing as many gigs as possible, formed a band, etc., so probably a year or two after his arrival. Placing this in the 1987-1989 timeframe. This song sounds about right for late 1980s Hollywood / Record Labels.
After trying to stay true to his vision and style, our hero…our boy, is lured by fame and fortune, thus sacrificing his “true self” for whatever will make him a star (childhood dream/nightmare fulfilled).
I’d assume things begin moving quickly here (outside of the record release delays), getting signed to a label, recording, promoting, etc., maybe taking us right up to 1990-1991.
Image creation, music video, promotion, interviews, etc. Early 1990s, MTV was quite popular (and still played music videos).
Water Under the Bridge
Same basic timeframe here. It probably wouldn’t take long for the glitter of all of the fame and attention to start to wear thin, self-doubt seeping in…but he seems to justify it a bit here, so not quite rock bottom (yet).
The Best Laid Plans
Over the top concert production — huge cast of characters on the stage matched only by the huge cast of characters behind the scenes getting paid and taking credit. Johnny is reflecting on how his original muse has been turned into a whirling, garish circus…both onstage and off. Probably a year or two later, once the initial album / persona really took off — 1992-1993.
Certifiable #1 Smash
OK, the first album and initial push were successful in establishing the star “Johnny Virgil”, but now it is time to ramp it up for album number two. This song sounds like the record label bringing in a hit songwriter / producer to “craft” the next big thing for Johnny. I mean, check out all of the buzzwords in the description! It must be good, right?
Most of these tie it right to the 1990s.
  • The 1990s were peak “Generation x”.
  • “Mighty Morphin’ power brokers” – the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers came out about 1993.
  • Tanya Harding was a star figure skater in the early 1990s, until in January 1994 she became tabloid fodder after her involvement in the attack on fellow skater, Nancy Kerrigan. Her name was everywhere for a while after that.
  • “anti-fur” had a big push in 1994 with PETA’s nude celebrity campaign (
  • “unplugged” – MTV’s unplugged because a huge success in the early 1990s.
  • “Wonderbra” – became popular in the early 1990s.
  • Day time talk shows “The Montel Williams Show” and “Geraldo” (plus others) rose to trashy popularity in the 1990s. They probably even had an episode with the exact title used in this song – “women who hate the men that hate them back”.
  • The video description really points to Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”, but that came out in 1989. In the early 1990s, Madonna was on to her Erotica / Sex period, so maybe all of her stuff was top of mind since she was very much in the public eye. Also, Kevin worked with Patrick Leonard on Madonna’s “I’m Breathless” album, so I’m sure there were many things about his time there that left a mark (and of course Madonna pops up again later on in “Fun”).
  • “Herb Ritz” [Herb Ritts] was a popular photographer in the 1980s/1990s. His work concentrated on black and white photography and portraits, often in the style of classical Greek sculpture, which emphasized the human shape. He also produced some music videos.
  • “OJ” – OJ Simpson’s murder trial began in 1994.
  • “VR” – 1994 was very early days for Virtual Reality (
Anyway, this song is pure 1994 zeitgeist, so we’ll peg Johnny’s next smash hit for 1994.
Staring Into Nothing
Johnny is now wildly popular (hey, he even has a special beer with his name on it), selling record numbers of tickets during the summer (1995?) concert season, elaborate stage shows (performing backlit in silhouette, curtain call with a cast of characters…maybe a continuation of the “circus” from “Best Laid Plans”, etc., but even with all of this success and popularity, he is empty and heading for a crash. So, he walks away from it all…but he’s not heading straight back to his original ideals…he’s taking a detour first.
So, with tons of money and nothing much else to do, Johnny falls into the trap of excessive drug use and general debauchery. He mentions an actress working for Leo DiCaprio, whose career had just taken off in the very early 1990s. By this time 1995 in our hero’s story, Leo was pretty huge (just before Titanic fame).
Madonna comes up in the conversation again, this time concerning her flatulent single. The subtext here is that popular artists could pretty much release anything to much success and critical acclaim, but there must be a backstory to Kevin’s fascination with Madonna’s “work” in this particular area. After all, he did record a song titled “Madonna’s Fart” for his Kaviar project.
The Sheryl mentioned in this song is most surely a nod to Sheryl Crow, whose 1994 David Letterman appearance pretty much put her at the top of Kevin’s “song writer’s revenge” list.
From Here to There
There is no telling how long the cycle of “Fun” lasted (several months maybe), before this bit of introspection and longing to return home strikes our hero. Perhaps by this point, he’s burned through most of his money and is contemplating a return to stardom (if only it didn’t come with all of those pesky compromises). So, it appears Johnny is on the move now, but to where?
Ghetto of Beautiful Things
The timeline gets a bit murky now (perhaps some years after his run at music stardom), and this part of the story always puzzled me. It seems like Johnny has ditched the music industry completely, and has instead become a painter. But it also appears that he did indeed blow through all of his money, and is working a regular job painting store windows and billboards for advertisements (i.e., “Everything must go”). Perhaps also creating paintings in the park or on the sidewalk (much like his early days of busking with his guitar), but probably not for artistic vision since he mentions clients (and a specific part of their anatomy). Maybe he indeed does have some artistic works, but people and / or critics do not see the “art” as Johnny so eloquently states it in the song.
It appears he has ended up in his “Ghetto of Beautiful Things” (a dilapidated abode surrounded by his art?), perhaps located in Nowhere’s End New Jersey. There is a “road / bridge to nowhere” located in Manahawkin, New Jersey (, so maybe Johnny’s place is around here somewhere.
A Long Day’s Life
Again, a murky timeline, but the song suggests someone getting up there in years. When does someone start reflecting back on their life, their ambitious youth, the decisions they’ve made, the people they’ve pushed away, etc. and start seeking meaning and solace in the love of another? In their 40s?
So, perhaps we’re looking at 44 year old Johnny Virgil in the year 2010, really at the end of his rope as the struggling artist, tired of pushing everyone away, and seeking some redemption by the one thing he has shoved aside until now…love.
The Way Back Home
This could be more inner searching during the same time period as “A Long Day’s Life”. Perhaps in this chapter of the story, Johnny has returned to the “City of the Sun” / Los Angeles as a way to seek answers to his questions or to see if he could rekindle anything that might remain for him here. But the following lines show his realization that there is nothing left here for him:
I’m walking on pavement where old illusions fall
I’m struck by a sadness
Find a way back home…
The sage advice from the panhandler named Jesus, plots Johnny’s next destination, “You’ve all heard the answer, but you’re not listening yet. Love is the way back home. . .”.
Johnny’s Last Song
Now, we find a much older Johnny Virgil (in his 60s or 70s), probably back in his mid-western home town, probably even strumming his guitar for one last tune, and delivering some advice that he surely wished he could relay to his ambitious younger self.
If we consider Johnny’s big hits were in the mid-1990s, and go with the benchmark of 30-40 years before songs are considered classics or oldies, then maybe we end Johnny’s tale in the 2030s or 2040s.
Even though “The Shaming Of The True” isn’t completely autobiographical, there are certainly nuggets of truth about Kevin’s own life and feelings woven into the lyrics. If only he had stuck around until now to see how his own story would have unfolded.

Kevin Gilbert – 20 Years Gone

Gone 20 years today. RIP Kevin.

I first heard Kevin while listening to the Mark & Brian show on KLOS (Los Angeles) back in the early 90s (when Toy Matinee was released). Kevin and Marc Bonilla were often guests on the radio show and played various songs in the studio and during their special Christmas shows. At the time, I was more interested in Marc Bonilla’s guitar work and sought out his albums first (EE Ticket, American Matador). I did get the Toy Matinee album, but didn’t fully appreciate Kevin until 95 when Thud was released. An expertly crafted, intelligent, pop-rock album that really showcased Kevin’s genius.

It is sad to ponder the incredible music that he would have surely created in the past 20 years.