It’s A Granola Party Goin’ On

IMG_1676I don’t know how to cook anything.  
So I go ahead and do it, badly.

I didn’t even know that you could make your own granola until a few days ago, and to be honest, it would have never occurred to me that, of course, someone must make it somewhere, because, how else do we have it in stores?  Still, this is how dim I am when it comes to food, and the foods that I even like and eat often.

My relationship to the world of food is about as removed as you can get: I do not hunt, I couldn’t exactly tell you where everything I like comes from, and the stuff I eat so rarely resembles the actual thing in the wild.  Still, my relationship to food is even more removed, because I so rarely engage in the act of actually preparing it.  In many ways, food traveled in one way (in my mind): toward me, through me, and on to things I didn’t think about.  Even my time on the farm only revealed to me that milk really comes in a jar, and the steaks that used to be “Beth” out in the pasture didn’t seem to connect to the meal I was unsuccessful at preparing.

IMG_1689However, there are any number of things that will cause someone to explore the the world’s surrounding house and home, and it seems that remedying my terrible relationship with food is probably a smart move.  There is a full kitchen, and oven, and a fairly well stocked pantry in this place, and it seems silly to continue to buy into the corporate world of Big Granola.  Not only does it seem like a cost-reduction measure, but I figured that if I reduced my learning curve to include something very simple, and controlled for the number of things that could go wrong, I could slowly build up a reservoir of skills that I might need to prepare a decent Lobster Thermidor someday.

Over time.

Lots and lots of time.

 

IMG_1673I’m Serious When I Say This Is Incredibly Easy.

First, credit where credit is due: My wife found the recipe, and she has a knack for not only recipes, but the kitchen itself as a place to create meals of wonder.  However, the genius of the recipe is that it has lots of room for improvisation, and teaches you some basic skills that could warrant practice for a noob like me.

IMG_1686It takes no more than 20 minutes once the oven is preheated.  And how’s this for beginner: the stove doesn’t even go over 340, and you don’t use that many dishes when preparing.  There’s basically one ingredient (oats), and five staples that a well stocked kitchen will already have.  Obviously, if you know what you’re doing, trade out the stuff you would rather use for a different flavor profile.

IMG_1672First, put into a saucepan 1/4 Cup each of Olive Oil, Peanut Butter & Maple Syrup.  “Liquify” these on medium or so, and toss into a bowl 3 Cups of oats, and 2 tablespoons of sugar.  When the saucepan is ready, pour them together and get to mixing.    You’ll want the liquid to coat the oats completely.  Then, spread the mixture out on a tray, and toss it in the oven for 10 minutes.  “Toss” your granola, then put it in for another 15.  You can cook it longer until it is browned to your preference.IMG_1690-ANIMATION

 

No, Really.  That’s it.  

I was sort of baffled at how easy it really was, and it even after taste-testing it to make sure that it wasn’t going to be gross, I had trouble rationalizing that it was as good tasting as anything store bought.
Obviously, you can increase / decrease the “sweeteners” to get a different flavor profile, and toss in any kind of legume of your desire to add to the composition.  I usually toss in chocolate chips once it has cooled, and then store all of it in an airtight tupperware container.

IMG_1726As a student I became dependent on Granola, and would keep bags of stuff from the bulk section around my house to I could have something that I liked, and that was filling.  Any number of things can be added: dried fruits, yogurt, M&Ms, etc., and it makes a good base for dessert, breakfast, snacks, or whatever.  It is so useful to have fresh Granola around the house that I really can’t imagine going back, even after a couple days.

 

IMG_1727So, Is It Worth Making My Own Granola?

Yes.  I think so.  Not only do I feel like I made something that I want to eat (a big improvement for me), I also feel like I learned a few lessons that I can take with me, which was the whole point:

1.) Cooking Times Are A Myth.  I have yet to find any recipe that actually lists a time that was related to how long it takes to cook, and my suspicion is that I will never find one, even in the same house, with the same oven, on the same day, cooked by the same person.  There is a certain amount of variability in time that cannot be accounted for, and because of this, all I can really do is to trust that it probably needs another five minutes, and do poke at it too much while I’m waiting.

IMG_17292.) You Can Get Pretty Close To What You’re Looking For With Practice.  Sure, I probably won’t be able to make a McDonald’s-tasting hamburger any time soon, but things like sweetness & composition can be adjusted / changed / improved with practice.  The second batch had a slightly more consistent flavor, and I added more syrup, which sweetened up the batch a fair amount, to my liking.  Adding a few pumpkin seed, crushed almonds & dried cranberries really brought it into the realm I was used to from the store bought brand with which I was familiar.  What I make is now the best breakfast cereal I’ve ever had.  I can’t really remember the taste of the brand I ate the most of in College, because this seems close enough for me to not have to strain myself too hard to remember.

Near-Complete “Over The Edge” now resides at archive.org

Don-joyceAlmost 35 Years Of Radio Broadcasts by the late Don Joyce.  

Get Ready.  It’ll Take You A Little While To Listen Through This.  

This isn’t really news to fans and listeners of the show.  Even before it was clear that Over The Edge might be in some kind of danger, word had gotten out that Negativland was working on this project, in association with archive.org.   And what a perfect match, really?  Over The Edge is, in every sense, is a sprawling audio soundscape that builds in scope and momentum when viewed in larger and larger chunks.  The show rewarded long term listening, and took on an impressive volume when thought of over months, years, and then decades, even.  It was very much the creative ‘Life Work’ of DJ – Don Joyce to friends and family.

To sit, face to face with almost 1000 broadcasts by this radio enthusiast evokes the kind of awe that a listener can have when they sit down to listen to even one of Don’s shows.

And this was certainly the relationship a listener could have if they stumbled across the program late at night in the Berkley area.  Competing voices all speaking at once, cutting back and forth, with a – Booper?  What’s that? – punctuating a rare Bob Dylan track.  That voice – The Weatherman?  Who? – reads out the phone number.  Then Don – feigning any number of characters, most recently Izzy Izn’t – would come on.

“You’re listening to Over The Edge.  Tonight: Universe.”  And a panoply of sounds would assault your senses, taking you on a journey no other show even considered pursuing.

young-donWhile Over The Edge goes back to 1981 – and there are recordings of parts of shows from that era – what is left unsaid in a project like this is the career in radio that Don had already enjoyed for almost 20 years before, much of it undocumented.  As seen in this photo from the archives of RISD (1966), Don was once a young man, as it turns out, but his passion for radio went back to the beginning.

Rumor has it that he could edit commercials on tape better than nearly anyone else who ever worked with him, and he took that skill with him to KPFA, where he claimed to do a “normal music show” as a volunteer, most likely offering his tape editing skills in the Production room.   (And, knowing Don’s taste, it is hard to imagine that even a late ’70’s Don would skew anything toward “normal” when it come to a music show.)  It is sad, then, to think that the years where he build up his career, his attitude, his persona, and – dare I say – his creative outlook, are not available in the same way that OTE is.  Access to that kind of archive would give us the kind of perspective on this project that we can only surmise.

But even in measuring it’s deficiencies, what a body of work it is, to be sure.  It is very clear, from the 6 July 1981 show that starts out the collection, that something crystalized for Don when Negativland came into the KPFA studio, like a post-modern traveling vaudeville show, with instruments and home-brewed gear, tape loops and other oddities which were all a part of their stage show.  As Don faded DOWN the LP (that was the source almost every other DJ in the world used), and faded UP these sound sculptors who each had their own collection of audio devices, Don realized that the studio is an instrument as much as anything else these artists around him were using.

booper-toplargeSteeped in collage and dada throughout his upbringing, Don saw an entire future ahead of him where the radio show was the painting, and drips and drabs of audio that he and his guests would paint with could be doled out – over years, if possible – to create a dadaist soundscape that stretched on in a narcotic sort of audio experience over a long period of time.  A cut-and-paste-drone was what Over The Edge specialized in during the early ’80’s, dubbed “culture jamming” in ’84 so Don could align his work with the other kindred spirits who were working in Billboard defacing or with the Church of the SubGenius.

The shift in the style of radio Don created was immediate and dramatic.  While music weaves its way into Don’s show throughout the entire 30+ year run, it is now just another audio source – to be manipulated and chopped up like anything else, use to serve the larger function of The Mix, which could contain any number of audio sources as it built its layered sound.  The Mix, an elusive state of audio presentation where the narrative of the listening experience is augmented through the addition, subtraction, re-mixing, or manipulation of sound sources to accentuate the other audio sources in an almost Musique concrète sort of form.  Sometimes, like in Jazz, you had to go against the beat, and mix against The Mix.  Other times, a violation was forbidden.  Don tried every sort of variation over the run of OTE in an effort to find out how far you could take The Mix, chasing themes and ideas over three our chunks, week after week.  Hundreds of hours of shows, all pursuing hundreds of ways this aesthetic could be presented, all toying with the idea that it still had to somehow present as radio, that it couldn’t just be be completely impenetrable.

At least, not for very long, anyway.

Take it all in.  No matter where you start, no matter how you try to consume it, this is more than you can fathom all at once.  34 years of radio.  Week after week.  Three to five hours at a time.  And now, gone.  Nothing new.

It adds up.  How can this be?

 

IMG_9680-ANIMATIONThis Is Where It Gets Weepy: My Own Personal Relationship With Over The Edge.

On the last morning of my camping-trip bachelor party, I was weeping for Don Joyce at a campfire in the early morning.  I had been drinking hard for a few days in a row by then, at this lovely riverside campsite.  I had left my house having just listened to the “There Is No Don” before I left for the woods, where I would be without technology or phones until Monday morning.  And so, with little sleep and very hungover, I poked a fire and cried, nursing a cup of cold coffee, trying to imagine a future without Over The Edge.

It seemed too big.  Too Much.  Like there just wasn’t a way that I could process it all without it feeling overwhelming.  The show has been so much a part of my life since the mid ’90’s – when I discovered it – that it not only nudged me in the direction of radio myself in 1998, but became something that I could check in with, every week, to either help put me to sleep, or give me something to listen to through insomnia and drunken stupors.  For almost 20 years I’d been listening, as a fan, collecting the CD releases, downloading the shows when the started to get traded online.  I was, by no means, a hardcore fan.  I mostly listened to podcasts and digital recordings after 2004.  I don’t even live in the area that it was broadcast, so I didn’t have a lot of friends who also tuned in, and it was hard to meet people who also did, even after the Inter-Web-A-Tron was a daily reality.  I just tuned in when I could, and enjoyed the strangeness of a three to five hour mix.

IMG_1731To this day I have the experience of hearing a piece of audio in a completely different context, and I finally realize where Don got a sample that he had been playing for years and years on OTE.  The show had become such an important part of who I was, that I had to start explaining Over The Edge to people when I was describing my own program.  As recently as June of this year I was writing another journal entry along the lines of, “Why aren’t people talking about Over The Edge as often as they should?”, a line of thinking that I very much regret given the proximity to his death a month later.

I’ve started and stopped several pieces and essays about Don, because I do want to eulogize him in some capacity, but really, how can I effectively encompass his influence on me without just sounding like I’m going through the motions?  Over The Edge was one of the first things I searched for when I first had access to the Internet in 1994, having read about it in the liner notes to my copy of the Escape From Noise LP I’d picked up.  Negativland quickly became my favorite band, but more pointedly, Don’s radio show – a part of and reflection of the ideas of Negativland – of which I was the real fan.

A cursory listen to my style of radio program and the influence is obvious, and I sample (and re-sample) OTE with a fair consistency, if not in exact audio samples, then in the ideas.  I have a more Wavy Gravy / style approach, for sure, but radio is as much mix tape as it is performance.  Nonetheless, what I’m sad about is the opportunity to hear a new episode, to hear Don get cranky about something, to hear him spar with Suicide Man, to listen to a new bumper that Don’s incorporating into the larger story, and – of course – a Mix that does something I’ve never heard before.

And I’ve heard the last of the new ones.

So it’s a good thing there are hundreds of old ones to check out, now, for sure.

 

Here’s An Excerpt From My Journal, Written July 27th In The Notes Photographed Above.

“For my entire adult light, Don Joyce has been a voice in my head.  There were two influences on my interest in radio: Pump Up The Volume and Over The Edge.  The more like OTE I could get my own radio show the better I thought it was, and only occasionally have I produced something I thought was OTE worthy.  Once one of Don’s shows was broadcast, I would tear through the recording to hear what he’d done this time.  His aesthetic so influenced me that I started saying “Good Hello” in all my correspondence, and would pinch his jokes at bars and late at night on the air.  I only ever saw him once, in Portland for an It’s All In Your Head show in 2006.  I was too nervous to approach him, but I sat as close as I could and watched his every move, even though there was little to see from the audience.  Most were there to see Negativland.  I was there for him.

“Over 20 years I so fully integrated him into my life that I actually can’t believe he is gone.  Like The Ramones & Johnny Cash, I assumed he would be on Thursday Nights until the end of time.  I had no idea he was even old, let alone at any risk of passing, even though I’d seen pictures of him for most of my life, too.  People Like Us tipped me off.  I had missed the July 17th OTE, had it on my phone but was saving it for when I had a weekend afternoon, where I could put it on and listen.  But her Friday show was on, and she suggested Don was not well.  I registered the thought, but it didn’t sound serious.  I imagined that he had a cold or something, and she was worried.

“I woke up at 4 AM Thursday morning, 23 July.  Out of curiosity I checked to see if I could find any news about the show that night, that maybe it would be an extra-long Puzzling Evidence, and that he might be on the week after.  But I couldn’t find anything obvious with the usual searches.  Then, I found a cryptic reference to his death on Wikipedia, but the user (named: Jerkey) who had made the edit seemed unreliable.  I posted a general query among my friends, hoping for more reliable news that was more upbeat.  But after almost five hours of wondering, around 9:17 AM an official statement from the band came out.  Don had, indeed, passed.  I started crying at my desk at work, and immediately put on the OTE from the 17th.

“Don Joyce was a very unique voice in the world of radio.  His friends & colleagues in Negativland admitted that even in the 30+ years of knowing him, they knew little of his life outside of the art he produced and the work he did with them, to which he seemed 100% dedicated.  His work spanned more than the career on the air.  Don made elaborate paper collages, wrote long and clever essays about culture using his own brand of cut-and-paste wordplay, created magnificent razor tape edits of precise and hilarious quality, encouraged artists that participated in circuit bending and collage by featuring them prominently on his program, and created a cast of fleshed-out characters, each with their own backstories and personalities, all of which played out multi-part dramas – on his program – often with him voicing all of them, both live and on tape.  And, occasionally, when time would allow for it, he would participate in Negativland, for almost until he stopped touring with them in 2010, when he stopped only because he wanted to focus all of his energies on the radio program.

“His dedication to art – to chasing this creative dragon to the bitter end and finding where it might take him if he would just let the tape play – became an inspiration that I cannot fully process, and may never be able to.  You can tell a Don Joyce Mix when you hear one.  You know his transitions and his work, like a tape-splice fingerprint.  I can only say that, in absence of him making new ones, all other mixes – especially my own – will only be a sad reflection of something he just did 100% better.”

 

So, Where In The Hell Should I Even Start, Then? 

Good question.  It’s nearly impossible to bite off a chunk of audio like this without some kind of guidance, and the knowledge up front that you can’t possibly listen to it all.  But, you can certainly try.  If I’m serious about recommending that you should devote even three hours to this program (the average length of a “short” show), then I should at least be able to make some recommendations, if not specifically, then at least generally.  Yes, the beauty of this project is the 941 options you have when you sit down to try and listen to a little Over The Edge.

The problem with recommending Over The Edge is that what made the show great was the spontaneous nature of the program.  Don incorporated what he called Receptacle Programming, where he would Mix in callers, who would each offer audio in their own forms.  (Don made a habit of reminding listeners, “Don’t say Hello.”)  Callers could be talkers (Suicide Man usually wanted to wax poetic) or sending their own audio via the phone, giving OTE a wide range of sounds and styles.  Shows would veer in new directions unexpectedly, and when The Mix was really good, the callers would start to fall into a rhythm, too.  But remembering which one had good callers in next to impossible, as Don refused to do more than the barest archiving when it came to his shows.

And, while true that Don pursued impressive and wonderful themes that ran for long periods of time, it was often the in-between shows that were unexpected that were the most impressive, where Don would take the bits left over from the week previous and nudge his own mixing toward a new and different theme.  The entire nature of these shows is that they go largely unnoticed, lost to their supposed un-remarkableness.  These qualities – so much a part of the show as anything else – are the less tangible things that I can recommend.  Keep in mind that listening to Over The Edge is a dreamy, psychedelic experience by design.  It’s going to sounds spacey no matter what, because that is the point.

Which all of that in mind, here are 10 places to start, to see if you even like what Don does in the first place.  I’ve provided links for the most part, but keep in mind that If you enjoy what you hear, then keep on digging.  The “Search This Collection” link over here not only allows you to come up with your own random criteria for listening to Over The Edge – a method we highly recommend – but also allows you to track down new stuff as you find out more about the program.

All Art Radio (1988 – 2011): A favorite subject of Don’s was Art, and any chance he could get his hands on audio regarding the subject, Don would (and could) go on for hours.  The only subject to dominate more of Over The Edge‘s broadcast episodes is that of UFO’s, but Don approaches the subject of art with a sort of fervor that few others could match, so much so that his persona – Crosley Bendix, Cultural Reviewer and Director of Stylistic Premonitions for the Universal Media Netweb – took over a number of shows, where he would discuss this or that arcane aspect of art that is usually not seen as “art,” so to speak.  Over The Edge was Don’s art project, and he was so much a student of the world of art that it was a subject he loved to return to.

Another UFO (1988 – 2013): Don was a huge fan of Art Bell and he work on Coast To Coast, but more importantly, the world of UFOlogy was a pastime of the everyman, something that sophisticates gave no attention to.  This dream-like game of telephone that abductees would participate in – and then relate on the air for the entire world to hear – was ample fodder for Don’s critical re-mix skills.  It is hard to say if Don is really a believer, or if he thinks it is interesting to play the part of a believer, but he approached the subject of UFOs and collage time and again, and often for his longer, five-hour shows, and in some ways, attracted his own Bell-like fans due to his dedication to the subject.

Moonrock Footnotes (1997 – 2001): The closest thing to a “serial” Don created for Over The Edge, “Moonrock Footnotes” was a series of broadcasts by Wang Tool, for the residents of the mining colony on the moon, which then becomes a “tool” in the revolt against the company that owns the mining colony.  The story is a little hard to follow, and is sort of beside the point in that we’re only hearing the broadcasts surrounding the narrative, anyway.  Still, this story somehow ties into the other ongoing story involving C. Elliot Friday, and which was the subject of one of their CD releases.  If you like convoluted, political sci-fi “story” oriented broadcasts, this is the place to start.

Christianity Is Stupid (1991) / It’s All In Your Head (2002 – 2005) / Your Brain Is God (2011 – 2012): Don was a vocal atheist, and felt that the preponderance of religious radio (and the lack of the opposing viewpoint) was a serious problem in our culture.  He came back to the subject of religion as something to lampoon over and over again.  The earliest broadcast – “Christianity Is Stupid” – is a three-hour talk show that debates religious and does not do any collage work, and purports to be the new format of the program the entire time.  “It’s All In Your Head” / “Your Brain Is God” are series dedicated to audio juxtaposition of religious radio mixed with the very simple notion that all religion is, in fact, all in your head, and is not based on any fact.  For those who are not intellectually-minded, these can be difficult shows to listen to, but were absolutely a part of Don and his worldview, and are a window into who he was.

How Radio Was Done (2006 – 2009): This sprawling, 106 part series covers the story of radio from its inception in the late 1800s, and then moves forward, year by year, to offer samples of radio from those periods in time.  This is the point where Don began to really want to push the long-form idea of Over The Edge, and this series was an effort to top another long-running series that took up almost a year and a half prior to this.  Where different series would be returned to over the 30 year run of Over The Edge, to run with one theme for three solid years was an impressive feat at the time, and it was exciting to listen to these shows as they were coming out.

The Universe (2013 – ): Don’s final series was, as far as any of us fans were concerned, going to be the last series he ever did, but we envisioned it lasting for a decade or so, to make the point that you could do something like that.  However, he only got to episode 91, with a number of tangents and other thoughts mixed in throughout those last couple years.  These shows are very open, with lots of music – uncut or edited – played with long passages about space.  Very atmospheric, and a great end-run for his program, no matter how you look at it.

What’s About The 60’s? (2013 – 2014): The subject of “The ’60’s” as a whole, monolithic entity, came up often on Over The Edge, and this series-within-a-series was not only emblematic of the kind of regular digressions his show would take, but it was the subject that seemed to be the most informative on his personality and perspective.  Don was always very much of “now,” and his program always pushed forward, but it was easy enough to reflect on “The ’60’s,” only because it was influential, and not just on him.

The All Nordine Show (2001): If you like Ken Nordine, and his own radio experimentalism of word jazz, then imagine Don Joyce remixing for three hours Ken Nordine broadcasts and recordings.  It is a pleasure, boggles the mind, and evokes the William S. Burroughs dictum of cut-n-paste in the most specific and demonstrable way possible.  I love this show.

Any Episode w/ The Weatherman.  The Weatherman is a character in and of himself, and as Negativland continued in the future, he (unfortunately) retreated more and more to a world of agoraphobia and cleanliness.  However, when he is on the show, his strangeness and the recordings he brought to the group – including his very distinctive voice that lights up any reading of dry text – is a part of the overall aesthetic of Over The Edge that graced shows spanning the entire run of the program.

Any “Dick” Episodes: Goodbody / Vaughn / Pastor.  Richard Lyons is not only another oddball that Negativland picked up in their early years, but his own work as a prankster is something that has run hand-in-hand with Negativland’s – and Don’s – career.  More importantly, Richard could maintain a character for hours at a time, making him a good person to bring into the studio for live radio.  Richard collected a number of – ahem – Dicks that he would bring to the show, pretending to be a church Pastor, a used car dealer, and most dramatically, a radio DJ that, “invented ’70’s nostalgia.”  Dick episodes are heavy on broadcast mistakes, behind-the-scenes accidents getting on-the-air, and call-in contests that often go horribly horribly wrong, all to comic effect.

 

Concluding

Here’s a few further comments while I’m winding down:

For the sake of your sanity, chronological seems the wrong way to go about this bounty, even if that is the one I’ve used to far.  The first three episodes are “exceptions,” and incomplete in one way or another.  The first complete show in the archive – “Advertising Secrets” from 1983 – gives you a sense of what OTE will eventually become, and while the pieces are present, everything sounds like it might later, it is a little looser, and the form isn’t quite what it would become.

However, it is hard to recommend just dipping in here and there.  When you start to skip around you feel like you missed something, something that you couldn’t actually retrieve with a chronological re-listen anyway.  Not only is the archive itself incomplete, but the way the show was meant to be heard was to be stumbled up while tuning the dial.  It wasn’t designed to “start from the beginning.”

On top of that, most of the early shows were recorded on tape, using humans to push “record” and “stop” when the show was over.  Bits and pieces are missing here and there, and it wasn’t until quite a while into the series that it was being adequately archived.  It is this incompleteness that is the ultimate sadness, and the renewable joy that is at the heart of this archive.  You will never hear it all, never ever ever, but you can try and chase down the same sounds that Don was if you would like to try, and for a while, you’ll get a sense of what it was like to tune in, Thurday at midnight, and into the wee hours of the morning, hearing something you would never hear anywhere else.

Copyright Begins A Slow Move In An Obvious Direction

happy-birthday-to-us-yaayAnd I Didn’t Get You Anything.
But Really: You Should Have Already.

I never thought I would live to see this day.  The insane (and, frankly, terrifying) thorny network of crufted together copyright laws that that have developed since 1909 has made all common sense go out the window when people looked at the claim made by Warner/Chappell Music Publishing when it came to this 19th Century song.

Stories of the costs people used to have to shell out to include 9 seconds of this not-very-good-song in a documentary are legendary, and the oft-litigious company was leaning heavily on a 1935 renewal of the copyright that was the lynchpin in their argument that they could continue to collect from people wanting to include the song in their art as an accurate reflection of the world around us.

But rather than let reality speak to the common sense when it came to enforcing copyright, this song has became an symbol symbol for everything possible and everything wrong with the practice of copyright enforcement in the music industry.  With the power that “Happy Birthday” wielded in the way Warner did, it sent a message to copyright holders that the songs in their rosters were “revenue streams” that should be exploited at every opportunity, rather than a way to protect the artist from outright theft when it came to song writing.  While some arcane story existed about two old ladies that owned “Happy Birthday,” the truth has been that Warner has collected that money for decades, and has forced all manner of artist to compromise on the use of something that spontaneously breaks out at parties, without forethought.

And, finally, it has been dethroned.

 

05HAPPYBIRTHDAY3-blog427Print Media (Maybe) Saves The Day

Far be it for irony to play a role in something that was already a pretty entertaining stage play acted out in the courtrooom, the key piece of evidence in this case happened to be a very old “songbook” that was published in 1935.  In this digital age of .mp3s and free WiFi everywhere, it is nice to know that a physical book was the item that helped make the case, but in a typical turn of events, Sound Opinions reported that the book in question was reviewed using .pdfs, so we’re not quite calling this one a triumph for old media, either.  Still, this tid-bit is sort of at the center of the real issue: old media law dictating the new media landscape.

The ins and outs of the trial seem a little insane, and the history of this song has been documented again and again.  In much the same way that Capone was jailed for tax evasion rather than the real crimes he was guilty of, Warner had been committing worse atrocities with the way they were renewing this copyright, allowing them to insist on millions in payments from people who wanted to use the song in their film / radio program / digital media creation / etc.  However, it was finally revealed in court that the 1935 copyright was invalid at the time it was originally filed.

“Happy Birthday” had, consequently, slipped into the public domain before 1935, and could not be renewed, legally.  This invalidated Warner’s enforcement ever since, not only putting 80 years worth of money into their bank account that they shouldn’t have had in the first place, but creating a terrible example of how a company can throw around their weight to “protect” a copyright when there may not even be one to begin with.  Publishers that get into the habit of being litigious when it comes to infringement need only look to Warner as an example of not only what, but how to enforce a copyright through a media smear campaign.  Now that “Happy Birthday” is back in the Public Domain, hopefully we can take another step toward rehabilitating the rest of the Music Industy’s relationship to copyright.

 

americangreetings_birthday_catsBut What’s The Big Deal?  “Happy Birthday” Blows.

This isn’t just good for people who want to feel better about singing the song without compensating the copyright holder, or for a group of cats in birthday hats.  It’s a good move for art and creativity on the whole.  “Copyright” is a complicated legal world unto itself, and while there are absolutely good uses for it, on the whole copyright is used to collect money when another artist wants to use a work that is copywritten as part of another creative work.

(For example: My movie wants to use a song in it, and the song is copywritten.  I pay the copywrite holder, and I can now use the song in my film, as I have compensated the artist.  This scales down to sampling in music, and up to, “let’s show part of this other movie in this movie.”)

But the amounts charged for “cleared” copywritten material has alway been nebulous, and there are no real enforced rules or guidelines, except those established by the copywrite holder.  How much a work can cost for use can fluctuate dramatically from work to work, and artist to artist.  No one has ever paid to use a song I wrote in a film, for example, but “Happy Birthday” could run up to $5,000 per use, if not more.

Beyonce, most likely, is somewhere in the middle.

 

USA Constitution Parchment
USA Constitution Parchment

Let’s Talk About Old And Irrelevant Paper Documents, While We’re Discussing Shitty Songbooks, Too

The larger issue of copyright has to do with the law itself.  US Copyright law is complicated enough, but the core idea has not changed much, even since colonial times:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”  (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of The United States Constitution.)

However, our current copyright law was drafted in 1976, with revisions in the years since through to 2014.  The 1976 law itself a law that was revising – and not by much – the law that had been in effect since 1909.  Consider the cultural changes that have occurred since then, with a law we keep amending each time something comes up.  These were written before The Internet, before Compact Discs, before digital file storage systems or Open Architecture.  In someways it was written before mix tapes and podcasts, let along all the forms of media that are currently popular in our culture.  They are certainly pre-blog and Facebook.  The sharing culture of the Internet – something considered de facto and a part of the world as we know it – is something that is antithetical to the idea of copyright law.

Consider the copyright lawsuits that have cropped up in the last couple decades.  In the ’90’s, there seemed to be any number of cases regarding the way Hip Hop artists were being sued over and over again for using sampling, something that has slowed down tremendously in the modern world.  More samples overall are cleared, these days many samples are used for free because it means free advertising for the original work, and culturally everyone agrees that sampling is not the problem it was seen in the year 2000.  It should be noted that litigators are now looking toward Robin Thicke / Marvin Gaye style rip-offs, or in other cases, the Spirit / Led Zeppelin controversy.  But sampling lawsuits are a much rarer breed these days, with the last big one in 2008.

If copyright law was written now, it would include sampling as a part of songwriting, something that is not currently a part of the 1976 Copyright law.  (Updates to it account for sampling as something that can be cleared with the copyright holder, but rather than using the common sense approach that is is a part of the form of composition, the law has it written in as an exception that needs to be handled case by case.)  This is just one example of the ways that copyright law doesn’t even aknowledge the digital world we live in, or the reality of people wanting to wish each other a “Happy Birthday” in the form of a convenient (and culturally well-known) song.

Even if the song is awful.

 

post-28947-let-me-explain-no-there-is-too-gxhB“Lemme ‘splain.  No, There is too much.  Lemme sum up.”

In meme terms, there isn’t a cute sentence I can slap on a .gif that can really get to the heart of the issue – for any side of it – that we can use to propagate a sensible copyright strategy that could stand up to scrutiny and 4Chan. But as things stand now, writing and art seem somewhat stymied by copyright, especially in a post-modern, digitally literate culture that are used to bite-sized YouTube snippets, paragraphs copies out of eBooks, and the creative re-arrangement of images and texts – of Star Wars & Dr. Who – that even Disney & Marvel are struggling with ideas of ownership when it just makes sense that Spiderman would show up in a goddamn Avengers movie, RIGHT?  The idea that culture has costs is occasionally negotiated in stores and at the cinema, but at home entertainment is consumed in parallel, for free, and re-contextualized for discussion on Tumblr & Twitter later on.

The culture attitudes toward copywritten material has already dictated that they want it to be free.  But negotiating the way this plays out in law would be like trying to, for example, legalize a drug due to public opinion.

In a world where entertainment and art are largely free in this sense, the only time money should come into play is if a copyright violation has actually occurred in a way that upsets the value of the work as a monetize-able entity produced by the original artist, but as sharing and reuse become creative works in and of themselves, where to draw that line becomes harder to define, and copyright law that doesn’t understand the nuance of a digital art work is not going to understand the difference between one .tiff and another.

An outmoded vision of copyright – like the vision Warner had for “Happy Birthday” – does not reflect the way art and writing occur in a creatively fertile world.  No, this does not mean that I am going to take a recording of Frank Sinatra and try to sell it as my own because there is no law and I am an anarchist, though there are shades of that project that could be decontextualized as an art piece that may look suspiciously like me trying to sell Frank Sinatra’s music as my own.  But that question should be one in the audiences mind, to consider the work and its attempt to make a statement that is unique and important.  In the end, shouldn’t the art have to defend itself, rather than a legal bully coming in to say that something y is too close to something x, and therefore shouldn’t have financial merit?

To “sum up” Crosley Bendix, a protection that I would like to make sure the copyright holder continues to enforce is the outright theft of a recording, to be sold as something purporting to be owned by another artist.  But if I want to make a Girl Talk style mash-up of a Sinatra and Crosby song, with some programmed drum parts, and then use it in a YouTube video that I share with my readers, then there needs to be some wiggle room in the copyright law to see that as a unique work that does not infringe, but creates, and expands the world of art.  Let my ability as a mash-up artist be what is on trial, and not some archaic law.

 

And, And…

And, while I’m at it: really, “Happy Birthday” is an abomination.  The tune sucks, the lyrics are dumb, and the rote reccitation of the song in groups is not only eerie, but depressing.

Please, take a page from me, and ask your friends to sing “Sailor Man” by Turbonegro to you instead.  It is not only a far superior song, but try explaining to someone why a group of people just sang a very strange homoerotic punk song to a bewildered friend of yours in public.

It will make a good story, and everyone wins.

A Bird Metaphor, Improvised

15.) Relaxing With Lee * Buddy Rich / Charlie Parker / Curley Russell / Dizzy Gillespie / Thelonious Monk * Bird: Complete Charlie Parker

Bird_The_Complete_Charlie_Parker_on_VerveAs we get comfortable with the details of Lee de Forest’s life, we continue to explore other realms new to this author’s ear. One project on the shelf in my office has been learning jazz, something I chip away at as the years go on, but feel like I make such minor progress when I assess it each time. The first thing that was really hard to wrap my head around was to realize that all these great jazz dudes all played with each other. I mean, I got that they all crossed paths, and that they might even play the same gig. But when it clicked that no, really, they all played with each other – in each other’s groups – and they each had their own groups, as well. I’ve given up long ago trying to draft a family tree, and instead try to focus on absorbing the songs. I still marvel at tracks like this, when you have five highly skilled performers all grooving to the same scene and were co-stars in each other’s movie about incredible artists.

Jazz really started to open up for me in big way when I heard bebop.

Charlie Parker was, in a lot of ways, the father of bebop, but his own demons and faults were his inevitable downfall. Bebop was a new permutation that was seen by the old fashioned jazz cats as an upraised middle finger to the sanctity of form, a sort of – ahem – flipping the bird.

Charlie didn’t give a fuck. He blazed his own trail, fueled by drugs and determination, and mastered his craft at a young age. Bird recorded with some of the greatest artists bebop, but spent most of those years hooked on smack, with occasional bouts of alcoholism. Parker’s crime was, of course, timing; because of the Musician’s Union recording ban between 1942 & 1944, Bird’s initial performances were never recorded. When he started to make a name for himself, the previous generation found him to be over the top, subverting jazz in a way that the moldy figs would never understand.

As time went on his reputation and virtuosity spoke volumes about who was right or wrong. No matter where Charlie found himself, trouble followed, and over the 18 years of his formal career, he drove his body to death, which finally gave up one night in 1955, on the cusp of Rock & Roll beginning to take hold of the country. It was clear that his boozy records were much worse than his heroine laced tracks, but most of that 18 years was spent trying to hold himself together long enough to produce some of the greatest music ever recorded.

The story of Parker differs in that his is a cautionary tale, a nerdy pioneer who flew too close to the sun. Bird was well know for his collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, but dig: he worked with Miles Davis, in addition to becoming the supreme icon of the beat generation, who managed to combine base passions and desires with unparalleled intellectual curiosity, and set a template for what “cool” was for the rest of the 20th Century. His relentless pursuit of the chromatic scale was not only an ultra-hip means of expressing his own identity at a time when that was rarely possible for any artists, and more pointedly, any well-dressed black man in post-WWII America. Like most mavericks, his interest in his ideas isolated him from like-minded folks, and much of his life was spent wrestling with his music and his chemical interests. What was left of him when he passed could be described in many ways, but I like to imagine it was spontaneous human combusion; his work consumed him.

Suburban Signals & Rock ‘n’ Roll Curios

07.) Morse Code * Don Woody * MCA Rockabillies

don woodyDon Woody is not anyone about which you should necessarily know, and even his place in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame is more as a footnote than as a true heavy hitter in the story Rock & Roll. But his song “Morse Code” is not only entirely relevant to the conversation at hand, but is a good example of how many lesser known figures are also movers and shakers behind the scenes. Don was a support act for Red Foley, and Brenda Lee recorded a version of one of this tunes. Don’s backing band was none other than the Slewfoot Five, known for working with country legend Grady Martin (who popularized “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” among other things). But outside of his six or so songs released on Decca & Arco Records as cheap 45s, Don Woody’s career never broke into the national consciousness, and even in these MCA Rockabillies collections, he’s still more footnote than star.

People like this are often forgotten entirely if it weren’t for hardcore fans preserving music for future generations, and this series on Norton Records (picking up where Big Tone Records left off) deals with those forgotten gems and lost treasures that are not talked about much by modern fans. Music, like mythology, is dependent on the stories the culture is telling at any given moment, and while Don Woody’s tale – if there was ever much of one to tell – probably mirrors that of 100s of has-been artists who have put their hair up with pomade and tried to write a love song or two. The big difference here is that Don’s music, like all the artists featured on the MCA Rockabillies series, is as good, if not better, than anything that qualifies as well known from the same era.

A travesty? Maybe. If we knew enough about Don we could speculate more about what might have led to this minor god never gaining a reputation to make that of Hercules. Don’s career flamed out before the ’60’s really began, and maybe it was better that he took a shot and retreated to a simple down-home life, rather than become front page news when there’s nothing much worth reporting. His is certainly a more common story, and one that everyone can relate to to better than that of Carl Perkins, or Johnny Cash.

Don fell in love. Don wrote some songs about it. He made a small name for himself, and then went home to BE in love, on his own terms, and not just for his own sake.

How many of us can say that?

San Francisco’s First & Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Band

09.) Hot Wire My Heart * Crime * Once Upon A Time Vol. 2: USA 1976

Crime07The B-Side to Crime’s “Hot Wire My Heart” is “Baby You’re So Repulsive.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

1975 was on the cusp of punk’s big debut, where a sea of rock bands that were stewing in the proto-punk beginnings were coming to a head in the big explosions happening in the UK, LA & New York, when Punk, capital P, legendarily “started.” But to say even that is a pretension that ignores the very, very obvious: it wasn’t in a vacuum. It wasn’t like there were no rock bands before Television first took the stage. The stage was there already, and other bands in the years between had climbed on it before them. The world was stewing in weridness that was as perverse as it was diverse: The Flaming Groovies, MX-80 Sound, Debris, Simply Saucer, The Gizmos, Zolar-X, The Memphis Goons, The Count Five, The Seeds. The list goes on and on. And during those in-between years, guys were growing up in the suburbs who were learning to play from copying Ventures records, filtering The New York Dolls through their own peculiar perspective. Those very guys turned into something that more or less approximates San Francisco’s First & Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Band, Crime.

Their story is as improbable as it is absolutely fascinating. The members of Crime all met hanging out at bars in San Francisco, all united by this strange mix of glam rock tastes that quickly led to photo shoots before they even had a name. After getting into a rigorous three times a week practice ethic, they burst into a studio one day and recorded a handful of tracks in front of a befuddled hippy engineer who was told outright he was cutting “the first west coast punk record.” (This same engineer stormed off after the band told him they wanted to record it live, without mixing anything.) Those tracks would make up their first two 7″s, which they self-released at a time when very few bands imagined such a thing was possible. Their records always sold poorly, in spite of the fact that the band thought it would be clever to market material as “punk” to jump on a trend that was up and coming, despite the fact that they saw it as a fad with no real substance. It was only when Crime decided to start playing for audiences that they dropped the punk label and insisted on being called the first and only Rock ‘n’ Roll band from San Francisco (at the time, a pointed dig at the way Jefferson Airplane used to promote themselves).

Their debut performance for an audience was on Halloween, 1976. It was a “GayPolitical fundraiser” (their words), where they played to movers and shakers in the activist community, and for a few friends that came with the band. Their willingness to play in unusual venues became as much a staple of their shows, as did the S&M Police Uniforms they wore on stage: a Tuesday night at a gay club on Market, San Quentin Prison (dressed in guard uniforms), and occasionally at the Mabuhay Gardens to befuddled audiences who never seemed impressed. When no where else would give them a gig, they rented their own venues and financed the shows themselves, DIY before there was even a name for it.

Their flyers featured war criminals and serial killers (including Hitler), all designed to send a very specific message that was confrontational in every way imaginable. When you experienced the band Crime, it was on their terms, period. It was the antithesis of everything that was hip and cool at the time, but a completely unsustainable way to conduct a band. After three obscure seven inches and six years worth of shows that almost all lost money, they packed it in before it was possible to consider selling out as an option (though some claim that they did so on the third record, where they were paid largely in drugs, and the songs on it sound different than the rest of their stuff). What they had left in the very end was a pile of glam-tinted stories to last the next 40 years, and an astounding gauntlet to be thrown down at a time when punk had barely even begun to start in earnest.

Crime were, by all accounts, drugged out, drunk, on too much coffee, all of the above, and argumentative, with each other and anyone who would engage them. This never really won them over a devoted fan base, but they had a circle of friends who came to the shows mostly so they could all get fucked up together. They did score some opening spots for touring acts, but their performances were mostly controlled violence, where the band played mid-tempo “rock” songs at a time when people wanted fast and loud. It seemed that they were a band without a home: outside of close friends, scensters active in pre-punk San Francisico ran in very tight circles.  Crime did not play their bullshit games, in a complete rejection of all things cool. Crime took the Suicide approach to performances: loud, plodding, and in your face. Crime took a fascist approach to their imagery, and made such a reputation for themselves that they were rejected by the scene itself.

Crime insist that they are too wild for radio, but the problem is that there’s a dirty, filthy pop song at the center of “Hot Wire My Heart,” a song with drugs and prostitutes, improbable bedroom talk in the form of a Velvet Turner Group reference, and this car radio metaphor as the narrative frame. “Got your eye on the main control / turn it on and let’s go.” Not the most subtle analogy, true, but neither is having to create a short in your own circuitry to get you to feel anything – sex, drugs, ANYTHING – at this jaded stage in your bored life. Through the sneering and slop they pour into the tune, the story of a stereo blasting to life after you finish twisting the wires to get the motor running, the band playing couldn’t be anyone but Crime, could it? The radio blasts to life, and its like a spike in your arm, a mean installation of dominating rhythm.

Crime is probably better known now than when they were initially around, and their reputation is easier to digest when they are old and on a reunion tour, rather than the drunken spitting hot mess they once were. But in their first release they admit that they don’t have a place on modern radio, in spite of their contrary belief that rock music needed, desperately, to be saved from itself, by any means necessary. They knew going in that their vision did not fit the format of their time, but now, in a post-Crime universe, radio is more than ready to Hot Wire the Hearts of people who missed this incredible band the first time.

In Lust With You

17.) Blue Spark * X * Beyond & Back: The X Anthology

X-Beyond_and_Back-_The_X_AnthologyAside from the loosest connection to Spark-gap broadcasting, I take every opportunity I can to include an X tune in a show, so I can again remind people that I got to meet Exene Cervenka, and interview her form my 12th Anniversary broadcast. It was one of the coolest moments in my career, and she was game to hang out and chat and make my night.

As a huge fan of X ever since I was introduced to them via The Decline of Western Civilization, I’ve seen them several times now, and I find their songs an endless well of inspiration and perfect rock music structure. In many ways X distilled the entire history of rock and roll into a hopped up unit of cool, painting these perfect and harrowing images in song form. There’s a reason I ended the program with “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” for so long, and I will find any reason to play X. They’re just one of those bands.

But like I was at 20 when my friend Lyra Cyst forced me to watch Decline, there was a point when I didn’t have most of their albums, and when I was completely new to their stuff. For someone in that theoretical position, who wasn’t sure about a new band as they were generally skeptical about all things new, the Beyond & Back two-disc set would have been a great entry point.  It not only gives you a very good overview of the band and their history, but offers treasures, unreleased tracks, all the hits, live bits, and other mixes of well known tunes.

What is genius about this collection is that it rocks all the way through – essential for hooking new accolades – and rewards long-term fans with treats you didn’t know you needed to own. A lot of collections like this tend to fall short of being anything other than a greatest hits shtick, or a contractual obligation release. To make it a two disc set that complements and introduces all at once is pretty fantastic, and a rarity for most artists.

“Blue Spark” has a sort of stop-start structure to it that you can imagine acting as an SOS Signal, sending out bum-bump message to someone across the bar. There is always an undercurrent of smoldering sexuality running beneath most X songs, a sort of pulse that vibrates in time with the rest of the tune. When X is firing on all cylinders they are sex, strutting around the stage with beers in hand and cocaine eyes that want to have their way in spite of the terrifying world that exists outside the club door. They’re looking to create a spark in the listener’s mind, to turn them on and make them dance and celebrate in this secret corner of the city, away from the pain and misery and violence and horror that the rest of city pummels them with each day. They just want to look you in the eye as they sway in ecstasy and know that you are feeling it too, in that moment. They paint a picture of a horny dude waiting for his famous wife to finally fuck him after a long day, but they do it in the most sexually propulsive way imaginable, ignoring the subtext of the loneliness and isolation both characters feel in their lives, separate and together in spite of their orgasms.

The build-up and release form does, when you squint at it, mirror the morse code that radio took before voices were seamlessly integrated into wireless broadcasts, and the penetrative power of radio itself could take the sex metaphor to other places, if I wanted to make that case. But I think X handles those with a little more deft that is not only the perfect rock song, but is more suggestive upon repeated listenings.

Cold War Composer

mescherin106.) No Kolhoznoi Ptitsaferme (On The Kolkhoz Poultry Farm) * Orkestar Vyacheslav Mescherin * Easy USSR

Vyacheslav was 16 at the onset of WWII, when he immediately joined and fought for the Red Army, and was decorated for his service, twice: the Order of the Red Star and the “For Courage” Medals.  Growing up on a soviet farm, he was happy to serve his country, and came out of the war a few years older & wiser, a well respected member of his community.  

orchestraUsing skills he picked up in the military, he became a radio and electronics repairman back home, where he would tinker and futz with the equipment he would pick up in his town, and help everyone make sure they could tune in to the Farm Report.  Vyacheslav had an interest in compositional music and modern composers, but western pop and dance music began to catch his interest, in spite of his dedication to his home country.  This eventually led to him getting a job as an engineer for the music department of the State Radio in early 1957.  He would help with the equipment, record music for broadcast with the gear and performers available, and create the radio ecosystem that the Russian people would experience through his work.  Their budget was huge in spite of their non-existent “pay,” but his studio was top of the line, with new electronic keyboards and gear that would put American studios to shame. 

sputnik-1__1Vyacheslav loved his new job, but it wasn’t until 4 October 1957, when he became obsessed with the radio reports about Sputnik (the first satellite launched into space) that inspiration struck.  Vyacheslav began to see things in a very new way, understanding that the modern man would live in a world with technology & leisure.  Somewhere in all of this, music – Vyacheslav’s music – would have to evolve with the man who was listening.  

The Orchestra of Electronic Instruments, largely using  MOOG-like keyboard and theremins, was largely Vyacheslav himself, with occasional studio engineers helping out with his compositions.  With an ear for turning a well known folk or western hit into a space-age lounge performance that was unlike anything in the USSR, Vyacheslav began to score the radio that was heard around the USSR.  

hqdefaultFrom the onset it was not well regarded.  While the state was not apposed to the music he made outright – and more pointedly was never in any danger of being asked to stop performing his “clothes irons” playing classical in public – the reviews were not kind up front.  It wasn’t even the idea that Vyacheslav was performing western music; rock & roll had caught on in the USSR as it had anywhere else in the world, and there were already state-sanctioned acts performing all over the country.  But on the whole no one believed, in 1958, that electronic music was anything more than a goof, or a novelty, if anything.  It worked well for these “space” reports, but not for the average citizen.  These synthesizers couldn’t possibly do anything more than a cute parody of what real instruments could provide.  

Nebo_Zovyot_film_poster_1959The following year, Vyacheslav recorded the soundtrack for the russian sci-fi classic, Nebo Zovyot.  The success of that film led to him recording more electronic music outside of the work he did for radio, and the response was positive to those releases, too.  

Over the next 10 years the music began to catch on all over the USSR.  Yuri Gagarin was said to have considered him his favorite artist.  Vyacheslav’s music went into the national archive, and was used by any number of broadcasters throughout his career.  The makers of the Russian Television used many of his songs in their shows, and made his songs favorites of kids and adults everywhere.  

Vyacheslav was given the title of “The People’s Artist”, and recorded over 700 songs in the 30+ years of his career.  When he retired in 1990, the music of Russian radio and television was of a much lower quality afterward.  For many, entertainment in the USSR was very obviously pre and post Vyacheslav.  It’s no wonder that the following year the Soviet Union disolved.  Vyacheslav’s music was holding it together.  

nu_pogodi_have_a_smoke_by_waylonsmithers“No Kolhoznoi Ptitsaferme” was the theme music to the very popular series “Rabbit and Wolf,” (“Nu, Pogodi!”) which ran from the late ’60’s through the ’70’s, and it’s likely most Russian citizens could hum the tune if you asked them.  This song is fairly emblematic of the sound Vyacheslav mastered in his career.  His rendition of “Pop Corn” was a huge hit, and his insistence on using all electronic gear to compose pre-figured the current climate of recording music using GarageBand.  

More importantly, it is embarrassing how unknown he is in the west, as he is not only the most well known early pioneer of electronic music in Russia, but is very well known by most artists outside of the US.  He was performing and composing in 1958 in ways that our western counterparts didn’t master until the ’70’s, and yet the Cold War has forever relegated his work to the “world music” section of most music fans collection.  

There is a fantastic two disc set – Easy USSR1366746978_cd-front-sm600 – that attempts to rectify this error, but the substantial body of his work is unknown to people outside of Russian Radio nerds, and is almost inaccessible in the US.  Hopefully I will live to see the day when we can hear his work mentioned along with Bruce Haack and Silver Apples.  Given the Cold War undertones in Chickenman (however muted they might be), I liked the juxtaposition (and perfect complement) these two pieces of art have when played together.  

Not Just Rockford’s Phone, But The IDEA Of A Phone Itself

Phone05.) The Universal Telephone Ring

For the majority of my life, I was bothered by the sound design in a scene in Ghostbusters, when Dana answers the phone in her apartment.  There is near silence, then a slightly distorted, very loud ring.  It sounded so out of place, as if it was obviously artificial.  When I heard the film was remastered, I was hoping they would fix this, not at all piecing together that it was the same ring tone in Tootsie, The Sting, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, WarGames, and most tellingly, the intro to every episode of The Rockford Files.  You may even recognize it from elsewhere:

maxresdefault-1I didn’t even realize this sound effect had a name until I found myself going down a Wilhelm Scream wormhole one day online, when I found this to be the runner up in terms of audio sound gags that are inserted in films to the delight (and horror) of sound designers everywhere.  Unlike The Wilhelm Scream, the origins of this telephone ring effect seems to have been lost to the ages.  It seems to have been first used in early Leave It To Beaver episodes, but most likely was used then only because it was in the Universal Studios sound library at the time.

k11230325By the ’70’s, the effect became ubiquitous in Universal’s dramas, and you can hear it all over Six Million Dollar Man, The A-Team and Magnum P.I., along with countless other Universal Productions.  In the ’80’s, the tone of television began to shift, and sound designers became much more sophisticated, making custom effects for most projects.  A few jokes here and there slipped into the overall body of television and film, creating a sort of intra-designer code through the use of sounds like this one.  As with all codes, it was only noticed by other sound-nerds, and much like razor tape editing, is largely unnoticed by the average listener.

Something about the Chickenman universe just screams for this kind of sound effect as part of its landscape, and since there are a number of phone-call conceits to the structure of the show, it seemed like the right move for this presentation.  Something about this just feels right.

Pacific Northwest Static

21.) The Message * The Estranged * Static Thoughts

0004312394_10Sometimes when you are building stories like this one, you start with a specific ending in mind. I knew I wanted to close with We The People, but I needed a lead in that offered the proper climax to its denouement. As I was flipping through different discs and records and digital albums, I accidentally fell down a rabbit hole that led to The Estranged, as is often the case. I put the album on and turned it up, and the end of the show revealed itself to me. Of course. Sometimes, you let rock and roll be your lodestone, and everything will work itself out; even though static thoughts, they were still able to get through.

In the wake of a new millennium, rock and roll was entering a dangerous period of synthesizers, Bumford & Lames, and laptop DJs that was threatening the future of guitars. Every party bleeped and blooped with a steady sonic pulse of un-ironic Erasure re-mix 12″s, and more and more kids were trying to ignore the work done by garage rock bands and punk-inspired retro acts, in favor of a future that was shiny and plastic. It was easy to get discouraged as math rock failed to hit it big, and while indie made a polished and tiny foothold in CW dramas, it felt as if someone had walked over Keith Moon’s grave. Where were the three-chord wonders? Who was gonna save the world from itself?

Like their heroes The Wipers, The Estranged came out of Portland, where Pierced Arrows and a few others were trying to save the scene from itself. The gimmick was simple: rock songs, well played, well written, and polished by guys who practiced relentlessly. Their movement from the garage to the studio was a tactical progression, and as they each became skilled performers, they worked out the tunes for Static Thoughts as their version of Is This Real? – a mission statement of influences – that was to become the blueprint for the rest of their output. The most strategic move was to get Jason Powers to engineer, who had made a name for producing great work with Scout Niblett, Holy Sons, The Decemberists, Grails & The Swords Project. The Estranged believed if they could get the kind of Indie Rock polish on a straight rock record, they could capture a new audience and bring them into the dirty sonic landscape that was punk.

“The Message” returns us to the beginning of our thematic story: broadcasting to an audience, trying to make yourself be heard. Many of us spend our days in a barrage of Static Thoughts, a swarm of ideas and notions that overwhelm us with a constant din of binge-watched TV, 100s of gigs of new .mp3s, computers inserted into every flat surface imaginable, and 10 layers of management each telling us what to do. This largely mirrors the relationship Monkeyface & Marconi had with each other, competing so hard to become well known that when they try to demonstrate their own technologies, their signals jam each other, so much static that neither could pick out a signal.  Sometimes, it is all we can to do send out one message, anything, and make ourselves be heard. “The Message” uses a propulsive bassline to anchor the tune, a bouncy guitar riff, and Joy Division meets Television-esque vocals to cut to the heart of the matter. How can I get through? What can I say that will reach you? It feels like the message is not clear, and not getting through, no matter how hard you want to say what you mean. In the end, all we have are these awkward attempts, these moments where we work and craft and make ourselves as articulate as possible, and leave The Message behind for others to interpre

Wanna Make You Move!

0004128273_1004.) Chicken Little Lied * Tight Bros. From Way Back When * “Take You Higher!” EP

If you lived in the pacific northwest in the late ’90’s, it seemed as if the music scene was going to be ruled by KARP with an iron fist.  So, when they broke up suddenly in 1998, we were all a little heartbroken.  Their final record destroyed , and they were a unique band making records that reflected their own sensibility that was unlike a lot of music you heard among the too-cool-for-school indie rock stuff that Washington was popular for in the post-grunge days.

So the sudden announcement of an Olympia super-group – adding Jared and members of Behead The Prophet No Lord Shall Live to form The Tight Bros., seemed incredible.  Even more-so was the release of their first 7″, Take You Higher!, with four songs that were not only a mission statement, but a perfect synthesis of the 70’s party metal ideas into a faster, high-energy form, brilliantly cribbing their name from a classic line from The Derek Tape.  The genius was in having Jared sing, and Quitty‘s natural inclination to play like a triple-timed AC/DC only cemented their sound.  In Eugene, THE record of summer ’98 was this piece of Tight Bros. juvenilia, undoubtedly.

“Chicken Little maxresdefaultLied” seems like a typical answer song, a sort of hopped-up version of a “girl done me wrong” quip.  But what “she” lied about is unclear, and his babe is saying it all over town.  In the social media drama reality of the modern era, Chicken Little could be our childish friend who likes to stir the pot online.  Still, I like to see a sort of “take a chill pill” angle to the way we respond to the world at large.  Look, babe, the sky ain’t falling, and don’t freak out over something that isn’t true when there’s plenty of other ways to spend your time.  I think that advice scales up in a lot of ways.  Don’t tell me the world is going to end unless I repent.  I am autonomous, and the sky will not fall, no matter how loud you get.

A song like this so completely relates to Chickenman it is almost too on the nose.  Like Hawkeye from M*A*S*H, we’re all tilting at windmills most of the time, watching the world around us go about their day as they scream incoherently about how things aught to be in some sort of parody of a Marx Brothers routine.  There are a few of us who are willing to square off in whatever deluded manor we choose to say that the sky, really, truly, is not falling.

For now, anyway.  Just shut the fuck up and rock out, okay?

A Call For Submissions, To Our Ideology, As Well As For Your Creative Work

A Don Quixote in search of a Sancho Panza.
A Don Quixote in search of a Sancho Panza.

In the Summer of 2013, we put together acronyminc.blogpress.new.  Now we’re putting together a quarterly publication to follow in its footsteps, and we want your help!

We are looking for fiction, journalism, criticism, personal essays, comics, photography, poetrydrawings, music & videos, digital work, and anything else you can send in the mail.

Let’s make some art!  Send materials & queries to: austinrich@gmail.com.

Next Deadline: September 25th!

* * * * * *

Over the last 20 years, Austin Rich has been making media in a number of forms.

In 1993 he began publishing zines, using material he wrote and designed with submissions by readers, which he has sold in shops in Eugene & Portland OR, as well as by mail order.

In 1998 he began broadcasting, again in Eugene & Portland OR, largely on KWVA & KPSU as Blasphuphmus Radio.  He has continued to make radio in a variety of forms, now available as a weekly podcast: WTBC Radio in Beautiful Anywhere, Anywhen!

In 2000 he began maintaining acronyminc.org, which has been housed in a number of other locations and in a number of forms over the years.  This blog now publishes five times a week, largely on music, but all things related, too.

In addition to his own program, Austin has been producing The Guitar Shop, What’s This Called? & Closet Radio, offering these shows as podcasts & as comprehensive online archives, available for stream or download.

In 2012 he began releasing digital albums & video content, in addition to everything else, as if that weren’t enough.

Austin currently lives in Salem, OR, does a podcast with his wife (The Capital Couple), and struggles with an expanding record collection / waistline.  He enjoys old movies & comics, listening to podcasts, and their kitten, Feyd.

Submit your work – in any form – today!  Together, let’s bring DIY into the 21st Century.

The Spirit, Not The Letter

link-wray102.) Run Chicken Run * Link Wray * Law of The Jungle

Born in 1929 to a Shawnee family, Link Wray is an unlikely heir to the Punk Rock throne.  Wray had few opportunities growing up, and it was Link’s older brother, Vernon, who was the guitar wizard.  Vernon was a clever kid, and lied about his age to get a job with a cab company so he would have access to a car to use for other jobs, including gigging as a Country Swing group.  But, keep in mind, in spite of the name on the label, this is also Vernon’s story.

Vernon invited his brothers into the group when they were interested, and it quickly became a family affair, each member of the family performing as well as the others.  Link had a great voice, and would often sing for the group, but picked up a few instruments just through performing with his family.  Vernon would change the name of the group (and the line-up), and relied on their indian heritage and certain unspoken by prevalent racial prejudices to increase the number of gigs he could book with easily-duped club-managers.  The band learned a large number of songs so they could perform as other kinds of groups, as needed.  Vernon had a natural aptitude for equipment and management, a skill that he honed over the years of playing and loving the music he was making.  It made all the cabbing worth it.

However, for Link, there are few other options available for an 18 year old native american, and as fun as playing hillbilly music for honkys in some bar might have been, Link felt the call of adventure, and the Army offered more opportunities than anything else around him.  Link loved the traveling and the camaraderie with his army buddies, and thought he was going to do well for himself in this enviornment.  A case of Tuberculosis not only cut short his tour of duty, but cost him a lung while fighting the disease.  When he got back home he was weak and poor, and spent a lot of time at home with a radio, just in time to discover rock ‘n’ roll in it’s nascent form in the early ’50’s.  Wray suddenly saw his experience with his brother’s group the training ground for something that he could only just now see.  Link picked up a guitar and, until 2005, didn’t bother to put it down again.

It link-danelectro1took Wray a few years still to become the player he would evolve into, but his lack of formal education and a desire to FEEL the guitar propel itself out of the amplifier led to Link straining equipment and gear to the point of distortion, and was intensified when he used what he called “cheater chords” (barre chords), which caused his guitar to send out massive swaths of reverberation in the middle of a tune.  Once he landed a hit single with his first release, “Rumble,” he secured for himself a signature sound and style that was prescient of the impending Garage & Punk movements of the years to come.

For nine years he worked in a three-track studio he build in a chicken shack with Vernon, and together they churned out singles and albums of instrumental rock.  Vernon had an intuitive understanding of how to record Link’s unique guitar playing and fit it into a sound and format that would move 45s, with both DJs and kids in record stores.  Unfortunately, Link’s singing voice never recovered from his military illness, but this only ignited within him an attempt to express himself with his guitar.  While he did try to write new material after his initial “retirement” in the late ’60’s, he was never able to match the fierceness captured in those early records.  He performed his entire life, and at age 76, had become an icon in rock music in a way few artists of his age had every achieved previously.

In the ’60’s Link Wray had fallen into a routine: he would write and record music with a permutation of the same band from the country days, and his brother – having moved to the management / production side of things – helped make sure Link’s records got into stores, and Link got to the shows.

It was durinLinkWrayLawOfTheJungg this period that he was on Swan Records.  He cut quite a few records for them, but in 1964 the band cut a very loose and loud session to tape, with some old favorites and some new tunes, in the hopes that they could work out a couple new songs, and maybe – just maybe – get a single out of some of it.

While there was plenty around that was pointing in this direction, Link was laying on the distortion so thick that they band had an amplifier-rattling attack that synthesized the Link Wray sound he’d been developing since “Rumble,” only louder.  Listening to Law of The Jungle, you can almost hear Punk Rock being invented in his riffs.

And then… silence.

For decades these recordings were shelved, and no one is entirely sure why.  Hits weren’t a guarantee with this weird and new sound, and it was possible that Link listened back to the sessions and was nervous about releasing the record, which would mean a financial hit for him and his label.  Wray was a fairly profitable artist when it came to 45s, and he was able to keep a steady fan base and a string of gigs, built on the foundation of these hot recordings.  It would be hard to imagine anyone in the Wray family not seeing the financial side of this equation, and I’m sure you can sense Vernon’s hand in this decision.  Shelving those tapes might have made sense.  Even when this kind of thing was fashionable, they probably had moved on to other things.

But I like to imagine Vernon & Link, in the chicken-coup studio, listening back to the “Law of The Jungle” recordings.  Cigarettes lit, the sound as loud as it can go.  Vernon just going mental over the sound he was able to get, Link air-strumming to the tracks.

They each had to know, looking at each other, smiles on their faces.  This was… something.

This was something new.

The Birth of The Octochord

23.) In The Past * We The People * “In The Past” b/w “St. John’s Shop” (Challenge, 1966)

wethepeopleAnd, while we’re at it, one more for the road:

In the wake of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s initial explosion at the end of the 1950s, American kids got the message very quickly: pick up a guitar, grab some friends, and start a band. This compulsion was so prevalent in the US that an entire genre of music – Garage Rock – developed, and kids from Tacoma Washington to the wilds of Florida found common ground when they all tried to learn “Louie Louie” and play at their friend’s backyard party. Now that the children of post-WWII families were starting to come of age, and the Viet Nam war was only just getting started, the combination of better education, more leisure time created a demand for entertainment to fill both leisure and radio air time. It also helped that rock and roll was, compared to the music of their parents, fairly easy to play. You could figure out how to strum a song from a record with a little patience and some beer, unlike the popular music of their parent’s generation, which required practice and study. Rock and Roll was closer to the metal, and the distance between you and a song was developing a good Pete Townsend windmill and being able to play “Psychotic Reaction” on demand.

The Garage Rock movement was unique in that it was fractured.  The majority of Garage Bands never recorded, and even fewer played regular gigs. The scene was spread across the country, but due to the newness of rock journalism, the slim number of outlets that were interested in Rock Music, and the fact that the touring circuit was not yet carved in stone, each region had their own unique take on Garage that was largely unaware of what was happening elsewhere. The scene in Texas wasn’t grooving on records from Massachusetts, and vice versa. Garage Bands were only seeing releases on regional labels, often in small runs of 100 or less, if a recording was even possible. These bands didn’t always write original tunes, making their bread and butter in covers and playing local dances or shows at a VFW hall. After the Pat Boone-ification of rock music, garage became the line that was drawn across generations. The period between 1960 and 1965 saw an unbelievable uptick in these kinds of bands, all united by a love of Music and a belief that jamming on a riff with your buddies was the only sensible way to spend an afternoon.

By 1965 a number of changes – culturally and musically – were beginning to take hold. Music was beginning to mutate again, political and social tension was coming to a head, and in a post-Kennedy Assassination world, it as difficult to imagine the naiveté of the early ’60s continuing for much longer. The beginnings of a musical political consciousness was starting to awaken, and you could no longer play a sort of primitive frat rock and be taken seriously.

Enter Ron Dillman, a newspaper writer covering the music beat for the Orlando Sentinel. Ron knew the score, and followed the local scene pretty closely, in spite of his square dress and stupid hat.  Ron was at all the shows, and was always supportive of new acts. Ron was noticing the changes, how the bubble gum of the last few years wasn’t sticking anymore. It was the perfect name – We The People – a populist slogan that communicated you were a dove, but in a strange in a psychedelic way, like The United States of America. Ron was on the cusp of a modal shift, and he knew that the right gimmick could bag him a few hit records. He just needed a band.

It was serendipity when Ron showed up at a Trademarks show to hear that it was their last show with Ralphie, their drummer, an account that he didn’t own his own set, and was never available to do road gigs because he couldn’t get the time off from work. Ron instantly thought of The Offbeats, who just lost their singer / songwriter to another band, and were looking to keep the act together. He realized that they were both sort of chasing the same idea, but from different angles, and that they might complement each other better than either of them thought. The Trademarks featured really fuzzy guitars and harmonicas as part of their sound, while The Offbeats had a member – Wayne Proctor – who played a thing they called “the octochord,” which sort of sounded like a sitar. This octochord was homemade by a family friend, and might just work with the sound everyone else was developing. Ron’s philosophy was: throw everything at the wall, and see what sticks.

Ron introduced the bands to each other at a local watering hole, where they all talked shop for three hours, running over gear and records. Ron went on to sell the band on his name (We The People), mentioning that he could get them a record deal (maybe) if they used it, and that it would be a hit, guaranteed (lie) if they just tried it out. The band dug what Ron had to say, and before long they were jamming out future hits like “You Burn Me Up And Down” and “Into The Past.” Ron ran into a streak of luck when he successfully managed to get someone from Hotline Records to drop by a rehearsal, who immediately agreed to put out “My Brother, the Man” in 1966. To everyone’s surprise, it was a top 10 regional hit in Florida. Ron couldn’t believe it. He was doing everything he could imagine to get We The People off the ground, and in a strange turn of events, it was starting to work.

Challenge Records caught wind the group, and struck a deal to release three 45s to follow up the success. Challenge had lucky with “Tequila” by The Champs, and with records by Jan & Dean and The Knickerbockers among their releases, it seemed a little strange to be making a foray into psychedelic garage.  But Challenge was taking a lot of chances in those days, as they were doing rather poorly, and were looking anywhere for a hit like “Tequila” to give them the money they needed to continue.  Bands like We The People benefited from Challenge’s risky behavior, and before long their follow up, “Mirror of Your Mind” was getting airplay as far north as Nashville. The band released two more singles in fairly rapid succession, and while they were generally liked, only the B-Side to their last release with Challenge hit #2 in the region, keeping them on the radio for a while but never bringing them to a national audience. Challenge stopped offering We The People deals, and soon the label folded.

Ron quickly made the calls to get the band on RCA Records for a three single deal. However, Wayne Proctor, one of the primary songwriters, suddenly quit. He was dodging the draft, using college as his “out,” but this meant he couldn’t be associated with a socialist rock band in order to make the argument fly.  In spite of the loss, their RCA Singles did okay, and hit the local airwaves, unfortunately to tepid success. When Tommy Talton left after their last 45 failed to make it big, it seemed like the end for the band.

Ron made a few last ditch efforts to course correct with the remaining members. But the writing on the wall was clear; this band now only existed “Into The Past.” Ron tried desperately to keep the band alive, and sunk every last dollar into promoting and renting a venue for a Halloween 1970 show.  After an endless number of phone calls to replace last minute members dropping out, he managed to get some form of We The People to finish playing 10 songs in capes that evening, the bare minimum needed to count as a full set and not get called out for ripping off the audience. After that night Ron realized that managing the band no longer has the spark it once did, and dissolved We The People, paying out the remaining members with his own money, leaving him in the hole for years to come.

What We The People left behind is more than some bands ever get to do. 14 songs recorded in a studio, and a story that is so set in a time and a place as to sound like a joke from my parent’s generation. But their sound was pretty mind blowing, and prefigured punk in a number of ways. But if Lee de Forest and the other mavericks that helped pioneer radio had a band manager analog, it would have to be Ron Dillman, manager of We The People. He had a vision, an idea, and the tenacity to do it, in spite having no real idea how the music industry really worked. Sure, he did not succeed; Ron wanted a hit, and Lee wanted to be The Father of Radio. What neither of their realized was that their efforts in the past have left an indelible mark on the present, and to those who want to follow the story, their reward is something that sounds like it could have happened to them if the circumstances were just a little different.

Tribute Post In Honor of The Passing of Celebrity Starr, Who Was Incredibly Important To Me.

Question-Mark-faceFor years now I’ve been a big fan of Celebrity Starr, even though I rarely talk about them, and it is incredibly sad that traffic will be driven to my blog now that I’m writing about them for the first time.

I remember when I first saw the obscure film Celebrity was featured in, and I immediately decided I would name-check that film in my post to ingratiate myself with Starr’s fans.  In fact, I have modified an anecdote I used to tell girls in bars, which I will change to custom fit the details of Celebrity’s life, so you can understand how important they were to me through the brief-but-important encounter that sounds made up as I relate it to you.

As the years went on, I became more and more of a fan of Celebrity’s work, and even defend questionable choices that border on racist and sexist, because I am such a fan to an extreme level that I can find value in even the most outrageous piece of dreck, and can rationalize almost anything with my minimal understanding of a liberal college education.

I would provide you with some links to an obituary that is not the one most media outlets are using, and a few photos taken by some paparazzi that TMZ was a little too timid to use, but I’ve decided that my enjoyment of Celebrity’s work is something so special that I don’t feel like sharing it with the world at large, and believe that “true fans” wouldn’t have to Bing the appropriate information, and thus might call me out when I get it wrong.  So, instead, I’ll just reference a lyric from their third album, which had the radio hit I can quote from memory.

Celebrity Starr even made me cry at my desk when I remembered a particularly poignant aspect of their fame today, and how it relates to their death.  Therefore, I will use emotional one-upsmanship to make sure that anyone else who posts about Starr’s passing will realize that I was affected by the death more than anyone else.

In spite of Celebrity Starr’s staunch agnostic beliefs, I will offer a Christian blessing in closing to make sure that their memory lives on in a system of thought that Starr did not give any specific value to.

Yours in clickbait,

Journalist Lay-Z.