|Oil of Dog
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Postmarked December 15, labeled “PRIVATE”.
Dear Mr. Storm,
I’m so touched. You played two of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs. I enjoyed them all. I can’t tell you what that did for me. Thank you so much . . . . .
I hope that all is going well for you. It really helps me to write these anonymous letters to you. I know this sounds foolish but when I hear you speak on the radio – I think to myself that that is the voice of a person who knows about me. I just can’t believe it – it seems so strange and delightful.
I imagine you must laugh at me – but I would appreciate it if you didn’t show my letters around. Just think of them as something private and try to relate to them as best you can.
I’m sorry I write mostly about myself – but I don’t know anything about you.
I don’t know. Something is missing in my life. What? I don’t know. Maybe because I don’t believe in anything too deeply.
I have to tell you again how touched I felt when you played J. Mitchell for me. I’d like to put in more requests but I’ll hold off for now.
If by some strange chance you decide to get my writing analyzed, forget it. I had an accident and so my writing is impaired.
You are wonderful
The language of these letters carefully disguises the gender of the writer. None of the letters contain even hint that would reveal if “to” is male or female. I don’t show the letters to anyone except my possessive girl friend. She chides me. She is jealous because she thinks “to” must be a girl. I don’t care. I do not want to meet this “to” under any circumstance.
Postmarked December 16 and labeled “Private” and “STRICTLY PRIVATE.” “to” sends me a gift of $15.00 and asks me to play some Joni Mitchell tunes in acknowledgement.
You don’t have to worry about me. I’m not crazy, you don’t know me, and you don’t owe me anything. Just listening to you every morning is satisfaction enough for me. The music you play is exceptional.
I’m so broke that even $15.00 would be a fabulous boon, but I don’t know what to do. I ask the station manager, Marvin Granger, for advice. He says that regular people no longer seem regular when media becomes the medium. He advises me to tell “to” over the air that I wish to return the money.
At the end of my show, I say something like “Someone sent me a gift of $15.00 and it is very nice and surprising. You are a sensitive and good person, but I do not feel I can accept this gift. I will hold it until you tell me how to return it to you or I will donate it to WBFO. It is very nice of you but I just cannot accept such a gift.” I stutter a lot and then play the Joni Mitchell songs requested.
I hate thinking about it. And yet I always think about it. I have been unable to make myself write about it. And yet I think something should be said in this book. It is essential to understanding what the love of music entails.
I work at public radio WBFO. And WBFO is a non-commercial station. I hope by now it is obvious that I love what I do. It is obvious I believe emphatically in the spirit of non-commercial radio. But I despise and scorn and resent much about the station for which I work. My relationship with WBFO is a cause of such pain and anger for me that I cannot make myself write about it. I have tried many times. I want to because it is so much a part of the way I think about my show. But I can come up with little that is rational or even interesting.
One of the basic rules I have learned from working at a radio station is that its internal politics are of absolutely no interest to anyone outside the station. I have never known of any radio station except WKBW in which there was even an appearance of harmony and good vibes. There is almost always great tension between various programmers, between management and programming, between engineer and owner, between sales and programming. And none of this is of any interest to the listenership. All that matters to the audience is what comes out of their home speaker. They either like it or they don’t. They put up with it or they don’t. They respond or they don’t. They view the radio as a neutral thing – either it is on or it is off. It can’t be an evil radio, or a cranky radio, or a bumbling radio, or a bureaucratic radio, or an unintelligent radio, or an entrepreneur radio, or an unprofessional radio. It is just a radio. And people view radio stations in the same way: just a place on the dial.
Say that Music Director Sport is a fucking fool. But he is nevertheless in a position to tell
disc jockey Bright what records he can play.
Bright is a good DJ and knows a lot of music. Sport is an egocentric idiot. Sport tells Bright he is no longer allowed to
play any weird progressive jazz like Oliver Lake on his show, he must stick only to mainstream
pop-oriented jazz. Moreover, Sport’s
reasons for doing this are because he is jealous of Bright because there have
been many favorable write-ups about Bright’s show in the newspapers
lately. The change has nothing to do
with radio or music or ratings. It is
merely a personality conflict between Sport and Bright. Bright is very upset. So he decides to go to his audience for
help. The audience will be
interested if Bright says, “I am the only one in town who will play this music
for you, and if you would like to hear it, then I would appreciate your sending
a letter to Music Director Sport.”
But the audience will not care in the slightest if he says, “Music Director Sport is a stuck-up idiot and I have no respect for him, and his influence at this station is terrible, and he is making us all play stupid music. If you don’t like the job Sport is doing send letters to our Station Manager Mr. Thud.” Not only will the audience not be interested, they will think Bright is the one who is a tacky dope. Because they don’t care who runs the radio station, they don’t care if Hitler works there, they don’t care if the accountant demands blow jobs before he hands out pay checks, they don’t know about any of that stuff, they don’t want to know, they don’t need to know. All they know – all they should know – is what comes out of their radios from the station. And in truth, all they should know is the programming. Not what goes on behind the programming.
So here I am at WBFO. I am often very unhappy and angry here. And the reasons for this should be of no interest to you. I have written about Oil of Dog, the love of music that drives me – that should be what is important to you. The political forces that surround my show are dull. They involve personality conflicts between people you will never know, and philosophies of programming that will cause you to either listen or not listen but will never cause you to care.
Yet these political matters are so deeply interwoven with my experience of Oil of Dog that I feel something about it should be said. I spend so much energy being upset about the foolish things that go on here that I want to say something if only so I can figure it out for myself. I do not really understand all that goes on here because I rarely understand situations in which I am immediately involved.
I will attempt to interest you in two completely personal management-employee narrow-minded power-mad-dimwit versus wimpy-whiny-visionary what-are-you-moaning-about-life-is-never-fair stories: “The Pathetic Story of Gary’s Search for Dog Money” and “The Day They Cut Off the Last Hour of Oil of Dog.”
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I have a large collection of rock’n’roll buttons. My favorite says “Make JONATHAN RICHMAN an important part of your life.” He is too. How can I explain songs like “Abdul and Cleopatra.” He is absolutely silly and corny. He will never be understood by those who forget that stadium concerts with flashpots and speaker towers and security guards all have their origins in garages and basements. Those without a sense of humor will never see through his timid twanging of simple Chuck Berry riffs. He has written some of the greatest children’s songs of all time. But his strange sentimental gentle rock’n’roll show at Buff State a couple of years back will never be forgotten by those lucky enough to attend. He played in a small hall or large classroom and kept telling the sound guy to turn down the sound, finally telling him, sweetly, to just turn the whole PA off. As I recall, the drummer played only a snare and cymbal.
Jonathan Richman’s importance to the history of rock cannot
be minimized. His incredible song “Roadrunner”
on the Beserkley Chartbusters compilation album was one of the four harbingers
of punk in 1976, along with the first album by the Ramones, the first Dictators
album, and the great compilation, A Bunch of Stiff Records, from England, which
gave us the first taste of Elvis Costello, Wreckless Eric, Motorhead, Dave
Edmunds, Graham Parker, and Nick Lowe.
Cool is a word. And a short word, at that. Gregory Bateson writes of the danger of short words. If a word is too short it can lead to errors in thought.* If I wish to understand a phenomenon, it is natural to give it a name. Then that name must be defined. (The reverse process – defining a phenomenon and then naming it – seems pretty much impossible. I certainly have not done that with cool.) But a short word like cool (or rock, or popular, or hit) can make the concept seem more concrete than it really is. Cool is after all an abstraction. It conflates a tangle of variables and factors and feelings and motives and observations and phenomena and subjectivities and objectivities into one tiny four letter package.
There are a thousand other words for cool. A complete collection of such words would be fascinating. Off the top of my head I can rattle a few: spiffy, hot, far-out, boss, bitchin’, beat, groovy, keen, zippy, snappy, hip, crazy, gone, swinging, “It,” slick, sharp, hip, tits, bad. (Where do you go from bad? The only thing left seems to be dead.) You can get DOWN and be UP. It’s great to be prepositionally cool. So you can be IN (like Mick Jagger) and OUT (like Sun Ra). Or where it’s AT. Or WITH it. Or coming FROM some place. Or right ON. There are cool people: man, dude, cat, swinger, freak, daddy, mother, baby, bro, brother. And the uncool people, the enemies: honky, creep, goof, redneck, straight, square, ofay (pig Latin for foe, a fabulous expression), mother.
Cool really doesn’t make it as a word. In this paper, I tend to slide these four letters about between many different senses. When I talk of cool I do not mean a specific set of acts and attitudes, or a kind of behavior, or a way of thinking, or a philosophy of life. I am tying a great many contradictory things – the need for orgasm, the renunciation of fear and loneliness, humiliation, the armageddon, the anger, assholedness, black culture, beatniks hippies punks, rock’n’roll, jazz, night life, night music – into a single short word. I am talking about the things that drive me to be an all-night disc jockey at a non-commercial station; about the forces I see motivating the people I meet; about my personal obsessed belief that the world is obsessed with a belief in the end of the world; about the way trends in popular culture reflect vast human feelings; about how as a disc jockey I feel in touch with vast human feelings; about the power behind the music I play; and the freedom I think I have; about the willies and the art that defies them; about my loneliness; about the fact that I’d love to save the world, but I don’t know what to do; and even about the fact that I don’t really really care about any of this, I don’t feel that deep and heavy and profound.
What drives me? What do I see? What do I call it?
I call it cool.
* Gregory Bateson. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballentine Books, 1972, page 182.
And so “to” sends me an envelope addressed (as I remember) to the Committee for Chilean Freedom and asks that I enclose the money and send it off.
I write to you, not out of lack of friendship, no. Somehow I have been lucky enough to fall in with some people who are interesting and intelligent – they being my friends for periods ranging from 1½ to 8½ years – but in recent times I have become somewhat of a recluse – I moved into an apartment by myself and only after a few months did I get a telephone (for when I wanted to make calls). Now when I get calls, I usually let the phone ring or else I don’t let calls come in at all by taking my phone off the hook. It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that at the present time I like to be alone about 7/8 of the time and with people only about 1/8 of the time. Which brings us to the reason why I like your show so much. I listen to your voice (you always talk in conversational tones) and I don’ t have to communicate with you. You’re not asking me to communicate with you of course which is precisely why I like doing it. I also think that this anonymity is just great. (Could I write these letters and sign my real name?). You’re not really there but you’re there too. I can turn you off or on, raise or lower your volume.
But see I’m getting so far away from everyone. I can’t really talk about it. I think I will get over it in a few months but for now “Could you please read my letters?” “Could you keep their contents in strict confidence?” Do you think you can take it?
Of course, I could understand how you could laugh my letters aside (I might do that if I were my old self) but how could you laugh at someone who listens to your show every day for the complete show (3 - 8 am)?
I’m writing and writing to say something but I can’t find what it is I have to say or else I have nothing to say.
In a way, these letters annoy me. In a way, they please me. They anger. They gratify. This person “to” does not know or care who I am. I know what it is to have something to say, something you must find words for, something you dare tell no one. This is the power of language. Simply saying the right words can change everything. But someone must hear your words. You have to communicate. If the words are foolish or terrifying, then you must protect yourself. You seek anonymity. The dark confessional. Send the words to someone safe – someone who may understand and who will never know your name. Be certain that person is not a monster.
HOW TO LOVE JAZZ: ROBERT CREELEY CONTINUED
After listening with Robert Creeley to “Groovin’ High” and “Hot House” by Dizzy Gillespie with Charlie Parker:
Robert Creeley: Yeah, I really love that crazy funky tone of, like, the old time, almost like swing-swing band from the thirties and et cetera, et cetera. But that double timing and that phrasing . . . . .
Gary: Oh, yeah!
C: . . . . . that both Charlie Parker and, um, hearing, yeah, terrific old time Slam Stewart on bass, that boom bass is really great. That was fascinating, trying to think of so-called melodic line, apropos writing, or some so-called poems. That was extraordinarily useful to me. And then there’s another, like ah, record of that time that I’d like to get in on that record. That’s, ah, “Chasin’ the Bird.” I was, I remember at that point on, ah, first apartment so to speak away from home.
G: This is Charlie Parker, right?
C: This is Charlie Parker, “Chasin’ the Bird” with Miles Davis. And it’s, uh, they’re playing, ah, like the polyphony, ah, double pattern; very kind of, very simple modal pattern. But I was then sharing an apartment with, ah, a French horn player whose greatest regret was that his older sister did not accept Perry Como when-she, when he proposed to her. Hahahaha.
G: Hahahaha.C: He never got over it. But, ah, he listened to this record and, eh, he-could he could not believe it. He said, “Why do you find that interesting?” He just kept listening to it over and over and over. He said “That’s not music, that’s . . . . .” And what’s really interesting, is to, y’know, here’s a guy who’s going to Boston, y’know, Conservatory of Music; was certainly a good jazz musician. But at that time, he could not hear this as an actual possibility. So let’s just play it and see how times have changed.
The appearance of Jack Goldstein
on my show ends as it began with a piece of his called “The
Weep.” It is a tape loop on cassette about seven minutes
long of a woman weeping. Since it is on a loop, it can play
endlessly. She sobs and sobs and sobs, she groans and sniffs and
weeps and weeps and weeps and weeps, she coughs, she blows her nose and
sighs and snorts and weeps and weeps and weeps and weeps and weeps, she
sniffs and snivels and wipes her nose, you can just hear the tears for
ten minutes twenty minutes, she whimpers and gasps and moans and weeps
and weeps and weeps and weeps and weeps for forty minutes she laments
and mourns and grieves and sorrows and bewails and repines and bemoans
wordlessly always weep weep weep weep weeping endlessly sobbing and
crying and sniffing and coughing weeping weeping weeping weeping
weeping for fifty minutes, fifty-five, and hour and more she weep weep
weep weep weeps and weeps and weeps and weeps and weeps and weeps and
Jack Goldstein: With all my sound effect records, ah, I usually use a sound library, and I like the idea that I have to start off with, ah, going through a card file which is dealing with language. And from the card file, I select the tapes. And so it’s like I’m going from language to the process of trying to make an object which becomes th-the, ah, record itself. I like working with the tapes fo-for the sound effects rather than using the real things, because I-c I can gain more control over it that way. I mean, the thing is when you use an actress or something of that sort, ah, you have to deal with, like, the inherent properties of that person. Um, sometimes like an actor can get in the way of a script, his personality can conflict in some way. And so the idea that I have to use tapes from a sound library to arrive back at the real world once again gives me control over that.
Well, with this particular record, um, I couldn’t find enough, ah, I couldn’t find enough sound tracks of somebody crying to do a mix. So I had to go out and get an actress. And that was really strange because I sort of felt like I was cheating in some way. Ah, the idea that I needed a real person to allude back to the real world in some way sort of bothered me.
And the interesting thing was that she told me had she, ah, sat there much longer she would have actually started to cry. And that really amazed me because it’s like the idea that you can take your emotions and concentrate on a picture in some way and your emotions become this sort of mechanical thing that you can kind of control. I mean, are those tears real, if that’s the case, or are they plastic? And that was like really shocking to sort of like realize that. Ah, the thing about dealing with sounds tha.tha-that come from your inside like crying, is that I-I know what my outside looks like, I can sort of feel comfortable with that. But it’s my insides that bother me because I have no control over that. I’ve never seen what it looks like.
J: And that’s what like sounds like crying and, y’know . . . . . very emotional sounds that come from the insides of our bodies, why-it why I think it’s very bothersome. And I know it’s like very easy for us to sort of like see our image on TV or see our image in-a, in a film, because we’re accustomed once again to seeing the outside of our bodies. But to hear your voice is something that is much stranger because once again it’s coming from your insides.
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THE DESPERATE BICYCLES from Great Britain are a lesson in punk. Say the liner notes of their second EP:
The Desperate Bicycles were formed in March 1977 specifically for the purpose of recording and releasing a single on their own label . . . . . They’d really like to know why you haven’t made your single yet. “It was easy, it was cheap, so go do it.”*
Ah, how wide-eyed and young the world seemed once again for a moment. They sing out idealistically against British fascism: “Don’t Back the Front.”
* Desperate Bicycles. Liner Notes, © 1977, from 45 rpm, Refill Records, RR2.
A letter written’to Marvin Granger, former station manager of WBFO, dated November 3, 1978:
The show was an abuse of the airwaves and one of the all time lows of station programming which by the way has experienced many bright moments. The world is filled with enough sorrow and woe for relentless sounds of weeping and sobbing to be broadcast, especially over such a powerful station as yours.
Furthermore, I feel that the program was in such poor taste that it should stand as a basis for Mr. Storm’s dismissal from the station and if it would do any good I will start a petition to that purpose.
Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
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TALES OF THE MANIFESTIVAL
“It will be an historic event,” they told me and so Carol and I flew to New York and now it’s the next day and I’m sitting in a coffee shop on St. Mark’s Place thinking about it all.
It was a fourteen hour concert at the Entermedia Theatre on Second Avenue featuring members of bands like Gong, Henry Cow, and Magma. This was the first time these musicians had appeared in the United States; they called it the Manifestival of Progressive Music. These bands featured musicians who were the fathers and mothers of what we have come to call progressive rock and fusion music. My friend Carol was the perfect person to see this with. She becomes a part of any scene from the most violent and bizarre to the most awesome and spacey to the most gentle and clear.
The man responsible for the event was Georgio Gomelsky. Despite the fact that he is a promoter, he seems to like music almost as much as money. An’ heez rite outta da histry books: he was promoting the “new jazz” in Europe after World War II, worked on the first synchronized-sound jazz film, in the 60’s he opened the Crawdaddy Club, managed The Rolling Stones before Andrew Loog Oldham, managed the Yardbirds from ‘65 to ‘67; with Polydor he signed and produced Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, John McLaughlin; in Paris he promoted concerts with Soft Machine, Gong, and a very young Pink Floyd; in 1971 he began managing the progressiveclassica1jazzrock mystic cult called Magma. At last word, he was, still in New York working on a “network” of radio stations, publications, and small record companies dedicated to making this “progressive music” more available in the USA. Gomelsky was a large man sporting a goatee and I remember him in a beret even if he wasn’t wearing one. He had large hands; although it seems that no promoter can afford to be totally honest, I have an unfounded impression that the more honest ones have large hands while the murdering lying greedy dimwitted pig entrepreneurs have little spindly clutches. In any case, he treated all of us college and non-commercial types with kindness and respect, even making his home available and helping us find free lodging. If he ain't great, you can't prove it by me.
The Manifestjval began an hour late on October 8, 1978 at 3:00 p.m.** The story about the Manifestival originally appeared as a two-part article in the University of Buffalo’s Spectrum: Gary Storm. “Oil of Dog in NYC,” Spectrum, Nov. 17, 1978, Vol. 29, No. 38; and Gary Storm. “Oil of Dog in New York,” Spectrum, Dec. 1, 1978, Vol. 29, No. 41. I have selected and rewritten a number of excerpts from the original.
DOG MONEY AND PATHOS
For my life to have meaning, especially when I am lonely, I must engage fiercely in an activity – any activity whatsoever. Art, politics, murder, drinking, dishwashing, meditation, sex, writing, vengeance, rock’n’roll. I am in radio, my life topples about the radio station, the vortex of my life is my show.
The station becomes my hangout. I become a hack. I seek others who are interested in the same fierce activity, I lounge arrogantly in the rooms which house this activity. I go there because it is a place of comfort. In there I walk that walk and talk that talk. But it is also the locus of my anger and frustration. When I have problems, they usually come from the radio station. These problems drive me crazy, I get headaches, I talk to myself. If I hate the people who work there, if I am grieved about low pay, or no pay, all I have to do is leave forever and the problems melt away.
But I do not leave. Fierce activities are too rare. Filling life with activity keeps the demons away. The demons of loneliness and fate and madness and rootlessness. Sometimes I go to the station when I am a little depressed or when I am bored and I putter around with records or tapes. It is not a job to me – it is an identity. Is this weak of me? Am I a weak person because I need this? Is a strong person free and independent? Some people appear self-sufficient, they do not seem to need activity. But I think their fierceness is simply very private – the vortex is in meditation, poetry, running, scholarship – things they never discuss. The times in my life when I did not have fierceness I was aimless depressed belligerent. I fear resigning all my energy to survival – the search for food and shelter – this would not be joyful activity.The vortex of my life should be – and is – joy. It is music. It is radio. This is why I was so threatened by the possibility of giving up my show when they wouldn’t pay me. I was not ready to move on. I had no fierceness to which I could move. I am fierce to feel alive. Fierce to be myself. Fierce to forget, I do it all to forget.
Figure 29: The poster advertising the Buffalo debut of the Gizmos. (Photo by Zowie.)
The most requested song of all time on “Oil of Dog” is by the GIZMOS, a delerious band from Bloomington, Indiana:
Muff divin’ gonna work this out
* Richard Chon. “Truth, Beauty and the Beast: Gary Storm at 3:00 a.m.” SUNY at Buffalo Spectrum, March 21, 1980, Vol. 30, No. 7, page 11.
Among the first performers at the Manifestival were The Downtown Bands. Carol and I squinched. They seemed to be a weird collective. What a great idea! Several no wave punk style bands – The Theoretical Girls, The Girls, Arsenal, Blinding Headache – throbbed and pounded and shouted, interchanging members, playing instruments for which they clearly had no training, jarring chords, angry lyrics, thrusting raging punky fists, men and women in black, snarling, they played too long, drove people out of the house, too atonal to be punk, too punk to be progressive, I got a brainache, THEY WERE GREAT!
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|Gary: Um, yeah, you said you’re-a you’re an acid casualty.
Nick Lowe: I’m afraid so.
G: Hahaha. How so?
L: Well, I took a lot of acid. Haha. No, I-I, ah . . . . .
G: I mean, you don’t seem like a casualty to me at all.
L: No, I think, um, what . . . . . I was supposed to do, I used to take myself very seriously, and all-all that happened was, ah, I woke up one day and realized that I wasn’t going to be able to sort of save the world through, um . . . . . through music. Eh, I wasn’t ever going to be Robbie Robertson or Lowell George or anything like that. So and I-I also realized that really I came from a sort of era, if you like, of British pop music, it was the late sixties, um, school, y’know, which is really the worst . . . . . the pits, y’know, and I-I just shouldn’t be ashamed of it, y’know. And I-I was going, “Well, if that’s where I come from, what’s the point in pretending to be something else?” And, ah, and I found that it gave me much more scope to move around in because part of the thing of pop music is that you can just jump from . . . . . from tree to tree you see and, ah . . . . . I-if-I-I, if I-suppose, if I hadn’t had, ah, y’know, fooled around with acid, uh, I suppose I’d be, ah, happily ensconced in, ah, urn, something like the Osmond Brothers or something like that, y’know. Hahahaha.
Acoustic guitar, no drums, no bass, no electricity, no amps, no chords, no broken eardrums.
I don’t love you for your tattered tie
I don’t love you, and I don’t know why
I just love you for that
Beat – beat – beat – beat – beating
I’ve got a safety pin stuck in my heart
For you, for you.*
PATRICK FITZGERALD, probably the first punk folk singer. The messages of his songs are bitter and true. He seems to sing glaring from the corner of a bare room. My copy of his first record is autographed with the strange inscription, “There was a man from Okinawa . . . . .”
* Patrick Fitzgerald. “Safety Pin Stuck in My Heart.” © 1977, no. pub., from 45 rpm E.P., Small Wonder Records, Small Four.
Soviet troops invade Poland.
In response, Gary plays “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon.
Record is vaporized half way through by a nuclear device.
Postmarked December 28, with two postage stamps
beneath one of which is written “wasted stamp.”
Another letter from “to.” He or she tells me about a
Christmas trip home, how to eat yogurt if you don’t have a spoon,
about how they have to catch up on jogging, and a request for Ray Charles from his A Man and His Soul album. They also enclose a clipping from The Daily World with articles about the African Studies Association of Boston issuing a petition to President Carter
urging a reassessment of his South African policies, and about the
Ambassador from Chile cancelling a trip to Minneapolis because of
I play the Ray Charles tune. The same night I let a former room-mate who fancies himself a performer play his guitar and sing with a friend on my show. He is one of the most foolish bums I have ever known and they are drunk. But I promised him he could play. That was before I learned he spent the night in bed with my (ex) girl friend listening to me on the radio. For better or worse, when I have guests, I always let people do whatever they want on my show because I have found that the bad impression usually reflects more on them than on me. I just say “It’s your show” and if they abuse the privilege it does me little harm. Somehow in the course of their drunken wailings these dimwits make repeated remarks about how they will sing about things that are “STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL” – the same words used by “to.” I did not show my roommate the letters. This is just a rotten coincidence. If “to” is overly sensitive and feels a confidence was betrayed, too bad.
|THE PATHETIC STORY OF GARY’S SEARCH FOR DOG MONEY
My first four years in Buffalo I survived on a small fellowship granted by the Department of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo while I worked on my Ph.D. That is why I never asked WBFO for a regular salary. But the fellowship expired and could not be renewed. I did not feel that I had time to get another job because I was still working on my Ph.D., writing this dissertation, though I was no longer being paid for it. Besides, working at the station was a full-time job. Not only did I spend twenty hours each week on the air, but I spent at least that much time obtaining and auditioning records for our library. (You have read of my dealings with record promoters.) I assumed that because my show was a unique and necessary service to the community, because no one else was doing progressive radio in Buffalo, because I played music that no one else played, because I clearly had a devoted audience, because I raised more money per hour than anyone else during the membership weeks (some would dispute this), because I had such good press and so much fan mail, because I was generally a congenial personality (some would dispute this), because my show was truly in a non-commercial community radio spirit, because my show was special partly because of who I am, because I spent so much time working for the station, because I was truly devoted to the station, and because, since I am an all-night DJ, I really couldn’t do my show and hold another job without going crazy – I assumed there was reason enough for the station to give me at least a little help me financially.
But no. They had no money for me. And they had reasons. For one thing the station was greatly in debt. Now this may seem to be an invincible argument, but I believe it was more a politically motivated excuse – there was money to be found. There were those who got paid to play jazz. The main line that was dished out to me was that the station had made a decision to support jazz and not to support other kinds of music. That was why the jazz programmer was paid. There were certain other key positions that could not be handled well by anyone other than a paid full-time person. My show was not deemed worthy of pay.
This money problem gave rise to the nit-witted conflict between jazz and rock at WBFO. Not even the President of the United States, not even the Chairman of the Republican Party, not even the entire Department of Defense could invent such a stupid conflict. The station supports jazz. Jazz is better than rock nyah nyah nyah. I could go on at length about how much jazz there is on other stations in this market (a lot), about how I do not just play rock, about the fact that the rock I do play is not played by anyone else in the area, about the fact that the jazz programmer doesn’t even play much real jazz anyway (he is the inspiration for my diatribes about jazzak), about how I believe WBFO makes people hate jazz, and on and on and on. Pretty boring stuff, isn’t it? These are stupid nitpicking subhuman non-brain bug-level matters. No empirical ideas are at stake, no values are involved, no issues that are provable in any way. My idea of radio versus their idea of radio. Nyah nyah nyah.
The real conflicts are emotional. I want money. Period. They don’t want to give me any. Period. And I hate them for it. I hate the jazz guy, I hate the station manager, I hate the program director, I hate all the lackeys who kiss their asses and they all feel similar emotions toward me. And these personality problems are translated into power. They don’t like what I do so they ignore me, they want to ignore me out of existence. I am the dickhead squirting in the forest no one wants to smell. I feel I deserve money. And it is true, I do. They don’t want to pay me. And they don’t have to.
The reasons don’t matter. All programming decisions at all radio stations are made without reason cause rationality sense fact judgment research statistics intelligence or sensitivity. All programming decisions are mere decisions without any basis. Arbitrons and other ratings services provide a tidy excuse, but everyone knows they are phony and untrue. This is part of the excitement of radio because people are always trying things and then inventing reasons why they work or why they don’t work. But it is sad when imaginative programming is threatened by these non-reasons.
I decide I love my show. I will find money somehow and continue to do it despite their indifference. I look for another job even though I know the time and energy involved in such employment will interfere with the all-night demands of my show. I make the desperate move of trying to find a CETA job in broadcasting. Thus begins one of the most horrible periods of my life.
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R(1)A commercial by THE CONGRESS OF WONDERS, a late Sixties San Francisco stoner comedy group, from their album Revolting!
Chorus: Tasteless Garbage! Tasteless garbage! TASTELESS GARBAGE!
Wimpy Voice: Well . . . . . I . . . . .
A: How about a nice big luke warm bowl full of Tasteless Garbage?
A: Look good?
V: Eh . . . . . well . . . . .
A: Go ahead and try some!
V: Well . . . . . eh . . . . . [He tastes it]. Ugh!
A: Taste good?!
V: Yeach, yeah.
Chorus: Tasteless Garbage! Tasteless Garbage! TASTELESS GARBAGE!
A: You eat it every day.*
* Congress of Wonders. “Radio Phil.” © no date, no pub., from Revolting!, Fantasy Records, 7016.
If there is a future, it is certain that those filled with The Fear will need to find cool. In the Modern World, the only way to cope with the willies is knowing how to walk that walk and talk that talk.
I have been thinking that a possible future model for cool could be The Woman if, as John and Yoko claim, the woman really is the nigger of the world.
The image of women is similar in many ways to that of the Negro which inspired the hipsters of the 1950s. The Woman is, because of immovable endemic unconscious prejudices, always under the threat of oppression, humiliation, and destruction. Powerful people insist she is not the owner of her own body. If she is raped or battered, recourse in the justice system often turns on the personalities and prejudices of law officers and judges. In some cultures she can be killed under the merest suspicion that she was raped, while her putative rapists are never brought to justice. In the U.S.A., The Woman is caught between totalitarianism and democracy. Those who wish to institutionalize her worthlessness shout down those who demand her equality. She lives with the myth that the patriarchal culture was divinely established structure. She can’t get equal pay, her civil rights are not expressly guaranteed by the Constitution, she is often placed in the position of being her husband’s property, she cannot always own property, she is a slave to her children and her home.
Those who live under incessant degradation often have no other resort than cool.
The Woman lives on the edge of annihilation and yet she provides a mode of conduct for surviving in a fallen world. She possesses a secret wordless language. As a man, I speculate that the menstrual cycle causes The Woman to have a different attitude about her body than I do about mine. It would seem that The Woman is compelled on a cyclical basis to somehow deemphasize the intellect, to live closer to her body – perfect credentials for cool. And as Tiresias knew thousands of years ago, it is The Woman who has the more fulfilling orgasm. In addition to this, she an automatic justification for her existence that men can’t possibly equal: she is the bearer of children, the perpetrator of life itself.
Perhaps in the future, those who live the cool life – the Hips as they will be called – will model themselves after The Women. Plump silhouettes of goddess images will be as ubiquitous as peace signs. Men will seek to develop breasts and fecund bellies. Skirts and pumps will be sized for males. There will even be a business tunic for the Wall Street Hips. Who is the coolest woman of all time? Katharine Hepburn. Janis Joplin. Harriet Tubman. Marie Curie. Sylvia Plath. Lydia Lunch. Eleanor Roosevelt. Audrey Hepburn. Gloria Steinem. Virginia Wolf. Grace Slick. Sappho. Joan of Arc. Anais Nin. I don’t know who my longing for coolness would drive me to emulate.
|Nick Lowe tells Scott Field and me about the nature of popular music.
Nick Lowe: Well, you see I think that it’s just trash music. That’s-what that’s-what . . . . . in issue . . . . . is jazz and classical both, I know very little about either-either ki-, y’know, either of those two kinds of music. But pop music, I’m not talking about the hip sense of it now, I’m talking about anything from, ah, Helen Reddy to, ah, The Dead Boys, y’know. Pop music is, ah, essentially trash music, but I think that; and it’s the . . . . . the spirit that you, if you make it in that spirit – it’s an attitude more than anything else – you make it as trash music, throwaway music, then you stand more change of-of making something special, of making good records. That’s why I like to work really quick because ideas and things like that are four a penny, y’know. You can, there’s loacs of ideas, so why labor about over something, that, I mean, the Moody Blues just gonna be like one of those terrible B-movies you see on your, on the television . . . . .
Gary: They already are, they already are.
L: Yeah, yeah, I think so, I think so. And yet, y’know, th-th-they all think, well I – as you say, they already are – but-but, a, y’know, in the past, people have sorta treated them as if it’s, y’know, the gospel or something like that, y’know: God is speaking. I mean, I-I’ve I’m not an expert on, eh, Elvis Presley or anything like that, but I would imagine that when he cut some of those real classic tracks, “Blue Suede Shoes” or “Baby, Let’s Play House” and some of those early Sun things, he probably cut five of those in a morning, y’know, between nine in the morning and mid-day. They didn’t know they were cutting records that are gonna really live for-ever or whatever you care, they didn’t know that, they just thought it was just this fad, y’know . . . . . at ah, at ah . . . . . getting a hit record. And it, ah . . . . . and I think that cou-that you could still use that in sev-seventy-eight, y’know, that attitude and that’s why I like to . . . . . that’s my-my attitude to making records anyway.
Figure 30: Nick Lowe: “This is a rather dimwitted nervous hippie from a college station who interviewed me.” (Photo by Zowie.)
In publicizing the Manifestival, Gomelsky spoke of a forum where fans and critics and musicians could exchange ideas about this alternative music. This turned out to be a panel discussion moderated with slovenly cynicism by a New York poet named John Brody. Robert Christgau, music editor of the Village Voice; Chris Cutler, dazzling drummer of many progressive bands including Henry Cow; freelance rock critic Michael Bloom; John Paige of Random Radar Records, an important small label which has released The Muffins and an off-shoot of Henry Cow, The Art Bears; someone from The Kitchen, a cutting-edge New York art and performance space; Daevid Allen, the mythical founder of Soft Machine and Gong; and others whose names I missed – all spoke to the idea that rock music could change the world.
Christgau was booed upon opening his mouth. Fierce gentle articulate Chris Cutler said there is too much music in the world, most of it shit. Cheers! Michael Bloom stated eloquently that to most people, music is a secondary concern, they do not make it the center of their lives, it could never change the world. Cheers! Hisses! Christgau declared to the restless crowd (with some veracity) that they were not ready to think and talk about the music they came to hear. Daevid Allen leaped to his feet crying, “That is why I never buy the Village Voice!” Wild laughter! Christgau retorted, “That is why I never buy Gong records. (I get them free.)” The guy from The Kitchen raised his fist crying, “What about the audience?!?! What do you want to hear??? One, two, three!!! . . . . .” Cheers!! Shouts!! “One, two, three!!! . . . . .” Cheers!! Shouts!! Chris Cutler snarled that this was no different from Hitler and he and Christgau left the stage.
Daevid Allen walked back and forth in his elf shoes, stood on his head, grabbed the microphone with his toes, got up, farted into the mike, left the stage, returned, put tape over his mouth, made a mmmph mmmph speech, ripped off the tape and said “Thank you.” Wild applause!!! Michael Bloom pleaded notes of reason but everything had been rent to pieces.
Meanwhile, people fell in love, became loose, played politics, and did all the things people do when locked in a small world for a long time. There were fans from Kansas, Louisiana and California just to see this show. Robert Fripp was in the audience and someone said Ornette Coleman and Steve Hillage were around. It was better than Gilligan's Island, so many pretty girls and handsome boys.
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