|Oil of Dog
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I often fantasize a concert to end all concerts, an event for people
who truly love music. It would open with a chamber ensemble,
perhaps a string quartet and they would perform something by Elliot Carter and perhaps some Schubert.
Then a jazz ensemble, on the outside of things, to rant and blow and
tease music out of the moment. Then a chamber orchestra for
something gentle by Corelli and something violent by Varese.
And then, of course, a rock band to blast everyone away and make them
sweat. They would be on a revolving stage so there would be no waiting
between sets. Maybe each group would do three or four fifteen
minute sets one after another, pow pow pow pow chamber jazz symphony
rock chamber jazz symphony rock pow pow pow pow. What a show it
would be. Then for a finale, they would all play together,
perhaps a special piece commissioned just for the event. Or a few
of the musicians in an open jam. What an audience, all the
hipsters and flipsters and misters and missuses and rockers and
snobbers all together mingling and laughing and exchanging
uncomfortable looks, applauding wildly, telling one another to please
be quiet and holding their hands over their ears. What a concert
it would be.
The wonderful thing is that such concerts can happen. I do them all the time on my show. On a revolving stage. Not, of course, with all the people in the same place and the crazy, wonderful things that happen when you pack people together. But I can make the music happen. This is one of the mightiest innovations brought upon our culture by radio and long-playing records. People my age don’t realize how differently we relate to music than did our ancestors. Today it is possible to shit to Brahms. Before records and radio it was not possible to shit to Brahms or anyone else. Today there is hardly a soul who has not pooped to Paganini or Art Pepper or Peter, Paul and Mary, or Billy Preston. What a luxury – anyone can hear any piece of music at any time of day while engaging in any activity. Moreover, we can listen to dream concerts any time at any venue featuring any performers. No promoters, no roadies, no bouncers, no tickets, no waiting. We can hear any piece of music as many times as we wish; we don’t have to wait for the orchestra to bring it into their repertoire, we don’t have to wait for the group to come to town. We can intimately learn each note, we can weep a thousand times in a row to the words. We can hear the "Easter Oratorio" in November or Christmas carols in June. We can enjoy Arthur Fiedler though he is dead and Stevie Wonder when he was a little boy. On the radio, I can put any two tunes together and anyone who wants to can shit to them. Nothing is sacred, nothing is privileged. It is beautiful, it is art for everyone. It all melts and fuses into a glowing background, an uplifting muzak, an unseen vision.
BILLY PIRANHA AND THE ENEMIES. “No Reason.” One of the first records released by a punk-era Buffalo band. This is a strangely sentimental song for such a growling leathery group.
I never did real good at school
But all the girls
no more than one I knew.
And I always had some fun
But now I’m getting old
I see no reason to go on anymore
I see no reason to go on. *
I was there for their first gig. People started smashing chairs and they had to shut down. It was fantastic! They have never let up. Billy Piranha has a unique tick-tock guitar style which has been imitated by other groups in town. Subsequent to this song, they released an EP called Products of the Street which is a biting delight.
* © no date, no pub., from 45 /rpm, Enemy Records, MC 5625.
Figure 2: When Cyndi Lauper was in Blue Angel, she visited the studios of WZIR-FM. When she saw this photo posted on a bulletin board she said, "Wow! What a cool picture!" This is my beautiful coat which was ripped from the bodies of dead sheeps. It was the first coat I ever owned that offered protection from the murderous Buffalo winds as I crept to the radio station at 2:30 AM through fangs of ice and gullets of snow. This shot also shows that you can pose for a portrait with your eyes closed, an aesthetic that was established by Yousuf Karsh’s great portrait of Jean Sibelius. (Photo by Richard Chon.)
|A NOTE ON THE ARRANGEMENT OF THIS WEBSITE
There are about 325 essays in this website. They were originally written on an ancient device known as a typewriter which was only capable of generating hard-copy data in the form of text printed on sheets of paper. After the essays were all written, I arranged the sheets of paper by subject matter into bunches which were paperclipped with a little piece of paper saying what each bunch was about. The bunches were meant to be like chapters. The essays were ordered within each bunch, and the bunches were ordered so as to tell a story and show the development of my ideas. The essays were then consecutively numbered. Here are the names of the original bunches as they were originally ordered:
1. Beginning and acknowledgements 22. What is cool
2. All kinds of music on my show 23. Future cool
3. Particular tunes and sets 24. What I achieve
4. My background 25. More power of music
5. Non-commercial radio tales and blues 26. Style
6. Things I do on the radio 27. Classical music
7. Commercial radio tales and blues 28. Jazz
8. Media creates the world 29. The Manifestival
9. Power of music 30. Rock madness
10. Music versus music business 31. Musicians
11. Record promoters 32. New wave
12. Heroes and stars 33. My beard
13. Heroes’ heroes 34. Music and literature
14. Gary as object of admiration 35. New wave now
15. Stars as real people 36. Poverty
16. Cool introduced 37. Cutting of hour
17. Gary as asshole 38. WZIR
18. Worrying about cool 39. Why why why
19. The Fall 40. Conclusion
20. The modern world 41. Bibliography and notes
21. The End of the World
This was a good order, in that it showed how all the seemingly unrelated topics like Jazz and The End of the World and Non-commercial Radio led to one another. But it was boring as hell to read. Most of the interviews with rock stars were in one place, discussions of particular pieces of music came one after another, the thoughts about cool were bunched in the middle.
I decided to rearrange the essays in a more esthetic, spontaneous, and nonlinear order. This had the advantage of being more chaotic and thus reflective of my mind, and it also allowed me to suggest many more inter-relationships between the essays than would otherwise have been possible. Back in the early 1980s, this was a rather innovative way to present printed text, especially in a work of nonfiction, and especially in a Ph.D. dissertation. I wondered if someone would try to convince me that this was a silly, pretentious way of putting the book together and make me sequence it normally, but no one did. Today, all cyberbabies follow nonlinear sequences as they meander the internet with no more conscious deliberation than musty scholars once used in turning pages of books sequentially from beginning to end.
American radio is cursed – just like the whole goddamned human
race – by a fall from grace. People of my generation know
the Golden Age only from rare rebroadcasts of the days when the
greatest orchestras and the funniest comedians and the most brilliant
actors filled the airwaves with sounds that made all your senses
glow. Today, as Lorenzo Milam says in Sex and Broadcasting,
American radio is little more than a hawker’s box. In North
America, only in Canada on the CBC will you consistently hear radio as
art, a gift to the public, created from palettes of sound. But
I’m so tired of The Fall.
People of generations younger than mine know nothing of the mythical wild wonder of Progressive Radio: stations that would play any- any- anything, stations that loved music, that specialized in broadcasting the wonderfully unfamiliar, that shunned the hit makers for the innovators, stations that were revolutionary and heretical, stations that were like friends, where you felt like you could find out what was going on. That dear old progressive radio that (some say) was started out in California by Tom Donahue and KMPX and then at KSAN. But as a 1976 article in Mother Jones points out, commercial considerations have destroyed the progressive format:
The music has been tightened even at San Francisco’s KSAN, long regarded by programmers as the most free form of the big commercial stations. At KSAN, the emphasis section is large and the pressure to play from it subtle. But management constantly reminds DJs to cater to young, white rock fans, who make up the bulk of the station’s audience. The emphasis section, known as the “red-dot file”, consists of several hundred “meat and potatoes records”, as station manager, Jerry Graham, describes it. DJs are not actively encouraged to play from the red-dot file, but the word gets to those who consistently stray too far from playing rock selections. *
Now (at the time of this dissertation), I have heard that KSAN has become a country station. (In 2007 it is an ordinary album-rock station and, shunning its legendary call letters – KSAN – it calls itself “The Bone.” I am sure their wet T-shirt contests are well attended.)
I hear rumors from friends about the decline of progressive radio stations in other markets. But I know the situation in Buffalo. Today’s slick AOR (Album-Oriented Radio) stations are such poor, tired descendants of those refulgent, shoddy, loony, hippy progressive-radio operations. Almost the only factor distinguishing AOR stations from Top 40 AM radio is their stereo signal.
I think of my show as the last lingering ray of truly progressive, free and friendly radio almost anywhere. And I am angry about the way all radio stations have deteriorated, how everyone says there is nothing good on the radio, and how everyone keeps listening anyway. And I am enraged at the neglect and hostility toward me at my own station. But it is all such a dopey fight. I lose. I am no threat to the commercial stations and the non-commercial morons will never hear the light. I just get tired.
* Steve Chappie, Robert Garafalo, Joel Rogers. “The Rise and Fall of FM Rock”, Mother Jones, May, 1976, VoL. 1, No. 3, p. 55 ff.
Babs calls every day. She describes herself as twenty-two,
blonde, five foot four, 105 pounds, nice legs, and
“busty.” She claims to work for American Airlines as
a personnel administrator, her father is the chief of police in Dallas,
her brother is a fullback on the Cowboys. She coos endless
stories about guys who try to pick her up at Napoleon’s, about
her auto accident, about the time she was hit by a car outside the
M&T Plaza, about her sister-in-law, Adrian, about her ex-husband,
about her bingo and bowling nights, about her T-shirts: the one saying
“MY BODY IS MY OWN (but I share)”, the one with the big
arrow (“And I don’t have to tell you where the arrow
points, do I, honey?”). Adrian is always yelling in the
background. Babs will ask one of the kids to get her a glass of
water or switch her monologue from me to Adrian without a pause. She
tells me “There’s this DJ I know whose body I’m gonna
molest and he works at WBFO and if he gets me hot, he ain’t ever
gonna want me to stop.” I say, “You can come over any
time.” “Oh, I’ll come, but I don’t wanna do it
alone.” She never shows up. I wonder if she is
disfigured or in a wheel chair.
It turns out she pesters all the male DJs at the station with long, horny calls. What kind of person flirts with unpaid jocks on public radio? “Don’t tell anyone else about me,” she says. “Play ‘Hubba Hubba’ by Crash Craddock,” she tells me.
When I watch you
Brush your teeth
It just drives me wild
Hubba hubba *
* Billy “Crash” Craddock, “Hubba Hubba,” © no date, Ray Stevens Music (BMI), from Turning Up and Turning On, EMI, SW 11853.
The New World Record label is a miracle. Inspired by the American Bicentennial, the Rockefeller Foundation provided a grant to a bunch of scholar-types to anthologize American music in all its forms, from Navajo chants to Tin Pan Alley favorites to the string quartets of Henry Cowell. Hence, a collection of 19th Century protest songs from which come these lyrics by H.C. Dodge set in 1889 to a famous anthem we all know and love:
My Country, ‘tis of Thee
Land of lost liberty
Of thee we sing.
Land which the Millionaires
Who govern our affairs
Own for themselves and heirs
Hail to thy King.
Land where the wealthy few
Can make the many do
Their royal will.
And tax for selfish greed
The toilers till they bleed,
And those, not yet weak-kneed,
Crush down and kill. *
Alas. A century has passed without change.
* Cincinnatti University Singers, Earl Rivers, Director. “The Future America.” © no date, no pub., from The Hand that Holds the Bread: Progress and Protest in the Gilded Age: Songs from the Civil War to the Columbian Exposition, New World Records, NW 267.
|Letter from a listener:
I am 20 years of age and live in Kenmore. W.B.F.O. is the number one station in Buffalo on my list and “Oil of Dog” is my favorite Radio program of all time.
The thing about the music business is there’s nothing in it
that’s aesthetic. Y’know.
David Bloom (WBFO classical music programmer, opera expert, linguist, and pianist extraordinaire): Uh huh.
Z: Aesthetics are something that Americans don’t care about and something that you never mention in a corporate board room. Y’know, the whole business of music is the business of moving units from one place to another and, uh, receiving, uh, pieces of money in exchange for these units.
B: Cash flow.
Z: That’s right. Y’know.
B: And speculation.
Z: That’s what it’s basically all about. Now if you want to cut through all the crud and, ah, the bullshit that’s involved with what, ah, the record business is, it works like this: In its simplest form, the major record company is like a bank.
B: Mm hmm.
Z: It acts like a bank. You sign a contract with a record company and the advance that they give you is a loan.
B: Uh huh.
Z: See? And with that loan money you are going to make a record. And, ah, the loan is paid back to the record company at the point where the album has sold “X” number of units.
Z: Now this “X” is determined by th-, uh, factors in your contract. In other words, if you were receiving a, ah, ten-percent royalty, that means that ten-percent of, ah, say ninety-percent of the retail price of the album . . . . . ah, when the number of units sold, based on that computation, equals what they gave you as an advance, then you can collect artist royalties.
Gary Storm: Oh boy!
Z: So you can see that the record company, if, ah, if they made the right decision to begin with to sign you an-and to get something going, um, they really are not in such a bad spot for collecting their investment back. In terms of what th-the possible earnings are from a hit record, y’know, they’re in real good shape. And they’re always going around crying, “Oh well, this hurts me and we can’t do this. I mean, it costs too much money!” It doesn’t cost anything, I mean, whatever they lose, they write off anyway.
B and G: Uh huh.
Z: Y’know, it’s a business expense, it’s a business loss. They can’t lose.
G: But th-th-they can actually prevent you from doing things?
Z: Well, the way in which it’s done is, wa-record companies are not isolated islands. I mean, they pretend to be in competition with each other, but they’re all out shakin’ hands with each other, rubbin’ each other’s back and then doing funny things to each other in the men’s room.
G and B: Hahahaha
Z: And one record company executive, ah, talks to another record company executive and without, uh, any more . . . . . ah, discussion about it, things get done.
Fighting breaks out between Americans and Iranians. Russians join Iranians.
Russians are very eager to gain power in Iran, both for the oil and the seacoast on the Persian Gulf.
American oil companies bribe congressmen and president to go to any length to reclaim American oil interests.
American generals clap hands with glee.
Russian generals clap hands with delight.
Nuclear device is detonated in Tehran.
Situation is completely out of Gary’s hands.
| So many memories associated with Donovan. First hearing “Mellow Yellow” when I was a palpitating teenage pustule. Buying the two-disc box album Gift from a Flower to a Garden
and really trying to like every song. I was an uptight Freshman
in 1969 at the University of New Mexico when I saw him in concert. I
was lonely to death. I remember I wore a trim tan sport coat and
a handpainted tie to the concert. I sat next to a girl in hippy
clothes. “Donovan and I are both Scorpios,” she
said. “That means we are both horny.” I was
alone. I remember seeing some friends across the auditorium and
waving wildly and bringing my elbow crack down on some poor
girl’s skull, making her cry. I remember the whole audience
– except me, melting in my self-consciousness – singing in
four part harmony:
Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea
Everybody is a part of everything anyway
You can have everything if you let yourself be *
No one embodied the hopeless necessities of love and peace, no one conveyed them with less musical guile, than Donovan.
* Donovan. “Happiness Runs.” ©1968, no pub., from Barabajagal, Epic BN 26481.
TONY TRISHCHKA – virtuoso banjo player. Wow! What is he doing? He’s all out of tune! What weird chord changes! Tune called “Lilacs Look Like Lakes.” This ain’t no three chord bluegrass!
| Dale Anderson of the Buffalo Evening News writes an insightful article about all-night radio.
Like everything in broadcasting, there are commercial reasons why nighttime radio is the way it is. For one thing, the major ratings service doesn’t count what happens between midnight and 6 a.m. Neither, for the most part, does the Federal Communications Commission. Sponsors are few. And the audience is too diverse to put a yardstick to. *
He talks to Dick Rifenberg, who pilots the big automated computer-controlled FM station, WBEN, a woman named Beverly who keeps WKBW on all night, me on public radio, WBFO, and:
The master, Gary says, is WBUF-FM’s John Farrell, who lays out his moods on the turntable nightly from 1 to 6 a.m. John helped introduce progressive rock to the Buffalo FM waveband 10 years ago. He meets the dawn with coffee and yogurt and wouldn’t have any other job, except maybe chief station engineer.
“I insist on working nights,” he says. “People are more receptive at night to the things I want to play. Nothing but strange and weird things happen at night. The transmitter has a fondness for breaking down in the middle of the night. I used to get lots of strange phone calls, some bad ones, too. Every couple months, I used to get suicide calls and I’d have to try to talk them down. I haven’t had any of those in a while. Things are a lot more normal now.” *
* Dale Anderson. “3 AM - What’s Happenin’?” Buffalo Evening News Gusto, Sept. 23, 1977, Vol. CXCIV, No. 140, pp. 13 ff.
First acknowledgement goes, of course, to Public Radio WBFO for all the pain and freedom that made Oil of Dog possible. There are so many people there, so many who used to be there – some I love, some I curse, some whom I like but I wish I had met elsewhere – all of whom are important to my show and this book – too many to remember or tactfully list – so I will acknowledge them all under the epithet of “WBFO.” Thank you and god-damn you to hell.
I have similar sentiments for the people at Comercial Radio WZIR and Commercial Radio WUWU for the freedom and ineptitude that caused Oil of Dog to prosper and then die from the airwaves. There are those whom I hope will lose everything and there are others upon whom I wish fame and prosperity.
As I write this, the name Oil of Dog is kept alive by the fine people at Record Boutique – known as RBI. Every Saturday I play records in the store just as I once did on the radio. This is a clever way of marketing records, since there are no longer any stations in town that care about music. Don, the owner, is a good businessman, he is patient and honest and I hope he is blessed with millions.
Jay Boyar used to do a show on WBFO called “This Morning,” a curious blend of reviews and humor and music that was brutally canned after a short time. He is a reviewer for the Courier-Express and just published a book on magic. (As of 2007, he is a nationally respected movie critic and author of the book, Films To Go: 100 Memorable Movies for Travelers.) Jay enthusiastically read and encouraged this book. His criticism has been so cogent and articulate and incisive as to be an act of virtuosity in itself.
Supremely important is the noted scholar, Art Efron of the English Department at the State University of New York at Buffalo [SUNYAB], who said, “No, Gary, you must bring something to show the seminar next week, I won’t let you out of it. I know you must have something to show.” Thus, this work – originally to be a “short paper” – was launched. Art’s continuing interest in this project helped keep me going until it was completed.
It was the swarthy scholar Bruce Jackson of the English Department of SUNYAB who said, "No, Gary, I do not think you have written a 650-page minor field paper. I think you have written a Ph.D. dissertation, smacking into my head what Art Efron had been saying all along, and knocking 20 years of A.B.D. excuses out of my life.
Michael McClure, one of my heroes, one of the great American poets, who was right there at the beginning of Beat, was the outside reader of my disseration. He approved. What more can I say?
A third sponsor and reader of this paper was Gerald O’Grady, who as a great theoretician of media, and as a listener of my show, started me on many long, productive chains of thought.
John Farrell, one of the world’s greatest disc jockeys, one of the few media people of unimpeachable integrity, whose ambitions have never compromised his beliefs, man of few words, wrought great changes in this work with a few raised eyebrows and monosyllabic criticisms.
Bob Creeley was thoughtful and interested enough to attend my very first presentation of this work in Art Efron’s seminar way back in 1978 and he has lingered in my mind as a sort of muse.
From Mark Fruhauf, clear-sighted Chief Engineer of WBFO, I learned many of my beliefs during many discussions, drunk and sober, late at night in the streets and bars of Buffalo.
It was Scott Field who originally seriously set about building the incredible WBFO record library. He was among the first people to recognize the earth-shaking significance of Iggy and the Stooges and the New York Dolls and he opened my ears to real rock’n’roll and made it possible for me to hear punk and all that evolved from it.
I must bring attention – since they are so often not credited for their exceptional work – to photorockers Mike and Marilyn of Zowie Photo who are responsible for most of the photographs and all of the prints that appear in this book.
Lisa Scandale aided me in the tedious, miserable, thankless chore of compiling the bibliography and discography.
Susan Mandelson first introduced me to Lorenzo Milam’s fine book, Sex and Broadcasting.
Gina McNutt loaned me her inaudible, creaky, little Panasonic cassette player, upon which I laboriously beat out almost all the transcriptions of interviews that appear in this book.
I am deeply thankful to Rich McMaster, my room-mate during two of the three years I spent on this book. He graciously endured my endless typing at every hour of the day and night, was generous during my times of poverty, and ignored my dreadful living habits.
And now there is Faith Reynolds, goddess of the typewriter and one of the only people I could ever trust to do things almost the way I would do them.
|Image under construction.||
Here’s a group called MOON DOG doing “Put on the Grateful Dead” – a Dead-head anthem:
There’s some kinds of music that you play when you’re happy
There’s some that you play when you’re sad
I know one kind of music
And it never made anybody feel bad
In six days, God made the world
And on the seventh day, he said
“I’m gonna light up a number Kick off my shoes
And put on the Grateful Dead.” *
The advent of the independent record label is historically linked to the emergence of punk rock. However, all kinds of musicians, including these laid back rockers, Moon Dog, gave up on the intransigent closed-minded nincompoops who control the major record labels, and put their music out on their own private record labels.
* © 1978, El Cheapo (BMI), from Okiextremist, Moondog Records, MD 1001.
| MY CYNICAL EARS
A large number of classical music stations program as if their audience can’t stand classical music. They play only the famous old war horses with barely a nod to the new or obscure. They never play works that are more than fifty minutes long so don’t plan on hearing any Bruckner or any of Mahler’s symphonies except the First.
All AOR stations are rock stations for people who are afraid of rock music. They are programmed for those who want no surprise from life, who want no part of the revolution for which rock'n'roll is the soundtrack, who want nothing more than the same old supergroups and the same old hit songs, who wish to be blind and deaf to the turbid racing changes in the history of rock’n’roll.
If there is a need for black music stations, then few stations are devoted to the music of black artists. Most so-called black radio is more akin to disco or Top 40 or adult contemporary. You will rarely hear even a passing hint of the history of jazz, unless it is a disco or pop tune by a jazz artist. Black composers like Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Ulysses Kay receive little exposure. You will seldom hear orchestras conducted by Paul Freeman; or the virtuosity of Andre Watts, one of the greatest interpreters of romantic piano music; or the amazing soprano voice of Leontyne Price. The many beautiful blues albums on small labels will rarely be heard on black stations, not to mention reggae and ska and the unknown sounds of the folk and popular music of Africa. And hiphop? Don't bet on hearing MC Eiht, Twilight 22, Schoolly D, or anyone else in the alleys and gutters of rap street. A station that really played nothing but black music – and not just the commercial stuff – would be incredible.
Most country stations program for people who don’t want to hear country music. Most modern country music is performed by pop and rock performers who sing with a noticeable drawl to a twangy accompaniment. These stations almost never play bluegrass or old timey music, much less the thousands of back woods and backlands virtuosi who pop up on a thousand tiny record labels, or the archives of vintage country artists from the ‘20’s and ‘30’s and ‘40’s like Tex Owens, Bob Wills, Carolina Cotton, or Ernest Tubb. You will never hear them broadcast the twangy slide of the country bluesmen.
Muzak stations are for people who don’t want to be bothered by any music whatsoever.
The programmers in charge of these stations have a profound and abiding scorn for their audience. Everything about their programming admits this hatred. People are nothing but so many percentage points moving up and down the ARBitron book during the rating periods. They are beasts who can be made to drool over a record giveaway. They are morons who can be tricked into listening to hour after hour of loud, blaring, putrid, sneaky, lying, thieving, pernicious, destructive commercials. They are puppy dogs who can be trained to love dozens of banal, boring, simple-minded, tasteless, worthless, uncreative songs.
Even non-commercial radio is a product of this scorn. Public radio is more often than not for people who can’t stand the public. It is elitist and pseudo-cultural and anti-pop. Nothing is to be trusted unless it has the low flavor of high culture.
But this loathing and scorn for the audience is sanctified by the immense flow of cash (either from commercials or grants) that it generates.
The crux of the problem is this: Are people really as stupid and confused and helpless and dull as the general quality of radio would suggest? Do they just not know any better? Did the money mongers make them this way? Is it possible for free, loving communication to ever succeed on the airwaves?
| Reading a poem by Isabella Gardner, “Part of Darkness”:
Last summer I took books and children toI have prepared this reading very carefully, filling the manuscript with breath marks and intonations. The music – ferocious banjo picking by The Louisiana Honeydrippers – is all cued up. I have only one free hand because I am holding up the book. So I turn up the volume for the record so that all I have to do is hit the “on” switch on the turntable and the music will start exactly as the poem ends. I read carefully, dramatically, emphatically. I am naked on the air. My free hand waving expressively knocks the turntable switch and the wild banjo music clatters into the middle of the poem. “UUUHHH uuhh woo oh drat curses I’M SO EMBARRASSED!!!!!”
Wisconsin’s Great North Woods. We
one night through miles of pines and rainy
darkness to a garbage grove
that burgeoned broken crates and bulging
paper bags and emptied cans of beer,
to watch for native bears, who local
guides had told us, scavenged there . . . . *
* Isabella Gardner, West of Childhood, Poems 1950-1955. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1965.
They gotta be among the most enjoyable groups on record. MARTIN, BOGAN AND ARMSTRONG, a black string band that was gigging in the ‘40’s. They broke up for a long time, but thank heavens they’re back together again. Groups like this used to tour with medicine shows and play the streets for coin. Though the instrumentation is that of a bluegrass band, they do many styles: blues, country, swing, polkas for Polish weddings, and sea songs for sailors. We are listening to a sleepy old blues song called “Naggin’ Woman.”
So, why am I a disc jockey? I confess. I want to be cool. I
MEAN, AREN’T DISC JOCKEYS SUPPOSED TO BE COOL??? I mean,
they’re always used as heroes in modern romantic novels. I
have always wanted to be cool. I was one of those kids in Junior
High that everybody made fun of, even the teachers. I got tripped
in the halls, nookied at lunch, and thrown in the showers with all my
clothes in P.E. I was never one of those guys the girls giggled
about in clusters. The gang never asked me to be a member.
I never experienced peer pressure to smoke and drink because my peers
didn’t want me around. I played viola in the
orchestra. I hated sports. I would talk and talk and talk
and talk and talk and talk and talk, hoping and trying and crying to
talk things better, if only I talked enough, everything would be
alright. What a skinny fruit. I could hear the names
echoing in the halls: “HEY, TIMBO!!!”
“HEY, LEROY!!!” For me, it was just
“STOOOOORM!!” It was a putdown. I just
Yeah yeah yeah. I know the typical guidance counselor lines. No one is any less cool than anyone else, even you, Gary. It shouldn’t bother you that you are unattractive to the opposite sex. If you respect yourself, people won’t steal your dessert in the cafeteria. Forget that you live each waking moment with a feeling of failure. Achieve something of real worth and value, like good grades. Besides, all those people you call cool are just a bunch of jerks. Right. Well, I would gladly become a jerk, if it would really make me cool. But there seem to be other approaches.
Cool has a lot to do with what other people think of you. Beautiful women are automatically cool. Powerful and rich people are automatically cool. People who excel in sports are automatically cool. So are people who excel in music. Top 40 disc jockeys are automatically cool. Is it possible for an all-night DJ at a public radio station to be cool in The Modern World???????
Figure 3: Portrait of nurd as a younger nurd. (Photo of photo by Zowie)
My first fan letter comes six days after my first show. It is from a
graduate student in the French Department. He says I have a
pretty good French accent and suggests a few sets:
Just to take one instrument – the organ – there is an amazing variety of little things across the ages. Try something from Biggs’ “A Festival of French Organ” (Columbia) in between Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Grateful Dead, or something Baroque or Renaissance with the Beatles or Simon and Garfunkle.
Another child of the sixties. A short time later I am picked up hitchhiking by a woman who turns out to be this guy’s mother. They invite me to Thanksgiving dinner, but I never take them up on it. He writes several times, always making imaginative suggestions for wonderful music.
An unabashed dilettante, Storm makes no sharp distinction between musical forms. Country, even pop, is occasionally programmed. “Boy, you don’t have to be a jerk to like that one,” he comments on the air after playing Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” *
* Patricia Ward Biederman. “Storm’s Music Soothes Lonely Night,” Courier Express, Jan. 14, 1977, VoL. CXLII, No. 178, p. 10.
| Fighting breaks out in Iran between Russians and Americans.
Gary sells out and becomes an American spy.
Spends entire war bugging hotel rooms and listening to boring conversations. Rock and roll dreams are forgotten.
|At the end of the show, they turned on the house lights and the flood-lights and thousands and thousands of people THE WHOLE GODDAMNED CROWD MOVED AS ONE and when Mick clapped over his head, they threw thousands of arms to the top of the stadium and when Mick pointed, they hurled thousands of fingers to the stage and when Mick jumped, the whole stadium rose and fell. The audience breathed as one to the beat 80,000 times over. I do not know what be what it is causing so many people to be all turned completely on by the same experience. Everyone around me was exhausted. A great thrust of people would crush us from behind, but there was no where else to move. Shirts and hats flew onto the stage. Mick picked up a cowboy hat and wore it and threw it back. He picked up a shirt and threw it and it would be in a million pieces, the shirt HE touched. People at the very front kept climbing the fence and the security guards kept pushing and punching them away. I was there, too. I stood like fifteen waving dollars all hot and sticky waving and pointing and jumping and yelling like fifteen living dollars surrounded by lovely girls in nipply halter tops and bare-backed boys and I flung my fifteen dollars to the skies. He stood up there on the stage and in the floodlights he could see us all waving thousands upon thousands of dollars waving and cheering and smiling and I wanted to be special, not just another wet green-backed boy and he could see every face and what he must have felt.||
Searchin’ for a wild bologna
in the jungles of New Foundland
If I get him
I’m gonna let him
jump out of my fryin’ pan *
To us United Statesers, this is a totally unknown group on the almost nonexistent Quay label, which appears to be a subsidiary of the monumentally underpublicized Litho Records. Fiddlin’ Irishly while barkin’ these silly words. They are called RED ISLAND. I wonder if I am the only DJ in the U.S. of A. to play a group from New Foundland.
* Red Island. “In Pursuit of the Wild Balogna,” ©1978, no pub., from In Pursuit of the Wild Balogna, Litho Records, CS 7804.
|A DAY WITH THE RECORD PROMOTERS *
Hundreds of records are released each month. Very few of them are ever given mass exposure on the radio. In order to make sure their music receives airplay, record companies send record promoters out into “the field.” The promoter’s job is to convince the music director to play his company’s “product” and if the record is picked up, to boost the airplay with other kinds of promotion like contests and concerts and interviews and publicity stunts and advertisements.
Visiting the record promoters is always a very upsetting and enraging event for me. I’ve been doing it every other Wednesday or so throughout 1978. Wednesday is the traditional day all the promoters gather in either Chumley’s or Sebastian’s to eat lunch and get loaded and trade “product” and talk business and sometimes treat DJs and music directors to a meal. For many years, the Italian restaurant, Sebastian’s, was the only place of meeting. It is near all the major stations and one of the most venerable old timers liked their chicken wings. This was Carol Hardy, who used to promote the Atlantic, Elektra, Asylum, and Nonesuch labels. Everybody liked him. He was a great lover of jazz and had the largest record collection I have ever seen. He knew the needs of the commercial programmers and they all respected his opinions. He knew the hunger of the college newspaper critics and non-commercial DJs and they would leave his promo bins with a pile 100 records high. It was Carol Hardy who explained to the first music programmers at WBFO how to contact promoters and compile playlists. He was tall and wore a wide-brimmed hat that made him look like a wealthy rancher. But he was a hipster and had that mysterious dangerous air of an elderly jazzman. He even did a jazz show of his own on WBLK radio once a week. I picture him hunched over the bar at Sebastian’s in that hat nursing a drink, looking like he was waiting for a gunfight, but really always ready to talk music because he loved music like it was everything. He was an old time vinyl junkie, a marvelous inspiration to us youthful addicts with our measly five thousand albums. Carol Hardy was killed in an auto wreck one night on the late way home from a promotional gig and everyone was sad, everything changed.
You see, not all record promoters are lovers of music. They do not see their job as the dispensation of musical joy. They see themselves as pushing “product,” merchandising “units,” “working” a song, publicizing an “act,” “pressuring” the MDs (music directors), following the “charts,” tabulating the “airplay,” aiming for a “hit,” watching for a “crossover,” marketing a “sound,” gearing for “demographics,” “hitting” the stations, seeking a “tie-in,” “doing” a promotion, waiting for the “release.” Many record promoters could be plopped down in the middle of a shoe store without knowing they’d changed jobs. They treat beauty like doody. If a record doesn’t sell, they wipe it and push another.
So today my friend, Karen, and I are going to see the record promoters. She is a good person to do this with because she used to work at WKBW and at one time assisted the old Warner Brothers rep. She is a DJ at a hot boogie bar called the Belle Starr. She is also very attractive and the old beautiful-girl-up-the-sleeve routine makes things easier with some promoters.
We end up eating at Lord Chumley’s because only Jack Perry, the CBS man is at Sebastian’s. The younger maverick promoters eat at Chumley’s because it is brighter and more chic and has better food and a host of pretty young waitresses. The waitress at Sebastian’s is a curmudgeon who treats me like a pig no matter how big a tip I give her. I think she is still into long hair.
So Karen and I stroll into Chumley’s and who should be at the bar but Ted the Atlantic guy and O---, the Warner guy. I ask O---, “Is there any new stuff?” He looks me in the shirt and says, “No.” I know this is a lie because Zappa’s Sleep Dirt has just been released. I don’t trust him. He knows I don’t trust him. He knows I know he has dozens of copies of all the recent releases I need. I know he knows I know this. He doesn’t know about non-commercial radio, he thinks I am a mere college DJ. He knows I don’t like him. He knows he can drive me crazy by not giving me the records I ask for, even though he knows I provide the only airplay in town for most Warner releases. Besides, I sent him a nasty letter complaining about his lousy service. Now the service is even lousier. He expresses annoyance today because I listed Rod Stewart’s new album as one of the worst of the month in the critic’s poll. “Look how many millions it is selling. You look crazy when you say it is a bad record.” It is that old argument, a top-selling record is a good record. I’m crazy because I don’t think “Do You Think I’m Sexy” is one of the finest songs of the month. O---’s job is to push garbage to the major radio stations. My job is my love – music. All I want from O--- is music. Nothing more. Just music. No buttons, no gimmicks, no meals, no tie-ins, no junkets, no drugs, no women. Just music. Why is this so hard? It is hard to believe that the people in the Warner Brothers A&R Department can be so insightful and courageous, signing artists like Ry Cooder and DEVO and Michael Hoenig and the Roches, only to lose their wonderful records in the void of the Promotion Department. Warner is a gigantic company. I suspect they tell their promoters to be deliberately inadequate as if to say, “You need us more than we need you, so fuck you.” Only RCA exceeds Warner for promotional ineptitude. I have been told there is an RCA promoter in Pittsburgh, but I have been unable to empirically confirm her existence.
Most of the other promoters give me what I need if I degrade myself and pester them. But the message is always very clear: Gary, it is nice that you do the kind of radio you do, but you don’t mean jack shit. We’ll help you, but our job is with “the majors”, the big million dollar cotmiercial AM and AOR stations. Look kid, no one would deny you have some effect on the market, but . . . . .
Ted, the Atlantic man is nice, but he acts like he doesn’t trust me. He says no new albums but watch out for Bad Company next week, and also Roxy Music is back together and that’s coming out next week too. I feel like I have to act excited. Even though I love Roxy Music, I overdo my enthusiasm. “Wow! Roxy Music is one of my favorite groups!”
As I munch a delicious Wisconsin club sandwich at Chumley’s, I tell Karen why I am angry. But I don’t really know why I am angry. I feel I am being cheated out of something. I feel like I am up against some kind of obstacle. I try to do good things for music, for the world, even. I am not basically dishonest. But I have found that lying is often the only way of dealing with record promoters. If I want to own a copy of a particular record, I will call a company and tell them I want ten copies for promotional giveaway. This is called Good Business. Or if I talk to a promoter, I will become enthusiastic about some commercial enterprise like Molly Hatchett so they will not think I am lost in non-commercial ozone. They can see I am faking it. But it is a little drama we play. Just like when they tell me, “This is a great record,” or, “We think college radio is exciting.” Sometimes I will tell a promoter we don’t have a record when we actually received it in the mail because I want a copy for myself and it is easier to lie than wait for ten copies to come by parcel post. Why do I have to lie? Why do I even have to ask? Why? Because in the commercial world, we are nothing. Any commercial station gets many copies of every record, even ones they would never play in a million years. They get a copy for each DJ. I need a copy to listen to at home, I need one to play at the station. I need some to pass out to people at the station so the one for our library need not be ripped off. I am not greedy.
Karen and I eat our lunches and go back to Sebastian’s just in time to catch Jack Perry, the CBS man. He is one of the dons of the area’s promoters. I don’t think of him as a music lover, but I respect him more than almost any other promoter I deal with, because he acts like a professional. He does not seem to be working his way up in the company, he does not scorn Western New York and consider it a mere outpost on the way to the top. Most of the other promoters are much younger than Jack. He is a large man and I always see his big back in the window at Sebastian’s as I stroll up. Dale Anderson once interviewed him in the Buffalo Evening News:
“When I started,” says Perry, a former record store owner, who’s been with Columbia since 1959, “many a program director said, ‘We’re not in the record business,’ and a lot of other things we don’t hear anymore today. In the old days, promotion was done through friendship very often. It became a personality contest. Since then, it’s become a very scientific business. But you’ve still got to build up rapport. You’ve got to have credibility. After that, the main prerequisite for a promotion man is enthusiasm.”**
Jack Perry is honest with me. He doesn’t conceal what records he has, he always lets me look in the trunk of his car. If he can’t spare a particular album, he says, “Gary, I can’t give you that, I only have those few.” He does not make excuses. He always makes sure I get what is important for my progranuning needs. Today he is very generous. I finally get Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces for myself and the new Boomtown Rats.
Kevin, the Epic man, shows up. All the Epic promoters I have met – from the national heads to the field reps – including the women – are hot shots. They are younger than most promoters, speedy, fast-talking and they drive small cars. They will make you know their product and get you what you need in no time flat. Kevin is a true lover of music. He gives Karen and me a bunch of good albums and tells me again how he tries to get me what I need but, “frankly, the majors are my number one priority.” I like Kevin, but I hate this rap.
Besides Kevin, the only other real pro in this area – that is, the only other promoter who seems to care about music – is a guy named Bruce Moser who runs an independent agency called Could Be Wild. Independent promoters, Indys as they are called, are hired by many different labels to work specific albums that need as extra push. Bruce isn’t around today – he doesn’t usually partake of the Wednesday get-together. He has a real commercial sense and can pick a hit months ahead of time. But he also appreciates crazy new music on small labels.
I have no mind for business. But one thing I have learned from these humiliating trips to the record promoters is that the rules for business relationships are not like the rules for human relationships. If a promoter gives me what I want – if I do good business with him – I like him. If he does not give me what I want, I hate him. My reaction has nothing to do with his character or honesty or honor or interests or hobbies or intelligence. I know, for example, that many of the promoters and music directors possess an intense mutual loathing. They say horrible things about one another. But they take each other out to dinner and court one another like scorpions.
After chatting with Jack and Kevin, Karen and I go back to Chumley’s for some of their wonderful pecan pie. I have spent about seven dollars on this lunch. I have $2.00 in my savings account, about $10.00 cash on hand. I ate this meal so I could: (a) get records for the station; (b) get records for Gary; (c) help Karen get records; (d) have a nice time with Karen. After pie, we go to WBUF where I pick up my check for $17.00 for the one night I worked there and then we go to WKBW and talk to Sandy Beach, Karen’s former boss.
I guess almost everyone was civil to me today. The Warner guy lied but gave me tickets to the Ramones; Kevin from Epic gave Karen and me a bunch of good albums; we visited WKBW and Sandy Beach said I am famous; at WBUF, the station manager said he is a fan of mine; and best of all, Jack Perry gave me an Elvis Costello. All these people are not really bad, I guess. But no other music director has to visit the promoters except for a luncheon appointment. The promoters come to them with records in hand, begging for airplay. Yet today, in each encounter, I shuffled up to the promoter, waiting like a puppy for their attention, and then felt like I had to beg for what I wanted. I spent an afternoon begging for records I should automatically receive.
I can’t stand it. I resent these business types, I resent the wealth they represent, I resent the way they make new music by great musicians ugly, I resent the way they contribute to the ugliness of radio, I hate begging from them, I hate playing up to them, I hate lying, I hate lying more than anything, I hate everything the business of music represents, I hate their power, I hate their control over me, I hate their arrogance, I hate their dishonesty, I hate needing to impress them, I hate my envy, I hate the feeling that I am not cool. Obviously, I am confused. The promoters are only part of the problem. I feel I am being cheated out of something. I feel I am being resisted by something. What is it? They declared this war and I am the only one who showed up.
* This essay was first published in the scholarly journal Paunch, No. 57-58, Buffalo, N.Y.: Department of English, SUNY at Buffalo, Jan. 1984, pp. 131 ff.
** Dale Anderson. “The Big Record Hustle,” Buffalo Evening News Gusto, Dec, 8, 1978, VOl. CXCVII, No. 59, pp. 3 ff.
Figure 4: This is one of my legendary playlists, from late 1979. Each month, I would compile lists of the records I put on the air so the record companies would know their product was receiving airplay. Look closely. If you are amazed that all this music was really played on the radio, you know what this Website is all about.
Figure 5: Gary Storm and The Romatics: "This is a DJ from Buffalo who says he plays our record. But Kevin, the local Epic rep, says this guy is nuts. He'll play anything." (Photo by Zowie)
| His voice is slow and deep and dull.
Thanks for the Dylan cuts – I never heard those before. I would be pleased if you have it, if you could fit it in sometime during the night, Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady”, if it’s not too much trouble.
I haven’t called in a while. I was the last four months in Buffalo Psych. The neighbors complained. I’m too rowdy I guess sometimes, I’m just havin’ a good time . . . . . some people . . . . . you can’t explain yourself to. I’m not complaining. I’m not bitter, things just go along and you can’t afford to get hung up. I’m into weight-lifting. I just had my 48th birthday last Tuesday. I don’t complain. It is just a passage of time, you can’t do nothing. I’m not bitter about my life. Now, don’t go for the heavy ones, start with light weights, it’s better to do light ones, high repetition with light ones. You got to eat a lot of carbohydrates just before you work out, and high protein. Weight-lifting and body-building are different things. I’m non-violent. It isn’t good to get angry to the point where you hurt people. You sound tired, Gary. You got to get eight hours of sleep – it’s necessary. You know that, don’t you?
It’s hard sometimes. I’ve got to go get records.
I need eight hours of sleep, if I need a sleeper, I take a sleeper. Oh gee whiz, I’m so loquacious tonight.
It’s O.K., I just have to get going. I have to pull some records.
O.K., I’ll just sit and listen and I hope you can get on that tune. Did you see this month’s Playboy? It says Valium is worth a troy per ounce more than gold. I’m gonna write you a letter with all my ideas on nutrition and so on. Take care of yourself, Gary.
Ate a sack o’ poison sugar
Crawlin’ out of the barn
to the weeds to die
Rollin’ his Eyes – Eyes – Eyes
How could anyone sound so drunk and sad and be so funny and profound and beautiful?
pointed her toe
crawlin’ out of the pool
from the water so cool
Camera flashes flashin’
back from her Eyes – Eyes – Eyes *
* Michael Hurley. “Eyes, Eyes”, © 1972, Dogfish Music (ASCAP), from HiFi Snock Uptown, Warner, 0598.
| David Bloom and I collaborate on a ten-hour Frank Zappa
special, featuring a great deal of his unreleased music. I manage
to arrange an hour-long conversation with Zappa, which we intersperse
throughout the program. David and I are very anxious to impress
our hero with our knowledge of music and our general innovativeness,
brightness, togetherness and genius. We want him to know we are a
couple of really happening guys. This is why the conversation is
riddled with our zealous “Yeahs!” and “Uh huhs”
and “Rights!” We want him to know we are with him every
step of the way.
Gary: Hello, are you there? Frank?
G: Oh, great! O.K., well, you have a couple of, ahh, nervous interviewers here, ‘cause, ah, we’ve been planning real hard for this. We’re, ah, my name is . . . . .
Z: (Unclear statement.)
G: I’m sorry, what?
Z: Have you tried Cruex??
|“SONG OF MYSELF, 26”
Now I will do nothing but listen
To accrue what I hear into this song,
to let sounds contribute toward it. *
For me, Walt Whitman is a very difficult poet. I just can’t figure out where he is coming from. Which is not cool since I am supposed to be walking supermarkets with him and rotting with the best minds of my generation. Much of the Whitman scholarship I have read attempts to describe the structure of his poetry.
I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat,
gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals,
I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice,
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,
Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city . . . . . *
The problem is figuring out when he decided his poem was finished, what he wished to include and exclude, and even why something should appear in one poem and not another. My listeners hear me intone “The Song of Myself”:
. . . . . sounds of the day and night,
Talkative young ones to those that like them, the loud
laugh of work people at their meals,
The angry base of disjointed friendship, the faint tones of the sick,
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips
pronouncing a death-sentence,
The heave’e’yo of stevedores . . . . . *
Behind my voice, the French double bass player, Barre Philipe, improvises. He is unaccompanied. With his instrument, he sings himself melodically, he growls gravely deep, he shrieks and yawps and swoops and hums. No one questions the structure of Barre Philipe’s improvising.
I hear the chorus, it is a grand opera
Ah, this indeed is music – this suits me.
A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me,
The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full. *
Bass Barre’s music is totally free and spontaneous and yet it possesses shape and direction, his is the intuitive structure of the moment. He knows the idea with which he wishes to begin, sliding mysteriously upon the harmonics of the strings, he moves from one idea to the next for many reasons, because of the moment, because of the lights, the weather, a memory, a plan. Now he wants to speak softly, now this theme will suggest another, now this idea needs embellishment, now he paraphrases one of his heroes. It is impossible to articulate the sections, segments or divisions of this song.
I hear the train’d soprano (What work with hers is this?)
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies,
It wrenches such ardors from me I did not know I possessed them,
It sails me, I dab with bare feet, they are lick’d by the indolent waves,
I am cut by bitter and angry hail, I lose my breath,
Steep’d amid honey’d morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death,
At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call Being. *
* All passages from Walt Whitman, Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of Walt Whitman, ed. James E. Miller, Jr. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1959.
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