|Oil of Dog
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I am uncomfortable. I keep getting the feeling that my concern
with cool is stupid. Some people just laugh it off. They
act like it is meaningless to them. Perhaps it is. Some
express great scorn for the concept. They associate it with
phrases like “finding yourself,” “getting your head
together,” “finding God,” “being with the
in-crowd,” “being popular.”
But cool is a useful focal point for articulating things that concern me. It is something I see everywhere – the constant struggle for coolness – either because that is what is really going on in the world or because that is what is clunking around in my head.
One problem is this: Cool is a derivative of the End of the World.
The other problem is this: Nothing is more uncool than obsessing about cool.
CLIFTON CHENIER on a jumping album called Cajun Swamp Music Live on the Tomato label. According to the liner notes, back in the 18th century, the French colonists called Arcadians were cleared out of Nova Scotia by the British. They migrated to Louisiana. Before the Civil War, black Americans began settling with the Arcadians who did not keep slaves. Clifton Chenier’s music is an amalgam of Colonial French tunes, straight blues, African-American folk tunes, and rockin’ R&B. The drums sound like they’re made from garbage cans and Clifton plays an accordian that just chugs along. At the moment, he is jamming out on “Who Who Who’s.” Sometimes this music is called cajun (from the word “Arcadian” just as “injun” comes from “Indian”) and sometimes zodico or zydeco. It is one of the undiscovered frontiers of goodtime boogie. Maybe someday all the studs and dolls will go cajun at the disco and Clifton Chenier will earn the recognition he deserves.
Figure 6: Gary Storm with Angus Young and Bon Scott of AC/DC. "This is an American disc jockey who interveiewed us. What a bawbag!" (Photo by Zowie)
| I love the Australian group, AC/DC.
They have a corny name, harmonically they are nothing spectacular, all
their songs are derivative and sound the same. But when High Voltage,
their first American LP, hit the station, I couldn’t pry it off
the turntable. Wonderful open roaring energy in the grooves and
non-stop bone-biting fun-loving rock’n’roll on the
stage. They have a sense of humor, which is quite unusual in the
deadly, sexy Heavy Metal world. I interviewed the sin-loving lead
singer, Bon Scott (who died recently, probably of too much fun), and the frantic boyish lead guitarist, Angus Young, shortly after the release of their album Powerage. I believe, at the time of the interview, I was the only DJ in town playing their music.
My friend, Debbie Katz, and I waited backstage in the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium while Aerosmith pounded in the background. Bon and Angus came out, their hair still wet from the showers. They were personable and eager to talk.
Gary: Why didn’t you drop your pants tonight?
Bon: He doesn’t really drop ‘em.
Angus: I used to.
G: You used to. But you don’t anymore?
A: All American audiences get insulted by it, eh.
G: Oh, really? Do the promoters, did the promoters tell you not to?
A: Ahh! No one’s ever told me not to. It’s just, it’s just that a lot of American audiences seem to be turned off it, think you’re insultin’ ‘em.
G: Yeah? I guess they’re not, ah, rough and ready enough.
B: No, they’re not perverted like the English, y’know. The English are all perverted. Th-they-the English get off on seeing little schoolboys’ asses.
Aerosmith was so loud that I sometimes had trouble deciphering their Australian accents through the din. Bon Scott began making suggestive glances at my friend Debbie.
G: Now, um . . . one thing I’ve noticed – again, I’ve read a lot about you guys and I’ve listened to your records a lot – one thing I’ve noticed and it always surprises me, that it, ah, is that a lot of re-, American reviews of your records and your concerts are not very favorable. What do you think of that, that you don’t get very good reviews in this country?
A: Kids – kids like us.
G: The kids like us.
A: That’s all, that’s all that matters, right.
B: Reviewers don’t count, they-do-they don’t buy records, y’know, they jus-th-they-jus-they get given them and they, y’know, give th-their spiel on them, like, um, and the kids, they obviously, you-he-you heard the audience tonight, y’know the kids love the songs, y’know.
G: Oh, they were standing.
B: They buy the, they buy the records, y’know.
A: Like, I mean, in England, they’ve still got critics still criticizing the Beatles, y’know, y’know.
G: Yeah? Hahaha.
A: Y’know where’s that at, y’know.
B: We’d be nuts to take critics seriously, y’know. You’d shoot yourself, y’ know.
B: First night.
G: Do you think you’ve had it worse in America from the critics?
B: Nah. No worse, y’know.
A: I never read them anyhow, hahaha.
G: No, they, it’s not good to read them, they really aren’t very, ah, reliable. How many shows do you do each year?
B: About eight – eight months. We play eight months, yeah.
A: Maybe nine.
B: Yeah, eight or nine months. We’ve got gigs five or six a week
G: Five or six shows a week.
Debbie: (Inaudible question.)
G: Wait, say that again.
D: How long have you been doing that?
A: Years. Ever since we first started.
G: Ever since you first started.
D: It shows that you’ve worked that much together, ‘cause you’re so really great!
At one point during the show, Bon carried Angus around the whole floor of the auditorium on his shoulders while the young guitarist wailed on his cordless guitar, whirling through the crowd, spilling streams of sweat. Debbie asked them about it.
D: Who’s idea was it to go around – do use – you usually go around the auditorium like you?
A: Oh, yeah.
D: Did you just do that tonight for, ah . . . . . ?
A: (Inaudible remark.)
G: Yeah, they . . . . .
B: Yeah, we’ve done that for quite a while, yeah, we just love to get out and meet that, ah, public contact, y’know. ‘Cause, like, you’re on the stage, y’know, and they’re down there and there’s, ah, like a fence there, y’know, and just like it’s board – it’s a borderline, y’know, you want to break that, y’know, and just get into the crowd, y’know. We go out on balconies and shit, y’know, do all sorts of crazy things, y’know.
A: I like the feeling of a man underneath me so I jump on his shoulders.
G: Yeah, that’s what happens. Tonight, you jumped on his shoulders and . . . . .
B: (Making muscles and sounding like Popeye.) I’m glad you think I’m a man!
D: You carried him all around there, you’re real strong!
A: He gets out there.
Bon Scott was an old time rock’n’roller. At the time of this interview, he’d been rocking professionally for 12 years and had never once let his unbelievable energy keep from coming on. If you ever saw him perform, you know it was amazing he lasted as long as he did. Angus Young had adopted the image of a demonic naughty boy. A mere twenty at the time, he seemed absolutely out of his mind and absolutely sure of what he was doing.
G: Now, some of your, some of your songs seem to, like, have interesting stories behind them. Like, um, “She’s Got Balls.” Is, ah, is that about a real person?
A: Yeah, it’s his (Bon’s) missus, hahahahaha.
B: I was married once, y’know. And my wife said to me one night, she said, “How come you never write songs” – this was while we were still married, I divorced her – “how come you ne-never write songs about me?” And so I sat down and I wrote this song “She’s Got Balls” which, y’know, by being a man show her that I can have – having balls . . . . .
A: And she divorced him the next week, hahahaha.
B: . . . . . having balls is like being good. It’s got balls, it’s good, y’know. It’s gutsy like, y’know. So I said, “Well, there’s a song, do you like it?” and she said, “I’ve got balls! What do you mean?!” Hahaha. So she divorced me. Hahaha.
G: Really, right after that?!?!?
B: Well, pretty soon after, yeah.
G: That was, that the only grounds? That couldn’t have been the only grounds for divorce.
A: He told me he likes men better. (Inaudible remarks.)
D: Did you have any kids?
B: (Inaudible remarks.)
G: No kids. She should ask – speak into the microphone. (Snorts). Um, “Kicked in the Teeth”, how about that one, does that have a story behind it?
A: Ah, there are a lot of stories that come from generalities, more than y’know, certain, y’know, things, ah. Like all, the, all the things we write about, like, ah, I’m 32 years old so lots of things that happened to me over th-the last 32 years, y’know, so I’ve got lots of, sort of, therefore, back-un to write about, y’know, lots of . . . .
G: You’ve been . . .
B: Y’know, y’know.
G: So you’ve been kicked a few times.
B: Yeah, yeah. New teeth, y’know. Hahahahaha.
We continued talking about some of the songs by AC-DC, as Bon Scott’s admiration for my friend Debbie became more evident.
G: Um. Oh, “Whole Lotta Rosie,” tell me about that one.
B: Ah well, Rosie was, ah, she watched us in Tazmania, and she’s, she was nineteen stone, twelve pounds (Note: a stone is about 14 pounds) and it . . . . tha-tha-that’s an account of, urn . . . . copulation. And, um, she was at a gig and I was drunk one night and she sort of put the make on me and she was too big to say no to, I guess, and . . . . I-I-I thought, well, this has got to come out in song, y’know. And “Whole Lotta Rosie” is what came out of it, y’know, came out with a good song, y’know.
G: It did, it did.
B: That’s, y’know, th-that’s an actual happening, the chick was nineteen stone, twelve pounds, y’know.
B: Nineteen-twelve, yeah. Which is about, what, a hundred and eighty pounds. (Note: actually more like 280 pounds.)
G: A hundred and eighty pound groupie.
B: Yeah. Yeah.
G: A groupie girl. That’s great.
G: From Tazmania, you said?
G: From Tazmania?
B: Yeah, yeah, a Tazmanian devil.
After the interview and a few autographs, Bon invited us up to the hotel for the party. Debbie didn’t feel like it, so we left. She said she thought they were probably gay. I don’t know, I said, he sure seemed to dig you.
|A VISIT TO THE BIGGEST RADIO STATION IN TOWN
Karen and I visit WKBW. They have a brand new building on Delaware Avenue. Karen used to work for "KB." She was their Magic Money Queen. She would go with the managers in a big limo around the neighborhoods of Buffalo and choose a house at random and if the people there had their radio dial tuned to WKBW, they would be given a bunch of money. They really like Karen at KB.
The new studio is a reconstructed carriage house. As we enter the lobby, all the local record promoters sit about waiting to see Jon Sommers, the Music Director. Karen speaks with the receptionist and we walk right upstairs leaving the promoters languishing behind. The reason all the promoters meet and eat and drink at Sebastian’s and Chumley’s on Wednesdays is because Jon Sommers refuses to talk to them on any other day. He lets them come up one at a time. They give him records, play him tapes, throw him pitches, show him charts, suggest giveaways, provide him with promotional buttons, t-shirts, picture discs, special pressings, they invite him to concerts, arrange dinner-dates, introduce him to stars, set up crazy stunts and gimmicks so he will remember a particular song or artist, solicit his friendship, beg him, induce him, pressure him, cajole him, urge him, influence him, sway him, coax him, wheedle him, exhort him, goad him, hound him to play the records PLEASE PLEASE PLAY THE RECORDS. If KB plays a record, it is an almost guaranteed hit. It means millions and millions of dollars. Jon Sommers talks to the promoters; I don’t really know, but it looks to me like he treats them like pigs. Now I know why they treat me like a pig.
Karen and I go up to talk with Sandy Beach, the Program Director. He is large and friendly, wears informal clothes, has a firm handshake, a resounding warm voice, a wall of picture discs and colored vinyl, a clock that tells the time when you clap your hands, and a Mickey Mouse telephone. He is glad to see Karen. I am dazzled. I am astounded. Such opulence and luxury, beautiful carpets, fascinating walls, interesting angles in the corridors, friendly furniture, lavish decorations, “WKBW” spelled in sculptures and knick-knacks and carvings and letterheads and plaques, everywhere comfortable restrained wealth. Millions of dollars made this. Being Number One made this.
Sandy gives us the full tour. In the newsroom, people sit before tape machines editing features, the state-of-the-art Datamax read-outs spit the latest news from the national wire services, other people talk on the phone or edit scripts, a tiny studio with a single microphone and just the right lights and clipboards for arranging news stories-to-be-read, a push button digital read-out that tells time, present, past and future temperatures, barometric pressure going up going down, wind chill direction speed, humid dry freezing wet hot sunny clouds, neat little red digital lights bringing the outside inside at the press of buttons. I realize with surprise that this station is very much concerned with public service. But it is the service of momentary convenience, weather reports so people don’t have to stick their heads out their windows. No forecasting of the end of the world here, no indication of the rise or fall of Man, no prevailing direction of The Modern World, no indication of cool. The machines at WKBW are so beautiful, so digital, so fast and silent.
We enter the master control room where the DJ on the air puts cartridge tapes – called “carts” in the radio biz – into the cartridge machines, carts for the 38 songs they rotate, carts for the dozens of commercials they emit. They have one turntable and it is just like the two we have at WBFO. It is the only thing the two stations have in common. Sandy shows us the new production studio where interviews are taped. He says the little room with the eye-pleasing, sound-dulling rows of varnished wood is so acoustically perfect they had to give it a little more echo so its ambience would be like that of the regular “WKBW sound.” In the Chief Engineer’s shop is the Master Computer in which information is stored as to which schools are closed, which plants are inoperative, what the road conditions are like. From this Master Computer the information is blinked to a number of read-out screens located all over the station.
I tell Sandy this is so different from WBFO it is hard to believe we are in the same profession. He says he knows why he does what he does, he knows what he is trying to accomplish by this kind of programming, and he knows how to make the station profitable. He says this is Radio as a Business. “You are probably into something like Radio as Art.” He knows who I am. He says I am probably the most famous person in non-commercial radio in town. More evidence to indicate that a lot of people who work in radio listen to me. I fog out. Radio as business. As opposed to . . . . ? Radio as communication. Radio as Public Service. Radio as entertainment. Radio as business. This is the biggest. Number one. Business. Millions.
We return to Sandy’s office. I mention that I have been trying for many days to talk to Barry, the man from Elektra-Asylum Records. So Sandy gets on the intercom and tells the secretary as if he is ringing for the butler, “Get Barry on the phone if he’s still here.” The Mickey Mouse phone rings and he talks as if to a child. “Well, hello Barry. . . . Uh huh. . . . Gary Storm is here and he would like to talk to you. . . . Why don’t you come up here and see us. . . . Where are you flow? . . . . Just outside the door!!! . . . . Well get in here for goodness sake! . . . .” So in shuffles Barry. He brings a cassette of the new Judy Collins album. I say I like Judy Collins and Sandy says he loves her. Barry says he doesn’t usually go for this kind of music, but he just can’t stop playing this tape and if he likes it, it must be special. Barry puts the cassette into his very handsome portable machine and plays two songs. Her voice sounds wheezy. We all prefer the second one, “Where or When.” No one says anything about her gaspy voice. Sandy asks him if that is going to be the single and Barry says he doesn’t know. Then he thanks Sandy for adding Linda Ronstadt and Eddie Rabbit. A voice over the intercom moans, “Will the next promoter who has come to beat on the ears of the poor music director please come upstairs and present yourself.” Barry congratulates Sandy on the newly hired afternoon DJ, Jay Fredricks, and offers to have 100 t-shirts printed up saying something like “JAY FREDRICKS WILL TURN YOU EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE” which coincidentally is borrowed from the title of a new movie soundtrack on Asylum Records. Sandy says We’ll look into it, we’ll look into it. I fog out in a blind mush. Poor little WBFO has been trying for months to scrape up enough cash to silk screen 100 Oil of Dog t-shirts to promote my show.
After Barry leaves, Sandy and I discuss the idea of me doing an interview with him about commercial radio. “You should also talk with Norm Schrutt, the General Manager. He is a fascinating man, and very funny too.” We shake hands firmly. Karen and I split.
We stop off at WBUF-FM where I fill out a W-2 form for that one horrible night I worked there and I pick up a check for $17.50. The Station Manager strolls out and shakes my hand. “So you’re the famous Gary Storm. I’m an admirer of yours.”
|I have just finished playing Schubert’s Eighth Symphony. I set up the tape deck for an echo effect and I yell into the microphone GRRRRRRREAT!!!! like Tony the Tiger. “That was Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 otherwise known as “The Great” and the reason they call it “The Great” is because it’s GRRRRREAT!!! Oh man oh wow it’s GRRRRREAT!!!!! I used to hate Schubert when I was a little kid because I would go to see these string quartets and they would always play a long boring Schubert Quartet with a million false endings that would make the audience applaud in the middle of each movement yuck. But then I discovered that he wrote The GRRRRREAT!!!! Wow man! Fantastic!” A woman calls. “Oh thank you for the Schubert, that wonderful symphony “The Great.” She is laughing almost in tears. “Oh The Great,” she cries, “The Great, God bless you Gary Storm for The Great, it was so beautiful, it made my morning so beautiful, God bless you Gary Storm!!!”||Dear Sir,
I would like to express my sincere distaste for a radio show aired on your station. The show is entitled “Oil of Dog.” It is in such poor taste that I believe it to be an embarrassment not only to your station (which programs shows I listen to and very much enjoy) but also to our city of Buffalo. Since you have recently increased your listening range do you really want more people exposed to this? The disc jockey, Mr. Storm is sick. The other morning I had my clock alarm set to your station and heard him say that he didn’t know why but when he was a kid he hated Schubert. Who cares, to wake up to this is to go into shock. I ’ve decided to set my alarm to any other station but WBFO in the AM. I change it to your news show at 7:00. Why can’t you get rid of this show. Please.
(For obvious reasons, I wish not to sign my name – I don’t want this man calling me – he’s on such an ego trip.)
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I am playing a comedy routine by the acerbic troop, THE CONCEPTION CORPORATION. This is “Black for a Day” from their album A Pause in the Disaster.
Game Show Host: Now let’s talk to our only female contestant, Mrs. Kowalchek.
Mrs. K.: (Yiddish accent) I vant to be black-for-a-day because I’m ah vant . . . . . I’m vanting to better myself.
H: Right on, Mrs. Kowalchek! And we’ll see if your dream of equality comes true! But first, let’s take a look at all the other wonderful prizes you and our other contestants will be trying for today. *
* © 197O, Moveable Gypsy Land, Inc. (BMI), from A Pause in the Disaster, Cotillion, SP 903.
I looked at the four little pins glittering on her shoulder.
“What are those?” “They’re solid gold
diamond studded safety pins,” she told me. “They were
created by a famous designer of punk jewelry in France.”
“Wow!” My friend Mary laughed. This was Linda Stein, manager of the Ramones and married to Seymour Stein who is the visionary president of Sire Records. The Ramones were in town just after the release of their superb Rocket to Russia.
Sire is distributed in the United States by Warner Brothers and this
was long before my nemesis O--- had been hired by the company.
Instead our local rep was Patrick W. who was at times quite nice to me. He would let me come to his house and grab a bunch of albums.
That night, Patrick invited me to join a pre-concert dinner at Manny’s, a very nice restaurant, courtesy of the record company. This was strictly a gathering of behind-the-scenes people: managers, promoters, salesmen, radio station music directors, no musicians. I asked my friend Mary to join me. She knew little about rock’n’roll and had never heard the Ramones, so it was very nice to have her near me at this heavy scene. I was intimidated and I could not see my own or anyone else’s pretensions in the candlelight. My mind always turns to pus in dark restaurants.
Sitting around a long glittering table were Patrick W., his boss, David K., who was regional promotions director for Warner, the road manager of the Ramones, Linda Stein, the local in-store representative for Warner, the program director of a big commercial FM station, Mary, and me. The conversation touched upon various aspects of the music industry. David K. said, “My mother just doesn’t understand what I do for a living. I say, ‘But Ma, all I do is travel from one city to another and take people out to dinner and somehow the job gets taken care of.’”
I asked Linda Stein if Joey, Dee Dee, Tommy, and Johnny were really named Ramone and she snickered, “No.” We talked about the fact that I was the only person in this region playing them on the radio, despite their great importance. She said The Ramones were very bitter and frustrated because they could not find acceptance in the United States. “We thought ‘Rockaway Beach’ would break them for sure. But now all you hear about is the Sex Pistols and they stole everything they know from The Ramones.” “Well, the Sex Pistols put out great records, too,” I said. “Oh there is no doubt they are great showmen,” said Stein. “Johnny Rotten is a born star. He would be a star just sitting at this table.”
Linda looked like an older version of my friend Mary, very pretty with straight dark hair and a roundish serious face, glassy intellectual dark eyes, flamboyant gestures that painted the air, I remember her in a delicately patterned business suit with those four gold safety pins. All the Warner males had trimmed beards and short hair. If this weren’t a fancy restaurant, you might have mistaken this for an English Department meeting. I had an untrimmed full beard and long scraggly hair. Talk turned to commercial realities in the music industry. I told about the time I met the national promotion director for RCA Records and his claim to being “a member of the counterculture who has moved to the other side of the counter.” Everyone at the table laughed. “R. isn’t really like that, is he?” said Linda. “He was probably pulling your leg,” said David. Everyone seems to know everyone else in this music biz.
I told Linda I thought Sire Records was one of the greatest labels ever and how several of my friends were racing each other to collect the whole Sire London catalog. In the late sixties, when London Records distributed Sire, some of the most curious and bizarre artists were signed to the label by Seymour Stein like the Deviants (members of whom became the Pink Fairies), Bukka White (legendary blues), Aum, the first album by Martha Valez, Peter Kelly (a whining spacey folk singer), Tomorrow (the first group of Steve Howe who later became guitarist for Yes), Barclay James Harvest, Focus, and Twink (who put out a weird album called Think Pink). “We just got a call from Twink just the other day,” said Linda. “He seems to be doing great. I think he’s cutting a record for someone.”
The food was excellent, the conversation fascinating, we shook hands all around and Mary and I left somewhat overwhelmed by this gathering of everyone who made the following evening’s concert possible, everyone except of course the musicians, the wonderful Ramones.
“Seeing these people fills me with a longing,” I told Mary. “I would like to see what it is like to live in their world.” “I would, too,” said Mary.
|BIBLIOGRAPHY NUMBER ONE
At several points in this work I refer to a little book by George Steiner called In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture (New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1971). It is one of the most disturbing and insightful studies of modern culture I have read. It is from Steiner that I developed my ideas about The Modern World and The Fall of Man and the notion that there is no longer any cool.
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It is Christmas morning 3 A.M. This year on my show I am reading Book V, Chapters 4 and 5 from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, music by The Velvet Underground. The other stations in town have provided live radar tracking of Santa Claus’s flight from the North Pole to Western New York. After hearing these morons, no child could possibly believe in Santa. Which is probably OK.
I’m no Christian. But I am interested in the myth that Christmas marks the end of Fallen Man. We are no longer pigs. The Golden Age will return. We are saved.
The Fall of Man makes me tired. I wanted to write about it because it is such a persistent pattern. It is the most fundamental motif of the evening news. It even infects the worlds of radio and music. We keep getting kicked out of Eden. There will never be better radio than the golden age before television. There will never be better disc jockeys than when the progressives emerged in the late sixties. There will never be another group greater than the Beatles. There will never be another rock’n’roll star greater than Elvis. There will never be another pop star greater than Sinatra. There will never be another time like the sixties when people really cared, they really really cared. These are sensible arguable almost archtypical cliches. In a Fallen World everything – even music – is fallen.
The myth of the Fall runs stronger than any particular religion. There is hardly a civilization, perhaps hardly an individual consciousness, that does not carry inwardly an answer to intimations of a sense of distant catastrophe. Somewhere a wrong turn was taken in that “dark and sacred wood,” after which man has had to labor, socially, psychologically against the natural grain of being. *
But Christmas marks the end of all that. Christ will take every sadness, every imperfection, every evil, every injustice, and make it all right.
But in America, it is different. Every year Americans celebrate a strange ritual which is almost as much a part of the Yuletide as is the tree. Each year we hear in the news and from the pulpit about the vulgar commercialization of this sacred holiday, of how our greed has overshadowed the love represented by Christ, of the way our merchants and industries have obscenely exploited a holy event, of how the meaning of the season is gone. Even Christmas is fallen. This is due in part to the fact that Christmas is shared by so many people in the world that, while American Christians buy billions of dollars of tons of presents, their brothers and sisters around the world literally starve. The contrast is unfashionable. So part of the season’s celebration is a little kick in the ass, we ritually bemoan the “crass commercialization.” This is a classic guilt trope, we are selfish vulgar insensitive and greedy but we admit it, so it’s OK.
But more interesting to me is the notion that we desire and seek to perfect the fallen state. We are possessed of a vague memory of a time when things were right. We seem to be trying to obliterate every vestige of that memory. We always hear that things are getting worse. We do not seem to learn from history. As I write this, The Holocaust has become a top-rated show, millions of people everywhere are shocked at the extermination of the Jews, they vow “Never again.” President Carter goes on television. He vows “Never again.” Yet at this exact moment the Cambodians are getting very poor ratings. Instead they are being exterminated; never again will they eat, never again will they breathe, never again will they dance. Anyone can point to politics, environment, world peace, economics, human rights and tell similar stories.
We love it this way. We choose with our own votes leaders who want to make things worse; criminals like Nixon and Reagan who turn their backs on the Love Canals, the Three Mile Islands, the dying oceans, the starving poor, the rights of man; we permit these monsters to conspire with industrialists who have learned to profit from The Fall.
We can interpret it as a voluntary exit from the Garden and a programmatic attempt to burn the Garden behind us. Lest its remembrance continue to infect the health of barbarism with debilitating dreams or with remorse. **
As human beings we do not want to be saved, we want to be fallen. And as Americans, the most advanced nation on earth, we have sealed our doom by destroying salvation itself. Each Christmas we turn the love of Jesus and the selflessness of Saint Nicholas into money and power.
Our farthest ancestors decimated the Garden of Eden. Now we burn the Cross. We cannot stand the thought that things were once better. And we cannot tolerate the idea that if we want to, we can become better, that the barbarism is all a mistake, that it doesn’t need to be this way. IT DOES NOT NEED TO BE THIS WAY.
* George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture. New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1971, page 4.
** Steiner, page 47.
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Every time I feature JANIS IAN people call. “Who was that wonderful singer?” She has written some of the truest songs about the heart, all the lonely gawky tender longing warm uncool beautiful feelings that come with love. How different these words are from those written by the grouchy girl of “Society’s Child”:
You’ve got me on a string –
I don’t mean a thing to you
I’m holding on to no one
I’m a long time lover
and my long time love is gone
If my man beats me
robs me blind –
long as he don’t leave me
I don’t mind *
Feminists might cringe at these sentiments, but I think all men and women know what it is like to be trapped in this way. Her words and music touch the most difficult truths of human passion.
* Janis Ian, “You’ve Got Me on a String,” © 1974, no. pub., (ASCAP), from Stars, Columbia, KC32857.
I don’t like organized religion I don’t like clubs I
don’t like movements I don’t like . . . . any bunches of
people that get together to support their own little egocentric domain
. . . . I think that’s a waste of time, I think that
ultimately it spoils a person’s work ‘cause you get so
involved in the sociology of that stuff that . . . . y’know
– where’s the percentage in that?
Gary: Being cool.
Z: That’s something else that’s wrong with American life you see . . . . I believe that ah the whole concept of being cool is ah part of a government program to make people stupid.
Z: Sure, think about it: Coolness doesn’t exist in high schools in other parts of the world. Coolness is a particularly American trait, the desire to be a cool guy or a cool girl and the lengths to which people will go to appear to be cool . . . .
G: I always wanted to be cool . . . .
Z: Yeah, everybody wants to be cool and in order to be cool you wind up buying things that are stupid, doing things that are stupid, drinking things that are stupid, smoking things that are stupid, and ultimately being stupid instead of cool. See?
G: Hahaha instead of cool.
Z: And the dumber you are the easier it is to sell you stupid things which is mostly what America manufactures anyway. So it’s part of that ongoing process of training consumers to do their part.
G: Do you know this from like hand experience?
Z: Well, see I’ve watched cool people for a long time never having been cool myself, you know. I got to see all of ‘em from the bench.
G: Haha that’s my problem, too. I used to get thrown in the shower with all my clothes on and stuff like that.
Z: Yeah? Well, when I was in school they really didn’t wanna put their hands on me.
Z: That’s how cool I was.
Figure 7: "This guy is a disc jockey." (Photo by David Seman)
Figure 8: "He said he just found Lumpy Gravy by some guy named Frank Zappa." (Photo by David Seman)
Figure 9: "He was real happy. He used to be David's English teacher. David says he is a freak." (Photo by David Seman)
When electricity came along early in this century, it revolutionized
singing by making it possible for crooners to be heard through
microphones. The booming operatic voice went out of style.
In the forties and fifties, electricity revolutionized the musical
instrument making rock’n’roll possible. No longer was
a big band necessary for that mind-smashing big beat we all need so
The next technical revolution will be telepathic, music heard in the mind over endless distances. Sound transformed directly into brain waves without any intermediating electric currents and air molecules. Concerts for whole planets. Concerts for whole solar systems.
| I think of my show as a work of art. If I am an artist my works are unique.
For five hours four nights each week I become a part of the lives of many people. I sneak into offices and bedrooms and taco stands and pizza parlors and assembly lines and laboratories and secret government installations and workshops and garages and alleys and kitchens and living rooms and all the cars that creep over every street in the city. I am a field of energy pressing to be let out of your speaker. You willingly let me into your most private rooms and your most personal moments. I am always there, even when you have no radio I am still there. All you need are magic ears and you will hear me.
This is an art you never have to seek out. There is no donation at the door, no trip to the gallery, no ticket for admission, no special hall or stage, no need to approve or applaud or respond in any way. I am merely there, with you in your space. I am rarely the focus of attention. I am in the background, part of the environment. You are not asked to be aware of me but I influence with the flow and flux of my sound all your feelings and all that happens to you. I’m there as a chair but I constantly change; I’m as simple as a dimple but I entertain you; I’m a fixture like a picture but you can always turn me off.
Gerald O’Grady, head of Media Studies at the University of Buffalo suggested that my show is an example of the long form. My art is similar to the art discussed by John Cage, art which mingles with life for an extended period of time, a nightly happening. The form has the potential of being totally open, totally spontaneous, flowing and changing in conjunction with the living world rather than stationary in the midst of life. It is like a circus on and on from one spectacle to the next on and on – to borrow the name of Renzo’s show at KUNM in Albuquerque – it is an Electric Circus on the radio, always there, blanketing the whole city, in your ear at the flick of a switch.
Oil of Dog has an explicit beginning at 3:00 AM Tuesday through Friday. First there is a station promo and ID, followed by a funding credit, followed by my theme song. I have made only three rules for the structure of my show:
1. Nothing obscene will be aired after 5:30 a.m.
2. Mellow out around 6:30 a.m., unless I really don’t want to,
3. Otherwise anything goes. Any-any-anything.
The form of my show is invented each night. (It is true that I get into ruts, become repetitious and lazy. But when this happens I become depressed and can’t stand my show. I search for new things to make Oil of Dog feel new again.) The form is open to the whole range of culture from the most obscene and deranged to the most erudite and refined to the most popular and commercial to the most cultish and obscure. The sounds of the whole world, all beliefs and thoughts have snuck – if only for any instant – on my show. The form is open compositionally although I do usually feel like being more mellow around 6:30 when people are waking up and going to work. I gladly include the input of others. If there’s anything you want to hear just call . . . . When bands play live on the air, or friends bring records to share I say, “It’s your show, do whatever you want to do.”
The flow of the show is highly spontaneous. I have found that when I prepare a feature ahead of time, it becomes flat and dull and I hate listening to it. My listeners, I assume, feel the same way. So I pick a song and try to think of one that will go well with it. When depressed I experience all the kinds of depression I know, the loneliness, the lost in space, the wildly enraged, the jubilantly tragic, the whimpering self-pity, the mindless escape. All night long I can explore my feelings as they change. I leave exhausted. The structure moves from feeling to feeling. After an hour of loud pounding rock I usually need something mellow, a baroque .concerto, some hammer dulcimer reels. The form is not blocked with specific features, specific hours, there are no artists to push, no songs to rotate, no stories to tell, no intro-body-conclusion. The whole object is to avoid repetition, to be totally new, to change with the night.
I have a personal need to present whole things. I dislike selections and anthologies and greatest hits and highlights. These are commercial devices. People should choose for themselves. I present whole books from beginning to end, whole operas, complete jam sessions, entire albums, uncut symphonies. This is an attitude poorly suited for mass media. Even the all-classical station in town chops up long works. I am free to play all of Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed or Drumming by Steve Reich or Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart, the complete Ring Cycle by Wagner, all of Boccaccio’s Decameron, all of Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes, Escalator Over the Hill by Carla Bley, the complete recorded works of Mars Bonfire or Nine Nine Nine or the complete piano works of Scott Joplin. I can do all these things. People who don’t like it can turn it off.
And this art form is ephemereal. Oh yes I have a few hours on tape and I know of some people who tape Oil of Dog every night. But in truth if I do something fantastic it goes into space. A cloud absorbs it, the sunspots jam it out, the mountains stop it dead. Perhaps one of my shows will bounce off the moon and someone will hear it ten years from now, but for the most part, it is gone gone gone. But it is the exact moment that it all happens that is important. If I play sounds I don’t feel like hearing – if I am burned out on heavy guitars, if I can’t stand another slinky dobro – I become depressed, I don’t know what to do, I have to find something to play that will actually make me feel better. Only the exact moment matters. If western swing sounded fine at 5:18 on Tuesday, the same music may make me want to kill myself at 5:18 on Wednesday. The mysterious conjunction between my body, my mental condition, the equipment, the records, the antenna, the vibes of the listeners drifting through space, the stars, the planets, the barometric pressure, the movements of the armies in Afghanistan, the next drop of Oil of Olay – all these shape Oil of Dog.
And who am I on my show? I imagine myself as just a guy who knows a lot of records and is sitting there turning other people onto them. I am an all night DJ, but I am no Night Bird, no Wolfman, no Captain Midnight. By industry standards, I am an inexpert clumsy person who knows a lot of obscure records that no one will ever buy. I have tried being a “radio personality” but it just doesn’t work.
And after all this, my show usually ends in the same way. I announce the names of the tunes in the last set. I say goodbye and play a final tune – one which makes me feel jubilant, one I really like and need. This is interrupted by a repeat of the funding credit, a station ID, and then the morning news from National Public Radio. All the sleepy-heads who are just waking up have no idea what just ended. It could have been any-any-anything.
|Image under construction.||
I must have played this song ten thousand times. There was. a time . . . . oh forget it. DANNY O’KEEFE, “On Discovering a Missing Person.” He too has written some of the wisest most articulate songs about love.
Jealousy’s a heavy price to pay
But damn the cost
Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve found
Until you’re lost
I don’t know what it comes to
Don’t expect I ever will
But the feelings that don’t die inside
Are the ones you cannot kill
They’ll always bring you down
To the same place in the end
A woman leads you to the edge
And you fall in love again. *
* © 1977, Warner-Tamerlane, Publishing/Road Canon Music (BMI), From American Roulette, Warner, BS 3050.
I stand amidst 50,000 fans in a football stadium.
What a scene. This is why I came. To hell with the
bands. The girls all have halter tops and bathing suit tops and
short short shorts. Thousands of tanned male shoulders and backs,
chests with hair, thighs with muscles. Everyone is sexy. Girls
and boys press themselves into my arms and spine, bare arms and spines
touch my chest. The sun is blazing and there is sweat and smoke
everywhere, marijuana in every breath, food for miles, people stepping
on people, touching pressing yelling laughing looking tripping flying
sunning boogying wriggling ribbing with strangers. This is
heaven. Sweating stinking farting belching all together. So
much skin I love this skin.
After it is over as the stadium empties of course there will be an incredible clutter of broken bottles, empty bottles, half chewed food, a ‘lude or two, pipes of wood and metal and glass, shattered ice coolers, water and piss and beer and vomit, people lying unconscious face up and down, bodies curled on the ground, trampled sandwiches, paper bags, baggies, people running scavenging for dropped drugs and half full pints of gin, cleanup crews, single shoes, menacing goo, newspapers, clues of love, hair from heads and arms and legs and groins, coins, filthy shirts, pills and bills, orange peels and apple cores and pits of peach, a tube top, pop tops, bottle tops, pot stems and seeds, bottle caps, plastic forks and spoons, blood from guts, puke from guts, shells from nuts, cigarette butts by the millions, people dreamily walking toward the exits draped with coats and blankets and parcels once full of food and drink, drugs, dirt and tears, a bunch of grouchy bouncers yelling at everyone to get out get out get out now hey you the other way there’s the exit get the fuck out.
I can remember hearing only one radio station as a child in Los Alamos,
New Mexico. It was the town station, KRSN-AM and FM. My parents could have tuned into some Santa Fe station, or big powerful KOB from the Sandia Crest in Albuquerque, or even KOMA
in Oklahoma City like all my friends. But I wasn’t much of
a radio listener and my parents were always tuned to KRSN. The
fact that we didn’t have an FM radio made no difference because
the AM and the FM were the same in our town except the latter was
I remember hearing “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” every day when I came home for lunch. I remember some muzak orchestra in which the vocalists hummed in unison with saxephones so you couldn’t tell if the melody was a human voice or an instrument. Always waiting for “Good Morning, Americans, this is Paul Harvey. Stand by for NEWS!” and then “Page 2!” and finally “Page 3!” Even though Paul Harvey was a conservative nincompoop, I never realized what guts he had until I became a DJ. I remember wishing I could sit in the large bright banquet room of Don McNeil‘s Breakfast Club. My mother listening to “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and saying, “What a cute song.” Hating “Roses are Red” every time they played it. Listening to the Association’s “Never My Love,” one wintry day, inwardly and silently dying inside, as my father drove me home after an orchestra rehearsal. And my father listening in his den to the evening classical music show.
Never once did I fantasize people listening to me.
OK, I have five copies here of the new Stones
album. I’ll give a copy to the first five people who call
in and can tell me who the stupidest most satanic godless madman
currently is holding the office of Secretary of Defense.
All the lines light up. They buzz the answer:
Image under construction.
|Image under construction.||
LINDA RONSTADT sings a lovely heartbreaking song, “Maybe I’m Right.” It’s not really cool to like her, I know. They say she’s just heartless production and phony show biz. They are wrong. When she sings a sad slow ballad she can be a modern archtype of the vulnerability that is all too familiar in love. She has soul.
|BIBLIOGRAPHY NUMBER THREE
One writer who has greatly influenced my thinking in this work is Gregory Bateson. The whole structure of this book is rooted in ideas from a collection of essays called Steps to An Ecology of Mind (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972) and an essay which appeared in The CoEvolution Quarterly (Summer 1978, No. 18) called “The Pattern Which Connects.” Bateson is concerned with the way the human mind perceives the universe. He believes it is important to understand all that we see as a vast moving pattern of systems and interrelationships. Moreover, we humans are part of that pattern. We must always ask how we are related to the things we study:
“What pattern connects you to it?” And beyond that, nothing we observe can be understood all by itself, it must be viewed in context with – in a pattern with – the things around it. Bateson describes these patterns as always in motion like music; Nature is a “dance of interacting parts.” And off course there are ever more intricate and interrelated patterns of patterns.
Bateson claims the history of scientific thought has been a movement away from an awareness of these patterns. Scientists too often base their research in dualist terms: this or that, the cause of disease is either viral or environmental, reactor failures are either human or mechanical – rather than examining total systems.
[C]onsciousness is necessarily selective and partial, i.e. . . . . the content of consciousness is, at best, a small part of truth about the self. But if this part be selected in any systematic manner, it is certain that the partial truths of consciousness will be, in aggregate, a distortion of the truth of some larger whole. *
We must try to see things – natural objects and events, objects of art, human actions and deeds – as themselves internally patterned and part of a larger patterned universe. Categories like “religious,” “economic,” “chemical,” “viral,” “sexual,” “cool,” “scientific,” “subjective,” “empirical,” are not real subdivisions of the world; they are abstractions of convenience.
Each scientific discipline as well as each artistic endeavor has its own characteristic thought patterns. Some people have “mathematical minds,” some people are “visual,” some are “intuitive.” Bateson is concerned with the common ways of thought between many different disciplines. He explains how the types of thought used for one discipline can apply to another.
Bateson calls the perpetual attempt to find “The Pattern Which Connects” an aesthetic response to the world. To ask how I am related to that chemical change; or how different aspects of culture such as war, the recording industry, and loneliness are related; or how the thought patterns of physicists relate to those of a jazz composer; or how a crab is related to a lobster – these are all aesthetic questions. The scientific search for universal patterns of connectedness is ultimately a search for beauty.
It is impossible here, in this brief essay, for me to make Bateson’s enormous and profound view seem nontrivial. But he has inspired me to attempt a different way of thinking in writing this work. The structure of this book is nonlinear. Many parts of it will seem to have little to do with an all night disc jockey at a non-commercial radio station. But I have tried to write so that the individual vignettes illuminate and explain one another. I want this to be a large interconnecting pattern of ideas and stories. Some patterns I have drawn consciously, some I have not even noticed.
Gregory Bateson is profoundly aware of The Fear which is so much an obsession of this work. He is not afraid to examine the threat of global annihilation. But he offers a hopeful vision of history and humanity which is a thankful contrast to the morbid despair of Steiner and Jacobson and the cynicism of Mailer. Bateson seems to believe that something can be done, that there is a mode of conduct, a way of thinking that can save the world. As he explained in the introduction of Steps to an Ecology of Mind:
[S]ometimes the dissonance between reality and false beliefs reaches a point when it becomes impossible to avoid the awareness that the world no longer makes sense. Only then is it possible for the mind to consider radically different ideas and perceptions. **
There is something new we can try. The structure of this book is of course not “radically” different. But Bateson has given me an inkling of how to deal with all these ideas, terrifying and gentle, silly and profound, despairing and joyful.
* Gregory Bateson. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballentine Books, 1972, page 144.
** Bateson, Steps, page 146.
Most commercial stations function for the sole
purpose of making money for the people who own them. Gregory Bateson
says that “mere purposive rationality unaided by such phenomena
as art, religion, dream, and the like, is necessarily pathogenic and
destructive of life.”* Does this mean that the stable and
friendly people who run the radio stations are psychotic murders?
Obviously not. But I wonder about all the people –
including myself – who have spent our lives drenched in the sonic
bilge of commercial television and radio; what irreparable harm has
been done to our imagination and our sense of the real; what nerves
have been dulled by the constant crackle and glow?
It is not that the people who run these radio stations are evil people. I am constantly reminded that those for whom I have an ideological loathing are usually very kind and intelligent people, they are even nice to me.
But the station managers and owners are under a great pressure to achieve the highest profits possible, and under this pressure art and truth are compromised. And I believe this compromise is destructive. But the payoffs are extraordinary. I have never seen figures for radio, but (at the time this was written) commercial television stations average an annual profit margin of over 17% and I would bet anything the figure is quite similar for commercial radio stations.* A successful station can harvest millions of dollars. Imagine a radio station which runs no more than 10 minutes of commercials an hour. Assume they average $25.00 per minute and the commercial time is sold out 15 hours out of every day. In one hour it will gross $250.00. In one day, $3750.00. In one year, $1,365,000. The biggest radio stations in Buffalo charge close to $100.00 per minute of advertising.
WHAT DO THEY DO WITH ALL THAT MONEY??? Do they courageously exploit the mythical ability of media to dramatically influence the world, do they investigate politicians and oil companies and expose them for the monsters they are, do they expose people to higher forms of comedy than Alice and more profound drama than Charlie’s Angels, do they provide exposure to new obscure artists and musicians, do they help you communicate more effectively, do they reflect and project and proclaim the beautiful terror of life on earth as it really is, do they concern themselves with life at all???? Do they?? Bilge. Drek. Swill. It should be no surprise that 75% of those who enter broadcast management are drafted from the sales department. They ain’t got no interest in truth and beauty.
Are these stations murderers? Do they drive people insane? Are they themselves insane? Is it truly impossible to be profitable without catering to banality and idiocy? Are most older people really possessed of the mushed pus minds catered to by “beautiful music” and many classical stations? Are most American adolescents really possessed of the narrow-minded tastes reflected by their favorite rock stations? Are they all too old or young or stupid to want surprise from the radio? Are the people who run the radio stations too rich to care? Are they themselves the victims of a dull-witted public?
Meanwhile, poised against these millions and millions of dollars is Gary with his little Oil of Dog frantically waving his antennae. I am not even in the struggle. I am like the ant Don Quixote fell on when he hit the windmill. But very few people really care. People are too tired. There are other things to worry about. I rage on. I may be a fool, I may be cloying and moronic on the air, I may be pretentious and dunderheaded and without taste, I may be a flaming asshole – but I believe that compared to what I am trying to do – the goals of most commercial stations in this country are pathetic inadequate harmful scandalous. This is not an arrogant or egotistical claim because any moron could do better. It is the simplest thing in the world to surpass their “purposive rationality” by playing good music.
BECAUSE BROADCASTING IS FOR PEOPLE. It should not be – as Lorenzo Milam says – a hole in the atmosphere for forging gold. It should not be a pretense of public service. It should not be a pretense of popular culture. It should not be a pretense of information. BECAUSE IF RADIO IS NOT FOR THE GREAT TASK OF COMMUNICATION, if it is not meant as a way for people to express themselves, to reach across space, if it is not meant for people to be amazed and surprised by new trends in music and art and literature, for taking pleasure in the beauty of the past, if it is not meant to inform people so they need be less afraid, to educate people about what they can do, to unite people against what is evil, to free people from lies, if it is not meant to communicate a vision of the world as it really is, what is really going on, in art, in the news, so that everyone can choose and decide and know – IF IT IS NOT FOR THESE THINGS, THEN WHAT IS IT FOR????
* Gregory Bateson. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballentine Books, 1972, page 146.
* Lorenzo W. Milam. Sex and Broadcasting: A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community. Saratoga, California: Dildo Press, 1975, page 131.
|I think I might like to be a shopping bag lady. I know that, but for luck, I could end up on that ash heap. But maybe they are cool. Shopping bag ladies will always be outside of society. And yet we can look at them, offer them money, set their dresses on fire. They have somehow turned their back on the whole teeming rotten world with all its sex and warmth and money and hygiene and beauty. I know I do not understand them. They are probably crazy and sad. Perhaps they hold the whole world inside them, buried deep, or perhaps they carry a whole other world in their bags. But they are on that edge, perhaps over that edge, already beyond being destroyed. They are oblivious. They survive.||
There’s a decade in an hour
Your whole life in a single day. *
Jeez what memories. I am carried back to a swirl of hell. JIMMY WEBB, “Where the Universes Are.” This guy is the songwriter’s songwriter. He wrote all kinds of hits for Glen Campbell like “Witchita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” This song is found on a fine album which was produced by schlocky old George Martin who has done almost as much damage as good to the world. This is the theme song from those drunken days trying to forget lost lovers.
Where the universes are
and I stumble to my car
Sweet Lord, I’m off to find another bar . . . . *
* © 1976. White Oak Songs, from El Mirage, Atlantic, SD 18218.
I am surrounded by people who are obsessed with
music. This perception is partly, of course, because I have DJ
eyes and ears. But I am also working on a degree in English and I
almost never hear people passionately discussing a book or
linguistics. Kids on a bus argue about how Van Halen
gets those weird noises. I see a crowd of people in Your Host
laughing around a table about the concert they just saw at the
Aud. In the Mall, people trot in and out of the record store as I
eat a yogurt cone. A group of heavy metal kids complain there is
too much new wave on the radio. A couple of punks complain they
never hear any new wave on the radio.
And there are the vinyl junkies. Those who pursue the collecting and care of records with fervor and compulsiveness equal to any bibliophile. There are clubs, publications, stores, catalogs, conventions, forgeries, hoaxes, technologies, laws all dealing with the collecting of music. There are my friends who compete in completing their EMI Harvest collections; Beatles collectors; collectors of 78 rpm classical discs; colored vinyl collectors; avant garde collectors; anything-that’s-rare collectors. There are those who collect performances. I know a guy who claims to have seen every rock group that has toured the East Coast since 1968 with the sole exception of King Crimson. And there are those who are not so studious but still cop the top of the pops, spending all their spare cash on tickets and discs, and talking endlessly about the newest guitar hero or sex god. Whereas, there was once an industry for publishing books of poems for lovers to whisper, today we seduce with the smooth stereo strains of a gentle album. Throughout the city of Buffalo, I constantly witness a passionate concern for music and a concommitant disregard for literacy.
Why this obsession with music and with rock’n’roll particularly? I often wonder why people listen to my show because all I really offer is sound, musical sound. Why don’t they turn me off and read a book? What do people do while they listen to Oil of Dog in their kitchens and bedrooms, in print shops, machine shops, pizza and taco and doughnut and bagel shops, in studies, in cars, in bars and restaurants, in offices and toll booths, in back rooms and closets, and porches and sundecks, what are they all thinking? This is an absolutely Modern World phenomenon. Before radio, people sat in their houses and read. Reading is not like the music weaving through all these lives. Even if people all over the city are reading the same book at the same time, the experience is still totally solitary. George Steiner clearly explains the appeal of music over literacy in the Modern World:
The new ideals of shared inner life, of participatory emotion and leisure, certainly play a part. Except in the practice of reading aloud, paterfamilias to household, or of the tome passed from hand to hand and read aloud from in turn, the act of reading is profoundly solitary. It cuts the reader off from the rest of the room. It seals the sun of his consciousness behind unmoving lips. Loved books are the necessary and sufficient society of the alone. They close the door on other presences and make of them intruders. There is, in short, a fierce privacy to print and claim on silence. These, precisely, are the traits of sensibility now most suspect. The bias of current sentiment points insistently towards gregariousness, towards a liberal sharing of emotions. The “great good place” of approved dreams is one of togetherness. The harsh hoarding of feelings, inside the reader’s silence, is out. Recorded music matches the new ideals perfectly. Sitting near one another, in intermittent concentration, we partake of the flow of sound both individually and collectively. This is the liberating paradox. Unlike the book, the piece of music is immediate common ground. Our responses to it can be simultaneously private and social. Our delight banishes no one. We draw close while being, more compactly, ourselves. The mutual tide of empathies can be disheveled and frankly lazy. The sheer luster, the fortes or pianos of stereophonic reproduction in a private room can be narcotic.*
Music is a shared ritual. My radio show is something that many people experience mutually and privately at the same time. And I think people who listen to Oil of Dog, because it is very different from anything else on the Buffalo airwaves, all relate to one another. “Oh you listen to Oil of Dog. Me too.” I suspect it is something to talk about between strangers.
It is not difficult to compare the musical experience of today to religious rituals: the silent meditation, the idolatry, the gods, the sexual release, the warring factions of style and interpretation, the ecstasy and abandon, the art and dance. Today there are those of us who can’t live without music. I am such a person. Music seems to fill a spiritual vacuum, it fulfills a religious longing in all people. Certain pieces of music rather than books are comfort in times of strife, certain songs magically express our deepest feelings. Music does more than provide pleasant background noise, it is more than a remedy for boredom, it is more than a mere distraction during tedious work. Otherwise people wouldn’t need particular songs, otherwise all radio stations would be the same, and people wouldn’t change their schedules to listen to my show, they wouldn’t obsessively collect and tape and trade rare recordings. If the broadcasting of recorded music has not pushed literacy aside, it has invaded its domain.
* George Steiner. In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture. New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1971, pages 111-112.
He enters the station less than burst into it. In his knapsack are two dozen or so albums from his mammoth, eclectic collection of forgotten records, fortified by frequent visits to record store bargain bins and used record stores. The rest of the show comes from the station’s library: as often as not he simply pulls out a stack of albums, flips through them, and plays whatever looks interesting whether he’s heard it before or not.*
* Bill Maraschiello. “Madness in the Middle of the Night Courtest of Gary Storm,” SUNY at Buffalo Spectrum, March 11, 1977, Vol. 27, No. 63, page 9 ff.
gives me a lift downtown for a Wednesday encounter with the record
promoters. Bruno is a bass player. He and I formed
the band Extra Cheese and have written many songs together. He
was a founding member of Sha Na Na.
He is one of the only people who can claim he not only went to
Woodstock, he played at Woodstock. He is a
rock’n’roll genius. He is also a great scholar.
It was his suggestion that I number these essays just as Nietzsche numbered his. Though the essays in my dissertation are numbered, I have relinquished the numbers for this website.
Bruno and I catch up with O---, the Warner man. I have repeatedly asked O--- for some reggae albums he distributes. We should have received them three months ago. He also owes us Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites by Zappa. I keep getting requests for these records. O--- finally hands me ten albums. They have been sitting in the sun in his van for three months. They are all badly warped. They are useless. No other radio station will play any of these records. I can’t play them either. Every record is totally warped. “How lame can you get?” says Bruno, as we walk away. “Imagine struggling for years in a band only to have your career placed in the hands of these nimwads."
Figure 10: An elegant logo designed by Andrew Elias, brilliant editor of the short-lived Rockers magazine. (Photo by Zowie)
|Perhaps the weirdest album I ever heard is Cro Magnon by Cro Magnon on the ESP Record label. It is my Truly Classic Album the night Jimmy Carter is elected.||
The cellos are sweet and sad. This is CORELLI’s “Suite for String Orchestra” as arranged by Arbos. It is very simple. I played it in a Junior High orchestra when I was always wet and morose. Now the violins are joyous. This piece is as pure and melodic as a nursery song. For a moment, nothing is wrong.
I walked down the street looking at stars. I
saw a guy sitting on a balcony and he called to me How’s it
goin’ this evening. I said Fine. He proceeded to talk
and talk about how he just moved in a week and a half ago and another
guy appeared with a pigeon on his shoulder. I asked What’s
that living thing you have there? They told me and the guy with the
pigeon went into a long rap about animals. I love animals he
said. I love to catch them. These pigeons have to be strong
birds. We caught a pheasant once and when we started the car to
take him home he died of fright. Had a rabbit die of
fright. Caught three woodchucks but had to let them go because
they were too mean. They kept attacking the lettuce we put in the
I said My name’s Gary. The guy with the pigeon said I’m John. The other guy said Hey why don’t you ask the dude up. I went to the side entrance and up the stairs and into a dismal living room with all the furniture crowded into a corner and nothing but shadows on the walls and one naked light bulb. The other kid was named Randy and sitting on a box was a chubby girl named Kim. This room was a transition room, not yet a room, not a place to live, a bus station with no bus, the same bleak grey sadness, a waiting room. These kids couldn’t have been more than seventeen years old. Randy was a thin blond kid with hair that looked as if it were trimmed under a bowl and he said John I wish you would teach that pigeon of yours not to crap in his water. John was dark and wiry with an earnest voice and eyes telling how the bird shat on him three times tonight already. As we talked the bird shat again between Randy’s bare feet.
I picked up a record from a pile of 45’s. It was a song that was a worldwide hit around 1974; I hate it and I would never play it on my show except at the wrong speed or backwards. I said I think this was the number one song in the world a couple of years ago. They think I am praising it and Randy said Yes I love that song and they put it on their little record player which sat on a box near the pile of furniture.
We had joy, we had fun
We had seasons in the sun *
Kim all the while just sat. John was real friendly. He said Have you ever read Jonathan Livingston Seagull? I said No and he said That’s one of the books I’m going to bring up from home and I want you to read it. He talked about how there are no shackles on the human spirit. He said Now I don’t like bringing this up but when we caught this bird we caught another too and that one’s gone now. You see, he (and he pointed to Randy) tried to beat the bird. Some people think you gotta use a stick. Now I haven’t had to beat this bird once. He just stays with me. Didn’t even fly off my shoulder when I went outside. I just talk to him and am gentle with him. The song started over again. He told me animals respond to kindness.
Goodbye, my love, it’s hard to die
When the birds are flying in the sky *
After a while I left their shadows and piles of furniture and captured animals. I felt small. I am clinging to life by the thread of a song. What makes us creep like this into empty rooms waiting? What is the high point of my life? Inching across the earth to my own room. When the record is played out, when at last I actually touch and she is not what she was, when the concert is over and the last page shut I come back here again always to my room. OH BUT MY LIFE IS HUGE. You read these words, you are reading me now. I look out at you. I look down upon you. I am not in a room. I am not lost in dusk. I am not in a room.
* Terry Jacks. “Seasons in the Sun,” © no date, no pub., from 45 rpm single, Bell Records, 45432.
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