|Oil of Dog
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|THE STORY OF KUNM
It was Spring of 1973. I was studying Beowulf in the original Old English. Old English, spoken in the British Isles between the fifth and twelfth centuries, is so dissimilar from Modern English, that it must be learned in the same way as any other foreign language. I had never translated such a long work before, so I approached it by mechanically translating one Old English word after another without really grasping their context. I eventually developed a different approach, but, because my first methodology was such drudgery, I would listen to the radio while sweating over Beowulf.
I listened to the University of New Mexico station whose call letters, appropriately, were KUNM. They had a weird all night DJ named Renzo. He would put songs together in an interesting way so that they belonged together having a similar sound or mood. One set he repeated a couple of times had the loneliness of space: the incredible version of “I am the Walrus” by Spooky Tooth, “Mechanical World” by Spirit, “Earth Is Not Room Enough” by the Groundhogs, “2000 Light Years from Home” by the Rolling Stones, “One of These Days” by Pink Floyd. After listening in the middle of the night to a series of songs like that, I was left stranded on an asteroid. Every morning at 3:00 a.m., Renzo asked for dedications. He was very strange, very dark. He would beg for sandwiches over the air. “C’mon, man, I’m hungry, man. There must be somebody out there with a sandwich or something, man.” Once I brought him an orange and a bag of potato chips. Once or twice he begged for blow jobs over the air. His rap was slick and decadent, suggestive of unmentionable things. Often he was in a terrible mood and was very rude over the phone.
I gradually realized that despite his great freedom at KUNM, Renzo stayed within a relatively restricted musical repertory. Every week after the Wednesday night Folk Show he would start his show with Jamie Brocket’s “Ballad of the U.S.S. Titanic,” a wonderful song-story that is more than ten minutes long and whose delight can bear only three or four repetitions. Renzo’s show lasted from 1:00 to 6:00 a.m. on weekdays, five days a week and every morning at 5:00 he would play an Environments record of sea sounds. The endless lonely electric wooshing of waves through my little speaker drove me crazy. But everything else on the radio was worse. I declared that if I were in his position I would not be repetitious. Though no other station anywhere – I mean anywhere – played as much music as Renzo, I felt he confined himself to a narrow selection of rock and jazz. And there were some things he would not play. He absolutely refused. Like the Allman Brothers, Jethro Tull, and Led Zeppelin. If he didn’t like a request he took pleasure in degrading the person who made it. He could have used classical music or jazz or poetry or anything he wanted. I said to myself Why if I were him I would play everything I could, and I would read poems too. Even Beowulf. I became very annoyed with Renzo. The idea of going over to KUNM and applying for a job creepy creepy crept into my head. I would show them the potential of radio.
(I should note that, at the time of this website I am not on the radio anywhere and Renzo is still on KUNM, doing a show called “Dog City Rock.” His show is one of the best radio shows I have ever heard with a tasty and surprising selection of the greatest rock’n’roll, primarily from the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties. Any self-respecting DJ Hall of Fame will include his name and accomplishments.)
Back in 1973, I had a zero conception of what radio was about. I knew nothing of playlists, of commercial versus non-commercial radio, I thought all you had to do was go in there and just start working. It didn’t even occur to me that I would have to compete for a position on the air. I thought By golly I’ll just go over there and do it. There’s nothing stopping me. So one day I went to the basement of the Student Union Building where KUNM was located. I came into the office and said, “I want to be an all night disc jockey.” There were four or five people there and they all looked at me quite stunned. One woman said, “Well . . . .” and there were bad vibes from the start. I had made contact with the cool crowd. The people in the Number One positions. They had been at the station for a long time. They were the hard core. The very essence of the KUNM sound. My friend Sam Marshall and I used to make fun of the mellow KUNM DJ’s, their laidback hippie style. YOU SEE, IT WAS SO SUDDEN. Up until the moment I walked in that door I never seriously imagined I would be a disc jockey. As I write this I have DJ’d for almost exactly six years. Six years and one week ago you could never have convinced me I was going to be a disc jockey.
Bruce Lundy, the program director, gave me a booklet to study so I could take the FCC exam for the 3rd class broadcasting license which was required before you could pilot the knobs and read the dials on the control board. Bruce seemed to like me from the start. I took the exam at the Federal Reserve Post and found out by mail a few weeks later that I passed it, and Bruce told me to go work with Renzo during his show and learn the ropes. Bruce was one of your physically large, intelligent, bespeckled radio people. He was imposing, calm, honest, he could be depended upon for advice, he smoked a lot and could whip the record he wanted out of the cabinet without even looking. He had his own style of segueing, fading one record over another by increasing the volume in three or four short bursts.
I went to learn from Renzo how to be a DJ. One wee hour when I walked in he was buying some white powder from some guy. Powder and pills kept Renzo going on his crazy schedule. He was one of the wildest people I ever met. I was there because I scorned him. But as soon as he let me try an hour on my own I realized how difficult his job was, how courageous he had to be to say the things he said and make them work, how difficult it was to be as successfully obnoxious as he was. Even the slightest bit of uncertainty and self-consciousness would have made his darkness seem foolish. And learning the music was the most difficult task of all. It must have taken years for Renzo to become aquainted with the refined selection of music he did play. He had to know not only what a group sounded like and what tunes were worth playing, he also had the ability to put many diverse pieces of music together in his mind.
My first show was on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Lundy told me to be mellow in the first half, heavier in the second. My first time on the air all alone at the station was a complete disaster. Things were fine until noon when I was supposed to put the UPI News wire service over the air. All I had to do was flip the red switch to the UPI position and turn up the red pot (potentiometer or volume knob). It wasn’t until it was news time that I realized I forgot the procedure. I went to pieces. For ten minutes there was nothing but nothing on KUNM. Nothing. Ten minutes of dead air. Ten. Min. It. S. Of. Dead. Ai. Rrrr. Ten minutes of dead air on the radio is endless. I ran back and forth, I switched and flipped and twisted things frantically. There was no one there to help me. Some girl called and said Do you know you’re not on the air? and I said YES I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THE NEWS and she said Oh and she suggested I put on some music. So I did. That blew it. I was dead. I thought for sure I was dead. They will never let me be a DJ now. But I learned that at a non-commercial station, such errors don’t usually mean much as long as they are not habits. They just ask you if you figured out what was wrong, show you how to cover your ass and forget it. It was a horrible and fitting First-Time-On-My-Own-On-
The-Air. I have since learned that in order to be good at radio – or anything, really – you have to carefully and meticulously commit every possible error and crime, you have to memorize by heart the repertory of disasters so that you know from the total humiliation of hard experience how to handle the situation next time.
After one and a half shows, I realized I didn’t know anything about music. I needed to learn all those thousands of records that waited in the record library for airplay. When I was in high school, one of my favorite groups was The Association. But KUNM had no records by The Association. I quickly discovered they were not a cool group. There is cool music that you play, and uncool music that you don’t play. If you try to play uncool music you are an uncool person. I knew nothing about rock’n’roll but the concept of “heavy” music fascinated me. It drew me, it pulled me, it filled something missing from my life. I began to search for the heaviest music I could find. Heavy means a powerful bass line, a simplicity, shrieking lead guitar, smashing drums, and biting rhythm guitar chords. Pianos almost always perforate a heavy sound while organs can go either way. (The reader may be interested to know that after a number of years research I concluded that the heaviest rock group of all time was Blue Cheer while Leigh Sevens played lead guitar, and that the heaviest group of any kind of all time was Hawkwind because they sounded just like rocket engines. Fabulous!!) I had to learn more records so every night I went into a production room at KUNM and read Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered and listened to records until the sun rose. I made careful lists categorizing groups on a scale from heavy to solid, tinkle, folky, jazzy, weird, and mixed. I listened to hundreds of records in this way for several months.
I have a thick stack of notebooks in which are listed all the songs from almost every show I have ever hosted in both Albuquerque and Buffalo. Looking at my earliest shows on KUNM I am surprised at my naiveté about music. At the same time I see an openness towards music I fear I have lost. I began by embracing all kinds of music in a sort of undifferentiated mush. All kinds. Today, I have a very strong sense of genres and sub-genres; of the various forms of rock and eras of jazz and styles of folk. I do not mix up music as much as I once did. I didn’t distinguish between the blues like B.B. King and soulful funky R & B like Curtis Mayfield. Today I would never follow Canned Heat with Chick Corea though I did it once in one of my first shows. How refreshing. I would never follow “EXP” by Hendrix with “Siberian Khatru” by Yes and yet once I did it. I see in those old playlists people I almost never play any more like Christopher Milk and Frampton’s Camel.
The whole time I was at KUNM there was a battle about me behind the scenes. Some hated my work, others liked it. Bruce Lundy was always kind, helping me improve my style. He tolerated my naiveté because he saw that I wanted to do things no one else was doing. Now and then Renzo would help out though I was clearly not cool. The cool crowd did not really do much more than tolerate the presence of those of us who were not cool.
The most unapproachable person was the music director Beau. He was a complete misanthrope and had a very hard straight sense of what was good music and what was not. He was very knowledgeable and had a very closed mind. He kept the sound of the station very esoteric and mature, jazz-oriented in a way. There was no room for a late punking bloom like me. Records I later discovered and love very much ended up in his garbage pile like Selling England By the Pound by Genesis and anything by Neil Young. He absolutely hated Neil Young.
The station manager also had me firmly ensconced in the uncool crowd. He hated my voice and my punkiness. His name was Mike. He gave me nothing but bad vibes. I never quite understood that experience until I came to Buffalo. I wrote the people at KUNM a long letter. I told them I resented the silent bad vibes and the intolerance of those who were inexperienced. I derided the cool crowd. I said it was the obligation of the station manager to articulate criticisms and help new people fit into the sound of the station. It was a lack of openness that characterized the mood of the station.
Mike wanted me thrown off the air but Lundy insisted I stay. If I had been fired I would probably have given up radio forever. It became a great issue between them until finally Lundy said You appointed me program director and I say he stays. So I stayed. Renzo told me all of this as we sat on his porch watching the sun rise and gulping from a bottle of Jim Beam.
After a while on the mid-morning shift they switched me to the early Saturday morning shift 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. I hated this time. One morning I did a crazy thing. I played classical pieces interspersed with heavy rock songs. When I ran out of numbers from a collection of the Greatest Classical Hits of All Time I began interspersing The Greatest Opera Arias of All Time with heavy metal cuts. I did this for two hours. It was awful but I loved it because it was awful. I had learned a new approach: The Beauty of the Radical Segue. I found virgin territory in the art of disc jockeying and I did it and did it and did it again until I couldn’t do it any more and then I drove it into the ground. But Mike, the station manager, was listening that morning. My noises probably made him livid. I later learned indirectly how much he hated it. Lady Kate, the traffic director, who was in charge of much of the behind-the-scenes paperwork at the station, told me I should avoid juxtaposing radically different sounds. This was my first exposure to the main rule of progressive radio: put songs together that belong together. She told me shocking transitions should be used only once in a while. Surprisingly, at about the same time, Beau took me aside and gave me similar advice. Listen to how the songs sound. The song that follows should "belong" to the one that precedes. That was the beginning of my consciousness about radio. Before Lady Kate and Beau spoke to me, it was a game, a bit of a jerk off. Suddenly I realized I could fuck minds. I realized that free-form radio offered an alternative to the commercial format which lacks any continuity of mood, any sense of art.
So many mad memories, especially about Renzo. The station was a bacchanalian madhouse, beautiful girls and wasted boys wandering in from nowhere. Renzo once substituted for the person who did the weekly oldies show that played girl groups and doo-wop and old rock’n’roll from the Fifties and early Sixties. (It is interesting to think that, back in 1973, “Oldies” – records that really sounded like they were from and old-time era – could be only seven or eight years old.) During the show Renzo received a request for something by Bo Diddley. Renzo said, He’s an asshole, and slammed down the phone. Shortly thereafter, Renzo was removed from the air for a couple of weeks. The caller complained to the Station Manager about Renzo’s rude behavior. It turns out the caller was Bo Diddley himself, who was living in New Mexico at the time.
Renzo owned a large sheep dog named Heather. She was incredibly well trained. She would stop at every street curb and would not, under any circumstance, enter the street until Renzo said, Common Heather. She was almost always with him at the station. One night, Heather, who had been mated with another purebred sheep dog, decided to give birth at the station. Puppies started popping out of Heather while Renzo did his show. Each time a puppy appeared, Renzo played “Birthday” by The Beatles. He was jubilant. He was going to rear the puppies and sell them. Being purebred, they would bring a good price. By the time the eighth puppy took its first breath in the screaming rock’n’roll night, the Beatles song was becoming quite annoying. Renzo stopped playing it but the puppies kept coming. As I recall, Heather had thirteen puppies. How Renzo got them home, and what happened to them after that, I do not know.
One day Bruce Lundy asked me if I wanted the midnight to six shift on Saturday nights. And at last I was shot into the world of all night radio. I named my show (blush) The Eclectical Storm. I would always start with thunder from a sound effects record and I would say “Good Evening, I’m the Eclectical Storm, and I’m here to bring you all kinds of music with love.” (Blush.) and I would play Kim Fowley’s “I Hate You” which has been my theme song to this day. And I was crazy. I would play records backwards and three records at once and I would intersperse classical and rock and be as free as I could be. People started to respect me. I was still unconscious and blind. But I loved it. I was crazy. When Chris Chubbuck shot herself on television I staged a radio suicide for myself. Madness. I played classical music and doo wop and blues and comedy and I even put The Association on the air. I read poems. I took any request at all. I was polite over the phone. I grew old and wretched. I died. I was reborn in Buffalo.
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Am I in church? Isn’t that “Rock of Ages”? No. It’s THE HAMPTON GREASE BAND. Pure unadulterated sickness. At first, the music sounds like a stupid joke with the lead singer screeching the words from the label of a spray paint can. But it is not frivolous. This is careful madness like that of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. Back in 1970 down in Georgia these lunatics terrified the peanut farmers with this uncompromising music. Where are they now when we need them? They are so sloppy and raunchy, clangy and wacky, mind-wrecking chords and words.
Look at Jim Evans
Look at his hair
Look at Jim Evans
Look at him fly *
They disembowel their instruments.
* Hampton Grease Band. “Evans,” © 1970, No Exit Music/Grease Music (BMI), from Music to Eat, Columbia, G 30555.
|When I was a toddler my mind was shaped by three popular songs: “The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooly, “I Told the Witch Doctor” by David Seville, and “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. I used to wait for these numbers on Your Hit Parade with Gisele MacKenzie. One Halloween I actually dressed up as a Purple People Eater.||
The CPG will never be the same after WBFO’s Oil of Dog takes over next Wed. nite. *
* “Classified.” State University of New York at Buffalo Spectrum, April 12, 1978, Vol. 28, number and page unavailable.
the background can be heard strange electronic sounds which resemble a
recording of a toy glockenspiel played at double speed.)
Gary: Tonight it’s chaos. So tonight on my show at any rate, on Oil of Dog we’re gonna be doing weird things and making weird noises. One thing I’ve always wanted to do, is I’ve always been interested in um . . . . .
Voices in the background: (There is some commotion.)
Unidentified voice: Turn that off.
G: . . . . . I’ve always been interested in, and this is actually the first, the first time that I’ve ever . . . . . (off-mike now, Gary says to the people talking behind him:) Oh, I turned it off, don’t worry. (now back into the mike) Everything’s cool, um . . . . (now off-mike again) I’m more together than I look, hahaha. Am I?
Unidentified voice: Yes.
Another unidentified voice: Yes you are.
G: (Still off-mike) Except pick my arm up over there. I dropped it on the way to th-um. (Now into the mike again) I’m more together than I look, but you can’t see that. But any rate, what I wanted to say is, this is like of philosophical importance to me in that, um, I assume you have brought some tapes that ain’t exactly music, right?
Noted underground filmmaker and avant garde artist Scott B: We have some ah tapes from the soundtrack of our film as well.
G: And tape that ain’t exactly public affairs.
Noted underground filmmaker and avant garde artist Beth B: We have some private conversations from whore houses and private conversations between men and women, who are questioning what positions they face sexually and also some other things.
G: Oh boy sex. I love sex so . . . . .
G: . . . . . this will be fun anyway. And um so this is g- I’ve always been interested in like not only music but sound. And so this is going to be a night of sound I guess, and weirdness and music too. And so stay tuned and all that kind of stuff. (Off-mike) So ah what are we going to hear? (On-mike) We’re going to move to Tape Two now. (Off-mike) So he put his fing-. Is that right? Okay. (On-mike) So he put his finger on Tape Two.
(Strange metallic ringing noise resumes.)
Figure 16: I spun my usual mélange of records at this fundraiser to benefit of my public radio station, WBFO. What an incredible sight to see dozens of couples waltzing in this smoky little bar to Johann Strauss’s “An der schönen blauen Donau” (“On the Beautiful Blue Danube”), the waltz used so elegantly by Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey to evoke the dance of space crafts orbiting above the Earth. (Photo of poster by Zowie.)
When After Bathing at Baxter’s by THE JEFFERSON AIRPLANE first appeared there was nothing like it on the planet. So many aspects of this album have become archetypal in my life. In high school we invented a student named Baxter, finagled him into some school records, and nearly ran him for class president. The words “Chief of Police” buried in the improvisatory montage of “Streetmasse” became a slogan we would yell down the halls. And here in “Spare Chaynge” Jack Cassidy’s droning thrumbing rumbling bass solo was a sonic cube of sugar for my repressed soul.
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. . . . . I couldn’t bring myself to contribute to your station for several reasons. J-- and Gary Storm are the main ones . . . . . About Gary Storm, I can’t really say that there’s anything at all about his manner that I appreciate. In fact, his mindless vulgarity irritates the hell out of me. I guess he thinks juxtaposing a Bach Cantata with “Surfer Girl” is Progressive Radio. I think it’s just Stupid. And if I accidentally have WBFO on before 8 am and hear him snorting into the mi¬crophone just one more time, I’ll throw a shoe through my tweeter . . . . . About myself – I’m an attorney, male, single, age 25, new to the Buffalo area.
|MORE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS – SCHOLARSHIP, FOOD, AND SEX
Writing a book (and being an all night DJ) can be a very lonely enterprise so I often brought drafts of this work to restaurants so I could look at pretty waitresses, revise passages, and save myself some cooking time. Since I am a “young adult,” I always went to places that catered to my demograph. These pages are indelibly stained by the many Buffalo eateries in which I have labored and they must be all acknowledged.
There was Casey’s Nickolodeon where I munched humongous plates of French fries.
In The Library someone once threatened to stick a fork up my nose as the patrons about us clinked glasses and laughed softly, but I still go there for the excellent fish fry.
It is cozy but too dark to get much writing done at Bullfeathers.
The only place in Buffalo with really truly 100% authentic Mexican food is the tiny El Charro.
At No Name’s I could write for hours mouthing the best cheesecake and one of the best bowls of chile in town.
I always left feeling wholesome at the Greenfield Street Restaurant, a vegetarian cooperative.
At the Boardwalk Cafe I pigged out on huge delicious, almost-authentic Mexican dinners with chimichangas and very hot chile rellenos.
Cole’s was a pleasant-enough place to work despite the Burt-Reynolds-type looks from the unbuttoned machos as I shuffled my wrinkled pages.
I dallied over the notoriously rich Derby Pie at The Sign of the Steer where the crazy bartender would imitate voices from cartoons.
Dino’s, the Italian place on Grand Island had a dreamy born-again waitress and tart salads with lots of onions.
I sat in aquamarine naugahyde in one of the many Friendly’s restaurants, once again face-to-face with The Modern World.
I devoured real home-style cooking at reasonable prices at The Beach House on Grand Island, where Robbie, the owner, is a fearless supporter of Reagan; I can still hear him proclaiming “Reagan is a capitalist and Carter is a socialist,” and I wanted only to eat and die.
What a contrast to the quiet, delicate Christian restaurant, Koinonia, with the best biscuits and rice dishes in town.
One lonely night at a T.G.I. Friday’s I chomped comforting potato skins stuffed with cheeses and spices.
At St. Angelo’s Pizza Shoppe on Grand Island I sat anomalous amidst families, gorging myself on the inexpensive mounds of spaghetti and salad and bread.
At the Stuffed Mushroom I enjoyed some of the most perfectly prepared fish dishes in town.
I must never neglect the four (now five) Mighty Tacos where I will always eat because they underwrote my show on WBFO.
My all time favorite pizza was from Leonardi’s where the family members would whack big square pies with a machete-sized knife.
Although it is not a restaurant I must mention the Yurnwich Shop which provides organic healthful fast food for us scholars on the run.
In the final stages of this book, I discovered the Beanstalk where they serve potato pancakes as good as my own, and mine make Jewish grandmothers faint with shame for miles around.
I could dream for years about the girls in The Rat in the basement of the student union at the University of Buffalo where the coffee is capable of dissolving any organic substance.
Professors love to dine and leave small tips at The Tiffin Room – the more elegant University eatery – where one of the managers told me to put on my shoes or he’d throw me out. What can I say? I have always eaten like a pig. That’s why none of the record promoters like to take me out to dinner.
For nearly three years I have chewed over this book in loneliness while the ideas plopped in viscous stringy puddles to the page as I wished (as do all scholars and poets who work in public) for some lithe beauty to sit and talk and take me away from all this.
|David Bloom and I talk to a hero about a hero.
Gary: Um did you ever meet Edgar Varese?
Frank Zappa: No.
G: No, you never did. Urn I-I read someplace though that you did call him . . . .
Z: Yeah, I called him and ah and I-go-I got a letter from him.
G: Urn how old were you when that happened?
G: Fifteen, wow. Wh-how did you ever hear of him? Er, how did you get so en-enthusiastic about him?
Z: Well, I read an article in Look Magazine about Sam Goody’s record store, this was in the fifties.
G and David: Uh huh.
Z: And the article, the basic thrust of it was Sam Goody was such a fantastic record merchandiser that he could sell anything, including this ungodly album! . . . . (we all laugh) . . . . called "Ionizations" which was actually a misprint, that’s not the name of the album. The name of the album was The Complete Works of Edgar Varese, Volume One, EMS 401, that was a little private label, uh EMS stands for Elaine Music Shop.
Z: And it was the first ah first recording of any ah any of Varese’s pieces. I think he was probably in his un . . . . . either the late fifties or sixties then.
D and G: Yeah, mm hmm.
Z: I mean, that’s a long time for a guy to wait to hear his music played back. So anyway, uh the article said that this album was horrible! It had this crashing percussion and sirens and oh this ugly noise and stuff! And I was going, “Wow, where can I get this record!?” So I started looking around in San Diego trying to find the thing, and ah nobody had it. Then one day I was out shopping for some rhythm and blues records and I was in this little record store in La Mesa, California, and there sitting on th-on the side in this bin was this black and white album cover with a picture of this guy who looked like a mad scientist on the front, and I said “Hey, what is this?!”
Z: . . . . . and there it was. And the guy had been using it as a hi-fi demonstration record, this was when hi-fi was first coming out.
G: Oh, I remember that.
Z: You know, when they had a lot of percussion records . . . . .
D: Lots of weird sounds.
G: And lawn mowers and . . . . .
Z: Yeah, right, and racing cars.
G: Yeah, hahaha.
Z: Anything went in those days. The world was young.
D and G: Hahahahaha.
Z: So he had this thing sitting over there and I said, “How much do you want for it?” and he said “$5.95.” I mean, well, in those days, guys, $5.95, that was ah . . . . .
G: That was a lot for a record.
Z: . . . . . half a week’s allowance, y’know. I was goin’ “God, how am I gonna afford this?” I said, “ Awww, I just can’t touch it,” y’know. Then the guy finally lowered his price because every time he played it, he wouldn’t make a sale on his hi-fi’s.
G and D: Hahaha.
Z: He just wanted to get it out of the shop, so I took it home, and that was it, y’know. I heard it and I liked it right away. And I used to bring people over to the house to listen to it.
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Once I sat before NICO in a small artspace in Buffalo as she sat cross-legged chanting her poetry and indefatigably squeezing music from her harmonium. The local group The Fems – masters of sardonic punk – opened up for her. As Bob Weider smirked the vocals and mocked the audience, Mark Freeland pounded with mallets on a base drum laid skin up. Toward the end he poured a bottle of beer on the drum and the dancing droplets shimmered drenching Mark and spraying the audience. Mark told me later that, back stage, Nico shot up before the show, how the needle plunged into damaged flesh.
But she was here, in real life, waif goddess of the Velvet Underground and the palace of Andy Warhol.
Listen to this song from Nico’s album Desertshore:
Janitor of lunacy
Identify my destiny
Revive the living dream
Forgive the begging scream *
Where is she taking us? The stars begin to vanish from the night sky.
* Nico. “Janitor of Lunacy,” © 1970, UFO Music, Inc. (BMI), from Desertshore, Reprise RS 6424.
| One of the heroes of this book is Lorenzo P. Milam, author of Sex and Broadcasting.
I have borrowed ideas and phrases from him in writing about my
own broadcasting experience. I decide I should write to him and
send him my playlists. My first mailing to him includes a list
with Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, The Buzzcocks, and Lydia Lunch at the top.
But Lorenzo P. Milam does not like rock’n’roll. And he does not like communicators who call themselves disc jockeys. He returns my list with an arrow pointing to the return address “WBFO Public Radio 88.7 FM” and a note in purple ink: “Quite a waste, I’d say (considering what you could be doing). Please take me off yr list.”
|CLASSICAL MUZAK – AFTER AN ESSAY BY LORENZO P. MILAM
(2008 Note: This essay was first published in 1983. I realize that much has changed in the classical music world since I first wrote these words – that, amidst the stuffyness that still suffocates, there are punky niches where dissonance and fun and innovation are embraced. This was written before the Chant album became a sensation, before Nigel Kennedy painted his face, and before John Adams’ compositions began to be admitted into the mainstream repertoire. And of course I know that, as of the posting of this web page on January 12, 2008, Leonard Bernstein, Iannis Xenakis, Lejaren Hiller, and Karlheinz Stockhausen are no longer alive. Also, I have been unable to find any modern-world reference to Wilhelm Jeval, but, unless I am disasterously misspelling his name, I know I played a recording of his cello concerto on the radio.)
The people who control the classical music business hate classical music. They hate it. Listen to commercial and public classical music stations. As I have already noted, they rarely play a work by a living composer or a composition that is over 55 minutes long unless, like an opera, they can interrupt it with commercials and station IDs. It is a bold and notable act when one of the major orchestras features a world premier or even a work that was composed more recently than 50 years ago.
The patrons who control the classical music world are arrogant farts who want to hear nothing but “famous melodies.” Music of the Masters! Timeless masterpieces! Immortal works of art! Over and over. The same composers. The same pieces of music. High brow Top 40. They want nothing to challenge the ear, nothing unfamiliar, nothing to provoke surprise and passion, nothing new. Shovel on the Beethoven, heap on the Schubert, pour out the Mozart, with just a little pinch of Prokofiev. “Nothing before Bach and nothing after Stravinsky” they say – and they don’t mean the Stravinsky who died in 1971, but rather the Stravinsky who, in their minds, faded out in 1913 after the “Rite of Spring.”
These pudgy oldsters who make the concert hall smell like mothballs every opening season – they despise and fear the spirit of classical music. The term “classical” is fatally imprecise because this is the music that has historically been the most avant of the avant garde. Even though it may be apocryphal, I will tell again of the fear and joy some mysterious holy man aroused in the worshippers when he first entered multi-part harmony in the liturgical mass. Classical music is ahead of all other forms of music – even jazz – in terms of virtuosity, harmonic and rhythmic innovation, the creation of new instruments, appropriation of folk idioms, the improvement of old instruments, the use of electronic media, and the incorporation of the latest technology. It is from the conservatory that musical innovation first emerges. Beethoven shocked the people of his time with his vehement rhythms. Those who first heard Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto sat silent without applause in disbelief. It is well known that Stravinsky’s sexual music caused a veritable riot. Long before there was jazz, the Dadaists were making pure improvised music. Conservatory types were the first to explore the Theremin, the tape recorder, the synthesizer, and the computer in musical composition. They were the first to use garbage cans, glass bottles, and rubber tubes as musical instruments. The “classical music” of any age has always been at the vanguard of music.
The rich morons who donate their dollars to public classical music radio stations want nothing more than background music. They do not want anything to challenge or excite the ear and carry them into the present. This is proven by their listening habits: when their favorite warhorse classical station goes off the air or plays something new or unfamiliar, they turn immediately to the “beautiful muzak” station for Enoch Light and the 101 Strings and Montovani. They want it soft and warm and mushy.
These classical music slobs want muzak. Elitist muzak. They will cream to the romanticism of Brahms and Tchaikovsky. But try to get them to book a ticket to see an orchestra play a more obscure romantic composer like Sigismond (Zygmunt) Stojowski or Ernest Guiraud, or the fine cello concerto by Wilhelm Jeval.
“Let’s see, that’s in a major key. Oh, that’s in a minor key, how sweet and sad.” But try to expose them to alternate systems of harmony. The elaborate systems of Scriabin, Charles Ives, Webern, Schoenberg – the new passions they were able to discover with these sounds. Play for them Alban Berg’s incredibly moving Violin Concerto. The twelve tones fall like monotones into the pus of their minds.
And ask these cretins who love classical muzak to name a living composer. If they think hard they can name maybe one: Leonard Bernstein. “Let’s see, there was ‘Candida’ and ‘West Side Story’ and that cute song he wrote for Dick Cavett, but his symphonies are a mess!” Iannis Xenakis, George Crumb, Lejaren Hiller, Hans Werner Henze, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Peter Maxwell Davies, Lukas Foss are all too real for these lovers of muzak. And they will never open their world enough to call Frank Zappa a classical composer, or Keith Jarrett, or Sun Ra, or Anthony Braxton.
And do you think it is just new music they are afraid of? Try to get them to appreciate the majesty of a Gregorian chant. Or the strange harmonies of Renaissance music. Or the lusty songs of the Elizabethan era. “All that music sounds the same. Besides, those crumhorns and cornets sound funny. That’s too primitive to be classical music.”
Madness and death are preferable to the bog through which these classical music killers ooze.
|It is very dangerous to live in Buffalo. The reason is because it is almost impossible to leave. No one who comes to live in Buffalo ever quite seems to escape. I do not know how it is with other cities. They say you can’t come home again, but I know many Buffaloons who have. They go to other cities, start new lives, stay away for years, and then return to live. Several I know briefly returned for their belongings and never left again. Once you take up residence here you are caught. Perhaps it is suckier than other places, it sucks you back. I do not know the reason. The economy is collapsed, there is no employment, the weather is rotten, the communities are ripped by bigotry, the government is corrupt, there is little to do. Will I ever escape? Could I do a show like mine anywhere else?||
AMANDA TREES is wailing “Prehistoric Animals”:
Bring back the prehistoric animals
Oh there are some days
Doo doo doo doo
It was just about
Doo doo doo doo . . . .*
In my book, anyone who loves dinosaurs is a saint. This mysterious Amanda with a single album in 1972 on Poppy Records. Where is she now? Who is she? What does she look like? I know I would like her.
* © 1972, Prehistoric Animals, Inc./Poppy Music, Inc. from Amanda, Poppy Records, PP.LA 003-F.
TONIGHT! Gary Storm brings true Oil of Dog (WBFO/3 am/Mon.-Thurs.) to the CPG (Central Park Grill). Cheap drinks, free LP’s! Boogie start time 10 pm till . . . .*
Woman’s voice: Now what are we saying?
Man’s voice: Think about you?
W: You want to think
W: Alright, I have
long red hair, . . . .
W: . . . . goes down
to my waist . . . . um . . . .
Woman’s voice in the background: Very sexy.
W: . . . . I have a
forty chest, . . . .
W: . . . . twenty-six
waist, thirty-six hips . . . . got a red cunt . . . . that’s my ass, man . . .
M: Hey, talk to
me. Get hot.
W: What are you, you
already said you had eight inches.
M: Mm hmm.
W: (She covers the
phone and laughs, people are listening.)
W: Did you come yet?
M: Huh? No, I’m jerking off faster.
W: Well, hurry up,
man. (She laughs. So does a woman in the background.)
M: You want me to
W: Yeah. (Woman in the background laughs.) Yeah.
M: Do you want to
lick it up?
M: Do you want to
lick it up?
W: I’m not gonna lick
it up, you gotta come inside me.
M: Inside of you?
M: Oh, I feel it.
W: You’re gonna be pushin’ hard, honey.
M: On you?
W: Move around a
M: Inside you?
W: Yes. But first we have to have oral sex. You gotta eat me.
M: Eat you?
M: Yeah? Oh, I could do that.
W: How good are you? (A woman in the background seems to be yelling
M: I’d just lick it
all up. Lick it while you’re sucking on
my cock, right?
W: Mmm hmm. (She covers the phone as a woman in the
background yells, “Tell her, tell her to get off, man!” Another woman in the
background says, “She says to get off.”) Alright.
W: Okay. Did you come?
M: No . . . . Hello?
M: And then I would
M: How would you want
me to do it?
W: You on top, of
W: You on top, of
course, startin’ out really slow.
W: Yeah. We have a vibrator too.
M: You have a
M: Is it there with
M: You got it in you?
M: When do you use
W: When do I use it?
W: When I’m horny.
W: (Enunciating each
M: How do you use it?
W: I just stick it
right on the ol’ clit, honey.
M: Stick it in your
W: Yeah, I stick one
in my cunt and one on the clit.
M: And where?
W: (Enunciating) One in the cunt and one on the clit.
M: Aowhh. How does it feel?
W: Oh man, it’s so
fantastic, it’s almost heaven.
M: Feel like my cock?
W: Bet you got a hard
M: It’s real hard. That’s why I can’t understand why I don’t
W: Well, hurry up,
M: So, what does . .
W: Keep your hands
M: What’s the best
way for me to jerk off?
W: With your hands! (She seems about to laugh.)
M: I know. Which way? Fast? Real
W: Isn’t there
somebody there who can give you a blow job?
W: Why not?
M: Nobody home.
M: Nobody. In-not in the place!
W: Yeah, there’s gay
M: I don’t want no
W: Why not?
M: I like ladies.
W: So do I.
M: When I came in
here the nurse was rubbing my cock.
M: She just got me
hard but she didn’t jerk me off. You
know how they search you when you come in?
(The voices fade and the strange metallic ringing noise
fades in. The metallic ringing fades after a few seconds.)
Gary: Wooh! You said it’s gonna be different. Ha haaaaaaah! Why don’t you tell us about, what did we – what
were we just listening to there? I mean,
ah, aside from what we were just listening to, what was it really?
Beth B: These were actual ph-a-phone call between a-a man who called up on the telephone to a whore house, he read an ad in a magazine . . . .
G: Uh huh.
B: In Screw
Magazine. And he called up and
asked, he said he was in the penitentiary, and he wanted to know if ahh one of
the women there would help him jerk off.
G: Wow. And –
B: So what you had
was a lot of (she pants heavily), a lot of panting and lot of that.
G: We’ll get to that
later I suppose, right?
Scott B: Sure.
G: We cut it off in
the middle. Uh . . . . now . . . . ah
and what about the noises? The rararar [metallic
ringing] ones. What was that?
S: Those were picked
up from a telephone and a Quip. Quip is
a device that sends Xerox type images over the phone line. (This conversation took place when facsimile
transmissions and the sounds heard when one dials up a fax machine on a regular
phone were a new technology.)
G: Uh huh. So those
were Xerox images recorded.
G: On oh haha the
sound of Xerox! Cosmic. I-I’m, whew! I think I’m transcending into other realms of
consciousness already. Okay, um, my
guests tonight are um Scott B. and Beth B. And ah now wh-do you want to say something
about who you are and um or where you’re from or anything any stuff like that?
S: We’re um artists
and film makers from New York City. And
we’re here, uh, we showed the film . . . . .
B: (She screeches,
great over-modulation.) TO TERRORIZE
G: Ah . . . . Okay .
. . . so we’re all, we’re all terrorized, um and yer-you have an exhib-you have
some exhibitionisms going on at-at uh Hallwalls right now, right?
G: Ah hah. A couple of exhibitionists.
Soviet infantry divisions are stationed on the Iranian border in Afghanistan. U.S. Airborne Ranger units are ready to fly into the area from West Germany at a moment’s notice.
Fighting breaks out in Iran between Soviets and Americans.
Gary is drafted.
Small scale conflict erupts.
Rock and roll dreams dry up.
“Walking Song” by one of the world’s finest song-writing teams, KATE AND ANNA McGARRIGLE.
Wouldn’t it be nice to walk together
Lilting and swaying, head side to side, one-two-three, one-two-three. You can take a stroll to this song even if you’re sitting down.
And we’ll talk about the sports we’ve played
About the time you got busted
Or the times I got laid
We’ll talk of love
Of how we were bred
We’ll talk about the folks both living and dead*
* © 1977, Garden Court Music (ASCAP), from Dancer with the Bruised Knees, Warner, BS 3014.
(Gary is talking to Scott B. and Beth B. about
Gary: Um ah now.
Wh-why don’t you tell us like about ah like for example, what they mean by
French spoken and Eng-and y’know stuff like that.
Beth B: Okay, well, Greek is ah when someone asks for Greek that means that they want it up the ass, um they want to go up the ass of the woman, usually. Or they want to be Greeked perhaps with a dildo, something like that. French is oral. And um English is generally referring to like discipline and that can range from like extreme pain with whips and paddles and such ah to also just verbal humiliation. Some just want to be verbally humiliated. And so it there’s ah a large range that-that goes between English, there are different intensities of it. And Straight is – Straight – as normal as some people say.
I am a lousy DJ. I will never forget that one night I worked
at WBUF when I was so desperate for money. I made a thousand mistakes and kept
confusing the various categories of music, and I never did get their control
board figured out. I kept turning up the
wrong pots and flipping the wrong switches. They said they would call me in June. They never did.
Without my good music I am nothing. I am a lousy DJ.
One of the earliest and greatest of the 1970’s garage rockers was Count Viglione out of Boston. He used to mimeograph a punk newsletter called The Augusta Pages and released a number of fuzzy homemade records on his own Varulven record label. I read about him in Trouser Press and sent him my playlist. He responded with a package addressed as follows:
C/o GARY STORM
3435 Main Street
Buffalo, New York 14214
the land where God decided he would create his clone(s) to infiltrate the world with the good sounds of The Good Lord, not church music or Gospel but music that God really likes . . . . you know, REAL ROCK & ROLL. ‘Cause God tolerates Gospel music ‘cause people created it for him thinking that he would like it; and being the Good Lord That he is, he didn’t have the heart to tell them Gospel Music is not his cup of tea. Then he created ROCK & ROLL & Lou Reed & Elvis & Janis Joplin & Count Viglione & Jim Morrison, and he said “Let There Be Sound!” ROCK OUT!!! And they did, and he saw that it was good. Real good. Then The Lord said . . . these fine musicians are too busy creating music. I will create DJ’s to play these wonderful sounds. And he created his clone . . . WBFO, featuring Gary Storm & he saw that it was good!
Hail to the Count! I cry each time I play his records.
Figure 17: One of Count Viglione’s amazing packages. (Photo by Zowie.)
|Okay, it’s contest time again!
The crowd in Central Park Grill smashes up to the sound booth. They are smiling and savage and drunk.
Okay, I’ll give ten albums to the first ten people who can answer the following question: Okay, are you ready?! The first ten people!
They yell GET ON WITH IT, WHAT THE FUCK’S THE QUESTION!
Okay, now the first ten to answer this question: Name a country in the world today that uses torture!
Screams and shouts, the names of tortured nations roars forth: Chile, Iran, Paraguay, Uruguay, the Philippines, Brazil, South Korea, Iraq, Uganda, Guinea!!!
I suspect that every all night disc jockey is secretly enthralled by JONI MITCHELL’s “Rainy Night House” when she sings:
You are a holy man
On the FM radio
I sat up all the night and watched thee
To see, who in the world you might be.*
Golly day! Of course, I don’t think she’s singing
about a DJ at all but it sure makes you feel like more than just a guy. I play this song all the time.
* ©1969, Siquomb Publishing Co., from Ladies of the Canyon, Reprise, 6376.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . what about ah . . . . .
there’s a . . . . . a nostalgia . . . . . that’s emerging
for the sixties . . . . .
Frank Zappa: Well, that’s another thing that Americans are fond of . . . . . which is walking backwards . . . . .
G: Yeah, nostalgia that’s . . . . .
Z: It’s not that nostalgia’s so cool, it’s just that I think Americans are afraid of the future . . . . . the only thing they wanna know about the future is, ya know, all Star Wars type stuff . . . . .
G: But not the terror that’s around the corner.
Z: Yeah, they don’t wanna stop and think about what the government really means to them . . . . . or, ya know, what their life is really gonna be like, they want ah . . . . . they like space suits, and potential extra-terrestrial wisdom, guns that shoot little streams of light instead of those stinky old bullets . . . . . ya know . . . . . really neat explosions in mid-air, mechanical men. That stuff they can go for but they don’t wanna think the other, the creeping future that is their every day life . . . . .
G: Mm hmm . . . . . and ah . . . . . the sixties nostalgia is ah . . . . . a new dangerous kind of nostalgia it seems.
Z: I think all nostalgia is dangerous. I had a theory once about how the world could possibly end in nostalgia. You take the distance between the actual event and the nostalgia for the event and start calculating how it takes less and less time to become nostalgic for any given period. In other words, the distance between the thirties, . . . . . and thirties nostalgia was X number of years, the distance between the forties and forties nostalgia was fewer years, fifties nostalgia fewer years still, now you have sixties nostalgia and that was just a few years ago . . . . . Eventually people will become terribly nostalgic for things that had happened only a few seconds ago, and will become engrossed in their, ya know, their . . . . . they just took a breath, and they have to go back and think about it ‘cause it was such a cool breath back then . . . . .
Z: Ya know? And eventually the world will just grind to a stand-still and everybody will die remembering . . . . .
G: Hahahahaha . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It is the middle of 1977. Out in California there is a rock’n’roll magazine called Bomp. It is a superb publication which offers top-notch articles about all kinds of rock’n’roll from news about The Beach Boys, to forgotten girl groups of the fifties, to the hottest new punk bands, to the punky rockers from Mexico whose records you will never hear. The magazine is oriented toward the collector as well as the fan and includes copious discographies and information about tiny labels. Unfortunately, they can’t get their business act together and they publish sporadically and will probably fall under. Bomp became one of the first distributors of records released by punk new wave bands on their own private labels. A few months ago I ordered a number of these records because, at the time, there was no place in Buffalo to find them. I play the records on my show.
I send my playlist to Gary Sperrazza! (he spells his name always with the exclamation mark) who has just moved to California from Buffalo to join Bomp magazine. Gary made a name for himself here as a maniacal music critic. He sends me an enthusiastic letter which helps me articulate my attempt to expose punk on the radio. You can see he felt the excitement in the air, the excitement many of us felt that something great was about to happen. It of course never did happen in quite the way we hoped, partly because all the idiots who run radio stations – including the people who run mine – were too stupid to listen with rock’n’roll ears.
I’m sitting on a hotbed of news these days: “God Save the Queen” (by the Sex Pistols) is #1 in the UK concurrent with the Queen’s bar-mitzvah – has anyone actually realized the ramifications of this? It flips me out, that’s all I know. More and more records are pouring in from cities all over the country, some good, but quantity does not mean quality of course. However, it’s good to see radio stations such as yours coming around to playing new things and being so interested in playing rock’n’roll again. If all the moldy political leftovers from the late 60’s could take the time to realize that politics and music have never mixed so well since the MC5 – but it’s musical anarchy that’s the issue here. How could anybody not want to hear anything new once their old faves have dried up their creative wells? I’ve nothing against them, it’s just time for them to move over, go to Vegas, whatever. There are too many new good young bands eager to hear their record on the airwaves at least once before they fade back into obscurity again and a lot of them have the talent to stick it out for years until they’re recognized. This is not ‘punk rock’, it’s rock and roll and more exciting than it’s been in years!!!
|Gary: Now WKBW is in this market the number one station. Right?
Norm Schrutt, General Manager: Thank God!
N: In the last Book anyways, y’know. It depends, everybody’s number one in ah whatever they look for. Some people are number one in older people, we’re number one in the demographics that we look for.
Sandy Beach, Program Director: Which is 18 to 49.
G: Eighteen to fo-, that’s an enormous audience!
S: It sure is. If you stop and think, if you stop and think as a programmer what appeals to ah an 18 year old as opposed to what would appeal to a 49 year old, and try and keep them both happy, you have an idea of the programming problems when you’re that broad-based.
G: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. How did you come to choose that ah base?
S: Probably because it represents ah the most sizable base ah that we can run most efficiently and succeed. In other words, if we capture the 18 to 49 age group, ah that is th-the most saleable thing we have, it’s-a it’s the most viable product that we can deliver to ah to our sponsors, and that’s the reason that we-we’ve done it. It would be very easy to narrow the target down, say we wanted to go 18 to 24. Then it’s a lot easier to hone in on that 18 to 24, or 24 to 35, whatever you want to pick, than it is to try and appeal to 18 to 49. But we are a very large radio station that tries to appeal to the bulk of the community and I think that 18 to 49 is-is . . . . .
N: It’s also a lot more fun, I think.
S: It really is because it-it’s a lot more challenge.
G: Mm hmm.
S: It’s a lot more challenge. I mean, we can’t go on the air and ah run a Tubes weekend and get away with it. Y’know, we just can’t do it. Ahhh our appeal has to be broad. And when you’re appealing on-a on-a broad level, the programming aspect of it is a lot more of a challenge. A lot more difficult.
I wonder if I am the only disc jockey ever to broadcast in its entirety without interruptions Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.
Image under construction.
“Well I am always a lady Archie, always a lady. I did not do anything vulgar. I simply removed his right eye with my left claw. And the next floor flusher who mentions marriage to me, I may lose my temper and slice him from gahena to duodenum!!”*
It is hard to imagine anyone more full of life wisdom than ROSALIE SORRELS. The pictures of her face, the whine of her voice, and her worldly songs of sorrow and peace and resignation and joy, she seems to have been through all ways and all things. She is also a noted collector and preserver of traditional American folk songs. Now we are listening to her sardonic humor, a riff on Don Marquis’ typewriter-era tales of Archie the literary cockroach and Mehitabel the alley cat.
* Rosalie Sorrels. “Mehitabel’s Theme,” © 1975, no pub., from Always a Lady, Phil, PH 1029.
|As we wait for The Rolling Stones, for our entertainment, the promoters have planned a stunt-flying exhibition over the stadium. People in the crowd ooh and aahh, and yikes he looks like he will surely crash but crazy turns and flops somehow become controlled flight. Meanwhile, a short thumb of a guy with a shaved round head and little blond mustache staggers about my neighborhood. Stoned drunk completely fucked up he stands now rocking back and forth. Hey man . . . . . I think The Troggs are gonna play before the Stones. Hey man can I have some of your water man. He reminds me of the character named Man created by Cheech and Chong. So I give him my plastic jug and as he unscrews the lid he burns someone with his cigarette and drops the jug making the whole area wet. Wow man I’m sorry man I’m sorry man I’m sorry man forgive me man. Here burn me. Burn me man please here I’m sorry man man I’m sorry. With wobbly fingers he presses the cigarette into his own arm but we take it away from him and put it out. He proceeds to guzzle almost all the water. It clears my head and he grabs a joint from someone and sucks about half of it in one toke. Wow man thanks. Meanwhile, the plane dives straight down twirling around and around. The guy yells THIS IS SHIT BRING ON THE STONES. THIS IS BULLSHIT BRING ON THE STONES. ANY ASSHOLE COULD LEARN THIS. IN THREE WEEKS ANY BUTTHEAD COULD FLY UPSIDE DOWN. THIS IS BULLSHIT WE WANT THE STONES. Now the plane gains momentum and actually flops end over end and the people around me say Gosh and the plump little shaved head howls THIS IS SHIT BRING ON THE STONES and the plane tumbles down and the crowd ahhs and somehow the plane catches flight and zooms away Isn’t that amazing ladies and gentlemen for the first time at any rock’n’roll concert!!! and the shaved little thumb yells THIS IS A FUCKING BUNCH OF SHIT YOU FUCKING ASSHOLES BRING ON THE STONES.|
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