|Oil of Dog
|Links Under Construction Contact|
|ESSAY ON LEE ABRAMS continued from Oil of Dog Page 7
A BRIEF ASIDE ON ARBITRONS
Somewhere in hell there are a bunch of extremely wealthy clowns who run a corporation called Arbitron. These clowns are in the business of measuring the success of radio stations. They sit in their Arbitron buildings and laugh and laugh all the time and they love to make up crazy stories. The reason they laugh is because all the radio stations in the United States worship whatever they say. No matter how crazy and insane the stories are, the stations will frenetically interpret them, destroying themselves and each other with the results. What is even more hilarious is that the stations actually pay these clowns-from-hell incredible amounts of money to contrive these phony stories.
This is how it works: The Arbitron is the radio equivalent of television’s famous Nielsen ratings. Theoretically, the ARB’s (as they are lovingly called) will give a station a measure of how large an audience it has, what the sex and age group is of that audience, how many are listening at what times, and what their listening habits are. The clowns at Arbitron divide the whole United States into a series of “markets” and then rate the stations in each market. A station that wants access to all the statistics obtained by Arbitron must “buy The Book.” In Buffalo, this costs about $19,000 and it is an unstated assumption that stations who do not buy will probably not be favored by the statistical margin of error.
These clowns are real scientists, let me tell you. Let us imagine they are going to rate all the stations/in the Buffalo market. They will take an ordinary Buffalo phone book and randomly select a bunch of names. This is how they arrive at an arbitrary sampling which is supposed to represent all the listeners in the Buffalo market. A phone book. One really scientific aspect of this is that they do not interview anyone who lives on a college campus (because dorm residents are only listed in the campus phone book) and any phone list automatically excludes the highly mobile population that attends college. FM rock stations find this especially helpful. The ARBs don’t even bother to take into account tens of thousands of potential listeners to rock stations in Buffalo. Can you imagine a toy company market-testing a doll by surveying everyone except little girls? This reflects the intelligence of the bozos at Arbitron. It has only very recently (as I write this, in the past year or so) occurred to the scientific clowns at Arbitron that many women do not list their names and numbers in the phone book. Is it any wonder that the lack of female listenership has been one of the most persistent problems faced by the radio industry, that it has been a constant subject of debate and advice? The bozos now take an “Expanded Sample Frame” which purports to be a representative sampling of unlisted phone numbers. At least now we can pretend to have some idea of how non-collegiate women with phones listen to the radio.
Beyond this, I personally suspect the Arbitrons are racist. I believe, in this area, they exclude the Latinio population. At WBFO, we used to devote every Saturday to Latino programming and we knew the audience was there because the day was flooded with calls and letters. Moreover, it was the only such programming at that time in this market. Yet the ARB’s showed absolutely no listeners for WBFO on Saturdays. Perhaps they deliberately ignore Latinio surnames, perhaps the phonebook sample is not proportional to the actual Latino population, perhaps the surveys are in English. Not taking these factors into account is bigotry. Even if only 100 Latinio people were listening, or .5% of the Latinio population listened, an accurate rating would indicate these listeners. Even if anecdotal evidence like calls and letters is not scientifically supportable, it rises to an level of empircal proof that the silly Arbitron numbers cannot match.
Even more bizarre than these basic flaws in the statistical sample are the ways radio stations try to manipulate the ARB’s. For example, the surveys are taken for 4 to 10 week periods at pre-announced times during the year. So all the stations will try to beef up their listenership with huge promotion campaigns. Billboards, bus cards, bumperstickers, publicity stunts, and TV ads all pop out during the “rating period.” They will use contests with clever ploys and big prizes to keep people by their radios as long as possible: “If you are the fiftieth caller, the next time we play the Beatles you will win $100!” But it gets even weirder than that.
People whose lucky numbers are chosen from the phone book are asked to record in a special “diary” the exact times they listen to each particular station. (I know because, when I was not in the radio business, I kept such a diary.) The Arbitron bozos then use several methods to tabulate these diaries. One method is to divide each hour of the day into quarter hours. If you listen from 9:00 to 9:05, the bozos will count that as one quarter hour, even though you listened for five minutes. Listening from 9:10 to 9:20 counts as two quarter hours because you listened for part of the first quarter hour (9:00 to 9:15) and part of the second (9:15 to 9:30). If you think this makes no sense, you are right. On the theory that people will change the station during a commercial break, radio programmers will “tilt” the schedule so that no breaks occur on the quarter hour; that is, there will be no breaks at 9:00, 9:15, 9:30, 9:45, etc. Instead, the commercial breaks will take place at 9:05, 9:20, 9:35, 9:50, etc. This way, if you turn on the station at 9:10 and listen until the commercials at 9:20, this will count as two quarter hours even though you listened for only ten minutes; whereas if the commercials had happened at 9:15 the station would have been credited only one quarter hour. There are many such games that programmers use to manipulate the outcome of the ARB’s. No one knows if these tricks really work. The ratings have nothing to do with the way people really truly listen to the radio.
Arbitron is a bulishit universe to which the real world is desperately trying to conform. All programming is for the sake of the ARB’s rather than art and information and beauty and truth and democracy and freedom.
But the craziest thing of all is the fact that the ARB’s are NOT INTENDED to indicate true listening habits. Their only purpose is to provide as many phony ways as possible of interpreting as many phony statistics as possible so radio stations can “prove” to their advertisers that somebody in radioland is listening. If a station comes out 8th in the quarter hour shares, they may come out second in males 18 to 34 years of age; or they may be third “over all,” or they may do poorly in morning drive but be first in afternoon drive. The ARB’s are not empirical, they are not accurate, they are not a mirror, they are not true. They are a myth, a fairytale, a kaleidoscope, an excuse. They provide a meaningless statistic which programmers use to justify their decisions, whether it be firing a jock or increasing the price of a 60 second commercial. There are no real reasons for any programming decision. The Arbitrons are just a strange and incredibly costly minuet, a mindless dance no one in the business can escape.
But the Arbitron clowns laugh and laugh and laugh. Because all the radio stations pay them to play these silly games and be phony and inaccurate and sexist and racist. What is more unbelievable is that everyone in radio simultaneously acknowledges and ignores these problems. These fundamental inadequacies are part of any discussion or analysis of the ARB’s. AND YET THEY WORSHIP THE ARBITRONS. THEY WORSHIP THE INACCURATE NUMBERS AND STAKE EVERYTHING EVERY THING EVERY LAST GODDAMNED THING ON THE ARB’S. A DJ WILL KEEP OR LOSE HIS JOB, A FORMAT WILL BE COMPLETELY ALTERED, A STATION WILL LIVE OR DIE, IT WILL MAKE MONEY OR GO BANKRUPT BASED ON WHAT THE ARBITRONS SAY EVEN THOUGH EVERYONE ADMITS THEY SAY NOTHING. It is the craziest thing I have ever seen. I cannot understand it.
To be fair (not that I really want to be fair), it is probably true that the top-rated stations in Buffalo like WKBW and WJYE really are at the top, and the middle-rated ones like WBLK and WGRQ really do float somewhere in the middle of the numbers. But as far as all the fine distinctions between a 6 percent share of the audience and a 5.5 percent share, these kinds of numbers cannot mean anything, everyone admits they mean nothing, and they worship them like they were the balls of Mammon. Which in fact they are.
|Image under construction.||“Hey, Gare, you didn’t get a call from Sharon, did you?”
“No.” I don't tell him that I have no idea who this Sharon is he's talking about.
“Now, Gare, you wouldn’t lie to me, would ya? I mean, if she called to talk to ya, ya wouldn’t lie, would ya?”
“No, of course not.” I’m thinking Gosh I wish Sharon had called me.
He is angry. “Well, if she calls ya, ya’d better tell me!”
|BACK TO LEE ABRAMS
What Lee Abrams did was devise a “scientific” way of USING MUSIC to get high Arbitron ratings. The basic idea is that if you have two songs, “A” and “B,” more people will listen if a station plays “A” than if “B” is played. The problem is finding out which is the right song. Abrams uses three research methods. First, in 500 record stores around the country, people who buy records are asked to fill out and mail to Abrams special information cards. Researchers will call these people and ask them which cuts are their favorites. In the second method, Abrams will gather together a “panel” of twenty or so typical listeners and watch while they discuss new records. I hope he is at least as scientific as Arbitron in choosing a representative sampling of people. The third method is to seek out the advice of people with Million Dollar Ears. These are “experts” in the music business who have a knack for picking hits. A couple of these nerds live near here. This is their line: “I am only in it for the money. Even if I hate a tune, I can tell whether or not it will sell.” In addition to these methods, it is also rumored that Abrams uses some of the Brave New World marketing techniques such as wiring people with electrodes as they listen to songs in order to determine their subconscious responses.
And what is the basic conclusion Abrams has reached from all this science? You can learn the answer in almost every major market in the country. Check out WGRQ in Buffalo, or WLUP Chicago, or WYSP Philadelphia, or WIYY Baltimore, or WDVE Pittsburgh, or WLVQ Columbus, or KYYS Kansas City, or WAAF Boston, or KZAP Sacramento. The only kind of music that will bring high ratings is “Superstar” rock. These are groups that have been determined through sales research and audience response to have the broadest mass appeal amongst rock’n’rollers. It is usually a silly exercise to classify music but these groups seem to fall into a few broad categories. First, there is the good old rock’n’roll with fairly basic harmonies and rhythms, and lyrics about sex or partying or being on the road. The groups that inspired this music like The Rolling Stones, Free, Bob Seger, and The Who have cut some of the greatest slices of vinyl ever. This melds into the roaring power chords and thundering bass of heavy metal, with long solos that emphasize musicianship, visual pyrotechnics you can’t hear, and lyrics about sex and drugs and Christianity and dying and killing and being Wild and free. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and newer groups like Iron Maiden and the Tygers of Pan Tang have adopted the pure power of Cream and Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Another kind of music that is big is the sweetly melodic, heavily synthesized, vocally elaborate, quasi-progressive rock that was derived from certain sounds used by Genesis and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and watered down by groups like Styx and Kansas. Also big on the Abrams list is Southern boogie. This is the merging of country-western and rock invented by Gram Parsons and The Byrds and Bob Dylan and developed into a rockin’ sound by groups like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. With the exception of Beatle tunes, pop music is almost never heard. There are some others in this Superstar elite that aren’t so easily categorized like David Bowie and Yes and Roxy Music but these deviations are very few.
Now it is possible that the very first surveys taken by Abrams in the early seventies were accurate. There were some groups back then that offered some pretty new and exciting sounds and Abrams discovered an audience for them. Early in their careers Aerosmith, The Eagles, Electric Light Orchestra, Kansas, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, Queen, Journey, Supertramp, and ZZ Top were – to a certain extent, some more than other – unique. It is conceivable that the very first surveys accurately reflected the kinds of music kids were discovering. The FM stations with looser formats were probably playing these records along with a lot of others. (I know I was.) And these are the ones that at that time in history floated to the top of the marketplace. Abrams advised stations to play heavy amounts of these groups as well as the old Superstars like The Who and The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
It should be pointed out that when hired as a consultant, Abrams will not only prescribe the music but also the entire image of the station: the way it is promoted and advertised, the style of the jocks, how often each song should be played. Many of the Abrams stations came on the air not only with mass-appeal-music but also effective promotional campaigns. (Today from coast to coast you will see many Abrams stations using the same logos, the same slogans – currently one such slogan is Rock and Roll Animals – and the same TV ads.) In those early days after the first survey many of these stations he consulted were blessed with high Arbitrons because they made sure everyone knew they were playing the songs that the largest number of people wanted to hear. Pretty soon almost every important market in the U.S.A. had a station consulted by – or in imitation of – Abrams.
Drunken with success, Abrams went on to do a second survey to keep tabs on what people wanted to hear. Now let us remember he is surveying in markets where the listeners have turned their backs on the looser format stations and are listening to his Superstar format. These kids are hearing a healthy dose of Superstars and almost nothing else. Now what do you think the surprising results were of the second survey? You’ll never guess. PEOPLE LIKED THE SAME GROUPS THAT THEY LIKED IN THE FIRST SURVEY!!!!! BECAUSE PEOPLE CAN ONLY LIKE OR DISLIKE SOMETHING THEY HAVE ACTUALLY HEARD. MOREOVER, MOST PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR A SONG MANY TIMES OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME BEFORE THEY KNOW IF THEY LIKE IT. YOU CAN NOT DISCOVER A SONG OR A GROUP WITHOUT FIRST HEARING IT WITH YOUR OWN EARS AND BRAINS. I love science. Especially when people like Lee Abrams use it in such a smart way. It’s so inspiring. You’ll never guess what his third survey discovered.
Well, shit, here I am playing the role of the heavy MC again. Gary Storm the famous DJ that no one ever heard of will now introduce another rock’n’roll star. This is a great privilege. I get to be treated like a pig by the audience, the band, and the management within the space of a few short minutes. Nobody likes MC’s even if they are sincere disc jockeys.
G: Well us Peter Hammill will be up in just a moment.
(Crowd yells with excitement.)
G: But first I want to remind you that in two days Zwol will be here at Stage One . . . .
(Several people yell WE WANT PETER HAMMILL.)
G: . . . and in two weeks time you can see Tonio K and then on the 17th The Police will be here . . . .
(The audience applauds, YAY!)
G: . . . . first time in Buffalo. Okay! (Gary puts on his best attempt at being a hype-type MC.) DO YOU WANT THE FUTURE NOW????!!!!
(Someone yells over and over GET OFF THE STAGE, GET OFF THE STAGE.)G: Wha – ??????
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|LEE ABRAMS CONTINUED
What exactly does Abrams tell his stations to play? Let’s take a look at the playlist from Buffalo’s own Abrams station. Back in the summer of 1979, the basic library of our Abrams station – aside from new releases and current top sellers – consisted of a total of about five hundred albums by a total of about 115 groups and performers. By contrast, the groups and performers beginning with the letter “A” in the WBFO popular music library number at least two hundred. Not only is the list of groups and albums restricted, but very few cuts by any artist are ever played. For example, out of the total corpus of their work, only 17 songs by the Beatles were deemed worthy of airplay in the Summer of 1979, in Buffalo. The Rolling Stones fared a little better with a big 27 songs. Led Zeppelin was the winner with 30 commercially worthwhile songs. A DJ who played any unrecommended songs would be immediately fired. At no time – even for 2½ minutes – will an Abrams station ever risk losing any listeners to another station. They never take requests unless it is a song they would play anyway. Back in 1979, AC/DC had only one song according to Abrams: “TNT.” The Fleetwood Mac album and Rumors provided seven out of the nine acceptable songs by that group; most Abrams listeners have not heard “Future Games” or “Oh Well” or the marvelous early blues records by Fleetwood Mac. Genesis was given three chances without a single song from Nursery Crymes, Foxtrot, or Selling England by the Pound. Jeff Beck got five chances to show his virtuosity, the Yardbirds seven, Cream three.
Keep in mind that much of this music is played infrequently. For example, Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” was heard often while a Yardbirds song like “Over Under Sideways Down” was rarely played. The entire history of the Kinks at our Abrams station was condensed to two songs while Santana got one. Black Sabbath had two. Jimi Hendrix had five songs Abrams thought people could handle, not one of which was over five minutes. Long songs are considered commercial suicide.
There are a few surprises on the Abrams list. They threw in a few oldies like “Journey to the Center of Your Mind” by the Amboy Dukes, two songs by Spencer Davis, “Tobacco Road” by the Nashville Teens, “Talk Talk” by the Music Machine. And the Animals got four songs, though surprisingly not “House of the Rising Sun.” And even a moron like Abrams could not turn his back on three songs by Elvis Costello (“Radio Radio” was not one of them), two by Tom Petty, “Take Me to the River” by Talking Heads, “Roxanne” by the Police, and “Love is the Drug” by Roxy Music. MIND YOU, THIS LIST IS FROM THE MIDDLE OF 1979. No person listening to our Abrams station would be at all aware of The Ramones, The Clash, The B-52’s, DEVO, The Sex Pistols, in fact, the entire new wave punk phenomenon – despite the one hour new wave show they buried on Sunday nights. You would never hear Little Feat, Nils Lofgren, Ian Hunter, The Band, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Ry Cooder, Gentle Giant, Joni Mitchell, Strawbs, Lou Reed, Tom Waites, Frank Zappa. No person in this audience could possibly know Gong or Henry Cow or Magma or Soft Machine or any of the geniuses of the European progressive rock community. And the Abrams kids were only vaguely aware of the first fifteen years of the history of rock music – Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, The Move, Jefferson Airplane were only misty rumors.
It should be mentioned that a local programmer is not under any contractual obligation to strictly follow the Abrams philosophy. This is why WMMS in Cleveland is much more interesting than the usual Abrams outlet. They have purchased Abrams so no one else in the market will be able to use his methods. Abrams is hired as an advisor, a consultant, he merely “suggests,” he provides guidelines. This places him in a magical position. If the station is unsuccessful, he can say “You didn’t use my suggestions properly.” This encourages the myth that Abrams is an infallible media wizard. When a station does poorly the owner is more likely to keep Abrams as consultant and get rid of the local employees.
Abrams has become enormously powerful because he advises more than fifty stations in almost every major market in the country while many other stations imitate his ideas. His musical opinions are the rock’n’roll staple of millions and millions of people. But there’s another side to the story: The record companies. Now, all the record companies said Wow, if we want to make lots of money, we are going to have to get on those stations that Abrams is consulting. That means we are going to have to sign groups that sound like superstars. That way, we can trick Abrams into breaking new acts. Boy, are we smart. AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT THEY DID. IT WAS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE FOR A GROUP IN THE SEVENTIES TO GET A RECORDING CONTRACT AND ALMOST ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE FOR IT TO GET AIRPLAY UNLESS IT HAD THAT “ALBUM ROCK SUPERSTAR SOUND.”
If Van Halen did not record hamonically and rhythmically basic songs about screwing teenage girls, one of the most innovative guitarists of the decade would have gone unnoticed. Van Halen is an absolute genius but music means nothing in the Abrams world. It is hard to imagine who these songs about teenage girls are meant to please, since the typical rock’n’roll fan either already is a teenage girl or knows someone who is. These songs probably go more to the hearts of the people in the music business, the fat old music directors, editors of trade journals and market researchers who rub themselves and say “Porking nubile sweeties! This is what our audience wants to hear!” If the Doors put out their first album in 1979, they would stand little chance of being played on an Abrams station. (What’s this Blue Bus crap? asks Abrams.) If Sgt. Pepper just came out it wouldn’t stand a chance. (This group sure has gone downhill, says Abrarns.) Frank Zappa might well not exist. David Bowie? (Too arty, kids can’t relate, declares Abrams.) Janis Joplin? (No one cares about blues any more, besides she sings like she's gargling glass and she’s ugly, says Abrams.)
The only new wave groups that have any real entry to the Superstar elite are groups with novelty tunes or groups that sound like the first two Cars albums, though the popularity of the Police and The B-52’s and Gary Numan may force Abrams to open up a bit. Even DEVO has had to resort to being a bit “Carsy.”
There is no way on earth Jimi Hendrix would be permitted airplay if Are You Experienced had been released in 1979. This is for two reasons. First, he is a little weird, a little too complex for kids’ ears. But more significantly, he is black. This is one of the most vicious and immoral aspects of the whole Abrams problem. It is racist. Now, I suppose Abrams would say something like Well, I interviewed and surveyed real scientifically and I found out that if we play black records, the kids just won’t listen and the ARB’s will be a little lower. It is not racism, it is just a business reality. NONSENSE. If you cater to racist sentiments of a group of people, then you are doing racist programming. You are programming for – you are trying to get as listeners – you are actively seeking out – the racist demographic. YOU are the racist. If a list were made of all the musicians who played on all the records aired by our Abrams station in the summer of 1979, you’d be lucky if one percent were black, and only one of them – Jimi Hendrix – would be an actual leader of a group. This is racism. (They might counter that they recently played Gary “U.S.” Bonds and the Bus Boys. But the former would have been buried if Bruce Springsteen had not produced and sung on it and the second was played so Arista would give them the world premier to the Willie Nile album.) Thank God Abrams wasn’t around for the beginnings of rock’n’roll.
|Image under construction.||
Golly day. Here we
are again doing all the horrible nasty virtuous things we love to do at this
hour of the night. It’s already time for
I hope you enjoy this show. As per usual, I’m open for requests, so if you’re dying for a tune, call me at 831-5393 and I’ll save your life. Here’s a charming little ditty . . . . .
|LEE ABRAMS CONTINUED
The result of Abrams’ success in radio has been a wide-ranging homogenization of the sound of American rock music into that “Album Rock Superstar” sound. It has become so bad that some record companies have actually called on Abrams to help groups produce their albums so they have a better chance of getting Abrams airplay. This is absolutely pernicious. NO EVOLUTION CAN TAKE PLACE, NO NEW DISCOVERIES CAN BE MADE WHEN A BUSINESS-MAN WHO CONTROLS THE MARKET TELLS THE ARTISTS HOW THEY CAN BEST SERVE HIM.
Though he was uncredited, Abrams sat in when Yes recorded Going for the One, Tormato, and Drama. He also “helped” Gentle Giant on Giant for a Day and Civilian. Both these groups are brilliant, some of the most innovative musicians in the history of rock. And yet they permitted some pudgy businessman with his graphs and surveys to come in and recommend the best way to get airplay. It is no wonder that all these albums are by and large uninteresting – even to the fans of these groups. Most of them are already in the budget bins. Abrams’ work with Gentle Giant was so successful, the group recently broke up. If he wanted to help them, why didn’t he play the sublime songs on Free Hand or The Missing Piece? It is a good thing he wasn’t around when Yes created the supremely indulgent masterpiece Tales from Topographic Oceans. He would never have recommended such a record be made – a two-record set with only four songs. I just can’t imagine a fool like Abrams throwing a leash on geniuses like Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Patrick Moraz, Bill Bruford, Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman. I wonder if Abrams’ presence did not contribute to Jon Anderson’s departure and the recent break-up of Yes.
The death that Abrams brought to music could only lead to the devastation of FM rock’n’roll radio. Lousy radio means lousy music means lousier radio.
By 1975, almost nothing was being released that did not seem geared for that Abrams’ sound. 1975 has to be, in fact, the worst year ever for rock music. Popular music was completely in the hands of the disco industry, Top 40 radio, and Lee Abrams. Very few records from that year blew me away like I love to be blown. Off the top of my head, I think of Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night; Free Hand by Gentle Giant, Desolation Boulevard by Sweet, the Armageddon album, the first Crack the Sky album, Slow Dazzle by John Cale, Bowie’s Young Americans, Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner, the first Tubes album. The dearth of music turned radio into a wasteland. You couldn’t listen twenty minutes without hearing Elton John and Peter Frampton (remember them?) and Fleetwood Mac (which I liked but nobody’s that good). FM rock’n’roll radio was killed dead. But let it be noted that in 1975, there were harbingers of things to come: the first Dictators album!!! – one of the greatest records of all time because it was so deplorable – and the Bezerkely Chartbusters with Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers. Punk rock was around the corner. I believe Lee Abrams must be included in any history of new wave music because he almost murdered rock’n’roll and the punks brought it back to life. It is an historical inevitability that The Ramones released their first album the following year.
There is yet another amazing tale to relate in the Abrams problem. By the late 1970’s, record companies were suffering from a severe loss in sales. By that time, the formats of all the leading stations were very tight. This meant that almost no new music was being heard. The public did not go out and seek new music BECAUSE YOU CAN’T SEEK OUT MUSIC YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD. If they bought music, it was by the old acts they already knew, the only ones Abrams was permitting them to hear. Now, how did the record companies respond to this situation? Did they say The Hell with this? We are going to explore other ways of exposing new acts besides those stupid Abrams stations? NO, THE RECORD COMPANIES DID NOT SAY THIS. Instead, they said Golly Day, we’d better do just what Abrams tells us to do, we will be very conservative in the music we release, we will make it all sound as much the same as possible, we will stifle the creativity of the artists, we will not let the music evolve naturally as it has in the past, we will homogenize it and make it safe and dull so that people will not want to buy it anymore. NOT ONLY DID THE RECORD COMPANIES MAKE THAT BRILLIANT BUSINESS DECISION, they also asked the following question: Wow, now that people don’t like the music, how can we maximize our profits? AND THIS WAS THE ANSWER THEY CAME UP WITH, THIS WAS THE ANSWER THAT WAS THE RESULT OF YEARS OF TRAINING AT LEADING BUSINESS SCHOOLS LIKE HARVARD AND PRINCETON, THIS IS THE ANSWER THAT YEARS OF “BEING IN THE BUSINESS” BROUGHT FORTH, THIS IS EXACTLY THE KIND OF ANSWER DEVISED BY BUSINESSMEN: I have it! LETS RAISE THE PRICE OF RECORDS!!!! Let’s make then $6.98. No! $7.98. No! $8.98!! Yes, $8.98!! (That’s really over nine bucks, folks.) For one single album not necessarily in a gatefold sleeve. Wait!!!! How about $9.98!!!! This way we can make it almost impossible for people to take a risk on an undiscovered act and people will stop buying records and start taping them and then WE CAN LOSE EVEN MORE MONEY OH GOODY!!! This is an especially smart move since we are in an economic slump and fewer people than ever before can afford to pay a lot for entertainment. Golly Willikers, are we smart businessmen! I’m so glad I finished school. Yes sir, it’s businessmen like us that make America great!
Scott Field and I are sitting in a hotel room in Toronto talking to the members of Eddie and The Hot Rods, one of the greatest new British rock’n’roll bands. They are tired, hungry, arrogant, they don’t hold the microphone in front of their mouths (which is why I have not tried to identify the speeches with the speakers), and they are snotty about questions they have been asked many times before even though (I believe) this is their first North American interview. Almost no one this side of the Atlantic has heard them but, for their song “Do Anything You Wanna Do” and their soulful pub-rockin' sound, their music is immortal.
Scott: A lot of people in the press have labeled you a punk rock band . . . .
Gary: Uh oh, watch out!!!
S: . . . . What do you think of that?
Eddie and The Hot Rods:(Farts and groans and wheezes. Barrie Masters aggressively emphasizes his T-shirt which says NO I’M NOT A PUNK.)
G: “No I’m not a . . . . .” Okay, waidaminit, what does punk mean to you, okay I know that there’s . . . . .
E&HR: AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! That’s what punk means to me.
E&HR: It’s that-that dry sort of wood that you use to make a fire. (Snoring noises.)
G: Uh oh. You been asked that a thousand times.
E&HR: Fuckin’ right.
E&HR: No, it’s 1,722 now.
G: Oh, it’s to 22, eh? Airight. Well, shit um . . . . .
E&HR: Yeah, that’s just what it is, man: shit.
E&HR: Well, just a minute. There’s a difference of opinion about English punk. English punk is like to do with fashion, clothes and it’s all run from a shop in London, alright, which rips off people, which started off saying “Don’t rip off the kids.” So some chick ripped off clothes, now they charge 20 pounds and ten for a t-shirt . . . . . which I find is utterly disgusting, which therefore makes punk people airight fashion conscious nurds, right . . . . . and so it has nothin’ to do with us . . . . . we’re a band . . . . .
E&HR: We have nothing to do with punk so there’s really no point in asking us about it.
E&HR: Yeah, we play music right and un we don’t sell clothes.
E&HR: Punk is for selling clothes. Rock and roll is for playing music.
G: Well, who . . . . . among-among the new groups, like there are, y’know, a tremendous number of new groups. Do you have favorites that you-you-you know . . . . . do you listen to much of the other music?
E&HR: I like the Beatles myself. I think they’re a great new group.
E&HR: I like the Rollers a lot if you know what I mean. The Bay City Rollers.
G: Uh huh, oh yeah?
E&HR: Yeah, not really.
E&UR: New groups? I don’t know.
G: I don’t know, The Adverts, Slaughter and The Dogs, I could name a, I could name a thousand of ‘em.
E&HR: Half of them I haven’t seen. Half of them aren’t worth seeing.
G: Ian Dury, The Damned.
E&HR: They’re all kinda the same. They’re all just copying each other. They’re all really, they’re all really limited musicians and they play really limited songs, they play to a really limited audience. They’ve got no ideas, they’ve got no views, they’ve got no direction, they’re just kind of . . . . . following a trend which means they’re gonna get nowhere really . . . . . I think one of the better new bands out is the Heartbreakers but they’re not really new.
G: What makes you different from them?E&HR: Well, ‘cause we ain’t fucking punk, are we, we aren’t following the same trend, you know, we’re not a trendy band, we’re just . . . . . we kind of . . . . oh’ Christ I’ll say it again: Do what we wanna fucking do, you know.
|LEE ABRAMS CONTINUED: A BRIEF ASIDE ON BUSINESSMEN
I have never taken a course or read a book about “the business arts” or whatever they are called. I am terrible at math and I have no knowledge of economic theory. But it seems obvious to me that the world is in the hands of bad businessmen. I mean, they are inept and inadequate. All the leaders of all the big companies don’t know what they are doing. There is some fundamental flaw in their education. I mean, they know nothing about the business arts, they are terrible at math, and do not understand economic theory. They have no business being businessmen. They are lousy at what they do.
It would come as a surprise to most of these business types to be told they are inept. They would pull out ledgers and say “Look, our profits have sky-rocketed. We are making money. Our stockholders love us. This means we are good businessmen.” On the face of it, this seems to be a good argument. Making profits and paying dividends to stockholders are signs of good business. But in order to make a profit, you have to first make an investment. You look at that investment and see if the profit will be worth the price. I am not just talking about dollars. Suppose, for example, I manufacture Pow Detergent. One of the by-products of my soap is a substance called Pow-Poo. Pow-Poo is useless to me, so I dump it in a nearby river. Unfortunately, Pow-Poo is lethal to fish and all the fish in the river die. What I have done is to make the fish part of the price of manufacturing Pow Detergent. In a very real sense, I have invested the lives of the fish in my business. The fish price is not in dollars. It is in lives. Business makes no provisions for the cost of life – business does not have to be accountable for anything except dollars. There is a flaw in my accounting department. If what I am saying seems obvious, forgive me, but I see no evidence that these ideas are generally known.
Everyone suspects – though few will admit – the unbelievable extremes to which businessmen will go for the sake of profits without accountability. Part of the price of owning a coal or uranium mine, or a factory that uses asbestos, is that you slowly murder the people who work for you. Family support, funerals, health insurance, grief, lawsuits, investigations are all part of the investment. Part of the price of being a chemical manufacturer is that you dump deadly wastes into rivers and landfills which render whole communities uninhabitable. Sickness, birth defects, relocation of families, fear, sadness, cleanups, coverups, research, political bribes all must be accounted for. Part of the price of manufacturing automobiles is that you murder your clientel with poorly-built unsafe cars that pollute the air; not to mention the energy wasted by machines that get only 40 miles or less to the gallon. It is better business to go bankrupt by pretending you can’t do better. In fact, profits without accountability are dishonestly described as “free enterprise.”
There are many moral prices if you run a huge oil corporation. You must work closely with the auto makers to be sure they consume as much of your product as possible. You must work closely with the coal miners and nuclear reactor builders to proliferate the lie that solar energy is impractical. You are viciously senselessly indifferent to the fact that the prices of all other commodities are linked to the price of energy; you make astronomical profits while everything else becomes more expensive; you are destroying – that is to say, you are investing – the world’s economy in your greed. Part of the price of being a multi-national corporation is that you must get the CIA to help you prop up oppressive regimes in third world countries so you can control the government, hire cheap labor, and murder any citizen who tries to organize a union. (Iran was a notable success in this area.) You must also sometimes ask or coerce the U.S.A. to go to war to protect your interests. (Keep your eye on El Salvador.) Part of the price of being a big businessman is that you always have to lie because you can’t afford to admit mistakes, or perhaps you are even a little ashamed of the damage you cause. Part of the price of being any big manufacturer is that you must renounce ecology and work diligently to slander ecologists. You thus invest all life on earth; your filth ultimately chokes the sea and the air and the earth and all life could die this could really happen with a whimper. Part of the price of any big business is that you have to use your media and monetary clout to support moronic evil politicians who actually want to let you do whatever you desire with “no big governmental control.” You are responsible to no one. You can do anything for the sake of profits. Any thing. Any thing. Any thing. NO MATTER WHAT THE PRICE.
Some people will read these assertions and think I sound crazy or paranoid. “These things are not true. No one is that evil,” they will say. The corporations have spent millions in publicity campaigns designed to deny these claims. They say things like “We are doing the best we can,” “The economic situation prevents any improvements,” “The technology is not yet available,” “Look at all the good things we do,” “We protect the values of democracy!” They even expect us to believe lines like “No one could have predicted these problems” and “As long as we are making profits everyone else will prosper.” And they reason, “You are a dirty lying un-American intellectual faggot atheist hippie liberal punk communist bastard and you are out to destroy the capitalist free-enterprise market-driven system.”
I believe it is the businessmen who are un-American liars who are out to destroy the capitalist system and the ecological system and all other systems. They are inept, they are stupid, they are evil. They have no compunction about murdering and maiming if they can make enough money doing it. WHAT OTHER EXPLANATIONS ARE THERE FOR THE POLLUTION THE DEATHS THE LIES? You can close your eyes and say there are no lies or deaths or pollution. Or you can claim with the business types that there is no choice, this is the best we can do, things must be this way. BUT I BELIEVE THERE IS A CHOICE. Between good and evil, between acting on the side of life or the side of death. I believe in free will. I BELIEVE THINGS NEED NOT BE THIS WAY. The businessmen have made an evil choice for the sake of greed. I KNOW THAT ANYTHING WE WANT IS POSSIBLE. I believe we could institute and guarantee safe working conditions for everybody within a year; that we could find ways of rendering any dangerous substance inert and harmless within two years; that in three months we could have safe non-polluting well-built cars that get 200 miles to the gallon or don’t use fossil fuel at all; that we could convert all cities to solar, wind, biomass, and similar energy forms within ten years; that war is not the best way to boost a sagging economy; that the oceans can be cleaned up in five years; that some day before I die a moron will not be elected president.
I believe in American know-how. I really do. I believe the environmentalists and the consumer advocates are espousing good business practices. But the businessmen do not think of any of these dreams as good investments. Otherwise, we would already have them all.
I hope I am not a silly dreamer. I think these thoughts because in my own lifetime, I have witnessed one gigantic absolutely-impossible highly-technological totally-impractical fundamentally-peaceful human accomplishment. I am speaking of the space program. Perhaps I am blind but I love the space program; it is a crazy dream that was not overtly for the sake of war or greed. When we launched our first satellites in 1957, we had almost no idea of what we were doing. But within 12 years – a miraculously short time in the context of human history – a whole new technology was created practically from scratch. I saw within the span of my childhood our country go from the flat earth to the moon. I feel I am betraying something by confessing my admiration for this event. I fear I am ignorant of huge evils that always seem attached to any American endeavor. (I do not go along with the argument that the poor should be fed first because there has always been enough for the poor, there would be even with fifty space programs. The food is in the hands of other evil people.) I see the journeys into space as largely positive, even magical. If a concerted effort lasting twelve years can consummate the dreams of centuries of moon gazers then we can do almost anything now. I shout with Peter Hammill: “I want the future now!”
I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY THOSE WHO POLLUTE AND KILL AND CREATE NOTHING BUT DAMAGE SIT AROUND AND SAY “WE CAN’T” AND ACTUALLY SPEND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS BRIBING POLITICIANS AND CREATING PUBLICITY CAMPAIGNS DENYING AMERICAN KNOW-HOW SAYING “WE CAN’T” WHEN WE HAVE PROVEN WE CAN. They are deliberately bringing about The End of the World. In the name of short-term greed the businessmen are killing all dreams.
These things can’t go on. They are bad business, bad economics. The moral price cannot be measured. At best, it shows up on the ledgers as expensive lawsuits or meager fines imposed by the government or as restitütion for damage caused. But there is a huge price which still must be paid. There will be nowhere even for the richest businessman to run, nowhere to hide. Things need not be this way. Anyway you cut it, The End of the World is a bad investment.
|Image under construction.||The first rock’n’roll concert I ever saw ever ever was The Association. It was also my first date. “Requiem for the Masses” is still, to this day, one of the greatest anti-war songs of all time. “Never My Love” is still, to this day, one of the greatest love songs of all time. My date went on to become Queen of the Prom. I went on to be a jester in the Court of Music.|
|BACK TO LEE ABRAMS
The record companies are run by typical businessmen. They are a portent of what will happen to all the other industries that are run by these cretins. Ultimately, everyone suffers and no one profits. Most of the biggest companies actually have to murder their clientele in order to lose their business because they provide necessities like food and detergents and energy. But the record companies were foresaken by their customers. The good businessmen raised the prices and lowered the quality of the music and polluted the ether with crappy radio. In the name of short-term greed they invested the energy and beauty of music itself. And they lost. And they are still losing. And they will continue to lose unless they lower their prices and turn their backs on fools like Lee Abrams.
BECAUSE YOU SEE ABRAMS IS HIMSELF A BAD BUSINESSMAN, REGARDLESS OF THE PROFIT MARGINS AND HIGH ARBITRONS SHOWN BY HIS STATIONS. Bad radio is already backfiring on its proponents. I know what his line is. “Well, I do objective scientific research and I am only giving the public what it really wants. I ask the public and they tell me.”
Let me respond to this by describing another brilliant ploy these businessmen have devised. Let us imagine A&M Records has just released an album by the supergroup Styx and an album by the cult favorite Joan Armatrading. There is no question that the Styx album will make lots of money for everyone. There. is no question all the Superstar Album Rock radio stations will play it. There are literally millions of people who will buy the record without hearing it once, and if it is half decent millions more will buy it after they have heard it. Yet the Styx album is pre-hyped months before its release with hundreds of thousands of dollars of full-page advertisements in the leading trade journals, and after its release (in special packaging or special vinyl) it is hyped with more ads in all the music magazines and journals, billboards, videos, TV appearances, concerts, reviews, store displays, promotions, buttons, posters, T-shirts, and on and on. And all this hype has nothing to do with music. The guys in the band may be totally sincere and dedicated; their album may be one of the greatest records of all time. But there is so much industrial push behind the record and so much public pull in front of it that the music is totally incidental.
And what about the Joan Armatrading album? Oh yes, it gets a few full-page ads, some nice reviews. Maybe she’ll appear on public television and “Saturday Night Live.” Very few stations will play the music or even be encouraged to do so. (Don’t forget she is black and a woman.) DO YOU SEE HOW SMART AND CLEVER THIS IS? The businessmen will spend millions of dollars promoting a record that does not need promotion while spending very little money to develop an act in need of exposure. Because fools like Abrams have decided one is more worthwhile than the other. I did my surveys, says Abrams, and I found that more people want Styx than Joan Whatsername. BUT DON’T YOU SEE THERE IS NO FREE FLOW OF INFORMATION. How can anyone know about Joan Armatrading if all they can easily see and hear is Styx? What chance do the hundreds of unknown artists each month stand of being heard when Abrams will only play the same old Superstars and the record companies will only promote the same old Superstars?
When Abrams and his experts call the people who fill out the Call Back Cards in the 500 record stores across the country, they are speaking to people who will only buy what they know. When kids sit in panel discussions and say, “I don’t like punk rock” or “I don’t like Joan Whatsername,” they are talking about music they have almost never heard. And the experts with Million Dollar Ears come up with very profound observations: “I think the people who like Styx will buy the Styx album. I think people who have never heard Joan Whatserface will not buy her record.” What geniuses. I could have Million Dollar Ears too.
The whole Abrams approach is founded in a scorn for human beings: people are too stupid to appreciate anything new or different. But I believe the narrow tastes of the public were created – not discovered. This is the incredible power of media. We have the power to inspire freedom and beauty or stagnation and drek.
There are rumors that Abrams is in the process of devising a new format for radio that will include reggae and new wave and jazz and blues. But I know what this will be. It will mean he can use his marketing techniques to ruin other forms of music besides rock. If he had put his tentacles around Jamaica in the sixties then reggae would never have happened, people would still be dancing to a Ska or Blue Beat that never faded away (probably performed by white musicians). As for new wave music – it is already a dead issue. It is too late. There are still many fine groups in the U.S. putting out their own records and they still have almost no chance of mass exposure unless they fit into the mold coined by The Cars or The Police. At this time in history, these two groups have attained superstardom and Abrams will use them to keep all other music stagnant. The only innovative groups that appear on major labels are ones that have proven successful in Europe like Adam and The Ants, The Specials, Selector, Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., U-2, Teardrop Explodes. And as I explain elsewhere in this website, there are many small-time Abrams-types (some right here in Buffalo) who are already working hard to ruin jazz, homogenize it, and give it mass appeal. And if Abrams had latched onto blues in the sixties, today there would be no black bluesmen cutting records and the beautiful funky and jazzy rhythms and magnificent musicianship we hear in Albert Collins and Son Seals and Otis Rush and B. B. King would never have emerged.
The Abrams approach is ultimately bad business despite its profitability because it stultifies radio and it homogenizes music. It makes it almost impossible for new artists to emerge. And the only ways fresh forms and genres are developed are through new sounds and new ways of marketing born from revulsion and disgust with what Abrams promulgates.
Lee Abrams. Killer of radio. Killer of music.
Gary emerges all throbbing and hot and moist from a recorded performance of Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony.
I think I love rock’n’roll so much because I was raised on classical music. One naturally leads to the other. This is proven by the history of the world. The form will always change, but the feelings last. I am talking about feelings – because even when the languages crumble into babble, and nations fortify walls, and religions codify beliefs, and science multiplies truth, and time makes all things change – there are still feelings all people have always held in common. This is simple. The feelings are given all kinds of names: instinct, archetype, id, light, guna, anger, soul, spirit, sex, brahma, tao, dream, nature. But the name does not matter. I believe there is a recognizable commonality of feeling between a Bach partita for unaccompanied violin and “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix. The essence of what we are lies in these wordless imageless soundless feelings, and much of our art is devoted to their articulation and evocation and expression.
I am also saying that Bach’s expression was a product of his time, it was the result of the technology and ideaology of his immediate situation. He had no electricity otherwise I am sure he would have created virtuoso pieces for Stratocaster as did Jimi Hendrix. Both men had something similar to say. In The Ramones, I hear, perhaps, the formal structures of Corelli, in Peter Hammill, I recognize the spectacle of Richard Strauss. It is not the music, the violins, the amplified guitars, the medium to which I refer – it is the feelings from which these sounds emerge. This is why I can play Miles Davis and then Hans Wernor Henze and then Gong. Something the same has happened in each music.This is a reversal of the “medium is the message” argument. As I write this, I am being very romantic. Very Platonic. I do not believe in hard surfaces so much as underlying mysteries. What I say here is intuitive and indefensible. But these are the feelings I weave on my radio show.
|Image under construction.||
The fluttering almost baroque piano of BARBARA MARKAY. This is by no means simple music. But listen closely to the words as she sings:
Well the hippo fucked the giraffe
And said “Why do you laugh?”
“She’s got a cunt so wide
So don’t be stuck up and snide!
Can’t you see
That she’s just a body to me.*
The name of the tune is “Sesame Snatch” and comes from a wonderfully filthy privately-released album called Hotbox.
* © 1976. Hot Box Industries, Inc., from Hotbox, Hotbox Records, Sel. #FU 2.
|There are girls who won’t go away. One sends me letters. She calls and asks for songs. She asks silly questions about music and poetry. She gives me presents: cutesy knick-knacks, strange old books and magazines, ugly articles of clothing, processed cheese food, coffee mugs, ties, smiley faces. Her barrage of letters and presents and calls is obsessive, it has gone on for three years. She came to volunteer at WBFO in order to serve me and my show. I asked the program director to get her away from me. She sends questionnaires about my affections for her. I ignore them or reply I never have nor ever will have any affections for her. She calls up and asks me out. I say No. Unequivocally No. She says she wants to have my baby. She wants to serve me and the world by raising a little Storm. She sends me poems. She wants me to know the beauty of her soul. She wants me to save her. I do not know what else she does besides listen to my show. I do not want to know. I have said No. How could someone be so insensitive? I have never in any way encouraged her. She seems to have listened to me continually for years. She has imagined a me that is not me. I have said No. She won’t go away.|
speech is very straight-forward. His knowledge is meticulous,
almost scholarly. He is very soft-spoken, almost shy as he talks
on the air. But beneath this quiet exterior lurks a completely
obsessed madman. He is Bill Walsh,
one of Buffalo’s great vinyl junkies. As a youngster, he
fervently pursued his favorite rock groups, and then the solo albums by
members of those groups, and the new groups founded by members of the
old groups, and all the bootlegs by these artists, and on and on.
He accumulated a humongous rock’n’roll collection, only to
sell most of it so he could plunge into the great jazz artists of the
seventies, and then the earliest albums released by these musicians,
and the geniuses who influenced these musicians, and on and on.
Now he is dumping that collection to explore the stratosphere of music
where few people go, and fewer understand. Bill Walsh is one of
the few serious collectors of the farthest reaches of music, the most
experimental avant garde classical rock jazz. By profession, he
is a printer. By avocation, he is Out.
Twice he has appeared on my show. The first time we began with the fathers of these musical lunatics: Edgar Varese and his composition, “Equatorial”, and Stockhausen’s “Intensitat.” Then Bill paraded my listeners, chased them down the airways, chased them away to other radio stations (I don’t care! I don’t care!) with wheezing wailing whining whizzing writhing roaring ripping racing performances by deep underground artists on almost-impossible-to-obtain-limited pressing record labels. Like Evan Parker, saxophone, Derek Bailey, guitar, Han Bennick, drums improvising on the Incus Record Label. Milford Graves and Bäbi Music on the IPS Label doing a piece called “Ba.” Trombonist Eje Thelin on Calig Records; Steve Lacy on Emanen Records. Pianist Don Pullen and percussionist Milford Graves in an amazing pounding piece called “P G III” on the SRP Label. Bill dredges these records by exploring little journals published mostly in Europe from which he obtains addresses of dozens of lost record companies that are months away in the mail.
Now the second time on my show, Bill pulls out six versions of the song “Witchi Tai To,” starting with the group Everything Is Everything with Chris Hills; then a former member of that group Jim Pepper; two versions of the song by Oregon; a lovely version by Jan Garbarek and The Bobo Stenson Quartet; and finally the Brewer and Shipley rendition. As the night flies we explore the forgotten group Egg; the amazing Gunter Hampel on the Birth Record Label; a group called Hapsash and The Coloured Coat featuring The Human Host and The Heavy Metal Kids doing “H-O-P-P Why?”; and an album produced by Robert Fripp called Centipede with a stellar aglomeration of progressive musicians including Elton Dean, Dudu Pukwana, Karl Jenkins, Julie Tippetts, Robert Wyatt, Zoot Money, Roy Babington and others. Bill makes the sun rise with pleasant Kwela music of South Africa on the 77 Record Label.
The city of Buffalo is cluttered with totally insane vinyl junkies. People who spend all their money waiting to pounce on the next record by Globe Unity and Daevid Allen, always on the lookout for an original copy of Kenny and The Kasuals or Easter Everywhere, sending away for Japanese pressings of Coltrane performances never released in the U.S., needing only three more 78’s by Horowitz to complete their collections; scarfing up a complete collection of French Yardbirds singles; acquiring every record on the Apple Record Label, spending thousands to cover a wall with picture discs or 10,000 buttons. I have permitted many of these lunatics on my show because I am one myself. And because who else will let you hear the secret cults of beauty that wait undiscovered in garage sales and budget bins and used record stores and tiny journals and auction lists. Where else can these collectors share these hunks of vinyl dearly won after they heard about it from someone who read an auction list they didn’t even know existed and they waited seven months for the record even though the bid was sent special delivery but it’s okay because they’ve been looking for that record for nine years.
|THE END OF THE WORLD
I am sitting next to a little transistor radio. It is on that “all news” public radio station. At the moment, the all news station is playing some horrible gushy female singer doing “Where Is Love.” It’s in my ass, sweety. I’m trying to learn about the Three Mile Island incident.
I went to a party last night. In every room, the only subject was the nuclear disaster. It is now Sunday morning, April 1, 1979. At this moment, the people at the reactor don’t seem to know what to do.
Don’t ask me. I don’t even know what’s going on. The news is a bunch of lies and now they’re playing Perry Como anyway. Fairy Homo. Hairy Comb Oh.
Now this all-news station is doing a pitch for its worthless membership drive. I’ll show them how my member drives.
Several of the people at the party last night were planning to flee Buffalo. If there were a meltdown at Harrisburg, people in Buffalo could be contaminated. We discussed this at length.
What is the correct thing to do? The correct thing is to throw the murderous people who profit from this murderous plant as well as all the murderous politicians who regulate it into its murderous bowels. But I won’t do that. Nor will I flee. I will stay here and hope nothing happens to me.
I wish the news was reliable. But the major question here, the most salient issue, the whole point, has nothing to do with nuclear safety. The real issue is that no one has ever been told the truth – not the public, not the politicians, not the owners of the reactor, not the stockholders, not the reporters, not even the scientists in their physics and engineering courses. And even now we are not told the truth about the way our lives may end.
God, this morning sun is ugly.
I am a bit afraid. If the plant melts down a great deal of radiation will be released. Buffalo would surely get it. Without doubt. My rock’n’ roll dreams would fry.
My rock band – Extra Cheese – is dreaming dreaming dreaming. We are sending out demos. We are working hard. I want to play rock’n’roll in a band. I want to stop being lonely. We are dreaming dreaming dreaming.
But it is all beyond help. My life is in the hands of experts. They are striving to “avert disaster.” If the experts succeed, fine. If they do not, there is nowhere to turn. It is not in my hands. I would love to proclaim that next time I will be in control. But who knows?
Now Robert Goulet is singing “Honey” on this all-news station. The words are sad. She croaked without ever thinking even once about the possibility of a meltdown. I’ll bet.
At last. They are broadcasting some news. The fucking Associated Press. More lies. More nothing.
What is going on?
“High Flyin’ Baby” by THE FLAMING GROOVIES. I have been playing this song steady since I first became a DJ, and even then it was three years old. It’s hard to tell but I think the words go something like:
See that girl
With the black dress on
Babe, she ain’t here
She’s completely gone.
She got the box
She got the hair
When she’s way down
She’s way up there.*
Man, the Stones should be this hot today. Now the Groovies are lately discovered progenitors of punk. Straight ol' rock’n’roll with that snortin' rompin' guitar and growly buzzsaw vocals. It takes a good musician to hate a song this great.
* © 1971. Kama Ripp Music/Luney Tunes (ASCAP), from from In Teenage Head, Kama Sutra, KSBS-2031.
|Scott Field and I continue our talk with Eddie and The Hot Rods as they continue to hold the microphones everywhere except in front of their mouths.
Scott: What’s the experience like, somewhere I read about how you played a gig and the . . . . . really got people so wild they were ripping up the seats. Wha-wha-what’s it like to get a reaction like that?
Eddie and The Hot Rods: It’s great heh heh heh heh.
S: Do you really try to get the crowd all aroused up?
E&HR: Well, it’s what every band aims for.
E&HR: Yeah, well, they just . . . . go do mental, they just do things they don’t know they’re even doing. And when you start off on a stage and there’s like three thousand kids out there and they’re all going completely apeshit . . . . . and just wrecking the place, then you get a kind of pretty good vibe off it . . . . you know, ‘cause you kinda won them over, you come in and you go on stage and they kind of . . . . . well, they all stand up when somebody goes on stage, but you sorta look at them and they’re sorta sittin’ down in there. Well, half way through the set you see, start to see seats flying up in the air and everybody going mental . . . . . it’s great, you’re saying, oh you know, they’re pretty fuckin’ up for the night. They’re really getting into in you know. It’s really good. Cost us a bit of bread, man, but it’s . . . . . it’s worth it just to see that sort of reaction . . . . . ‘cause it’s really positive, y’know.
Unparalled local rockin’ band THE JUMPERS. As true to the mother rock’n’roll spirit as any band ever. Fantastic songs like this one off their second single, “This is It.” And Terry Sullivan, their lead singer is pure Balls-of-the-Mother-God-of-Rock charisma.
The Jumpers were the first new wave band in this area to break into clubs with their own songs where only cover bands had played before. I was there for their first gig, one of the most legendary first gigs ever. From the first beat the crowd was one with the unaffected raw sex energy drivin’ dancin’ angry joy. At the end of the last song, Terry rattled maracas and smashed them to pieces with the last notes, as memorable and passionate as Hendrix setting his guitar on fire. Unfortunately, the Jumpers exist no longer. Terry is now singing in an electronic band called The Celebates with a superb synthesist named David Kane.
|FOR THE LOVE OF POETRY
After Bob Allen was thankfully fired from WZIR, George Prentice, our hilarious newsman, took over the telephone talk show which was broadcast every morning at 9:00. I approached George with the idea of doing a whole show on poetry. There were things I needed to say on the airwaves. So one optimistic day – two days after we met the new consultant – George Prentice, Anne Leighton, a number of callers and I spent over an hour reading and listening and talking about nothing by poetry. It was superb radio – the kind that makes consultants and businessmen bug out their eyes in terror.
I began the show by reading a poem by James Wright. “This is one you can relate to, George,” I said. “It’s called ‘Two Hangovers’.” The poem is filled with thoughts of death and loneliness and stupidity, but it ends with the hopeful image of a blue jay bouncing up and down on a branch:
I laugh, as I see him abandon himself
To entire delight, for he knows as well as I do
That the branch will not break.*
After the poem, we discussed what this show was all about.
George Prentice: Do you think poetry is meant to be read aloud?
Gary: Oh yeah! I was – you see the reason I-I suggested this show is because I was reading some poems – in fact, one of the poets um that ah that you have in this (Life Magazine) article that you brought along, Galway Kinnell, I was reading one of his books of poems and I-I thought, I was getting depressed ‘cause I thought What good is poetry, y’know. Nobody’s really interested in poetry anymore and th-most people probably, 95% out-of-th-of the people who are listening now couldn’t name a living American poet except for maybe somebody like Rod McKuen or somebody like that.
G: And I, I thought that’s it’s sad because, y’know, the poetry gives me pleasure and I thought What-what good is this stuff? What good is it? Why-why bother with it? And-and I started to think about, well, y’know, poetry is a language art. And I started to think about what language is for. And one-one way of describing what language is for is that it’s a tool we use to get to the truth. If you say something you’re reaching out towards the truth. The truth sometimes is very banal and obvious and the truth is sometimes hidden behind what we see and hear. But you try to find the right words for what’s true. And I thought also that um the language is filled, or the world – especially now it seems more prevalent than ever – the world is filled with language that’s-that isn’t reaching out to the truth. It’s reached, it’s language that’s-that’s more designed to cover up the truth. A-and you know there are many examples of this, there are many kinds of names that have been given for this kind of language, from newspeak and, y’know, all the 1984 type things and it’s very prevalent today. Words used to cloud the truth like ah, y’know, a good one is an anti-personnel device . . . . .
G.P.: Mm hmm.
G: . . . . . which is a bomb.
G: . . . . . that’s used to blow up people and spill their guts out all over the place, y’know. Anti-personnel device, it’s-it makes it seem less ah less than it is. Or there’s lots of words that are used today that are used to cloud up real motives, like one big word today is morality. I think that when people use morality they sometimes mean things like jealousy and regret and despair. Or another one is ah “it’s good for business.” That’s a slogan we-we hear a lot from big corporations who u-or “it’s bad for business” – they use that slogan when-they when they want to pollute the world and ah don’t care. Um or one that we all c-probably can think of a particular experience: “it’s for your own good”.
G: When people say that they’re often saying something else entirely. And I think that poetry, and the thing that makes poetry special is that it’s language that’s used to reach out to the truth and I-, poetry especially, many poets think of themselves as mystical people or as visionaries, and many poets we read almost as if they were visionaries like William Blake and Coleridge and people like – in fact, I-I’d like to read later a poem by Coleridge. And ah . . . . . the thing about poetry is that it’s a very brief crystalization, the best we c-, almost the best possible use of language for expressing difficult true ideas. It’s a chrystalization of what is true. And um . . . . . and so ah this is, y’know, this is something I thought like – -c-could I read just another?
G: Is that alright?
G: Like, I have here a poem that’s about a very complex situation called divorce. And divorce is-a is a subject that ah there have been tons of books written about, and tons of discussions and arguments and panel shows and you name it. And here’s a poem about it, um or at least about remembering back upon – or not even divorce, but a broken relationship – which is something we all know about, when love falls apart. And here’s a guy who reflects upon this. His name – he’s another American poet – and he – I think he’s great in spite of his name – W. D. Snodgrass.
Anne Leighton: Hahahaha.
G: It’s real good. And ah so here he’s-he’s contra – well, listen. I this-this poem I think condenses volumes of feelings. It’s called M- “Momentos.” The poem begins this way:
Sorting out letters and piles of my old
Cancelled checks, old clippings, and yellow note cardsThat meant something once, I happened to find
Your picture. That picture. I stopped there cold,Like a man raking piles of dead leaves in his yard
Who has turned up a severed hand . . . . .**
After I read the poem, we broke for a commercial and then George read a statement from an article about living American poets in the April, 1981 Life Magazine, which claimed that “as never before there is a profusion of poetry,” more people than ever are publishing it and reading it.
G: Poetry is – good poetry or great poetry is the best – I think, this m-maybe this isn’t right – but I think it’s the best possible use of language. It-is-the it is the-the most succinct reaching out to truth.
G.P.: And why do people get nervous when poetry is read or put in front of them in-at a school?
G: Cause, well, ‘cause it’s hard. I mean, I think one thing that’s going on in-th-in-t in the world today is that people want the world to be simple. They want morality to be the good guys versus the bad guys.
G.P.: They want the world to be simple and yet they . . . .
G: And I don’t, I don’t.
G.P.: . . . . . make complex the language.
G: Right, a-and I-don’t-think-that I don’t think that truth w-the truth or -th-there are very few issues that have a-a very simple answer. An-and poetry, I guess, if it really does try to reach out to the truth, if it really tries to articulate what’s going on, then-it-c- then-it by that nature it’s probably a little harder to understand than regular old language.
Anne Leighton then read one of her own heartfelt poems. Anne was the midday DJ on Wizard. Her voice is totally natural, warm, and alluring, very unlike the sexy whisper or the imitation-masculine voices used by most female radio announcers. George also read a poem by Philip Levine called “You Can Have It” from the Life Magazine article. I read the “GRAHR MANTRA” by Michael McClure and “The Day Lady Died” by Frank O’Hara. We took a call from a guy who read one of his song lyrics over the phone, and then George asked me about one of the books I brought.
G.P.: What do you have there, Gary?
G: Oh, alright, this is – one thing I wanted to say is that . . . . .
G.P.: By the way, hold the phone line. A lot of people are on the lines.
G.P.: Hold the line, we’ll get to you.
G: Yeah, we’ll get to you.
G.P.: H-hold your line.
G: One thing I wanted to s- this-is this is something I just sort of thought about recently, I don’t know if it’s true, really, or if y- y’know – you can quote me, but I-I might be called a moron for it – is that language and, y’know, language is the first drug, I was thinking. Language is the first big drug, and-I-th- and I mean, drug-drugs used to transcend like experience or to reach to other realities or greater realities. The same way we use drugs, y’know – some people use drugs today to-to reach out to a better reality is ah what language does.
G.P.: Not necessarily better though, but a different one.
G: Well, a truer one, shall we say. Um I, for example, I have a little ah p- ah actually it’s not a poem, it’s a prayer. It’s urn called a it’s a death song by the P-y-that was sung by the Papago Indians. And I-it’s very simple, it goes:
In the great night my heart will go out.
Toward me the darkness comes rattling,
In the great night my heart will go out.***
G: Most prayers are very simple an-and actually very straight-forward. It’s because-because if-you if you say the right words – and everybody knows this – if you finally get the right words for something that’s-that’s really bugging you, then y- there’s sort of like an “Ah hah!.” “Ah hah” you feel like you’ve settled it an-and that-that’s the real power of language, is if you get the right words then you almost have power over the thing that’s troubling you. And-and for example in this one.
G.P.: It’s the release of a great burden, too.
G: In this one, I imagine that th-th-the Papago Indians probably would perform a ritual along with this and maybe r-recite those simple three lines over and over and urn. B-b-because saying, for example, “I will die” and coming to that truth, “I am going to die”, is one of the hardest truths to come in terms with. And that’s why we have po-prayers about death and-and prayers about marriage and prayers about love and all that kind of stuff.
G.P.:G: I’m really glad you brought that in because many of th-the Indian tribes of-Am of America are indeed some of the finest American poetry and songs.
G:G: Oh yeah, oh there’s so much beautiful beautiful poetry i-in this book. Um saying the right words can heal or destroy. That’s the power of language. You-can you once you’ve got the right words, once you’ve go- got it, then you’ve got it. I mean, you-you have power over that thing. And that’s-that’s and I think again poetry is one of the best and most succinct and most concise uses of language in that way.
G.P.:G: That’s-very that’s very good. 773-9098.
And we took more calls and people asked about poetry and read wonderful poems by friends, by published poets, by themselves. I read “Dejection: An Ode” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Bill Pezzimenti recited one of his own poems, Anne read another of hers, and I read “Freedom of Love” by the surrealist Andre Breton, one of the most sensuous poems I know. George seemed a little nervous that this was not a typical commercial mass appeal program. I knew the haters weren’t listening and I didn’t care.
* James Wright. The Branch Will Not Break. Middletow, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press; 1963.
** W. D. Snodgrass. After Experience. New York: Harper and Row, 1958.
*** Translation by Fraces Densmore, from Margot Astrov, Editor, American Indian Prose and Poetry: “The Winged Serpent.” New York: Capricorn Books 1946.
|VINYL RAPS AND TALKING HEADS
“That’s it fella, look at the suit! Look at the suit!” shouted Sandy Beach from the floor.
“Most people will never hear any of this music!” cried Robert Christgau, “and it’s fine for you to stand there in business clothes and . . . . .”
I sit on the stage wondering and wondering. This was a panel discussion about “New Wave Rock in the Music Industry,” part of a program sponsored by Buffalo State College called “Vinyl Raps and Talking Heads.” The show was partly the brainstorm of Steve Ralbovsky, the brilliant director of the Buffalo State College music committee who had been responsible for bringing some of the finest rock shows to Buffalo I have seen. Most of the crowd was probably more interested in hearing Talking Heads than in this discussion which now raged before them.
Earlier, Clive Davis, former president of Columbia Records and founding president of Arista, gave a speech which closely paralleled his legendary book about the music industry, Clive. I was billed as the host of the evening. Before I introduced Clive Davis, I talked with him about the things I was going to say. I was going to mention he was responsible for the signing to Columbia Records of such important people as Donovan, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Chicago, Soft Machine, Simon and Garfunkle and . . . . . He looked at my list and crossed off It’s A Beautiful Day. A very bitter story for him, which according to rumor, ended with the destruction of all the master tapes of that group. I laughed. In his speech, he talked about the difference between an immortal song and a great performance. He speculated that people will always sing the songs of Barry Manilow or Paul Simon while Bob Dylan’s songs would be remembered as meaningful only to a particular era. This was Clive Davis, one of the ultimate gods of this industry of gods and goddesses, the president of two of the largest companies in this magic kingdom. Beneath him struggled thousands of musicians, promoters, radio stations, managers, producers, groupies hurling about millions and millions of dollars crawling and sweating and singing and fucking and murdering and doing any any anything to be a part of the Ultimate Dream. I stood next to him, I think I was taller but I did not feel taller. He seemed worried, I remember his voice warm deep and tremulous at the ends of sentences. In his speech, he seemed almost to preach, and as people crowded around him to meet him and ask favors, he patiently put them off and told them to write so-and-so in such-and-such department at Arista. I liked him – even apart from his power and the burden of holiness he must carry – I really liked him. Later I wrote him a letter saying I wished I had been able to talk to him, that I admired him greatly for making available groups so important to my very consciousness like The Hampton Grease Band and The Byrds. He sent me a note:
I appreciate your note and the sentiments expressed. Also, your taste in music is well refined, and that’s always nice to hear about. Continued good listening and playing.
To my left sat Clive Davis; Billy Altman, editor of Creem Magazine and former Buffalonian; and Lester Bangs, founder of Creem and one of the greatest writers-about-music who ever lived. To my right were Ken Kushnick, director of artist development for Sire Records; contemplative Dave Marsh, music editor for Rolling Stone magazine; and obstreperous Robert Christgau, Village Voice music editor and so-called “Godfather of Rock Criticism.” I started out by saying that my interests had nothing to do with music business, I am a fan always on the look out for good music as were most of the people in the audience. But here was the other reality, the business reality behind the songs. And now a new rock’n’roll was emerging, it will be caught between the love of music and the business of music, it may vanish tomorrow or it may conquer the world.
Dave Marsh picked it up from there. New wave music would probably die, the nihilism would be transformed into something more positive, and from this flurry of bands would emerge many new bands to carry us through the eighties.
Clive Davis said it was a disaster that some record companies hopped so blindly on the new wave band wagon – a pointed jab at Ken Kushnick who was responsible for signing several important punk bands to Sire. Nothing could be worse than the way Sire Records took four very different groups – Talking Heads, The Dead Boys, The Saints, and Richard Hell and The Voidoids – and promoted them all together, burying the only worthwhile group (Talking Heads).
Lester Bangs bewailed the fact that people are duped into liking lousy music – a deadly dart for Clive.
Christgau became furious.
Billy Altman and Dave Marsh tried to be reasonable, their approach was historical and intellectual.
Lester Bangs raved that David Crosby’s music is one of the most obscene jokes ever foisted on the public.
Christgau fumed. “ROBERT CHRISTGAU, WHY ARE YOU SO ANGRY?” I squeaked. The audience laughed. “Because I’m an angry young man,” he snarled. (Later he told me he was angry because he thinks Clive Davis is a flaming asshole.)
Clive nudged me, whispering, “I think we should wrap this up.”
Billy Altman expounded, Dave Marsh defended, Ken Kushnick smiled peacefully, Lester Bangs exhorted, Robert Christgau condemned, Clive Davis nudged while people from the audience directed questions at the panel. It was at this point that Sandy Beach and Christgau engaged in their shouting match. Clive nudged me. The audience was wild, scorning this talk about music, they wanted the real thing, they smiled, bored.
During the intermission, I spoke with a pretty artist whose face I had never before seen, but whose voice I had heard re-questing songs late at night. Before I introduced Talking Heads their manager said, Now remember, their name is Talking Heads, not The Talking Heads. I mumbled an introduction, “And now The Talking Heads,” and Talking Heads stalked out and oh they were fabulous. That entrancing Tina thudding so musically on bass, Chris the almost mechanical drummer, Jerry the curly roaring organist, and David Byrne twanging his guitar, singing his stark observations on love and American life, the veins on his neck bulging and his mouth wrenching forth the words, sweat streaming down his face. “Fabulous, fabulous,” beamed Christgau as we stood together, “this is an old Al Green tune, ‘Take Me to the River’, one of the greatest songs of all time.”
* Dale Anderson. “Show Offers Rock and Roll-Playing.” Buffalo Evening News, October 13, 1977, Vol. CXCV, No. 3, page 44.
My Truly Classic Classic Album tonight is really three albums: Chicago! The Blues/Today!
on Vanguard Records. This anthology is of great historical
importance because it is largely responsible for bringing world
attention to the top bluesmen of the 1960’s Chicago scene. Junior Wells, J.B. Hutto, Otis Spann, Otis Rush, Jimmy Cotton, Homesick James, Johnny Young, Johnny Shines, and Big Walter Horton were relatively unknown outside Chicago until these albums were released in 1966.
At least that’s the story told to me by Ron Weinstock. Ron used to do WBFO’s blues show and I don’t think there is another person on the planet more deep down obsessively knowledgeable about the blues – I mean, down right scholarly – I mean, he breathes ‘em – he eats ‘em – I mean stay away from him unless you want a steady diet of the blues the whole blues and nothin’ but the blues – I mean, he knows ‘em from the time before they was called the blues right down to the absolute newest piece of blues grooved vinyl – I mean, nobody nowhere nohow knows the blues like Ron knows the blues.
It is interesting to note that in 1978 Alligator Records released a three-record anthology called Living Chicago Blues. This also features nine blues bands that are little heard outside Chicago: The Lonnie Brooks Blues Band, Pinetop Perkins with Sammy Lawhorn, The S.O.B. Band (that stands for Sons of Blues), the Jinrny Johnson Blues Band, Eddie Shaw and The Wolf Gang, Left Hand Frank and His Blues Band, Carey Bell’s Blues Harp Band, Magic Slim and The Teardrops, and Johnny “Big Moose” Walker. Perhaps this anthology will have the same historical significance for the Chicago bluesmen of the 70’s as the Vanguard release did in the 60’s.
One of the greatest and most humiliating moments on “Oil of Dog” was a visit by Captain Beefheart. In 1969, when I was a freshman in college, I saw him with his Magic Band, and they were indeed magic. Ry Cooder opened up for the Captain, just him by himself and it endures in my mind as a nonspecific half-remembered blast of wonderfulness. And then nothing happened and nothing more and then Rockette Morton walked out on the stage (it was years later when I learned his name) and strapped on a double-necked guitar. I thought, A double-necked guitar, how corny. And then, WHAM he launched into the music bouncing off every object and corner of the stage womping on both necks at the same time creating the most indescribable byzantine astonishing sounds. BAM I was flat on the floor. POW I was blown off the face of the earth. And then the Captain came out and the rest of the band and if he had been Krishna I would not have known the difference.
Now he was here with me on my show with his drummer Robert Arthur Williams, his keyboard man Eric Drew Feldman, and bass player Bruce Fowler. They were on tour promoting the astonishing album Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). It was 3:00 AM and his exhausted manager kept yelling at me everytime we were off-mike. He wanted to go but The Captain sat in Studio C mellow full of talk. I was running back and forth trying to find the songs he suggested I play, trying to think of things to say to this ultimate space cadet, the manager yelling at me, the songs running out, trying to get new records on the turntable, wracking my brains for things to say to make the interview interesting, going to pieces, wishing my friends who said they would come up didn’t chicken out goddamn them all, trying to keep cool, the manager yelling, “You’re just trying to keep us here for your own benefit,” the Captain sitting in Studio C setting the controls for parts unknown. We talked about Frank Zappa and Edgar Varese.
Captain Beefheart: He definitely likes Varese, that’s for sure.
Gary: Oh, you can hear it in his music. Can hear it in yer music too I guess.
C: I don’t think so.
G: No? (Oh no, I said something wrong!)
C: No, no I-I try not to uh . . . . what I try to do is-is project who I am totally, with, I mean, I don’t think that I’m an artist – I mean – I’m a painter and a sculptor – and I don’t think th-that I need to ah trace . . . . I mean, as a matter of fact, I-that-it’s a waste of space if-yer if yer tracing over somebody else’s compositions.
G: So you never incorporate anybody else’s anything it’s-it’s straight you.
C: I don-yeah-an-I-don-thin-I-know I think that everybody should do that.
C: I really do, I mean, because you can only do what you do anyway. Really.
G :It’s true, except not many people seem to be able to know what they are, y’know, what they are enough to do what they do. Haha.
C: That’s nice.
G: (I said something right!) If you know what I mean. Hahaheh. Yeah, I like that, you oughta, yeah.Once again I was destroyed by Captain Beefheart. But he is a genius. It was an honor. He objected to our neon lights (“Just the sun or moon”), he told me Muzak makes him break out in a rash (“It really does!”), we played “Integrals” by Varese, “Straight No Chaser” by Thelonius Monk, and of course a bunch of The Captain’s music, we talked about Ornette Coleman, Mozart, Dizzy Gillespie, Marion Brown, Eric Dolphy. He said his new band is the best band he ever played with including Zappa’s Hot Rats Band. As I already noted, when I first saw The Captain, Ry Cooder opened up for him. This time it was Sunnyland Slim. “He was makin’ me cry my eyes out,” said The Captain.
|I lie down in the middle of the stadium to wait for the show. When I sit up I look around and try to chat with some guy with a mustache. I realise I have a booger hanging out of my right nostril. Everyone around me is acting uncomfortable. I wish I had a friend here to tell me these things. There are some unpleasant straight types behind me smoking dope. Clandestinely, I pick my nose and wipe it under their yellow blanket.||Image under construction.|
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