It’s A Granola Party Goin’ On

IMG_1676I don’t know how to cook anything.  
So I go ahead and do it, badly.

I didn’t even know that you could make your own granola until a few days ago, and to be honest, it would have never occurred to me that, of course, someone must make it somewhere, because, how else do we have it in stores?  Still, this is how dim I am when it comes to food, and the foods that I even like and eat often.

My relationship to the world of food is about as removed as you can get: I do not hunt, I couldn’t exactly tell you where everything I like comes from, and the stuff I eat so rarely resembles the actual thing in the wild.  Still, my relationship to food is even more removed, because I so rarely engage in the act of actually preparing it.  In many ways, food traveled in one way (in my mind): toward me, through me, and on to things I didn’t think about.  Even my time on the farm only revealed to me that milk really comes in a jar, and the steaks that used to be “Beth” out in the pasture didn’t seem to connect to the meal I was unsuccessful at preparing.

IMG_1689However, there are any number of things that will cause someone to explore the the world’s surrounding house and home, and it seems that remedying my terrible relationship with food is probably a smart move.  There is a full kitchen, and oven, and a fairly well stocked pantry in this place, and it seems silly to continue to buy into the corporate world of Big Granola.  Not only does it seem like a cost-reduction measure, but I figured that if I reduced my learning curve to include something very simple, and controlled for the number of things that could go wrong, I could slowly build up a reservoir of skills that I might need to prepare a decent Lobster Thermidor someday.

Over time.

Lots and lots of time.

 

IMG_1673I’m Serious When I Say This Is Incredibly Easy.

First, credit where credit is due: My wife found the recipe, and she has a knack for not only recipes, but the kitchen itself as a place to create meals of wonder.  However, the genius of the recipe is that it has lots of room for improvisation, and teaches you some basic skills that could warrant practice for a noob like me.

IMG_1686It takes no more than 20 minutes once the oven is preheated.  And how’s this for beginner: the stove doesn’t even go over 340, and you don’t use that many dishes when preparing.  There’s basically one ingredient (oats), and five staples that a well stocked kitchen will already have.  Obviously, if you know what you’re doing, trade out the stuff you would rather use for a different flavor profile.

IMG_1672First, put into a saucepan 1/4 Cup each of Olive Oil, Peanut Butter & Maple Syrup.  “Liquify” these on medium or so, and toss into a bowl 3 Cups of oats, and 2 tablespoons of sugar.  When the saucepan is ready, pour them together and get to mixing.    You’ll want the liquid to coat the oats completely.  Then, spread the mixture out on a tray, and toss it in the oven for 10 minutes.  “Toss” your granola, then put it in for another 15.  You can cook it longer until it is browned to your preference.IMG_1690-ANIMATION

 

No, Really.  That’s it.  

I was sort of baffled at how easy it really was, and it even after taste-testing it to make sure that it wasn’t going to be gross, I had trouble rationalizing that it was as good tasting as anything store bought.
Obviously, you can increase / decrease the “sweeteners” to get a different flavor profile, and toss in any kind of legume of your desire to add to the composition.  I usually toss in chocolate chips once it has cooled, and then store all of it in an airtight tupperware container.

IMG_1726As a student I became dependent on Granola, and would keep bags of stuff from the bulk section around my house to I could have something that I liked, and that was filling.  Any number of things can be added: dried fruits, yogurt, M&Ms, etc., and it makes a good base for dessert, breakfast, snacks, or whatever.  It is so useful to have fresh Granola around the house that I really can’t imagine going back, even after a couple days.

 

IMG_1727So, Is It Worth Making My Own Granola?

Yes.  I think so.  Not only do I feel like I made something that I want to eat (a big improvement for me), I also feel like I learned a few lessons that I can take with me, which was the whole point:

1.) Cooking Times Are A Myth.  I have yet to find any recipe that actually lists a time that was related to how long it takes to cook, and my suspicion is that I will never find one, even in the same house, with the same oven, on the same day, cooked by the same person.  There is a certain amount of variability in time that cannot be accounted for, and because of this, all I can really do is to trust that it probably needs another five minutes, and do poke at it too much while I’m waiting.

IMG_17292.) You Can Get Pretty Close To What You’re Looking For With Practice.  Sure, I probably won’t be able to make a McDonald’s-tasting hamburger any time soon, but things like sweetness & composition can be adjusted / changed / improved with practice.  The second batch had a slightly more consistent flavor, and I added more syrup, which sweetened up the batch a fair amount, to my liking.  Adding a few pumpkin seed, crushed almonds & dried cranberries really brought it into the realm I was used to from the store bought brand with which I was familiar.  What I make is now the best breakfast cereal I’ve ever had.  I can’t really remember the taste of the brand I ate the most of in College, because this seems close enough for me to not have to strain myself too hard to remember.

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Near-Complete “Over The Edge” now resides at archive.org

Don-joyceAlmost 35 Years Of Radio Broadcasts by the late Don Joyce.  

Get Ready.  It’ll Take You A Little While To Listen Through This.  

This isn’t really news to fans and listeners of the show.  Even before it was clear that Over The Edge might be in some kind of danger, word had gotten out that Negativland was working on this project, in association with archive.org.   And what a perfect match, really?  Over The Edge is, in every sense, is a sprawling audio soundscape that builds in scope and momentum when viewed in larger and larger chunks.  The show rewarded long term listening, and took on an impressive volume when thought of over months, years, and then decades, even.  It was very much the creative ‘Life Work’ of DJ – Don Joyce to friends and family.

To sit, face to face with almost 1000 broadcasts by this radio enthusiast evokes the kind of awe that a listener can have when they sit down to listen to even one of Don’s shows.

And this was certainly the relationship a listener could have if they stumbled across the program late at night in the Berkley area.  Competing voices all speaking at once, cutting back and forth, with a – Booper?  What’s that? – punctuating a rare Bob Dylan track.  That voice – The Weatherman?  Who? – reads out the phone number.  Then Don – feigning any number of characters, most recently Izzy Izn’t – would come on.

“You’re listening to Over The Edge.  Tonight: Universe.”  And a panoply of sounds would assault your senses, taking you on a journey no other show even considered pursuing.

young-donWhile Over The Edge goes back to 1981 – and there are recordings of parts of shows from that era – what is left unsaid in a project like this is the career in radio that Don had already enjoyed for almost 20 years before, much of it undocumented.  As seen in this photo from the archives of RISD (1966), Don was once a young man, as it turns out, but his passion for radio went back to the beginning.

Rumor has it that he could edit commercials on tape better than nearly anyone else who ever worked with him, and he took that skill with him to KPFA, where he claimed to do a “normal music show” as a volunteer, most likely offering his tape editing skills in the Production room.   (And, knowing Don’s taste, it is hard to imagine that even a late ’70’s Don would skew anything toward “normal” when it come to a music show.)  It is sad, then, to think that the years where he build up his career, his attitude, his persona, and – dare I say – his creative outlook, are not available in the same way that OTE is.  Access to that kind of archive would give us the kind of perspective on this project that we can only surmise.

But even in measuring it’s deficiencies, what a body of work it is, to be sure.  It is very clear, from the 6 July 1981 show that starts out the collection, that something crystalized for Don when Negativland came into the KPFA studio, like a post-modern traveling vaudeville show, with instruments and home-brewed gear, tape loops and other oddities which were all a part of their stage show.  As Don faded DOWN the LP (that was the source almost every other DJ in the world used), and faded UP these sound sculptors who each had their own collection of audio devices, Don realized that the studio is an instrument as much as anything else these artists around him were using.

booper-toplargeSteeped in collage and dada throughout his upbringing, Don saw an entire future ahead of him where the radio show was the painting, and drips and drabs of audio that he and his guests would paint with could be doled out – over years, if possible – to create a dadaist soundscape that stretched on in a narcotic sort of audio experience over a long period of time.  A cut-and-paste-drone was what Over The Edge specialized in during the early ’80’s, dubbed “culture jamming” in ’84 so Don could align his work with the other kindred spirits who were working in Billboard defacing or with the Church of the SubGenius.

The shift in the style of radio Don created was immediate and dramatic.  While music weaves its way into Don’s show throughout the entire 30+ year run, it is now just another audio source – to be manipulated and chopped up like anything else, use to serve the larger function of The Mix, which could contain any number of audio sources as it built its layered sound.  The Mix, an elusive state of audio presentation where the narrative of the listening experience is augmented through the addition, subtraction, re-mixing, or manipulation of sound sources to accentuate the other audio sources in an almost Musique concrète sort of form.  Sometimes, like in Jazz, you had to go against the beat, and mix against The Mix.  Other times, a violation was forbidden.  Don tried every sort of variation over the run of OTE in an effort to find out how far you could take The Mix, chasing themes and ideas over three our chunks, week after week.  Hundreds of hours of shows, all pursuing hundreds of ways this aesthetic could be presented, all toying with the idea that it still had to somehow present as radio, that it couldn’t just be be completely impenetrable.

At least, not for very long, anyway.

Take it all in.  No matter where you start, no matter how you try to consume it, this is more than you can fathom all at once.  34 years of radio.  Week after week.  Three to five hours at a time.  And now, gone.  Nothing new.

It adds up.  How can this be?

 

IMG_9680-ANIMATIONThis Is Where It Gets Weepy: My Own Personal Relationship With Over The Edge.

On the last morning of my camping-trip bachelor party, I was weeping for Don Joyce at a campfire in the early morning.  I had been drinking hard for a few days in a row by then, at this lovely riverside campsite.  I had left my house having just listened to the “There Is No Don” before I left for the woods, where I would be without technology or phones until Monday morning.  And so, with little sleep and very hungover, I poked a fire and cried, nursing a cup of cold coffee, trying to imagine a future without Over The Edge.

It seemed too big.  Too Much.  Like there just wasn’t a way that I could process it all without it feeling overwhelming.  The show has been so much a part of my life since the mid ’90’s – when I discovered it – that it not only nudged me in the direction of radio myself in 1998, but became something that I could check in with, every week, to either help put me to sleep, or give me something to listen to through insomnia and drunken stupors.  For almost 20 years I’d been listening, as a fan, collecting the CD releases, downloading the shows when the started to get traded online.  I was, by no means, a hardcore fan.  I mostly listened to podcasts and digital recordings after 2004.  I don’t even live in the area that it was broadcast, so I didn’t have a lot of friends who also tuned in, and it was hard to meet people who also did, even after the Inter-Web-A-Tron was a daily reality.  I just tuned in when I could, and enjoyed the strangeness of a three to five hour mix.

IMG_1731To this day I have the experience of hearing a piece of audio in a completely different context, and I finally realize where Don got a sample that he had been playing for years and years on OTE.  The show had become such an important part of who I was, that I had to start explaining Over The Edge to people when I was describing my own program.  As recently as June of this year I was writing another journal entry along the lines of, “Why aren’t people talking about Over The Edge as often as they should?”, a line of thinking that I very much regret given the proximity to his death a month later.

I’ve started and stopped several pieces and essays about Don, because I do want to eulogize him in some capacity, but really, how can I effectively encompass his influence on me without just sounding like I’m going through the motions?  Over The Edge was one of the first things I searched for when I first had access to the Internet in 1994, having read about it in the liner notes to my copy of the Escape From Noise LP I’d picked up.  Negativland quickly became my favorite band, but more pointedly, Don’s radio show – a part of and reflection of the ideas of Negativland – of which I was the real fan.

A cursory listen to my style of radio program and the influence is obvious, and I sample (and re-sample) OTE with a fair consistency, if not in exact audio samples, then in the ideas.  I have a more Wavy Gravy / style approach, for sure, but radio is as much mix tape as it is performance.  Nonetheless, what I’m sad about is the opportunity to hear a new episode, to hear Don get cranky about something, to hear him spar with Suicide Man, to listen to a new bumper that Don’s incorporating into the larger story, and – of course – a Mix that does something I’ve never heard before.

And I’ve heard the last of the new ones.

So it’s a good thing there are hundreds of old ones to check out, now, for sure.

 

Here’s An Excerpt From My Journal, Written July 27th In The Notes Photographed Above.

“For my entire adult light, Don Joyce has been a voice in my head.  There were two influences on my interest in radio: Pump Up The Volume and Over The Edge.  The more like OTE I could get my own radio show the better I thought it was, and only occasionally have I produced something I thought was OTE worthy.  Once one of Don’s shows was broadcast, I would tear through the recording to hear what he’d done this time.  His aesthetic so influenced me that I started saying “Good Hello” in all my correspondence, and would pinch his jokes at bars and late at night on the air.  I only ever saw him once, in Portland for an It’s All In Your Head show in 2006.  I was too nervous to approach him, but I sat as close as I could and watched his every move, even though there was little to see from the audience.  Most were there to see Negativland.  I was there for him.

“Over 20 years I so fully integrated him into my life that I actually can’t believe he is gone.  Like The Ramones & Johnny Cash, I assumed he would be on Thursday Nights until the end of time.  I had no idea he was even old, let alone at any risk of passing, even though I’d seen pictures of him for most of my life, too.  People Like Us tipped me off.  I had missed the July 17th OTE, had it on my phone but was saving it for when I had a weekend afternoon, where I could put it on and listen.  But her Friday show was on, and she suggested Don was not well.  I registered the thought, but it didn’t sound serious.  I imagined that he had a cold or something, and she was worried.

“I woke up at 4 AM Thursday morning, 23 July.  Out of curiosity I checked to see if I could find any news about the show that night, that maybe it would be an extra-long Puzzling Evidence, and that he might be on the week after.  But I couldn’t find anything obvious with the usual searches.  Then, I found a cryptic reference to his death on Wikipedia, but the user (named: Jerkey) who had made the edit seemed unreliable.  I posted a general query among my friends, hoping for more reliable news that was more upbeat.  But after almost five hours of wondering, around 9:17 AM an official statement from the band came out.  Don had, indeed, passed.  I started crying at my desk at work, and immediately put on the OTE from the 17th.

“Don Joyce was a very unique voice in the world of radio.  His friends & colleagues in Negativland admitted that even in the 30+ years of knowing him, they knew little of his life outside of the art he produced and the work he did with them, to which he seemed 100% dedicated.  His work spanned more than the career on the air.  Don made elaborate paper collages, wrote long and clever essays about culture using his own brand of cut-and-paste wordplay, created magnificent razor tape edits of precise and hilarious quality, encouraged artists that participated in circuit bending and collage by featuring them prominently on his program, and created a cast of fleshed-out characters, each with their own backstories and personalities, all of which played out multi-part dramas – on his program – often with him voicing all of them, both live and on tape.  And, occasionally, when time would allow for it, he would participate in Negativland, for almost until he stopped touring with them in 2010, when he stopped only because he wanted to focus all of his energies on the radio program.

“His dedication to art – to chasing this creative dragon to the bitter end and finding where it might take him if he would just let the tape play – became an inspiration that I cannot fully process, and may never be able to.  You can tell a Don Joyce Mix when you hear one.  You know his transitions and his work, like a tape-splice fingerprint.  I can only say that, in absence of him making new ones, all other mixes – especially my own – will only be a sad reflection of something he just did 100% better.”

 

So, Where In The Hell Should I Even Start, Then? 

Good question.  It’s nearly impossible to bite off a chunk of audio like this without some kind of guidance, and the knowledge up front that you can’t possibly listen to it all.  But, you can certainly try.  If I’m serious about recommending that you should devote even three hours to this program (the average length of a “short” show), then I should at least be able to make some recommendations, if not specifically, then at least generally.  Yes, the beauty of this project is the 941 options you have when you sit down to try and listen to a little Over The Edge.

The problem with recommending Over The Edge is that what made the show great was the spontaneous nature of the program.  Don incorporated what he called Receptacle Programming, where he would Mix in callers, who would each offer audio in their own forms.  (Don made a habit of reminding listeners, “Don’t say Hello.”)  Callers could be talkers (Suicide Man usually wanted to wax poetic) or sending their own audio via the phone, giving OTE a wide range of sounds and styles.  Shows would veer in new directions unexpectedly, and when The Mix was really good, the callers would start to fall into a rhythm, too.  But remembering which one had good callers in next to impossible, as Don refused to do more than the barest archiving when it came to his shows.

And, while true that Don pursued impressive and wonderful themes that ran for long periods of time, it was often the in-between shows that were unexpected that were the most impressive, where Don would take the bits left over from the week previous and nudge his own mixing toward a new and different theme.  The entire nature of these shows is that they go largely unnoticed, lost to their supposed un-remarkableness.  These qualities – so much a part of the show as anything else – are the less tangible things that I can recommend.  Keep in mind that listening to Over The Edge is a dreamy, psychedelic experience by design.  It’s going to sounds spacey no matter what, because that is the point.

Which all of that in mind, here are 10 places to start, to see if you even like what Don does in the first place.  I’ve provided links for the most part, but keep in mind that If you enjoy what you hear, then keep on digging.  The “Search This Collection” link over here not only allows you to come up with your own random criteria for listening to Over The Edge – a method we highly recommend – but also allows you to track down new stuff as you find out more about the program.

All Art Radio (1988 – 2011): A favorite subject of Don’s was Art, and any chance he could get his hands on audio regarding the subject, Don would (and could) go on for hours.  The only subject to dominate more of Over The Edge‘s broadcast episodes is that of UFO’s, but Don approaches the subject of art with a sort of fervor that few others could match, so much so that his persona – Crosley Bendix, Cultural Reviewer and Director of Stylistic Premonitions for the Universal Media Netweb – took over a number of shows, where he would discuss this or that arcane aspect of art that is usually not seen as “art,” so to speak.  Over The Edge was Don’s art project, and he was so much a student of the world of art that it was a subject he loved to return to.

Another UFO (1988 – 2013): Don was a huge fan of Art Bell and he work on Coast To Coast, but more importantly, the world of UFOlogy was a pastime of the everyman, something that sophisticates gave no attention to.  This dream-like game of telephone that abductees would participate in – and then relate on the air for the entire world to hear – was ample fodder for Don’s critical re-mix skills.  It is hard to say if Don is really a believer, or if he thinks it is interesting to play the part of a believer, but he approached the subject of UFOs and collage time and again, and often for his longer, five-hour shows, and in some ways, attracted his own Bell-like fans due to his dedication to the subject.

Moonrock Footnotes (1997 – 2001): The closest thing to a “serial” Don created for Over The Edge, “Moonrock Footnotes” was a series of broadcasts by Wang Tool, for the residents of the mining colony on the moon, which then becomes a “tool” in the revolt against the company that owns the mining colony.  The story is a little hard to follow, and is sort of beside the point in that we’re only hearing the broadcasts surrounding the narrative, anyway.  Still, this story somehow ties into the other ongoing story involving C. Elliot Friday, and which was the subject of one of their CD releases.  If you like convoluted, political sci-fi “story” oriented broadcasts, this is the place to start.

Christianity Is Stupid (1991) / It’s All In Your Head (2002 – 2005) / Your Brain Is God (2011 – 2012): Don was a vocal atheist, and felt that the preponderance of religious radio (and the lack of the opposing viewpoint) was a serious problem in our culture.  He came back to the subject of religion as something to lampoon over and over again.  The earliest broadcast – “Christianity Is Stupid” – is a three-hour talk show that debates religious and does not do any collage work, and purports to be the new format of the program the entire time.  “It’s All In Your Head” / “Your Brain Is God” are series dedicated to audio juxtaposition of religious radio mixed with the very simple notion that all religion is, in fact, all in your head, and is not based on any fact.  For those who are not intellectually-minded, these can be difficult shows to listen to, but were absolutely a part of Don and his worldview, and are a window into who he was.

How Radio Was Done (2006 – 2009): This sprawling, 106 part series covers the story of radio from its inception in the late 1800s, and then moves forward, year by year, to offer samples of radio from those periods in time.  This is the point where Don began to really want to push the long-form idea of Over The Edge, and this series was an effort to top another long-running series that took up almost a year and a half prior to this.  Where different series would be returned to over the 30 year run of Over The Edge, to run with one theme for three solid years was an impressive feat at the time, and it was exciting to listen to these shows as they were coming out.

The Universe (2013 – ): Don’s final series was, as far as any of us fans were concerned, going to be the last series he ever did, but we envisioned it lasting for a decade or so, to make the point that you could do something like that.  However, he only got to episode 91, with a number of tangents and other thoughts mixed in throughout those last couple years.  These shows are very open, with lots of music – uncut or edited – played with long passages about space.  Very atmospheric, and a great end-run for his program, no matter how you look at it.

What’s About The 60’s? (2013 – 2014): The subject of “The ’60’s” as a whole, monolithic entity, came up often on Over The Edge, and this series-within-a-series was not only emblematic of the kind of regular digressions his show would take, but it was the subject that seemed to be the most informative on his personality and perspective.  Don was always very much of “now,” and his program always pushed forward, but it was easy enough to reflect on “The ’60’s,” only because it was influential, and not just on him.

The All Nordine Show (2001): If you like Ken Nordine, and his own radio experimentalism of word jazz, then imagine Don Joyce remixing for three hours Ken Nordine broadcasts and recordings.  It is a pleasure, boggles the mind, and evokes the William S. Burroughs dictum of cut-n-paste in the most specific and demonstrable way possible.  I love this show.

Any Episode w/ The Weatherman.  The Weatherman is a character in and of himself, and as Negativland continued in the future, he (unfortunately) retreated more and more to a world of agoraphobia and cleanliness.  However, when he is on the show, his strangeness and the recordings he brought to the group – including his very distinctive voice that lights up any reading of dry text – is a part of the overall aesthetic of Over The Edge that graced shows spanning the entire run of the program.

Any “Dick” Episodes: Goodbody / Vaughn / Pastor.  Richard Lyons is not only another oddball that Negativland picked up in their early years, but his own work as a prankster is something that has run hand-in-hand with Negativland’s – and Don’s – career.  More importantly, Richard could maintain a character for hours at a time, making him a good person to bring into the studio for live radio.  Richard collected a number of – ahem – Dicks that he would bring to the show, pretending to be a church Pastor, a used car dealer, and most dramatically, a radio DJ that, “invented ’70’s nostalgia.”  Dick episodes are heavy on broadcast mistakes, behind-the-scenes accidents getting on-the-air, and call-in contests that often go horribly horribly wrong, all to comic effect.

 

Concluding

Here’s a few further comments while I’m winding down:

For the sake of your sanity, chronological seems the wrong way to go about this bounty, even if that is the one I’ve used to far.  The first three episodes are “exceptions,” and incomplete in one way or another.  The first complete show in the archive – “Advertising Secrets” from 1983 – gives you a sense of what OTE will eventually become, and while the pieces are present, everything sounds like it might later, it is a little looser, and the form isn’t quite what it would become.

However, it is hard to recommend just dipping in here and there.  When you start to skip around you feel like you missed something, something that you couldn’t actually retrieve with a chronological re-listen anyway.  Not only is the archive itself incomplete, but the way the show was meant to be heard was to be stumbled up while tuning the dial.  It wasn’t designed to “start from the beginning.”

On top of that, most of the early shows were recorded on tape, using humans to push “record” and “stop” when the show was over.  Bits and pieces are missing here and there, and it wasn’t until quite a while into the series that it was being adequately archived.  It is this incompleteness that is the ultimate sadness, and the renewable joy that is at the heart of this archive.  You will never hear it all, never ever ever, but you can try and chase down the same sounds that Don was if you would like to try, and for a while, you’ll get a sense of what it was like to tune in, Thurday at midnight, and into the wee hours of the morning, hearing something you would never hear anywhere else.

Copyright Begins A Slow Move In An Obvious Direction

happy-birthday-to-us-yaayAnd I Didn’t Get You Anything.
But Really: You Should Have Already.

I never thought I would live to see this day.  The insane (and, frankly, terrifying) thorny network of crufted together copyright laws that that have developed since 1909 has made all common sense go out the window when people looked at the claim made by Warner/Chappell Music Publishing when it came to this 19th Century song.

Stories of the costs people used to have to shell out to include 9 seconds of this not-very-good-song in a documentary are legendary, and the oft-litigious company was leaning heavily on a 1935 renewal of the copyright that was the lynchpin in their argument that they could continue to collect from people wanting to include the song in their art as an accurate reflection of the world around us.

But rather than let reality speak to the common sense when it came to enforcing copyright, this song has became an symbol symbol for everything possible and everything wrong with the practice of copyright enforcement in the music industry.  With the power that “Happy Birthday” wielded in the way Warner did, it sent a message to copyright holders that the songs in their rosters were “revenue streams” that should be exploited at every opportunity, rather than a way to protect the artist from outright theft when it came to song writing.  While some arcane story existed about two old ladies that owned “Happy Birthday,” the truth has been that Warner has collected that money for decades, and has forced all manner of artist to compromise on the use of something that spontaneously breaks out at parties, without forethought.

And, finally, it has been dethroned.

 

05HAPPYBIRTHDAY3-blog427Print Media (Maybe) Saves The Day

Far be it for irony to play a role in something that was already a pretty entertaining stage play acted out in the courtrooom, the key piece of evidence in this case happened to be a very old “songbook” that was published in 1935.  In this digital age of .mp3s and free WiFi everywhere, it is nice to know that a physical book was the item that helped make the case, but in a typical turn of events, Sound Opinions reported that the book in question was reviewed using .pdfs, so we’re not quite calling this one a triumph for old media, either.  Still, this tid-bit is sort of at the center of the real issue: old media law dictating the new media landscape.

The ins and outs of the trial seem a little insane, and the history of this song has been documented again and again.  In much the same way that Capone was jailed for tax evasion rather than the real crimes he was guilty of, Warner had been committing worse atrocities with the way they were renewing this copyright, allowing them to insist on millions in payments from people who wanted to use the song in their film / radio program / digital media creation / etc.  However, it was finally revealed in court that the 1935 copyright was invalid at the time it was originally filed.

“Happy Birthday” had, consequently, slipped into the public domain before 1935, and could not be renewed, legally.  This invalidated Warner’s enforcement ever since, not only putting 80 years worth of money into their bank account that they shouldn’t have had in the first place, but creating a terrible example of how a company can throw around their weight to “protect” a copyright when there may not even be one to begin with.  Publishers that get into the habit of being litigious when it comes to infringement need only look to Warner as an example of not only what, but how to enforce a copyright through a media smear campaign.  Now that “Happy Birthday” is back in the Public Domain, hopefully we can take another step toward rehabilitating the rest of the Music Industy’s relationship to copyright.

 

americangreetings_birthday_catsBut What’s The Big Deal?  “Happy Birthday” Blows.

This isn’t just good for people who want to feel better about singing the song without compensating the copyright holder, or for a group of cats in birthday hats.  It’s a good move for art and creativity on the whole.  “Copyright” is a complicated legal world unto itself, and while there are absolutely good uses for it, on the whole copyright is used to collect money when another artist wants to use a work that is copywritten as part of another creative work.

(For example: My movie wants to use a song in it, and the song is copywritten.  I pay the copywrite holder, and I can now use the song in my film, as I have compensated the artist.  This scales down to sampling in music, and up to, “let’s show part of this other movie in this movie.”)

But the amounts charged for “cleared” copywritten material has alway been nebulous, and there are no real enforced rules or guidelines, except those established by the copywrite holder.  How much a work can cost for use can fluctuate dramatically from work to work, and artist to artist.  No one has ever paid to use a song I wrote in a film, for example, but “Happy Birthday” could run up to $5,000 per use, if not more.

Beyonce, most likely, is somewhere in the middle.

 

USA Constitution Parchment
USA Constitution Parchment

Let’s Talk About Old And Irrelevant Paper Documents, While We’re Discussing Shitty Songbooks, Too

The larger issue of copyright has to do with the law itself.  US Copyright law is complicated enough, but the core idea has not changed much, even since colonial times:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”  (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of The United States Constitution.)

However, our current copyright law was drafted in 1976, with revisions in the years since through to 2014.  The 1976 law itself a law that was revising – and not by much – the law that had been in effect since 1909.  Consider the cultural changes that have occurred since then, with a law we keep amending each time something comes up.  These were written before The Internet, before Compact Discs, before digital file storage systems or Open Architecture.  In someways it was written before mix tapes and podcasts, let along all the forms of media that are currently popular in our culture.  They are certainly pre-blog and Facebook.  The sharing culture of the Internet – something considered de facto and a part of the world as we know it – is something that is antithetical to the idea of copyright law.

Consider the copyright lawsuits that have cropped up in the last couple decades.  In the ’90’s, there seemed to be any number of cases regarding the way Hip Hop artists were being sued over and over again for using sampling, something that has slowed down tremendously in the modern world.  More samples overall are cleared, these days many samples are used for free because it means free advertising for the original work, and culturally everyone agrees that sampling is not the problem it was seen in the year 2000.  It should be noted that litigators are now looking toward Robin Thicke / Marvin Gaye style rip-offs, or in other cases, the Spirit / Led Zeppelin controversy.  But sampling lawsuits are a much rarer breed these days, with the last big one in 2008.

If copyright law was written now, it would include sampling as a part of songwriting, something that is not currently a part of the 1976 Copyright law.  (Updates to it account for sampling as something that can be cleared with the copyright holder, but rather than using the common sense approach that is is a part of the form of composition, the law has it written in as an exception that needs to be handled case by case.)  This is just one example of the ways that copyright law doesn’t even aknowledge the digital world we live in, or the reality of people wanting to wish each other a “Happy Birthday” in the form of a convenient (and culturally well-known) song.

Even if the song is awful.

 

post-28947-let-me-explain-no-there-is-too-gxhB“Lemme ‘splain.  No, There is too much.  Lemme sum up.”

In meme terms, there isn’t a cute sentence I can slap on a .gif that can really get to the heart of the issue – for any side of it – that we can use to propagate a sensible copyright strategy that could stand up to scrutiny and 4Chan. But as things stand now, writing and art seem somewhat stymied by copyright, especially in a post-modern, digitally literate culture that are used to bite-sized YouTube snippets, paragraphs copies out of eBooks, and the creative re-arrangement of images and texts – of Star Wars & Dr. Who – that even Disney & Marvel are struggling with ideas of ownership when it just makes sense that Spiderman would show up in a goddamn Avengers movie, RIGHT?  The idea that culture has costs is occasionally negotiated in stores and at the cinema, but at home entertainment is consumed in parallel, for free, and re-contextualized for discussion on Tumblr & Twitter later on.

The culture attitudes toward copywritten material has already dictated that they want it to be free.  But negotiating the way this plays out in law would be like trying to, for example, legalize a drug due to public opinion.

In a world where entertainment and art are largely free in this sense, the only time money should come into play is if a copyright violation has actually occurred in a way that upsets the value of the work as a monetize-able entity produced by the original artist, but as sharing and reuse become creative works in and of themselves, where to draw that line becomes harder to define, and copyright law that doesn’t understand the nuance of a digital art work is not going to understand the difference between one .tiff and another.

An outmoded vision of copyright – like the vision Warner had for “Happy Birthday” – does not reflect the way art and writing occur in a creatively fertile world.  No, this does not mean that I am going to take a recording of Frank Sinatra and try to sell it as my own because there is no law and I am an anarchist, though there are shades of that project that could be decontextualized as an art piece that may look suspiciously like me trying to sell Frank Sinatra’s music as my own.  But that question should be one in the audiences mind, to consider the work and its attempt to make a statement that is unique and important.  In the end, shouldn’t the art have to defend itself, rather than a legal bully coming in to say that something y is too close to something x, and therefore shouldn’t have financial merit?

To “sum up” Crosley Bendix, a protection that I would like to make sure the copyright holder continues to enforce is the outright theft of a recording, to be sold as something purporting to be owned by another artist.  But if I want to make a Girl Talk style mash-up of a Sinatra and Crosby song, with some programmed drum parts, and then use it in a YouTube video that I share with my readers, then there needs to be some wiggle room in the copyright law to see that as a unique work that does not infringe, but creates, and expands the world of art.  Let my ability as a mash-up artist be what is on trial, and not some archaic law.

 

And, And…

And, while I’m at it: really, “Happy Birthday” is an abomination.  The tune sucks, the lyrics are dumb, and the rote reccitation of the song in groups is not only eerie, but depressing.

Please, take a page from me, and ask your friends to sing “Sailor Man” by Turbonegro to you instead.  It is not only a far superior song, but try explaining to someone why a group of people just sang a very strange homoerotic punk song to a bewildered friend of yours in public.

It will make a good story, and everyone wins.

A Bird Metaphor, Improvised

15.) Relaxing With Lee * Buddy Rich / Charlie Parker / Curley Russell / Dizzy Gillespie / Thelonious Monk * Bird: Complete Charlie Parker

Bird_The_Complete_Charlie_Parker_on_VerveAs we get comfortable with the details of Lee de Forest’s life, we continue to explore other realms new to this author’s ear. One project on the shelf in my office has been learning jazz, something I chip away at as the years go on, but feel like I make such minor progress when I assess it each time. The first thing that was really hard to wrap my head around was to realize that all these great jazz dudes all played with each other. I mean, I got that they all crossed paths, and that they might even play the same gig. But when it clicked that no, really, they all played with each other – in each other’s groups – and they each had their own groups, as well. I’ve given up long ago trying to draft a family tree, and instead try to focus on absorbing the songs. I still marvel at tracks like this, when you have five highly skilled performers all grooving to the same scene and were co-stars in each other’s movie about incredible artists.

Jazz really started to open up for me in big way when I heard bebop.

Charlie Parker was, in a lot of ways, the father of bebop, but his own demons and faults were his inevitable downfall. Bebop was a new permutation that was seen by the old fashioned jazz cats as an upraised middle finger to the sanctity of form, a sort of – ahem – flipping the bird.

Charlie didn’t give a fuck. He blazed his own trail, fueled by drugs and determination, and mastered his craft at a young age. Bird recorded with some of the greatest artists bebop, but spent most of those years hooked on smack, with occasional bouts of alcoholism. Parker’s crime was, of course, timing; because of the Musician’s Union recording ban between 1942 & 1944, Bird’s initial performances were never recorded. When he started to make a name for himself, the previous generation found him to be over the top, subverting jazz in a way that the moldy figs would never understand.

As time went on his reputation and virtuosity spoke volumes about who was right or wrong. No matter where Charlie found himself, trouble followed, and over the 18 years of his formal career, he drove his body to death, which finally gave up one night in 1955, on the cusp of Rock & Roll beginning to take hold of the country. It was clear that his boozy records were much worse than his heroine laced tracks, but most of that 18 years was spent trying to hold himself together long enough to produce some of the greatest music ever recorded.

The story of Parker differs in that his is a cautionary tale, a nerdy pioneer who flew too close to the sun. Bird was well know for his collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, but dig: he worked with Miles Davis, in addition to becoming the supreme icon of the beat generation, who managed to combine base passions and desires with unparalleled intellectual curiosity, and set a template for what “cool” was for the rest of the 20th Century. His relentless pursuit of the chromatic scale was not only an ultra-hip means of expressing his own identity at a time when that was rarely possible for any artists, and more pointedly, any well-dressed black man in post-WWII America. Like most mavericks, his interest in his ideas isolated him from like-minded folks, and much of his life was spent wrestling with his music and his chemical interests. What was left of him when he passed could be described in many ways, but I like to imagine it was spontaneous human combusion; his work consumed him.