A Review of The 10 Albums Stolen From My Studio in 2016

15242017_1323392491044751_4871179563205436913_nA Review of The 10 Albums Stolen From My Studio in 2016

At about 8 PM on Christmas Day 2016, my home was broken into.  My wife, cat and I were with family at the time, and most of the neighbors were, too.  Even worse, we were in the process of moving.  For a number of reasons that defy logic and explanation, we moved mostly on Christmas Eve.  We had left some things to move after Christmas, and thought that we could leave our house unattended until we were done celebrating.  But when we arrived at our old house on the 26th, we found that everything that wasn’t nailed down had been ransacked and overturned, while anything of actual value was loaded into a truck and moved.

Who would be suspicious?  We were doing just that the day before.

To make matters worse, both my wife and I had offices in the old house.  We were planning to continue working out of there until we had Internet service at our new place, which wouldn’t be connected until January 4th.  This means that in addition to our bicycles and lawnmower, they got our laptops, my desktop and studio recording gear, my wife’s collection of purses and her winter coat, and a stack of the last records I had not moved yet.  In total, it was about $6000 worth of stuff that was stolen.  Someone’s Christmas present to themselves, probably snorted  before the week was out.

One of the hardest things to do (at first) was come to terms with what was stolen.  It was hard to remember, at first.  With each new corner turned, we found something else that was gone, something else that they took.  And we still haven’t unpacked from the move.  Who knows what else we’ll find missing, when all is said and done, when we can no longer use that as an excuse.  How do you look for things that are missing?  How do you notice what isn’t there?

While we are not quite over what had happened, the immediate shock has faded.  And we’ve come to accept what is gone, in a way.  But when I think about what we lost, the thing that is most frustrating is the pile of records they stole.  It was an assortment of recently heard and recently acquired stuff, plus a few things that had not been filed when it came time to pack.  I had less than 20 records in that pile, maybe more, maybe less.  I was gonna use some for my radio show, but on the whole it was just stuff I was looking forward to, things on my mind just before the break-in.

This isn’t a complete list, nor is it the most valuable or the most precious.  These are just the things I remember that were in that pile, and stuff I wish I still had.  Much of this stuff came from Dimple Records, a place I visited just before we began to pack.  (Thanks Dad & Mernie!)  It seems important to Eulogize these albums.  It’s likely they never found a home, never got sold, and wound up in some dumpster somewhere.  They deserve a proper burial, a goodbye to music that will go unappreciated.

r-1714176-1371418561-6500-jpeg10.) Mink Deville & Coup de Grâce.

I really only knew “Spanish Stroll” by Mink DeVille, but for a steal, I decided to check them out.  My wife and I listened to these, and we actually enjoyed them a lot.  I was really looking forward to enjoying them, too.  Now some junky probably threw them away when it turned out that they weren’t particularly valuable.

r-3051333-1330157378-jpeg9.) The Essential Odetta

I picked this up based mostly on her reputation.  Odetta is a legend, and while I wasn’t familiar, I was looking forward to learning more.  This is probably typical for her career.  Overlooked and ignored, Odetta is tossed around by people who could not care, and when in the hands of a fan, is never given a chance to be appreciated.  Poor Odetta.  You didn’t deserve this, at all.

r-9410906-1480127249-9701-jpeg8.) Strung Out In Heaven – Amanda Palmer’s Prince / David Bowie Covers

Here’s the real tragedy: we had gone to the record store day sale, not only to get some stuff for me, but for my wife.  She specifically wanted this, and we got it, excited to support the cause, and hear the tracks that were getting a lot of play because of the recent losses to the music world.  These assholes don’t realize how much the music world is suffering.  Instead, they want a quick score, and even though I can hear this album anywhere online at any time, that is not the point.  This one was completely unopened.  Pristine.  And now, completely destroyed, ruined by nameless assholes who will never care.

r-426453-1345758734-2982-jpeg7.) Negativland

In the year 2000 I heard that my favorite band – Negativland – was running low on vinyl copies of their albums, and that they would be selling CDs after the LPs sold out.  I immediately ordered a copy of their first album, and got a nice hand-written letter back.  The album came with a custom made cover, a collage assembled by the band members.  I ordered another, but by then the LPs were gone, and got CDs for their remaining albums.  I loved that album, and listened to it often.  It sounds good anywhere, anytime, and I just wish the junkies had taken the time to listen, and get to know the album.  It is well worth it, no matter what your interests are.

r-2786259-1300986342-jpeg6.) The History of Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys

Bob Wills is great, but there isn’t anything special about this record.  It is older than me, and it has a lot of hits.  But I love it mostly because it belonged to my Grandmother, who has passed.  You will never love that album as much as I loved her.  What dicks.

r-4963807-1456357193-3964-jpeg5.) The Popeye Soundtrack

I already have an original copy of this record, but I decided to pick up the Record Store Day reissue because there is no other movie that can make me cry faster than Popeye, and the soundtrack is no exception.  I’m not as mad about this, because I’m sure even the bonus tracks are easy enough to find.  But this was unopened.  And, to be honest, this is probably the most personal attack of the bunch.  You don’t care about these songs like I do, like my family does.  How dare you.  That record is too good to be treated like that.

r-2104259-1397069851-4880-jpeg4.) Cast Your Fate To The Wind by The Vince Guaraldi Trio

I’m trying to imagine these junkies putting this album on.  Do they know who Vince Guaraldi is?  Could they connect with the music of Black Orpheus?  What would they get out of it?  Would they enjoy it?  Do they understand the journey into the underworld that they have taken?  Would I have enjoyed this album?  Do I enjoy the irony?  Who can say…

r-725536-1363189912-8068-jpeg3.) You Broke My Heart In 17 Places by Tracey Ulman.

They probably broke this album in 17 pieces.

r-5351726-1447962608-6617-png2.) 1947 – Helen Hume

I took a chance on this record because of the price and because it seemed like a good bet that it was good.  And it probably is, but that’s not the point.  I had entirely forgotten I’d bought this album until I saw a picture of it that I’d taken, just after I purchased it.  Part of me feels bad; I didn’t even remember that it was gone.  That’s awful of me.  How many albums do I have that I neglect in some way, that needs attention that I can’t even remember?  The dangers of collecting?  Perhaps.  But I would have at least given this album a chance.  And they never would have.

r-3385142-1328338335-jpeg1.) 2 by Neung Phak

Probably the rarest and least-known of the bunch, this is most likely out of print, and not something you would find in Salem, at least not very easily.  I bought this record from Mark Gergis, when I saw his band Porest play in Portland.  This was one of two US performances for this artist, and I traveled out of town with a friend at night to see this show.  Mark, who had never met me, was really nice, and had no idea how much this night meant to me, had no idea how much I was looking forward to hearing this album.  He didn’t have to be nice to me.  Who was I to him?  And yet, I never got to hear this album before it was ripped off.  Mark, who heard about this, send me a digital copy, and for that I am eternally thankful.  But what did they see in this album?  In any of these albums, for that matter?

* * * * * *

There were more.  There will be more.  Forever this event will haunt me.  Every sound is a window breaking, every movement someone stealing our stuff.  Who knows if this will go away?  Who knows if I will get over these being stolen from me.  I can only say that there is a part of me that wishes they would listen.  That they sat down, and by the end, found something meaningful in those albums.

Because I sure did.

 

Sufian Abdullah

a1071247913_16Komodo Fried Chicken Blues * Sufian Abdullah * Music To Break Out of Jail By

From Peru we move to Ipoh, Malaysia, and the work of instrumentalist Sufian Abdullah.  While the location may change, the story of a lone musician honing his craft for years is universal, and Sufian spent his spare time in Ipoh playing guitar, over and over again, practicing riffs endlessly, perfecting chord changes, mastering solos.  Sufian’s story could have happened in any city in the world.  The only difference is that modern technology allows us to discover artists like this when, even 10 years ago, we would have never heard of a rock musician from Malaysia.  And, in a way, he is merely a voice in a sea of digital albums available across the web, one of hundreds that are all vying for attention and your appreciation.  Without having a friend clue me into this record, I probably would never have found it.  

Fortunately for me, I did.  

Music To Break Out of Jail By is a collection of tunes that are all born out of blues-based rock music.  Everything is in that Black Sabbath style vein, with a trace of eastern musicality and form.  This western influence on the guitar playing of Sufian is clearly his attempt to break out of the expectation that someone from Malaysia would carry in their musical work.  Stuff like the Nirvana cover, “School,” – a droney, extended jam on the riff that veers into doomy territory – illustrates that Sufian is not only skilled, but a connoisseur of guitar, and that includes music from home as well as from all over the world, too.  For western audiences, an album like this embodies a similar kind of transition: I recognize the blues progressions, but the format is helping me see this music in a new way that I would have never imagined.  

As the story goes, Sufian Abdullah practiced guitar for years at home, playing along to all his favorite punk and metal records.  This was mostly a hobby to him, and he took to it like some kids take to video games, relentlessly practicing until he had a huge repertoire of songs he could play upon request.  However, it wasn’t until home recording was as easy as getting a laptop with GarageBand on it that Sufian even considered making an album.  Made almost entirely by himself, this is a fantastic first effort, and even if this is Abdullah’s only release, it’s a great statement about music in general.  

I also enjoy the fact that “Komodo Fried Chicken Blues” contains every imaginable rock and roll cliche in a new and intimidating form, and thus, is perfectly suited for Chickenman.     

Bait & Switch 78s

12.) The Down Home Boys / Original Stack O’ Lee Blues * Little Harvey Hull / Long “Cleve” Reed * The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

hull1Along with lone mavericks like Lee de Forest and his friends were collectors, people who spent their time reading about and purchasing rare records.  For these folks, a unknown 78 was just as important as the legendary statue that Bogart was talking about when he uttered the phrase that became title of this compilation. But there’s an irony to its use in the movie that the people behind this compilation probably shouldn’t have allowed to be associated with their album: the falcon, of course, was a fake, and Sam Spade delivered the line ironically when a cop asked what the fake statue was all about.

The plot thickens, as The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of claims to contain “previously unissued” recordings of music from the 20s and 30s, an allegation that ironically didn’t pan out too well for Yazoo Records in the long run, though in the wake of O Brother Where Art Thou? becoming a global phenomenon, netted them a few dollars. While the pairing of R. Crumb artwork with Richard Nevins liner notes is supposed to drive home the authenticity of these songs, among collectors it is clear that a few of these cuts have made their way to the public before, and perhaps only a handful were “unissued” in any meaningful sense of that word. The claim that some are mastered from unheard test pressings seems, at this late date, to be incredibly unlikely, but nonetheless, The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of persists as a collection for beginners.

Keep in mind, this was 2006, and the Inter-Web-A-Tron wasn’t as comprehensive as it has become. Old Timey Music was starting to become incredibly popular among the NPR crowd, no longer the realm of people who lived and breathed these recordings. But for new fans, you couldn’t just Lycos “Little Harvey Hull” any easier than you can now, and even still, the information is spotty. Without the deep knowledge of these collectors helping guide you in this largely forgotten world, it is easy enough to end up like Kasper Gutman and Wilmer, tricked by something that looks and sounds like the original, but is not. This does not mean that the fake has no value; in the case of The Maltese Falcon, prop collectors now shell out insane amounts of cash to own a replica that was meant to represent a fake. In the case of this collection, at least there is some great music on it, and the value of a good song – even one you’ve heard before – cannot be underestimated.

Starting here I begin my run of Lee de Forest songs, one of the bit-players in the story of Radio. This original tune has origins that lie in the deep forgotten past, but the “Stack ‘o’ Lee Blues” has taken a number of forms, contemporaneously to the release of this recording, as well as in the misheard forms of “Stagger Lee” in the years since. The beauty of these tunes is that they are reinterpreted by artists endlessly, creating a sort of ‘Song For Any Occasion.’ Considering that both the Lee of this song and Lee de Forest himself shared some of the same qualities, it not only seemed appropriate, but essential.

Electricity Runs Through It

tumblr_my4w4oi4w51qbggpuo2_128002.) Tremens * Sonic Youth * SYR 1

The incidental music for this episode is “Tremens.”  Not only are Sonic Youth the musical heirs to the Captain’s throne of art-rock aspirations, they heartily acknowledge this indebtedness in their own rendition of “Electricity” on a fantastic Beefheart tribute record.  “Tremens” holds quite a bit of significance for me, personally.  I began my stint on radio when the SYR series began, and I listened to them as I was learning the ropes.  This track is featured in an early episode of my program, too.  But the title gets at the thesis statement problem too: in order to get us to a place where we can understand the transformative effects electricity has had on music, we may suffer the the aural DTs as we travel back to the acoustic era of recording.   

41RTQQZQ8VL03.) Two Golden Microphones * Nurse With Wound * Second Pirate Session

I also use a chunk of “Two Golden Microphones” not only because microphones themselves are such a large part of the narrative, and were the innovation that allowed music to evolve out of the acoustic era of recording, and into the electric era of recordings, but to further acknowledge that Nurse With Wound are the true pioneers of the cut-and-paste music aesthetic.  In fact, between them and Negativland – the DNA of which should be apparently audible in nearly everything I’ve done – I would have no other schtick to stand on.  So for that, thank you.

Annex - Crosby, Bing_0804.) The Very Thought Of You * Bing Crosby & Georgie Stoll

From here on the musical selections are slightly less symbolic and much more literal, though I do hope that these can work on at least two levels as well.  Bing Crosby was chosen only because he is a perfect example of the kind of artist that could only have a career post-microphone.  His voice is very well suited for an intimate performance, where we is really singing at a quiet and personal way, something that couldn’t be done in the era of acoustic recording.

amberol05.) Menuett G flat major & Valse bleat * Beethoven (Kathllen Parlow – violin; George Falkensten – piano) * Edison Amberol 4M-28026 (1912)

There is something incredibly charming about being able to listen to Beethoven while you wash dishes, but for this I decided that I should find an actual Edison Cylinder recording, because I knew I could actually take the extra step.  As this song is in mono, it adds another level of simplicity to the program.  There are a number of places online that you can find wax cylinders, and I do very much love listening to these .mp3 transfers of a 100+ year old record for the disjoinedness of it.  Therefore, I encourage you to go to The Thomas Edison section of The National Parks website, and download some archived recordings of Edison Cylinders.  It’s a lot of fun, and they are all really weird.

9757348_106.) Aria from Massanet’s “Le Cid”: O Souverain, O Juge, O Pere * Enrico Caruso * 1916

Something that is lost on audiences 100 years later is the absolute star power of an artist with a name of which you have never heard.  Enrico Caruso released more records in his lifetime than most tenors could ever imagine being featured on, and was the opera singer of his time.  He packed houses across two continents, and critics have spoken so passionately about the sound of his voice that there are some schools who have annual competitions by students who eager to take a shot at describing Caruso’s vocal performances.  If you don’t go that deep into opera, then there’s no reason you would be able to recognize the caliber of his performances, and since the last time Caruso was popular in the US was 100 years ago (and I’m not kidding, it has been that long, precisely), I’m not surprised you don’t know who he is.  I only came across his music when I started listening to The Ragged Antique Phonograph Music Program, and even then I can only really say I know of him.

Plus, opera ain’t really my bag.  But, as a key player in the early days of recording music, Caruso is a perfect example – unlike Bing – of being able to perform for the acoustic era.  It is said that his voice loved the horn, and he could belt out a tune the way no one else could.  It is no wonder he recorded over 250 times in his career; the dude could sing.

top-pic207.) After Dinner Toast at Little Menlo * Arthur Sullivan * ENHS E-2439-7 (5 October 1888)
08.) The Lost Chord * (performers unknown) / composted by Arthur Sulivan * ENHS E-2440-3 (August 1888)

Various corners of the Inter-Web-A-Tron can reveal some incredible things, so here’s something fun I turned up as I was researching this episode: a recording of Arthur Sullivan from 1888 talking about being “thrilled and terrified” by Edison’s invention.  Hopefully you have the kind of ear that can dig through the grooves on this one and really “grok” what he’s saying, but the gist of it is something that I think is at the heart of the central conversation about recorded music: the old generation is excited and annoyed by the next generation all at once.  It was just too perfect, not only as an artifact, but as a way of framing how long this generation to generation conversation has been going since the beginning.  Edison’s later resistance to electric recording technology, then finally giving in and embracing it far too late, is entirely foreshadowed, symbolically.

images-artists-Billy_Murray_-_2009113014512480.w_290.h_290.m_crop.a_center.v_top09.) Alexander’s Ragtime Band * Billy Murray * EDIS 36065 (1911)

Caruso might have been the opera equivalent of a rock star, but Billy Murray has often been referred to as the Elvis of his time, mostly in the sense that Murray was known by everyone.  Unfortunately, he was considered a novelty for most of his career, which spanned almost 45 years across two centuries.  Unquestioningly the biggest household name of the 1900s and 1910s, he sang vaudevillian ballads and novelty songs, and for nearly 20 years made a living touring and singing to people all across the country.  His singing style is considered “conversational,” and people really connected with his everyman style, unconventional compared to other artists working the similar circuit.  While he continued to get work into the early ’40s, as electric recording techniques and jazz began to dominate the record industry, Murray had less and less star power.  In the acoustic era of recording, Billy was the biggest star America had ever known in popular music, and it wasn’t until Louis Armstrong or Frank Sinatra that someone as huge grabbed the American consciousness.  While his name is largely forgotten today, this is a sample of American Popular music at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Hopefully, as we continue with more History Lessons, we can see this style and format evolve.

 

The Lighthouse Beacon

electridonations beefheart01.) Electricity * Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band * Safe As Milk

For a story like this, how can you NOT pick Beefheart’s “Electricity” to kick-start this mother, huh?  If the thesis statement runs along the lines of: electricity is to music as punk rock is to pop — then you really have to put your cards on the table up front, dig? And truly, “Electricity” was the lighthouse beacon straight ahead across black seas, a song that laid bare a new path that rock and roll could forge through the saccharine formula that was prevalent across the musical landscape in 1967.

Already in the years between the early and late 1950s the world has seen an incredible revolution in the form of rock ‘n’ roll, and the ’60s see a massive array of miniature musical revolutions to match, each setting the course for a wide number of new interpretations.  For Beefheart, it was the dirtiness of rock ‘n’ roll, it was the strangeness of The Blues (with a capital T & B) all mixed with this country shuffle, that really turned him on.  But Beefheart wanted to distort both the recording of his vocals specifically and the artform as a whole intellectually, to return the music to its raunchy & rebellious origins.  Ambitious?  Absolutely.  No small feat for any band of any era.  Beefheart’s deconstruction of the blues/rock jam is so perverted it just oozes with the grime that is unmistakably punk in spirit and form.  “Oh, they do it that way?  Well, we do it this way.”  There’s a sort of Troggs-y quality to the forward momentum and chord-progressions, true, but even that comparison only highlights the weirdness of the bass-line, a direct ancestor of the first Clash album, or some Ramones tunes.  This, in many ways, is the source of the infection, patient zero, at least of this particular strain.

The myths surrounding this number are, themselves, larger than life, and the most appropriate pieces of foreshadowing if ever there were any.  As it goes, Jerry Moss (the co-owner of Beefheart’s label) claimed the song was “too negative” for him to allow his daughter to hear it, leading to A&M Records dropping Beefheart.  It is also said that in an effort to get the gritty vocals, The Captain shattered a microphone during one take.  But the strangest legend of “Electricity” comes from one account of a legendary performance on 11 June 1967.  The Magic Band was slated to play on Day Two of The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, by all accounts the first true rock festival as they exist in the modern form.

By way of an all too appropriate tangent within a tangent within an annotation, it is interesting to note that the promoters (Tom Rounds and the staff at KFRC 610) were inspired by the success of The Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California, who were putting together these multi-stage, two-day events with music and artists and food and drinks, packaged together as a weekend of renaissance style fun.  They wanted to do a rock & roll / freeform radio version of their event, and out of this was born The Fantasy Fair, a less documented affair that happened a full week previous to The Monterey Pop Festival, and really kicked off The Summer of Love.

The Fantasy Fair was, for lack of a glamours way of putting it, trying to capitalize on the rise of Psychedelic Rock.  Sgt. Peppers had just come out, and everybody was talking about the San Francisco scene, which was already a few years old by then, and was was already being considered old news by the hipsters who were moving on to the slightly “harder” stuff that was happening in the underground “garage rock” scene of the late ’60’s.  KFRC figured they could squeeze a few dollars from these hippies and make a mark in a big way for freeform AM radio by covering the event.  Everybody wins.

They were, of course, 100% right.  While there were absolutely financial motivations, KFRC was also looking to reclaim rock and roll from the awful version that America was living with in those days.  The early ’60’s had seen the rise of the disdainfully named “bubble gum” craze, called such not only for the association that the music was for children, but for the added insult that the music was also quickly flavorless, and ultimately disposable.  The Pat Boone-ification of these baby-faced teen idols led to a very bland format, which at the time was parading as “rock and roll.”  A lot of people remembered how exciting it was to hear Little Richard on the radio, and were not getting the same vibe from Paul Anka.  At least with the scene at The Fillmore, it could be said to be about, and for, adults who liked to rock, and who remembered that rock and roll used to be fierce and seedy, and fun.  The Rock Festival, as an artistic statement, was to draw a line in the sand and say, “over here, we try to expand our minds like real adults.”

Were we ever so naive?

The line-up at The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Festival is a veritable who’s who of late ’60’s rock bands: The Doors, Canned Heat, Chocolate Watch Band, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, Tim Buckley, The Fifth Dimension.  It is in this insane time and place where Captain Beefheart performed his greatest version of “Electricity.”  Here’s the scoop: The Seeds has just laid waist to the audience, themselves already declaring so-called “psychedelic” rock to be bullshit they produced their own hard-driving sound that was pretty formidable for audiences who were there to see Tim Buckley, or had heard that, “Mr. Tambourine Man” cover and thought it was “pretty.”  The Doors had already begun to walk the darker side of rock music, and there was a small but dedicated group of folks who were exploring things that were new and different.  The Magic Band sets up, trying to find a way to follow the propulsive set The Seeds had just offered.  The crowd is ravenous.  They are ready to rock.  Time freezes.  You can hear the sound of a pin dropping amplified through stage speakers.

The Magic Band winds up, rears back, and lurches forward.  “Electricity” issues forth to a slightly perplexed crowd.  They don’t know what to make of it.  A few are just loaded, so they start to dance.  Others just watch.  Several wander off.  One person is turned away slightly, eating.  But most are trying to get into it, trying to figure it out.  This whole weekend has been about something new, and they are eager.  This song is a little shaky on the landing.  Perhaps not the best song to open with, but Beefheart insisted.  If they could just get to their next tune, “Diddy Wah Diddy,” which has been a bit of a hit when it came out and got a ton of radio play, perhaps they could win–

Beefheart signals, and the band lurches to a halt.  They’re confused.  What happened?  The audience is stunned.  They really don’t know what to make of the situation.  Beefheart silently straightened his tie, and pointed to a girl in the crowd.  Off mic he says, “she has turned into a goldfish.”  Silence, quieter than before.  Beefheart walks toward the girl, right off the front of the stage, pitching up face first in the mud and grass below.  “That’s it!” yells Ry Cooder.  “I have had it with your pretentious unpredictable bullshit, Don!”  Cooder walks off stage, and out of The Magic Band forever.  As Cooder leaves The Captain – still face down – signals again, and the band picks up the song (as best they could, sans one guitar), as if nothing had happened.  As the show went on, you could see Beefheart smiling through the grass stains on his face.

The Seeds claimed it was the best performance they had every seen anywhere, and they should know, as they caught the whole thing from the side as they shared a joint.

Fuck the Summer of Love.  This festival was the beginning of Punk Rock.

On & On & WAY UP.

01.) Turn It On * The Flaming Lips * Transmissions From The Satellite Heart
02.) Excerpt Part I * Ben Brooks * The First 50 Years of Radio Part One
03.) Edited Excerpts * Mike Staff * How To Become A Radio DJ

flaming-lipsIt’s easy to defend The Flaming Lips when they put out a great album, and have a hit song like, “Do You Realize?” and everyone is excited about festival concerts and the extreme production value they bring to their shows. But the cruel eye of hindsight is not so kind to them at times.  While their output is treasured by hardcore fans, they become increasingly panned as the flops start to add up.  This particular era of the band – we’ll call it the “Don’t Use Jelly” years – was not their strongest, to be perfectly frank. They had not yet written Clouds Taste Metallic, and where quite a long way off from The Soft Bulletin. In many ways they have become a bit of a cut-out-bin band, a novelty act that puts out Zaireeka (an album where you listen to all four discs simultaneously), or their absurd “7 Skies H3” (a 24 Hour Long Song), not to mention the song-for-song cover of Dark Side of The Moon, and “Christmas On Mars,” a holiday movie that is as inscrutable as it is terrifying. I can see why some people find them a problematic start to any story.

I don’t want to argue about their relevance or importance; I don’t want to claim that they are essential or a must for any smart psychedelic music fan; I don’t even want to convince you that you need to own or listen to anything else by them.

I just want to ask: have you ever heard anything as uplifting and strangely funny as “Turn It On” with these Mike Staff samples?

I gotta say, it’s better than it should be.

Now that you’re reconsidering The Flaming Lips, let’s get into it for a bit. I can’t change your mind, but they began to click for me when I had a better understanding when I considered the time and place.  Mid-West in the early ’80’s, where the rules of punk rock were trying to set fire to the entire pre-history before The Ramones. Punk insisted that the bullshit excess of rock music from the ’60’s was completely valueless, and that only when we get loud and fast do we break out of the norms that had become “standard practice”. The past had nothing to teach us, and in the name of punk, we could only look forward to getting drunk and fucking shit up. The loudfastfuckyounow of punk awoke in their fans a rigidity of thought and uniform, behavior and musical ethos. Its narrowmindedness is often better summarized as a rejection of everything else rather than an articulate analysis of what they didn’t like about… well, anything.

The Flaming Lips understood that punk rock was due for an infusion of something new to save it: psychedelic rock. The story of punk had, ironically, been paved when rock & roll discovered psychedelia, spinning out of it a million permutations on a similar three-chord idea. Punk was a revolution, to be sure, but was insular and defined by negation, following a narrow aesthetic ideology. It had stagnated without anything new to expand it, and the fascistic denouement of all other things became a hinderance. The Flaming Lips never planned to create psychedelic punk per se, and even still, The Butthole Surfers beat them to the punch. But the Lips were such students of psychedelic rock and punk that their ideology was equally in those two worlds. In essence, the heart of the Flaming Lips is their curiosity about music in these varied forms and structures, and they have dedicated their lives to it.

Their early work borders on avant guarde, as the band is clearly still learning how to be a band. But after a handful of albums like this, a thread starts to emerge, and they get good at playing and writing songs. As the ’80’s closed, The Lips were a fairly strong band that could get a crowd, keep ’em, and put on a fun show the whole time. As the ’90’s began, they released records when everyone was watching for the next big alternative act. In the wake of this, Transmissions From The Satellite Heart hit stores, an album that not only summarized their sci-fi / earnest aesthetic in a nutshell, but wove a radio metaphor into the very fabric of their music, specifically the album opener, “Turn It On.”

If a mainstream band wore their heart on their sleeve more in the ’90s than The Lips, I’m hard pressed to name them at this time. “Put your life into a bubble / we can pick you up on radar / hit a satellite with feeling / Give the people what they paid for.” They have chosen this life, have dedicated themselves to being artists on display for us. We, as listeners, have a chance to pick up the signal they are sending, and fortunately for us they are the kind of band who will “hit” us with a feeling that is as real as possible. For the Lips, there is no better experience than that of celebration, or raising your voice to sing along to a song you hear on the radio, to Turn It On and On and WAY UP, and share that moment across the country at the same time and moment connecting us all in a positive expression of loving a simple rock and roll song.

How cool is that?

You can see that thread throughout all their work: this idea of sharing a celebratory feeling with a large number of people to create a magical moment, even a sad one, or a mundane one, and share that feeling through these transmissions, these records and songs The Lips have been making for almost 40 years now. Their perspective is so much a radio metaphor that, while it might seem crazy at first, they are the perfect band to kick off any story about radio.

This particular mix – with the Mike Staff Samples – comes from another audio essay I made in 2009, “A Sound Salvation.” I was rummaging through the library and came across this self-help tape by a NuRock style DJ, Mike Staff, who was going to reveal his tips for those who wanted to become successful professional DJs. This tape was perfect to mix with songs about radio and DJs, and the show wrote itself. While I don’t usually like to listen to individual songs from a show like this one (as I think the show works great as a whole), there is something about the way the mix during “Turn It On” worked that really sounds good to me. Mike Staff is over the top and full of himself, but his voice has that tone that makes you want to believe what he’s saying. And, for all his cheese, he makes a good point: Your Dream is Important to you, and can guide you if you will let it.

Yma Súmac

enlargementChicken Talk * Yma Súmac * Mambo!

After a while, all the stories people tell about the music world start to sound the same.  This white guy started working at this studio and the artists they found were great.  This guy started writing songs with his friends and they became famous.  It’s all so formulaic that it starts to get a little boring, and you start to mix all those white guys into one amorphous nerd who is hunched over some guitar or studio for way too long.  So even the existence of Yma Súmac, the Peruvian Princess descended from the last sovereign ruler of the Incan Empire, Atahualpa, is a joy to discover in a world of white sameness.  

Born in 1922, when she was 20, Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo took the name Yma Súmac, and began performing with her incredible five octave range to stunned audiences.  Recording a grip of songs in Argentina at a radio station in 1942, she parlayed these recordings into a deal with a local label, which garnered her popularity locally, making her the most in-demand act around.  But Yma had bigger plans: America.  

She married a composer, and together they set out for NYC in 1946, performing around town in local clubs as a trio, with her cousin rounding out the group.  Four years of gigging started to build their reputation, and the reputation of her incredible range was enough to make Yma an important act to be seen in the early ’50’s for anyone hip.  Capitol Records finally came calling and signed her, thinking that she would make a good pair with this other kook they had, Les Baxter.  And, in a rare turn of events, someone at a Record Label was right.  Together they made her first album, Voice of the Xtabay, which not only introduced America to a new form of music, referred to as Exotica, but introduced the World to her incredible talents.  

yma-460_1106885aHer fame was instantaneous.  She performed at incredible venues: The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, The Royal Albert Hall, The Roxy Theater, Las Vegas nightclubs, The Mikado Theater in Japan.  She landed roles in film and on broadway.  She toured South America, Europe and Africa, performed for The Queen of England, and did shows with Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and Marlene Dietrich, where they opened for her.  

She was, after all, an Incan Princess, a fact that was supported by the Peruvian government in press releases, no less!  Her record contract was immediately lengthened, and she continued to belt out records that spoke to the Tiki zeitgeist that was moving through the country at the time, during the golden age of velvet paintings and mixology.  She was the perfect combination of sex and chanteuse, a beautiful and delicate bird that would sing songs that were so fantastic that it would send chills down your spine, and make you couldn’t help but dance.  

While her husband was always there for her, initially Capital didn’t want him composing the work Yma released, which was a pity because when he was finally given that chance in 1954, it was clear that the resulting record – Mambo! – was one of the high water marks of her career.  It was the perfect balance of traditional music with a US perspective, and embraced the current fads of mambo and exotica in a way other, whiter artists were unable to grasp.  “Chicken Talk,” while not being particularly about chickens, is like much of the music on that album: Yma sings using her incredible range, with incredibly hip and danceable music backing her along the way.  

This lifestyle worked perfectly for Yma, and straight through to 1961 she toured extensively, and released seven fantastic records.  The years were not great to her career in the end.  As the sixties began to be dominated by rock music, exotica lost sway among music fans, and she spent much of the rest of her life in and out of vogue, depending on the trend of the moment.  She would perform here and there, and even put out a couple of albums when nostalgia began to grip the culture, but it was clear that The Princess was ready to retire, letting new divas take the stage and the throne, for better or for worse.  

In a way, she had conquered the world for a brief period of time, had traveled through most of it and had surveyed her people and their customs, and having ruled it as well as she could, it was time for her to retire to her mansion in LA, always a princess, and to this day, the woman with the biggest range in history.  

When’s THAT movie coming out?