Baron Dave Romm's Recommended Music Page 2

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Page 2 of archived music reviews originally run on Bartcop-E.
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Alan Lomax

An Appreciation

Without Alan Lomax, the world would be a poorer place. Quieter. Less tuneful. He never wrote a song and didn't perform them, but because of him we have Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jelly Roll Morton and many others. They were making music before they met Lomax, but he first recorded some of them and gave others their big break and gave still others the connections to their big break. Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight), Goodnight Irene, So Long It's Been Good To Know Ya', On Top Of Old Smokey... Would you have heard any of these songs without the efforts of Alan Lomax? Hard to say, but fortunately we don't have to.

He started working with his father, John Lomax, in the early 30s recording music for the Libray of Congress. He died on July 19, 2002 at the age of 87. In between, he hosted radio and tv shows, produced records and went into the rural areas of dozens of countries to tape musicians on their home territory. Most famous in the US for his recordings in this country, his travels took him to Haiti, the Bahamas, England, Spain and the Hindu community in Trinidad. He was a passionate believer in Cultural Equity, and interactive digital media. The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) was chartered in New York in 1985 to "dissiminate folk traditions from around the world". In other words, to hear music from all over.

The Alan Lomax Collection on Rounder Records is a 150 CD collection of folk music and narrative drawn from his lifetime of recording. Fortunately, you don't have to get all of them all at once. Rounder has reissues of disks broken down into CDs and sets. Perhaps a good start is a collection from his radio show in 1944. Memphisguide has a few of his recordings in Real Audio if you just want to sample. The Oh Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack has a couple of his recordings. Wired gets into the act with a short 1998 article entitled Alan Lomax Maps Our Musical Genome, which mentions the Global Jukebox, a project to pull together 4,000 songs and 1,000 dances at ACE's location in Hunter College in NYC.

It is difficult to overestimate the influence Alan Lomax had on Western music. While it's speculation to say who would or wouldn't have produced a piece of music, people who either directly credit Lomax's efforts or cite the people he introduced to the world as influences range from Pete Seeger to the Beatles to the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan to Brian Eno to Moby (see last paragraph) and so on into today's Worldbeat, Rap and Hip-Hop . They Might Be Giant's song The Guitar has a chorus that derives from The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Rappers sample his recordings; movies use them. The music he spent more than 50 years recording and presenting to the world is alive today.

Thank you, Alan Lomax.


Spoken Word I

Chanting and Word Jazz

Oral tradition preceeds written tradition by thousands of years. Poetry was originally designed to be chanted rather than read. The art of speaking and the art of telling a story were one and the same. Only later did they split off, with Aristotle describing what made good fiction in The Poetics and what made good speaking in Rhetoric. This tradition developed into many branches. Plays, storytelling, music, speeches. At it's best, oral tradition produces marvelous speeches, great storytelling, stand-up comedy, brilliant music. At it's most cynical it produces hate radio, televangelists, corporate lawyers, commercials. I cannot cover the entire field or even a significant fraction of it, but I'll try to pick a few CDs split into manageable topics.

Poetry was originally designed to be sung. Poems rhymed to make them easier to remember. Sometimes they were sung unaccompanied: A Cappella means in the manner of chapel. Singing brings you closer to God, and so the Christian Church tried to ban outside music, some intervals (!) and even instruments in the Middle Ages. It helped even more if the chanting had a tune; simple yet pleasant and uplifting. Even today, a cappella religious chanting holds a fascination for Western culture even if we don't understand what the words are saying. The success of Chant by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silow (and others, later, including the parody Chantmania reviewed earlier), demonstrates the power of the chanting itself. Devout and sincere, the chanting monks get their message across without relying on the language.

Ken Nordine has been producing Word Jazz since the 1950s. I have The Best of Word Jazz, Vol 1 CD, which I play on the air as often as I can, but you can hear the first dozen or so of his radio shows on his site. Nordine is a storyteller, heir to religious prophets, using the technology of today. Where Beat Poets are to be heard live, Ken Nordine is to be heard in recording. The jazz music backgrounds are part of the experience. (Okay, maybe it would be good live too...). On the Word Jazz CD, he tells surrealistic, powerful stories with a strong forceful expressive voice and cool jazz music bed. He explores modern existential themes. Confessions of 349-18-5171 is all about identity. Faces of the Jazzamatazz are different images of the Jazz Age. Time, paranoia, marketing, and thinking in the bath are explored. Perhaps an aquired taste, but one worth acquiring. Ken Nordine doesn't stray too far from several mainstream traditions, but his instantly recognizeable voice, cool music and Beat prose poetry combine for a unique and unmistakeable form. Let the storytelling wash over you. (His website is kinda cool, in the "cool jazz" sense, too.)

More recently, Malarkey's Chameleon is sort an attempt at the Tommy of spoken word CDs: Several related spoken word pieces that tell fragments of a larger story, with music backgrounds. A lot of it works, though it doesn't get to the ecstatic purity of Chant or the sharp images drawn by Word Jazz. The eclectic music is pretty good, and the story is science fiction. My favorite cut is Jigsaw Man, funk about organ transplants. Chameleon tells a dark story about a guy who can change identities and while this keeps the authories at bay, it means he has no place in the world. The extistential anomie explored in a few Ken Nordine cuts reaches worldbeat proportions here. The music is more important as music than as background to storytelling, but that too adds to the imagery.


Spoken Word 2

Lord Buckley and oral storytelling

Lord Buckley straddles that blurry line between Beat Poet and standup comedian. Much has been written about him since his death in 1960, but nothing really substitutes for hearing him. Whether he's translating the Gettysburg Address into Hipster or riffing on Jesus, his uncanny ear for language mixes with his unmistakable voice and his unorthodox subject matter to transport you to a time of smoke filled coffee houses and finger snapping audiences. He has three CDs out (of which I have two and have heard the third) and other recordings are available. The best CD (to my post-punk ears) is His Royal Hipness. (The cdnow.com track listing has samplers.) It has my three favorite of his routines: Gettysburg Address (where he translates Lincoln's speech to Hipster), The Hip Gan (about Gandhi) and Cabenza de Gasca, The Gasser, about a voyager from the Old World, pre-Columbus, who travels to what is now the US but is stranded here and spends his life wandering around the country. (I have been unable to confirm if this is a true story or not.) These are not comedy routines and though there is a lightness to the presentation the subjects are treated with respect and even reverence.

Perhaps Lord Buckley can be seen as an interpreter, where Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg wrote original poetry. Perhaps Lord Buckley can be heard as a raw prose flip side to the slick jazz readings of Ken Nordine. Perhaps Lord Buckley can be felt as a presence in the stand-up community as much as Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Robin Williams. Perhaps he was just a hard-livin' guy who found a style that suited him and entertained others. Listening to Lord Buckley will change how you view the world. And that's the ultimate compliment.

Mark Bernstein also straddles two genres: Filk and oral storytelling. He tells stories at and about science fiction, or at least of interest to science fiction fans. I couldn't find a direct web site for him, but you can read one of his pieces and find ordering information here. His tape Tusks Are Optional is straight storytelling: No music, no interpretation. Well, maybe a little interpretation: A Heif Bristory of Fi-Sci is a spoonerism-filled history that owes much to (and he credits) the Lirty Dies routines of Capitol Steps. Also fun is his reading of Mark Evanier's "Tusks Are Optional" story about his work as a tv producer. (Evanier is one of the more entertaining writers around.)

Oral history is often a combination of recounting the experiences of a long life combined with the music of those times. This combination is nicely explored in the Smithsonian Folkway's CD Here I Stand: Elders' Wisdom, Children's Song that records the voices of rural Alabama and the songs the children have written based on what they've heard. While the adults talk about being a coal miner or their first radio, the children sing of religion and slavery. Recorded in 1995, it's one of the last chances to get impressions of the Great Depression and to hear how those lives get passed down to the children. It comes with a nice booklet with all the words.

"People are like flowers. It's been a priviledge pollinating here in your garden." -- Lord Buckley (as quoted by Robin Williams)


The Bush Backlash

Hail to the Thief and union songs

George W. Bush has the morals of a televangelist without the oratorical skills. As long as he's preaching to the choir, his bumbling and stumbling sermons get polite applause and church bulletins print nice things about him. No one else is fooled. One of the great things about political satire from the center/left is that I can play them on the radio. What passes for conservative political commentary is rude, scatological and ad hominem; language unfit to play on the airwaves as restricted by Jesse Helms and co. While the left is not above the well-placed personal insult, there's usually substance behind it, and often a specific remedy beyond knee-jerk buzzwords. My prediction (you heard it here first) is that the Bush administration will give rise to a new unionization movement. The workers who got shafted by Enron, Worldcom, etc. would still be out of a job -- if the company goes bankrupt, there is no work -- but a strong union would have helped prevent the loss of savings, protected severance pay and been the legal entity to sue the execs who cashed out leaving workers with nothing. Indeed, I predict that the new unions will want to be able to see the books of the company. Republicans are against trial lawyers because their arguments lose in a fair hearing. A union would provide necessary balance and oversight (governance in econo-speak), which would increase the value of the company.

I was therefore tickled pink to find the two strains together in the form of George Mann and Julius Margolin's Hail To The Thief. Buzzflash has been offering the CD as a premium for a while, and rightly so! The CD strikes the right political chords with well-chosen knocks on Bushisms and the stolen election with some well-crafted music. If anything, they're too nice, but the CD was pre-9/11 (I suspect) and the real criminal negligence of Bush and Cheney hadn't come to light. Still, it's fun and only a little cruel. The title song, Hail to the Thief, is a nifty short version of Hail to the Chief played on kazoo and saw. (The saw keeps sounding like a theremin to me; it's played well.) My favorite cuts are It's Hard To Put Food On Your Family, about Bushisms (and only a few of the early ones) and I'm George W., to the tune of Oh Suzanna, "I'm George W., don't you cry for me, I've come all the way from Texas, just as dumb as I can be." This would be funnier if the issues weren't so important. The most serious, heavy-handed but ultimately damning song is The Whitewash, drawing a comparison between the lynching of an innocent black man a hundred years ago to the denying of votes to minorities by Katherine Harris in the 2000 elections. Also on the CD are songs about Corporate Welfare, a hidden track with the chant "three more years", a spiritual and several songs about unions.

George and Julius' Wobbly roots are more directly evident on Miles To Go Before We Sleep. Julius lived through the Depression (caused when a dumb Republican president and GOP controlled House and Senate ignored with the economy while it was collapsing, they made things far worse and... never mind...) and his memories form the introduction to We Demand a Living Wage. With friends of age 82, Julius urges Don't Let Age Get You Down while nearly getting run over by a bicycle followed by a rollerblader leads to A Pedestrian's Lament. Being a computer guy, I like Somebody Robbed the Pension Plan, to the tune of Somebody Robbed the Glendale Train, about IBM's trying to screw their workers in 1999. I'm pleased that folkies know who Tom Watson was. They do nice updated versions of Hobo's Lullaby and We Shall Not Be Moved/This Little Light of Mine. Folk, rock, country and a cause they believe in raises the energy of Woody Guthrie's Union Burying Ground to anthem level.

Ewan McColl died in 1989, but his influence is still being felt. He was a union man all the way, even to the point of being anti-technology in My Old Man. People worked for their bread, and it was good. Black and White, The Definitive Ewan McColl Collection, with several duets with his wife Peggy Seeger, has the songs that became hits (The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Dirty Old Town) as well as a bunch of others, 20 in all. (You can order it and hear samples here. His working-class background and distrust of those who would deny work pop out in Ballad of Accounting, My Old Man, Black and White, The Press Gang, Nobody Knew She Was There, Looking for A Job, and so on. Maggie Thatcher may have tamped the unions in the UK, but their spirit (and the reason why they were formed in the first place) has never died.

George W. Bush's dismal failure as a leader and hostility to labor unions is already drawing parallels with Hoover, and if the consequences are the same then the solutions will be similar. While I don't see anyone of FDR's stature on the horizon, one may have to rise to the job.

Aside: My favorite current Bushism, to quote from the second page of this report (7/11/02): Making the London rounds is the anecdote of a bemused Tony Blair hearing George W. Bush's simple explanation for France's economic decline. In this account of an aside at a recent summit, Bush told Blair that "the French trouble is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur."

Shockwave Distribution CDs

Science Fiction Humor

Suddenly, I've been doing these recommendations for six months. Actually, the anniversary was a couple of weeks ago and since I started off doing several a week, the last time would have been Recommendation #42, which would have been nice. But I missed it. Still, please indulge me this go 'round. I'm going to talk about my CDs.

Shockwave Radio, Science Fiction/Science Fact, the only tactile radio program in the galaxy, is about to celebrate its 23rd Anniversary. Science fiction humor at it's finest. We're broadcast on a non-profit radio station, and anything I charge for CDs gets plowed back into the venture. Each CD individually burned and lovingly printed and assembled by yours truly. Mention Bartcop-E and I'll autograph it to you... but I digress...

For many years I made Shockwave Distribution Tapes. 60 and 90 minute cassettes of live performances, studio production and broadcast shows. I'll still make tapes, but at this point they're all Special Requests. Still, there is a lot of material that hasn't been digitized, and if you like the CDs, you may want to delve further into the show. Indeed, the first CD came about because I did the editing digitally with a cassette in mind... and realized that it was just as easy to burn a CD!

For the 20th Anniversary of Shockwave Radio in 1999, I interviewed Jesse Ventura. His job as Governor of Minnesota aside, I mainly wanted to talk about his science fiction movies (Predator, Abraxas, Batman and Robin, etc). He was very nice and I had a one-on-one chat with him (which is a story unto itself). After a while, the interview wandered off into dairy price supports and term limits. The beginning, dealing with science fiction, is on The 20 Year Free-Fall. The whole interview is still up on my audio page. (Self-flagellating nitpicker's note: I suffered much anguish over hyphenation, and got it wrong. After the CDs were released, two experts said that there should be a hyphen in "20-Year". Oh well. Wait for the 25-Year Free-Fall.)

Also on the 20th Anniversary Show was the first of the Shockwave Samplers. 15 minutes of various bits cobbled together in an interesting and amusing fashion (I hope). The samplers are not intended as straight comedy, but rather as a condensation of the various aspects of the show. Shockwave does a great deal of original programming, whether it's our own productions, interviews, reviews or commentary. We're not talk radio, and we don't exclusively play audio production; we've been compared to Firesign Theatre, Hitchhiker's Guide, Monty Python, Art Bell and Dr. Demento. All true and not true at all. Shockwave has no format, and the samplers reflect that. Intending to make the samplers available on a Distribution Tape, I made four 15 minute samplers. Since I had the files on the computer already, I added the Ventura Interview and a few other bits and made the CD. I love living in the future. Full annotation of the CD here. Just making the cover was a lot of work, as few people took pictures of a radio show.

Food Wars and The Empire Bakes Off were originally digitized for my nephew. As such, it's the least slick crystal case. But you'll like it anyway. Kara Dalkey wrote parodies of the original Star Wars movies. (Repast of the Jello was a live performance, and I'm waiting on the guy who has the master to digitize it.) I play Luke Cakewalker, and Kara plays Lotta Oregano. Other Shockwave Riders play Ham Salad, Darthomatic, R-2-D-Frost, and so on. More food puns than you can shake a chopstick at, if that's your idea of a good time. "Use the fork, Luke". Loads of fun for the whole family. At the moment, these two are also up on the audio site.

In 1982, Minicon (the local Mpls science fiction convention) had a theme of "Backwards into the future". Before the con we held a dead-dog party, held Closing Ceremonies on Friday, held Opening Ceremonies on Sunday, had the pre-con party after the con and the very first thing I did at the next Minicon was to hold the organizational meeting for the previous year. Good thing we decided to do it.

Closing Ceremonies, or less formally known as The Fall of the House of Usherette, is one of my favorite Shockwave bits. Brian Westley always wanted to write a Dudley Do-right episode where Dudley gets turned into a vampire. I always wanted to write a murder mystery where the audience did it. (Not to give anything away...) As we were working on it, Dave Sim accepted being Artist Guest of Honor. Kara had been adapting Cerebus the Aardvark for the radio (with Sims' permission), and we added her sixth effort to the show. It was great having the creator of the comic book in the audience! The show itself came off spectacularly well, with Jerry Stearns nailing Dudley's voice and Michael Butler doing a British and two different Australian accents. Steve Brust playing Hercule Pardo, the criminologist announcer. I play Daschiell Hamlet, the hard-boiled yet indecisive crime-fighter, among many other parts. ("To be, or 221B, that is the question.") A few visual jokes don't quite come off on the recording, but it's still great after 20 years. For a bonus on the CD, I added my favorite other Cerebus adaptation.

If I get enough encouragement, other CDs will be forthcoming. I have a few other things digitized, waiting for editing and for a jewel case and CD label to be designed. It's a lot of work, but I do it for you, the fans and... well, you know. Anyway, if you're interested in these CDs, drop me a line for ordering info. And if you waant to support independent radio, pledge to KFAI-FM, Fresh Air Radio. Mention Shockwave!


Lionel Hampton

An Appreciation

This Labor Day edition will be short, not so much because there isn't a lot to say about Lionel Hampton, but because so many people have said their piece. I didn't know that he was a Republican and a Mason... but I don't care. His music was... is... great, and he deserves all the accolades.

The precise year and location of his birth are in dispute, but there's no question that Lionel Hampton came of age in the when challenged by Louis Armstrong to play the vibes in 1930 and the cut they recorded became a hit. Pretty good for a musical instrument that wasn't invented until the early 1900s, derived from the xylophone and gamelon. Now, it has it's own websites.

In one sense, the vibraphone is an unusual instrument for jazz. You can't slide up and down a tone like with a trumpet, and you can't bend a note like with a guitar. It can't even be tuned in quite the same manner as a stringed instrument. Still, like tempered instruments such as the piano, you can get in between notes by playing several bars at the same time. Its got a sound that is loud, distinctive and, in the hands of a master as Hampton, very pretty.

He has quite a few CDs available and, quite frankly, I'm not sure which ones to recommend. None of the Lionel Hampton CDs I have are still being published, it seems. I tend to like his earlier, energetic, phases. (He went through a lot of really excellent phases.) He shone as a solo artist and was even better as part of a talented line-up. His period with the Benny Goodman quartet in the late 30s was ground breaking not merely for the music but for being the first racially integrated jazz band. (Jews and blacks make great music together...)

Some of my favorite Hampton cuts revolve around his instrument: Ring Dem Bells was written by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills, while Hot Mallets and many others were written Hampton. Partially because the vibraphone is not standard jazz fare, his gifts as a song writer are underappreciated. Hard to lug the thing to a gig in your VW. But when you do, it's worth it.

As long as this is Labor Day, let me mention a few sites that have Union music. The AFL-CIO boasts The World's Greatest Online Labor Day Festival, which is ongoing, and has Real Audio music to listen to. Union Songs lists a lot of them. You can read about Australian Union songs here and Irish labour songs here.

And let me repeat my recommendation of Miles To Go Before We Sleep by George Mann and Julius Margolin, the people behind the great CD Hail To The Thief. Give it to someone you love as a Labor Day present as part of a buzzflash.com membership!.


National Space Society CD

A CD waiting for release

To mark a year after Sept. 11, I'm going to review a CD about hope. The future. Space Exploration.

The National Space Society CD is not quite out, but at this page you can be placed on a mailing list to find out when it's going to be released and listen to mp3s of some of the songs. Quick review: Filk music done right; a great compilation of great songs wonderfully produced and arranged.

One of my all time favorite filk songs is Leslie Fish's Hope Eyrie, about the moon landing. This is the version I've been waiting for. Superbly sung by Julia Ecklar, it captures the drama and sensawonda of July 20, 1969.
Worlds grow old and suns grow cold
And death we never can doubt.
Time's cold wind, wailing down the past,
Reminds us that all flesh is grass
And history's lamps blow out.
But the Eagle has landed; tell your children when.
Time won't drive us down to dust again.

The US Space Program is the single most successful undertaking in human history. It's only failure: We stopped going out into space (because Nixon hated Kennedy and couldn't stand his success, but that's a different essay). But as a return on investment, the space program has paid for itself many times over in ways that are hard to describe to the average conservative so short sighted as to describe an estate tax as a "death tax". But I digress. Another great Leslie Fish song is Surprise! about Sputnik, the Russian satellite in 1957 that surprised and panicked the US in many ways similar to 9/11, since launching space satellites was directly applicable to launching nuclear missiles, but back then we had presidents who weren't unelected cowards and this blow to national pride lead directly to the space program, weather satellites and the internet (among many, many spinoffs). Done as Russian balalaika, with stern humor.
Beep beep
boop boop
hello there.
Sputnik sails giggling through the skies.
Red flags, red faces,
jump in the race as
the space age begins with a surprise.

Other great songs include Fire In The Sky by Jordin Kare, comparing the dangers of rocketry to Prometheus' hubris; we must do it, because. Christine Lavin wonders If We Had No Moon, giving the history of the creation of the moon and reminding us of all its benefits... and some of the dangers.
The moon is moving away at the rate of an inch and a half a year.
Someday, and I'm not sayin' it'll be soon,
but it just won't be the same down here

and speculating on how we can replace it with another planet's moon... A long, awe inspiring and sometimes scary song. Queen Isabella, yet another Leslie Fish song, is about how a deranged, bigoted, greedy leader managed to tap Christopher Columbus and "all the world changed". We don't have such a farsighted leader today (though we have the deranged, bigoted and greedy ones). Judy Collins flies around the stars Beyond the Sky.

This CD, as yet untitled much less released, was conceived and put together before 9/11. Yet the hope and awe and fear of our successes and failures in mankind's ventures out into space manage to be an antidote to the internecine hatred between a species who dwell on artificial differences and amplify the pride and energy of Americans and all humans who dream of a higher purpose. Highly recommended.

Aside: I managed to have a winning entry (well, an honorable mention they printed) in the Sept. 8 Washington Post Style Invitational that Bartcop readers will like.


Klezmer Music

Jewish Jazz

Gut Yom Tov: May you be be registered with the web site of life.

Klezmer is a Yiddish term, meaning "kley zemer" or "vessels of song" or "instruments of song". Klezmer has its roots in the untrained musicians of Easter European shtetls of the 15th century CE. Due to religious intolerance, the Russian conservatories were not open to Jews, so most Klezmer musicians were self-taught. The wave of Jewish immigration 1881-1924 also brought their music, adding to the melting pot that eventually became the unique American style of jazz. Dixieland is essentially klezmer with a violin substituted for clarinet, though the clarinet is used in much klezmer-like jazz. The wailing, emotional, exuberant music stirs the spirit as it moves the feet. Like much jazz, klezmer has a structure and a melody but relies on free form improvisation for its joy.

Though it never completely disappeared, in recent years Klezmer has resurfaced. Mainstream Judaism has embraced its roots and expanded the repertoire. There is a rather amazing amount of klezmer out there, and you can check out listings here for more traditional Klezmer, here for Isle of Klezbos and others, here for the UK, some links to eclectic examplers here, and book a klezmer band here.

One of the best collections and introductions to Klezmer is Klezmania: Klezmer for the New Millenium. Here's a nice review, with sound clips. The music ranges from the 1910s to a 1990s hip hop/rap fusion that works in both styles. It has some 1960s klezmer beach music, hot jazz and traditional folk styles. You can get it from amazon.com, which also has song samples.

Kol Simcha is (or was) a klezmer band that lives in the present. The music is traditional, the arrangements are more modern and clean. The blues clarinet starts off slowly in Shpieles, but speeds up to an emotional instrumental. The odd timings in Dybbuk add to the whirling song. Perhaps too clean for folk music, the also do soul, as in their other album, both available here. (If the link doesn't work, just to to CDNow and search for Kol Simcha).

I've talked about them before, so let me just mention Boiled In Lead quickly. They are ostensibly a Celtic band, but do thrash and world beat and almost anything else that suits their fancy, including klezmer (they're on the Klezmania CD). Old Lead and From the Ladel To The Grave as well as some of their more recent albums fit into the genre.

Doing research for this review turned up a reference for Klingon Klezmer. I have no idea what this is, but it looks like fun. I'll let you know when I hear it...


Children's Music, Part VI

Music for Toddlers

I've been making mix tapes for my nephew, now 12, for many years. Recently, I embarked on a project to make mix CDs for my neices, roughly 2 and 3. It was a lot harder to make compilations for the younger kids, since I remember what I listened to when I was 10, but I don't remember what I listened to when I was 3. A secondary consideration was to make music compilations that wouldn't drive adults crazy. I mostly succeeded, and all four CDs were well recieved by their parents.

I've mentioned some of the music previously, containing songs that young kids would like: A Child's Celebration of Folk Music, The Happy Wanderer by Bill Staines, The Wombles by Mike Batt, Peter Paul and Mommy, Somewhere In The Corner by Debbi Friedlander, Schoolhouse Rockthat now had a DVD with the tv spots, The Cat In The Hat Songbook with lyrics by Dr. Seuss, and much more. I also threw in some worldbeat, some of which I've mentioned here: Tunes from Bolivia, Ireland, a lullaby in Icelandic, a bouncy song in Yiddish, gamelon music, etc. Here are a few others your young kids might like.

When the Teletubbies were about to enter the US market, a friend in England sent me the short (four song, 14:33) BBC CD, Teletubbies say "Eh-oh". It doesn't seem to be available from the Beeb anymore, so the link is to a used CD place. For what it is, it's a lot of fun. Two of the songs are the Teletubbies theme; on the CD I used the Again Again Mix, the longer of the two with more stuff thrown in. I also used both the instrumental dances. Whether the kids actually like the tv show, the music is engaging, non-threatening and upbeat.

Disney, of course, has a staggering amount of music for kids of all ages. The youngest Disney CD I have is Children's Favorite Songs Vol. 3. Donald, Mickey and the gang sing favorite songs; fortunately they're not on all the cuts. It has favorites like Alouette, Waltzing Matilda and a great original, Just For You. The others in that series look good too.

Of the three CDs that comprise 101 Favorite Childrens Songs, I have the last one, R-Z. Better and more diverse than most collections, it's mostly short versions of well-known songs (31 cuts take up 56:46), ranging alphabetically from Riddle Song to Yellow Submarine. Decent versions that play to a short attention span.

Sorry to recommend a CD that I can't find on the net, but World of Music for Grade 1 is a nice collection; I got it used, and you may come across it too. The people credited with the CD are Silver Burdett & Ginn, who seem to have gone off to serve "Catholic and Christian communities". This CD is diverse with adaptions of Disney songs like Hey Ho, Heigh Ho, as well as works by DeBussey, Prokofiev and Brahms. Few songs are great, but many are good, such as the Caribbean Basay Down and the negro spiritual/work song Old House. I never really got much use out of it before making mix CDs for toddlers, but wound up using several cuts.

Aside: Talking about this project, a friend who spent 20 years working in the Children's Hospital mentioned that kids really liked "The Name Game" and "Stairway to Heaven". Go fig. If I did any more, I was going to throw in Leo Kotke, Lionel Hampton and Elvis. Gotta start the kids off right!


Klingon Klezmer

Jewish Party Music/Keep On Trekkin'

The Yiddish word kling means to play a musical instrument. When my grandmother learned that I was playing Klezmer, she said, Kling on, mein kind (keep playing, my child). So we, uh, Klingon. -- Jack Kressler, producer, from the liner notes of Honey would you be meshuga tonite

Klingon Kelzmer is a Klezmer musical group with a CD, Honey would you be meshuga tonight. Out of this world Jewish jam! claims the website, reinforced by the vaguely Star Trekkish art work. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending), there is very little in the way of science fictional music. Klingon Mating Dance may get Klingon women in the mood to throw things at you, and Party at the End of the Universe might be sung by one of Zaphod's heads, but both are from Old Old Earth.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending), the music is very good straightforward klezmer: Mostly instrumental dance numbers with the occasional lyrics in Yiddish or Hebrew with a very few numbers spiced with whales or electric sounds. Jewish dance music is characterized by bouncy carefree jazz with a beat and a strong melody and an anticipatory tone that Dixieland Jazz comes close to but doesn't capture. Dance music alternates with the sad-yet-hopeful music that is unique to Judaism: Let the power of our song awaken Moshaich... Redemption comes! Mosiach comes soon! -- from the liner notes of the song Zol Shoin Kumen published in Warsaw in 1947, as well as the Anti-Fascist March from the 20s. God dances with us!

There is a lot of Klezmer these days, much of it good. Everyone needs their marketing niche. I don't think these guys have really tapped into the sf market, but they have produced a very good jazz album with a nice cover and quotable liner notes. Science fiction fans and Star Trek afficianados will appreciate the artwork and the web site (with a promise of Klingon Sound in streaming audio coming soon). Klezmer afficianados will appreciate the love and tradition that infuses all the songs. Party music from the past that looks to the future!

Kling on, dudes!

Klingons themselves have made their presence known on Earth. The Klingon Imperial Diplomatic Corps has an extensive web site catering to many races , includings humans who have lost loved ones on 9/11. Sign or read the Book of Condolences.

Learn Klingon at the Klingon Language Institute. The Warrior's Tongue was invented by Dr. Marc Okrand at the behest of the Star Trek producers, who wanted a believable language in the movies and so wrote The Klingon Dictionary, which should grace all complete libraries. For the impatient, the Klingon On-Line Dictionary provides Star Trek-like controls for translating words.

The Klingon Empire maintains a list of Organizations and Klubs and the Klingon Imnperial Diplomatic Corps maintains a list of contacts for local clubs here.

The concept has spread, and various works are being translated to Klingon, notably the Bible (tricky since Klingon has no word for G-d, but if you can't wait here is the Bible in Pig Latin). The KLI projects are listed here. An extensive set of links about Klingon projects are here, with the second and third verses of the Jabberwocky in Klingon here.

Naturally, I support such multi-culturalism. I once tried some Klingon palindromes on the air, and since I'm still alive the effort must have been worthy. And Klingons have a sense of humor (don't believe what the Romulans say), and they appreciated my Top 11 List of Books Better Suited To Being Translated into Klingon than the Bible.


Compilations 1

Oldies But Goodies

Not too long ago, before they realized what they had, many companies mined their archives for compilations. Many of the early compilations were lots of songs crammed into CDs; after all, it didn't cost them much more to press 20 songs than 10. If more songs sold more CDs from an otherwise moribund back issue, that was great! More recently, many of these same companies have gone the other way, cheating the public with issues of "Best of" CDs with 10 cuts. Pfeh. I have a lot of compilations, mostly random CDs from a set picked up at used CD places like Cheapo and the Fresh Air Radio record sale. Some are out of print, some aren't worthwhile to begin with. But many are good introductions to music that was around before CDs; many before my time. I'll try to direct you to some of the good ones.

Music Theory time. Art forms tend (note: tend) to go through the following phases: A Folk period (where people write what they want, draw what they see, play the music they like to hear), a Classical period (where someone tries to insult folk art by saying it's bad and someone else tries to distinguish good from bad by saying "It's good when it follows these rules"; the archetypal example being Aristotle's The Poetics), a Romantic period (where others look down on Classical and say, "art has to inspire, to make you feel an emotion), a Baroque period (where the art form gets very complex, sometimes self-referential, and uses the Classical rules to invoke Romantic responses; the archetypal example being JS Bach) and then finally people get tired of having to pay attention to the technique and rediscover how good the Folk period was (either by reinterpreting the older material or by simplifying their technique). The driving dynamic of the last several thousand years is that kids want to listen to music that really pisses off their parents.

Pop is a fickle, ephemeral field, and Nirvana is turning up on Oldies compilations. Whatever. In Rock terms, 50s Music was that era between the rise of rock and roll out of the post-war black music rhythm and blues and the Beatles and spans roughly 1955-1964, with fuzzy edges. 50s Music is Folk: raw (that is, played by untrained musicians) and works because it's full of energy and skill born of playing to an audience. 60s Music was that era between the rise of The Beatles and the rise of the Sex Pistols, roughly 1964-1975, again with fuzzy edges and considerable overlap (for example, The Beach Boys are definitely 50s except for Good Vibrations which is 60s; at least for my ear. Meanwhile, The Tokens (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) and Bobby Darin and others were developing a sound more associated with later 60s music. On the other end, Billy Joel, Bob Seeger and Bruce Springsteen are some of the rockers who keep going back to their roots.) 60s Music is Classical: Horny teenagers wanted to justify the music to their parents, so professors deconstructed the Beatles to find that their compositions had much in common with classical compostions. Following strict formulas gave rise to Phil Spector, Motown and The Monkees. Professional songwriters and studio musicians did a lot of the work. The later 60s period turned Baroque, with Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Funkadelic. As much as commercials want to establish marketing categories by numbers, 70s Music didn't really hit full stride until the two reactions to the Baroque period: Punk (a return to the Folk tradition of scatalogical insults with a beat) and Disco (a return to the Romantic notion that it's better to dance than to tell a story; another example of Music To Fuck To in the traditon of Mozart or Sinatra). The brief flowering of Baroque Funk as a precursor to Disco should be noted (eg Stevie Wonder), since funk has outlasted disco (thank heaven).

But I digress. I'll stop here, for the nonce, though Youth has a short attention span and what counts as Music of the Past is continually being created by Music of the Present. The songs that are so new you can only download the mp3s from the net will be on the oldies station by the time you get to your car. Meanwhile...

Haunting used bins might turn up individual CDs for cheap, but the 15-CD set of Oldies But Goodies is a good start on a collection if you have none of these and want to suddenly play Wolfman Jack. (Bizrate.com lists comparison prices for the set, which may change.) Many of the songs -- and most of the hits -- can be found in other places, and quite a few of the songs are mainly of interest to people who heard them originally through their car stereo, but it's still one of the best and still has songs that are hard to find anywhere else. Great but obscure songs like Sally Go 'Round The Roses by the Jaynetts, Sea Cruise by Frankie Ford, and even Memories of El Monte by the Penguins and co-written by Frank Zappa. The collection tends to the late 50s era, and went for songs they could license cheap: No Beatles. But it has a dash of almost everyone else from Elvis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly to Betty Everett, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight. Lots of regional hits. You probably won't appreciate all 250 songs, and 150 bucks is a lot to shell out all at once even for 15 disks, but overall it's a solid compilation.

If you're willing to send money to AOL, the Time Life collections are really good. They have the up-front money to spend on Elvis and the Beatles. Time Life offers a LOT of different compilation CDs and I can only personally recommend the few I have, but the site is worth exploring and they tend to pack a lot of music onto a disk. They even offer Real Audio samplings. I have several of the Rock N' Roll Era Collection, and for the hours I spent scouring the used bins I could have gotten them new for not much more. If you don't want to buy all 20 at once, they have smaller sets; I have 1958 and 1960 from this Special Set, with 23 and 22 songs respectively. Great collections: 1958 contains Johnny B. Goode, Sumertime Blues, Good Golly, Miss Molly, Yakety Yak, Rebel-'Rouser, Tequila, Do You Want To Dance and more. 1960 contains Save the Last Dance for Me, Walk -- Don't Run, Alley-Oop, Chain Gang, Stay and more. Bang for the buck, these are the best collections. Maybe they don't drive you down memory lane like the Oldies But Goodies collections because they stick to the chart toppers and songs that have stood the test of time, but there are reasons why songs are popular.

Still, be wary of hits, which are often the product of marketing (payola hasn't gone away, it's just gotten indirect and, annoyingly, doesn't line the pockets of the djs), hype and a fickle public taste. The Billboard Top Rock & Roll Hits tend to be uninteresting rip-offs. You only get 10 songs for just a bit cheaper than you get 17 or 22 songs on the other collections, and they're constrained by whatever topped the charts at the time. Some good stuff, to be sure, but they're some of my least used CDs since I have most of the songs on other compilations. If you spot one for a few bucks and it has a song you don't have, might be worth it.


Nifty Gifts

CD Stocking Stuffers & Other Suggestions

Now that Thanksgiving is in the past, it's time to turn our attention to the next great celebration of consumerism: Christmas. WWJLT: What Would Jesus Listen To? Religius songs in Hebrew, presumably. You may or may not want to share in that particular experience, so here are some other suggestions. Aside from the Shockwave CDs, I have no connection to any of these, but I think they're neat and would make unusual and nifty gifts. Some of the CDs I've talked about in previous columns, others are on MY wish list. Enjoy.

Shockwave Radio, now in its 24th year, has three CDs currently available. Food Wars, our parody of Star Wars featuring Luke Cakewalker, Lotta Oregano, Ham Salad and Chewbacklava flying the Marshmellow Falcon, etc. The CD contains the Original Food Wars and sequel The Empire Bakes Off. The 20 Year Free-Fall contains four samplers of Shockwave skits, interviews, live broadcasts and more. The Fall of the House of Usherette is our Live Stage Show from 1983, complete with a Dudley Doright parody, a Cerebus the Aardvark episode and a murder mystery that gets the audience involved. CD Bonus is another Cerebus the Aardvark. These make terrific holiday gifts (he says, in pitchman mode). You can get these from me; mention Bartcop E and I'll give you a discount on all three!

Still one of my favorite CDs to talk about: If you were a religious group in Estonia doing liturgical music of the 14th century and wanted to do a tribute album, naturally your first choice would be to honor... Black Sabbath. In Sabbatum, the group Rondellus has translated Black Sabbath songs into Latin to sing them in 14th Century style. Beautiful vocal harmonies set to the instruments of the time. Mention my name and they'll nod in vague rememberance and I'll appreciate the plug.

And as long as we're on the subject of religious music: The Electric Amish have three CDs comprising parodies of rock hits with reworked lyrics and each CD has a Christmas song.

For slightly more, and yet less, traditional Christmas songs you might try the Phil Spector Christmas album, which sounds a lot like what it is: early 60s wall of sound holiday music. The CDNow site has samplers. Speaking of that site, I never did find the steel drum Christmas CD I have, but CDNow has lists a bunch of Carribean Christmas CDs that look interesting.

I don't know what Jesus would listen to, but if he did sing it would probably be to Jewish Karaoke. If YOU want to learn to sing, try the Singing for the Stars CD set. Learn to sing in your car, claims the web site.

$79.95 may seem like a lot for a 12 issue subscription, but BBC Magazine is worth it for the classical enthusiast. You get two free CDs from the BBC archives, and each magazine comes with an interactive CD with performances from the BBC plus extra info when you access it from your computer. Ah, they didn't have the interactive part when I was a subscriber, and the live performances were a bit of a disappointment at times, but overall the selections were interesting and the magazine informative.

For a unique musical gift, why not give recordings from a century ago? Tinfoil.com has recordings of tinfoil and wax cylinders from the 1880s to the early 1900s. I faunch for the comic recordings... Make your grandparents think they're young whippersnappers again!

Middle aged whippersnappers can get Monty Python CDs, videos and DVDs here and here. Monty Python was one of Shockwave's big influences, and if you like Shockwave (and who doesn't?) you'll probably also like The Firesign Theatre which has new material out. Indeed, they have a radio show available over the XM satellite radio band. Find out more about XM Radio. For young whippersnappers who are actually young (more or less), Weird Al Yankovic has loads of stuff including a DVD of UHF with nifty Weird Al commentary.

What to get the person who has everything or at least has dropped hints that they want something unusual.

And if, after all this, you still just feel like sitting in front of your computer, Riding the Wave, here are interesting links from my Tell People To Go Here bookmark collection.


Nifty Gifts II

Stuff from people to whom I'm related

Thanksgiving at my brother's was a chance to see family, as usual. This year, I also got to read my cousin's new book and see some of my brother's as yet unpublished manuscripts. The holidays are a family time, for coming together and to brag.

As a kid, my mother had stacks of underground newspapers all over the house, and later had piles of children's books on the dining room table and in every conceivable bookshelf cranny. Ethel Grodzins Romm's book on underground newspapers in the 1960's, The Open Conspiracy, is still available (with hundreds of comics and cartoons from them), as is one as her books on helping children to learn to read, Strategies in Reading (amazon.com says it's available, anyway).
They're out of the radon detection business so the company name doesn't make any sense anymore, but if you want lead testing and XRF analysis, Niton Corp. is the place to go. She ran the company for several years, while cousin Hal is current President. If you see her at any of the industry trade shows (and she's hard to miss), say hello.

While my brother Joe's book(s) on Shakespeare and Hamlet aren't published yet, his energy efficiency book is: Cool Companies: How the Best Businesses Boost Profits and Productivity by Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions remains one of the blueprints on the subject. Joe knows the field from the inside, and writes seriously using real business examples on a subject many more would profit from understanding. He frequently speaks on the energy efficiency and pops up on tv news shows now and again. Watch for him.

My uncle's family grew up in Lexington, within walking distance of The Shot Heard 'Round the World. At the sight of the battle is a statue of Capt. John Parker, leader of the band of Minutemen. My cousin's interest in Capt. Parker led to his interest in Parker's grandson, Rev. Theodore Parker, perhaps the most influential American of whom you've never heard.
Rev. Parker was a New England minister and friend to such people as Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his religious thinking evolved through Transcendentalism to Unitarianism. He was a famous speaker and his sermons were widely published. He died relatively young at the beginning of the Civil War, and that event and longer-living people overshadowed his efforts. Dean Grodzin's PhD Thesis has now evolved into American Heretic: Theodore Parker and Transcendentalism about the reverend's early life. Dean's writing is clear and lucid, and bring Parker's early life and religious struggles close to home. The reader can smell the seminary dorm rooms and hear the rustle of parishioner's linen as they feel the pain of Parker's personal tragedies and read his changing thoughts on the Bible. A must for those interested in US history leading to the Civil War as well as for those wondering how colonial Puritans became modern Unitarians. (Note: I didn't get the history quite right but Dean was pleased enough at the mention not to demand a rewrite.)

My aunt Anne Lipow took her experience working with the library at the Univerisity of California at Berkeley to develop Library Solutions for reference librarians and anyone who wants to make a library easier to use. She was one of the earliest proponents of adding the net to a library's arsenal of reference tools as well as one of the people who understood the power of the Web in helping people find information. Her Rethinking Reference section contains a lot of hints and links to other articles on the subject. She's a great speaker (and a wonderful aunt!) and if she holds a presentation or seminar in your area, be sure to drop by and chat.

Okay, so they're second cousins (more or less) and I haven't seen them in a while, but the Slesins took me to my first sushi bar and it's about time I reciprocated.

Think your cell phone is safe to use? Maybe, maybe not, but whenever Louis Slesin's Microwave News comes out with a report, a whole bunch of people who are vested in the status quo spend a lot of time putting the report down, even the UK government. Even the Pentagon is developing microwave weapons. Here's a transcript of him on Lou Dobb's Moneyline.

Aviva Slesin is an Oscar winning producer (for The Ten Year Lunch, The Wit and Legend of the Algonquin Round Table; list here, at the bottom. She's been around for a while and was Editor of The Rutles, the parody of the Beatles by Eric Idle and co. In Voices In Celebration, she explores the many ways in which art can move, amuse, challenge, and enrich. Watch for her other works!


Nifty Gifts III

Burn a unique CD

Looking for a personalized gift that you can make for cheap (and at the last minute...)? Individualized CDs and/or mp3 compilations are unique, expressive and perfectly legal if you only make one copy.

You will need a few things to make a CD: Digitized music (like, duh), a CD burner, blank CDs, jewel cases, inserts, labels, a color printer, and a CD Stomper (or the equivalent). Making mp3s is even easier, but since there are a lot of ways to make a play them, I'll concentrate on making the CDs and the mp3ers in the crowd only need to read the section on music. I'm not going to talk much about the software or hardware; ask a teenager for help.

Finding the music to give as a gift is easy, but finding the right music is trickier. You can, of course, simply buy a CD. To make a special CD for a special person, you have to do some planning. What kind of music do they like? What kind of message do you want to send? Grandparents can cobble together music they listened to as a kid, to pass it down to the grandkids. Kids can make CDs of their favorite songs for their 'rents, and if they do it right they a) show them it's more than just noise, b) have something to talk about and c) have something you can all listen to in the car. Married couples can share the songs they fell in love with. Put all the football songs on one disk and give it to the guys you hang out with on Sunday. Put all the cooking and food songs on a disk to play in the kitchen. Take their favorite-song-on-the-car-radio songs and give it to the person who drives you to school/work/soccer practice. Or simply put all your favorite songs together to share your taste with a friend.

If you have the songs you want on CDs (or as mp3s), making the compilation is trivially easy, especially if you have a Mac. I won't go into the specifics of the software, but the iTunes that comes with the Mac is pretty good, and the PC has a bunch of software you can get (and probably have). Unless you're want to do some editing (remove the spoken intro, make a change the volume level, etc) you don't need an full editing program (which are more expensive), just the basic CD burning software. Some, like Toast, come with a whole package including labels and a applicator. Pretty much, what you do is open the program, drag the songs you want into the proper field, arrange them as you please, and burn the CD. It's easier if you transfer the songs to your hard drive (so you don't have to keep changing CDs). Most programs will convert mp3s as well as burn CD .aiff files. Most of these also come with software that let you make inserts and labels, but I never use it (more on this later).

Okay, now the fun part: Hard-to-find music. There are essentially two types: Already digitized (such as wavs) and music still in its analog state (such as records or tape). If you can find music through some of the exchange sites, probably in mp3 format, fine. Napster was great for finding really odd stuff, but many of the current sites skirt legality, so I won't recommend them, but some are legal, like Rhapsody, though they charge for the service. On the other hand, there is a LOT of music on the net that is impossible to find on a published CD. Do you know the name of a specific song? Type it in Google (in quotes); if you know the artist, even better. If you're trying to find tv theme songs, explore sites like TV Party or look for specific shows like Astroboy. Often, newer (or struggling) artists have samples of their CDs on their web sites; if you liked someone in concert and don't have their CD, see what they have up as promo.

Meanwhile, one of the things I like to do is haunt the used bins. Find a good used CD store in your area and spend some time flipping through the selections. Remember, you're not really looking for a CD, you're looking for one song to add to a mix. More than one song is gravy. Compilation CDs are great for this. There are a lot of in-store promotion CDs that are given out by the record companies that you can't buy new (I've tried) and often have a little sticker that says For Promotional Use Only. I bet the holidays are a good time to visit a used CD place, as people sell older music to pay for gifts, or clear out room for expected new CDs. Some of my favorite songs have come from buying on spec. You can also pay attention at yard sales, or if a radio station is having a Record Sale. Or you can simply borrow a CD from a friend. Lots of ways to expand your horizons, song by song.

Do you have a favorite album on vinyl that isn't out on CD? Do you have a cassette of your child singing that you want to give to them now that their kid is that age? Again, this is pretty easy if you have the proper software, and you might. Plenty of sound recording software is out there, such as QuickTime or WinAmp; the simple versions are probably already on your computer. You hook your stereo up to the computer (via the 1/8" sound input plug; you may need an adapter), set up the software to record from the sound input, and drop the needle. If you want to do more (edit the length, boost the bass, remove static) you'll need a more sophisticated program. Frankly, for larger jobs and if you're not an audio computer geek, just look in the Yellow Pages and find someone nearby that will do it for money.

Okay, so you've got a bunch of songs. Now, you need to burn them on a CD. For this, you'll need a CD burner and some blank CDs. Most new computers come with a burner included, notably the iMac. If not, you'll have to get an external burner (or borrow one). I'll leave that specific to you. Most CDs these days are 80 minutes. You don't have to use all that time (and most software will let you add songs in more than one sitting, until you're ready to finish), but I like to fill them up as much as possible. There is a big debate among geeks as to where to get blank CDs. Frankly, this is no longer an issue for me; it used to be true that the best prices on bulk CDs were in computer stores, not CD stores, and that they were of better quality. Now, the CD stores have figured out that people burn CDs all the time and the prices have gone waaaay down and the quality has gone up. Indeed, I would say that the overall quality of blank CDs is better at a retail outlet than buying in bulk from a computer store: Geeks are used to a bad burn or two, but your average yuppie will go back to the store and complain bitterly at the least provocation. On the other hand, there are only three or four places in the world that make the actual CDs (there may be more now), and buying a brand name, while still recommended, isn't quite the guarantee of quality it used to be. Keep your receipt in case you have to bring them back.

The disk is only part of the package. To make the present really special, add your own personal touch. You'll need a case for the disk, a label and an insert to go into the case... and a way to apply the label. Now, a lot of the CDs you get at retail outlets come in nifty colors and you can buy CDs in the cases. If you're lazy, you can simply burn a CD, use a permanent marker to write "Merry Christmas Bobbi", slip it into thin case, wrap it up and put it in a stocking. Sure, whatever. I like to make it look presentable, and maybe even professional. The thin cases are pretty good, and make a nice, small package, but you can only make an insert for one side. They also make jewel cases that hold two (or sometimes 4) CDs. Your choice.

One of the other advantages of simply going into a retail store to get disks is that they have the jewel cases and inserts and labels right there. Yes, they will be more expensive, but not by that much. If you want to go to a computer store and wander around a bit, you'll probably do better (especially if you need more than ten or so).

All of the ancillary material is sold by the company that makes the CD Stomper, but almost anyplace will have a lot of it, including the stomper. To generate your own, you can use the software that comes with the burner, but I generally use Quark (almost anything will work, including Word, but layout programs are easiest). I've made a template for the most common labels and inserts; that requires a bit of trial and effort: Print a copy out and hold the paper to the perforated insert template, just to check.

Printing professional quality labels is easy, especially with a color printer. Name the CD, add a picture or any other information you want, choosing readable fonts and bold but readable colors. Same with the front Again, a test printing on plain paper as a test is recommended. For smaller kids, a picture of them on the label (and/or the insert) is fun. If you're making more than one CD for a family or individual, pick different colors for each CD, but keep the same basic formatting. When you use the stomper to press the label on the CD, you don't need a lot of pressure, but make sure the label is on evenly. If you have a really nice picture, consider using the glossy label paper.

Now you have a bit of a choice, which boils down to how much work you want to put into your present. I'm a stickler for annotation, and always include a song list with artist and times. Sometimes, you can cut and paste from the list you generated to burn the CD, though you'll need to tweak it. If not, you'll have to type it all in. If you're using a slim case, where you only have the space to put an insert in the front, you can print both sides, or simply just print the front with the name of the disk and the songs. My standard practice is to put the name of the CD and the songs on the front, and a personal greeting and e-mail address on the inside. For standard jewel cases (or doubles), you have to print a back insert (remember to place the name of the CD vertically on the left and right spines), pop up the plastic CD holder (a small screwdriver works great) and carefully put the insert in before putting the holder back in. This is where the pre-perforated inserts prove their worth: The come with to the exact size, with the outer and inner spines folded just right.

Generic hints: a) Make a bunch of them at once. Even with different songs, just keep the programs open and they'll get easier to use with practice, especially the labels. b) Be personal and whimsical with CD titles and pictures, but don't go for the cheap laugh that won't be funny the fifth time around. c) Pay a bit of attention to song order. Have a good first song and end strongly. d) Unless it's for a special purpose, pick songs you like to listen to (or at least songs you can stand listening to while watching a face light up). Chances are good that the person opening the present will insist on playing it right away, with you around. e) Feel free to personalize the gift even further by putting something extra in twith the CD. For example, slip some cash into the Big Band disk you're giving your college student child. Or an envelope addressed to you, with a stamp. Or a picture. Be creative; peanut butter is right out.

And there you have it. You've spent a lot of time but very little money to make a gift that will be treasured long after the Game Boy is obsolete. Better than a Christmas card.


Dr. Demento and me

Coming next year!

Political digression:
One of the ways to tell how poorly the Bush administration is doing is by how shrill the right-wing apologists are. By any standard, this has been a terrible few weeks for Bush and the Taliban Wing of the GOP. Trent Lott was forced out of his position as House Majority Leader (though held on to his senate seat, for now), Ashcroft is outed as a racist and the GOP has been exposed as racists and those coddling to racists when necessary to advance their own agenda. Bush was sued for rape and kidnapping. The economy is going down the toilet. The sabre rattling in Iraq is reaching a fever pitch just as thousands protest and close allies say we shouldn't invade and we haven't even won the war in Afghanistan yet. And that's just for starters.
Naturally, with the country falling apart around him and his cronies exposed, the Karl Rove spin machine is out in force, even getting the conservative news media to print front-page stories like this one. Only a conservative can be lied to this consistently and still believe. Now, about that swampland in Florida...

But the real news is that I'm going to be a Guest of Honor at the 2004 Marscon with Dr. Demento and Richard Biggs. This is for next year, and the web site only has this year's (2003) convention news up, but they've said I could officially brag about it. Wind up your radio and prepare to join us in Minneapolis in the Spring of 2004! And forgive me if I largely repeat a column about Dr. D from last May.

Dr. Demento is the Mad Magazine of the radio, corrupting young and old since 1970. In the music biz, odd, funny, unusual songs are called "novelty" numbers; the concept goes waaaay back and slopped over into recorded music Over the years, Dr. Demento has collected some of his favorites (and the ones he could get the rights to) in CDs. While you can get some of them at other various online shops, probably quicker, the most complete collection is from the Dr. Demento web site catalog. Seems to have more stuff than last time I checked.

He's released 20th Anniversary and 25th Anniversary and 30th Anniversary 2-CD sets. While I appreciate the effort, there's a lot of redundancy between the 20th and 25th and I think the 20th Anniversary collection is better. It has, and the 25th doesn't: Dead Puppies, Cocktails for Two, Existential Blues, Star Trekkin' and Witch Doctor. The 25th repeats many of my least favorite cuts but does have Highly Illogical and Tip-Toe Through the Tulips With Me. The 30th has less redundancy, and does have Bulbous Bouffand, Dead Skunk, I'm The Urban Spaceman, and Lumberjack Song among others. Frankly, I think he should just give up and put out a 5-CD set of everything, and add on as necessary. In the meantime, get the 20th and 30th, and maybe one or two of the individual ones (below).

Dr. Demento's Country Corn is a good collection, and his Christmas collection has both A Christmas Carol by Tom Lehrer and Green Chri$tma$ by Stan Freeberg, as well as Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer and All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth instantly making it worthy if you don't have these songs individually. This is No. 6 in a series of CDs, no longer listed on his site. You can get cassettes of compilations of songs by decades, which can be fun but I tend not to catalog the songs that way.

It's been a while since I was a member of the Demento Society, and it seems they've upgraded the membership so it includes a bumper sticker, autographed photo, a 10-inch ruler and the collection Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes #10 that isn't available elsewhere. Hmm... time to re-up.

Richard Biggs played Dr. Franklin on Babylon 5. One of my favorite actors on one of my science fiction shows. I hope he's amenable to being in a Shockwave skit!

While it's still far too early to make firm plans, I'm hoping to interview Dr. D and Biggs (and perhaps some of the other Guests). Usually, I do these for Shockwave and put them up on the audio part of my web site after airing them. Maybe this time I'll do it live, at the con. Also, I'd like to do a Dement-Off, where we play odd songs at each other... I'm sure his collection is MUCH larger than mine, but I bet I have a few he hasn't heard. It would be great to come out with a Demented Filk or Demented Science Fiction CD through Rhino, but we'll have to see about that. At minimum, I'll come out with a new Shockwave Distribution CD for the 25th Anniversary of the show.

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!


Auld Lang Syne

What if there were no rhetorical questions?

The song Auld Lang Syne was written, perhaps cobbled together from older material, by Robert Burns and became a staple when used repeatedly by Guy Lombardo at the right moment.

Alas, it's not in English and most people don't know the words beyond the first line, even getting the second line wrong. (No "auld" in front of "lang syne"). And there's no reason to: It's not really a very interesting song, and the major advantages are that it's a slow tune that can be sung by drunken crowds, interrupted at any moment by noisemakers.

While there's no dearth of New Years Parties around the planet, You may, of course, ring in the New Year differently, from singing children's New Years songs to performing a Mummer's Play.

Indeed, why is January 1 New Years Day? The Romans established the date arbitrarily, and doesn't coincide with the solstice or spring planting or Rosh Hashona or anything traditionally religious or logical. Mostly, it was Roman politics. Many cultures celebrate it differently such as not sweeping during the day in Hawaii (why bother?). In Japan, the celebration lasts from Jan. 1 to Jan 3 and includes "year forgetting parties" and special decorations.

So in many ways it's fitting that our traditional New Years song is in a language we don't speak, asking a question that it doesn't really answer very well. Let's compare Auld Land Syne to other songs with rhetorical questions.


  Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min'?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' lang syne?
Translation: "Should you forget your old friends of long ago?" Geeze, this is a stupid question. You're standing next to your friends, partying with them, getting drunk and blowing noisemakers at them. Your old friends are at a different party, maybe one you visited earlier that evening. Other old friends sent you Holiday Greeting Cards, or you anguished over whether to send one to them. At the beginning of a new year, you're wondering if you should forget them? Please, try not to forget where you put your car keys, and this year see if you remember to go home with the person you came with. 

  Man:If I were a carpenter and you were a lady
Would you marry me anyway
Would you have my baby?
Woman: If you were a carpenter and I were a lady
I'd marry you anyway
I'd have your baby
Man:If a tinker was my trade would I still find you
Woman:I'd be carrying the pots you made
Following behind you
Much better rhetorical questions, since the woman in question is fecund no matter what career choice her romantic but vocationally confused lover takes. Other career paths he should ask about, to get her approval should he enter that field: Energy futures trader, segregationist, arms dealer, pilot for Democratic senatorial candidates, tobacco company executive, Presidential press secretary.  

  Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight?
If your mother says don't chew it, do you swallow it in spite?
Can you catch it on your tonsils, can you heave it left & right?
Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight?
Practical questions, to be sure, but remain unanswered in the song. Unlike the unspecified acquaintances asked about in Auld Lang Syne, the history of chewing gum is quite interesting and even timely for the season, since dentist William Finley Semple patented chewing gum on Dec. 28, 1869, and referenced in this timeline. I think this is a much more appropriate song to sing on New Years Eve since it references candy, relatives, the physical well-being of the singer and a loss that occurs in the middle of the night. Who's with me on this?  

  Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don't they know it's the end of the world
'Cause you don't love me any more

Why do the birds go on singing
Why do the stars glow above
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when I lost your love

I wake up in the morning and I wonder
Why everything's the same as it was
I can't understand, no, I can't understand
How life goes on the way it does

Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye
Well now. This is a very similar set of questions to those asked in Auld Lang Syne, yet much more heart-rending in its sense of loss and nihilistic continuity. Can Skeeter Davis be the next Robert Burns?

Unlike the strange foreign words in the traditional song, The End of the World is easily sung, easily remembered, and sounds just as good when played by a tired band to a large group of drunken revelers. Heck, drunken revelers would be an improvement over Skeeter's unique song stylings.

In fairness, I should point out that her rhetorical questions do have answers. The sun goes on shining due to nuclear fission. (See also stars glowing.) The sea rushes to shore because of the tidal effects involving the orbital positions of the Earth, Sun and Moon. While fewer birds sing in the dead of winter (and fewer at midnight of Dec. 31), they don't follow a calendar and, as mentioned above, the exact cutoff time sequence that determines when one year ends and another begins is completely arbitrary and does not impact the animal kingdom.

As to why the singer(s) go on living, that is demanded of the Homeland Security Act of 2002: A portable wetware unit (aka "you") exists to provide economic stimulus in order to help the United States win the War on Terror. Hope this clears up any confusion.


Further rhetorical questions may be directed to the author at the address below. Answers are not guarenteed. Like, duh.


JRR Tolkien

Raise a glass to The Professor

As mentioned in Bartcop-E a few weeks ago (this column as been delayed as we had to hide out from marching orcs), January 3, 2003CE would have been John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's Eleventy First birthday, the age Bilbo was celebrating at his party in the beginning of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has been dead thirty years and couldn't make the party, so if you missed the celebration its not too late to lift a toast to The Professor.

The four books of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings (hereafter H/LotR) have long been my favorites. I rarely reread books, since I have a pretty good memory, and H/LotR holds the record at five, beating the next several books out by at least two readings. Growing up, I had a map of Middle Earth on the ceiling above my bed, within arms reach of me in the top bunk. So, like many, I felt protective of the story and wanted Peter Jackson and co. to do a good job on the movies. And they have. On the Shockwave Ratings Scale of 9 to 23 where 9 is bad and 23 is good and all Steve Brust novels get a 17, the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers gets a solid 21. That might move up when all three movies come together on a DVD compilation with even more extras.

Now that the movie's been out for a while and I've had a chance to talk it over with some of my fellow sf fans, I can't help but feeling that some people are taking things Too Seriously. One friend was seriously dissing the movie because, among other nitpicks, the pikes were not the right length. While the history of military technology is fascinating and it's great when a movie gets it right, I feel that the presence of elves, dwarves and wizards makes parallels to Earth designs a bit iffy, and I'm more than willing to suspend disbelief if the big pointy things look dark and dangerous. Frankly, the fact that anyone is even talking about armor and fort design shows the loving detail that went into the project. Maybe I'm just growing older (or, heaven forbid, growing up) but I really miss Sensawonda, the child-like sense of wonder, awe and amazement you feel when reading good science fiction and fantasy. It's all new and the possibilities are unlimited. Attention to detail helps build a world; dwelling on the minutiae gets in the way. I look forward to the DVD, where I can explore all I want, but for now I just want to let the big screen to take me to another world.

Here's my take: Books and movies are two different media. I forgive most (though not all) of the changes from the book to the film because they help tell Tolkien's story and they made for a better movie. For example, the Ents are all wrong. On the other hand, the Ents in the book aren't described all that well, and any depiction of them would have been largely the imagination of the cinematographers. I think they did pretty well in movie terms. The movie loses the slow time-honed deliberate seriousness of Treebeard and the other Ents who are fulfilling their obligations as treehearders, and the whole sub-plot about the search for the Entwives is not depicted. Thoom thoom. But you get a good movie image and a great battle sequence. You should read the book AND see the movie.

It should be noted that JRR himself probably would have hated the movie. This is a guy so anal that he wanted LotR AND the Silmarillion published in one big tome, and fought the publisher hard about splitting LotR into three books. He had a clear vision for his work that isn't quite the same as anyone else's. His correspondence detail some of his misgivings. But I digress.

The Hobbit was published in 1937 with The Lord of the Rings in 1954, with the Silmarillion and other Tolkien works following later. There are a lot of books and ancillary material, available in several places; too many to list here. I'm going to concentrate on the audio works.

Audio books and other readings are available from The Tolkien Society and Pricegrabber has a good set of listings, notably Tolkien himself reading selections (also here and even cheaper through amazon.com which has other audio listings and maybe other places). I highly recommend the BBC audio production, available through Random House and amazon's uk outlet. The official LotR site has a the BBC Hobbit production as well the BBC LotR. Just the thing for those long road trips. I've been doing audio production for nearly 25 years, and it simply doesn't get any better than this. You can hear samples before downloading the audio books though audible.com or lordoftheringsshop.com which has loads of H/LotR CDs and music inspired by.

Speaking of music, many people have been inspired by Tolkien's works. Here's a downloadable mp3 of a recent song. Classical music, the movie soundtracks and many of the other items mentioned here through theonering.com. The soundtracks and an authorized CD of songs from the books at artezia.com. And, of course, no mention of music from Middle Earth would be complete without the Leonard Nimoy The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. View the video here (Amazing that I remembered it so well, after seeing it once in its initial airing in 1968 or 69). As mentioned in an earlier column, you can get this song as part of the Nimoy/Shatner collection.

JRR Tolkien created a marvelous world full of small creatures with furry toes, large creatures often mistaken for trees, magical entities, kings, heroes, corrupted wizards, evil beings, selfish spiders and more, each with their own story and their own language. Read the books. Follow the maps. See the movies. Listen to the music. It's all good.

To: The Professor.


Irving Burgie

aka Lord Burgess

As we enter the back stretch of winter, let's talk about Carribean music, and the man who brought us a lot of it.

Irving Burgie is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and wrote the national anthem for Barbados. But you know him as the guy who wrote Day-O and Jamaica Farewell.

I grew up listening to Harry Belafonte's album Calypso, the first million selling album by a single artist, and Burgie wrote 8 of the 11 songs. Everyone knows the songs, almost to the point where they're considered unattributed folk songs. Burgie's songs are constantly being recorded anew, and were in the movie Beetlejuice and pop up everywhere. Well, like Happy Birthday and others, they had a composer and arranger. (Aside: The song is owned by Warner Communications, so if you sing Happy Birthday, you owe money to AOL.)

Quick bio: Born in Brooklyn from a West Indian mother, he grew up in the ethnic neighborhood and was a great fan of the hit parade on the radio. He served in the army during WWII and studied at Julliard after his discharge. The rising folk music scene gave him the opportunity to perform on the hootenany circuit as Lord Burgess, singing in English, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew. He talks about his history and his new (in 1997) album Island in the Sun in this interview. Releasing an album at age 72, he said, "Everybody knows my music, but nobody really knows me. People in the business know me, but the public doesn't really know who I am. I'd really like to establish that in the next year, and just have fun and play, 'cause I enjoy it."

Burgie hasn't rested on his laurels. He wrote the lyrics to the National Anthem of his mother's country, Barbados. (Lyrics and auto load of the tune here.) He's compiled some of his songs and other tales in the children's book Caribbean Carnival: Songs of the West Indies.

The Caribbean in general and Barbados in particular seem like a hotbed of music. All areas have their own style of singing and dancing, but the many music styles come from the crossroads, where cultures meet and clash. Calypso, reggae, New Orleans jazz, New York punk, etc. This site points out "The derivation of calypso rhythms can be traced back to the arrival of the first African slaves to Barbados and other Caribbean islands in the seventeenth century. The artform, which was developed in Trinidad, combines the skills of story-telling, singing and instrument making, and has since been influenced by European, North American and other Caribbean cultures. Calypso is a unique form of music that is an integral part of the Barbadian cultural landscape." While this site says "Calypso is yet another Trinidadian invention. But contrary to what many people believe, true calypso or 'purist' calypso is not just about jump-up carnival dancing. Instead it is first a serious social commentary about issues of the day. Calypso is the musician's form of political satire. Listening to the words you will hear attacks on virtually any and every thing." Calypso itself has been divided into Soca, Steel Pin and the roving Tuk bands. I don't know who makes up these categories, but I bet they're fun to be a part of.

I'll end with a few verses from a warm song of lost love, I Do Adore Her

When shadows fall and stars appears
A pain I feel I cannot bear
If I could relive that faithful day
I would not turn my love away.

I reveal how I do adore her
Hang my heart on my sleeve just for her
All my love thru-out life assure her
If this moment I could Amour her.


Country With A Twist

Non-traditional traditions

Note: My first column for Bartcop-E was Feb. 16, 2002, and I did several a week before settling down to Mondays. I feel honored that Marty would let me share my musical musings, and pleased that so many have enjoyed them. But to be honest... my collection isn't that large and I'm running out of CDs I know well enough to recommend. This column will continue, but the subject matter will range far and wide, some in the political links section. Thanks (again), Marty!

Perhaps we've been spoiled; perhaps we've been corrupted by the entertainment industry. The marketing category "country" tends to focus exclusively on people like Vince Gill and The Dixie Chicks. Good stuff, to be sure, but is it really what cowboys and cowgirls listened to on the lone prairie? There is a lot of music out there from that is from the country and western areas of the US; some traditional but non-commercial, some just a little off the beaten path. Here are a few CDs that I file in Country but that are never going to be mentioned at a Country Music Award Show.

There really isn't anything quite like The Holy Modal Rounders. What Pink Floyd was to rock, the Rounders were to jugband music. Back in the 60s, Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber were stoned a lot but instead of becoming president they went on to be in the soundtrack of Easy Rider and appear on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. From their first album in 1964 they bent the rules. They had fun, and it showed. It helped that they were incredibly talented musicians with lots of friends. They made some of the most memorable music that couldn't quite be placed in any Top 40 category. Stampfel went on to marry into the science fiction publishing world and released two albums with the Bottlecaps. The People's Republic of Rock N' Roll is terrific, with backup vocals by the Roches and photography by Betsy Wollheim. Definitely off-the-wall country rock. Of his many collaborations, Stampfel has noted, "I'm the world's only human who has played with Buckminster Fuller, Bob Dylan, and Mississippi John Hurt."

It may be a given that homosexuality was rampant among cowboys who spent months solely in the company of other men (and cattle), stopping into town to get drunk and brandish their phallic symbols but... what about the women? Lisa Koch has answered that ancient question with You Make My Pants Pound. Lesbian line dancing at its finest. From the title song about true lust to a fantasy torch song to a great send-up of wymyn's music, this is a CD that should add a bit of estrogen to any collection.

Then there's the Texas Chainsaw Orchestra. It's a one-joke band -- playing songs using power tools -- but they're generally good arrangements and the album is short enough so the joke doesn't wear thin. Chain Gang, using actual chains, is conceptually pure. You have to scour the used bins (or used CD web sites) to find a copy, and it's not worth tracking down, but if you see it while flipping through the stacks, give it a shot. Slipping in a track or two in a mix collection adds a bit o' spice.

The River Of Song is a PBS tv series about the diverse people of the Mississippi River, and the 36 music tracks take you from Minnesota to New Orleans. These cuts range from traditional Chippewa, Swedish and Hmong tunes to variants on sea chanties and New Orleans jazz of the 20s. An extraordinary collection. I haven't seen the tv series, but the two CD set comes with an excellent descriptive booklet. Highly recommended.


Songs Inspired By Literature

Read the book, play the song

The Songs Inspired By Literature project is new, but the concept isn't. Getting people to read, or teaching them, or directing people to the good stuff, is as old as Plato. In The Republic, Plato argued against literature, ie fiction, in favor of military exploits to encourage young people to become soldiers -- the education of our heros -- and philosophy for the ruling class -- the comprehensive mind is always the dialectical. Of course, The Republic is a work of fiction, and you'd have to go against Plato's advice to follow his advice...

Skipping ahead a couple thousand years, today we have, among many others: Reading is Fundamental for kids, the India Literacy Project for India, the Hollywood Literacy Project to encourage mentoring by actors, the Kids Emotional Literacy Project to teach kids to express themselves in a healthy way, the Media Literacy Project in Oregon, and the Global Literacy Project for everyone.

And now we have music.

There are currently two CDs to benefit the project: Chapter One and Chapter Two (available March 12). Both are great, and come in a nifty soft CD case that contains a booklet with the lyrics, contact info/web sites of the artists and comments from the songwriters. Many of the artists are familiar: Grace Slick (not White Rabbit, though) Suzanne Vega, Bruce Sprinsteen, David Bowie, Tom Waits. Some I've never heard of: The winners of the last two years of an international songwriting competition.

Each song was inspired by a different piece of literature, and the subject of the songs range from a retelling of the tale to a description of the work to the effect the work had on the songwriter. My favorite two songs are on the first CD: Tolstoy, by Bob Hillman. I've never read anything by the Russian writer, but I must admit this song might get me to pick up one of his books. I've never heard it expressed quite this way before:
"Leo Nikolayavich Tolstoy knew everything there is to know about you
Emotional makeup, political views
Everything there is to know about you
Down to the quivering lip and the look in your eye
When your father died."

I've heard of the book Einstein's Brain, the true story of the journey across country with the scientist's preserved organ, but haven't read it. The song by Lynn Harrison is great.
"Einstein's brain in the back of a car
Einstein's brain in a little clear jar
Einstein's brain is goin' somewhere
Einstein's brain, already there."

Other songs from the two albums include Scarth Locke's song inspired by Shel Silverstein's children's poem Bucking Bronco, Ray Manzarek's (of The Doors) song inspired by the Beckett play Waiting For Godot, Bruce Springsteen's song inspired by Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, Dee Adam's song inspired by my favorite Orson Scott Card novel Songmaster, Marta Gomez' song (in Spanish) inspired by the memoir Paula, Tom Waits' song inpired by the Flannery O'Connor story A Good Man Is Hard To Find, Roseanne Cash's song inspired by her summer reading The Collected Stories of Colette and Gaskit's sort of punk song inspired by Elie Weisel's autobiographical novel Night.

They have a startlingly incomplete list of famous sibls which might contain the songs I've sent them by the time you read this. I hadn't realized that some songs were from literature; I'm a liner-note junkie, and merely hearing the song on the radio doesn't always make the connection. They seem to avoid all the songs from movies based on books; probably a good thing. And while they include a song inspired by a graphic novel, they don't list songs inspired by comics (eg Spiderman or Superman's Song). You are encouraged to send them more songs (be specific as to title of song, artist and work it is inspired by!).

Songs Inspired By Literature is a really great project, and the two CDs so far are really good and highly recommended. And you can help them out by buying or selling the CDs for their non-profit enterprise.


The Great Luke Ski

Uber Geek

For years, I've been waiting for rap to work for me. Lots of people like it, presumably because their parents don't, and that's fine. I was hoping that rap would bring back good lyric writing and storytelling in song, so lacking in recent years. But alas, rap is known for hating women and loving guns.

Who'd a thunk that rap would have found its justification in... filk.

Oh sure, there have been other rap parodies, notably Two Live Jews. But it took the great Luke Ski to bring science fiction fandom to this art form, breathing new life into ringing ear drums and introducing a new musical genre marketing category: Rap Dementia. A tribute, of course, on Dr. Demento, who has his own song on the album. Luke has been doing this for many years, mostly on the con circuit, and his act is polished, the CDs professional and his web site is easy to use.

Featuring an astonishing range of song stylings and voices, Luke Ski is a staggering amount of fun. His latest CD (and the only one I have) is Uber Geek (or, more properly but harder for search engines to find, Über Geek.) While mostly rap variants, there are parodies of Willie Nelson and Billy Joel with spoken bits that range from rap CD outtakes to parodies of Monty Python bits. Equally adept at rapping in the voice of Ed O'Neill, The Swedish Chef or Keanu Reeves, Luke is one drive-by shooting away from being notorious.

Unabashed plug: The Great Luke Ski, Dr. Demento and myself (and others!) are going to be Guests of Honor at the next Marscon, March 5-7 2004. Indeed, I first met Luke at the 2003 Marscon, where he performed many of these songs live. If you think it's fun listening to him, it's even more fun watching him play with Kermit dolls as he sings Who Let The Frog Out (to the Baha Men anthem) with the audience joining in the chorus.

Now where was I? Oh yeah...

To catch all the references that Luke makes, you have to watch too much tv. He's not kidding about the Uber Geek title. Heck, I get most of the references, but probably miss a few. They go by quickly. I don't even play Pokemon or watch Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, but the parodies are dead on target, and the rap lyrics give the references a thick viscosity. You don't need to get all the jokes to appreciate the songs, but it helps. He's fast and furious, bold and beautiful, Barnes and Barnes. He works his way up to Shockwave dense by surrounding a great song about the Buffy spin-off Angel, I Am A Vamp of Constant Sorrow (to the traditional folk tune), with Monty Python references. Sheesh.

I must admit, what did it for me, watching him live, was It's A Fanboy Christmas. With fanboy enthusiasm, he shares nearly ten minutes of Christmas song parodies, science fiction tv references, bad jokes that go by quickly and almost anything else. I'm a sucker for stuff like:

(To the tune of The Little Drummer Boy)
Danger, danger young Will Robinson
For Dr. Smith is coming Will Robinson
I know you have been searching for Babylon
You're hungry have some fish heads eat them up yum, eat them up yum, eat them up yum
Linoleum
yeah!

Come join us at Marscon and... let's play doctor.


Recommended Children's Music, Part VII

Joe Scruggs I

We interrupt all the flag waving to invoke a higher cliché: The children are our future!

There's one simple trick for dealing with kids that a lot of people -- and a lot of musicians -- haven't quite twigged to: Don't talk down to them. Sure, toddlers get baby talk and pre-schoolers have a smaller vocabulary and organize ideas a bit more simply. But kids know when they're getting the auntie "Oh, you're such a big boy!" routine. And they know it pretty young.

Too many musicians think they're singing to the Barney or Teletubbies age group, driving adults crazy and not helping the older kids much. But some reach kids and grownups too. The Wombles and the Banana Slug String Band get it right. And so does Joe Scruggs. In another gem gleaned from defunct local children's radio station Radio Aahs, I came across this guy, and now have six of his CDs. I'll review three this week and the other three next time.

Bahamas Pajamas has great songs that kids can relate to and grownups will appreciate. Youngsters might not know quite how to deal with a New Baby but they know all about the Bathtub Blues. But the best songs (by my not-quite-grown-up tastes) are more playful. He joins "those colorful Cackatoos from Caracas... the Psychic Singers!!" for the title song, a really nifty calypso wordplay done in counterpoint with singing birds. When Joe does a traditional tune, he improves on it. My favorite song from these three (indeed, my new favorite song that I play over and over and have played for friends as well as on the air) is Humpty Dumpty. Sung in nearly a cappella reggae with island back up singers, the nursery rhyme is dragged into the modern era.

Ah, but Humpty Dumpty played on that wall,
And Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
And all the King's horses and all the king's men,
They could not put Humpty together again.

Now they called the king's horses
And what did they say?
They looked at poor Humpty
And they just said, "Neigh!"

One of the king's men said,
"What can be done?
I think we're going to
Have to call Nine One One!"

Even Trolls Have Moms features the Twilight Zone Home, with full tv show theme and Rod Serling-style intro, all about how things mysteriously get lost around the house. Inappropriate let's kids know that when they hear a bad word they should discuss it with their parents. Swing and Sway is described as an Activity Song where kids get to play being a kangaroo, penguin, panda and so on. Even Trolls Have Moms gets kids to realize that dragons have to brush their teeth. Presumably, after they eat dinner cooked in a microwave ala Nuke It. Flying Round the Mountain is an update of the traditional tune, a must for aging boomers (and their grandkids):

She'll be flying in her jet plane when she comes.
She'll be flying in her jet plane when she comes.
She thought she'd make some change giving rides on her new plane,
And she'll be flying 'round the mountain when she comes.

Deep In The Jungle is produced a bit differently, with several of the songs having female backup singers for doo-wop arrangements, as in the title song updating the Just So Story (I think) about how the crocadile catches monkeys. This is described as an Activity Song, as are several cuts including his gentle update of the Eeensy Weensy Spider. The CD encourages kids to Read A Book, have their mom use a magnet to attach a Refrigerator Picture and appreciate their Grandmas & Grandpas. Another traditional song that gets updated is Rock and Roll MacDonald, which starts off as a Barbershop Quartet singing about animals then slides into rap about making rock music. Since getting kids to ask questions is important, I liked the short song Who Knows? . "Who knows where the rainbow goes?" A nice, gentle song with great harmonies.

All the CDs have lyric sheets, and the hellojoe.com website has samples. Highly recommended, even if you're not going to share with all the other kids.


Recommended Children's Music, Part VIII

Joe Scruggs II

The more I hear of Joe Scruggs, the more I appreciate him. Often, the best stuff out there is for children, and doesn't quite make it to mainstream. Too bad. I reviewed three of his CDs last week, and here are three more.

Traffic Jams is subtitled Songs for Kids on the Go. That is, Car Songs for the Car Seat Set. Lots of fun stuff done in a variety of styles with female doo-wop singers every now and then. Goo Goo Ga Ga is a sing-along for toddlers, where baby talk rescues our plucky travelers from witches and alligators. The People In The Car is a variant on The People On The Bus, but with a staggering amount of vocal sound effects for the horn, transmission, windshield wiper and more. Mom can make what's Under Your Bed go back to normal, but it's nice to see childhood fears dealt with respectfully. The CD deals with children's worries with the proper amount of respect and humor, as in admonishing dad over the Speed Bump Blues or what to do for some Car Seat Exercise. Buckle Up takes care safety seriously, and the lyric sheet has some nice Travel Tips. Raindrops and Lemon Drops is a pretty duet, called in the lyric sheet a "traditional kindergarten song", but I've never heard it before:

If all of the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops
Oh, what a wonderful world it would be.
I'd walk around with my mouth wide open
Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahh, Ahh
If all of the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops
Oh, what a wonderful world it would be.

Late Last Night, released originally in 1984, is probably on its second generation of kids, and it stands up wonderfully. What Do They Do With The Children? confronts a very real fear: Being separated from your mother or father in a large public place. While the same song might be more cautionary today, several scary scenarios are run through with sober humor until the issue is resolved at the end. Perhaps not a big problem in your area, the request Please Don't Bring A Tyrannosaus Rex To Show and Tell is reasonable school policy, and should be enforced more diligently. And perhaps your doctor won't prescribe the Grape Jelly Cure, but it couldn't hurt to ask. My favorite cut on the CD is the dance Ants In My Pants, about wriggling. Sure to liven up kid birthday parties, though if you're in school you should be careful of the Wiggle In My Toe, as the teacher might be displeased. The title song is a long list of activities you have while asleep. Some dreams are reliving the day's activities, some are wishes.

Not every song on Ants is about ants, but The Parade is a military march that the adults will like more than the kids, with references to old songs like When Johnny Comes Marching Home and High Hopes. But if you don't follow the same parade, you follow a Different Drum: "You like to run in the sun I like to dance in the shade, I'm marching to my own parade". On the Two Thumbs Date, your digits go dancing in the pale moonlight in 50s-style doo-wop. A five-year-old whines Not Fair, and takes it to court which rules in gospel-style. Some Andean pan flutes pop up In My Closet, a darker song that, once again, deals with scary issues before being resolved at the end. Daddy Can't Rock The Baby because she's grown up, though not as grown up as when Rapunzel Got A Mohawk and various fairy tale characters get updated. The ants return in time to leave The Farm. Euphemisms are explored, since you mother doesn't really Change The Baby, darn it. The wonderment of building and looking out from atop your own Tree House is a testament to independence. Even if you need a Night-light. (I'll have to play this one back-to-back with They Might Be Giant's Birdhouse In My Soul.) The magic of rainfall at night is sung by an ethereal chorus as Joe urges the raindrops to Come On Down. Ants, from 1997, is darker than previous releases and musically more adventurous. Whether you grew up on Joe Scruggs or not, this CD will has something for kids and grownups too.

As with the first three, all the CDs have lyric sheets, and the hellojoe.com website has samples. Highly recommended even if you don't have kids.


Bing Crosby

Invented the tape delay so he could play golf

Desi Arnaz invented the television rerun. In the early days, shows would be broadcast twice, one for the East Coast and once for the West Coast. This was fine for people coming out of the Broadway tradition, but his wife was pregnant. In 1951, Desi developed the three-camera live-to-film tv format which is still standard today. This enabled I Love Lucy to be filmed, once, and put in the can. Two hours or five decades later, the show was as good as originally broadcast. No blurry kinescope for Little Ricky.

Harry Lillis Crosby, who's 100th birthday was May 3 (though he celebrated May 2, 1904 most of his life), deserves his props too.

Before tv there was radio, and radio was a live medium. Until the middle 40s, sound was recorded, if at all, on wax disks. Records were fine, but high quality recordings were expensive to make (unless you made thousands) and required a lot of equipment in a big studio and were difficult if not impossible to record over.

In 1946, Bing didn't have a pregnant wife to worry about. He wanted to play golf.

Borrowing from a site about Les Paul, from an interview conducted by Frank Beacham:

Les Paul: I'll tell you the story of how the tape recorder came to America. I was working with Bing Crosby on the Kraft Music Hall in California and Bing says to me: "You know, I wish there was a way I could do like you do. You have all your (transcription and wire recording equipment) at home and you can record your stuff in your garage. I have to go down to the studio and do everything. I can't play on the golf course. I'd rather do it right at the club house if I could."
 
It just so happened that Judy Garland and I were doing a broadcast on Sundays in New York City. We had to fly from California to New York and it took 19 hours. We were playing at 53rd and Broadway and a little old man came up to me -- this was about 1945 or 46 -- and he said his name was Dick Ranger and he had a tape recording machine. He said he picked it up when we invaded Luxembourg in the big push to end the war.
 
This was big news to me. Colonal Ranger said he walked into a radio station and saw this tape machine and grabbed it. It was too big to carry or ship back so he dismantled it and brought it back to the States piece by piece. Colonel Ranger took this tape machine -- it was called a Magnetophon -- to Orange, New Jersey and put it back together. Then he made a copy of it he called the Rangertone.
 
Meanwhile, I go to Bing Crosby and tell him there's a man that nailed me at 53rd and Broadway with a tape machine. I said that's your guy. You can put that machine right on the golf course and you can record your show from there. Just get your trio to play behind you and there you go. So Bing says find the guy and bring him out here.
 
I called Colonel Ranger, brought him out to California, and he demonstrated the recorder at KNX, which is CBS out in Hollywood. Bing said I'll take 50 of them. But Ranger said he could only make one a year. This guy just wasn't a good businessman. Bing says I want someone who can make 50 of them and I need them now.
 
Well, there was another guy named Jack Mullin who also had one of the German recorders in his garage but he hadn't put it together yet. Finally, Mullin put his together and took it over to Ampex. The people at Ampex took a look and said let's go with it. But first, they said, they had to have some money...so they went to Bing for the cash. He said how much do you want? They said $50,000. Bing wrote out a check for fifty grand with no interest. He said I don't want any part of the Ampex company. I don't want anything to do with you guys other than have you deliver me those machines. And so it was that I worked on the very first broadcast with tape (Bing Crosby Philco Radio Time, 1947).
 
If one of the reels on that machine broke it could have killed five people in the room...it was going so fast. The tape that the Germans were using was made of paper. It was like fly paper. The Germans would just scratch some iron dust on it. Later 3M provided the first version of "Scotch" recording tape to replace that German paper stock. So that's how the tape machine got to America. It just floated up on our shores and Ampex made a fortune from it.
 
Let me say one more thing about tape, since I was there from the beginning. Anybody out there who thinks they've got something stored away on tape had better think twice because we don't know how long tape is going to last. It's almost like a (heart) bypass, unless someone stays around long enough to tell us we won't know how long it's going to work.
 
(Interviewer's Note: The EQ for Jack Mullin's re-designed circuitry of the 1943 Magnetophon became the basis for the NAB curve. The first pair of Ampex Model 200 tape recorders -- serial numbers 1 and 2 -- were delivered to Jack Mullin at the Bing Crosby show in Hollywood in April, 1948 to replace Mullin's original Magnetophons, which were being used to record the Crosby radio show.)

Magnetic recording devices have a long history going back to 1888. Still, even the Germans admit that "During [WWII], tape recorders were produced only for military use, propaganda campaigns and broadcast studios." This was used, successfully, to confuse the allies who weren't sure just where the person speaking was. As a site devoted to German composer Felix Draeseke says, "Fritz Schröter, a director of AEG, was active with Pfleumer in developing coated-plastic tape in collaboration with BASF. The reproduced signals were sufficiently good that it became difficult to tell them from the live broadcast performances. Sound recording on coated-plastic tape was improved during the war to the point where Adolf Hitler's radio broadcasts, replayed from AEG Magnetophon equipment, no longer indicated his location. It was also possible to air the identical concert at the same hour from several stations; listeners (the Allies in particular) wondered how it was being done."

Thomas Edison to Oberlin Smith to Jack Mullin to... Harry Lillis Crosby. Somewhere, right now, Bing is crooning off recordings he helped make possible. Somewhere, right now, Bing is playing golf on the perfect course.


Music for Moms

Kids music that won't drive adults crazy

Intro: Last summer, I acquired two neices. They're really my cousins' kids who were just-over-three and not-quite-two, but we decided that "uncle" was a lot easier to explain to them. Somewhat innocently, I asked if they wanted some music, since I have been making tapes/CDs for my nephew for years and have a great deal of children's music (see previous entries). "Sure," they said mildly befuddled, not really knowing what to expect. Most music for infants is pretty boring for adults, especially when played as often as little kids demand. I set out to make mixes that kids would like that wouldn't drive the adults crazy, so both mother and daughter could listen over and over.

So while the prime audience was the kid, this was for the mom as well. I wound up with four CDs worth of songs. They each got a set of all four, and reports back indicate that they love 'em, and play 'em a lot. I'm only going to talk about one of them here, but if I get enough requests I'll go on to review the whole project. Heck, it's about time for another one or two, since I have even more kids music now.

I bent the rules a little with the first one for Toby, the youngest neice, since there are a few songs that are aimed at little kids. Still, after a few years of listening (and talking) baby talk, I figured the moms wouldn't mind. Here's the tracks, discussion to follow.

Toby I

1. Dandelion - Gary Rosen 3:49
2. Going to the Zoo - Peter, Paul & Mary 3:09
3. Baby Elephant Walk - Henry Mancini 2:43
4. Three Is A Magic Number - Schoolhouse Rock 3:13
5. We're Gonna Shine - Fred Penner 2:50
6. Bumps A Daisy - Teletubbies 2:53
7. Drummers Drumming - Dr. Seuss 1:09
8. El Condor Pasa - Ch'uwa Yacu Bolivia 4:11
9. Feed The Birds - Mary Poppins 3:48
10. First Lullaby - Bill Staines 2:34
11. Sounds of Words - Special Music Company 3:14
12. I Have You - Connie Kaldor 2:36
13. Early - Pat Travis 3:46
14. Michael Row The Boat Ashore - Disney 2:28
15. My Heart Would Be A Fireball - Fireball XL-5 1:08
16. Oh Dear What Can The Matter Be? - Disney 1:37
17. Polly Wolly Doodle - Burl Ives 1:55
18. Mana Vu - Brave Combo 4:17
19. Old House - World of Music 1:09
20. Tra La La Song - The Banana Splits 1:24
21. Russian Slumber Song - World of Music 1:18
22, Seven Days of the Week - Special Music Company 1:16
23. Stella Stegasaurus - DinoRock 2:37
24. Teletubbies Say Eh oh (Again Again Mix) 5:38
25. The Sound Song - World of Music 1:52
26. On Top of Spaghetti - Tom Glazer 2:39
27. The Super Supper March - Dr. Seuss 1:15
28. Pumpernickel - Barney 1:34
29. Cake For Breakfast - Greg Lee 3:05

Dandelion is a great beginning song, with a gentle opening and female chorus. "How do you know it's really Spring?" asks the song, then answers: Dandelions. A dash of French (dandelion="lion's tooth"). I put other PPM songs on the other CDs, and Going to the Zoo is a good introduction to them; bouncy, with a kids chorus. Start with two songs about subjects that kids and adults can relate to. Baby Elephant Walk is a nice instrumental from Mancini and segues from the zoo and contains the word "Baby" in the title. Every mom of a certain age gets misty-eyed about Schoolhouse Rock, and Three Is A Magic Number was the first and is still my favorite. Perhaps learning to multiply by three is a bit young for a two year old, but it's a great song and you might as well start on the math now. We're Gonna Shine is repetitious but uplifting, with a chorus in French. Kids love Teletubbies, and Bumps A Daisy is a great instrumental (presumably a dance) with fun noises and giggles all the way through. Though the lyrics are credited to Dr. Seuss, Drummers Drumming is a mostly a cappella counterpoint of people singing the drum parts ("rattle tattle rattle tattle need a little rattle tattle...") with a snare and minimal instruments complimenting the voices.

The Simon & Garfunkel version of El Condor Pasa has almost nothing to do with the song from the Andes, and this pan flute instrumental has no lyrics. Still, it's a great song and the adults will compare with the more familiar version. Meanwhile, Feed the Birds is not only my favorite Disney song (and Walt's too, while he was alive) and is another entry point for mother and child to appreciate at different levels. Maybe the kid will eventually see Mary Poppins; I hope so. One lullabye is followed by First Lullabye. A slower song with a chorus in French; I like having songs in other languages for kids, though this mix is a bit heavy on the French; I get into Spanish and Icelandic on other CDs. I used a lot of Bill Staines in these mixes. This is followed by one of the few songs that aren't really for adults. It simply goes through the alphabet and gives examples of Sounds of Words. Still, it's a nice little song that you can sing along to and may help a kid learn to talk. I Have You is a mother's soothing words to her child; gentle and loving. Early, a Greg Brown song, is an uplifting tale of a midwestern town, giving a sense of place to a child.

Started in on the classics with the next sequence. The Disney version of Michael Row Your Boat Ashore, sung by kids, is the best one I have that's pitched to a young audience. This is followed by the first song where I get to be a bit subversive: My Heart Would Be A Fireball, the closing song to the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation show from the mid-60s. Fireball XL5 may not hold up, but the song is still great and the kids get a dash of science fiction. Maybe the adults remember the song fondly too. I was raised on Burl Ives and other folkies, and this version of Polly Wolly Doodle (with the Ray Charles Singers) goes waaay back. Perhaps a bit overproduced, but what the heck. Mana Vu, in Hebrew, is a tranquil Israeli dance to a Yemenite step (claims the liner notes). This is followed by a short spiritual about tearing down and building a house; a call and response with a pastor-like deep voice and kids chorus. Another indulgence: The Banana Splits show was pretty dumb, but I loved the music, including the theme, the Tra La La Song. After some nearly incomprehensible lyrics, the Russian Slumber Song is an instrumental giving the feel of the music from that country. The Seven Days of the Week is another one that's mainly for little kids, but is good enough that adults can get by it. Then a great bouncy dinosaur song about a shy Stella Stegasaurus, another slightly subversive song to perk an interest in the subject. (The kids sing: "Stella/please tell a/nice fella/like me. What was the world like/in One Hundred Million BC?") From dinosaurs back to the Teletubbies. This is their theme but in a longer remix. Kids who watch the show will like it, and even the repititive nature of the song is handled well enough for the adults. Maybe that will hold for The Sound Song, the last of the little kid tracks that adults would just as soon skip.

I end with four food songs. Yum! Tom Glazer, who died a few months ago, sings and teaches a kids chorus On Top of Spaghetti. For how subversive this song is, even adults remember it fondly. Dr. Suess' dinner plans may not be to your taste, but the Super Supper March is enormously fun. Adults may hate Barney, but he pops a good song or two including Pumpernickel, about various kinds of breads. The Greg Lee song you're probably most familiar with is Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?, and Cake For Breakfast is off that CD. ("Last night I dreamed about cake for breakfast. Two big pieces just for me. They're standing there on a paper platter, covered with a doily.") Bouncy and upbeat, about sleeping and eating cake. It's such a subversive song that the track before it is an apology. Adults will love this song as much as the kids.

That's enough for this week. This is the youngest-pitched CD I've ever made. The other CDs in the set don't have the little kid songs and I get to be even more avuncular with song selection. I've played DJ long enough that making mix tapes is fun, and I get to play with my CDs! Playing DJ for two different audiences at the same time is trickier, but that's part of the fun as well. Whee!

By the way... my mother has a copy of this CD. Hi Mom!


The Foremen

Catching up with Roy Zimmerman

As alerted by Joan Manners a few days ago here on Bartcop-E, The Foremen have two other albums aside from the ones I recommended, though at least one is out of print, and an available Roy Zimmerman CD. She kindly sent the three of them my way, and I've now had a chance to listen to them. They do not disappoint.

Some political humor works by commenting on the day's events, like a Saturday Night Live Weekend Update, The Daily Show or the pin-point skewer of the Capitol Steps. The Foremen's time was the late 80s-early 90s and many of the songs work best in context. But not all political observations are ephemeral and many Foremen songs are still politically relevant and still comment on today's situations. Conservatives are still sex-obsessed racists, Republicans are still more interested in their own power than they are in helping people like you, and most of us are still struggling to find meaning in a world that doesn't always make sense. If, as Tom Lehrer observed, satire died when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, it surely was buried when George W. appointed Kissinger to lead the commission to investigate 9/11 (from which he resigned, as Joe Conason predicted, since he would have to reveal his client list). The Foremen take us back to a more simple era when laughter helped frame public consciousness and wasn't quite the desperate attempt to deal with lying scoundral in the White House and religious extremists in power here in the US and all over the world. Like a fine wine, some Foremen songs work best in their vintage year while other continue to age well. Joan links to all the Forement/Zimmerman CDs you can get new and suggestions on where to look for used.

Given the repitition of material on the two albums of the same name, I expected the first Folk Heroes to be largely redundant. True, there are a few songs on both, and the second has perhaps The Foremen's best song Building for the Future. But the first sings about the first Gulf War in Saddam Shame that's still relevant. Heck, The Jesse Helms Song illuminates the ol' boy in a way that's still fresh, though it applies more to Trent Lott now that Helms is officially out of office (and Strom Thurmond is officially dead). At some point I'm going to put Hard Time To Be A Man together with Christine Lavin's Sensative New Age Guys. I know lots of slightly bent bands who need a last song to their first set, and Song of Many Deaths will get spread around. Amazon.com has the second Folk Heroes, while Snazzy American Music has What's Left and (the first) Folk Heroes.

Some live albums work better than others. The unavailable Sing It Loud! is the Foreman's live concert at Luna Park in West Hollywood. While I wouldn't recommend it as the first Foremen album to get, if you're a fan and want more, keep your eyes on the used bins. Familiar songs have nice introductions, and Building For The Future, fittingly, builds to a great version. There are a few songs that aren't on the studio albums. I collect Internet songs, and Lazin' In The Shade is a good one. The Christmas song is good, the Dylan parody on mandatory jail sentencing works, even former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski gets his own reggae song.

Roy Zimmerman wrote all the songs for the Foremen. His solo album, Comic Sutra, isn't all that much like the group. Most of the songs aren't political, though they're pretty funny, and the ones that touch upon political issues are more general and don't have a specific target. My favorite song on the album is even more relevant now than it was a few years ago. Defenders of Marriage is all about gay marriages and hits the issues dead on. Not many people take on branding (the next step after piercing) or vasecotomies. Roy must be a fun date (I bet his wife is interesting too). Comic Sutra is (mostly) a live concert at Luna Park, and sprinkled with a few words that aren't really too naughty but I'll have to bleep them for airplay.

Roy has an ear for musical styles and his lyrics spear to the heart. Not all the images work, but when then they do, they're unmatched. "...when a priest can marry the man of his choice, you'll be there..." The vivid images in T.M.I. might make this the second good song I can't listen to, after Weird Al's One More Minute. I hold him in high regard along with favorites like Tom Lehrer, Rev. Billy C. Wirtz and Wally Pleasant. I wish he'd do more, but I can undertand how creativity demands patience. (I just wish we didn't have to suffer for our art, dammit.)

Aside: There are a LOT of songs and albums that are out of print and unavailable commercially. It would be trivially easy (baring contractual disputes) to put those songs up on iTunes or some other internet pay-per-song venue. Purveyors of obscure music such as myself can only hope the record companies twig to this cheap method of keeping their catalog active. Until then, we haunt used bins and trade CDs... anyone have weird stuff for me? I'm still looking for obscure and odd songs to sling at Dr. Demento for our potential Dement-Off at Marscon 2004.


The Roches

"We spell our last name R-O-C-H-EEEEEEEEE"

The Roches were one of my favorite groups for many years, but I wasn't going to write about them since I'm nearly two decades behind in their CDs. My housemate in the early 80s was a major fan of theirs, and made me tapes of four vinyl albums that were out at the time, and I've picked up one new CD since plus replaced the three which had been reissued. They have done so much more since that I feel a little guilty in only talking about their early efforts, but the music still stands up. Maybe I'll seek out later CDs and review them here, but they've done a lot as a group and in solo efforts. Their web site is good and contains a lot of information including ordering info and lyrics, though you have to navigate through the frames to find them.

I met the Roches before I saw them perform. Three of us programmers at KFAI-FM drove from Minneapolis to the 1983 Winnipeg Folk Festival where they were performing, and we did interviews and hung around the performers tents a bit. I offered to give Suzzy Roche a massage, which she turned down. The Roches gave a performance in one of the side tents, and it was packed. I used my Press credentials to sneak in the back way and got a good seat. They gave a great concert: At ease on stage, joking amongst themselves and the audience, singing terrific songs in tight three-female harmony. Their performance on the main stage later in the Festival was shorter but also great.

The Roches' songs tell a story, usually from the first person and I assume a lot of them are personal anecdotes (suitably enhanced/altered for the song). They manage to be independent, smart, vulnerable, angry (usually at a man), caring, earthy and self-effacing... without being brassy about it (usually). All their albums have a wide variety of subject matter but always have something about themselves. Whether this is really them or part of their public persona, I don't know, but they bravely reveal more than most.

Maggie and Terre and Suzzy Roche have paid their dues. They were street singers, knocking about the clubs in New York for many years (as well as backing up Paul Simon on Here Comes Rhymin' Simon). Before Suzzy joined the act, Maggie and Terre had an album, Seductive Reasoning, that has a song produced by Simon and engineered by Phil Ramone, in 1975. The album lacks the full harmonies associated with later efforts by the three sisters, but the sophisticated song writing and great vocals still shine. This is the album that hadn't been reissued on CD back then and I confess listening to the tape for this review was the first time I heard it in years. They're pretty angry at men, as usual. The first song states the case: "Good men want a virgin so don't you give yourself to soon. Unless it's an emergency, like underneath the moon." Wigglin' Man is a countrified ode to a "chewed up man" who still chases women and occasionally get a mellow gal. A female performer getting hit on replies dismissively, If You Emptied Out Your Pockets You Could Not Make The Change. Yet the same performer is lonely onstage and poignantly sings to her absent former lover at Malachy's. Nearly three decades later, the album is still fresh, providing a glimpse into their lives then and, presumably, now.

Three years later, Robert Fripp produced (in "audio verite") their epynomous first CD as The Roches. The album made them many new fans, and Maggie was on the local NYC tv news singing The Married Men: "...never would have had a good time again if it wasn't for the married men." The first song introduces the group:

 We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzy.
 Maggie and Terre and Suzzy Roche
 we don't give out our ages
 and we don't give out our phone numbers
  (give out our phone numbers)
 sometimes our voices give out
 but not our ages and our phone numbers
(Naturally, the web site has a link for their ages and phone numbers, which I shall leave for the reader to explore.)

The album has tells more of their story as struggling artists, with one failed singer imploring her old boss, "O Mr. Sellack, can I have my job back, I've run out of money again." The Troubles tells of going to a gig in Ireland: "We'll try not to get in the way of the guns as we always do." A very personal album.

Nurds is another personal album, almost scary in how much it reveals about the singer. Most guys won't own up to being picked on in school, but Terre scornfully recalls being one of the Nurds. I used My Sick Mind as the theme for a radio show of the same name. A delicious self-putdown where she presents a different face to the world than to herself. Few singers could look at themselves in a mirror without trying to make light of the subject; the Roches spit bile from the other person's point of view as a fellow laundromat patron wishes The Death of Suzzy Roche. Perhaps Suzzy is guilty about being rude and needs to suffer penance or even catharsis; I hope it works. They cover Cole Porter's It's Bad For Me about a dysfuncitonal relationship: "I wish you'd go on forever, I wish even more you'd stop." If you're going to be hard on yourself, you might as well do so in a good cause. They compare their comparitively rich life with that of The Boat Family, refugees from Cambodia. In a traditional Irish song, a Factory Girl spurns the love of an suitor. Nurds is another very brave album from a personal perspective, rich in harmony and craft.

I have their next two CDs as well, which I'll talk about later, Heck, I may have inspired myself to pick up some of their newer material...


New CDs from old friends

the great Luke Ski, The Nick Atoms

The great Luke Ski's infectious enthusiasm is evident in his latest CD, Worst Album Ever. Nearly 74 minutes of parodies, originals, guest artists and self-effacing humor can't contain Luke's full fanboy effervesence, but he tries. This is the closest recorded effort to the boundless energy of his concerts and live appearances. Even the CD case artwork is busy and loads of fun.

Plug of two radio shows and a convention: One of Luke's heroes (and mine) is Dr. Demento, who keeps playing his songs. It's a good thing all three of us are going to be Guests of Honor at Marscon, March 5-7 2004. I had Luke on my show last week (see below for archive info, 8/23/03 show may still be up on the KFAI site and I'll eventually put it up on mine), and Stealing Like A Hobbit immediately catapulted into the top spot on Shockwave's Funny Three (a long tradition that started with this visit from Luke...).

Stealing Like A Hobbit is the best produced song on the album, a parody of Emimen's Cleaning Out My Closet all about Frodo's meeting with Gollum in the second Lord of the Rings movie. Luke is also proud of the original song, The Ballad Of Optimus Prime with The Nick Atoms, all about The Transformers. Personally, I'm fond of Because I'm Jedi, to the tune of Because I Get High from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back all about the second (or fifth) Star Wars movie; and 88 Lines About 44 Simpsons, from an out of print album all about... well, you can guess. You can also guess the subject of the rap song Christmas In Hogwart's.

In person, Luke likes to credit other artists and gives credit where due. On the album, many guest artists get to strut their stuff: Tony Goldmark, Sudden Death, Tom Smith, Ookla the Mok, Power Salad and the aforementioned (and latermentioned) Nick Atoms.

A CD called Worst Album Ever just begs for Comic Book Guy nitpicking, and here are mine: The interstitial tracks can go on too long. While the studio recordings are well produced, some of the live tracks aren't engineered particularly well, at the wrong sound level with a few pops and clicks. Not all the songs are as tightly written as my favorite of his previous efforts. There's so much stuff on the album that I accused Luke of believing in his own hype. He responded, "I spend most of the album telling people how much I suck."

Worst Album Ever doesn't suck. It's a tremendous effort that will facilitate the great Luke Ski's transition from filker to Weird Al-worthy professional musician. Most previous filk singers (science fiction/fantasy fans singing parodies and/or originals for their friends at conventions) come from the folk tradition. Luke comes from the 80s Rap and Hard Rock era, and that's reflected in both his music and subject matter. Worst Album Ever is a great introduction to his body of work, and sharing the spotlight with friends makes it one of the best introductions to the world of filk singing.

Also bumping up a notch in professionalism are The Nick Atoms. They had been burning CDs of their music and passing them out, willy-nilly, to their fans. Those CDs had minimal packaging and no CD labels. After Guest of Honor appearances at Marscon 2003 and stints at other cons, the two CDs they had over the summer represent a large leap of marketing as well as musicianship. I don't, frankly, know how you would get them. I bet if you wrote and offered some reasonable amount of money they'd send you one.

One nicely packaged set of 13 songs is simply called The Nick Atoms. It has their usual punk arrangements of tv and movie theme songs such as Our Man Flint, Escape From New York, MST 3000, Spider-Man and G.I. Joe, as well as originals such as We're The Nick Atoms, Cathy and Jet Jaguar. Capturing their costumed show is tricky, but the last (hidden) track tries pretty hard. The music is tighter and better produced than some of their earlier efforts.

The Nick Atoms Chrismas Record is unlikely to be elevator music at any time in the near future. Interspersed with comments and introductions are songs (and variations on songs) including Winter Wonderland, Do You Hear What I Hear, Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow and Christmas In Heaven. The game they invent for The Twelve Days of Christmas may very well catch on; it's my favorite cut for the sheer inventiveness and fearlessness of the attempt. They have fun with a "traditional German Christmas song" and rap the classic 'Twas The Night Before Christmas. Not for everyone, but I liked it.


New CDs from old friends 2

Mann & Margolin, Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, Tonic Sol-Fa

Pre-9/11, George Mann and Julius Margolin's CD Hail To The Thief jabbed at Bush Lite's weak character: He was dumb, uncaring and an unelected fraud. Those flaws seem minor now, with greater evil eminating from the Bush administration every day. Self-described "labor folkies" George and Julius mainly take on the failed economic policies in their new CD A Few Bad Apples (order info and sound clips here). Just as 30's Depression songwriters ignored the looming Nazi threat and Stalinism in the Soviet Union to concentrate on the hard times, the labor folkies of the 00's are skimping on the international and ecological threats to take on scandals such as Enron, Worldcon, Bush Corporation Thieves, the forced genuflection of Bush and Ashcroft in Praise Bush (from a Wobbly tune), the plight of the working man in Lucille, Lucille My Little Girl and take another jab at Bush's stupidity with an uncredited track 15 If I Only Had A Brain. As with all good Depression songwriters, amid the bad news is a song to lift the spirit of pride, Great White Father.

Very much a throwback to Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, A Few Bad Apples is the musical counterpoint to the hard-hitting exposés of Joe Conason and Sydney Blumenthal. Sometimes they're union organizers, sometimes they're singing around the hobo campfire. They eschew biting political satire for plain talk and real emotions. And they're on tour! Updated: Ssee their website for details about current tours.

If you liked Hail To The Thief, you'll like A Few Bad Apples. If nothing else, the two of them should be left out as conversation pieces when friends drop over...

Earthier, from a blues rather than folk background, Rev. Billy C. Wirtz' latest CD, Rev. Elation, is a live concert from Chicago. As it says in the liner notes, "It's not my best show of the year, but it's far from my worst." The best way to appreciate the rev is at one of his concerts. He really knows how to work a crowd.

I had the privilege of playing host to Rev. Billy on a recent gig here in Mpls. Despite the rigors of a long road trip, he brightened up as soon as a microphone was in his face. I'll digitize his Shockwave appearance and put it up on my audio page soon. (To air his live concerts, I have to do some judicious bleeping...) In concert, he was great. The place was jumpin' and everyone was getting into it.

His songs range from the very personal love story, The Woman on Page 63 to a pretty dissection of another Rev., Jerry Falwell, Down In Lynchburg. Rev. Billy's has the amazing ability to interrupt himself, interact with the audience, play a different song, and then continue as if nothing happened. His patter is as much fun as the songs, as in the kinky Roberta. He gets his political licks in too, with En-Ron-Ron.

Rev. Elation is not the best introduction to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, but if you're a fan, or if you saw him in concert and want to recapture the feeling of a slightly twisted and high-energy Southern revival meeting, then this is a worthy addition to your collection. Spiritual, liberal, personal, hilarious and just two shades of blue, there's no one quite like him.

I get to see Tonic Sol-Fa at the Minnesota State Fair. The a cappella boy band has been around for a number of years now, and have a devoted following. They give a fun concert, often bringing a member of the audience up to dance with them. This year, their lead-off concert was on the short side, but they had a good excuse: The release of their new album, Red Vinyl. Unlike their other albums, this was mostly originals, with only one cover. It holds up pretty well. My favorite song is Boston to Beijing, about travelling being a dislocation of the senses, with Virginia, about the new girl, also good. While their covers are great, exploring new territory is working too. (What doesn't work very well is their web site, which doesn't want to load on my system, so I can't give you lyric links and such.) They don't get out of Minnesota much, but they're worth a look if and when they come to your town.


New CDs for '03

Folk Underground, The Prince Myshkins, Chaston & Groditski

Folk UnderGround is the latest incarnation of the Minneapolis science fiction music scene. Violin player Lorraine Garland is a former (and current?) member of The Flash Girls. Featured on the album are members of Boiled In Lead and the Tim Malloys. Somw of the songs are written by Neil Gaiman (including the two songs quoted here) and Shockwave Rider Jane Yolen. Musician/voiceover artist Trevor Hartman and geneticist Paul Score round out the group. These people have been making music, separately and together, for a long time, and it shows in how tight they play and in the precision of the vocal harmonies. Their debut album Buried Things is terrific.

Morbid, but terrific. As the song Folk Underground explains, the reference is not to the alternative folk music scene, but:

And they shift in their coffins
And toss in their beds
While the worms lick their shins
And crawl right through their heads
And they never go dancing
they don't make a sound
so be careful of folk underground

Idumea/City of the Damned is about the dead partying. Vampires swing to Rue the Day. Making a deal with the devil is Faustian bargain in The Butterfly Road:

Now there's no going back
and there's something undead
in your mind and your eyes
in your heart and your head
And if anyone asks how you feel
just say it was part of the deal

Roving guys, double entendres and sprightly instrumentals get the Folk UnderGround treatment. Reviewing music made by friends can be tricky, but Buried Things is a great album that I can recommend without reservation.

The Prince Myshkins CD Shiny Round Object has been out for a few years, but it just came to my attention this summer, so it counts as new for me. Named after the character in Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, the group comprises two guys playing accordion and guitar. Some of the music seems a bit unpolished, and there's a lot of gay humor, but most of it works. My favorite song is Nothing On The Moon, about the commercialization of everything. Their take on Golden Slippers is pretty good. Political controversies get the treatment in The Ten Commandments Mambo (about religion and politics), Let Me Into The Military (gays wanting to serve), The Approval Song (spin control and needing to be liked) and A Toddler's Tale (a love song for Tinky-Winky). Many of these can be heard on the CD page above, and some lyrics are here.

The Prince Myshkins have a devoted following and a growing reputation. They'll be playing in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison this week. I bet their concerts are even more fun than the CD.

If you're an arrested adolescent from a Polish background with an obsession with jelly donuts and gross-out humor, you may just be one of the Rugged Hoarhadees. Chaston & Groditski have been performing many of these songs since the late 60's, and revel in the "moronic tunes", some of which have been played on Dr. Demento. This recent release is not exactly a concept album though many of the songs relate to one another, or at least feature characters from other songs on the CD (notably the last, uncredited, track). My favorite track is The Saga of Aunt Sauerkraut, who has a jelly donut head. They sing about The Village Kiss as they face big lips, and the uncaring bystanders when She Fell Into A Sewer. Their music is more sophisticated then when they were teens (presumably) with a nice donut doo-wop Tell Me, Jelly Donut and the rap Boo Hoo & Bosco Rap'n Rock and the nearly angry punk challenge Shove It Up Your Krzywa Dupa Dziura. They patiently explain how to Be A Rugged Hoarhadee.

Sort of the Polish equivalent of Da Yoopers, Patsy & Elmo or other ethnic groups, Chaston & Groditski are loads of fun if you're into it, and just dumb if you're not. I confess... I'm a little into it.


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