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JAMES BROWN!

[photo of James Brown bobblehead]While it was jarring to wake up Christmas morning to learn of James Brown’s death, it was far from sad. Though the tireless workload he took on in the sixties and seventies that earned him his “hardest working man in show business” title eased up in subsequent decades, his long, difficult life had become especially challenging in recent years. Few septuagenarians could painlessly endure a steady schedule of grueling, physical performances, but Brown’s activities were complicated by debilitating diabetes, a rushed recovery from colon cancer, money troubles, legal woes, traitorous relatives, and a strained, strange marriage. The sad fact is that James Brown’s death is not merely occasion for the standard “rest in peace” well-wishings, but is likely the first time in decades that he has been able to genuinely rest, period.

Full disclosure: my James Brown fandom borders on fanaticism. Always fascinated by prolificity, I fell under the Godfather’s spell in my pre-school, where the sturdy classroom record player was turreted by towering stacks of Brown’s Polydor, King and People singles, many with his striking portrait on the label. For the last twenty years I have tried to see Brown live as many times as possible. Though he is perceived by many as an oldies act, mechanically (if enthusiastically) executing the same signature gimmicks for half a century, fans who kept close dibs appreciated both the potency he still possessed, and the absurdity of some of his would-be-innovations, including James Brown cookies, the James Brown Macarena, and the surprisingly funky, though absurdly didactic, 2001 single, “(Killing is Out) School is In.” Of course, Brown’s live shows are the source of his legend (my personal favorite was a fiery 1996 Grant Park concert in which the photo pit became a private V.I.P. section for legendary pimp/evangelist Bishop Don Magic Juan). But as a child weaned on the boob tube, for my money Brown achieved immortality on the television screen.

As a burgeoning music fan in the late seventies and early eighties his TV appearances became an obsession of mine, and in the days of independent video stores I was lucky that our local shop stocked well-worn copies of The Best of Ed Sullivan and The T.A.M.I. Show. In my book TV-A-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol I hold up Brown as perhaps the greatest icon of televised pop. His 1965 appearance on Shindig may be the best argument ever for the validity of lip-synching as an art form. Liberated from a microphone cord, his scrambling, shuffling, hypnotizing performance was a clinic on the magic of movement. Conversely, when his full band took over the Soul Train set, they unleashed one of the best live performances in TV history, culminating with Brown engulfed in a sea of vibrant, beautiful black teenagers pumping their fists and chanting, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” Brown is famed for staving off a race riot in Boston by performing a live televised concert in the wake of Dr. King’s 1967 assassination, but his influence over his people extended well into the 21st century. In 2003, like a faith healer, Brown’s touch redeemed a man who had spent a fortune denying his race. When Michael Jackson joined his idol in performance at the inaugural BET Awards the Godfather offered the pale pop star his famed cape. In the wake of this exhilarating moment the show’s host declared, “Michael Jackson ”¦ you’re still black! You’re still one of us!” Such is the power of Brown.

I spent my Christmas holidays, and the ensuing weeks, glued to the television, and buried in newspapers and magazines, surveying the news coverage and tributes. Nearly every story led with, or quickly segued into, the idea that rap music owed its existence to James Brown. These statements are, of course, accurate, and it would be irresponsible journalism to omit them, but it still seems a bit distasteful to validate such a extraordinary artist by cataloguing what he spawned rather than with his own work. In the only Christmas night prime time programming change, BET replaced a rerun of In Living Color with a special called Timeless which told Brown’s story in a montage of archival BET coverage, with Donnie Simpson, Tavis Smiley and Jacque Reid converging for a parade of praise. But with nearly every segment focusing with laser precision on what rap records sampled, quoted, or ripped off Brown, the show in many ways insulted a quarter century of teenagers. While a kid could conceivably dismiss a chestnut like “Try Me” as a crusty dusty, I profoundly believe that any adolescent hip hop fan can fully appreciate Brown’s funk compositions from the early seventies without an iota of contextualization. At his peak Brown made music that was so powerful, so timeless, and so singular that despite decades of building upon, stealing from, and remixing his work, not only has it not been improved upon, it also has not become old. While newly produced specials on BET, unearthed Brown tributes from the vaults of VH1 and PBS, and countless network news segments all made statement after statement about Brown’s influence, each of these programs peaked when they let the music make its own case.

The other thing that seemed a little off was that, appropriately I suppose, none of the press seemed to be telling the James Brown stories that are inevitably told when people tell James Brown stories. Brown’s genius was not unrelated to madness, and anyone who ever had personal, artistic, or business dealings with the performer, or even met him in passing, usually heard him say something outrageous, do something strange, or make a baffling demand. If he told you it was OK to take a photo with him, he might rage if you took a second. His most infamous incident, an interstate car chase that helped land Brown in prison in 1988, was set off by a perceived violation of the sacred space of his private bathroom. Each interview or conversation likely contained dynamically orated musings on politics, spirituality, and race that often contradicted whatever he said in the previous sentence. But the eccentric portrait these anecdotes paint was absent in most coverage immediately following his death. Other than an unintentionally horrific political cartoon in the Chicago Defender that showed the Grim Reaper in sunglasses draping a cape over Brown, the only non-lionizing portrayal I saw in the local press was Dave Hoekstra’s account of his bizarre, three-hour-late, confrontational interview with a hot dog-gobbling Brown.

[cartoon of James Brown from the Chicago Defender]

By far the most positive, and the most important, post-mortem James Brown TV show was his elaborate Augusta, Georgia funeral. Airing in its entirety on CNN, and then re-airing in an edited version on BET, the ceremony featured moving tributes by legendary African American orators, tense drama via his wife’s tenuous presence (the family and estate had launched a publicity campaign against disputing the marriage, though Brown clearly considered her his wife and partner — making her an integral part of his revue, as thousands of confused fans who attended his 2001 Washington Park concert can attest), and the surprise of Michael Jackson’s return to the States from post-trial exile. Jackson, who essentially launched his career as a James Brown impersonator (a film of Jackson mimicking Brown led to the Jackson 5ive’s Motown contract) delivered a heartfelt farewell.

But despite the memorial service being the most prominent television moment, the most powerful footage came days earlier, when CNN cablecast the footage of throngs of Harlemites lining up to view Brown’s remains in the Apollo Theater. Far from somber, the excited crowd chanted, “James Brown! James Brown! James Brown!” in a seemingly endless loop as they waited to see the legend lie in state. Of course, CNN used that phrase “lie in repose,” as Brown was not a dignitary, a royal, or a federal officeholder, but to his cheering subjects that wasn’t the case. Perhaps many of Brown’s seeming eccentricities — his sense of entitlement, his lashing out at errors in protocol, his propensity to hold court whether his ideas were fully formed or not — stem from his knowledge that he was in fact a monarch with divine rights. If the entire world recognized what his chanting subjects in that queue understood then perhaps a lot of the conflicts that plagued his later years could have been avoided.

Though I did not find Brown’s death a tragedy, one thought did make me very sad. At that same concert where I saw Bishop Juan tip his pimp hat to the Godfather I witnessed something that I consider the greatest moment in all of my concert-going experiences. Early in the set a young father, after having obviously pleaded his worthy case to the security guards, walked up to the front row and held his infant son aloft so that the baby could gaze, with his own newborn eyes, upon the world’s greatest living showman. He then calmly walked back to his distant seat, satisfied that his child was a witness to history. At that moment I vowed to give my then-theoretical child the same gift. Since my daughter Maiya’s birth my family has prepared her for that moment with a steady diet of scratchy 45s and dance parties. Maiya became a Brown devotee, and her third birthday party (at her request) was a James Brown–themed soirée (actually a James Brown/Dora the Explorer party, as we couldn’t secure James Brown party napkins and paper plates).

[photo of James Brown/Dora the Explorer party decorations] Anxious to fulfill the prophecy, I was prepared to take her to an announced James Brown festival in South Carolina last year, but it never came to fruition. I was fairly confident I could get her into his 2006 House of Blues show, but after negotiating with a sympathetic publicity director (I pitched a magazine article about my daughter’s fandom), it was concluded that legally a three-year-old was not allowed to attend the concert. I was subsequently put in touch with Brown’s people about possibly attending a sound check, but an odd Swedish woman, ostensibly part of Brown’s management team, apologized, explaining that a fatigued Mr. Brown would not be performing at the sound check, though she promised to send my daughter a package of souvenirs (which she did not do).

Of course I didn’t realize that was Maiya’s last chance to see him. I certainly feel worse about my fatherly failures in not affording her the opportunity to lay eyes upon the great one than she does about his passing. While I’m proud of how easily she’s handling the concept of death, it’s a little jarring, on two fronts, to hear my four-year-old bluntly tell people, “James Brown died,” when his music comes on the radio. Luckily she very easily grasped the concept that an artist lives on beyond his lifetime. Perhaps in this my child has, for the first time, actually benefited from growing up in a home in which every wall is lined with videos and records.

It seemed that the official end of the televised James Brown lovefest would be his loony wife’s appearance on the January 3rd Larry King Live to cry crocodile tears over the injustices she claimed the Brown estate was heaping upon her. But even that crazy-eyed, ex–Janis Joplin impersonator showed restraint, declaring she would not badmouth Brown’s children in their time of grief, and attempting to keep the tawdriest anecdotes about her ex under wraps (deftly explaining away everything from domestic abuse to Brown taking out an ad in Variety denouncing her). In a week uglier coverage would surface on the tabloid shows, as family disputes left his body unburied, and his youngest son’s paternity questioned, but for that night, a surprising amount of dignity was maintained. Dignity so dull and lifeless that, like most of the media coverage, it seemed unrelated to James Brown’s grunting, spinning, yearning energy. But, in a wise move, for major portions of Tomi Rae Brown’s interview, her talking head shrank considerably as archival footage of Brown, soundlessly performing, dominated the screen. As she monotonously rationalized her rehab stint, viewers were entranced by a bare-chested, sweat-covered genius freeing the souls of the Riker’s Island prisoners lucky enough to see him perform in 1972. Moving like a funky teenager, a martial arts master, a futuristic robot, a gravity defying superhero, and ultimately, like nobody but himself, that brief clip reiterated that the magic he possessed could not be summarized with the generic accolades being heaped upon him, and that his greatness placed him above the earthly pains and woes that burdened his life and looked to plague his estate long after his death. Finally, at peace, papa didn’t have to deal with no mess.

8-Tracks of 69: Porno 8-tracks, Part 1

The phrase just doesn’t make sense to people when I first say it: Porno 8-track tapes. No, not videos — 8-track tapes, like from the 70’s. Audio only. No, not recordings of porno movie soundtracks. It’s like porno for the blind, or X-rated radio theater: improbable scenarios, occasional sound effects, awkward play-by-play of all the action. Arousing? Stilted? Downright hilarious? You decide.

Like many of the real gems in my audio holdings, I acquired this from Goldmine Records, Columbus Ohio. I need to take a few moments here to briefly canonize Goldmine and especially Goldmine’s owner, Joe (both RIP). Goldmine for me was… well… a goldmine: it was nearby, it was cheap, and good stuff came through regularly. Joe was just right for it. Half rock casualty, half Simpsons comic book guy, Joe was a Zappa-worshipping music lover who ran this store for MEN. And not just all men: the list of people who had been kicked out of the store and banned for life was not short. The infraction could be anything from questioning Zappa’s genius (the signed show poster behind the counter should’ve warned you) or “using the lord’s name in vain” as a hand-written notice near the Zappa poster warned. Joe’s appreciation for Zappa wasn’t just in life — he died the same way as Zappa, too (prostate cancer).

Although I was never big Zappa fan or even for most of Joe’s likes, he took a shining to me. I think he simply understood that even though I appreciated confusing things like inappropriate religious records and other shitty sounds, I liked what I liked, and I liked it hard and by the dozen. And he gave me quantity discounts on those dozens, for which I am so grateful that I’ll spend paragraphs canonizing him on a blog. (Record stores, take note…)

These six 8-tracks, which will be posted in six parts over the next few weeks, were no exception. Joe held these for me at the store and left one of his characteristically gruff messages on my answering machine to get over there. Mouth agape, I inspected these 8-track treasures while he went on about how amazing they were, how rare they were, how he’d never seen anything like them before. I was bracing myself for the worst…

“Alright Joe… how much?”
“Eh — dollar each.”

I miss Joe.

8-track Spine - The Lustful Sexlife of a Perverted Nympho Housewife

Wild sex crammed story – The greatest stag album ever!
You actually hear crystal clear everything that goes on….

THE LUSTFUL SEXLIFE OF A
PERVERTED NYMPHO HOUSEWIFE

The first and last tapes of this series are my favorites for many reasons, mainly the voice actresses/actors, the 8-track artwork, and also the production quality. The artwork is the first thing to hit you — it’s dense, way too busy for a small 8-track. This is because of that bad habit labels had of just shrinking the 12″ album artwork down for 8-track releases, but get out your magnifying glass because it’s worth the look for liner notes like: (enjoy the inappropriate caps)

The first to stick you in the ear
with what you want to hear!

YOU’LL BE AMAZED listening to this sexciting audio stage recording, it is many times more stimulating than reading a book, each participant in this sensuously exciting story is alive, you hear real MEN and WOMEN actually SPEAKING with EACH OTHER saying the real words real people say, DRAMATIZING the REAL ACTS that real people do. There is no doubt about it, you will enjoy being SEDUCED by these tantilizing-tittillating characters. Get ready for many thrilling nights of listening pleasure, you will be delighted by the drama and stimulating power of this new wave of audio stag recordings.

“Actually speaking to each other”…! Ain’t that a toe-curler? But “dramatizing” is a key word here: this audio porn, meaning that all the action must be verbally described. If you thought fumbling with a difficult bra hook is an awkward moment in bed, try play-by-play narrative about every relevant action, excretion, and orifice.

But… writing about audio porn is like dancing about architecture. Just go listen. The full MP3 transfer is below. Apologies for the lousy sound quality — blame the lousy 8-track tape player I used, after failing to find a better one at five thrift stores. But bad recordings are better than no recordings, right? Send me a better 8-track deck and I’ll send you the resulting improved transfers.

Free gift inside! (worth $2.00)
A genuine French tickler novelty

This release is catalog number A8T-1002 from Audio Stag Records, “A product of Unique Ideas, Inc. / 1674 Broadway, N.Y.C., N.Y. 10019″.

Artwork:

The Lustful Sexlife of a Perverted Nympho Housewife cover art. The Lustful Sexlife of a Perverted Nympho Housewife rear art. The Lustful Sexlife of a Perverted Nympho Housewife spine artwork

Dedicated to Joe (RIP) and Goldmine Records (Columbus, Ohio) for providing this gold, and so many more treasures.

Don’t Miss The Great Snatch

Happy birthday, Art!

For those that aren’t familiar with my band, The Evolution Control Committee has been doing sample-heavy, cut-n-paste music for a long, long time (in our 20th year!). It’s somewhere between pop and experimental; funkier than Negativland, but smarter than Coldcut. So in collecting sample material for The ECC (and a little similar to Coldcut’s label name, Ninja Tune) I am a black belt crate digger.

To gather samples and raw materials to mash into The ECC’s music, I have frequented dusty record shops, thrift stores, and flea markets worldwide, scouring the endless bins of vinyl… sweet vinyl. And you, the discerning reader and listener of Dinosaur Gardens, are now the beneficiaries of some of the best nuggets of this black gold. In fact, there’s a category in my record collection which holds the best of the best. It is appropriately labelled “Cream of the Crap.”

This is one of those records. Cover Artwork (small)

The story begins in Columbus Ohio, where I used to live. The thrifting was grand, and I had the thrift paths well-beaten. One particular fave destination was a thrift store very far out, a bit of a drive but often well worth it. I remember this was near the tail end of the thrift era; even in Ohio — especially in Ohio — the thrifts were quickly depleted of joyous booty as eBay blew up.

In Ohio, as in much of the bible belt and truly in thrift stores in general, religious records are almost literally a dime a dozen. There are so many albums of sermons, of gospel singers, of televangelists, and of Christian kids’ records (in my collection, that category is “Opiates for the Lasses”). Many are forgettable. Some are just good for the cover. Some are kinda fun and/or funny. Some are a scream. And some are all of the above.

I can visualize the moment — flipping through the awkwardly-shelved records, the usual cruft of Herb Alpert, Frampton Comes Alive, Ray Coniff… and then, this headline pops up: DON’T MISS THE GREAT SNATCH. I froze, stunned. In the crate-digging mindset, one gets a lot of practice summing up records quickly, initially based off the cover artwork and title. But this didn’t match: “Snatch” in the title? Adult comedy, probably. But the primitive, amateur artwork didn’t match. Flipping the record over deepened the mystery: There was the Elder Marshall Taylor, bible in one hand looking skyward. er… huh?

I’ll skip right to the punchline: “Snatch”, in this case, is the rapture. Still, I had to wonder if anyone told Elder Taylor “snatch” has some, er, other meanings. Needless to say, I snatched (sorry) the record up immediately, along with another album of Taylor’s that I found nearby: “Don’t Let The Devil Blow Your Mind.”

When I got home it was the first of the day’s thrift scores to go on the turntable. It didn’t disappoint. For out-of-context soundbites, this was aural caviar:

“Two would be in the bed, and one snatch!”
“Many pleasures of life are used… but I happen to prefer The Snatch.”
“There is one thing that all of us should be aiming for… and that is The Snatch!”

Even the non-snatch samples were great:

“…and let me go on to the disco, and get the Saturday Night Fever, Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye, and I’ll just have me a TIME!”

The Elder Marshall Taylor is a soul preacher. black and proud. The shaky press-type liner notes on the back proclaims “DETROIT, MICHIGAN” in large type, and the sermon sounds it. It’s great, actually. The gospel music that opens it gives way to Elder Taylor, timid and almost apologetic at first. But he builds — boy, does he build — becoming bolder, louder, more animated. The “amens” appear more and more, and before long, he gets rhythm: the sermon is morphing from speech into song. The audience is into it too: yelling and screaming, they’re getting sucked into the raw energy of it. By the end, it’s at fever pitch — the reverend, the congregation, the band, the din, the chaos. Now THAT’S religion.

It took a few years, but I finally coaxed the samples into a pretty worthwhile song, also called “Don’t miss the great snatch”, which appeared on our album Plagiarhythm Nation, v2. As for the Elder Marshall, some web sleuthing leads me to suspect that he (or perhaps his son) is still preaching the gospel up in Detroit. But as for his albums, I can find nothing anywhere mentioning them.

Here are my ten favorite samples from the album:

  1. Don’t miss the great snatch
  2. Don’t go to hell second class
  3. I appreciate the word Snatch
  4. I happen to prefer the snatch
  5. One thing all of us should be aiming for
  6. So don’t miss that snatch
  7. Two in the bed and one snatch
  8. Sisters make the snatch
  9. Brothers make the snatch
  10. The snatch could come any day now

Here’s the main snatch-related parts of the sermon. Part 1 sets up the groundwork for what the snatch is. Part 2 has elder Taylor riffing on his own personal low points before he got wise to the snatch. Part 3 continues with snatches in the bible.

Album artwork:

Cover Artwork Back Artwork

And finally, the song that The Evolution Control Committee made out of it:

Haruomi Hosono: Paraiso

Basically, the ideal music for me is early ’80s exotic Japanese synth-pop with fretless bass and steel drums. Patrick South

Haruomi HosonoHaruomi Hosono is best known as the bassist in the Yellow Magic Orchestra, but his solo career is just as interesting. Before joining founding YMO with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi, he played with psychedelic bands Apryl Fool, the folk-rock outfit Happy End, and the lounge-pop group Tin Pan Alley before starting on what ended up being called his “Exotica Trilogy” in the seventies.

hula.jpgAmerica dreamt of a magical neverland with cloudless climes and starry skies (not to mention nubile natives) in the fifties — Martin Denny, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, and Les Baxter made countless LPs with bird calls, marimbas, and steel drums setting the stage for the post-war peace. The beaches weren’t something you had to storm any more, you could just lie there and soak up the sun. Hosono asks that the exotic dream continue, but with himself as both spectator and participant. He sees the exotica phenomenon for what it is — silly and patronizing — but adores it and revels in it, singing a cover of “Fujiyama Mama” knowing full well he sounds ridiculous: “and when you start elupting ain’t nobody gonna make you stop.” In the three Exotica LPs you find pastiches within parodies; “Roochoo Gumbo” is at once Okinawan pop song and New Orleans shuffle. If you think too much about how the parody is eating its own tail, that this is “the Japanese way of exoticising American exoticism,” it’s dizzying.

Haruomi Hosono's ParaisoThe music of Tropical Dandy and Bon Voyage Co. roams over both East and West mashing genres as it goes: Polynesian chants, resort-lounge steel-band music, Buddhist ritual, boogie-woogie and rockabilly, all with a Van Dyke Parks nostalgic sheen. The third record in the series, Paraiso, is different in that it feels less like a series of takeoffs and starts becoming something else. The new element is the synthesizer, the varied texture of which is used extensively throughout the record. Hosono at this point had met Sakamoto and Takahashi, as well as Hideki Matsutake, who would become YMO’s invaluable programmer in the days before MIDI. The combination of exotica and electronics would be the template for YMO’s initial success with their first single in 1978: Martin Denny’s “Firecracker.”

  1. Tokio Rush
  2. Shimendoka
  3. Japanese Rhumba
  4. Asatoya Yunta
  5. Fujiyama Mama
  6. Femme Fatale
  7. Shambhala Signal
  8. Worry Beads
  9. Paraiso

1960’s John Deere sales soundtrack: “Manure Handling Equipment”

Manure Handling Equipment record label

I just don’t even need to say anything about this, do I?

Well, I will say a few things. As the opening stock-music fanfare gives way to the manly announcer proclaiming, “When it comes to handling manure, you need dependable equipment!” you know you’re in for a good thing. Plenty of fun quotes, such as “Teeth are arranged to pull manure inward,” though for some reason I just love the brief statement, “Adjust suck.”

Incidentally, the reason I have it is that my grandfather and my uncle ran the John Deere store in Plain City, Ohio (yes, “Plain City”… you can’t make that stuff up) for many years. Although my family was far from rural or white trash, this meant we had John Deere everything: John Deere calendars, John Deere bicycles, John Deere wall thermometers. When they closed up shop, my parents managed to hold onto a couple dozen of these records, all 45 RPM soundtracks to sales presentations. This is easily my fave.