2. Brand Awareness (The Gray Area)

Joanna loves Eclipse Ale. It’s the best beer in the world. She has boxes of Eclipse memorabilia. She regularly wears Eclipse baseball caps. But on one rainy night, Joanna discovers that this happy relationship (along with the relationship with her boyfriend) is not what it seems. Why can’t she remember what her boyfriend gave her on their second anniversary? And why doesn’t anybody know about Eclipse Ale? (Running time: 28 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

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CAST:

Joanna: Eileen Hanley
Greg: Charlie Harrington
DJ: Peter Coleman
Sam: Marc Eliot Stein
Ignacio: Kilgore Lehrer
Receptionist: Zachary Michael
Leslie Stevens: Lauren Shippen
Bar Background: Hans Detlef Sierck, Jan Jensen, Sam Lowry

Edited by Edward Champion
Foley Sources: Edward Champion, PlooQ (CC), lebcraftlp (CC), Sandermotions (CC), Leandros Ntounis (CC), LG (CC), magnus589 ()CC), GowlerMusic (CC)

Theme Song: Pachyderm, “Never Knew Me at All” (licensed through CC, found at Free Music Archive)

Music: Milton Arias, “Gracias,” Valery & The Greedies, “She-Wolf,” Jahzaar, “Scenes from the Zoo,” Ben Sound, and Kevin MacLeod, “Carpe Diem,” Ben Sound, “Funky Element” (all licensed through CC, found at Free Music Archive, Ben Sound, and Incompetech)

Art: Claudio SepĂșlveda Geoffroy (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Kate C., Christian Caminiti, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jon Grilz, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Pete Lutz, Philip Merritt, Pacific Obadiah, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Raia Savage, Alex Schawrtzberg, That Podcast Girl, Georgette Thompson, Jack Ward, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

Please be sure to also listen to Philip Merritt’s Lost in Williamsburg, which gave me a major editing idea that completely altered the bar scene, Jon Grilz’s Creepy, and Pacific Obadiah’s Lake Clarity.

Terry Teachout (The Bat Segundo Show #525)

Terry Teachout is most recently the author of Duke. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #314.

[PROGRAM NOTE: There are a few modest errors in this program, all of them spoken by Our Correspondent. Our Correspondent referred to the “National Front,” when he meant the “Popular Front.” He misstated the year of Duke Ellington’s comeback concert at the Newport Jazz Festival. It was 1956, not 1959. There are also a number of moments where Our Correspondent refers to Duke Ellington as “the Duke.” We strive to keep this show as accurate as possible and apologize for these errors.]

Author: Terry Teachout

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Subjects Discussed: Guther Schuller’s Early Jazz, vertical harmony vs. horizontal melody, the way Ellington used his musicians, David Hajdu’s Lush Life, Ellington’s exploitation of Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s ability to attract women close to his death, attempts to track Strayhorn’s true contributions, what pop songs reveal about Ellington’s composition skills, transformative art vs. plagiarism, the Cotton Club, playing racially segregated venues, broadcasting on CBS Radio, William Paley, Irving Mills as publicist and manager, Ellington’s terrible management skills, his tolerance of drunken and drugged up musicians, Paul Gonslaves, Ellington’s comeback at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show with Herman’s Hermits, the decline of jazz and the rise of R&B, the ribald songs of the 1920s written by Jimmy McHugh, Bessie Smith’s “Kitchen Man”, Dorothy Fields’s lyrics, high-class talents writing smutty songs, Ellington’s emulation of pop, why Duke Ellington is sexy, the suggestive qualities of “Warm Valley,” Ellington’s remarkable promiscuity (and his adroit skills in using as many as four hotel rooms at once in one city), the influence of Bubber Miley’s solo on “East St. Louis Toodle-oo” on Jimi Hendrix’s wah-wah, how Ellington surrounded himself with master musicians, viewing Ellington as the auteur of the band, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, why Ellington’s band members kept coming back, Cootie Williams leaving Ellington’s band for Benny Goodman, Raymond Scott’s “When Cootie Left the Duke,” Clark Terry, why Ellington’s best soloists didn’t function as well when they tried to make a break on their own, Billy Strayhorn’s body of work, the one interview that Edna Ellington gave to Ebony, the circumstances that caused Duke’s scar on his left cheek, why Duke and Edna stayed married, Duke’s philandering, Ellington’s fear and distrust of women, the value of Betty McGettigan’s oral history, networks of Ellington gossip, plausible vs. usable material, the mysterious Countess Fernanda de Castro Monte, fakes who contain multitudes, women who are prepared to lick the feet of geniuses, Ellington’s contradictory politics, Ellington’s idea of fighting segregation through paying people, his views on the 1963 March on Washington, Ellington winning the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, Ellington’s Popular Front activities, Jump for Joy, Ellington’s pecuniary political commitment, fame and money as the road to equality, being a member of the black bourgeoisie, Ellington’s devastation over not getting the Pulitzer Prize, the tight-lipped Teachout moment, John Hammond’s inept evisceration of “Reminiscing in Tempo,” the difficulties of synthesizing one man’s life, Mercer Ellington, quintessential connections between geniuses and their talented sons, the 1941 ASCAP strike, Herb Jeffries, John Garfield’s questionable suggestions about makeup, lighter skinned performers asked to darken their skin, Ellington’s sensitivity to questions of intra-prejudice, clueless white audiences and Duke, Ellington playing country clubs, the working life of a musician, Duke taking care of his fellow musicians, being beholden to marketing demands, a spontaneous 1940 recording in Fargo, North Dakota, the convergence of popular and sophisticated tastes.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: I want to start with a very geeky musical technical question. You point out that Duke Ellington thought almost exclusively in terms of vertical harmony rather than horizontal melody, that his best-known tunes were little more than elaborations on the top notes of chord progressions. You quote Gunther Schuller in Early Jazz about him noticing, “The parallel blocks of sound he favors so predominantly are handled with such variety that we as listeners never notice the lack of occasional contrapuntal relief.” You suggest that this compositional liability, which Duke was, in fact, able to work around led him to rely on other composers, other musicians, other band members. And, of course, he didn’t always share credit. So I’m wondering. To what degree was Duke himself aware of this creative liability? How was he able to keep so many of his collaborators, and even the audience who was listening to him, in the dark about this for so long?

Teachout: Well, a lot of it has to do with the fact that Ellington was the biggest public personality in his band. I mean, his great soloists, except for Ben Webster, who was known to beat up people, tended not to have that kind of flashy personality. So even though, if you look at the credits of a song like “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” You see Johnny Hodges’s name on there. You’re not going to think Hodges. You’re going to think of Ellington. Because Ellington is the trademark of the Ellington Band. And this is even true in the case of Billy Strayhorn, a composer of equal quality and I think equal genius to Ellington. But Strayhorn is completely in the background, doesn’t appear with the band. Maybe a half dozen times in the band’s whole life. I’ve only seen one bit of film with Strayhorn playing with the Ellington Band at a gig. So even though for the last fifteen years or so of their working together their albums were jointly credited to Ellington and Strayhorn, and that’s to be taken very seriously, the fact is that if you don’t know the score, if you don’t know how important Strayhorn is, you’re going to assume that Ellington is the senior partner.

Correspondent: Yeah. And actually there’s also a wonderful book by David Hajdu, Lush Life, as well. Let’s talk about Strayhorn. He’s one of the tragic figures in this book.

Teachout: Yes.

Correspondent: He’s a man who has composed and arranged many of Duke’s finest moments. Duke, as we are implying here and establishing here, was an incessant credit hog. And he strung Strayhorn along for decades. So I’m wondering. What was it about Duke’s charisma? It was so formidable that he even attracted women when he came close to death, when he was ill. Which was really impressive, I gotta say! (laughs)

Teachout: (laughs) I was pretty amazed by that myself. Yes.

Correspondent: What caused people like Strayhorn and other people who were robbed of their credit — what kept them coming back to Duke?

Teachout: He was what he was. He was a genius. I mean, Strayhorn became what he became because Ellington was his model. And also we have to talk about the specific nature of Strayhorn’s life and personality and why it worked for him to work for Ellington. Billy Strayhorn was a homosexual. You were not a homosexual who was out and a public figure. Least of all if you were black in the world of jazz in the ’30s and ’40s. This was not an option for Strayhorn. And Strayhorn, who was completely at ease with his sexuality, wished to live his life the way he wanted to live it. So he made a kind of bargain — with himself, with the world, and with Ellington — that he would remain on the sidelines. Ellington would pay him — quite generously as a matter of fact. Strayhorn essentially had the equivalent of a drawing account and could pretty much do whatever he wanted. And in return for this, in supplying this music and writing hundreds of uncredited arrangements for Ellington, he just steps back into the shadows and lets Edward, as he always called him — “We’ll let Edward do that” would be Strayhorn’s line. And Ellington, unlike Strayhorn, was not only a creative personality, but a kind of theatrical figure. Now one of Duke Ellington’s greatest creations was Duke Ellington, the man who goes out on stage with the fabulous outfits and the baggy eyes and the gorgeous bass baritone voice and the catchphrases. And he charms your socks off. Now even if he couldn’t have done all this, he would have still been Duke Ellington the great composer. But because he served it up with all that frosting, people whom might not otherwise have been drawn to him and especially, when we talk about race again, drawn to a black man in the ’20s and ’30s, this is a different kind of black man. This is the elegant presentable fellow. And that is an important part of what Ellington was. And Strayhorn knew, consciously or not, that he needed this kind of front man to lead the kind of life he wanted to lead and be able to have that great Ellington Band play his music the way it played Ellington’s music.

Correspondent: Do we really know in 2013 the full extent of Strayhorn’s contributions to Ellington? Because it’s come out over and over in the last several decades. We have suddenly understood, “Well, he did this. He did this.”

Teachout: It’s completely knowable now. Because the manuscripts have survived. And a lot of people in Ellington’s life and in Strayhorn’s life, and for many years after it, speculated about who wrote what. Now it’s not a matter of speculation. We know right down to the fact that Billy Strayhorn wrote the last ten bars of Ellington’s Harlem, for example. That’s the level of specificity that we’re talking about. So there is a debunking line that’s gotten about, that Strayhorn was the power behind the throne. And that’s just not true. In the suites that they wrote together, Strayhorn would normally compose maybe between a third and a quarter of the numbers. They were not written jointly. The movements are separate. There’s a Strayhorn movement. There’s an Ellington movement.

Correspondent: You describe that moment in the hotel room where they’re trading off. One’s asleep. The other composing.

Teachout: It’s a wonderful story.

Correspondent: There’s a monster movie playing in the background.

Teachout: It’s an unusual thing to have happen. So Strayhorn’s contribution is immensely important. And he didn’t get, for these complicated reasons we’ve talked about, complete credit for it. But most of the music that we believe is written by Duke Ellington is written by Duke Ellington, including virtually all of his major instrumental works. The real problem of attribution with Ellington is the pop songs. For me, that was the big surprise. When I started to go systematically into the Ellington output, I heard stories about this. I heard stories about that. But suddenly, as I looked at the work as a totality, the light went on. And I realized, “Well, of course! It’s the pop songs. Because he’s not a natural melody writer.” It stands to reason that that would be where he went. To those natural melody improvisers like Johnny Hodges.

Correspondent: Pop songs not only reveal Duke’s limitations. It also reveals how much he plundered from other people.

Teachout: Yes. That’s right. But there’s another side of it. It also reveals what his essential contribution is. In a song like “Sophisticated Lady” — that’s the most striking example of this — the main strain is by Lawrence Brown, the trombone player. The bridge, the release is by Otto Hardwick, the alto saxophone player. But it was Duke Ellington’s idea to take these two bar fragments and put them together in a 32 bar pop song and harmonize them and orchestrate it and create the total composition that we know as “Sophisticated Lady.” So who wrote what? The question is, and the answer is, Ellington didn’t write the melody. But it is his composer’s mind that took these two found objects, if you want to put it that way, and transformed them into the song “Sophisticated Lady.” So it’s a complex attribution problem. You can’t just sum it up by saying, “Oh yes. Duke Ellington was a plagiarist.” Duke Ellington was never — in the sense that a literary person normally uses the term — a plagiarist. He didn’t steal without telling you and then you looked up six months later and your work was in print under his name.

Correspondent: He was not the Jonah Lehrer of… (laughs)

Teachout: No, sir. Not in the slightest. Was he scrupulous? Not always. And sometimes he was entirely unscrupulous. And sometimes unscrupulous things were done in his name. A fair number of Strayhorn pieces — the royalties were copyrighted in Ellington’s name. But there’s no reason to assume that Ellington himself was responsible for that. It may, in some cases, just have been sloppy bookkeeping. But when Strayhorn finally did look into this, he was horrified and it led to a temporary break between the two men and ultimately to the renegotiation of billing that created the later Ellington/Strayhorn compositions where they always get equal billing.

Correspondent: I’m abashed almost to say this. But I have not once mentioned the Cotton Club in more than 500 shows of Bat Segundo.

Teachout: (laughs)

Correspondent: So thank goodness you wrote about it, Terry!

Teachout: Now’s the time.

Correspondent: Now is the time. And I wanted to get into this. You know, here was a segregated venue. A place that paid its performers quite handsomely.

Teachout: And mobbed up to the eyebrows.

Correspondent: That’s right. Langston Hughes railed against how most whites who attended the Cotton Club saw the cabarets rather than the houses of Harlem. Duke played there. But he didn’t really mention this other aspect of the Cotton Club in his memoir, Music is My Mistress.

Teachout: Right.

Correspondent: But he also broadcast on CBS Radio from the Cotton Club. This risk taken by William Paley. And he got the attention of the press simultaneously by playing midtown clubs. So he has these broadcasts through CBS that give him that national attention while simultaneously it had me wondering. Was there any other way for Duke to make his way to CBS without the Cotton Club? Was he going to face racial segregation no matter what path he took?

Teachout: Oh sure. Remember. We’re talking about 1927, 1928. Black bands get paid less. They get inferior gigs. So suddenly Ellington gets this break. And it’s an extraordinary break. The price he pays for it is he’s coming into a segregated club in the middle of Harlem, where the only way that a black person can get in is if he is very famous and then they put him in a table in a corner. Preferably in the shadows. But in return for that, the Cotton Club’s got a national radio wire on CBS. Every rich person in New York is going to hear him. The word gets around. And that radio wire suddenly puts Duke Ellington in your living room, no matter where you live. So I think the biggest break that ever happened to Duke Ellington was meeting Irving Mills. The second biggest — and it’s related to this — is going into the Cotton Club. That and Mills’s publicity campaign, presenting Ellington as a different kind of black man — you fuse those together and you get the root to the great success that Ellington had by the ’30s.

Correspondent: But when Mills was no longer around, Ellington seems to collapse. Did he really take any hard lessons? Did any of the hard lessons he learned from Mills get taken to heart in later years? Because I was reading this book and my mouth was agog at what a terrible organizer he was. He tolerated his band coming at odd hours. Any hour. Even not showing up to the actual gig. He tolerated musicians who were hopped up on heroin, who were alcoholic.

Teachout: His was the most irresponsible band maybe in jazz. But you have to remember that Duke Ellington had a very clear sense of priorities. He knew what he wanted. He wanted a band that would play his music every night. He was willing to put up with an enormous amount of nonsense from extraordinarily gifted players. Because they were the particular guys that he wanted on the stand at the time. He was never a businessman. And when he worked with organized businessmen after Mills — well, Mills really ran the show. But after that, they had to do things within the parameters of the way Ellington wanted them to be done. You know, if you’d brought in a hardass manager in 1956 to transform the situation with the Ellington Band, probably the first thing you would have done would have been to fire Paul Gonsalves, this man who was simultaneously an alcoholic and a heroin addict, who would nod off on the bandstand. But if you made that smart business decision, then you wouldn’t have had Paul Gonsalves on the bandstand for the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, where he plays a million choruses and “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” and the crowd explodes and Ellington is on the cover of Time Magazine. So I think in the long run, Ellington wasn’t interested in money. He wanted an operation that would allow him to lead the life he wanted, which was a life on the road, a life where a lot of women were passing through his life, a life lived in hotel rooms, and a life where his music gets played every night. He didn’t want to be a millionaire. He wouldn’t have known what to do with it.

Correspondent: But before that 1956 Newport appearance, he is really on the skids. I mean, it seems as if he is not going to come back. But even with that Newport appearance that is a huge sensation, he’s going onto Ed Sullivan and he’s sharing the bill with Herman’s Hermits.

Teachout: Well, yes, the world has changed. Ellington predates the Big Band era. But it was the booster rocket that made him the culture celebrity that he was in the ’40s. But he outlived it. After World War II, first big bands themselves become financially dicey. And then the whole flavor of pop music changes. You have rhythm and blues, which soaks up the black audience that was formerly in jazz. You have rock and roll becoming the lingua franca of modern music. And so by ’56, Ellington was perceived pretty widely as yesterday’s news. And it wasn’t just him. It was everybody who was playing that kind of music. This incredible good fortune that he had, of coming into the Newport Jazz Festival and getting on the cover of Time Magazine, which pretty much insured that for the rest of his life people who didn’t necessarily know much about jazz would know who he was. And you mentioned Ed Sullivan. Television exposure generally, but Sullivan in particular, is enormously important to Ellington in those last twenty years of his life. Because he is, as we said earlier, this personality. I looked through thousands of photographs to choose the ones for the book and they’re all good. You can’t take a bad picture of Duke Ellington. So you put a guy like that on television. And television was made for him. Just like it was made for Louis Armstrong. So even if Ellington went on Ed Sullivan — maybe he wasn’t playing particularly what you wanted to hear or the bill was an odd mixed one — the fact was that it was going out to the largest audience in television.

Correspondent: But I think we’re straying away from the point I’m trying to get from you. We were talking about how Ellington was a terrible organizer while simultaneously he’s facing the reality of rock and roll becoming a dominant part of the culture and rhythm and blues taking away the audience. I mean, he faced Frank Sinatra before. If he was yesterday’s news, could any amount of mad organization revive his career? I mean, he had so many shots there with the Newport thing and all that.

Teachout: If he’d lived another fifteen years, I don’t know what his life would have been like. He and Louis Armstrong, who died around the same time. Early to mid ’70s. Remember that Armstrong made the last number one pop single, “Hello Dolly,” which was jazz. After that, never again. So they may have died at a particularly fortuitous moment. It would have gotten harder for Ellington. The bookings, they weren’t drying up. But they were becoming more difficult in the ’70s. You know, part of genius is having good timing. And maybe he knew when to make the exit.

The Bat Segundo Show #525: Terry Teachout II (Download MP3)

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Nicholson Baker (The Bat Segundo Show #520)

Nicholson Baker is most recently the author of Traveling Sprinkler. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #200.

Author: Nicholson Baker

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Subjects Discussed: Attempting to talk in the early hours of the morning, the many beginnings offered by poems vs. the many beginnings offered by the Internet, digital enjambment, tobacco dip videos, Paul Chowder’s songwriting, Baker’s protest songs, Method writing, the development of song lyrics over the last few decades, Dance Music Manual, when dance songs go on too long, Lopoerman, loops, buying a shotgun mic from B&H, phones that beep during conversations, being a proponent of the kick drum, the theology of percussion, how fiction and music composition create different principles in drawing from other work, Medea Benjamin, Glenn Greenwald, the importance of sticking it out, Paul Chowder’s politics vs. Jay’s politics in Checkpoint, Edward Snowden, the difficulty of writing controversial books, when world leader surnames become too incantatory, attending political protests, political recoil, a highly attuned relationship to language and its effect upon political commitment, language as overused wooden blocks, songs as a way of taking back familiar words, Obama’s kill list, synesthesia, stretching out a word to melodic effect, Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” Tracy Chapman’s “Change,” how repetition causes you to look at a word in a different way, Paul Chowder’s “The Right of the People,” the discomforting sight of protesters who are pepper sprayed, peaceful assembly, singing the Bill of Rights, cultural appropriation, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” Thicke’s injunction against Gaye’s family, Ray Parker’s “Ghostbusters” and Huey Lewis’s “I Want a New Drug,” the scant chords and melodies available in pop music, the swift creation of “Blurred Lines,” George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” Baker’s views on the movie music business, why Hans Zimmer is a hack, Baker’s appreciation for Paul Oakenfold and trance, the bassoon, how Harry Gregson-Williams ripped off John Powell’s score for The Bourne Identity, Carol King, efforts to duplicate songs in the 1970s, “Narrow Ruled,” putting a dot on a margin to note a passage vs. favoriting a tweet, filling notebooks with quotes from other books, analog vs. digital forms of “signing someone else’s mind signature,” anthologists who hunted for Shakespearean gems, Logan Pearsall Smith, the downside of typing too fast, forgetting handwriting, the foreign nature of writing a thank you note in the digital age, the importance of exertion, articles about the end of handwriting, handwriting vs. keyboards, how reading things aloud slows time down, Baker’s recent Harper’s essay arguing against Algebra II, the socioeconomic impact of abolishing Algebra II, Jose Vilson’s response to Baker’s article, knowledge vs. the way teachers express knowledge, Algebra II as a requirement that increases human suffering, turning core subjects into electives, educational budget cuts, compulsory education, negative high school experiences, fallacious approaches to teaching the essay, E.B. White, Robert Benchley, Baker’s attendance at the School Without Walls, the burden of having to know and do things that you don’t like, Dan Kois’s unpardonable anti-intellectualism, the importance of challenging perceptions, the importance of sitting still, migration routes of the Goths through Europe, including more choice into education, living a life where nobody is asking you to do anything, the trancelike state of being bored, House of Holes, Samuel R. Delany’s notion of pornotopia, Katie Roiphe’s advocacy of House of Holes, why so much of literary sex is a downer, House of Holes as realist novel, Grindr, Tinder, small town life, Yellow Submarine, Baker’s appreciation for Schmidt’s soliloquies in The New Girl, Baker’s appearance on The Colbert Report, why penis is an insufficient name, using the deep hindbrain words, “The Penis Song,” Victorian pornography that appears throughout many of Baker’s novels, John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, Librivox and audio books, the presence of radio in the Paul Chowder novels, how audio reveals the inflection of words, the inclusion of more Chowder lead-ins in Traveling Sprinkler, Baker’s secret stash of personally recorded radio bumpers, and talking into field recorders.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: In The Anthologist, the first of these two novels, there’s this moment where Paul Chowder describes how he’s fond of books of poems. Because no matter where he flips around, he can always be at the beginning. And as he says, “Many, many beginnings.” It occurred to me that this is also the perfect description for the Internet, which actually appears quite prolifically and is almost a cultural repository in the second Paul Chowder book, Traveling Sprinkler. You seem to have, in many cases, swapped the names of poets and real people from The New Yorker with people in bookstores, such as the great Miss Liberty at River Run Books.

Baker: Oh yes.

Correspondent: And, of course, I actually found a lot of those tobacco dip videos on YouTube. You were actually quoting directly from them.

Baker: Oh sure! You don’t want to make those up.

Correspondent: (laughs) You don’t want to make those up?

Baker: No, they’re too great as is.

Correspondent: Well, you’ve written a good deal about the Internet in essays. And I have to ask: to what extent do you feel that the Internet has almost replaced or augmented poetry? There’s certainly plenty of digital enjambment out there. So I’m wondering about this.

Baker: (laughs) Digital enjambment. What a great idea! Well, I think what the Internet has done is that it’s enormously enriched our lives. And it does have that feeling of pieces, many of them. Breaks. Fragments. All over the place. And poems also are short and fragmentary and you kind of come across them and have that moment and go away. But I guess the difference is that I use the Internet — I kind of dip in constantly to learn things. Whereas when I’m in a mood to read a poem or when I just happen to read a poem, it slows everything down. And it has kind of the opposite effect on me. It doesn’t make me want to leap off in eighteen directions. It makes me want to just stop and say, “Oh my god! That pulled that thing apart! That held me still.” So it has that opposite effect. So the two are identical. In some ways, they’re in competition with each other. But in some ways, they’re similar.

Correspondent: What’s the future of poetry with these promising distractions? This enjambment of a different sort?

Baker: The future of poetry is independent, I think, of the way that we publish things. And it’s probably more closely linked to the future of pop music than some poets would want to admit. Because they want to have that division. They want to say that song lyrics aren’t poems. But obviously the two are short clumps of words that often rhyme or have some kind of metrical thing happening. And certainly the future of song lyrics is terrific, I think, isn’t it? I mean, have we ever — certainly in the history of my life — has there ever been a time when you are just constantly discovering new songs and old songs and comparing things? These great websites that tell you the history of a certain lyrical idea. I mean, it’s really happening. So I would think that the strength of that thread, or that theme, is going to propel poetry forward. And then there’s also kind of the realization that some of modernism was a mistake. Not all of it, but some of it. It was aggressive in the wrong way and was kind of disturbingly exclusive and rejecting of comprehensibility and all that. So the poets I like have learned from all of those terrific things that happened in the early part of the 20th century, but they want to be read, you know?

Correspondent: Paul Chowder’s songwriting is not a new development. There is, in fact, this song in The Anthologist that goes “I’m in the barn / I’m in the bar-harn / I’m in the barn in the afternoo-hoon.”

Baker: (laughs) Yes.

Correspondent: So why do you think songwriting turned out to be more of a muse than poetry for Paul Chowder this time? Was it from jumping off some of the hip-hop schemes that you were analyzing in The Anthologist? You were, of course, recording these songs and putting them onto YouTube, which many of us were watching with some degree of curiosity. So to some degree, I guess, this is a form of Method writing. I’m wondering how Chowder’s sensibilities as his affinities permutated here.

Baker: Well, I think Chowder is a guy who would love to be a better poet than he is. And he’s looking for a way out. He’s looking for a way out of a kind of situation in which he’s trapped in the level he can reach as a poet. So he’s looking for a way out. But he’s also looking for a way back in. And, I mean, I certainly share this with him. I share 90% of his thoughts. So I can just say that poetry is beautiful and calls to you. And then there’s moments where you just think, “God, I need something different. Something more. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why so many people do it. All that feeling.” And getting back to music and trying to fit two art forms together is really hard and excitingly challenging. It was for me to imagine him as a lyric writer, not a very good one. But you know, he does his best. Because song lyrics are so different. They have to be simpler. And when you’re writing song lyrics and trying to match them to a melody or invent a melody, the words that come out are different than the words that come out if you’re just sitting with a typewriter. So I think it was just the thrill of the chase. It was the excitement of the idea that this maybe is the key. So if he, and if I, can possibly write some tunes or get some rhythms going that have a certain bouncy danceability or hummability or something? Wow! That is fun! And then manage to get some words going. I mean, it felt to me, once I started to play with music again, like a new chapter in my life. And so when I was writing the book, and I was writing the novel and songs at the same time…

Correspondent: Did you also become an astute scholar of all the various dance genres much like Paul Chowder? Did you go down that rabbit hole as well?

Baker: Yeah! Sure! Of course I bought a textbook called Dance Music Manual.

Correspondent: So it was actually that textbook.

Baker: Oh yeah. I studied it! Very, very thick. A very heavy textbook. And dance music really puzzles me in a way. Still I don’t really fully get it. Because the songs are too long. I love to listen to a loop. And I’ll happily listen to sixteen bars of a loop and then another layer comes in. And 32. At some point, I want the song to be over. And I think that because I grew up with the Beatles, I want it to be over at around two and a half to three minutes. And dance songs, because you’re supposed to dance to them and they are segued with other songs, go on a very long time. And so I really still haven’t learned the form of the dance song. But when I’m writing, I listen to them all the time.

Correspondent: But all of the songs that you did as Nick Baker get into that kind of trance state of a constant loop and a constant series of rhythms where you’re sort of promulgating some kind of concern about politics or something along those lines. Some of them go on quite long as well. So is the loop really the way to identify the dance song? I mean, did you start off with loops? I almost don’t want to direct you to Looperman. Are you familiar with this site? They have all sorts of loops you can use for free that I use for this particular program.

Baker: Really? Well, I don’t ever use loops. I use Logic Pro.

Correspondent: Okay.

Baker: Which is Apple’s music software. Just as my character does in the book. It’s $200. Tons of instruments. Fantastic deal. And it does everything that you need it to do. Although it isn’t Pro Tools, which is the industry standard and all that. Which is $600. And I couldn’t afford that.

Correspondent: Did you actually go down [like Paul Chowder in Traveling Sprinkler] and get a shotgun mic from B&H? (laughs)

Baker: Absolutely.

Correspondent: You did! Okay.

Baker: All that software.

Correspondent: You had that similar problem of “Oh, do I need to lay down a lot of money for this great mic?” Wow!

Baker: No. All my theories about the importance of stereo sound versus mono sound I just dumped into the book. I believe in stereo. I’m a strong believer in stereo. So I bought the mic not from B&H — oh, yes! I bought it, but not from — yeah, I bought it from B&H!

Correspondent: Wow.

Baker: And in fact, I thought of bringing it along. Because it’s kind of soothing when you’re traveling to do some music. And I thought I could practically fit the mic stand. The mic is about three feet long. And it’s pretty durable. So I thought I could put it in the suitcase. And then I thought, “Nah. Something might happen.”

Correspondent: Is it the Rode mic?

Baker: I can’t remember. It’s ATK or something.

[Mysterious beeping sound.]

Baker: I’m sorry. That’s me. I’ll turn this off.

Correspondent: (clutching his dying smartphone, which has less than 5% battery life) No, it’s actually me. Or is it you?

Baker: I think it’s me telling me. It’s telling me that tomorrow I’ll be in Washington DC. (laughs) How helpful!

Correspondent: I’m turning mine off too.

Baker: The DC Book Fest.

Correspondent: My power’s actually about to go out. So there you go. So okay…

Baker: Okay. So let me. Okay. So loops. There are different ways to think about the word “loop.” And most dance songs, and a lot of pop songs these days, are built on the looping principle. But what you don’t want to do is take somebody else’s loop and say, “Ooh! That sounds good. I’ll use it in my song.” Or at least I don’t want to do that. Because you want to build something that is your own. So I usually start with a little piano riff that goes on for four or eight bars. A little something. A chord. Just an interesting chord. Or I start with maybe a hi-hat sound that sounds just a little bit odd and interesting. Or maybe some percussion that has a bit of pitch to it that then makes me think of another sound. Then I layer, using a lot of trial and error and a certain amount of just dumb luck and whatever; incompetence — layers over that. Until I have, say, fifteen layers of sound. And that’s my loop. And the nice thing, when it goes right, is that the loop is in all of its fully official, big time, near-the-end-of-the-song glory. But you might want to take out five tracks from that when you start. And, of course, the kick drum might come in. And suddenly, sixteen bars along or something.

Correspondent: You’re a big proponent of the kick drum.

Baker: Everybody is. You can’t not be a proponent of the kick drum!

Correspondent: (laughs)

Baker: Except that it’s kind of an embarrassing term. You know, “kick drum.”

Correspondent: (laughs)

Baker: It sounds sort of like the da-da-da-dum-dah-dum.

Correspondent: You make it sound like John Philip Souza or something.

Baker: Yeah. It sounds like that. But what it is, it’s a massive kind of a chest-vibrating sound that happens every beat or however you want to vary it. And once you get into this world, the theology of kick drum sounds.

Correspondent: A theology?

Baker: The number, the thousands of tiny variations. And the way you can make a chesty kick drum, but with this element of a pop on the top so that you can still get the sense of something bursting, but also get that subwoofer whomp. All of that. People think about that. You have no idea how seriously people take that. Well, you probably do. You’re into music.

Correspondent: Yes. Well, this is really interesting that in your own particular music, you basically say no to taking another loop. And yet in the fiction, we’ve established that you’re drawing very close from reality and from real world examples. Which might almost be like taking a loop and meshing it with another loop.

Baker: Interesting.

Correspondent: And I’m wondering why music allows one set of principles and fiction offers another one. Or is it really simply the expression of a sentence that offers the distinction between music taking loops and fiction taking from cultural reference and so forth?

Baker: Well, yeah, that’s really an interesting thought. I think that I’m always reluctant to quote anything without quotation marks. So I don’t believe in it. The hip-hop world uses sampling a lot, where you take a number of nice sounds — the riff, maybe the chorus — and do things. And it’s obviously brilliant. And they’ve made such great discoveries and combinations. It’s just not something that I’m ready to do yet. I think it’s because, as a writer, I can’t bear the idea that, even involuntarily, I would without remembering quoting somebody else’s phrase and thinking it was my own. It’s just not something that I ever, ever want to do.

Correspondent: Unless you devise a specific sound that can be offered in lieu of a quotation mark.

Baker: (laughs) Who?

Correspondent: A very special percussive sound that nobody else has, that everybody agrees upon. “Alright! Here’s the time where we take from a 70s Funkadelic song.” (laughs)

Baker: Exactly.

Correspondent: There’s another thing I wanted to ask you about. In Traveling Sprinkler, Paul Chowder name-checks both Medea Benjamin and Glenn Greenwald. There’s an interesting line. And this was written before Edward Snowden. “What good does it do me to read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent blog? He’s right about everything and I’m glad he’s doing it. But it doesn’t seem to have any effect.” Well, au contraire!

Baker: (laughs)

Correspondent: Granted, Paul is talking about this in relation to Roz. But Paul Chowder to me is more of a short-sighted version of your typical Baker hero, who is really taking in the world and seeing it with a kind of wonder. And also, it’s not unlike what he said of podcasters, where he says, “They’ll keep on pumping it out. But then they’ll puff up and die.”

Baker: (laughs)

Correspondent: To which we got into a minor disagreement. But that got cleared up. But I actually wanted to ask you. Why do you think that Paul Chowder does not really appreciate the long-term effect of keeping at it and sticking at it? Because that is just as much a part of the journey of being an observer, of being an intellectual seeker, of being a curious type. And so that is very curious why this is outside his temperament.

Baker: Well, I think you put it beautifully, Ed. You have to be patient. You have to keep saying the things over and over again. But that doesn’t mean we all don’t have moments of despair. Which happened, say, in the ramping up to the first Iraq War. All those brilliant op-ed pieces. All that marching. All that sustained argumentation that made the case that this was a mistake was for naught. It was going to happen. It was scheduled, planned, whatever. The launch date was planned. And it happened. And that filled me with a kind of despair. Because I thought, What is the function of rational argument and public discourse when it’s just not going to work? When there’s that feeling, that wave of almost frenzy or a thirst for war. And I think it’s worth including that sentiment if we’re going to be true to our own political lives, which are mixtures. You go up and down. Sometimes you think, “Well, my god, we’re making progress and good ideas are coming out. And good people like Medea Benjamin are saying incredibly powerful, moving things and brave things.” And then it all seems for naught. And it doesn’t get anything accomplished. So you then feel that despair. So I just had Chowder follow the ups and downs of that. But I’ve hinted that towards the end. You know, there’s a moment where his friend Tim gets arrested. And he says, “I’m glad Tim is writing the book.” And the point is that Paul Chowder is too caught up in his own worry, his own love complexities, and the mixed-upness of his own life to do something sustained like write a book against drones. But he’s very glad someone else is doing it. And at some point, he thinks that maybe he can actually do something. In my case, I’m trying to, in a sneaky way, do the same thing. I’m trying to say, “I’m going to present you with a human life.” And this is a person that, if it works, you’re going to recognize this guy. You’re going to see some things about people in this person that you think, “Oh, that’s familiar.” And you’re going to see him struggle and have dissatisfaction and give you some little political ideas to think about. So by the end of the book, I’m not going to have tired you out or disgusted you with overpoliticizing, I hope. Although maybe I redlined there. But I’m going to have included that component in a fictional life. So that the aim of the book was political in a sense. It was to try to write some sort of anti-intervention book, but to do it singingly. To sing the pain a bit and include all the other distractions that a normal life has.

Correspondent: But there are two interesting points here. Because both Glenn Greenwald and Medea Benjamin this year — I mean, when Medea Benjamin basically shouted out to Obama in a way that nobody else would, suddenly, at that moment, she was taken seriously after all these years of ridicule. Same goes with Greenwald. You centered on the two figures who stuck it out and actually became a vital part, I think, of the political discourse. Simultaneously, I’m also thinking of Chowder’s vacillating political position and comparing it to Jay from Checkpoint, where he wants to assassinate Bush for the good of humankind. And that also is a kind of intervention as well. And I’m curious why every political argument that you approach in your fiction tends to involve an intervention of some kind. It’s either an intervention that comes from within or an intervention that comes from without. I mean, is this really just kind of what you see as the American impulse right now? I mean, we’re clearly not in the streets complaining about drones or complaining about the surveillance state and all that. But it is something that this conviction does face intervention in all of your fiction, I think.

Baker: Well, first, I totally admire and — I mean, who wouldn’t admire what Glenn Greenwald did with Snowden? Which was all before. But I love his blog. I admire it so much. I’m terribly jealous of his ability to stick with it and to be patient and to go after and to say similar things, but bring new facts into it. And Medea Benjamin — I mean, I just can’t stand it. She’s so brave. And I love that.

Correspondent: You’re envious of the bravery?

Baker: Well, you know, I have been to marches a little bit. And I published a political book. Human Smoke was a very controversial book. And it’s really hard. It really hurts sometimes. The criticism, the sneering, the unfairness. The kind of misrepresentation of what you’re trying to do in order to make you into a figure of ridicule. In order to make whatever you have to say not have any weight. You know, it does hurt. And it’s hard. And I can only do it once in a while. And even when I’m doing it, I’m doing it about the Second World War! I’ll write a few letters and sign some petitions and I’ll march. I mean, I was up in Portland at an anti-Syrian intervention. Candlelight vigil. Lighting candles. But I’m going to retreat to another time and try to make the argument a different way. I’m trying to undermine the militarist impulse by undermining some of the justifications for the Second World War. I’m trying to do it indirectly. But it’s also an escape. I mean, it’s so hard to talk about the present in a fresh way. That’s the hard part. The names. The names are so familiar. And I don’t want to hear the name “Obama.” I don’t want to hear the name “Assad.” I’m tired of the names. And yet obviously those are the names you have to use. And so, you know, it feels like you need to figure out another way.

(Loops for this program provided by ShortBusMusic, ferryterry, danke, and Progressbeats5.)

The Bat Segundo Show #520: Nicholson Baker (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #418. His most recent album is Alpocalypse. Many thanks to Jay Levey for helping to make this unlikely conversation happen.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Got skills, he’s a champion of D&D.

Guest: Weird Al Yankovic

Subjects Discussed: Whether most people in the world are doing okay, Weird Al’s longevity, a fastidious concern for the English language, Weird Al as a storyteller, epic songs, writing about human behavior vs. writing about food, thinking of new ways to be funny, narrative songwriting, parodies in which words are transposed, Freytag’s triangle, recording dates, why original songs and style parodies are recorded for explicit parodies, trying to finish an album while responding to present a musical trend, how Al studies an artist’s oeuvre, earlier songs as prototypes for later songs, “One More Minute” to “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” “It’s All About the Pentiums” to “White and Nerdy,” confronting the defects of earlier material, the number of lists that Al keeps, when your laptop is more organized than your life, Amy Winehouse, keeping up with the increased cycle of emerging artists, the Arcade Fire and Muse, Weird Al’s criteria for selecting hits to parody, finding number one hits despite the rise of Internet culture, rap and polka medleys, attempts to break into long-form film and television, UHF, parts in movies that Al turned down, clearing up several suggestions made by the critic Sam Anderson, whether a gang of barbarians will delete the Internet to the ground, efforts to clarify Weird Al’s vegetarianism status amidst recent self-allegations of cheating, spouses who salivate in response to billboards depicting prime rib, not forcing children into a specific dietary direction, Matt Stone’s tendency to eat junk food, references to bowling in Weird Al’s work, Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, watching 100 episodes of The Flintstones for “Bedrock Anthem,” whether intense research gets in the way of spontaneity, fake educational films, the Prelinger Archive, responding to charges that Al is “a parasite of ubiquity,” “Dare to Be Stupid” and The Transformers, Michael Bay, digital distribution, maintaining a long-term legacy, the accidental iconic nature of songs, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Mick Jagger, Weird Al’s confidantes, how Weird Al listens to music, including burps and other delightful gastrointestinal sounds in songs, avoiding profanity in work, Shel Silverstein’s “Get My Rocks Off,” the pros and cons of being family-friendly, Radio Disney asking Al to change lyrics in “The Saga Begins,” Nickelodeon asking Al to remove “gay,” why doesn’t Weird Al always call the shots, art vs. commerce, lines that Weird Al won’t cross, multiple versions of “The Night Santa Went Crazy,” choosing edgy animators for music videos, John Kricfalusi and the “Close But No Cigar” video, why there isn’t an Al TV installment for Alpocalypse and why these haven’t been released in video, taking advantage of blanket waivers, why Al took so long to sit in the producer’s chair after Rick Derringer, “Don’t Download This Song,” applying mainstream cultural values to hip-hop, whether “I’ll Sue Ya” props up reactionary values, unanticipated advocacy of the status quo, tort reform, Hot Coffee, attempts to keep songs non-political, fans who defaced the Atlantic Records Wikipedia page, the consequence of words, political groups who made Weird Al as a poster boy for tort reform, donating proceeds of songs to charity foundations, morality and the gray areas of parody, the breakdown of revenue, contemplating the end of albums, digital distribution, whether Weird Al will reinvent himself on schedule on January 24, 2018, William Shatner’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Has Been, playing the camp card, how Weird Al has stayed sincere over the years, and “Since You’ve Been Gone.”

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: Weird Al, how are you doing?

Yankovic: I’m doing well. Thank you for asking. Yourself?

Correspondent: Oh. I think I’m doing okay.

Yankovic: Good. I’m glad to hear that.

Correspondent: I’m glad we’re on the same page.

Yankovic: I’m glad we’re all doing very well.

Correspondent: Do you think everyone’s doing okay in general?

Yankovic: In the world? Probably not.

Correspondent: Okay.

Yankovic: If you go with the percentages, there are certainly some people in the world who are not doing well currently.

Correspondent: Yeah. I hope you don’t mind. But I may have to — well, actually I will. I will start this off on a tenebrous tone. We’re talking about a year of heavy losses. We have seen the end of REM. The end of the White Stripes. The dissolution of the marriage of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. And I look to you, Weird Al, and I say to myself, “Wow, this guy’s been in business for 28 years. He’s had the same manager. The same band.” How do you do it, Al?

Yankovic: Yeah. Everybody’s wondering. When is Weird Al going to break up?

Correspondent: Yes.

Yankovic: And I don’t know. I keep waiting for my limbs to fall off. It just hasn’t happened.

Correspondent: Really? Really? Your mind perhaps?

Yankovic: You know, I have actually had the same band from the very beginning. Which in rock and roll terms is pretty unheard of. But I just still enjoy doing what I’m doing. And apparently the world at large hasn’t gotten completely sick of me yet. And the people that I work with still enjoy working with me. So it just seems to have all worked out. It’s pretty ironic. Because a career like mine, historically speaking, should not have lasted more than a few months. And here I am still.

Correspondent: Well, how do you avoid the fights and the fractiousness? Or is it all very carefully concealed so that the public doesn’t know about how dangerous things are backstage?

Yankovic: Well, I’ve got incriminating Polaroids of everybody in the band and crew.

Correspondent: Oh, I see.

Yankovic: If they don’t want them in public, I’ll play nice.

Correspondent: I’ve detected a fastidious concern for the English language in the course of my research. There was, of course, the infamous 2003 interview with Eminem that you did in which you corrected his triple negative.

Yankovic: Yes indeed.

Correspondent: But also, in an interview with Nardwuar, who I like quite a bit, you actually repeated “Otis Wedding’s Riffs.”* Where he said that to you. And you were very

Yankovic: Don’t remember that. Otis Wedding…what?

Correspondent: He said to you, “Otis Wedding’s Riffs.” And you corrected and repeated that back to him.

Yankovic: Oh.

Correspondent: But the point I’m trying to make here, Al, is why, in an age of increasing illiteracy, would you be concerned with such quaint things as English grammar?

Yankovic: I don’t know. You pick your battles, I guess. I mean, I’m one of those kind of guys — you know, I will not ever text the letter U instead of writing out “Y-O-U.”

Correspondent: Oh yeah?

Yankovic: I am not Prince and I’m not a 13-year-old girl.

Correspondent: You’re not Prince? I’m getting out of here.

Yankovic: Oh, sorry. Sorry. Waste of time. No, I don’t know what it is. It’s kind of a knee-jerk reaction. I mean, I just enjoy the English language and several other national languages as well. So I prefer not to bastardize it.

Correspondent: Does it relate to your increasing need for precision in your audio, in your shows, in your songs…

Yankovic: It’s probably an extension of my whole OCD, anal retentive, compulsive control freak personality.

Correspondent: You’re a control freak. Well, how so? How do you keep it at bay? Because you have to work with people.

Yankovic: No. I mean, it’s not obnoxious. Or at least, if it is, people aren’t telling me about.

Correspondent: Oh, I see. You have handlers to prevent people from getting the truth.

Yankovic: No. But I mean, I work with people who understand that what I do is very precise. When we do parodies these days, we’re trying to emulate a sound exactly. And I don’t have to crack a whip. Everybody in the band knows. They know what we’re looking for. And they’re as OCD as I am. They’re very fastidious about getting it exactly the right sounds.

Correspondent: I want to ask you. Two recent songs, as well as your children’s book, suggest that what you’re really working toward more as an artist is storytelling. I’m thinking of “Skipper Dan” on this latest album, which transcends the Weezer style parody to become this really harrowing tale about this poor man. This guide. As does “Trapped in the Drive-Thru,” where it isn’t really about the R. Kelly parody after a while. You listen to it and you say to yourself, “Wow, this thing’s going on for eleven minutes. And I’m not conscious of it.”

Yankovic: (laughs)

Correspondent: Which is kind of a carryover from “Albuquerque” from the album before. These songs seem to me more about human behavior than your typical obsessions with TV and food and the like. And I’m wondering if these are efforts to get away from the fact of “I’m stuck in parody and I’m stuck of having to replicate things.” And also, in contrast to things like “The Saga Begins” and “Ode to a Superhero,” which are really just cultural retellings of what we already know. I’m more interested in this new Al that’s talking about human behavior. Are we moving towards that? Are you consciously trying to move?

Yankovic: Well, it’s not conscious or calculated. But I’m always trying to think of new ways to be funny. Because I get stuck in ruts sometimes. Like in the ’80s, I wrote a lot of songs about food. And that was pointed out to me by a number of people for a few years. And then I wrote a lot of songs about TV. And currently I think I’m stuck in an Internet/nerd culture era where I’m writing a lot of songs about that. Because I surf on the Internet for a disproportionate amount of time per day. And you write what you know about. But I’m always trying to figure out different ways to be funny. And the nerdom style is a classic way of being funny, of telling a joke, doing a song. I’m a big fan of all those narrative songs from the ’70s. Like, you know, Gordon Lightfoot and Harry Chapin and things like that. And every now and then, I’ll throw a song of that ilk. “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” is something along those lines as well. Again, I try to mix it up and be eclectic. And I wouldn’t want to do all narrative songs. But every now and then, it’s nice to throw one in there. Because people like a good story.

Correspondent: Well, why not? What’s so wrong about these really quirky behavioral narratives that we’re talking about here? I mean, why not more of those? The problem here is that, when you think of something like “I Want a New Duck,” well, that whole humor thing comes from transposing “drug” and “duck.” And it doesn’t always work. Although in the case of “Trapped in the Drive-Thru,” which I think is epic and wonderful, that just transcends the parody. What of this conundrum?

Yankovic: It really depends from song to song. “Trapped in the Drive-Thru” — I mean, the reason I wrote that particular narrative was because I figured I needed to do something with the R. Kelly song. It was such an iconic song. It was such a big part of the zeitgeist at the time that, you know, what can I do with this? Because it’s already pretty much about as ridiculous as it can possibly be. Kind of the same problem I had recently with Lady Gaga. How do you go a step above? So instead of even attempting that, I decided to go the other direction and make the song as banal as possible and do a very dramatic, a melodramatic eleven minute song where basically nothing happens. So that was my challenge there. To try and keep a compelling narrative and still have the story be pretty much about nothing.

Correspondent: But I would argue that actually is about something. Because it subscribes to Freytag’s triangle. You have escalating conflict from absolute banality.

Yankovic: Yes.

Correspondent: So as a result, I would say, “Well, despite the fact that he tried to bore the tears out of the audience, you’re absolutely hooked on every consequential step forward!”

Yankovic: Very much like Waiting for Godot or Seinfeld.

* — Yankovic scholars may wish to consult the source to determine if indeed Our Correspondent has his facts correct. Additionally, one word has been uttered throughout this program exactly 27 times.

The Bat Segundo Show #418: Weird Al Yankovic (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Marisa Meltzer

Marisa Meltzer appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #328. Ms. Meltzer is most recently the author of Girl Power.

Play

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering why Liz Phair is running away.

Author: Marisa Meltzer

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: You quote Susan Douglas’s Where the Girls Are, in which Douglas notes that the women performing in the 1960s gave voice to all these inner warring selves. But she also notes later in her book — not quoted by you — that this period of music also captured the way that young women were caught between this entrapment and this freedom. Now some of the examples you use in the book, such as Phair, Bikini Kill, riot grrl culture in general, they tend to suggest more of the latter than the former. What do you think is the ultimate distinction between, say, the music of the last twenty years versus almost this second wave reaction to the 1960s?

Meltzer: That’s a hard question. You know, I’m reading her new book right now. And it’s all about the ’90’s and the past few decades. So I’ve been thinking about her a lot, but not so much the ’60’s. I think the distinction is that there’s so much more feminist rhetoric in culture now that, after the ’70’s, you had this postfeminist era — which is not a word that I’m a fan of. But in everything from advertising to music to television, there’s all this lip service and references to feminism and empowerment. But I don’t know how many actual empowerment there is. To me, that’s the difference. I think it’s really easy to think that we’ve come a long way musically or politically because there’s so much feminism around us. But I don’t know if it’s so substantive.

Correspondent: On the other hand, empowerment has been rather easily co-opted by marketing forces.

Meltzer: Yeah.

Correspondent: And so the question of what empowerment actually provides within this music, I suppose, is subject to the fluctuating market forces that may actually abscond with the inherent self-righteous truth of this message.

Meltzer: Yeah. I mean, the word “empower” is also just one of those words that, at this point, I don’t even know if it has much meaning. I feel like it’s been drained away by marketers. So it’s something that I have a lot of suspicion towards.

Correspondent: Yeah. Well, it begs the question of whether a phrase or a word — whether it be “riot grrl,” “girl power,” “lady” as you point out later in the book — if the terms are constantly shifting, then are the terms essentially meaningless? Or must one gravitate towards whatever terms are presently fashionable among young girls, or among culture at large, and just attempt to play this game of leapfrog?

Meltzer: Yeah. I do think that there is a certain amount of leapfrog. I think that there is a lot of fashion. I think of my mother’s generation — the baby boomers. And none of them describe themselves as girls. Whereas all of my friends — many of them in our thirties or even in our forties now — constantly use the word “girl” to describe ourselves, to describe other people, to describe people who are older than us, younger than us. And you see some real generational divides. And then you also see in divisions in terms of culture, where there was “grrl” and “girl power,” and suddenly that was taken over, and you had to start calling everyone “lady.” I hope that those terms don’t seem compulsory. But I do think that there can be a certain amount of feeling — it’s kind of like a password or a code. I think that — especially the term “lady” for the past few years — it was “Oh, you’re going to love this great lady.” Or “Have you seen this lady that’s making cupcakes at the flea market or the pop-up shop?” Or whatever. I think there’s a certain shorthand to it. But is it necessary? No. But I think that if it makes you feel good, if it makes you feel as if you’re in on something.

(Image: Shayla Hason)

The Bat Segundo Show #328: Marisa Meltzer (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Esther Rots & Dan Geesin

Esther Rots and Dan Geesin appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #278.

Esther Rots is the writer, director, editor, and producer of is most recently the director of Can Go Through Skin. Dan Geesin is the sound designer and music composer of the film. The film is presently playing at the New Directors/New Films series, which is running between March 25 and April 5 at MOMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

segundo278

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Eschewing intuitive sensibilities.

Guests: Esther Rots and Dan Geesin

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]

cango

Correspondent: This leads me to wonder then how the house was located. Did you, in fact, try to find a house that had the stinkiest possible odor? Or something that was possibly in disuse? And the rat. How did you wrangle the rat in the course of the shower scene? It could not have been easy to do. Since it is vermin, you know.

Rots: It’s a shame this is radio. I’m poking out my thumb now and it’s got white lines all over it. That was directing the rat.

Correspondent: Really?

Rots: He nibbled the middle bit of my thumb. It was hanging there for quite some time and biting away.

Correspondent: Wow.

Rots: That was me directing a rat. I’m not good. (laughs)

Correspondent: Did you have to see a doctor? Get shots?

Rots: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was too chewed up.

Geesin: Tetanus jab.

Rots: No, rats are not directable. They just do their own way. But that might be a natural talent as well.

Correspondent: They say that kids and animals are the toughest to direct.

Rots: Yeah.

Correspondent: But you would say that a rat is even tougher.

Rots: Yeah. And boats. Boats are also a cliche.

BSS #278: Esther Rots & Dan Geesin (Download MP3)

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Name That Tune!

Not long ago, I listened to a remarkably wretched piece of music, perhaps dating from the late 1980s, while waiting for someone. Now I had not heard this song for a number of years. It was sung by a needlessly husky New Age-like Michael McDonald-sounding singer. Perhaps it was McDonald for all I knew. The song was certainly written and recorded with the intention of being played all the time on easy listening radio.

Days later, the manufactured melody has become a dreaded earworm. What is most curious about this insipid little song is that, perhaps in an effort to protect myself, I have deliberately blanked out on the lyrics. Maybe I just don’t want to remember. Or perhaps this reflects a certain trauma related to the song that may come up once I have discovered its identity. But the phrase “matter of touch” seems to be there. Here are the notes in question for the main verse, which repeats about four times in the song:

F# / F# / F# / F# / F# / G / F# / E / D / C# / A
F# / F# / F# / F# / F# / G / F# / E / D / C# / A
(one octave lower) F# / A / C# (suspiciously similar — perhaps deliberately so? — to the beginning of the crescendo of the Carpenters’s “Close to You”)
A / B / C# / C# / C# / C# / C# / B / A / C#
A / B / C# / C# / C# / C# / C# / D / E / D

Now in that last line, this McDonald-like warbler ends this tune with the lyrical fragment in question. It could be something along the lines of “But it’s really just a matter of touch.” That sounds right, although I suspect it’s dreadfully wrong.

Do you know what this song is? And if you have had to endure it at any point in your life, have you experienced any specific trauma related to it? What I think we need to do here is determine what the song is, track down the people responsible (I will make phone calls; don’t you worry), and find out why this tune was emitted over the airwaves. There is, I suspect, a big story here that may yield unexpected truths.

[UPDATE: The ever helpful Doug Finch has correctly identified the song as Billy Joel’s “A Matter of Trust.” Rest assured, there will be efforts to track down Mr. Joel and get him to answer for this atrocity. This particular song in his oeuvre is the least Billy Joel-sounding — a fey cross between Michael McDonald and Bruce Springsteen. More TK.]

The Bat Segundo Show: Pale Young Gentlemen

Pale Young Gentlemen appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #242. The band is currently touring across the United States, and has just released its second album, Black Forest (tra la la).

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contending with unexpected discrimination during the economic crisis.

Guest: Michael Reisenauer (of Pale Young Gentlemen)

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Reisenauer: We’ll actually write through entire songs and entire arrangements, and then cast them away and then start over.

Correspondent: Really?

Reisenauer: That happened a lot with this album. As the songs started fitting together, certain things didn’t work at all anymore, didn’t work for the mood of the entire album anymore. So we had to change the arrangement so it fit better. Drums are one of the things that I have absolutely no knowledge about.

Correspondent: So you defer to Matt.

Reisenauer: I can’t play them. So he’ll play things. And he’ll do things. “Don’t do that anymore.” “That’s bad.” “That’s great.” Or “do that again.” You know, that kind of stuff.

Correspondent: I’m curious. Do you have any input on specific sounds? Or is that all Matthew? I note, for example, there’s that sound during “The Crook of My Good Arm,” where you have something that sounds between a cowbell and a gas station bell.

Reisenauer: Yeah, I can tell you what that is. I was having trouble with that song, and so I decided I’d just demo it in my apartment on an eight-track. So I just had the guitar line. And I was just messing around. And I was headed at a table. And at the table was a Pottery Barn-like fruit bowl. And so I just took the end of a handle on some scissors and banged on the inside of it.

Correspondent: Really?

Reisenauer: We used that on the record too. We brought that bowl into the studio.

Correspondent: It was that bowl.

Reisenauer: With the back of the scissors.

Correspondent: Did you try any other bowls out?

Reisenauer: No! It was the perfect sound right away.

Correspondent: It was one bowl and it worked out.

Reisenauer: Yeah, we didn’t mess with it at all.

Correspondent: Are there any other percussive scenarios like that? Where you banged on something and it turned out to be just that particular one? A divine act of serendipity?

Reisenauer: (laughs) Nothing like that on the album. We tried other various things. Matt had an idea for a song using a wrench. A ratchet wrench going KWHLEKT. Like that. That kind of stuff. But it didn’t end up fitting well for the album.

BSS #242: Pale Young Gentlemen (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Bonnie Tyler

Bonnie Tyler appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #237. Tyler is the legendary singer behind such tracks as “Vernal Equinox of the Mind” and “Holding Out for a Supervillain.”

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Nothing he can say, a total eclipse of the Bat

Guest: Bonnie Tyler

Subjects Discussed: Tyler co-writing most of the tracks on the album, Wings, singing vs. songwriting, breaking up with managers, shyness, hairs that stand up on the back of the neck, turning down a song by Jim Steinman, songs that involve the devil, Desmond Child, James Bond, Tyler turning down the Never Say Never Again theme, Heartstrings and recording cover songs mostly from male recording artists, the song selection process, Meat Loaf, rehearsing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” the seven minute opuses on Faster Than the Speed of Night, a group of passengers who were traumatized by Tyler singing on an Air France jet, Noel Gallagher, contending with hardcore fans, a 15-year-old Australian who claimed to be Tyler’s daughter, avoiding retirement, the number of shows Tyler performs a year, the endless onslaught of greatest hits albums, the Psion SMX and iPods, country music, Duffy, what Bonnie reads, Les Dawson, Tyler tells a bawdy joke, Botox, ageism, music videos and photo shoots, being judged on physical appearance, looks vs. voice, MTV and YouTube videos, the nightmare of making music videos, restrictions from record companies, independent labels, and music and the Internet.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: Going back to Wings, I actually wanted to talk about “Crying in Berlin.” This song, out of all the songs that I’ve listened to of yours, sounds the most like a James Bond song. And I do know the Hindustan Times reported in 2006 that the only thing that could bring you out of retirement was recording a James Bond theme of some sort. I’m wondering if you’ve considered approaching the Bond producers to sing a song just as you called up and contacted [Jim] Steinman, and said, “Hey, I want you to go ahead and produce this particular album.”

Tyler: No. It just happened. They just asked me. Would I like to do a song? And they sent me the song. “Never Say Never,” right?

Correspondent: Yeah.

Tyler: And I listened to it, and I thought, “Ugh! Shit! I don’t like it.”

Correspondent: It is one of the weakest of all the Bond themes.

Tyler: I really would die to do a James Bond song, you know? But I can’t do it. My heart wouldn’t have been in it. I had to turn it down. Now how many people turn down a Bond song, I don’t know. But I turned it down because I didn’t like it. And I was proved right. Because I think out of all the songs.

Correspondent: Who remembers it?

Tyler: I can’t even remember it.

Correspondent: (sings) “Never say never again.” Yeah, I know.

Tyler: I don’t remember. It didn’t appeal to me at all. So I turned it down. And that’s the only regret that I have. But it was…

Correspondent: It wasn’t actually an official Bond movie, technically speaking. Because it was produced outside the [Albert] Broccoli camp. So I think you’re on safe ground.

Tyler: It was a Bond movie!

Correspondent: It was a Bond movie, but it wasn’t official under the Albert Broccoli camp. It was a Sean Connery once-over. Because it was also Thunderball revisited.

Tyler: Whatever. I got offered one and I turned it down.

Correspondent: Did you consider reapproaching them and saying, “Hey, I’d love to do a James Bond song. But this one doesn’t cut it. Can I bring in one of these many songwriters who are sending me songs?” Did you try that tactic?

Tyler: No, I didn’t. But you’ve just given me a good idea. (laughs)

BSS #237: Bonnie Tyler (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Daniel Levitin

Daniel Levitin appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #235. Levitin is most recently the author of The World in Six Songs.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Recalling a traumatic musical episode from his marriage.

Author: Daniel Levitin

Subjects Discussed: Songs that straddle multiple categories within Levitin’s taxonomy, neurological response vs. societal perception of a song, the original eight categories, oxytocin, “I Walk the Line,” Nine Inch Nails, hypothetical subspecies of comfort songs, angst and emo, Janis Ian, social comparison theory, joy songs and advertising jingles, chemical levels rising in relation to specific musical genres, serotonin levels and music, cortisol, responding to Steven Pinker’s “auditory cheesecake” controversy, Steven Mithen’s The Singing Neanderthals, the evolution of language and music, David Huron’s “honest signal” hypothesis, attempts to predict hit music, advertising and music, insincere pop music, smart audiences, the pernicious use of music, the use of Van Halen’s “Panama” to get Manuel Noriega out of his bunker, music used to torture people in Abu Ghraib, and using music in ways that it wasn’t originally intended.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: We have six categories. Can you name a single song that can be applied for all six categories? Have you considered examples along these lines?

Levitin: I’m sure if you gave me enough time, I could.

Correspondent: You have thirty seconds. (laughs)

Levitin: (laughs) Well, I’m going to go with “I Walk the Line.” Because I think it’s a very rich song. In the book, I make the case that it crosses two categories.

Correspondent: It really walks the line here.

Levitin: Right. At the surface level, I believe that it looks like a love song. A guy singing to the woman he loves, “Because you’re mine.” There’s a “you” in it. “Because you’re mine / I walk the line.” I’m not cheating on you. But the point I make in the book is that really I think at a deeper level, he’s not really singing it to her. He’s singing it to himself. It’s like a musical string around his finger reminding me of all he has at stake here. “I find it very, very easy to be true / I’m alone when each day is through.” I don’t think so. I don’t think you’ve been alone every night. And I don’t think that you find it that easy to be true. I mean, I think it’s a struggle. And he’s reminding himself of all that he has at stake. That’s a knowledge song. Self-knowledge.

Now at the same time, I think that you can argue that there’s an element of comfort here. People who have been in a similar situation take comfort in hearing it expressed this way. I listen to music often because the songwriter helps me to understand feelings that I haven’t been able to articulate. The right song comes on. Aha! That’s how I feel. And I find that comforting.

Correspondent: I’m wondering also if identifying song by the six categories is a matter of identifying perhaps a dominant and a recessive category for each particular song. Perhaps a stronger song is more likely to have at least two categories attached to it. Or maybe some songs are utterly simple and just intended to serve one purpose. I mean, it all depends on any number of factors. Maybe you can talk about this a little bit.

Levitin: Well, I think the other aspect of it is that it’s not that the songs themselves fit into six categories. It’s that these are the six ways that people use music. The six ways that people have had music in their lives. The six ways that they use to communicate with one other.

Correspondent: I wanted to ask you about comfort songs. You cite specific personal examples. But I wanted to give you a personal example that I had as a teenager. I had a tendency to blast Nine Inch Nails quite loud. It was a comfort song to me largely because I would listen to this man who was utterly depressed. And I’d say to myself in a sad state, “Oh, you know, there is someone who is worse off than me.” And it was a way for me to corral my emotions with reason. However, the examples that you use in the comfort chapter tend to be people who are looking just for emotional comfort, but not this association between reason and emotion. And I was wondering if it’s very possible that we could be talking about two subspecies of comfort songs.

Levitin: What do you mean? The connection between reason and emotion?

Correspondent: Well, by listening to Trent Reznor, I would be able to immediately understand that my own particular emotions were somewhat folly in some sense. And the rational part of my teenage brain would kick in. And I’d say, “I’m beating myself up here for no reason.”

Levitin: Kind of like listening to Morrissey.

Correspondent: Yeah, exactly!

Levitin: “I want to kill myself.”

Correspondent: Any of the emo.

Levitin: “Everything’s bad tonight.” (laughs)

Correspondent: Yeah, exactly. I mean, should we draw two types of distinctions in comfort songs along these lines? I mean, we have to factor in emo. We just do.

BSS #235: Daniel Levitin

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The Siren Festival

None of the acts at this year’s Siren Festival convinced me that they were rock ‘n roll’s second coming, but I certainly had a lot of fun. The festival went down Saturday within the calefactory confines of Coney Island. I think it’s safe to say that Islands — the Montreal band made up of ex-Unicorns members known for their dual violin players and lengthy, transition-laden songs — certainly came away the winner. Islands started thirty minutes late, with vocalist Nicholas Thorburn emerging onto the stage with a trash can over his head and suggesting that the crowd should take their pants off to beat the heat. He complained of bad luck, perhaps a reference to the constant arguments I observed between the bands and the sound guys. While Islands isn’t quite as good as it was during the Jamie Thompson days and the guitarist (Patrick Gregoire?) mangled many notes on the otherwise fine performance of “Swans (Life After Death)” that closed out the set, Islands nevertheless played a strong show, mostly composed of tunes from their uneven second album.

I’m sorry that I caught Parts & Labor midway through its set. The Brooklyn band, like many acts these days, drew upon The Replacements as their main inspiration, but with some geeky keyboarding thrown in for good measure. They reminded me of some music geeks I used to know in Sacramento, and I may have to check them out in the future.

I now have a soft spot for Jaguar Love and, in particular, Johnny Whitney — a vocalist with an uncombable shock of flaxen hair and a flamboyant swagger. The band offered a somewhat formulaic Glasgow art rock sound, but, unlike some of the bands who played and took their gigs for granted, Jaguar Love knew how to have fun on stage. Whitney screeched out songs like some campy amalgam of Zack de la Rocha and Mick Jagger: his left arm frequently a-kimbo, his thumb and forefinger often squeezing inches of the air as if to offer some belated response to Bill Clinton’s presidential channel-changing gesture. If a set can be judged by how long a beach ball remains in the air batted around by a crowd, Jaguar Love certainly won on this point. There was even a bit of crowd surfing.

I’ve been on the fence about The Dodos for a while, not really caring for or against the music. But now that I’ve seen them live, I’m convinced that the band should rename itself The Three Douchebags. They truly give San Francisco a bad name. Meric Long isn’t much of a slide guitarist and he doesn’t seem to know how to tune a guitar (although perhaps this was the heat warping his instrument or the spliffs warping his mind). Long’s the kind of self-entitled solipsist who really needs to be bruised up in a dive bar brawl to learn the meaning of humility. The band was terrified of appearing naked and imperfect before the crowd, openly bitching about the sound, with Long relying on two mikes — one with mild reverb, the other with heavy reverb; you can guess which mike he used more frequently — to belt out his humorless songs. Despite the promising possibility of a trash can used as percussion, the band seemed to view their set as a live reproduction of their studio recordings. Long performed almost entirely sitting in a folding chair. The Dodos were perfunctory and soulless. I could have had more fun reading a few chapters of a mediocre novel. But morbid curiosity kept me there until the end.

I’m at a point in my life where I’ve grown tired of arrogant 23-year-old musicians who go up on stage and have nothing to justify their hubris. I suppose some arrogance is excusable if the musician has the chops or the personality to back it up. But there isn’t anything within The Dodos’s sound to suggest even the metaphorical residue of a prominent extinct species. Johnny Whitney may have been a bit preposterous, but let’s again consider the beach balls. At the beginning of The Dodos’s set, there were three beach balls being tossed around in the air. Two songs in, the audience stopped batting the balls. The audience took in their joints. Some sang along. But on the whole, The Dodos demonstrated that they were not a band worth standing in the summer heat for. Thankfully, there were plenty of other bands willing to pick up the slack.

The Bat Segundo Show: Grandmaster Flash & Karen Abbott

Grandmaster Flash and Karen Abbott appeared most recently on The Bat Segundo Show #221.

Grandmaster Flash is most recently the author of The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash (with David Ritz).

Karen Abbott is most recently the author of Sin in the Second City.

Condition of the Show: Marinating in urban culture.

Authors: Grandmaster Flash and Karen Abbott

SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Using “adventures” in a book title, cutting, rubbing and scratching, finding obscure records in a digital age, turntables vs. mashups, time-coded vinyl, illicit methods of obtaining equipment, Sylvia Robinson, the risks of entering into a deal without an attorney, Flash’s problems with “The Message,” Ray Chandler, “Getting Everleighed,” bawdy verbs in desuetude, research and literary associations, the swank decor of the Everleigh Club, the legendary attorney Colonel MacDuff, determining reliable sources a century later, Clifford Roe and Ernest Bell, the danger of writing a history with clear-cut protagonists and antagonists, the white slavery scare, maintaining high standards in prostitution, balancing the pursuit of the facts with the writing an entertaining book, the reformist tendency to slum in the Red Light District, Ike Bloom and graft money, filling in the missing pieces of the narrative constructed by the Everleigh sisters, the Everleigh sisters’s idiosyncratic grammar, whether Abbott portrayed Vic Shaw in a fair light during her final days, Bathhouse John Coughlin — the buffoon and poet laureate of the Levee District, Clement Moore, the early days of Al Capone, the rush of reformist regulation before the 1920s, Jack Johnson, needless persecution under the Mann Act, the lack of coordination between federal and local authorities, the early days of the FBI, the 1908 bombing of the Coliseum, speculation on why the wondrous debauchery of the First Ward Ball were stopped, the downside of advertising a brothel, insular zoning, and prognosticating on the motivations of reformers going after the Everleigh Club.

EXCERPTS FROM SHOW:

Corresponent: If you listen to “The Wheels of Steel” today, as I have actually a couple of times, you can actually hear your hands on the turntables, whereas you can’t always hear someone who is just doing a mashup. You don’t hear that analog quality. So I’m wondering how things have adjusted for you in light of this. How do you keep the analog part of things legitimate? Real? How do digital tools help you as well?

Flash: Okay, first of all, I’m a scientist before I’m a DJ. So pushing the envelope for new technology, I’m always with that. Because I was ahead of my time thirty-three years ago. So now that it’s become things like Serato, Torq, FinalScratch — Traktor Scratch, which is what I use — you still have to drive it in the same fashion. Meaning that if you were a great mixer, a great DJ, in the analog world with vinyl, you still have to drive it the same way in digital. So if you was wack in the analog world, you will be wack in the digital world. So the real fact of the matter is follow through how you play your songs and what songs you play. That still separates the boys from the men, and the ladies from the women. So the modern technology has brought in convenience. You can put 15,000, 20,000 songs on a hard drive, and carry those. Where at one point, we as DJs used to have three or four guys who used to lift our boxes. That isn’t the case anymore. I carry less vinyl and I have more in my laptop.

* * *

Correspondent: It’s interesting that something like “Everleighed,” as well as “decentized,” which you point to later in the book — these are verbs that didn’t quite make it in the 21st century.

Abbott: “Decentize.” I’m surprised. You’d think that some reformers today would have latched onto it.

Correspondent: You’d think in light of the fundamentalist furor that is going on as we speak. But how much of your research is oriented around these associations? Because obviously, this is a very literary approach in a certain way to the facts that exist. There’s a lot of fanciful language that you use that really gets us into this atmospheric context. I’m wondering. Does something like this originate from the facts? Or does it originate from a phrase? Or does it originate from a verb as we sort of suggested here?

Abbott: You know, I think a lot of the phrases that exist in the book were already in existence. The characters sort of latched onto them. I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I spent two days researching the etymology of Susie Poontang.

Correspondent: Really?

Abbott: Of where “poontang” might have come from.

Correspondent: Well, did you come up with any conclusions here?

Abbott: It was a Chinese phrase that had to do with prostitutes. And I think she had to latch onto that for herself. It’s sort of a chicken and the egg question. But I’m sure that she probably appropriated it for herself to get to America.

(Please note: Due to current incompatibility between PodPress and WP 2.6, I have had to institute a workaround. If the player button does not work, then try the direct link to the MP3 below.)

BSS #221: Grandmaster Flash & Karen Abbott

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