Monday, January 25, 2010

"Quiet enough for a drum solo?"

On Saturday night, April 30, 1966, I was watching my favourite British TV show, Secret Agent. Known as Danger Man in the UK, Patrick McGoohan as cynical agent John Drake, was the epitome of ubercool. He was the real deal. What we thought spies were really like. Anyway, I digress. That night's particular episode was called "The Not So Jolly Roger," and our beloved John Drake was undercover pretending to be a pirate radio station disc jockey! Cool! And the even cooler thing was that the episode was shot on some old World War II observation platforms in the British sea that was actually a real pirate radio station. Radio 390 was what the station was in real life, but in the episode, the station is called "your friendly pirate Radio Jolly Roger."

At that time in my life, the magic of radio captivated me. I had dreams of bringing together all the crazy things that inspired me into one concept of a radio program. I loved science fiction and horror movies. The other worldly electronics of Forbidden Planet in 1956 had inspired me to listen for the unusual. Odd sounds invoked odd thoughts. The Theremin in The Day The Earth Stood Still in 1951. Couple this with classical music and the new rocking sound of mod England. Mix this with the mystery of an old-time radio adventure like the Shadow. Throw in the comic surrealism of the Goon Show. The international connection of the shortwave. And yet, have the immediacy and intimacy of being a ham radio operator where you are in direct contact with the receiver of your signal, live and at that moment. These were the basic alchemical elements of what would become Space Pirate Radio.

So I loved the concept of pirate radio at the time it existed in my life. There were these pirate radio stations in Europe, which I couldn't hear. The closest I had in California was listening to the Mexican stations. Those powerful signals broadcasting without FCC restrictions, south of the border into our domesticated urban centers. XERB was the most famous. Home of Wolfman Jack. Playing those throbbing rock & roll records. Talking about having his little brown bottle and not having a clue what he meant until much later. Telling lovelorn lady listeners to "hug your pillow." He was a lunatic. He was the Wolfman. He only came out at night. I could dig it.

So in the world of 1966, if pirate radio operated outside the legal limits of countries that forbade it, in a future dystopian world...your author pondered...a pirate radio station would have to exist outside the earth. So before satellite radio, I saw satellite radio. Or instead of a pirate ship broadcasting from sea, I saw a pirate ship broadcasting from space. Or instead of broadcasting from Luxembourg into England, I saw broadcasting from the moon down to Earth.

So the seeds were being sown. The elements were coming together. I never knew until I bought the Danger Man box set that that fateful episode of Secret Agent was called "The Not So Jolly Roger." I used to do a pirate character on my program called Long John Aluminum, who commanded his shipmate to hoist the Jolly Roger. He, who in turn responded, "he's not so jolly." "Then hoist the not so Jolly Roger," Long John replied. This was followed by the sounds of some grumbling twit being raised up the mast. So the things we forget, maybe we don't forget.

Monday, January 18, 2010

"You might say it's quiet enough for a drum solo."

Among the many pleasures of doing Space Pirate Radio, besides introducing new music, is actually meeting the artists who create it. Many of the top musicians in the field of progressive, electronic and experimental music have graciously appeared on my program. When I stop and try to actually list everybody who I have met through the show, I am amazed at the variety of talent and styles that I have encountered. It is impossible to single out any one guest over the other. I have been tremendously honoured at the persons who have paid the show a visit or let me through their doors with or without a microphone. I had a lot of fun with many guests. Robin Williamson, of the Incredible String Band, with his wife Janet were a real joy. I found that dinner and wine before going on air could produce some magical moments in the studio. Bryan Ferry, politely refusing interviews with all the major media, but coming to my humble radio station because he had heard years earlier me playing Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno, Andy Mackay and Phil Manzanera import albums on a commercial radio station when none of the big pros would play them. Everyone from Pink Floyd except Syd Barrett. Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream. An interesting evening and a stoney breakfast with Mike Oldfield. Steve Hackett of Genesis. Rick Wakeman. A very lovely interview with Pete Bardens of Camel. Thomas Dolby. From Sting to Primal Scream, from Steve Roach to Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. Oh yeah, and Frank Zappa. Hopefully, if I don't bore you silly, I will detail many more of these encounters on later entries.

I thought I would start with lovely time spent with Bill Bruford (pictured). I met him when he was drumming for King Crimson. They did two shows in Santa Barbara at the Mission Theatre on June 4, 1984. I'm not sure that they were happy to do two shows. They probably intended to blow off the second show completely. As it so often turns out, dread in these cases translates into adrenaline, and they did probably one of the finest shows in the history of that line-up. Even Fripp was smiling. Tony Levin was gobsmacked. It was a great show and a really good interview. Bill was terrific and dressed very in the 80s style, unlike Adrian Belew, who I met earlier in the day at the hotel by the pool, in shorts, covered in fish oil ("Don't shake my hand, Guy"). Like an earlier encounter with Nick Mason, it often seems that drummers are the nicest musicians.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Twelve Of The Most Forgotten Films

Cine enthusiasts have much to rejoice over these days. Some fine films are being presented locally. The most recent is on exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Unnatural History (4969 Puesta del Bunghol), in the Margerine Auditorium. The current series is entitled "Twelve of the Most Forgotten Films." Much care has been taken to present a comprehensive series of forgotten classics, ranging from the '30s to the '70s. The movies will begin next Sunday for 12 days, with a different film each night. Here is a list of the complete program.

Dead Man Don't Tango (1944) George Zucco (pictured) stars as a concert pianist who loses both of his hands in a freak auto accident. The hands of a dead proctologist are sewn on in their place, with unexpected results.

Amore Ina Casa Sheet Blanco (Love In The House Of White Sheets) (1972) An Italian Suicide film by Luchiano Dumconti. The story focuses in on Marcello String Quartet's discovery that his society wife is actually the daughter of a Milano washing machine repairman. Endless scenes of separating colors from whites before the inevitable tragedy.

Hell Bent For Onion Dip (1939) Unsuccessful attempt to merge Noel Coward in an Old West setting. Audie Murphy fails as the urbane nightgowned sheriff.

Gidget Gets An IUD (1965) Shelly Fabres in the final, adult-themed episode in the popular Gidget series. Controversial for its time, Gidget is outfitted with the birth control device, only to fall in love with a Uri Geller type psychic. His mind bending passions render the device useless, with a series of wacky results. Film made popular the song," Put Your Head On My Bladder."

The Buena Park Trash Compacter Massacre (1971) Typical psycho yarn about a damaged Viet vet who goes on a wild Orange County killing spree. Aldo Ray appears as a wearied Fullerton cop.

Hercules Unhinged (1959) Massimo Groins, Mr. Italian Expressway of 1958, made his simultaneous film debut and retirement in this spaghetti muscleman epic. Film includes the memorable sequence in which Hercules, drugged by the goddess Messalina, eats the entire Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The Bowery Boys In Drag (1950) Unreleased feature with the Dead End Kids. Huntz Hall performs the first home vasectomy with an office stapler, in an attempt to swear off girls. Leo Gorcey and the rest of the East Side Gang dress up as Girl Scouts in an attempt to bring their pal back to sanity.

Nice Legs Of '35 (1935) "More legs than a warehouse of pianos!" shouted the posters for this thirties musical. True enough, the quantity of gams makes up for the lack of plot in this story of Detroit chorus girl who makes good in Broadway show. Dick Powell sings "High Heels and Calves Make Me Crazy."

Terror Of The Thongs (1960) Christopher Lee stars in this film from the Hammer Studios of England. An Oriental Mastermind starts a shoe wars in turn of the century Chinatown. This horror epic is undistinguished except for the remark by Lee, "Two whites don't make a Wong," to actress Heather Buxom.

Never Trust A Blonde Mexican (1967) Classic spaghetti western depicting story of The Man With No Name But A Lot Of Balls. Sports car racer Jackie Off Stewart is unbelievable in title role. Horrible dubbing and obligatory soundtrack of whistling, bells, female choir and ricochets is nearly unbearable except to those with impaired hearing.

Machiavellian Melody (1954) Hard pressed for musicals, MGM attempted to adapt "The Prince" with Mario Lanza in the title role. Results are lackluster, though Virginia Mayo charms with "Control Me" and in the duet "Republican Rhapsody." Mischa Auer is also amusing with his number, "Fascists Fandango."

Mr. Moto Picks Lettuce (1943) Unreleased film in the Mr. Moto series finds Peter Lorre tracking down a blackmailer, only to be interred in a California concentration camp. Obvious World War II propaganda film is only of interest in its early footage of Orange groves in Anaheim and Santa Ana.

As an extra bonus to film lovers, a chapter of the forties serial "Lost Planet Trashmen" will be shown each evening at 8:30pm, prior to the main feature. If the series is successful, a second will be scheduled in the Fall.

[Originally published in 1980]

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Everything I've ever told you has been a lie, including that"

"Including what?"
"That everything I've ever told you has been a lie. That's not true."

A young Orson Welles got a theatre job in Ireland by saying he was a big Broadway star. He wasn't. Peter Sellers called up a BBC producer pretending to be, not one, but two, comic actors praising the talents of a young comedian they had seen named Peter Sellers. I got my first radio job pretending I was English. I wasn't. The year was 1968. The station was KTBT FM in Garden Grove, CA. And I felt that the world needed a program that played all those really cool British songs that only appeared on the imports--not on the American releases. Beatles, Kinks and Who albums in England would usually have 12-14 songs on them; American companies would release them usually with 10 songs, saving the remaining songs to make up another album that they would sell later. So for a short period of time, these extra songs of England would be "rarities" or unreleased in this country, and would have an air of excitement about them, if any American DJ would play them. Often they would appear as exclusive cuts debuted on local AM stations like Los Angeles' KHJ, KRLA or KFWB (before it became a news station).

KTBT was one of the first, so-called, freeform FM rock and roll stations challenging the Top 40 AM format. KPPC in Pasadena was another in Southern California. KTBT, however, sounded like an AM station--a sort of KHJ on acid, with album oriented cuts mixed in with the Top 40. I called my show "British Underground," with my affected British accent, but I used my real name, Guy Guden. All the other DJs used fake names, like Charlie Hookah and J. William Weed. The radio station broadcast in the middle of a stereo store in a shopping mall in Orange County. The announcer and engineer would broadcast in the center of the store in a booth. I, playing Jeff Beck's "Beck's Bolero," while customers are pondering the purchase of a Sansui receiver, and perhaps a pair of Quadroflex speakers. It was strange, but somehow I carried on. I'll never be sure if the station management really believed I was British. It didn't matter. The deed had been done. And it was the start of it all.