Monday, April 26, 2010

Music In Mayaland

Techno music has finally been accepted. What was once considered too weird and too electronic, is now the beat of the current drum. Everyone is dancing today to the pulse of the rhythm machine (as evidenced in the success of the new local club, Montezuma's A Go Go). Certainly the band to get much of the credit for current dance tastes is Germany's Hardwerk.

Happy to say that Hardwerk are coming to town courtesy of local Amazon Attractions. This is an event that local disco fanatics have only dreamed about. It is also a good time to talk about the band's history before they perform at Anderson Split Pea and Ham Hall on the University campus.

Hardwerk come from the German city of Cologne (their studios are actually in the suburb of Afterschafe). They were the darlings of German avant garde for many years, until the release of their hit album Montalban. This eighteen minute musical tribute to the star of Fantasy Island, caught the fancy of the American public, and hurtled them into international stardom. Who can forget those repetitive yet infectious lyrics:
"We're fond, fond, fond, of Ricardo Montalban.
We're fond, fond, fond, of Ricardo Montalban."

Well, as they say, the rest is history. Many albums followed Montalban, including TransVestite Distress, The Washing Machine, Appliance World (known in Germany as Appliance Welt), and the soon to be released "Toaster Pop." As one can tell from the last three albums, the band has been obsessed with the idea of home utilities. Appliance World gave Hardwerk another hit single with "Coffee Percolator," a ditty extolling the musical virtues of a morning cup of coffee:
"It plays a little melody, but not when I've a cup of tea."

That album produced another lovely dance number called "Herr Dryer," which served as the cover inspiration (pictured). I know all of us will be looking forward when Falk, Ulrich, Christian and Kaiser perform this catchy little number in concert. Try not to miss it.

Rumors are also afloat that another techno band, BMD, may be appearing locally. Though not as technically polished as Hardwerk, this British band has garnered many fans. BMD, which is short for Bowel Movements in the Dark, would be a welcome visit on our shores.

Other musical trends are reflected in the number of motion pictures playing locally. In fact, the University has a series of rock films playing. The Sex Pimples movie, Like a Garden Rake Up the Bum, begins the series, followed by the reggae classic, Jamaica? No, We Just Held Hands, which features bands like Jah Kitsch and Truck Drivers of Rhodesia.

And one film that just seems unable to leave this town, returns again, in From Swahili to Schumann, Iggy Gavalt in Nigeria. This classic film shows famed accordionist Iggy Gavalt teaching the rudiments of ivory fingering to rustic natives. An acknowledged virtuoso, Iggy seems a little hard on the natives. When in his honor, they pummel an antelope with crude rock hewn instruments, Iggy snidely says, "Yes, but can they play Schoenberg's Five String Quartets?" Iggy does, however, seem touched later on when a Masai tribe performs Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring on gazelle skulls.

Although music has been the theme of the movies mentioned here, I just have to mention another film in the serious, non-music category. One film that has impressed me much lately, is Karma, the monumental epic biography of Eastern mystic, the Karma Denominator. What a film! Director Edgar Rice Attenburrough has assembled the perfect cinematic experience in the telling of this great man's story.

Harvey Korman is superb in the title role of Karma. So many moments stand out in this film. Karma, a true man of peace, fasts for the peace of his nation. Nearly on his death bed, Karma never loses his sense of humor. "I'm so thin," says Karma, "that when I drink a glass of tomato juice, I look like a thermometer." "That's an old joke," says Prime Minister Nasser. "Well, what do you expect?" replies Karma, tossing a bowl of curry playfully on the head of his friend, "I'm an old man." Rare are the moments like that in cinema. See this film if you haven't, and next time I'll talk further on the current crop of movies.

[First published on March 30, 1983.]

Monday, April 12, 2010

"I think it would be fun to run a newspaper."

Architecture may have played a role in the shaping of Space Pirate Radio. The buildings that housed the studios that broadcast the program had an effect on the overall mood of the show. Definitely in 1973, the studios of KTYD in the Granada Theatre building in Santa Barbara added to the theatrical element of the program itself. Located on the upper 8th floor, the tiny studios looked down State St. to the Santa Barbara harbor. For those unfamiliar with the town, it is almost Disneyland-like in its red tile, Lego-like atmosphere. It really is a toy town. And broadcasting after midnight, looking out the window to the ominous, glowing oil derricks in the waters, added to that initial pirate radio feel of the 60's English stations. And being 8 floors up, that helped add to the Space Pirate feel of either broadcasting from a satellite, space station or moon-like environment. It was great fun. The entire Granada Theatre building belonged to me. Lights dimmed. A blue bulb replaced the studio lamp. A candle burning in one of those orange glasses you get at cheap Italian restaurants. Sandalwood incense burning into the cork board walls. A small crystal glass, often refilled with a full bottle of German white wine. The Cosmic Jokers, Ash Ra Tempel or Klaus Schulze playing in the background. This was my Tardis. This environment had a profound effect on how the show evolved.

When KTYD left the Granada Theatre and moved to new, modern housing out in Goleta in 1984, the show also seemed sleeker. The picture of Bill Bruford and myself broadcasting are from those studios. A different feel for the time. It was the 80's. And I could no longer climb out on the fire escape at the top of the Granada Theatre and see the placement of the Big Dipper while pumping out Tangerine Dream through the far right production studio.

So when I bid adieu to KTYD in 1985 (sadly, because I really wanted to outlive everyone else that had been fired), I went back to old town Santa Barbara and found myself broadcasting Space Pirate Radio from the inside of the Santa Barbara News Press building. As nostalgic as I felt surviving the many regimes of psychotic general managers and various program and music directors at KTYD, I discovered that being at KTMS AM & FM radio was probably the best time for the program. In many ways. First, I actually worked for a program director and a general manager who weren't mental and treated me in a professional and friendly manner. Second, I was given more freedom from management than I had ever been given before. In the past, you stole your freedoms. You just did it and got away with it. At KTMS, management said "Do it. Rock the boat." I hadn't received such encouragement since my days in theatre. The new radio bosses gave me a full time, weekly, evening program, plus Space Pirate Radio, the best salary anybody was receiving at the station, and a key to the vast record library so I could program anything I wanted to, anytime. Now seriously, who could be happier?

KTMS AM & FM radio, located in the Santa Barbara News-Press building, was doing its best to take on #1 rated KTYD. They had changed the FM call letters to KKOO or 2KO, Knock Out Radio. An absolutely horrible idea for a radio name. This saddened me. It seemed that the nicer people weren't the most creative savvy. Unfortunately, this was due to the fact that the station, as owned by the newspaper, was on its last legs and was attempting to do something, anything different. To me, this was also very sad because even though KTYD had the stronger ratings and sales people behind it, KTMS had the power of being owned by Santa Barbara's daily newspaper. Its AM station was the news authority. I saw the possibility of print and media forming an incredible source of community information and art and entertainment, but somehow it was all falling apart. In theory, KTMS should have been the dominant provider of all things media in town. The writing was on the wall however. The FCC under Reagan was deregulating local ownership of radio stations and monopoly restrictions were coming up saying that a newspaper couldn't own radio stations. Now, isn't that a joke in the FOX News Corp. world of today? My God! A local newspaper owns an AM/FM radio station! So before 1985 was over, the Santa Barbara News-Press publishing empire would have to sell its broadcasting operations.

So back to architecture. For a short period of time, Space Pirate Radio broadcast inside the Xanadu-like sanctum of the Santa Barbara News-Press building. As much as I loved the view from the 8th floor of the Granada Theatre, the atmosphere and ambiance of being inside a newspaper building was very unique. The daily paper was printed below, while upstairs in a dark archive of rooms and halls, tucked away in the corner, were two radio stations. As I said before, the station's days were numbered. Ultimately, they were sold for relatively cheap to an outfit from Modesto, CA that had decided the FM station should become KHTY, Y-97, the Hot FM!!! Oh my God! Santa Barbara was going to get a Top 40 radio station on the FM. I will be fired...and then hired within 24 hours, but that's another story. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. That's another story too.

The stations will move again. Not to any part of historic Santa Barbara, unless there was some sort of Native American massacre. We will move into some strange building that looks like a leftover Century 21 real estate complex, stuck in a sink hole on an urban street next to the house of a crystal meth producer who was actually a police informant. Despite the picture postcard environment, I will actually do some decent shows here. I will continue doing Space Pirate Radio on the FM and work as Arts & Entertainment editor for the news channel KTMS AM. This will be a good time artistically, covering the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and having many guests on the programs. It's not a bad gig.

But I will always hold a fond place in my heart for the buildings of old Santa Barbara. The fabulous Granada Theatre, 8 floors and rising. Ah, the memories. And the Santa Barbara News-Press building in the De La Guerra Plaza. Just across the street, the Paradise Cafe. Having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with my boss, program director Bob Senn. And him not minding the fact that I should probably be on the air in 10 minutes. Blissfully ambling through the newspaper loading dock, entering to go upstairs for another evening of rock & roll, wine in system, newsprint in the air, and the thoughts of music to come. Welcome home, Mr. Kane.