Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Anyway, I make a long story longer...
Those glasses...the picture...in front of the soulless studios. Later on, a photo was taken of the radio staff (in front of the same studios) for a Christmas Greeting Card. We are now run by a GM who breaks the mold in hyper, right wing paranoia. He is my bete noire. My wooden glasses have broken their spring-based ear stems. I can't wear them for the photo. I will have to wear my older, John Lennon-like wire frames for the foto shoot. GM goes Bobby De Niro or Al Pacino fumed nutso. Pulls Program Director aside and sez, "What's Guden trying to say? That modern rock sucks and we should go back to the '60s? Fire him!"
This was not the first time El Jefe tried to remove yours truly. It started during the election of Reagan against Carter. On election day, boss man comes into the studios, eyeing me as the soul member of a '60s based mindset (I still had the longest hair among the Sales types). He boasts that he was the first to vote in the early morning hours at the Santa Barbara Court House ("I wanted to be the first one to vote for Reagan"). He mentions that he stumbles on a couple of long-hairs, camped out to be the first to vote for Carter. "Your people, " he digs at me. I reply: "Well, I voted for Carter, so my vote cancels out your vote." Surprise, surprise! It's AMAZING what you can say to a high octane fueled, ultra paranoid Big Biz type that can set him off. He pulled off his dutiful Program Director into the Secret Sanctum and commanded: "Fire him!" The PD rather timidly pointed out that someone couldn't be fired for their democratic freedom of choice at the ballot box. But the V for Vendetta was put into place. "Find a reason...and Fire Him!" Ah, those were the Good Old Days, Mein Herr (und Meine Dammen).
And they found a way. During the Christmas Holidays I got sick, so I called in a fellow employee to fill in for me. This was a breach of command ("I should have called the GM, despite being unavailable for such trivialities, to authorize who would fill my time spot. Unacceptable. You're fired. 12 years with KTYD, goodbye...no severance pay... get out, f**k off.").
Now this came from a man who boasted that he had paintings on his wall that had swastikas hidden behind him, and he would invite his Jewish business friends over for dinner just to laugh at them for not knowing that they were there (!!!). This man would tell you that a certain nightclub owner (who was a sponsor) couldn't be trusted because he was a coke addict, while he himself was doing lines of coke in the business room. It was a movie, folks.
And you wonder where my cynicism comes from.
Like I said before, my own egocentric behaviour wanted to be the longest surviving member of KTYD. And I was. This totally noncommercial, really weird program of electronic and foreign music, mixed with sound collages and very odd humour...it should have died years ago. And yet, with all the format changes and other bullshit...it lasted. Why? Because the audience knew...far more than the sales wonks, that love it or hate it...it was the real deal. With all it's flaws, and I take full responsibility for its content...it was free. Freedom of choice. Freeform. No corporate strings were pulling the show. It was up to the audience. Here's the music. Do you like it or not?
So, with that, I let go of my desire to set a Guinness World Record for being the most noncommercial radio program on a commercial radio station; silently told coke-fuelled General Manager to go fondle his tiny penis...and went down the street to have the best radio job of my life.
For a while, at least. Then came the General Manager who thought the station should have a news helicopter, loved to drive the streets in the news car at 3.A,M.... like he was in the Batmobile, and would call me during Space Pirate Radio and tell me to play "Smuggler's Blues" by Glenn Frey.
Hey...any Space Pirate Radio listeners with tapes, remember "Smuggler's Blues" popping up somewhere between Tangerine Dream and Amon Duul 2? No? I didn't think so. Guess where that decision went? After dealing with so many chemical infused, ugly bosses, I didn't care about protocol anymore. When new toady boss called me during the show and told me to play "Smuggler's Blues," I said, "You can come in and play it yourself." "You're NOT going to play it?" he barks. And smart ass me sez to to Bossman, "In 20 years of Space Pirate Radio, no one has told me what to play in the show and you're not going to be the first. So come on in and play what you want and I'll go home. Otherwise go f...k yourself." Well, I was marked by then. He hired 3 program directors to fire me, but the first: I clued him to how he was actually going to hire the man who was going to replace him; the second was an LA pro who knew how successful Space Pirate Radio was and he wasn't going to let it go; the third was his hit man. I bet he liked "Smuggler's Blues."
The show remained faithful, as best as it could. But the background continued to be ugly. It was a business. And business was usual. Unfortunately, it was I who continued to remain unusual.
Sorry, old habits die hard.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
I admit that it took a certain madness to do Space Pirate Radio. An eccentricity that I am actually quite proud of. But true madness--not the Mad Magazine variety, but the ultra dark, I've just crossed over the border-line insanity type--this always belonged to the people in charge. Not a creative bone in their body; just a primal desire to control and run something and get back for all the trauma that happened in their childhoods. These types became General Managers at radio stations. :) If they used to like music, but forgot what inspired them and also dug the power, they became Program Directors or Music Directors. If your soul was completely washed out, but felt a toady thrill sucking up to the previously mentioned triumvirate of evil, you became a Sales Manager or more toady... Account Executive. Ready for a tour of Dante's Hell my friends? Well, let us descend...
(Suddenly Styx takes on a double meaning)..."It's another Classic Rock Weekend!"
Anyone who has travelled the halls of corporate power knows that the tiny people who sit behind the big desks in the opaque glassed rooms, sealed off by the doors of ancient sequoia redwood...these tiny people...are truly insane. But then again, those who have been down these halls and were somewhat impressed by the trappings of the golden calf...well, they were probably just jealous, and covetous and hoped to occupy the very same premises at an upcoming and future date. But I digress.
While doing Space Pirate Radio, I have certainly had the unusual pleasure (being ironic here) of "working for" some of the most "unique" (steam irony now) employers or bosses (take your pick)...well, carbon-based creatures that couldn't have popped out of a Dickens or Trollope novel better than Central Casting. As the years passed on, my wide-eyed enthusiasm for the power of the wireless was daily bombarded by the type of unsavoury character that kept the business of it all running.
It's been said that patriotism is the last refuge for the scoundrel. Then obviously the first refuge is Big Business. They go hand in hand, actually. So, for a while, in the Seventies...and then, in the wowie-zowie FCC de-regulated Ray Gun Eighties, radio was the game to play.
Where do I start? Should I even care? Blindfold me, spin me around and which bastard will I hit first? Tee-Hee. The best thing about this Hall of Darkness is that none of these people...and I mean NONE OF THESE PEOPLE...had a sense of humour, let alone a sense of reality, or the basic six senses (there are actually eight...and this could be the source of the problem...but folks, for me this comes off as a Sunday Parade feature rather than a thesis).
George Harrison's song "Piggies" could fit here regarding some of the General Managers I've worked for. Except, I always thought the term was an insult to the swine. Real pigs are far more sensitive and intelligent than the a-holes who were given command to broadcast to the community standard. The physical comparison can be made, but I'm sure real hogs are far more graceful than the paranoid jerks who fronted the mini-media empires they were entrusted to.
The difference here is probably because real pigs didn't do cocaine. Their snouts are used for sniffing food-like sustenance--not snorting cocoa-based powders from Columbia or wherever Free Trade exists.
Okay, it's starting to get dark and cynical here...so please scroll back and gaze upon the foto of my Top Cat, Emma! She is the current Queen of our six cat harem; the eldest since the passing of Serena. In between are the Brothers Karamazov and the latest lady, Six. ("You really are the limit, Number Six.") I'll talk more about cats later, but this was really an intermission in my tirade on the powers that run radio. I will say, most emphatically, that my cat Emma is far smarter than most of the General Managers I have worked for. She can actually cover over her own shit.
Since 1973 till 1985, KTYD went through so many ownership changes, yours truly is in a state of vertigo. The body count was worse than World War I. Usually some out of state group would buy the station, send their under achiever son to run it, and hoo-boy! Pure art and bad business would collide in a cosmic existential moment of Karl Marx meets William Randolph Hearst. Those were the days, folks!
I can recall doing a weekend show in the wee hours of the morning, only to hear the rattle of keys at the door (or were that rats nibbling at the portal?). Instead, I discover the drunken GM trying to locate his keys, entering the asylum, to find sanctuary in his big office (with the State Street view) to pass out in his over-stuffed chair, head down on the fake mahogany table (a must for those all important meetings of no importance). Leaving at 6am, assuming the morning jock arrived, which wasn't as often as one would wish, yours truly would view GM in a state of head paralysis (fake mahogany table, no substitute for comfy pillow). All part of the job description. But you know? Compared to some of the hyper-psychopaths I would work for later, this idiot was like Winnie the Pooh.
Anyway, I admit, it gave me a perverse pleasure to have Space Pirate Radio (which I believed was the most UNCOMMERCIAL radio show on the air) continue to survive, despite all of the commercial reshuffling that the station went through. At the time, this was my victory. This totally non-conformist, weird and alien program, with all the foreign, electronic crap, strange humour and noise would survive, while consultant paid, Arbitron ratings backed programming would fade and fade again. What gives? We paid good money for this book. Why is drive-time down? How come we lost 18 to 34-year-olds? What happened to female shares?
Well, if anyone is interested, I will tell you. And it's a ghost story.
Monday, March 14, 2011
As I once said in a local news article, I came to Santa Barbara from Orange County and the Pomona-West Covina area, hoping to do some free-wheeling theatre and innovative art in what (I thought) was a pretty progressive area. As it turned out, for every interesting show done in town, there were always five or more safe and tired productions rolled out of the mothballs. Primarily, this was because Santa Barbara was, in reality, North by Northwest Hollywood. It was still a business town made up of industry types who didn't want to live in Studio City. So a number of the drama teachers--particularly in the high schools--groomed their drama students with an eye on the agent and the deal and the contract. This is why I cherished Max Whittaker at SBCC. He loved the craft and the form and the work. The Art and Meaning of it all, rather than just the product and the Hollywood glamour attributed to it. This is not to say he wasn't in it for the professional. On the contrary. I feel he instilled a better appreciation for the craft than the surface dazzlers maintained. What's the quote? "The important thing is sincerity. And once you've learned to fake that..."
So, it's 1973..."I've got a chip on my shoulder that's bigger than my feet." I'm in this community of contradiction. Bohemians and war criminals. Santa Barbara. Certainly more liberal than Orange County or the San Gabriel Valley. And yet, in those environs, we did Marat/Sade and Bertolt Brecht and Vaclav Havel's The Memorandum and Arthur Miller and Oscar Wilde. Saint Babs loved to do musicals, Oklahoma and all the fifties chestnuts. I was sincerely bored here. I wanted to do new theatre or Shakespeare. Super classic or cutting edge. Again, thanks to Max Whittaker, this was possible. The young industry types dismissed Mr. Whittaker as out of touch, a recovered alcoholic who was out of step, not show biz savvy. Au contraire, mon swine. Mad Max was hipper than the lot. A smart, sensitive man, who would sacrifice his critical acclaim, if it benefited the student. He was a rare type...and as I've said before, his encouragement was an oasis in a desert of naysayers.
Perhaps, he let me be his tool of revenge against a bureaucracy that had not acknowledged his efforts. That's a nice poetic image, either way...real or imagined, he let me get away with it. Not once, not twice, but at least a half dozen times. And this time...we are taking down the powers that be...with GIANT CRABS!
So my monster movie childhood background comes back in full fury. Adults who didn't listen to kids...well we identified with Rodan. Nothing like a flying prehistoric monster, blowing away a paper mache Tokyo to get Mom and Dad's attention. Nothing is Sacred was my first full-blown stage production as writer/director. I had previously done what I called the first X-Rated play at SBCC, the one act Void in Wisconsin, for my Director's Class production. Featuring nudity and sapphic self-love between the same person, yet represented by two lovely women on stage, all driven by a pulsating rock soundtrack featuring Paul McCartney and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention...well under normal circumstances, this should be my last invite to use the auditorium. Not so. The success of Love Rides the Rails made it easier to GET AWAY WITH IT.
Nothing is Sacred was not, in the jargon of today, politically correct. You are in the bubble of the moment...and the moment is 1973. We are trying to break down the walls of control and repressed thinking that still had control on us. It's a Nixon world. It's been only a decade since JFK was gunned down in the lone star state. A Nightmare on Elm Street, indeed! And only 5 years since the near worldwide revolution of 1968. King and another Kennedy. What kind of neo-fascist lunacy was this? So we still felt there was a chance to change the dystopia into utopia. Dream on Flower Power People. The Fat Cats who ran the show behind gated communities continued. With unlimited resources and armies, both public and private...how could the little person find justice, let alone be allowed into the country club?
Through art. And humour. The tyrant never had a sense of humour. Sense means sensitivity. The thug isn't sensitive. All he senses is danger and retaliation. And the man who hires him, only senses power. Which comes from greed. So it has always been art and humour as a most popular form of defense against the jack boot. So what does this mean, kids? Get out your Karl Marx Kolouring Books and grab Saffron Crayon 1917...let's do some illustrating!
So we are in the bubble of the moment. Tonight, I watched with the wife the 1966 pilot episode of Ironside with Raymond Burr. In Nothing is Sacred, one of the TV satires was Iron Lung, Cripple Detective. I'd never seen a single show, yet in the pilot was all the elements of parody we did. They even said iron lung. Spooky. Also not PC was our gay Dating Game satire, Let's Make a Swish. I had a gay photographer friend who saw the show and thought the bit was hilarious. Bubble of the moment again. Today, I am far less homophobic than I was in the '70s, so I would tone the irony down. A sign of the times though showed, that in most written reviews of the play, this bit was considered one of, if not thee funniest in the show. I have NEVER used the term zeitgeist and will not use it here (albeit in an ironic mode).
And speaking of irony, and racism...there was the badly dubbed spaghetti western Never Trust A Blond Mexican. My first attack on Clint Eastwood, actor R. Leo Schreiber portrayed The Man With No Name...But A Lot Of Balls. "Senor Ballso," he was referred to by the other actors, who were previously recorded and attempting to badly lip-sync while on stage. Great fun, folks!
But what about those GIANT CRABS?
Well, they ended up being the main news story on the 11pm local news show, the Phill Phuddy report. Blatantly making fun of local news anchor Bill Huddy at the time, who had the reputation (real or exaggerated?) of kicking a few strong ones back at Harry's Cafe before facing the teleprompter...night after night the REAL Phil Phuddy would have to be replaced by a dummy automaton, to PHILL in ("chortle!") for the inebriated host. Ken Brigance played the dummy Phil, brought on by stagehands. Getting all the cues wrong. Entering phase lock loop like something out of Westworld meets David Brinkley. It was a hoot! Owl B.C. Ying U!
True story! The local news reviewed the play. Just before the drama reviewer did his piece, a stage light blew and the two anchors went into complete dis-array on air, live. They had an on air confusion moment that bordered pathetic and seriously embarrassing. They regain they're composure and begin their critique of Nothing is Sacred by saying the show doesn't understand the professionalism of the local news and how it runs. Absolutely parfait! Truly surreal. The parodied reality had now become a self parody. Like holding a mirror up to a mirror. The giggle is endless, curving off into infinity. This is why I do it, folks!
OK. OK. the GIANT CRABS.
So, the day of local TV ends up with the late night entertainment show, in this case The After Death Show with (g)host Post Mortem. Probably most inspired by the best work of the Firesign Theatre, I wanted to do my direction on this media surrealism. All through the production, the sound was pre-recorded except for the live dialogue. The plan here was this...The After Death Show was the late night show from beyond the grave. All of the guests had passed on from the TV world that had preceded it. Al Jolsen was a guest in blackface singing MacArthur Park (played by R. Leo Schreiber, sung by actor Tom Zeiher, who had played Dracula opposite my Renfield/Igor in Dracula, A Musical Comedy). But the finale of the show was the live--not pre-recorded--performance of Janis Joplin as portrayed by Shelley Pine (I think the program typo-ed her name and dropped the second e), along with her LIVE band.
And this is where the GIANT CRABS came in. In ultra frommage style, beyond Roger Corman, while Pearl belted out her Kosmic Blues, the GIANT CRAB claws grabbed yours truly, as Post Mortem, sitting behind his talk show desk. The CRAB CLAW (we only had one, as benefited a low budget schlockfest) crashed me into the break-away desk, we blew up the set like any decent Who show, and dropped the fake string of lights (which magically hit the falling drum cymbals, freezing the moment in an almost Rodin-like sculpture of controlled chaos). The dead people bit was meant to be more live than the live stuff. X is stencil ism. As Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason never said to me, "you get the cymbal ism, don't you?"
We didn't hurt the disco ball.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Nothing is Sacred was meant to be a surreal day in television. In the spirit of the Firesign Theatre, Ernie Kovacs and the Goon Show, I wanted to try and go further--especially in visuals and sound. We were young and we had energy. Madness, really! Here's the proposal:
What would happen if the characters from the early morning kiddie show would carry on... through the matinee movie, into the afternoon soap opera, continue into the evening news, and then wind up in the late night entertainment show? And sandwich this story in the trappings of a day of trivial broadcast crap, done hopefully in provocative parody. Let's mix the chemicals and see what happens.
The main theme was centered on the cheezey Red Scare sci-fi film of the '50s, entitled Crabs, that was being played on the Ben Hummer Matinee Movie. A real parody, now long forgotten. The film, somewhat inspired by the actual movie, Attack of the Crab Monsters, focused on the dismal life of a man named David Typical. A person who, having been given a slight case of the crotch squirrels by his girlfriend, has the bad fortune of, while visiting his dentist for x-rays, having his lower jockey shorts area exposed to the radiation rather than his teeth. Are you following this so far? The radiation affects the infestation of crab lice and before you can scream "Jim Arness," the community is dominated (in a Bert I. Gordon sort of way) by giant mutated crabs. Why not, I say? It's only f..king Santa Barbara. A harbour town. Deal with it, you poncey bastards! You got CRABS. GIANT CRABS!!! And they're crawling on the Arlington Tower...the Granada Theatre building. All those oak trees (what else are you going to find for a forested pubis habitat)?
So the poor, hapless bastard becomes crab infested in the movie, winds up desperate for medical attention (that will NOT be given to him on the soap opera Cottage Cheese Hospital), generates giant crabs that will appear later on the incredibly mediocre and amateur local news...and finally wind up as guests (the giant crabs, that is) and destroying the late night talk and entertainment program...the After Death Show, with your (g)host...Post Mortem.
I was fortunate enough to do this show with all the actors from the mega-successful Love Rides the Rails. The cast included R. Leo Schreiber, who had played the lead villain Simon Darkway to my side-kick henchman Dirk Sneath. He had the talent to assume a multitude of characters for this crazy production and gave his all in shape-shifting madness. It was fun times 2. Double Fun. He was great to work with, always on my wavelength, easy to direct and a solid character actor. Also in the cast was Sue O'Reilly (her married name) who later became Sue Dugan (her maiden name). A talented comic actress, who was also my girlfriend at the time. Like R. Leo, she had the ability to do a comic repertory. It was like doing SCTV before it happened. Sue could be a ten-year-old adenoidal child one moment and then turn into a fifty-year-old society matron the next. Also in the cast was Ken Brigance, a free spirited cat who could do Gabby Hayes meets Slim Pickens types on the spot. An artist as well. He drew the KCOW logo that would be the symbol of the show (Hee-hee! We shot down 2 out of three local crap network affiliates). Mary C. Webb, a lovely lady (pictured in the introduction as Sally Fetish, the Weather in Leather Girl); Billie Vrtiak, the solid actress with the delightful dark Jane Fonda-like shag haircut; and Frank Califano, one of the sweetest and most sensitive actors I ever met (like those character actors from the '40s who would play tough but were really children) rounded out the cast. This was a smart cast. We had come off the success of Max Whittaker's Love Rides the Rails, so feeling cocky, we wanted the party to continue.
And we still felt like creative anarchists. Santa Barbara, like certain other areas of the U. S. of Ah, was a certain contradiction. Extremely hip and free spirited in some ways, the city also housed the ultra-powerful--the types who stepped out of a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett novel. People who had something to hide and could afford to hide it...found the Big Avocado a delightful community to step out of the limelight and merge peacefully in the sun drenched shadows. A community of oxymorons, if ever there was.
The Big Avocado. RIPE for parody. Fools Rush In...