Music

Music on a Converted School Bus

Music on the Art Heart Bus

My friend Moira bought an decommissioned school bus and, over last summer, converted it to an art studio and clubhouse-on-wheels, that she named the Art Heart Bus. Currently the bus is parked in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, inside the shared outdoor cafe area of the Italian restaurant Ringolevio and the adjoining bar-lounge Four-Fix-Six. It’s winter and the outdoor patio space is closed, but it’s being used a holiday market, and Moira’s bus is there.

The Art Heart Bus at the Holiday Market

On Saturday, she invited a few musicians over to play inside the bus. After running an extension cord to power a space heater and a couple of amplifiers, the music got off to a start. I snapped a few photos of the event.

Music on the Art Heart Bus

I have been impressed with how quickly and effectively Moira planned this whole bus project and how she hustles to organize and promote events. And this one was a nice, small gathering that brought us together on a bus. 

The bus and the Humboldt Holiday Market will be there on Saturdays and Sundays, from about 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM, through Sunday, December 23. I kinda hate the concept of brunch, but I can confidently admit that the restaurant has pretty solid and reasonably priced brunch. 

After the holidays, the bus will be returning to the streets of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, usually around McCarren Park. You can also rent the bus for a party or other event. 

A Lot Has Changed at KCSB, A Lot Has Remained the Same

The older I get, the quicker time passes, and it’s quite unbelievable to think that it’s been over twenty-three years since I first went to an informational meeting to began doing a radio program on KCSB. I started as a trainee on the closed-circuit AM station in 1994, moved up to an on-air program on the FM-broadcast station and also worked as the publications director in 1995, and was then elected general manager of the station in 1996. Having peaked early in life, I began my steady decline including being less involved with the radio station. After 1997, I remained an active volunteer and still did my radio show, Die Social Misfit, but I ultimately left the station around 1999. I passed on the tape archives of my last program to a friend. I don’t know if she still has them.

A lot has changed in the twenty-or-so years since I left KCSB. In the 2014 KCSB video made Film and Media 103 students, I noticed that some visible changes that have occurred over the years. Some things I noticed include:

  • a new mixing console in the FM control room, although it looks like the same microphones we had in my day.
  • a new computer system that probably does more than just play electronic CARTs, which was why we installed computers in the control rooms in the first place.
  • a new title for the internal music director, who is now called the “Librarian.”
  • a newish KCSB advisor named Marta Ulvaeus. I guess she was around before Ted Coe took the reigns.
  • new paint and new stickers on the walls.

I last visited in 2008, when the Console-ing Passions TV studies conference was held at UCSB, so it’s possible that many of these “new” improvements are themselves over a decade old.

Yet, there are somethings that remain unchanged. In the video, KJUC manager Madeline Kardos references how she spends downtime at the radio station. I did the same. As a young adult, I gravitated towards the radio station offices after I finished classes and after I finished working. It was a great gathering place for other people, and I found a nurturing community there. It was also, in an age before smartphones, a place to read and write emails. I’m sure there are tons of places like that on every college campus, and I’m glad that KCSB was there for me during those years.

Another thing that appears unchanged about KCSB is its commitment to diversity and eclecticism. Cutting my teeth at KCSB was a blessing for me because it made me curious about what else there might be out there: be it for music, TV shows, films, etc. It is important not only for the young people who do programs at the station but also for listeners in a rapidly gentrifying and homogenizing Santa Barbara–area.

Finally, another thing about KCSB hasn’t changed is the phone number for the request line. There’s something musical about “893-2424,” and anyone who had a radio program will have recited that phone number hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

There’s No Accounting for Taste

Longtime readers of this site know that I am almost universally appreciative of everything that Apple does. But over the last few years, there was one thing about Apple that has bugged me: their taste in music—and now TV shows—is pretty lame. I think this casts a shadow over their otherwise nifty products, which reflect a refined sense of taste in their hardware and software design that is unmatched. And now that they’re getting involved in TV and movie production, I worry about what they’ll produce.

iTunes Podcast Directory

Back in the summer of 2005, Apple first entered the podcasting game by integrating it into iTunes. Up until that point, listening to podcasts was an exclusive domain for nerds. It required third-party software: I used iPodder. It required some understanding of RSS and how it worked, and it required expertise in knowing where to find podcasts in the first place. I vaguely remember listening to a subscribing to a few podcasts back then. Some related to “budget rock” music, some to news and politics, and a bunch other nerdy fare. Suffice to say, these reflected my own personal tastes.

Apple's Podcast Directory, July 2005

Apple's Podcast Directory, July 2005

Apple sought to introduce podcasts to the masses when it integrated podcasts into iTunes 4.9, making it easier to add podcasts to your IPod. They also added Podcasts Directory to the iTunes Store, a feature that remains to this day. However, I disliked the store because it highlighted the podcasts of the big media companies, especially Disney, a media conglomerate that Apple has had a close relationship by virtue of Steve Jobs and Pixar. I wrote as much on the old, Moveable Type version of this site:

But what is most significantly different from all the various podcasting directories and the new iTunes is that its podcast directory spotlights the podcasts from large content producers. When you first open the directory, you’ll note the presence of the big media companies. When I opened the directory this afternoon, I got a podcast for ABC News and one for ESPN. Clearly, there’s an arrangement with Disney. But the other partnerships seem a bit more tailored for the iPod crowd’s tastes, according to Madison Avenue. There’s NPR affiliates (KCRW, WGBH), CBC, and Bravo’s Queer Eye. If you dig a little deeper, you can find a large number of independent podcasts, but it’s like finding that rare imported beer at your supermarket. You’re going to have to dig past all the Bud, Miller, and Coors to find it.

The popularity and variety of podcasts has exploded since 2005, although its rise has been uneven. While there have been podcasting stars, such as Adam Carolla and Serial and now Bill Simmons and The Daily, podcasting remains a relatively open platform with an wide variety of choices for every possible taste. Podcasting in 2018 is not wholly determined by the Podcast Directory of 2005.

Keep Music Personal

Another example of my distaste for Apple’s taste is the live musical performances integrated into many keynotes.1 I relish each and every keynote address and product launch Apple does. These are not just well-produced media events; they’re often studies in great theater. But I cringed, for example, when John Mayer came on at the end of the iPhone’s introduction at the 2007 Macworld Expo.

John Mayer playing at the Macworld 2007 keynote where the iPhone was announced / Photo by Derrick Story

It’s understandable if no one remembers Mayer playing this keynote. After all, he followed the introduction of what would become the most influential computing device in a generation, and no one can really tell you what else Apple also announced that day. I don’t have anything against John Mayer. I hear he’s a fine musician, and I feel bad that he had to follow the iPhone in the same way I feel bad that the Rolling Stones followed James Brown in The T.A.M.I. Show. But having these performances felt like Apple was trying to shove some middle-of-the-road rock music into our iPods and, later, our iPhones. Apple has continued this tradition with having Coldplay’s Chris Martin perform in 2010 and Sia take the stage in 2016. Neither is music that I would ever listen to on my own. And when these performances start, I always stop watching the keynote.

The public seemed most upset about Apple’s middle-of-the-road tastes in 2014 when they “bought” U2’s new album, Songs of Experience, and added it to everyone’s iTunes account. Undoubtedly there must have been some U2 fans who appreciated getting this album on their iPhones, but I think Apple overestimated the breadth of U2’s appeal. A lot of people were angry about this unwanted gift. Even if U2 was the most popular living rock band in the world, which they arguably were, I understand the backlash because, for years, Apple has marketed their devices as personal and adding U2 to everyone’s device seemed invasive.

I initially feared that Apple Music would turn out to be a disaster because they focused so heavily on the Beats Music aspect of it. I watched the June 2015 WWDC keynote with great interest, and the Apple Music introduction was by far the least impressive of all their announcements that day. Not only that, the Beats Radio stations and programs reminded me a lot of what we saw featured in the iTunes Podcasts Directory: a bunch of middle-of-the-road offerings that betrayed why I liked podcasts and streaming music versus terrestrial and satellite radio, and why I liked buying CDs online instead of the limited selection at the local music store.

If you watch the video of the Apple Music introduction, there’s something off-putting about watching Eddy Cue make playlists. His personal, eclectic taste isn’t mine. Did you just tell me to listen to Loren Kramar? Kramar, by the way, hasn’t released anything since the 2015 single that Cue demos.

There’s no way for me to prove this, but I think that Apple Music is succeeding despite Beats Radio not because of it. Apple Music is doing well because it lets users stream music in much the same way Spotify does, although I suspect Spotify’s recommendation algorithm is better than Apple Music because Apple kinda sucks at AI.

All Apple Music had to do to succeed was flawlessly allow subscribers to find and play whatever music they want, reflecting each user’s personal taste, not the middle-of-the-road taste that Apple seems to espouse.

Now, We Add Pictures to Sound

On a recent episode of the Upgrade podcast, Jason Snell and Myke Hurley reported that Bryan Fuller had left the Apple’s revival of the 1980s anthology TV series Amazing Stories. They speculated that Fuller left because he wanted the license to produce adult, dystopian programming, something like a Black Mirror on Netflix, but that Apple wants programming that is safe to show on a big screen in Apple Stores. They reason that this caused some creative friction between Fuller’s and Apple’s goals, and that led to Fuller’s exit.

Of course, nobody except Fuller really knows the exact “creative differences” that led him to leave the series, and Snell and Hurley indicate as much. But their reasonable speculative explanation shows that Apple has established a specific taste for content, and it’s not necessarily as groundbreaking as they might think it is.


  1. There’s also the comedic bits at the beginning of recent keynotes. While I normally like James Corden, I’d much rather listen to Craig Federighi tell some dad jokes about macOS than watch Carpool Karaoke with Tim Cook and Pharrell

The Internet, The Long Tail, and the End of the Video Store Clerk Effect

The “Internet” gets riled up about a few things from time-to-time that, in the great scheme of things, don’t really matter. Earlier this month, the Internet got mad that Netflix was apparently closely examining its customers’ viewing patterns to produce this tweet:

The Internet’s outrage was due to one of two factors, or in the case of some people, probably both:

  1. People just now realize that Netflix actually tracks and stores what we watch on Netflix. To those people, I say, “well, duh!”
  2. People dislike the tone that the Netflix social media team took with its users and what they watch. Let’s call this the “video store clerk effect.”

Spotify did something similar in the past, where it made a tongue-in-cheek ad based on its customers’ music listening.

While I appreciate the point that @xor makes by reminding us that our VCRs and record players didn’t make fun of us, allow me to remind all these analog dweebs what it was like to visit a video store or a record store. Part of me dreaded visiting these kinds of stores because of the clerks who worked there, passing judgement on what I movie I was renting or what CD I was buying.

Perhaps, I should have been less self-conscious and been proud of my cultural choices. Or maybe were it not for those clerks, I would not have curated my hipster tastes more carefully.

Nonetheless, when I first got on the Internet and bought a CD through CDNow in 1995, I really liked this experience because…

  • the selection was much more diverse than what I could find at a local music shop, or what Chris Anderson refers to as the “long tail.”
  • there was an impersonal anonimity in that I could buy whatever I wanted

I don’t remember what I bought and if it was all that embarrassing, but I seem to recall that I was programming a radio show on KCSB at the time, which likely meant it was something hard-to-find in the Santa Barbara–area.

To be sure, I know that my personal preferences, listening and viewing data, and my shopping habits are all tracked by a multitude of companies. However, I also don’t remember those algorithms making fun of me whenever I brought something to the counter. And, as far as I know, no algorithm ever its friends that I would see around town about what I music or movies I like.

Finally, the whole Internet backlash against Netflix might have been overblown. I heard one theory that the @netflix social media team just might have fabricated that fifty-three people had watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past two weeks.

If that’s the case, it’s not creepy, it’s comedy.

However, Swarm/Foursquare did something similar and reported on some extraordinary streaks that its users have made.

Given that Swarm/Foursquare offers almost no benefit other than reporting check-ins, I would avoid annoying its users, lest they feel they’re being judged for liking donuts and sandwiches.

Die, Social Misfit!!! A Merry Christmas Xmix Playlist

Listen to Die, Social Misfit!!! A Merry Christmas Xmix playlist on Apple Music

Twenty years ago, literally the lifetime of a current college sophomore, I began hosting a college radio music show called Die, Social Misfit!!! on KCSB-FM, 91.9, in Santa Barbara. I used to play a lot of garage rock, surf, and the occasional exotica, all of which were popular genres among the hipsters of the time because of multiple revival movements concentrated on the US west coast. A friend from the east coast refers to that music today it as “budget rock.”

Die, Social Misfit!!! was my third attempt at doing a radio show, and it sort of mirrored my experience as a college student. The first two radio programs were, quite frankly, pretty bad, and I don’t want to describe them in detail out of pure shame. Suffice to say that those programs were series of ugly messes, not unlike the many essays I wrote for my freshman (and sophomore!) composition courses. In the case of essay writing, it really wasn’t until my junior year of college where I felt that finally “got it.” I learned how to research and use sources, how to structure an essay, how to write a compelling thesis, and how to develop a voice that would need only further refining in graduate school. (Who knew topic sentences were still a thing?!?) The same was true for the radio show, and it was around 1997 that I developed Die Social Misfit!!!. The entire program, while not necessarily a themed show, had one central idea behind it: what my friends and I would describe as “rawk!” The show aired on Friday afternoons, between 3:00 to 5:00 PM. I used to imagine countless workers listening to KCSB throughout the week, breathlessly anticipating my program as it signaled the last two hours of their workweek. I wanted to rawk them out of their chair come quitting time.

Late December is an exciting time because it signals the Christmas season, the end of the year, and also the end of the semester. As I grade scores of undergradaute student essays, I think of my poor students and how many of them still haven’t “gotten it.” Many essays aren’t worth the paper they didn’t bother using to print them. (I accept only electronic submissions.) But I also think of my old radio show. I never did a proper Christmas themed show, but over the years, I’ve maintained an iTunes playlist of Christmas songs that I would have played on Die, Social Misfit!!! had I not been a cynical twenty year-old at the time thinking that Christmas was lame. Christmas isn’t lame! Being a cynical twenty year-old, however, is lame.

Twenty years too late, I present you the Die, Social Misfit!!! A Merry Christmas Xmix playlist on Apple Music.

A lot of the songs are rocked out versions of old favorites, such as The Humpers doing “Run Run Rudolph.” The Mexican-American Elvis impersonator, El Vez, adds a little color to old favorite with “Brown Christmas.” There are also some Christmas-themed songs that are, as far as I know, not at all versions of traditional favorites, such as Lillian Briggs’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll Polly Santa Claus.” But there are some songs that I’m sure you’ll recognize but likely never heard like this. For example, the New Bomb Turks does a cover of U2’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” at a such a breakneck pace that, according to legend, it blew The Edge’s hat off his head when he first heard it. And speaking of meta covers, you can hear The Ventures playing a version of “Sleigh Ride,” and Los Straitjackets doing an almost note-for-note cover of that Ventures cover. And, of course, I even included the Phil Spector Christmas album because even though he pulled a gun out on the Ramones and shot a woman dead, I really like that album.

Forgive for the songs that appear more than once.

I know that all college sophomores today prefer to share their music mixes on Spotify or YouTube, but since I have had this playlist in iTunes for over a decade, it was really easy to make it public with a couple of clicks. Also, because I’ve been adding to it for myself over the years, I never bothered to curate a proper order. Instead, I just shuffle play it whenever the mood strikes for rawkin’ Christmas music. You should shuffle play it too.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Fifty Years Ago Today… We Learned About a 19th Century Circus

Fifty years ago today, on June 1, 1967, the Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in the United States. (The UK release was a few days earlier on May 26.)

You will no doubt hear a lot about this anniversary in the coming days, if you haven’t done so already. As a kid, I vividly remember the twentieth anniversary being a big deal, partly because because the opening lyric to the album’s title song is “It was twenty years ago today / Sgt. Pepper taught his band to play,” and because Capitol-EMI had released a digitally remastered CD of the album. CD was state-of-the-art in 1987. In that same spirit, Capitol EMI Universal Music Group released a newly remixed and remastered super-deluxe edition of Sgt. Pepper’s that includes a bunch of extras, such as some studio takes, a video documentary and a mono mix of the album. (There’s also a mere anniversary edition that won’t set you back $120.)

A reproduction of the 20th anniversary CD of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released in 1987.

I first listened to Sgt. Pepper’s in the aftermath of the twentieth anniversary in 1987. One of the songs that always stuck out to me was “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” The song might not be the best one on the album, but with its circus-like atmosphere, achieved through a variety of archaic musical instruments and through innovative multitrack recording and mixing, it was a song that transported me to altogether different time and place. Curiously, the song also features the Andalusian Cadence, although I did not know that at the time.

The fiftieth anniversary remixed-and-remastered recordings are available on streaming services, such as Amazon, Spotify, and Apple Music, and after listening to the remixes, which do in fact sound richer than what was previously available on CD and digital formats, I revisited “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” What on earth is John Lennon signing about in this song?

In case you need a refresher, here’s the lyrics that open the song:

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight on trampoline
The Hendersons will all be there
Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair—what a scene
Over men and horses, hoops and garters
Lastly through a hogshead of real fire!
In this way Mr. K. will challenge the world!

Writing in Smithsonian Magazine in 2011, Mike Dash wrote explains many of the references in this song, especially “Pablo Fanque’s Fair”. He explains how the song lyrics were based on an antique poster than John Lennon bought in Kent. The poster was “to benefit” a circus performance in 1843 run by Pablo Fanque, who was not only a very successful circus performer but was, in the golden age of the circus in Victorian England, a black man who owned his own circus(!).

A reproduction of the 1843 poster that inspired John Lennon to write “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” in 1967.

Looking at the poster, you can see how Lennon assimilated the various elements of the poster into his song. There’s of course Pablo Fanque’s Cirus Royal, the Hendersons, Henry the Horse dancing the waltz, the “somersets” (somersaults) and trampoline, and, of course, Mr. Kite himself.

But beyond the connection to the song, the article provides a deep and engaging historical account of Pablo Fanque and his circus. It’s worth a read to learn about the circus and the “entertainment industry” in Victorian England.

Last month, the longest running and last remaining American circus of the Victorian era closed. But the atmosphere of the circus, in general, and the story of a black circus entrepreneur, specifically, might not be entirely forgotten. Perhaps, because of the anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s, some curious listeners will hear “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” we will remember this odd Victorian-era entertainment and wonder what it was like to see Pablo Fanque’s Fair.

Alan Light:15 Essential Chuck Berry Songs

In art and technology, it’s impossible to accurately say that one person invented a style or an invention. But if you had to choose one person and offered Chuck Berry as the “inventor of rock ‘n’ roll,” no reasonable person would dispute you.

In marking the death of Chuck Berry over this past weekend, music historian Alan Light offered an annotated list of fifteen essential compositions and recordings.

  • “Maybellene” (1955)
  • “Too Much Monkey Business” (1956)
  • “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (1956)
  • “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956)
  • “Havana Moon” (1956)
  • “School Day” (1957)
  • “Rock and Roll Music” (1957)
  • “Johnny B. Goode” (1958)
  • “Carol” (1958)
  • “Memphis” (1959)
  • “Back in the USA” (1959)
  • “Let It Rock” (1960)
  • “Come On” (1961)
  • “Nadine” (1964)
  • “Promised Land” (1964)

You can listen to these on Apple Music or Spotify.

Aside from popularizing rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s, Berry was undoubtedly what was called at the time a “race man,” someone who advocates for and promotes blacks. Light notes that the lyrics of “Johnny B. Goode” was originally about a “colored boy” who could “play the guitar like he’s ringing the bell,” but in order to appease white radio stations of the day, the lyric was changed to a “country boy.” Also, the song “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” was really about someone with brown skin, but again the racial atmosphere at the time would have marginalized Berry to the race record charts.

Had he not changed those lyrics and countless others, he wouldn’t have been the crossover sensation he became. The world wouldn’t have known rock ‘n’ roll as it did in the 1950s and beyond.

Another interesting fact is that until this weekend, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Little Richard—three early rock ‘n’ roll pioneers— were all still living. That’s incredible given that their contributions to popular culture started over sixty years ago. By comparison, two of the three pop music giants of the 1980s born in 1958—Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson—won’t make it to 60. Let’s hope Madonna makes it.

And today, Vera Lynn, the crooner who I know from singing “We’ll Meet Again,” the song that plays at the end of Stanley Kurbrick’s film Dr. Strangelove (1963), celebrated her 100th birthday.

BBQ Grilling

Mark Sultan, also known as BBQ, has played some great shows around these parts as of late. However, at a recent show at Union Pool, someone threw a beer can at him, and he rightly and figuratively flipped his wig, walked off the stage, and ended the show.

Mark Sultan - Union Pool - 2015-03-07 (5)

Since then, I saw him play with King Khan as “King Khan and the BBQ Show” in November at the Knitting Factory. However, throughout the show, he seemed to be on high alert and castigated the audience, almost challenging someone to throw a beer can… again.

King Khan and the BBQ Show at Knitting Factory, Brooklyn

As Oh My Rockness’s Patrick McNamara recalls, or at least tries to…

Was it King Khan & The Shrines or King Khan & The BBQ Show that I saw in concert recently (at some venue or another) where King Khan’s drummer insulted the crowd all night…something about New Yorkers being too cool or being just a bunch of trust fund kids or something… I can’t remember…

It was a very uncomfortable situation.

You’d think after that, Sultan—or BBQ—would never want to play this town again. Apparently not!

Details

  • August 19, 2016
  • Union Pool, 484 Union Ave, Brooklyn
  • $12.00
  • Buy Tickets

The 1980s, One Song at a Time, in Reverse

Another tip of the hat to the staff at The Awl for pointing out something totally awesome.

The long-running MP3 blog Fluxblog has been compiling yearly surveys of music from the 1980s. They posted the first compilation with music from 1989 last September, and every couple of months or so later, another year in reverse-chronlogical order drops. Each survey consists of eight discs and about 150 songs from the decade spanning various genres. Last week, they released the seventh survey with songs from 1983.

I started listening to the first compilation last week, and in my own obsessive-compulsive way, I set a few ground rules for listening to each survey:

  • I listen to each survey in reverse order, just as the curators—if not nature—intended.
  • I listen to each song in full from each survey. No skipping songs.
  • I will not listen to songs from the earlier collections until I get to that year’s survey.
  • I reserve the right to “side bar” to other recordings from the era.
  • And, of course, I allow myself to listen to other things, including music made before or after the 1980s.

Six day in, it’s been an almost all-consuming experience and, yet, I’m only getting through the end of the 1988 survey. To make for a better listening experience, I even bought this pretty solid and inexpensive Bluetooth audio receiver to connect to an older Harmon Kardon HK550 Vxi receiver, which is fittingly from the same era as the music I’m surveying, and to listen throughout the house.

Listening to the 1989 survey, I was surprised to hear song after song that I swore came from the 1990s. I suspect that going backwards in time will put me deep in the quintessential 1980s sounds before I reach the fuzzy transition period of the early 1980s, where pop music simultaneously bore the traits of the 1970s and the 1980s.

Cool.

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Three Juans for the Price

This Sunday, at Shea Stadium BK, no particular order…

  1. Juan Wauters
  2. Tall Juan
  3. Me

Okay, fine. I’m not actually on the bill because I’m not performing. But I understand that there’s karaoke “all night” and the next day is President’s Day Washington’s Birthday, so all bets are off.

Juan Wauters and Tall Juan

  • February 14, 2016
  • –Midnight
  • Shea Stadium BK, 20 Meadow St, Brooklyn
  • $10.00
  • Buy Tickets