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Greetings -- Tony Coulter here, hoping to interest you in some round black sounds, and some scribbly scrib as well.
Sag forward, please.
Several weeks ago in this space, I mentioned my mild distaste for using the term "free jazz." Well there's another musical label about which I have no such ambivalence. In fact, I find it thoroughly revolting. "World Music." Just typing it leaves me queasy. To me, the term represents an ignorant, parochial designation of largely non-white, European-based culture as somehow being the exotic "other." Thanks to radio station playlists, record company labeling and lazy journalism, this noxious phrase has seeped ever deeper into the groundwater of popular experience. Schizophrenically, usage of World Music has evolved to a point where it simultaneously indicates indigenous folk culture, removed from modernizing influences, and international (i.e. non-Western) roots music updated via the blessing of Western instrumentation and technology.
The impulse to make these comments bubbled up after I sensed a contradiction between the two recordings juxtaposed of the bottom of this week's Motherlode. How can it be that only the album of Tuvan throat singing would be defined as World music? Since it's a classification purely intended for marketing non-Western music to Western audiences, maybe we should just call a spade a spade and rename it "Third World Music." (For a thoughtful exegesis on the subject, be sure to read David Byrne's New York Times op-ed "I Hate World Music" from October 3, 1999.)
Now for a world of fun...
M.L. King Jr. Ensemble Movement ~ "Soul Refreshment"
(Blog: A Pyrex Scholar)
From the album: He's Got It (mp3)
Next Round's on Jesus
From the ubiquitous "WANTED!" messages posted all over the Net from those desperately seeking copies of this funky mid-seventies gospel album, the blogger at A Pyrex Scholar will have a near stampede to snatch up these tracks. As is so often the case, Beware of the Blog poster and WFMU DJ Jason Elbogen unearthed this gem months ahead of everyone else.
Muse You Can Use
Swiss guitarist René Bardet convened Poesie und Musik in the seventies out of a desire to render the texts of favored poets with improvised musical accompaniment. Heinrich Heine got the treatment in '75; François Villon in '76. In 1980, Bardet and friends release to recordings featuring Pablo Neruda's poetry.
Various ~ "Saudades Da Minha Terra"
(Blog: Toque Musical)
From the album: Nancy (mp3) by Moacyr Bueno Rocha
Putting on the Ritz in Rio
I love this archive of sophisticated ditties from the early days of Brazilian radio. Most of the performers here were initially famous as actors, announcers and comedians before becoming singing stars. Dig the Hawaiian guitar on the 1932 valsa-canção Nancy, provided above.
Praise songs for Lamas and llamas—and other beasts of the Mongolian outback! A relatively young troupe for such an ancient art, Ensemble Khan Bogd has been touring since 1997. I prefer my throat singing in this unison-style presentation. If you like solo practitioners, check out the disc from Hosoo, also included in the post from Different Waters. (The blog We Love Music also posted the Ensemble Khan Bogd record and included the extensive liner notes in its download. Note: You have to brave annoying ads and pop-ups when visiting We Love Music.)
Various ~ "White Country Blues: A Lighter Shade of Blue"
(Blog: On Muddy Sava Riverbank )
Blues You Can Use
When music nuts in Ulan Bator or Uruguay want to immerse themselves in some "world music" exotica, they could hardly do better than this two-hour collection of American roots music—rags, blues and hokum performed with what R. Christgau aptly called a "droll detachment that epitomizes rural cool."
Listen to my radio show Give the Drummer Some—Tuesdays 6-7pm, on WFMU and Fridays 9 to noon—on WFMU's web stream Give the Drummer Radio.
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Check out every installment of Mining the Audio Motherlode
20+ some years ago I was always going and hanging around the Old Erie Street Bookstore, one of those shops that miscreants go to and sit at the feet of a older guru type and he tells them stories, cool stories about eating acid and sneaking in to the first Bowie concert in the U.S. at the old Agora, stories about being teenagers skinny dipping in the then mayor of my hometown's backyard pond, that sort of thing, and well, more PG ones about selling books to Ravi Shankar. But yeah, he had all these fuck yeah books for sale, the Anarchist Cookbook, all the Re/Search titles, and a shitload of Loompanics.
Meanwhile, across a few states my friend Ed (name changed to protect the innocently guilty) was reading wacky books too, in particular Ivan Stang's High Weirdness By Mail. One of the things in the book was if you sent a postage paid envelope to a guy in California he would send you a stack of bible tracts. Ed made a cross out of foam core and this beauty was born.
Well, Ed is older now, in some ways has mellowed with age and has donated this cross to me. I took it home on the subway the other day and people were freaking out. An atheist got in my face about it and a fundamentalist too. I got invited to a breakfast at a local church and had a long conversation with a guy always hanging on my block. I was pretty happy for that one, his name was Wolfgang and he reminds me of Ozzy Osborne's mini-me.
So yeah, are you ready for my top 13 tracts on Ed's foam core cross? What Shape Is Your God is my favorite, which one is yours?
Noah will host the reunited Artifacts on Coffee Break for Heroes and Villains. The Artifacts, whose 1994 debut "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" became a hip hop classic, broke up after their second release in 1997. This summer they performed their first show together in 13 years and announced that they are back, currently collaborating on a new album. Join them -- Tame One, El Da Sensei, and DJ Kaos -- as they play records and converse with Noah on 9/28 (Monday night) from midnight to 3 AM.
On Tuesday, Thunk Tank with Bronwyn and Jay welcomes Justin Aguinaldo, founder of the Mess Collective bike messenger co-op. He also runs the Bamboo Bike Studio, which teaches people how to assemble their own bike frames out of bamboo over the course of a weekend. 9/28, from 6 to 7 PM.
Excitingly, Seven Second Delay will be back at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Manhattan -- this time, Ken and Andy will attempt to interview 60 guests in 60 minutes! Listen in and/or come by to see the show in person: 307 West 26th Street, NYC. Admission $5. It all happens Wednesday 9/29, from 6 to 7 PM.
DJ and designer Josh Dunn will join Bennett4Senate late Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Dunn, the art director of Wax Poetics magazine, also designs LPs for Kenny Dixon's Mahogani Music. He'll talk with Bennett and play a special DJ set on Awesome New Place, 9/30 from 3 to 6 AM.
And on Inner Ear Detour, multimedia Czech band Už Jsme Doma return to WFMU for the first time since the 90s for a live performance. The Prague-prog rockers, who formed in 1985, have recently collaborated with The Residents and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and will do their 2,000th show in 2011. Hear them on David's show Friday 10/1, from 9 AM to noon.
The New York Film Festival started today, and next weekend is the 14th annual Views From the Avant-Garde, a mini-festival programmed by Mark McElhatten and Gavin Smith (editor of Film Comment) intended to showcase the best recent experimental work in film and video, along with related works from the avant-garde repertory.
The festival is kicking off Thursday night with three unreleased reels by the late French actor-cum-director Pierre Clémenti, known for his roles in films by Buñuel, Rocha, Bertolucci, Visconti and others. Friday focuses on individual showcases for filmmakers like James Benning, Phil Solomon, and recent works by Jean-Marie Straub. Saturday and Sunday are group shows including dozens of artists, including some of my favorite working filmmakers: Deborah Stratman, Lewis Klahr, Martin Arnold, Peter Tscherkassky, Jeanne Liotta, Emmanuel Lefrant, Vincent Grenier, Ken Jacobs, Stephanie Barber, Tomonari Nishikawa, Michael Robinson, Robert Beavers, and so on. There will also be several live projector performances by Paul Clipson, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Bruce McClure and Jonas Asher. And there's some vintage Oliveira tucked away in one of the Saturday programs.
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, the always interesting Light Industry (located in downtown Brooklyn) is showing two early works by the Maysles Brothers (Salesman, Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter). And MoMA is currently in the middle of a month-long Barbara Hammer program, chronicling the lesbian-feminist's works from the 1970s to the present.
So if most of your film viewing is done through cable and DVD rentals, try escaping the house or apartment for a while at one of these venues. You won't find any of it on Netflix, and you may even enjoy yourself.
Tags: Barbara Hammer, Bruce McClure, Deborah Stratman, Emmanuel Lefrant, Gavin Smith, James Benning, Jean Marie-Straub, Jeanne Liotta, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Jonas Asher, Ken Jacobs, Lewis Klahr, Light Industry, Manoel de Oliveira, Mark McElhatten, Martin Arnold, Michael Robinson, MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, New York Film Festival, NYFF, Paul Clipson, Peter Tscherkassky, Phil Solomon, Pierre Clementi, Robert Beavers, Stephanie Barber, Tomonari Nishikawa, Views From the Avant-Garde, Vincent Grenier
There is a lot at stake for the hundreds of Roma (Gypsy) and Serbian bands that play at Guča: prestige, bragging rights, and most important, money. Most of the brass bands make a living playing at weddings and other celebrations marking rites of passage. Guča is THE place to get noticed and gain notoriety. It’s like the brass equivalent of a networking event.
I traveled to Guča with a group of six filmmakers from the Meerkat Media Collective, to film a feature-length documentary called Brasslands. Over the past year we have been following the NY Balkan brass band heavyweights Zlatne Uste as they gear up to compete in Guča’s international competition round. Once we arrived in Guča we were introduced to Demiran Ćerimović and His Orkestar, a Roma band from the South of Serbia.
The tracks featured here are by four-time Guča winner Demiran Ćerimović and his Orkestar. They competed in this year’s finals round. I recorded Demiran on two occasions. Some tracks were recorded in the informal setting of a restaurant concert, where the band played for tips. You can even hear some of the customers in the background. The other two recordings were made behind a school before the competition finals.
Keep your eyes and ears out for the film Brasslands, which chronicles Demiran, as well as other brass luminaries (Goran Bregovic, Dejan Petrovic, Marko Markovic). To view the trailer and movie stills, and more music visit www.brasslands.com.
This is a post by Adam Pogoff of the Meerkat Media Collective, who will be Rob Weisberg's guest on Transpacific Sound Paradise this Saturday 6-9pm ET
"Street conversation, soundbyte insertion, vinyl exhumation, observation..." That'd be The Dusty Show, a WFMU radio program and podcast hosted by journeyman broadcaster Clay Pigeon. And there's nothing quite like it here on WFMU or anywhere else. I want to tell you more about this amazingly tape-spliced mix of music, real talk, and fictional narratives, like about how the show used to be mailed in via cassettes that'd stretch over into the next show or end early depending on the warpedness of the tape. But I think this new animation by Greg Harrison goes a long way to illustrate Clay's jam-packed truth-coaxing interview style
You might recognize Greg Harrison's visual style from the Seven Second Delay banner, the Free Music Archive pre-launch sampler CDs [v1, v2], and also the concert posters he's designed for some of the finest musicians from his/our homestate of NJ (Ted Leo, The Black Hollies) and beyond...and speaking of Jersey -- freeze that frame 4 seconds in!
2 Foot Flame was a mid-90's project featuring Jean Smith (Mecca Normal) with New Zealanders Michael Morley (Dead C/Gate/Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos) and Peter Jefferies (This Kind of Punishment/Noctural Projections). As can be expected, it was intense music coming from three intense individuals; Smith's rough/piercing vocal tones now being matched by Morley's alien soundscapes and Jefferies' brooding keyboards/drums to great dynamic effect.
Live on the Stork Club in 1997, the group appeared as just Peter and Jean, with Jefferies doubling up on simultaneous keyboards and drums in terse, primitive 4/4 pound, Smith taking an open-tuned electric guitar and playing noisy slide action ala Lydia Lunch/Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. "Pipeline to Vertigo" highlites some distorted, thumping morse-code transmissions with Jefferies equally-inimitable voice looming menacingly overhead, he slips in his own "Elevator Madness" and a killer take on the Spacemen 3 classic "Come Down Easy". I think Jean told me there was talk at one time of this Stork Club visit coming out as a proper release, but she also seemed to think I was more of a fan of this particlar session than anyone else. Listening back 13 years later it still sounds incredible.
There is, perhaps appropriately, no music or sound contained in this entry. Not because it would not be possible; am I lazy? The answer that seems most agreeable is that it is to be imagined rather than heard, or rather for you to hear it through your own wall, not a copy of the sound heard through my wall.
I hear crickets and a train through an open window, but do I hear anything through the wall? This is a more obscure ordeal; the origin of sound cannot quite be sought in the same way. I know the whereabouts of the train track, and am aware of various possible locations of crickets I hear from my open window. Yet, a cricket who has crept indoors and is hidden in a corner of a room is somehow more mysterious and of a coming-from-nowhere quality somehow similar to a cricket heard through a wall. It is because the question that immediately takes hold of you: Where?
It was consciously not thought of; a building's material: in what way will they conduct, transmit and allow sound upon being constructed? This secret desire—for things to sound and resonate—do contractors and builders know of it? Do they know that the sound one floor above will seem like a dropped bowling bowl to the inhabitant one floor below, though it is in fact the work of footsteps? Is this their intention? When a wooden floor is set, was it with eager hope for the gradual creaking and warping?
In turn, all of these unknown and unconscious sounds made; footsteps that only a neighbor can hear, a clanking pipe delivering hot water that keeps you up at night, a whistled tune barely heard, and seemingly without melody—what are they?
At the very least, a chance to really listen; especially those sounds you think you know. That train track; perhaps it has relocated to my rooftop. The birds; have they built their nests in the floorboards?
This is why the fireman slides down the pole; he moves between the levels, hearing those unheard sounds.
Please, walls, groan tonight.
In my ongoing effort to present truly tortured music on the air, the outpourings of souls in unrest, I was very proud to host these two sets by Husere Grav. Along with the natural courtesies, and perhaps even eventual camaraderie, that develop around a musical artist's appearance on the Castle, there was also a feeling that when one meets a member of one's tribe, not much talk is required. Todd Watson aka Athanor is a man of few words anyway, though as I recall, some of those words were, "Generally, I have a pretty negative view of a lot of things...." Me too, and it's not a joke, and the man (unlike myself, spilling bile all over town as I do) saved it for the performance. This is some of the darkest, most visceral shit I have ever had the pleasure of presenting on the radio. These are soundtracks to pain, frustration, and ill intentions—the "music" of haunted evil.
So-called noise being equivalent to the new jazz in many ways, once an assortment of available gear is decided upon, the quality of the performance becomes based on feeling, genuine inspiration, and access to one's own emotions. How well are you playing what you feel, into what you brought with you tonight? In the case of Husere Grav, the answer is a fuck of a lot. That is, perhaps, the WHOLE POINT of the My Castle of Quiet radio show, that the program itself be a working, a channeling of feelings, for myself and the live guests, however negative (or positive) or socially unacceptable those feelings may be. This shit has to go SOMEWHERE, or we'd all be killers.
...I'm off my soapbox now, and apologies to Todd for my using this post as a forum of sorts, but I do often wonder how many of you I'm reaching with these perhaps lofty intentions.
The two Husere Grav sets incorporate what I would call pure noise (à la Whitehouse), with aspects of psychedelia, and hypnotic, high-volume resonance. I seriously wish that I could transmit to every listener the feeling I got upon walking into that room while Todd was performing his second set—it was truly a maelstrom, and caught me by surprise—thunderingly loud, it was swirling, and it felt dangerous; nothing less than a genuine conjuration.
In addition to a staggering live performance, Husere Grav is also sharing Battles, exclusively with WFMU, My Castle of Quiet and the Free Music Archive. Here are two more songs, a single's worth of material to further unlock the dark world of Husere Grav.
Music For the Eyes #1
Give the Drummer Some's
Favorite Downloads from the MP3 Blogosphere
I've always found the argument between those audiophiles who favor the "purity" of CDs vs. those who swear by the "warmth" of vinyl to be fairly tedious. It's not that I don't prefer the sonic/tactile experience of those big ol' lovable licorice pizzas—I do. It's just that sometimes I feel that the audio absolutists among us should just clam up and listen to the music already.
Ironically, vinyl lovers do have a point when it comes to the vastly underwhelming covert art adorning much CD packaging. Of course, there are exceptions. (In 2005, I wrote about Karl Blau's enchanting handmade creations encasing his music subscription mailings for Kelp! Monthly, which he's now revived as a less-than-monthly Kelp Lunacy Advanced Plagiarism Society.) Essentially its a numbers game. If I've done my math correctly, a 12x12-inch record jacket offers 119 more square inches to play with than a weaselly little 5x5 CD insert.
All this points out a nice collateral benefit from the ton of phenomenal albums being shared online (which is, after all, the point of Mining the Audio Motherlode). Along with MP3s of the music, most blogs also provide downloads of the accompanying artwork as well! In that spirit, this week's installment focuses on albums featuring particularly arresting cover art. Of course, the music is damn good, too.
I will occasionally revisit this graphically oriented version of Mining the Audio Motherlode in a series of posts called Music For the Eyes. So here, for your visual stimulation, is your maiden batch of beauties:
Click on images for larger versions...
Luz y Fuerza ~ "We Can Fly"
The winner and still champion in the bizarro category is this Mexican rock lp cover. It was originally posted at the now dormant blog Mexicovers, but found life on this very blog in 2008 thank to yours truly. Check it out.
In Space, No One Can Hear Your Guitar Scream
Wondering why the spacesuit on this unusually rocking record from country blues maestro Bukka White? Probably due to America's growing obsession with all things NASA. (This session was recorded exactly a year and a day before the Apollo 11 moon landing.) Too bad for Bukka a significant portion of the 500 million who watched Neil Armstrong do his thing didn't also buy the record.
Arrigo Barnabé e Banda Sabor de Veneno ~ "Clara Crocodilo"
From the album: Office Boy (mp3)
If the translation service I used is to be believed, the track listing reads as follows: 1) Acapulco Drive-In 2) Total Orgasm 3) Electronic Amusement 4) Taste of Poison 5) Misfortune 6) Office Boy 7) Clara Crocodile 8) Instant
Of course, that is all totally predictable based on the cover.
Evangelist Niyi Adedokun ~ "Esan O Gbobun"
(Blog: Afro Slabs)
Translated (from Yoruba, I believe) the title of this record means "Nemesis Has no Remedy or Cure." The performer here, a preacher from Nigeria, was a defiant critic of the military strongman Babangida who ruled the African nation from '85 to '93. Babangida, who tried (unsuccessfully) to bribe Adedokun two million Naira to withdraw this deeply satirical record, announced earlier this year that he planned to run for president in 2011.
Cem Karaca & Kardaşlar ~ "Aci Doktor"
(Blog: Turkish Psychedelic Music)
From the EP: Aci Doktor, Part 2 (mp3
Anatolian rock god Cem Karaca is teamed up here with Kardaşlar, the all-star group of instrumentalists who also spent time backing the decidedly more lightweight pop star Ersen. Too bad they didn't perform with face paint.
I've always had a bit of a weakness for tribute records, songs cooked up by those who have opted to spend their studio time crafting tunes that extol the talents and virtues of other artists.
In the case of Chet's Tune, we see the concept brought to life by some of the biggest names signed to RCA Victor, all gathered to help commemorate Atkins' 20th year with the label.
The artists, in order of appearance are: Jerry Reed (guitar), Floyd Cramer (piano), Eddy Arnold, Dottie West, Archie Campbell, Bobby Bare, Norma Jean, George Hamilton IV, Skeeter Davis, Jimmy Dean, Hank Locklin, Jim Ed Brown, Hank Snow, John D. Loudermilk, the Anita Kerr Singers, Connie Smith, Homer & Jethro, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Porter Wagoner, and Don Bowman.
The record, produced by Bob Ferguson and Felton Jarvis, is obviously a valentine to Chet Atkins (1924 - 2001) who headed RCA's Nashville operations for many years and served as producer for most of the artists appearing here. If you buy into it, the story is that the whole thing was done without Atkins' knowledge. According to Billboard, his wife even smuggled Atkins' favorite guitar out of the house and lent it to Jerry Reed for the session. It's feasible.
WFMU will be representing at the Atlantic Antic street fair this Sunday, Sept 26th (10am-6pm) in Brooklyn.
Your favorite freeform station will be parked between Clinton and Henry Streets on Atlantic Avenue (closer to Henry), where we'll be hawking swag, exchanging high-fives with listeners, gorging on fried food, and stocking up on tubesocks. Swing by to say hi!
Nobody’s ever complained that zombie movies are too realistic. And they’ve probably never really been criticized for not being realistic enough, either. But a couple of recent independent pictures, taking George Romero as spiritual godfather and Sean of the Dead as role model, have presented about as reasonable a take on facing the undead as can be imagined. Meanwhile, another new feature takes the comic book angle just as far to the polar extreme.
Make Out With Violence, being released on DVD in October, is the story of a group of high school friends shaken by the death of one of their group. made all the more difficult by the fact that her corpse is never found after the suspected drowning. “It was like a funeral with no body,” says a younger brother who serves as narrator. “I wondered if Wendy came back if they’d put her in the coffin.”
The tensions between those who pined for her, were jealous of her and just missed her are only upped when she’s found alive, or at least not dead. Following the rule Romero has held to ever since 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, there’s no explanation given for the reanimation. But in this case, Wendy seems to be the only one — at least the only one they know of — and she makes Romero’s undead look like the Bolshoi Ballet. (Unlike Wendy Darling of Peter Pan - where the name first appeared - this Wendy never grows up.) She can barely stand and can’t sense living flesh unless it’s inches from her mouth. Keeping her alive is an act of love — and we all know how confused teenagers in love get.
DIY gods Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt, bka No Age, will come by Marty McSorley's show to play live. Currently on tour with Pavement, No Age have impressed punk/hardcore, experimental, and indie rock fans alike with their infectious sound since 2005, and have a new album coming out soon on Sub Pop. Catch their visit with Marty in the small hours of Friday morning, 9/24 from 3 to 6 AM.
Trent welcomes electro-cumbia DJ El G, founder of ZZK Records and Zizek Club in Buenos Aires. Hear an hour-long set of his beats on Monday, 9/20, during Sound and Safe from 9 PM to midnight. Go here for a video of his now.
On Do or DIY With People Like Us, local classical composer Dave Soldier provides a live performance of his new collaboration with electronic musician Sean Hagerty (and the late Frederic Chopin): a slow version of the Minute Waltz that lasts half an hour. Also, Irene Moon and a cast from the Auk Theater will perform a musical whodunit about insects, in which each insect is a suspect in a serial murder. Wednesday, 9/22, from 7 to 8 PM.
For the second year in a row New Jersey will visit Old Jersey, as Billy Jam broadcasts live from the Branchage Film Festival in the UK's Channel Islands. His guests will include seafarer/tale teller Dominic Jones; Jersey Constable Simon Crowcroft; filmmakers Chloe Rutheun, Liz Mermin, and Simon Chambers; and musicians The Wizz, Just Muz, The Quietus, and Stanley Forbes. On Put The Needle On The Record, at a special time: Friday 9/24 from 9 AM to noon.
Finally, filmmaker Adam Pogoff will talk with Rob Weisberg about the Serbian brass band phenomenon, and treat us to some field recordings from the Dragačevo Trumpet Festival. Pogoff, who traveled to this famously raucous event with New York's Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band, is at work on a film about the experience, entitled Brasslands. Hear more of the story on Transpacific Sound Paradise, Saturday 9/25 from 6 to 9 PM!
Why have I not included a nugget of my personal liking in this weekly blog post for so long? Probably I was just waiting for this track to be broadcast. Jason Sigal went to Germany and returned last week with lots and lots of interesting music to play during his first show back. My fav selection was Peter Fox's "Schüttel Deinen Speck," and here it is.
I'm forever in love with the sound of young women singing together, particularly in harmony. So this bargain bin find was right up my alley.
Vassar College, in the Hudson Valley, was of course a women's college in 1959, and the local folk troupe, The G-Stringers, appear to have made a handful of albums during that era. Most, perhaps all of them were likely vanity projects as this one clearly was ("rerecorded from tapes provided by the Vassar G-Stringers").
The group gives its all in a collection of songs which is notable mostly for the high percentage of songs capturing the lives and (sometimes) accents of ethnic populations quite unlike their own. This works better in some cases (the Caribbean tunes are quite nice) than others (some of the Southern and Hillbilly tunes come off sounding condescending to my ears).
The harmonies are lovely throughout, though, never more than in a magical moment about 35 seconds into "Tom Dooley" when some nice counterpoint suddenly merges into a gorgeous chord.
The final song brings the singers up into their present day, containing lyrics which present a simplistic black-and-white view of things, one which was probably already beginning to fade among many college campuses in 1959, but one which also seems to have crept back into the political world of 2010, although for very different reasons (and with "socialist" having replaced "communist").
"Nixon said ... that appearing on Laugh-In is what got him elected - and I believe that. And I've had to live with that." - George Schlatter, Creator of Laugh-In
"He is the president of every place in this country which does not have a bookstore." - Murray Kempton, Journalist and Pulitzer Prize Recipient
"While basically a dullard, [Paul] Keyes nonetheless is an interesting cat." - Gary Deeb, TV Critic
"The one thing I try to avoid is making audiences think." - Dan Rowan, Host of Laugh-In
Two mainstream television programs in the late nineteen sixties were said to represent the counterculture sensibility more so than any other: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and Laugh-In. These two comedy-variety shows, we are often told, appealed to the same acid-tripping, free-love, anti-war demographic. Today they are often considered two sides of the same coin, but behind the scenes they differed in major ways.
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour resulted in Tom Smothers, its main creative force, being the first name to grace the Nixon enemies list. The comedy team had once been a trusted mainstream act, popular with conservative America in the years leading up to their own nineteen sixties variety show. But eventually The Smothers Brothers became a petulant aggravation for the jingoists in Washington. With his weekly variety program in place, Tom Smothers experienced a political transformation that mirrored the very paradigm shift taking place across America. An enormous sector of the population started questioning the methods and motives of their war mongering leaders just as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour became a major hit. CBS felt increasingly pressured to squelch the subtle anti-authoritarian inferences Tom Smothers contributed to each episode and guest stars such as Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger had their anti-war turns carved up by the network. The resulting cancellation of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was blamed on a "blasphemous" piece of satire by comedian David Steinberg, but the Nixon White House and their allies had been searching for an excuse to pull the plug on Tom Smothers for a while. It appears that one of the people prodding the President to do so was the most unlikely of confidants: the head writer of Laugh-In.
Laugh-In is commonly considered a reflection of the late sixties youth sensibility, but closer examination reveals a much different picture. It was, in essence, an establishment show, profiting from the anti-establishment sentiment running through America. Moderated by the comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, Laugh-In was old in style, but draped in the popular fashion of the day. It effectively garnered a genuine hippie aesthetic, but any actual connection to the counterculture was mostly smoke and mirrors. The bulk of Laugh-In consisted of eye-catching vaudeville bits that mostly ignored the war, the riots and the protest. It embraced the look and sound of the hippies and had no problem making references to getting high, but generally glossed over political issues. Whereas Tom Smothers found himself on Nixon's enemies list, Rowan and Martin found themselves on Nixon's guest list. Historian Hal Erickson assessed, "Compared to the approach of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Laugh-In treaded very, very lightly, especially when commenting upon America's untenable position in Vietnam." Laugh-In creator George Schlatter explains that his show "had a real cross section of writers. Paul was seriously right-wing ... He was so far right he did cartwheels ... Paul Keyes ... Nixon's joke writer." In 1969 Dan Rowan said of Laugh-In's chief scribe, "President Nixon calls him four or five times a week and when he's in San Clemente, Paul's always there. He is very close to the administration on a personal and on a political basis." A generation of vociferous anti-Nixonites, enraptured by everything Laugh-In had to offer each Monday night, was none the wiser.