Every program on WFMU is a unique mixture of loam and silt, manure and peat, each lovingly tended to to bring the finest harvest of ephemera, flotsam and mixed metaphor that can be guaranteed. In this installment, Gaylord Fields explains what makes his garden grow.
As I type this in the room at my home in which I keep my media library, at my feet are two bags lying rather indelicately on the floor. One, a knapsack, is filled with, let's say, 60 CDs, the top third or so of which I just played on my most recent show. Lying next to it, also inviting itself to be stepped on, is a messenger bag with approximately 40 LPs; the ones in the front of the bag are the ones I've already spun. (I also store a few 45s in a front pocket of that CD-holding rucksack.)
On Sundays at 4 PM ET (that's an hour before my two hours on the air begins, and I'm still at home, mind you), I remove anything I played the previous week from the two bags, and top them off with new recordings. The process of procurement is as simple as my scanning my thousands of non-alphabetized (!) LPs and CDs, and if a title catches my fancy, it goes in a bag. My home preparation for any given show is that minimal. That process takes 10-15 minutes tops, and then it's a short drive to the WFMU studios.
Now in the WFMU music library, if I'm in the mood I scan the WFMU new release bin (most weeks, I'm too overwhelmed and intimidated by its size and breadth to peruse it). At most, I'll pick out a title or two to review. If a song happens to be lodged in my head that I didn't bring or don't own, the greater WFMU record collection can help me extricate it from my brain and infect yours instead.
I next transfer my various discs into a big gray cart and then I'm off to perform my assigned janitorial chore (if you ever notice how well-swept the first floor vestibule of WFMU is, yup, that's me). I return to the library, which abuts the main broadcast studio, and wait for Bill Kelly, the DJ on the air before me, to poke his head in when there's about five minutes left in his program to let me know he needs my opening song. That's when I look at the 100 albums I've lugged from home and hastily choose one as my first cut.
I let the first song inspire what I select as my second cut, the second informs the third, and so forth. Rarely am I more than one or two songs ahead, and many times I don't have a follow-up until the preceding song has almost run out.
I did a few pre-planned shows in my very early days at WFMU, but I quickly realized I preferred employing the seat-of-the-pants method. It's less of a commitment, and I like both the process and the results a little bit more. There's an excitement to musically painting myself into a corner to see how I rescue myself from my weekly sonic cliffhanger, to mix metaphors like a good freeform set. So if you're often surprised by the musical twists and turns I may employ in a given set of music, that makes two of us.
Illustration of Mr. Fields by Adrian Tomine for Yo La Tengo