Friday, September 15, 2006

On The Radio Today: Sugar Songs Freshly Made

Here's what to expect if you listen to Self Help Radio today: the same old thing. Wait! That's not true! In addition to the regular stuff - many different genres of music expertly mixed together in such a masterfully way you'd never know the guy doing it can't even tie his shoes - as well the lively, witty banter in-between that has been called by the ghost of Dorothy Parker, "A piss-poor attempt at humor that would have been utterly crushed at the Algonquin Round Table" - there are three pieces of music - nay, Art - that were specifically created by people for Self Help Radio.

Since the beginning of the summer, local avant-garde musician, soccer fan & alcoholic CJ Buchanan has been creating sound collage "intros" for my show. Today will be no different. I've never met CJ Buchanan, although he did tell me I once saw him in a police line-up & picked the wrong guy, but word on the street is that he collects sounds the way others gather aluminum cans, & although he hasn't yet found a way to recycle the sounds for money, he does send the audio files to me on recycled mp3s. His "Sugar" intro was accompanied by obvious forgeries from major music magazines calling it, "the best Radiohead record yet," "incontrovertible proof that Elvis is indeed the King" &, mysteriously, "four bassists lost in exploding van/coal fire incident." His official bio, written on the back of a cereal box & left slightly smoking on my doorstep, reminds everyone that, "The world has taken a restraining order out against CJ Buchanan, so everyone must stay 200 yards away from him."

Two first-time contributors to the show will also have songs for you to hear:

Local artists The Licorice Whips are a husband & wife team who distinguish themselves from the growing "married couple pop" field by actually liking each other. Frankly it shocks me every time. In their Playboy centerfold, they list their likes as "Good music, good friends, good grub, cold hands, warm heart." Interestingly, they list their main dislike as, "People on community radio stations who make stuff up about us on their blog." I'm not sure what that might mean. In any event, their song "Sugar Substitute" is one minute, forty-five seconds of delicious confection. I'd floss after you listen. & yes, I mean, floss your brain.

Dallas artists the Ramonalisas also contribute a song, "Raw Sugar Elements," which you will hear today. I've known the lead singer of the Ramonalisas for over three lifetimes now, & it's a wonder her voice hasn't propelled her out of the Metroplex, which is famously tone deaf, & into some other scene - possibly Australia? - where she would get the candy apples & radio station attention she deserves. You can start the revolution by listening today.

If I sound too much like a publicist out to make a buck, that's my fault. I am overwhelmed when talented people contribute to my show & I am completely grateful to them for sharing with KOOP & its listeners. It's just that I've grown up, like the rest of you, learning how to compliment people by listening to superlatives thrown at me by television advertisements. I am trying to fight it. For example, I managed to leave the following adjectives & phrases out of this essay so far: juicy, tempting, healthy, low fat, bouncy, fuel-efficient, gay, straight, bi, worry-free, little purple pill, where's the beef?, Jesus, "if you lived here, you'd be home now," killer, awesome, edgy, claustrophobic, possible side effects include, side-saddle, thick, rich, flavorful, jabbing index finger, real & artificial.

That is indeed a wonder, seeing as how I can recite, word for word, a "My Little Pony" commercial I saw on Saturday Morning Television in the late 70's.

I hope you listen today!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Difficult Show Ideas # 1: The Place Where You Live

When I am hit by inspiration, which is, of course, 99% desperation, I react much as I do when I realize that someone in the house is gassy, & it ain't me. Most of the inspiration for my radio show is typical, much like most of the gas is from one of the dogs - oh he knows it's him - so I am thinking, "I'll do a show about the blues! Or a show about love songs! Or a show about drugs!" It's not that I don't think such things are valid, but my own desire to make something more interesting to listen to sometimes drives me to come up theme ideas that are so damn narrow & ridiculous ("I know! I'll do a show about male pattern baldness!") that I'd be better off writing all the songs for the show & pretending I'm twenty different bands. (Not that that show wouldn't totally rule. Because it wouldn't.)

So I want a challenge, but like every other damn New York Times Sunday crossword I've done, I can't quite finish up a lot of my show themes. I mean, it's hard to fill up ninety minutes if your show theme is something utterly obscure like "musicans with hairlips." But some aren't impossible, they're merely hard. I want to talk about one of them. Maybe you can help.

My iPod & my life were talking one day earlier this year, when, walking home from work, I happened to step into my driveway while listening to Grant Hart's heartbreaking ode to shacking up, "2541." I became interested in that number, & my corresponding number, "1309" (not nearly as sexy, I'll admit), & I started thinking, "Why do we have these things called addresses? How did that start?" They seemed like such a big thing in our lives - we need them to receive mail, to get food delivered, to tell our friends & family where we are, to confuse taxi drivers - so naturally, it would seem, there'd be a lot of songs about them.

Let me clarify: I wanted songs that not only mentioned addresses, but had something to say about the address. So, on the show, I could do my usual half-assed research (thirty minutes with the Wikipedia) & speak authoritatively about when humans started using addresses, famous addresses, all that. It was just a matter of finding songs that either featured a famous address or spoke of an address that meant something in the song.

Not so easy.

There were some obvious ones, besides the Grant Hart song, the inspiration of it all. The Stones have a song called "2120 South Michigan Avenue." There's the theme song for the TV show "77 Sunset Strip." I might even branch out a little & talk about places people hung out, if it were specific enough (like the Ramones' "53rd & 3rd"). But after attempting to encourage my brain to be creative by soaking it overnight in some whiskey, I was left with, at best, around 15 or so songs. Not nearly enough to make up a show - especially if they didn't flow well.

I should point out, I don't want to talk about streets, as in songs like "Lonely Avenue." I want the song to mention a specific place - if not an address, then at the very least enough description so you'd know it was somewhere that had an address.

I tried to branch out some more - looking for songs that talked about where someone lives. That brought it up to 20 or so. Still not enough to give me breathing room to make a really great show - so I tell you this story about my attempts to live up to one of my themes not only as a possible request for help, but also to show you how my mind works. Especially when it's not been soaking overnight in whiskey.

Below are some song ideas for the show, if it ever happens. If you have an idea to share, email it to me or discuss it on this bloggy blog. Then we can perhaps talk about that show about musicians with hairlips...

"77 Sunset Strip" Alpinestars
"52 Linthorpe Street" Cannanes
"88 Christopher Street" Dirt Bike Annie
"She Lives By The Castle" Felt
"The Place Where She Lives" Four Rockets
"2541" Grant Hart
"The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill" Hüsker Dü
"I've Changed My Address" Jam
"8540 Twelfth Street" Yusef Lateef
"111 Archer Avenue" Mark Mothersbaugh
"101 W. 80th Street" Mount Everest Trio
"77 Sunset Strip" Frankie Ortega Trio
"1523 Blair" Outcasts
"53rd & 3rd" Ramones
"2120 South Michigan Avenue" Rolling Stones
"2500 Walden Ave." Saloon
"House Where Nobody Lives" Tom Waits
"Change Of Address Kit" Wimp Factor 14

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Whither Sugar?

This week's show - this Friday at 4:30pm - will be about sugar. I joked with my apprentice Erin that she's "feminized" the show somewhat - since she's started, we've had shows about pearls & hairdos - but the truth is, I've always been a little girly. Lookit: earlier in the summer I did shows about love letters & cupid - I am much more welcome at poetry readings than dockside bars. So, sugar. Why sugar? Come over here, sugar, & I'll tell ya.

Occasionally it's fun to pick a theme that's so amazingly broad that I just know I'll have a ton of great music to choose from. Some themes lend themselves to excavation - I'll talk about some of those challenging themes later on, & maybe you can help me - but some are almost "gimmes" because they can be done blindfolded, with your brain switching its jukebox on & playing every song that talks about the singer's "sugar" - from the Archies on, your brain shall spring multitudes.

Of course, it's my task to not only pick the sweetest (I couldn't resist) from the bunch, but also to put them together in a way that makes them sound good. I like the show, as you know if you've listened, to mix it up a little bit. I've found old jazz records & naughty soul records, coy indiepop & embarrassing rock & roll. I haven't even gathered everything on my list yet, actually. & right now my iPod is stuffed with 40 songs (2 hours total) whittled down from 80, with some 20 still to be mp3ed & listened to. Mine is a lonely task, deep in the dungeon of my record collection, with only the cobwebs & the Roxy Music record sleeves to keep me warm. But I do for the love of the radio show.

But why sugar? What the hell?

It started with this article here, called Sugar, aka Sucrose, Glucose, Fructose, Kiddie Crack. Initially I thought it was a joke, since it's written in a very snotty tone, sarcastically, like the writer just finished reading a Vice Magazine guide or something. But no, it's pretty serious: the article insists that sugar is a drug that we are feeding our kids & getting them addicted to. After I read it the first time, I was totally jonesing for a candy bar.

I don't know if I agree, & I don't have a whole lot of time to waste on conspiracy-type theories (I'm too busy trying to find out how "they" placed the explosives that took down the Twin Towers), but the article does note that nearly every bit of research about the harmlessness of sugar is funded by "the massive world sugar industry." That should be enough to make your inner skeptic twitch a bit. If it's done twitching, you know, from the last Rumsfield speech. My inner skeptic basically has Tourette's right now.

So I read the article & said, "Yeah, I'll do a show about sugar." It also made me want to do a few lines of sugar, but I resisted. I did think that maybe Erin & I should test the "sugar-as-drug" theory in the article by following its advice & ingesting a lot of sugar before the show, on an empty stomach. If I weren't already so damn nervous every time I go on the air, it might make the show a sugar-high, sugar-low roller coaster ride. But, mmmm, eating sugar.

I hope you'll tune in to hear facts & figures about the "massive world sugar industry," as well as its product, made from cane & beets & grain & corn. But for right now, dude, I totally need a candy bar.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Can't Begin, I Must Begin

Hi, my name is Gary & I am a self-conscious old douchebag who has been doing radio in Austin since the middle of the 1990s. I am hungry for your love & attention, but I am also possessed of a daunting modesty that many people would call "embarrassment," so the idea of having something like a "blog" makes me feel only slightly more comfortable than a root canal on a cruise ship full of evacuees from a war-torn country. But here I go. God help me.

I do this radio show, see, called "Self Help Radio," see. It has nothing to do with Self Help. It has everything to do with Radio. I believe that Radio (with a capital R, like a German noun) will not only save our lives, it might also help us with the Old Dude Upstairs. I confess, I'd love to make money doing Radio. The trouble is, there are only a few people making money doing radio these days, & those people might be called "programmers," except that word doesn't mean "the people who program the material being played on the radio"; instead, it means "the people who program the robots that produce most of the radio in the world." That's right, your FM dial is filled with robots. & I don't just mean the Bob Dylan Robot that just released a new record, neither. I mean you are listening to radio in your town that was created by someone living in some corporate tower in the middle of Somewhere Else, America, & it's being played to you by robots.

You know this. I am just trying to be silly. I won't ever make a dime off radio, but I will make friends & I will have a chance to play music I love & music you'll love, & I'll also get the chance to say, with voice a-trembling, "This Radio Station is Robot-Free!" Because I deejay at a station here in Austin called KOOP (pronounced either K-O-O-P or KO-OP, never like the last name of Reagan's Surgeon General, although sometimes it can feel stuffy & there might be chickens about) which is a community radio station with dozens of programmers who are all volunteers. I used to deejay at a college radio station called KVRX, which shares the frequency with us ("KOOP on during the day, KVRX at night" is the rule) & is like our bratty younger sibling with cooler hair & better access to the latest drugs. I have been doing this Radio stuff since the summer of 1994, & my current show, which is the name of this "blog" (just writing that makes my gall bladder throb), I have been doing for about four years now. So enough about robots. Let's talk about the show.

The name Self Help Radio is a private joke, as once someone told me, "Gary, your life is all about self-help." But it can mean a million other things, too, you know. It can mean I am helping myself on the radio, or it can mean you are helping yourself to radio, or it can mean that listening to me has a therapeutic affect on people whose minds have been completely destroyed by electroshock therapy, or it can mean that it's a chance to hear new, different musics. Create your own definition! Start your own blog! Be your own best friend! I'm not always going to be around to bail your out when your shenanagins get you in trouble, babe.

I like to organize the show around what I call "themes." (An esoteric word, I know. Look it up.) These themes hopefully lend themselves to interesting music & informative airbreaks & possibly ridiculous on-air commentary. Recent themes have included motorcycles, pearls, love letters & people who used to have chins but for some reason don't appear to anymore. (Okay, that one was made up.) I will also occasionally feature a single artist, usually to beg people to support the station during a Membership Drive (like a tribute to David Bowie last April, & an upcoming tribute to the Velvet Underground in a few weeks, or the tribute to the late Arthur Lee & his band Love after his sad demise in August). Sometimes the amateur etymologist in me will become fixated on a word or phrase - I have done shows in which the songs admonish you to "wake up!" or are asking you to "do it" without quite explaining what it is you are supposed to do. & I have the obligatory annual shows I annually, generally once a year. I do a show on my birthday (which is in January) which is a kind of creeping "best of" from the year of my birth on - I've done 1968, 1969 & 1970, & so this January, my favorite records from 1971. I do a Valentine's show, a South By Southwest show, a Halloween Show, a My Favorite Stuff From The Year show, & a Christmas show. The rest of the time, it's really about what sorts of themes pop into my head the moments before that head hits the floor after my girlfriend sucker punches me during our nightly "practice fights" (or what she calls "foreplay.")

These are a few of my upcoming themes:

091506: Sugar
092206: The Yellow Show
092906: The Sleepy Show
100606: A Tribute To The Velvet Underground

Do I take requests? Yes! For both songs to play & themes? Yes! Do I read haikus on the air! Yes! Can you write a haiku for me to read on the air? Please! (See my website for details on that.) Can you listen to old shows on your website? Yes! Will I come over to your house & clean the wasps' nest on the porch? No! Can you look forward to long-ass blog entries like this which are more tedious than promotional? Absolutely!

Now that that's all done, I hope you'll listen, & maybe become more involved. Later on, we'll talk about getting more involved. I'll also be talking about the eeriness of my fingernails, which grow & grow & grow, without regard for common decency or public approbation. That'll be riveting.

Fridays 4:30 to 6:00pm on 91.7 KOOP Austin, online at See you there, beautiful.