Friday, October 06, 2006

Fear Of Membership Drive

I know, I'm repeating myself - also, I'm repeating myself - but I can't keep from saying that KOOP, the bestest radio station in Austin & one of the last truly independent radio stations in the United States, is having its Fall Membership Drive right now. Please think about contributing. Because once you think about it, you'll want to contribute.

I am writing this mere hours (less than four) before my first Membership Drive show of the season. The title of this post doesn't mean "fear of those long, chatty weeks when a listener-sponsored radio station begs for cash." Oh no. It means "fear on the part of the programmer who has to beg their dear listeners for cash." Because it scares the bejeebies out of me. My stomach is twisting into slow knots & I occasionally feel like sitting down & catching my breath - especially when I am sitting down & breathing normally.

Oh boo hoo! you say. The dude who's got his own radio show is worried that no one will support it! Well I wish I had your problems, brother.

Boy, you're unsympathetic. The reason that I am nervous may well be based somewhat on my own ego - I do want you to love my show more than you love your pets - but more than that, I love the radio station my show is on. Not the least for being a place where a completely obsessive & utterly mush-brained fellow like myself can have a radio show.

KOOP (pronounced, in case you didn't know, either with the letters spelled out - K-O-O-P - or as an alternate spelling for "cooperative" shortened - KO-OP) (& not like "coop," although sometimes one can feel mighty cooped up in there behind the mic) is a small affair, subsisting on an annual budget which is the equivalent of the same budget a commercial radio station has for booze & floozies for its Board of Directors. We broadcast at 3000 watts & over the Internet, & we compete in the Austin market & with every other Internet radio station in the world. We get some money from underwriting by local businesses, & some from grants, but the majority of the day-to-day expenses we have are paid by the two Membership Drives we have per year.

My show is ninety minutes long. That's a small fraction of the time we're on the air - KOOP has some seventy programs - but I want to be able to pull my own weight financially. That's a lot of pressure for a guy who's probably already in the short queue for "Young Heart Attack &/or Stroke."

In addition, I confess I am a terrible salesperson. I always have been. Willy Loman could run circles around me. I've known this since middle school when, in 8th grade, for a National Honor Club type of organization, I refused to sell M&M's to raise money for the organization. Which took a lot of stones for my 13 year old self. I was a shy kid, mostly terrified of the world, but knew deep in my heart that I couldn't sell drugs to a junkie, & stood up for myself. The teacher sponsors, of course, beat me up & took my lunch money as payment.

But it should be easier - shouldn't it? - since I'll be doing what I'm always doing - playing great music & blabbing on the radio. I'm still nervous before a show - 12 years on - anyway. But it somehow isn't. No, I'm not crying. Shut up.

Don't feel sorry for me, laying out my insecurities on my obscure blog. I'm just letting you know: it may be tough for you, with your budget & the number of non-profits vying for your support, to decide to give money to a tiny radio station. I appreciate that. But since the programmers at stations like KOOP are real human beings, not Clear Channel-brand corporate music robots, we have some jitters too. Do with that knowledge what you will.

I'm going to go throw up now.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Whither The Velvet Underground?

Hey! There's a Membership Drive going on at Austin's best radio station! You need to be involved! You need to contribute! If only because they're the sort of station that puts Self Help Radio on the air.

Speaking of Membership Drives, I recall one time when I asked a former KOOP programmer if he were going to do anything special for the Drive. He did a show that claimed to feature "one hundred years of African-American music," but mainly he spun funk & hip-hop. His response was, "Nah. During the Pledge Drive, I just give the listeners the gravy." Meaning he played the popular stuff to encourage people to pledge.

It seems a good idea - but my show isn't really about a specific genre or time period or something like that. It's a freeform show with boundaries - & those boundaries happen to be the themes I (or sometimes a listener) come up with. I do it for a lot of reasons - to keep myself guessing, to keep myself amused, to keep you amused, to take advantage of my unruly record collection. After all, if you just want the popular stuff, you know where to go: commercial, satellite or internet radio will give you 80's stations, classic rock stations, cool jazz stations, whatever. They generally (but not always) are programmed by someone other than the person talking on the air - if there's a person talking at all. I think they lack heart, they lack soul, they lack something human - but you might not be looking for that, so I respect your choice.

But I do want to make my Membership Drive shows special, so recently I've been trying to give listeners "the gravy," but with something of a twist (twisted gravy? Jesus, Gary, your metaphors!). Last spring, I presented a tribute to David Bowie containing not a single David Bowie recording - but instead with his songs covered by others (to show how his own work is absorbed & translated) & songs either mimicking him or celebrating him. It seemed to go over well. (By the way, you can listen to that show here.)

This time around, I tried to think about an artist beloved in the same way Bowie is. Some artists, of course, are a little too easy - Dylan & the Beatles come to mind - & some are painfully hard - I love Elvis Costello, but good covers of Elvis Costello songs are harder to find that someone who can pass a lie detector test in the current administration. Asking people informally, I found there was one group that seemed to have a devoted listener base, a group of discriminating music lovers who held them in very high esteem indeed. That group was, of course, the Velvet Underground.

After several weeks of listening to a lot of VU covers, I am impressed how far & wide the echoes of that band, which seemed to struggle so during its lifetime, have spread. Someone once said, "Not a lot of people bought the Velvet Underground's first album, but the ones who did formed a band." I would also add, "The bands who bought & paid attention to all the albums of the Velvet Underground learned everything they needed to know about writing good songs."

& here I am, giving it a go. Ninety minutes (minus the obligatory airbreaks asking for your cash to help the station) of bands singing VU songs the way they sung them in the shower, with tracks covered from the first album to the last, & a couple of songs about the band & its members in-between. How can it go wrong?

We'll see you Friday as I pay tribute to one of America's greatest bands, the Velvet Underground. Please listen & please think about helping KOOP out with your support.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Preface to the Velvet Underground Tribute Show: The Time I Met John Cale, Lou Reed Watched Scornfully

Before I begin another story full of lies, I want to say again: The KOOP Membership Drive is happening now. Please give generously. Please give painfully. Please give thoughtlessly. Just please give.

What can I say about the Velvet Underground that hasn't already been written about by self-important critics & fans for over thirty years now? Really, nothing. They're great. They're influential. They looked amazing in black. They took more drugs & had more sleazy lifestyles than your average congressional intern. But more than anything else, what affects me most about them are two things I really appreciate about unbelievably great music:

1) It's timeless. You can play a Velvet Underground song to someone from age ten to age ten-squared, & it sounds as if it were made yesterday.

2) It has an emotional center. This may seem weird description of a song's character, but so much music may be emotive, or may have sparks of the things that makes rock & roll great (sex & death, desire & pain) but it might just be an outburst rather than a sustained emotional experience. Think of "Pale Blue Eyes." It's certainly lovely, with a catchy melody, but deep down the song is about longing, gratitude & guilt. How many songs that you love feel & seem so three-dimensional?

Also, though there are some gaping holes in "Loaded," the four albums always seem more than the sum of their parts, & until John Cale left, you couldn't really tell where Lou Reed left off & John Cale began, & among the majority of their oeuvre, you can never get rid of the beating joy of Moe Tucker or the sturdy backbone of Sterling Morrison. (& later, of course, you find it wearying to scratch the bugbite itch of Doug Yule.)

But now: the lies.

So I met John Cale in a bar in Barbados (he was working out with barbells, & I had been barred from my favorite honky tonk on the island, the Bar None) &, since I was a fresh-faced nineteen-year-old who knew all the words to "Fear Is A Man's Best Friend," we got very friendly & started discussing the merits of Welshmen & homosexuality. I myself was starstruck, & also John Cale had banged my knee with a barbell, so you could say I was Calestruck as well.

John Cale - & maybe no one knows this - is a master hypnotist who can put you under faster than you can recite the story behind "The Gift." After seventeen "Island Specials" - basically just rum drunk from a hollowed-out grapefruit - he began to tell me what he called "the secret" - the secret, I supposed, to success, to rock genius, to being tall with a cool Welsh accent. I must admit I wasn't much of a drinker back then, so either I was hypnotized or I was trying desperately to keep the world from spinning me like a top, because, while I listened intently & deeply wanted to know "the secret," I was easily distracted by a disapproving grunt from the back of the bar.

Omigod! It was Lou Reed! He was dressed all in black, with big black sunglasses covering his chiseled, Muppet-off-the-junk face. John Cale looked a little surprised, then turned back to me. "He's always around," he told me cheerfully, "he doesn't want anyone else to know 'the secret.'"

Lou Reed came at John Cale slowly, a chain of some kind produced quickly from a pocket in his black leather jacket. John Cale simply stood up, revealing a sturdy, well-worn snooker cue. It looked as if things would be bad. Through my fuzzy head I could hear words & phrases muttered by both, angry, bloodthirsty: "Traitor!" "Producer!" "Junkie!" "Robot!" "Andy always liked me better!" "Nico always hated you!"

I confess, I tried to stand & say, "Gentlemen, please. You are giants in the world of music. Your influence continues, ripples you started in the late sixties overturn entire genres to this day. Please don't fight! Please, for the love of all that is good & pure, put down your weapons & put away your differences. The world needs you!"

As I say, I tried to stand, but instead I fell, & my speech came out like a gurgle (along with two of my teeth) as I landed face-first on the wooden floor.

I didn't get a chance to see what happened next, as I woke up the next day, back in my lonesome bedroom in Austin. How I got home I don't know, but I was relieved to learn that neither Lou Reed nor John Cale lost their lives that night. Instead, within a year, the two had begun working together, recording "Songs For Drella" &, for a short time, reuniting the Velvets to tour. & I'd like to think maybe I had a hand in it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

KOOP's Fall Membership Drive

As I've mentioned before, in case you didn't notice, I am a deejay at a commercial radio station in Austin, Texas. If you're reading this blog, you might have actually listened to the station (although I do get a lot of creepy emails that seem to think this blog, & by extension the show, is really about self help & could they talk to me about aromatherapy curing obsessive-compulsive disorder for only 59.99?), & if you have, you have doubtless heard what a vital, original, oddball station we are, a very oasis in the commercial wasteland of FM radio, 75% of which is owned by own company.

KOOP's runs on very little money. So we need to ask our listeners for help. We do this twice a year. This time of year is when we are doing it right now. Man, that's an awkward sentence. I'm not good at begging unless you're wearing a leather mask & making me like something disgusting off the floor. Excuse the clumsiness of this.

I must keep reminding you, though, & would be very grateful if you chose to help KOOP out with whatever you can spare cash-wise. It would be much appreciated. You can do it two ways:

1) Call during my show (I'd like that!) which is on Fridays from 4:30 to 6pm CST. The toll free number is 1-88-917-5667. The toll unfree number (whatever that means) is 512 472 5667.


2) Pledge online by clicking here or above.

Thank you for thinking about it! Now, as Yoda Spock once said, "There is no think, only do, live long & prosper."

Sleepy Haiku Wrap-Up

Amazingly, a great many people were able to stay awake during my show on Friday, which was about sleepiness. But what truly made them sleepy were the following winning haikus. Remember, you can always write a haiku if you visit the Self Help Radio Haiku Contest Page. Boo-ya!

Big ups to the winners:


Selfish sleep junkie
Look at her doze standing up
Hey! Make her wake up!


Yes, it’s important
For you & me to talk now
I just can’t stay zzzzzzzzz


Stupid alarm clock
I’m too sleepy to wake up
Five more minutes!


Eyelids close tonight
New novel line completed
Drool drips on pillow

This week's show is a tribute to the Velvet Underground, so if you've ever wanted to write a haiku for or about Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker or (it's a weird world, so why not) Doug Yule, please send a haiku to me.