[FR : Quelques tuyaux pour bricoler votre Silvertone… à vos risques et périls !]
I love my Sears Silvertone 1457 guitar. Cheaply built almost 50 years ago, and apparently stored in a damp closet for a while, it deserved a little “tune-up”. Here is what I did. (Note: I have no training in guitar repair. I will take no responsibility for the content of this article or its consequences. Proceed at your own risk!)
I removed the strings, the knobs, and then the pickguard (careful, it’s fragile and the electronics are attached), and cleaned the electronic components with a cleaning spray. I cleaned the crud off the pickguard and knobs.
I used very fine (400) emery cloth, lightly moving along the fret (not up and down) to clean the crud off. I masked the rosewood with masking tape when sanding each fret to avoid damaging it. I then cleaned the neck and fretboard with a guitar-cleaning product.
The tuning pegs did not turn smoothly. I removed the tuning pegs (a couple of screws and they come out neatly) and cleaned them, and then applied lithium grease to all friction points: on the gears and on the plates.
The original rosewood bridge saddle was badly worn, with repercussions on the guitar’s sound. I found an original new-old-stock saddle on the Internet. There are also modern replacement saddles available. Another approach would have been to replace the bridge with a metal adjustable one.
I wanted to lower the action (height of strings above the neck) but the top end of the bridge is held up by 2 wood screws that could not go any deeper in the body. Tightening them further would have made them pierce the body and stick out the back. The bottom end of the bridge is also held by a wood screw and in order to keep the strings tight against the saddle, this one must go in further as well. So, I used a metal saw to remove a few millimeters from each screw, allowing their heads to go lower. (This could have also been accomplished with a bench grinder or perhaps by changing to shorter screws.) I put a washer under the bottom screw to raise the bridge slightly, making more space for the balls on the ends of the strings to catch under the bridge, so they don’t slip out.
- Tighten the screw on the back of the saddle so you can still move it a little bit. Position the saddle in a reasonable place and mount the bridge.
- Put on low E string. Stretch it. Tune it. Now fret at the octave position and adjust the left side of the saddle to tune to E.
- Put on high E string. Stretch it. Tune it. Now fret at the octave position and adjust the right side of the saddle to tune to E.
- Tune low E string, verify intonation of both strings and correct if necessary.
- Put on B string. Stretch it. Tune it. Now fret at the octave position and adjust the right side of the saddle to tune to B.
- There are now enough strings to hold the saddle in place, it should not move easily any more.
- Tune all three strings, verify intonation of all three strings and correct if necessary.
- Put on, one by one, A, G, D, and tune all strings each time.
- Verify intonation.
You can now set the height of the pickups using the screws on the back of the guitar. I put them close to the strings for more volume, but not too close or else they will buzz.
I have heard that it’s good to put some graphite on the slots in the nut when changing strings to help the strings slide, especially since the beautiful angular arrangement of the strings puts a lot of lateral stress on the string as it passes through the nut.
Also, I have a theory that the low E string should be wound around the tuning peg in the opposite direction, to reduce the angle and make it look better. If you try it, you will see that it’s logical. Yes, this means you turn it the opposite way to tune it.
The guitar looks and plays much better now. Good luck with your own Silvertone/Danelectro.
Filed under: music, text in English, top tips/vie pratique | 5 Comments
Tags: guitar repair, Sears Silvertone
[FR : en bas]
Just a detail. In the film “Inside Llewyn Davis,” when the cop arrests Johnny Five, leaving Llewyn Davis alone in the car with the (dead?) jazzman Roland Turner, there is a brief close-up of the ignition switch. It is left on “OFF” and not “LOCK”.
In that case, on those old GM cars, you could start the car without the key. My grandpa had one.
Juste un petit détail… Dans le film “Inside Llewyn Davis”, quand le flic embarque Johnny Five et laisse Llewyn Davis dans la bagnole avec le jazzman (mort ?) Roland Turner, on aperçoit en gros plan le contact de la voiture. Il est en position “OFF” au lieu de “LOCK” (verrouillé).
En ce cas, on peut démarrer les vieilles voitures General Motors sans mettre la clé. Mon grand-père en avait une.
Du coup, Llewyn aurait pu s’en partir en voiture, mais il ne l’a pas fait. Est-ce qu’il l’a su ? Les frères Coen le savent certainement.
Filed under: american, arts, cinéma, culture, pop culture, text in English, texte en français | Leave a Comment
Tags: coen brothers, inside llewyn davis, Llewyn Davis
[FR : Laisse tomber ton plan idiot de visiter à Paris, une ville sans intérêt pour le tourisme, tout comme pour l’habitation.]
I used to live in San Francisco, and moved to Paris in 1999. Ironically, both are leading tourist cities whose attraction and reputation is largely based on bygone times. For example, in San Francisco: the Victorian era, the fifties, the sixties. In Paris: the Middle Ages, the Belle Époque, the fifties. Vestiges of these truly wonderful periods do still exist, as well as modern elements that make these cities interesting for tourism or habitation, coexisting with the many disadvantages and annoyances of modern life (one of which is living in a city overrun with stupid tourists).
But enough philosophizing, let’s get practical.
For your Internet research before leaving home, use
official Paris tourist office
vide-greniers (neighborhood garage sales) (attention: green dots only)
Paris has shitty weather, kind of like NY or Boston, although pleasant surprises can happen. Don’t forget your umbrella. Dress nice: there is no such thing as being overdressed in Paris. English is almost universally spoken in tourist situations (hotels, restaurants, museums), but it’s nice to ask first “Pardon me, do you speak English?” (or much better, “Excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais ?”) Like everywhere, a few basic words like “merci” et “s’il vous plaît” are appreciated!
Getting around Paris on public transportation is easy, and there is no reason at all to have a car in town. Ask for a Métro/bus system (RATP) map (“plan de réseau”) in any station. Most buses run until about 11pm, the Métro runs until about 12:30am. The Métro runs 1 hour later on Friday and Saturday night. There is a system of (less-convenient) buses all night (Noctilien). A Métro pass “Paris Visite” for zones 1-3 (good also for the bus and most importantly for the funicular of Montmartre) for the period of your visit is a good idea and saves having to worry about tickets. At http://www.ratp.fr click the British flag. There is also the one-week Carte Orange, which starts on Mondays no matter when you buy it. At the worst, you may need to pay for a few cab rides, but they are not too expensive. When you get here you should buy a proper street map with all the streets (about 5-10 euros at a newsstand, booklet form is best. I like “Paris facile A-Z”). The free maps are good up to a point, but do not show all the streets. You can get from the airports to central Paris on public transport. If you are alone this is more economical (about 10 euros) but if you are two or more, or with a lot of baggage, consider taking a cab (minimum 30 euros), except if you are in the middle of rush hour when traffic will affect the cab fare and driving time.
Paris numbers start with 01. Portable phones start with 06. You would dial my old home number (no longer in service) 01 48 04 72 84 from the USA as 011 33 1 48 04 72 84. Tobacco is sold only (officially) in tobacco shops, which have a red “tabac” sign. Most bars have some under the counter. To make phone calls here in pay phones (increasingly rare) you will need a phone card (Télécarte) which is sold at tobacco shops. Get ONLY a Télécarte, not any other card; there are all kinds of other sleazy ones. You can buy a small one, 50 unités. Some pay phones take credit cards too. Much less complicated: your American portable phone may work in Europe if it is GSM (digital) tri-band. Check into it before you travel. Do not expect to find free WiFi everywhere like you have back home. There is free WiFi in some Paris parks.
Breakfast is an espresso and a croissant, or a tartine beurée (bread and butter), perhaps at the counter of a bar (where there may be a basket of croissants already so you can grab one). Do not attempt to get complicated with the coffee, this is not Starbucks. As you have an American accent, you will be asked if you want a “little coffee.” Answer in the affirmative, this should get you an espresso. Otherwise, your coffee will be diluted with lots of hot water since it appears that Americans like it that way. If you choose to sit at a table in a café (and especially outside), the prices may be higher than at the bar, but you have bought the right to sit at the table for a long time and read your book, look at chicks (don’t forget your sunglasses), etc.
Lunch can be a sandwich bought at a boulangerie (bakery) if you are on the run or economizing (but don’t forget to take a little piece of pie too). Look for a nearby park to eat in. Theoretically it is prohibited to drink alcohol in the park, so be discrete, and be polite if the guard busts you. Otherwise, have a nice meal at a restaurant or brasserie. Many places have a menu (a set of particular dishes, often entrée-plat-dessert) at a good price (10-14 E) at lunchtime, which by the way begins between 12:30 and 1:30pm; noon is a little early. Attention: Americans call an entrée an “appetizer” and a plat a “main course”. British call an entrée a “starter”. If the weather is nice, be sure to take advantage of tables on the terrasse (sidewalk).
At the end of the afternoon is a nice time to have an apéro (cocktail), particularly on another terrasse or in a bar where the tables have a view of the street so you can look at chicks. But here, it is considered exotic to drink “cocktails” in the American sense of a mixed drink (Sex on the Beach, etc.). Very popular are: beer, wine (by the glass), anisette (Ricard, etc.: add 5 volumes of water), cooked wines (Martini, etc.). You can have a coffee if you like. The big brands of French beer are atrocious just like in the USA (Kronenbourg, 1664, etc.) but you can often find a Belgian brand on tap (à pression).
Dinner should be in a nice restaurant so you can profit from being in Paris. Dinnertime starts at 8pm, although you can go later if you like. Any restaurant will serve until 10pm, most later. Most places offer wine by the glass, pitcher, or bottle. A pitcher of 25 cl is a good start for one person, 50 cl for two. The wine selection in pitchers is often more limited and more basic than what you can get in bottles, suit yourself. There are menus available in some restaurants in the evening as well. If there are specialties indicated at a restaurant, give them a try. A meal lasts at least one hour, a proper meal two hours. If you are in a rush, you are in the wrong place!
Do not assume that ethnic restaurants that would be good at home in the US (and especially in SF) are good here. In particular, Chinese and Mexican food is often atrocious in France. On the other hand, small restaurants run by people from former French colonies (North Africa, Viet Nam, Italy) may be worth a try.
There are tons of things to do in Paris. A short visit will leave you disappointed to have missed many things. Five to seven days will give you enough time to see a bunch of stuff, and leave you eager to come back. There are hundreds of museums and expositions of art and photography. (Attention, the “Éspace Dali” is a rip off!) As soon as you arrive, you should buy a guide like:
L’Officiel des Spectacles
These are cheap weekly magazines with all the listings. They are not on the Internet because then they would not sell any more magazines. They come out on Wednesday, which is the day when all cinemas change their programs. There are kiosks (newsstands) all over.
Neighborhoods and walks
If you have decent weather, walk around, and then take a break on a nice terrasse. Take a walk along the Canal St-Martin (quai de Valmy, pause at Point Éphemère, quai de la Seine, or if you’re feeling energetic, all the way to la Villette); square du Temple to Marché des Enfants rouges to rue Veille du Temple to rue des Rosiers and rue des Francs Bourgeois to place des Vosges; in the Bastille neighborhood along rue de la Roquette and rue Keller; rue Tiquetone and rue Montorgueil; rue d’Orsel and rue des Abbesses and rue Lepic; starting at place du Tertre (hyper touristy) and then following your nose on small streets around Montmartre; Île St-Louis; les quais de la Seine from approximately Île St-Louis to pont des Arts; rue de Seine to rue de Buci to boulevard St-Germain to rue Danton then follow your nose; rue de la Montagne St-Genviève to le Panthéon to rue Mouffetard; Jardin du Luxembourg; Jardin des Plantes; la Coulée verte (promenade plantée) (elevated railway track converted to park); buttes Chaumont; Parc Floral; Jardin des Tuileries; etc. The Marché d’Aligre (open-air produce market), place d’Aligre, daily 7am-1pm except Monday, or go at 5am to drink a coffee on a terrasse and see the merchants setting up the stands. Enough? While walking around, look for Space Invaders (see photo).
Western tip of Île St-Louis (go down stairs). Canal St-Martin. Buttes Chaumont. Parc Floral during concerts. Parc de la Villette.
Paris is great for jazz. The big shows are expensive, but especially during the week you can find jam sessions for free where you just have to buy a beer now and then (for example Caveau des Oubliettes 5e). On the other hand, Paris is terrible for rock, and you (and I) will be lucky if there is a decent show during your stay. Check this site, and the posters and flyers at Born Bad Record Shop, 17 rue Keller 11e (noon-8pm except Sunday), and then buy some records from my friends there. The main punk place at the moment is the Mécanique ondulatoire, 8 passage Thiéré 11e (near Bastille).
As you know, the currency is the Euro, which used to have a value somewhat close to a dollar. You can take out money from ATM machines (distributeurs) all over Paris; you are never far from one. Watch your back when using the machine, just like back home. Be sure to verify before your departure with your US bank that your card is OK for international withdrawals. Then there is no need at all to have travelers’ checks or other stuff. There is no need to all to go to a “change” place, except that if you have a moment before leaving the USA to get a few Euros in your pocket; that will take the pressure off you to find an ATM right away at the airport, that’s all.
You have the right to bring back two 75 cl bottles of alcohol per person to the USA. One or two extra will probably not land you in jail. With current regulations about liquids, you will be forced to put them in your checked luggage, so pack them extremely well and pray. For shopping, there is of course a lot of fashion and cosmetics here, if you are into that. There are flea markets on the weekend (Sat-Sun) porte de Clignancourt, porte de Montreuil and porte de Vanves, which have become increasingly professional and decreasingly interesting. The equivalent of the Salvation Army is called Emmaüs, but probably not worth your time unless you travel outside of Paris. Stores are basically all closed Sunday and some are closed Monday.
“I want a good bakery!”
There are many; here are a few of different types, in no particular order. (There are bad ones too, sorry about that.)
1. Manon, 87 rue St-Antoine 4e, closed Mondays
2. Landemaine, 130 rue de la Roquette, 11e, closed Mondays
3. Du Pain et des idées, 34 rue Yves-Toudic, 10e, closed Saturdays and Sundays
4. Les Délices de Parmentier, 142 av Parmentier, 11e, closed Sundays
5. Durand (L’Autre boulange), 43 rue de Montreuil, 12e, closed Sundays and Mondays
6. Pichard, 88 rue Cambronne, 15e, closed Mondays and Tuesdays
 However, the Italian restaurants in my neighborhood are mainly run by Turks and Egyptians. Let the buyer beware!
Filed under: american, culture, europe, français, text in English, top tips/vie pratique, voyages | Leave a Comment
This autobiography of a career criminal is also a fascinating portrait of the American proletarian criminal class and their associates at the end of the 19th century, from hobos hopping trains and being beaten mercilessly by railroad “bulls” to Salt Chunk Mary, an incredible character and the best fence for stolen property in the West. Black pops in and out of jail while continuously improving his connections with a widespread and mutually-supportive underworld. When one is in trouble, friends all pitch in: a socialist model in stark contrast to the prevailing mentality in America.
In passing, he profits from his experiences to provide first-hand social criticism that was surely radical at the time, and still bears up.
I’ve read a number of books of this type; Edward Bunker’s “Education of a Felon” is an interesting comparison. During my reading, I was increasingly disturbed by a nagging doubt: was the book genuine? The lack of documented detail  and Candide-like structure were capped by the classic “exploitation” formula: a final chapter of the form “I hope my story will serve as a warning to stay away from the criminal life.”
Does this make me more of a skeptic (or less gullible) than William S. Burroughs, who cites the book as a key influence? Perhaps. But now we have the Internet. Some searching led me to on-line archives of the San Francisco Call, the newspaper run by Fremont Older, a progressive with faith in the inner goodness of Black who bargained him out of jail and set him on the good path.
I discovered something marvelous. The timidity of Black to set out the gory details of his criminal life did not affect the reporters who covered the police blotter for the SF Call.  Quite the opposite. Here are a few examples that make for entertaining reading, and that also removed any remaining doubts about the authenticity of Black and his adventures. I suppose we have to take into account the vast differences in society and what has become allowable in literature since 1926, but imagine if he had let loose with all the nasty details that even the reporters didn’t know! Whew! What a book that would have been.  (Links below.)
It was not long after Black landed at Ingleside [jail], five years ago, that he became a power within the walls. He set himself as the commercial king and sold the most sought after commodity — “dope.” It is known that when in his cell Black sold “shots” of morphine through the wicket to other prisoners at 10 cents for each hypodermic injection. He would insert the needle in the customer’s arm, inject the “shot” and collect his fee.
San Francisco Call, Volume 111, Number 36, 5 January 1912
Black was the wealthiest man in the county jail, not excepting the officials. He was known as the “king of the opium ring,” and made a small fortune in the sale of morphine and cocaine to the other prisoners who desired the drugs. It is known that several days before his departure he had $2,700 of his own money strapped about his waist in a money belt. Two weeks ago he told a grand Juror who was inquiring into conditions in the jail that his “bank roll” amounted to $2,000. Among his other possessions he had diamonds, unset, solitaire, clustered, and watches and other jewelry. He was abundantly supplied with expensive clothes of the latest fashion.
San Francisco Call, Volume 111, Number 36, 5 January 1912
When the officers attempted to place the suspect under arrest Black drew a revolver. Before he could make use of the weapon, however, the detectives closed in on him. A desperate struggle ensued, and Black was not subdued until beaten almost into insensibility.
San Francisco Call, Volume 95, Number 138, 16 April 1904
A remarkable detail is the prevalence of opium sales and consumption by Chinese people, who seem to have their own separate underground society. In one scene, Black is in an unfamiliar town and needs a hit of “hop” (opium) . He simply looks for a Chinese laundry, in the way that someone today might look for a McDonalds, knowing in advance what is on the menu.
Another recurring theme is corruption in the criminal justice system, and the book finishes with an appeal for its reform. Black repeatedly buys himself out of situations in the most matter-of-fact way. At least today these practices are more concealed.
Overall, an interesting read in spite of my regrets over what this book could have been. Thanks to my friend Phil for recommending it, and to my old neighbors AK Press in SF and Amok in LA for putting it out.
 For example, when he steals a (fake) ruby, he says “strangely, it never made the papers.”
 The book’s excellent Afterword, written by Bruno Ruhland, lifts a phrase from an article without crediting it, while nevertheless citing the wrong date (1906). “Black, in 1904, caused a reign of terror in the Mission district during the course of a number of daring robberies and holdups.” (cf. SF Call 24 December 1912)
 Now I know where the fifties (?) term hop-head came from!
 The catastrophically bad Veridian OCR software for on-line newspapers apparently does not perform even the most elementary heuristic cleanup on the scans, leaving things like numbers and capital letters in the middle of words. It relies on “crowd sourcing” (cf. Wikipedia): the kindness of strangers to come in and fix up the lousy scans. As a public service, I located as many articles as I could about Jack Black and manually corrected them. Example:
A. Kriox, ;a /Valencia Street Gf roceiy ; Identifies ;. Him as ;tlie:Man^hat Held Him Up
-> A. Knox, a Valencia Street Grocer, Identifies Him as the Man That Held Him Up
Filed under: american, culture, literature, text in English | 3 Comments
Certain friends of mine with otherwise acceptable taste get excited about Jon Spencer and his so-called Blues Explosion. I don’t. In fact, his music really annoys me.
And Jon is not the only musician that bugs me in this special way.
Spencer has this problem in relation to blues and roots music.
Henry Rollins has this problem in relation to punk music. He was the death of Black Flag.
Brian Setzer has this problem in relation to rockabilly music.
This defect is particularly galling in the case of the artists discussed here because, nonetheless, each one has attained great popularity, respect and renown playing a style of music that I revere. Their public images imply a mastery of their style and feed a vicious cycle that legitimizes them to consumers, even to the point of their becoming icons. Yet they only have a superficial understanding of their style of music, without comprehending the core, the dirt, the truth behind it. They exploit a style of music without truly “digging” it. For me, their work has a pretentious, annoyingly false aspect. It has proved impossible for them to become as good, or as cool, as those they imitate. They come off as humorless and stiff; they sample, but it’s copy-paste.
A shining counterexample is Lux Interior. He had a perfect grasp of rockabilly music and American culture, right down to its dirty core, and was able to cover, write and play songs in his own style that remain true to the spirit of their roots and ring true.
How can I justify my iconoclasm? A gut feeling, backed up by a lifetime of listening to music. It’s like pies, I can tell if somebody really knows how to make one, or if they are just following Martha Stewart’s recipe.
So what’s the word? [“Thunderbird!“]
“Dilettante” is not bad, but emphasizes a lack of seriousness. This is not precisely the problem. These fellows have made a career out of knowing their style; they simply have not succeeded in penetrating it properly.
“Poseur” is not bad, but emphasizes that the pose is struck to impress others. That is indeed the case with these three, but is not the focus of this diatribe.
“Phony” or “sham” is not bad, but does not specify why their music is not true to its origins.
Filed under: american, arts, culture, music, philosophy/philosophizing, pop culture, text in English | 4 Comments
Sorting through endless boxes of crap after the third move in 4 years, I decided it was time to trash the many hundreds of audio cassettes I had been dragging around for 2 decades. A friend told me: “If you haven’t seen it in a year, you don’t need it.” I don’t think I had listened to a cassette since 1999. It was just dead weight.
Starting in the 70s, I had taped all my favorite albums and made many dozens of compilation tapes with favorite punk and 60s music. I would listen to them at home, in the car or on band tour in the van. There was also a bunch of tapes I’d saved with radio shows I’d hosted.
But let me tell a little story.
I grew up in suburban New Jersey in the 1960’s. It turned out to be a great time to be born, but a lousy location. My favorite toy was my battery-powered transistor radio. I listened to the Top 40 AM radio stations in New York and Philadelphia. My earliest memory is listening to the Supremes on a car radio. Another great memory is me and my friends singing along with Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” on the jukebox in our school cafeteria in 1972.
Check out the audio on this page, in particular 1964-1968. This is exactly what I listened to constantly on WABC, 770 AM, New York. Since these links are “airchecks”, they do not contain the full length of each song: they are edited to mainly show what the DJs used to say, introducing the songs, talking over the beginning and end of songs, doing hokey commercials, being stupid, taking phone calls on the air, etc. I thought they were so cool! Maybe one day I could be a DJ.
I recommend that you listen to this one because it is not edited like the others, many songs are full-length. It’s a show from 1967, with DJ “Cousin Brucie”. According to the site, it was also broadcast to American soldiers in Viet Nam, and pointedly includes Victor Lundberg’s “An Open Letter to My Teenage Son”.
Top 40 was literally (after taking bribery and manipulation into account) a list of the top-selling 40 singles for the week, in the country or in a particular market. They would be broadcast all day and night on these stations. But that was not a problem: in the 60s, it was all incredibly great. In my neighborhood chain store, they had 40 wooden bins for the 40 hit 45s, arranged in order. I would save my allowance money and buy my favorites.
In the 70s, pop music changed for the worse. And simultaneously, I started to become aware that I did not need to listen to the crap that was being fed to me on commercial radio, as I had done happily for years. I was looking for something else, but didn’t really find it. I started listening to electric blues (John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Lowell Fulsom…), in particular on the University of Pennsylvania college radio station in Philadelphia, WXPN. I dug the first George Thorogood album too. When he played in Philadelphia, I made it in the door of the club by wearing a big hat and a heavy coat with a collar that went up to my nose, since I was way under age. There was a teeny punk scene in Philadelphia at that time, but I was unaware of it.
I left suburban New Jersey for Boston in September 1978 to attend MIT. Soon after arriving, hanging out in my dormitory, and with my habit of listening to WXPN, I decided to see what the college radio station of my own school was playing. It changed my life.
WTBS (soon to sell that name to Ted Turner for $50,000 and be renamed WMBR) was (arguably) the best college radio station in town, and maybe in the US. It was a crossroads for the burgeoning punk scene in Boston. Numerous punk shows featured all the latest records and tapes by local bands as well as national and international acts. Don’t forget that, at that time, these records were extremely difficult to obtain. Newbury Comics, a little comic book shop opened by an MIT dropout, had innovated by placing a cardboard box of punk 45s for sale next to the cash register. It soon turned into 2 boxes, and then more.
I listened constantly to WTBS, as well as the other college stations in Boston. I started going out to shows, motivated by the “concert report” on the radio. Blaine, my neighbor in the dorms, taught me to play guitar (in 5 minutes). I practiced along with the first Ramones album for a few weeks (top tip: turn the “balance” knob to cut out the original guitar or bass), and then started a band. I began DJing at WMBR about a year later. Newcomers had to start on the 7am shift playing 60s music (Top 40 as well as garage, although I snuck in some other stuff). The show was called Sleepwalk, and it was the first show of the broadcast day: we turned on the transmitter. The Pebbles series had recently started appearing, sparking renewed interest on the part of punks for our garage predecessors. Nuggets was still available for cheap in cut-out bins. The Lyres, who played their first show in January 1979, were one of the first current-day bands to get into this style.
MIT students were few and far between at the station (most DJs were community members with much more musical and radio experience than the students; also, the average MIT student did not care about music or any other cultural or social notion), but it was station policy to favor students by putting them in positions of responsibility. This enabled me to make a rapid climb up the station hierarchy and after a while I was Program Director, in charge of choosing what shows went on the air. My friend Mick was Station Manager. As reckless youth will do, I threw numerous “boring” shows off the air and put on a wide variety of additional punk shows in their place, as well as 60s shows, an anarchist political show, etc.
The best and most legendary punk show on WMBR was (and remains today) the Late Risers Club. It’s the show I heard when I first arrived at MIT. I was never a permanent DJ on that show, although I did a couple of fill-ins. I founded my own weekly show called No Fun, with my friend Don, based on the concept of only playing “old-school punk”: records from before 1980 (including 60s garage punk). This concept was ahead of its time, as it was only 1982! I also filled in on Media Blitz, which featured California bands, and Who Are the Mystery Girls, which normally featured Sheena and Spencer, two charming and unpredictable hostesses who could play or do anything. We took over the venerable Night Owl show and turned it into an all-request punk program.
College radio stations and shows like this were instrumental in the rise of punk music in the US in those pre-Internet days, keeping people informed about new music, local bands, upcoming concerts, etc. I was proud of that, and still am. DJs would compete with each other to stay on top of the latest music by reading zines, and would order records by mail from far-flung labels and bands to play on the air. (The dearth of college radio in France was surely an impediment to the rise of punk in that country.) When I moved to San Francisco, I formed Disorder Records, a not-for-profit mail-order business which lasted a few years. With the help of Frank, Kenny, Max and some other friends, we drank beer every week in my living room and sent great records to people from Nebraska to Singapore who had no other way to obtain them. (Customers: if I still owe you money, let me know.)
While making my own mail-order purchases in the 80s to get records I was passionate about, I would not have believed that one day you would be able to listen to any song you wanted instantly and for free by clicking a button, record stores would be closing, and yet the Misfits records I was getting for $3 would sell for hundreds of dollars on EBay. While playing “Whole Wide World” on WMBR in 1981, I would not have believed that 30 years later I would “Friend” Wreckless Eric on Facebook (and be accepted, yay!)
A little anecdote… One of the jazz hosts I threw off the air at WMBR was Melanie Berzon. She went on to a long and successful career on other public radio stations. Years later, after moving to San Francisco, I participated in the Maximum Rock n Roll radio show on KPFA in Berkeley and did many shows along with Tim and the Gang. However, Maximum Rock n Roll was eventually thrown off the air by the KPFA Program Director…Melanie Berzon. Years later, I was at the dentist in San Francisco. He gave me some headphones to listen to music, to make my visit more pleasant. It was tuned to KCSM, a jazz station in San Mateo. Melanie Berzon was doing a show and it was time for the pledge drive, so when the dentist finished, I borrowed his phone and called in a pledge. I wonder if she recognized my name.
After almost five years at MIT, I managed to graduate despite myself and moved to San Francisco in 1983. I started volunteering at KALX, a community radio station in Berkeley. I met a lot of good friends there, including Dr. Frank, already legendary for his brilliant radio show, and soon to start the Mr. T Experience. I worked my way up the ladder at KALX as well, and did about 10 years of shows before retiring. The KALX format included the requirement to play current music (as you can see, hardcore was in the air) and a variety of styles. It’s remarkable to see the quantity and variety of great new stuff that was coming out in the mid 80’s. Frankly, when was the last time the likes of the Dead Kennedys (1981) or Minutemen (1985) were seen in the “new record bin”?
A peculiar aspect of the KALX shows is that radio station policy required DJs to play a certain proportion of “current black music”. I don’t want to reopen that can of worms, but while I genuinely liked the songs I played in this context, they don’t always fit with the rest of the program. They have been removed for your listening pleasure.
So back to the cassettes. Before throwing them out, I copied some to the computer. Here they are:
listen to KALX archives 1985-1987
listen to WMBR archives 1980-1982
There are also some recordings of other peoples’ shows.
I apologize in advance for my lousy attempts at humor, my stilted mic breaks, my bad engineering, etc. On the WMBR shows in particular, I talk too much, a direct repercussion of being weaned on WABC. The 1985 Punk Awards can be best understood as my version of the 1967 WABC Top 100 with Dan Ingram (listen). As time went on, I learned to shut up and play the music. Hope you enjoy these shows despite everything.
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(aka Rock ‘n’ Roll Meeting Place/Stay Free/Fifi’s Bar)
Photos updated August 2016.
Go to the Shimo-kitazawa station.
(You may need to change trains/lines. Just keep asking people.)
(The fares are complicated. If you don’t understand them, just buy a cheap ticket; you can pay the difference when you exit.)
Go to the South exit of the station.
At the bottom of the exit stairs, turn left and go through the tunnel. Keep walking straight after the tunnel.
At the supermarket, turn right.
At the second corner, turn left.
There is a Chinese restaurant on the ground floor.
Go up the exterior staircase to the 4th floor.
Now have a drink. The walk takes about 4 minutes total, starting from the station. The bar is open most nights starting at about 8pm (20h) and closes when everyone leaves.
Filed under: alcohol, culture, text in English, top tips/vie pratique, voyages | 2 Comments