I’ve started converting some of my old VHS tapes to DVD, which means I’m running across stuff I haven’t seen since I recorded it years ago.
So far, I’ve run across several episodes of Chico and The Man, The Two Ronnies, Monty Python, lots of SCTV, and a bunch of random stuff that I taped once cable TV came to Mt. Prospect.
In some cases, I’m not exactly sure why I recorded them, so I wrote it off to the fact that I was just playing with a new toy.
(Unfortunately, I did not save any episodes of “Morrie’s Markdown Mart,” a weekly half-hour infomercial on the long-gone Modern Satellite Network, featuring products from the also-long-gone C.O.M.B. closeout distributors. The crown jewel of their product line was the Commodore SX-64, billed as “the portable version of the most popular personal computer in the world!!”)
I also ran across some great MTV clips, including XTC’s Andy Partridge hosting “Post-Modern” in 1989, and XTC’s appearance on Late Night With David Letterman that same week.
The final episodes of Cheers, Newhart, and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson also made it to tape. What makes some of these recordings interesting are the commercials that are still intact.
Chicago radio host Steve Dahl makes a few appearances here, with his Greetings From Graceland, An Extremely Low Budget Show, It’s Too Early, and a couple episodes of his cable-access Steve Dahl Show, the highlight of which was Garry Meier riding a Chia Pet through the magic of Chroma-Key.
As I discover more things I find interesting, I’ll mention them here, perhaps with vidcaps.
Not only is this an opportunity to archive the stuff I want to keep, but it’s also creating a nice stack of videos which may find their way to eBay as I weed out my collection.
One item that will certainly be for sale soon is the complete 13-part series Hollywood: A Celebration of The American Silent Film by David Gill and Kenneth Brownlow. This is a must-have for anyone who’s interested in the history of silent movies, and features hours of clips and interviews with the people who were there.
We watched Sunset Boulevard the other night on TCM, and thanks to the Hollywood series we were able to catch all the “inside” movie references (such as DeMille calling Norma Desmond “young fellow,” which is what the real-life DeMille called Gloria Swanson when he directed her in the silent days).
Watch for my stuff on eBay and elsewhere. Commercial over.
One of my hopes is to digitize some of the material that I’ve converted and post it here. A couple people have written asking for copies of my Nite-Owl tape, and perhaps I’ll get a few minutes ripped down for your viewing.
Now, all I need is the time to get through all this tape…

Years before The Beatles released their Anthology, the best movie about the band’s history was a 1984 movie called The Compleat Beatles. This was the first truly comprehensive documentary on the band, covering their earliest days all the way through their breakup.
There’s the archival footage we’ve all seen before, but the people who made this movie also found a lot of stuff that, at least in 1984, was rarely if ever seen. One real achievement was their combining the old silent Cavern Club film with the scratchy audio track of the song “Some Other Guy” to create one of the band’s first video-and-sound performances. There are lots of interviews with producer George Martin and some of the folks who were there with The Beatles during their lifetime, which offers a nice perspective on what these guys were up to (and against). There are clips of the group’s first concerts in Washington and elsewhere, as well as black-and-white film of the Our World performance of “All You Need is Love,” which hadn’t been widely seen in the US. Notably missing, though, are their performances on The Ed Sullivan show (although Ed’s introduction is included from a kinescope), Shea Stadium, The Hollywood Bowl, and other important appearances.
There are also interviews with Allan Williams, the band’s first manager, and Tony Sheridan, with whom the group recorded a rockin’ version of “My Bonnie.” We also get a little too much of Gerry Marsden (of Brian Epstein’s other Merseybeat band, Gerry and The Pacemakers), who shares his views on what happened back in the early days.
The movie was released at a time when Beatles fans had grown weary of waiting for the long-rumored The Long and Winding Road, a movie the band was supposedly assembling themselves to tell their own story. Compleat filled the gap very nicely for the next decade.

The Compleat Beatles
was rendered obsolete by the release of Anthology, the latter being far more expansive with better footage, a lot more detail, and of course interviews with and the endorsement of The Beatles themselves. What makes Compleat really nice, though, is that it tells the story in the space of about 90 minutes. If you don’t have 10 hours to watch the entire Anthology, this is an excellent way to get the story in a much more compact form.
My reason for writing this mini-review comes from the fact that Lisa and I started watching The Rutles last night, and we realized there were a lot of inside Beatles jokes that she wasn’t picking up. So it was my opportunity to present an educational experience to her. :-)
Coming up: a review of The Rutles. Tonight: Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard at The Auditorium.

Thanks to Gizmodo for these links:
Here’s a link to a site that celebrates cool, Japanese-designed gadgets from the 70s and 80s. I even owned a couple of these things.
In the early 1960s, some French guys invented a machine called a Scopitone, which was a sort of video jukebox. Follow the link to see some of the films that were made for the Scopitone (the “Whiter Shade of Pale” film is great in an acid-induced-60s kind of way) and more about the machine itself.
Finally, I swear I thought this was a joke at first, but our bestest buddy Steve found a new way to make money off the iPod juggernaut: iPod Socks.

Oct 222004

Following up on my Keyfax post of a few weeks ago, I found this page by David E. Carlson which discusses Keycom and Keyfax.
His Online Timeline is pretty interesting, too.

I saw on the ‘net today that the BBC’s CeeFax videotext service is turning 30 years old today. Unless you’ve spent time in the UK (or Europe, where the television broadcasters there have similar services), you probably aren’t familiar with CeeFax or videotext services.
In the days before the internet, there was a lot of talk about being able to get news, weather, sports, movie times, etc. through your TV. In the early 1970s, some British engineers discovered they could put pages of text on part of a station’s TV signal which could be decoded at the user’s end with the use of a special decoder box. This service would not be seen by people who didn’t have the box, nor would it interfere with any of the station’s regular programming.
Videotext services offer the user lots of information, presented in text and very rudimentary graphics (think Commodore 64), which could come in quite handy if there’s no internet-connected computer nearby. I’ve used the videotext services on the German, Swiss, and Dutch TV networks while traveling in those countries, primarily for weather information (a picture of a cloud with raindrops coming out of it is universal).
Field Communications, the company that owned WFLD-TV Channel 32 here in Chicago, started a subscription-based videotext service in mid-1981 called Keyfax, where you could rent the decoder box and have all the services I described above. The company they set up to provide this service was called Keycom Electronic Publishing.
To get people interested in Keyfax, Channel 32 used to run the service “in the clear” from midnight to 6:00 am, meaning that you could watch the service (but not choose the pages that would be displayed) on your TV without being a subscriber. They called this program “Nite-Owl,” and from what I read at the time it was very popular with insomniacs, third-shift people, and late-nighters who were just coming in.
Nite-Owl ran in 20-minute “orbits” of programming, with 20 minutes of news, sports, and weather, followed by 20 minutes of “leisure,” then back for 20 more minutes of news. The video would refresh and give a new picture every 40 seconds or so, and the audio portion was a music bed of soft-rock.
It was actually pretty cool, having a service on your TV that would run a constant rotating stream of news, weather, business, and sports. In between the “main” segments, they would run trivia quizzes and contests, and they had a “Bulls-Eye Club” that you could join. They even had a “Viewer Mail” segment.
Keyfax was shut down in early 1983. Field Communications was being dismantled, and they sold their TV stations to Metromedia. These were the days when there were over-the-air pay TV services in Chicago, each of which required its own box to be attached to your set. And on top of all this, cable television was finally arriving in Chicago and the suburbs. Put all of this together, and the consumer was faced with many options as to how their TV dollars could be spent. There just wasn’t enough interest to keep Keyfax going.
So, what began as a fairly powerful service on one part of the globe is barely a footnote here. It was pretty cool, though.

25 years ago today, the old Comiskey Park saw its biggest crowd in a long time when Disco Demolition took place in between games at a Sox-Tigers doubleheader.
Anti-disco music sentiment had been building for a while, and Chicago DJ Steve Dahl built an army of anti-Disco followers (The Insane Coho Lips) who enjoyed listening to him “blow up” disco records on his morning show. As teenagers, some of us were looking for a cause, and this was the closest thing we could find.
The whole event wasn’t supposed to be a big deal: we’d watch the Sox most likely lose the first game, then we’d have the mid-game show where Dahl came out to blow up the disco records people brought into the park as part of their admission. I was there, along with my friend Craig and his girlfriend Tracy, wearing our Loop shirts.
Rather than retell the story, click on the link above or here for the story.
I have to say that it was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever experienced: a bonfire in center field, burnout kids playing “running bases” between second and third, and a couple making out on home plate with the crowd cheering them on. And on the scoreboard above everything were the words “Please return to your seats.”
Something to tell the grandkids at some point, maybe.

A couple weeks ago, I was listening to Bow Wow Wow’s “C30 C60 C90 Go” and realized how appropriate the song is today, 20-some years after its release.
It’s a tribute to portable cassette players and the beauty of being able to record what you want and carry it with you. The song also promotes the element of being a modern-day pirate.
(The lyrics are on the next page. I couldn’t find them anywhere on the internet, so I transcribed them from listening to it. Now the lyrics are on the internet. :-)
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the recording industry was whining about how home taping is killing the music business. Their position was that taping a song off the radio or from your friends’ collections meant one less record sold. In fact, if you run across a major-label UK LP from that era, you’ll likely see a little logo in the corner showing a cassette with crossbones underneath and the words “Home Taping is Killing Music.” This led to a tax being levied on all blank tapes sold in the UK (and maybe in the US, too– my memory is hazy on this).
Malcolm McLaren (BWW’s manager) wrote this song in an attempt to get people to tape more: Be Pirates! Bow Wow Wow’s label, EMI, wasn’t even aware that this song promoted home taping until someone in the British Phonographic Industry (equivalent to our beloved RIAA) brought it to the attention of corporate executives.
What’s interesting is that we’ve been in the same spot for the past few years with digital music players. If you subsititute “the internet” for “radio” and “iPod” for “cassette” in the lyrics the song suddenly becomes topical. Now the record companies are busting kids for downloading and offering their libraries through KaZaa and similar peer-to-peers.
I’m not advocating piracy on any level. I believe that people should be paid for what they do, whether it’s recording an album or brewing a grande soy mocha (don’t get me started on tip jars). And usually, when I want to share music with a friend, I will actually buy the CD and give it to them.
My position is that the business model the recording companies have operated under since the industry’s beginning (two centuries ago– well, in the late 1800s) has long since become obsolete. It used to be you’d stick a cylinder or shellac disc on your windup record player so you could hear songs and words from important and/or popular performers of the day. Unless he came to your town, you had no other way of hearing Caruso.
When radio appeared in the 1920s, all sorts of tumult came about because the artists now had another way of getting their work out there. Record companies started failing, and the only way the big ones survived were by being bought out by the companies now established in broadcasting (e.g. RCA, owner of NBC, bought Victor and the Columbia Broadcasting System bought the similarly-named but totally separate Columbia Phonograph Company).
Things were relatively calm until the 1970s when quality home taping equipment suddenly became affordable. The whining which McLaren took as opportunity started.
Fast forward to the late 1990s and you’ll find Napster, KaZaa, WinMX, LimeWire, etc. etc. Guess whose collective undies are in a bunch again?
It would seem to me that if I were fighting the same battles every 20-30 years I would look at a different way of doing business.
Enter iTunes and the legal Napster.
According to the Wall Street Journal, iTunes has sold over 70 million downloads since its inception. The jury is out as to whether the venture has been successful, but the general sentiment is that financially it hasn’t. From my experience as a consumer, 99 cents a song isn’t so bad. I have to say, though, that for every 5 times I go to iTunes or Napster to download a song, 3 of those attempts are unsuccesful because they don’t have the song I’m looking for. I usually get the dreaded “partial album” response or no listing for the artist at all.
I like CDs. I like having something tangible with artwork, liner notes, and lyrics that I can put on my table when it’s playing and then on my shelf. I may rip the songs to my PC and load them on my iPod, but I like having a complete package that the artist presents as their work. That’s something you don’t get with a directory full of MP3s. Going all-digital is not the answer.
What should the industry do? I dunno. Hire me, pay me a few million dollars a year, and I’m sure I’ll come up with something that’s better than what’s already there.

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As I mentioned in Sunday’s blog entry, the soundtrack in my head covered a lot of territory while I was riding my bike through the woods.
At one point, I thought of XTC’s brilliant Skylarking, because that album was practically glued inside my Walkman during the summer of 1987. It is, as the band’s Andy Partridge described it, “a summer’s day cooked into one cake.”
Then my thoughts turned to the perfect counterpart to Skylarking: Shriekback’s Big Night Music. If Skylarking is a summer’s day, Big Night Music is the space between dusk and dawn, when all the creatures who have been asleep during the day come out to play. And haunt.
Interesting factoids: (1) both albums were released around the same time; and (2) one of the key players in Shriekback is Barry Andrews, who was XTC’s keyboard player from 1977 to 1979. (1) is probably a coincidence, but when you hear the two albums together you can definitely hear the thematic complements.
The liner notes from the band on the album read as follows:

Big Night Music – songs to sing in your sleep. Shriekback celebrate the blessed dark the place where they were always most at home… Big Night Music is the shape and rhythm of two different kinds of nights: nights of heat and weirdness in which we alone are awake, humming with forbidden energy, nights into which we would not send our dogs wild sea and wet forest and eyes and teeth or those other nights fragrant with blossom, incandescent with moonlight and dreams, possessed by a cool beauty which evaporates with the dew.
It is, perhaps, worth mentioning that Big Night Music is entirely free of drum machines, sequencers, Fairlight Page R’s – digital heartbeats of every kind. Seductive though they are, Shriekback have opted to make a different kind of music – one which exalts human frailty and the harmonious mess of nature over the simplistic reductions of our crude computers.
We Shrieks are well pleased with our record, (this side of smugness and occasionally the other) and we obviously hope you will buy it voraciously. But we also want to leave you with an intimation that the universe, all its horrors notwithstanding, is strange and marvellous; that love is the law and the drug and the pull and the push of all we do; that the pursuit of beauty is useful, honourable and healing; and that our actions in this time, in choosing forgiveness over vendetta, brilliance over mediocrity, the clean difficult way over the dubious easy option, will determine whether or not we will realise the wealth of possibilities implicit in our existence.
As for Shriekback, we have a suspicion that it’s all going to be fine, just fine. With this in mind, here is Shriekback’s fifth album – Big Night Music – and it’s as good as we could make it. Now it’s all yours…

Awesome. Not only are these the most accurate liner notes I’ve ever read, but probably among the most inspiring.
On to the music:
The album opens with a blast of horns and rhythms in the song “Black Light Trap”. The lyrics are a stream-of-consciousness that reminds me of one of those dreams where everything happens so fast that you just go along for the ride, watching the images fly past.
From there, we’re on to a less frenetic adventure with two guys who could be CIA operatives or just plain old hitmen. Or maybe neither of the above. “Gunning For The Buddha” also has the distinction of having the prettiest background vocals I’ve ever heard on a rock record.
“The Shining Path” and “The Reptiles and I” take us on moonlit walks through the jungle.
A little later, there’s the underwater dream sequence “Underwaterboys”, where all sorts of creatures and characters float through the song.
My favorite track on the album is “Exquisite.” I’m immediately placed on the sand under the trees, near the bay of some steamy tropical jungle, in the relaxed pursuit of complete pleasure. The guitars, pianos, chimes, and percussion all flow together in a perfectly smooth mix of leisure and urgency. (This is a dangerous one to listen to while you’re commuting to work. :-)
The album closes off with the very pretty lullaby “Cradle Song” which tells you that in spite of all the monsters and other critters who’ve invaded your dreams for the previous 40 minutes, everything is okay.
The CD has been out of print for a while, but there are copies to be found on ebay. It’s definitely worth seeking out.

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I used to have a weekly radio show on WHCM, the radio station at Harper College. Thursday afternoons from 5:00-7:00 pm was my gig, often going until 9:00 ’cause the guy who followed me didn’t always show up.
When I joined in the fall of 1979, the station had a fairly loose format. The air staff could play just about anything they wanted, provided nobody listening (esp. faculty advisers) complained about it, and it fit within the guidelines of what was supposed to be played during your shift.
The guy before me played a lot of progressive rock– he was heavy on the Pink Floyd, Rush, Genesis, and yes, Kraftwerk.
My shift included the dinner hour, so I was supposed to play “softer” material, as if hearing Yes’ “Heart of the Sunrise” would cause indigestion to those listening in (who were mostly on-campus anyway, eating the school’s food that, frankly, didn’t need any help from Messrs. Anderson, et al in that department).
The challenge was to figure out what to play on the air that wouldn’t sound, well, wussy. I was listening to a lot of different stuff at the time: progressive rock, SoCal country rock, Steely Dan, Beatles, Stones… and remember that this was 1979, so there was all this new stuff on my turntable like The Clash, The Ramones, Blondie, OMD, Siouxsie, and Elvis Costello. How would I pull this off?
One method was to carry notes with me, and when I thought of a song that might fit into the format I’d write it down and stick the little piece of paper back in my wallet. I ran across a bunch of these little scraps of paper, and I figured I’d share them here.
This particular note, from what I can figure, dates from around the fall of 1981 when faculty came down on the air staff for playing “material that’s too wild for our audience.” They took on the philosophy (and slogan) that we were there to provide “Something For Everyone” so we really had to tone it down.
Here’s one side of the note, and here’s the other. I deciphered my handwriting and offered some explanations on the next page.
One of these days I’ll pull the playlists off one of the tapes of one of my shows.

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I was looking for something in my files and I ran across a whole bunch of other stuff that I think would be interesting to share. I decided to create a new category for this material called, “Dude, I Forgot About That!”
I will admit right here that this category is only a thin veneer for something other people might call “nostalgia,” but this stuff is too cool and too recent (relatively speaking) to fall under the “n” word. Plus, let’s face it: I don’t want to admit to being that old.
Glenn Miller is “nostalgia.” The Primitives are “Dude, I Forgot About That!”
The Primitives were a band from Coventry, England, that flashed across college and alternative radio stations in the late 1980s with a brand of jangly guitar-based pop that sounded like a cross between Blondie, The Ramones, and The Buzzcocks, with a dose of Beatles thrown in. Their trademark was a lot of ear-splitting buzzing guitars, a lot of drum bangin’, and really cool chick vocals on top– all smashed into 3-minute-and-under mini masterpieces.
The band at its peak consisted of Paul Court (guitar), Steve Dullaghan (bass), Tig Williams (drums), and a bleached-blonde lead vocalist named Tracy Tracy.
They released a couple of singles and EPs on their own before being signed to RCA in 1987. The album Lovely came out in 1988, and their first major hit, which you couldn’t get away from between late 1988 and early 1989, was called “Crash.” (This is the cover from their Japanese 3″ CD single. Maybe 3″ CDs would be an interesting topic for another “Dude..” entry.)
Now here’s a cool thing about the Internet. Go to this site, choose “Interact” and then go to MP3. Many of the band’s songs are right there, full versions, free for downloading. My suggestions are “Crash” (the Lovely version), “Dreamwalk Baby,” and “Stop Killing Me,” a really cool breakup song that carries the distinction of proving to me that you can blow out a set of headphones. Really nice ones, too.
Two of my favorite tracks, “Spacehead” and “Through The Flowers” are missing from the site, but they do appear on this collection. A recommended buy.
There was a remixed version of “Crash” on the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack, but whoever did it managed to pull any soul out of it, giving it a bad mid-1990s feel. Avoid that one.
The Primitives toured the world through 1991, including a double-bill with The Sugarcubes that I missed here in Chicago in March of ’90. (A lady I worked with saw the show and gushed about it for months. She did bring me a cool Sugarcubes pin, though.) They released a couple more albums, but by the early 1990s they were pretty much done with their mission.
It was sort of neat to start the 1980s with The Pretenders and Blondie and end the decade with The Primitives.
p.s. The reason I wrote this in the first place was because I ran across a press release from the band’s fan club, “Spacehead,” from 1989. They had some cool T-shirts for sale, too.
Lyrics for a couple of the songs are on the next page.

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