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Cassette (Re)collection: 5

Posted by NumberSix , 25 September 2009 · 381 views

Years before VCRs became all the rage, I assembled my own audiocassette library of episodes of The Muppet Show. My first episode was hosted by Gene Kelly, who spent the episode refusing everyone's requests to dance or sing "Singin' in the Rain". The running gag climaxes when Rowlf keeps foisting a piano intro on Gene, who keeps vamping his way into other songs instead.

Once again, from the Department of Lost Childhood Memories:


I captured a couple dozen episodes or more until the local ABC affiliate dropped the syndicated reruns. I would tape every episode I could even if I didn't recognize the host, which was nearly always. Offhand, the only one I recall recognizing was Florence Henderson. Some personalities I would come to recognize later in life, like Sandy Duncan, Buddy Rich, Peter Ustinov, and Bernadette Peters. Other names even more obscure, like Wally Boag and Chris Langham, meant nothing to me until I Googled them just tonight. They were irrelevant -- the show managed to be entertaining no matter whom they had to accommodate. (As opposed to SNL, which nowadays I might tune in once or twice a season if a host is high-caliber. These days, that's a gargantuan "if".)

Time to play the music and light the lights:

Jello Biafra: after the Dead Kennedys called it quits, frontman Jello Biafra found modest success in other forms of recording. Much like Henry Rollins does now between cut-rate acting gigs, Biafra performed spoken-word engagements across the country -- no singing, no musicians, just podium-based performances in which he expounded on -- allegedly -- the news THEY didn't want you to hear, what The MAN refused to print in HIS newspapers or air on HIS networks. Biafra regaled the audiences with buried anecdotes from the Reagan administration, the Iran/Contra affair, Vietnam, the War on Drugs, and his favorite target, the Parents Music Resource Center, which we must never ever ever ever ever forget was 100% Tipper Gore's fault.

I have four of his spoken-word albums, but they're all non-musical and therefore ineligible for this series. The most entertaining is without a doubt High Priest of Harmful Matter, a blow-by-blow recount of the obscenity trial that the band had to suffer because of the H. R. Giger painting that served as the original cover to their Frankenchrist album. (Suffice it to say it bore no resemblance to the Shriner parade photo slapped on all subsequent printings.) Biafra remains unrepentant all throughout, but the buffoonery of his ostensibly self-righteous opponents and the severe financial consequences that resulted for nearly all involved parties -- even though no one was ever convicted of anything -- is riveting no matter what your idea of community standards might be.

Meanwhile, Biafra kept his hand in the music business through side projects with other, established bands. I own three:

* Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors -- Paired with the hardcore band D.O.A., who had a more resounding rhythm section than the DKs' ever managed, but offer little in the way of memorable hooks...which, for a hardcore band, I'm sure was a low priority. Typical anti-government screeds like "Power is Boring" and "Attack of the Peacekeepers" are thudding pessimism, though a cover of the Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" is apropos and lively. Side two is a single continuous, self-descriptive track called "Full Metal Jackoff", practically a performance-art piece that dares you to listen to the whole thing and try to remember any of it afterward.

* Prairie Home Invasion -- Paired with the delightfully down-home hatefulness of Mojo Nixon and the Toadliquors, whose eponymous leader is easily the greatest subversive rawkin' hillbilly ever. Nixon's and Biafra's mindsets meld to deliver a unified iconoclastic set with a wicked sense of humorous outrage in catchy evil-square-dancing tunes like "Buy My Snake Oil" and the surprisingly scathing "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" that would make today's Starbucks hipster cry. Soulful alcoholics will appreciate Nixon's mournful crooning on "Are You Drinking with Me, Jesus?" while DKs fans may cringe to hear Biafra's shrill hoedown in "Atomic Power". This may be as near as we'll ever get to fusing punk and bluegrass with the ideology of Zack de la Rocha.

* The Last Temptation of Reid -- Paired with Al Jourgensen and mates from the formerly legendary industrial-rock group Ministry and recorded under the name Lard. Their first project was an EP called The Power of Lard whose title track was a war chant that pounded and railed against mindless passive consumerism, but whose other tracks were so disposable that I dubbed said title track onto another tape and ditched the EP itself. Reid, on the other hand, is very nearly a tour-de-force of jackhammer realpolitik, where catchy metal hooks surround metaphorical diatribes against covert operations, backdoor arms deals, the War on Drugs, and, in the Spanish-folk/speed-metal hybrid "Can God Fill Teeth?", other conspiracy paranoiacs themselves. When I was younger and felt safe playing this album around others, the showstopper was always their cover of Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away", which adds hallucinatory cuckoo-clock effects that lift Biafra to new heights of vocal lunacy. Just be sure to hit the Stop button before the leaden closer "I Am Your Clock" spends 20-odd minutes souring your experience.

[Next entry: imitation boogie-rock and one of my very few country albums.]

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