Thursday, September 22, 2005

Screwloose Saved From Drowning

Reading reviews of Criterion’s recent reissue of Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved From Drowning, in which a free spirited hobo is rescued by a well-meaning bookseller who allows him to become part of his bourgeois household, has reminded me of the times that I have similarly been rescued from obscurity and been allowed to sit at the grown-ups table.

One individual stands out, in fact, as someone who consistently allowed me to express my opinion and was willing to let the chips fall where they may, even when those chips tended to land in his lap a great deal of the time.

Paul Blick was the product of an illicit affair between pop music and the radio. The old Groucho joke about Margaret Dumont being “vaccinated with a phonograph needle” would apply here. Paul quite simply lived, breathed, and slept music. Without it, one suspected that there was no Paul: it provided his brain, his blood, his will-to-live. One rarely meets people who are so devoted and in love with their chosen medium that it consumes their lives. Paul’s medium was broadcasting but, unfortunately, he was far too smart and in love with what three minutes of music can do to ever be comfortable attempting to adapt his passion to the demands of commercial radio. Which is how I found him at the controls of a local community-based station that dutifully ground out the hits on the hour. Paul, however, had other ideas.

Frustrated by the demands of the medium and a board of directors that seemed to be happy enough with the status quo, Paul was chafing at the bit to make use of the station’s potential and frequently tried to introduce material that would improve and innovate the broadcast day. For some reason that I don’t fully comprehend to this day, from the day I walked into that station, located in the basement of the local police department HQ, Paul was enthusiastic about anything I proposed and seemed willing to give me the airtime necessary to try out whatever schemes I came up with and the continuing support to work out the kinks in programming that needed to be test driven a while. In plain words, he had faith in me, my judgment, and my ability to eventually develop something that could be idiosyncratic and new while managing to retain an audience.

It was the kind of faith in my abilities that I had rarely experienced before, or have since.

So if I wanted to spend three hours mixing retro new wave with avant-garde jazz, or play half-hour remixes of one song, or do strange on-air sketches that only made sense to the people performing them (and that may be a stretch), I had carte blanche to do so. Paul was happy to let me use the airwaves as my playground, even when the other jocks would make their displeasure known in no uncertain terms.

He worked overtime to try and make this dinky station sound as good and as relevant as any other commercial station, providing concert updates, hustling for sponsors, and spreading the word about it in every way he could think of. But no good deed goes unpunished and Paul received scant appreciation for his efforts, the results of which could be plainly heard on a daily basis. I suspect, however, that anything having to do with music was hardly work where Paul was concerned: it was a joy that he channeled into project after project.

As for me, I was having the time of my life, breaking the good china and wiping my hands on the good towels of the conservative airwaves I would take over weekly. I imagine it must have sounded like someone had suddenly changed the channel when I came on. I knew for a fact that bringing me on board had not endeared Paul to the board of directors, but he didn’t seem very worried about it.

I have sometimes worried that it was my presence there that brought about the revenge exacted by the right-wing faction of the station, who went about dismantling everything about it that was interesting, distinctive, or professional. Waiting until after a particularly successful fund-raiser, during which even my show delivered a decent amount of support, they voted in a thick new catalog of rules that didn’t seem to have any practical application to any other show but mine. Much of it, one of us discovered, seemed to be cribbed from Moral Majority literature. I was eventually fired after writing a letter of complaint to a local paper about their shenanigans and that was that. My days of leaving my fingerprints on the freshly painted walls and tracking mud through their MOR hallways were at an end.

Paul went on to write and edit a local music paper and, having not learned his lesson, invited me to write a column for it. It took me about three months, I think, to lose the paper its major advertiser. Paul defended my column to the paper’s publisher and I stayed on for a number of years.

It makes you wonder which one of us really had the screw loose.

You don’t find these people very often, the ones who’ll fish you out of the river and give you something warm to drink and a place to stay, regardless of the consequences to themselves. Treasure them when you do.

2 Comments:

Blogger Sngbrds7trumpets said...

Whoa. To say moved to the very core of my being (check the lost & found on the way out, DNA's a funny thing) would be a gross understatement.

So many emotions in such a condensed lot of verbage.

And we're all still
paying full-price.

Count Screwloose had never been much willing to play it safe, to work the least common denominator for he knew as he keenly displays well into the Fall of 2005 (a creepy but so far apt connotation) that those who know better are pretty much compelled beyond any distaff or errant disbelief and despite overwhelming odds to do better.

Sometimes there really is
but one choice.

While others would go on-air to optimistically entertain existing pals, CS hatched new realities almost just to amuse and tantalize who else might have sympatico for his vision.

How can you be mainstream
when you are the river?

Together with his Doc Martin'd real life female counterpart (the future Countess of Cool has forever completed him) they stemed if nothing else an ever expanding cultural and sonic landscape, an aesthetic of intellectualy based, and more often than not funny yet astrigent playlists replete with homemade bits and skits that were second to none.

How can you top a customized, hip hop Station ID when returning from your first honeymoon?

Their pusuit might be likened to the collision of a pair of extremely well read NY hipsters and what would suffice as a sweeping undercurrent of a multiplicity of otherwise college bound, laregely new music styles.

Jazz/Funk/Punk, yeah,
it was all in there.

In it's own caustic, lighthearted way, little else made much sense.

Reference points might include George Burns & Gracie Allen to Steve Allen, Woody Allen, Alan Funt
Jean Shepherd, Mike Nichols & Elaine May, Henry Rollins, David Cross, Sarah Vowel and Lewis Black.

Pointed and scathing sarcasm abounded reaching ever so wisely above the heads of most mere mortals.

And all in a sweet way that would belie and satisfy some sense of palpable worldly discontent.

Unhappy campers when they put their hearts, souls and record collections to it can be way more interesting than the given alternative.

While it's no less true that it took almost as much determination to keep up with them as to understand them, it was undeniable that this natural resource was a refreshing oasis in a bit torrent of broadcast shortcomings.

Let it be said that for my part, and believe me it was actually very small, there had never been a nanosecond of regret. Not one.

Somewhat of a mutual admiration society...

Either NPR, the BBC, spontaneous combustion or the next available medium could be their only suitable next outlet.

Repeat after me; Blogs are good, Podcasts with streaming audio are better. Give us the MP3's, dude!

Perhaps of all 13 or so of Robert Johnson's documented recordings perhaps 'Phonograph Blues' said it best:

My baby, she got a phonograph,
but it won't say a lonesome word.
My baby, she got a phonograph,
but it won't say a lonesome word.
What evil have I done?
What evil has that poor girl heard?

Well, I love my phonograph, but you have broke' my windin' chain.
I love my phonograph, but you have broke my windin' chain.
And taken my lovin' and given it to your other man.

We played it on the sofa, child. We played it 'side the wall.
But my needle has got rusty and it will not play it all.
We played it on the sofa, child. We played it 'side the wall.
But my needle has got rusty
and it will not play it all.

And I'll go crazy.
I believe I'll lose my mind.
I'll go crazy.
I believe I'll lose my mind.
Why don't you
bring your love back home
and try your daddy one more time?

Reprise.

Edgar Cayce explained from trance that we reincarnate in groups.

Therefore even if I never saw 'em coming I had no other choice, my own self.

The affinity for purpose, the vitality of a vision and the trenchant drive to actually pull off a 'Rebelious Jukebox' or 'Notes From A Cranky Turntable' in such circumstances were more than enough to hold my attention.

Some of my friends have died, died.

Some physically, others in other ways, yet as we can all be certain, should we stick around long enough.

Through more than a few decades and miles of smiles Mr. Blick is indeed honored for the opportunity to have facilitated in any small way.

Even in Saul Blick's current & on-going largely self made shelter from the storm he embraces the on-going kinship that made it all possible.

Now if C.L. will only "Open The Door Richard" to that www.PhillyEDGE.com.

Film and/or book reviews, maybe even politics could be pitched.

Don't sweat the new CD releases, Blick's gotta have something to do.

C'mon baby, I know you want to!

Do it for Maynard G. Krebs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 12:29:00 AM  
Blogger Count Screwloose said...

I don't know what to say. I'm really speechless. Those are probably the nicest things anyone's ever said about me.

So many kind words put together so eloquently. Not sure I deserve them but I thank you, sir. Keep in mind, though, that it's one thing to want to do something, quite another to find someone who's willing to take a chance on you. It's all meaningless without that.

Like the song says, I had the time of my life and I never felt that way before.

And no fair breaking out the Krebs man - he was my hero. But then, so was the "dud" in the Mystery Date game.

If you're that eager to get fired, maybe I can come up with a review for you. Have they done anything on Herman's Hermits yet?

And I can't offer any mp3's, but try this on for size:

http://www.georgeformby.co.uk/audio/baby_show.ram

All the best,

Robert.

Thursday, September 29, 2005 11:38:00 PM  

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