“or” by Eyelids is an Assured Follow Up

The second album by Portland band Eyelids, “or” (produced by Peter Buck) arrives this week with no hint of a sophomore slump, following 2014’s “854”.

The new album consists of all the elements that made “854” great: intricate guitar arrangements, a solid rhythm section and a blend of harmonies that would make any soft psych sixties band jealous. On “or”, Eyelids has found a way to improve or advance their strengths, resulting in an album that feels like a natural organic growth for the band.

“or” starts with a bang, with a re-recorded version of a single they released earlier this year, “Slow It Goes”, their three guitar line up seemingly well positioned with two of them in either speaker, and a third charging right down the middle of the song. On this, and every track of the album the playing benefits from the band’s busy live show schedule. The band is tight, hitting all their parts hard and with more assurance than on their prior album.

Psychedelic aspects are on display as well, as on tracks “My Caved in Mind” and an early favorite of mine, “23 (Years)” a drone piece that starts out side two of the album, offset by a series of guitar hooks, making it a catchy earworm indeed!

Near the end of the album, we have a couple of tracks: “Moony” which seems like pieces of different types of songs by bands like Television & XTC played against each other to great effect…and “I Know I Gotta Reason” with a slow start that explodes in the center with a duel of guitar solos.

At the heart of “or” is the not so subtle fact that Eyelids is a songwriting band. The playing and the harmonies are made better by the fact that the material is so melodious and catchy.

A friend of mine once remarked to me during an Eyelids show that all of their songs could be singles. I smiled in agreement and kept nodding my head to the beat.

To hear some of the tracks of this album listen to an archive of one of my recent radio shows, in which I interview vocalist and guitarist Chris Slusarenko and play some tracks from their new album:

The Worst Song in the World Bracket: Week 2

It’s week 2 here at the Worst Song Ever bracket and things have heated up. After a lot of back and forth, the current leader is “Friday” by Rebecca Black.  If you’ve somehow gone through life without ever hearing this song or seeing the amazing video, please do yourself a favor and enjoy the following (and please note it has over 107 MILLION views):

It also produced one of my favorite gifs, of the awkward tween with braces dancing nervously in the car:

Here is the current Top Ten (with my choice of lyrics from each):

1. “Friday” Rebecca Black

Kickin’ in the front seat
Sittin’ in the back seat
Gotta make my mind up
Which seat can I take

2. “Barbie Girl” Aqua

I’m a blond bimbo girl, in a fantasy world
Dress me up, make it tight, I’m your dolly

3. “All Star” by Smash Mouth

She was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb
In the shape of an “L” on her forehead

4. “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Baha Men

A doggy is nuttin’ if he don’t have a bone
All doggy hold ya’ bone, all doggy hold it

5. “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” the Offspring

Our subject isn’t cool
But he fakes it anyway

6. “It’s a Small World” Disney

It’s a small world after all,

it’s a small world after all
It’s a small world after all,

it’s a small, small, small, small world

7. “My Own Prison” Creed

Alone I drop and kneel
Silence now the sound
My breath the only motion around
Demons cluttering around

8. “(You’re) Having My Baby” Paul Anka

Having my baby
What a lovely way of saying
What you’re thinking of me

9. “Cotton Eye Joe” Rednex

Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?

10. “Blurred Lines” Robin Thicke

I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it

It appears that “Sweet Child O’Mine” by Guns n’ Roses is the least disliked in this poll, as it has sat on or near the bottom pretty consistently since it began, so congrats to Axl and Slash and the gang.

“MacArthur Park” continues to be close to the bottom.  Everyone, you know that’s being sung by Dumbledore 1.0 Richard Harris, right?  And that it includes the lyrics:

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh no!

SCTV did a pretty great sketch about this song, starring Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas:

All of the songs in the Top Ten are from the last 20 years, except for Paul Anka’s “(You’re) Having My Baby” which has persevered as being the oldest most hated song since the beginning. It was recorded in 1974, making it older than most people who have filled out this bracket—think about it: You could have been conceived to this song.  Ms. magazine gave Anka their “Male Chauvinistic Pig of the Year” award for this piece of garbage.  In the song he says:

Didn’t have to keep it
Wouldn’t put you through it.
You could have swept it from your life
But you wouldn’t do it
No
You wouldn’t do it.
And you’re having my baby.

Whoa dude.  Whoa.

Finally, the most lopsided voting has been for the following:

  • “Hotel California” (23 votes) vs “Cotton Eyed Joe” (118 votes)
  • “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (22 votes) vs “Escape (the Pina Colada Song)” (103 votes)
  • “It’s a Small World” Disney (99 votes) vs “Mockingbird” Carly Simon and James Taylor (29 votes)

Don’t agree with your fellow voters?  Haven’t voted yet?  Click here to make your voice heard as we continue the month of voting for the worst song ever!

Week 1 Update!

Highlights from final broadcast of Jesuit Bit My Hotdog

Eclecticism is the hallmark of Freeform at its core. A different DJ every 2 hours, genres spanning geography, time and aesthetics and a diverse cadre of volunteer technicians and tradespeople from nonbinary gender and political affiliation ensure surprises each time listeners tune in. For six months between 2016 & 2017, local video jockey Danny Norton scoured his vinyl record crates for some of his most treasured rarities he cared to share over the airwaves.

But simply possessing the free reign to randomize selections into a playlist would not a good program make. One must possess the will to curate by omission as well as favorited selection. Cream of the crop, not iPod shuffle is the mode for fleshing out longform programming.

Due to daylight savings time, this show was reduced by 30 minutes to split the difference with the prior DJ. Here are 5 stand-out tracks with comments from VJ Norto about their meaning in his record crate.

Homer & Jethro – Roll On Deodorant

Country Hall of Fame inductees and Thinking Man’s Hillbillies Homer & Jethro met at age 16 and received their monikers when WNOX Program Director forgot their names during broadcast. They originally recorded for King Records as session musicians backing other artists, but were sought to support Chet Atkins, Spike Jones and The Cartner Family on tour. Though accomplished jazz musicians in the style of Django Reinhardt, they are best remembered for television appearances on Hee-Haw and The Johnny Cash Show.

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Catwalk, Polydor/Geffen 1988

This B-side to the 12″ single “Peek-a-Boo” is a hiccupy, upbeat instrumental production. Hard to drum up exposition on this one, but I really like it, largely because it sounds as if it could be at home on the same year’s Pixies full-length debut Surfer Rosa.

Time Zone – World Destruction (Meltdown Mix), Celluloid Records 1984

The unlikely pairing of Sex Pistols’ Johnny Lydon and Soul Sonic Force’s Afrika Bambaataa gets run through the Bill Laswell filter. Laswell’s pet concept is collision music, bringing together wildly divergent but complementary musicians. He also lent bass and drum machine programming to the original mix. Guest musicians include Bernie Worell. The track peaked at #44 in the UK Singles Chart in February 1985, but made history as an early rap-rock collaboration, predating Run DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”

Temple City Kazoo Orchestra – Miss You, Rhino Records 1978

This Rolling Stones cover features no drums, bass or guitar, just voicebox vibration and wax paper. Kind-of like listening to Rolling Stones through an old factory car stereo.

Stereophonic Space Sound Unlimited – Funky Planet, Dionysus Records 1998

Swiss instrumentalists Ernest Maeschi and Karen Diblitz own Spooky Sound record store in Zürich and got in on the end of the surf & space age/exotica cocktail music scene back when more people purchased physical media.To hear the complete program back-to-back, check out VJ Norto on Mixcloud Jesuit Bit My Hotdog March 12, 2017

Danny Norton founded Eye Candy VJs’ all-request mobile music video museum in 2006, an alternative to audio-only DJ fare. His library and mixology have been showcased at Project Pabst, Barfly Bus New Years, Rose City Rollers & Bridgetown Comedy afterparties, wedding receptions and was Willamette Week Best of Portland pick in 2010. See and hear his multimedia library Monday nights at Kelly’s Olympian, Wednesday nights at Firkin Tavern, and frequent guest appearances at Dig a Pony and The Know. Event schedule at http://eyecandyvjs.com

Heart & Soul Guide to the Soul’d Out Festival 2017

Portland’s about to get a dose of sweet heat and sultry soul this weekend, with the eighth annual Soul’d Out Festival.

“Some people say this town ain’t got no heart,” to quote The Dead. Portland’s got a reputation for being White – TheAtlantic.com called us “The Whitest City In America”; hell, it’s even referenced on Fox’s New Girl, when Winston won’t come here ‘cuz Portland’s “hella white.”

Portland may have a sullied, storied, problematic past, in terms of racial inequality and tension – which is still being sorted and re-negotiated – but those of us that live here know it’s not reflective of what Portland is actually like. We’ve got people from all over the world, from every culture, color, and creed. For many of us, Portland is the ultimate Sanctuary City, being infinitely more warm-hearted, open-minded and welcoming than a huge majority of North America.

Our music scene has a reputation towards the Caucasian Persuasion, with the remnants of our iconic late-’90s Indie Rock past and a more recent vanguard of perfectly polished, Coachella-ready Indie Pop bands – flower crowns and ukuleles all at the ready, poised to save the world from their privileged vantage point. This Portlandia-like stereotype is also only reflective of one layer of Portland’s cultural imagination, however; we’ve got as many different kinds of music here as we do types of people. PDX’s hip-hop scene has been cracking lately; electronica’s on the rise; metal keeps on grinding and growling; and, little do people realize, but we’ve got a small-but-solid funk, soul, and r&b scenes, that are likely to grow and spread, especially if people start paying attention.

Soul, funk, hip-hop, and r&b freaks are about to flip their wigs, this weekend, with five days of scorching soul and lowdown grooves, with the Eighth Annual Edition of The Soul’d Out Festival.

To help you know what’s going on, who’s playing on what days and what you shouldn’t miss, we’ve compiled a Guide To Soul’d Out Festival 2017, for your delectation.

Freeform Portland’s Guide To Soul’d Out Festival 2017

Wednesday; 4.19

The don’t miss show on Wednesday has got to be Travis Scott w/ Flying Lotus at the Memorial Coliseum, if you like cutting-edge futuristic hip-hop. The Kanye West and Rihanna-collaborator’s bringing his autotuned croon to the Memorial Coliseum in the wake of last year’s excellent Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight. Legendary futurebeat architect Flying Lotus will showcase 21st Century Soul, with the LA instrumental hip-hop producer’s distinctive blend of cosmic and free jazz and hyperreal synth. Rarely do the underground and the mainstream come so close. This is a killer double-billing with some of hip-hop’s most interesting sonic bushwackers. Do Not Sleep.

Also Playing Soul’d Out Festival Wednesday, 4.19.2017

Toots and the Maytals & Lee Fields and the Expressions w/ Tezeta Band

Cory Henry & the Funk Apostles — w/ Moorea Masa & The Mood

Thursday, 4.20.2017

You’ll have multiple chances to get mad blunted, stoned, and smoked out with almost too much great music on 4.20, Portland’s favorite holiday, to keep up with.

For the jazzy, check out Chicago’s Tortoise, along with Portland’s own 1939 Ensemble, along with cyborg rapper/producer RJD2. If you’ve ever wondered how to get from Ennio Morricone to Gilberto Gil to Gil Scott-Heron to the soundtrack from The Warriors in a single mixtape, come to the Crystal Ballroom and get educated.

For the more forward-looking/thinking, check out West London-based singer/songwriter/producer Shura @ Holocene, to hear her take on alt r&b (can we just drop the pbr&b, already?). Find out what Shura learned in her year in the rainforest, before teaching herself production via YouTube. Holocene crowds tend to love this type of chill beats, so expect this one to go off! Get sweaty!

Also Playing Soul’d Out Festival; Thursday 4.20.2017

Lupe Fiasco

Bilal + ShyGirls w/Laura Ivancie

GhostNote w/ Coco Columbia

Friday 4.21.2017

Friday is probably Soul’d Out Festival’s biggest night, with a chart-topping, heartstopping appearance from Solange; the robotic diva disco of legendary producer Giorgio Moroder; and a third-eye opening art experience from Alex & Anderson Grey.

Solange’s performance is going to be pure, utter class at the Arlene Scnitzer Concert Hall, along with influential jazz drummer Jamire Williams. The show is all-ages, so this could be your chance to introduce your young ones to some true honey-dipped r&b.

You’ll hear several eras of robo-funk come together when Giorgio Moroder and Dam-Funk take over the Roseland Theater. Moroder set the cogs in motion with such futuristic disco hits like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” in the ‘70s, and re-scoring the retrofuturistic dystopian android messiah movie Metropolis. LA’s Dam-Funk would take Moroder’s vocoders, slinky bass, and boom-clap beats and usher in a new era of Elevator Rockin’ funk, most likely tripling the cost of keytars the world over.

Also Playing At Soul’d Out Festival Friday, 4.21.2017

Spiritrials: Hip Hop Theater

Big Freedia

Farnell Newton & The Othership Connection: A Tribute to Prince w/Eldridge Gravy

The Way Up Afro/Caribbean Dance Party w/ DJ Freaky Outty & DJ Solo

Saturday 4.22.2017

It’s a cry for freedom, on Saturday, with protest sounds from all over the world! There’s the political napalm of Dead Prez, at Dante’s, and the Afrobeat freakout of Brooklyn’s Antibalas. There’s also some classic funk/soul, with The Ohio Players, at the Roseland Theater, as well as a chance to check out some up-and-coming local hip-hop at the Rose Tribe Invitational, ft. Tyus, Cassow, and Jonny Cool (who performed at last month’s monthly Freeform Portland hip-hop night @ The Fixin’ To in St. John’s, Northword.)

There will also be repeat performances from Alex Gray and Spiritrials: Hip-Hop Theater

Also Playing Soul’d Out Festival; Saturday, 4.22.2017

Spiritrials: Hip Hop Theater

Ohio Players w/Shock & Andy Stokes

Antibalas w/ Cherimoya

Dead Prez w/ Libretto, Risky Star, Mic Crenshaw, Maze Koroma & Mat Randol

Alex & Allison Grey w/ Dakhabrakha, Phutureprimitive, The Human Experience – David Block, and Orquestra Pacifico Tropical

Rose Tribe Invitational w/ TYuS, Cassow & Jonny Cool

Sunday 4.23.2017

Sunday rounds things out on a mellow tip, with the skankin’ dancehall beats of Spawnbreezie. Those lucky enough to have a VIP pass already (they’re soul’d out, sadly), will get to attend a pig roast after the show, as well. Local jazz impresario Jimmy Mak will be honored at the Roseland Theater, as well.

For more info, news, updates, and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.souldoutfestival.com/

Soul’d Out Festival FB

@souldoutfestival

Ig: @souldoutmusic

8pm Doors / 9:30 Show // 21 and upStar Theater

8pm DoorsCrystal Ballroom

9pm // 21+Dantes

Dead Prez w/ Libretto, Risky Star, Mic Crenshaw, Maze Koroma & Mat Randol

9pm // 21+Dantes

Doors 8:30pm // 21+Wonder Ballroom

8pm Show // 21+Roseland Theater

7:30

9pm Doors / 21+Holocene

9pm Doors // 21+Star Theater

9pm Doors // 21+Dantes

7:3http://www.souldoutfestival.com/shows/april-21/big-freedia/0Disjecta

8:30 Doors // 21+Star Theater

7pm Doors // All Ages (with guardian)Revolution Hall

8pm Doors // 21+Roseland Theater

To hear a mix of some of Soul’d Out Festival 2017’s coolest jams, tune into Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness, Satuday night into Sunday morning from 2 – 4 am, to hear a special mix put together from dessicant or keep an eye on mixcloud.com/for3stpunk for the archive!

Want more Portland and Pacific Northwestern music, art, and cultural news, reviews, tips, trips, ramblings, and mutterings? Follow J. Simpson on InstagramTwitter@Pinterest, and like Forestpunk on Facebook!

The Worst Song in the World Bracket- Week 1

A couple of years ago, All Songs Considered made a list of the worst songs of all time (joined by special guest Carrie Brownstein (who may or may not have worn out her Portland welcome at that point).  As with most lists of this type, there are obvious choices (“We Built This City” by Starship) and complete head scratchers (“Africa” by Toto—what kind of monster hates “Africa”?).  As this list is a few years old, and included no participants from my circle of friends, I thought I’d make a Facebook post. It read:

What is the worst song of all time? (Only answer with ONE specific response. Don’t say “Country Music” or “Hall and Oates,” for example.)

Figure 1 Mr. Blobby.  WTF is wrong with the British?

It didn’t take long for a flood of responses. Once I had 64 responses I decided to make a bracket and let people vote for their least favorite song, because I have a lot of free time.  I excluded songs that were obviously novelty songs (although Mr. Blobby’s Song almost made it in anyway due to sheer horribleness) and Christmas songs, which I felt would make an excellent follow-up poll for the holidays.

The bracket is currently open, and will remain so for 30 days.  I will share how the voting is going throughout the month, and you are welcome to vote if you are so inclined.  This data will be used for absolutely nothing other than blog fodder and my own amusement.

Figure 2 You tell me: Guy Fieri or singer of Smashmouth?

After 3.5 hours of being online, here are the worst—remember, this is a bracket, not a poll, so things will change drastically as the month goes on:

  1.     Currently, the leader in awful is “Allstar” by Smashmouth.  That surprised me. I mean, come on, that song is aural fecal matter (and I’m pretty sure the lead singer is Guy Fieri) but #1 worst?
  2.     “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex, which seems legit.
  3.     “Barbie Girl” by Aqua is in the third position. Again, completely justified.
  4.     “Who Let the Dogs Out” by the Baha Men is in fourth. A guys at the bar next to me swears it is a good song. I resist the urge to punch him.
  5.     “My Own Prison” by Creed. Yup.

Figure 3 Seriously, though.  Guy Fieri or Smashmouth guy?

Here are some things I’m surprised by:

  •      My personal pick for worst song is “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys.  It’s in 38th!
  •      “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, generally thought of as one of, if not THE worst song of all time (does “Somebody left a cake out in the rain” ring a bell?) is in 61st of 64.  Shocking!
  •      “We Built This City” by Starship and “What’s Up” by Four Non Blondes are at 47th and 48th, respectively.

I will update as the month goes on.


Freak Folk Faves! (Part 1)

Linda Perhacs – Parallelograms (1970)

This is an accidental masterpiece. A more perfect album made by a dental hygienist on LSD I’ve yet to encounter.

There is no question to why it flew under the radar upon its initial release. In the huge wake stirred by the sinking ship of flower power, anything not heavy enough to float sunk to the bottom. Parallelograms was simply another weird record in a weird year full of weird records.

And quiet modesty did not help sales, as bands like Led Fucking Zeppelin soared to self aggrandizing heights. Not quite a bedroom record, but certainly kept inside the house, this album was destined for obscurity. And this beguiling and magical recording sat on the shelf, seemingly forgotten.

However, genius echoes through time. Parallelograms is still in our cultural vocabulary due to its many moments of genius. There are moments of sappy sentimentality, sure, other times are fractured and abstract, some moments are even seductively enticing. But throughout multiple listens there is a quiet intensity to these yearning invocations of magic realism that draws you in to their mystery.

As with all hidden treasures, we are left with unanswerable questions: What more could Linda have told us? Was this album everything she had to say? Are we missing out on decades of music never written?

Alas, she chose to pursue a career as a dentist, returning so many years later with 2014s “The Soul Of All Natural Things” which unfortunately does not resonate with the profundity and often confounding uniqueness of its predecessor. 44 years is quite a gap to merge between albums, and needless to say, this is a different era.

The original still stands as a perfect journal entry from the avant garden front lines of the acid washed folk era. Parallelograms is the story of those shocking shaking times told by a quiet girl and her guitar.

Vashti Bunyan – Just Another Diamond Day (1970)

Nature has a perennial need for a translator. An interloper between physical and spiritual realms. There is constantly a desire for one to communicate nature’s many small miracles into tangible art. Sometimes natural beauty demands itself to be heard so sternly that we have no choice but to sit up and pay attention.

Vashti chose to do her mystic translation in the form of nursery rhymes and cosmic lullabies. A cross between a pagan goddess and a pre-school teacher, her image can quickly escalate to mythic proportions. Rightly so, this album is perpetually beaming with light. Every rock, stream, and tree in this record bursts forth with life. You can practically smell it.

And where did she go after making this strangely beautiful ode to mother nature? Did she ride that mystic caravan into her own fairy tale cartoon of timeless fantasy? She was still quite young when she left the music industry to live in a covered wagon in the British countryside (yes, really), emerging again in the 21st century with two more solo albums, 2005s “Lookaftering” and 2014s “Heartleap” (allegedly her last). Also some collaborations with Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective, all of which are quite good.

There is perhaps more interest now than ever before in Vashti and her music.  And the freak folk revival has allowed her to bring new albums forth. But the sun shines on this record above all her others, kept fallow in the eternal field of natural wonder.

Elyse – Elyse (1969)

Elyse apparently lives here in Oregon (whatup Ashland!) Elyse if you’re reading this, please come play in Portland again. To anyone else who hasn’t heard this album: UGH, stop reading this and fucking listen to it! It’s really that good. Elyse hitting a sour note is still better than any of the auto-tuned industry schlock currently blazing up the charts, and I don’t care how old and cantankerous that makes me sound, it’s fucking true.

Elyse is the hippy grandmother of alt rock and I hang on every word of her raspy growl. She was grunge when Eddie Vedder was still a zygote. Just like grunge, behind the rasp is a heartbreakingly sweet sadness. “Painted Raven” is an 80 second song that can make me cry almost anytime I hear it. On “Mortuary Bound”, my inner goth cackles whenever I hear the Don Pardo-like TV announcer chiming in with his offer of death for everyone. Neil Young also plays on this album, making a brief squelchy guitar appearance on the beautiful “Houses”. What else can I say? Go buy this record.

Taylor Hill is a DJ, musician, and ghoul currently haunting several cities across the US. He hosts “The Based Goth Radio Show”, Thursdays 12-2pm Pacific, on Freeform Portland.

Top 5 Novelty 45’s You Should Know!

5. Ridiculous Trio – TV Eye b/w Not Right + IWBYD

First up on this list is a modern 45 originally released in 2007. And it’s a truly ridiculous one! The Ridiculous Trio is a band made up of a drummer, trombone player and a trumpet player and they only play instrumental covers of The Stooges songs. Absolute insanity that works surprisingly well! 

4. Stan Freberg – St. George and The Dragonet

Stan Freberg was a recording artist, comedian and author. Spoofing the 50s cop show Dragnet, this track shows off his mastery of puns and excellent wordplay. It tells the story of a cop trying to catch a dragon for “devouring maidens”. Produced in 1951, St George and The Dragonet eventually hit #1 for four weeks in October of 1953.

3. Dance The Slurp

This 45 was originally released in 1967 as part of a give-away at 7-11 stores with the purchase of a Slurpee. It gained some notoriety in the 90s when DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist sampled and also featured it on the cover of their Brainfreeze album. A truly whacked out track most likely conceived by some marketing and ad executives that features a pretty killer drum break and that terrible sound of someone sucking on their straw way after their drink is gone, but they don’t want to get another so they just keep making sucking on the straw until you get annoyed enough to slap the straw out of their mouth. Anyway it’s pretty cool.

2. The Lifeguards – Everybody Out’ta The Pool

A rocker released in 1959, this one features members of Bill Haley’s Comets and an excessive use of whistles and cowbells! I still haven’t figured out why we need to get outta the pool, but you better do as they say or we will need to listen to that damn whistle again.

1. Swamp Dogg – Total Destruction To Your Mind

A funky monster by the master of amazingly bad album covers (Just check out his album Rat On!) that will blow your mind! Jerry Williams Jr. is a soul singer that got his start in the 1960s recording for the labels Loma and Calla before taking on the pseudonym Swamp Dogg in 1970 and releasing the album named for this track. Since then he has continued to record soul records, but this is the 45 I keep going back to due to its catchy hook!

If you are interested in listening to these and more novelty tracks, check out my radio show from April 1 HERE

By Tom Kay

Song Tunnel #1 by DJ Abi

My favorite song by Michael Jackson is hands down “Human Nature” from the 1982 record “Thriller.” The tune is haunting, sexy, sad and beautiful, and I’ve always admired the particularly androgynous way in which Michael expresses the amorous yearnings expressed in the lyrics.  The light and floating quality of the vocals is reminiscent of some of the great female arias of the classic American Soul era—the pining voice of Diana Ross comes to mind in particular for me.

“Human Nature” floats with buoyancy that the rest of “Thriller” doesn’t even come close to, in large part as a result of the song’s plaintive structure of question and answer, a discourse which in the end doesn’t add up to much and sounds even more damn mysterious in the end. This maddening mysteriousness, somewhat akin to the circular question and answer song “Que sera, sera”—is an excellent mirror to the true puzzle that was M. J. himself—always intimate, compelling, and totally unknowable as a person.

If they say,

Why, why, tell ’em that it’s human nature

Why, why, does he do it that way

If they say,

Why, why, tell ’em that it’s human nature

Why, why does he do me that way

I went on a “Human Nature” repeat listen binge recently when a guest on my Freeform show played the strange tune “Banana Boy” by the American original, Eden Ahbez. A bizarre moment even within the already weird world of the Exotica genre, Ahbez’s 1960 record “Eden’s Island,” combines beatnik sensibilities with the hedonism of 1960s lounge scene. Ahbez was a strange dude—according to some—the “first” hippie, if such a ridiculous designation is even thinkable.

According to Wikipedia: Living a bucolic life from at least the 1940s, he travelled in sandals and wore shoulder-length hair and beard, and white robes. He camped out below the first L in the Hollywood Sign above Los Angeles and studied Oriental mysticism. He slept outdoors with his family and ate vegetables, fruits, and nuts. He claimed to live on three dollars per week.

A certain aural headspace took shape over the course of the next week after my guest introduced me to Ahbez, as I obsessively listened to “Human Nature,” and “Banana Boy.” For some reason, in my head that is, the two songs somehow spoke to one another across space and time, but I’m still trying to figure out why exactly.

Buy my banana, fresh from the trees

Buy my banana

And you

Make me

Happy

Eden Ahbez was born in Brooklyn to Jewish Russian parents, and first became known because Nat King Cole landed a huge hit in Ahbez’s song “Nature Boy” in 1948. Ahbez was paid a handsome sum for the tune by the film industry, and gained a lot of notoriety through Nat King Cole’s success with it. If you don’t recognize the title immediately, I bet you will recall the unusual melody of “Nature Boy” after reading a snippet from the gnomic lyrics.

There was a boy

A very strange enchanted boy

They say he wandered very far, very far

Over land and sea

A little shy and sad of eye

But very wise was he

“Nature Boy” continued to be lauded by the industry, and was later covered by the likes of David Bowie, Lady Gaga, and Miles Davis.

My obsession about the unexpected synergy, harmonically and thematically, between M.J’s iconic song and Ahbez’s “Banana Boy” and “Nature Boy” became a little more comprehensible to me when I realized that “Human Nature” was written by none other than Steve Porcaro of the American rock band Toto—of the dubious “rains down in Africa” fame (same year as “Thriller”- 1982- the Toto song “Africa” from the regally-titled “Toto IV”).

Lest you have forgotten the unforgettably random lyrics of that 80’s watershed (get it, rains, ah…):

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you

There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do

I bless the rains down in Africa

Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

Hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you

I see Ahbez’s California trip of enchanted man-boys living in nature with bananas as planting a little tropical seed of exoticism (no doubt itself blown in from elsewhere further back in time) that took stubborn root in American pop music going forward, thus giving birth to Porcaro’s 1980s fantasies in “Human Nature” and “Africa”.

But where does that leave the virtuosic M.J., the ultimate, tragic “nature boy” of the last quarter of the 20th century?

In this triad of musicians, Porcaro (probably) ultimately takes the cake, as “Human Nature” is arguably the best song in this banana bunch.

However, even though M.J. is only performing someone else’s tune, the emotional quality of his genius performance speaks to the mythos of a “natural” and “innocent” man-boy that all these songs lucubrate about.

It’s a good answer to my ongoing question: WHY?  “that’s why.”

I like livin’ this way

I like lovin’ this way

Why why…

That’s why

DJ Abi hosts a radio show called “Studio Visit” for Portland artists, art professionals, and art lovers. Catch the show every other Sunday from 8-10 PM.

Freeform Portland One Year Anniversary and How I Got There

April 5th 2017 is a year to the day of my first broadcast on Freeform Portland. Not my first radio show, not by any means, but I remember it felt good to be on the air, and does so every day I do my show. Getting to Freeform Portland is a life long story. Here is the short version.

As a kid, I always loved music. I remember listening to 45s at a friend’s house, over and over we listened to “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the theme song to the movie “M.A.S.H.” When I turned eleven and went to middle school, and in the school library “discovered” The Beatles. I often checked out their albums and listened to them with friends using headphones and listening posts. “Revolver” was an early favorite of mine.  I was drawn to the more psychedelic tracks, such as “tomorrow never knows”

Exposure to music was generally by radio for me, hits of the day. But as this was the mid-seventies that meant some singer songwriter tracks, emerging disco tracks…which to me did not appeal. I remember a cousin of mine having the first record by AC/DC, which I sorta liked for the energy. I could not have explained it in these terms at that time, but I think I recognized the churned up Chuck Berry riffs at the heart of their music. A friend of my brother had a ping pong table, and some afternoons were spent at his house, playing ping pong and listening to his early records by KISS, who seemed silly to me. Sorry, I never grew to like them.

Everything changed for me in 1977. The real year punk broke. The band Devo appeared on Saturday Night Live. You can Google it now and find youtube clips. So it is easy to watch and see what a transformative experience it might have been. If you view it with that context in mind. Disco was on the rise, and here comes Devo. Robotic rhythms and motions. Automatons who exploded lightning in my brain. I was hooked. The following week at school many folks mentioned how weird it was, they seemed offput. But I was just being launched on a journey.

It was during this time and throughout high school that I began to buy records. New wave pop bands, all with names such as “The…” or Rhino anthology collections by bands like The Chocolate Watchband. This time period preceded the reissue craze that exists today. Only current records seemed to be available, records from three or more years past did not seem to be around, and I had not heard of a used record store. Not yet at least.

Following high school, I rented rooms in other people’s houses, worked in restaurants making Mexican food, or pizzas. And some of my money still went buying records. Two amazing things happened in the early eighties for me. The Walkman was invented, and I met Raymond Didyk.

The Walkman was amazing. A device that allowed you to listen to music everywhere. Music became portable. You had your own soundtrack. And, you could make mix tapes so the songs would vary and be of your own choosing. Which brings me to Raymond Didyk. A friend of mine worked for him, and I met him when I agreed to help them move some furniture. Putting a piece of furniture in the back of Raymond’s truck I heard the music he had left playing. I heard a familiar guitar style, and the voice of Tom Verlaine. I stopped for a moment, perplexed both by the fact I did not know the song and that someone else I knew listened to Television.

That song was “Glory” from the second album by Television “Adventure,” which at that time I was too naive to have sought out. Raymund Didyk and I became fast friends, bonding over music. He had vast collection of records and introduced to Link Wray, Bo Diddley, Fairport Convention, the original Modern Lovers, The Fall, and any number of garage and psychedelic records…he was amazing and so kind. He would allow me to come over to his house on my days off from work, to explore his record collection and make tapes from myself. He changed my life for the better, and saying so, no matter how many times I do so, will never be Thanks enough.

He also introduced me to a used record store in Monterey California called Recycled Records. I visited infrequently for a while as it was a long bus drive from my home in Carmel Valley. But circumstances changed and I found myself employed by The Bagel Bakery on Lighthouse Avenue in Monterey, four blocks down the street from Recycled Records. So my infrequent visits became daily visits. I never noticed that the new arrivals bin only changed once a week. I seemed to discover something new there all the time. I became friendly with the small staff, the owner and one other employee, and invariable asked for a job each day as I left the store. Not sure if I wore them down exactly but one day they said yes.

The very same week I started working in the record store I saw an ad on the bulletin board in the store. A flyer really about a local community radio station needed new DJs. I answered the ad, and soon afterwards was I working at a record store and had a weekly radio show. Pretty sure at the time my life felt like it could not have been any better.

I started my first radio show in 1988 on KAZU 90.3 fm, which had its studio on the second floor above a Mexican restaurant named Peppers. The name of my show was “Blank Generation” and I was on the air every Saturday from midnight to three am. I was certainly nervous but the person before me, a DJ named Mr. Hedge, was a complete professional and very kind. He helped me through many issues. And also demonstrated so clearly and well how to time your show, to end at the stated time, and make way for the next DJ. To this day his example and lessons are ones that I carry with me into radio studios when I do my show.

I was at KAZU for seven years. Seven fantastic years and only left when I moved to Portland.

I moved to Portland with my wife and her children in 1995. Jumped a few hurdles in life here and there.  Always renting, so lived in a few different neighborhoods, and worked a couple different jobs, at Music Millennium and Djangos. Both great record stores that helped to continue to expose me to music, and make friends.

Ten years passed, quick as you like, and I began to think about how fun it would be to have a radio show again. But how I asked myself. The local community radio station in Portland, KBOO 90.7 fm, was well established and entrenched. Getting a show on that station seemed an impossibility. Then I heard whispers about a pirate radio station…the Portland Radio Authority…based somewhere in Portland…broadcasting with a tiny bit of wattage. Not too long after first hearing of them, I read an article the station had been raided by the police or FBI, but that did not stop them apparently, they soon converted to an Internet radio station exclusively. I think I must have found their web site or contact details. And pretty soon, like falling off a bridge, I had another radio show.

This new show I entitled  “It’s A nice world to visit” after a song by Ann-Margret produced by Lee Hazelwood. First off because it was a cool track with blasting fuzz guitar, but more importantly it had the word “nice” in the title. At that time, myself and the world were all too jaded and cynical and I wanted to turn a corner. Embrace something positive. To this end, I also adopted an on air DJ name, Noah Fence. I wanted what I thought was a good pun, such as the name adopted by the singer of the band, Fear. His name was Lee Ving. And I just giggled a bit just writing.

Funny thing about adopting a name, I fooled myself. I assumed I would come into the radio studio, announce myself as Noah Fence and some other hidden aspect of my personality would burst out. It never happened. I suppose I am more myself than I will ever properly realize.

Another side benefit of being on the Portland Radio Authority was playing records at bars and clubs. During my time away from radio, DJs had become a more popular idea, so often clubs would have folks in to play records before bands performed, as well as between the bands. My first ever live DJ gig was at the Someday Lounge. And if I recall correctly I played at least one record at the wrong speed. No one seemed to notice. It had never occurred to me until that moment that the audience, either in a live setting or over the radio, would consist of passive listeners. That cue errors and such would go unnoticed. Now I know I was my own worst critic, and learned the freedom to laugh it off and forgive myself. Making friends I managed to play at several places in town, such as regular gigs at East End and Ground Kontrol.

My time at the Portland Radio Authority was well spent, well enjoyed by me, but the station struggled. Getting the rent and utility bills paid eventually become such a task, the station folded.

And into this void came Xray.fm, a new local radio station, both on fm and the internet, started by some folks who had been involved with the Portland Radio Authority and as it turned out, people with no prior experience with radio. They took over the Portland Radio Authority space and equipment, and brought along a handful of Portland Radio Authority DJs, including myself.

My show moved to Xray.fm but the name remained the same. I was returned to late night broadcasting. When the station moved to its proper location, it was a mile or so from my home. I began riding a bike in the dark down empty streets. All the while, mixing a variety of music, new tracks and old favorites for my audience, such as it is.
But life changes. And I lost a job I had held for a decade. My wife and I were forced to move due to our financial situation. And I gave up my show on Xray.fm. That was in September 2015 and before the year end, I saw on Facebook people talking about a new radio station. All music, no talk. The kind of station that fit my aptitude, all rock, very little talk, and also my schedule. As what I needed most to be back on the radio was a daytime slot.

Freeform Portland began broadcasting in April 2016 and I am happy to say, a year later, that all is well and working out. My show is on every Wednesday morning at 8am, and I am an early riser and morning person. So love nothing more than getting up, putting some music choices together, riding to the studio on the commuter train and broadcasting my show. I love it today as much as I ever have. Drawing on my ever present love of  music, and my radio inspirations, chief among them John Peel. Whose show I never heard when I was young. It was just something you read about. It was something you noted, when you heard a band you liked had done a Peel session, playing live on his show. Every show I do, it is always my hope that I will play some song sometime that someone will hear for the first time, and it will be like lightning in their brain.