April 30, 2008

Exhibit 8: Transcript from a John Cage fan chatroom, 1954


fluxusfan61: Ah.... ah... achoo!! Excuse me.

fourthirtythree: Goddammit, fluxus!

April 29, 2008

Exhibit 7: Record charts

The need for tabulating sales and radio play of units of musical consumption gave birth to record charts, ranked listings of the most popular, profitable or hygienically sound recordings of the moment, most frequently accounted and compiled in weekly shifts. The modern music chart as we know it is loosely based on The Ten Commandments, which were originally ranked in descending order of popular approval. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" was a huge regional hit before its ongoing, record-setting run at the top of the charts. "Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's house" and "wife" have been Nos. 9 and 10, respectively, due to the innate difficulty in controlling internal acts of covetousness. The No. 11 Commandment, "Thou shalt not be bored," and No. 12, "Thou shalt remember thy parents' wedding anniversary," remain outside shots to crack the Top 10 before the year 3000.

The modern record chart was pioneered by Billboard Magazine, an entertainment industry periodical packed from front to back with an impressive array of popularity charts, though it is polite to say one reads it only for the articles. Billboard's Hot 100, ostensibly a listing of the top hundred songs in America at any given moment, has gone through several methodologies over the course of its existence. The Hot 100 was originally a consideration of the combined strength of record sales, radio and jukebox play. Other, more specialized charts emerged to reflect target audiences, such as the Top 40 dance songs, Top 40 country songs, Top 40 R&B songs, Top 40 songs hummed in the shower, Top 40 songs preferred by donkeys, and Top 40 dirges.

In the mid-20th century, critics of pop charts complained informal accounting systems exposed the Billboard Hot 100 to unfair manipulation, most often by nefarious promotional men who "bought" chart positions in exchange for favors or cash. This occurred most famously in 1961, when promoter Les Pochanski paid Billboard $50,000 for filling the top five spots of the Hot 100 with five different versions of "How Much Is That Doggie In the Window." The scandal resulted in an epidemic of back-alley neutering by hypertensive dog owners. Billboard toughened its standards for chart representation soon afterwards, and also stopped offering free top 10 chart positions with the purchase of a Zenith color television.

The Billboard charts were significantly changed in 1991, when Neilsen SoundScan replaced the informal data collection process with wholly accurate, computer-generated sales and airplay data, entered at the point of purchase or broadcast. Gone was the arduous, time-consuming task of gathering information through telephone calls to record stores, radio stations, and gay discos where the driving techno beat made statistical reports difficult to hear, especially over the phone.

Data entry is now automatically collected when a unit is sold, in a process that reflects true, inarguable science:

1. The consumer elects to purchase a recorded product at a retailer.

2. The consumer presents the desired item to a store-designated cashier.

3. The cashier "scans" the bar code of the desired item with a laser device.

4. Inside the laser device, a tiny leprechaun hurriedly scribbles down the bar code number with a tiny pencil.

5. At night the leprechaun compiles all the day's sales data and magically turns it into golden pixie dust.

6. The leprechaun does a jig and sings a merry song about the benefits of industriousness and hard work.

7. The leprechaun gathers up the golden pixie dust and casts it into the wind, which carries the dust to the Peppermint Palace at Gumdrop Hill.

8. The Jolly Dragon receives the golden pixie dust and magically reconstitutes it into data with his wagging tail.

9. Maids in attendance to the Jolly Dragon twitter in a way that can only be described as gleeful.

10. The Jolly Dragon then summons a unicorn to deliver the recompiled data across the Vanilla Cream River, through the Puffy Marshmallow Mountains, across the Sweet Strawberry Ocean, through the Minty Nougat Forest, and into the gleaming metropolis of Happy Cookie Land.

11. The data lands on the desk of Murray Steinberg, CPA.

The record chart process has worked in this dependable way for many years with no complications, except for one regrettable incident in which a leprechaun illegally accepted hashish as payola.

Fig. 1: Disgraced leprechaun Smiley O'Smartly arriving at his racketeering trial.

April 27, 2008

Exhibit 6: Drink tickets

The first use of drink tickets as currency for the production of musical commodity is thought to have occurred in Wales in 1267, where a minstrel band was hired to play an after-party for the signing of the Treaty of Montgomery. The band, whose Celtic name cannot be spelled in English, played a six-hour version of the popular favorite, "The Dolwyddlean Stoympe," culminating in a 45-minute crwth solo. Since monetary currency at the time was in a state of flux, the band received four scrolls from the newly entitled Prince Of Wales, Llywelyn II, indicating that they were to be compensated with "40 ouynce servyngs of the fynest Medd (mead), in addytyon to six bowls of qualyty pebble syzed sweetmeats, wyth brown ones removed." Not realizing the scrolls were intended as compensation, the band ate them.

The use of drink tickets thrived throughout the next seven centuries; it is widely acknowledged that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed "The Magic Flute" on the backs of them. As rock music proliferated in the 20th century, drink tickets became an important add-on to contract riders at many live performances. Certain establishments paid bands exclusively with drink tickets in lieu of cash, such as The Jacked Bass in Mobile, Alabama; Crispy Puffy's in Memphis; Frippy's Soil Farm in Edina, Minnesota; and Shea Stadium in New York.

Modern drink tickets have evolved considerably from the digested scrolls of Llywelyn. The most common type is the surplus "Admit One" detachable ticket, easily purchased at office supply stores in rolls of 2000 for approximately five US dollars. When used as drink tickets, one roll of "Admit One" tickets has an approximate inventory value of $10,000 in America, or $8,500,000 in Europe. This partially explains why American bands frequently make massive purchases of "Admit One" tickets at office supply stores while touring Europe, although many of those tickets are also eaten by bands unable to assimilate to European cuisine. Thus the tradition of the unpronounceable Welsh minstrels continues.

April 24, 2008

Exhibit 5: Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was a British spiritualist, occultist, writer and alleged Freemason frequently cited as a philosophical influence on rock and roll musicians, especially in heavy metal and hard rock. Like the Marquis de Sade, Crowley was a hedonist and provocateur whose proclivities made him a scourge to moralists. Crowley and de Sade were also similar in that their embrace of debauchery and amorality obscured, but did not dismantle, the intellectual context of their manifest vices. Despite, or possibly because of, the legacy of Crowley's approach as societal critic, many religious and conservative commentators condemn musicians as Satanic or evil if they express an interest in him.

Crowley's own musical career was brief and uneventful. He toured England in 1900 as part of a two-man vaudeville act, Crowley And Howdy, who sang original compositions at impromptu minstrel shows in taverns and public squares. One of their dance songs, "I'm Going To Eat Blood Sausage With My Saucy Girl Tonight," was a sizeable sheet-music hit in Britain, with reported sales of 500,000 in London alone. Half of these sales were made to grade-school choir instructors. The musical team parted ways acrimoniously when Crowley ate Howdy's gall bladder at an Oktoberfest celebration in Heidelberg, Germany.

Shortly after his entertainment career faltered, Crowley began receiving mystic messages and transcribed them into doctrine as The Book of the Law, which in its time served roughly the same purpose as Tuesdays With Morrie and Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals do today. After a lifetime of some benefit to himself and major inconvenience to others, Crowley passed away in 1947. Hobbyists in the realm of spiritualism and the arts began studying his written works. Rock musicians, particularly, took interest in his espousal of hedonism, since it encouraged them to engage in wild behavior without having to settle their hotel or fishmonger bills personally.

Led Zeppelin admitted a fascination with Crowley's works, and sometimes ruminated that the occultist's ghost had "guided" their songwriting, as if by supernatural imposition of his will upon theirs. The band's belief in this matter was confirmed by this transcript of a tape-recorded songwriting session for their best-known song, "Stairway To Heaven":

ROBERT PLANT: Hey, what about this? "If there's a bugle in your pocketbook, don't be distressed now"?

JIMMY PAGE: I like it.

ALEISTER CROWLEY: Oh, come on. It's crap.

PLANT: What are you talking about? I've been working on this for hours.

CROWLEY: So what? It's crap! Sounds like crap, feels like crap, smells like crap, you hear me? C-R-A-P, crap.

PAGE: Right, then, what do you suggest?

CROWLEY: Something with zazz, man! Something the kids'll dig! You gotta have that groove, man, 'cause if you ain't got it, you're nowheresville! Listen, I got somethin' for ya… "I wanna rock the boat/I wanna root beer float/I wanna dance the twist/I wanna give you a kiss/Drink the blood from the crushed sacrificial skull and betroth yourself to the cloven hoof/Hot pants!" See? How's that? Ya gotta play to the kid at the soda fountain counter, holdin' hands with his best girl and chewin' his bubblegum! Ya gotta zing 'em, Bobby! Show that Brill Building who's wipin' its windows!

PLANT: But… but you're here because we want to transcend the physical with our art! We need you to guide us through the deadlocked passageways of metaphysical…

CROWLEY: Ah, save that guru jive for David Crosby, buddy! What you need is the beat, ya get me? That swingin', swingin' beat! That ha-ha-hotcha! Bing, pow! With a perky bounce and some wah-wah! Hey, I hear Frampton's got this great new thing that lets you talk through your guitar! I'll see if you can borrow it! Girls go nuts for it, gaga, man! Outta sight! "Do-oo, you-oo, oo, YOU! Feeel like I…"

PAGE: Aleister, I don't think you grasp what we're….

CROWLEY: Hey, mudshark man, they ain't payin' you to think! Just gimme some hooks, space boy! I gotta dance!

PLANT: I don't think this is working out, Ally…

CROWLEY: Hey, whoa! That's outta line, mister. Nobody calls me Ally. Call me that again and I'll do to you what I did to Victor Neuberg. Ya won't have an orifice left to pee outta.

PAGE: God... why didn't I just call Eric Clapton?

CROWLEY: Oh, sure. Cheap white blues licks. That's your answer for everything. Where's my goat? I'm starvin'.

April 23, 2008

Exhibit 4: Southern California mythology

Although the roots of rock music lay firmly in the American South and Inuit outposts in Newfoundland, artists of the form followed the instincts of filmmakers, television producers and incense makers in the idealization of Southern California as a sort of "promised land," where permissive morals, the thriving model/actor industry and 24-hour roadside service attracted all patrons of the arts.

Indeed, Bobby Troup's genre-crossing classic composition "Route 66" gave listeners a sonic road map to the Golden State, starting in Chicago and ending in Los Angeles, although a small number of listeners whose faulty copies of "Route 66" skipped on their phonographs found themselves driving in circles near Clinton, Oklahoma for weeks at a time. (Similarly, a little-known and quickly-recalled "extended mix" of Nat 'King' Cole's version of "Route 66" was thought to be primarily responsible for the drowning deaths of people trying to drive to Hawaii.)

The first rock band from Southern California to emerge as popular favorites was The Beach Boys, who recorded a slew of classic singles about surfing. This is ironic, of course, because the members of the band much preferred lacrosse. Nevertheless, the glorification of California ran rampant through their hit songs, which included "Surfin' U.S.A.," "Little Surfer Girl," "Catch A Wave," "Surfin' Safari," "Surfin' Convention," "Surfin' Kremlin," "Sidney the Surfin' Shriner," "Surfin' Like a Muthafucka," "I Went To Long Beach And All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt Because All The Rental Surfboards Were Checked Out," and "Zuma Beach Food Poisoning." When the Beach Boys had exhausted every possible song concept involving surfing they began writing about automobiles, again ironic since they were dwarves whose feet could not reach the brake pedals.

Initial attempts to inject mysticism into Southern California mythology were made by The Doors, whose tales of shamans, street vendors, arsonists, contortionists and being evicted enthralled teenyboppers who were no longer physically attracted to the Dave Clark Five. In the early 70s The Eagles fused rugged Old West mythology with 12-packs of domestic lager and scowling contests to gigantic commercial acclaim. Their most iconic song, "Hotel California," was about a hotel whose concierge was fatally preoccupied. The Eagles broke up when their surplus of dopamine and model/actresses was depleted, which they blamed on an 18-year-old William "Axl" Rose, who was working as their guitar tech at the time and had keys to the place.

Concurrently, Southern California was a hotbed for sensitive singer/songwriters such as Jackson Browne. While other Southern California musicians held sway over the coastlines and the freeways, Browne's poetically tormented songs were borne from the more varied topography of the area's canyons and valleys. Several other artists based in these comparatively remote locations, such as Joni Mitchell, Warren Zevon and Stevie Nicks, hatched with Browne a sort of collective of musicians, forging a kinship over their inability to find a pizza place that would deliver to their area.

Southern California mythology was dormant for awhile until the hip-hop age, when N.W.A. and Ice-T recorded heartfelt tributes to fallen policemen. In the '90s alternative artist Beck paid homage to the Los Angeles area's Goodwill and Value Village outlets, later brokering the acquisition of both thrift-store operations by the Church of Scientology. Further southward, a brief punk movement arose from the impoverished Third World of Orange County. Bad Religion, often called "the thinking man's punk band," had a successful career, until a tragic concert where four fans in attendance were killed by the blunt force of 500-pound adjectives.

The ever-changing mythology of Southern California held dozens of music fanatics in its grip until they moved to San Francisco to find themselves.

April 21, 2008

Exhibit 3: Transcript from a Pat Boone fan chatroom, 1964

whiteshooz69: wasssssup peoples??

iamamway: shooz!

sandyloveletters: shooz!

iamamway: did u get tix

whiteshooz69: yes:) row 13

sandyloveletters: civic aud or convention ctr?

quandoquandoquando: speedy gonzales is like totally racist

whiteshooz69: civic, sandy

iamamway: shut up quando

sandyloveletters: did you talk 2 jesusfolk shooz? he said pb went ballistic in cheboygan

whiteshooz69: how so sandy?

quandoquandoquando: amway is a racist

sandyloveletters: he didn't get a glass of water that he asked for and jesusfolk said he got snippy

whiteshooz69: NOWAY!!!!! PB GOT SNIPPY????? GET OUT!!!!!

sandyloveletters: lol

iamamway: you dont even know what that means so SHUT UP

whiteshooz69: i cant believe i missed that.... i saw him get disconcerted in dayton during aint that a shame but darn it i never saw him get snippy before

iamamway: quando ur a LOSER u drive a ford

gwhittakers: jesusfolk is totally lying. hi shooz

quandoquandoquando: frig you amway FU FU FU FU FU FU

whiteshooz69: why u say that? oh and hi g

sandyloveletters: gwhittakers your high on ovaltine

iamamway: go to heck quando -- im putting u on ignore

sandyloveletters: gwhittakers totally drinks nonfat milk

capistranoswallows: powdered lol

whiteshooz69: lol

gwhittakers: ;)

quandoquandoquando: go ahead amway I DONT CARE, speedy gonzales is totally insulting to canadians

whiteshooz69: chill quando3 it doesn't matter we all love DA PAT

iamamway: quando drives a ford and likes the beatles


gwhittakers: WHAT??????



gwhittakers: OMG IT'S 2 WEEKS AFTER LABOR DAY!!! go Pat!

capistranoswallows: Oh shoot I gotta go turn on the television!!! Darn all you guys i love you goodbye!!!!

whiteshooz69: PAT'S ON THE SID????? Oh my stars!!

quandoquandoquando: frig you -- all the hip kids are into mitch miller n e wayz

Exhibit 2: Science fiction concept albums

Geopolitical angst over technocracy, Orwellianism, dehumanization and Death Stars gave rise to the science-fiction concept album in the late '60s. Before that era concept albums were about real estate transactions. The first sci-fi concept album is a matter of much debate among music historians, but carbon-dating most frequently cites two possibilities for the distinction: Bob Dylan's Area 51 Revisited and Frank Sinatra's Songs For Swingin' Lasers. Master tapes of both albums were seized by customs officials and never released.

The first science-fiction concept album to receive popular acclaim was David Bowie's historic The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And the Spiders From Mars, the focus of which was an extraterrestrial, somewhat clumsy Messianic rock star, thought to be modeled after Sonny Bono (whose plagiarism suit against Bowie was dismissed as a sketch for his TV comedy show). Ziggy Stardust capitalized on the Western World's fascination with Mars, often perceived as an alternately threatening and paradisiacal world that produced chocolate almond bars and insoles. Bowie's character arrives on Earth with intents of goodwill and refilling Earth's natural resources, but is eventually destroyed by success and a spinal dislocation administered by a woman with ripened thighs.

Further musings in the sci-fi concept album tradition were drawn directly from the popularity of digital alarm clocks, as seen below. Although the alarm clocks were not digital in the scientific sense, their hard plastic shell casings and rounded edges appealed to many rock librettists and audio engineers. The digital alarm clock was the muse for such varied works as the Alan Parsons Project's I, Robot, Kraftwerk's Autobahn (which was also about windshield repair) and The Doo Hickey's How Can This Clock Be Flashing 12:00 When It Doesn't Even Have Any Lights In It?

In the 1980s, Chicago band Styx released the quintessential sci-fi concept album, Kilroy Was Here, about a traveling Bible salesman who unwittingly stumbles into a Japanese shop that sells auto-erotic equipment. In a freak attempt to recreate the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah with his recently purchased technology, Kilroy accidentally destroys Nagasaki, the citizens of which are not amused with the repeated attention.

Science-fiction concept albums fell out of favor in 2000 when robots actually did seize control of the free world.

Fig 1.: Faux digital alarm clock. (Courtesy of The Alan Parsons Project Archival Project.)

April 20, 2008

Exhibit 1: Eyeliner

Eyeliner is a darkening agent applied with styluses or brushes of varied width around the edges of a human eye. The first known use of eyeliner has been traced back to the Mesopotamians and ancient Egyptians. Its initial use in rock music was in 1955 when Richard Wayne Pettiman, under the alias "Little Richard," outlined his eyes to distract the audience from the fact that he was playing an out-of-tune piano.

The use of eyeliner in glam/heavy metal applications came about by serendipitous error when a team of Dutch sexologists mixed up lab results for two experiments, one regarding bivalve mollusks and the other regarding ladies' cosmetics. Doctors Otto Adelheid and Ignaas Oudekirk's now-famous studies on pheromonal response stimuli contained the following descriptions of two independent, meagerly paid laboratory subjects, both left alone in well-furnished chambers with Scandinavian catalogue models:

SUBJECT A: Applied eye darkening agent using 2mm outline brush; coefficient Inga removed brassiere and initiated licking of Subject A's face; copulation commenced at 12:29pm and continued for six hours.

SUBJECT B: Ate five half-shell oysters; coefficient Svegala made humorous speculations on Subject B's sexual orientation and offered him a compact mirror "to check lovely self now."

News of the botched experiments spread quickly across the musical and cosmetic communities of Europe, and also resulted in the Linkoping Fisherman's Strike of 1971. When the mistake was discovered in a 1992 going-away party for a lab technician, the descendants of Drs. Adelheid and Oudekirk became despondent over the imminent loss of their inheritances, and formed the "emo" band Wrong Oysters. Lead singer Lemone Schoonhoven vowed to use eyeliner for the rest of his band's career, "so that my pain will always be self-evident to American audiences, through the increased definition of my eyes, which are windows to my paternal torment. I want to be ostracized now, please leave."

Upon release of that statement the metal community of America "blacklisted" eyeliner, as bands incorporated sacrificial burnings of Revlon store displays into their live performances. In recent years with the popularity of the Osbournes television program, eyeliner has tentatively reentered the heavy metal scene; many of the top touring bands of the day now receive bottles of eyeliner as part of their contract riders, often provided at a discount when purchased with Scandinavian catalogue models.

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