Weird Records

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Winter break is over and bleary-eyed kids all over the City of Minneapolis are rising to alarm clocks and Mom’s admonitions. Soon we’ll all be back in the rhythm of our routine, such as it is, for the remaining 103 days of school.

To celebrate (as this is a very different kind of day when you don’t have to get on that school bus), here is the most unusual educational record we have ever posted here on the Hymies blog, borrowed from a 2014 post.

little red 1little red 2A remarkable relic from China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Songs of the Little Red Guards is a 10″ album from the late 60s with a similar package to the Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger records American children were putting on their Fisher Price players at the time.

Although sung by a children’s choir, the songs reflect the turmoil of the times, in particular the re-establishment of Mao-ist orthodoxy. Titles such as “Let’s Help Pick Up the Rice Left in the Fields” and “Growing Vegetables for the Armymen’s Families” hint at the legacy of the famine which followed Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Foward while others enforce the Communist Party’s doctrine.

One of the most interesting songs is a tribute to Lei Feng, a relatively unknown soldier whose memoirs were published after his death in 1962 as Lei Feng’s Diary. The book expresses his admiration for Chairman Mao Zedong and the sacrifices he has made for the revolution in the form of selfless acts. The soldier was the subject of a propaganda campaign, and his story became part of the compulsory curriculum in schools.

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An iconic poster of Lei Feng

The Red Guard was a student movement which began in 1966 in the middle school attached to Beijing’s Tsinghua University. After receiving recognition from the CCP the group quickly established itself in nearly every school in China. With the Chairman’s personal endorsement at a rally that summer, the group became an essential part of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Party leadership in Beijing struggled to control the Red Guard, which became increasingly divided into factions as it grew, potentially out of control. The campaign against Capitalist or bourgeoisie remnants became violent in places, where assaults on Chinese cultural relics quickly became assaults on individuals. The People’s Liberation Army began suppressing the Red Guard’s most radical elements in 1967, and it was entirely eliminated, often with brutal force, by the summer of 1968. The Chairman, whose enormous personality cult was greatly enhanced by the Red Guard, was alleged to have a tear in his eye when he last spoke to Red Guard leaders.

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A Red Guard poster featuring the watchful Chairman

If you’d like to learn more about the Red Guard or start such an organization in your own school, you will likely enjoy Carma Hinton’s 2003 documentary about the Cultural Revolution, Morning Sun. If you still think it’s a good idea, we have a little red book for you.

One of the most esoteric subgenres in American music may be eef, a turn-of-the-century Appalachian precursor to beatbox which enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame in the early 60s with a single minor hit (“Little Eeefin’ Annie” by Joe Perkins) and recurring appearances by Jimmy Riddle (accompanied by hambone “artist” Jackie Phelps) on Hee Haw.

You may be surprised to read that record companies were not lining up to sign eef acts, and so actual recordings are fairly uncommon. A sole single by the Goodlettsville Five from 1964 may be one of the only eef records which has turned up here at your friendly neighborhood record shop in the better part of a decade.

baileys gone eefing

Its often said that culture moves in cycles and things once discarded will come around again — and Lord knows no one here could have predicted there’d ever be enough demand for Eagles records that they’d actually start making more of them — but eef seems like an art form lost to the ages.

Some years ago we met the Devil at a crossroads. In exchange for making our record shop beloved unto the masses, we agreed to share with our followers the holy doctrine of the almighty Jim Backus at least once a year.

Yea, wretched sinners — behold the Truth of Truths

You have now heard “Overture” and “Creation” from Truth of Truths, a rock opera based on the Bible, produced by Ray Ruff in 1971. Not just spiritually enlightening, Truth of Truths boasts occasional kick-ass prog-y rock passages a la Iron Butterfly and soul-pop in the 5th Dimension vein.

And yes, the voice of God — creator of Heaven and Earth, is none other than Jim Backus. Mr. Magoo is your Lord. Thurston Howell III your almighty Creator.

You were created in His image.

Some folks are embarrassed when they bring in boxes of records. Turns out that Wham! album always belongs to someone’s sister.

Truth is, there’s no judgement. Nobody should ever make fun of you for the music you enjoy, unless its your neighbors and you’ve been playing it too loud. Our own collection has all kinds of skeletons in the closet, and we don’t mean a copy of Skeletons in the Closet.

There is one record in particular which we have never played all the way to the end. We’ve never even finished a single side, and it’s a double LP. It’s Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed.

metal machine music

Reed’s hour-long electronic drone has no musical value whatsoever. Rolling Stone said it was as unpleasant as “a night in a bus terminal” at the time. It is commonly listed as one of the worst records of all time.

Always a contrarian, Lester Bangs praised the album, although given his tumultuous relationship with Reed its hard to tell if he is serious or not when he claims Metal Machine Music to be “the greatest album in the history of the human eardrum.”

A classical music it adds nothing to a genre that may well be depleted,” wrote Bangs. “As rock ‘n’ roll it’s interesting garage electronic rock ‘n’ roll. As a statement it’s great, as a giant FUCK YOU it shows integrity—a sick, twisted, dunced-out, malevolent, perverted, psychopathic integrity, but integrity nevertheless.”

Why have a record you’ll never play? Well, because we are Lou Reed fans, and it has to sit on the shelf in between Sally Can’t Dance and Coney Island Baby. And also because one day maybe we’ll finally “get it.”

There’s also have a book I’ve never finished: Bill Clinton’s 2004 autobiography My Life. I received it as a gift from my wife the week it was published because she knows how much I enjoy reading about the Presidents in their own words. The year before she gave me Ulysses S. Grant’s Personal Memoirs, which were originally published by Mark Twain in 1885 in part to provide for the Civil War hero’s family after his death.

my lifeMy Life by Bill Clinton is the most oppressively boring book ever written. I read a review at the time which said it was like being stuck at the airport with a lonely old man, and that’s about the kindest way to describe this book. I refuse to skip ahead, so don’t ask about the scandals which began to follow him as early in the 80s, because I haven’t gotten that far into the book. See the bookmark in the picture? That’s where I am after eleven years.

Whenever I have a fever or I can’t sleep, I take Bubba’s book off the shelf. It always solve my problem better than Nyquil, and with only a slightly more unpleasant hangover.

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Police officer Don Vegge often performed the offertory at Faith Evangelical Church in Billings, Montana on his musical saw. He is heard here performing “Amazing Grace” and the moving “Through It All” by the late Andraé Crouch from his Lp, The Carpenter’s Saw.

You may have thought the lowest approval ratings a President has had in America would have been during the Watergate scandal, the Iran-Contra scandal, or perhaps during the financial crisis and bailouts of 2007 shepherded by George W. Bush. In fact, it was in the fall of 1951, when President Harry Truman had an approval rating of about 22%, driven primarily by his decision that April to relieve General Douglas MacArthur of command over United Nations forces in Korea.

MacArthur is a towering figure in 20th century history, having long before the Korean War begun one of the most extraordinary careers in American history by serving with distinction in our occupation of Veracruz in 1914. After this he rose to the rank of Colonel in the First World War, fighting on the western front, and earning more than a half dozen medals for his valor. When he returned to active duty before the Second World War, MacArthur commanded our Pacific forces. Initially forced from the Philippines, MacArthur fulfilled his famous promise (“I shall return”) after two years of fighting. His defense of the Philippines, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor, was a turning of the tide in the Pacific theater, leading to the leapfrogging strategy which eventually led Allied forces to Japan.

MacArthur’s conduct in the Korean War remains a subject of controversy. Troops criticized him for conducting the war from the safety of Tokyo, and after his dismissal from duty a congressional hearing found he had violated the Constitution by defying the President’s orders.

douglas macarthurWhen he and his wife Jean returned to the United States, it was their first visit since their wedding fourteen years earlier. They travelled cross country to the Capitol where MacArthur address the US Congress to a series of standing ovations.

In retirement, MacArthur accepted West Point’s prestigious Syvanus Thayer Award on May 12, 1962. Visibly frail, the General’s speech is remembered for its frequent refrain, “Duty, honor, country.

You may wonder how we intend to connect the story of “Dugout Doug” to what is usually a blog about music. It’s this 1969 piece by avant garde composer Robert Erickson. General Speech was commissioned by Stuart Dempster, and is written for solo trombone.

new music for virtuosos

From the liner notes to this LP, Music for Virtuosos 2, by Harvey Sollberger:

Based not merely on a text of General Douglas MacArthur’s but as much on his persona or, one might say, the myth he consciously lived and exemplified, the piece uses speech as a bridge between music and theater. The trombonist is required to merge his playing of precisely notated (and often difficult) musical events with the verbal articulations into the instrument of a phoneticized version of MacArthur’s retirement speech at West Point. Thus the opening “Duty, honor, country” (which functions as a refrain throughout this piece) is articulated as “Doo-tee — yonor — cunt’treeee,” etc.

general speech

Robert Erickson was briefly a resident of the Twin Cities, where he studied under Ernest Krenek at Hamline and later taught at St. Catherine’s before moving to the West Coast. He was one of the first American composers to work in Schoenberg’s twelve tone system, but left it behind as his works evolved towards musique concrete. Composers of note who cite Erickson as an influence include Pauline Oliveros, Terry Reilly and Morton Subotnik.

We’re sort of fascinated by General Speech, which we assume was intended as a commentary on the Vietnam War and specifically perhaps on the draft. In personifying the General in the same manner as Charlie Brown’s teacher, Erickson presents the military establishment as disconnected from the people in a mocking tone.

But the choice of MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech strikes us as inconsistent with this interpretation, because shortly before giving his famous farewell at West Point, MacArthur met with President Kennedy at the White House, where he was critical of current military strategy and of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. MacArthur advised Kennedy against continuing to build up a military presence in Vietnam.

In fact, MacArthur was somewhat unique among military leaders of his generation in his attitude towards the people of the Far East. His tenure as the effective ruler of Japan, as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during the US occupation after World War II, suggests he understood the potential for peace and prosperity to be found in the East. There is a stunning photograph of the General standing next to Emperor Hirohito, a man who many wished to see hanged but who MacArthur actively protected from a war crimes trial.

One can only speculate what MacArthur would have said about the state of our war in Vietnam in 1969, because he had “fade[d] away” (to paraphrase his famous remark) five years earlier. We would like to speculate that Erickson chose MacArthur’s retirement speech because it was well-known to his audience. Had he composed General Speech a year later, perhaps he would have instead chosen General George Patton’s speech to the Third Army, delivered on the day before D-Day. It had become very famous because an abridged version opened the Academy Award-winning film Patton that year.

Contrasting Patton’s speech with MacArthur’s presents a very different perspective of duty, honor and country. If you can recognize it in the trombone solo performed by Stuart Dempster (we certainly cannot), the conclusion of General Douglas MacArthur’s speech at West Point is a painful reminder of the world we have created for ourselves, even fifty years later.

This does not mean that you are war mongers.

On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Two more messages of affirmation, following up on the theme of yesterday’s post about Ricky Nelson, each from unique artists you have to dig pretty deep into the crates to find these days.

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The first is by Exuma, whose surreal albums transcend the confines of genre, combining carnival with calypso, balladic melodies and a preoccupation with the spirituality and folklore of Obeah. Although he was an underground figure for most of his career, his early albums for major labels appear in the shop from time to time and always brighten our day.

DSC07073The second is from an equally original source, voice-over artist Ken Nordine. His “Word Jazz” LPs present his bizarre, often Kafka-esque stories in the style of the beat poets. On his early albums for Dot, he’s backed by the Northern Jazz Quartet, led by Richard Campbell. He later recorded with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, and also served as a vocal coach to Linda Blair during the filming of The Exorcist.

This track from Word Jazz Vol. II puts a positive spin on Nordine’s paranoia.

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