Sunday, January 04, 2004

Part deux of the retrospective on 365 Days begins…now!

The Space Lady, "Major Tom." The Space Lady is a San Francisco-area busker who's made a career of sorts out of odd, sparse covers of space-themed songs accompanied only by an ancient Casio keyboard. This version of the 80s Peter Schilling synth pop quasi-classic is a stark mini-masterpiece - the Space Lady's eerily clear and emotionless vocals combined with the minor key Casio vamping add a lonesome, ominous edge that's missing from the original's chilly, mechanical distance. It's the aural equivalent of watching a low budget 50's sci-fi flick late at night - sure, you can see all of the wires and gears, but it captures the essence of the vastness and distance of space that has been a human fascination for millenia.

The Ken Nordine Group, "Six Commercials In Search Of A Client." The inimitable Ken Nordine - poet, commercial voiceover announcer, voice of the Chicago Blackhawks - stars in this recorded pitch for mass mailed soundsheets. It's like an advertising pitch meeting on acid - you can imagine Nordine turning the lights down low in the executive boardroom and passing around some "special" brownies and coffee. Nordine's voice is so lulling yet authoritative that it makes you believe in the power of soundsheets or the real lives of the color spectrum or whatever else he's babbling on about at the moment. He missed his true calling as a charismatic cult leader.

Ford, "It's The Going Thing/Warranty Rock/It's The Going Thing" and Chevrolet, "An Exciting Thing/Grown-Up Baby/Man-Made Laws." You can trace the decline of the American automotive industry from these two songs, which use a 1960s middle aged marketing executive's idea of the crazy rock and roll music the kids are listening to - essentially, edgeless middle of the road Association-lite pop that wouldn't sound out of place on one of those "beautiful music" stations that used to be ubiquitous. As music, it's disposable (although "Warranty Rock," which sets warranty legalese to music, is sort of amusing), as a chronicle of how far the marketing of cool has come in four decades, it's an interesting curio.

Yaphet Kotto, "Have You Dug His Scene." Most of the horrible, terrible, no-good examples of celebrity singing on the 365 Days project can be filed under "seemed like a good idea at the coke party." But this is actually pretty good - Kotto does a poetry reading (which is more reminiscent of Beat leftovers from the 50s than anything else) over a repetitive, sorta-but-not-really jazz background. Substantively, there's not much to hang your hat on, but Kotto's delivery is commanding and convincing enough to warrant attention.

Shakin Jake Woods, "Baby Love/Closing Statement." Shakin' Jake Woods is a street musician from Ann Arbor, Michigan who (judging from this sample) specializes in a sort of manic, uptempo folk-blues interspersed with mini-monologues that only last a minute or so but nevertheless manage to ramble far afield. It's infectious as hell, and Woods' enthusiasm is enough to make you overlook the fact that the song is just one guitar chord strummed ad infinitum.

Christmas Gathering 1947. One of the greatest things about the gigantic library of media resources available in this day and age is the ability to reach into the past for nuggets like this - a recording of a holiday party circa 1947. OK, maybe the presence of a microphone inevitably changes peoples' behavior, and the audio fidelity is poor to say the least, but it's a window into one of the seemingly long lost, ephemeral moments that make up life - as close to time travel as we're ever likely to accomplish. And it's somewhat comforting to know that some things never change - the uncle who never stops making really bad jokes will endure throughout eternity.

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