I've been waiting for this one to turn up on YouTube for a while, and it was well worth the wait. BBC4's semi-recent (2010?) documentary chronicling the rise of Britain's electronic music scene/culture. Great insights from Daniel Miller (The Normal, Mute Records), Bernard Sumner (Joy Division), and Kraftwerk's Wolfgang Flür, who brilliantly summates:
"We saw [ourselves as] engineer musicians, instead of dancing boys on stage to arouse the girls."
WPRB lost a programming giant this weekend. George Mahlberg, more commonly known as "Doctor Cosmo" to listeners of his excellent and long-running Nocturnal Transmissions program, passed away after a long illness. As an old acquaintance and former WPRB programmer, I extend my sincerest condolences to those who were close to him.
Cosmo came on board at WPRB sometime in 1991—about a year prior to me, but his experience and radio wizardry far surpassed anything in my stable. He was older than most of PRB's other non-student DJs, and had a long résumé of radio credentials, reaching all the way back to the 70s when he'd been a programmer at L.A.'s then-adventurous K-Rock. He was also a brilliant storyteller, had a voracious appetite for unusual sounds, and most of all, he really enjoyed the company of young people who were passionate about radio. To call him an inspiration and a hero may sound trite, but after spending the last 18 hours reckoning with the cruel news of his sudden departure, I'm having trouble denying how appropriate those terms are. Recollections on his Facebook page, as well as the phone calls and emails I've fielded from former WPRB colleagues seem to validate the sentiment. There are probably dozens of mic break techniques I've nicked from him over the years, and I feel no shame in admitting it. WPRB was beyond fortunate to have a shepherd like him, even if only a small minority of the staff were aware of how incredible his talents were.
Though I didn't realize it at the time, Nocturnal Transmissions was freeform radio at its finest. When Cosmo joined the airstaff, much of WPRB was very much entrenched in the indie/underground scene of that particular era. While his programming did acknowledge those trends, he also dosed listeners with generous helpings of the avant garde, free jazz, Zappa, Krautrock, 20th Centrury Classical, 70s Marshall Boogie, fringe politics from across the spectrum, and schitzoid spoken word from all manner of radicals, revolutionaries, and acid casualties. More importantly, to the mix he added his own fierce intelligence, his incredibly eccentric humor, a tremendous appreciation for science, and an open door policy for any listeners who wanted to join the fray. As you might imagine, central Jersey doesn't offer too many rewarding avenues for seekers of adventurous art and culture, but to the avid listeners of WPRB's Friday night programming, the reality seemed very much otherwise.
I have many wonderful memories of Doctor Cosmo, but perhaps my favorite was the night he joined me on air when the DJ who followed my program failed to show up. Scrambling for a long track to eat up time, I put on "Die Donnergotter" by Rhys Chatham—a 20+ minute epic of ringing, hypnotic guitars. I'd surrendered control and had assumed a new position behind the guest mic while George slid easily into the captain's chair and engaged me in a lengthy on-air banter while "Die Donnergotter" churned away in the background. As the track approached its crashing apex, George calmly reached over and switched the turntable off so that the audio began spiraling down as we continued our on-air rap. In the kind of seamless transition that true radio geeks get their panties in a twist over, he then began manually rotating the record in reverse with his finger at what sounded like a perfect 33 RPM clip. Presto! Another 20 minutes of background music for us to push later into the evening with.
There are many songs that I'll never be able to distance from the immediate Cosmo-connection they hold for me, but "Die Donnergotter" is probably chief among them. I can only hope that wherever George is now, the guitars sound as great (whether in forward or reverse) as they did to my ears that night. To my friend, I say thank you and goodbye. I wish that we'd had more time together.
I've been doing weekly radio programs (WPRB, WRSU, WFMU) on and off for 20 years now, and in all that time, you'd think I might have learned something important. Then again, maybe it all depends on how broad your definition of that word is. For example, I have firmly established beyond all doubt that opening a radio program with this song will generate an email or phone call from a girl on the inside of six minutes.
This isn't a hunch or a gag, nor is it thinly-veiled advice for my single friends who also reside behind the mic with some degree of regularity.
My wife got me a digital meat thermometer for our anniversary, and I'm more than a little bit alarmed by how excited I am by it. The base is about the size of a 1st generation iPod, and it connects to a long cord with a menacing needle on the end of it—the sight of which would surely send terror into the hearts of any animal corpses that might happen across it, were they not already dead. Anyway, the thing has been a revelation for me, as I am something of a salmonella-phobe thanks to a nasty bout of food poisoning I acquired via one of those low-temperature poultry recipes that were trendy for a brief but terrible moment back in the 80s.
As a result, I've inflicted some of history's driest and most comically overcooked roast chickens upon the unfortunate masses, not trusting myself enough to rely on the clear-juice test. ("How can I tell if the juice is clear when it's running down a char-blackened bird?", I have sobbed aloud to no one on many occasions.) Well, those days are gone, and with them the eras of overdone pork, unevenly cooked burgers, and beef tenderloins that resemble a horrific crime scene. In the case of roast chickens—which I have always been embarrassed by my inability to make, as it is the first thing that most people learn how to cook—I now insert the thermometer just before the bird meets the heat, run the cord out the oven door, and watch as the digital readout on the base ticks upwards. Three cheers for science! Can I thank Carl Sagan for this, or maybe the guys at CERN? Because the excitement of being able to serve up this utterly phenomenal Jamie Oliver recipe for roast chicken with flawless results is, for me, just as exciting as miniature black holes are. Believe, yo. Here's "Chicken Head Man" by T-Model Ford to help drive the point home. Stream or download it using the player below.
Well, not only did this make me thirsty, it made me hungry. Such is the mysterious power of Guinness, the beer that's not really like a beer but is sort of like a large and satisfying meal. I dig this video for the extreme detail and the Jovian cloud-like swirls that any Guinness drinker is surely familiar with. Be warned that if you go searching for more videos like this one, you'll be wading through dozens of suburban chowderheads all getting their St. Patrick's Day on at the local TGI Fridays, or whatever. When in New York City, I wholly endorse the drinking of Guinness at Scratcher Bar, on East 5th Street.
Related debris: For you beer historians, here's a 1968 ad geared towards the West African Guinness market, reportedly from shortly after the company established a brewery in Sierra Leone. Part of the seemingly-endless Guinness is Good For You signage blitz.
Please re-visit, or enjoy for the very first time, the crud-fi destructo power of Mike Rep and the Quotas. You'd be hard pressed to get your molecules all tored up by a more venerable outfit. (Actual black hole, as seen here, is purely optional.)
Mike Rep's legendary Stupor Hiatus discography has just been re-upped in swanky double wax edition by Siltbreeze Records. Get yourself a copy here.
I dig nerdy space stuff, especially when it's coupled with quasi primitive flight sim graphics. Incidentally, Viking 2 entered Martian orbit 34 years ago today. I am still desperately hoping for a trilobite, earwig, rat-snail, or even a fucking microbe to be discovered there sometime before I die, as I think confirmation of alien life would effectively drag all of us down here on the monkey planet into some semblance of a promising future.
Jacques Cousteau knew this, and would likely have told us so today were he to have lived to be 100 years old. Kelley Stoltz communicates the idea with a similar pedigree to that most intrepid of deep sea explorers. Happy Birthday, Jacques—Ring on, Kelley!