Over the years, my brother Damon has left a long list of projects behind him — many completed, some not so much. Sometimes, the strain of trying to hold all the pieces together is just too great to sustain for any length of time. People lose focus of his quixotic vision, or he gets fed up with cajoling them into following his lead. Sometimes, there are feuds. It’s always gratifying, though, when you see people committed enough to see it through to the end, especially when you can’t pay them.
I don’t know if all the players in these clips remain in Damon’s good graces or not, but he managed to coax terrific performances from all of them. Michael Block’s droll commentary in “The American Eating Show,” is charming to the extreme, but I confess I have no idea what’s going on with the hallucinatory visual effects Damon has added. The two gentlemen in “About Five Minutes” do an acceptable job with Damon’s convoluted script, though they sound like they could have used more rehearsal time. Regardless, if nothing else, this piece succeeds in making my wife very nervous.
My brother has created a lot of music in his life. He started and disbanded more groups than I’ll ever be able to remember. He’s even produced music for the City of Tucson as well as a couple of churches. Just this last weekend, he joined the Unitarian Church Choir for a performance of a couple of his pieces at a service commemorating the installation of their new minister. And while everyone was very proud of him (especially his parents), in my heart, it will never supplant “About Five Minutes.”
In the early fall of 1996, my friend Bruce Sandig and I traveled down to Tucson to appear in a video for my brother’s cable television show. I guess Damon must have been desperate to fill time on his November episode. Why else would he invite Today’s Sounds on his show?
Any doubt I might have had that Bruce would balk at having to perform “Let’s Turkey Trot” dressed up like a pilgrim was quickly laid to rest. He jumped at the opportunity to appear on television. So, we visited the local party store for some paper hats and scored some shirts and vests from Goodwill. We completed the ridiculous ensemble with some black biker shorts from Wall Mart. Then we drove down to Tucson to meet up with my brother. I tortured Bruce during the drive with my off-key demos of songs that didn’t make it on the record.
As the video clearly shows, our holiday garb was an actual cut above our regular street clothes. For our pantomime studio performance, we both wore hideous shorts and polo shirts. Then we donned our costumes and hit the park, where we danced and chased the birds. We were supposed to be duck hunting (shade of Elmer Fudd), but I’m not sure our exaggerated expressions denote hunger so much as a kind of pained longing (for what, I’m not sure).
Your Truly is featured in the second clip as well, an unintentionally hilarious version of “MacArthur Park” by David Martin and “The Bostrom Arts Ensemble.” This is a live performance, of sorts, with Damon and I (on piano and drums respectively) backing up Martin, who sings and plays trombone. It’s an eccentric rendition to say the least. Martin’s howling performance is made all the more eerie by his striking “hippie” garb. Adding to the instability of the preceding, Damon insisted that he and I play along to a pre-recorded computerized track. There weren’t enough channels for a click track, apparently, so I was forced to comp along to the barely audible bass part in my headphones. Damon and I don’t so much “play” the song as hunt desperately for our places in the arrangement. If anything, Martin saves the mess with his oddball intensity and frankly misguided commitment to the material.
I got a call from my father the other day. “You were right,” he told me.
He’d been trying to keep a barbershop group together up where he lives in Anchorage, Alaska. But he was unable to keep the group engaged at the level he demanded, and he got tired of doing all the work. So he finally decided to take my suggestion that he just get himself a decent mike, plug it into his computer, and record all the parts himself. Unfortunately, he ditched Apple several years ago, too soon to take part in the iLife Revolution. Now he was asking me which Windows software would be the best for the task at hand. I had no idea, so I pointed him to a couple of readily Googlable trial versions and hoped for the best. In the end, he went with the off-the-shelf solution at his nearby Best Buy.
He was so stoked with the results that now he was calling me again, asking about gear upgrades — specifically, one of those nice hands-free mike and headphone combos that you see all the kids wearing on television. He told me his new goal was to mount a series of karaoke-style performances at the local hospital. I told him it was time to forgo his computer store for advice and head over to the local music store. We also discussed the importance of extensive rehearsal and the necessity of working through the suck.
My brother Damon always had a similar dilemma. He’s been involved in a long string of awesome musical groups, none of them had any real staying power. More often than not, they seemed to break down on the rocks of their indifference to putting in the work it takes to master my brother’s beguiling and complicated original compositions. Like my father, he also wound up wed to the convenience of digital multi-tracking.
“Octet For Percussion” is a perfect example of a piece he never talked anyone into learning. I’m not even sure he tried. It existed on paper long before it ever got recorded. For his teevee show, Damon added a comparatively mundane video collage homage to his job behind the wheel of a cab. Similarly, he also gives autobiographical touches to his version of Jacques Brel’s “Les Chanson De Jacqui,” breathing all his frustrated singular ambition into Brel’s classic tale of an everyman’s aspirations of grandeur.
Though he maintains a couple of loose musical associations on his Henry VIII, King Of All England site and as the leader of the essentially fictitious Kings Of Doggwater, my brother’s current musical output is mostly a solitary enterprise. But unlike our father, he does have one very powerful partner in his corner. After years of wandering in the Windows wilderness, he finally acquired an aging Macintosh from one of his fellow musicologists. We wish him nothing but good fortune and creative productivity free from driver conflicts.
Summer is never the easiest time of year for my brother Damon. Living as he does out in the middle of the desert with nothing but generator power and water from a shared well, it can be a challenge to keep himself cool. But even during the coolest time of the year, it’s tough trying to get him to offer me any back story on the televison program he produced during the 90s for Access Tucson’s public access cable station. Though I’ve asked him to contribute to my series of excerpts from his show, so far the only response I’ve gotten from him is a terse “just keep ‘em coming.”
Well, that much, I can do. But I confess I’d love to have some context for the “This Is My House” segment contained below. In this clip, Damon and his two compatriots, David Martin and Michael Bloch, travel to a ditch somewhere in South Tucson and interview a couple of homeless gentlemen who have set up housekeeping amid the piles of garbage out behind an apartment complex.
The two men are eager to strike up a comfortable rapport with the three large strangers who have just invaded their territory. They generously share the details of their lives: the danger of their surroundings, their distrust of “the big city” and the dubious current state of their sobriety. They are really quite chatty — clearly, the men rely heavily on their communication skills to help keep them safe.
The conversation is disjointed enough, and is made even more so by the challenging style Damon employed when editing the material. The entire piece reels drunkenly, fragmented into a hallucinatory visual and aural collage of jarring jump cuts. Though highly quixotic, the effect crackles with my brother’s typically intense creative energy.
Competing this week’s package are two pieces of zen instruction, another fake ad by Yours Truly, and a brief musical interlude featuring Damon stripped the the waist, bellowing for dessert.
God bless America’s secularized public school system for teaching generations of students the proper habits of good citizenship, public safety and personal hygiene. But don’t count out the scores of church schools who had their heavy hands in the game as well. Sure, they had a lock on the materials devoted strictly to religious instruction, but devotional institutions of learning also showed an interest in seeing that their students’ time on earth was as long and trouble-free as possible. And though classroom filmstrips might be more likely to, say, celebrate the studious habits of a young Abe Lincoln, they didn’t shy away from a good old traffic safety fear fest either.
Cathedral Filmstrips’ “Bicycle Safety” is kind of like a “Mechanized Death” for the Saturday morning cartoons crowd. Not gory by any means, but definitely designed for extreme impact — in a Saturday morning cartoons kind of way. The art itself is entirely in the style of the classic matinée short. The harassed citizens pop their eyes and flap their tongues comically. The foolish children show their agony with stars, corkscrews and tweety birds. But the underlying message remains grim: those deviating from cycling best practices face grievous injury, possible death and certain ridicule.
I wish I could you who’s responsible for the wonderful drawings in this filmstrip, but I fear that’s something best left to the experts over at the ASIFI Animation Archive. Though I’ve enjoyed that site for years, I was reminded of it once again after the recent demise of Will Elder. But thought I came for the Elder, I stayed for the Fearless Fosdick.
The masses have spoken: you LOVE The Damon Show! Actually that’s not true. Compared to the numbers that followed Boing Boing’s link to our “The Little Cloud” filmstrip, only a small handful bothered to check out the other material on my YouTube “channel.” But that’s okay; Damon’s fans like it — especially those folks who were actually in the show! This is problematic, since he keeps getting requests for footage that only exists in my collection on old video cassettes buried heaven knows where in one of my closets. I’m a loving brother and all, and certainly the cruddy VCR copies should be preserved one day, but for now, I’m sticking to stuff that’s already in the can.
Which brings us to this week’s offering. One of my brother’s most prolific and constant collaborators on the show was David Martin, who appeared as “Knowledge” in our last “Damon Show” installment, and who features quite prominently this time around. He shares the spotlight with our host in their version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “Army Song.” Interiors for this piece were filmed in Bisbee’s historic Copper Queen hotel. Martin then reports from a Tucson bookstore, where they unsuccessfully attempt to cover a book signing by Dan Quayle.
The highlight of our second clip is a short piece by Bisbee resident and San Francisco Renaissance expat, Knute Stiles. A noted abstract artist, poet and art critic, Stiles is probably best known for starting the legendary North Beach bohemian bar, The Place. There, along with co-proprietor Leo Krikorian, Stiles started the dadaist open mike events which came to be known as “Blabbermouth Night.” Here, Stiles pays tribute to Bisbee’s “neighborhood rapist,” a particularly aggressive tabby named Max.
Classroom Filmstrips have been a staple of kitch fans since time immemorial (that’s about four decades, in Kitsch Years), yet the Web still lacks a truly marvellous repository of the things. (Note: You can go here, but they are mostly films.) Collectors are apparently afraid to let them out of their little plastic tubes for fear they’ll crumble in the air. Others would rather compile them onto equally crumbly paper and weigh in on the matter with their own two cents. I found a few promotional items, like this Esther Williams swimming pool endorsement, and some from Ford Motor Corporation. But the only school related material I found relates to the sub-genre of anti-drug propaganda. But I’ve found little that relates to such all-important topics as personal hygene, public safety, good citizenship and religious instruction.
Thusly, I couldn’t resist a box of Sunday school filmstrips during a recent antique store outing. I also couldn’t resist scanning a couple of them, adding the included soundtrack records, and combining the whole mess into a couple nifty QuickTimes files — just the thing for an upload to YouTube. The colors have faded and dust has burned permanently into the images, but the somber message for our little ones is as clear as on the day these filmstrips were manufactured. After weighing the pros and cons of simulating the film-roll experience, I ultimately ruled it out. It would have been too much trouble. (That is to say, I forgot about that built-in transition effect until i was too late.)
Today’s lesson is the intriguing story of the little cloud who gave his life to help humanity. Not only is it a terrific primer for helping kids visualize fluffy Casper-like supernatural beings floating overhead affecting our lives, it also introduces children to the concept of self-sacrifice (very important in a society that relies upon a standing military), the value of prayer in an agrarian economy, and the scientific role of cloud sadness in the production of rain.
Note: This strip seems to predate the use of a “beep” for an aural cue. Instead, it uses an organ arpeggio which, since it has six tones instead of one, is six times longer!
About fifteen years ago, between the time he moved from Bisbee, Arizona to Tucson, and when he finally escaped to the outskirts of Pearce, my brother Damon discovered the awesome Access Tucson, one of the finest public access television providers in the country. Theirs was a great partnership. Suddenly he was peppering me with requests for old cartoons, pictures from the internet, copies of his various recordings, any raw material he could use for a grand project, the outlines of which I could just barely make out. Next thing I knew, he was pressuring me more than usual to drive down to Tucson and help him out with a television program he claimed to be putting into production.
Damon did the show for about a year and a half, I guess — first a one hour special, then a monthly fifteen minute program, and well as a few odd one-offs. Though he worked mostly with his own team, I managed to keep my hand in from time to time, both behind and in front of the camera. Some of the pieces he put together were pretty ambitious, but little of it approached network television standards. But we were all learning as we went along. Even at its roughest, the show always crackled with restless inspiration.
Just before Damon moved away from Tucson, he did a quick and dirty digital dump of some of the highlights of his work at Access Tucson. Of course, digital transfer is another skill altogether, one my brother hadn’t mastered. So the transfers suffered as a result. He dropped the files off with me, where I did even more clumsy damage. Now the show lives both on a crude highlight DVD as well as aging video carts. But recently, he’s been urging me to help him augment his web presence by uploading some “Damon Show” sequences to YouTube. And I’ve only too happy to comply. So, over the next several weeks, I hope to bore you with the greatest hits of the Bostrom Arts team.
Our first installment contains two clips of two segments each. First up is the show’s theme montage. The music is by Derrick and Damon, the result of a goofy recording jam at Damon’s home studio. Next is “The Nixon Picture Show,” inspired by a “Breakfast Without Meat” cartoon of mine, with Damon “remixing” a recording of Nixon playing piano on the Jack Parr show back in the early sixties.
The next two segments are even better. The first is an ad for Satan’s Cigarettes, based on an actual treat I gave out for Halloween back in 1979 (until the police came). The second, “Knowledge Wandered North,” is one of several episodes from the show that endeavor to dole out wisdom from the east. Notable both for my brother’s enthusiastic narration, and for the foggy performances of his cast (all of whom seem uneasily in the dark about the content of their dialogue), “Knowledge” also sneaks in a couple more ads, both scripted by Yours Truly.
I only heard about RFD-TV Channel a couple months ago. My cable provider doesn’t carry “Rural America’s Most Important Network,” and I’m almost tempted to switch to a satellite service to get it. But it’s not the agricultural or equine content that intrigues me, it’s the musical programming. Apparently, back in the late seventies, television producer Normal Lear bought a Nashville station and wanted to get rid of the station’s huge library of regional programs from the 60s and 70s. This library included whole runs of classic shows by Porter Wagoner and the Wilburn Brothers. In stepped none other than Willie Nelson, who bought the whole lot of it. After languishing in safety for a few decades, the plums from this collection are finally creeping onto the air at RFD-TV.
Ever since I found out about all this, I’ve been haunting YouTube, keeping an eye out for anything from these programs. And recently, I found the motherlode. A user who calls himself “SleepyCreek” has been uploading steadily since last fall, contributing more than 300 from the Wagoner and Wilburn programs, as well as a healthy helping from the mid-60s Buck Owens Show. You’ll find a staggering number of stars represented on SleepyCreek’s “channel,” including Porter’s girl singer Dolly Parton and Teddy & Doyle’s girl singer Loretta Lynn. Its amazing to see artists like Dave Dudley, Charlie Louvin and Bobby Bare in their prime, as well as my personal favorite, Jim Ed Brown. I had hoped to find more on Brown, especially since he actually hosted his own show, “Country Carnival,” from 1968 to 1971. But though its a part of Willie’s collection, this show does not appear currently on RFD-TV’s schedule. Just the same, the two clips show Brown in fine form and in marked contrast to many of the other singers. Neither stiff, sheepish nor uncomfortable, Jim Ed smiles and mugs for the camera like a true pro.
Speaking of pros, George Jones is, perhaps not surprisingly, the standout here. Not merely “professional,” not merely “comfortable” — George is simply possessed. In what must have been a deliberate strategy, SleepyCreek presents three very different versions of “Walk Through This World With Me” from three different programs. George sports his classic flat-top haircut in the first version from the Porter Wagoner show. He plays it straight: the tempo is steady and sure; George is intense, but accessible. Next, we jump ahead to an episode of the Wilburn Brothers, where he appears with his new wife, Tammy Wynette (their duet from the same show, “”Milwaukee Here I Come,” is also in the collection) Here, the performance is more playful; the tempo is up, but George is relaxed and confident. But a year later in an appearance on “Hee Haw, the demons are on full display. The song is almost a dirge, and Jones’ voice is a mournful wail. Whatever’s going on behind his haunted glazed eyes, it’s clear this is a man out of step from the scripted, folksy patter of his hosts. Taken together, these four clips reveal a lot about why George Jones is such a treasure.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before Willie and RFD-TV make these shows available on DVD. The way things are going over at YouTube, these clips are bound to vanish before all that long. So fire up your favorite video grabber and follow the links below. Or contact your local satellite television provider.
NOTE: These videos are no longer available due to a copyright claim by Gaylord Entertainment Company.
Here’s just a small sample from the SleepyCreek Collection: