Song Of The Day 3/7/2017: Wonder Woman – “Duckies [Radio Edit]”
The Final 23
College: The 10-Year PlanOkay, now we’re in Olympia.
I was back in school at the Evergreen State College with just a year and a half left until I got a degree. My first lineup of classes included Calculus and Analytical Geometry II, Cognitive Neuroscience, Classical and Marxian Political Economy, and Influence of Catalan Culture on Conducting International Business.
Just kidding. I got those course titles from the Rhodes College catalogue.
I took musicology classes, though, that stuck with me longer than almost anything else I took. There was a great one I took from a man named Chuck Pailthorp that introduced me to Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose stuff I loved right away. (Wittgenstein was a big influence on Steve Martin, which should surprise no one.) I also took an ethnomusicology course from Sean Williams and Terry Setter. If I hadn’t taken that I’m not sure how I would have pried myself away from Western music. (My favorite kinds of mixtapes to make these days are all music from other countries. Seriously, Mixtape #45 is one of the best I’ve ever done, and it’s basically South American.)
I took audio engineering and “hybrid music” classes as well. Not only did it expand my appreciation for music recording, it also confirmed my utter fear of large electronic things. It also proved that no matter how experimental I tried to be, at heart I just wanted to make a good Hall & Oates album.
There were no grades at Evergreen, but my instructors seemed to think I was a pretty good student. I could still write. Chuck noticed something very astute about how I did things: “You think when you write.” So that’s how the magic happens.
I Want the AirwavesBut the real reason I was at Evergreen was to finally have a goddamn radio show at KAOS Olympia Community Radio. Christ, it took long enough.
I actually knew shortly before leaving Seattle for good that KAOS had accepted me as a volunteer, and that my own show was imminent. Ricardo Wang, from the CURSE days in Seattle, had moved down to Olympia and started a show called What’s This Called?
I had two possible names for my show in mind. The first was Inconvenience, an old L. Ron Shrubbery song title. The other was Shrug Festival. Whenever I asked people which one they liked better, they sort of snickered at Inconvenience, but they genuinely laughed at Shrug Festival. So I decided that’s what it was going to be.
I don’t care for that name anymore, but in the early ‘90s when the going climate in the Northwest music scene was one of disinterest and insouciance? It was the shit. Flippancy sold, man. Shrug Festival it was.
But how close I came to having the nickname Paul Inconvenience. And please don’t start now that I’ve mentioned it.
KAOS’s music policy, as has been famously related, was 80% independent music to 20% major label music. Many shows exceeded that 80% quota. Diana told me hers was more like 90-10. Shrug Festival was probably closer to 85-15.
I approached the music I played on Shrug Festival the same way I approach it now, even with Star Time: I heard the song once, and if I liked it, it went right back over the air. I wanted to introduce it to the audience at roughly the same time I’d been introduced to it myself.
And there are plenty of times I didn’t even hear the song once before it went on the air. I played a lot of 7-inches—Shrug Festival’s main weapon of choice back then—almost sight unseen. If I’d noticed on the sleeve that other DJs played it (each record had a log stuck on it), and if the art and/or title looked dependable, or if I knew the label it came on, sometimes I’d just throw it on the turntable and hear it for the first time when my audience did.
This method backfired only twice. Once it was a band that did a pretty uninteresting Jimi Hendrix knock-off, without the guitar wizardry. When I realized the song wasn’t going to be very good I decided there was no reason to finish it. So I switched off the turntable, immediately turned on the mic, and without a beat told the audience, “Whoops-I-accidentally-turned-that-off. Let’s move to the next song!” The other time it was a band with the word “Xanax” in their name. They were just devolving into uninspired jam band/Soundgarden territory. So I went into the back record shelves, pulled out Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, went back into the studio, put it on the turntable, and slowly faded it up until the abhorrent noise of Reed’s most infamous album overtook the even more abhorrent noise from the Xanax guys. I’m surprised I only pulled the Metal Machine Music card that one time, to be honest.
The second episode of Shrug Festival came a couple of days after Kurt Cobain killed himself. This hit Olympia fairly hard since Kurt had lived there for a time, and we had a few mutual acquaintances. Allegedly “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was at least peripherally about Olympia. Anyway, I wasn’t really a slobbering mess, but I had no idea who the audience was (especially since the show was on Saturday mornings at 1 a.m.—whatever audience I had was probably under heavy sedation). I said something like “If I’d known him, I’d have really asked him to find someone to talk to,” or some other well-meant but wholly inconsequential drivel.
The first phase of Shrug Festival had some records that had a lifelong effect on me: “I Like to Die” by the Drags; “I Suck” by New Bad Things; the whole Built to Spill album There’s Nothing Wrong With Love; anything I could get my hands on from Armadillo Records in San Francisco; and of course the K Records and Kill Rock Stars catalogues. It was probably a solid little indie rock show, I suppose. I’m not in position to judge it fairly myself.
"Hey... can we sub your show tonight?"One night when I had nothing much to do—and this is what I often did when I had nothing much to do—which was often—I went up to the KAOS studios for some reason or another. There were a few guys setting something up in the performance studio to go on the air live. They saw me come in and good-naturedly invited me to stick around, and if I felt like playing, they were going to do a free-form radio show for a couple of hours.
The implications of this chance meeting were huge.
Here’s who was in the studio at that time, and I’m going to use their last names as well because I don’t think they have any litigation pending against me:
- Brooks Martin, host of Artichoke
- Rob Keefe, host of… dammit, Rob, I forgot the name of your show
- Phan Nguyen, host of… shit. Sorry Phan, I forgot yours too
- Ricardo Wang, host of What’s This Called?
I’m sure I have some of the history wrong, since I wasn’t there right at the outset, but from what I hear, the other four guys were technically “subbing” someone else’s show (I believe it was ellen gormley’s) (she stylized her name in lower case).
The way the legend was perpetrated, this came from the rest of the guys actually asking ellen if she could just not do her show that night and let them take over.
I believe Ricardo was monitoring both a sound effect rack and a television that we could use for background noise. There were several pieces of auxiliary percussion (I think there were spoons) lying around, along with an acoustic guitar and a tiny-ass Casio keyboard flush up against the south wall of the performance studio.
I figured this would be a good time to show off the keyboard skills. Maybe I’d get a record deal. That night!
I don’t remember most of the show, because I don’t think anybody else remembered most of the show. But at some point Brooks started playing a relatively rudimentary series of chords on the acoustic guitar. I got on the Casio keyboard and selected the organ-like voicing. I played a quick-moving blues figure, which was sort of my go-to move. Then Brooks began making this guttural vocal sound as eerie sound effects started to crawl through the headphones.
I felt the need at this juncture to make some vocal noises myself to act as a counterpoint to Brooks’ own vocals, which very obviously owed a huge debt to Eastern Phrygian scales. I didn’t want to blow that gig.
The only word that came to my mind, and I don’t know exactly why, was a phrase in one of my favorite pop parodies of all time: The Jazz Butcher’s “The Best Way.” It’s a rap song about chicken. How to prepare chicken, how to eat chicken, general assumptions about certain spiritual aspects of chicken. It’s all there.
One of the samples in “The Best Way,” played annoyingly ad nauseam, is someone saying “Prize turkeys!!” “Pri-pri-pri-prize turkeys!” Except I just found that out by looking up the lyrics on the JB’s official site. Because the speaker is British and I’m notably not so great at picking out sounds from foreign tongues, for years I thought they were saying “Raise DUCKIES!”
That’s what I sang. Or, rather, intoned. “Duckies. Duckies. Duckies. Duckies.”
So it turns out I wasn’t ripping the Jazz Butcher off after all. “Duckies” was my own thing. I owned it. I came up with that shit. That just gave me a whole new lease of life right there. Happy birthday to me.
And that was the first Wonder Woman show there ever was. There would be two more. But I’ll talk about them tomorrow.
By the way: "Duckies" was later officially released on a compilation album called KAOS Theory: Live on the Air in Olympia. Somebody wrote a record review about it, in which they said "Duckies" was "haunting."