When the Ragman Draws Circles
"No matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you."-Zora Neale Hurston
In August of 1967 San Francisco…all of America…got its first truly free-form radio station KMPX, 107FM led by radio veteran Tom Donahue. All of a sudden, there was a place to hear folky rock music, psychedelic grooves, world sounds…all on the same station, often all on the same show. As the counter-culture of San Francisco grew, there was a radio station that anyone around the Bay could connect with to hear the now sounds and the far-out-from-now sounds. It was all very groovy….for at least a little while.
By April of 1968, inner-station turmoil resulted in Donahue leaving and the rest of the staff going on strike1. KMPX was off the air and never to return to the free form format it had celebrated.
But right in the middle of its existence, it decided to let its listeners vote for who would be elected to office for the highest positions in government. It was a dark, tumultuous time in our country, with the Vietnam war raging and a presidential race just getting started that would lead to the Chicago police riots, the trial of the Chicago 7, and finally the November Presidential vote where the ill-fated Richard Nixon beat out a Hubert Humphrey ticket that included a huge racist, George Wallace (Dem), as the potential vice-president. Phew. (nice to know the political climate is better today—HA!)
What we needed were some gonzo DJs to lighten the mood.
So 54 years ago on this date, January 7th, Tom Donahue and company held a “grass ballot” (get it?) for their listeners to vote for who would hold office. And the results came in, and they were not contested by anyone who was listening. Bob Dylan was elected President running on a ticket with Paul Butterfield as Vice-President. George Harrison was elected UN Ambassador with the Jefferson Airplane getting the role of Secretary of Transportation and The Grateful Dead as Attorney General.
That evening people DID take to the streets…but they were heading not to city hall, but to the Fillmore for the “Stop The Draft” benefit with Phil Ochs, The Loading Zone, Blue Cheer, Mad River, and The Committee.
Ochs would end up being in Chicago for the Democratic Convention as part of the Yippie’s “Festival of Life” protest in Lincoln Park, where he was arrested while nominating his presidential candidate, a pig. He witnessed the Chicago Riots, calling them the “final death of democracy in America.” A poignant voice from the past speaking to us as we mark the anniversary of last year’s insurrection.
Getting back to the KMPX vote: though totally illogical, wouldn’t it be nice to live in a reality where we elected that group of genius, crazy artists to those jobs. Instead, we need to just keep fighting to make sure Ochs’ thoughts on America’s demise remain a fiction.
While the celebration was a few days ago, the incredible works of art that are now in the public domain are ours for the experiencing, forever (including the tremendous silent horror classic, Faust [picture above]). “On January 1, 2022, cultural items in the archive dating from 1926 shed their copyright and made their proper full and proper entrance into society. In 2022, for the first time (as discussed previously in this newsletter), a swath of 400,000 sound recordings published before 1923 will join the public domain thanks to the Music Modernization Act passed in 2018.”
Josh Rosenthal alerted me to this great overview of wonderful guitar recordings. Josh’s Tompkins Square Records is the ground zero label for this type of music, and one of the sweet artists he supports, Rick Deitrick, is included in the article. If it rains this weekend, what else is there to do other than listen to some sublime sounds like these.
“In the 1970s, Hawking proposed that dark matter, the invisible substance that makes up most matter in the cosmos, may be made of black holes formed in the earliest moments of the Big Bang. Now, three astronomers have developed a theory that explains not only the existence of dark matter, but also the appearance of the largest black holes in the universe.”
“The storied rise and fall of Jean-Michel Basquiat is headed for a new rendering on the silver screen. Under the title ‘Samo’ Lives (citing the mantle that Basquiat used as a mysterious graffiti tag on the streets of New York), the biopic is being developed and financed by Endeavor Content and director Julius Onah”
This story might be Marin-focused…but it reminds me of Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen (minus the 900+ page read) with its gothic horror mystery tale, swapping Edgar Watson for some shady loggers. The hike to the black hole still exists and yes, I am going to hit that trail asap. Thank you Chris Owen for turning me on to this great piece of investigative journalism.
My wife let me know that yes, there is a 90 year old Australian lung fish at San Francisco’s Aquarium. The first thing that I wondered: might it be the only thing still living thing that made an appearance in The Lady of Shanghai (seriously: I think you can see him in that historic scene)???
WEEKEND LISTEN: IT’S TIME FOR Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers
Out of all the albums Jonathan Richman has made, It’s Time For is one of my favorites…and one that you just cannot find. It is not on streaming services, it has not been reissued…it is a somewhat obscure piece of the Modern Lovers puzzle. Produced with a 50s sentimentality by Brian Wilson collaborator Andy Paley, this record featured some of Jonathan’s best mid-period songwriting and a playful yet rocking band (more so then on many of his records). When I was young and brought a record to a Modern Lovers show for Jonathan to sign…this was the one I took.
BY LANGSTON HUGHES
How thin and sharp is the moon tonight!
How thin and sharp and ghostly white
Is the slim curved crook of the moon tonight!
Boogie: 1 A.M.
BY LANGSTON HUGHES
Good evening, daddy!
I know you’ve heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred
Trilling the treble
And twining the bass
Into midnight ruffles
Of cat-gut lace.
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Donahue and cohorts went on to form KSAN Jive-95…the station that hosted Dr. Demento on Sunday Nights [I always listened] and eventually helped usher in the nu-wave era.