KISS, cassette tapes and the last time I mention Bernie Sanders – THIS IS NOT A TEST #59 (transcript)

Published March 26, 2016

Wait, wouldn’t you rather listen? Reading is so 20th century, and besides, this is a transcript of an audio presentation that was meant to be heard¬†with your ears.¬†Follow this link to podcast happiness.

Greetings and welcome to THIS IS NOT A TEST. This is not a test, and it is also not CONTENT. It is blood, sweat and tears, and little 30 minute pieces of my soul. Me, Michael Phillips, your tour guide and sleeping bag buddy for our excursions into the unknown. Our biweekly camping trips on the edge of disasterville. Our spring break in an Oklahoma chicken house. The very thing our future memories and nostalgia will consist of and revolve around. All that and more. Or all that and less, depending on my abilities any given week. Are some of these better than others? Sure. But you don’t skip a trip to the circus just because one of the clowns isn’t at the top of their game. You still go. You still have the time of your life because it’s the greatest show on earth, isn’t it. THIS IS NOT A TEST and the circus both. Just marvels of 20th century entertainment. Even though we’re well into this tin can twenty first century.

Someone recently posted a 40 year old picture on Facebook of my friends and I standing backstage with KISS at a concert in Minneapolis. Now you might think such a thing would irreparably damage my punk rock cred, but I don’t think it does. Even though we were wearing enormous white satin bellbottoms in the picture. I don’t know who’s idea it was to have all of us dress the same way, but I’m pretty sure I picked out the pants. Anyway, punks did not spring forth from the earth pre-clad in motorcycle jackets and stupid haircuts. We all came from somewhere, and we all listened to music before there was any such thing as punk rock, so don’t be fooled by anyone who tries to convince you they are gold star punk, never diluted, never anything else. Unless they were born after 1970, that ain’t possible. Most of the original punks were born in the 50s, so they all have bellbottoms and garden variety 60s and 70s rock lurking somewhere in their dark, hidden past.

Anyway, I loved KISS. That early, grubby, dark KISS, the pre-Destroyer KISS. The pre-Bob Ezrin teaching them to properly tune their guitars KISS. Though I’m pretty sure the picture of me and KISS is from the Destroyer tour. I saw them for the first time in February of 1976, two days after I turned 16, when they were on the “Alive” album tour. So all they played were songs from the first three records, which was perfect. I’d been listening to them for two years by then, and before that live record came out I used to call the Three Acre Wood record store downtown every day and ask them if they had KISS Alive yet. After a couple weeks of that they guy finally said, “I have an idea. How about you tell me YOUR phone number and I’ll call YOU when I get it. Then you can stop calling me every day.” That was the same guy, by the way, who forced me to listen to the New York Dolls for the first time, so I owed him the decency of not ringing his phone off the hook the minute I got home from school every day. And he actually did call me when the record came in, and I hopped on the first bus headed downtown and forked over my five bucks or whatever it was.

Hearing that record for the first time was ridiculously exciting, because KISS had never sounded so huge. “Hotter Than Hell” was a pretty heavy and dark and loud record, but the other two were kind of – eh, well they didn’t capture the horrible majesty of the sound of KISS. The live album did. So when I saw an ad for the KISS shows at the St. Paul Civic Center theater, I got tickets as soon as I could get back on that downtown bus. Shows plural – they played two shows in one night, in a little 2000 seat theater. It was perfect and glorious and the high point of my young rock and roll life. Though I may still be partly deaf in my left ear from the midnight show. I can’t imagine preparing for a show like that with the makeup and the shoes and all the leather what nots, playing for an hour and a half, then coming off stage and immediately turning around and doing it all over again. They earned their money that night. But then playing rock and roll for thousands of berserk teenagers isn’t exactly a difficult job.

That theater was a great place to see a show. I love a small venue, because arenas are for hockey. And even though I love a small venue, I think I may have mentioned something around here about how much I hate going to the Hollywood Bowl. But we’re headed back there in July to hear Brian Wilson do the Pet Sounds album. Perform it. Kind of the polar opposite of the KISS Alive tour, I suspect it will be. If I didn’t mention how much I hate going to the Hollywood Bowl, let me mention it now: I hate going to the Hollywood Bowl. Parking’s a drag, the benches are a drag, the traffic is a drag, the people are a gaggle of insufferable twats – and a drag, but it’s the Hollywood Bowl, so everyone goes, in spite of all the problems and pains in the proverbial ass. But if you carve out half the day to go to something there, it can be tolerable. As long as you’re not one of the frantic types, speeding around and pushing and running to get in or out. If you lay back and take your time it can be okay, so I suppose that’s what we’ll do. It’s all I know how to do – lay back, take my time. It’s my default mode, and I make no excuses for that. It’s the only logical way to approach most of this world, and it’s certainly the only way to approach any large group of people anywhere.

Anyway, whenever we go see something I always get the best seats I can get, which usually means we’re pretty close to the stage. If I’m not close enough to see the performer’s eyes I’d rather just stay home and watch an episode of My Lottery Dream Home. But I have always kind of wanted to go to the Hollywood Bowl or the Greek theater and sit way up in back and just take the whole thing in, and that’s what we’re going to do for the Brian Wilson show. I don’t really need to be in the front row so I can watch him stare at a keyboard. And I’m sure he’ll have a lot of competent and lovely musicians playing with him, but I don’t need to see them either. So this will be good, way in the back, just hearing the music on the breeze. And it doesn’t hurt that the tickets cost about a tenth of what the seats up front cost. I think the tickets were $35 or something. Which is a bargain these days. The pool tickets at the Hollywood Bowl – those are the ones right up front – are probably a grand per seat for any show there. I’m talking about on the secondary market, because that’s the only place you can get them. A lot of the shows at the Hollywood Bowl are subscriptions, and long time subscribers hold all the good seats.

But Hollywood Bowl or anyplace else, I was really kind of over seeing live bands for a long time. I probably saw 500 shows in my teens and 20s and I figured, “Okay, that’s enough,” mainly because there wasn’t anything new to see or hear. So I took 20 years off and stayed away. Now when we go to a show 3 or 4 times a year it’s more enjoyable. Partly because it’s more of a treat the less often you do it, and partly because now that I’m older it’s easier to get those good seats. You just have to pay up and you can sit wherever you want to sit. There’s still nothing new to see or hear – I mean, we’re going to see Brian Wilson for christ’s sake – but it’s still good to get out and see musicians do their thing every now and then. I’m still entertained by it if they’re good or interesting. I’m still entertained by a lot of things that aren’t new or interesting. A person can only take so much new and interesting shit in one lifetime anyway. If everything was always new, well that would just be chaos, wouldn’t it.

Speaking of being entertained by things that aren’t new or interesting, I bought a cassette deck recently. You know, one of those boxes that you stick a cassette tape into? To record or play? You remember them. Maybe you even have one in your attic. If you don’t, your parents do. Five, ten years ago people were giving away cassette decks. Or throwing them away. Who needs a cassette deck when we live in the future of unlimited access to all the music ever recorded by humans? Well I don’t really need one, but I do have a big box full of old tapes, and they aren’t Michael Jackson or Wham! tapes, they’re tapes of bands I was in, or other people’s bands, interviews, answering machine tapes, the sound of quarters going in to a broken pay phone – you name it. If it could be recorded I have a tape of it. Anyway, a few years ago I got a machine that would play tapes and simultaneously burn them to CD. My goal was to get rid of that big box of tapes, to replace it with a little stack of CDs.

Which I did, make the stack of CDs, but I didn’t get rid of the tapes. None of them. I couldn’t. Partly because I’m just a fucking pack rat when it comes to certain things, and partly because while I was burning those CDs I copied a tape that I made in 1979, and it didn’t fall apart or disintegrate or flake off into dust – it just played and I copied it. And it occurred to me that if I try to play the disc I copied it on to in 35 years, I won’t hear anything. I’m pretty sure of that. Well in 35 years I’ll probably be dead and it won’t matter, but if I do live to be 90, you know, I might want to hear one of these things once in a while. It was a good thing I kept the tapes anyway, because the machine I used to copy them would automatically start a new CD “track” when it came across a pause in the music…or a quiet part. Which I didn’t realize until I was halfway through the tapes and turned that wonderful feature off. Blah, blah, blah, this is all so riveting, isn’t it. A boy and his tapes.

I bring it up though because a funny thing happened a couple weeks ago. I heard a song that I liked – well, I liked it enough to want to hear more anyway, and so I went to Amazon to buy the record, as people do. But I searched Amazon for “Pearl Charles,” that’s the singer’s name, and there was nothing. Which is pretty unusual, and it disoriented me for a minute. I was confused and had to get up and get a glass of water to steady my nerves. When I got back to my search I found her record – or EP, it’s only six songs – on a little label out of the south bay here called Burger records. But they didn’t have a disc either. The EP was only released on cassette. Which was funny because I wanted to hear it and – oh yeah! I do have a cassette deck now. How convenient for me.

But I’ve talked about new releases on cassette here before at some point, saying or inferring that – no, I’m pretty sure I emphatically said they were stupid. Because they are. I’m not sure what the point of a cassette-only release is, at this point in history. As an artist, especially, I can’t imagine saying ‘yes’ to someone who said, “We’ll put out your record, but only on cassette.” But I suppose as a point of hype or something there’s some value to it. But as far as being heard, it’s kind of shooting yourself in the foot. If Miss Pearl becomes more well known or famous I’m sure someone will release the EP in some other format – well, actually, it is coming out on vinyl for record store day if you can find one of the 600 copies – but for now it’s just an oddity. What are you going to say to your friends? “You have to check out this new cassette!” They’ll just look at you like you’re an idiot. And you are, sitting there with your cassette deck.

And me being an idiot, I bought one. It’s pretty funny, we went from people throwing away cassette decks to people being able to sell them back to you for a lot of money. Well, they’re not all a lot of money. You can buy them for $50, but those are just raggedy old monsters, waiting patiently to chew up any tape you put into them. And speaking of tapes, did you know it’s really hard, like the almost impossible kind of hard, to find good quality blank cassette tapes now? No one manufactures high bias tape anymore. Which is a weird thing to think about. No one in the world makes high quality quarter inch tape anymore. If you’re of a certain age you can remember when blank cassettes were common and cheap and utilitarian. Like a plastic spoon or tube socks. No more. If you want to buy a blank tape now you have to buy from some specialty joint that is still making cassettes from the last remaining spools of good tape, or buy old tapes on eBay.

I don’t think I really need any blank tapes – why would I record something to tape when I can go to digital? – but that same idiot part of me that bought the machine in the first place also figures that having a tape deck without blank tapes is just wrong somehow, so that part of me went off in search of some new old tapes. Which is quite an adventure, and more than a little ridiculous. The first thing to know is that you can still get any tape you want. Whatever your favorite was, there are still boxes of them out there, unopened and ready to jam into your box. So to speak. But the prices people ask for the better ones might make you wonder what kind of gold the tape is made of. I saw an auction end the other day, this was an auction for one tape, and it sold for $102. For one tape. Granted, it was an odd and unusual tape, but it was still a blank cassette. But it goes to show you that nothing really dies anymore. And if you’re over at my place and want a cassette of one of my records, I can make it for you. Or one of your records. Bring some of your records when you come by. Don’t just show up empty handed.

I really hated cassette tapes when they were all we had. Just like I hated – and still hate – vinyl LPs. They are both crappy ways to store music, fragile, inconvenient, cumbersome and stupid. I hated them but they were sure handy when you wanted to, you know, record something. When you wanted to kill music with your home taping. Remember that? HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC! No, shitty music was killing music. But yeah, tapes. So stupid. And here I stand, talking to you, a few feet away from my cassette deck and turntable. Because you just can’t shake your past, no matter how hard you try. I should have recorded this episode to tape, just for the hell of it. But I’m an idiot, not a masochist.

Well, maybe I am a masochist, because now, against my better judgement I’m going to talk about Bernie Sanders again. Even though I don’t like to talk about politics. Old cassette tapes are much more interesting and much more relevant in my life. But I have to talk about him because I keep seeing articles about how Sanders – whether he is nominated or not – has changed the political discourse. Inasmuch as there is any such thing anymore. But tell me, tell me do, so what? If Sanders is forcing Clinton to talk about social issues or inequality more than she might have otherwise, that doesn’t do anything but get people wound up about some potential, possible change that’s never going to come. Or at least it isn’t going to come any time soon. No president is going to “break up” Wall Street and turn the clock back to a time when there wasn’t any financial inequality or chicanery or manipulation. First, because there’s no time to turn back to when we didn’t deal with those things in one way or another. Second, because talk rarely changes anything. And politicians never change anything.

Revolution changes things. Bloody revolution. People putting their lives on the line for change, like they did in the south here in America in the 50s and 60s. If you stood up for equality in those days, you could be killed, and a lot of people were. It was a revolution because people were willing to die for change. The Vietnam war didn’t end because hippies were burning their draft cards and putting flowers into the gun barrels of police and National Guard troops. It ended because the guys in the jungle in Vietnam said, “Okay, I’ve had about enough of this shit,” and they became unleadable. They defied direct orders and in some cases, murdered their commanding officers. Oh, you didn’t know that? It became so common in fact, that there was a name for it: fragging. That’s what stopped the American involvement in Vietnam – dissension in the ranks. Resistance. Revolution. The troops in the jungles became unmanageable and then as if by magic, that war ended. Imagine that.

I don’t see any of that, anything on that scale of commitment or revolution, happening here in this country. And I don’t expect to see it. Occupy Wall Street? Oh my god, what a joke that was. Or is. What an embarrassing joke. “I’m going to protest this bank by writing on the sidewalk with chalk!” Wow, I’ll bet the powers that be tremble in their thousand dollar shoes and lie awake at night worrying that you’re going to write on the sidewalk in front of their businesses with chalk. Chalk that they’ll send the $10 and hour janitor out to wash away with a hose in about fifteen seconds. I’ll bet the future history books will devote entire chapters to the brave and defiant “chalkers.” The biggest headline during that occupy shit, the thing that caused the most outrage and disbelief, was a bunch of people getting pepper sprayed up at UC Davis. Remember that? There’s a fucking 4000 word wikipedia page about it called, “UC Davis pepper-spray incident,” as if it’s some kind of historically important event that future generations will read as a cautionary tale or a turning point in the struggle.

Jesus Christ, how can that not embarrass you? The fact that that’s your March to Montgomery. That’s your Birmingham church bombing. A bunch of hippies getting pepper sprayed. Seriously. Something that’s unpleasant, make no mistake – if you’ve ever got a faceful of pepper spray or tear gas you know just how unpleasant it is – but it wears off in less than an hour, or can be wiped off immediately if you have the right kind of pre-moistened anti-irritant towlettes handy, which I’m sure most of the occupy people did. Pepper sprayed! What a terrible and violent injustice! Ha. Jesus Christ. That wouldn’t even have made the news in the 60s. It would have been a paragraph on page 30 of the local Davis paper. All any “protest” like occupy whatever does is preach to the choir and give the opposition something to chuckle about over drinks at the club. I’m not advocating violence because violence doesn’t necessarily change anything either. All you have to do is look at the middle east to see proof of that. I’m just pointing out that it took violence to turn the tide of civil rights and a ridiculous war, and that the people who engaged in that were serious about what they felt was the change that needed to happen.

Camping out in a park across the street from city hall and playing drums and painting signs will not ever change anything. It’s an adventure for middle class people who can afford to sit in a park for a week. A lark. Something to Instagram. “Can you believe it? We’re sleeping outside! Downtown! I feel so alive!” It’s like a summer camp for dilettantes and conspiracy theorists. So yeah, I’m not advocating violence or saying I have the answer to anything. But spending your time posting pro-Bernie Sanders articles to Flesh Hook – I mean, Facebook – posting those feel the Bern articles 20 times a day is just like sitting in the park across from city hall, beating on the bottom of a plastic five gallon paint can while girls named Peace Butterfly and Smash The State braid your hair. All it’s going to accomplish is making you feel as if you did something, when in reality you haven’t done anything. Not a god damned thing.

And as far as Bernie Sanders goes, sure, maybe he’s making Hilary Clinton talk about things she didn’t intend to talk about. But she’s still going to be the President, and when she is, she sure as hell isn’t going to continue to talk about those things. And even if she did, it wouldn’t matter. It would just be talk. It seems pretty obvious that we’re entering some kind of post-political era. When the senate can flat out refuse to do their job for political reasons. Look around. Can you fire that hillbilly imbecile Mitch McConnell, who is unapologetically saying, “Fuck you and your constitution,” to everyone by refusing to consider Obama’s supreme court nominee? No you can’t. If you told your boss you weren’t going to do part of your job for a year, how long do you think you’d last? But we can’t fire these people because they’re not people. They’re machines that just spawn more machines. And they are all identical and as soulless as a robot vacuum cleaner. Bernie Sanders is just the cat in the shark costume riding the robot vacuum. Soon he’ll jump off and the robot will continue to sweep up.

And that will have to be all I say about that. I feel stupid talking about politicians, let alone thinking about them. It’s like a serious study of mold or those little plastic squares that hold the bread bags closed. Actually either one of those would be more interesting. So I promise I won’t talk about it again. Or any of them. Unless one of them murders someone on live television, or hijacks a tow truck and drives it into a Subway sandwich shop at a high rate of speed, either one of which could very well happen and it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone. The Republican party is dead, but the Democratic party, as is its history, doesn’t know how to step over the corpse. You could hand those fucking democrats the keys to Fort Knox and they’d still take up a collection to buy lunch. Victory is being dropped into their laps yet again and they don’t know what to do with it. They won’t know what to do with it. I guarantee that. A confederacy of dunces, yeah. And we all dance to the dunce band tune.

Speaking of the dunce band, the day after this episode is unleashed onto an unsuspecting and uncaring world, Carol and I will be halfway between MacArthur park and Dodger stadium, where Echo Park and Westlake meet downtown, at a puppet show. At the Bob Baker Marionette Theater, to be precise. Maybe we’ll see a dunce band perform. If there is such a thing as a puppet dunce band. If there isn’t, there should be. The late Bob Baker and his minions have been putting on puppet shows in that very spot since 1963. Kind of like Congress and the Senate! Someone bought the land the theater sits on though, and they’re going to build some apartments or something there, so I figured we’d better go see the puppets before they get relocated to Disney Hall or Tijuana. Then if we’re smart we’ll go to Philippe’s and get some meat sandwiches and lemonade. Jealous? You should be. Well, just drop by on Sunday and you can come with us. Don’t forget to bring your records.