(In which we mix up something good.)

Posted by Job O Brother, August 10, 2009 08:28pm | Post a Comment


Today I’ve been doing one of my favorite things: making a mix-tape. Of course, I’m not using any tape in this process, but somehow saying “mix cd” feels awkward. Much like saying “dump Coke” and “poop shoulder” – those are also awkward to say.

Anyway, crafting a playlist for a pal is one of my great joys. I don’t have much free time these days, what with my stupid ol’ grown-up lifestyle, but I used to make mix-tapes for people at the drop of a hat. The most casual of relationships could be an excuse.

“What are you doing, Job?”

“Making a mix-tape.”

“For who?”

“A guy from the bakery.”

“What guy?”

“…The baker.”

“Oh. You’re friends with the baker? The old dude? Isn’t he, like, half deaf?”

“Is he? I dunno. I only just met him yesterday. Well, I mean, I saw him. Baking... things. I didn’t really talk to him. But there was music playing in his bakery – some Sarah Vaughn – so I thought I’d make him a mix of cool jazz and vocalists and maybe even throw in some early French cabaret…”

And so it goes.

A good mix-tape isn’t just an assortment of rad songs, though they’re the meat of it. I’m of the opinion that truly neat-o mixes are bound together by little, sonic amuse-bouches; snippets of odd, silly, or even spooky clips. A line from a movie, an excerpted musical flourish, an individual sound effect even – all these things work.

Also – and I’m starting to wish I had instructed you in the beginning of this blog to imagine these words being said by Julia Child, because I love the idea of her giving insights into making mix-tapes… Tell you what, from now on, just imagine her voice as you read, okay?


Anyhow, one thing I like to include in mix-tapes are novelty songs. By this I mean songs that I don’t necessarily think the listener will love, per se, but marvel at. They might be horrid tunes, or hilarious ones, or maybe just something designed to confound the listener. My dear friend Carrie, for instance, has received many mix-tapes from me, and I always include at least one song from a musician I know she thinks she hates, all in my devoted* attempt to get her to open her heart to the artist.

What follows now is a compilation of tunes or acts that I’ve used in mix-tapes, not for their catchiness, intelligence or beauty, but simply because they add a certain je ne sais quoi. (That’s French for total, home-style radness.)


(In which you'll learn a new word.)

Posted by Job O Brother, December 19, 2007 03:05pm | Post a Comment
Working at Amoeba as I do, I am constantly coming across albums that stlit mind, and I…

Eh? What? Oh, you don’t know what ‘stlit’ means? Well, before you go racing to consult the Great Oracle that is Wikipedia, let me save you the trouble; you won’t find any definition of the word there (although you may find this). Stlit is a word I coined.

You’re familiar with the phrase “blows my mind”? Well, stlit is like a smaller version of that. Imagine for a second that your brain is made out of bubble-wrap. Now, if something “blows your mind”, it’s as if you took the entire sheet of bubble-wrap and twisted it hard, bursting hundreds of the bubbles and creating that sound reminiscent of a chiropractor adjusting your neck.

A stlit is when just one of those bubbles in your mind pops.

When your dad comes home and sits you down in the living room and tells you that he’s not your real dad after all, rather, he’s a robot – a killer robot from outer space sent to assassinate escape Martian criminals – and then he removes his face to reveal his inner mechanical controllers and then your baby sister walks in on you and he zeros in on her new party dress, causing it to burst into flames and she runs off the top of the skyscraper to her death (don’t ask me why the living room is on top of a skyscraper – it’s your weird family we’re talking about, not mine) because your sister was actually one of the escape Martians (which explains why she wouldn’t eat corn – aliens hate, hate, HATE corn) and then your dad turns to you and says “I hope this is…” but you don’t hear the end of the sentence because he flies away into the atmosphere, THAT’S your mind being blown.

If, however, you stumble upon something like this…

…That a “stlit”. One bubble in your brain bursting. And working at Amoeba Music, it happens on a daily basis.

I thought I’d share some discoveries, some known and others less so, that caused a stlit in me.

The Shaggs

The animation in the above video clip is not by The Shaggs. As far as I know, there is no visual footage of them performing in their original anti-glory.

The story of the three sisters, Betty, Helen and Dorothy "Dot" Wiggin, is a dark and strange one. Their father, Austin, had been told by a palm-reader that his daughters would one day become a famous music act. Despite the girls having no inclination to play music, their father - a harsh disciplinarian (and by some accounts, abusive) - forced them into it, going so far as to self-produce their first album "Philosophy of the World" way before the girls felt prepared to record. The result is an album so raw, so unprofessional, and yet, so unflinchingly sincere, when I listen to it, I alternate between embarrassed snickering and genuine heartbreak. The lyrics are what you'd expect from dowdy, sheltered, teenage girls. And that's rad.

Long lived as a cult classic, The Shaggs have been rediscovered by each generation, partly due to their being championed by Frank Zappa, who claimed their debut album as the #3 best album of all time.

I heard a rumor that Tom Cruise owns the rights to the film version of their life's story. If this is true, it seems the fate of the Wiggins sisters will remain dark and strange.

Florence Foster Jenkins

Known to her many fans as "Flo-Fo", Jenkins' passion for singing began as a child. She studied music and decided it was her calling. When her wealthy father refused to pay for her to study in Europe, she eloped with a doctor (only to divorce not long after). Upon the death of her parents (at different points in her life) she received sizable inheritances, which allowed her to pursue her operatic singing. She organized regular live recitals, recorded herself and finally, at age 76, performed at Carnegie Hall in 1944. People were so eager to see her that this event was sold out, weeks in advance.

This all sounds like a nice little career for a professional, classical singer, yes? But what makes Flo-Fo's story so fantastic is that she was just... well... bloody awful. One of the worst singers ever recorded in the history of music. And yes, I'm including Ashley Simpson.

Jenkins' popularity stemmed from her brutal pitch, disastrous sense of timing, ridiculous costumes (which she herself created) and, most importantly, her complete ignorance of the fact that she was utterly rotten. People came to laugh, and they did, but she herself wasn't in on the joke.

She died a month after the Carnegie Hall concert, most likely believing she would go down in history as a cherished and gifted singer, which is true, except for the "gifted" part.

Now, before you think that all I'm presenting to you are opportunities to listen to music that will give your ears the stigmata, I give you...

Noosha Fox

Glam-chanteuse Noosha Fox is best known for her work with 70's band Fox, founded/produced by Kenny Young, although she did go on to a mostly unsuccessful solo career in the 1980's (didn't we all?).

Noosha's stage persona was inspired by Marlene Dietrich, even if their voices couldn't be more different.

This tribute montage on YouTube made me giggle (in a totally manly way) and left me with a strange craving for caramel. The song, "Imagine Me Imagine You" is Noosha with the band Fox. The song was a chart-topper in Europe, and also and huge hit whenever I'm shampooing my hair.