The Long Way Round Pt. II

Part II picks up where Part I left off–in the midst of an online chat (in several installments over 2 months) between Wrence and John focusing on a mix that Wrence sent to John in Berlin in January of 1993.  John had not listened to the mix for many years.  Wrence had not heard it since he made it 24 years ago.

Wrence: I had been recording Wilson’s shows on ‘ZBC for years before I met him.  I didn’t even know he was the same person as my fave DJ until around the third time he and I met.

John: Do you remember sitting around the apartment and pulling drawers from that desk where I kept my 45’s?  Each of us would take a different drawer (A-F, G-M, etc.)  And one of us would get Wilson’s box of 45’s.  And we’d take turns playing 7-inches.  That would have been in 88/89 I guess.

Wrence: Yeah, I remember you and I both were so energized by playing records, basically.  We’d only just met back then and that was about our only shared activity at first.  Others surely will know the activity, it was basically alternating turns at the turntable and saying, Oh yeah!  Great one!  Now I suppose it’s what we do with Facebook, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, and whatever apps.

John: I liked your Mekons records.  Of course we shared a love of the Beatles.  You turned me on to Eric Dolphy, who I previous only knew as a Mingus side man.  I did not “get” all your 70’s Stones records at first, but came to appreciate them.

Wrence: You still have my meager vinyl collection, right?

John: You know, I also recently pulled out a WZBC aircheck from 2006.  I was back in Boston and back on the air for a few years around then.  Wilson was visiting Boston.  He sat in with me for a great show!  When Wilson came back to the states, he took your records and his.  He talks on the 2006 aircheck about going to sell some of the records, but then changing his mind.  He says you told him to sell them.  But he couldn’t do it.  I think he put the lp’s in storage for you somewhere.  I think he still has the 45s.

Wrence: What was in that collection?  Do you remember?

 

John’s desk, which still contains cassette tapes

John: Off the top of my head… La Peste, Candy Flip, Virgin Prunes, Paula and Paula … I’m running to that same desk, which I still have, with my 45’s and old tapes….

… From a mix  called, “John, Wilson and Wrence’s Jukebox, Vol. I”:

The Neats, ? and the Mysterians, Todd Rundgren, The Nazz, Mission of Burma, Colin Newman, Jane and Barton, Durutti Column, Bongwater, Eyeless in Gaza…

Vol. II track list seems to have gone missing.  But Vol. II was apparently taped over my little brother’s cassette of Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins!

Should we turn to track list of PRESIDENT CLINTON tape?

Wrence: The track I treasure most from the PRESIDENT CLINTON mix is Tina Harvey’s cover of “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadows?”  This is kind of a tangent but I posted that cover to the FB group called “scattered smothered & covered: songs by others” and it didn’t get the applause I expected.  But, that group really is the most fun group for music on all of Facebook.  Recommended.  The contributors there are all top notch lovers of great, rare music.

Sorry for the detour. We can get to the track list now. 🙂

John: Tina Harvey is a track I was never able to place when I got the tape back in ’93.  I was guessing she was someone like Marianne Faithful or something.  How did you and/or Wilson discover her?

Wrence: Wilson loved that track.  We never knew where she came from.  It may have been her only release.  Wait, let me check Discogs…

Very minor, but so great.  It was a real find.  Wilson had the lp.

John: Cool!  And what about the classical piece that begins the tape?  I never knew what that was, but it’s something I’ve since heard in the soundtrack of big Hollywood movies.

Wrence: Yes, it’s in many film soundtracks.  Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  It’s the kind of thing you listen to when thinking of 9-11 or Hiroshima or The Holocaust.  Very somber.  I mean the bombing of Hiroshima.  The city itself is actually a pleasant, vibrant metropolis now.

John: So then you follow Samuel Barber’s Adegio with all of side 2 of Peter Jeffries & Jono Lonie’s At Swim 2 Birds lp…. and near the end of that you start switching to the NPR broadcast and back…  Do you remember actually making this tape?

Wrence: At first I didn’t remember at all.   But…  As I kept listening it did happen that 1993 came back to mind.  I would say I don’t recall the actual session of making the thing, but I recall the time when all of these would have been my listening, my personal playlist in the apartment.  At Swim 2 Birds especially is something that I hadn’t heard since that time, 24 years ago.  And it sounds great even now, doesn’t it?

John: Amazing!  And I must say it was wonderful to hear it in 1993.  That was one of my own records, which you and Wilson were keeping for me.  It was a favorite of mine that I had not heard in about 2 years!

Wrence: Ahhhh! that explains why I hadn’t heard it since.

I think WZBC listeners would feel right at home with this tape.  Very “NCP” (No Commercial Potential), yeah?

John: Well, the mix runs the gamut.  Wire, Undertones, Television Personalities, Mekons… all very consistent with the kinds of rock that ZBC would play during the day.  At Swim 2 Birds more nighttime “NCP.”  But million-selling artists like John Lennon and Neil Young would not get featured very often on any show on WZBC.  The Eric Dolphy thing would have been fine on NCP, but as a practical matter, WZBC did not feature much jazz on NCP.

Wrence: Yes.  Very eclectic.

John: Back then, I had not listened to much Hi Records stuff besides Al Greene.  The Ann Peebles on side 1 was a door opener for me.  Great track!

Ann Peebles photo from I Can’t Stand the Rain

Wrence: “I Can’t Stand The Rain” has one of my favorite grooves ever.  God that is a good recording!

John: I visited Memphis.  Got a tour of the Hi Studios by Willie Mitchel’s grandson, who runs it now.

Happened impromptu.  He just happened to arrive while my girlfriend and I were gawking outside.  He had some time and invited us in for a quick tour.  We got to take our pictures singing into Al Green’s mic and stuff.

Royal Studios photo, from www.royalstudios.com/history

Wrence: omg

John: Stuff like that happened to us every day in Memphis.  Show up after the BBQ joint is closed.  They invite us in and feed us anyway….

Wrence: Ann really is like a female Al Green, eh.

John: I’ve bought stuff by Ann Peebles since.  I don’t think anyone is a female Al Green.  We went to his church too.  He gives 2 services every Sunday.  One for the real congregation.  One for tourists.  Pretty bad ass.

Wrence: Wow!

John: I’m wondering how spontaneous the NPR mix-ins were.

Wrence: I think it was very spontaneous.  For kids reading now, these were the days before social networking apps and “gays in the military” felt very big and controversial at the time.  Now it’s kind of a big yawn.  I probably just switched the hifi from turntable to radio spontaneously, as you say.  The tape itself, by the way, is in places not so fun to listen to.  All the scratchiness over the Adagio for Strings at the intro.  The radio crap interrupting the musical flow…

John: Yes, the radio switches are a bit jolting.  The final song from the Jeffereis/Lonie lp gets butchered!

But the Wrence spontaneity shines through.  I had to laugh.  It was like I was right there in the living room watching you do it!  And imagining Wilson yelling from the next room, “Wrence – what the hell are you doing out there?”

Wrence: Were you living in Kreuzberg 36 at the time?

John: I was living with a pastor at the time – near Alexanderplatz – in the downtown heart of East Berlin.  I can remember listening in my room in the pastor’s flat in Mitte.  He was divorced.  He had a place big enough for a whole family, but he lived there alone.  He let me live there for free for a year or so.  He was one of my English students.

Crappy iphone photo of East Berlin in 2017, from Sarah’s tourist photographs

Wrence: Did the pastor hear the tape, too?

John: Oh yes.  He loved listening to the NPR passage and talking with me about it.  He was very interested in learning what NPR was relative to commercial media like CBS, NBC, etc.  And discussing the content of the piece.  And getting to the point where he could understand the reports.  It was perfect.  They speak very clearly, but not in a childish way.  And the content was also interesting.  … and he could rewind it and listen again to the parts that were hard to understand at first.  He was less interested in the music!

Wrence: Großartig!

John: Ha!

Wrence: Thinking about how funny memory works.  I can remember some moments from 1963 better than 1993.

John: Yes, that’s why rediscovering artifacts like this can be so powerful.  Music seems to be especially powerful when it comes to memory.  I was at a wedding recently.  The groom’s uncle was pretty far into Alzheimer’s.  He couldn’t speak.  He couldn’t leave his wife’s side.  He would peer long and hard at every face, knowing it was someone he probably knew, but could not place.  But he could sing along to Irish drinking songs!  They played a bunch of those and everyone gathered around him and sang along with him.  It was quite moving.

Wrence: Many of us must have brains that function along that continuum someplace.  My memory seems both great here and lost there.

The connection between everything from the opening Adagio through to Eric Dolphy on side 1 of the mix sort of indicates to me that all that Widows Walk and Kraft-o-Matic listening probably added some new sophistication to the musical culture I’d taken as my own by then.  I was rock and soul as a kid, then punk and dub in early 20s, then this period.

John: Some of the other tapes you sent me had typed track lists.  You gave each side of the tape a title.  Raucous, Out There, Blue, Soulful…

Wrence: That sounds like me.

Do we need to get the other tracks covered here?  Or let the readers just go and listen if they like?

John: I don’t think we need to do song-by-song.  But if there are any stories that come to mind for a particular track or sequence…  Actually, do you have any photos of us from back then?  I have almost no photos of myself from the 80’s and 90’s.

Wrence: I’m going to be sorting through photos (stored up in the attic) today in preparation for the family gathering in Boston next week.  Maybe I’ll find something.

Editorial note from John: Wrence did not find any photos of us.  But here are a couple photos of us taken in Boston about 1 week after this conversation:

John: I’m now listening to the “Jukebox” tape that was missing a track list.  I’m just going to blurt out the songs as they come on – non-sequiter style.  But we can keep talking about whatever else.

Wrence: OK, go.

John: No Surfing in Dorchester Bay right now.

Wrence: Richie Parsons, Future Dads

I actually have to go soon and get packing for the trip and setting up my new iPhone before I leave for the states.

John: The reunions next weekend during your visit are going to be something!  There are so many people in Boston who I met long after meeting you, but who knew you years before you and I met each other.

Wrence: Right, it is funny how two people in a vaguely common set of circles of friends know some of the same people from different periods.  I know what you mean.

John: I’m going to lie down to sleep listening to this mix of our old records!

Chat Conversation End

Go to Part I of this story for more about John and Wrence and WZBC, Boston College radio in the last 1980s.


 

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