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January 21st, 2013

"Mean and miserable digital watches..."

Remember the power of a dual-tape deck boom box? I had one, back in junior high and high school, before I had a combo CD/tape player/radio boom box. I never had one as big as Radio Raheem's, but I didn't want one that big. The one I had suited my purposes...increasingly often playing film music. You were listening to Metallica, I was listening to "Flight of the Batwing" from Danny Elfman's first Batman score. Probably air-conducting it, too.

Also, I was taping: songs off of the radio, to supplement whatever LPs and CDs my family got, and The Morning Zoo with Don & Mike, which I'd then edit down to highlights from the parts of the show I could tape. (Only 30, 45, 50 or maaaaybe 60 minutes per side, and I'd leave the tape running and recording when I left for school so it'd run out eventually.) I accomplished the editing by playing the source tape on the play-only deck, holding down the "Record" and "Pause" buttons on the play-or-record deck, releasing the 'Record" button and then releasing "Pause" when I'd reached the bit I wanted to save.

I went through a lot of tapes. I have ten 90-minute tapes' worth of Don & Mike, circa 1989, plus bits and pieces from the early and mid Nineties, after they'd moved from mornings on WAVA to afternoons on WJFK. Thanks to my brother, that includes a copy of the infamous "Melee in Memphis," which happened during Don and Mike's live broadcast on the anniversary of Elvis Presley's death and is why they were barred from Graceland. But I'm digressing. This entry is about The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Hitchhikers exists in a plethora of versions: originally a radio play, then the first of five books, but I first encountered the BBC TV miniseries version, on public TV in Virginia Beach in the early 80s. I didn't really "get" the TV version at first; I also had to make two tries to read the first novel before I started wanting to read it. Then after that, I got the Simon & Shuster audiotape editions of the LP versions of the radio play. (Following? Actually you don't have to.) I didn't quite wear out those tapes, but I could have.

I started futzing with it. I even labelled the tape box for the resulting tape "Futzing with The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy." I repeated words and sounds, mixing and matching so that the Narrator was saying "Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic, don't panic..." or Arthur Dent, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin the Paranoid Android were all saying "Oh, God" over and over. At its most edited, the result was kind of like a bad piece of minimalist music. At other times, for reasons I'm not sure of 20-plus years later, I just let long chunks of the show play unedited. Maybe to have it make some more sense?

Unlikely. The tape would make no sense to anyone who hasn't heard Hitchhikers, and might make no sense to people who have. Only I will ever listen to it, because I know how to avoid annoying myself. (Not annoying other people, that's the challenge.) Arthur at the beginning says "It was in the bottom of a locked lavatory stuck in a disused filing cabinet." Later, when Ford worriedly tells Arthur that the Vogon captain will likely read his poetry to them, I edited in humanity screaming in terror. I brought in outside sources: editing in one word from Monty Python's "The Penis Song (Not the Noel Coward Song)" to make Arthur say "Are you trying to tell me that we just stuck out our penis..." And was I trying to change sperm whale to "sperm, sperm, sperm, sperm" or "perm, perm, perm, perm"? I was developing the juvenile part of my sense of humor, so I probably meant to make it "sperm, sperm, sperm, sperm" but my timing was a little off. (I probably didn't, however, mean to make moaning from one episode sound like sex...) *

The fascinating alien soundscape of Hitchhikers, one of the big accomplishments of the show, became another, maybe more personal kind of fascinating after I'd messed with it. Far more disjointed, but that's a sacrifice I had no problem making.

I fell away from doing this come college. And no, I had no interest in becoming the sort of remixer Bobby Roberts became: his "Geek Remixed" remixes of cool film scores are worth listening to. I found other ways to entertain myself. Like writing this stuff. Maybe this is music to some ears...



* Around the same time I took the infamous Beach Boys hit "Kokomo" -- yes, it was a hit, and on behalf of the Eighties, I'm sorry -- and edited it to "Bodies in the tropical drink melting in your chemistry/ We'll be falling in the sand/ Cock, cock, cock..."

A Chat At Work

Co-worker: So you're the son of a sailor.

Me: Yeah. But I'm not the son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a sailor.

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