THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Beatoes Anthology: Too Ugly for MTV (*****)

The Beatoes Anthology: "Trying is the first step towards failure"

As a wedding gift to Amy Linthicum and yours truly (our "It's About Time!" wedding, which took place following a courtship lasting only slightly longer than Agamemnon's 10-year seige of Troy), our friend Chris Dennstaedt (aka "Chris Beatoe," "The Casio Kid," and "Poverty" of Poverty & Spit fame) made us a two-disc custom CD set: The Beatoes Anthology 1: Too Ugly for MTV and The Beatoes Anthology 2. Like our Simpsonized Wedding Portrait (commissioned by Scott "Unpainted" Huffines and expertly rendered by Macedonian artist Jovan Kosar)...

The "It's About Time!" Newlyweds: Tom Warner and Amy Linthicum

...it is a treasured gift that keeps giving - especially in the Laughs Department. In fact, I haven't laughed this hard since the last Three Stooges Marathon on the IFC Channel.

The Beatoes were, of course, the band Chris was in with Amy's ex-husband Mark Linthicum (aka "Mark Harp," "Harpo," "Corky Niedermayer," "Mighty Joe Judgment," and "The King of Peru"), who passed away, to the regret of music and humor lovers everywhere, December 24, 2004.

Mark Harp & Chris Dennsdaedt

Later, others would fill the Beatoes' ranks but the early Beatoes were Mark and Chris - a Lennon and McCartney songwriting partnership in which neither was the "cute one" and both possessed Lennon's cynical wit and clever lyrical wordplay (especially prolific wordsmith Chris, as showcased on songs like "I'm Not a Beatnik," "New Wave Boutique," and "Twister on My Heart"). The duo were also known collectively as The Casio Cats or Casio Cowboys, and individually as The Casio Kid and Mighty Joe Judgment.

Though five or six tunes on Beatoes Anthology 1 feature the more traditional rock lineup of guitar-bass-drums (especially on the guitar-driven rockers "I'm Too Ugly for MTV," "Mad Dog 20/20," and "At the Beach") most of this first disc features Mark and Chris's enthusiastic embrace of the revolutionary Casiotone keyboard, which debuted in the early 1980s and whose low cost and rhythm generator function made it a favorite instrument for DIY artists and Garage Rockers everywhere. (Today, even alt-indy stars like Dan Deacon saddle up as Casio Cowboys!)

Casiotone MT-30/40

And why not? Remember, these songs date from the early-to-mid 1980s, when the guitar took a backseat to New Wave's celebration of synthesizers, keyboards, and (unfortunately) even goofy-looking "keytars."

When asked what specific model the Cowboys played, Chris recalled, "MT 30 or 40, VL Tone on 'Walk Don't Run.'...and I think Mark blew up an MT 20 putting the AC adapter in upside-down."

The Beatoes Anthology 1: "Produced by Money. Recorded everywhere."

The later Beatoes represented on Anthology 2 would include guitarist Charlie Chadwick, drummer Chris "Batworth" Ciatti (both pictured below with Chris), and what Chris Dennstaedt called "an endless number of bassists du jour."

Beatoes 2.0: Chris Dennstaedt, Batworth, and Charlie Chadwick

More on those tunes and players in an upcoming review of Beatoes Anthology 2! But for now, lace up your shoes and get ready to skate on the thin ice that is Beatoes Anthology 1. "Remember, Tuesday is ladies night..."

1. "I'm Too Ugly for MTV" (Dennstaedt-Harp)

The Beatoes: "I'm Too Ugly for MTV" b/w "Unemployed Total Videoid Blues" (UK Spud, 1984)

The opening track, "I'm Too Ugly for MTV," was released as a single on UK Spud Records in 1984. (UK Spud is the same label that released three platters by Thee Katatonix.) In a perfect world, this would have been the breakthrough song in The Beatoes' career, a funny and topical (back in the early '80s when MTV actually mattered in terms of music) novelty tune that, in the hands of someone like Weird Al Yankovic, would have high-jumped over the Dr. Demento playlist to become a mainstream crossover hit. But it didn't. Still, it's one of the best double-A-side singles to ever come straight outta Bawmer.

As the CD liner notes state, "Others were involved" in these diverse recordings and their ranks on this track included backing vocals by Ceil Strakna (Boy Meets Girl, Big As a House) and Bucky Baum (here billed as "Buck Auf").

Ceil Strakna

Bucky Baum (aka "Buck Auf")
If you listen closely at the end, you can hear the boys give a shout-out to their favorite local DJ: "Hi Rod!!!" (A reference to WCVT DJ Rod Misey.)

2. "Unemployed Total Videoid Blues" (Dennstaedt-Harp)

B-side the Point: "Unemployed Total Videoid Blues"(UK Spud, 1984)

I can make pancakes with only flour and beer
I only wish that I could make this a career
I've got the unemployed, total videoid blues

Even better than the A-side "I'm Too Ugly for MTV," "Unemployed Total Video Blues" is probably the best of all the Harp-Dennstaedt ditties, and a personal fave. It's also one of the best songs ever written about "the Idiot Box," a medium clearly dear to Mark and Chris's hearts; they reference it in numerous songs ("Soap Opera Woman," "Beer Drinkin' Woman," et al).

"I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as TV."

"UTVB" perfectly meshes the Beatoes' signature sound (Casios, ice rink organ) with the their lyrical profound, as they lament many an unemployed musician's dilemma - Cathode Ray Slackdom:

Unemployment is such a bore
I've seen this "Leave It to Beaver" before
I lost my job, I got too much slack
I wish they'd bring "Bowling for Dollars" back
I got the unemployed total videoid blues

I got the game shows, I can take my pick
I got the Noon News, I got Julia Child
I got commercials driving my glands wild
I got the unemployed total videoid blues
Everybody skate!

3. "Walk, Don't Run" (Johnny Smith)

Jazz guitarist Johnny Smith's 1954 instrumental became a big hit when The Ventures released their version in 1960 (peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #3 on the Cash Box magazine charts in 1960), and here it's given a complete Casio VL Tone makeover.

Love that 8-bit video game riff that opens the song (makes me flash back to playing Pong in video arcades). This could have been released as a single on Daniel Miller's Mute Records label or shown up as a compatible cover on any Silicon Teens album.

4. "I'm Not a Beatnik"

Chris Beatoe free-associates subversive verse over coffeehouse-cool beats augmented by a crazy grating noise that sounds like Sun Ra operating a dental drill. Funny, spot-on spoofing!

I'm not a Beatnik, take a look at me
I'm not a Beatnik, like do you see a goatee?
I'm not a Beatnik, like this could be worse
I'm not a Beatnik, hey it could be free verse - STOP!
Man, dog, bird, tree...
Windows to look on Death
Howl, KY Jelly...that's Hooooowl!

5. "Religio Rock"

The Cowboys add clever evangelist-steeped lyrics to what is basically a reworking of Elton John's "Crocodile Rock."

6. "Postcard From Jesus" (Performed live on WJHU 88.1 FM)

"Just a postcard from you Jesus, if you please, and I might believe!"

In the early 1980s, Mark Harp had a radio show on WJHU (88.1 FM - which is now WYPR), the 10-watt student- and community volunteer-run radio station on the Johns Hopkins University campus. But being the creative music fanatic that he was, he was not content to just play records from the WJHU record library or his own collection - he'd also broadcast live performances of his own music in the radio studio, like this Gospel Radio spoof with his Casio Cowboys cohort Chris Dennstaedt. Chris is the televangelist minister and Mark is his musical director, "Butch."
Father: "Friends, many people will tell you there is an answer. Yes, there is an answer, dear friends, and it's 'I don't know'!"Father: "What is evil?"Butch: "I don't know!"Father: "What is sin?"Butch: "I don't Know!"Father: "What is fornication?"Butch: "I don't know!"Father: "What's Carrie Snodgress been up to lately?"
Butch: "I don't know!" 

What's Carrie Snodgress been up to lately?

At the end of the "sermon," Chris asks listeners to "Send money, send money! Send a dollar, send a buck, it's for [Subgenius avatar J.R.] Bob, what's the heck?"

7. "Reaganomics" (Performed live on WJHU 88.1 FM)

Chris: Reaganomics been good to me
I own a blue chip company
Wreck the sea and pollute the air
And good ol' by James White
He don't care!

Mark: "Reagonomics been real good to me
I took up racquetball and I learned how to ski
My friends are only Dow Jones' best
'Course I got an alligator on my chest!"

All together: "Ronnie! Ronnie! Ronnie! Reagan!"

Ronnie Raygun

This is another Casio Cowboys song performed live on air during Mark's reign as a WJHU DJ back in the early '80s which, after all, was The Reagan Era. Against a simple ice rink melody, Mark and Chris crack corny jokes, do impressions of the President (Mark) and Yuppies who enjoy the Good Life of racquetball, skiing, blue chip stocks, and wearing Lacoste alligators emblazoned on their chests.

In the middle of their goofing, you can hear a phone ring (Chris: "Phone's ringing, better answer it, might be the Press Corpse!") and Mark answers it. It was a radio listener (yes, 10-watt WJHU had actual listeners!) and you can hear Mark say "WJHU, yeah sure, howdy! We're live on the air." Moments later he does a station ID and adds "If you hear someone knock on the door, open it." When Chris asks him who was on the phone, Mark ad-libs, "Oh, that was Nancy, she was wondering where I was." Right after that Chris changes the chorus from "Reagan" to "Rod Misey." "That's an 'in' joke for all you 'out' people," Chris adds. Mark and Chris name-checked Rod Misey whenever possible (e.g., "Hi, Rod!!!").

At one point, Chris shouts into the microphone and Mark comments, "Thanks for that over-modulation, Chris. You don't have to shout into the microphone!" "I know," Chris retorts, "I took Radio 101!"

8. "Duck and Cover"

"You won't SEE the flash - you'll BE the flash!"

"Duck and cover, silly mother
Even Fallout people will smother
You won't SEE the flash, you'll BE the flash!" 

The Casio Kid muses about atomic annihilation over a stop-start beat until the middle eight when the song morphs into Question Mark and the Mysterians' "98 Tears" and the Kid raps "Too many megatons for just one country to drop on you..."

9. "Government Hates You"

This one sounds like another live broadcast, as Chris rails against people spending money on $30 shirts when he can only get an extra $4 from his Welfare check because, well, the Government hates him. And, of course, you!

10. "Orthodontic Appliance" (Performed live on WMUC, 88.1 FM)

"And now back by popular request, yes, by popular request...Casio Cowboys." - WMUC DJ

The Casio Cowboys appeared on University of Maryland, College Park's free-form radio station, WMUC, at a time when "Straight Edge" was at its peak. Here the boys satirize the "Hardcore" sound with the unlikeliest of instruments- the casio! - and Mark's mouthful-of -fury lyrics.

Chris: "Hi, thanks a lot. We met this girl on campus who was in a car wreck and we liked her a lot, so we wrote this song about her. She was wearing this thing in her mouth, so like we wrote a song about it."

Mark: "We just wrote the song not even 10 minutes ago, and we've been pretty influenced by this, uh, hardcore music we've been hearing on WMUC tonight, today, this afternoon, this morning. And this is our first hardcore song, we hope you sure like it a whole lot."

Sucks her thumb in defiance
Now she's got an orthodontic appliance
She was just a freak of science
Now she's got an orthodontic appliance
Orthodontic appliance! Feedback!

This remains one of my wife's favorite punk songs. Or is it Heavy Metal?

Listen to the Casio Cowboys play "Orthodontic Appliance."

It's interesting to note the similarities the student- and community volunteer-run radio stations of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, College Park. JHU's WJHU and UM's UMUC switched over from AM to FM at around the same time, both broadcast at 10-watts power, and both shared the same call numbers - 88.1 FM! After five years of "FM or Bust" license bidding and two FCC rejections, WMUC was finally granted an FM license in 1979. They began broadcasting September 10, 1979 and adopted their "free-form" format in 1982 so DJs could promote what Wikipedia called "underground artists and music that is under-represented by commercial radio." The Casio Cowboys and "Orthodontic Appliance" certainly fit the bill!

11. "American Gothic" (Performed live on WMUC, 88.1 FM)

"How about the burger place, paw?" "Which burger place, maw?"

Amy found an "American Gothic"-themed greeting card! Who knew the reach of this Casio Cowboys classic?

Mark and Chris take on the roles of Maw and Paw, respectively, as they try to decide where to eat in an unspecified world of Bored Suburban Sprawl. Paw rules out the "chicken place" because the chicken is too greasy and, besides, "You can't get there from here." Then they go back and forth debating whether to go to the "new burger place" or the "old burger place." Maw finally pulls out a coupon for 10% off something at McLean Stevenson's House of Chow Mein and Chips (how in the world did Mark ever come up with that? The mind boggles!). The skit concludes with Paw changing the subject to what's on TV. In my mind's eye, I picture R. Crumb's famous "What's on TV?" cartoon cry of despair, as pictured below:

What's good on TV? Why bother?

Chris Dennsatedt:

"The maw and paw thing made us laugh like crazy because we had to share one mic on a goose neck mounted to a table at WMUC. Each time one of us had to speak we had to grab the damned thing and pull it toward us and it made this insane creaking sound. We were choking back the laughter (badly)... 
The original version had Adolf [Kowalski, the "Spit" to Chris' "Poverty" in Poverty & Spit] as maw and some guy in a country rock band that I did sound for (very bad grammar) as paw (?!). I just wrote it, hit record, and played banjo. We had this 'outdoor nature' tape playing in the background and whenever there was a long pause, Adolf ad-libbed 'moo...moo'"

Listen to the Casio Cowboys perform"American Gothic."

12. "Stranded in Mondawmin" (performed live on "The Rod Misey Show," WCVT, 89.7 FM, September 1983)

Watch the Casio Cowboys play "Stranded In Mondawmin."

This epic, politically incorrect, two-part medley is a musical travelogue to two Baltimore City retail shopping hubs, each as different as night and day - or, more accurately, Black and White. To wit: Mondawmin Mall and that tourist's "pride of place," Harborplace.

Rod Misey: "Amazing, indeed...an actual live, in studio performance by the Casio Cowboys!""

It was performed live on Rod Misey's local music radio show on WCVT (Towson University, 89.7  FM). Mark - with tribal chants straight out of the zombie-infested jungles heard in the Slickee Boys' single "The Brain That Refused To Die," Mark evokes an urban jungle at Mondawmin Mall:

I was stranded at Mondawmin 'cuz I missed my bus
Listening to some brother teach his son how to cuss
Three businesses closed while I was standing there
Then I noticed an aroma, smelled like burning hair
I turned around, you know, just to see
Then I found out that they was a-frying me!

Meanwhile, back at Harborplace, Chris intones:

Prime Potato [an actual Food Court vendor], let's get some skins
You know that Pac Mac is out
But the Smurfs are in
I paid $4 dollars for a glass of beer
I'm not a tourist, I'm a conventioneer
Oh yeah!

After the song, Mark and Chris chat with WCVT DJ Rod Misey and plug the upcoming 3rd annual "World SubGenius Convention" that was held September 16-18, 1983 at the Fabulous Galaxy Ballroom, upstairs in the Congress Hotel on W. Franklin Street.

Flyer for the "1983 World Subgenius Party" at the Galaxy Ballroom (from Tonescale magazine)

This was the 3rd SubGenius Convention, organized by Sam Fitzsimmons (The Motor Morons) and tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE (Michael Tolsen). The 1st SubGenius Convention was in Dallas in 1981 and the 2nd Convention was in Chicago in 1982. But it was the Baltimore SubGenius Convention that gave the Church of the SubGenius its first international notoriety as a "devil cult" after tENT was arrested for the infamous "Poop & Pee Dog Copyright Violation Ceremony." Mark Harp, who was a SubGenius Reverend and a tENT collaborator, made a limited edition recording of the ritual called "t he Inner Scoop of t he Poop & Pee Dog Copyright Violation Ceremony." (See "His Name Is Not Legend" for more on this event.)

13. "New Wave Boutique" (Recorded live at the Marble Bar, early '80s)

"New Wave Boutique, New Wave Boutique
Where Goodwill clothes take on a new mystique
It's a metro retro Salvation Army store
Come on down and be terribly bored"

"New Wave Boutique, New Wave Boutique
Where leather and vinyl and polyester meet
We'll sell you dad's old coat and mom's old purse
At the New Wave Boutique!"

The New Wave Boutique is tres chic. Another song performed live at the Marble Bar, it's basically Chris' snarky lyrics set against an uptempo version of the same Casio riff used in "Reaganomics," interspersed with parodies of Elvis "Pencil-Necked Geek" Costello's "Allison" and Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" Plus Mark Harp shaves his beard onstage!

H&H Building on Eutaw and Franklin Street

I wonder if the song was inspired by The Looking Glass, the "New Wave Boutique" that used to be on the 2nd floor of the H&H Building on Eutaw and Franklin Street back in the late '70s. (It was Baltimore's low-brow answer to DC's Commander Salamander.)

Commander Salamader in Washington, D.C.

Chris: "We had a Wednesday night residency thing going on [at the Marble Bar]. And, yeah, he [Mark] really did shave his beard. We also used to have a hot plate on stage and we served baked beans with Ritz crackers and aerosol cheese." No doubt this was an early indication of the budget gourmet recipes Chris would later share with the world as the Hobo Chef.

"Once I got a haircut while we were playing at the 8x10," he adds. "Didn't get it on tape, though...think that was the Charlie [Chadwick] Beatoes."

14. "Chasing the Myth" (Recorded live at the Marble Bar, early '80s)

"Let's hear it for the Casio PT-20!"

Mark debuts his Casio PT-20 (Chris: "Let's hear it for the PT 20!") onstage at the Marble Bar as he states the obvious with lyrics about all the platitudes we hold to be sacred. Blink and you'll myth it!

"Men are stronger/Blacks are longer/And blondes have more fun
Atomic bomb protects me/a shapely ass is sexy/And I'm gonna get me one
Chasing the myth, I do it any which way
Chasing the myth, it still beats the Truth any old day

Beauty is Youth, a New Wave of Truth
And I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as TV
And rock 'n' roll is here to stay"

15.  "Mad Dog 20/20"

"Mad Dog 20/20" is a song that gives the "heave-ho" to one of nastiest cheap drunks ever. Along with Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose, Cisco Strawberry, and Night Train Express, MD (for Mogen David, but called "Mad Dog" for its kick) 20/20 is a "brown bag vino" (technically "fortified grape wine with citrus spirits") that perennially gets ranked among the "Top 5 Bum Wines." You won't see the purge, you'll be the purge!

A real rocker, it's remained a popular live number in the Beatoes set list.

Gonna blow my paycheck, gonna blow my lunch
Gonna have it for breakfast, with my Captain Crunch

Watch the Beatoes perform "Mad Dog  20/20" on The Scott & Gary Show (April 6, 2013).

Watch The Mark Harp All-Stars perform "Mad Dog 20/20" and "I'm Too Ugly for MTV" at the 2013 SoWeBo Festival in Baltimore.

16. "Twister On My Heart"

Left hand Red, right foot Green
She played Twister on my heart
And you know what I mean

Ah, Twister! The Game of Love can be cruel and leave no winners. A knotty problem, with a twist ending.

17. "At the Beach"

The subject matter of Chris's lyrics and the tone of Mark's guitar riff remind me of nothing less than Frank Zappa's "Trouble Comin' Every Day" from the first Mothers of Invention album, Freak Out.

But according to Chris, the song was inspired by a preschooler's picture that he saw on the wall at the Rotund in Roland Park. "She said the only place her parents didn't fight was at the beach," Chris recalled. "Charlie [Chadwick] and I always called it 'Normandy Girl.'"

There's trouble in Iran, there's trouble in Thailand
There's trouble in Japan, there's trouble where I stand
Trouble in Afghanistan, trouble in Ireland
Trouble on the Rio Grande, trouble right here in this band
You can shake your fist, you can break your wrist
You can scream and shout 'til your lungs give out
You can stretch a point and still not reach
We could be fighting or we could be at the beach

18. "Mouse in a Blender"

"You can't get chocolate in here!"

Mouse in a blender

Watch Poverty & Spit perform "Mouse in a Blender" at the SoWeBo Festival on May 26, 2013.

A simple concept - a mouse in a blender - serves as the most complex song on the compilation, with Mark adding layer upon layer of sound effects ("Hooray!") and riffs, including the "Muriel Cigar" commercial "Hey Big Spender" made famous by Edie Adams ("The minute you walked in the room, I could see you were a mouse in a blender, a piece of hamburger/Hey there lunchmeat, there's a little manwich on mousemeat for me").

Edie Adams for Muriel Cigars

19. BONUS TRACK: "Mr Pooper Uses the Bathroom" (Recorded live at WJHU, 88.1 FM)

One of Mark's most famous broadcasts was "Mr. Pooper Uses the Bathroom," wherein Chris Dennstaedt ran down to the WJHU women's bathroom ("Since I'm in the Ladies' Room, do I have to wipe from front to back?" he asks) with a microphone in hand and took a dump - that Mark broadcast live over the radio! (Chris placed some tissues over the toilet seat and washed his hands before and after excreting, so at least he exercised good hygiene, if not good taste!) And, like a good DJ, Mark made sure that he announced the station's ID ("You're listening to WJHU, 88.1 FM")!

Listen to the "Mr. Pooper" broadcast.

Alas, the station didn't appreciate the stunt, and it got Mark kicked off the air! (Perhaps it was inevitable; Mark was good friends with tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE and collaborated with tENT on various audio pranks and experiments - but that's a story for another day!)

Related Links:
The King of Peru on the Web (Oddiooverplay.com)
24 Hours with Mark Harp
"2011 Natty Boh Film Festival" w/The Beatoes (Media Maxi-Pad)
"Radio Station Field Trip: WMUC" (Spinning Indie)
Radio Days at WJHU (Accelerated Decrepitude)

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