Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bad Brains' Secret Message Revealed

I've always been curious about the Morse code embedded in the intro to the Bad Brains' song, "Big Takeover" on their debut cassette. In some write-ups about the song it's referred to as "Morse code-like tapping on the guitar", but it actually IS Morse code. And very good Morse code at that; whoever performed it knew what they were doing, they didn't just tap it out while reading from a code chart in a book. The code message reads, "DESTROY BABYLON UNITE ISRAEL". In the production credits for the original cassette on ROIR, someone named Dave Id gets credit for "Other (Morse Code)". Dave Id was Dave Hahn, former drummer for New York bands The Mad, Cro-Mags, Artless, and backing vocalist for the Beastie Boys and Bad Brains, as well as one-time manager of the Bad Brains.

My guess is that Hahn was either a ham radio operator or a radio op for the Navy, but I've never been able to confirm either. In fact, there's very little to be found about him on the Internet other than mentions of his connection to the aforementioned bands and that he died sometime after 1988.

At any rate, here's to Dave Hahn. Nice fist, OM.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dischord Records Family Tree

In 1982 I spent some time living at Dischord House, the famed headquarters of Dischord Records and home to several musicians including label co-founders Jeff Nelson and Ian Mackaye, both of whom were also members of the seminal Washington DC hardcore punk band, Minor Threat. During my stay there I had the opportunity to talk with Jeff and Ian on many occasions about the history of their bands and of the DC punk scene in general. On one of those occasions Jeff cut a piece from a cardboard box and proceeded to outline the history of the Dischord family of bands for me. I thanked him and tucked the cardboard into my camera bag, eventually bringing it home with me to North Carolina. Being a documentarian (a calling that's often unjustly mistaken for being a packrat), I cataloged and filed the artifact (i.e., I put it in a box of fanzines and show fliers) where it has remained relatively unharmed for close to thirty years now.

The family tree begins at top center with the Slinkees in June of 1979 and traces the evolution of the DC hardcore scene down to the then-current (April '82) line-ups of Minor Threat (after re-forming in the days just before my arrival in DC), Faith, Youth Brigade, Double-O, Artificial Peace, and Government Issue. In recent years I've seen a similar family tree of Jeff's creation published somewhere, in more comprehensive and more legible form, but this cardboard document from the past still fascinates me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bad Movies I Have Loved

In 1989 Italian director Claudio Fragasso came to America (Utah, specifically...that's part of America, right?), and made what some people consider the absolute worst movie ever made: Troll 2. Over the years Troll 2 (there was no Troll 1) became a worldwide cult favorite. Now the child star of that movie, Michael Stephenson, has created a documentary film about the Troll 2 phenomenon. Best Worst Movie premiered in March to critical acclaim and is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit.

Whether Troll 2 is the world's worst movie or not is debatable, and I herewith offer a few of my own favorite stinkers for your consideration and enjoyment.

Robot Monster
(1953) Gorilla suit. Space helmet. Bubble machine. Rabbit ears. GO!

ZONTAR the thing from Venus (1966) was a made-for-tv remake of 1956's It Conquered The World. Shot on 16mm with bad acting, bad dialogue, bad...everything. But it was the first movie I ever saw on Shock Theater (I must have been 10 years old) and it creeped me out.

Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) was made on a bet by El Paso fertilizer salesman, Harold Warren. It was rescued from eternal obscurity in 1993 when it was given the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, and that's how I came to know and love this piece of...umm...cinematic...history. Yeah.

Orgy of the Dead (1965) Written by Ed Wood Jr. and starring The Amazing Criswell, Pat Barrington and a bevy of L.A. strippers. Oh, and the Mummy and Wolfman.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Troggs Tapes

I had this on a 45 back in the 80s, but I read somewhere that it was first circulated in the mid-70s as a bootleg. It's one of the funniest things ever and I've managed to work various phrases from it into my everyday conversation for over 20 years now. But for those who are unfamiliar with the Troggs Tapes, it is The Troggs of "Wild Thing" fame, in the studio, on a bad day, trying to work out how to play a song and failing miserably at it, but creating a classic recording in spite of themselves.

Got kids in the room? You might want to shoo them out before playing this.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Spooky Radio

Here's a mystery for ya. On December 19, 2004 shortwave listeners across the United States heard something very strange on their radios. It was an 800 millisecond data burst, followed by the voice of Yosemite Sam (!) bellowing, "Varmint, I'm a-gonna blow ya ta smithereenies!" (The audio was apparently taken from the 1949 cartoon, Bunker Hill Bunny, while the content of the data portion has not been deciphered.) The station, which did not identify itself, would transmit the data/audio on four different frequencies: 3700 kHz, 4300 kHz, 6500 kHz, and 10500 kHz, each in succession. Following the first transmission, the second one would occur ten seconds later on the next higher frequency, and so on, for a 120-second cycle. Transmissions would always begin at exactly 7 seconds after the top of an hour. The transmissions continued from December 19 to 23, 2004 and then went silent.

The transmissions reappeared in February of 2005. At that time a couple ham radio operators in New Mexico tracked the signal using a mobile field intensity meter, and located the source: a high-tech communications development facility called MATIC (for Mobility Assessment Test and Integration Center). MATIC is run by Laguna Industries, Inc. of Laguna, NM, a Native American-owned business. According to Laguna's website, they are "a small, disadvantaged business" with "a proven reputation in the design, manufacture, integration, and support of electro-mechanical systems for military and commercial applications." According to the website of the Southgate Amateur Radio Club (of London, England), the two hams drove up to the entrance of the MATIC site and from the public road began taking pictures of the building and radio towers, only to be quickly chased away by a "not-very-friendly guy" who approached their vehicle. The Yosemite Sam transmissions ceased about 3 hours later and have not been heard since.

I've always been fascinated by radio mysteries, in particular the so-called "numbers stations" which appeared during the height of the Cold War era and have continued to this day. did a piece on this subject last year, which you can read or listen to here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

2 Men, 2 Bikes, 20,000 Miles

Are you a motorcyclist? Are you a globe trekker or maybe just an armchair adventurer? Do you like to learn about other cultures? Are you a fan of Ewan McGregor? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're going to love this. I know, it's old (by entertainment world standards) but I had managed to miss it until my friend Ellsworth told me about it. And I just finished watching it for the second time so it seemed a good time to mention it here.

The original 7-episode show, Long Way Round, was shot between April and July 2004 and follows Ewan and his close friend Charley Boorman as they travel from London to New York by motorcycle, the long way around. The chemistry between Ewan and Charley, the lack of pretension and the trials they endured are what make this show so enjoyable. The same is true of the follow-up series, Long Way Down, filmed in 2007, wherein Ewan and Charley ride from Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa. On both trips, the humanitarian work of UNICEF was spotlighted by filmed visits to several of their projects. In all, a brilliant piece of work!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Saving the story

NY Times 11/18/08

LOS ANGELES — The movie world has been fretting for years about the collapse of stardom. Now there are growing fears that another chunk of film architecture is looking wobbly: the story. (click here to read the whole NY Times piece)