Archive for the 'Brian Belott Collection' Category

When Young Was Young

Saturday, February 16th, 2008
There was a time when coming of age was a short intoxicating ride. Even in an otherwise mundane life, a window of recreational opportunity would open when you’d get your first taste of independence and grownup rights, only to slam shut forever when weighty duties and obligations set you on the treadmill of adulthood. Whether you had to fight a war, take up chores at the factory or farm, or were lucky enough to go to college– there wasn’t a lot of time to make all your youthful indiscretions come true before you had to settle down and work and breed and be responsible, until the end.

That’s how life was, in my parent’s era and before (perhaps your grandparents time). It ain’t like that anymore, unless you happened to grow up in an old world-type community (Amish, Hasidic, crazy home schooling, etc.), the world has changed. Thanks to lots of societal tweaking that’s occurred since of the 1960′s, adolescence often begins much earlier, and sometimes it never ends.

To blame? Well, there’s plenty to go around. The draft is gone. The many choices of birth control and “family planning” made a big difference. It brought more women in the workplace and kept a lot of folks footloose far past their twenties. People wait much longer to get married, and there’s really no big stigma about getting married at all. More people don’t have kids at all, or have them well into middle age. And then there’s the complete fetish of life-long adolescence– through regimens of supplements and hormones or the horrors of botox and plastic surgery.

Which brings us to the rhetorical question of the day– Why is so much youth wasted on old people? Who oughtta have something better to do.

So with this post let us hearken back to simpler times, when coming of age was still an event. When the onset of adulthood was arousing and revelatory. And what made it so spectacular was that it was so fleeting and temporary.

To actually hear these ripening juveniles in their heyday, you have to dig back a few decades. These two offerings were created with separate technologies. Two are homemade discs (or records) featuring a gathering of friends. The others are clandestine telephone recordings captured with a reel to reel deck. I don’t have dates on any of these artifacts, but I’d guess the discs are from the late 40′s or early 50′s. The tapes are probably from the mid-1950′s. At least that’s my guess. And beyond content, what I really appreciate about all of these recordings is the richness of the regional accents. Something else that’s also disappearing in this future we inhabit.

Let’s go there now, into the heart of the jungle…

Jolly Boy’s Necking Party 5:01
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The natives are puckered up and restless in this mock radio drama, recorded as a memento of a weekend trip to Panther Lake, and the memorable necking party that ensued. As someone beats out a jungle rhythm on a cardboard box, exaggerated smooching sounds are heard as the narrator hints at the terrors of kissing in the dark. When the drums and lip smacking abates, the group improvises a dark farce based on the scary radio shows of the day.

Looking around online, I see there’s a Panther Lake resort with cabins up in northern New Jersey. I’d say there’s a good chance that this is where these funlovers made these recordings so many years ago.

Panther Lake Farewell  5:54
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While the side one was entertaining, side two is a more factual account of the weekend. They all sound youn enough (except for Helen, who sounds like she’s already on a two pack a day habit). It’s Sunday night and I believe the big necking party must have occurred the night before. But at this point the festivities are winding down, and they’re discussing their disparate destinations and where they’ll be tomorrow. Some will go back to work. Another has exams. And one fellah is heading out to Indianapolis for the big race, which would put this soiree right before Memorial Day– the traditional yearly kick-off of vacation season.

This bunch is far from wild. You might say they were rather square. And there’s no mention of drinking (except for some hot cocoa). And having grown up a generation after these folks, the “necking parties” I remember were part of our social scene when we were more like fifteen or sixteen (and we were drinking). I’d guess the kinds on this recording were at least 19 and older. However, it sounds like a swell time was had by all.

The other two archives here are somewhat less innocent. The scamp protagonist of these recordings, Jerry is the proud owner of an early tape recorder as well as a phone pick up he employed to capture telephone conversations. And the first selection is a session of boy-talk between Jerry and his friend Herb. Apparently, they had recently been on a double date when Herb improvised some masterful fiction to impress his date. Jerry was inspired. “Teach me to lie,” he implores Herb.

The Art Of Lying  4:44
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If there’s a pop culture cliche for a guy like Jerry, it would be Eddie Haskell from “Leave it to Beaver.” Not that sitcoms are all that lifelike, but I think that the prankster/rebel who has a believable “nice boy” act for the parents is an archetype that has stood the test of time. And in fact, Jerry’s idea for a “bit” here is practically worthy of a sitcom script.

While may have only been an aspiring liar at the time, Jerry reveals through these phone calls that his manipulative skills and sense of mischief were already well developed. After hearing these two recordings I’d have to say that if Jerry didn’t eventually go into a sales profession one day he probably missed his calling.

Betty and New Years Eve  6:17
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I don’t know the name of this sweet-voiced young woman, but she’s a mutual friend of Jerry and a woman he’s casually dating– Betty. And he’s called to tell her that he’s come up with a great plan for New Years Eve. Or a lack of one. He’s not going to ask out Betty (or anyone) for New Years Eve. Instead, Jerry is just going to wait to be asked out.

According to Jerry, his brazen behavior is based on his ongoing lucky streak (he’s “scoring on everything” he tries). And for his next miracle, Betty will magically call him for a date (to a party) on New Year’s Eve. I’m sure there’s no need for me to mention that “good girls” would never do such a thing back then. And her friend is quite defensive of Betty on this point, and besides she has other beaus to tend to her dating needs. And after all, Betty is a good girl (unlike Helen…), too good for Jerry’s needs. And what he really wants to find out from Betty’s friend is when and if she might actually be bad enough to satisfy Jerry. She makes no promises, but does hint that Jerry might get lucky if he’s patient.

It’s certainly odd to me to hear a guy lobbying so hard for nookie by pumping a mutual friend for information like this. But in the end he does find out why he’s been stuck on third base with Betty for so long. “She likes you,” her friend admits. “She thinks you’re a nice guy. But she’s not in love with you.”

“Well, she should be by now,” he says in frustration. “Every other one was.” What? A quid pro quo of dating and dining for some hubba hubba "affection"? Yes, times have certainly changed. But guys? Not so much.

Four Scorned and the Guys Who Let Go

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
It wasn’t that long ago that one of the most important social networking tools in the house was a little blinking box next to the telephone. Not only did cell phones and voice mail kind of eliminate the need for answering machines, but more people take advantage of all sorts of ways to type to each other through the ether these days. While all that telecommunication doesn’t really leave artifacts behind for us to dig through, there is a lurking bounty of audio treasures out there from the golden era of the answering machine– many thousands of cassettes (and microcassettes) filled with communiques and intimate details of human lives that have been left behind in piles of resale goods. When I’m wondering through a thrift store I never pass up lifting the lid of an old answering machine to see if there’s an oyster in there.

Some incoming message tapes are quite boring (perhaps not unlike the lives they document), others yield a memorable moment or two. But the prize cassettes are packed with humanity, surprise and mystery. And they come in many flavors. Some tapes are wild. Some funny. Others are sad. Some are just a collage of voices and situations. But the very best unfold through a compelling series of events and offer narrative rewards. Such are the four answering machine tapes I’m offering here.

More than most home recordings, incoming message tapes are often candid documents. And they can provide some of the most intriguing red meat in the found sound business. While there’s an inherent awareness of being recorded that comes along with leaving a phone message, the more urgent or emotional the message is the less likely the caller is going to have posterity on his or her mind. Immediacy trumps self-awareness.

These four recordings are complete artifacts, with all the messages in the order they appeared on the tape. At least two of these tapes have chunks of captured conversation between the messages.The most likely cause is when the phone is answered after (or at the same time as) the machine has been triggered and keeps recording for a while as long as it’s getting levels. And some answering machines actually have a button you can push that simply engages the recorder to capture the call. Either way, getting some back and forth on the phone can be a big bonus, offering a taste of the personality of the owner of the machine and perhaps providing context for some of the messages left behind.

The overriding theme of these four recordings is bad behavior, specifically female misbehavior born of hurt feelings and rejection. Of course, exhibiting bad judgement in the middle of getting dumped is universal beyond gender (or just about anything else). It makes you kinda stupid. 

Okay, let’s meet Mark. Is there any doubt this guy has just about everything going his way? He has a new birthday, a new abode, and he’s preparing for a London holiday where a sweet bird awaits his arrival. And more to the point– this guy is just popular. All the voices on this tape sound to be fresh, free and female. Even if they’re not all hot, Mark has options.

Mark’s Answering Machine  6:25

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About three minutes in the tone shifts drastically. It’s incoming wrath from a spurned girlfriend. Or perhaps just an episode of serial dating gone all wrong. I suspect that the first half of the tape with all the birthday joy may have been recorded at a later date. The first onslaught from her you hear starts in mid-sentence. Rewinding the answering machine and then letting new messages collect from the beginning would cause this effect. Some moving moments may have been lost.

As the curtain rises on the melodrama we hear the victim holding back tears, wishing and hoping that Mark might have been just a blt more emotive at their break-up scene (which may have just taken place an hour or two before these calls come in). But since he’s either holding is feelings back or doesn’t have any, she’s chosen to lather up his answering machine with her feelings until he finally feels something. Bottom line, she’s doing her part to make sure he is not happy. Which might be tough with a bevy of broads dialing him up around the clock.

While Mark’s ex only flogs him with raw hurt, the wronged woman on tape number two shoots with real ammo. This answering machine kept messages for a guy named Kevin and a few others (Tara & Debbie). I believe one of the ladies runs a nail care business. This tape stumbles along in a rather humdrum fashion until you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a ripping feud between Kevin and his girlfriend.

Kevin’s Answering Machine  8:58

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It all started at some social event. Apparently in some small way she gave him some grief about not spending enough time helping her out with her kids (or something like that). And then he “totally and completely yelled” at her in front of “a whole bunch” of their friends. Not a good idea, in retrospect. But it does engender some cogent dark comedy for the record.

I don’t want to spoil the plot before you hear the tape, but let’s just say that she’s so unflinchingly merciless that it’s hard to imagine Kevin would ever take a call from her again. And the end of this tape is sadly telling. Perhaps there are people you can win over lovers by shoving them away, but I’m not so sure they’re the ones you’d want to stick around. Cooler heads and nicer folks move on to more friendly and fertile territory. And while it’s good to be direct, cruelty is problematic. And isolating.

Although the last two furious females may have been lacking in clarity of mind flailed their men over the phone line, they seemed sober enough. For the next offering, this clearly is not the case.

This tape is a murky affair. One nice bonus is that it starts with an outgoing message from the owner of the machine. It’s the only time you hear his voice. And is it my imagination, or does everybody on this tape sound chubby and black? The first caller is a horrendous mouth breather, almost impossible to understand. He calls the owner of the machine by name, but I have no idea what that might be. All I can glean from the message is that the caller is going to help him out sometime soon with something. Then there’s an invitation to come over and see “the fight.” That’s the first minute of the tape. Then the fun begins…

Pussy’s Answering Machine  5:28

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Apparently, the guy is in some financial trouble and having trouble keeping up with some mortgage payments. And again, there was some type of a break up scene or argument providing the catalyst for this series of messages. And the woman who can’t stop calling does say “If you need me, I will help you,” in reference, I assume, to his financial woes. Or at least she’s willing to look out for his “part of the end” [sic]. But not only were her feelings trampled in the recent skirmish, but she seems to be at loss as to what is was all about. He just doesn’t like her? She did something to him? Or perhaps it has something to do with her drinking problem.

Okay, maybe she doesn’t usually drink herself into oblivion. But as the salvos start coming in, each message is sloppier and nastier than the last. It occurs to me that she may have a speech impediment as well, but with each call there’s more slurring and more spittle. By the end of it you gotta wonder if all that anger and hurt is the only thing keeping her on her feet and attempting to talk. You can almost smell the rank sweat and acetone breath.

Like Kevin’s girlfriend, the hammered hussy takes aim at the manhood. Only she derides his prowess in the profit column instead of the bedroom. And her insults are vulgar schoolyard stuff. Shamelessly crude and a lotta fun. You might wanna shoo all the small children and bible bangers out of the room before you listen to this one.

And to wind things up, we have Frank and Bess. And this incoming message tape is a little different than the other three. It’s longer and you actually get to hear several of their conversations between them. And there’s none of the belligerence and backbiting so evident of all the other tapes here. Yet, I find this rather sedate and relatively uneventful recording the most depressing of the bunch.

The star of this tape is the resonant self-absorbed voice of Frank himself. As it’s recorded from his phone line, he’s louder and clearer than all the other voices calling in. And besides talking about a lot of nothing (mostly weather and processed meat products) he just groans, sighs, yawns and exhibits an extremely annoying fake laugh over the course of his conversations with Bess. But all he really wants to do is get off the phone.

Frank’s Answering Machine  31:28

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Instead of the coda to a meltdown, the repeated calls from Bess follow a more sedate and ambiguous break-up. The details aren’t readily easy to discern, but the main point is that he’s just moved far from her neighborhood and that the separation coincided with the conclusion of an intimate relationship they’ve shared. And perhaps they lived together. I’m not sure. And Bess? Nice. She sounds very nice. So how did a nice girl like this end up in a matching set of ugly break up tapes? It’s the cruelty.

And it does get ugly, in a low-key slow motion fashion. The best example comes near the ten minute mark. Bess emits an “I love you.” as a men’s underwear commercial blares in the background on Frank’s TV set. And then Frank offers the same reassuring affection she’s waiting for, with a caveat. “I love you," he responds followed with a big greasy pause– "… for what it’s worth.” 

“That kind of devalues it,” she says, unhappy that he can’t be nice too.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. An indignity she ignores. Not only that, but a minute or two later she starts to get worked up in the other direction and mentions that she’s all wrapped up in Frank’s bathrobe, luxuriating in his odors. “Your SICK,” he squirms, finding her intimate affection patently offensive.

Seems to me, that would be the perfect moment to challenge Frank’s manhood, let alone his emotional depth. But unlike the wronged women on the other tapes, Bess never lashes out or takes him to task. And you know, if she just would have ripped into the moron it would have made this tape a lot more entertaining, and probably would have provided the best results for all concerned. 

Greetings From The World’s Fair

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

Home recording didn’t really take off until after 1941 when those relatively inexpensive Wilcox-Gaye Recordio machines made homemade records a reality without blowing a bunch of dough. But for those who could afford them, electronic disk recorders had been around since 1930. The first disk I’ve encoded for this post was actually made in 1939, making it one of the earliest amateur recordings I’ve gotten my hands on.

This World War Two era set of disks is a collection of audio snapshots capturing a few blissful moments in the lives of Edward Engel and his son John. The first is a dispatch from dad spending yet another day at the New York World’s Fair in Queens. It’s a crisp autumn afternoon, and ol’ Edward sounds to be a guy at the top of his game. More to the point, this brief greeting has a visceral cosmic quality I occasionally hear in old amateur recordings. Perhaps inspired by the futuistic theme of the fair itself, Edward intimately understands that talking into this state-of-the-art device puts him in direct communication with posterity (i.e. you and I). And for a minute and half you can let go of the illusion of linear time and lend an ear to Mr. Engel.

(download)
I can’t help but think of how much I wish I could find myself on the other side of this little rift in time. I mean, just how fantastic would it be to to back to "The World of Tomorrow"? And stroll around Flushing Meadows checking out wonders like the "Radio Living Room of Today" and the "Hall of Television"? The future was just a lot more fun back then.

But aside from the daydreaming potetial, what makes this recording so special to me is how graceful and genuine it is. It’s not a religious blessing he offers, but a real and human one. He wishes the listener good health, happiness, and a long life. Imagine, an antidote to irony…

The next one is a little different. It’s Edward again, this time offering a toast or testimonial to a couple hosting a gathering which has provided him the relaxing blood-alcohol level evident in this recording. It’s 1941 here. And notice how impressed he is with Tony’s home audio technology– the beautiful radio and the "rekkids are perfect." It’s not hard to imagine, is it? Glowing dials in wood cabinets. Tube-warmed jazz. It must have been a good night.

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Now we move on to the son, John L. Engel. I believe dad makes the introduction. John praises bachelorhood and makes funny with the microphone. Running out of material in short order, he gets lost setting up a convulted joke for the rest of the recording. Of course, disks aren’t like recording wire or magnetic tape. You can’t rewind and re-record a bad take.

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This next one is an artifact from John’s engagement party, which should place its creation to some time in the mid-40′s. The formula here– booze + friends + love = one loud-n-sloppy serenade. It’s congenial and cacaphonous. A lotta love. Again, this sounds like it was a swell party too.

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While these records were all made during the course of WW2, there’s no mention of it except for on this one recording. John certainly seems young and healthy enough to assume he had some role in the war effort, but this pile of records offers no clues. Like most folks back then, John was caught up in the weighty issues of the day and this recording finds him prognosticating on how history is about to unfold. He guesses the Allies will win in Europe in six months (it only took two more). And his other two big predictions are right on the money.

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On this next record you get Mr. John Engel over the top and quite pleased with himself. He’s "sings" “Mairzy Dotes,” probably the most popular novelty song of the era. At the time of this recording, it was a big hit for the Pied Pipers. Engel adds a bit more nonesense to a tune that’s already pretty silly. Quite a set of lungs on this guy.

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Okay, here’s the last disk. The sweetest of the bunch. John and Jane have been married for exactly a year, and they still sound pretty darn happy about it. It’s December 1946 and they’re doing their part to get the baby boom underway.

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It appears that John has warmed up to matrimony just fine. And they’re so damn sincere, it almost makes your teeth hurt. The "little angel for Engel" is due in June.

Jane imagines this recording is a private affair, made solely for their own enjoyment. But like his father, John is all too aware that futuristic strangers might pick it up one day and have a listen. Hello stranger!

It’s easy to wax nostalgic listening to captured moments like these. After all, people don’t generally archive the hard times and the grief, and all the plans gone wrong. Snapshots are inherently created to generate nostalgia as well as offer a little eternity to moments in time. As much as they’re not unfiltered or random, these audio images give you a flavor of time and place you won’t find in an old book or a movie. They speak to you.

For The Love Of Bob

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007
Okay here’s three short ones, all from found cassettes. I’ve grouped these all together in one post for a simple reason. They all express a mode of affection for a dude named named Bob (or Robert). And really, who hasn’t loved a Bob at one time or another? The name just has an affable buzz. Think about it. Sometime when you feel the need to reach out, you really just wanna grab a hold of some Bob out there and squeeze.

The first selection comes from an unmarked tape I found in a box in my room. I don’t really know how it came into my possession I suspect it might be from a junk store in the neighborhood, but I really have no idea. Sadly, this has become the case with too many tapes stashed away in bags and boxes around the house. Ever think about how cool it would be if you could afford to hire an assistant? Man, could I ever keep that person busy.

Anyway, this is a quirky tune. The band, such as it is, seems to be a few wholesome college types with a keyboard device. The cassette collection of songs I have from these folks is actually quite entertaining. Very earnest. A little odd and kinda kooky. Art school perhaps. I think these songs hail from the 1980′s. This particular number is a tight and out of tune plea for Bobby companionship. The vocals are fast paced and overlapping, and I suspect it might be a gay kind of thing. The Bobby protagonist of the song is referred to as “sugar,” “darling,” “honey,” and “angel” (and maybe “throbby” as well). And the crescendo at the end is a celebration of the “three of us.” Not quite like anything I’ve  ever heard before. And you? I think I need to make a point of sharing more of this tape in a future post. It’s a lot of fun. Musical nerds having a good time.

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The next offering is a bit strange, which may have gay overtones as well. (Okay, there are girls named “Bobbi” out there, but it’s not that common.) It’s a unique item, recorded on a late-model audio cassette. I’d guess it’s from the 1990′s. The “creator” of this recording has foisted his microphone up to the speaker of his stereo while playing the opening of a soprano sax power ballad. And then, right before the female singer starts to warble on nostalgically about never ending love the guy holding the mic intones– “Bobby” in an urgent half spoken whisper. Then she sings for a minute about the wild and free days of yore. He then hits the pause button, restarts the song, and does the same urgent thing all over again– the sax intro, the “Bobby” whisper, and that pop diva chorus about wildness and freedom (and love). He does this several times.

The only editing you hear in this recording is via the miracle of the pause button. I didn’t change a thing. Following his series of passion loops, he ends this little drama with an instrumental Muzak version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” And you can hear him shuffle around in the room while the recording takes place.

Although it’s impossible to be sure, the cryptic presentation here doesn’t seem to hard to decode. It would seem that the fella misses his “Bobby,” and can’t stop thinking about all the wild and free fun they used to have. And perhaps he’s trying to reel him back in by repeating this bit of what might have been their special song. Just guesses of course. Somehow when I hear this tape, I see two slender preppie guys in cardigans walking along a beach, laughing and smiling as the waves crash and the sun sets. And I’ll bet if I mixed in some seagull noises you might see the same thing…

Anyway, here’s the tape. As I found it.

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That little wonder was unearthed at a thrift store in Youngstown, Ohio. While I didn’t find much in the way of lost audio the last time I swung through there, Youngstown is one of those hardscrabble rust-belt cities where life is kinda cheap, and there’s some big thrift shops crammed with inexpensive goodies.

The final entree here also invokes “Bob love.” Actually the it’s the love of a Robert and his bride to be, Sandra. However, instead of idealized adoration or yearning for the return of a Bob, this is fully realized affection. No irony either. Not to reveal all the details in this rich two minutes of fun, but there’s some sweet singin’, a little Waffle House poetry, and a lusty invitation to wash up. From the sound of it, these folks aren’t so young and probably ain’t all that pretty either. But they sure are realistic! And they sure sound happy too. Brian Belott discovered this brief masterpiece at a thrift shop in Sarasota, Florida. Like the first two selections, I didn’t edit this in anyway.

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That’s it for today’s post– three quickies that kinda show you how there’s more to found recordings than kiddie tapes, answering machine messages and audio letters. And there really are a lotta ways to love a Bob. But you probably already knew that.