Rivers of Cream and Catnip Trees

This one came in on the request line. And if your’re in the mood to hear a haunting high tenor belt out a few cat ballads, then you are in luck. But first let me digress here for a moment, and then… music!

I do like requests. Bring ‘em on. If there’s a particular recording or performer you wistfully recall from my old radio show that you think would make a good feature here, drop me a line. Of course, my intent is to do more with this blog than rehash the rehash the contents of the old show, so general requests for particular genres of amateur audio might be helpful, and give you a voice in the proceedings here. You wanna hear some drunk people? Answering machine tapes? Loopy kids hopped on sugar? Arguments? Voice practice? Hypnosis? You just let me know. I won’t promise I’ll post anything in particular, but it would be nice to have a sack of suggestions to reach into now and then.

I have to admit that so far it’s been a bit easier to make content choices for my other blog (The Radio Kitchen). I already have a few dozen posts for it started in my head and ready to pull off the shelf. But dealing with the magnitude of amateur recordings that fuel this blog, there’s SO many divergent paths to venture down that I get headaches just trying to get a game plan for posting here. It’s not just that there’s a lot of stuff to pick through (and there is), but it’s the VARIETY. And the variety of varieties. In fact, I decided on the audio for one post here by cramming over three-thousand files into Winamp and hitting shuffle, letting the first one that hit me over the head win the day. But you know, I didn’t have to scan through many before I found a good one.

I’m starting to get a grip on how much different it’s going to be to for me to offer items from my collection of found sound on the web now, as compared to when I started featuring these kinds of recordings on the radio in 1999. For one thing, I can’t obsessively listen to amateur audio all the time like I did back then. Truth told, it kind of drove me crazy. Nowadays I get all the lunacy I can handle keeping up with our three year old here at the house, and all the surrealism that entails. So I have to make planned attacks on the collection. I can’t wade around in it all the time like I used to.

While it’s no secret that some amateur recordings can drive you batty (or put you to sleep), but there are a few with curative powers. Like the “Kitty Love Songs” of Terry McMahon. When I made up a short list of possible initial posts, I’d already included these. And then when I recently got an email suggesting I feature them, I moved ’em to the front of the queue.

And then in posting this, I’m possibly tripping over a new threshold in all my years of presenting found recordings. Not surprisingly, every once in awhile I’ve gotten online to try and see if I could track down a few of the characters I’ve heard on found recordings. It’s not something I obsess over, but every now and then curiosity gets the best of me and I do a little searching. I’ve actually located maybe a handful of people online that way, but I’ve never attempted to contact any of them. Why should I? But by posting these recordings up on the searchable info grid of mankind I realize that the inverse will eventually occur, and some of these artifacts are going to find their creators. It might happen with this post. I see Mr. McMahon has a website or two.

It doesn’t bother me, sharing people’s home recordings– personal or not. Let’s face it, once the artifacts of your existence end up in resale shops, the mass of it all is passed down. Passed along. Iti’s more than fair use. But It’s history on the march. But for a number of reasons. And I think Terry is going to be just fine with his cat anthems getting some play here.

I discovered these recordings toward the end of a little road trip I took in the summer of 2002. Despite plenty of thrifting explorations and excavations through Maine and New Hampshire, I hadn’t found one tape worthy tape of purchase until I came across this gem in Manchester, New Hampshire. With handwritten titles like “Secret Agent Cat” and “There Will Always Be Kitty Love Songs,” I really didn’t have to pop it in the walkman to know I was going to take it home. But I did, and it was even better than I imagined.

Terry McMahon – 01 – Kitty Love Songs


The initial appeal of these recordings for me was Terry’s voice– a tender upper register not unlike Robert Wyatt with a little Art Garfunkel thrown in for comfort. And the musical stylings are orchestral pop/rock, as rendered by a moderately priced one-man-band keyboard device. And he’s one of those masterminds who knows where to find all the keys, buttons and switches to make his gadget sing, and how to tickle them appropriately. And lyrically, he’s the master of the cheap non sequitur rhyme.

Terry McMahon – 02 – People Who Like My Cat


These songs are as simple and silly as they are sincere. The sense of humor is cornball– good-natured with almost no irony. And the arrangements are good too. Is it kid’s music? Maybe. But it’s really more than that. 

Or less…

Terry McMahon – 03 – Koko’s Kitten


It’s the true story of “All Ball” the kittycat and that sign-language talkin’ Gorilla, Koko. Some meaningful cross-species diplomacy going on here. After all, “love is a language that all of us know.” Deep stuff. And from the narrative details captured in his lyrics I’d wager that Terry probably owned the book.

Terry McMahon – 04 – Scaredy Cats


Quite an evocative stew that one. Nice effects and more shameless rhymes.

Terry McMahon – 05 – Pepper’s Song


This next one is a kooky shuffle with a Biblical theme, where he implores Noah to make sure he gets a fertile pair of every cat breed on the big boat.

Terry McMahon – 06 – Cat’s Off The Ark


While I had done a web search on McMahon a few years ago which was inconclusive (there’s a number of them out there), in preparation for this post I also did a cursory search for “Kitty Love Songs." However, it seems that he put a few of his kitty tunes online, which certainly confirms his identity. Actually, these next three songs are the ones Terry himself chose to feature on his site.

Terry McMahon – 07 – Molly Malone


On his site, says “Molly Malone was a song originally written with a Public Service Announcement in mind.” Which never would have occurred to me, but the gist of the song was to admonish “those who might toss their kittens into the wild and abandon responsibility for their care.” And I heartily concur!

The next two songs were my immediate favorites on this album. The first, “In Kittyland,” is the description of a mythic utopia, from a cat’s point of view. But the message is universal. And apparently this song has brought great comfort to some. As McMahon somberly notes, it has “been used for quite a few kitty funerals.”

Terry McMahon – 08 – In Kittyland


I guess if there is a heaven, it might as well be Kittyland.

Terry McMahon – 09 – Secret Agent Cat


If there’s a single in the bunch it’s “Secret Agent Cat.” It’s a catchy ode to a feline forest ranger turned undercover operative, and his penchant for tuna pie. This tight and urgent arrangement is as spectacular as it is wacky.

The next four songs are more or less filler in my opinion. Although the short overture and sonata have their charm. The only song on the album I could really do without is the ill-conceived “Cat Dancing Song.” Or maybe I’m just not a fan of perky tracks with sped-up vocals.

Terry McMahon – 10 – Praise the Irish Cat


Terry McMahon – 11 – Cat Dancing Song


Terry McMahon – 12 – The Kitty Overture


Terry McMahon – 13 – The Kitty Sonata


However, the album closer wraps things up nicely. Like a few numbers here, "There Will Always Be Kitty Love Songs" combines McMahon’s own homebrew of light classical music and adult contemporary schmaltz. It’s easy to imagine a video of this– with McMahon performing in a tidy white tuxedo, supported with some evocative backlighting.

Terry McMahon – 14 – There Will Always Be Kitty Love Songs


Yes, I think there always will be Kitty Love Songs. I don’t see why not. They’re high grade amateur recordings– folk art flavored compositions done with a professional flair using an affordable musical gadget. It’s a pleasure to share them here. (And yes, they are cute.) As far as Terry McMahon, at the time of this writing I’m putting up this post without contacting him directly. But I suppose I will. If he’s still checking his blogs…

He has two websites based on an online video project of his– “BCNU-TV” (Be seein’ you??), but since March of 2007 there seems to have been zero activity on either one. And when I see sites come to an abrupt end without notice or goodbye notes, it always makes me wonder.

Assuming everything’s A-OK, I suppose I’ll hear from Mr. McMahon soon, or he’ll hear from me. And Terry, if you’re reading this now and haven’t figured it out yet, let me be specific– I salute you. And if I never come across a message from you in my inbox, perhaps I’ll run into you in that place where the window sills are wide. And there are no fleas. In Kittyland.

And to end this on a lighter note as well as ratchet up the entertainment value of the post another notch, here’s a dance number which may feature Terry himself, in costume. However be warned. It’s a little spicy.


One Response to “Rivers of Cream and Catnip Trees”

  1. Paul Says:

    Dear Professor, what can I say, Kitty Love Songs, in it’s entirety!? Words fail me. My bottomless gratitude to you.

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