Back in 2007, I briefly managed a bistro-type joint in an unfamiliar neighborhood of San Francisco. The gig lasted about two months before I went back to waiting tables at my old job, which was infinitely more amenable to my lifestyle. Deeply humbled by failure, I was relieved and yet more determined than ever to escape the restaurant industry, once and for all.
Anyway, one of my few enjoyable responsibilities at the bistro was maintaining the music for front of the house – they had a five-CD changer in the back office. To be honest, the system was kind of a mess; the previous manager – a DJ-type persona – had cleared out all of his gear, so the remains were jerry-rigged by one of the bartenders acting as manager. One of my first tasks as manager was to straighten out the sound system.
Before I even took the gig, I was repulsed by the bistro’s music agenda. During my first reconnaissance visit as an anonymous customer, I heard Enya, Kylie Minogue, Ricky Martin, Stereolab, and horrific acid house electro jazz techno-nonsense by artists I don’t even want clogging up the arteries of my memory. It was pure garbage – crap I would expect to hear blasting from a hair salon in the Castro, where it belongs. That’s when you ask yourself, “Am I willing to work in a place where I can’t stand the music?” Survey says: Maybe…
Weeks later, I would meet the previous manager and it would all make sense. The music part.
So two days after I took the gig, I went to the owner and said, “Hey, would it be cool if I mix up the soundtrack?”
He said, “Sure. In fact, take $150 out of petty cash and go buy some CDs. Do whatever you want. Make it your joint. No problem.”
On my first day off, I went down to Amoeba Records on Haight Street and went wild, but in the meantime, I brought in some of my own CDs to the joint. Almost overnight, staff and customers were commenting on the change of music. Several people said, “You know, the music was the one thing I never really loved about this place.”
As you might imagine, from the perspective of the Jukebox Antagonist, I was thrilled. But it was fleeting. In truth, the difference in music was nothing but a ripple in the sea of doing business. The regulars were coming back no matter what kind of music you piped in.
Amoeba Records has an amazing selection of used records in all formats. With a buck and a half plus a few sheckles from my personal kitty, I wound up with almost 20 discs, a few of which I already owned on vinyl and played at home on a regular basis. I think I paid $3.99 for Led Zeppelin’s Coda, mainly as an afterthought, the last CD in the basket. It’s a record you have in your collection, but never gets played. Name a song off Coda. See, you can’t.
Every day I would only change two of five CDs in the player from the previous day. So each record would be in random rotation for at least two days, that way it would give staff and extremely regular customers a chance to get more acquainted with the second Velvet Underground album. That was something I thought about on a daily basis. Meanwhile, I was completely dropping the ball on just about every other aspect of the gig. But the music was tight.
Though I probably should have been thinking about what kind of music really sets the tone for the restaurant as a dining experience, I was much more motivated by turning people on to cool music. Of course, this was just one small aspect of the managerial experience, but I was glowing with pride when I caught one of the bartenders unconsciously grooving to “Baby’s On Fire”. She was feeling it, man. You could see it. She wasn’t shaking her ass to impress anybody – the place was empty – she just got the jam. And eventually she asked, “Who is that one band with the baby on fire song?”
“Why, that’s Brian Eno, sweetie.”
And I wound up turning her on to Roxy Music, too.
So I was tickled the night a song from Coda was playing over the P.A. when one of the regulars said to me, “Is this Led Zeppelin?”
“As a matter of fact, it is.”
“What album is this from? I’ve got every album, but I’ve never heard this.”
Led Zeppelin – Ozone Baby
You can hardly find a decent Zeppelin song that hasn’t been played to death – until we happen to chance upon this jam. Recorded during sessions for the band’s final studio album In Through the Out Door in November 1978, “Ozone Baby” was one of three songs recorded yet omitted from the ensuing album due to time constraints; the other two being “Darlene” and “Wearing and Tearing”. Featuring harmonized vocal effects from Robert Plant – a rarity in the band’s catalog – this track is one of their most straightforward and up-tempo numbers, with slight hints of new wave and post-punk urgency. Alternate selections: “Friends” or “Out on the Tiles” from Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Deerhoof – Come See the Duck
From the Green Cosmos EP (2005), purchased during the Amoeba spending spree.
Deerhoof is an incredibly interesting and sometimes challenging band that I have never seen live, but have much respect.
Deerhoof and Mates of State were two major influences as I transitioned from being in a band to working (mostly) on my own in Aztec Hearts. At any rate, I had records from both bands in heavy rotation at the bistro, particularly Mates of States’ debut album, My Solo Project (2000).
This “Come See the Duck” jam makes me chuckle every single time. When Green Cosmos became part of the bistro’s rotation, I suspect nobody really noticed because it always seemed to come on during the busiest rush of the evening. I knew it was playing, but I don’t think anybody else gave it a second thought.
The owner usually came in just before closing, and sometimes he’d stick around for a chat. One night, I was clean-up bartending and he was having a snack – nobody else in the joint but the kitchen staff, and they were on their way out, too. All of a sudden, “Come See the Duck” comes on and the owner stops in mid-chew of his food. He looks at me; I’m buffing a wine glass and just kind of smirking, also a little buzzed.
“It’s a local band. They’re called Deerhoof.”
“Have you been playing this all night?”
“What do you mean by ‘play’?”
The next morning I replaced Green Cosmos EP with (probably maybe it’s impossible to say my favorite Deerhoof record), Apple O’ (2003). Nobody said a word about it, for the duration of my employment.
King Diamond interview with Joe Franklin
Perhaps even more incongruous than Joe Franklin interviewing a Danish metal singer is the fact that Joe Franklin isn’t one of the most popular radio and television host personalities of all-time. For whatever reason, he was strictly an East Coast phenomenon.
On the other hand, King Diamond was a late 1980s phenomenon, and there was a period of about six months when I was into metal. I don’t regret it at all, but I’m glad it didn’t stick. Then there was a period in the late 90s when I first moved to S.F. that I listened to KUSF college radio, and I got turned on to a bunch of second wave Norwegian black metal, particularly the bands Emperor, Mayhem and Thorns. Those were a gruesome couple of months – plus, I was doing carpentry for $13 bucks an hour. Those Norwegian cats will bring you down, man. It’s the aural equivalent of an appendectomy without anesthesia.
The bistro’s all-Hispanic kitchen staff came in early morning, and I’d roll up around 10:30-11:00 a.m. Doors opened at 5:00 p.m. for dinner service. Of course, the crew would be rocking the Ranchero music, which I love, and so I wouldn’t even bother to turn on the main sound system during the day. One of the prep cooks was a younger cat who always wore metal band t-shirts: Megadeth, Slayer, Deicide, etc. One day we were talking about music – I said something about his Avenged Sevenfold shirt – and I said, “Have you ever listened to King Diamond?” The kid shook his head. No, I never heard of them.
The next day, I brought in a copy of Abigail (1987), which is just about the right amount of King Diamond anybody needs in their collection. Just sayin’. Anyway, the kid loved it, and so I gave him the disc. But from then on, me and that dude would exchange song lyrics with each other, like, I’d sing (in King’s falsetto), “I am alive!” and the kid would respond with, “Inside your wife!” Shit was funny to us. When I was super-high, I’d walk around the joint howling, “Miriam’s dea-eh-ead!” True King Diamond fans will be all over that shit.
King Diamond – Abigail
King Diamond – A Mansion in Darkness
Tom Waits – Clap Hands
What did I pay for this? $6.99? Customers and staff loved this record; it received the second most commentary and praise, behind the all-time favorite…
Stevie Wonder – Love Having You Around
The first record in the basket was Music of My Mind (1972), of course. It’s a Personal Top Ten. Had to have it.
Off Broadway – Stay in Time
This is for all my Chicago people, especially my fellow comrades who got to see Off Broadway perform in the Hinsdale South H.S. gymnasium circa 1980-81. I’m pretty sure I was in eighth grade. The band hailed from Oak Park, Illinois, just a hop, skip and a jump from my hometown.
This track is of course from their debut album On (Atlantic Records, 1979), which reached #101 on the Billboard 200. “Stay in Time” hit #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts, and #11 on the WLS Musicradio 89 survey of top songs for 1980.
And I found in the cut-out bin for $.99 at Amoeba. A couple of people in the bistro asked, “Is that Cheap Trick?”
Off Broadway – Full Moon Turn My Head Around
Exactly two weeks before I bailed on the bistro gig, I had come to the conclusion that things weren’t going to work out. That morning, I realized that I had crossed over from caring about the gig, to thinking about the best way to get out of the gig. It was a day I will probably remember for the rest of my life. Sun was shining. Unseasonably warm day. Around noon I took a short break and walked up toward the cleaners to get my evening shirts, when I crossed an alley where a homeless woman had laid out all of her possessions on a blanket, in typical impromptu S.F. street sale style. She had a decent stack of CDs that caught my eye, and almost without thinking I approached the woman and said I’d give her ten bucks for the CDs, sight unseen, cash in hand. She snatched the bill from my fingertips.
There were 13 CD cases in total, four of which did not contain a disc, so nine for the price of 10. Among the first records in the stack was Troubadours of British Folk, Volume 2 (Rhino Records, 1995), which featured the usual suspects Lindsfarne, Nick Drake, and Fairport Convention. Under that, was Burl Ives, and under that, a homemade compilation of sea shanties entitled Irish Pirate Songs. And then: Abba, Arrival (1979); Warrant, Cherry Pie (1990); Journey, Escape (1978); TWO Joan Armatrading records, and a Donna Summer best-of that made a loud thwack as it hit the back of the dumpster. All in all, I thought, “That’s about the most ‘San Francisco’ collection of CDs I’ve ever seen.”
Upon returning to the bistro, I loaded up the CD changer with my latest scores. Every record I scored from the homeless woman wound up in the rotation, including Warrant, which brought more than a couple of confused and furrowed brows. Anyway, I’m running out of time here, so I just wanted to say that Troubadours of British Folk Volume 2 turned out to be one of my favorite records of the year, and my favorite cut was the super obscure “Mr. Fox” by Mr. Fox.