Friday, September 30, 2005

Okay, I Lied

A few more crumbs before the month vanishes.


Thanks to Jason of Perfect Sound Forever, the web's best music magazine, for forwarding Little Steven's keynote address to a radio conference. It's all rah-rah, and I love the way the guy who posted this has bowdlerized it, because we know some of those words can get girls pregnant, right, kids?

But after the adrenaline of reading his words drains off, one wonders if what he's saying makes any sense. Is radio even a viable medium for breaking artists any more? Isn't his nostalgia-fuelled rant just another middle-aged guy saying "Aaah, music was better when I was a kid?" I like the idea of his "underground garage" format a lot, and I'm happy that so many new acts have gotten heard there, but it's been over 30 years since radio programming was done by live humans and deejays went unscripted or unformatted, so it's only on college stations and the occasional weirdo outlet like KPIG in California where Mr. Van Zandt's ideal is practiced.

In an age of cultural overproduction like we're living in, there's no way mass media can even begin to get a handle on what's out there, no matter how microtome-thin they slice the categories and divisions. It's almost impossible to squeeze all the goodies, old and new, onto even ten radio stations, as cable-casting listeners in the States already know. Hoping that commercial radio will take the lead again is nicely idealistic, but I'd like to hear less cheerleading and a lot more hard-nosed detail, Steven.


I was jolted out of my sleep this morning by the doorbell, and when I buzzed the person in, dressing as I did, I heard a hearty voice booming "GOOD MORNING!" Uh-oh, this couldn't be good.

But it was. I'm the guy in the building who, because I live on the ground floor and I'm almost always here, gets to take in the packages for the neighbors who aren't answering the bell. And, as I opened the door, here was the mustachioed, portly little guy who works for Hermes Versand, a delivery service. "Are you ready for...THE COUNTESS?" he asked, handing me a package. "Has she got BLUE BLOOD?" he inquired when I said yeah, I knew the Countess. I signed for the package, and there it was, addressed to [name deleted by request, 11/29/05]. Aka the 25-year-old girl upstairs who talks English with a Valley Girl accent and drives a convertible BMW sportscar with Freiburg plates.

German royalty: big deal. When I first moved here, I hung out with a crowd of students, including a tall, horsy woman who I'll call Ingeborg, because I can't remember her real name. One day we were going to do something, and someone asked me if I'd call her. They didn't know her number, but gave me her last name. Sure enough, there in the book, was XXX, Ingeborg Baroness von. "She's a baroness?" I asked one of my friends. "Ssssh. She hates people knowing that. Her parents are pretty awful about it."

Then there was Fred. Still is Fred, in fact, off in London. Fred the no-count count. There's history there. I once asked him if he were a count, why he never had any money or at least invited his friends up to some crumbling castle somewhere for drinks. "Well," he replied in his posh British accent (born in America, raised in Ireland, with a German title: an international kinda guy), "even if my uncle hadn't been involved in the plot against Hitler, Schulenburgs tend to breed like rabbits." And it was true: his great-uncle had been Police Chief in Berlin and had been part of the plot of noblemen and military who tried to kill Hitler with a bomb. His grandmother had been part of the German Resistance, and had lived to write a book about it.

But he was right. He went to Texas with me one time for SXSW, and we went off to Louisiana afterwards. He joined me on the condition that we go there via Schulenburg, Texas so he could satisfy his curiosity about its name. We walked into the Chamber of Commerce, and he immediately charmed the woman behind the counter into calling the town historian, who worked at the public library. He, in turn, directed us to the old graveyard where the man who'd founded the town was buried. Sure enough, in the back of the cemetery, we found an old-world-looking tombstone, and the words "in Hessen geboren" above Mr. Schulenburg's dates. "Oh, my," said Fred, scribbling down details, "this should keep Grandma busy for a while." As we drove away (laden with a dozen of the coffee mugs from the Chamber, which declared, in unwitting dismissal of the place, "Schulenburg: Half-way to Everywhere!" -- "There, that's Christmas sorted," said Fred), he explained that this guy was probably the fifth son or something, and he'd basically been told there'd be nothing for him to inherit, so he had to make his way in the world. At that time, a lot of land-agents were coming through Germany trying to settle the land between Austin and San Antonio to promote an Anglo majority because they were afraid that the Hispanic (Tejano) population might well side with Mexico against the Republic of Texas should another war break out. (Ridiculously paranoid -- those same Tejanos had just given their lives fighting for independence from Mexico -- but that's how it was). Tons of Germans settled what's now called the Hill Country, and Schulenburg wasn't the only impoverished nobleman to settle there, or the most high-ranking: the Prinz von Braunfels picked up, lock stock and modest crown, and founded New Braunfels, Texas.

Nor is Fred the highest-ranking nobleman to sit in my living-room. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was proud to play host to Chris Strachwitz, the founder of Arhoolie Records, so that we could talk about a project he's working on. I mentioned this to someone a few days later and he commented, "Oh, yeah, Chris Strachwitz. He's, like, a prince or something." Or something.


I've done the numbers, and from what I can tell, it's going to cost me just under €10,000 to make the move to France. That includes everything, including paying off all my debts. It also includes a number of padded figures, just because stuff always costs more than it looks like it will.

This is doable. Right now I'm anticipating liftoff mid next year. And accepting any legal work to raise the funds.

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