On the LAFMS aesthetic: from my own perspective, we were in that particular time and space, which was already so complex and fragmented, that our sensibilities led us to make and break, to sort and recombine, looking for beauty or perhaps meaning, with the everyday materials that were available. Living in Southern California put a lot more stuff within reach. As a friend told me, “The future is already here, it just isn’t distributed evenly.”
On LA in the early-70’s: The sky was brown with thick smog which burned my lungs when I rode my bicycle just a few miles. On special occasions, my parents used to load us five kids into the station wagon and take us to eat at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax. Afterwards, we would cruise Sunset and observe hippies and flower children, mostly runaways from Kansas, I imagined. The early 70’s was the evolving noise of the 60’s cultural, political, technical and artistic big bang. We were all part of it; the highs were higher, the lows lower, and everything was louder. In suburbia, it was relatively safe, and relatively boring, but collectively, we used our imaginations to make things more interesting. When I was in high school, I worked for a while at Television City in Hollywood, mostly during rehearsals for game shows. Television up close is a far cry from watching the finished product. I visited Paul Beaver’s electronic music studio; I simply looked him up in the phone book, called and made an appointment, then drove out to Hollywood. He graciously answered questions, showed me around the place and was open about how tough the business was. Living near LA made these types of experiences possible.
About Poo-Bah Records: As a teenager, I used to shop for clothes at the Veterans Thrift Store at Fair Oaks and Colorado. I bought classic Hawaiian shirts for a quarter and cool wool slacks for 75 cents that had been hanging in some rich Pasadena guys’ closet since the 50’s. Around the corner and down a flight of stairs was the original Poo-Bah’s. I think my sister Sue took me there first. As the oldest, she had a record player and all the Beatles albums. I eventually got a used, crappy, all-in-one record player, but dreamed of having a serious stereo with JBL Paragon speakers. I started buying albums from the used bins, as it better matched my budget and were usually very interesting. There was this great big world out there and it floated around the globe on affordable disks of vinyl. We met Tom Recchion at Poo Bah’s and Jay Green, of course. I remember bringing BTS into Poo-Bah’s when we finally released it and Jay asked, “When is the next record coming out?” I was stunned, as it had taken a monumental effort to see this first LAFMS album to completion and I had not given any thought to a follow up release. I recall seeing Jay as a formidable business man and a completely cool dude, he had a lot of knowledgeable people working for him and he was providing a service to the community, buying and selling records and providing a local place where people could meet and social network, decades before the term was invented. Tom was one of those people and he would listen and talk with us fledgling listeners about the latest arrivals, both new and used, from great big world of recorded sound and music.
What we learned from Zappa, Wild Man Fischer and Beefheart: First of all was to just do it. Each of these artists were not formed from the record business or academia, they just worked at their craft and experimented and somehow got some of it out on records. These guys made their own music and it didn’t sound like everyone else. Role models come in many forms; some you respect and admire, some you learn to steer clear of. Wild Man Fischer was an LA character with some bad wiring. Donald Trump reminds me of him, except I like Wild Man a lot more.
About improvisation: I didn’t read music but had played and hung out with a number of local musicians through high school, including John Jarvis before he fled to Canada to avoid the draft. I had jammed some basic blues with some strangers at a friends’ house and really enjoyed it but I had no money, no instruments and no vision of a professional music career. But that didn’t stop me from exploring. The joy was in improving, finding one’s own way, individually or in ensembles, by listening and playing. It seemed perfectly natural to borrow from rock, including available instruments, while constructing highly personal sound works. Working with the Potts brothers accelerated this development and propelled us to new and exciting experiences in live performance and especially in the studio, whether that was in their living room or at CalArts studio B-303.
About rock music: rock (and blues before it) was about social justice and revolution and the wild road after midnight. But the music biz was drowning all that out with bubble gum, glitter and dance moves; ie disco. No need to overthrow rock, but no need to embrace the music biz either. The example of the basic dope deal has been cited as the financial model for ID art, Light Bulb Magazine and several other LAFMS productions. Many small sticks together make an unbreakable bundle.
Upon hearing BTS: the mixing and editing of BTS took quite a while, mostly with Rick’s tape recorders. We all had a hand in the editing and mixing, the sequence of tracks and especially the liner notes. By the time we took the spliced up master tapes to Gold Star Records in Hollywood, I was exhausted, excited and satisfied. So it came as a shock a few days later when word came back from Dave, the recording engineer at Gold Star, that there was a problem. I recall going back to Hollywood with Joe and Rick (I don’t recall if anyone else was with us), looking around the walls lined with gold records by artists like Cher that had been recorded and mastered in that very same funky building, as Dave threaded the tape on the big Ampex. He pushed the play button and the sounds slowly came forth through the studio monitors…it sounded GREAT! But Dave explained that the phase was all over the vectorscope and that there were whole sections of just noises; we must have given him the wrong tapes. After convincing him that everything was going to be alright, he eventually sort of got into the spirit of the thing. He even added a little reverb to one of the tracks’ fade out.
About recording Live at the Brand: The L-44 performance was entirely prerecorded but made difficult by my idea of building 44 pyramid shaped headphones from recycled cardboard and spray paint. I didn’t know what I was doing (naturally), so the wiring had issues, causing one channel to go out. We tried to make repairs on the fly, but eventually gave up and continued the tape playback through stereo speakers. That was a busy week; the bicentennial occurred on the 4th, the concert was on the 8th and I wed Susan on the 10th. Joe and Karen were also married on July 10th, five years later.
Why the need for a Society? What was the role of the LAFMS? The Great Society was the political name for a bunch of legislation in the 60’s that was, for many people, transformational. But it was also invisible, made of ideas more than mortar. So a Free Music Society, invisible but supportive seemed a good fit to my teenage mind. As things progressed, it sort of took on many meanings, including those cited in the question.
I think I coined the term LAFMS. It evolved out of a name I was playing around with as part of a concept to start a recording studio, actually. That was a path not taken, as things turned out. Free music had at least a double meaning, possibly more. First, it was freedom to do your own thing; second, it was free from money and the biz. Of course, it wasn’t always true to either of those lofty concepts, but somehow the name stuck.
Scientific American/hobbyist culture and the LAFMS: using old things in new ways as well as making things from bits and pieces was part of being an American kid. Everybody did it. Now day’s kids put more of that energy into digital media and social networks. Things evolve.
Un-musicianship of non-musicians: There was always a sense of artistry. Sometimes a sense of a guild of craftsmen; we were all builders of new sonic things. The line between sonic creator and musician was always a bit blurry to me. Punk, on the other hand, was a fresh, raw rework of rock, ska and even Frank Sinatra.
Percolation effect: At the time, it was hard to seriously contemplate what the LAFMS experience would look like after 35 or more years. Back in those days, it was unclear whether the world had another 35 years left in her. A lot have folks found themselves doing a lot of creative exploration similar to what we were doing, usually without any knowledge of us, so in that sense it shows how organic the process was. It is a bit embarrassing when someone says that they were influenced by those recordings made before they were born. I don’t feel that old.