Kendley, as he has chosen to call himself here, has only two vinyl LPs: Black Sea and Skylarking. Kendley has said he bought Black Sea in late 2006 mainly for the irony; despite the sheer brilliance of the album, itself being Kendley’s gateway to XTC, this copy is a cutout. It hangs above his desk, green outer sleeve safely tucked away in the frame, the “cutout” hole in the corner clearly visible. That hole, to Kendley, constitutes irony.
We could discuss in greater detail the “irony” of many aspects of Kendley’s so-called life, the most recent and most obvious being his implied criticism of Western actors pimping tobacco products in Japan even though he smoked for twenty (20) years, and he smoked like a chimney for the first half of his stay in those mysterious isles despite knowing full well that his refined and noble Western features and his status as a university lecturer (don’t even get me started) could possibly influence his impressionable young students to take up the filthy and dangerous habit.
Irony or hypocrisy?
No, let us set that question aside. Let us discuss instead the irony of Kendley’s purchase of Black Sea.
Let us also preface this consideration with the fact that Kendley has never owned a turntable of any kind.
Of any kind.
He stumbled through the basic manipulation of audio equipment ranging from the neighbor’s Kenner Close n’ Play to his mother’s Sears portable (stereophonic…with auotchanger!) to college roommates’ AudioTechnica and Marantz turntables, but he has never owned any sort of turntable of his own.
Despite this, he has owned a handful of records:
“Jungle Boogie” / “Hollywood Squares” — Kool and the Gang
“Shine On” / “Mr. Prettyboy” — Grand Funk Railroad
“Sister Mary Elephant” — Cheech & Chong
“Earache My Eye” — Cheech & Chong
Tubular Bells twice (worn out on mother’s portable)
Hergest Ridge, also Oldfield, also twice (mother’s portable was hard on vinyl)
Derringer Live — Rick Derringer (he still cannot sufficiently explain this choice)
English Settlement twice (worn to bits both times)
Obviously, Kendley is unfit to comment on albums in any capacity. He is, essentially, a product of the AM singles-format era who remained unfazed by and largely oblivious to the FM album format. In that respect, he is an anachronism whose time has at long last come again; he can stream on a whim without any regard to album sequencing, thematic unity, etc., concepts to which he was blind and deaf anyway. To this day, he has never purchased, in any medium, a prog-rock “concept album,” unless you count Brain Salad Surgery on cassette. The closest to a concept album he owns is a CD of Dark Side of the Moon, requested for Christmas in 2004 to check out the Wizard of Oz synchronicity.
Yes, his interest in album thematic unity is that shallow.
There were a few 8-tracks, many cassettes, all gone (the only one he seems to miss is a dub of XTC’s Live and More), and there are now several hundred CDs, but his head is still all about radio; he is the sort of “surprise me” non-aficionado of music for whom streaming channels were invented. When one artist or association piques his interest, he may tunnel into it, pursue the artist’s influences and collaborations, make a few connections that satisfy his shallow and narrowly-conceived curiosity, then drift, inevitably, back into the soothing radio stream.
It is possible that radio, and therefore music itself, still represents to Kendley an invisible and infinite potentiality beyond daily experience, whereas the LP was his mother’s medium. Although she introduced him to Danse Macabre and Peter and the Wolf in vinyl, he most closely associated vinyl to her music: Les Brown and his Band of Renown; Kay Kaiser’s College of Musical Knowledge; Mitch Miller; Dorothy Shay (the Park Avenue Hillbilly — the medium was circular, but to Kendley, the content was decidedly square.
Radio, on the other hand, was fluid and unpredictable. It was different every time he turned it on. The dashboard radio in his father’s Chevy Bel Air picked up Mexican radio on clear nights, and he lay in the front seat listening to corrido and mariachi overlaid with a tinny shriek of cosmic interference, the signal from the world outside accompanied by the sun itself strumming the ionosphere. The pop stations of his older siblings were background noise to him until, one night, Roy Orbison’s voice floated from the tiny speaker like the keening of some mournful and beautiful ghost beckoning Kendley to a larger realm. He began to listen in earnest.
By the time he was six, in 1968, even AM radio was on fire. It was the year of the White Album and Electric Ladyland, as if Kendley cared, and even on WABB in Mobile, there was serious airplay of the Stones, the Who, Janice Joplin w/Big Brother etc., Cream, Blood, Sweat & Tears, The Birds, The Doors, Dr. John, The Zombies, Marvin Gaye, the late, great Otis Redding, Creedence, Jefferson Airplane, Sly Stone, Deep Purple, Donovan, Steppenwolf, Amboy Dukes, Status Quo, Archie Bell and the Drells, and many, many more.
There was also serious airplay of Iron Butterfly, Jeannie C. Riley, and Tiny Tim, but even a rube like Kendley knew novelty acts when he heard them (hence his later dislike of the Beastie Boys). No matter what was playing, he was glued to his sister’s portable radio. There were battery issues, but no assaults.
By the time he was nine, in 1971, his mother had to chase him out of the house on Sunday afternoons so he didn’t spend the day listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. He was mesmerized by Kasem’s analysis of “American Pie.”
By 1977, he had moved grudgingly to FM stations, mainly due to peer pressure. However, he found bright spots in the ponderous and oppressive world of album-format FM radio. He stayed up listening to King Biscuit Flour Hour, Doctor Demento, and Firesign Theater.
In 1980, a malfunctioning tuner piping Captain Beefheart’s “Ashtray Heart” through a home intercom system introduced him to college radio.
In Athens, Ga., he kept up with local bands largely by radio. Bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, 10,000 Maniacs, R.E.M., and the B-52’s ruled, along with acts that never went much farther than Athens: Pylon, Love Tractor, Little Tigers, Jason and the Nashville Scorchers. He knew some of these musicians, saw them all in concert. But he still loved them best on “the last one left,” 90.5 FM.
This is partly because Kendley is a born introvert. For this we cannot fault him; like about 25 percent of the U.S. population, he is sensitive to light and noise, and his responses slow in proportion to the degree of sensory input around him. His tolerance of crowds is low at best. Add lights and noise…well, sometimes the best thing about a show is stepping out into the cool night air where one can breathe and think. Radio, on the other hand, offered him a gracious remove from overstimulation.
And so for the last quarter century, just as an alcoholic’s favorite drink is, “What are you having?”, so Kendley’s favorite music source has been the nearest radio station he could stomach. In Japan, he listened to U.S. Armed Forces Radio on a shortwave set he found in the trash, but he inevitably began to wander up and down the dial, listening to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese transmissions just as he had listened to Mexican radio thirty years before.
And despite his lack of “purism,” he does have some sort of standards. In Portland, Ore., it got personal; he insulted a young DJ by suggesting that overplay of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls” was misplaced nostalgia for a fumbled, sweaty handjob in a dormitory stairwell. Or something like that. Since then, he has chosen simply to “vote with the tuning dial.”
As for purchased music, his favorite record store of all times was a small shop in the basement of a department store in Fukuoka, Japan. In the used bin, he found CDs (prized, of course, for their individual tracks, not as unified works) by Harold Budd, Budd & Partridge, Budd & Cocteau Twins, Julian Lloyd Webber and Gavin Bryers, H.K. Schmidt, Faye Wong, Shan Shan Typhoon, YMO, Ondekoza, and many, many more. Always on Wednesdays. He went once on a Tuesday to see if he could identify the patron who traded in such tasty and eclectic music, but it was a half-hearted effort. He didn’t want to find the source; he wanted to dip anonymously into the stream, just as he did with radio.
So, he has never owned a turntable, has owned only a few records, clearly has no background or inclination to appreciate the LP as a musical medium, and shows no intention of investing in stereo equipment. Yet he bought Black Sea in 2006.
That, liebchen, is irony, and it may herald other “ironies” to come.
He is an unreliable witness to himself, and his various explanations of why he bought the LP simply don’t make sense. I would argue that deep inside, Kendley knows that he is a radio-fed musical dilettante, and he has pretensions to appear to be something he is not. He has misrepresented himself in person in Japan and Southeast Asia (lying about his journalistic credentials to the crown prince of Selangor, just for starters!), and he will misrepresent himself here, if you allow him.
Ignore anything he says about LPs.
Or mushrooms. Listening to anything he says about mushrooms could get you dead.