Lesson Plan

Music star Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, better known as Bad Bunny, poses with new wax figures of him during their unveiling at Madame Tussauds in Manhattan in New York City, New York., U.S., April 19, 2022. REUTERS/Mike Segar

From time to time, the Josephmooon discussion touches on the topic of what it means to “be famous.”

Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio must be very famous indeed.

AKA Bad Bunny, the Grammy Award-winning Latin music star recently was recognized with – not one, but two – wax figurines by the world-famous Madame Tussauds.  

How does this happen? Inquiring minds want to know.

Brief Encounters

RIP, Cynthia Plaster Caster and Re Styles


UPDATE: Life celebration concert planned for Cynthia Plaster Caster.

Two remarkable rock ‘n’ roll collaborators – Cynthia Plaster Caster and Re Styles – passed recently, from this mortal coil to whatever lies beyond. Cynthia was 74 years old; Re was 72.

Cynthia “Plaster Caster” Albritton
Fee Waybill and Re Styles, The Tubes

Please feel encouraged to do your own further research on their singular careers.

Allow me these brief personal recollections.

These stories are not terribly interesting, unless your curiosity is piqued by the notion that yer ‘umble once was asked by the Tubes’ imposing singer and dancer (real name Shirley MacLeod) for help in adjusting the black electrical tape used to “cover” her otherwise bare breasts (recalling the song “Mondo Bondage” as one of the band’s showstopping concert tunes during those early days).

This happened just before the start of a Tubes show at Chicago’s Uptown Theatre, April 30, 1976. At the time I was engaged in promotional work for A&M Records, and the Tubes’ debut album – featuring now-classics like “What Do You Want From Life” and “White Punks On Dope” – was a major label priority. All hands were on deck, especially as I had somehow missed the band’s Uptown debut six months earlier.

There is a brief mention (pp 24-25) of this in my rock memoir, Everything I Know I Learned From Rock Stars:

The phone rang rather late one night, after 10 p.m. Bill Johnson, who worked the primary Chicago radio market and was respected for not engaging in the sketchy practices for which many promo men are known, was calling with a question that took me by surprise. “This band I’m with is looking for cocaine. Do you know where to get some?” My answer was “no,” as I had not yet been exposed to illegal drugs, but when the Tubes christened the renovated Uptown Theater on Halloween in 1975, the crowd was there to see Fee Waybill’s alter-ego, Quay Lewd, howl “White Punks On Dope.”

I just assumed the nipple-taping was among my “other duties as assigned.” Looking back, it may have been a calculated bit of theater – a fun way to involve us lower caste record company minions, hoping to ensure our continued evangelicalism on the bands’ behalf. Well, it worked.

BTW, Re Styles was not credited on that first Tubes album, but received vocal credits on the next three – Young and Rich (featuring perhaps Styles’ most famous performance, on “Don’t Touch Me There”), Now, and the Todd Rundgren-produced Remote Control. In another Rundgren connection, Styles briefly was married to Tubes drummer Prairie Prince, a mainstay of Todd’s touring bands these many past decades.

I met Cynthia Albritton, founder of the legendary Plaster Casters of Chicago, only one time – at a party in Chicago – decades after the activities of the 1970s that “cemented” (excuse the pun) her reputation as an iconic and unique rock star chronicler. Indeed, you can find many resources that describe the contorted trail blazed by her plaster cast phalluses (Jimi Hendrix, Eric Burdon, and a couple of dozen more), but here is one to get you started.

According to our many mutual acquaintances, Cynthia called everyone “doll.” She very likely called me “doll” during our short conversation. I have no idea what we talked about, but her plaster penis collection definitely was not among the topics. I do know one person she has cast, Jon Langford of the Waco Brothers. Perhaps I will ask him about that experience one day.

Mango Milli

To the editor:

Again with the “soft power” references, regarding T-pop sensation Milli’s appearance last weekend at California’s taste-making Coachellla music festival (“Milli’s sticky rice and mango stunt grabs world’s attention,” Bangkok Post, April 18). Please, in the name of responsible journalism, stop. The tenuous concept of “soft power” (primarily advanced and promoted by a single academic, Joseph Nye) relates to a country’s overall positive and progressive attributes to which other nation states might aspire. Talented though they might be, Milli and Blackpink’s Lalisa highly-programmed and predictable rise to entertainment world notoriety fall far short of the standards of “real” soft power indicators, including global media image, immigration and tourism, and integrity in rule of law. Sadly, at this moment, Thailand’s performance in all three areas may generously be considered a “work in progress.” To her credit, according to the music publication NME, Milli did get in a jibe at the Thai government as she rapped the lyrics: “The country is good, people is good, our food is good, but the government is bood (rotten).” Rather than continually try to export its hollow version of “soft power,” Thailand’s regressive policy makers might find more success reflecting the “soft power” influence of countries that blaze a forward path in education, health care, human equality, and other key areas.

Khun Bill

The Most Important Book I’ve Ever Read (And it’s not even a “book.”)

When I was 17 or 18 years old, I purchased an early edition (not the first, which was published in 1968, but a later edition published in 1971) of the Whole Earth Catalog, edited by Stewart Brand.

The magazine’s stated purpose was this:

We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory – as via government, big business, formal education, church – has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing – power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the Whole Earth Catalog.

In other words, by the time we got to Woodstock, it was obvious that many of the promises that had been made to early Baby Boomers and their parents (who’d already lived through a second World War), coming out of the white bread 1950s, were nothing but baloney sandwiches. Corporations and governments were beyond corrupt; schools STILL seem reluctant to change a system that is more than a century old; and don’t get me started on the shifty people who manage to get themselves put in charge of collecting donations and are uniquely trusted to deposit them into the Religious Establishment’s proper accounts.

According to Wikipedia, curator extraordinaire Brand adopted a broad definition of the word ‘tools’ to include “books, maps, professional journals, courses, and classes. There were well-designed special-purpose utensils, including garden tools, carpenters’ and masons’ tools, welding equipment, chainsaws, fiberglass materials, tents, hiking shoes, and potters’ wheels. There were even early synthesizers and personal computers.”

Perhaps part of my interest in this diverse collection of resources was due to the job I’d had for a few years, working at a rental company. Still in my teens, I found myself explaining to a wide range of adult customers how all sorts of equipment was operated and maintained. Party goods, tables and chairs, hospital equipment, lawn and garden maintenance equipment (ever try to put a full-sized rototiller into the boot of a Volkswagen?), floor sanding and carpet cleaning machinery, drills, pumps, electric hammers – you name it, we rented it, and I was able to explain to you how to use it properly and return it in the same condition in which it left. As if.

Anyway, the Whole Earth Catalog was more than a book of resources. It was a way of looking at creating a life that was sustainable and useful. A life where one’s skills and talents might support the greater good and somehow be fully appreciated. Brand’s editorial style effused a holistic approach to the ecology, alternative education, DIY cultures, and self-sufficiency. Long before Google and when even the local public library might be lacking in these types of alternative publications, the WEC offered easy access to achieving this utopian lifestyle.

One of the most influential people I encountered via the WEC is R. Buckminster Fuller. It didn’t take very long for me to become a fan of his geodesic domes and “Spaceship Earth” philosophies. I could only try to imagine the arc of his life and experience in my hometown of Chicago 40 years earlier when, at age 32, Fuller lost his job as president of a building company, began to drank heavily to mask depression, and contemplated drowning in Lake Michigan so that his family might benefit from a life insurance payment.

Seems like used copies of those original WEC issues are selling for many times their original price (issues published before 1980 varied in cost from $1 to $6). Remember, though, Brand was asking people the PAY for a CATALOG at a time when the dynamic was for retailers to give catalogs away in expectation of future sales. Another bit of foreshadowing sea change in the culture.

But if you see one in a yard sale this summer, pick it up and look it over.


Lesson Plan

In the last week or so, I’ve encountered two “music stories” in The New York Times and Bangkok Post, one of which filled me with hope and the other with dread.

I know you’re busy, so here is a short summary. Dig deeper if you are interested.

The Dread: Women are prohibited from ceremonial drumming in Burundi. What a disgrace for a country to treat music and women with such disrespect in the 21st century.

The Hope: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Two Thai teen sisters know the answer. The support these young women receive, from parents, schools, etc., is exemplary. If only this story could be replicated hundreds or thousands of times across the Land of Smiles.

Short [but powerful] lessons to be learned by reading each article.

Song Requests

Here’s my hot take on folks who make song requests at live music venues.

It’s about control. [This is not a scientific analysis.]

Some people, I have observed, need to feel “in charge” of their environment. Sometimes this pathology results in aggressive and unreasonable demands being made on the staff or kitchen (if we are in a restaurant). The food is not right, the drinks are not right, et cetera. We’ve all been there with a friend who acts embarrassingly when their needs are ignored.

Or, this need may manifest itself in attempting to dictate the “soundtrack” of every experience, regardless of the intention of the performers, who presumably did not show up for the gig wondering, “What songs are we going to play tonight.”

Sending a request – and typically, more than one song is suggested – to a performer or band is a way of saying, “I’m having a reasonably good time listening to your set, but it would be so much better if you would play an unrehearsed and inferior version of my favorite song.”

Now, I’m not talking about a scenario where a guitarist or piano player has invited requests. By all means, if there’s a pad of paper and a fishbowl or a clipboard and a pen attached, send up a few ideas. Maybe you haven’t heard “Hotel California” for a while. Feel free to give the performer a good reason to roll his or her eyes as far as possible back into their head.

Let’s not pick on that song (while noting there are many Eagles songs that could be tossed into rotation). There are, clearly, songs thought to be “over-played” by cover bands and acoustic performers. Those same songs remain other people’s favorites. Who knows why? That’s music. It’s magic and unpredictable. I really don’t mind playing “Brown-Eyed Girl” or “Satisfaction” for the billionth time. However, I do actively avoid playing other songs that I am simply tired of hearing and playing,

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Wagon Wheel,” two extremely minor works associated with Bob Dylan, among them. With so many good Dylan songs to play, why focus on those two? One was written for a movie, the other he never finished. Even the somewhat over-performed “All Along The Watchtower” would be a better choice. That said, there are people who likely are tired of hearing “Like A Rolling Stone,” an iconic Dylan song that I enjoy performing.

What to do?

My friend Ped Bluesman performs regularly around Hua Hin and Bangkok, and from time to time posts on social media about requests that he receives. “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Cocaine,” and “Mustang Sally” are among the songs that people want to hear virtually every night. I asked him why he thought people make requests and he replied, “because they just want to listen to any song they know and can sing along with a band.” That begs another question: Who goes out to see live music thinking they must sing their favorite song with the band?

For me, a legitimate request comes from someone who has been triggered by some element of the performance. They like your voice. They like your repertoire. They think you might do a good job performing this or that song. Consider it a compliment. And listeners often can have good ideas about what song to cover next. At the moment, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” is in my regular rotation when playing out live, thanks to a request. Never would’ve thought to learn that one on my own, overdubbed bassline intro and all.  

But don’t think every band you see must play “Pride and Joy” because it’s your favorite song.

Now, what song would YOU request of a live band or performer?   

Music News?

There is a lot of what is called “music news,” but really, not much – if any – of it has anything to do with music. Apparently, things like chord structure, harmony, melody, and lyrical integrity are too “wonky,” so the media resorts to celebrity-type coverage of musicians, rather than attempt any thoughtful assessment of the music and its cultural relevance.

Here at Josephmooon HQ (Hua Hin, TH) we’ve collected a few recent examples:

First of all, the rash of superstar artists who have surrendered the rights to their music to a big investor in exchange for a big paycheck. Good for them. Dylan, Springsteen, Sting, Bowie, et al, reportedly have received $200 to $600 million (USD) for their catalogs. Some of the deals include songwriting royalties alone, but others include performance rights as well. And it’s not just marquee artists who are getting paid – everyone from Stevie Nicks to the Red Hot Chili Peppers are lining up for the highest bidder. Even Motley Crue and Shakira have cashed in.

The landscape of future music nostalgia certainly will be determined by these transactions, as the “new owners” of the music will be anxious to recoup their investments without delay. Their goals dovetail with those of another tech steamroller: Tik Tok.

There has been a significant shift in how music interacts with society, from dancehalls and campfires, to radio and MTV, and now curated playlists and streaming services. The next Big Thing appears to be Tik Tok.

Now, I’m not going to comment on Tik Tok because I haven’t personally used it, and have seen only a handful of videos that have been created for the platform. But it is quite popular, and its handlers seem to think they have caught the proverbial lightning in a bottle.

Listen to Ole Obermann, Tik Tok’s head of music (interview by Agence France-Presse):

“When a disruptive tech platform appears, understandably the rights-holders get uncomfortable. Obviously, we had to pay out substantial amounts of money. The good news is we’re totally licensed now and we’re talking to [labels] every day about new things that haven’t been done before. We think we’re on to something. It’s early days in deciding exactly how we work with these artists on building their careers. But we see we can play a much bigger role in the artist discovery process in a very hands-on way. But it’s always day one and you have to keep reinventing yourself to stay relevant.”

Basically, Obermann is talking about the growing the $500 million global business of placing music into advertising to several billion dollars within the next few years. That’s right, your favorite music comin’ atchya in a million commercials (adverts), any day now. Ugh.

Another disruptor, Spotify, saw its stock value and listenership fall when it supported the right of podcaster Joe Rogan to spread disinformation about the coronavirus, despite the protests and removal of their music on the platform by Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Again, the bigger numbers win the day, with Rogan’s revenue-generating power far outstripping that of the consciousness-raising 1960s superstars. Paving paradise, indeed, old man.

And the “gladiator” approach to music continues with the newly-created American Song Contest, to be hosted by Snoop Dogg and Kelly Clarkson. The show is based on the Eurovision song competition and will include entries from all 50 U.S. states as well as various territories.

Sure, Josephmooon threw its hat into the ring. Wish us luck.

International Ukulele Day

A Mooonmemory

Happy International Ukulele Day! Such a versatile instrument. Wish I knew how to play one.

In 1984 (the actual year, kids, not an Orwellian metaphor), I was invited to contribute to the “U” edition of Op Magazine; well, that is, after pestering the editor, John Foster, to do so almost since the magazine’s inception in 1979, showcasing subjects according to an alphabetical order.

“How’d you like to do a piece on the ukulele?” he asked.

So, I started doing some research (no Internet), and eventually turned in an article covering some of what I’d learned. You know, what freelance writers do.

Of course, the library was my first source of information. Sitting on the shelf there (using the card catalog and Dewey Decimal System, you can look it up) I found a book entitled, The Ukulele – A Portuguese Gift to Hawaii, by John Henry Felix, Leslie Nunes and Peter F. Senecal. Author Nunes’ great-grandfather, Manuel Nunes, was among a handful of Portuguese craftsmen linked to the introduction of the ukulele – originally known as the cavaquinho or braguinha – to Hawaii, shortly after arriving with 400 other settlers in the summer of 1879.

At the time I managed to reach out to and speak with Leslie Nunes – not quite sure how that was arranged, perhaps through the publishing company – who shared with me some memories of his great-grandfather’s legacy regarding the ukulele.

In 1981, when Japan organized its own celebration of the ukulele, Nunes told me he was taken aback by Japanese fans who “wanted me to write my name on the soundboards of their ukuleles. That was something I was not used to.” Nunes also was deservedly proud of the fact that ukulele instruction is available in Hawaiian schools for children who wish to learn how to play. “Hawaii still loves the instrument,” he said, “and I hope it will again become a more popular instrument on the mainland.”

Four decades later, he needn’t have worried about the ukulele’s staying power.

Sure, it’s had its ups and down. From its introduction in 1879, a full half-century would pass before the ukulele fell into the hands of an ambitious young entertainer by the name of Arthur Godfrey. Godfrey began his career in 1929 on WFBR in Baltimore as “Red Godfrey, the Warbling Banjoist,” and in the 1930s developed his easy-going style (and played the ukulele — which he correctly pronounced as ooh-kuh-lay-lee) on WTOP in Washington, D.C.

Starting in the fall of 1949 – and lasting for nearly a decade – Godfrey dominated with two TV programs, Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts on Monday nights and Arthur Godfrey and His Friends on Wednesdays. He played ukulele, told jokes, and introduced acts drawn from a close-knit family of performers. Godfrey began losing popularity in October 1953 after he fired popular singer Julius La Rosa, and while he remained on the radio into the 1970s, never was able to rekindle an interest in the instrument he had revived from the Roaring Twenties, when the ukulele was as much a part of the youth uniform as raccoon coats and porkpie hats.

There was a time when Tiny Tim could have become a ukulele messiah. He was discovered by several diverse musical figures of the 1960s and 1970s, including The Doors (who had him open their shows at the Other End in New York), Tim Buckley, the Beatles and Bob Dylan. His breakthrough hit was “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” made famous through his appearance on NBC-TV’s Laugh-In.

At a party, Tiny Tim sang “Norwegian Wood” for George Harrison, and a version eventually made it to one of the Beatles’ fan club Christmas records.  He once entertained Dylan (after comparing him to the opera star Caruso) with versions of Caruso lyrics sung in Dylan’s voice, and Dylan songs sung like Caruso.  Dylan soon tired of this and sent Tiny Tim to bed.

George Harrison was an active member of the George Formby Society, a group of British ukulele enthusiasts, and famously taught European race car driver Gerhardt Berger how to play the instrument. His posthumously released album, Brainwashed, features a lovely song, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” with Harrison on ukulele and vocals.

Sir Paul McCartney often performs Harrison’s classic, “Something,” on ukulele, in tribute to the song’s author, who died in 2001.

And Harrison’s bandmate in the Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty, recorded The Last DJ, an album that features the ukulele playing of both Petty and fellow Heartbreaker Scott Thurston.

Fans of the Disney film Pinocchio will recognize the song, “When You Wish Upon A Star,” as performed by Cliff Edwards, also known as Ukulele Ike. Edwards also was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in the film. Another classic movie song, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” from The Wizard of Oz, gained new life in a popular TV advertisement as performed by “Bruddah Iz,” the late, great Israel Kamakawiwio’ole.

Founded in 1996, the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum has inducted ukulele pioneers from Edwards and Godfrey to Sam Kamaka, Jr., and Herb Ohta. Find all of the inductees here.

The first ukuleles from Hawaii were made from koa wood, and strung with gut strings.  Coconut ukuleles also were popular at one point.  A larger instrument known as the rajao, or taro patch fiddle, was also known at the time, as was the tipple, a 10-string ukulele.

There are numerous colorful tales about how the ukulele got its name, but it is generally agreed the name comes from the Hawaiian uke, which means “bug” or “flea,” and lele, which means “jumping.”  The natives thought the motion of the ukulele player’s hand resembled nothing so much as a “jumping flea.”

How will you celebrate International Ukulele Day (February 2)?