Mayhem Memories: Looking Back at the Zappa Special that Started it all in 1981

lombard   4/28/2021   1980s, KFJC History

2021 marks the 40th anniversary of KFJC’s Month of Mayhem. In honor of that significant anniversary, we are excited to be able to present the very first Mayhem special again this year. The ten-hour No Commercial Potential: The Frank Zappa Special was such a herculean effort, that it inspired other KFJC volunteers to craft special programming that quickly became the first Month of Mayhem in 1981.

Tune in on Mayhem 1 and Mayhem 2, 2021 (10pm PT to 3am each night) to hear this special again. Preceding the broadcast, during Cousin Mary’s “Mayhem Memories” special from 9pm to 10pm, KFJC will also present an interview with the man behind the Zappa special, Alex Pantages. Read on for more recollections about that first special from Alex Pantages.

– Cynthia Lombard

1981 flyer from Zappa special (courtesy Alex Pantages)

Alex Pantages on the First Mayhem:

The first Month of Mayhem on KFJC took place in 1981 and the premiere show was the Frank Zappa special on May 1 & 2 of that year. Not many people know though, it was originally planned to air in April. Work actually began in January and the Month of Mayhem concept didn’t exist yet. Here’s the back story to the Frank Zappa special and how the Month of Mayhem came into being (well, at least to the best of my recollection).

Alex Pantages in the booth at KFJC during the Zappa special in 1981 (photo courtesy Alex Pantages)

Through the local Blues scene, I had met journalist Dan Forte in 1980 and while talking one night, Frank Zappa’s name came up. I said I was a huge fan and Dan mentioned he had done a few interviews of Frank in his home in LA a couple of years prior for an article he wrote (Dan was then Editor of M.I. magazine). On a whim, I asked him if I might get copies of the cassette tapes. As I waited for an answer, the gears turned. What if I could do a show on KFJC, play a chronicle of Frank’s music and be able to play actual sound bites of Frank’s voice! The tapes were not great quality Dan said, since they were just for transcribing but, damn, this was Frank, in his own living room, kids running around in the background, talking about his music! This was in January of ’81.

I enlisted help from my other Frank Zappa friendly friends. Paul “Buddy Awreetus” Korntheuer, Russ “Winston Q” Reynolds and my friend Donn Paulk (who had an amazing collection of unique records and tapes). We talked about putting together a “marathon” and what it would take. While they worked on figuring out what songs to play from 30+ albums, I went to work on securing the interview tapes and getting the OK from KFJC management to do a show of that length.

Dan, Donn, Paul and Alex at KFJC in 1981 (photo courtesy Alex Pantages)

Needless to say, it took rounds of phone calls and letters (and lots of begging) but I got the rights to play edited versions of the tapes one time only. I was put in touch with Bennett Glotzer (at Frank’s management company, Glotzer Management) and he sent me some press kits and literature. I also found out that Frank was going to be releasing a double live album and 3 mail order only discs around the second week of May. I asked if there was any way we could get a few tracks or an album side to play on our April special. At first he said no, it was too far away from the release date and they didn’t want bootlegs out there. I said, OK…so…what if we move our special to May? He said to call him back in a week. I did. I told him we moved the special to May 1 & 2 and he told me that the artwork was not done but he was going to send me 3 test pressings so we could have the world premiere of Frank’s upcoming album, “Tinsel Town Rebellion” on our show!!!

Tinsel Town Rebellion test pressing (Photo: Alex Pantages)

As word got out around the station, other DJs jumped on the idea of a playing a dedicated block of one of their favorite bands/artists too. But not just spin records, they wanted their audiences to know more – where did they grow up, how did they become a musician, how did the band form? It was a testament to the passion and power of music fandom as much as anything else.

Tinsel Town Rebellion test pressing (Photo: Alex Pantages)

Our Frank Zappa special was going to be 10 hours over two days. Nobody had ever really done a show that long on one artist so we really weren’t sure how it would be received (although, we didn’t really care at that point). As the others began plotting their specials, it became quickly apparent this was just not a weekend or even a one week kind of thing. As the number of specials mounted and filled the air schedule calendar, it literally spanned the entire 4 weeks of May. Here is where memory fades a bit (and I want to give credit where it is due). I believe it was possibly Hawkeye Joe Scott who first uttered the words “Month of Mayhem” but I also recall Brent Jones (Publicity Director) begin making flyers and press releases touting the “Month of Mayhem” that was approaching.

Original playlist from 1981 Zappa special (courtesy Alex Pantages)

I ended up editing about 6 hours of interview down to small sound bites. Paul, Russ and Donn worked on the written biography, play list and sources for the music we would play.  We had the world premiere of Sides 1 and 4 of Tinsel Town Rebellion along with Side B of Return of the Son of Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar on KFJC on May 1 & 2, 1981 and unknowingly started a tradition that has endured some 40 years. I cannot hardly believe what I just wrote. It is humbling and amazing at the same time.

Cassette card for part of the Zappa special

Marzanna – “Honey In a Goldmine” – [Siren Wire Editions]

lombard   6/17/2014   A Library, CD

Experimental artist Marianne Nowottny released this very limited edition (only 50 copies) solo CD on Siren Wire Editions back in 2013. On this release she uses the moniker Marzanna, which is the name for the goddess of death and winter in Poland. Strange vocals, keyboards, and odd vocal interplay are in keeping with her other releases. She’s been putting out music since she was a teenager and was always beyond her years. It’s hard to believe that it was nearly 13 years ago (November 2001) that she played at a KFJC Listener Appreciation Party at Homestead Lanes! Ethereal and strange, just as we’ve come to expect from this poetic musician.

Blackstone Rngrs – “Descendant” – [Saint Marie Records]

lombard   6/17/2014   A Library, CD

Although this CD was placed into my hands in the dead of winter, it’s fitting that it’s getting added as we approach summer solstice. It’s a sunny pop album by the Texas project Blackstone Rngrs (aka Blackstone Rangers) with some hazy vocals, hints of the 80s and a smidgen of girl-group style harmonizing.

Decadence – “a Beheaded Winner and Fragrances of Happiness” – [CAPP]

lombard   2/25/2014   A Library, CD

Beginning with the rumble of thunder and an enveloping rainstorm, this 1999 release from Decadence is a slumber-inspired journey into darkness (is it a dream or a fairy tale?). Spoken word vocals from a poetic, possibly tormented narrator are the focal point of the 8 spooky tracks. Each piece leads into another and the journey ends in a nightmare, with music box lullabyes interrupted by a growling demon (using sampled sounds of chinchilla screams at a slaughterhouse). With bits of lyrics credited to Nietzsche and Dostoievski (Dostoyevsky?), it’s dark and haunting and at times reminiscent of elements of Chris and Cosey (vocals) and This Mortal Coil (instrumental swirling).

Devil’s Business, The [coll] – [Death Waltz Recording Co]

lombard   12/10/2013   CD, Soundtrack

On the spooky, ethereal soundtrack for The Devil’s Business, composer Justin Greaves creates quite the atmosphere. With its mostly instrumental pieces, the soundtrack should satisfy fans of gloom, but also anyone desiring a contemplative musical journey. There are some subtle dour vocals (more like buried chants) on the Crippled Black Phoenix tracks and lush instrumentation throughout, with bits of piano, bass, and perhaps sea birds or a demonic crow foretelling imminent doom. As you might imagine from the description of the soundtrack, the 2011 film explores dark themes, as it centers around paid killers whose efforts are thwarted by black magic.

Alto! – “Alto!” – [Raheem Records]

lombard   7/3/2013   12-inch, A Library

Portland, Oregon-based Alto! just released this limited edition vinyl version (300 copies) of their debut LP. Featuring two drummers (Kyle Emory and Steven T. Stone) and one guitarist (Derek Monypeny), Alto! gives us a nice slab of intensity with added percussion and electronics. The A-side begins with a buzzing rumble, introduces drums, gets cacophonous, and then goes back to a drum beat. It continues in a back-and-forth conversation and also references metal, jazz, and prog (it gets into a bit of a workout). The B-side has a janglier start, but also has a similar conversational feel between drum, percussion and guitar that provides a drone-like mantra. Eventually the listener finds herself hovering about it all in a spaceship, bound for parts unknown.

Eeliks:en – “Suutre Teiter” – [Fonal Records]

lombard   1/2/2013   A Library, CD

This release by Eeliks:en drew me in instantly, with the kid voices, strange compositions, simple electronics and percussion, and vintage video game sound effects. It reminds me a lot of the goofy fun of Flossie and the Unicorns, but it’s even weirder. You will hear kid rapping (did he say “monkey bones”? “Reagan”?), minimal keyboards, and a baby. Best of all, this was created by a 7-year-old boy from Finland: Eelis Mikael Salminen. His early recordings were made on his dad’s iPhone. This album is a great reminder that we should never underestimate the creativity of kids.

Foxtails Brigade – “Time Is Passed” – [Foxtails Brigade]

lombard   11/27/2012   A Library, CD

Now that the San Francisco Bay Area’s extended Indian summer is finally starting to fade away with an impending rain storm, it feels like a great time to embrace Foxtail Brigade‘s winter holiday-themed release Time is Passed from 2011.

From upbeat odes to Christmas to somber reflections on fractured family time, it’s a lovely slice of sultry, nostalgic-feeling chamber pop that’s nicely accentuated with pretty percussion and strings (ukelele, guitar, violin, viola, upright bass and cello) both plucked and bowed. Although we’re adding the original 2011 release, a new deluxe version of the album was just reissued this week, bringing new life to these home recordings that were originally produced as a soundtrack to the film Losing Ferguson.

Novik, Aaron – “Floating World Vol.1” – [Porto Franco Records]

lombard   10/9/2012   A Library, CD

This 2011 release, Floating World Vol. 1, from composer Aaron Novik feels like a crazy opera. With violins, sax, accordion, organ, and clarinet, it has a chamber rock, klezmer sensibility with a lurking weirdness. Some lyrics are stream-of-consciousness and some pieces remind me of songs written by kids, in that they reflect matter-of-fact depictions of every day life (an ode to an umbrella, a track about under-diapers). Others are more obtuse, with inspired metaphors and impressive word play. Swan writes:

“we move thru the acid trip of existence,
as darkness the shape of a man,
bright sunflower petals emitting.”

Although some tracks are fun and light, there’s an underlying darkness. Hitler 1945 has a somber feel to both the lyrics and music. When you learn more about the creation of this album, it all makes sense. Novik composed these pieces around the poetry of 3 different “outsider” poets from San Francisco’s Mission District: Swan (“former Chicago journalist…reborn as homeless street prophet”), the late Bart Alberti (“autistic savant”), and Michael Bernard Loggins (Creativity Explored artist). Carla Kihlstedt, Katy Stephan, and others (including Conspiracy of Beards) provide vocals.

It’s an amazing slice of life and include glimpses of the Mission District haunts of the artists, from Valencia and 18th Street (“people were looking through lots of stuff that was sat out on the sidewalk…they got the street all trashy”) to Market Street (“it’s dangerous and unsafe!).

Amid the humor, there is also a lot of pain and depth, as these poems express the realities of the authors. In “Seat Part,” Michael Bernard Loggins writes:

“problems weighs a ton
but life is soft as a love cushion
seat part”

Bed of Pain [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

lombard   9/18/2012   12-inch, International

This is an incredible collection of rare Greek folk music recorded between the 1930s and 1950s. As the title, Bed of Pain, implies, there are many sad songs that are reflective of the upheaval (war, violence, urban crowding, poverty) within Greece at the beginning of the 20th century. This is a collection of music featuring the bouzouki (a plucked string instrument similar to a mandolin), which was “the instrument of prison and the hash-den” in the early part of the century, yet was more mainstream by the 1950s, eventually becoming the national instrument of Greece. Featuring some prominent singers from rembetika (music of the greek underworld), it’s a sorrowful collection that will transport you back to Greek port side towns, full of themes of prison, intoxication, pain, heartbreak, and witchcraft.

Lucky Dragons – “Dream Island Laughing Language” – [Marriage Records]

lombard   9/18/2012   12-inch, A Library

This is an ethereal release from Lucky Dragons, with an emphasis on percussion. Gongs, chimes, claps, taps and cranks meld with twinkling, bubbling, squeezing, plucking, and music box sounds. It can be subdued, with spare, chant-like vocals; but things also pick up and can reach a danceable pace, suitable for ritualistic romps around the campfire, drum circles or drowsy, acoustic dance clubs where ecstasy has been replaced with peyote and peace pipes.

Drudkh – “Songs of Grief and Solitude” – [Season of Mist]

lombard   7/17/2012   A Library, CD

Despite the creepy images on the cover and in the CD insert (demons, ravens, a cloaked figure) that would make one think that this was a metal release, Ukrainian metal band Drudkh‘s “Songs of Grief and Solitude” is more folk than doom. Inspired by Ukrainian folk lore (fairy tales, folk songs, and legends) and by elements of some of their metal tunes, it’s a drony, psychedelic, nature-filled listen. Flutes, rain sounds, guitar, and splashing are part of the soundtrack that is akin to a far more depressed, dronier Renaissance Fair or a dourer Guild of Temporal Adventurers.

Helvacioglu, Erdem – “Eleven Short Stories” – [Innova/American Composers]

lombard   7/10/2012   A Library, CD

Inspired by the cinema, Turkish composer Erdem Helvacioglu crafted Eleven Short Stories using different prepared piano set-ups for each piece. Along with some more traditional piano sounds, the strings of a Yamaha C7 PE Grand Piano are plucked, scraped and played with mallets. Helvacioglu manipulated the sound of the piano by attaching a variety of objects (including utensils, metal places, ear plugs, erasers, paperclips, etc.) to the strings. It makes for a dramatic listen and it’s easy to imagine these pieces providing musical accompaniment to visuals by the likes of the directors that Helvacioglu cites as influences (ranging from David Lynch and Atom Egoyan to Jane Campion).

Pousseur, Marianne – “Only” – [Sub Rosa]

lombard   7/10/2012   A Library, CD

Since joining KFJC I’ve become more and more interested in the blurring of the boundaries of music and noise. No longer do I expect that music needs to be recorded in a pristine studio for it to have merit. On Only from 2011, Marianne Pousseur explores this concept explicitly as she performs material by luminaries like John Cage, Morton Feldman, Hanns Eisler, and by her father (the late Belgian composer Henri Pousseur). Track 9 features a series of Sephardic songs sung in a train station. She writes,

“I like to listen to music in places that haven’t been designed for it. I like when music mixes in with noise. Only came from a personal desire to open the doors of my musical world to the concreteness of daily life, to tear down the fictional barriers between places and times of rehearsal and performance.”

Pousseur’s beautiful voice is accompanied by dreamy percussion and is punctuated by ambient sounds in the locations where she recorded in Brussels. You might hear school children frolicking in the background at a primary school, nature sounds from a forest, noises from a train station luggage room, street sounds, footsteps, and movements amid the empty spaces in churches and galleries.

Listening to this is an otherworldly experience, as Pousseur’s powerful voice echoes through her surroundings. I can imagine her bellowing with church goers and schoolchildren in the audience for her populist operas.

Halvorson, Mary and Pavone, Jessica – “Departure of Reason” – [Thirsty Ear]

lombard   7/10/2012   A Library, CD

The Escher-like pencil drawings inside the CD booklet for this album hint at the crazy, labyrinth-like musical journey taken by Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone on this release from 2011. Viola, guitar, and vocals are utilized in a variety of ways; ranging from pleasant to alien to ominous. “New October” even feels a bit metal and prog-like in its hectic arrangement, whereas other moments would align nicely with classical arrangements or experimental guitar outings.

Boyle – “Auberhalb Des Wurmloch” – [Self-release]

lombard   4/3/2012   A Library, CD

Wisconsin-based musician/sound artist John Boyle‘s new release from 2012 features 4 lengthy ambient pieces with classical leanings. His soundscapes are quite lulling and I found myself drifting into a meditative state. Interesting, the CD release party was held at a planetarium in La Crosse, Wisconsin, complete with light show. Bonus points for the sweet cover art designed by his 6-year-old son. He will be performing live at KFJC on Tuesday, April 2, 2012 at 8pm.

Moe – “It Pictures” – [Conrad Sound]

lombard   2/21/2012   A Library, CD

This 2011 release from Norwegian artist Moe seems to straddle across several genres, with a heaviness that might nestle next to metal in moments and a hectic art-rock sensibility (and sax to boot) as well. Heavy bass and drums are a nice counterpoint to bass player Guro Skumsnes Moe‘s sexier vocals that at times remind me a bit of Liz Phair’s clean and confident talk-sing style, but with a Norwegian accent. Moe isn’t afraid to scream either and during those moments this release would fit squarely on the playlists of both metal loving DJs and riot grrrl fans. Other pieces (Like “Save Me”) are more straight-ahead with pretty vocals and more subdued bass. Musically, there are plenty of scrapes, saws, and creaks throughout the album to keep experimental fans happy as well. Guest artists include Okkyung Lee on cello on one track, Lasse Marhaug doing acoustic noise on another and sax by Kjetil Moster and Kim-Erik Pedersen.

Prince Rama – “Trust Now” – [Paw Tracks]

lombard   2/21/2012   A Library, CD

Sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson are the Brooklyn duo Prince Rama. On this 2011 release (their 5th), “Trust Now,” they paint a mystical portrait influenced by a range of influences including art school and a Hare Krishna farm. Recorded in Seattle at a 19th century church, the album has a swirling, exotic Eastern sound full of bells twinkling along with the drone of chants and buzz. Synthesizer grounds it all and gamelan adds a lovely touch. Surprisingly, the album starts with gospel-like vocals (ooo, yeah, yeah, yeah!) that jolt the listener to attention, but from there is progresses into so many different spaces that might remind one of Bollywood soundtracks in one moment and the dark introspective spaces inhabited by Marianne Nowottny in another.

Hertta Lussu Assa – “Hertta Lussu Assa” – [De Stijl Records]

lombard   11/29/2011   12-inch, A Library

Finnish trio Hertta Lussu Assa creates a spooky soundscape on their self-titled LP of material recorded between 2008 and 2010. Utterances from ghostly voices (was that a distant scream?) drift in and out as the music buzzes, slinks, clinks, and sways. Bees buzz, keyboards twinkle as if in an abandoned saloon, and an unseen specter munches on caramel corn. On side 2, things begin ethereally, with laughter, the jangle of a bracelet, the whirr of an appliance, keyboard, and the squealing of a cat. It’s a tremendously lovely, mesmerizing trip.

Heavy Chains – “a Very Real Hell” – [Broadway to Boundary, The]

lombard   11/29/2011   12-inch, A Library

I’m a sucker for sampled preachers, so this Heavy Chains EP (an October 2011 release from the Vancouver band) drew me in from the opening notes of “Crying Demons”, as it starts with a sermon. As the minister calls, bass responds and the whole business gets heavier until the sermon is buried beneath guitar/bass/drums. As the album progresses, things get a bit more metal with screamed vocals. Yet that balance of hard and soft continues on tracks like “Commo Wire,” in which a lovely melodic start leads into a heavy finish. In addition to screams, there’s some actual singing on here, albeit it’s warbly as if underwater.

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