The news had hit the Internet: Beck's latest album, Midnite Vultures, a little less than a month away from its proper release, was already available in downloadable MP3 form from various bootleg FTP sites covering and smothering the World Wide Web. With a little luck and lots of patience, one could be getting jiggy to the sounds of this highly anticipated long-player well before it saw the light of day in any brick-and-mortar boutique or record shop. How could I resist? After a not particularly exhaustive search, I hit the jackpot.
Within a couple of hours, the contents of the entire rekkid had been piped through my 56k modem and burned onto CD-R, making me the proud owner of stolen property. MP3, the highly controversial soundfile format that compresses the contents of an ordinary .wav file into a fraction of the space, has been making a monkey of the music business for the past year or so. In tandem with the communications and information delivery systems available through the Internet, music traders are finding a veritable gold mine of music resources, often illegal.
As recently as six years ago, the Internet was nothing more than a rumor to most people, passed along in the hushed and solemn tones usually reserved for esoteric religious devotions amongst the halls of academia and the sterile environs of computer labs and think-tanks around the globe. Nowadays, your mom sends out her Christmas cards on the damned thing. The World Wide Web has hit the unenlightened, and for many, that means only one thing: porn. Not only pornography, but ugly things like gore sites where one can view the putrid leftovers from yesterday's autopsy tables and police files. (Corner me at the bar after I've had a few, and I'll give you the URLs...yuck.) There are more Web sites devoted to death and the grotesque than to, say, Ruth Buzzi. Yes, sir: The Web is a bad, bad place.
The Recording Industry Association of America thinks so too. After its unsuccessful attempt to lobby the dreaded and controversial MP3, the de facto standard digital soundfile format, out of business, the RIAA decided to go after the fans. Last year, University of Oregon student Jeffrey Levy found himself on the wrong end of a felony conviction for violating the 1997 No Electronic Theft act by posting "hundreds" of encoded music files on his home server. The RIAA didn't stop there. Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh tossed 71 of its students off its internal computer network after the industry group persuaded administrators to sniff through its pupils' files at the prestigious school. And just last month, the organization filed suit against Napster, a file-sharing program popular among MP3 fans, claiming copyright violations and "music piracy."
Yet one can still find numerous illegal FTP sites dedicated to delivering an almost inexhaustible supply of disco, rap, and pop into your hard drive, bound for a blank CD-R near you. But the Internet is also home to many other good and happy things as well. There are plenty of warm and cuddly multimedia sites out there, ripe for discovery, that won't get anybody thrown in jail, won't upset your grandmother, and won't get the RIAA on your case. Well, maybe.
When I was a child growing up in the mid-'70s, Saturday mornings were a magical time full of anticipation, wonder, no school, and Sid and Marty Krofft. Between the late '60s and the early '80s, the Brothers Krofft churned out dozens of psychedelia-tinged programs aimed at preschoolers but enjoyed by their older brothers and sisters as well. You can relive those days at http://www.yesterdayland.com, a Web site primarily devoted to a time before all children's programming was based on things you could find in Section 5, Aisle 3C of a Toys "R" Us.
Yesterdayland.com is slick fun, with some of the best streaming Quicktime video and audio I've ever seen and heard. You can browse through their generous archives to view Courtney Love singing the Banana Splits theme song or hear "the multi-faceted" Greg Dulli from the Afghan Whigs weigh in on the merits of "Freakies" cereal, a sort of Cap'n Crunch knock-off, every package of which contained a cool magnet, some of which are still on my mom's refrigerator. A bonus is the message board, on which fans post their fondest and sometimes fuzziest memories of shows such as Sigmund and the Sea Monster, The Secrets of Isis (damn -- I forgot how hot that Isis chick was!), and H.R Pufnstuf.
Slightly less professional but no less entertaining is DeeT's 70s Page at http://www.rt66.com/dthomas/70s/70s.html. Mr. Dee had the prescience to record almost every theme song and commercial that aired on '70s TV into a hand-held tape recorder. His recordings are beyond lo-fi, but where else can you hear the title song to Dr. Shrinker, ElectraWoman and DynaGirl, or maybe the "Ancient Chinese secret, huh?" Calgon ad? He's also got videos and vintage radio broadcasts from the "Me Decade" that, strangely enough, illustrate the fact that many station programmers haven't altered their playlists in twenty years. There's a great links section on his page, and for those who actually care about such things, a lot of memories as well. Why am I the only person I know who remembers Kaptain Kool and the Kongs? Check out http://geocities.com/Hollywood/Hills/6009 for another page devoted to all things related to Saturday-morning TV and the Cult of Krofft.
Speaking of cults, John Hattan, the "UberShamen" of the First Church of Shatnerology, based in Watauga, Texas, has devoted an entire site to the bloated greatness that is William Shatner at http://www.freespeech.org/shatner. Everybody knows about or has heard the Shat-man's brilliant spoken-word renditions of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man," but you really haven't lived until you've heard his version of Elton John's "Rocketman" ("And I'm gonna be...HIIIGGHH'"). But he's not making fun of Shatner -- not much, anyway. The site, dedicated to the great one's "magnificent toupee and girth," is all about setting the record straight on the divine aspect of Canada's greatest living export.
With that in mind, Hattan has offered up dozens of sound clips in the slightly less controversial RealAudio format, as well as links to other Shatner-related sites. (Need a Shatner look-alike for your next Bar Mitzvah?) Becoming a Shatnerologist costs you nothing, but if the Web page has any truth to it, your IQ will drop 100 points, and you'll grow soft and pimply buttocks. Shatner's people declined to comment at press time.
"The whole thing actually started as a gag on a Scientology newsgroup," Hattan explained in a recent e-mail exchange. "Just to stir the pot, I posted a top-10 list of why William Shatner would make a much finer Supreme Being than L. Ron Hubbard. Number one, he's still alive." Hattan has been spreading the gospel all over this big, blue marble, appearing in newspaper articles as far away as the U.K., where the press seemed to miss the overall gist of his message and attributed the gag to an actual organized religion. Bloody Brits.
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If your tastes run a little closer to the dark side, maybe you should check out the recorded rants of Francis E. Dec, Esq. of 29 Maple Ave., Hempstead, New York. You can listen to his wild, politically incorrect screeds at http://www.ubu.com/sound/dec.html. I was first turned on to Dec during a party a few years ago, when a friend played the eerie, reverb-drenched monologues to me on a tape that he had copied for my unhealthy amusement. Dec apparently was a disbarred lawyer who lost it sometime in the early '80s, but I don't think anyone knows for sure. Embarking on a letter-writing campaign of sorts, the poor fool blanketed unsuspecting recipients with photocopied fliers that are all but unintelligible, spouting colorful doggerel about "THE 'MASTER RACE' FRANKENSTEIN RADIO CONTROLS BRAIN THOUGHTS BROADCASTING RADIO EYESIGHT TELEVISION" and "PARROTING PUPPET GANGSTER SLAVES."
In actuality the person on the recordings is not Francis Dec, but a Los Angeles DJ named Doc on the ROQ. While in the employment of WZUU in Milwaukee back in 1985, Doc had the good fortune of receiving one of Dec's infamous mail-outs. A year later, when he moved to Y-108 in Denver, he decided to record them, out of boredom, mixing in bits and pieces of musical accompaniment to achieve the desired ambiance. The effect is so perfect, you just might start identifying with Mr. Dec as he takes on the the Kennedys ("Playboy scum on top"), the CIA (they, of course, beat him bloody), and even his own brother. Completists may want to buy a CD copy of the collected works available from local label Trance Formation at http://www.fringeware.com/~melba/catalog.html or try Forbidden Books on Exposition. Not for the faint-hearted or culturally sensitive.
So you see, kiddies? The Internet can be a vile place. A place where danger lurks behind every HTML document, JPEG file, and AVS Check system. But it's also a place where you can find a blissful amount of aural oddities at absolutely no cost to you, the consumer. If downloading the latest questionably legal Christina Aguilera or Hole track to your Seagate isn't your thing, fire up your browser and try one of these URLs for size. And please, take it easy on the porno.
T. Erich Scholz plays bass for the Tomorrowpeople, contributes to the Dallas Observer, and is the Webmaster for various "adult" sites on the Internet in his spare time.