5/30/2008 Voice Cried Softly

 

IOWASKA: Modranight (Vine of Souls) Alternative Tentacles 2001
DISCHARGE INFORMATION SYSTEM: Soul Cancer (self) self-released 2003
IGGY AND THE STOOGES: Gimme Danger [Live from last show] 1974
DEVIANTS: Billy the Monster (Vol. 3) 1969
BLEACH 03: Torch (The Head That Controls Both Right and Left Sides Eats Meats and Slobbers Even Today) Australian Cattle God 2007
WIPERS: Romeo (Over The Edge) Restless 1983
THE SHAGGS: My Pal Foot Foot (Philosophy of the World) probably 1969
ERASE ERRATA: Ca. Viewing (At Crystal Palace) Troubleman Unlimited 2003
HAWKWIND: Silver Machine [probably 1973]
SHANNON WRIGHT: With Closed Eyes (Over the Sun) Quarterstick 2004
THE WHO: Boris the Spider [BBC Session] probably 1966
MRS. MILLER: A Hard Day's Night [probably '64 or '65]
LOZEN: don't remember the song (Enemies Against Power) Australian Cattle God 2007
THE MOVE: Don't Make My Baby Blue (Shazam!) 1969
DISTURBED: Spontaeous Human Combustion [local] (Don't Expect Any Miracles) Demonstration 1990
THESE ARE POWERS: Funeral Xylophone [cd single] Elsie and Jack 2007
CAN: Mary Mary So Contrary (Monster Movie) 1969
BLACK SABBATH: Heaven and Hell (Heaven and Hell) 1980
SUNNO))) AND BORIS: Sinking Belle (Altar) Southern Lord 2006

*Decadence in Broadcasting:*
*A Voice Cried Softly Tribute to Earl Root*
*by Eric Fifteen*

When I started listening to KFAI, I was a young teenager with few friends, _no_ social skills, no perception of how the world worked, and no realistic grasp of human behavior. All I knew was that the cool kids liked cool music, and the _coolest_ kids liked loud noisy evil stuff that nobody knew about. And some of them were listening to Fresh Air Radio, a station I had always admired because they didn’t have commercials and had smartass DJs on in the middle of the night who would play really weird stuff, stupid stuff, Steve Martin comedy records, really long stuff, and occasionally stuff with swearing in it. Without KFAI, I would have had no idea that there was a world outside of KQRS, Kool 108 and KDWB (basically outside the halls of my suburban high school).

So now all these years later, after a bit of social-climbing and sticking some feet in some doors, one of those smartass DJs on in the middle of the night in _me_. There have been quite a few very outstanding programmers down here during my tenure, but the ones that have had the greatest impact on my style of radio are all those late-night lunatic geniuses who came before me: Alice Phoenix, Linda Pitmon, Chris Waterbury, Jerry Modjeski, John Kass, Patti Walsh, Dave Reinhold, Jean Silverberg and Chris Kieser to name just a few. They were all volunteers and amateurs playing noisy obscure music that no commercial radio station would touch. They all pushed the boundaries of what radio should sound like. But only _one_ of them seemed determined to not only _push_ those boundaries, but to _obliterate them_. He was the self-proclaimed “decadence in broadcasting.” His name was Earl Root, more famously known as the “Root of All Evil.” And he played loud offensive metal…for _five hours every week_.

Okay, I never knew him that well, and I’m not his biggest fan, but so much of my own radio persona that I take for granted can be attributed to him. My favorite programmer was John Kass, who did the freak psychedelic show “Can You Dig It?”, which was on right before “The Root” every Saturday night. My involvement with the station began one night when I invited myself down to John’s show and elbowed my way onto the air with him. It was the beginning of a very long friendship with John, and an even longer involvement with KFAI. During all the time I spent on John Kass’s show, I got to witness the genius of Earl Root firsthand.

Earl and John were both very competitive record collectors, and they would always bridge their two shows by having two turntables going simultaneously with the most ridiculous garbage imaginable, and the records would usually be sped up, slowed down, played backwards, and certain segments would be repeated over and over again. It was third-rate Beach Boys imitations, hippie meditation records, lots of lounge, Nancy Sinatra, Golden Throats type of stuff, and tons of absurd Beatles covers. One of my favorites was when Earl had two cheesy instrumental versions of “Hey Jude,” one with steel drums and one that sounded like Herb Alpert, and Root was trying to play both their melodies at the same time (I don’t think it worked very well, but it was funny). John’s contributions included audio of crank calls and a really awful two-record set of a preacher giving speeches about the dangers of rock music. This style of radio was an inspiration to hear and watch. It was sound collage, it was hilarious comedy, it was technical perfection, it was deconstructionism…it was _decadence in broadcasting_! Earl and John even designated a new section in the record library to accommodate all this nonsense, which they affectionately labeled “Pop/Bad.” Probably more than anyone else, Mr. Root challenged the standard music radio format and expanded it into something with seemingly limitless parameters. It was more than just music programming. And now as a programmer myself, I retain a desire to produce something more than just a collection of songs every week, and I attribute much of it to this man.

Then when the turntable butchery would subside, we would hear a lot of haunted house noises, over which a chain-smoking voice would be punctuated by a satirical chuckle. Then he would launch into some old 70s cardboard dinosaur thud rock…the forgotten genre that existed between acid rock of the sixties and what we now know as heavy metal. And I could never tell whether or not he took it seriously. As a teenager, I took everything way too literally—if music was great, I loved it…and if it was bad, I _hated_ it. But now here was a man who had discovered a way to love the bad stuff too…through _humor_ and _irony_.

After about 25 minutes of subjecting young metalheads to Sabbath, Purple, Rainbow, Nugent, Nazareth, Cactus, Budgie, and West Bruce Laing, he would jump into three-and-a-half hours of death metal, grindcore, sword metal and speed metal (and more recently, black metal and variations of such). I got the feeling he was playing a lot of it because it was stupid. I remember one time he was reading the set and remarked, “we just heard Overblow, I mean Overkill!”, followed by some guy in the background laughing his ass off. He was always yelling into the microphone, and would usually have a segment called the “gore check,” in which he would put phone calls on the air so people could scream like their favorite death metal singers. I suspect a lot of angry, humorless young men may have developed a sense of irony and humor as a result of “The Root of All Evil,” and I’m probably one of them. In this sense, Earl was unique in a culture of pseudo-toughness and single-mindedness, and will probably never be matched in quite the same way again.

As the five-hour program would approach its end, things would wind down with some “not-so-evil” metal music, presumably for a smoother transition between his show and the Sunday morning gospel program that followed; which usually included art prog stuff like Voivod and Dream Theater, and even some non-metal music like Pink Floyd, and probably the band Yes because he was fanatical about them. I admit I usually never listened to the “not-so-evil” because it meant the party was over.

Earl Root was always someone I had to admire from afar. I was always overly cautious around most people because I was afraid of irritating them, and Mr. Root didn’t seem to have a lot of time for people he didn’t know, especially awkward teenage boys with no social skills. Not a winning formula for a friendship. Furthermore, he would always seem to be in a hurry to hang up the phone when I would call to make a request. Part of it was that he played a lot of short songs and was always struggling to cue something up, and he may have been getting bombarded with calls, but I’m actually more inclined to believe he just didn’t have the patience. But as I hung out more with John Kass, Earl would become a little more sociable. Maybe if I was more of a metal fan and less of a scaredy cat, we could have had a bit of a relationship. After I became radio certified and started filling in for Kass, Earl was very friendly towards me. I always got the feeling he thought my name was “dude,” but I sensed he respected me as a fellow programmer. Maybe things could work out in a different life.

One thing about Root that has always inspired me has been his vinyl obsession. I started coming to KFAI at a time when the vinyl LP was ready to go the way of the triceratops. Earl didn’t care. He kept the phonograph record alive and he made it cool. To me, he represented the old and the new happening simultaneously. He was a man in his forties keeping up with all the new innovations of his genre while refusing to lose sight of his roots (no pun intended). And that’s who he was right up until the very last moment. I hope someone says the same about me when I’m gone.

Personally, I don’t believe that when life ends, it all ends. For some reason, I do believe something comes next. And I do believe it’s something much more pleasant than what most of the bands on the “Root of All Evil” playlist are depicting…_especially this band_… (cue Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell”).

Playlist Tracks: 
Air Date: 
May 30, 2008

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