It’s hard to quit a habit. Take cigarettes: usually, the only way to successfully kick the addiction involves switching the means of chemical dependency (i.e. moving from cigarettes to some other form of nicotine, such as patches, substitute cigarette “sticks” or vaporizers, etc.) If the appeal of the cardboard craze ever loses its luster for me, then it stands to reason that I’ll likely need to pick up some new interest to compensate for the void—a new prompt for the would-be wordsmith to continue to wax nostalgic.
Although that potential move still feels far down the dark proverbial road, I can foresee that it may be paved in sweet shellac and vinyl. Also, several precedents exist for this in my brief, personal history. Not least among those sentimental variables would include a heritage of vintage Jefferson Airplane, David Bowie, and early Genesis vinyl LPs (seriously, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” never sounded so good as on an old Sony turntable). With adolescent and subsequent college years came a couple of relishing reads and far too many viewings of High Fidelity. Then there’s a previous life as an aspiring audiophile and dabbler in various home recording projects that ranged from audio books to lo-fi pop songs—none of which ever came close to full fruition. Much of that is in the past. My blue guitar doesn’t even live with me anymore. . . .
Lately, though, the vintage vinyl realm has spun back well within sight and earshot. This re-introduction comes mostly thanks to Toronto’s CIUT 89.5 FM radio station and, specifically, the weekly Dementia 13 program.
At first listen, the show appears to situate itself with some fairly strongly defined constraints of genre and era. But as the saying goes, appearances can be deceiving. In fact, Dementia 13 features a remarkably eclectic medley of the following:
Musical rarities from the other side of the Psychedelic Era. Early Prog Rock, Acid, Sunshine Pop, Garage, Beat, Freak Folk and Psychedelia of all sorts; the period’s best gems on 33-45 rpm.
Clearly, this is not your typical 60s- and 70s-themed pop radio show. Hosted and run by one Christian Hamilton, the program is every bit as much a curatorial experience as it is mere entertainment. While Hamilton plows almost straight through each hour-long show’s playlist with little if any pause (as it should be for a radio music show), at the end she summarizes the vintage tracks with a balance of palpable, infectious enthusiasm yet almost scholarly efficiency and insight. Seemingly at will, Hamilton recalls with equal ease the origins of New York City’s short-lived band Autosalvage, Blodwyn Pig’s lesser-known recording titled “Worry,” or some intriguing Jefferson Airplane trivia upon news of the recent, eerily simultaneous passing of bandmates Signe Anderson and Paul Kantner.
Certainly, some more popular acts like Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, or even a curious gem like “Keep the Customer Satisfied” by Simon & Garfunkel receive airplay to appease whatever slightly more mainstream or conservative tastes—or just to help ease the listener back to planet Earth after an epic trip through, say, Faust’s “Miss Fortune.” Again, though, Dementia 13 remains true to Hamilton’s apparent strength in digging up rarities from the often dusty (sometimes water-stained and moldy) vinyl underground. Without slipping into hyperbole, it’s clear that she takes this business seriously; whereas many folks continue to see old records as mere novelties or token hip collectibles, Hamilton exhibits a curator’s penchant for resurrecting the old as something utterly innovative and fresh.
And that quality is what makes the program even more invaluable as a music resource: the rarities really feel like rarities.
Again, take that band Autosalvage, for example, and a featured track called “The Great Brain Robbery” played on a past Dementia 13 show from December. You won’t find that tune available on Spotify.
Or, from a more recent broadcast: “Village Girl,” by Rockshow of the Yeomen (or maybe it’s just The Yeomen?). I bet you can’t find a digitized version of that song anywhere. Apart from a few purveyors of vinyl, according to the internet that song simply does not exist.
Even picks that may be refresher material for some vinyl veterans will likely be informative to others. So perhaps you already knew that before Seattle’s Nirvana of the 90s there was a 60s British group that went by the same name. (Actually, they also sued the famous grunge band before eventually settling.) But, honestly, when did you last branch out and listen to 60s Nirvana? Have you ever witnessed their reverberant, uplifting song “We Can Make it Through”?
And the rare tracks are not merely rare. They are exemplary—an edifying listening experience in experimental-pop music. In the context of Hamilton’s efforts, the Psychedelic Era’s output was anything but narrow; rather, the very point here was to broaden horizons. Moreover, most of these decades-old recordings feel historic, not dated. Instead, Dementia 13 highlights how these works should be both heard and, oddly enough, seen anew.
That brings me to one final point, especially relevant within the purview of pulp ephemera: these old records—in whatever their LP, EP, single, and/or 33-45 rpm format—they don’t just sound great. They look great, too! Surprisingly (in light of pop music’s long history of emphasis on image over music, artifice over substance), the Psychedelic Era’s record cover art largely succeeds in visually capturing or at least suggesting the sonic landscape with some truly powerful, evocative images. And the sheer size of many cardboard covers, slips, or gatefolds only adds to the stunning impact. Image and music: from an earlier time when, rather than detract or derail, one helped to convey and even amplify the other.
*Dementia 13 is broadcast on Tuesday nights at 7:00 pm (ET). The show can be heard live via internet streaming, and previous shows may be downloaded and/or requested. Record cover art of featured selections may be viewed on Instagram at dementia13radio.
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The following is just an additional, small sampling of the music from Dementia 13.