Saturday, August 13, 2011

The E=MC5²




Do you remember the days when you could get 10 free record albums just by writing a fake name on a Columbia House Record Club coupon and dropping it in a mailbox?

The card gave a  few choices of favorite musical styles. If I recall, I think the list was pretty limited, the choices being more or less : Rock, Soft Rock, Classical, Jazz, Country, Pop, R&B and maybe Disco, since this was the 1970's after all.

You pretty much had to go with plain-old 'Rock' back then. 'Soft Rock' would get you laughed at by your friends- they were way too cool to admit that they liked The Carpenters as much as you did.
Today is different. I'm a DJ and I'm almost terrified to discuss genre  for fear of seeming completely clueless. There are more genres than there are bands- and there are a LOT of bands!

Me: What kind of music do you play?

Coolster: Oh, it is combination of emo, crust-core, mixtape, shoe-gaze, twee metal and new rock, but with lots of  ambient darkwave 8-bit alt-folk elements, and of course, some spoken-word  psyche-salsa  beat breaks.

And then they'll play a song and it'll sound a lot like an old 1980's Casio playing the same beat over and over while a couple male voices yip and yap in the foreground and amplified guitars fall over and break in the background. And when I ask the Coolster how they got the neat  guitar sound, he'll tell me it was sampled from some old record he stole from his Dad...he thinks it was called Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Some old dude he'd heard about somewhere.

Aaargh. Don't kids today know anything about musical history?

I bet none of them remember  prototypical Math-OCD band, The E=MC5².


Formed at MIT in the late 1960's The E=MC5² was comprised of a rotating cast of students and professors who understood that all music is somehow math-based, even if the math is sometimes a bit faulty. They also took a lot of acid and talked far too much while they were tripping, and before long,  a now-unknown 'core' group found themselves undertaking the daunting task of converting the numerical value of pi  to music.


The band spent their formative years in an abandoned schoolhouse, surrounded by chalkboards, cheap guitar amps, lava lamps  and blacklight posters; members would drop in and out as academic arguments, exhaustion, intellectual misadventures  and heavy drug use took their respective tolls, but according to legend they persevered through all obstacles: switching to acoustic instruments  during blackouts, changing locales as as the authorities chased them from one condemned building to another, a haggard, bearded  and discredited physics professor slapping a bongo in 3.14 time while zealous students chanted numerical litanies in order to keep the song going until a new venue could be found.

The descendents of the original members are still playing , currently doing the latest in a decades-long series of farewell tours.  As of this writing, the The E=MC5² hold the unofficial World Record for the longest continuously performed musical composition of all time, with their trademark opus 'Pi-Eyed'  clocking in at an amazing 38 years, 6 months, 10 days, 11 hours and 12 minutes. Thirteen minutes now, since they are still playing!

Today's show will be a tribute to the madness that is the The E=MC5²: We'll hear a carefully selected two-hour excerpt from the decade-spanning classic 'Pi-Eyed' , including a fabulous moment in 2008 when the late Captain Beefheart came out of his hermit-like retirement to sing a nine-hour duet with Amy Winehouse, who wasn't dead yet.  Legend has it that Canadian rockers Rush are playing the background musical parts of this segment, but everyone present was either senile, wasted or currently dead, so no one will ever know for sure. A wayward guitar solo was once credited to Eric Clapton, but upon being asked,  he quickly assigned the blame to George Harrison, who had been dead for years at the time.

With some luck, there might be time to play some other songs, but you'll have to tune in to find out, won't you?

WRIR 97.3 FM
...the fun starts at 1PM 8/13/2011.

2 comments:

Craig D said...

Kick out the jams, Number-Crunchers!

Angel said...

Dude I literally laughed out loud at the first few paragraphs!
As for the "10 free record albums" thing, that never happened here in deepest darkest Africa... We used to read and daydream about the "Sea Monkeys" and fake blood advertised in comic books!