Democracy of Sound by Alex Sayf Cummings

Democracy of Sound by Alex Sayf Cummings

Author:Alex Sayf Cummings [Cummings, Alex Sayf]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Music, Recording & Reproduction, History, Social History
ISBN: 9780199858224
Google: E-JoAgAAQBAJ
Amazon: 0199858225
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Published: 2013-03-06T16:00:00+00:00

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Deadheads, Hip-Hop, and the Possibility of Compromise

In 1978, the Doobie Brothers paid a visit to the Watts high school attended by three of their biggest fans—Raj, Dwayne, and Rerun. The three youngsters were dying to get tickets to the show, a fundraiser for their school’s music program. Unfortunately, Rerun’s perennial weakness for hamburgers distracted him on the way to the ticket line, and by the time he arrived the seats were sold out. The only way the boys would get to hear the Doobies now, Raj told his friends, was by popping a quarter in the jukebox. Music had to be paid for.

There was, however, another way. A seedy gentleman and his muscle-bound friend overheard the boys’ conversation. The men offered to give Rerun and his friends tickets if they agreed to tape the show, and Rerun naively accepted. (As part of the deal, he even got “a professional soundman’s pay for a day”—four dollars!) Later that day, Rerun and his friends managed to finagle an interview with the band. “What’s your biggest problem?” Raj asked. “What gets you the craziest?” The Doobies did not hesitate to answer—bootlegging. In perfect afterschool-special style, they went on to explain to the boys what the word means. “That’s where someone illegally records our concerts and sells it to the public,” bassist Tiran Porter said. “Yeah, what happens is the record company doesn’t make any money, we don’t make any money, and the public gets a pretty bad recording,” said another member. Also, they added, the bootlegger ran the risk of going to jail “for a long time.”1

Rerun was understandably terrified. The boys tried to back out of their deal, but the thuggish bootlegger threatened them. Through a series of comic shenanigans, Rerun’s tape recorder was exposed during the concert, and the Doobies confronted the boys. It turned out that the bootlegger was Al Dunbar, a “low-life” serial pirate who had been taping the band’s shows across the country. The Doobies proceeded to ambush the venal bootlegger, who lived such a lavish existence that he tried to order a filet mignon and a shrimp cocktail at the local soda shop moments before their arrival. In a final irony, the tape Rerun recorded was revealed to consist almost entirely of crunching sounds. Rerun’s appetite got the better of him again. “You mean to tell me I’m going to jail for a long time,” Dunbar lamented, echoing the Doobies, “and all I have to show for it is a tape of a fat kid eating popcorn?” The police took him away. The band and their fans cheered, and there were high fives all around.

Airing in February 1978, this episode of What’s Happening!! was as much a long commercial for the Doobies’ new album as it was a public service announcement about the evils of piracy. As an allegory, the episode portrays both consumers and artists as the victims of a parasitic con man. It casts the bootlegger in the mold of a pimp or


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