Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Space Is So Startling





They’re dynamic! They’re vivacious! They’re pointing at stuff! They’re insisting that space, which we know is almost 100% empty, is in fact startling! With a cover like this you’d think surely there must be some primo, Gemini-era sci-fi WTF inside to satisfy your collecting dollar. Um, no. An original stage musical from the Kennedy years, this magical LP tells the story of, so yeah let's move on to the speaking roles: there’s the Dreaming Boy, the Space Singer, Mr. Nod (bringer of magic dust), and there’s Mom and Dad and Uncle Jim and some Beatniks and Commies and Astronauts and Squatters. Now come with me to page 982 of the big dictionary on the plinth in the library, where we see that one of the definitions of “character” is “thing in the play that reads the lines”. Mission accomplished! This is a story, in the sense that some things happen, and there are characters, vis. a bunch of straw men whose function is to preach the authors’ views, namely that all you squatters should shut the fuck up and get a job, and all you dirty Red Chinese and Rooskies should get religion.

So who blew the head of A&R at Philips to get this slag in the record bins? Why, God, of course, in the form of Moral Re-Armament, a conservative Christian movement / political action committee active in the years after WWII. The MRA was founded by Frank Buchman, and Peter Howard, co-author of this play, was Buchman's disciple and autobiographer. Probably written specifically to launch the MRA’s new "activity center" in Odawara, Japan in October 1962, Space Is So Startling moved on to stagings in Berlin and London before landing in Boston prior to an expected Broadway run (it, um, never made it to Broadway).

A stale loaf of terrible lyrics, leaden tunes, one-dimensional dramaturgy, and WASP proselytizing, only briefly studded with juicy olives of Bulldada ("WE'RE the baskets!" is one great line, which only loses its force when you realize they're saying "basket" because God-fearing Americans don't say "bastard"), this should be listened to once in search of goofy shit to sample for your next hip-hop joint and then copied to a flash drive and left in your car.

With thanks to the late Peter Bergman, who opened an episode of the Firesign Theatre’s “Radio Hour Hour” radio series with this record in 1970; and to Doug Wellman, who played enough of it on recent episodes of his show "Puzzling Evidence" that I could finally identify it.

POSTSCRIPT: The Raleigh, N.C. Register quoted Peter Howard in 1962 describing the play as "the beginning of an ideological offensive to capture the initiative" from Red China. And did China counterattack with their OWN terrible propaganda records? I'M GLAD YOU ASKED THAT. Coming soon to this blog: not one but three Cultural Revolution-era hit platters from the China Record Company.

Introduction / Sleep On!
Millions of Years Ago
Why Worry? / It Would Help A Lot To Squat!
A Sort of Uncle
Any Moment Now
So Comes Their Sleep!
We've Got to Be First / God Is In Our Cities
What Do the Eyes of the Millions Seek?
Have You a Place for Me Up There?
Sportsmen of the World
If Only
Neighbours Are Neighbours / Space Is So Startling
What We Need Is An End to Anti
Where's That Basket?
Do You See What I See?
One Plus One Can Yet Make One
Peace Be Upon You
It Works!
Finale: The World Can Be One Family / Space Is So Startling

LP art & audio
 

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