Wake Up America!
Sparks on the Airwaves (on Fabio's Show)
Thurs Jan 30, 2003 12 -3pm WFMU.org
Some might think Sparks was that band from the 70's and others might think it's that band from the 80's. The you might try to remember the name of their hit song, but you won't remember the title. Or its possible you never heard of Sparks. That's if you live in America. But if you lived in England, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia or Japan you would know Sparks is the brothers Ron and Russel Mael who have churning out eclectic quirky pop songs with long titles since the late 60's - and they still look great and sound great.
They premeried their new CD "Lil' Beethoven" at the
Royal Fesival Hall in London on October 18, 2002 and I was there!
I will bring to the WFMU airwaves a first hand report of their
show and the new CD which they presented live from track 1 to
Plus play lots of other outakes from albums you never heard of, radio ads for concerts, and a sampling of their distinctive ever changing musical styles from the 60's, 70's 80's, 90s and 00's.
Yes that's a lot of years but belive it or not when they make it into the top forty (not in America) every decade or so people still think they're a new band!
"Stop Me If You've Heard This Before" -Ron & Russel Mael
"What you will hear is nothing less than minor radiophonic broadcast history. Never before has a radio station in the US and possibliy the world devoted 3 hours to exclusively listening and talking about the pop band Sparks. I could be wrong about this." I don't know what I don't even know" as a Sparks song so clearly reveals. So anyone who knows otherwise should feel free to call the station to correct this statement.
"I will play selections from Sparks brand new CD Lil' Beetoven, unreleased outakes from vintage Sparks LPs from the 70's, 80s, and 90s, pre-vintages demos for Half Nelson going back to the psychedelic 60's, promotional radio advertisements for marketing Sparks, and lo-fi recordings I made at the show at the Royal Festival Hall in London. I will also reveal the hypothesis that I may be the biggest Sparks fan in New York City and possibly the world. Not wanting to offend anyone, I will already state that I could be wrong about this too."
I first heard Sparks on the radio when Propaganda came out in the early seventies. I heard the title track and "At Home At Work At Play" on the radio and ran out to buy it the next day. Soon after I bought "Kimono My House" and Sparks played at the Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania. I was there with my camera. I took Black & White pictures which I developed and printed and I still have to this day. I continued buying their records when they were released. I saw them again at The Tower in Philadelphia. I liked everything I heard although sometimes it took me some time to appreciate some of the records. In the early eighties I met Michael Zodorzny (from the band Crash Course In Science) and we formed a band called KMZ. Michael was the first person I knew who shared my enthusiasm for Sparks. We were a 2 person band playing around New York City. Michael played keyboards and I sang and made noise over rhythm boxes and sequencers. We wore costumes and built sets for our shows which had themes that varied from show to show. When we played at the Love Club in Philadelphia we opened with covers of "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both of Us" and "Amateur Hour" played back to back just like on the album. Around this time I saw Sparks at the Ritz in New York City and I remember being totally amused when for an encore Russell came out with a stuffed animal and sang a ballad to it. Later in the 80's I went to Jones Beach to see Sparks when they opened up for Rick Springfield. It was really funny because the audience was mostly very young girls, many of them accompanied by their mothers. When Ron did his strip tease I cracked up. I just imagined them backstage smiling to each other and wondered what these young girls were thinking about their antics. Time went by and I got involved in more and more abstract and experimental music. I'm a big fan of John Cage (also from LA). I opened a record store and later ran a sound art gallery that featured experimental music and sound artists and during this time I got very far from pop n'rock. I remember at one point selling off a large portion of my record collection and while sorting through all this music that I liked in the 70's and early 80's I came came across my Sparks albums and I just couldn't get rid of them. This happened several times. At one point I remember not having listened to them in several years and thinking about actually getting rid of them and then I put on one record and was immediately reminded that they were priceless. After being immersed in experimental music for several years I completely lost interest in popular music, but I still liked my Sparks records. The covers alone were worth holding onto. In 1994 I released a sort of conceptual record "The Sound of Lamination" (or blue vinyl object as I called it) which was total fun for me because it was so absurd and so out of the mainstream and alternative culture. On the jacket I gave thanks to people who inspired me and I mentioned John Cage and Sparks. Then in 1995 I went through a winter where I was very depressed and I was sorting through some old boxes of papers and found an old Official Sparks Fan Club newsletter ( I had joined in the early 80's) and I wondered what ever happened to them and if the club still existed. I wrote to Mary Martin and got a response immediately. I joined the club again. Soon after I got a notice in the mail for a contest by Logic Records for a trivia contest and I faxed in the answer (Half Nelson) and suddenly a 7 inch of "When Do I get To Sing My Way" appeared in the mail. I put the record on and all my troubles seemed so far away. I'll never forget the feeling of just sitting there and smiling while listening to this record at full volume. It was like a mental massage. I didn't need therapy anymore. I just needed to listen to more Sparks and smile. Most of my records had been in storage for a while but with my renewed interest in Sparks I got them out. The new Sparks single made me feel so happy I would play it everyday on my way out the door and it kept me in good spirits for most of the day. I'd give myself another fix when I got home. It really helped me get through this hard time. I immediately bought "Gratuitous Sax" when it was released. I bought some more items from the Official Fan Club and even made my own order form during down time at work. It was very therapeutic typing in all the Sparks merchandise and gave me more time to think about Sparks. During a sabbatical of one year in 1993 I was living without a stereo, getting into silence until one day I wanted to hear music again and bought an 8 Track player and some tapes at a yard sale for a couple of bucks. I became an 8 Track appreciator and wrote an article for 8 Track Mind, a zine about 8 Tracks. I found myself wanting to hear Sparks on 8 Track. I was contacted by a few people who wrote to me saying that they had Sparks on 8 Track but wouldn't part with them. I understood. I have since received several Sparks 8 Tracks in the mail from friends that know how much I like Sparks and think of me when they visit the salvation army.. In April of 1996 I was in a nightclub/bar in Vienna at 3 in the morning and the DJ played "The Ghost of Liberace" I was so elated to hear Sparks in public that I went up to him and asked him if he liked Sparks. I found out he was the owner of the bar and he was either very drunk or he didn't understand me but he just smiled and nodded his head. I said "We like Sparks" and he smiled some more. I was so happy to be able to say "We like Sparks" because in the avant-garde circle I tend to hang in I never meet anybody that likes Sparks. Of course they never go deep enough to even know anything about Sparks other than one song they heard 10 years ago. That's why I proposed to do a 2 hour radio show about Sparks on WFMU which broadcast to Manhattan from New Jersey. They have a very great reputation for unusual, alternative and non-mainstream music. The DJ I approached had me on his show several times before. I had produced shows of contemporary composers, noise artists or insane performance artists, things like that. He was laughing at me when I told him I wanted to do a Sparks show. I brought it up several times and he said he thought Sparks was a mindless excuse for a pop band. Of course he knew nothing about Sparks. I think he thought they had one LP out in the 70's and then another disco record in the 80's. So I told him I would turn his mind around if he had me on his show. I'd prove that Sparks was one of the most clever and imaginative pop/rock band in the U.S. So clever that despite having 18 records, many on major labels, people still haven't heard of them here. He still wasn't convinced. Then I found out about the Sparks-o-Rama conference I thought I would try again and I persistently urged him to let me do the show. I told him I would persist until he said yes and that I wouldn't do any other shows until he let me do this one. Since he had a lot of respect for me in the past and had bought a lot of great records from me too, he finally consented. I was pleased to find the radio station already had 7 Sparks albums in their collection. But no one I met had any idea that Sparks still existed, let alone that they were making a major comeback in Europe. I think the Sparks show I did turned a lot of heads for people who had no idea that Sparks had been so prolific or that they even still existed. The titles of the songs alone were clever enough to demand attention. So it is with great enthusiasm that I say I love Sparks. They make me happy.
Go Visit a Sparks Web Site
Return to egnekn
Return to gen ken page