Can You Picture That
Blah, Blah, Blah: I’m tempted to just write nothing here. Many of you will blithely click the iTunes link. Five seconds later, if you’re of a certain age, you’ll be shouting “NO ****ING WAY!!!” and pumping your non-iTunes-purchasing fist in the air.
Yes: it’s a modern cover of a tune by Dr. Teeth And The Electric Mayhem. And clearly “There” are big fans of The Muppet Show because they chose not to meddle with perfection: this is the Beatlemania version. It’s as close to the original as I can remember it.
This is actually a double-barrelled blast of nostalgia for me, sensation-seekers. Because this is probably only the second piece of digital music I heard that was memorable enough to recall the experience clearly, even more than (holy jumping prophets) a quarter-century ago. The first time I heard a computer making music it was at an educational computer fair that my principal and the librarian took me to (I was in fourth or fifth grade and yes, I was already working as a consultant for the school system). It was “A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happy One” and it was being played in crisp two-part harmony by a computer with a fairly expensive sound card installed.
But “Can You Picture That?” was the second. It was on an issue of “Softdisk,” a monthly Apple II computer magazine that arrived on a 5.25″ floppy. When I booted off the disk and the table of contents loaded in and the music started, it seemed like a miracle. The technique of making a single-channel sound system do polyphonic music was a pretty big deal. You didn’t need a sound card or a MIDI board or anything that would cost you actual money; if you were willing to accept a certain amount of threadiness in your notes, you could do two, three, even four-part harmony, if you were willing to really press it. The miraculous nature of this was due to the fact that it appeared that you’d added a feature that required new hardware, and yet you’d done it solely with software. It’s sort of as if you’d downloaded a piece of freeware that allowed your notebook to sew hems on your trouser legs if you managed to work them in through the DVD slot.
Needless to say, it made a big impression. My memory of the original show is vague at best but I could tell you what color the carpet was in the room where I played that disk.
Why I Bought It In The First Place: I valuely recall the following sequence of time-wasting: listened to an episode of “Fresh Air” in which Terry Gross interviews Gene Simmons; thought of “Phantom Of The Paradise,” the movie that KISS starred in; corrected myself because I didn’t think KISS was in that movie; consult IMDB; confirm that I was right; think about Paul Williams for the first time in, like, 15 years; hit Wikipedia to see what the guy’s been up to since “Love Boat” went off the air; surprised to learn that he wrote that song; search for it on iTunes.
And people wonder why the recording industry is so confused about how to market music to consumers in the Internet Age…