The 509th-ish Issue Extravaganza
Tedium writer David Buck gets a bit nostalgic about finding Tedium in just about everything over the past four years. Especially weird music.
Today in Tedium: It’s been a long eight weeks. I had so many ideas for this issue—but largely thanks to how hectic things have been going—I wasn’t able to thoroughly develop any of them within a reasonable time. I was going to write about video music magazines on DVD, songs that were specifically written as part of the dining experience in restaurant chains, or the unlikely connections one graphic artist had to the avant-garde music world, Nintendo, and Apple. I even briefly considered writing a follow-up to my NES Advantage piece from last year about the NES Max or an update to the Codemasters piece from 2018. After all, I recently came into possession of a few new old stock Codemasters items … but I digress. Those are all topics I’ll revisit in the future, but eventually, my indecisiveness coupled with the massive time crunch sort of became the story itself. In today’s Tedium, we’re doing a bit of a clip show. Join us as I look back and reflect on my time in Tedium over the past few years. — David @ Tedium
Today’s issue is sponsored by Ticker Nerd. More from them in a second.
The approximate issue number of my most recent Tedium piece, “They Might be Trailblazers.” Covering the unique juxtaposition of technology, songwriting, and compositions of They Might be Giants, it started as a conversation about unique distribution methods for a different group - The Residents. Eventually, the research became laser-focused on TMBG, and the rest is history. The piece is among my favorites and noticed by the band themselves, in what I consider to be my proudest professional moment so far. TMBG remains one of my all-time favorite bands, and I was excited when I finally found an angle that allowed me to write about them.
How outsider music and a particular radio show inspired me to pitch Tedium
I always wanted to be a writer. As a kid, I wrote a lot of terrible short stories. When I became enamored with The Dr. Demento Show, my focus shifted from fiction to songwriting. I took up the guitar with the sole purpose of getting a song on the show (I accomplished the goal in 2019 with my ridiculous “Pineapple Pizza” song). As a young broadcasting major, I picked up the journalism and scriptwriting itch, ultimately leading to writing freelance articles for various newspapers and doing some voice-over/script work for local radio.
I eventually began my career in broadcasting, doing production and writing work for public access television. I transitioned to a career as a projectionist and technician but continued writing on the side. After doing some professional blogging work and freelancing at a few publications, I reached out to Ernie with an idea: what if Tedium did a deep dive on the prolific DIY musician, R. Stevie Moore? I’d already set up an interview with Moore to answer some questions I had as a fan. Ernie wanted to do a story on Moore but didn’t feel he could do it justice due to the sheer amount of music Moore put out up to that point.
Later that year, I did some extensive interviewing and research to put together my piece on Wesley Willis, and I’ve been writing a new issue of Tedium every month since. I usually cover strange music, abandoned technology, interactive media, video games, classic ad campaigns, or guitar tech. For me, Tedium is all about the journey of finding an interesting angle on a topic and doing a comprehensive deep dive into it, often uncovering unexpected things along the way.
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“It’s nice that people don’t generally know what I look like. I’m generally only recognized in public when people see my name on a credit card or something and hear my voice. Sometimes I can tell that people recognize my voice from across a room or lobby, but they can’t place it. One time I stepped onto an elevator in New York. There was another guy in there, and I said, ‘good morning.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You’re Tom Bodett.’ That was amazing. It turned out he was a radio engineer and had ears for that sort of thing. Still, that was impressive.”
— Tom Bodett, from our 2018 email interview with the famous Motel 6 commercial voice actor that didn’t quite make it into the finished piece. Speaking with Tom was an incredible experience, even if it was only via email. Since then, we’ve tackled some type of advertising history – with plenty more on the way (hopefully).
That time I wrote an issue of Tedium pretending to be video game mascot
Some of our longtime readers may remember one Thursday in late May of 2019 when a goofy article written by a certain “guest contributor” appeared in both the email and website versions of Tedium. Ostensibly penned by one Bubsy T. Bobcat — whom some of you may recall being a video game mascot from the early 1990s — the piece recounted the history and legacy of the titular bobcat who failed.
In my little corner of the universe, we have little love for April Fool’s jokes. (Editor’s note: Tedium has just one unwritten rule—no April Fool’s jokes.) That’s why we intentionally wrote a piece almost two months later. We didn’t intend it to be an April Fools’ joke. We did intend it to be jocular in tone, form, and presentation. The piece is obviously a parody. Still, it did contain a thoroughly researched presentation on the history of the Bubsy series, including the failed TV pilot and the “exciting” prospect of a brand new game on the Nintendo Switch.
If you received the email on its original publication date, it may have been surprising (we’d love to hear from you about it). It was an obvious parody, but the first question that might come to mind is probably, “why masquerade as that particular mascot?”
The short answer? Ernie and I thought it would be funny. He even made a hilarious graphic mock-up of what a Bubsy film might look like. I’m pretty sure I laughed for a solid five minutes after seeing it. The best part was the Top Five 16-Bit Character Legacies Lost to Time section, which was essentially a half-serious write-up of several games with goofy descriptions “written” by Bubsy. Every so often, Ernie interjected with humorous editor’s notes. Bubsy even hinted at an upcoming piece on “the dark and tragic history of yarn.”
I spent an excessive amount of time researching and playing the games for that piece. I even watched that insufferable cartoon pilot to understand Bubsy’s voice/style better and imagine what he’d sound like if he were a journalist. To say I was committed to the joke would be an understatement. I vaguely recall a brief discussion with Ernie regarding similar pieces told through the lens of different 8 or 16-bit video game mascots, but that never came to fruition. Regardless, it was a fun experiment in absurdity that had both of us in stitches for a bit following its publication. It feels like The World’s Most Pawsome Mascot—a fantastic title thought up by Ernie—was a one-shot deal, but it was certainly loads of fun and a great exercise in departing from our existing writing styles/themes.
The number of times (according to the program’s IMDB page) the character of Bubsy the Bobcat spouts his obnoxious catchphrase, “what could possibly go wrong?!?” in the failed TV pilot for Bubsy. The saying is admittedly annoying, but Bubsy’s voice actor – the phenomenal Rob Paulsen – does a fantastic job encapsulating the character and playing it in a campy, fun manner that suited the concept. Contrary to some persistent internet rumors, Paulsen doesn’t hate Bubsy at all. Instead, he was happy to do the show, telling fans on Twitter, “it was a gig. I got paid. I cashed the check. I’m grateful.” Rob is a class act, indeed.
How uncertainty generated a massive list of ideas for abandoned novelty song deep dives
The creative process for deciding what to cover varies. Sometimes, an idea comes to me and basically writes itself. There’s been a few instances where I picked up something based on an idea, but it ended up fizzling out. One early example is the time I bought an LP by Duck Logic with the intent of building a story around their skits and characters like Dr. Science (he knows more than you do!) and Randy of the Redwoods (either way is fine with him). Another time, I had a brief conversation with the leader of one of my favorite bands, The Radioactive Chickenheads, that I never could find the right place to incorporate into my work. For my Harmony/department store guitars piece, I came across a sweet Stella guitar that plays perfectly aside from some cosmetic damage.
I even set up interviews with some of my favorite artists like Tonio K., Rick Beato (one of my favorite people), Jim Infantino (of Jim’s Big Ego), and Kevin Godley (of Godley & Creme) that never quite panned out. Usually, it was a timing or technology issue on my end. I’m going to keep trying, though. Thoughts of doing another novelty piece crossed my mind recently. The trouble is I find myself at an impasse as to which one I should cover. So instead of doing just one, here’s a quick guide to several:
“Shaving Cream” by Benny Bell? It has potential. It was recorded in the 1940s and surged in popularity in the mid-70s in the early years of The Dr. Demento Show. It has a surprising history to boot. Moreover, Benny Bell was a significant musician in his time and deserved far more recognition from modern listeners. There’s even a recording from 20 years ago of yours genuinely performing the tune at a State Fair that you’ll get to hear as part of the package. That could be fun, right?
What about “They’re Coming to Take me Away, Ha-ha!?” By Napoleon XIV (aka Jerry Samuels)? Most folks are probably unaware of his full-length album, the canceled second album, his solo work, and his side business of creating custom roach clips. The song inspired countless imitators and boasted some unique percussive effects. We might even be able to catch up with the man himself or speak with the legendary Dr. Demento (or perhaps both) in telling the song’s story.
”TipToe Through the Tulips’’ by Tiny Tim? As a reimagining of an old Tin Pan Alley tune in Tiny Tim’s brazen falsetto, it’s not without its charm. I’m not a fan of the artist or the song, though, which could make it a fun challenge. I don’t dislike his work—I own his first and second albums—but it’s not a personal favorite song by any means. God Bless Tiny Tim did sort of tangentially pave the way for Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson and Son of Schmilson records, so that might be an interesting thread. Not to mention “Weird Al” is narrating an upcoming documentary about Tiny Tim, so there’s potential.
”Earth Girls are Easy,” by the spectacularly talented Julie Brown? The film was hilarious and acted as a vehicle for Brown to show off her comedic chops and screenwriting talents. As far as movies based on songs are concerned, this one is silly and inspired. Nathan Rabin did a great job writing about the movie, so we’d stick to covering the 1984 song of the same name from Brown’s Goddess in Progress album. (Editor’s note: There were two Julie Browns on MTV in the late ’80s. This Julie Brown was one of them. She wasn’t downtown.)
”Junk Food Junkie” by Larry Groce, a slightly outdated piece about being a healthy food nut by day and a heavy junk food consumer by night. Larry worked in radio for years afterward and created several other beautiful tunes. This song is a spectacular representation of the 1970s folk style, kind of Steve Goodman-by way-of-Arlo Guthrie vibe.
On that note, what about Steve Goodman? He could write a beautiful song (“City of New Orleans,” anyone?) and play a mean solo guitar. He tragically passed three days before I was born, but I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember. If not a comprehensive piece, there are plenty of songs on which to focus like, “Vegematic” and “You Never Even Call me by my Name.” Oh, and did I mention he collaborated with the great Shel Silverstein? There’s so much to cover with his work, and it can be tough to narrow the focus and come up with something both engaging and exciting.
If there are any of these you’d like to see in more detail, let us know. I’m open to suggestions, dear readers. But please don’t make me do the Tiny Tim one. I’m super serious, you guys.
“Hullo David! Thanks for the note and for thinking of me! Your Chipmunk article is incredible! Sorry, I am so busy right now doing my own interviews but I really appreciate you asking! Thanks again! Keep on rawkin’ in the free world! Nardwuar.”
— Nardwuar, the Human Serviette. As a big fan of the Canadian interviewer/music journalist, I wanted to write a piece about him for Tedium. He kindly rejected my interview request in a classy way that ended up making me a bigger fan. Nardwuar is still doing fantastic work, despite the pandemic and can be found mainly on YouTube.
Updates and ephemera for my top five Tedium issues
It’s evident that we love “top five” lists around here, so this issue, I’m doing something different. I spent some time looking back and reflecting on everything I’ve written over the past few years and arrived at a list of five separate pieces that may require some updates or benefit from additional information. Sometimes, readers will write and provide further insight, or we’ll notice something after the fact. Either way, it was fun looking back over these, and we hope you enjoyed reading them as much as we did writing them. We’ll do this in roughly chronological order. Here goes:
5. The Man with 400 Albums, originally published August 29, 2017. This was my inaugural piece for Tedium—and it was a two-parter.
I struggled with the format at first—this was the first time I’d written something for the site—but it eventually worked out extremely well. The original piece was too lengthy (which admittedly is a bit of a common thing for my work), so we split it into two definitive parts. The first part covered RSM’s career and legacy. The second part (Moore R. Stevie Moore, August 30, 2017) offered starting points to new listeners.
A third part covering RSM’s pioneering use of the WebTV system came later (WebTV’s Greatest Celebrity User, May 15, 2018). I think RSM was pretty happy with the piece (he shared it quite a bit and later had me help him settle an issue with Wikipedia over the number of albums he had; I helped him count them). The same week the piece came out, Digg and Neatorama picked it up. It was amazing to see the article I poured so much effort into to reach a much wider audience than expected.
RSM’s music is legendary, and he deserves recognition. A few years later, Ernie informed me about an interesting traffic source visiting this particular page. Apparently, the folks behind Great Big Story may have been using my piece for research purposes. Sure enough, an episode of that show arrived a few weeks later, spreading the gospel of RSM to the world once again.
This piece is also used as a reference and “further reading” suggestion on Moore’s Wikipedia page. And here’s the kicker: I didn’t put it there; someone else did! I later met another RSM fan—who goes by the handle “R. Stevie Fans” on Twitter—who told me he got started with Moore’s music because of this article. It’s nice to see something like this continue to generate positive feedback years later, and now that the documentary is finally out, I may write more about the subject sometime.
4. Not Just Nostalgia, originally published April 10, 2018. This was one of my absolute favorite articles to research and write. It tied together so many interests and pursuits from throughout the years into this comprehensive piece on NES homebrew. I’ve been collecting homebrew titles for years. Still, it was the Kickstarter for Joe Granato’s NES Maker—a program intended to help people learn how to make their own NES games via a user-friendly GUI interface—that sparked the idea for the piece. Diving into it further, I learned more about the 6502 Assembly language, the state of NES homebrew, and why some of the more prominent creators continue to make games for the legacy console.
I got the opportunity to talk to several amazing game creators and learned a great deal about Assembly code and the game-creation process. I used the now-defunct website NintendoAge to make most of the contacts, but the best part was playing some of the games themselves. My favorite was probably Brad Smith’s Lizard. Last year, I had the opportunity to playtest Sole Goose Production’s Trophy, receiving a fun press release and a customized digital version of the game with my name right on the title screen.
I’ll get around to making my own game one of these days, but with all the changes in the scene that have taken place over the years, I do think it’s time to revisit this topic at some future date. The title of this piece hinted at why people make games for this system isn’t solely rooted in nostalgia, and I’m still quite proud of this piece.
3. Command Line, originally published July 17, 2018. This is one of my all-time favorite articles...and it began with a typo. When I defined DOS at the beginning of the piece, I accidentally wrote “data” instead of “disk.” I don’t remember if the word was autocorrected, or just my exhausted brain replacing words. Either way, the original email version contains that rather embarrassing typo. It starts as an exploration of DOS, then dives into the work of Jo Luijten—a very creative individual who uses DOS to create hilarious multimedia productions.
I got to know him throughout the interview and learned a great deal about DOS from him. Jo and I discussed creating a text adventure game based on Weird Paul Petroskey, but I just never had time to finish writing it. As time progressed, he invited me to do some voiceover work for a few videos, and we’ve been friends ever since.
He created an incredible custom “Tedium in the 1980s” GIF for this piece, which I still use today. These days, Jo is still making some fantastic stuff for Squirrel Monkey and experimented with some virtual reality content a few years ago. He has an exciting new video come up—I won’t spoil the details, but it’s going to be great—that you may be interested in checking out sometime. He can be found on YouTube. His Wonders of the World Wide Web series imagines what life might have been like in an alternate world where modern technology was invented in the 80s and 90s.
2. Eat Them Up, Yum, originally published July 18, 2019. I find novelty songs fascinating. Especially songs like “Fish Heads.” Barnes and Barnes have a unique sound across all of their albums that is unmistakably their own. Their records start as energetic humor but evolve past that to something extraordinary. They worked and interacted with Devo, Miguel Ferrer, Weird Al, Terri Hatcher, and Bill Paxton. Yet, they languish in obscurity.
“Fish Heads’’ is unlike anything they’ve ever recorded, yet it encapsulates the Barnes and Barnes sound. They’ve done alternate verses on the Dr. Demento show, released as a fish heads-shaped EP, and gave their blessing to a punk cover of it for a 2018 CD collection.
I spoke with Dr. Demento and his manager John Cafiero for this piece but couldn’t reach Bill Mumy or Robert Haimer—the duo themselves—so I used a combination of intensive research, liner notes, old interviews, and other resources to write the piece.
We omitted the song titles from the Fish Head-shaped EP because they were a bit too NSFW. I’m particularly proud of this novelty song deep dive for a few reasons. It put me in contact with the exceptional John Cafiero, and I received a friendly letter from the song’s co-writer, Robert Haimer, telling me he enjoyed the piece and that I “got the story right.”
I recently found my VHS copy of their documentary, Zabagabee, that I thought might make for an interesting story down the line...for those interested in such things.
1. Turtlemania, Revisited, originally published Oct. 9, 2020. This piece was born from a post-lockdown trip to the movies where I saw the 30th-anniversary version of 1990’s original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. I dug out my copy of the original NES game, a cassette of Coming Out of Their Shells, and decided to talk about some aspects of the early years of TMNT that I’ve never really seen others discuss online. I also learned that I no longer enjoy the 1987 cartoon series, despite loving it as a kid. I would like to clarify that in that piece, I mentioned how John Du Prez’s score was underutilized in the film, but that simply isn’t the case. After doing a re-watch and relistening to the soundtrack a few times this week, I realized it syncs up incredibly well. We regret the error. Some bits initially intended for this piece—like the fate of the original film costumes—that didn’t quite fit. A few weeks later, an episode of one of my favorite podcasts—Tony Thaxton’s Bizarre Albums—came out discussing Coming Out of Our Shells. Coincidence? Probably, but it was still fun to revisit that period for a while near the end of an incredibly tough year. Tony Thaxton and I have very similar taste in music, and I love his podcast. Oh, and remember that petition to bring Coming Out of Our Shells to DVD? At the time of this piece, it was only at 97 signatures. Now it’s at 163! I’d like to think we had something to do with that, but it’s probably just another one of those neat coincidental things one experiences in life. It wasn’t the first time we wrote about TMNT—Ernie’s No Nunchucks from 2019 covered censorship of the show in Britain at the height of its success. Cowabunga, indeed.
A couple of months ago, I inflicted a nightmare on Ernie after I got the Big Red “Kiss a little longer” stuck in his head after my piece on chewing gum marketing came out. The earworm prompted to write an excellent article about another earworm—the Kars4Kids jingle—for his other newsletter, Midrange (if you’re not already subscribed to it, what are you waiting for?). He famously dislikes chewing gum, and I know he probably doesn’t want to have the song stuck in his head for another week, so we’ll leave you today with this supercut of Mentos commercials from the 1990s instead. Fresh goes better, with Mentos! Fresh and full of life!
Sometimes, a lack of an idea turns into something much more creative, and we hope you enjoyed this spontaneous “clip show” piece. I’d like to wrap things up today with an expression of appreciation for every reader and newsletter subscriber for checking out my work these past few years and to Ernie for the opportunity to be part of such a unique and wonderful publication. I’m grateful to Ernie for helping me better develop my editing skills and always encouraging me to write more often.
There are plenty of other highlights—like getting my piece on Klingon syndicated, doing a CD giveaway, or that time we interviewed Brentalfloss, he mentioned the McElroy brothers, and I had no clue who they were at the time.
We’ll probably get that story on The Klowns one of these days. Perhaps the story of our journey to find out more about them may be more interesting than the band itself. I still think Ernie and I can discover who in the world Y. Bhekhirst might be. There’s so much potential. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming next time, but for now, I hope you’ll all join me in wishing Ernie a very happy birthday:
From all of us at Tedium to the world at large, have a wonderful day, and thanks for reading!
Thanks David for the great look back—and I look forward to whatever you come up with next time! (We are going to get that Klowns piece written if it kills us. CALL US, BARRY BOSTWICK.)
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