Ron Kane: 1958-2017 [part 5]

Ron [R] held Ron-Kon® on his 50th birthday in 2008 in Portland so his friends could all celebrate with him

Ron had an amazingly w-i-d-e range of musical tastes. Honestly, on a Venn Diagram, our tastes probably looked like this:

I might like a much wider range of music now than I did at the age of 16, but Ron’s tastes were so expansive that he and I might only share a passion for what was a quarter of my “comfort zone” while being a drop in the bucket to his. Yet, on a day-by-day basis we had what seemed like so much common ground it boggled my mind. Ron liked many “classic rock” performers, but he generally had a point where he was off the bus. For good. King Crimson ’69-’74? Yes! King Crimson ’81-’17? Nay! Usually before they got insanely popular. He had time for The Beatles/Stones/Dylan/Who 60s axis, but that was not where is strongest passions lay.

By the time that Prog Rock of the UK variety had gotten a stranglehold on Rock in the early 70s, Ron was already turning his attention to Europe. Primarily Germany or Italy[!]. If artists were doing interesting things in a language other than English, then it was of intense interest to young Ron. Krautrock was far more interesting than the death throes of ELP [very protracted] or Glam Rock in the UK. Strangely enough, Ron would find himself collecting Glam Rock of the pedestrian UK variety [think Mud’s “Tiger Feet”] some thirty years after the fact when looking for new kinds of kicks.

I was never so agog than in the early 21st century when Ron’s infamous lists began arriving filled with mainstream country music of the 60s-70s. Ron would send out a list of his “haul” for each weekend and often a list would arrive in your email packed with about as much music as I might buy in half of a year. My eyes widened as I saw names like Homer + Jethro and Don Bowman suddenly get dozens of title deep in his impossibly large collection. It seemed like for two or three years, Ron was simply buying up the entire runs of dozens of mainstream country music artists from the times of our childhoods. And that was when these artists might reasonably release three to four albums a year in that innocent [but obviously driven by amphetamines] era. We could only shake our heads in wonderment.

The Kennedy School in Portland – site of Ron-Kon

By 2008, Ron was approaching 50 and wanted to have  big party for all of this friends; Ron-Kon® as he called it. He invited all of his friends and we decided to finally take the big plunge and fly West to finally meet the legendary Ron Kane. It would be held in Portland, Oregon. One of Ron’s favorite record shopping cities. There were dozens of great stores like Everyday Music, Music Millennium, or Crossroads Records and Portland was not a bad place to find yourself if you had to be in a “big city.” He was holding it for several days in the Kennedy School; a former elementary school converted into a hotel/brewery/restaurant complex. Lots of favorite restaurants to check out as well. Most walking distance from the School. We all came there with our wives and families, including  friends from abroad.

I should mention that Ron from the late 70s onward, made frequent trip to the countries where his favorite music came from. He didn’t just soak up the ambience. He’d do his best to look these musicians up! Hanging out with Holger Czukay of Can? Why not! Travel to The Netherlands? Better look up The Nits or Mam. Ron even performed two vocals on Mam’s 1995 album “Look: Nederlands!” Naturally, Pieter Bon of Mam and his wife flew in from The Netherlands to attend. The night of his birthday, there was a big party in one of the “event classrooms” where we all gathered to toast the host, and naturally, there was live music with Mr. Bon and some of Ron’s pals playing and singing.

L-R: Warren Bowman, Mark Moerman + Pieter Bon

Ron’s longtime girlfriend Dorothy had decorated the room to be packed with many of Ron’s favorite musical totems. Huge blowups of his favorite albums covered the walls.

Wall Of Zappa

There was a “Zappa Wall” where images of Ron’s favorite artist had a special corner of a chalkboard all to himself. Ron’s taste for Frank Zappa could be traced back to his older sisters, who used to play their Frank Zappa albums for young Ron while they were corrupting baby-sitting him. I’m guessing that when the parents were out was the time those records got played on the family sound system. That was another thing that amazed me about my friendship with Ron. He was certainly aware that Zappa was perhaps my least favorite artist. On the scant occasions where I heard Zappa, [and I actively tried to keep it at bay] I felt the music was dripping with hostility and a contempt for the listener. I liked Zappa more as a person than as a musician, yet our diametrically opposed attitudes on Frank Zappa was hardly a blip on our interpersonal radar.

The round tables were made to look like giant records, with all of Ron’s favorite record labels in evidence. That’s the mark of a true record geek. Anyone can like bands, but the real hardcore music geeks gravitate to labels as well!

Ron loved Island Records… and Peter Cook + Dudley Moore!

Naturally, there was some serious record store crawling with huge packs of middle aged men traipsing from one store to another. Pawing through bins but politely pointing out titles the others may have an interest in. Fortunately, Ron was also a “nature guy” and gardens and arboretums were also something he liked. He was enough of a birdwatcher to that he probably got a little more vitamin D than most record geeks.

Meeting Ron after “knowing” him for 23 years was kind of surreal. I had no previous friendship like this one. Ron was a snappy dresser, with a penchant for very colorful/coordinated clothing. He like orange. He favored simple but colorful deck shoes and socks. His “rap” was highly steeped in irony. He would often laugh theatrically for ironic effect. Both my wife and I thought that there was something in how he carried himself that reminded us of Truman Capote. Not that he talked or sounded like him! Ron sounded like an affable “FM jock.” One could easily imagine him holding court on the radio on some public radio jazz program [which he could have probably really ran with]. I just can’t put what it was about him that made me think of Capote down into words. He had a slightly-bemused-by-it-all air to him. Yet his tongue could be very sharp. Maybe that was it.

Next: …More Ron Encounters

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Ron Kane: 1958-2017 [part 4]

Ron with band vanity plate

[continued from previous post]

In 1990, our paradigm got shaken up when Ron moved from his home in Long Beach [whose address is the only other one besides my current and childhood home addresses, I have memorized from decades of sending him mail and packages] and uprooted to live in Bath, England. Always a record importer, he was working for a new company and this time they would carry videos and books as well for a multimedia experience. By this time, I was making decent money, and had wasted no time in obtaining [at great cost] a 30″ multi-standard TV and a multistandard VHS deck, so now I could buy videos from countries that used PAL or SECAM systems and watch them with impunity in my American home.

By 1990, I had four VCRs [Superβeta, Hi-Band βeta Is, S-VHS, multistandard VHS] and with the Sony montitor, I had a reasonably large TV that I could watch foreign videos on as well. With Ron’s new company, he sent me the catalogs and it was like being a kid in a candy store. Want a complete Monty Python library of all of their books? Sure! I’ll take one! Now I could indulge in foreign music videos that I could only dream about for years. John Foxx VHS clip collection from Virgin? No problem! Yello home videos? Sure! One of the funniest music videos ever was Zodiac Mindwarp’s “Sleazegrinder.” Where the four clips had elaborate and hilarious segues in between them that were funnier than the videos ever got.

I kept up with Ron for the year he and his wife were in Bath. During this time, I bought whole swaths of CDs from the catalogs he would helpfully shower me with. A full run of Erasure CD singles since Mute never deleted them? Sure! I kept Ron abreast of goings on in his home country while he helped to fill my early media empire room. We would send letters and cards back and forth. Ron was definitely a “card guy” too. Hundreds of postcards, some of which are on permanent display on our refrigerator even now, would be sent my way over the years. Whenever Ron was going to someplace interesting [read: they had records there] invariably, a postcard would be sent to your home with a few tantalizing lines regarding the food/music available there. By a year or so later, Ron and his wife, Gwynne, came back to The States. Their adventure over. I know for a fact that Ron was by hat time jonesing heavily for some Mexican cuisine simply not available anywhere in the UK at the time.

As I had mentioned, Ron was also a βeta guy and around this time, he had a friend, Warren Bowman, who was an editor of television programs/films. During this period, he was editing the program The Wonder Years, and the day’s dailies were dumped onto high grade Sony L-750s, recorded on once, then discarded. Warren dumped the tapes onto Ron after he returned home. One only can imagine how many at a time as each day’s shooting had at least one tape. Ron had so much of this tape cluttering his home, that he would send me cartons of these tapes, filled with every shot made during the course of a Wonder Years episode, for the cost of shipping. If I had wanted to watch 90-180 minutes of every flubbed line on Wonder Years, this would have been a priceless bounty. As it was, I would get a carton of 60-80 tapes sent to me that would last at least half a year. This invaluably aided my video recording empire at the time.

Ron in heaven: Japanese record stores

Once he got back to The States, he went back to some sort of record store job; the basic fallback for Ron’s career as it were. He got a divorce in the early 90s and I can only assume that the move to Bath for a year  was very stressful for the both of them. Sadly, I never got to meet his wife, Gwynne. This seemed to shake up the Ron paradigm, and by 1994, he got his first “straight” job, as he put it. He began working in the public school system. Also, around this time, he took his first of many trips to Japan, and of course, when making a big time excursion like that, Ron would ask for your current want list.

Over the years, Ron must have sent me dozens of Japanese CDs of many stripes. These would often come, unbidden, in the mail with no warning. And the things he could get for a dollar at one of L.A.’s frequent “swap meets” would stymie my brain. Ron once sent me almost a full run of import remastered Simple Minds 2002 “kami” remastered CDs that were a huge leg up on my first masterings from ’85-’86. Heck, finally “Sons + Fascination / Sister Feelings Call” was complete for the first time on one disc. This was a huge thing for me.

In 1993, I stopped watching television, so the video aspect of our friendship came to a halt… at least until I got the ability to make DVDs in 2005. My concerns were by then focusing on music, my best entertainment value. By the mid-90s I could taste the ability to make my own CDs, so I returned my primary focus to music on vinyl that was not on CD by that time. I would concentrate on rarities with an eye towards making the sort of boxed sets of god that I had in the back of my mind for years. Ron would be there, finding 12″ singles on my want list and shipping them out to me. In this life, it helps to have an “agent in the field” on your side and most record geeks could hardly top Ron in this regard! How many records did I have in my Record Cell that would never be there but for his efforts?

Next: …When will I actually meet Ron?

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Ron Kane: 1958-2017 [part 3]

Ron’s infamous band, The Decayes

[continued from previous post]
Many were the bands I am now obsessed whose fandom of was all down to Ron’s predilection for “apple seeding” as he called it. Sometimes it did not even come from Ron directly. I seem to recall that he had given a few Dutch 7″ers from The Nits to Mr. Ware, who in turn, passed them onto me. I developed an interest in the band, so when I saw the first Nits CD I ever saw in the Orlando bins, I bought that copy of “Hat” and then managed to find a US copy of “dA dA dA” on its release five years later. My wife happened upon these in the Record Cell and she found more releases in a used bin at CD Warehouse. Once I heard “Henk” I was a true believer. We started buying all of them on the web and once we heard “Ting,” we swooned together at surely the most beautiful album ever made. Now we have almost all Nits releases/videos.

When I met Ron he was working for USS+M importers, so he was in a position to directly obtain anything difficult to otherwise buy in the pre-web era. I remember seeing the great video for Etienne Daho’s “Tombé Pour La France” on an early episode of “MTV’s International Hour.” When that clip made it to my video catalog updates to Ron he said “Oh, you like Etienne Daho?” I can get you all three CDs!” If Ron knew what you liked, he would always keep an eye out on his sweeps of West Coast bins. If you liked something that he was enthusiastic about, let’s just say that all bets were off. Ron was able to get me “Mythomane [CD remix],” “La Notte, La Notte” and the recent “Pop Satori” and these disques were my entrée into a good 7-8 years of Francophilia for yours truly. I was ready. With house music taking over the UK scene in 1987, I found my attentions turning to France, [tombé pour la France, indeed] who still had a vibrant pop scene that lasted at least until the French discovered hip hop in the mid 90s.

Ron was there every step of the way. He would send me mix tapes and videos of French artists that I could investigate further. In the mid-80s, Ron had a satellite dish and he airchecked Canada’s French-language Musique Plus daily and saved the grains of gold that he’s scoop up in his nets. I’d swear at one point that Ron’s infamous bank of VCRs were taping more video than there were hours in the day! When I first escaped the shackles of American record stores and took a tour of Canada in 1992 for the first time, Ron was my music sherpa! I remember calling him up from my hotel room to get the word on what he thought I should check out in depth now that I was in new territory. After trolling bins in Montreal, Ottowa, and “Toronto,” I returned home with suitcase packed with CDs; half of them French language. I would return to Toronto two more times between 1992 and 2001. Many years later, I could somewhat repay the debt when Ron found himself visiting Toronto for the first time about a decade ago. I gave him a dossier on all of the best stores to visit [and why] in Toronto and was gratified that he got to experience the monolithic Sam The Record Man on Yonge St. while there was still time. Too bad we could not have hit the ultra-packed store in their heyday, together.

Imgrat Records | US | LP | 1978 | 2400 001

Ron didn’t just enjoy music, he also had a band. If you keep your ears trained to the deep underground, you may have heard of them. The Decayes were a band made up of his local friends who began recording in 1974 and they released their albums in super-low numbered editions of generally 100. Members were part of the Los Angeles Free Music Society. Once Nurse With Wound had the audacity to include The Decayes on their infamous list, the demand for their outsider blend of [I’m guessing, from the descriptions I’ve read online] Europrog and Post-Punk soared to the point where copies of their first three, self-released albums with hand painted covers [and hand-made OBIs] and low press runs were unobtainable for less than three serious figures. Albums four and five had larger press runs and can be heard for less than a king’s ransom.

Imgrat Records | US | LP | 2014 | 2400006.1

In early 2014, after hearing for years about the semi-legendary sixth album with sessions mentioned my Ron in email and the like for nearly a decade, a CD of “Aquarium” came in my mailbox, yet another of the packages that would arrive from Long Beach on a very regular basis for 30+ years. It’s always kind of dicey when a friend plays you their music. There’s so much potential minefield there. Having known of Ron’s musical obsessions for decades [cut the man and he bled Frank Zappa and Italian Prog] and knowing of the outsider reputation of The Decayes, I was prepared for a dozen reactions; all of them alarming. Imagine my surprise when the sixth [and now final] Decayes album proffered a breezy, instro surf rock sound with undercurrents of West Coast jazz.  At least I could honestly tell the guy that I really enjoyed his new album!

Next: …Rare meetings


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Ron Kane: 1958-2017 [part 2]

Ron ca. 1983 during one of his regular trips to New Zealand

Ron was a guy I met due to the pleasures of meeting another long-standing friend of mine in 1985. Someone who did live in my city, so I quickly became fast friends with Mr. Brian Ware. Brian caught my classified ad in the local college newspaper looking for people to trade interesting music video [“No HM. No rock”] and we soon discovered that we burned bright torches for many of the same bands [XTC, Ultravox, Simple Minds, Icehouse…etc.] so we became fast friends. Mr. Ware was probably the pre-eminent Split Enz collector in the Southeast United States, if not the country as a whole.  Where did he get those obscure records from the Southern Hemisphere? From Mr. Kane.

At the time, Ron was working as an importer of records at ANZ Imports [Australia/New Zealand] . I remember seeing their ad in Trouser Press classifieds touting the “original NZ Split Enz imports” available basically through them and only them and I suspect that Mr. Ware, being of a much stouter Split Enz disposition, wasted no time in dropping them a line. So when I came into Mr. Ware’s sphere of influence, he simply said to me “you have to meet this guy!” Well, not so much meet him, because 3000+ miles separated me from Ron’s native Long Beach.

What happened was we corresponded, regularly, I might add. Like Ron, I was also a “βeta guy” who used the original home video mass market format and music videos were a definite focus of these years. We would trade video lists and I would try to see if I could ever get something that Ron, with his bank of VCRs and a satellite dish, somehow missed. In the meantime, Ron would shower his friends with lots of videos of things you could not see for love nor money in that pre-internet era. Late that year I recall Ron doing something about all of the amazing PAL/SECAM video he had accumulated from his worldwide contacts. Normal schmoes like myself could not play this stuff on garden variety NTSC equipment, so Ron had access to people who could dupe tapes and make a system transfer and Ron pooled his buddies to shoulder the costs, so for the $50 investment, a half dozen of his friends got a three hour compilation from foreign video sources of things you simply could not see otherwise. I finally saw John Foxx video; a personal holy grail, for the first time due to this little project. And Ron knew what his friends liked; he compiled the tape so that everyone got their interested fed.

Ron had hundreds of videotapes by 1985. I had just moved to my second video deck after wearing out my first unit in about three years. I now had a βeta Hi-Fi stereo deck with amazing audio quality. I might have had abut 80 tapes with music videos and I had to go to a friend’s house [chasinvictoria] who was also a βeta guy to dupe the clips for that first tape I sent back to Ron. In this way, chasinvictoria learned of Ron “The Man” Kane as I was wont to call him.  Ron got quite a reputation amongst my friends for providing amazing videos that we all watched.

Not long after meeting Mr. Ware [and by extension, Ron] he planned to take a vacation out to L.A. and finally meet Ron. He returned with tales of a house filled with records. Ron took Brian on a record crawl of all the usual haunts, and he got a good look at how a serious record collector rolls. Mr. Ware returned to Orlando with his horizons fatally broadened.

Strangely concurrent with this mid-80s period was my [dramatic] re-assessment of master entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. Wouldn’t you know but Ron was completely into all things Sammy. For several years there, we would exchange videos of Sammy TV appearances and the like with me able to give Ron a surprising number of Sammy TV show guest spots from the 6os mostly. This Sammy worship peaked while dutifully recording a Johnny Carson appearance of Sammy [no last name necessary] one night in late 1985 when we first got wind of his tour dates taking him to Ruth Eckerd Hall in nearby St. Petersburg. Fully wigged out, this culminated in the 1986 sojourn of my friends and I to see the man, the myth, the motion picture. For his part, Ron was a Vegas guy.” So much so, that he had a habit of spending Christmas in Vegas wth his wife as they soaked up the ambience of sad desperation that only shuttle busses of retirees spending their social security checks could provide.

Ron Kane on The Strip

Next: …Francophilia facilitated

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Ron Kane: 1958-2017 [part 1]

Mr. Kane in repose in Atlanta Arboretum

Terrible news for me today. It was during lunch that I learned that Ron “The Man” Kane had died earlier this morning. I was all set to visit him for the last time tomorrow but it was not meant to be. The man was my sensei of record collecting. We’ll interrupt the thread to tell my tale of Ron Kane beginning tomorrow.

Next: …“you need to meet Ron Kane…”

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 15]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Dazzle Ships | 1983 – 4

[continued from previous post]

Following the brilliant pop of “Telegraph,” the album snapped violently back into fragmentary sound collage with “This Is Helena.” This was surely one of the strangest tracks OMD ever committed to vinyl. The brief cut [like five of the twelve tracks here, it was in the 1:30-2:30 timespan] sounded like a robotic pastiche of 60’s “ye-ye” music. Kraftwerk meets The Beatles. The middle of the song even featured sampled crowd noise, further strengthening the Beatles reference in my mind. This is relevant because, OMD, hailing from Liverpool, absolutely never rated The Beatles very much at all. On this one, I fully think they are mocking the band. In that light, its inclusion here was the weakest move they made on what was a very strong vision for this album. This is the one track that seems at odds with the political lens they were peering through.

Anastacio Somoza of Nicaragua

“International” ended the side on a heartbreaking note. The song opened with a radio news quote regarding a young girl who was tortured and maimed by the Somoza regime. Then the distinctive OMD waltz beat with bass synth slowly faded up as McCluskey crooned the deeply melancholy song’s verses with the string patches being gated on the beat of the rhythm box for a staggered effect on the melody. The waltz beat has a habit of sticking in my mind for hours at a time since it so carefully fits the overriding melancholy of the song. Strangely enough, the first verse here seemed more like a middle eight as all subsequent verses adhered to a uniform, but alternate structure.

At the song’s midpoint, a soprano choral synth patch began a delicate dance of descent as a way of leading into McCluskey’s impassioned third verse, which erupted out of the safety zone the song had, until now, built for it. His delivery here was antithetical to the reserve he displayed earlier in the song and fully represented the sense of outrage that the soundbites in the song’s intro should engender in any compassionate person listening. It remains a peak OMD moment and this song has been my favorite OMD composition for at least the last dozen years as “International” has managed to make “Stanlow” step aside from the top position in my pantheon of OMD classics. Then the melody of the later verses returned as an instrumental theme, sounding not unlike a sea shanty, took the song to its emotional conclusion.

In the normally commercial pole position at track one of side two of “Dazzle Ships” was its highly abstract “title song.” “Dazzle Ships [Parts II, III + VII]” was a sound collage of whale-like steam whistles, sonar pings, and warning klaxons blaring with the power to make you jump the first time you hear them. After 90 seconds of these sounds, the final part of the series began to tread on more familiar OMD sonic territory. Impressive chords of a maritime horn alternated with Mellotron’s [actually a Novatron according to the liner notes, but that’s splitting hairs] choral tapes that set the stage for the next song.

Next: …Something Old, Something New

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Rock GPA: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark [part 14]

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark – Dazzle Ships | 1983 – 4

[continued from previous post]

After those first two tracks, anything could have happened here. So a line in the sand was definitely crossed when “ABC Auto Industry” began. The track was constructed out of samples and sound bites with the band singing “A-B-C” and “1-2-3” layered together with a kettle drum and a woman’s voice from some radio program discussing industrial robotics. Then the “A-B-C” and “1-2-3” vocal loops were pitched up to the next octave with a commensurate speeding up of tempo. The sound of relay circuits and beeping, such as sound effects used to indicate a computer from the late 60s-early 70s began to build up in layers until they dominated the track. I recognized the sounds from their usage years earlier as the exact same sound effect used to indicate the computer “thinking” in the cult science fiction film “Dark Star,” as made by student John Carpenter in the mid-70s. So I’ll bet that OMD used the same sound effects record that Carpenter had. It’s a striking sound collage that implies all sorts of things, but what you can’t call it is a song.

So this was what OMD was up to. A retreat from pop music into something a little more abstract, to say the least. The essay in the 2009 DLX RM of “Dazzle Ships” sheds some light on the band’s thinking in doing this. From the earliest time of the band, they were interested in making electronic sounds. Sometimes collaged together with sound bites. Anyone who had heard the 1978 “artifact” included with the first pressing of “Organisation” would not be blind-sided by “Dazzle Ships” and its penchant for abstract experimentation. The band were apparently suffering from a dry period writing new material since they had been running continuously from 1979-1982 with nary a moment to pause and reflect. It was suggested that for this reason they decamped back to their roots, which makes good artistic sense for them at this stage of their career.

At just the right moment, the heretofore capped bottle of pop opened up and flowed copiously on the album’s fourth track. “Telegraph” was a fantastic OMD show-stopper of a tune that, had it been the lead off single instead of “Genetic Engineering,” might have given this album an all-important boost right up front. As it was, “Genetic Engineering” made it to 20 in the UK charts following three top ten singles in a row. And by then it was too late. When “Telegraph was released, ” the best showing it could manage was a lowly 42. A shameful event, but the ship had by now sailed. By this time, OMD were throwing pearls at swine.

Because “Telegraph” is one of my all time favorite OMD singles. The ascending/descending synth riff intro sounded a bit like glockenspiel, then Andy McCluskey began singing in earnest with call and response from several of his clones, singing in unison. The piccolo-like lead synth radiates a wholesome naïveté completely at odds with the cynical lyrics decrying the taint of communication by both religion and politics in the modern technosphere. It’s a chilling moment when McCluskey sings:

“God’s got Telegraph
On his side.
It makes him powerful.
Gives him pride.
Even in America (god bless America)
They understand.
The value of Telegraph.
Hand in hand.” – Telegraph

But if it just came down to the euphoric music, one would never know the stakes that McCluskey was invoking here. As a classic serving of OMD, “Telegraph” was a perfect three minute pop song with all of the trimmings.

Next: …Internationalism

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