Various Artists: The Record Man – A Tribute To Ron Kane 
- Tony Backhouse/Pieter Bon: The Record Man
- Suely Mesquita: Greatest Cheeseburger
- Paul Scott: Unpopular Music
- Henk Hofstede: White Car/Blue Ocean
- Yamée Couture: Francophonies
- Hans Croon: How Can The Human Heart Occur In The Universe?
- Warren Bowman: Better
- Pieter Bon: Wat Betekent Het?
- Fay Lovsky: I’m Running
- Andrew McLennan: Today’s List
- Fane Flaws: Ron Kane
- Mark Moerman: Manatees From Other Galaxies
Imagine, that if after you die, one of your friends enlists a lot of your favorite musicians to help make a tribute album in your memory? If you had been my friend Ron Kane, no imagination would be necessary. Bob Gaulke has made it happen. And when I went to Los Angeles to participate in what was called Ron-Kon II last month, I was able to buy a physical copy of the album. Even that happened only after I heard half of these songs being rehearsed by the live band Bob from New York City along with Gary Berger of Los Angeles put together to play a pair of concerts that were the linchpin of Ron-Kon II. I knew the songs I heard were great, but I didn’t hear the full album until I returned home afterward.
Let’s just say right up front that this album cannot begin to represent the full breadth of Ron Kane’s taste in music, which were the most catholic taste I’ve ever run across in a single human! For a start there’s no Japanese culture here. And definitely no Prog [much less Italian Prog] since all of these song are succinct little jewels that all stay shy of the 3:30 mark with a few well under that. But his love of New Zealand, French, Dutch, and even Brazilian music are represented here as a cocktail of slightly left field pop that never panders to the banal. Just how Ron would have liked it.
The album began with the précis that was “The Record Man,” as sung by Tony [Crocodiles] Backhouse and Pieter [MAM] Bon as a duet. The song really cuts to the heart of what it was to know Mr. Kane and what he stood for. The travel. The bin diving. The phone calls. The musical camaraderie. Not being local, I missed the pizzas shared but I can recall traveling in Montreal in 1992 and I was calling Ron from my hotel room to get some all-important Francophile pointers while I was in the belly of the beast! The vibe on this one skews close to mid period XTC for the uninitiated, but Ron was always partial to the first two albums with Barry Andrews – it’s true. With this song, all involved have effectively summarized Ron’s mission statement into a pop song.
Brazilian singer Suely Mesquita helmed “Greatest Cheeseburger” which was the object considered by Ron to be the apex of Western Culture. The music wasn’t exactly samba; it was more along the lines of quirky, pop music which took on different coloration with Ms. Mesquita’s accented English vocal; not the first of which would be apparent on this album. nor the last.
I have to admit that I’m really bowled over by Paul [John Kennedy] Scott’s “Unpopular Music.” The shimmering, barely there guitar by Australian Peter Veliks sucks me right into this intimate and tender song. The paradox of how Ron may have sublimated his emotions into music was captured with a compassionate, yet unflinching eye. Even if you never knew Ron, this is a song that demands to be heard by a wide audience. A stunner; though the live arrangement that I saw twice in concert was all the more gorgeous.
As a Nits fan, I was very impressed that Henk Hofstede took the time to contribute a song here. When I first met Ron, Nits were very much on his full-time radar. I kept my eyes open and found two albums in the ’88-’93 period. Dutch imports didn’t exactly grow on trees in Orlando, Florida! Decades later and my wife dreams of one day seeing Nits perform live. Hofstede added a concise haiku of intimate, low-key synth-funk based on his overriding memory of knowing Ron and the impression of America he got from visiting with him in 1985.
One of the big musical events for me in the mid-80s was the exposure to French music I got from an unlikely source. MTV briefly had a monthly show with music from their various channels around the world and the arty French pop of Etienne Daho, Elli Madieros, and Les Rita Mitsouko hit me hard. Fortunately, I knew Ron and had no problem obtaining these French CDs through his import business. He set me up with ever more music videos and for a good seven or eight years, being a Francophile kept me going as the 80s gave way to the 90s. It all went pear-shaped once the French discovered hop-hop, but for a while there it was way better that what the UK was releasing. Even so I never heard one of Ron’s favorites, Charlélie Couture. Until now!
The delightful “Francophonies” was a song featuring Charlélie Couture on keyboards with [presumably] his daughter Yamée singing. This song hit particularly close to home with me since I rode the French bus fairly hard along with Ron. Ms. Couture’s flat, deadpan french accent sent the song exactly where it needed to go and the interplay between her dad’s synths and the trumpet of Emily Champion perfectly evokes the Francophone pop of the mid to late eighties that served us so well.
The single from the album was a soulful pop number sung by Hans [The Dutch] Croon. The saxes of Matt Carillo were sweet and sunny as Croon sang a song that could have applied to most of the human condition; not merely the single man it was ostensibly about.
Warren Bowman sang lead on what must have been the first song that Bob began in the months before Ron’s death. “Better” is a heartfelt “get well” wish for a man they had thought would one day leave the hospital he was in and get back to his old life. The lyrics are marvelous and I sincerely hope that this song might have been completed before Ron’s death, so that he could have heard it. I can’t imagine anyone hearing this one without a smile crossing their lips. I’ve heard that some of Ron’s local friends brought him an old iPod loaded with songs so he wouldn’t be completely isolated from his life force near the end and I hope that this one was able to be on it last summer.
Pieter Bon got another turn at the mic, this time solo on the [very necessary] Dutch language soul jazz cut “Wat Betekent Het?” or [as near as I can surmise] What Does It Mean?” Ron was adventurous in his non-English language listening and it’s right and proper that at least one cut here should be in another language. And not the more common French or Italian, either!
Ron turned me into a big Fay Lovsky fan right up front in our friendship so I had Dutch LPs of her first four albums not too far into our friendship. Ms. Lovsky is a world class talent who should have had at least a cult-career in English speaking countries. At the very least, her fervent fans should have been burning up the Ecto home page for a good thirty years now! Her delicate, introverted number here stands apart from the dominant mood on the album to add some shade in the middle of “side two.”
“Today’s List” was the song that was pretty much ripped screaming from Ron’s skull and committed to song. It’s simply one of his weekly [or more] purchase lists that we all received via email. It’s kind of a goofy groove with Andrew McLennan reciting the contents. On one hand, musically a throwaway, but conceptually, this one’s focused on Ron like a laser! Of course, he was credited for the lyrics here.
Many was the letter or video where Ron extolled the virtues of Mr. Fane Flaws; a New Zealand musician who not only had a diverse musical career but he also directed lots of great music videos for Australasian artists. His song “Ron Kane” told the story of his relationship with the odd American who developed strong passions for the NZ music scene in the form of a bit of psychedelic garage rock. The lyrics were so Ron as Flaws recounted how he came “knocking on my back door, it must have been right around 1984.” That was Ron through and through. He would think nothing of traveling halfway around the world and then look up his favorite musicians once he got to his destination.
Finally, the album ended with Mark Moerman and Ace Farren Ford’s “Manatees From Other Galaxies.” The sax was not as manic as it was live in concert, but the song was still a delightful and even playful look back at Ron following his death. Ron was fascinated by manatees; they were his favorite animals and he threatened to visit Florida to see some, but he never did. Mark’s performance of the song takes steps towards mythologizing Ron’s passing in a clear-eyed yet ultimately upbeat way. A magical ending for a very special album.
Anyone who knew Ron Kane needs to have a copy as it will delight and serve as the best sort of reminder of Ron’s passions. But third parties who encounter it will not need to have known Ron Kane. The eclectic blend of songs, songlets, and performance pieces covers a lot of territory and the artists involved may be obscure [to your ears, anyway] but they bring a lifetime of chops and decades of Ron experience to the table to paint a fascinating picture in the most tuneful way possible. A generous doff of the Monk’s Aztec Energy Dome to Bob Gaulke for making this happen. I’ve never experienced anything like this before and am flabbergasted in the best way possible at the results.
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