The Best of LCD: The Art and Writing of WFMU-FM 91.1 FM
WFMU, Jersey City's legendary free-form radio station, has never trucked much with stylistic conformity. So whenever the management got around to printing its program guide, LCD (Lowest Common Denominator), it called on its most grateful listeners to supply much of the content.
Fortunately, the febrific creativity of the tuned-in--including many artists working solitaire with the radio as a companion--could be awe-inspiring. Sampling the 26 issues published between 1986 and 1998, The Best of LCD: The Art and Writing of WFMU-FM 91.1 FM is a veritable roller-coaster of cartoons, publication covers, postcards, and writings about the outliers of pop culture. As regular listeners know--and if you’re curious, it's online--the station's programming can be a wildly varying and not always agreeable experience, depending on your taste for, say, Colombian punk tropicália (Las Malas Amistades), Benga-rock hybrids (Extra Golden), or ancient but lustful Algerian folk ditties (Cheikha Remitti), to sample a recent playlist. The book mirrors this juggernaut of variance, with consistently entertaining results.
The cartoonists run the most rampant here. Some pervert the standard newspaper strip, while others, such as the famed Daniel Johnston, churn up more primitive visions. On the more traditional side, Jim Ryan's delightful "Pesky Space Aliens" explains that intergalactic visitors should actually be called "Space Allens," because they are all named Allen. And, even though they're technologically superior, aliens still fear us, because we're taller. A selection of illustrated program-guide covers shows an utter lack of stylistically consistent branding, yet all are gorgeous and reward close inspection. Jim Hopkins grotesquely parodies a Tiger Beat covers--"Undress your favorite DJ!"--while Robert Armstrong offers a subtly unnerving county fair pictorial with a smiling octopus ride for the demented country folk milling about.
The writing is warm and personable, like a good conversation with your favorite record geek. Many essays dwell on obscure but fascinating musical folk, such as Hawaiian exotica pioneer Paul Page, stub-armed guitarist Wade Curtiss, and send-us-your-lyrics genius songwriter Rodd Keith. There are also a disconcerting number of essays about trailblazing DJs who died lonely deaths, such as Mad Daddy and Alan Berg, gunned down in the driveway of his own home.
Taken a page or two at a time, a book this rich could bellow your creative fires for months. Better yet, steal an afternoon, crank up WFMU, indulge in a relaxant of choice, and luxuriate in this volume's staggering expressive diversity.