Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mark Harp's Big Thing: Insane!

Munching Away on a Sound Bite Buffet

I love Mark Harp. Along with Mark O'Connor, Randy Peck and the boys in Berserk, he is one of the few local musical geniuses I've met in my life. By pure serendipity I happen to be dating his ex-wife and by pure happenstance she just happened to come across this old CD by him while we were shopping at Normal Books & Records.

Insane? Believe the hype!

It comes from Mark's casio cowboy days as a heavy, heavy sampler of sound bites. Some of these Amy recognized, most she didn't, coming as they did after she and "Harpo" split up in the mid-'90s. I recognized a kindred spirit for, just like me with Atomic TV, Mark loved finding obscure sound bites and looping them ad infinitum. Marshall McLuhan would be proud.

Who would get rid of this CD? Their loss. As it is the world's loss since Mark Harp passed away Christmas Eve of 2004. But fear not, the whole album is available for download from Mark Harp's website ( Click to download: Insane!

Anyway, herein is a track by track review of this mostly all-found-sounds record (with additional real human voices courtesy of bassist Dave Zidik, Mike Dejong and even Mark himself intoning "Grey Peach Cobbler" in the song of that name).


"Compiled from many years of sampling and editing, an hour long trip disguised as a ferret." - Mark Harp.

The players:

Mark Harp (guitars, sampling, editing, vocals, everything)
Dave Zidik (bass and vocals)
Curtis Bay (aka Mike Dejong, keys and horns)
Rich Dickson (drums)


An ominous-sounding intro to...

02. SHOW ME HOW TO BOWL (5:30)

Mark must have scored some instructional bowling album, and it's a great find as the narrator says "I love bowling and I want you to love it to" and other bowling bon mots while Harpo sings "Show me how to bowl"! in the background, his guitar wailing away all over the place like richocheting bowling alley acoustics.

When I asked Amy if she and Mark used to go bowling a lot, she explained that Mark was more into the idea of bowling - the aesthetics of balls and pins - as opposed to bowling as a sport. And, of course, the fashion. As "Corky Neidermayer," Mark also wrote the bowling alley hit "Bowling With You."

03. WHY YA LOUSY SOB (4:28)

"Why you lousy son-of-a-bitch! I know who you are...I know you, don't worry!" Mark samples Louis "Red" Deutsch, owner of Jersey City, NJ's Tube Bar, from the infamous underground Tube Bar phone prank tapes - as well as Ross Perot talking about extra-terrestrials! Led Zeppelish guitar snarls away against beepy-boop electronic space noises as Perot intones "Lemme tell you bluntly...somewhere out there there's an wife and children...they're all good people, they're all extra-terrestrials."

"All 10 selections are in 4/4 time and use our use our standard arrangement..." says an instructional dance record narrator as we seque into the next track...

04 DON'T KILL FLIES (5:28)

Some instructional record intones, "Don't kill flies with your nose...let's do it as follows." I swear, two days after hearing this a fly flew up my nose outside Daedalus Books. D.O.A. at the Nostrum. Weird.

The greatest song about insect genocide since "I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly."


This one samples Sally Gillespie - redheaded former WJHU DJ and Ziggy Stardust lookalike (it's a sexy look, trust me) whom I had a crush on in the early '80s when I was a radio record-spinner there - as well as some razor-sharp James Brown guitar riff while the Godfather of Soul yelps "I can't get enuff!" and John Lydon snottily screams "Under the House!" (a track from PiL's third album, Flowers of Romance). Yes, that's also Johnny singing PiL's "This is not a love song." And I love the silky-smooth sample of Sally chuckling, "I like it...Alright!"

James and Johnny are in the House

On the outro, someone (Mike Dejong?) is heard saying, "All you people with your short hair and skinheads, listening to Mark people haven't even seen this guy you idolize...well, lemme tell you, he's a LOT to look at."

06 RICH DICKSON (6:54)

Drummer Rich Dickson is immortalized in song. At least in name. But most of the song has Mark name-checking bass player Dave Zidek. Whose name Mark pronounces "Dave's a dick." Boys-in-the-band and their dick jokes!

Profile of Rich Dickson

07 ALWAYS WITH ME (4:03)

"My dog barks some. Mentally you picture my dog, but I have not told you the type of dog which I have. Perhaps you even picture Toto, from The Wizard of Oz. But I warn you, my dog is always with me. WOOF!"

I suspected that something this creepy had to be from a David Lynch movie and one Google later I was right: it's the late, great Jack Nance as OO Spool from Wild At Heart (1990).


Ding! Ding! "San Francisco" opens with the ringing bells from the "Rice-a-roni, the San Franciscio treat" TV commercial (in case you've forgotten this catchy jingle, the full libretto is as follows: "Rice-A-Roni, Its flavor can’t be beat. One pan, no boiling, cooking ease, a flavor sure to please, Rice-A-Roni. The San Francisco Treat! Ding! Ding!"), which is fitting since the tasty rice and macaroni dish was invented there by Domenico De Domenico and is as synonymous with the city as steep hills, cable cars, earthquakes, the Golden Gate Bridge and "San Francisco Values." (Not to mention Zippy the Pinhead!) This is followed by another signature SanFran cultural phenom, The Residents singing "Left his heart in San Francisco" (probably taken from Ralph Records' 1979 sampler Subterranean Modern)...which is followed in turn by some Vietnam "Winter Soldier" sound bites..."Can you tell me why?" "Yessir." "Can't you tell me why?" "No sir." "Can you tell me why..." "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy..."


"Gojira!" Godzilla's trademark existential roar and Akira Ifukube's classic music score need no embellishments, so Harpo plays this soundtrack snippet pure and unadulterated.

10 BOOLA BOOLA (3:58)

"No - no, no no...No - no, no, no..." and other talk radio sound bites mix with cool jazz and guitar solos to make this entry a sonic stew.

11 STEREO TEST (6:39)

"Now we come to a procedure designed to adjust your record player to the acoustics oft he room in which you are listening..." seques into some '80s hip-hop...all Hell breaks looses like some early recording from The Mothers of Invention circa "Suzie Creamcheese."

And speaking of stereo demo records...Back when Mark was working for Maryland Messengers, I saw him driving around one day and remembered talking to him about scouring fleas markets and record swaps for oddball instructional records and stereo demo LPs. I was elated to know that he and I both owned the wonderful rarity, Magoo in Hi-Fi (RCA Victor, 1956).

Side 1 consisted of a dialog between Magoo and his nephew Waldo taking place while Magoo was attempting to set up his new sound system, which provided an excuse for all sorts of hi-fi hijinks as sound effects zoomed in and out of the left and right stereo channels. Mark's probably the only other soul I know who was as excited by this score as me (though I had fork over $20 for my coveted copy!). I'm pretty sure he sampled an elevator sound bite from that record later on when he worked with Snackie in Pornflakes.

12 THE ELVIS DIET (6:18)

"The battle has been joined."

Mark sings "Elvis!" against a funky backbeat peppered with sound bites like "Vampires," "Pretty crazy," "Out of sight!", "I give pleasure to all, young and old..." and even George Herbert Walker Bush the 41st circa Operation Desert Storm proclaiming "The battle has been joined."


"Chiang Ching-kuo! Chiang Ching-kuo!"

Sheer brilliance as Mark juxtaposes Jeopardy host Alex Trebek repeating the name "Chiang Ching-kuo" (son of Chinese nationalist general Chiang Kai-shek and former leader of Taiwan) against the stadium footstomping beat of Queen's "We Will Rock You." It doesn't get cheesier than Jeopardy and Queen, but the glove fits, so we must acquit.

Status Kuo: Chiang Ching-kuo will rock you!

14 HAMMERLOCK! (3:21)


"Tasty in a tasty way."

This one's pretty darn catchy. First off, gotta say I love the British spelling of "grey" (as in Grey Poupon). Amy recalls the origin of this one coming after Mark went to a buffet and encountered some unsavory looking desserts. That said, Dave Zidek is heard saying stuff like, "Hot dogs? Pizza? Can this really be good for me?" "Cobbler..." Mark answers, "Grey Peach Cobbler." Over and over and over...

Listening to Insane! made me realize that Mark is never truly gone as long as his music lives on. He made sure of that when he meticulously uploaded all his music for streaming and downloading as part of his "24 Hours with Mark Harp" project. I always knew he was gifted, but listening to Insane! reminded me again of just how funny the guy was. The world is a little less fun without him.

Related Links:
King of Peru Lies (Mark Harp's blog)
24 Hours with Mark Harp


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Mark Harp cover reminds me of the Andre the Giant "Obey" stickers when Shepard Fairy switched over to the more Commie-ish visuals like this one:

4:35 PM  

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