Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rappin' With Gas

Download it from WFMU

In grade 7 or 8 they crowded all the Home Ec classes together to hear a presentation by some National Fuel rep. It was a sad, sad attempt to get us to buy gas stoves when we got older. We were supposed to tell our parents about the awesomeness of gas over electric as well. For instance, electric stovetops stay hot for a long time after you turn them off. That's dangerous! They even gave us a test at the very end consisting of questions that basically asked, "What did I just say two minutes ago? Write that down over here."

To bring the point home, they played a music video featuring an ethnically diverse group of "students" who were probably no younger than 24 or 25. They rapped. Rappin' With Gas, they called it. To this day I MUST find that video. Remember, this was the early 1990s. America was changing in a lot of ways: "rap" had only recently entered the mainstream with such polished acts as MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. (Who was better? The debate raged.) CDs were still pretty new, fighting for space between the giant tables of vinyl and endless walls of cassette tapes at the record store. Someone at National Fuel (a bunch of interns, perhaps) thought they were really cutting-edge by making a video just like MTV used to show. (Fun fact: the "M" used to stand for "Music.")

After the "assembly" the Home Ec classes disbursed rather quietly. For the next three weeks or so, we tried to comprehend what we had seen and heard. From then on every Home Ec class usually involved several interjections of "Rappin' With Gas! Rappin' With Gas!" by random students. It would just pop out of their mouths mid-lecture.

Unlike the other students, I kept the record. Around 1997 my family got the internet and I discovered that The Late Show with David Letterman posted clips of the weird records they showed in a reoccurring bit called "Dave's Record Collection." I contacted Steve Young, the writer whose collection the bit is based on, and he was interested in Rappin' With Gas. (Not that Steve Young, sadly.) To this day it is the only record I've ever given up. It never made the show but became a featured Song of the Week on the site.

Flash to ten years later and I'm surfing the Internet again. Recently I came across the 365 Days Project, a collection of outsider music--one record posted per day for a year--run by a small group of people who care about these things. For instance, they consider Wesley Willis' on artistic merits. Out of curiosity I searched for Rappin' With Gas. There it was: Day 12. The photos above are taken from that site. Even weirder, in the photo you can see that the backer holds to the record with two pieces of rolled-up Scotch tape. Was that the same record that I taped back together when I was fourteen? After contacting WFMU in New Jersey I received a reply from Otis Fodder, who said he got the record from a guy named Irwin Chusid, who may have gotten the record from Steve Young. It ends up that Irwin Chusid is the pioneer who brought outsider music to the masses, including writing Songs in the Key of Z and discovering the amazing Langley Schools Music Project, a possible inspiration for the Jack Black film School of Rock. He even coined the term "outsider music."

[Langley Schools Music Project]

[Jack Black on Piracy]

Fodder, however, first heard Rappin' With Gas on a gig-only album by Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow called Product Placement. This could be stretching, but it's very possible that my old record has been heard by all of these people. In turn, I went to three Wesley Willis shows, two Ozomatli shows with Cut Chemist, and become MySpace friends with the Langley Schools Music Project.

[Ozomatli's Cut Chemist Suite]

If it isn't my copy of the record, it's awesome that all these great people have heard it and enjoy it as much as I have. Call me crazy for caring, but I'm not the only one who does.

[not the actual video, but eerily close]

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