Robert Stark Talks to Brandon Adamson About Birthday Boy


Robert Stark talks to Brandon Adamson about his 1996 EP, Birthday Boy. Available on iTunes.

Podcast can be heard here.

Topics:

Intro: Throw Your Love
Birthday Boy 22nd Anniversary Edition cassette re-released on Captain Crook Records
Inspiration from an isolated lifestyle and lack of personal relationships
Writing songs about characters on TV shows such as Melrose Place
Brandon’s obsession with the E! Channel in the 90s
Musical influences from 70s light rock to 90s Indie
Infamous rejection letters from major record labels
Aspiring to be an indie version of a Seventeen Magazine popstar
Squandered opportunities and big breaks
How for years Brandon was embarrassed by old recordings but eventually came to embrace them.

Birthday Boy 22nd Anniversary Edition

Since today is my birthday, you can take this opportunity to purchase a limited edition cassette of a crappy lo-fi EP I released in 1996, (which has been re-released by a label in Eugene, Oregon without my knowledge or permission.) I guess I’ve finally reached the age as an artist where young people take up an interest my shitty and obscure early recordings, so I’m honored and grateful for that. I may not be worthy of such recognition, but no one can ever say I didn’t pay my dues.

Birthday Boy was originally released in October of 1996. It was recorded on a Fostex XR-3 when I lived in my first apartment, at Desert Star Apartments in Phoenix, AZ. The complex was a mildly seedy dump back then, but now resembles a dangerous, post apocalyptic wasteland. The apartment only came with basic cable, of which the only cable channels included were The Family Channel, C-Span and the E! Channel. That’s it, nothing else. Living on my own and knowing very few people in the city, I spent most of my spare time watching the E! Channel, which at the time featured reruns of Melrose Place, WKRP in Cincinnati, One Day at a Time, and Alice. Regular tv also aired reruns of Charlie’s Angels and The Rockford Files during this period. I mention this because the era has become an enduring inspiration for me and a formative part of my identity.

Since I was living a fairly isolated lifestyle and wasn’t socially active, I frequently wrote songs about the lives of characters on the shows I was watching. For example, the second track on Birthday Boy is titled Right Back Where I Started, but the lyrics actually chronicle the romantic and often diabolic misadventures of the character Michael on Melrose Place. There are dozens of similar recordings which once existed, such as my spoken word cover of the theme song of WKRP in Cincinnati (which was re-worded and adapted to be about Arizona.) Sadly, I have moved nearly 30 times since then, and these other recordings have all been lost over the years…having been last seen around the year 2004 or so.)

The show Alice was also a show which I found oddly relatable as an 18 year old young man. The plot of Alice was centered around a woman who was driving to Los Angeles to start a new life and pursue a singing career, but her car broke down in Phoenix. She ends up staying in suburban Phoenix after she’s forced to take a job at a diner there to make ends meet, and the place starts to grow on her.

Anyway, that is the story of Birthday Boy. The cassette re-release can be purchased HERE. Special thanks to Captain Crook Records for rediscovering this uncharted “fool’s gold” record. The limited edition cassette re-release is almost sold out, but Birthday Boy (along with many other recordings) can still be purchased through iTunes as well.

Click here to purchase on iTunes

An obscure 90’s oddity, Birthday Boy’s aesthetic resembles something of a “Lo-Fi Leisure Suit Larry.” The song, Right Back Where I Started chronicles the love life of the character Michael from the show, Melrose Place. Originally released on cassette in 1996, this is one the most unusual recordings from a highly experimental era of indie alternative music.

The Truth About “Mystery Shoppers”

“Mystery shopper” has to be one of the scummiest occupations. The mystery shopper is basically a low level informant, spying on underpaid retail employees and helping big corporations enforce compliance with all kinds of pointless rules and tedious protocol (which smart employees often ignore to maintain efficiency and prioritize the achievement of broader goals.)

A typical mystery shopper review would consist of something along the lines of the following:

“The employee failed to give the official FashionMart 4 point company greeting when I entered the store. The associate also took a sip of water while at the counter and leaned on it as well while sipping the drink.”

First off, almost no one follows company guidelines to the letter and the only people who fetishize them are overpaid executive do-nothings whose time is spent dreaming them up and perhaps a few overzealous cultist true believers in retail management. The only other employees that blindly adhere to them are the natural slaves of retail who never question anything and are easily exploited like pawns.

What mystery shoppers and their nefarious puppeteers do not realize, is that they are not entitled to what they have decreed as the ideal shopping experience. Why? Since they are not genuine customers, mystery shoppers do not deserve to be treated like them. By misleading the employee as to their intentions and ultimately wasting everyone’s time, the mystery shopper is not acting in good faith. If the company demands employees that employees make genuine personal connections with shoppers (a demand which is inherently oxymoronic in itself,) this is not possible with the mystery shopper, because everything about the mystery shopper’s interactions is phony. The entire premise they present for their visit is a facade. They are there to spy on you, to trick you, to watch you, and ultimately to catch you in violation of some sacred creedo on a technicality.

An employee can often sense when someone is not genuinely interested and there are all kinds of reasons why they will be inclined to be less helpful. The mystery shopper may have a resting bitch face. They may appear like too much of a busybody. It may creepily show in their eyes that they are sizing the employee up and judging their every move. Truth be told, there are plenty of shoppers which give off such an annoying vibe, that an employee will prefer the customer would just go away, concluding that the person’s business just may not be worth the potential hassle of future customer service issues, inevitable returned merchandise, arguments over warranty, etc.

The worst part about being preyed upon by a mystery shopper though, is the lack of recourse. The employee has no opportunity to face his/her accuser and refute the mystery shopper’s claims. The report is filed, and management accepts the account provided by the mystery shopper uncritically. It doesn’t matter if the mystery shopper was grossly exaggerating, failed to take into consideration possible context or misperceived the entire course of events.

In conclusion, mystery shoppers are among the lowest forms of humanity, right down there with people who eat chips loudly in public places. Employees do not owe them anything but scorn. Retail employees have enough to juggle with in the form of genuinely shitty and irritating customers: middle-aged women that ask to speak to the manager, aging suburban wiggers attempting to shoplift, fat white men with neck tattoos and Star Wars t-shirts that talk shit because they don’t understand purchasing etiquette in the 21st century. The last thing the retail employee needs is a fake customer, whose sole purpose is to tattletale and document behaviors from the perspective of those with dubious motives and a limited understanding of the situation on the ground.

Skytrain to Nowhere

Available in Paperback here

and eBook (pdf) here

Skytrain to Nowhere is an imagination driven and esoteric volume of free-form poetry. The book documents the author’s experiences, thoughts and observations while riding the skytrain at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport over the period of several weeks. Since the skytrain is only designed to transport travelers between various terminals and parking facilities at the airport, someone spending nearly 50 hours riding it purely for recreation and artistic inspirational purposes is highly unusual (to put it mildly.) Aside from occasional quirky anecdotes about various passengers, the poems mostly deal with themes of motion, the passage of time, and nostalgia. The author grapples with these issues from a retro-futurist perspective. Skytrain to Nowhere celebrates the realization that our vitality hinges on our ability to always keep moving, while recognizing we are unwilling or unable to leave some things behind on the journey.

Purchase Skytrain to Nowhere on Amazon.

Off the Top

“Read old books” they say. Well, I went ahead, dug into my closet looking for some light reading and found an astrology paperback I picked up about 7 years ago from Half Price Books. It’s from 1975 and titled Off the Top. The author was a famed astrologer named Sydney Omarr (note that despite the Arabic sounding name, he was actually born Sidney Kimmelman and was Jewish.) Anyway, as you might imagine, I’m not a huge believer in astrology but have always been intrigued by it and favored the aesthetic over other religions. I do in fact believe that forces in the cosmos probably do affect us to some degree but in ways we have not yet been able to pinpoint with specificity and perhaps never will. I went through a phase several years ago when I was looking for 1970’s-80s astrology books mostly for the illustrations and laid back writing style they often featured. I even had a sterling silver, crab pendant necklace in honor of my own zodiac sign, Cancer. Having worn the necklace for about a year, I eventually lost it and have been too lazy to buy another one since.

When reading Off the Top, I sometimes felt reminded of that scene from Leaving Las Vegas when Nicholas Cage is looking at the sign for “The Whole Year Inn” but instead sees it as saying “The Whole You’re In.” I mention this because the book is mostly Omarr’s casual thoughts and ruminations about astrological signs, taken “off the top” of his head (or the opening paragraphs of his syndicated newspaper forecasts.) Off the Top might just as well be a euphemism for Out the Ass, depending on your point of view.

Amusingly, even in a light hearted book like this it only takes Omarr one paragraph into the book before he brings up the nazis and the holocaust, within the context of the role of astrologers played in WWII. However, this quickly leads into one of the more interesting parts of the book, which is a lengthy introduction featuring a fast-paced hodgepodge of favorable quotes and anecdotes about astrology relating to various public figures and personalities. Often the endorsements seem a little out of context but are interesting tidbits nonetheless. Among the first are a couple of quotations from Carl Jung:

“We are born at a given moment, in a given place, and like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season in which we are born.”

and

“Astrology represents the sum of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity”

The intro also has some rather ridiculous paragraphs from Omarr himself, noteworthy only for their chutzpah:

Becoming proficient in astrology demands knowledge of astronomy, history, mathematics,literature and psychology. Not all astrologers live up to the highest standards. Sadly, neither do all attorneys, physicians and educators. The key in this Space Age is to set aside preconceived notions, academic prejudice and aim toward progress. If astrology, among other subjects leads the way, so be it.

It also includes zillions of “factoids” which seem kind of far-fetched but which I don’t have the time or energy to research to verify their accuracy. Example:

Outbreaks of murder appear to be triggered by the moon tugging on “biological tides” within the human body, according to Dr. Arnold L. Lieber of the University of Miami medical school

You get the idea. The introductory portion actually goes on for over 30 pages, nearly 1/3 of the entire book.

Moving on to the actual signs, Omarr dedicates several pages to each one. They offer comprehensive and detailed overviews, written in a very entertaining, no-nonsense and matter of fact tone. Some statements are unintentionally, hilariously accurate, such as:

The United States is a Cancer nation and has been known to feed the world.

Being a Cancer myself, I got a kick out of how much time Omarr devotes to talking about how Cancer is a great cook and loves being in the kitchen. My own idea of “cooking” is to throw a brick of tofu in the microwave, add some cheese and grape seed oil vegenaise to it and presto! My home cooked meals for most of my 20’s to mid 30’s consisted almost exclusively of microwave popcorn and cheap wine. The late Sydney Omarr must have gotten the last laugh though when I realized he had me pegged after all:

The classical Cancer native has a tendency to repeat facts and deliver monologues. Members of this zodiacal sign savor childhood memories, even bitter ones.

I recommend this book, even though I’ve been somewhat critical of it and don’t take much of it seriously. It is written in a very entertaining style, and believe it or not I learned a few things I did not know (too many to mention actually.) It also does contain a few of the kind of 70s paperback illustrations and fonts which were the reason I purchased it, so I can’t really complain.