Commercial-Free Cultural Wackiness

The Violence of Amateurs (Pretentious Dinosaur Records)

French TV

By Tim Roberts

French TV - The Violence Of Amateurs

I know a woman who was born and raised in France, and I asked her what the biggest difference is between American and French television. "Commercials," she snapped. "You have too many commercials on TV. Plus your news starts too early." She admitted, however, that she hasn't lived in France for more than a decade and knows that French broadcasting has become more commercial and less tax-based. In an era of global deregulation and decentralization of services, the world is slowly catching up to the American model of commercial broadcasting, which may not be a bad thing. Just think: if the networks and stations didn't sell their available time, how else could we have enjoyed those umpteen thousand years of Urkel?

You won't find commercial breaks (or traces of Urkel, praise Allah) in The Violence of Amateurs from Louisville's French TV. No short, ready-for-airplay tunes that will later sound pleasing when seeped through speakers in an elevator. Nothing hummable. Nothing that can be used in a karaoke machine. But what you will find is a wacky miasma of long songs with strange melodies, oddly paced rhythms and instrumentation ranging from the obvious (bass, drums, keyboard, guitar) to the bizarre (Hawaiian nose flute, doorbell, and quarter-inch jack). On your first listen, the influences are obvious: King Crimson's progressive bombast, Frank Zappa's stream-of-consciousness leaps from melody to melody, Carl Stallings' cartoon stingers. And with song titles that reference science, Soviet cinema and old comic strips, the work in Violence seems to say, "The entire culture is a playground. Let's go see if we can bury the swing set in the sandbox."

French TV consists of core members Mike Sary (bass), Dean Zigoris (guitar), Bob Douglas (drums) and John Robinson (keyboards). Also appearing are Splatch's Greg Acker on saxes and flutes, Eugene Chadbourne on banjo (Chadbourne will present a concert on October 1 at Artswatch), Cathy Moeller on violin, Steve Good and Aevil on clarinet and saxes, and several others. From this collective comes the opening polyrhythmic/polymelodic track "The Kokonino Stomp" (an appropriate anthem for the surreal Kokonino County, where the comic strip "Krazy Kat" took place). It is followed by "The Secret Life of Walter Riddle," which starts out as a march but jumps right into a segment that sounds like the music we would hear in the old Batman television show when he and Robin were thrashing the crap out of the villain-of-the-week's henchmen. It even contains a few stingers so you can paste "Pow!" and "Whap!" on your own mental TV screen. The title itself is a blend of two cultural morsels: Nelson Riddle, who composed the music used in "Batman," and James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," about a mousy man who frequently leaps in and out of a world of fantasy. Admit it there are times you wished you had Nelson Riddle's Bat-tunes playing in the background behind you, like when you lay a patch of rubber in your driveway or have face-off with your boss (and wished that he or she had a group of guys in black sweatshirts and wool hats to charge at you so you could make a few "Pows!" and "Whaps!" yourself).

The band also manages some surprisingly gentle jazz in "Mail Order Quarks" and finishes with the lengthy "Joosan Lost/The Fate," segmented into movements that are complete unto themselves, yet vaguely connected. Kind of like a night of Internet surfing.

It's all of the above and more. So unhook your brain. Tune in to French TV and The Violence of Amateurs.