Sometimes, there’s no breakfast like cold pizza.
Back when I lived in the city, you could gauge the quality of takeout or delivery based on how well a slice stood up the next day after spending the night in the fridge. Feeding a hangover (the best, or just a step behind a bowl of Frosted Flakes soaked in beer), a good next-day pizza doesn’t retain the epicurean excellence from the previous night — that would be impossible — but actually takes on another flavor, something different and delicious. Cold pizza holds its own (if the hot pizza was wonderful to begin with) as one of the world’s great gourmet delights.
Once, I dated a woman who insisted on reheating her pizza; she’d wrap it up in aluminum foil and warm it up in the oven. Not me. First of all, I think the cheese gets rubbery and greasy, while the crust takes on a tooth-shattering consistency. Secondly, if it can’t be snatched directly from the fridge and scarfed without a second of crapulent self-consciousness, it’s not worth having.
Although there’s nothing remotely unwholesome about cold pizza, it still carries (for me) the hint of a dissolute lifestyle: up way too late, enjoying a loud night of the living dead then arising sometime near noon with the stumbling gait and outstretched arms of a creature seeking to feast on fresh brains — or a cold slice.
Eschewing nasty white powders and setting aside the obvious Demon Rum (“I woke up this morning, I got myself a beer,” Jim Morrison sang), cold pizza is the ultimate rock n’ roll breakfast.
Having said that, Little Steven’s Underground Garage is the cold pizza of radio, a slice of the airwaves devoted to bare-knuckled rock and roll that needs no reheating.
“Little Steven” Van Zandt (or “Miami Steve,” the shredding guitar player on Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band’s “classic era” work — also “Silvio” on The Sopranos) started his show in 2003 and I was a fan from the outset, enthralled by his encyclopedic knowledge of music. Furthermore, it was refreshing when, in an era of mostly homogenous radio programming, Van Zandt would follow up a cut by the White Stripes with “Papa Oom Mow Mow” by the Rivingtons, slide in something obscure by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, perhaps “Blue Straggler” by Electrelane and then rock into the commercial break with some Bikini Kill. It was, and is, an astounding show (still carried on about 150 stations nationwide).
In 2007, Sirius satellite radio picked up Van Zandt, his idea, and extended the show into a 24/7 format, bringing in an incomparable stable of talent to expand Little Steven’s muse. The result has been the most consistently intelligent and excellent channel on satellite radio. Oh, other channels might program exactly what the listener is tuning in for — Top 40, Light Jazz, Classic Country, Old Skool Rap, etc. — but Underground Garage never fails to surprise or astound (the exception being Chris Carter’s “Breakfast with the Beatles” show on Sunday mornings).
Usually, I’m an XMU listener, stuffing my ears with hipster credentials. XMU, of course, being the station for “college/indie” rock, the place where the more obscure, the hipper (“Odessa” by Caribou being my favorite single, at the moment). New Pornographers, Spoon, Dirty Projectors, et al, XMU is the place for the hip hugger and horn-rimmed glasses crowd (we of the noses buried in our laptops at the coffee shop set).
Underground Garage, on the other hand, is where I get my geek on. Back in the day, my nerdiness was satisfied by Dr. Demento and his hour or so of spinning classic novelty records, the weirdest of the weird. Unfortunately, the staying power of Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” or “Detachable Penis” by King Missile is intrinsically brief (although my kids adore Barnes and Barnes “Fish Heads”).
Not so with Underground Garage, as most of the cuts are classic, gems of the genre or cuts that influenced the form. I mean, where else are you going to find a fuzzed-out shouter by King Khan and the Shrines followed up by a lost B-side from the Shangri-Las?
Whereas Dr. Demento could be at times funny (if not goofy) and a little twisted (in an almost John Waters chintzy-slash-erudite kind of way), the listener relied on the Doctor’s personality to carry the show, to spice up yet another clever Weird Al parody.
The converse is true of the Underground Garage DJs. Including Little Steven, shows by Genya Ravan (from Goldie and the Gingerbreads), “Handsome Dick” Manitoba (former front man for the Dictators), Kim Fowley (who produced all kinds of superlative rock and roll as far back as the early ’60s, from “Alley Oop” to Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers to the Runaways) and some of the best FM radio talent on earth, provide the station with a breadth of knowledge that humbles this insufferable music snob (and causes me to drool at the thought of what their music collections must look like!).
My favorite show, however, is the morning show by Andrew Loog Oldham (who the hell names a kid Loog, anyway? Was he named after his Uncle Loog? Did his dad hawk one when the nurse asked for a middle name on the birth certificate?).
Anyway, Oldham was the Stones’’producer and manager from the beginning until the early ’70s, a bloke who, story has it, made Keith Richards look like a lightweight and looked down his nose when Brian Jones met his “death by misadventure” demise, a man of legendary, prodigious excess. Given his extremely checkered past — anyone who spent a great deal of time with the Stones had to have seen pretty much everything under the sun (with the exception of the staid Charlie Watts who, I think, was unfolded out of a large cardboard suitcase for gigs) — Oldham intersperses his programming with anecdotes that make Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas read like the memoirs of Mormon missionary working Utah (“Me and the blokes in the band were backstage at Max’s Kansas City, mixing cocaine into Cuba Libres and there were several sheep, a Croatian stripper and a mud shark … “).
While his shows tend a little too much towards Classic Rock bands (the one he managed, the Beatles, the Byrds, the Jefferson Airplane, et al) for my taste, he works in newer stuff, to brilliant effect: the Chesterfield Kings, Primal Scream, the Strokes, the Soft Pack… Oldham has a knack for creating the raucous mix that I can only imagine existed in the late ’50s as Wolfman Jack or Alan Freed spun records for the mere joy of having them heard.
Yet, with any DJ, I can tune into Underground Garage and leave it there (I’m listening now, Patti Smith’s “Stride of the Mind” followed by Butch Walker and the Black Widows “She Likes Hair Bands”), the mix is eclectic enough to hold my interest: Rockabilly, Blues, old R&B, Girl Groups, Punk, Psychedelia, Surf Music, British Invasion, New Wave, and, of course, Garage music across the continuum, disregarding decades or genre.
The true ethos of Rock n’ Roll has always been to just make some joyful noise, gritty and dirty, a bit smelly, and dedicated to fun; picture the carnie running the Tilt-a-Whirl as you board, taking your girl’s hand, while Lee Michael’s “You Know What I Mean” shakes the cage. It’s not (and has rarely been) suits standing around, looking at graphs and determining what “the kids” want to hear, although, hearing the latest Top 10 crap and the overuse of the vocoder, I’m disappointed and appalled, my faith in Rock n’’Roll shaken.
Unwilling to have my faith subsumed, I tune in Underground Garage. My salvation, my reaffirmation, my revival, it is a reminder that corporations haven’t stripped away everything that matters on this all-too-brief jaunt across the firmament.
Seedy, stinky, scary, the music on Underground Garage is everything that continues to cause the too-uptight to have something to point towards as the demise of their civilization, unaware of their continued irrelevance and the real cause of their demise — themselves.
Instead of pointing and talking, they should enjoy a slice of cold pizza.