Sunday, August 20, 2006
Any Major Dude Will Tell You.....Departmentstore Santas LP & The Legacy Of Joseph D'Angelo, Part 1
It never rains when it pours. Ain't that the old saying? First I win 40$ on the lottery, then down the Acme they give me a dozen eggs for free 'cause they wouldn't go through the scanner & once home I get a phone call from my old Choate amigo, Taters Gwinnett ( a direct descendant of Declaration Of Independence signer, Button Gwinnett). Man.....me & Taters, you should have seen us! We sure raised some hell back in our prep school days. It's a wonder we's still around to laugh about it. I won't presume to bore you w/details, after all, it weren't just a catchin up call anyways. Taters had been keepin track of the Blog & got himself involved at some place that works for Peter Buffett-of the philanthropic Buffett family- & he was tellin me that they was lookin to unload some moola towards music 'n writin arts & that he felt Siltblog might be in the runnin if I did somethin "in depth". "You can keep it obscure" he advised me, "just be sure to follow through. We don't need to read about Steely Dan or any such nonsense." That Taters! A card to the end. So we brainstormed for a couple minutes till I said somethin about the Departmentstore Santas. I explained that the Santas lp has become maligned as the "go to" lp some scribes scratch about when they can't accurately describe disparate releases, whether they's any count or not (mostly not). Then there's 3 other lp's from 3 different bands, all've which featured (presumably) head honcho Joseph D'Angelo that're worth mentionin, if for no other reason than as a caveat. I'd write it as a four parter, starting w/the Santa's lp then go on about Guy Goode & The Decentones, Friends Of Ghost & Family Pet. Taters seems to think it might be the kind've topic that could coax a pen into signin a check. "Woodbe", he said, "I knew I could count on you. Do it! In the immortal words of Bart Giamatti to Pete Rose, 'take us back to the beginning'. Let's see what you've got." And w/that he hung up. No goodbye, no nothin. But then he never was one for mushy sentiment.
My experience w/Departmentstore Santas lp goes back to the mid 80's when I was workin out near Chico, CA on a farm, shakin walnut's & date's outta trees. Ever now & then I'd get into town to have a look around Melody Records & one particular day I came across this unique lookin album w/a full bleed, full color cover of a street fair or boardwalk scene. Up in the corner was a rectangle w/'Top T Shelf' written inside. On the outside plastic was a red sticker what read "Departmentstore Santas lp. Includes 'Kaleidoscope." The back cover was equally bewilderin; another full color bleed w/two losers at the horse track that read "we have lost something special".I didn't have any idea what I was holdin, but my gut told me not to put it down, so I bought it. Once back in my quarters, I proceeded to give it a few spins & admire the dazzling artwork 'n packaging. Besides the stunning cover, the inner sleeve was a printed diecut on both sides, givin all the pertinent info + the label was a 4 color job as well! Somebody had spared no expense on just makin the packagin for this thing. I got a gander at the spine & read the lp's title for the 1st time; "At The Medieval Castle Nineteen 100-Year Lifetimes Since." I took a long pull on a cold Anchor Steam, sat back & let myself be absorbed. The music certainly was strange, at least considerin the time frame. Most peoples around me was into Husker Du, Minutemen or Replacements. There was the Paisley Pop & it's aftermath stirrin. And the Sonic Youth, Swans, Big Black thing had legs too, but these Santas fella's were about as far away from all've that as anyone could possibly be. I was intrigued. They seemed completely contained in their own vacuum, a playful mix of quirky, exotic pop, a smattering of introspective psychedelia & a nod toward hippie folk, it's a record that get's around via it's own gravity for sure. Back then all's I could think of what it sounded like was an imaginary "lost" lp from the Straight catalog that could've existed between Alice Cooper's 'Pretties For You' & Judy Henske/Jerry Yester's 'Farewell Aldebaran'. Nowadays-what w/all the various reissues of lost "classics"-it's easy to draw a direct line of Cali weirdness (plus/minus affectations 'n idiosyncrasies) from West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, to Bobby Brown, to ________, to Departmentstore Santa's whether it exists or not. I remember goin back to Melody a few days afterwards to see if I could get a few copies to take back East & the clerk told me there weren't no more distribution for it. Seems the place they'd come from in SF had gone belly up & he had no way to track it down. Despite all the personnel, titles & whatnot that was listed on the inner sleeve, there was no address to be found.It was to become, for all intents, a real "lost" album. A few yrs after this lp's discovery by the cognoscenti, a buddy of mine became obsessed w/trackin one down, investigatin all possible angles as to how to smoke it out. He surmised that the label # (Top In Shelf Records 92041) might in fact be a zipcode. He decided to call Information & those numbers did indeed match one in Cali. Then he was able to connect it-remarkably- to the name Joseph D'Angelo & got a phone number. It looked like he was onto something. The phone rang & in time, was answered. Yes, said the voice on the other end of the line, his name was Joseph D'Angelo. Next question: was he ever in a band called Departmentstore Santas? "What?!", was the bewildered reply, "what kind of a name is that? Where are you calling from? What's the weather like where your at"?, & on & on. Seems he was just an older gent & a victim of coincidence. The trail was cold again.
In the 20 yrs since I 1st heard this lp, it don't seem as strange as it once did. Maybe w/all that's come since that purports or is deigned weird 'n similar by others has helped erode some of it's oddball allure. Yet it remains a pillar of single minded vision & a true testimonial to getting-it-all-done in spite of costs incurred. You might say it is lavishly DIY.I firmly believe the reason it's never been bootlegged is because to do a run that would be identical to the original would cost a small fortune to reproduce. And while a cd version might suffice, well, something special would indeed be lost in the transfer. I'm not sayin it shouldn't happen, but that's up to the band or some feisty swampfox to see it through. Perhaps it's downloadable out there in the internet, who knows? Could be that there's a pile of'em sittin in a warehouse somewhere's, just waitin to be discovered & that this article could be the linchpin to settin'em free. You wish! I will raise my glass & toast to a remarkable record & group of individuals who are responsible for one of the true headscratchers to come down the pike. Hopefully some day more of you readin this will get a chance to know what I'm talkin about. Until then.....keep snoopin!
Next up is Guy Goode & His Decentone Orchestra 'There Are No Clean People' lp. The apple don't fall far from the tree. Yet.
Just got an email from Will Soderberg informin me he has a Departmentstore Santas & Joseph D'Angelo website for all to peruse. Go to; www.white-rose.net/dss/