Slipcue E-Zine: Belle and Sebastian's Disasterous Encounter With A Yank

This is a story about me. A pretty boring subject, I agree, but it's still the best I have to offer. Actually, it's a story about how I "discovered" Belle & Sebastian about two seconds before the rest of America, and how later, when I actually met the band, I made a miserable fool of myself, due to my low social skills. This same story gets told in similar, but less self-referential terms in an article written for The East Bay Express newspaper... Or, you can try the wanky "me, me, me" version below...

In my brief and spectacularly unglamourous career as a college radio Music Director, I was steadfastly dedicated to one principle: don't try to be cool. My most grievous failing in this regard came in the Spring of '96, when Belle and Sebastian's Tigermilk LP found it's way into my "in" box at KALX Command Central, and we became the first station in the US to chart the wee waifish lads and lassies from Glasgow...

Apparently, several years earlier when future Belle songwriter and wispy pop pin-up Stuart Murdoch had been living in San Francisco, he met one of KALX's more outgoing DJs, Nommi De Plume, who cheerfully invited him to come play on her show. Murdoch brought his guitar to the station, strummed it and sang, they all had a good time, and that was that. Or so one would would think. It seems Stuart, being properly raised in a civilized country (the UK), remembered her hospitality and thought it appropriate to send her (and the station) copies of the fabled first album, once the Belle band fell into place. So, that's how I -- the most uncool man in the history of college radio -- was the unwitting beneficiary of Nommi's gregarious nature.

At any rate, a package from overseas was always something noteworthy at KALX, and accordingly I set the package aside while I plowed through the Korn promos, hip-hop 12"s, and press releases for fake country bands. Then, distracted and slightly frazzled, I finally got around to opening the mailer from Glasgow.

"Oooohh, pretty", I thought, as I gazed apon the lovely album art, and said to myself, "I'll take this one home and listen to it myself..."

Naturally, being harassed and harried by a zillion record label publicists, and having buried my turntable under a landslide of fake country records and "alternative rock" press releases, it took me a while to turn my attention to poor little old Tigermilk... When I finally did (six weeks later), I was, of course, completely enchanted. "It's all Nick Drake-y and Sarah Records-y, but not completely wispy and wimpy," I thought. "He's actually writing real songs, and they actually sound distinct from one another... and what's going on with that glam/maybe-gay undercurrent? And why am I compelled to listen to this again... and again?"

I pretty much figured I was onto a good thing. Now, the thing you have to understand about my station, KALX, is that we're sort of considered a bastion of free-form radio programming. Not free-form as in, "we only play stuff you can't hear on commercial stations", or free-form as in, "we have a gal who's on early Sunday morning who plays acoustic blues records, and a guy after that who plays reggae..." but rather, free-form as in, "every KALX dj is expected to play at least 4 or 5 distinct styles of music within every show they do, and you are always expected to challenge yourself and your audience..." Real free-form programming is a pretty challenging task, and of course it leads to complete disaster almost as often as it leads to enchanting moments of pure magic. The parameters of KALX's format are left vague on purpose (to encourage individual brilliance and to maintain freedom of movement...), but once I seized the reigns of power I decided that I should extend this laissez-faire philosophy to my duties as Music Director. Most people, when they get the chance to be a public radio MD or Program Director, take it as their cue to "make their mark" and start bossing other programmers around and dictating what should be in "heavy play" and the like... KALX didn't have any of the typical mechanisms for making people play certain artists, and it was left completely up to the DJs to pick their own material -- my job was just to open the mail and make sure the records got reviewed and out into the library in as timely a manner as possible... And to answer all the phone calls by paid publicists who were all grumpy that they couldn't hornswaggle me into "making a record happen" on KALX.

Anyway, that's how I got thrown into the orbit of Belle & Sebastian. I was briefly pen-pals with the folks at Jeepster Records, I got on the band's Christmas card list, and watched with amusement as the rest of indie-dom went ga-ga over the band. I also kept my copy of the original LP, and resisted the temptation to sell it at extortionary rates on the London record market. Might come in handy some day, right? Anyway, about a year or two later, I made it overseas to visit glamourous Glasgow and was introduced to Belle & Sebastian through a mutual friend... Here's the story as I remember it...

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