Something Good #85: Frame of Mind
For a long time, my friends and I were obsessed with a particular DJ mix we’d found online. Its exact origin and creator were, and remain, somewhat of a mystery. Nearly all the songs on it were new to us, and I was only familiar with a few of the artists. It came out of nowhere, and from the moment I first put it on, after being sent a link from my friend Grady, I had no doubt I would connect with it on a deep, molecular level. Indeed, it came to define and encapsulate a brief but luminous era in all of our lives. Even now, listening to the first few seconds of this mix seems to produce a change in my brain chemistry that transports me back to the lofts and living rooms and kitchens where we played it in on repeat.
I cherish the MP3 of this mix and will share it with anybody who asks, but I’m also happy to see that it still lives on Mixcloud more than 10 years after it was first posted. You can listen to it here as you read along.
The best works of art, DJ mixes included, can seem like portals to other worlds, to places that are real, or imagined, or that just exist in memories. This is the story, as best as I can tell it, of one of them, a DJ mix called Frame of Mind by a DJ named Tommyboy.
I used to be convinced, and may still be, that if I had a favourite genre of music it would be a cross-section of what was produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a nebulous era where everything seemed to be up in the air and where genre-bending artists were popping up like mushrooms after the rain and disappearing just as quickly. The rock of the 1960s had been definitely dispatched to “classic” status and left behind; everybody was still trying to figure out what to do post-punk, synthesizers were suddenly available and everywhere, Jamaican music’s impact was being felt everywhere outside the island where it was born, hip hop was bubbling up out of the Bronx, disco had risen and fallen, leaving beautiful ruins everywhere you looked… look, this era has been written about enough, I don’t need to give you a full primer.
What interested me the most was all the weirdo stuff that fell between the cracks. Deep cuts from one-hit wonder New Wave bands; italo tracks recorded by some guy who wandered into the studio off the beach and was never heard from again; flailing attempts by established artists to change course that resulted in embarrassment and accidental genius. You couldn’t put this stuff into any specific genre category, but mixed together they cast a spell on my serotonin receptors. (It probably has something to do with Giorgio Moroder’s NeverEnding Story theme imprinting italo disco on my young brain like an unwitting ornithologist approaching an orphaned duckling.)
That’s where the mysterious Tommyboy’s mixes come in for me, and Frame of Mind in particular. They exist in this twilight world of dance music where nobody seemed to really understand what they were doing. This particular mix was made at the behest of a music blog called International Tapes, which has been silent for five years now. As for the mixer, I know nothing about this DJ save for the fact that I think he lives, or lived, in Austin. His Tumblr hasn’t been updated in about a decade; messages to it, and his presumed Instagram page, have gone unanswered. All the download links are broken. And, sharing a name with a very well-known record label, he is practically impossible to google. But man, did he ever have a knack for reaching into the dustbin of record store history and emerging with fistfuls of gems, and then melding them into gleaming sonic artifacts.
The mix begins with that rarest of pop music devices, the fade-in. The song: the gently sleazy “Prisoner of My Principles” by an artist known as Coati Mundi. Coati Mundi embodies the erratic, creatively effervescent, polyglot world of music in New York in the 1970s and early ‘80s like almost no other. A self-taught vibraphonist, he linked up early with a singer and bandleader named August Darnell, one of my musical heroes, who himself deserves an entire newsletter of his own. First collaborating with Darnell in the much-sampled Latin disco act Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, and later the marginally better-known Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Mundi shared Darnell’s crooked sense of humour and penchant for pointed lyrics set to sweet tropical grooves. As an obsessive fan of Dr. Buzzard and pretty much everything Darnell created, from the gentrification-defying disco of Machine to the swinging Elbow Jones and the Racketeers, a deep, deep Coati Mundi cut got my attention immediately. Its swirling fade-intro brings you into the mix’s world like a ship circling a whirlpool.
We then mix into “I Love You (Miss Robot)” an album track from the Buggles, known only really well for their MTV-inaugurating track “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Like seemingly every other song written by a man in the 1970s, it is, (according to lyricist Trevor Horn), a song about feeling weird about a one-night stand. But with its vocoder-ed lyrics and wordless vocal melodies, it feels more like a dream of an imagined future. As does the following track, by a completely obscure italo act by the name of FG’s Romance (do artist names get more italo than that?), “What’s Love Today.” This track always feels like a precursor to Air’s “Surfing on a Rocket” to me… a musical invocation of a futuristic celestial herald.
Everything just blends together from there on in… Lonnie Liston’s Smith pleading, euphoric, “If You Take Care of Me”… Johnny Warman’s truly weird plea for global peace and unity, “I Love My Planet”… Altered Images’ sweetly melancholy “Love to Stay”… look, I can sit here and describe these songs all day, they are hardwired into my hippocampus, but I advise you to just listen.
I will say this, though. Sitting here trying to share my feelings about these 80 minutes of music suddenly feels very futile. Very few of you will understand the world it evokes for me, the highs and lows, the friends I’ve long lost and the places I can’t return to. What am I doing here?
But also—the music writing I’ve connected with the most is always an attempt to communicate those ineffable, personal feelings evoked with the art form most deeply intertwined with memory. What life is less without. Maybe this mix will meld with your experiences in a way that is unique and special to you.
The truth is, I can’t help feeling a real sadness tinged with my appreciation as I listen to it again. I’ll let you in on another secret: that lingering electric buzz I used to feel when I put on Frame of Mind has not quite disappeared, but it has faded so much that I have to listen very closely to hear it at all. It is strange, and sad, how something so evocative and bursting with emotional colour can dull with the passage of time.
Something I have noticed about memory and emotion and especially music is how it comes in waves. An old song might mean nothing to me one day, and another hit me with the force of a thunderbolt. Colours fade, and then return with full vividness without any warning. Towards the end of her life, my grandmother used to sing Yiddish songs she hadn’t heard in 80 years.
None of these feelings are ever lost, they just come and go like uninvited guests.
Enjoy the mix.
Frame of Mind track listing:
Coati Mundi – Prisoner of My Principles
Buggles – I Love You (Miss Robot)
FG’s Romance – What’s Love Today
Lonnie Liston Smith – If You Take care of Me
Fashion – You Only Left Your Picture
Tony Banks – By You
Johnny Warman – I Love My Planet
Seaside Lovers – Evening Shadows
Trevor Herion – Love Chains
Sandii – Zoot Kook
Eurythmics – I Did It Just The Same
Nevia Preex – Fly Robin Fly
Tamiko Jones – Tamiko’s Groove
Rod Stewart – Passion
Hiroshi Sato Feat. Wendy Matthews – Say Goodbye
Altered Images – Love to Stay
Laid Back – Fly Away
Dhuo – Walking
Missing Persons – Surrender Your Heart
Vanity – Romantic Voyage
Bonus short: A movie I made around, and about, the time when I listened to this mix on nonstop:
This week’s #nojacketsrequired comes via my old friend Natasha Pickowicz. At an event for her wonderful new cookbook, More Than Cake, I couldn’t help but notice a warm yellow binding under the dust jacket. Removing the jacket, I found this wonderful embossed cover. Natasha has very sympatico feelings as this newsletter when it comes to covers, and she was justifiably proud of the inner design. Go buy her book if you have a chance, and as always, send your discoveries to me at email@example.com.
Every once in a while I’ll send you Something Good. Our book club spinoff, Barely a Book Club, is still spinning. We’re onto our second book, Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, and there is still plenty of time to join us. You can check out the kickoff post here:
Otherwise, if you like what you read here, please feel to tell a friend or subscribe below. And if you have any particular mixes to share that mean something to you, I’d love to hear about them.