Friday, February 13, 2009

Why Is Erika Anderson's Office Such A Mess? (2004)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb. 13 - This originally appeared in the Spring 2004 KSPC Program Guide.

WHY IS ERIKA ANDERSON’S OFFICE SUCH A MESS?

Anderson, the 22-year old KSPC music director from Sioux Falls, SD, blames everyone but herself in this matter, and her arguments almost hold water. A lot of records are released (200,000 + CD titles last year, nearly 750 million units), each record demands a dignified hearing, the cleaning crew “have it out” for her and so on and so on. It’s a heartbreaking tale of toil and anti-midwesterner discrimination (until, of course, one considers the outrageous clutter of her Hyundai V6).

The office in question is part of the larger KSPC complex, housed just opposite the gamelan room in the bomb-shelterish basement of Thatcher Music Building. Anderson is here on a Wednesday afternoon, surveying the day’s debris. A woman’s voice can be heard practicing scales down the hall. Two postal cartons of padded mailers compete for floor space with several overflowing trash bins and small stacks of snacks and promotional materials. CDs are everywhere. She tries to explain her filing techniques. “This pile is ‘freaks’”, she says. “This is ‘metal’.” Over a larger mass of several hundred disks she waves her hand like a magic wand - as if this motion could somehow make it all go away – saying “this is stuff that promo companies send me.”

There are gems for the diligent. Anderson plays bits from the week’s catches; 1) Nellie McKay’s “Get Away from Me” (Sony) in which the artist rambles for minutes at a time before each track, 2) Diane Marie Kloba’s conga-heavy “I Kid You Not” (Striped Shirt records), 3) Andrew Octopus’ enigmatic “Time Travel Is Possible” (self released). The stereo - a Stanton STR8-80 turntable, a Technics receiver, something called a “Rolls” CD player - has the hand-me-down look of a 13 year old girl’s hi-fi.

Two rooms over can be found weathered KSPC playlists from 1967 (Doors, Jackie Wilson, Joan Baez), and 1976 (Chick Corea, Uriah Heep, Paul Butterfield) that hark back to the days when radio was innocent. Above us, higher than the fire hazard promotional ceiling danglies and the two stories of Thatcher Music Building above that and the gorgeous southern California midday sky even beyond that, the liver-colored nipple of Janet Jackson hangs heavy over all of modern broadcasting. A single slipped cuss before 9:59 PM can, under proposed FCC guidelines, net the station upwards of a half million dollars in fines. Music Director is the first, best line of defense against the S and F words that creep into our nation’s independent music supply. It is a high pressure position.

A young intern named Gregor enters, and he says there’s still space for my article in the Program Guide if I can get the piece to him by Monday. But where will he fit? There’s no room in this office. Computers and fax machines hog the three desks that have been barbarically stuffed into this 5’ by 8’ cupboard of a workspace. It is impossible for anyone to turn around with knocking over CD jewel cases. When I suggest she should get some shelves, Anderson replies, sadly, “I should get some shelves.” And yet this poses its own problems. Where could a shelf fit that some bit of station history wouldn’t be obliterated? The walls are covered in stickers, drawings, promo posters (The Pop Group, Delta 72, IQU, US Maple) and promo photos (Lightning Bolt, Quiet Riot, Wolf Master, Josh Holmes Band). Taped to the east wall, a letter from a J____ of Tucson, AZ, informs us that he has “landed back in jail over some murder charges” and wants his notes read over the air, on a now defunct heavy-metal show; “A reign of darkness is in the boiling, and the spirits are craving to witness a metal onslaught like never before known, let the skies darken from the wings of demons and the rivers run red from the sheeple [sic?] of society.”

The phone rings, a curious two-tone bell that sounds like someone has left the door open on a particularly fruity European automobile. This is bad. Phone calls are often from uphappy publicists who, already maddened by the crushing futility of their profession, now have to suffer the indignity of Anderson politely “passing” on yet another of their releases. The scorned try to work in quick jabs before they can be dispatched. Answering is a thankless task.
“You start to second guess your judgments,” Anderson explains. “Things start to sound the same, or you start judging a CD by its cover.” She examines a random promo with distaste. “Sexist and bad crap gets tossed.” She places this disk discretely in the “for next semester” cabinet.

“It’s not about music, it’s about… meta music” she continues, again waving her hand in that wishful Clutter-Be-Gone motion. “It’s about what compels this particular person to have made this particular recording.” She stops for a moment, seemingly hypnotized by the shiny bedlam at her feet. There is a sigh. “Only 10 to 20 women musicians in this entire pile.”

A commotion in the lobby. We find a campus groundskeeper holding a single pink rose. “You looked so sad when you got out of your car this morning”, he explains to a motionless Anderson. I take this as my cue to exit, hurrying back down the long hallway of overheard prodigies and locked tuba cabinets. I emerge back on the sunny street, ready to reenter the sheeple of society, none the wiser.