All Our Yesterdays 39
by Harry Warner Jr.
Let me start by pleading my case. I think fanzines today are better than they’ve ever been, on average, even if the finest ones lack the glamour and patina that age has conferred on famous fanzines of the past. There has never been a time when fandom produced anything resembling the number of fine fanzine artists active today. The scholarly type of fanzine writing is a new phenomenon which will get more of the praise it deserves when fandom grows more accustomed to thinking while reading. I don’t see any degeneration in the character or behaviour of the average fan today when I compare him with the fans of the past, and he shows more timebinding ability today than his elders ever did. So, if I recognise the good things about fandom today, may I be excused for thinking wistfully about just one minute phase of fandom in the past? I don’t find fans today doing the creative things with their tape recorders that they achieved when tape was a comparative novelty.
I’ve been reviewing some of my tape archives. Some of the things in them were as fine as memory insisted they were. Maybe I’m unaware of some tape recording feats of the last few years, but I get the impression that fans are using their tapers nowadays principally to correspond, to preserve the sound that comes from record players or television sets and to exchange dubbings of old radio programmes, plus some collecting of speeches, panels and similar events at cons.
A good example of what fans aren’t doing today is the faanish satirical tape productions that were emerging from Cheltenham and Liverpool about a dozen years ago. They were exceptional, hard to distinguish from professional ventures in any way. In fact, I still haven’t figured out how certain effects were achieved with the resources available to the fan groups in those British areas. Dubbing from them enjoyed a limited circulation in this country, but I don’t think many people in the United States have yet heard my favourite. It’s a tour de force derived from three sources: the United States presidential race of 1960, TAFF and the innuendoes that were arising from TAFF and some lively feuding then in progress in British fandom.
This was a Cheltenham production. It’s put together like a fine watch, in the form of BBC coverage of an Ashworth-Bentcliffe-Sanderson TAFF race. Reporters give breathless details of the progress of voting from different parts of the British Isles, with painstaking differentiation of background hubbub every time a new city reports in. Some of the humour would be unintelligible to newer fans, like the excited announcement that Liverpool fandom has just case 300 votes for Bentcliffe, a stunning surprise development. (The shock results from the fact that only 60 fans were eligible to vote in that city, a nasty allusion to vote-buying charges that had been heard in previous TAFF campaigns.) Sanderson is cast as villain of the piece, so bitingly that Pittcon attendees were deprived of a chance to hear this tape. (The only recorder at the con capable of playing this tape belonged to one of |Sandy’s best friends and nobody was willing to risk it.) One climax comes with the tumultuous arrival of William Makepeace Harrison, a then-celebrated character in British fanzine fiction modelled after the old Edwardian adventure novels in the Doyle tradition, with the deciding TAFF vote. Whoever spoke his lines gave an uncannily accurate imitation of Churchill’s voice and rhetoric. The vote goes to Bentcliffe, and then comes what I still can’t figure out: what sounds like hundreds of voices singing a triumphant campaign song for Eric. Someone tried to tell me it was done with sound-on-sound techniques, but it doesn’t impress me as the kind of sound you get with that method, and besides, this explanation doesn’t clear up the mystery of how the Cheltenham fans managed to accompany the choir with what sounds like a very large symphony orchestra.
John Myers Myers’ Silverlock is a book that had a tremendous vogue in fandom a few years back. I don’t think it’s often discussed today, but I own a lasting proof of how much it was admired by some fans, in the form of musical settings of some of the poetry interspersed in that roman a clef. Ted Johnstone and Bruce Pelz do the singing, apparently accompanying themselves on the guitar. Their lusty voices fit very nicely with the folk-type settings which were worked out for the Myers stanzas. I’m a little vague about the composers, but I think they did most of it, with some help from Karen Anderson and Gordon Dickson on either the melodies or some extra verses for the shorter Myers poems. Little John’s Song particularly intrigued me, for the ingenious delays introduced into its meter to elevate the melody above the level of the obvious. Larry McCombs sings one of the songs on this little tape in an eerie high tenor.
Some fans made real productions out of ordinary tape correspondence. Perhaps the leaders in this respect were Jean Linard, a pioneering French fan and his wife Anie. They evidently wrote a script before answering a correspondence tape, to make sure that they would cover all the matters that interested them in a succinct and interesting way, sometimes including special effects. In fact, Jean once confided to me that he felt a certain amount of resentment every time he mailed a correspondence tape to a fan, because he didn’t think it quite fair for the recipient to destroy all his work by erasing the tape in the course of recording the answer. Curiously, all this hard work didn’t destroy the informal quality of tape correspondence with the Linards. I saved one of their voice letters, maybe for the egoboo it provided. I’d tried out my French the last time I sent them a tape, and the comments they made in reply were absolute proof that they had understood what I was saying. Anie wasn’t too skilled in English, but she had the knack of remembering my limitations and held her speaking pace down to about 200 words per minute when speaking French to me. Jean rattled on at three or four times that pace, except when he was suddenly inspired to toss in a word or phrase or entire sentence in English, which he could speak very well. (He always had to correct his pronunciation of my name, which he would give correctly when he wasn’t thinking about what he was saying. Then he would immediately correct himself and call me War-nair so American delusions about how Frenchmen mispronounce names would be riddled.) I wish I knew what happened to the Linards, who were active before fandom had really sprung up in France. He was publisher of Meuh, an indescribable fanzine, and wrote even more fantastic letters. Anie looked and sounded like Mea Farrow, as far as I could determine from the tapes and photographs, although Jean was also a camera fan who diverted himself by sending out photographs of his wife which gave her three eyes or an upside down nose or a triangular head. Unfortunately, Jean suffered a breakdown, I believe the marriage later broke up, and I haven’t heard a word about either for many years.
Wouldn't it be fine, every time a big city produced a famous fan group, if they all got together and chatted to a tape recorder for an hour or so, enabling posterity to gain some idea of how they were before gaifation and migration and other troubles ended the municipal golden age? It probably hasn't happened too often, but it did in Los Angeles when practically everyone who was anyone in the early 1960's created a tape not meant for me but which eventually landed in my house through a complicated set of circumstances. Everyone was in fine humour, particularly Bjo. Rotsler wasn't there, but they were reminiscing about some of his artistic feats which are as hopelessly vanished as the famous Picasso sketch in the sand in the Bradbury story. They were the drawings he had made on barebacked feminine fans at a recent con, such as the one which depicted a Rotsler woman carrying a sign lettered "Phone for rates." Bjo, the possessor of the finest giggle I've ever heard in fandom, also told a wonderful account of a mysterious attack of hiccups because they were spaced exactly two hours apart, instead of the customary rate of several per minute, and a companion had embarrassed her by remarking after a hiccup in public: "Well, it must be 10:30." I think it's the voice of Perdue that tells on this tape about a pet dog that jumped through a plate glass window to demonstrate its hatred of postmen and speculates on the sales potential if someone started to produce a Mailman brand of dogfood.
I've saved some tapes because they rounded out my mental picture of fans whom I knew otherwise from letters and fanzines. Particularly precious is a substantial hunk of tape containing the voice of Walter Willis. WAW always claimed that much of his popularity as a fanzine writer came from the pain he took with his manuscripts, writing carefully and later revising and rewriting. But this tape proves his ability to be wise and witty on an ad-lib basis. He tells how he felt somehow guilty and imagined he was some kind of inverted bore because someone had made a tape for him at a party and had called certain fans away from the hilarity two or three separate times to say hello to Walt. WAW also explains on this tape something I don't recall seeing in print about his speaking style, which isn't the accent we normally associate with Irishmen. He used to have a strong Belfast accent, he says, then went to a public school (the UK equivalent of US private schools) where part of the education consisted of driving out regional influences on his speech. When he left that school, he felt homesick for his old style of talking, and now his accent is frozen midway between Belfast and the public school. Curiously, this tape contains the earliest example known to me of a fan expressing interest in golden age radio. Short-wave stations in this country (USA) used to send all the network programmes overseas and Walt loved them. Then the Voice of America took charge and began producing its own programmes aimed specifically at other nations. And so, perhaps 15 years ago, while the golden age was still gleaming faintly in this country, an Irish fan was longing for its great radio era as ardently as Americans have done in recent years.
A special curiosity is the first and probably the only issue of a Japanese tape fanzine. The group that published UCHUJIN as a Japanese fanzine decided to try to make themselves better known in the United States. The sound quality on this tape is not very good, because Japan's 50-cycle electricity created dubbing problems. But it's worth the effort of listening closely to hear such unexpected things as a 17-year-old feminine fan whose name sounds like Shelko Hira singing a cappella "Swanee River". Various Japanese fans give little talks about their activities or hopes for world peace, and there's a lengthy story by a writer named, I think, Hoshi, read by the translator whose name might have been Saiosho, with the help of a girl who spoke a few lines of dialogue.
There also seems to have been more effort years ago to put onto tape the most extreme audio rarities in fandom, the recordings made on disc or wire before tape recorders came into general use. I can't remember who sent me one precious reel of tape which contains dubbings of some remarkable things. There's another Japanese relic, a recording made commercially by Burton Crane. He wasn't well known in fandom, but he dabbled in it as a result of his interest in mundane apas and his friendship with Helen Wesson, who has long hovered between mundane and fantasy apas. Butron was a New York Times employee who was stations in Japan and moonlighted with some success as a singer. I don't know whether the song is Japanese or American in origin. He sings one chorus in Japanese, the other in English, to a very western tune that sounds something like a polka. If you know a song containing the lines "Glorious, glorious, one keg of beer for the four of us," that's the one Burton recorded. Also on the tape, one of the few surviving examples of the voice of Francis T. Laney, who was cutting a disc with Charles Burbee's help for Redd Boggs. It includes a probably unpublished anecdote about Al Ashley and the Hypnotic Ad, an odd reference to a man with shiny fingers that is new to me, and the story of the time Walter J. Daugherty tried to use an hourglass at a LASFS meeting. I haven't decided yet if Laney was using a fannish expression I know nothing about or a mundane term when he called something "strictly henhouse."
I made one unnerving discovery when I was renewing my acquaintance with these archives. Some fo the tapes have become quite brittle. Like most fans, I have no scientific method for storing tapes, and they have been subjected to hot summer temperatures and chilly winter days in a semi-heated bedroom under whatever humidity nature provided. If you have any rare old fannish tapes, I recommend dubbing them onto new tape the first time you have access to a second recorder to save yourself endless trouble splicing broken ends of tape as the substance deteriorates further in futre years. So far I've found no evidence that the immortality which old fanzines seem to possess also extends to unique copies of fannish tapes.
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
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