gaylord fields has been in chickfactor-land for many years. we once gave him our old job at spin magazine in the grunge era (lucky him!), we share a great deal of good taste in music with the guy, and we forced him to write for timeout new york and of course chickfactor. he has been DJing at the fantastic freeform new jersey radio station wfmu for ages and he does this thing every year with yo la tengo — well, let him tell you about it… (interview by gail o)
chickfactor: what exactly is this whole yo la thing you do every year on wfmu?
gaylord: wfmu is a noncommercial radio station in the new york/new jersey area that derives its income, with rare exceptions, entirely from our listening audience. every year without fail since 1996, yo la tengo, with guitarist bruce bennett on hand as the honorary “fourth tengo,” has appeared on my show (or, when there’s been a scheduling conflict, we’ve taken over some other poor soul’s show) and performed requests suggested by the listeners in order to raise cash during our annual fundraising drive. the idea is that for a particular dollar amount, they will do a request of the caller, with the stipulation that it not be an actual yo la tengo song. the uncanny results of several of these sessions have been released as yo la tengo is murdering the classics, on their own egon label.
what is the point?
maybe the point for them is to atone for atrocties performed by the band members in their previous lives. but they also prostrate themselves for wfmu‘s audience to help raise funds for the station, which they have supported in so many ways throughout the years and for which we are eternally grateful.
is the record any good?
despite what ira has said in the press (and in the record’s liner notes and every other opportunity he gets), it really is — just be mindful that in no way does it resemble the yo la tengo we all know and love. keeping in mind they’re playing songs they’ve literally never attempted before and that they had maybe two, three minutes to devise arrangements for, the yo la tengoness shines though in even the most shambolic renditions. besides, they perform “meet the mets” (the theme song of my favorite baseball team) and “don’t worry, kyoko” (my second favorite yoko song). and if you’re still not sold on it, the three of them are beautifully drawn by graphic novelist adrian tomine on the cover, as am I — which fulfilled my lifelong goal of being rendered as a comic-strip character.
how long have you known them?
I’ve known ira and georgia for 20 years, when I moved into the house where they and hoboken musical impresario todd abramson (maxwells, telstar records) resided, at todd’s invitation. I was their housemate for six or seven years. I’ve known james since he joined the band a few years hence.
which one is the meanest?
I’ve witnessed georgia taking a hammer to a beauty parlor chair, which is the meanest act I’ve seen any of them perpetrate.
they’re all exceedingly humble without any right to be in my musical opinion, especially considering they now tour in a big bus that has not one but two videogame systems in it.
I’ve seen both ira and georgia in their pajamas, so they’re tied for the sexy prize. (sorry, james — but maybe this will be incentive to finally have that pj party where you show brigitte bardot clips and episodes of the magic johnson talk show.)
have you ever performed with yo la tengo? details please.
I can recall a few instances: the first was when todd and I did an on-the-air radio (wfmu, natch — before I was a dj there) phone-in duet on “farmer john” with them. the purpose was to test the setup for daniel johnston, who later gave his legendary phoned-in “speeding motorcycle” performance. I feel like I’m part of rock history for my contribution. another time, I sang a song during their encore at a knitting factory show — I don’t recall what it was. a third instance was when I sang the dictators’ “next big thing” with them at a show at maxwells in hoboken. I also participated in two of their world-renowned hanukkah shows. the first time, I sang two kiss songs — “strutter” and “calling doctor love” while standup comic todd barry banged on a drum in full peter criss makeup. the second was a dream come true — I performed a duet with lois, whose music I’ve admired for ages, on “je t’aime (moi non plus)” that was especially fun considering neither of us speaks a word of french! oh, have I mentioned that I can’t really sing?
are you a performer in your own right?
no, but people often confuse me with this guy called “the great gaylord” — he “sings” fifties-style screaming r&b. I hate his stupid grandiose name.
how long have you been a “mr dj man”?
while I’ve been doing radio at wfmu since 1992, I’ve only held the (purely honorary) title “mr dj man” since I was dubbed thusly by bob guccione jr circa 1996. radio is a great creative outlet for me, or at least doing freeform sets on wfmu is. if I had to cease doing it there, I probably wouldn’t do it at all. no, wait — I could envision myself doing one specific kind of formatted program somewhere else: I’ve on occasion played some easy listening/lounge/exotica/beautiful music sets on luxuriamusic.com and could see myself doing that on an irregular basis. as for discothèque dj gigs, from time to time I spin 45s at sixties soul dance nights.
what’s on heavy rotation right now?
as for old stuff — japanese gagaku (imperial court music), the lovin’ spoonful, ennio morricone and los shakers (because I dig fake beatles the utmost). way too much music from brazil, both old (like jorge ben) and new (such as marisa monte), is always part of my life’s soundtrack as well. I’ve recently emerged from a 1930s male crooners (gene austin, russ columbo, bing crosby, al bowlly) phase. also, I’ve just pulled out all my kirsty maccoll records, because I wish she were still alive to make music, so that’s what I’m reacquainting myself with next. as for what’s happening now, I listen to way too many swedish groups and can’t wait for the new concretes album after hearing their new post-victoria bergsman single “oh no.” and there’s a bossa nova song on the great new mary weiss record that was pretty much made for me!
you’re very snappily dressed for an indie rock dude. do you have any style advice for the gents?
fellas, iron those shirts! every ladyfriend I’ve ever had (including my wife) has given me extra credit for a) wearing pressed shirts, and b) ironing them myself. I’m strictly a button-down shirt wearer, because I like the timelessness of that look, but I sport the occasional steve mcqueen-inspired turtleneck for variety. I pretty much steer clear of the vintage gear or anything that evokes a particular era (my wife runs a vintage clothing shop — sorry, kathleen), with the exception of 1960s suits, which I prefer for some reason that’s most likely deep-seated and atavistic — probably a catholic school holdover.
any flirting tips, since you are known to be a huge flirt?
am I, really? that’s news to me! have you gals been comparing notes? well, eye of the beholder, I suppose. perhaps it’s that I really enjoy the company of women, and I think of myself as a good listener (as clichéd as that is), so take conversation seriously but have fun with it too. show off your sense of playfulness and humor, but don’t be a joke steamroller. also, always steer the conversation to how you like to iron your own shirts.
the broadcast is this friday march 16 at 8-11pm east coast us time — and yes, it’s streamed live at wfmu.org
photograph: kathleen o’malley