The cover of the original ‘Helter Stupid’ album, 1989
It seems unlikely that Negativland’s catalog will get the “super deluxe edition” treatment during my lifetime, so I have to make do with the super deluxe editions of their work that are already hiding in plain sight. Twenty-eight years ago today, Negativland’s Don Joyce dedicated a five-hour episode of his long-running Pacifica radio show Over the Edge to the group’s latest album, Helter Stupid, and its subjects, the Satanic panic and the related hysteria about backward masking in rock music.
The broadcast supplements the “Helter Stupid” side of Helter Stupid with hours of Negativlandized evangelical, tabloid, and crackpot nonsense from the PMRC years, along with a few phoned-in complaints from the Weatherman about “sewerage water.” (Not included: side two of the album, Dick Vaughn’s “The Perfect Cut,” a preemptive strike on the coming Seventies nostalgia craze. Who, other than Negativland, was working to prevent that?)
Ian Allen and Don Joyce of Negativland (via WFMU)
The germ of Helter Stupid was a bogus press release Negativland issued to announce the cancellation of a planned 1988 tour. It falsely implicated the band’s music in the real-life case of David Brom, a 16-year-old from Minnesota who murdered his parents and siblings with an axe. News reports indicated that Brom had argued with his father about a tape the teenager brought home; this, Negativland claimed, had been their own Escape from Noise, featuring “Christianity Is Stupid,” a song unloved by parents. From the detailed timeline of events in the album’s liner notes:
3/10/88 Negativland cancels the tour when it becomes apparent that the tour will lose money. The group decides to send their American label, SST Records, a phony press release for distribution which attributes the cancellation of the tour to pressure from “Federal Official Dick Jordan” who has advised the band not to leave town pending an investigation into the Brom murders. The press release implies that David and his parents had been arguing about Negativland’s song “Christianity Is Stupid” just prior to the murders. The NY Times article is distributed with the press release.
SubGenius saint Phineas Narco offers a crisp, high-fidelity copy of the enlarged Helter Stupid through Bandcamp. True, his edit of the show does not include Frank Zappa’s “Porn Wars,” because the Zappa copyright is guarded by moats, wolves, fire-breathing dragons, and lawyers. Nevertheless, there are at least three reasons you should buy this album from National Cynical Network: 1) It’s Phineas Narco’s birthday, and he is a righteous dude. 2) As he recently discovered, there is some heavy kabbalistic math at work in the price point of this particular record. You see, it retails for $8.48, after the digits of a venerable Northern California phone prefix. Less Bandcamp and PayPal fees, Phinny’s cut comes out to exactly $6.66. Hail Stupid! 3) In memory of Don Joyce, for sales of Helter Stupid: The Over the Edge Mix between December 19 and Xmas, Mr. Narco will donate half of his earnings to Negativland, or a charity of their choice. It’s a Christmas miracle!
Buy Helter Stupid for Phinny’s birthday fundraiser here.
Negativland on KPIX, 5/12/88:
‘Helter Stupid: The Over the Edge Mix’: