Don Campau "Pinata Party " ( Lonely Whistle 1987)
Maybe it’s pretentious to offer one of my own tapes as an example of a “classic” tape from the past but for me, “Pinata Party” was a signpost and emblematic of the entire home taping community for me at the time. This was my first mail music collaboration and it was a huge, labor intensive project that was also highly personal and autobiographical.
This release was two, sixty minute cassettes with collaborations by Greg Gray, The Campau Kids ( Nicole, Kevin and Caity) ,Dino DiMuro, James Hill, Ken Clinger, Mark Hanley, Brian Conroy, Allen Dancer, and John Hayden. Some of these people played live with me in the garage studio and others exchanged tracks through the post.
I had been recording solo material in late 1986 with my drummer and friend Greg Gray for a follow up to my tape, “Paralyzed By The Very Thought” and the idea to get some of my new , home taper friends to make some songs with inspired me to also cut backing tracks for them to play with. Since I had never done this before and everyone had different recording equipment I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work.
Greg and I taped some rhythm tracks and I also cut some solo tracks as well. To Ken Clinger, I sent tracks on cassette. To Dino, James and Mark I sent 7” open reel tapes because I knew they had open reel recorders like me.
In the meantime I was still making solo songs that included all of my kids who were quite young at the time. In fact, my son Kevin’s birthday wasn’t far away and then the concept of “Pinata Party” came to me. The idea of unexpected treasures exploding out of a struck paper bird seemed symbolic of what I wanted to do musically.
Later, we actually had the Pinata Party in our backyard with Kevin hammering the pinata ( which was actually in the shape of a guitar) into pieces and the candy flying everywhere.
For the packaging, I used the actual broken confetti of the pinata and tucked it inside the plastic strawberry containers I took from work in the produce department. I crammed in the two tapes, added candy, stickers, little toys and what ever else I had laying around.
Then, I packed it all in a brown paper lunch bag and mailed it that way. I made between 100-200 of them this way but later had to abandon this lavish mailing and just mail out the tapes in a regular envelope.
The cover for this two tape set was created by Peter Blind, an artist I had known for many years and who had done work for us on the 1971 record album by our group, The Roots Of Madness. The entire package was designed by Doug Cruikshank who had also worked with me on my previous two tapes and I had been friends with since the early 1970’s when we both worked at KTAO in Los Gatos, California.
I used the same art work for both tape covers but changed the paper color slightly to differentiate the two.
Pinata Party Tape One
Pinata Party> introduced at the very start by Kevin Campau, this funky workout has Greg on drums and a catchy sing-a-long chorus.
Stupid Stinkin’ Day> is a duet with me and my son Kevin who also some out of time percussion. Kevin was five years old at the time.
Messalina> I had recorded some slinky rhythm tracks which also included trumpet and percussion work by my friend John Hayden. Then I sent this all to trumpeter, James Hill who laid down a beautiful solo on top.
Doing A Show> an interlude by my daughter, Nicole who was about ten at the time.
What’s The Reason?> I think this was the first song that Dino and I ever did together and although sort of muddy after all the overdubbing it came out pretty good with Dino morphing it into something I did not expect.
Dinga La Te: some turntable craziness that recalled some of the tracks on “Paralyzed” and “Variety Show”.
Tug> a fake commercial written and delivered hilariously by Nicole.
Don’t Hold Back> A soulful home taper rave up with Greg on drums and Mark Hanley on bass. It’s about going all out and not looking back.
Joey Roo Goes Dancing> The first taste of Ken Clinger’s influence on this work is a real classic and sends this tape into a different dimension. Ken’s unique vision gives the entire release a nice balance and playful feeling.
Free Again> with Dino who wrote the words ( and added instruments) and then after I got the recordings back added background vocals.
Glass Full Of Water> A solo song with a nice sounding tone on my guitar. If you listen closely you can start to hear the foreboding sound of my nervous breakdown to come a couple years later.
Thai Stick Celebration> I took an instrumental song from a great album of Thai music and I simply layered electric guitar over the top. I always dreamed of having a band like this.
Man Is> a wonderful , short ditty by Nicole. Nicole also recorded a couple of solo tapes over the years as well.
Already Quiet> a solo acoustic song in which I wanted to bring forth the sound of a romantic notion of Spain or of love sought.
Tape One, side two
Before The Neighbors> A snide look at suburbia with some tasty trumpet by James Hill over the top. Also features me playing , “Big Bird” a doll one of the kids had from Sesame Street.
Life With Mary Mayhem> Another story-song by Ken Clinger and her tragic ending after being a vegetarian spy.
Parking In The Backlot> a Hollywood insiders look at the fake streets of the movie sets and the actual reality that comes with it. Put forth by Dino’s alter ego, Poindexter Holloway.
Mystery Of The Hemphill> a bumptious,Yamaha autochord backing track ride salvaged by some incredible trumpet work by James Hill, whose real name is Hemphill.
His Sisters Feet> one of the sub contexts of this time was a book by Kraft-Ebbing on psychosexuality. Here Ken invokes some weird keyboards over the twisted reading.
Gobble Gobble> Kevin Campau sets up the following song with a short one of his own.
Break The Birdie>a work friend, Allen Dancer plays drums on this song and it is a pretty serious rocking number. The lyrics refer to hitting the pinata but of course are only symbolic for much more.
Don’t Let The Music Stop> sort of a show tune by Nicole that works perfectly in the context of the tape.
Until It Turns Red> A Campau-Gray classic that has turned into one of my “signature” tunes now. Another sad take on suburbia and the lessons delivered even when we prefer not to learn them.
Bulgarian In digestion> A weird and messed up collab by me and Ken which throws out odd meters and disjointed sounds and this goes right into…
What A Mess> a very funny lyric by Ken complaining of my inability to give him anything decent to work with.
Your Constant Paradox> One of my personal faves, another signature tune that I still perform in a different arrangement. I love it when Kevin talks about how he likes the song, how he feels bad about being dumb and then trumps himself by proving he isn’t.
Confetti> a short instrumental that plays this side of the tape out. Hill , as always, blows his horn wonderfully to satisfaction for me.
Looking back on the entire project now, this tape was flawed and could have probably been paired down to one cassette. At the time though I didn’t want to lose any of it. However, just like a real party there are guests who show up and get rowdy by being too drunk, or get angry or outstay their welcome. I wanted this release to express that fact but also have enough juicy nuggets to be able to stay for the whole party and enjoy it.
Pinata Party Tape Two
The Perfect Tomato> I recorded this backing track for the sole purpose of hearing Ken Clinger in a rock context. He not only succeeds but creates a timeless classic. I actually played real drums on this one.
Yuppie In His Audi> another song about suburbia and the about not paying attention to what’s happening in the rest of the world. Mark Hanley plays lead.
Doing A Show> Nicole does refrain of this short introductory song.
Megan’s Morning>an instrumental layered into segments by Dino and features his guitar, keys and banjo.
Like Somebody Else> a Talking Heads type of groove done on a cheap keyboard with no lack of lead guitar, in fact, maybe a bit too much. It is about trying to be original but ending up just being like somebody else.
Sinkhole> a sad tale of buddies who buy property and then realize its just a big hole in the ground.
Promise Dollars> although there isn’t much of a song here the additions by Dino on various instruments and the lovely background vocals by Nicole really make this a favorite of mine.
Go Navy> My local pal Brian Conroy plays rhythm guitar and James Hill lays some bluesy trumpet over a bed of turntable collage and drum record.
You Can Relax> Greg on drums is sensitive to my need to start to wind the party down. A short song heavy on feeling and nostalgia about the memories this party will become.
Tape Two, side two
I wanted this to be the “lights out” period. You know, everyone is high and over stimulated but starting to get tired and just wanting to sit down and enjoy the music with the lights down.
Irreversible Moment> James Hill takes center stage on almost this whole side of the tape blowing his trumpet exquisitely with unparalleled taste and restraint. Sort of ambient and flowing on this one.
Daddy!> A long, rambling hallucination that features Caity ( who was only 2 or 3 at the time) speaking, shouting, laughing and banging on various things around the studio. Ken layers some spooky keyboards over the top of this dreamy tune that probably should have been edited.
Gamma Rays> a solo instrumental tune I cut at the time that I grafted on. Again, this one might have been trimmed.
Everything Becomes Nothing> Me on gongs and cymbals with James coaxing some sublime brilliance out of his horn.
Woman Was A Man> Another reading from Kraft-Ebbing.
Bells Behind The Machinery> I play metal flywheel and laid back keys while Hill toots on top gorgeously.
Midnight In Suburbia> A coda for a party that has gone on too long but was still worth attending. Guitar and trumpet prevail quietly.