Recollections: The New Haven/Boston Years

1981-1986

Aliyah Baruchin

I had the great pleasure of singing with Randy at Yale. I found a quote in a file of mine the other day, by St. Augustine, that says: “Singing is praying twice.” And it made me think of Randy so immediately because he understood that so deeply, I think, not just about singing but about any kind of music and really more about any kind of sound.

There was a weekend when this group was on a trip and we wound up late one night in an empty room with a piano. And Tom, who was a tenor in the group at the time, sat down at the piano to play for the group. And Tom, at the time, was — how to say it? — he was a person who kept his cards rather close to the chest. And for him to sit down to play for the group was most unusual and he started to play but he was just dropping his hands onto the keyboard wherever they landed, in a kind of gibberish. And the rest of us were wondering how long this was going to go on, when Randy, who always knew a performance when he heard one, made us shut up. And sit. And listen. And we sat in rapt attention for about 25 minutes as Tom played. And at one point there was a pause in the music, and Randy turned to me and whispered, “Second movement.”

There was no way to quantify the way he taught us to listen. And the way he taught us to think about music. And about attention. And about love. He was my teacher from the day I met him.

Mark Heller

My memories are of how he loved to bring joy to others, but only if he could challenge and stimulate at the same time. Of his heroic refusal to pander or play down to an audience. Of his fearless improvisations, his intrepid walking bass lines, his howling, yelping scats, his impeccably timed and witty musical quotations, of “Ingredients” and his piece “for piano and 8 ball”. And of his physical portrayal of three-against-two rhythm: pivoting on his right foot, his torso rocking while his left leg pumped in opposition to his emphatic arms. He was three against two.

Randy had a wondrous appreciation for and sensitivity to life as art, as text as music. All sounds were music to him, from the blank of an old radiator starting up to the rhythm of a story well told. Randy found the extraordinary in the ordinary, the uncommon in the common. His was a gift that made those whom he touched more aware of the richness of their world by his willingness to share his.

David Henry

At the time that I met Randy, if you asked them what their idea of an impersonal conversation was, they might have said “A roommate interview” instead of “email” like these days. But that was how I met Randy (and Luke Jaeger) in the fall of 1985. I talked to Randy first, on the phone. We went over the apartment basics for a couple minutes, then had a long conversation about photographic techniques for multimedia shows. I came by to meet Randy and Luke, we went over the basics for a few more minutes, and spent an hour and a half talking about art and music. Then it was time for someone else to look at the place. Luke started off the tour, and Randy said good bye, adding, “We’ll give you a call tomorrow”, with his (I later learned) hisserious look.

I (we) was (were) golden, anyways we had a lot of fun taking/making pictures, music, throwing parties, and shopping. I still have a big poster that says “Make it Easy, Make it Beef”, in my kitchen, and white cardboard snowflakes with magnets on the back that say, “Get Extra Butter”, and “Get Extra Milk for Your Guests” on the ‘fridge. Randy had such a wonderful mischievous grin while putting them under his jacket.

I looked through my negatives and I only have two (!) photos of Randy (in b+w, most likely anyway) I have one of Randy playing kazoo and one of those cheesy Casio keyboard at once. He was reprising our world-famous rendition of the Disney Corporation’s “It’s a Small World After All”. The other photo of Randy is from our picnic with his family’s 1967 Volvo Station Wagon, on the event of reaching a milestone, like 150,000 or 200,000 miles.

People say Randy excelled at breaking rule and bounds. I never noticed that, but perhaps that’s why I like Randy so, people say the same thing about me.

I’m really looking forward to the Randy Retrospective. I could tell he didn’t yet have his favorite power tools lined up when I knew him best. I never saw Randy perform, I never saw his video tapes, so all I ever saw or heard of Randy’s work (besides his tapes) was what we were making at that moment.

I feel vicariously angry (livid and volcanic, really) for Randy, for being stopped so rudely in the middle of so many projects, life, music, art, and The World.

Luke Jaeger

Trying to sum up Randy to people who didn’t know him well or at all has gotten me a bit tongue-tied (those of you who know me might find this remarkable). The best I’ve been able to come up with is that he didn’t take anything seriously except art. My main impulse these last few days has been to tell everyone about this weird, iconoclastic, prolific, absent-minded, obsessive, sloppy, sometimes infuriating but always brilliant artist who was briefly in our midst. Words have been hard to come by.

What speaks most about Randy is his vast and far-flung body of work. Randy created, documented and recorded his art the same way he did everything else: in a manner that was at once obsessively annotated and catalogued, and utterly disorganized. I don’t know in what state Randy kept his master recordings, performance videotapes, musical scores, visual artifacts, and whatever else, but as a longtime friend and former roommate I strongly suspect that it is a complete and total rat’s nest.

If someone isn’t already doing this, I’d like to suggest that some of us pool our talents to assemble/publish a comprehensive collection of Randy’s work, in a format to be determined . . . perhaps a scrapbook, or a CD, or two CDs, or a trainload of CDs, or a video, or something else entirely. It’s always a shame that an artist has to die before someone will do this for them, but that seems to be the way it goes. Anyway, let’s face it . . . any attempt to have done this with Randy’s involvement would only have degenerated into a lot of screaming and door-slamming.If anyone has any thoughts about this, please give me a call.

Luke Jaeger, Massachusetts

Peter Nissen

He was always roping you into things that you never had time for, but this was one errand that I was glad to do for him. I once got a call from him and he said, “Peter. Please keep your eye out for little clumps of tape along the side of the road. Audiotape that had been taken from the cassette cases.” And I found these things wrapped around trees. I found them along the highway, and I stopped traffic to get them. I found them in foreign cities and I sent them to Randy. I found one on a gate going to the Brooklyn Bridge. And what he wanted to do was take these and someday play them and see if they had absorbed the energy of the place and the time where they had been found. And so the first one I sent back, I said, “I found this at 10:43 a.m., halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday.” I sent it to him and he was very grateful. And the next one, my brother had sent from Seattle — I had ffiends and relatives all sending these in — and it got to his house and I got a call from Randy (speaking with a serious tone) “Peter, this is Randy, What time did your brother find this tape?” I don’t know why he wanted to know exactly the time, but he did.

And one last memory took place at Yale. There’s a library — Sterling Library — which is simply enormous. You walk in there — it’s all stone, it’s all gothic and it’s very, very resonant. You whisper and it resonates for hours. Also, that lobby is where the card catalogs are. And so Randy once got a group of us together and we were called — he gave us a name — we were called “Sheep’s Clothing” and it was for a reason. He led us all into Sterling Library and we all knew what to do. Randy took the initiative. He went to the first card catalog drawer, slowly drew it out, and then as strongly as he could, slammed it into the catalog which reverberated very, very noisily through this usually very, very quiet library.

And then we all started doing it and people came in from doing homework and reading. The security guard had never been faced with such a situation. This probably made his career. You know — he doesn’t get too much action. He had no idea what to do but he figured out that Randy was the guy since he was just slamming back and forth. He tried to stop him but Randy would not let him stop him. He just kept slamming it in.

So, that is my favorite memory of Randy. Just creating an event and who cares what kind of disturbance he was creating.

Julian Saenz

I was thinking back today on the recent MATA performance of P[l]aces and on how powerfully it expressed Randy’s personality — genius, sense of humor, and all. As usual, Rico was right-on when he said in his review (1/20/98) that the piece was “distinctly Randy with sublime moments and the final unmistakable trademark – wit.” At times the piece reminded me of the cartoon where the characters chase each other through a long corridor, zigzagging from room to room, but in this case, with each room housing its own pickup band playing different tunes in different styles, and with at least one room — judging by the power tool — under repair.

The performance was a perfect example of how Randy’s musical palate was limitless. I’m pretty sure I heard snatches of something like a reggae version of “Wild Thing,” against a backdrop of the Ghanaian drumming rhythms Randy studied at CalArts, followed by strains of Johnny Cash. In fact, it’s hard to believe that any one piece can contain a sample of Public Enemy’s Chuck D. and a musical quote of Johnny Cash. (I always thought country musicwould have been the most unlikely source for inspiration for Randy. But on the other hand, I remember Randy playing a Bruce Springsteen record at 78 to show how much it sounded like Dolly Parton, potentially revealing the country-music origins of arena rock.) P[l]aces’ mix of different styles reminded meof one of Randy’s later visits to D.C., when he found this excellent jukebox (with Jonathan Richman, Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker, P-Funk, and James Brown all on the same machine). We had been driving around forever looking for adecent place to grab a bite and have a drink and finally found this place just around closing time. Randy talked the owner into letting us in and then, upon seeing all the jukebox’s selections, he put around $10 into the machine. Agood portion of it went toward playing every other track of the James Brown CD. Unfortunately, not long after we sat down, the owner tried to close up, but Randy convinced him that he had to let us stay — at least through another few songs — since, after all, we had just spent all this money. The owner grudgingly agreed, but the second we finished eating, shut off the jukebox and sent us out.

Also as Rico mentioned, P[l]aces features smoothly intertwined themes and melodies, weaving in and out of each other and moving from foreground to background. The way P[l]aces evoked Randy’s taste for overlapping melodies reminded me of a time I tried to play jazz standards with Randy. Randy was visiting his folks in Washington. I had brought my bass over and thought it would be fun to play through some standards. Randy played an upright piano in the foyer. I thought everything was going OK, until after about two songs, Randy suggested that instead of both of us reading off the *same* page in the music book, one of us should play the tune on the left-hand page, while the other played the tune on the right-hand page. The music book happened to be open to “Bluesette” (by Toots Thielemans, in B-flat major, 3/4 time) and”Blues for Alice” (Charlie Parker, F major, 4/4) — a particularly disparate pairing. I just couldn’t keep up — maybe it was the 3 against 4 — so we moved to something easier, “How High the Moon” (G major, 4/4) and Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” (D minor, 4/4 bossa nova). While none of the changes really sounded exactly “right,” nothing really sounded particularly “wrong,” in fact some of the harmonies sounded inadvertently rich. Moreover, both songs changed from verse to chorus at the same time, making the whole thing sound a little more accessible.

Oddly, for all the fun and games in P[l]aces, the melody that I still can’t get out of my head is one of the simplest — a slow three-note theme that the horns played from time to time and that sounded like a wistful marching tune.

My hat goes off to Lisa Bielawa for reconstructing the score and, along with Eleanor Sandresky, for bringing such an awesome piece of music and performance to life; to Beatrice Affron, whose conducting kept the riot moving; and to the performers — especially the poor timekeeper — who all rocked.

And to Randy: I can’t believe it’s been two years. I miss you more thanever.

Andrew Szanton

I wanted, rather than say a little bit about Randy myself,to simply go through the 15 years or so of wonderful letters that I got from Randy and give you a few excerpts that will remind us all, I hope, a little bit more of Randy.

I remember I once told him that I had a file cabinet with file folders and I was keeping all of his letters to me in perfect chronological order. And he sort of looked at me with that look you’ve probably all seen, and then he said, “That’s kind of frightening.

I hope he wouldn’t mind me doing this.

In November of 1983 he wrote me: “I feel now that music is my destiny. Not that I am some divine instrument with something great to offer humanity, but simply that I would be a fool to spend too much of my life doing something else.”

In December 1984 he wrote: “First snow tonight in New Haven. Although it is 1:30 a.m. it looks like dawn outside. Everything white with snow falling and fallen. I am in the living room of my apartment and have just lit a candle. I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life that will let me make the music I like and a minimum amount of money.” And then he went on and said some other things, and then he said: “The snow has turned to rain outside. Life is so short.”

In November of 1985 he wrote me: “In African music class, every time I get a new series of patterns down on a particular drum, before I get too proud of myself, a new window opens up revealing how much farther there is still to go. Every time I begin to see my current goal clearly, I realize that l am just seeing the surface. That behind it, deep in the center, I can just barely make out my new goal.”

In February of 1986 he wrote me: “I’m living in the Mission Hill area of Boston now with two other guys. The second roommate I found by placing an ad: No smoking, no pets, no pretentious people. Must like James Brown,

In June of 1986: “Andrew, I have an idea. Make some music and send me a tape of it. It can be anything. A song, sound effects, scraps of conversation. Anything which you find musical.” Until I met Randy I never thought that scraps of conversation could be musical.

(Excerpts from remarks at Washington D.C. Memorial Service)

Temp Agency Performance Art

Randy and Dave Henry and I were living together in Boston during the 1985-86academic year, and this must have happened shortly after we moved in. Randysigned on with a temp agency, and he got a particularly dull and tediousassignment at ‘Fidata Investments’ or something like that. He worked on the’cash desk’, and his job consisted of taking these little slips of paper thatthe investors had filled out, and writing ‘Received – Cash Desk’ on the back ofeach one.

Needless to say, intense boredom set in before too long, and Randy – perhapswondering if anybody was even looking at these slips after he processed them -started to introduce a little variety into his inscriptions. At first heembellished them with James Brown/Funkadelic-derived phraseology – “Coming ToYou Live From The Cash Desk” and “Movin’ and Groovin’ in Stereo At The CashDesk” and things of that nature – then, stripping down the inscriptions to abarer essence, he simply wrote verbatim the titles of James Brown tunes on thebacks of the slips. Finally, taking off from ‘Pass the Peas’, Randy took theinvestment slips into a more conceptual, minimalist realm, signing each slipwith nothing but the name of a fruit or vegetable. And of course, he kept arunning list of what he had written on a piece of scrap paper which he left inthe desk drawer.

Well, the assignment ended as arbitrarily as it had begun, but no other tempjobs were forthcoming. At the end of the month, Randy showed up at the tempagency office to collect his measly check, and was met by the entire staff whomarshalled him into an office with an air of great urgency. Here he wasconfronted with a carefully compiled stack of xerox copies of every slip he hadmis-inscribed – and the most damning piece of evidence of all, the veritablesmoking gun of the whole show, the handwritten list retrieved from Randy’s desk.No doubt they had cross-referenced the list to make sure their dossier ofevidence was complete.

“The investors have been complaining,” the temp agency manager said, as if thiswas the worst thing that could possibly happen. Trying to make sense of the factthat the offender was a Yale graduate, she added, “You’re obviously a verycreative, very intelligent person . . .”

But then the manager’s words failed her. “what . . . WHAT were you THINKING?”she sputtered.

Listening to Randy describe it, I could picture these petty technocrats’ entireworld being shaken apart as they tried to get a handle on the incident.

It was the separate list that put it over the top. The list removed the prankfrom the category of mere vandalism and elevated it to that of performance art.

The list revealed the intelligence behind the seeming randomness. The list madeit clear that these were not the scrawlings of an insane person or a disgruntledemployee – these they could have handled using existing mechanisms. But therealization that there are other ways of bringing order to the world, ways whichcould be totally alien to the ways of temp agencies, financial investments, andcorporate bureaucracies – this was for them a deeply subversive, frighteningthought.

Randy too was puzzled by the blow-up. “If anybody had told me to stop, I wouldhave,” he later said.

I don’t think that when Randy took that temp job he deliberately set out to makeit into a performance piece, but I also think that for him the distinctionbetween art and everyday life wasn’t as sharply drawn as it is for most people.

I’ve been thinking about the Temp Agency Incident a lot recently. One thing itdemonstrates is that Artists Don’t Ask Permission. If Randy had asked his bossif it would be okay to write ‘asparagus’ instead of ‘received – cash desk’, youwouldn’t be reading this right now. Mediocre art is what happens when people askpermission – of an audience, or a corporation, or a government agency, or amuseum, or anyone who they think might get offended. Art that doesn’t askpermission is the real thing, and it can be threatening to the small-minded.

As with a lot of Randy’s work, there’s also a lesson here about treating yourwork as if it’s important, even if nobody who ‘gets it’ will ever see it. I usedto secrety imagine that some day I and all my other artist friends would beOfficially Recognized as Important by some establishment or another. We’d beinterviewed by bright young reporters from whatever they’ll have instead ofmagazines thirty or forty years from now. “Wow,” they’d say, “you were RandyHostetler’s roommate? WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?”

That may yet happen, but lately I’ve come to think that importance isn’tsomething that is retroactively bestowed on artists by some outside, futureauthority. It has to come from within. Randy, I think, understood this early on.He didn’t wait around for someone to swoop down and ‘discover’ him, he didn’t domuch self-promotion, and despite the obscurity of his work, he never seemed toworry about whether it was ‘important.’ He was simply at ease with his artisticnature and he made his work important by just doing it.

– Luke Jaeger

Andrew Weinstein

I was one of Randy’s suitemates at Yale for Freshman and Sophmore years, and though we didn’t really stay very connected after that, I have always had a fond place in my heart and in my memory for Randy.

Randy liked to run and hide behind trees when we were walking somewhere together, and to make pigeons fly away by spreading his arms out like he was a hawk spreading his wings. I do it myself once in a while, always with a smile, and always remembering Randy. Randy of course would do it perfectly seriously.

Randy also loved to close himself in the walk-in-closet where we put our stereo equipment and fiddle around creating interesting musical sequences, always working for a smooth segue from the tape deck to the turntable and back. He would also comment on conversations which he thought were getting philosophically abstruse and useless by putting the Miles Davis album “Bitches Brew” on. I remember protesting loudly that “this was not a ‘bitches brew’ conversation!”, of course to no avail.

I remember the “Einstein on the Beach” party which we had, in which Randy took charge of the lighting – a single colored light bulb for each different type of section in the opera.

I remember the time at the beginning of Freshman year, soon after we met, when we all played together – Mike and Dave and Randy on pianos, and me on trumpet, playing mock-modern-jazz which someone decided to call “radio jazz”. ( subsequently remember Randy pointedly using one of my Woody Shaw albums as background music for the public service announcements during his radio show on WYBC. Again I protested; again, of course, to no avail.

I remember a Red-Hot and Blue rehearsal where Randy and the group let me get them to harmonize in half-tone intervals, and another time when we crowded into a phone booth at Mory’s with however many of the group that would fit, and I sang “Scotch and Soda” with full accompaniment. These are such fond memories, and for me they are all bound up with Randy.

I remember the spontaneous simultaneous readings we would have of whatever books were around, and the time we all started throwing things at each other. I think I remember Randy throwing a typewriter, in its case, at me after I had thrown the telephone at him. Or maybe it was something bigger after I threw the typewriter. Whatever it was, I don’t remember if he actually threw it, but in any case he was snarling, enraged, and foaming at the mouth, in a way that was both perfectly serious and perfectly harmless at the same time.

I remember during my year off in Boston, being woken up by the phone at 3AM by Randy and Dave, just calling to say hello.

I remember staying over with the hospitable Hostetlers in D.C. during a trip around America, and finally tasting the Rock Greek Ginger Ale whose praises Randy had sung. It was truly the best.

Who knows what you think of all this, but all I can tell you is that it made me laugh and smile the whole time I was writing it and every time I remember it. Thanks for the memories, Randy.

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