The Last Pure Thing on the Radio

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I’ve been volunteering with event-based airshow radio for three years now. I’ve really enjoyed working with guys like Dave Shallbetter of Sun ‘N Fun Radio, Fareed Guyot, Mike Morgan, and others from EAA Radio at AirVenture, Erik Utter from Arlington Fly-In Radio, and Don Costanza and others from FlightLine Radio. It’s a crew of dedicated people that really understands what the radio could be if it would dare.

And I might add that the airshow stations have been great about opening their arms to podcasters. SnF Radio not only hosts the annual Gathering of Aviation Podcasters and broadcasts a couple of Uncontrolled Airspace episodes, but puts podcasters on the air right after the airshow each evening. EAA Radio has UCAP on the radio a couple of times a week and hosts Podapalooza, now entering its fourth year. Arlington Radio has been broadcasting bits of Airspeed since 2006 or 2007. Flightline Internet Radio has put podcaster promos on the air and over the Internet for years.

So last year, just before Oshkosh, I began mucking about with a tune in tribute to airshow radio. I fleshed out the tune and actually got around to recording it a few weeks ago and it’s ready to release.

It’s called The Last Pure Thing on the Radio. I recorded the basic guitar, bass, and vocals at home and then went to The Soundscape Studio in Royal Oak, Michigan to lay down the drums. Then the whole ball of wax went to audio mastermind Scott Cannizzaro in New York for the professional treatment.

Scott not only mixed the piece wonderfully, he added some musical elements of his own. And he was able to get a college acquaintance, Chris Wormer, to play slide guitar on the track. If Chris’s sound is familiar to you, you might have heard his guitar stylings with The Charlie Daniels Band.

The artist name in the MP3 metadata is 7600, an informal band made up of music enthusiasts from around the country who collaborate remotely over the Internet. I generally release 7600 songs with the band name and then the specific folks who played or contrinbuted, so almost every 7600 song will show up as a separate artist on your player, but I think it’s worth it to identify the particular humans who had a hand in the process.

I’ll post a link to an MP3 download of the song on the Airspeed website so you can download it and enjoy it for personal, non-commercial use. I hope you like it. It’s dedicated to all of the volunteers that make airshow radio happen year after year.

So, without further ado, I give you The Last Pure Thing on the Radio.

(Get your free download of The Last Pure Thing on the Radio at this link. PC users, right-click, select “save target as,” pick a place for the file, download, and enjoy!)
The Last Pure Thing on the Radio
Steve Tupper

I vaguely remember FM radio in 1968
Before The Man took it over and made it all blah-blah-blah.
And I remember watching the airplanes take off and land at Battle Creek and thinking
“Man, it’s going to take a long time to get the money and the guts to do that.”

These days, I’ve got an iPod that’s connected to my head 24/7
‘Cause the radio’s still not what Mike Agranoff dreamed it could be
And it took a long, long, long time before I got the money and the guts
But I finally put together the money and the guts. (Yeah!)

And I heard somewhere that if you walk around at Oshkosh or Lakeland or Arlington
And you take along that same little transistor radio from 1968
Somewhere in the aether, there’s magic, love, and science
And some of it’ll spill into your ears if you let it.

A couple of guys are grading landings and talking trash on the afternoon show
And Dave in pre-production is working on four hours of sleep
And somebody just stuck a mic in the face of an eight-year-old kid
Who’s talking so fast about the airplanes that I’m not sure he’s breathing right

But I listen to the radio and I hear the engines roar
Washing over me again just like it did before

It’s the last pure thing on the radio
On the air (on the air) yeah, let the music play
It’s the last pure thing on the radio
Let the radio come carry me away

Low-power AM and FM and carrier current and whatever
And temporary antennas that they roll out once a year
Sometimes it’s not easy to get a good clean signal
‘Cause there’s a hill in the way. Or a tree. Or a gum wrapper.

But it’s the voices of people who love this stuff as much as I do
And they’ve been here since the Wednesday before the show
They get paid a campsite in a soggy corner of a field somewhere
And maybe the keys to a golf cart or a scooter someday

But from dawn patrol to signoff they lean into microphones
And spill out their hearts about whatever’s coming down the taxiway
And interview the local beauty queen and whoever else is handy
And maybe get Sean Tucker to cut a liner or two

It’s like a dream where your best friends take over the airwaves
Throw out the playlist and just put on stuff that matters
And everything stops when a fighter jet come screaming through for a low pass
And there’s even dead air just then, but everybody understands.

And they listen to the radio and hear the engines roar
Rolling down the show line just like it did before

It’s the last pure thing on the radio
On the air (on the air) yeah, let the music play
It’s the last pure thing on the radio
Let the radio come carry me away


I like it at airshows when they have a VFR arrival window
And a lone 172 is crawling in on short final
‘Cause I like to stand up and hold my cap over my heart while that 172 touches down
And I know you do the same thing.

So I stand at the snow fence pumping my fist in the air
And shout for John Mohr as he makes the engine sputter upside down
With that little transistor radio sticking out my back pocket
Picking up dead air at all the right moments.

I listen to the radio and hear the engines roar
Washing over me again just like it did before

It’s the last pure thing on the radio
On the air (on the air) yeah, let the music play
It’s the last pure thing on the radio
Let the radio come carry me away

Let the radio come carry me away

MacDowell Piece Takes Shape

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Crunch time yet again! I’m applying for a residency at The MacDowell Colony, North America’s oldest artist’s colony. It’s located on 400-odd acres near Peterboro, New Hampshire. At MacDowell, they give you a studio (read: cottage, barn, or similar structure appropriate to your particular art) and between two and eight weeks to just soak in your creative juices. No phone, no pool, no pets.

A mysterious guy named Blake sneaks up to your door and leaves a picnic basket at lunch time. You head to the main house for dinner and chow down with the other artists in residence and feed off of their energies. For a really great encapsulation of the experience, check out the December 14, 2007 installment of PRI’s Studio 360 or head to the colony’s website and watch the short feature MacDowell Moments.

Anyway, I’m applying as an interdisciplinary artist to write a series of folk songs and essays imagining the first folk music of the journey to Mars and back. All composed on instruments not larger or more massive than what an actual crew member would be expected to be able to take along in his or her personal volume and mass allotment. For me, that means, travel guitar, mandolin, Ashbory bass, music box mechanism, tin whistles, xaphoon, and other small instruments.

I have to submit two pieces of my work along with the application. Sometimes Alternates Fly seems a no-brainer. The other will be a song of the kind that I intend to write there at MacDowell. The song, Eleanor Flies, finally made it into a tangible medium this weekend and I sent the tracks to Scott Cannizzaro on Sunday to mix. We’re through two mixes so far and I think Scott’s going to finalize it today. Then I burn it onto CDs, do the written parts of the application (actually, finish them – I’ve been writing pits and pieces since early 2008), and send the whole thing to Peterboro.

Shown above is Scott’s workspace for the mix. It’s kind of cool to see the whole thing as waveforms. His skills are well in excess of anything of which the music is worthy and I’m really glad to have access to his services.

I’ll post the song here and/or to the show sometime soon. Probably after the application is complete.

Airspeed – Music – Part 3

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It’s high time to do another music episode of Airspeed and we have a great lineup for you today. As you know, I like to plug my iPod into the AUX input of the airplane’s panel whenever I can and have a soundtrack to my flight.

Note that, as inspiring as music can be, it can also be a distraction and might keep you from hearing important radio calls. Be absolutely sure that the music doesn’t distract you or interfere with any radio or intercom communication. You are the pilot in command and you’re ultimately responsible for the safety of your flight, so act accordingly.

Solas – Coconut Dog/Morning Dew

First up is Solas with Coconut Dog and Morning Dew. I’ve always loved most music that requires motor skills to play and Solas delivers that in spades with its particular brand of Celtic music. My uncle turned me on to Solas when I was in Boston in 2007 for Civil Air Patrol National Legal Officer College. I was also finishing up my instrument rating and preparing for the checkride at the time and this tune from “Reunion: A Decade of Solas” became my theme music for the instrument checkride. I particularly like Seamus Egan’s guitar run about two thirds of the way through the tune because it’s intricate, it’s played well, and it’s back by knuckle-dragging triplets by the persussion. I’m the only guy I know who plays air bodhrán (pron. bow-rawn) and this piece should give you an indication of why.


Liquid Tension Experiment – Acid Rain

Many of you know that Liquid Tension Experiment’s second album is my perennial “blare-in-the-car-on-the-way-to-airshow” music. I really enjoy the mix of syncopation and change-ups among the really solid and driving stuff that you can really get your teeth into. This is the music I most closely associate with flying aerobatics. All adrenaline but under precise control. This is Acid Rain. Check it out.

[Acid Rain 1]

And, by the way, this tune gets the Airspeed award for best use of a cowbell in progressive rock. You gotta hear this. Huge, monumental buildup, a whack on the cowbell, and then off into more crunchy groove.

[Acid Rain 2]

Steve Reich – Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble – Music for 18 Musicians

I tweet every once in awhile about the Grand Valley State University’s recording of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. It is what the title says. It’s a minimalist meditation on a cycle of 11 chords, mostly in a stream of 16th notes. It requires cello, violin, two clarinets, two bass clarinets, four pianos, three marimbas, two xylophones, a metallophone, and four women’s voices. You can’t actually play it with only 18 people unless several of the musicians double up on instruments. The piece is something like 45 minutes long and beautifully augments the parmonies as the pulses ebb and flow.

This piece is what it sounds like inside my head all the time. This music is almost transparent to me. It’s just there and fits right in with whatever I’m doing – tweaking little neurons from time to time when it hits something sympathetic. I don’t even have to pay attention to it. It just envelopes me and tells me that it’s there.

Ever read Louis Sarchar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School? There’s a story in which Mrs. Jewels brings in Maurecia-flavored ice cream. Everyone thinks it tastes great, except that Maurecia can’t taste I because it’s – well – Maurecia-flavored. If I can take a liberty and say that Maurecia liked the ice cream a great deal because it was her best essence at some level and that it made her feel centered, balanced, creative, and ready for anything, then Music for 18 Musicians is Steve-flavored music. Here’s a snippet from Section VII.

[Music for 18 – Section VII.]

This is way too short to give you more than the smallest taste. It’s out on SACD and it costs twice what a regular CD does, but it’s worth every penny. Go get this music.

Rush – Out of the Cradle

I’ve been a Rush fan since 1985 when my friend lent me a tape of “Exit Stage Left.” I think I prefer the “Signals” era most, but I have every album since then, including all of the live ones and I like them all.

Guitarist Alex Lifeson is a pilot and is, no doubt, the driving force behind the classic instrumental YYZ. Listen to the opening rhythm of YYZ. It’s the Morse code identifier for a VOR near Toronto. How cool is that?

But my musical adrenaline comes from drummer Neil Peart. I’ve been reading Neil’s book, Roadshow: Landscape with Drums and it’s fascinating to find about what goes into a rock tour of that size. I’ll definitely pick up Ghost Rider and Traveling Music, his other two books, soon.

There are no flies on Geddy or Alex, but I go to Rush shows to see Neil. I understand from reading Neil’s book so far that he’s uncomfortable with being called the greatest rock drummer ever. Okay, he’s a journeyman who takes his work seriously and I get that he might be uncomfortable with such characterizations. But Neil, I’d be lying if I said that you weren’t my favorite drummer. I hope that’s okay. And thank you very much for all you’ve done for me and others over the years. I know that Neil is a private guy and I respect that. But if you happen to know Neil and it’s convenient, please mention these small and grateful words to him.

The Rush piece that I’m featuring here comes as a little bit of a surprise. I hit me just right as I was waiting in line to pay for my sandwich at the Bloomfield Deli this year. It’s “Out of the Cradle,” the last tune on Vapor Trails. It starts out with a percussive bit on the bass that oozes anticipation and energy and quickly builds into the song proper. And Neil gives it two thumps on the tom on the one and two counts just before the vocals come in. Bomp, bomp.

[Out of the Cradle 1]

And my favorite moment of the song comes after the first chorus. The band just lets the basic groove happen for a few bars. Too few bands do that. Just let you recover from the chorus and gather up the energy to head into the next phase.

I still get nervous before I fly. All smart pilots do. To shake that off and take command of the ramp, I stomp on the pavement. Sumo style if you will. Bomp, bomp. To that same one-two that Neil plays. Flight is about humankind’s departure from the cradle. This song is very nearly perfect for flying in that respect. After your next preflight, walk away from the airplane a few steps, clear your mind, look around the ramp, and then stomp on it. Bomp, bomp. Surge of energy. Spark of inspiration.

[Out of the Cradle 2]

California Guitar Trio – Punta Patri

I first heard California Guitar Trio on public radio while working late one night in 1999. I bought the album “An Opening Act” shortly thereafter and listened to it a lot. It’s all live and recorded during one or more dates upon which the trio opened for King Crimson. One particular tune, Punta Patri, has a really powerful part to it. Take a listen . . .

[Punta 1]

I really like the driving guitars and the layered sound. Kind of hard to believe that it’s just three acoustic guitars.

I first identified this at the Wayne State University Law School’s library while I was researching some state regulatory schemes on service contracts. The Tom Hanks –produced miniseries From the Earth to the Moon was fresh in my mind at the time and all I could think of as I listened to that part was an Apollo Saturn V launch. The last major built-in hold for the Apollo-era launches was at T-minus 2:00. Interestingly enough, the really dramatic part of Punta Patri takes place two minutes into the piece. I choose to think that it’s not a coincidence. To hear it the way I hear it, let me superimpose audio from the Apollo 14 launch and you tell me what you think.

[Punta with Apollo 14 launch]

Yeah, I thought so. Really powerful stuff and wonderful use of acoustic guitars.

Theme From Milliways (Go for TMI)

Lastly, I’m pretty excited to over you this, an original composition. For those familiar with the Airspeed episode from October of 2006 called “First Solo,” this is the music from it.

I originally wrote it on a Martin Backpacker guitar tuned DADGAD. It’s named after Douglas Adams’ fictional restaurant at the end of the universe and for the cabin in Northern Michigan that belongs to my friend and legal mentor. The “Go for TMI” part got added when I decided to make it a part of my upcoming album, Songs from the Sheffield – The First folk Music of the Journey to Mars and Back. When the Apollo missions went to the moon, they first boosted into Earth orbit and then did a burn that sent them on a trajectory to the moon. “Trans-Lunar Injection” or “TLI.” I presume that “TMI” is therefore an appropriate term for the big burn that sends the spacecraft to Mars.

I sent all of the tracks to audio wizard Scott Cannizzaro a month or so ago and asked him to remix it a little and augment is as he saw fit so that I can make it available to Will and Rico of Wilco Films for use in the upcoming independent film, A Pilot’s Story. What came back was really amazing. I’ll play a little of my initial recording done in my basement and then play the whole thing as remixed by Scott.

[Theme from Milliways (Go for TMI)]


Check out Scott Cannizzaro at

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Video from My F-16 Aerobatic Demo Flight with USAF Thunderbird No. 8, Maj Tony Mulhare

It’s here! The video from my ride in the F-16D with USAF Thunderbird No. 8, Maj Tony Mulhare.

Many thanks to Will Hawkins of Wilco Films for his video editing expertise and for spending hours he doesn’t have making this a really great production.

Stay tuned for the big summary audio episode of the show covering the ride from beginning to end in great detail. The episode will include audio from the suit-up, the briefing, the flight, and the demo the next day. It’ll be tied together by Thunderbird Groove, the original music by 7600 (the ad hoc band of aviator musicians that collaborates over the Internet) featuring me on guitars, drums, and bass, Scott Cannizzaro on guitars, keyboards, and sound design, and the mighty F-16 on noise!

Thunderbird Groove Progresses

This is a regular blog post. Please check out the other entries if you’re looking for show notes or show audio.

Scott Cannizzaro tweeted a little while ago to show me how the mixing session for Thunderbird Groove is going. I am so jealous of his setup (not to mention his mad skills)! Somehow, my Audacity sessions just don’t look as cool after seeing this.

I need to get a Mac or something similar onto which I can hang more audio and video editing functionality. And really play with the stuff to figure out what else I can do. This just looks so fun. Will I ever have the kind oar that Scott has? I doubt it. And that’s probably 80% of what goes into coming up with a really great mix.

I FedExed the remaining tracks to Scott for arrival today (the studio at which I did the principal recording mixed the electric guitar and bass in the same .wav file, making it less than useful for mixing). Not sure that they’ll actually be necessary because the mix that Scott sent over the weekend is pretty cool. Although I might be saying that because I’ve been listening to little else since then.

Having the music available has really gotten the juices flowing on the writing end. I’m busy as hell at work and home and it’s really hard to stay focused when I have nearly all of the makings of the best Airspeed episode ever just sitting there ready to be sewn together.

Thanks again to Scott!

Stay tuned! I’ll probably release the first video episode f the podcast shortly. It’ll be the in-cockpit video from the Thunderbirds ride along with music and footage end editing stylings of Will Hawkins of Wilco Films.

Contact info for Scott:

Scott Cannizzaro
c/o Soundtrack
936 Broadway
New York, NY 10010
212 420 6010