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Irwin on 11/15/2010 at 02:00AM

AMANDA: Don't Mess With the Power Child

The "Amanda" recordings have emerged as an unexpected cult sensation on my WFMU program over the past two years. The chronicles feature Amanda Whitt, a growling (think Cookie Monster), defiant pre-pubescent with a Southern twang spewing mayhem over 1980s breakbeats and disjointed shards of pop hits. On some tracks Amanda shrieks while clanging pots & pans. The recordings exude undeniable charm, but there's nothing cute about it. Any sentient adult witnessing this behavior would commence punitive action or summon law enforcement.

Power-child Amanda was recorded between 1986-89 at home in Alabama, between ages 8 and 11, by her older (by 7 or 8 years) brother Joseph (a.k.a. Jody). Joseph and Amanda were a couple of hyperactive kids pretending to be, respectively, a music video director and a child star. Most recordings were captured on cassette, others on video cam, in the lowest of lo-fi. The duo sometimes enlisted friends in the frolics, and often drove their parents crazy (with incidents caught on tape). The most durable performances were titled (e.g., "The Pickle People," "Horrible Hybrid Tulips," "Indian Hoots Echo Baby," "Me Swinging in Cookieland") and compiled on "albums," whose design awkwardly replicated the commercial cassette format. Inserts were pasted up and xeroxed, and collections assigned titles (e.g., Primitive Swagger, Monumental Whopper Turmoil Jam, Empires and 5th Dimension Perspective, and Worship Me). The recordings were not circulated beyond friends.

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amanda, children, alabama, 1980s
Irwin on 08/16/2010 at 05:20PM

Baby Gramps: wordplay & a steel guitar

Baby Gramps at Analog, Ringsend, Dublin Ireland Photo: Sean Rowe (via Wikipedia, used under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)

Baby Gramps made his first WFMU appearances on Nicholas Hill's Live Music Faucet in the 1990s. I became an instant fan of his Popeye-growl, shameless wordplay, and deft picking on an ancient National Steel guitar. Gramps specialized in jazz rags and reinvented campfire favorites, threw in the occasional 1930s novelty tune, and added dollops of what was known in the minstrel trade as "pure hokum." In May 1998 Gramps was touring a folk circuit that took him to NYC. For reasons that now escape memory, his schedule precluded an appearance on Nick's show (which perhaps was off the air by then), so I offered airtime. (Gramps returned again the following year.) At the time Gramps had no interest in recording or releasing albums; he just wanted to entertain live audiences. He was a natural, graceful presence, full of fun and surprises. There was something magical (and ageless) about Baby Gramps. He was a living cartoon. I recall his visits with great fondness.

Baby Gramps has a new album, Outertainment, in collaboration with Peter Stampfel (co-founder of the Holy Modal Rounders)

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