I've noticed that our newfound international fans inevitably gravitate toward Songlab (our latest collection from 2016-2018) or Spilt Milk (our earliest collection from 1980-1984). Yet hardly anyone lands on Dairy Aire (our equally vibrant mid-career collection from 1999-2001).
So ... when you hover over the Silo of Hits tab, and the drop-down menu appears, revealing all the available playlists ... are the words "Dairy Aire" just too mystifying to click on? The inescapable conclusion is they must be. Since I'd ideally like listeners to enjoy all the phases of our under-the-radar career, I'll take a crack at demystifying the title.
Just what is "dairy aire," anyway? Well ...
- Dairy Aire is the title of an album consisting of 13 songs we recorded from 1999-2001.
- "Dairy Aire" is a title song from the same album which is also our third dairy-themed song, joining "Late Night Delivery" and "Making The Rounds."
- Dairy Aire is the name of the only physical CD The Milkmen ever released.
- "Dairy aire" is also a pun on "derrière" That's French for "bum," "butt," ""backside," "booty," and other terms of dorsal endearment which rarely require further explanation.
About that mysterious extra "e" ... it's likely that the purpose for adding the "e" to "air" was twofold. First, with it "dairy aire" looks a lot more like "derrière." Second, opting for the additional character may have been a subconscious attempt to elevate my own poetic outpourings into the same time-space continuum where old (olde?) English rhymesters like Wordsworth, Byron, and Blake reveled in wordplay.
About that pun ... what was unambiguous in Boulder, Colorado in 1999 is clearly not obvious worldwide in 2019. For what it's worth, twenty years ago, everyone seemed to get the play on words. Take for example my immediate neighbors in the Hotel Boulderado—notorious Beat poets William Burroughs and Alan Ginsburg. They'd spent a lot of time in Paris where I here tell French is spoken, were intimately familiar with revered old(e) English poets, and had probably at some point stumbled home in the wee hours of the morning just when a milk truck was pulling into their driveways. In the literary circles I traveled, a phrase like "dairy aire" wasn't a head-scratcher, it was strong imagery.
Twenty years later, things have changed. I now realize that if English isn't your native tongue, a phrase like "dairy aire" could be truly mystifying. I can also see how even native English speakers could be thrown by the what-seemed-clever-to-me-at-the-time pun, or the dairy schtick—not to mention the atypical commingling of old(e) English and current French terms.
Had I been more psychic in 1999, I may have practiced "vocabulary suppression"—avoiding the use of words or phrases that could go over peoples' heads—so there was no chance of confusing future listeners with unfamiliar lingo. I didn't do it back then because it was hard to imagine that in less than twenty years, "dashing dairymen" would become as extinct as the dodo ... or that the internet was destined to become a virtual jukebox radiating out into every nook and cranny of Planet Earth, where all sorts of non-native English speakers can and do stumble upon themilkmen.space.
But I wasn't sufficiently psychic back then. So what to do about the justifiable confusion over Dairy Aire now? How will I encourage people to get past their bewilderment and realize this collection is as worthwhile as our other work?
Changing the title would be the most drastic step.
Well, just as I'm not about to change a classic band name and brand name—The Milkmen—that's been around since 1979 because it doesn't play as well in the opening days of 2019 as it did back when our namesakes made the rounds, I can't quite bring myself to change the title of the only collection my milk-mates and I managed to record between 1985 and 2016 (and was my most memorable achievement during that time).
I have a less drastic enticement in mind. Perhaps some choice excerpts from the juicy Dairy Aire backstory might pique your curiosity about a forgotten masterpiece? If you're tempted, read on ... or just go here to listen to the tunes.
- Before I even started work on Dairy Aire, there was a huge time gap between 1985 and 1999 when no matter how much I wanted it, yearned for it, or tried to will it into being, I just couldn't find the time or the money to properly record the dozen or so new Milkmen tunes I was hearing in my mind. So when the opportunity finally presented itself, I put the rest of my life on hold, immediately began plotting how I could take advantage of new technology that allowed musicians to make competitive recordings at home, then plunged into a recording siege which lasted the better part of two years.
- Speaking of finally finding the time and money after aching to record for so long, Dairy Aire's accidental sponsor was none other than the IBM Corporation—the dominant computing colossus at the height of its power. I couldn't believe that IBM had hired me as a technical writer in the first place; evidently, they'd run out of cookie cutter geeks and had to dive deep enough into the labor pool to locate me. It was mind-blowing because I used to gaze out at the foreboding IBM Boulder campus from the vantage point of nearby Coot Lake—the most notorious nudie swimming hole in the heyday of Colorado hippiedom. What happened was that while working on a one-year contract, I'd somehow managed to complete the mission—persuading IBM Corporate to part with $50 million so that its Boulder Global Services division could build the world's most ambitious data cloud—in a mere six weeks. I was shocked because in my mind I'd delivered nothing more than a preliminary draft which was a far cry from a persuasive document. Wrong! Global Services was thrilled that the barely-readable gibberish I'd turned in got them the funding they wanted so quickly. And then suddenly all was right with the world: they were only too happy to honor the 10 months plus remaining on my contract. That meant that I'd be receiving a big fat bi-weekly paycheck for a solid 10 months even though management no longer expected me to write another word and I could telecommute! Suddenly the most deep-pocketed patron of the arts imaginable was backing what was to become the Dairy Aire project.
- It turned out telecommuting to not work was destined to take place from Taos, New Mexico, not Boulder, Colorado. At the time funding from IBM came through, things were really rocky with the ex. She was intent on spending the IBM bounty on a practical kitchen remodel as opposed to an "irresponsible" dream recording. Similar remodeling ventures like the guest house and several bathrooms had already taken precedence over whatever creative tour de force I had in mind. We started having one too many shall we say "dramatic debates" over this point of contention. I carefully considered her position before formulating my response: "Nope! Not this time!" The only thing to do was to put some distance between us. So I did. I chose separation over capitulation, renting a fabulous adobe abode in Taos, New Mexico, the artist haven in "The Land of Enchantment" (northern New Mexico) I'd visited often that had always called to me. It turned out to be a great move.
- There was something about the earthiness of the acequia-fed ditches which fed ancestral family farms combined with the spaciness of the nightly star shows that just screamed Aliveness and Creativity. I'd sit on a rock and play acoustic guitar till I lost track of time and nothing else mattered but that moment. A whole bunch of unexpected stuff unlike anything else I'd ever written started pouring out, like "Sky Above Clouds," "Blossom In The Springtime," and "San Isidro."
- Between the seemingly inevitable marital breakup and the constantly inspiring vista—all that unspoiled Pueblo Indian land with the tribe's sacred mountain rising majestically above it and streaks of purple, crimson and tangerine brushstrokes extending out toward the Rio Grande Gorge and beyond—I now had access to a limitless supply of lyrical inspiration and musical invention.
- Something new and different had taken hold of me after exchanging a yuppie existence for a more authentic version of self. I witnessed myself channeling tunes seemingly gifted from the universe, as opposed to forcing them into existence with my conscious mind. My conscious mind was still around to make fine adjustments.
- Dairy Aire began as a solo project. Then Milkmen co-founder Steven Solomon insinuated himself into the proceedings. At last! A full-fledged Milkmen reunion had been set into motion. I remember one day his own soon-to-be-ex gave him her esteemed permission to come down from Denver for one big week of recording. We had to make every day count. Well, wouldn't you know it, a freak snowstorm came along in the middle of April. Snow was blowing sideways, the wind was whipping around and howling like crazy for days, the roads were too icy to make a food run, and, to complete the picture, the rented casita's composting toilet had broken down and was stinking the joint up. We just put our heads down and kept on recording.
- Previously, I'd never attempted to produce pop/rock tunes (I'd produced the instrumental Silicon Rebels back in 1989), and I'd certainly never utilized a digital PC and software at a time when analog tape machines and massive mixing desks still ruled the roost. Not many "project studio" owners had back then. Turned out I was able to handle the tracking (recording parts as opposed to mixing them) and computer stuff well enough; I had more computer experience than most people since I'd trained to be a network engineer (which I truly sucked at, but it led me to tech writing, which became extremely lucrative when the dotcom craze was peaking). Being able to audition various arrangements without having to pay for studio time by the hour was empowering. As I worked my way through the songs, I began hearing more and more elaborate arrangement possibilities. Gradually these found their way into the mixes.
- Thousands of hours into the project, I could tell we were onto something really good. We'd have to identify a really great mixing engineer, preferably one who was familiar with the same Soundscape digital recording solution I'd been using, to make the project all it could be. I found Larry Seyer out of Austin, Texas on the Soundscape User Forum—yes, the 9 Grammies for engineering and production he just happened to have to his credit got my attention. That meant I'd be spending an awful lot of time in the capital of alternative country music with someone who could show me the digital recording ropes. Larry was good at every aspect of recording. But what I remember most was his fingers just flying all over his computer keyboard, because he'd assigned shortcuts to just about every task you'd want. They used to try and teach us "speed typing" in high school; Larry was undoubtedly the class king. He'd tune the vocals for a whole song in like seven minutes.
- When I went down to Austin, I'd stay at the Austin Motel in all its 1950s glory. It was situated on happening South Congress Avenue, directly across from the Continental Club which booked one great band after another. Even the free bands on Sunday night blew away the top bands I was used to hearing in Colorado and New Mexico. After recording all day, I'd drop in around 10 PM or so to unwind. I was really taken by all the Texas honeys swing dancing to twangy tunes in their embroidered twirly skirts. I immediately wished they were dancing to our swing tunes in their embroidered twirly skirts; only problem was we didn't have any. That got me to thinking: shouldn't a band named The Milkmen that celebrates life on dairy farms in idyllic country settings have some down-home tunes in their repertoire, too? Going country every once in a while didn't exactly hurt The Stones' overall body of work any, did it? Before I knew it, I was taking a crack at countrified tunes like "Find The Time" and "On The Rebound" and even tackled some bluegrass with "World Without Dreams."
- It turned out Larry Seyer was really well-connected in Austin. That how Pat Mastollotto came to man our drum throne. How do you replace a Ric Parnell and a Tim Pantea? With someone who's been on at least three Number Ones: "Broken Wings" and "Kyrie" for Mister Mister, and "That's Just The Way It is, Baby" for The Rembrandts. That's how. Then there was Pat's continuing progressive rock gig with King Crimson—who are still gods in Europe and Japan. Those guys play in abstract timings like 16/7 or 14/9 just to show they can and to see if they can "fuck each other up" onstage to alleviate the boredom of being on the road. Playing in 4/4 was child's play for him. OMG he attacked his kit so hard ... he was a real woodchopper! You couldn't even be in the same room as him. Larry had a TV feed which allowed us to watch him carve his parts in stone from the safety of the control room. Larry also called a few guys from the Grammy-winning Austin Lounge Lizards to add fiddle and percussion. He played Coral Electric Sitar on "Our Little Secret" himself. The common denominator between these studio musicians was that their takes were basically over began they began. They'd hear a song once, then record a perfect take the next time through. It took all of 15 minutes from the moment they walked through the door to writing them a check. I've been using "A-list" studio cats ever since.
- Somewhere around the end of the project, it occurred to me that the then 12-song Dairy Aire project could use a lucky 13th track. I'd been toying with the idea of introducing a title track called, predictably enough, "Dairy Aire." Guess what that could possibly be about? Yep, it would be another theme song, our third one, or two more than The Monkees, whose "Hey Hey We're The Monkees" was the original inspiration ("Bad Company" by Bad Company was another). The obvious influence for the extended ending was the Eric Clapton classic, "Layla." Extending the song just when it seemed it was about to end could have been a daunting task, but with talent like Larry, Pat, and Steven around, we managed to pull it off.
- While it was heartening to find out we could take off in new and different directions, we made sure to include ample rock fare to keep fans of our classic stuff in the fold. I'm talking about the title track, "Tide To Turn," "Dick Darling," "Midnight Calling" and arguably the best of the lot, "Time To Move On."
I trust including a detailed explanation and all that juicy backstory has helped demystify Dairy Aire at least a little? Sure hope so! To paraphrase the words of the late great John Lennon: "All we are saying ... is give Dairy Aire a chance."