Friday, February 4, 2011

S'Express - Theme from S'Express (1988) (from Tedd O'Neil mixtape)

Tonite I was digitizing a mixtape that a friend dubbed for me back in the day. His name was Tedd O'Neil, and later this month will mark five years since his senselessly premature death at the age of thirty-five.

Tedd circa 1990

Hailing from small town Rhode Island, I was considered a pretty unusual character during high school. Appearance-wise, I was a unrepentant punk rocker, sporting spiked or shaved hair, combat boots, and lots of wild outfits whether I was going to a punk show or heading to class. In my yearbook I was voted "most outrageous."

But Tedd, who lived one town over from me, half the size of where I grew up and a place even more suspicious of nonconformists, had me beat by far. That dude had mad style, charisma, and attitude, and everyone else could kiss off if they didn't like it. I first encountered him riding the Newport-to-Providence bus line that linked our little towns to the outside world. It must have been like '85 or '86, we were both 14, 15 years old, and Tedd was already an underground fashion icon. With all his jewelry and bracelets, jet black nail polish, eyeliner, black trench coat, boots, and an expertly coiffed (self-cut and styled) spiky hairdo with a bleached blond sort-of devilock in front and a braided rattail halfway down his back, he looked like a cross between Madonna, Glenn Danzig, and Siouxsie Sioux. It was goth meets punk meets gay, and it looked fantastic on Tedd.

We later worked together at a crazy job and became pals right after high school, hanging out in Rhode Island from '89-'91. After that, I spent more and more time in NC and went home less and less, and after Tedd graduated from Hampshire College in '93, he moved to San Fran. I never saw him again, although we talked on the phone a little. But he was one of those people I always expected to pop up again, and the news of his death came totally out of left field.

Peach Robidoux, his closest friend from high school and college, set up a Facebook group called Remembering Tedd O'Neil where his friends from both coasts still share memories and post photos, video and audio clips. Check it out for more info on Tedd's life and times.

Anyway, this mixtape was titled "Tedd's Amazing Goth Mix 1990," and I seem to remember him dubbing me a copy one day while he cut my hair in his upstairs bedroom at his parents' house. I used to love to visit him there because he had a huge Irish family, they were all super cool, and there was always some kind of drama going on.

On one side, there is in fact a mix of classic goth tracks. On the other, there's a slammin' house mix. And I'm pretty the whole tape was Tedd's production. From the house side comes today's JOTD, S'Express – The Theme from S'Express.



I first heard this track at the job where Tedd and I became friends. We worked at a boatyard where a company built giant cruiseships and then ran booze cruises on them all over Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. I started out as a maintenance worker in the late winter, low man on the totem pole in a skeleton crew of three. I was 18 years old and my two co-workers were 50-something and 80-something, respectively. No shit, one of the cats was 80+ and still coming to work five days a week at this crappy boatyard. I'm not even going to get into all the bullshit stuff these geezers had me doing when I first showed up. Needless to say, I was thrilled when the spring arrived and I got promoted to working in the boatyard, helping build the cruiseships. Or at least painting them. And then by the summer, I got to be a deckhand aboard the boats. Which was actually a lot of fun.

The whole time I was working my way up through the ranks of this small town boatyard empire, Tedd had the game all figured out. Probably because he lived right around the corner and had worked at the place before, he had a super cushy position. He was in charge of parking all the boozehounds' cars who showed up for the cruises, then staffing the office while the cruises were out and keeping watch over the parking lot. Yeah, right! Tedd would invite his friends over to hang out, blast music, and party in the office almost every night while the boats were gone. He was king of the wharf.

There were DJ's on board the boats, and after I heard one of them spin this S'Express acid house stomper, I would pester them to play it as often as possible. 'Cuz it was the bomb. And checking out the '88 promo video for the first ever time tonite, I'm even more impressed with the whole S'Express vibe. This video rocks! Clearly reaching back to the 70s with retro fashions, psychedelic effects, live horns, and strong diva vocals, but with a cutting edge, pulsating acid house beat. Plus stock newsreel footage that contains subliminal anti-war messages and makes the whole production a work of video art. (Note from 2013: the video now featured here is a different mix, the original promo video was removed from YouTube courtesy of the copyright police). And the main sample is from a Norman Whitfield-produced classic by Rose Royce, Is It Love You're After from 1979's Rose Royce IV: Rainbow Connection LP. Also something I never knew until right now. My jaw dropped when I saw video footage of them performing that joint and heard the original sample, see what I mean.



And apparently, The Theme From S’Express had a big impact. A whole year before Deee-Lite’s breakthrough LP announced to the world that house music was here to stay, this topped both the UK singles charts and the US Hot Dance Club Play chart.

So here's a Joint Of The Day resurrected from his old school mixtape and dedicated to my friend Tedd, who as another of his friends put it, is hopefully "in that heavenly looking hair salon in the sky, that Frankie Avalon sings about in Grease, doing all the dead celebrities' hair and makeup."

- Dyn-O-Mite

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