Monday, March 12, 2007

Is that an Amberol cylinder in his pocket, or is he just feeling frisky?

The music business is infested with characters who are unpleasant — few more so than Courtney T. Edison, a.k.a. "The Old Codger," who occasionally hosts radio programs at WFMU. He plays nothing but 78 rpm records—"Like they're goin' outta style," he asserts, with a spray of saliva. The Codge is a nasty piece of work—an ornery, crusty, useless, misanthropic, cigar-chomping anachronism. How old? Allegedly between 116 and—well, at his age they mark birthdays by the decade. Claims he knew Ambrose Biercewhen the latter was a wee lad.

Codger despises all musical storage media except 78s and cylinders. Has no use for CDs, mp3s, LPs, 45s, cassettes, or 8-tracks, and gets volatile if you attempt sonic rapprochement. He'll duel you to the death with a chromium stylus. Elect him president and he'd make surface noise the national anthem. Rumor has it that for about three days in 1930 he was known as "Mr. Nice," but this incident may be apocryphal. For the most part, he refuses to budge from his perch atop Mt. Cranky.

Courtney served as poster coot for Columbia Records in 1943 (he was old then!), and Flora was assigned to render his sordid portrait.

In an unpublished memoir, Flora later recalled drawing from the model: "He was gratuitously mean-spirited and uncooperative. It was all about him. Yammered on and on about 'the good old days'—even in 1943! Tucked in his nostalgia blankie, he blathered with self-absorbed gusto. I worked faster than usual, just to get away from him sooner."

A few years ago, the Codger was inveigled into recording a few songs backed by DIY legend R. Stevie Moore. He expected the tracks to be released on a 78 album with a Flora cover. However, some young upstart at WFMU (currently in the second week of its annual fund-raising marathon) posted the tracks in the iTunes Music Store and didn't tell Courtney. Please don't spill. It would break his heart. Really, don't even try to make contact by calling him. He's had the same home phone number since 1892—it's "6"—but you didn't read it here. Resist the impulse to dial. Leave the geezer cocooned in the sanctity of his own delusions.

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