goatboy and
the music machines

a documentary by Randy A. Riddle


Everything in Its Place

One of the first things you notice among all of the wood and metal parts of old machines that are scattered in Goat's shop is a Pentium computer in one corner.  When I first discovered that Goatboy was on the Internet and had a Web home page, I was a little surprised -- here was someone who had seemingly turned his back on technology, only to embrace it in some ways.  When the computer boots up with the sound of a Betty Boop "Boop Boop Dee Doop", you realize that Goat has some surprises in store.  

Goatboy's ShopOver the years, Goatboy has obtained much of his work through an outside agent that obtains clients for him through advertising his skills and networking with collectors and museums that need work done on the machines Goat knows so well.  However, he faced a crisis as the work coming in began to decline.  The interest in player pianos began to evaporate with the growing interest in the Diskclavier, a player piano developed by Yamaha that used a computer disk to control the machine instead of a traditional roll.  

Real Audio - Goatboy tells how he got the computer  

About that time, Goatboy was given a computer by a friend he had helped out and seeing how the Internet could help his business, he set out to learn as much as he could about the new technology.  The Net turned around his business, allowing Goat to network with clients directly and bring his skills to a whole new audience.  Goat also saw that the computer allowed him to more easily keep up with the bills and paperwork of his business; "Looking around the shop, you can see I'm a little disorganized," he said, laughing.  

His life in a small town can be a little isolating, so the Internet has allowed Goat to connect with other like-minded individuals in the Gay and Lesbian community.  But, he has "mixed feelings" about the Internet -- the technology, like others, can be used for constructive or damaging purposes.  He talked about all of the hate groups that have put up pages on the Net and the religious extremists who go into chat rooms, screaming "Die Faggots!"  He likened this garbage to the pornography that conservatives get upset about on the Net.  "It isn't just the dirty pictures," Goat noted, "smut takes many forms."  

Goatboy at the ComputerThis discussion of technology led to some observations on the player machines that Goatboy works on.  Goatboy talked about the changes that occured in music with the development of radio.  With player machines and even early phonographs, one "turned on" the machine with the express purpose of listening to music.  It was closer to a live performance -- the machine needed attention, in the form of pumping or cranking; and there was only one song on a roll or disc.  

Radio changed all of that.  Suddenly, one could flip a switch and get instant music.  People started paying less attention to music as they could listen while doing other activities.  "That's when you started seeing the crooners," Goat said, "it wasn't what they were singing, but how they sang that was important."  Goat feels that the quality of popular music suffered as a result.  Songwriting took a back seat to performers and lush arrangements.  

Real Audio - Goatboy discussed the influence of network radio on music  

Goat pointed out that the most consistently popular song over the past eighty years has been "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and that many tunes made their way into popular culture and were well-known for many years.  They were clever, well-written, and had staying power.  He noted how music became a throwaway commodity after radio arrived -- "I can show you these cardboard records that were sold in newstands called Hit of the Week, and that's what they were - the hit of the week," he said.  

The first night I arrived, Goatboy treated me to a special evening in front of the television in his cabin.  He has an extensive collection of videotapes, an eclectic mix of old and new films.  We spent much of the early evening just sitting and talking on the front porch of his cabin, enjoying the quiet of the woods and watching the subtle changes in sound, light, and color as sunset progressed.  By the time we were ready to settle down, it was already dark.  Goatboy took out a flashlight and walked about a quarter mile into the woods to his gas-powered generator and put in enough fuel to power the equipment for the evening, carefully putting a metal cover over the machine to help muffle the noise of the motor.  As we sat watching a seldom seen Dada-esque musical comedy from the early 1930's, International House, I was reminded of how special, fleeting, and temporal our technology can be.