Sweet Baby Lou Makes the News

Rocking Out with Sweet Baby Lou

By Matthew M. Robare

Deep in the bowels of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Campus Center, through winding gray concrete hallways lined with tape-and-CD-laden shelves, beneath harsh fluorescent lights and behind sound-proof walls, is a hot and cramped studio where Sweet Baby Lou and the Reverends of Funk broadcast every Thursday morning.

Rev. Charlie Felder, a tall and lanky senior with dirty blond hair sat at a computer looking for audio clips about Hell. When he’s not preaching the Gospel of Funk from the WMUA student-run radio station-turned pulpit, he’s President of the UMass Democrats and is a member of the Student Government Association Senate.

Leaning against a counter topped by sound and recording equipment—microphones, speakers, more recordings on tape or CD and mixing boards, all painted jet-black except for the white keys of one of those electronic pianos—was Rev. Pete Rizzo.

When Rizzo isn’t in the studio he’s a multimedia editor for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian and does a movie podcast for the Arts desk. He has also developed some punditry credentials, having accompanied former Republican Club President Brad DeFlumeri and Collegian neoconservative columnist Dmitri Shapiro to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.

“We are a radio show,” said Rizzo. “We’ve been operating for two years now, but we’re really so much more than that. We’re also a 24 hour organization—we have a blog that updates probably twice daily with different forms of zaniness, videos to download.”

“Sweet Baby Lou is no longer a two hour race to madness,” said Felder. “It’s more of a 24 hour marathon of madness.”

A third man was in the room and eating McDonald’s, crushed in a corner between two counters and Rizzo, Collegian Assistant Arts Editor Justin Gagnon, who plays Sweet Baby Lou’s oft-injured Promotional Director Mordy Cardigan. He finished his McDonald’s and began to make high-pitched moaning sounds while miming masturbation.

It’s almost time for Sweet Baby Lou to go on the air.

Felder and Rizzo have been on the air since 2008, having decided that their conversations were interesting enough that other people should have a chance to listen. Ostensibly a music show, they routinely showcase local bands and don’t actually limit themselves to Funk. They’re also a comedy show, following a live serious debate with classical music punctuated by the sounds of flatulence and recording fake ads for

“historical glory holes,” such as Emily Dickenson’s glory hole.

A glory hole is a hole in a bathroom stall that a man can poke his penis through as   a discreet and risky method of receiving oral sex, occasionally for monetary purposes.

“We didn’t model our show after any one person or style,” said Felder. “We just felt it out until we felt comfortable. We never do anything we’re not comfortable with.”

Rizzo disagreed a little. “Personally speaking, I like to make you a little uncomfortable on the air.”

The show’s past is long, complicated and storied, with the historians (Rizzo and Felder themselves) often in dispute over its origins. “There are two theories,” said Rizzo.

“There’s the original theory,” said Felder. “Which is that one of us turned to the other and said ‘hey’—this was half way through Freshman year I think—‘we can hold a conversation, we should probably do this so that other people can listen.’”

“The other one is that Sweet Baby Lou himself got a radio show on WMUA for 25 years,” said Rizzo. “He continued to do the show, in spite of his drug addiction, until he couldn’t.”

“He realized this on air,” Felder said. “We were just kind of wandering around down here.”

“He had his realization,” Rizzo said. “And came out and offered us the show.”

“And then he ran off without really giving us a choice,” Felder said.

“So we’ve been running and maintaing it ever since,” Rizzo said.

“We’ve been trying to live up to what we believe Sweet Baby Lou would consider the Funk.” Felder said.

“He calls every once in a while. His real name is Baby Lou Rodham Whittaker, Jr. He lives over in Colonial [Village] or something.” Rizzo said.

“North Apartments, I think,” said Felder.

“He’s a man of many things,” said Rizzo.

The pair fit the classic comedy archetypes described by Eric Idle in The Road to Mars as White Face and Red Nose.  The archetypes, which emerged from circus clowns, are described by Idle thusly: White Face represents authority, sanity and reality. He is the one who we would nominally think is in charge. Red Nose is subversive and out of control, the one getting the pie in the face, the one with the fake buttonaire that he can shoot water from when someone strays too close.

“Sweet Baby Lou is a radio show and what we do is we channel chaos,” said Rizzo. “And Charlie will explain what that means.”

“When Pete says that ‘we channel chaos,’” said Felder. “He’s reffering to, I guess, what we describe as our working ethos, which is inspired lunacy and controlled chaos. It is everything and nothing at the same time. It’s live music; it’s clips of movies; it’s a mish mash of themes, of local artists and famous artists. Everything and nothing at the same time.

“That-that room that we broadcast out of is—.”

“Is a vessel,” said Rizzo.

“A vessel for radio lunacy.”

Rizzo and Felder agreed that the music they play must rock. “If it doesn’t rock it doesn’t get played,” said Rizzo. “Or if it doesn’t rock so much that it doesn’t reach the absolute minimum [of rockingness] than it gets played for hilarity value.”

“If you’re playing something that doesn’t rock,” said Felder, “then it’s clear that it’s being played because it has humor value.”

“Like Meatloaf,” said Rizzo.

“Well, no,” said Felder. “Meatloaf rocks really hard, but in a really silly way so he’s doubly worth playing.”

“There’s an air of mystery about the radio,” said Rizzo. “It’s great because it’s a one sense medium. You only know about what you’re hearing, which goes back to our gag about ‘The Stripper Pole Challenge.’ It’s okay to say we have strippers in the studio, because the audience doesn’t know and it’s either trendously funny or hilariously ackward.”

The studio, it should be noted, was about four feet by four feet and was filled with radio equipment. It was cramped for four men and uncomfortably warm.

“You have no one else to believe except for us,” Rizzo continued.

They duo feels freer on the radio because of its “air of mystery.” In the beginning they rebelled against limiting themselves to normal radio practices, for instance, there was the Stripper Pole Challenge and they often play movie clips taken from YouTube—a practice that began with a show broadcast a short time after Charlton Heston’s death that they made into a tribute to him.

“That’s kind of a thing about Sweet Baby Lou,” said Rizzo. “We understand that other people are right, we just don’t pay attention.”

“We offend people,” said Felder. “That’s what people like about us.”

“You kind of have to gauge every situation of madness,” said Rizzo. “Like for example, when you’re having a guest like Brad DeFlumeri. You kind of got to know what you’re doing ‘cause sooner or later chaos is going to get to be a little to chaotic.”

“Basically the idea that I think Pete is trying to explain is that when we’re on air and have so many different things going on, it’s really easy for things to become unraveled. You have to know when to let someone roll with whatever tangents they’re on. A good example: last week we had the band Bella’s Bartok, a gypsy punk band, and their bassist when on this tangent about herpies. We could have stopped him, but we were so blown away by the fact that this guy just felt comfortable talking at length—great length—about herpies that we just let it go and eventually it spun itself and spiraled into something absolutely hilarious. You have to know when to let someone go like that and when it’s okay to stop them,” Felder said.

“Wow,” Rizzo said. “I didn’t know that. I usually just grab you inappropriately.”

“I was thinking: too bad it’s not a UVC show,” said Gagnon.

Sweet Baby Lou is on every Thursday morning from midnight to 2 a.m. and their website, which now includes archived episodes, is funkumass.wordpress.com.

“Do you want us to give you real answers?” said Felder.




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