Friday, September 30, 2011


Song Title: "Vetter Tom's Knuppel"
Artist: Thorax-Wach
Search Term: "Thorax"

Here is a list of my five greatest loves in the entire world, in no particular order:

(1) My wife
(2) The animals who live with me (well, the dogs and the birds; not the uncatchable cricket who's been hanging out in my bathroom this week)
(3) My non-wife family (parents, brother, cousins, etc.)
(4) Dopey keyboard sounds
(5) My friends/Dance Moms [tie]

So you are well within your rights to raise a skeptical eyebrow as I rave about this shabby dialogue between two German keyboardists, because I can only assume that Thorax-Wach released it in 1980 specifically to commemorate my birth, hoping that one day I would hear it and realize that it was a song composed to cater to my tastes and only my tastes. That is how much I love it. It has a great introduction in which a Casio, another keyboard, and some sort of squishy synth percussion all circle each other warily, almost figuring out how to work together to form a clever polyrhythmic song base, and ultimately never getting there. Instead, "Vetter Tom's Knuppel" retreats and turns into a Residents-style two-index-finger keyboard piece, fumbling to stay on the beat the whole while, with German lyrics muttered in an approximation of Kraftwerk's bigeyed automaton delivery (and multitracked so awkwardly that any hint of mechanical exactitude goes out the window). I'm sure this description makes the song sound like a complete wreck, but I love these noises and the silliness of the whole enterprise. It's no songwriting coup, but its crude celebration of inorganic sound tickles parts of my stony rock-critic's heart that few artists reach.

The human heart doesn't have those parts. Grow up.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Song Title: "Jesus Knows"
Artist: Geeez 'N' Gosh
Search Term: "Gosh"

Germany-to-Chile transplant Uwe Schmidt has recorded under so many aliases he makes Stephin Merritt and Markus Acher seem like shiftless underachievers, and although fully familiarizing myself with his discography would require me to set aside an entire autumn, the Schmidt projects I've heard in the past have all been knockouts. Whether he's letting fly with damaged space-junk glitch covers of Prince, David Bowie, and Donovan (LB's masterful Pop Artificielle), clattering ambient experimentation (DATacide's self-titled album), or lovingly arranged Latin-pop renderings of Kraftwerk's greatest hits (Senor Coconut's El Baile Aleman), Schmidt's wealth of ideas and his commitment to seeing them through to fruition makes each project a distinct, pleasurable creation rather than a simple Robert Pollard-style naming exercise in confounding the completists. (Now that I think about it, though, I would be willing to forgive much of Pollard's evasive discographical leapfrogging if he cut to the chase and released an album called Confounding the Completists.)

So I was thrilled that Geeez 'N' Gosh turned out to be a Schmidt project that was heretofore unknown to me, and I'm even happier to discover that it lives up to his standards for compelling rhythms and unpredictable sounds. Over a beat that keeps stumbling along like it has a handful of Lite-Brite pegs in its shoe, the heavily distorted voice of a preacher (I guess) repeatedly exclaims, "Jesus knows the way!" resulting in a laptop house homage to Brian Eno and David Byrne's religion-heavy proto-electronica album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. There's nothing close to a melody here, but the corrupted-data buzzes and shards that appear throughout appeal to me just as much as any actual tune is likely to, it's danceable beyond all reason, and I for one can't wait to further explore this corner of Schmidt's chiliagonal oeuvre.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"House of Business"

Song Title: "Get Out of My House"
Artist: The Business
Search Term: "House of Business"

While driving past a local convenience store recently, my wife misread the sign "BOB'S HOURS OF BUSINESS" as "BOB'S HOUSE OF BUSINESS" and we spent a little time mocking the name before realizing her mistake on the return trip. I thought "House of Business" sounded like a hilariously flimsy Mafia front company or the venture of an entrepreneur with an unusually nonspecific corporate mission, so it stuck with me.

Which is more than I can say for this song. The Business are a British Oi! punk band, though the amiably bopping rhythm and tastefully distorted guitar tone of this song sound more like Bob Seger than members of any sort of rebellious youth movement. Further dimming the menacing quotient, singer Mickey Fitz goes off on a protracted whinge about how he's constantly persecuted by the forces of anti-intellectualism both real and speculative. (In the second verse, the narrator assumes his dad will eventually kick him out of the house because of his smarts and general scruffiness, rather than the fact that he's a self-righteous little prat. Later he goes so far as to claim that God Himself will vindicate him, which definitely isn't the sort of hot air any reasonable parent would tolerate from some condescending moocher of a son.) Split Enz covered this terrain more pessimistically and successfully with "Nobody Takes Me Seriously," so there's no need to waste your time listening to Fitz kibbitz atop forgettable, phoned-in pseudo-punk.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Song Title: "Prenatal Excavation of Diseased Ovarian Atrocity, Demonstrating the Necessity for Extreme Prejudicial Infanticide within the Vomit Filled Womb"
Artist: Infected Disarray
Search Term: "Ovarian"

Trying. Too. Hard.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Song Title: "Olestra (Make It Fat) Dirtbutt"
Artist: Ill Brothers
Search Term: "Olestra"

With some guy rapping over a looped breakbeat and a groovy bass lick, and no other instrumentation except some scratching here and there, this throwback to old-school hip-hop like Public Enemy and 3rd Bass could be a priceless archaeological find from rap's first golden age if not for the comparatively recent references to Tommy Hilfiger and the mid-'90s diarrhea catalyst Olestra amid older referents like Splash and Gilda Radner. The boastful flow of the lyrics is a straightforward pleasure, as is the minimal, practically mono production.

If you're taken aback by rappers who drop the word "nigga" into their songs--which I suppose means you probably don't listen to a ton of hip-hop in the first place, though I realize it's a word that not everyone wants to deal with while they're ostensibly being entertained--you'll likely want to steer clear, because it pops up with Whack-a-Mole resoluteness here. (I myself smirked at the way the term is overused but then the MC cheekily softens the Pulp Fiction reference "I get offensive like Quentin Tarantino, who said that his garage just wasn't built to store dead Negroes.") I mention it only because I think certain readers may find it off-putting. They may wish to track down the radio edit, because this is a tune worth hearing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Song Title:
"Goodnight Binkie"
Artist: George Formby
Search Term: "Binkie"

George Formby was a musical comedian who was apparently hugely popular in England in the '30s and '40s. As my reactions to musical comedy generally range from disinterest to outright rage (PEOPLE DO NOT SPONTANEOUSLY BURST INTO ORNATELY CHOREOGRAPHED SONG), it's not surprising that I'd never previously heard of him, though for all I know my ignorance betrays a sizable gap in my pop-culture knowledge equivalent to never having caught wind of James Cagney or Doris Day. It really ain't my bag. The most interesting information I can find about him is that, according to Wikipedia, Formby accumulated a stable of odd catchphrases to rival Fred Willard's character in A Mighty Wind: "'It's turned out nice again!' as an opening line; 'Ooh, mother!' when escaping from trouble; and a timid 'Never touched me!' after losing a fistfight. ... George often exclaimed, 'Eeh! Well, I'll go to our house!' or, 'Mother!'"

This is a blandly pleasant lullaby Formby croons to Binkie Stuart in the 1936 comedy Keep Your Seats, Please. Though Formby was known for playing an unusual instrument known as a banjolele, this song has a more soporific music-box arrangement. One standout attribute: The creepy line "All good children go to heaven," besides forcing the nonsensical deployment of the only word lyricists ever use to rhyme with "heaven" ("Close your eyes while I count seven"), suggests a narrator who is primed to smother the innocent Binkie in his sleep in order to keep him from growing into a sinful, hellbound adult. I'll just go ahead and presume that's what happens in the film, since the poster accompanying its IMDB entry is enough to make me squirm with boredom.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Reddy Kilowatt"

Song Title: "Funny How"
Artist: Reddy Kilowatt
Search Term: "Reddy Kilowatt"

This appears to be the only song recorded by a short-lived California band named after an 85-year-old licensed corporate mascot for electrical utilities, who I imagine encourages consumers to use as much electricity as possible. ("When you go out to run errands, make sure to leave your oven on and its door open, pointed directly at the open door of your refrigerator, to ensure that you'll return to a house that's neither too hot nor too cold but juuuuust right!") He's a lightning-based stick figure with a disconcertingly large head and extremities, similar to Coily the Spring Sprite from one of Mystery Science Theater 3000's very greatest shorts. I dislike him.

For a body of work that consists of a single song, Reddy Kilowatt's two-and-a-half-minute career isn't bad at all: A bouncy little number that defies you not to bob your head rhythmically and dorkishly back and forth as you listen. With rapid-fire lyrics about romantic confusion, two distinctive guitar breaks, whimsical percussion, and sugary harmonies, it's so jam-packed with musical ideas that it almost recalls Of Montreal's fertile Gay Parade era. It's a shame the band has put determinedly little effort into the performance. Back in my high school years, when I was such a They Might Be Giants fanboy that I'd listen to anything that reminded me of their nerdy hookiness (the self-titled album by Lincoln remains a favorite of mine for all its cutesy flaws), I probably would have been charmed by the nasal singing and maybe even the butterfingered, out-of-tune lead guitar here. As an old man with a mortgage and a snowblower and a prostate, though, I don't have much patience for bands who go out of their way to undermine perfectly good power-pop songs with intentionally bothersome execution. You rotten kids.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Song Title: "Cessation of Hostilities"
Artist: Shamall
Search Term: "Cessation"

This well-thought-out, exploratory instrumental by ambient-pop artist Norbert Krueler has successfully performed the nigh-impossible feat of prodding me to enjoy what amounts to a cinematic wood nymph siren song. The abrupt beginning and ending to this track suggest it's a mere snippet of a larger proggy piece within the double album Who Do They Think They Are? but that doesn't do much to diminish the graceful, mysterious themes of "Cessation of Hostilities." The keyboard tones are a little on the... inexpensive side, but the enchanted-forest melodies--held together by a vaguely ominous busy-signal loop--are spellbinding even for those of us who generally detest anything that smacks of fantasy. It's sort of what I imagine a Loreena McKennitt remix would sound like, never having listened to Loreena McKennitt in spite of numerous friends' suggestions that I should. (The last new album I listened to was Ferrari Boyz by Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame. I have made time in my finite life for an album of hilariously awful, female-objectifying, codeine-extolling hip-hop by a duo that boasts a member who has a tattoo of an electrified ice cream cone on his face, but the well-regarded folk of Loreena McKennitt has long languished somewhere in the middle of my "artists to investigate" list. Priorities!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Primus Inter Pares"

Song Title: "Traum"
Artist: Primus Inter Pares
Search Term: "Primus Inter Pares"

Likely the least elaborate song you'll hear all day, this is one single crawling measure of four relaxing whole notes that is repeated ad infinitum. About the only thing that differentiates "Traum" from any random construction in Moby's Levittown of interchangable, prefabricated ambient products is the way the tenderly swaying guitar arpeggio and serene synth strings are encased in a glacier of lulling, reverbed, Sigur Ros-style feedback. I don't know that the track is anything you'd go two steps out of your way to listen to, but luckily all you have to do is click the link above to hear it, and its repetitive lapping may make you feel pretty content in the sedentary life you're apparently leading.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Song Title: "Lump"
Artist: Les Nordiques
Search Term: "Nordiques"

Perceptive readers will have realized by now that I have quite the green thumb when it comes to cultivating pet peeves. I like to delude myself that it's constructive and heartfelt when I go on and on about things that irk me, however, which is why today's entry in the Pet Peeve Parade particularly gets under my skin, because I'm irritated by things that are the opposite of constructive. Specifically, I find it odious when bands cover songs in such a sloppy, apathetic fashion that the tune is rendered not just unrecognizable but unlistenable. Generally it's the condescending attitude that bugs me: It's one thing for a cover to creatively undercut the original artist's intent by turning the song on its head--Devo's lock-limbed cover of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" completely removes the swagger from the Rolling Stones' original, leaving only the dangerously overcompressed sexual frustration; the Nip Drivers' hardcore distillation of Duran Duran's "Rio" quickly rescues the heavenly chorus from the bloat surrounding it in the latter's hands--but it's something else entirely to express your disdain for a song by tossing off a "why bother?" version so annoyingly lazy that it manifests a belief that the song is beneath you. For instance, the Meat Puppets' spitefully dopey decimation of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" and Low Barlow's awful Gen-X dismissal of Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just a Bill" are simply childish insults in musical form; empty invective that offers nothing in the way of better or alternative ideas.

But then, even if there's no malice behind it, there's still very little point to releasing a carelessly thrown-away rendition of anything. This cover of the Presidents of the United States of America's bright 1995 single doesn't possess any exaggeratedly sarcastic or dissonant elements, but it's so inadequately performed that the fact that Les Nordiques released it is every bit as chafing as if they were mocking the song. It sounds like it was recorded as the result of a conversation that went, "Dude, remember that song 'Lump' by the Refreshments or whoever? 'She's a lump! She's a lump! I can't get her out of my head'? I'll bet you 30 of our French equivalent of dollars that we can just pick up our instruments and play the song from memory even though we haven't heard it in our French equivalent of a decade!" The guitar isn't tuned, the vocals are all but inaudible, and the halting drumming completely obliterates the crisp energy that was the source of the original's charm. It's the sort of thoroughly unredeemed and aimless undertaking that actually makes me feel like it was irresponsible to use up the electricity that this recording required. I hope Les Nordiques at least planted a tree after dumping this onto tape.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Song Title: "Battle of Vinegar Hill"
Artist: Blaggard
Search Term: "Blaggard"

"Blaggard" is apparently a very popular band name, judging from my search engine of choice, and why wouldn't it be? Not only do plenty of post-Pogues folk-punk bands write scads of hardheaded lyrics honoring the so-called scoundrels ("blaggards") who have historically won or defended whatever way of life they currently enjoy from sinister oppressors and interlopers, but the word "blaggard" itself expels more than a whiff of tipsy, vaguely nauseous braggadocio in its phonemes; another common attribute of this style of music. Still, it makes it difficult for any one Blaggard to stand out amid the ruckus. This (one of at least two Blaggards from Australia) is the one with whom we are concerned today, and I would guess it's the best of the lot.

I haven't been able to locate any information about this band's make-up, but the first-person singular pronouns on Blaggard's website make me think it's a one-man project, which would make the tightly drawn, rough-and-stumble skill of this song all the more impressive. The Pogues' influence is clear in the way the beery spittle of the vocals scuffs up the lissome folk mandolin (whose stomping hook is doubled by a tin whistle), but the music's roots in Aussie rather than Irish folk make Blaggard sound closer to his countrymen Weddings Parties Anything. The lyrics concern the Castle Hill Rebellion of 1804, in which Irish convicts being held in Australia rose up against their British colonial rulers, leading to the creation of a small and short-lived independent empire within Australia. Things did not end well for the rebels--in part because many of them were shortsighted enough to get drunk and wander off after they initially overran the government farm in New South Wales--but "Battle of Vinegar Hill" successfully embodies the optimism and righteous anticipation of the rebels in the moments preceding the uprising. So if you feel like raising a glass or three to futility, I guess this is the song for you!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Song Title: "The Accomplice"
Artist: Think Twice
Search Term: "Accomplice"

Think Twice is the hip-hop moniker of Canadian producer Phil Kennedy, who possesses obvious talent for pairing heavy rap beats with intelligent, Madlib-style jazz touches that keep things from sounding flat-footed--even in the midst of imposingly weighty lyrical content. On this song, it's not a complaint but actually quite a feat that Kennedy's supple arrangement (the bassline above all) nearly outshines the vocals, because the narrative of "The Accomplice" is so harrowing that it's not correct to say it's gripping or engrossing; the suggestion that it's entertainment almost seems like poor taste. I hope to God the lyrics, by guest MC Coates, are an impressively lived-in character sketch rather than anything autobiographical, but they certainly feel acutely personal--so much so that it's not entirely clear what events transpired that led to the pervasive guilt expressed by the narrator. It sounds to me as though he helped a close female friend pick up some lowlife at a bar, and that scumbag intentionally transmitted HIV to her during sex, but just as you might use ellipses in your own journal in place of expository details you know you needn't remind yourself of, not all the puzzle pieces are here. The point isn't the story anyhow, but the narrator's fixation on his own culpability in his loved one's infection. Rapped with an intense quiver that borders on pleading (similar to Sage Francis at his most compellingly confessional), Coates heaps blame upon himself in a way that seems perfectly authentic rather than artistically calculated. The line "I enabled him to play you like Telly from Kids," for instance, might be a touch on-the-nose, but I find myself constantly processing the plot of my life via comparisons to movies and TV shows, so it does make perfect sense that he'd refer to that film while trying to make sense of what's happened. The difficult emotion of this track is the sort of thing that will halt any activity the listener might be engaged in while it's playing and leave her feeling stunned and a little ill, but it gets under your skin honestly unlike, say, the predictable button-pushing nihilism of Odd Future. (I have now fulfilled the requirement, mandated under the Pitchfork-SXSW Act of 2011, that every music critic weigh in on Odd Future before year's end. Let us never speak of them again.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Song Title: "Beyond the Milfoil"
Artist: The Rita
Search Term: "Milfoil"

Listening to "Beyond the Milfoil" on my computer immediately after downloading it, I initially thought that my audio player was interpreting the file as an incorrect sample type--or maybe I had failed to notice that the file wasn't an MP3 at all and Windows Media Player was trying to extract audio from an INI file or something, because what I was hearing did not sound like an intentional recording. But no, that's what Canadian anti-musicians The Rita evidently want to put in your earholes: A matted furball of loud, garbled nothing. Listen close and you can hear a hint of what sounds like someone yelling deep in the mix, but overall it just sounds like a heavy, sustained gust of wind whipping into a naked microphone. I do think it's a little interesting that the distorted soup doesn't come across as greatly abrasive; where lots of grumpy tumult artisans would boost the treble and try to assault the listener with as uninviting a sound as they can manage, "Beyond the Milfoil"'s white noise doesn't seem to be striving for obnoxiousness. I'd be hard pressed to identify what it is striving for, though. I'm sure The Rita thinks they're making some sort of avant-garde statement by creating such a dense, monochromatic fog, but didn't Lou Reed's defiantly purposeless Metal Machine Music render any subsequent noisemaking of this sort redundant? Those boundaries have already been amply pushed, so it strikes me that this sort of tuneless clutter is about as novel in the world of experimental music as a 12-bar blues structure is in the world of rock.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Song Title: "Ring Ring"
Artist: Kotai
Search Term: "AT&T" [This song is the B-side of Kotai's AT&T 12"]

Here's a song, it's a housey Detroit techno thing that goes on for almost 13 years minutes, hope you like tooth-ticklingly tinny 808 high-hats because those comprise its primary attribute. I really don't care about the song today because the search term was just an excuse to write a post in which I try to convince the entire world to never do business with AT&T by sharing my story as a cautionary example. (What follows will not be a Eugene Mirman-esque volley of hilarity. It's just going to be a couple pages' worth of me badmouthing AT&T because they are in the process of trying to extort $210 from me, and it will likely be as dull to you, the reader, as Kotai's tepid electronica will be to you, the listener.)

My wife's dad and her sister spent last winter in Florida, and my wife and I decided that a good Christmas present for them would be to get some sort of reasonably priced Internet service hooked up in their Cedar Key abode. Unfortunately, the only company offering high-speed Internet service in that area is AT&T, who provide as much value to the world of consumer telecommunications as a dustpan full of cigarette beetles would provide to an Ivy League department of entomology. Nonetheless, we were able to sign up for relatively cheap month-to-month service, and since we knew we'd only need to deal with them for four months, we tolerated their ineptitude. I didn't even bother correcting the way they misspelled my name on the account. In early May, my father- and sister-in-law moved back to Maine, so I canceled the AT&T Internet service. We received our final bill on May 26, which noted that not only were we all paid up but we actually had a $6.07 credit. I was so happy to have one less company to worry about cluttering up my life that I didn't even think to check whether that $6.07 could be applied toward one of those AT&T throw blankets from their eShoppe.

On July 23, however, I received a note from AT&T stating, “We recently sent you a final bill for your former telephone service. Our records indicate that $210.00 is past due and payment has not yet been received.” This was both balderdash and poppycock--"baldycock," as I call it, to the chagrin of my elders--because not only do I have in my possession the aforementioned final bill confirming a $6.07 credit, but I have never in my life received telephone service from AT&T.

So I called AT&T's customer service line to get this straightened out. For those who have never had the thrill of calling AT&T's customer service line, imagine a dartboard that features no bull's-eye; just a Cubist collection of inconsistently-sized shapes labeled with point values ranging from minus 20 to [poorly-placed UPC symbol]. The dartboard also spins, and as it does so, it emits a harsh creaking sound and the smell of burning plastic. AT&T's customer service department is the idiot who would not only invent this dartboard, but would hang it on the back of a door so that if you enter the room at the wrong moment, you will take a fatal dart to your jugular. When I attempted to call the customer service line, twice the number was busy and twice the line simply hung up on me after I had been on hold for 20 minutes. When I finally reached Jamie in accounts, he told me that I needed to speak with the cancellation department, and helpfully transferred my call to the voicemail box of the after-hours emergency department. (This was about 1:00 PM on a weekday.) At one point their hold music was Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh," which I grudgingly admired, because it really is the ideal song to convey the message "Yes, we are fucking with you!" to irate clients.

I finally managed to reach a woman in the retention department who told me that the $210 represented an early termination fee that was applied to my account in error. To be more precise, it represented two $105 early termination fees, as this erroneous charge had been applied to my account twice. Again, I have never contracted AT&T's services as a phone provider, so this charge could potentially be valid only if their billing practices are based wholly on Minority Report-style precognition, in which case I terminated my telephone service with AT&T so preposterously early that I managed to do so before I ever even considered signing up for the service, let alone ordering or receiving it. Of course, while I would not put it past AT&T to attempt to levy punitive charges against individuals for not purchasing their services, I am fairly certain that such fees would not withstand a legal challenge for the time being. (I have a hunch that AT&T's lobbyists could successfully purchase a majority in both houses of Congress to enable them to essentially collect a tax on all citizens who are not active AT&T subscribers, but thankfully when such a law is passed, it will not apply ex post facto to the $210 bill that they spun out of asshole cloth for me.) Anyway, after some wheedling, the woman in retention told me that she had expunged the charges from my account and she pledged to send me written confirmation that I now had zero outstanding balance with AT&T. Such written communication was never sent. Obviously.

It should be noted at this point that the fact that I was able to reach a human being at all is evidently a small miracle among AT&T customers: When I related this story on Facebook, my friend and colleague Mike DeFabio commented ruefully, "Sounds like you got lucky. In my experience, AT&T's support line leads directly to a phone in an empty room with no doors."

Anyway, I continued leading my virtuous life of extreme couponing and consensual BDSM, content in the knowledge that this unpleasantness was behind me, until August 19, when I received a notice from a collection agency called FAMS (Financial Asset Management Systems) stating, “Your delinquent AT&T account has been placed with Financial Asset Management Systems, Inc.” Yes, AT&T still wanted my $210 and had resorted to the use of hired goons to get it. FAMS does not appear to have an active website, but I can tell you their director of operations is named Kevin Inches, who I hope possesses the grace to have thanked his parents for blessing him with a name that can so easily be converted into a surefire pick-up line that it would take an AT&T employee to bungle the attempt.

So it was time for another journey into AT&T's twisty, turny customer service colon. Twice, upon barking, "Agent! Agent! Agent!" at the automated triage system like Frances McDormand in Burn After Reading, I was transferred to a busy signal. Eventually I reached Monica in the billing department, who told me I needed to speak to the retention department at 866-666-1675. At that number, I spoke with a fellow named Mike, who told me he could not help me because I had called their Missouri department, whose staff cannot access my account. He then inexplicably transferred me to the web sales center. I called back and another woman gave me a different number to try. This, too, led to the web sales center. I called the retention department number once more and a different Mike told me that I hadn't been calling the retention department at all. He gave me yet another number to dial, why not. Upon doing so, I reached Shauna, who also told me that she was in AT&T's Midwest division and so could not assist with my Florida-based account. After promising to transfer me to the correct department, she transferred me to a busy signal.

At that point I decided to handle things through the mail. Where we stand at the time of this writing is that I have sent notices of dispute to AT&T and Mr. Inches via registered mail (delivery of both was confirmed on August 22), accompanied by documentation of the experiences described above as well as a list of demands including that AT&T call FAMS off and that they provide me with written proof that they have contacted all three credit bureaus to make clear that this charge was erroneous and should not affect my credit report. I have also opened a formal complaint about AT&T with the Better Business Bureau. I will update this post with further details as this saga proceeds. If any reader has had similarly enjoyable dealings with AT&T and their Bonanza of Quality, I would love for you to describe them with all appropriate venom in the comments section!

Update 9/18/11: A few days ago, I received a call from someone named Mary in AT&T's executive escalation offices, I think she said, to discuss the letter I'd written. After she asked me a few questions, she claimed that FAMS has been told not to pursue the $210 further, my account has been wiped clean, the credit bureaus have been notified of AT&T's error, and she would be sending me written confirmation of all this. I asked for an additional $150 to compensate me for the time, cell phone minutes, and other materials I wasted fighting this mistake, and she said, "Unfortunately, we do not compensate people for their time," but did agree to send me a $50 "courtesy credit"--in the form of a check, not AT&T store credit or anything. I accepted, happy to get even that much. I will continue to remain dubious until I actually receive the check and written confirmation, but it hasn't stopped me from making plans for the $50. At first, I was toying with the idea of spending the money on books about the evils of telecommunications deregulation, which I would donate to my local library. But ultimately I've decided that, given AT&T's history of donating piles of money to conservative politicians like Rick Perry, it would be far more satisfying to spend their money purchasing CDs for the library by rabidly left-wing artists like Phil Ochs, the Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, and Godspeed You Black Emperor.

Yesterday I was speaking with my mother-in-law, and she told me that the heating oil company for which she works signed up for a cell phone plan with AT&T, covering the field workers in their rural Maine service area. Naturally, it was quickly discovered that the company's workers may as well have been carrying around cell phone-shaped candy dispensers for all the good AT&T's coverage was doing them. Upon calling AT&T's support line, a representative took a look at their coverage map, which I expect looks a lot like a half-teaspoon of paprika tossed onto a lifesize map of the United States, and confirmed that AT&T did not actually provide coverage in the area this company needed it, and so agreed to terminate the contract without levying an early termination fee. You can guess what they received in the mail a few weeks later. My mother-in-law said it took the company's intern about eight hours on the phone with AT&T to get this sorted out.

So, dear reader, if you are thinking of signing up with AT&T for any service whatsoever, please bear in mind that odds are fairly good that you will not only receive substandard service, but you may be issued charges that you are specifically told you would not be issued, and it will require at least a full workday's worth of time on the phone--for which you will not be properly compensated--to correct their error. As far as I'm concerned, it's borderline criminal that they're able to get away with this time and again, so all I can do is urge you to seek another service provider if there is one available to you.

Update 10/8/11: Nearly a month has passed since I last heard from AT&T and I still have not received the $50 check or the written confirmation of the actions they claim to have taken. (The Better Business Bureau did forward me AT&T's written response to the BBB regarding my case. Their note details the conversation I'd had with Mary and AT&T's promises to rectify things. It contains the sentence, "Mr. Williams was satisfied." I once again grudgingly admire their chutzpah there.) So I called Mary on Thursday and left a cranky voicemail in which I slowly repeated my case number and phone number a few times, just to get under her skin childishly. She called me back Friday and said that she would immediately contact accounts receivable to get the check and final invoice out to me. I asked whether that would be accompanied by her written confirmation that the collection agency has been told to back off and the credit bureaus had been contacted, and Mary told me, "I don't recall saying I would write a letter," as though that were the most absurd imposition that had ever been requested of her. I suppose it's not a big deal because I was going to call the credit bureaus myself anyway, but I remember harping on this specific demand quite a bit in our earlier conversation. I'm beginning to wonder whether all AT&T employees are bashed in the hippocampus with a tow ball as part of orientation.

Update 1/22/12: I suppose I should mention at this point that I did indeed receive the check from AT&T, after a while, and I did spend it on left-wing albums for the library. Phew.