Public Access Television is for documenting maniacs who are certain they need documenting. It’s always a gamble tuning in to Public Access – anyone with $50, a dream, and a head injury that prevents shame can get on TV. On channel 1170. At 3AM. Turn on Public Access and you might get something about gardening, you’ll probably get something about Christ, you’ll definitely get at least one flaccid penis. There was one show when I was a kid where a man in a goat mask just swung his dick around to Halloween Sound Effects. It was foundational art that shaped me as a person. But you have to sift to find the gold, is what I’m saying.
That’s what I’m here for. I’m your Goatmask Dick Sifter, and I have found Isn’t That Something?
We open as most Public Access shows open: on a drunk middle-aged man in an interesting hat. He listens to jazz in the way an uncle does, shameless and free. He does hand dances in a crowded corner where a grandma exploded. He scats. Oh, he scats.
“What charming opening credits,” you think. “Just a relaxed man doing his thing, about to welcome us to the show.”
No, this is the show.
This is Mike Loveless. I assume he was Mike Love before the divorce.
We are going to do this. We are going to spend half an hour watching a drunk furniture salesman rediscover music. He will pretend to conduct a guitar. He will sing along with a trumpet.
He makes faces like an animated bullfrog, which is great because he is wearing the exact right outfit for that.
He invents dance moves that have already been invented, but not like this. Not like this. Behold the robot, but a specific kind of robot.
It’s kind of a robot trying to remove dog hair from the jumper of a hyperactive child. It’s kind of C3PO dying.
We do not have to surmise that he is drunk.
Loveless didn’t just come into this show fucked up (he did), he is using this show to get fucked up (he will). And it’s going great! Then, everything stops.
He has found himself.
In the monitor.
Jazz plays, abandoned, as a man who looks like a Hank, not a Henry, contemplates his external existence: The physical space he occupies in this world instead of just the life he leads inside his own head.
Then it’s time for more dancing.
This would be plenty – no words, just watching a Heart Attack Before Photo experience pure solo joy in a way that doesn’t get him arrested at a bus stop. But no, he speaks!
It does take a while.
I have done my best to transcribe it, but please forgive any mistakes or shortcomings. Mike Loveless talks like Boss Hogg dying in a black hole and the cadence of one word is always at war with the next. This is how he opens the show:
He trails off, shrugs miserably.
Welcome to the show!
We have just now started. Expect at all times for our host to get lost staring at a tchotchke, a memorial of somebody’s mother’s obsession with ceramic pigs, or a human skull with panties on it. Notice the pure chaos, the crazily tilted photos on the wall, the action figures, half the set of Doctor Who. This man will scat to himself while staring at all of them. “Rank bank gank a gank” he’ll say, blearing misty-eyed at a plastic frog, “Gank ganky gank gank bank.”
And you will watch, transfixed.
He will frequently sexually harass this mannequin.
So this is a show about music. He told us that much. It might not be true, it’s not always up to the artist to decide what the art is about. Ray Bradbury famously thought Fahrenheit 451 was about the dangers of television. This man will fondle a plastic bank teller while hollering tuba noises, and he thinks that’s about music.
We will be the judges of that.
Let’s hear our first album, Chime Music, by Lou Charles.
“Let’s see what this sounds like,” Loveless says, because he didn’t vet the records ahead of time.
It is clocks.
I will repeat that. It is the various sounds a grandfather clock might make, in no special kind of order. I am not being dismissive about a style of music, this is what a clock salesman might play while trying to sell you a clock or murdering you in a shed, clock salesman depending.
Loveless grabbed an album at random, and he wound up with an archival recording to remind aliens what clocks were like long after human society collapses. My god. Where the fuck are we? My god. It goes so fast.
He turns to the camera, and remember you are hearing atonal clock sounds bonging loudly throughout this, he turns to the camera and says…
He pauses to mess with the RPMs, doing a clock chime chop and screw. It endlessly repeats. He meows along to it, he becomes concerned, he asks who the cat is – he solves this problem; he is the cat. He addresses himself as a cat. He asks his cat self how he feels about remixed clock sounds.
This is the end. Possibly of all things, probably of the coherency of language, definitely of this record. He applauds the patience of men who play clocks, he hurls the record across the room, he scats clock sounds to himself for the next minute.
It is time to sexually harass the mannequin. Some shows will segue between scenes by throwing it to the band, others will toss in a short clip to hide the transition. Here, we grope a plastic woman and then get offended at her lack of interest.
Now it’s time for Corey Hart’s First Offense. “Let’s hear some offensive guy,” Loveless garbles. “Sunglasses at Night” will play for the next five minutes, but it will feel like forty, as it always does. Just as with the clock solos, it is imperative you remember Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” is playing to its completion while all of this is happening. It’s part of the art.
He is wearing a special suit just for this episode. He got it from a flea market. It belongs to someone possibly named Jason Frambini from Sports. I do not know and I will not look it up, I recognize a knowledge trap when I see one. I know which concepts will plant info-bombs in my head, to be triggered by seeing certain stock photo models in ads for new salad dressings. I know the CIA puts them there. This is not my first day on Public Access, I have seen every episode of They Know But Do You Know? Now You Know with Electric Jimmy Pork.
Either Loveless got hustled for a Big ‘N Tall suit that an Indiana Gypsy could not move without elaborate lies, or he stole a dead man’s clothes. Those are assumptions I’m making. I will not listen if you tell me anything more about Jason Frambini. I will attack you if you try.
Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” really kicks into overdrive.
Loveless suddenly pulls out a pistol and everything makes sense. For the first time in the show, you get it. The liquor, the chaos, the cold-hearted bitch of a mannequin, the clock sounds. It’s a bleak island we’ve found ourselves on, but sometimes you’re just glad to be standing on land again.
We know exactly where this is going…
He conducts Corey Hart with the cigar. It doesn’t work. He’s never heard the song before; he doesn’t know you can’t tame Corey’s restless Hart.
Loveless pauses for a long time, then says “you know the show right now is running kinda slow,” and I don’t believe him. I’ve spent ten minutes in this episode and I’m already at peace with watching a man in a dead giant’s suit blow his brains out to “Sunglasses at Night.” This is riveting television, but everybody gets imposter syndrome. Loveless puts his hand to his mouth, like he’s telling us a secret, then hollers like a rural mechanic upset at an engine possum.
“I’m kinda feeling embarrassed how it’s running,” he screams. “I think I’m gonna hide.”
And he does that.
And now it’s time to hide. This is the hiding portion of the show.
It will last for the rest of the show.
Oh sure, he pops up every once in a while to drunkenly knock over records like a groundhog that is not handling the groundhog divorce well. But 20 minutes of this show’s 30 minute run-time is watching for the wormsign of a 53 year old man crawling around on the floor, smoking, hollering, and never forgetting his drink.
That is a wrap on Corey Hart.
“HEYHN! WANNA HEAR SOME DISCO?”
A voice booms from a place we can’t identify. A straw fedora bobs unsteadily. The gulp of a rum and flat Diet Coke (no ice) going down smooth.
There’s a logistical issue. It’s time to change the record and we need to wipe it with a damp cloth because it’s all that’s left, the records are all that’s left – but if you’ll recall, we are hiding from debt collectors and memories of Brenda in the one place they left us: The floor.
He does it! He breaks out of hiding, he wrestles himself off the floor, he emerges to get the cloth, to clean the record, to clean off everything – he weaves, blinking amniotically at a bigger world, full of potential.
We put on some disco, time to get down!
This is the magic of Public Access. You have nothing. No context, no foundation, no reference points. You volunteered to take a human journey and now here you are watching a former Fort Wayne Chili Contest Champion half-boogie on a basement floor.
“HEYHN! You wanna hear a dead guy?” Loveless asks.
Okay, so the pistol lighter was a false start but we were right, this is a video suicide note. That was always where this was going-
“OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN IS SINGING,” He explains.
Olivia Newton John, famous dead guy.
Look at those bold dance moves! Flowing seamlessly from Hungry Gorilla to How Do I Walk These Feet to Crashing the Surfboard. Mike Loveless dances, wild and free (while still hiding from a camera he himself set up). He gets up to skip every single song, listening for 10 seconds only. He does not like disco. It escapes him why he suggested it.
He takes the record off, he cleans the record. He gives us a lesson about cleaning records. He puts the record back on. He forgot he took it off. He listens to 10 seconds of each song and remembers he does not like disco.
You forgot too, didn’t you? That you’re watching a Public Access show somebody pitched, petitioned, and paid to be made. The streaming age has left you immune to one-camera glimpses into banal insanity. And then comes the program break.
“HEYHN!” He yells from behind a stack of records, still hiding from his own show. “If you like the content of this program, please write to Isn’t That Something? Post Office *coughing, gagging* 10387, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 46852.”
Something about that – about pausing this “program” to invite longtime fans to write in – just breaks me. I hope they did. I hope they wrote in by the hundreds, absolutely flooding this man’s life with love and validation.
“I loved the hiding episode!” One reads. “I never did find you!”
“I found so much great music thanks to you throwing it in my yard!” Another gushes.
“I forgive you for throwing up on my father’s corpse at the open casket funeral!” A Brenda raves.
Mike Loveless puts on a serious face.
“All the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the channel you’re watchin… but they’re real important to this guy – he’ll back it up.”
He points to himself. Probably. We can’t see it.
A quick reminder that he has expressed no views.
This has been a lot of fun, just watching a traveling salesman make a home for himself in music, a home for himself in joy, a home for himself probably in his ex-wife’s garage without her knowledge. But there’s a darkness to the show that I don’t wish on this man. We need something pure and good and positive to chase it away and end the episode strong.
Oh hell yes. The gods of Chaos shine on Mike Loveless. The last record of the night, the one that random chance has chosen for him? Purple Rain, by Prince and the Revolution.
This is it, Mike. This is how the universe tells you it wants you to live. This is the cosmos putting Brenda on blast.
You know me. You know this next section could be a thousand words. A thousand beautiful breathless words about a man who upsells warranties on aluminum siding turning his whole life around after hitting rock bottom and finding a Prince album there. It’s what my next screenplay is gonna be about and I already won every award for it. I could try to paint you a picture of the bursting, room-filling joy of Purple Rain flooding through Mike Loveless’ brain and bonding with the Sadness Neurons and the Wild Turkey Molecules and just washing them out, leaving him sober and happy and weeping and vomiting up the karmic sludge of thirty years, thirty god damn years that never once went the way he wanted – I could do that. I could write those thousand words. I’m not going to write those thousand words.
Instead, here’s four.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Michael Wells, famous dead guy.