My friend Jamie claims to have a mystical relationship with his iPod. He says the universe sends him messages through the songs that appear when he sets his device on random.
Andras Jones has a similar theory, but his "Pop Oracle" speaks to the masses. Jones is the host of Radio8Ball, a weekly show on Olympia radio station KAOS. Sometimes accompanied by musical guests (Rickie Lee Jones, Michael Penn, and John Wesley Harding have all shared divination duties), Jones becomes a broadcast mystic every Tuesday from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., channeling the power of the ineffable Pop Oracle by randomly selecting songs from a mix of CDs to answer callers' questions.
"Only in Olympia," you might think, but Jones found a kindred soul in James Infantino, lead singer of Boston's eccentric pop-rock combo Jim's Big Ego. Infantino off-handedly agreed to appear on Radio8Ball during a West Coast tour and then was deeply affected by the experience, which dovetailed with an idea he'd had for a theatrical production. Enter the Ego & the Oracle, which brings the Radio8Ball experience out of the studio and onto the stage. During Ego & the Oracle shows, audience members stuff hand-written queries into a wooden box marked "Questions for the Oracle" and then spin a giant wheel to select one of the band's songs. The band plays the song, Jones interprets its lyrics in relation to the question, and everyone present is awed/skeptical/nonplussed, depending on the relevance of the reading and how many cocktails have been consumed. A cross between a concert, a Ouija board, and comedy theater, the Ego & the Oracle has already enjoyed an inaugural run in Boston and national attention on NPR's All Things Considered.
Using the classic conduit of prophecy, the telephone line, we asked the Oracle a few questions of our own—either profound or profoundly irrelevant, depending on your perspective.
Is Seattle ready for the Pop Oracle?
Song: Jim's Big Ego, "Party on the Everglades" (from They're Everywhere, 2003)
Lyrics: "She's got the bejesus bleeding from her arms... Seaplanes land on her and are never seen again. My friends all want to meet... She's something special... she's endangered and dangerous."
Interpretation (Jones): The key line to me is "endangered and dangerous." She might lash out at any would-be hero who would dare try and save her. Is Seattle ready to rise from the swamp and dance with the Pop Oracle? She's ready, but the Oracle seems to be asking, are we?
Since the Ego & the Oracle is being presented in both Seattle and Boston, which baseball team does it prefer, the Ms or the Sox? Ichiro or Dice-K?
Song: Jim's Big Ego, "Postcard from Cariacou" (from No Place Like Nowhere, 2000)
Lyrics: "Hello darling, why what an intense experience this is. Last night was the last night of Carnival... The water is gorgeous and clear and cool and I wish you could share this adventure with me."
Interpretation (Jones): The Pop Oracle seems to be saying that baseball is a poor place to put one's attention with so much more life-giving pleasure in the world. Of course, it could also be argued that the coming of baseball season is like the coming of Carnival and a day at the beach. At any rate, the Pop Oracle doesn't seem to profess any team loyalty whatsoever.
Interpretation (Infantino): I think that the Pop Oracle is indeed outside of the realm of regionalism, but it does invite us to play and lose our dualistic point of view of this team against that, you against me, and take on the adventure of a new place.
Is Britney Spears going to be okay?
Song: Jim's Big Ego, "Ahead of the Curve" (from Don't Get Smart, 1998)
Lyrics: "All of my friends are doing what I was doing when I was half their age... I'd tell you what I'm doing now but it just might start a trend... Now you see me walking down the street. What you don't realize is that I'm like 12 years ahead of you where everything you own is retro now. I'm looking at you man and I'm just laughing at your sense of cool because I'm ahead of the curve."
Interpretation (Jones): Britney, who has carried so many cultural projections in her young life, has been so many different girls (and maybe doesn't "know what she is missing"), but she can't help but be ahead of the curve. I think the Oracle is directing our attention, as always, back at ourselves and inviting us to laugh at our own sense of cool in the wake of a celebrity's meltdown.
Interpretation (Infantino): I see this as very hopeful indeed. I think the Oracle is pointing out that Britney's current changes underline our own culture's evolution into a post-celebrity society. She is ahead of the curve in wearing out that thin veneer that remains of the celebrity's uniqueness. Peel back that film, shave off that hair, and she looks like a messed up version of any of us. Britney's a pioneer.
Clearly, your willingness to give in to the nebulous whims of the spirit world will largely determine how much bearing this rock 'n' roll Q&A will have when it hits Seattle. But know this: During our interview, a question about the Oracle's message to Seattle turned up a JBE song that referenced Kurt Cobain, Infantino's story about accidentally singing that same song with Mary Lou Lord to Sub Pop employees at South by Southwest, and the bizarre coincidence that Jones had planned a songwriting session with Lord for the day that Cobain was found dead.
Turn the volume up loud enough and you're bound to stir the spirits. Will the Ego & the Oracle show be a good time? Signs point to yes. Will you leave with next week's winning lottery number? Outlook not so good.