Shut Up, Little Man!

Some Notes Toward a History of Shut Up, Little Man!

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“I Can Kill You Instantly” — The accelerated proliferation of Shut Up Little Man

cd cover
First CD's cover art

Several months later, Johan Kugelberg, a Bananafish fan and an AOR man for Matador Records, called one afternoon to offer Mitchell and I a contract for a Shut Up Little Man CD. Delightedly, we agreed to a contract (both of us receiving a whopping $125) for a first pressing of Shut Up Little Man. I flew out to San Francisco for a long weekend, and in one extended full-on all-night session Mitchell and I selected 36 segments to be featured on the CD.

The Shut Up Little Man CD was released in the Spring of 1993. There was a sudden flurry of articles discussing the recordings in Vanity Fair, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Spin, and Playboy (which we read only for the article). The press was fairly consistent and typically superficial, but they all treated the fact that the recordings were darkly comic and deeply unsettling. The Washington Post called the recordings “hilarious, but profoundly disturbing”. Vanity Fair said that the CD was “grimly fascinating, full of light-hearted moments (You fuckin’ piece of shit) and tenderness (I want to kill you).” And, Spin chimed in: “This epic documentary is as disturbing as it is hilarious.”

The press treated the Shut Up Little Man recordings as an example of what some were calling The Audio Verite craze. The CD came to public attention just as other surreptitious recordings were appearing. Some of these recordings featured celebrity outbursts (e.g. Buddy Rich screaming at his underpaid band, Casey Kassem cursing out the copy editor of his famous Top 40 show, and so forth). Simultaneously, there was a sudden proliferation of Prank Tapes, like the legendary “Red’s Tube Bar Tape,” the not yet famous “Jerky Boy” tapes, and the Pittsburgh Fightster prank calls. So, as is typical of the press, all of these recordings were lumped together as some sort of movement sweeping the nation. And yet, several of the journalists noted that somehow Shut Up Little Man was different or in its own class, because (1) it was not the nasty private side of public figures (like Rich or Kassem) and (2) not the assumed personalities of pranksters. The Shut Up Little Man recordings were, of course, real live tapes of down-and-out maniacal inner city drunkards. And, despite the fact that Peter and Raymond’s dialogue was repeatedly compared to writers — Beckett, Bukowski, and Mamet — part of the unusual appeal and simple power of the recordings was that they were real.

The Shut Up Little Man gospel was spreading, and as I said, it was getting weird. A radio station, BFM in Auckland, New Zealand, obtained a copy of the CD. The station manager, a kind and witty soul named Graeme Humphries, saw the soap operatic aspect of Peter and Raymond and decided to draw that to the foreground. Therefore, he and his colleagues produced and broadcast a short serial segment of Shut Up Little Man to play daily on the airwaves. Complete with a melodramatic orchestral background (in true soap opera style), the introductory comments would say things such as: ”In today’s segment of Shut Up Little Man we join Peter and Raymond, as Raymond claims that he can use any weapon there is and Peter marks the vodka.” One member of the BFM staff, Robert, made a journey all the way to the Bay Area in search of Peter and Raymond. Ray, the little man, had died, but he did find a receptive Peter and Tony at the old Pepto Bismol Palace ready and willing to be interviewed for the radio show. The resulting recording, ”The Peter and Tony Interview,” was equally as funny and disturbing as the original tapes. In a way ”The Peter and Tony Interview” held a particular fascination, as it was a sort of ”backstage” at the Peter and Raymond show.