Peace Tapes

This used to be a place — circa 2009 — where I’d aggregate links to good online music mixes and streams. Such a webpage, in this Spotify era, is now mostly obsolete. But I shan’t delete it because of the comments section. I even wrote a short essay about the comments section of this page (and another on this site) for a special section of Opium magazine that never ran so I will just paste it here to add my gloss to the bizarre drama. –Ed.

At my last job, I was the person in the office with computer speakers. When the room became uncomfortably quiet, which was every day until noon, my coworkers would ask me to play music. I was constantly deleting MP3s to make room on my hard drive for work files, though, which left me with limited albums to play. I began compiling a list of places on the web that streamed office-friendly music — nothing too commercial, nothing too abrasive. I posted this list on my blog and called it “Peace Tapes,” borrowing the title from a video I had recently seen, an excellent digital film collage by Paper Rad’s Jacob Ciocci.

A few months later, I posted an entirely unrelated blog entry — a parody of Terry Gross’s NPR interview show Fresh Air. The entry’s first reader comment came a week later, from someone named Danny Donian. He wrote, in shouting all-caps:


His name linked back to a tie-died website promoting a 1991 VHS release called Peace Tapes, “a video guide to peace.” The tape featured interviews from the 80s and 90s, mostly with musical figures from the 1960s counter-culture: Bob Weir, Richie Havens, Ram Dass, and Yoko Ono, along with music videos for songs by the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and the Smothers Brothers.

I wasn’t sure what Danny Donian meant by “things that piss us all off” — like nearly everything else on my blog, “Paparazzo: Episode Three” was a nonsensical slice of self-amusement, without much in the way of anger or scathing critique. Donian must have ended up on my website by searching Google for mentions of his own Peace Tapes. Maybe he even thought I’d named my page in honor of his project. I recently emailed Jacob Ciocci to ask if his Peace Tape video was named in honor of Donian’s. Ciocci had never heard of it: he told me that for his video, he’d sampled and borrowed the name from a different Peace Tape. The Virtual 60’s: The PEACE Tape is clearly a competitor to Donian’s: it’s another VHS cassette devoted to 60s nostalgia, released in the early 90s.

Two months later, Donian left a second comment:

Hello I am the producer of the peace tapes. Heres a “scoop” The Peace Tapes will be “streaming” free of charge soon.A.S.A.P. I just have to do some things first,Like get this little girl out of my life first(my Wife) She should get a shovel shes a goldiger. FREE FREE FREE!!!!!! YES THATS IT !YES ,YES,YES!

I sometimes leave woozy late-night comments on my friends’ blogs. When I do, it feels like I’m crashing on their couch for the night. I know it’s a safe space for me to stash my riffs, and I can take advantage of their linguistic hospitality for the night. I have my own blog to go home to in the morning. Danny’s second comment was a little alarming — I was unclear why he needed to angrily mention his wife in what otherwise was an announcement about the Peace Tapes’ reissue. But I felt affection for Donian; I appreciated his enthusiasm. I was happy to let him sleep it off on my couch for the night.

Six months passed. Then, in September of last year, a new comment appeared:

Hey all you rockers out there.A word of advice from a old hippie divorce really hurts.I do not know,maybe never will why my wife(still) kicked me out.orders of protection she got.We talked,she came up here to WI and it was the best day i have had in almost two years.So lonely.Divorce is hell on earth.I try to keep on working on my films and guitar playing.Got Cancer,beat up,robbed,hooked on herion.And thats the good times.I just lost my brother Mike.I lost my wife and son Caleb,he hates me so much he changed his name from mine!So if anyones thinking about divorce,forget about it,the Beatles said “We can work it out” I guess my wife never understood the words.Funny thing is i still love her,allways will.Danny Donian

It occurred to me that Danny might be fake. At first glance, he does seem like an internet fabrication. I can think of at least six friends who’d actually take the time to impersonate an old hippie writing the diary of his divorce on an obscure corner of my blog. But it doesn’t take long to find pictures of Donian on the web — some with Bob Weir and Richie Havens, presumably from the Peace Tapes sessions, and some with his wife, his co-producer on the Tapes.

A week later, a “miss no name” replied to Donian’s lamentations:

first of all, you got your guitars, you got cash and food in your belly and you obviously got dope if you got hooked on herion, unfortunately, half your bitching is bull shit and the other half is bad, saying that about your kid, it’s a lie and it’s wrong… saying you got cancer, you FREAK, you don’t have cancer you got please pity me disease! and what else? i dunno. need an expert. and you aren’t the only one ever hurt by divorce and dats for sure. and when you say you gonna kill someone in the family, you get kicked out, and i’m sure that’s in any family, so you know why you got kicked out…quit your wah wah

Was miss no name Danny’s wife, or another interested party? Maybe she was a sister-in-law. What if miss no name was actually Danny himself, impersonating his adversaries, talking through his problems by arguing with himself in writing? There was never any reason to believe anything Danny wrote in the first place, but miss no name’s claim that Danny’s cancer was a lie was an unsettling reminder not to take the old hippie’s bathos too seriously. As with any piece of writing —  and especially with a diary — Danny’s comments were performances.

For the next six months, a steady stream of comments followed. So far, my post from December 30, 2009 has 71 responses. Every one of them is from Danny, with a few attributed to miss no name. On some occasions, Danny comments as “mushrooman.” (I know it’s Danny because he and mushrooman have the same email address.) At first mushrooman seemed like an even more unhinged alter-ego for Danny — possibly the handle he uses while he’s tripping — but they’ve merged into basically the same voice.

In the last two weeks, the comments have become still more frequent — I now get about two or three a day. Danny still writes about divorce, and custody battles, and the Peace Tapes, but lately he’s begun discussing Wisconsin politics, Facebook, the tsunami in Japan, and any other subject that catches his attention. It’s as if I’ve asked Danny to write a daily column, though we’ve never spoken. His comments have grown longer, and include more and more detailed descriptions of his day-to-day life, more stories of driving around town, and details of his prescription drug use.

Danny has a tic in his writing that I like: In many comments, he’ll quote (or misquote) classic rock lyrics, and then add the copyright info. For example:

Dan To Sue:”When will i see you again?” from A man needs a maid Copyright 1970 neil Young. Harvest: Warner brothers special products.

This unnecessary scrupulousness with regard to copyright might be a holdover from Donian’s experience putting together the Peace Tapes. Clearing the rights for the tapes’ major-label contributors must have been a headache. But why doesn’t Danny take the same care with his own story, his own language and life, as he does with Warner Brothers’ music? Do I own the rights to the comments Danny posts on my blog? Why doesn’t he keep his journal on his own blog, where he can protect and control it?

Danny’s only made one comment acknowledging the strangeness of the venue he’s chosen for his divorce diary. On October 12, he wrote:

Well I decided to make this my journal,now allot of you out there in space hopefylly wont need to read this,as i myself are not saving the wrighting i am (and have been) embarking on a journal of my divorce,i promise not to boar anyone.I have written a book allready,and i do not want one on this,so you might say this is text that will not be printed.

Danny chose a hidden corner of my blog for his diary precisely because of its obscurity, the way it hides in plain sight. It’s just the internet, after all, so his text isn’t really being “printed” (at least not until now). But, being the internet, there’s also a good chance that his wife or anyone else looking for him will find and read it, which is obviously the central appeal of putting anything online. And keeping the diary on someone else’s domain means he doesn’t have to take responsibility for it. He says he’s not saving it — whatever happens to his text, preserving or deleting it becomes my responsibility. Thus, Danny gets the best of both worlds, as far as a diary is concerned: He can make his account, and remain unaccountable.