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Rubb You the Wrong Way 

Whistling mufflers, car maniacs, and KRON-TV spawn an Internet icon

Wednesday, Feb 12 2003
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Loud and obnoxious aren't just for bands anymore "The latest rage for kids is driving parents and entire neighborhoods crazy," KRON-TV anchor Pam Moore said on a recent broadcast. This time around, however, we're not talking about rock 'n' roll or virgin sacrifices -- we're talking about "Whistle Tips," cheap pieces of metal welded onto the mufflers of cars in Oakland to make them louder. On Jan. 13, the Channel 4 news did an exposé on the Tip trend, unwittingly spawning an Internet celebrity and a remix phenomenon.

The news bit had your typical suburbs vs. inner city slant. The reporter interviewed several white folks who were terribly unnerved by the screeching of the customized cars, a Hispanic shop owner who indicated he'd install the devices as long as people asked for them, and two young African-Americans -- "Bubb Rubb" and "Lil Sis" -- who were quite proud of their newly applied noisemaker. "The whistles go, 'Woooo!'" said Rubb, clad in a Raiders headband and jersey. "You want that 'Woo woooo!' It's all about the flow."

Usually, such a fluffy piece of journalism would've disappeared into the ether, but the next day some Oakland car enthusiasts posted a link to the segment on several auto-forum Web sites. Mark Leinhos, a Tucson car nut and self-described "weekend musician," read about it on www.vwvortex.com. "We all had a good laugh and shook our heads in dismay for our species," Leinhos says via e-mail. "One of the people on a bulletin board I frequent suggested that Bubb was so ghetto that he would have his own rap song soon. Since no one else was making it, I decided to."

Leinhos' tune, "Ghetto Hooptie Woo Remix" (released under the moniker the Evil Shift Key), was an instant smash. In two weeks, more than 25,000 people downloaded the number -- which features Rubb saying "Woo woooo!" and other insightful things over a throbbing beat and whistle-synth part -- from Leinhos' Web site, http://members.cox.net/theevilshiftkey/ woo.shtml. "Some guy in L.A. e-mailed me asking if I would be interested in doing some incidental music for a short film," Leinhos says. "Apparently he needs some gangsta-rap style backgrounds and liked the early '90s hip hop sound of my song."

Another car aficionado, UC San Diego senior Matt Durand, discovered Bubb Rubb around the same time. Tired of explaining what he was talking about to his non-auto-minded pals, Durand put up a site devoted to the whistling wonder at http:// bubbrubb.howheels.org. He included the original news link, Leinhos' MP3, a Flash animation bit with a car spitting out "woo" from its muffler, and a few images that people had reconfigured (a book cover for Horton Hears a Woo Woo!, Rubb as a basketball ref with his own whistle, Rubb as Whistler's Mother). In the first week, Durand received nearly 45,000 visits and had his site linked to Fark.com, a cybergeek page for what's hip. People also started sending him submissions, including a hilarious video of a raver dancing to the car whistle and a slamming remix of the news bit audio done in the late-'80s party-rap style of "booty bass."

Not surprisingly, Durand also got an e-mail from KRON, saying he could use its copyrighted material as long as he wasn't making any money -- he'd have to leave that up to the station, which had put an image of Rubb on several items and made them available through the online CaféPress store. (KRON Internet Coordinator Michael Gay says the station never put the objects up for sale, although a Rubb T-shirt was still obtainable at www.cafeshops.com at press time.) Two days later, KRON threatened the student with legal action if he didn't remove the station's material. Durand, in turn, wrote back, saying that the site was part of his senior thesis and therefore exempt from copyright infringement. Amazingly, he says, KRON changed its mind and "actually gave me permission to continue with my project, and even to host their video and the text to the article."

As for Bubb Rubb, he's not listed in the Oaktown phone book. I like to imagine him peeling around a corner, his muffler howling as he sings along with himself on the radio. "Woo woooo!"

About The Author

Dan Strachota

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