Tilting At Windmills

Maybe I’m naïve.

I just finished listening to the solo album of Lee Renaldo (of Sonic Youth {good stuff, too; more coherent than I expected}) and am currently spinning Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew for the first time and quite enjoying it (I’m trying to expand my very limited jazz experience). Over and above these happy procurements I will soon giddily purchase the newest Tomahawk album (on vinyl, no less) and am eagerly awaiting a new Low, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, My Bloody Valentine (the first release in some twenty-five years), Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and, of course, David Bowie. To top this off, The Tiger Lillies announced that they will take a vote from fans filtering down to the top fourteen tunes and will be releasing a vinyl-only best of. It twitched, I must admit. Can you feel the excitement from there? You could etch glass with these nipples.

Now, let’s set a parameter or three. I know that damn few people sit around and pine for a best of album of Tiger Lillies tunes (Jesus, I generally eschew best of stuff, but I want this). I’ve numerous friends that would argue the simple existence of ‘best’ in regards to that blasphemous, falsetto band. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is likely to cause more than a few folks in random searches to severely filter their Google results. Tomahawk is not for everybody (but, you liked Faith No More, right?). Hell, even this Miles Davis spinning in the background might catch a sigh of exasperation or two (Gods, the drums on this album are climbing up the spine of my soul, lovely, lovely). I know I drift towards some, shall we say, questionable sounds, even unlistenable, by certain rights; but, there are tastes there. “It’s weird, but good,” said one recipient of the beloved mix tape gift. She meant well.

I’ve come to terms with the idealism that the universe is not infinite. I believe that we’re finite, but expanding. I’ve not ruled out the multi-verse, though. I’m holding on to that one. I dare anyone to prove me wrong. I won’t understand the math, anyway; but the implications are severe.

But, music, sounds…Phillip Glass in a kitchen rattling the cutlery, Shastakovich doing Shastakovich things, Zappa with his utter disregard for lyrics, Lennon and Ono making that damned unlistenable Two Virgins that spurred on some of my favorite attempts to escape the music snob’s nemesis of radio play, Thurston Moore singing of Gods know what…

I’m a bitch of misinformation. Don’t get me wrong. The first album I remember was a gift: Mickey Mouse Disco (still have it, in fact, Macho, Macho Duck and all), the first cassette I ever bought with my own allowance was the reunion of the Jackson 5 with their hit Torture (remember that one?), my first cd (also a gift) was Elvis Costello’s Spike (Veronica was the hit on that one), and the first cd I ever spent money on was Adorable’s Against Perfection (that one lasted through a nearly disastrous car crash with the dearly beloved Dickweed*).

That last paragraph failed me, I fear (as if this whole thing had some merit). What I’m driving at is that I don’t hate pop music…generally. I’m still cool with Prince; crazy, high-heeled bastard that he may be. Purple Rain is a paisley maelstrom of groovy, still. I even still enjoy Thriller and that Moonwalk movie with Joe Pesci. New pop, though, largely, I just don’t get. Is it age, experience, snobbery? I don’t know.

I’ve been listening to the Bert Show on Q-1-something out of Atlanta. I like those cats, but, I must admit, I’ve little grasp on where they’re coming from musically and the playlist of the station’s format is so completely alien to me that I’ve actually questioned the sanity of the populous listening in. Gods save me, but I’ve used the term hoi polloi in my head when that backbeat hits at 9 AM and I know I’m going to have to switch over to Georgia State’s Album 88 in the hopes that they’re not pushing some unimaginative rap at that moment (and, Gods, again, I’m steering towards such snobbery that college radio is becoming too mainstream at moments- I don’t want the internet to become my safe-haven of new sounds; I like the radio to surprise me- I miss the time when it did).

Every time that sampled back-beat style and stacked vocal of little deviation song of the month starts playing while I’m listening to Bert and Kristin and Jeff I wonder if their listeners would take to The Bloodthirsty Lovers if given a chance or a choice. I wonder if, maybe, the back-beat people would hear The Black Dice at a club and say something along the lines of that statement that I so despise of, “ooh, that’s my jam,” or if they would, like my dear employee, proudly intone, “what the hell is that? It makes me want to pull my teeth out.” I figure it an honest question. I really do. It may well be a character flaw.

But, maybe, I’m just naïve. Maybe, nobody wants to hear these sounds. Maybe adults really do listen to Justin Bieber. Maybe, Brittany Spears was more than a girl wrapped in a snake, outperforming and besting Radiohead’s Kid A. Maybe, people hear of Charlie Parker and don’t automatically insert the word ‘Bird’. Maybe, just maybe, The New Kids on the Block reunion was the best choice for humanity. I don’t like it, but I embrace the love of the possible infinite. There must be NKOTB people for the multi-verse to work for me. I certainly don’t mean to take away any love for them or even Hootie and the Blowfish, but it loses me. Beyonce’s just not a word that works its way into more than one of my water-cooler conversations. I don’t understand. I really don’t.

I bank, absolutely, for adults to adhere to the childish things of their past (He-Man and MASK toys still make me grin, but the little, anime, spinny, poppy things with cards leave me in the lurch; so it is with music). Is it just people hitting their thirties now that still love the aforementioned Hootie? What is it with the pop sound that keeps people listening? NPR has a correspondent that deals solely with pop music; an adult who rated that band that I’ve successfully Scotched and ginned from my head. Why does pop music crowd me so? And why am I having such a problem with it?

It’s unfair to ask if Bert and crew really do love these tunes. They’re employed, after all, by the purveyors of such; but the state of radio in Atlanta makes me worried. I listen to all of three stations (and one of those only in the morning, and, at that, in between songs). A world of music and the cross sections of radio play make me sad. Can you feel my pain, even with nipples poised for new Bowie and My Bloody Valentine? The aspect of the infinite calls, but the limited expanse of the radio dial offers few real choices for the folks that embrace the idealism of the new, the neophiles, us greedy bastards who love the idea of a band writing a song and saying, “That sounds good. Let’s fuck with it,” the folks that embrace not being able to sing along with a song until four or more listenings.

Here’s something that spooks me: before the Telecommunications Act in 1996, I’m told by a cat with which I’m trusting to these numbers, less than sixty-five American radio stations were owned by large corporations. By 2008, Clear Channel owned nearly twelve hundred, constituting 99.9% of the top two hundred and fifty markets. The Berkeley School of Music (again trusting other folks to the studiousness of such) apparently conducted a study that found that the largest stations in the largest markets commonly played the same songs 58% of the time. They then cited the five Clear Channel owned stations as playing the same songs 73% of the time.

Now, the station that houses the Bert Show is not owned by Clear Channel, but rather, the second largest of the radio ownership companies, Cumulus Media; and I can’t say with any authority whatsoever how many repetitions may occur of the songs that they do play as I’ve formed the habit of simply spinning the dial whenever those songs do come up. I vehemently deny that this is close-minded on my part as I once listened to an entire Katy Perry cd because I couldn’t escape the situation without appearing rude. Despite the tone of this blog, rudeness is something that I do try to avoid, more often than not (character flaws what they are, sometimes shit escapes my mouth or pen or keyboard; my apologies).

Bert, Bert, Bert, if you’re out there, tell me, would your listeners open up to less than pop if presented with it? Is it popular because of its accessibility? Or is it because it’s what people really want to hear? Chicken and egg, I know, but, Jesus, this one bothers me. I feel and fear that it’s worth asking. It’s worth noting that I don’t trust answers; I like questions. We’re likely to fail in this, given my interests; but I’m curious, nonetheless. Would Atlanta start listening to Low, The Amazing, or dear old Radar Bros. if they were presented with them unknowingly? These are not hard sounds, not noise bands, but, rather, melodic, accomplished musicians with little to no radio play.

I proffer a ridiculous test. Convince the powers that be to allow a single questionable song one day a week. Instead of that warbled vocal tune that I, personally, can’t stand, throw out a song that’s got that popular tweak, but is just a bit off, something slightly different; hell, take a poll, and see how the results comb out. Music snobs abound in this world; you need not look to me for such an inane attempt. Indeed, I doubt that I could be trusted to offer up anything that might merit a vote, but I like the idea. Google’s not even built this filter yet, but I promise you, they’re there for the asking. Seek this question and I trust the freaks to creak from the woodwork. There are some thirty thousand albums released every year and Godspeed You Black Emperor has garnered a damn fine following without me having ever heard them on the radio.

Bert, are you there? Are you at all curious as to the world of music that’s not getting any radio time? Obviously, at face value, requesting a station to play something outside of its niche is tilting at windmills, but I like Don Quixote. Remember, though, that MTV used to actually play music videos before becoming one of the most brazenly inappropriately named channels on tv today. If a channel built solely for a vast musical appreciation can shift entirely to aggrandizing the egos of many people that many of us would quietly and politely slowly drift away from at social functions, with just a hint of fear in our eyes, surely a radio station can sneak in a song or two that’s not being heard elsewhere. Maybe, right? A mere three to five minutes of something else…

Of course, I could just be naïve. I have that in me (my fallibility is shadowed only by my ignorance and my hope), but I’d not forgive myself for not asking.

*Dickweed, it should be noted, is nothing short of beautiful people. My father named him Dickweed when we were just puppies and wrapping ourselves in fur for theme park amusement and meager paychecks so many years ago. I recently told him that since his transition to New York actor that I had actually listed his given name on my phone. “Change it back, right now,” he insisted. That’s the kind of groovy bastard that Dickweed is. Love him. He deserves it.


Category(s): Music

One Response to Tilting At Windmills

  1. I never find music through the radio any more and its sad. I find it through friends linking videos. Sometimes Pandora plays out for me but usually it keeps me in my safe little bubble of previously selected entries or things so similar I barely notice I don’t already know them. Keep sharing. Half the time I skim past them in a rush and then I find some late night bout of insomnia when I go back to all those linked vids from people. That’s when I find the gems. The things that wake me up and make me remember there is more to music than what I’m currently listening to. I need one of those nights soon to go through everything you list here (well not everything – Miles and I go way back for instance). I love finding new things that make me come out of my chair. For me good music makes me need to move. It may not make me want to create, but it makes me move. My favorite music to choreograph to has its own story to tell and then it feels like I’m just along for the ride. So yeah, long comment to really just ask you to keep posting things that grab you. If the radio can’t break their mold and play new things to open people up, at least we can do it for one another.

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